Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Whims of Multinationals, The Distress of the Working Class

As capitalist globalization is mushrooming throughout the world, its effects are also apparent, and being felt in Canada. The most frequent victims of this system's erratic instability are the young, the poor, and the working class. Canada is a country rich in natural resources, a haven for multinationals, but it is also a rich country with expensive labour and energy costs. And, although it is rich in natural resources, it is reliant on mainly oil, natural gas, lumber, and minerals. When so many people are reliant on one industry, and corporations because of unfavourable economic conditions decide to move camp and set up in other more cost-efficient countries, the social consequences for many working class people can be dire.

In the small community of Dalhousie in New-Brunswick, a paper mill which has generated the livelihood of the town's majority for decades, is about to be shutdown by AbitibiBowater(AB), a siginificant player in the North American forest products industry. The announcement comes after Abitibi-Consolidated and Bowater Incorporated have recently merged to form the new company. Now as a result of big business decisions, and in the name of cost-efficiency and maximizing profits, the working class people of New-Brunswick dependent on the forestry sector will take a hard hit, as AB moves some of its Canadian operations to be relocated elsewhere. This story came out in a Dec.22 article of last year in The Globe and Mail. Telling of how difficult the situation truly will be for the small community, Dalhousie will loose $2 Million in taxes paid by the paper mill, a figure which accounts for almost one third of the city's budget. The article also poitns out that "there will be less wealth circulating to support local businesses and real estate values are expected to take a hit." So essentially the people of this community will loose everything all at once; many of them will loose their jobs directly, others will loose their businesses as a result of the damaged economy, and even if they wish to sell their homes and start over elsewhere, it will be very difficult for them to do so with very little money, because even if they are lucky enough to find buyers who are looking for ghost town real estate, the value of their homes will already have fallen drastically.

In response to community concerns, AB officials have said they will help find a buyer for the building, but that they refuse to sell to a competitor, and that they intend on removing some of the paper-making equipment. But Dalhousie's residents are aware that AB's malicious intentions of removing machinery are illegal if the workers are not sufficiently compensated for their losses. In many situations in Argentina during the 2001 economic crash, factory-owning multinational investors were closing factories and disappearing overnight, in most cases owing large sums of money to their workers. In some cases, owners claiming the factories were non-profitable even managed to extract government subsidies in order to pay workers, only to keep the money for themselves, and to sell off the factories' supplies and machinery after vanishing. Argentinian workers began obtaining government issued licences to inspect the factories in order to make sure nothing had been removed from inside, and if they found any of the equipment missing then had a case to eventually occupy and run the factories themselves. Many of them did so by these legal channels, others did so "illegally", nationalizing their factories or forming worker cooperatives, making their workplaces productive and profitable once again. I'm not sure how much the workers of the Dalhousie paper mill know about the Movement of Occupied Factories in Argentina, but they are seemingly militant union workers who have a good level of awareness about the injustice being commited them. One of the mills' union leaders told The Globe and Mail, "I know the people in this mill and they'll have people at every gate....And believe you me they'll make sure nothing moves out of the doors."

In a similar closure in New-Brunswick, in the small city of Miramichi, a Finnish company UMP-Kymenne closed down the city's facility only to invest in overseas mills to exploit Russia's forests, effectively putting 600 people out of work. It is estimated that the forestry sector in New-Brunswick alone has discharged 5,000 workers in the past few years. ABs announcement in December has already affected 3,600 workers, and they may still announce a second round of closures as early as April or May of this year.

In order to water down the grave magnitude of this situation which is becoming an issue in other parts of Canada as well, the Harper government announced on Jan.10th a $1 billion trust fund to offer one-time assistance to communities in need. But if multinationals weren't allowed to operate with such impunity, this sort of thing wouldn't happen in the first place. The $1 billion relief being offered is only a quick fix that does not remedy the social and financial instability of wild west capitalism.

Capitalism is an economic and social system that is inherently volatile and unreliable. Capitalist governments have no control over the security and welfare of their own people. The substance which holds capitalism together is based on movements, on change, on ups and downs, on booms and recessions, and its profits are made on the nature of this instability. Capitalism is big, intimidating, and extravagant, yet it is held up by a dissproportionate, top-heavy, frail, hollow structure. It is like an immense, glamorous palace made entirely out of delicate crystal, or a vulnerable castle of cards. Governments are there only to preside over the spending of tax dollars which go one of either two directions, public or private. When national money goes into public projects, it is an investment to create its own institutions, to construct human capital for its people. When public wealth goes into private hands, it is wasted, it is wealth that is leaving the country, wealth that will never be retrieved. Capitalist governments are there only to create empty spaces for the corporations to fill. When governments privatize hospitals, or sacrifice public schools to the charter system for example, they are simply opening up new markets for large private companies or corporations, facilitating the dominance of multinationals. The objective is for the working class to possess only the bear minimum amount of wealth, just enough to keep them alive and the capitalist machinery functional.

A nationalized economy on the other hand, with consolidated central planning, provides economic, and thus social stability. We need to build our own system where the economy is managed and controlled by us, for our interests. Che Guevara wrote that economic planning should be seen as humanity's first chance to reign over economic forces. Carlos Tablada, a Cuban economist, in continuation of Che's theory on political-economy wrote that "the planned economy becomes the instrument by which men can know reality and make decisions about it, thereby creating and shaping both their present and their future." The idea that the economy is successful only insofar as it serves as a tool to shape the prosperity and advancement of humanity. So to the mill workers of Dalhousie, and to the poor and working class people all across the world, we stress that their self-determination will not be attained until "man ceases to be the slave and instrument of his environment and becomes an architect of his own destiny."

Workers of the World Unite for Economic Independence!

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