VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Digital Age based on capitalist exploitation of workers

Ned K.

Hundreds of millions of people rely on computers and mobile phones to communicate for business and recreational purposes.

Just as the industrialization of the 1800s and 1900s in western Europe and the USA relied on extraction of coal from the ground with great exploitation of workers including premature deaths of many, so the digital age of the 21st Century relies on extraction of precious metals to manufacture mobile phones, computers and now batteries for electric cars. 

According to the Washington Post writer, Todd Frankel, the essential metal to electronic devices is cobalt. Sixty percent of the electronic communications corporations' supply of cobalt comes from the Republic of the Congo. 

Cobalt is essential in mobile phone and other electronic devices to provide sustainable performance of the devices. Multinational corporations have been trying to find alternatives to cobalt but without success. The mining of cobalt is carried out in the Congo by at least 100,000 "artisan miners" who dig out the mineral ore by hand and pick from wherever they can find it. Frankel gives one example of miners digging shallow shafts under the dirt floors of their own homes in order to extract enough cobalt to find a buyer and enough money to buy a sack of flour to feed their families. The cobalt is then sent through a pyramid business structure until the cobalt finds its way in to a Samsung Smart Phone or now, a battery cell for an electronic car.

Frankel says that the dependence on electric car batteries on cobalt for their performance has intensified the competition between corporations for this mineral. Most of the cobalt finds its way to the electronic communications corporations through a Chinese-owned cobalt supplier, Congo DongFeng International Mining.

However it has not resulted in an increase of the incomes and standard of living of the miners in the Congo. The miners are called "diggers" because that is what they do. They dig tunnels literally by hand deep under the ground in search of the cobalt. Their income, when paid, is on average $2.65 to $6 per day. Frankel says that there is increasing evidence of health problems not only for the miners but in their communities with serious birth defects appearing in new born children in the mining communities.

The miners are in the early stages of forming a union but due to the primitive methods of production, isolation of miners from one another and the corrupt, repressive political environment in the Congo, it will take time for effective organisation of cobalt miners to develop. However as with the coal miners of the 1800s in Europe, the miners’ exploitation will be subjected to growing struggle from the miners themselves.

So next time your mobile phone does not "perform" as well as you have come to expect, spare a thought for the cobalt miners of the Congo and remember that the phone in your hand may have been made at the cost of a miner's life or a serious defect in a new born African child.

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