A problem has appeared among Thailand’s rubber farmers who already face some of the harshest living conditions in the world. Poverty among them creates a high mortality rate and a very low standard of living. A new trend has been emerging of desperate farmers using methamphetamines to keep up working. Exhausted by these long hours, workers in north-eastern Thailand are turning to ‘yaba’ (or ‘crazy medicine’) methamphetamine to stay awake. Rubber farming usually requires overnight work of tapping into rubber trees to drain the latex inside before it hardens from the sun during the day.
Rubber prices have been falling for some time now causing many farmers to seek secondary employment to supplement their income. Many have day jobs in construction or other sectors. Other farmers grow a second crop like corn during the day which requires them to work incredibly long hours. Recently the government of Thailand has faced protests as rubber farmers began demanding action to protect the falling rubber price. Currently there is discussion about drafting legislation to force the government to purchase the rubber at a price inflated higher than the current market. Last year the government put forward $1.8 billion worth of measures suggested by The National Rubber Policy Committee to help farmers cope with the falling price. During that same time period the price of rubber fell more than 30% to a five-year low as global stocks of rubber outpaced production.
In these desperate times of having to work another job, or double crop farming, more and more farmers are turning to methamphetamines to keep up with the physical labour demand. The health cost has been significant. An Al-Jazeera article states that, “Last year, 60 percent of the drug treatment patients in Wang Saphung Hospital were rubber farmers, and nearly all were addicted to meth.” The problem is the worst in the north-east where the country faces the most poverty.
“In turn, this region has seen a 700 percent increase in the number of people arrested for meth since 2008, according to data from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau. Last year, authorities counted more than 33,000 meth-related arrests in the northeast. The rapid rise here fits into a larger surge across Asia, which now accounts for more than 50 percent of amphetamine-type stimulants’ global users.
“Under the new military government, Thailand’s anti-drug policies have only intensified. In July, the Ministry of Justice revealed a $300m initiative to track down the country’s estimated 1.2 million drug addicts for mandatory treatment.”
This problem of meth abuse among farmers in Asia has been increasing over the last few years as global consumption and production patterns shift and place strain on the market and its producers. There has been a tremendous rubber boom in Thailand; the acreage of mature rubber tree plantations have tripled in the past three years as the government has been pushing it as the cash crop of the country.
One of the prime differences between the First and the Third world makes itself manifest in the kinds of chemicals the working classes consume. Drug addiction in the Third World is largely connected to extending the labour ability of the proletariat. These drugs are taken either to remain awake to work longer hours, or to dull pain in order to work harder. In a secondary sense there is a fair amount of it to dull the psychological stress of being poor. In the First World people have access to abundant recreational drugs, chemicals designed for the “enjoyment” of life. These come as LSD, Molly, Psychedelic Mushrooms, Opium, Barbiturates / Benzodiazepines, cocaine and Cannabis. Drug use in the First World is mainly for relaxation and fun.
In this global divide of wealth from imperialism and the corresponding transfer of value, we see clearly the difference in living standards. As First World People receive much more of the social product than their labour contributes, they have the disposable income to spend on a luxury such as recreational drugs. Meanwhile in the barbaric poverty of the Third World, what little amount of social product those workers receive is cut into by the need purchase drugs to keep working, not relaxation. The global consumption pattern of drugs speaks to its accompanying global wealth divide. As First World people consume for enjoyment, these Third World workers consume to survive.
That same imperialist structure that forces this class divide of drug use also allocates the rubber product. The rubber they produce goes into some of the most frivolous of luxury commodities for First World people such as sex toys and overpriced name brand shoes. Meanwhile the Third world people suffer from a lack of it to fulfill their own social needs like healthcare and proper work attire. It is only through a radical reorganization of production according to need, not profits that will solve the unjust use of rubber and solve the problems of drug use.
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Drug addiction grows on Thai rubber farms, Al-Jazeera
Thai government delays draft rubber law amid farmers’ discontent, Reuters
Thai rubber farmers threaten to intensify protest as government rejects demands, Reuters
Thailand Plans Aid to Rubber Farmers as Prices Fall, Wall Street Journal Online
For more info on the working day see:
Karl Marx. Capital Volume One, Chapter Ten: The Working-Day