The photojournalist who took this photo of rubbish scavengers in Demra, Dhaka, Bangladesh certainly meant respect when he called them “self-employed.” He added, “This is the way they pass their life & contribute to the society.” That’s sweet–but it sure as hell misses the point. All over the world, millions of impoverished, unemployed urban slum dwellers forcibly dislocated from agriculture by neoliberal plunder are compelled to comb waste dumps for recyclables to resell for a few bucks a day. To feed their kids, they fight off birds of prey & rats & plow through manure, rotten food, unmentionable decaying things–all emitting stench & disease. Even the US Department of Labor would not term this “self-employment.” The blunt-spoken like to call it what it is: unspeakable degradation & exploitation.

These mountains of toxic, stinking eyesores all over the planet represent neoliberalism’s waste management system. They’re so busy plundering they don’t have time to clean up the mess they leave behind. Dumping this waste next to slums, on Indian reservations (in the US), or in oceans is not a way to provide employment to the impoverished but an expression of social contempt. These mounds expose & they damn the disregard of neoliberalism (the barbaric phase of capitalism) for human health & welfare. You can see in the photo scavengers have devised makeshift safety equipment to block out the stench & toxic particulates. But most of them will still develop skin & respiratory illnesses & pass them on their children–though actually many of the scavengers are themselves children.

Many opponents of neoliberal environmental policy like to write long-winded tracts of condemnation. There isn’t a one as eloquent in damnation as this photo of young people not just ‘passing’ their lives but shortening them considerably.

As for ‘contributing’ to society, the best thing we can do, hand in hand with our unemployed sisters & brothers, is to do some heavy-duty waste management of our own & rid this beautiful planet of neoliberal predation.

(Photo by Ziaul Haque)