GM Committed to Canada?

GM, on its website claims in very large text that it is committed to Canada and its employees in Oshawa.

Well, although I don’t doubt the sincerity of the person who actually wrote this material and even of the GM company itself, it’s obvious that GM is not and cannot be committed to Canada ahead of its commitment to itself and to profit. It will sacrifice whatever it needs to in order to stay alive as a viable company.

Be warned, the Oshawa layoffs are just the beginning of a trend in GM towards hiring new kinds of engineers, many out of Silicon Valley, with a plan of producing electric and self-driving vehicles. According to the company’s website and to industry analysts, GM sees Cadillac as its first electric car offering to compete with Tesla. Now that’s interesting! It proudly states that unlike European carmakers GM has not opened a factory in Mexico for 10 years. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean that its current plans don’t include bringing parts from all over the world to its assembly plants in North America where their cars are ‘made’. It’s future does include layoffs of over 20,000 workers. In that, GM is not much different from any other large global secondary manufacturing organization.

Obviously, GM is in the business of selling cars and trucks. It doesn’t help the company’s image among nationalists that it’s willing to put 2600 Oshawa workers out of work leaving the plant ‘unallocated’. Unallocated means they have no plans to produce anything in that plant after the plant closes in December or ever. So, to mollify the opposition, GM says that over half of its employees at Oshawa Assembly were due to retire anyway. Its website reports that:

  • GM Canada has committed millions of dollars to help our Oshawa Assembly employees transition and retrain – so our employees and their families know that if they choose not to retire on their GM pension (more than half of our hourly workers at Oshawa Assembly will be eligible for their GM pension when production ends at the end of 2019), there will be an opportunity for them to transition to one of 5,000 good available new jobs in Durham Region and GTA and GM will help fund the transition training for them.

It’s true that GM is making some generous offers to their outgoing employees. These include help transitioning to other jobs, allowing the continuation of employee benefits and even a $20,000 voucher towards a new car. So, even as they go out the door of GM’s Assembly plant, workers can drive away in a new GM car! What have the employees to complain about?

Well, they may have a lot to complain about, but I’m not sure a lot of people are going to listen to their complaints. They’ve had very ‘cushy’ jobs with good pay for decades now. No one promised you a rose garden, right? I can’t imagine a lot of Alberta oil sands workers being very sympathetic. “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” “We’re losing our jobs, it’s only fair that you would lose yours too!” No, sympathy is not a quality we should expect to see expressed much anymore. Liberalism and libertarianism have conditioned us to believe that whatever happens to us is our own responsibility, our own fault, good or bad. Piss on all the rest of you!

Getting back to a point I alluded to earlier, GM is not committed to Canada, at least not per se. It will be committed to Canada as long as it serves its economic interests. GM’s economic interests and survival as a global corporation easily trump any commitment it might have to Canada or any other country for that matter, including the US.

In fact, Canada as a political organization is dedicated to providing the environment necessary for GM and other companies like it to continue to make a profit. Canada and the Ontario government have just invested $150 million in Algoma Steel, a company which is based in Sault St-Marie, now owned by an Indian company and is now called Essar Algoma Steel. To “Canada” it matters not who owns a company and where its head office is located as long as the government can claim that ‘Canadian’ jobs will be protected and saved. Inevitably, Canada cannot protect all of ‘our’ jobs all of the time. Business corporations are the ones to decide on jobs although government itself also creates a lot of jobs, many of them in agreements to help out ailing parts of the country, in policing and regulating our activities, in ensuring that we have the education business needs and in any other way to make us job ready, more or less healthy and well-fed.

The bottom line is that ‘Canada’ is the partner of global corporate capitalism for the maintenance and management of the labour force using coercion or ideology, as well as for ensuring a good environment for global business. It also serves to provide the political/legal framework for our individual liberty to sell our labour power to whoever we want and for any capitalist with money to buy our labour-power. All countries are to a varying extent. Canada is not a stand along political entity with its own economy, society, legal system, etc. In fact the only thing that holds this country together is not economy or society but our shared citizenship and residency (for the most part). Attempts to rally Canadians around economic or social initiatives are bound to fail. It’s only in sports that Canadians can get together when ‘our’ team plays against the ‘Americans’ in the World Cup of Hockey.

A Series of Blog Posts or a Book?

So, after I asked in a recent post for ideas of what I should write about, Jack Minard sent me this:

Write about the difference between political or social organization and economic organization. I.e. do democracy and capitalism have any hope of co-existing well? Always seemed like a bad marriage to me! Doesn’t capitalism depend on inequality while democracy would do best with complete equality of opportunity? Of course there are differences in people. Some “cream” will always rise to the top… your thoughts?

Well, I started writing a post in respond to Jack’s comment a few days ago and before long I was up to 5000 words and I felt that I had barely touched the subject. A friend suggested a series of blog posts and I’m leaning in that direction although others have suggested that I should write a book. At 72, a book seems a little daunting although I surely have enough material to write one. Blog posts seem more manageable. I don’t know. I’m still making up my mind. However, Jack opened up a porthole to my memory of the countless books and articles I’ve read over the decades as well as the uncountable number of hours I’ve spent in thinking about these things and in teaching about them. Ask Carolyn how often she’s caught me in a virtual altered state as I explored in my mind all the threads of evidence and connection I’ve collected over the decades of thought and contemplation. She’d be talking to me and I’d be off somewhere in my mind wondering about a sentence in Marx or Veblen, Innis, Nietzsche, Elias, or Becker. I have been known to be ‘into myself’ for hours if not days and weeks on end, lost in thought. It’s been my adult life, but I can recall that even in my early teens I had an insatiable curiosity about things as my father discovered over and over again as I would dissect clocks, motors, engines and whatever else was at hand in an effort to learn about their workings and their essences. I still do that with words.

