Gloves (from The London Chronicle)
the late 1980s I free-lanced in a project designed to persuade health workers to
wear gloves. HIV prevention had created a boom in the rubber plantations of the
Far East. Cooperatives diversified from making rubber-bands to condoms and
disposable gloves, undercutting the multinational conglomerates who had assumed
synthetics like vinyl would take over the world. But doctors and nurses found
natural rubber kind to the touch and ductile enough not to tear. Synthetic vinyl was only considered fit for
scrubbing the floor while latex, it was said, was like having a second skin.
So, tons of latex rubber gloves were bought direct from a cooperative in Sri
Lanka at a quarter the wholesale price offered by London suppliers (via
All was well until in 1997 six cases of an allergy to latex gloves were reported. Apparently, the powder intended to absorb sweat activated proteins in latex which if inhaled could cause immune reactions in the susceptible people. Although a rare allergy – one in a million usages or so - revised hand protection policies came in overnight, and all the powdered gloves were incinerated. Fortunately, there were sufficient without powder in store for medical and dental needs until ‘new money’ was found’. Only surgeons objected to the unpowdered, though they were generally unpopular.
Meanwhile research scientists working on vinyl, a synthetic rubber, advanced to make them more malleable. And when funding was secured the multinational manufacturers made a killing. Vinyl gloves were renamed non-latex gloves (give a product a bad name, put a negative before it and you sanctify your own). They were promoted as safer than nature, and you didn’t need powder as moisture absorption was inbuilt. The starting price was the same too. The company claimed it was one tenth of the manufacturing cost, but made up for it by charging for packaging. They had it all wrapped up. The price for non-government services who didn’t bulk buy was scandalous.
The latex market shrank but did not disappear. Powdered condoms do not exist, and so they continued to be produced cheaply. So, Aids and unwanted births were not to be affected. However, an American Jesus-man, big in Africa, particularly below the Southern Sahara, on satellite television, preaches against the condom industry because underpopulation, as a consequence of HIV and preservatives, was reducing believers. Winnie Mandela, the mother of six million Aids carriers in South Africa, believed this insult to African manhood was the white master’s last-ditch attempt to stop them breeding. Aids has nothing to do with sex, she claimed. Though she carries a packet of condoms in her handbag.
Still while the Aids epidemic continued to grow globally the latex cooperative in the Far East were in trouble. Under-employed workers migrated to factories in the cities to make vinyl non-latex gloves and synthetic condoms (less reliable). Ten years on their plantations and factories are owned by multinationals as a prelude to closing them down. While wholesale prices rose sharply even for government sponsored services like the NHS. This happened all over Europe and America. Since the synthetic’s conglomerates took over in the ninety’s profits have increased tenfold, and there has been a Gadarene slide in stock market prices for rubber. Capitalists knows the money market is on its side, and governments will therefore fall in line. That’s how the Post-industrial Global Oligarchy (PIG8O) works. The break up of the latex cooperatives in the Far East, and the communities it sustained has not attracted the concern of Port Alegre’s grassroots movement, or, its boardroom countersupport, the World Economic Forum, made up of cuckoos from Davos.
The self-called ‘liberal non-communists’, Bill (and Belinda) Gates and George Soros are the representative conscious and brokers of the new world order. Theirs’ is a version of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, which gives and takes to sell the idea of the mutual interests of the market and social responsibility. They make their money from what Balibar in his La Crainte des Masses (1997) calls violence’s objective structural sector (PIG8O domain) which opposes the subjective violence of the racial/ religious fundamentalism, if you exclude the pro-Israel lobby. (Objective is ethical. You see both sides, objectively. The adjective, noun and the verb have the same root, and so you do what you say, you say what you do, and in the same way. Subjective is controversial. You subject subjects in order to subjugate. Words move around changing their meaning).
Not that the availability of synthetic non-latex gloves has not been questioned. Medical researchers have noted that dry, non-powder, gloves on the hands of surgeons are more dangerous to themselves (tear more easily) and patients (hand-tissue contact is less secure) than good old rubber gloves. But reversing health policies would require the glove industry to backtrack to finding a powder that doesn’t active the offending proteins in latex, but the prospect of the return to natural rubber and peasant plantations and cooperatives, though it makes good ecological and ‘liberal non-communist’ sense, is inconceivable for PIG8O.
The non-latex boom is more significantly about less quantity. The multinationals having killed off the indigenous competition, not only the cooperatives in the Far East, but artisans in Europe, control the market in which less is more profit. This came to roost for many countries faced by the current pandemic, and has led to a million-fold more health hazards than the noxious powder (which potentially could cause death through anaphylactic shock -the bee sting syndrome - but none to my knowledge has been reported). It has been estimated that latex glove allergies occur in less than a quarter billion usages, manifesting merely in trivial rashes like hives..
The question begs to be asked, could the Medical Supplies conglomerates have been engaging in industrial sabotage? If not, they achieved it without trying. The six reported cases went a long way in putting the whip of competition to seeing the back of communities who appeared to be defying PIG8O (Post Industrial Global Oligarchy) by becoming self-sufficient. It does not pay to do that. However, the less dramatic answer is, a qualified, no. The latex allergy existed, and gloves needed to be modernized. But it was a matter of the power play not the rubber itself. The communities obliterated hadn’t a chance, even though their scientists could easily have produced the same results as the multinational giants.