Capitalism - A Reward for (someone else's!) Hard Work


A recent WSM public meeting in Dublin about anarchism saw something a bit different; members of Fine Gael turning up to defend capitalism. We were told it’s a great system and the rich are simply enjoying the rewards of hard work.

This was news to those of us who work very hard in cleaning, catering and similar jobs for little more than minimum wage. I dare say it will also be news to billionaires like Denis O’Brien and Tony O’Reilly. As one person pointed out, O’Brien has never laid a single phone cable in his life nor has O’Reilly ever operated a printing press.

We were also told that anyone with a bit of energy can rise from poverty to become unbelievably wealthy. The example we were given was Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s richest man.

Mittal, whose family’s wealth is valued at £19 billion, runs the world’s biggest steel firm. He has a £70m mansion in central London. How did he get this sort of cash?

One source of his profits is his mining company in Kazakhstan, which he has owned since 1996. Last September a gas explosion killed 41 in the Lenina mine. Two years earlier an explosion in the neighbouring Shakhtinskaya mine claimed the lives of 13.

“We are being treated by Mittal’s people as little more than slave labour,” said Sergei, a Lenina miner, in an interview with The Sunday Times. “Conditions are far worse than they were in Soviet times. The danger is so high that when I go to work I often feel I’m on a suicide mission.

“I lost eight close colleagues in the [2006] explosion. Since then nothing has been done to improve safety. We are all just waiting for the next accident to happen. It’s so tough here that many are leaving to work in mines in Siberia.”

Other Mittal miners said that some of the machinery and equipment dated back to the 1970s. “Absolutely nothing has changed since the explosion,” said Yuri, another Lenina miner.

Ventilation pipes are made of a rubber fabric that often tears and which miners stitch up by hand with metal wire. Unlike in the West, Mittal’s Kazakh miners still use shovels for some work and are made to drag 260lb steel beams to shore up the mineshafts.

Yet the guys from Fine Gael would have us idolise parasites like Mittal.


This article is from Workers Solidarity 98, July/August 2007

PDF file of Workers Solidarity 98