The world is China’s branch office | Joan McCaul
You can learn a lot from train journeys and old movies.
In 2009 I took a rail journey from Vermont to New York city as part of a work trip. It was an opportunity to see that part of the US and to get a feel for the towns, industry and way of life along the way. I soon discovered picturesque towns, beautiful scenery, but not much industry, although there was evidence that there had once been lots of activity in that part of the world. New England was famous for textile and woollen mills, machine shops and small industry. The red brick factories, architectural gems in their own right and mockingly sturdy, were now empty and abandoned, scarred by graffiti and slowly falling into ruin. Mile upon mile of them flanked the railway tracks, signifying that things hadn’t always been this way and collective effort and skill had once been abundant. Decaying factories are the end- result of a process that no longer needs them, nor the people who once worked in them. That process, as we know in this instance, is globalisation.
Fast forward eleven years and I’m watching a YouTube channel I’ve stumbled across while isolating from globalization’s latest gift to the world. It’s a film noir, old 1940s and 1950s, Americana feast of great and not so great films, a find for anyone who loves the genre. All the film noir themes are there, no moral relativism, just calling it like it is with a slug from a .45 for good measure, and camera angles that reflect the sharpness of the descent from the everyday into hell. Sounds familiar.
Some of the films are set in small town 1950s America, a common aspect feature of which was the company town, with the main industry a focal part of the action. The feeling of industry, of commitment to producing something of worth from local effort is palpable and embedded in these films. There are a million variations on the scenario, but a common thread is the role the local mill or factory played in the life of the town, providing employment and maintaining the social fabric of the community. In the film noir narrative, stealing the factory payroll was also a growth industry.
Company towns, mill towns, manufacturing towns, call them what you like, played a vital role in daily life before the onset of globalization, and were reflected in the popular culture of the time. Working class pride was reflected in creating products that lasted longer than the warranty. What I saw in 2009, the abandoned factories and the loss of local industry, was accompanied by the destruction of a way of life portrayed in these films, the law-abiding way that is.
It takes time to understand historical trends, to put together cause and effect from seemingly unrelated sources, train journeys and old movies can convey the results of social change in a way that no academic text can. 2009 and 2021 have become conflated into a set of logical consequences that can be plotted as well as any film script, with the same warnings that things are about to go off the rails.
We’ve paid a huge cost for globalisation, one that should have been foreseen, but was too politically, charged to acknowledge. It’s become a religion and anyone who questions it is ridiculed as a Luddite (the Luddites had valid points about the effects of losing work skills and the sense of community that revolved around them). We’ve been mugged by a terrible reality that no amount of spin can accommodate. Film noir is a refreshing relief from bunkum.
The world has become China’s branch office, it’s kind of the company town now. But you have to ask ‘How can a process be called globalisation, when production has never been so centralized?’ How can so many virtue-signaling companies and individuals tout the value of products that come out of sweat shops? Perhaps globalisation is just one large union-busting racket. Why does it have so many champions, when the inherent dangers are obvious, when it can be turned off and on at a whim and its latest product has proven to be lethal? The questions keep coming, because they’ve never been addressed.
However, it’s not just jobs that were exported, but hope, pride and identity, the intangibles that make or break communities and individuals. This has happened not only in the US, but all over Europe and parts of the UK. Many towns and provincial areas are now inhabited mainly by the old and the retired, the young people being forced to seek employment elsewhere. Globalists will insist that Silicon Valley is a new type of company town, that things merely morph into different versions of themselves, perhaps, but Silicon Valley is not focused on any nearby town, its loyalty is to everywhere and ultimately nowhere.
Globalism produces economic mercenaries who’ll decamp to any part of the world that’s prepared to accede to its demands, what happens to those left behind is not its concern. Henry VIII showed more care in the take-over stakes when he stripped the monasteries of their treasures and turfed the monks out onto the lawn, no pretence there about being a good corporate citizen.
The world has been faced with the economic and social repercussions of globalism for a long time, but the deadliest flaw in the whole scheme is apparent; the health consequence. We’ve now imported a pandemic along with the cheap goods. The absence of vital industries like pharmaceuticals and medical equipment is a wake-up call for Australia we must re-industrialize. It will take time but, as they say in film noir “Baby, I don’t care” – just do it.
Germany re-tooled after World War 2, resurrected its industry with Allied help, and developed a prosperous nation. It can be done if there’s political will. If coronavirus is not a wake-up call to the dangers of sending our manufacturing off-shore, we’re simply marking time, waiting for the next pandemic. We owe it to those who have died, those who are grieving and those whose livelihoods have been destroyed to learn from what has happened. If we don’t, lockdown will become a regular feature of our lives, and that of our grandchildren.