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Workers in Tibet

Human Rights
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Workers in Tibet


Introduction

Solidarity work for union people in the Iran attracted the attention of some of Tibet's friends who asked SID to support Tibetan prisoners on death row. This brought us into contact with the Tibetan community and with His Execellancy Mr Tashi Wangdi, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Bringing together workers' rights and of Tibet's future in one discussion will seem surprising only at first sight.

Issues of nationality have challenged the labour movement from its beginnings. The most dramatic instances were in August 1914 when nearly all workers in Europe decided to kill their colleagues from other countries and in 1917/1918 when those in Russia and Germany decided to stop doing so. WWI was possible because workers put national loyalty above class solidarity and it became impossible to continue when they saw their error and took anti-war action. WWI was the beginning of the 400+ wars that dogged the 20th century. One of those four hundred was China's attack on Tibet.

It was in Ireland and Poland that the labour movement came under the strongest pressure to surrender its goals to nationalism. In Poland there were two socialist parties that were represented by Rosa Luxembourg and Josef Pilsudski, respectively. Rosa urged Polish workers to form a united front with their colleagues in Austria, Germany and Russia. Joe told them to fight for both their rights as workers and as Poles. Understandably, he was far more successful than Rosa. People probably assumed that two liberations were better than one. The problem was that when Poland regained its independence and he became President he simply explained that he had chosen to "get off of the trolley of revolution at the stop marked 'National Independence' " and left his working class supporters to fend for themselves. This behaviour pattern has been widespread among nationalists; get as much support as possible from workers in exchange for promises of a better life later on. It happened in most of the countries that were decolonized after WWII.

The National Perspective

Han chauvinists tend to open a Tibet debate by saying that there is nothing to discuss because there is no such country and there never has been. When they condescend to defend the occupation of Tibet, they does so mainly by pointing to three evils of its traditional society; torture, slavery and serfdom.

Certainly, after sixty years of occupation and domination, torture has not been eliminated. The available evidence implies that the main development has been a partial modernization; electrical shocks and sleep deprivation have been introduced. It is not even certain whether the overall level of suffering has decreased, remained unchanged, or increased.

The position with regard to slavery and serfdom is analogous; things have become more modern, but a lot of cruelty remains. Maoist China was a society without the notion of individual choice, so agricultural and industrial workers were tied "their" production units.
Chinese society has evolved from that command economy to an openly greed-driven one, dragging Tibet along. No one foresaw this transition from Maoism to an overly liberated form of capitalism at the time of the Chinese invasion, so whatever advantages small farmers and workers in Tibet may have gained cannot seriously justify the occupation.

Many conquered territories regained their independence eventually; Algeria after 130 years, the Ukraine after 300+, Ireland after 800, parts of western Poland after 800. This is one purely empirical reason to doubt that the present state of occupation will last forever.

Commercial media present the 1.3 billion nation of China in handy 30 second bites that lead to several misunderstandings. Because of the sheer number "1.3 billion" China is often mistaken to be a huge military power, but do consider two facts. It was only in this century that China's military expenditure caught up with that of Japan, a country known for its pacifist constitution. The other fact is this; China invaded Vietnam in 1979 and again in 1984. The performance of the "Peoples Liberation Army" was even weaker than that of its US and French predecessors. They were routed.

This is absolutely not intended as an invitation to paramilitary adventures because Chinese governments have a history of what might be called genocide by proxy. One example is Beijing's support for the murderous Pol Pot regime. Deng Xiao Ping launched the first invasion of Vietnam in 1979 as a reprisal for the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that stopped the death toll at or around 2 million (including thousands of ethnic Chinese!). Of course, no Western government supported Pol Pot et al, except almost all of them, with the UK/US in the lead. So, there is no justification for human rights self satisfaction here in the lands of the setting sun. We do well to sweep in front of our own doors. (Recall the warmth with which the ever murderous Mr Putin was welcomed by the bankers and politicians of Luxembourg when he came to visit.)

Considering the skill and patience with which Chinese diplomats are defending genocide in Darfur, so we may conclude that the Beijing government is capable of anything but good for very little.


The Class Perspective

Suppose that one year, Tibet regains its independence and full sovereignty, with diplomatic recognition by 190+ UN Member States plus strong international guarantees. What will Tibetan workers find when they return to their jobs on the morning after the celebration? Chinese wages and working conditions, that's what. Market forces and the solidarity of the bosses will keep the overall price of labour equal on both sides of the newly established international border.

Seen in this light, it becomes clear that the labour unions on both sides of the border have two options; cooperate faithfully or fail dismally. The biggest mistake that a Chinese worker could make would be to break a strike by his Tibetan colleagues (and vice versa) because every improvement that they win will benefit him in the midterm. The same arguments already apply at this time, at which there is no international border between the two countries.

It makes no sense to organize separate unions along racist lines now, except perhaps from the bosses' point of view. On the other hand, helping Han workers to win better conditions in one of the world's top ten economies brings gains to all workers, including those in Tibet, for purely economic reasons. There is a political side too. Han workers in Tibet have family, friends and old colleagues in their home provinces. Learning from practical experience during industrial actions that Han and Tibetan together can get more than when they are divided will discredit Han chauvinist propaganda.

At this time it is impossible to build up large scale underground organisations in China and its territories. But the Chinese government has admitted to circa 50.000 domestic disturbances per year, which shows that many Han already see through the cheap propaganda about the supposed "superiority" of their country and are fighting for their rights as human beings. It can be concluded that there is already room for small local groups to begin work for political and industrial democracy at the grassroots, well below the government's radar. The last things that these initiatives need are a unitary program and a national leadership. That large scale, centralized actions bring defeat because they offer the government a single target to concentrate its fire on was seen in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Thousands of inconspicuous but resolute groups that are working locally with people to get more rights and a better life are far more difficult to suppress.

In Conclusion

What could workers in Tibet do for a better future? They can learn as much of each other's languages as possible and talk together. They can spend some of leisure together, in defiance of the governments Apartheid strategy. When even one of their colleagues comes under attack from the bosses or their government they should defend him or her because their own security depends on solidarity. Once solidarity has been consolidated, it will become possible to take some wealth and power away from the billionaires and mega corporations who already have far too much of it. This process of resistance to the ruling class begins with understanding and persistently asserting the common human identity of workers.



Created by: admin last modification: Friday 09 of October, 2009 [15:23:36 UTC] by ashbrmi

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