Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 21, 2020

The Life of a Worker

Filed under: pakistan,workers — louisproyect @ 8:30 pm

In 2017, I reviewed a documentary titled “Machines” made by Rahul Jain that took you inside an Indian textile mill, showing workers making the fabrics that end up in markets everywhere. Not only does the work leave the men barely capable of enjoying anything after work except smoking a cigarette and listening to a radio; the starvation wages would not allow anything much more than that. The film makes the term wage slavery hit home. In my review, I stated:

Dark and satanic are words that immediately come to mind when “Machines” begins. For the first 15 minutes of the film, you see nothing but men operating machinery. The plant looks fairly ancient with poor lighting and no air conditioning. Except for the modern machines, they are housed in a building not that different from late 18th century England at the dawn of the industrial revolution that Engels described in “The Conditions of the Working Class in England”: “The atmosphere of the factories is, as a rule, at once damp and warm, usually warmer than is necessary, and, when the ventilation is not very good, impure, heavy, deficient in oxygen, filled with dust and the smell of the machine oil, which almost everywhere smears the floor, sinks into it, and becomes rancid.”

You can now see “Machines” on YouTube for $2.99. It will help you understand why India remains a hotbed of revolutionary zeal, even as Modi tries to tamp it down through Islamophobic nationalism.

Incredibly, the workers in “Machines” have it a lot better than the textile workers in Multan, Pakistan. Two days ago, I received an invitation to spread the word about a documentary made by the comrades in the Internationalist Marxist Tendency (IMT), where they have developed a working-class base. While I am averse to vulgar Marxism, I have always believed that it is poverty and super-exploitation that will make workers revolutionary-minded.

Titled “The Life of a Worker”, the 19-minute film consists of an interview with a power loom operator in Multan who describes his humble beginnings, his marriage and family living in poverty, the lethal conditions inside his factory where the textile fibers make asthma an epidemic, and his hopes for a different way of life.

The film is in Urdu but you can select English subtitles as an option. Have a little patience since the actual documentary begins about 2 and ½ minutes into “The Life of a Worker”. While you might not be surprised by the brutal conditions faced by a textile worker in Pakistan today, it is entirely possible that the good days of living in the advanced capitalist countries might be ending soon. An article in today’s NY Times titled “Coronavirus and Poverty: A Mother Skips Meals So Her Children Can Eat” dramatizes the depths to which American workers are falling:

Ms. Mossbarger hardly mentioned it, but she was starving. “I honestly wasn’t going to eat, but Jordan was like, ‘You got to eat something,’” she said.

The next morning, she again skipped breakfast and was sipping a Monster Energy drink. She was tired and her head hurt.

“I feel it,” she said.

“The Life of a Worker” ends with the strains of “The International”. We used to sing it at conventions of the Socialist Workers Party years ago, but it was mainly an exercise in nostalgia. Today, it is the capitalist system that is rapidly turning into a relic of the past, the sooner the better.

We toilers from all fields united
Join hand in hand with all who work;
The earth belongs to us, the workers,
No room here for the shirk.
How many on our flesh have fattened!
But if the norsome birds of prey
Shall vanish from the sky some morning
The blessed sunlight then will stay.

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