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Naomi Klein's No Logo Reviewed, "It's Not No Logo, It's Capitalism"

No Logo Reviewed: "It's Not No Logo, It's Capitalism"

No Logo by Naomi Klein

(Flamingo Press, IR


The publication of No Logo was perfectly, if
unintentionally, timed. Just as the N30
demonstrations in Seattle made headlines around
the world, No Logo arrived to explain some of
the reasons for that movement. So although Naomi
Klein has made it clear that she is not an
'official' spokesperson for the movement Ñ that
this movement has no official spokespeople Ñ at
a time when observers (and even some
participants) wondered what was going on, No
provided some answers.

Klein starts by discussing how advertising and
general business practices have changed in the
last twenty years. Essentially, companies
decided that they were no longer in the business
of selling products, because products are messy,
they can be copied, or even improved on. But if
you are selling an idea, an experience, a set of
associations, it's much harder for another
company to compete with you. Sportswear is a
good example of a market where price, and even
quality, isn't that important Ñ people choose
between Nike and Adidas because of their ad
campaigns, not their shoes.

At the same time as companies started this
emphasis on brands rather than products, they
started moving out of manufacturing. Owning a
factory was thought to tie a company down,
because then you have the constant expense of
wages, as well as the money tied up in buildings
and equipment. Manufacturing still has to take
place of course, if not by you then by your
suppliers, but then dealing with workers can be
someone else's problem, and you can concentrate
on building your brand.

Now a lot of the actual manufacturing of
clothes, computer parts, and other industries
has moved to the developing world. Unlike the
west, where workers expect a decent wage, and
are organised enough to demand it, in the free
trade zones in China, Indonesia, the
Philippines, Mexico, and many more countries,
factories can be run with little outside
interference. The description of these free
trade zones, where workers sometimes work up to
100 hours a week, in appalling conditions, is
the most interesting and useful part of the
book. Workers there are barely paid enough to
live on, and often work compulsory (and
sometimes unpaid) overtime. Most of the workers
in these factories are young women, migrants
from other provinces, because they are thought
to be easier to dominate, and less capable of
organising themselves. Even when workers start
to unionise, they can be summarily fired, and
large-scale agitation faces the constant threat
that the factory will be simply packed up and
moved to another zone. Solidarity with these
workers, and outrage at the conditions they live
in, was one of the driving forces of the Seattle
and Prague protests.

Where No Logo fails is in its attempt to tie
these different themes together. Klein tries to
argue that companies have to spend more money on
'branding', and this is why production is moving
to sweatshops. Companies can't afford to have
factories and a brand, so they ditched the
factories. But its not just the big brands that
are made in sweatshops. Nike runners may be made
in Indonesia, but so are the own-brand runners
in your supermarket. Gap shirts are made in
sweatshops, but so are the shirts in the
department store. The sweatshops aren't a result
of branding, they're a product of the desire of
companies to cut costs. Some companies will then
keep their prices low, while others will spend a
lot on advertising, but hope to make even more
by charging higher prices.

The sweatshops are, after all, nothing new. They
existed in the west, alongside hellish
factories, and unsafe mines about a century
ago[1], and it wasn't because the Victorians had
just discovered advertising. Bosses always try
to keep their costs down, because decent pay and
safe working conditions just eat into their
profits. Conditions didn't improve because the
rich had a change of heart Ñ every pay rise,
every reduction in the working week, every
safety standard had to be fought for. The same
struggle is going on around the world today, and
it's a fight against capitalism, not logos.

This is why No Logo is ultimately disappointing.
When it tries to be constructive, and suggest
actions we can take, too much time is spent
talking about 'subverting' advertisements, or
painting over billboards. Ads may be annoying,
and this kind of thing can be fun, but it
doesn't really accomplish anything. Consumer
boycotts are explored, even while their
weaknesses are admitted. [2] So there's less
room to explore ways that we in the west can
help sweatshop workers get organised, and how we
can help their struggles, which should be the
objectives of any campaign. No Logo is still an
interesting book, and possibly a good
introduction for those who don't know much about
the issues involved. But as a political
analysis, or a guide to action, it's severely
limited by Klein's unwillingness to admit that
the problem is not advertising, but capitalism.


1 There are some direct parallels Ñ in China,
textile workers are frequently locked into their
factories so the women will have no choice but
to work, and 'outside agitators' can't get in.
Because textiles are highly flammable, there
have been several fires at these factories, and
in some cases the factory has burned down with
the workers still trapped inside. Exactly the
same thing Ñ doors locked in a textile factory,
for the same reasons, with the same tragic
results Ñ happened in New York in the early 20th
century, most notably the infamous Triangle
Shirtwaist factory fire.

2 Boycotts may be effective when they have a
single clear target, like Shell's actions in
Nigeria, but they may just prompt a whitewash
campaign, and a series of apologies from the
companies concerned, until they think the
spotlight has moved on to someone else. Since
Nike has been a focus of the anti-sweatshop
campaign, Reebok can pose as the ethical
alternative, even though their work practices
are exactly the same.

This article is from the print version of the
Anarchist magazine
'Red and Black Revolution' No 5.

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