So, what about democracy and capitalism? To be sure, there’s a lot to be said and a lot has already been said about ‘them’. Of course, the word is not the thing as Plato and others have remarked nor is the map the territory (Korzybski), and both democracy and capitalism have to be explored as concepts as well as more or less real worldly phenomena. When I was still teaching, I pointed out to my students that dictionaries are closed systems. Try this: take a word like map. Go to its dictionary definition and then go to the definitions of each word that’s used to define it. You’ll soon discover that you end up in a rabbit hole with no exit: The map is a representation, the representation is a map, and so on. Democracy is a fine concept, then, but what is its reality? Rule by the people? What does rule mean? And who are The People? Does democracy imply that each individual participates in the exercise of power? If the leaders of a country tout it as the greatest democracy ever on the planet are we to just take their word for it? How do we decide if a country is REALLY a democracy? These are all questions I will attempt to answer in subsequent blog posts.

Capitalism is easier to define in some ways than democracy although there is some disagreement as to the effective use of the concept. I personally don’t use it, but because jack brought it up, I’ll explain. Fernand Braudel, one of my favourite social historians, wrote that Marx never used the term. Re-reading Marx’s work with the specific intention of proving Braudel wrong, I had to conclude that, no, he was correct. I haven’t found the term anywhere in Marx and if there’s anyone who would have used it, it would be Marx. But he didn’t. The reason is fairly simple. Whenever an ism is added to a word, it refers to a system, a movement, something like that. Wikipedia notes: Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Marx defined his work as the materialist conception of history and he was not impressed with other theorists who tended to see structures and systems independently of them as a process. Marx uses the notion of the capitalist historical mode of production to describe the focus of his analysis. This may seem like just semantics, but it’s not. Capitalism as a word describes a set of relationships frozen in time and place. Marx was more interested in the historical development of capitalist relations of production born in feudal relations and still with us. Marx wrote in the Introduction to Capital, Volume 1 (I paraphrase): “All I have wanted to do is the same for political economy that Darwin did for biology.” Engels repeated this same sentiment in his eulogy to Marx in 1883. That doesn’t mean that Marx was looking for a mechanism like natural selection in political economy. I’ll explore this further in another blog post. Why do I spend so much time here on what Marx had to say? Because his work, not entirely original but still seminal, is not to be denied in any discussion of the capitalist mode of production and its special place in history. Marx understood that the capitalist mode of production would inevitably go global and he was correct. Needless to say, capital is high on my list of fun things to think about along with labour.

What is the relationship historically between the capitalist mode of production and political systems like democracy? Neither depend on each other, that’s certain, not theoretically, nor in practice. This is one very important theme I will explore in the coming weeks.

So, I guess I’ve decided to go with blog posts rather than a book. I suppose blog posts can be pasted together to make a book in any case. So it probably doesn’t matter. That said, I have lots to say about capitalism and democracy and their surrogates, business and representative government. I’ll do that in the next many posts I write. I’ll use Canada as a subject in most cases but the United States is also in my crosshairs. I’ll roam around European history and literature. I’ll return to my dissertation and comment on Harold Innis’ notions on nationalism. I’ll throw in some Veblen. Marx will appear here and there as will a slew of other writers. I don’t want to get bogged down in semantics, but clarification of terms is essential. The first chapter in Bertell Ollman’s book Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society is called: With words that appear like bats. It’s worth it, I think, to take a bit of a stroll through Ollman’s book, something you can do for free by clicking on the title of his book above. I say this not only as a reference to Marx and his critics, but to the use of words in general. So many words appear like bats, flitting in and out of the dusk so fast it’s hard to get a good look at them. Democracy and capitalism are those kinds of words. Batty they are, but maybe with the right camera we can at least get a good approximation of what they represent and how they relate to one another. Stay tuned.

See what you’ve done, Jack Minard!

Trump and protectionism

This is just a short blog that is a reaction to a CBC radio interview this morning with a representative of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CMEA). The interviewer asked the rep from the CMEA how Trump’s presidency would affect Canadian manufacturers. His reply was that Canadian manufacturers are worried, but that Trump’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric designed to appeal to particular gullible and self-interested audiences, and fact is something else. He said that if the US imposes tariffs on Canadian goods, then Canada should do the same with regard to American goods.

Problem is, there is a basic flaw in this perspective. Canada produces nothing. The US produces nothing. Corporations, sometimes registered in one country or another, produce things and services for sale. People produce things, not countries so why do economists and journalists still insist on using the country as their primary unit of analysis? When are they going to stop saying that Canada’s trade with the US is this and that, rather than focusing on the real situation which is that corporations are dominant and manipulate governments for their own interests? Ironically, many ‘Canadian’ manufacturers have their products produced in China or in other countries that provide them with tax breaks, lax labour and environmental laws, and cheap labour in export processing zones. And just because a corporation has a head office in Toronto and is technically a Canadian corporation that doesn’t mean that its prime motivator is to serve Canada as a country. No, its prime motivator is profit and as long as a Canadian head office serves its interests that’s fine, the moment it doesn’t do that anymore, its ‘loyalty’ will dissolve as quickly as salt in water and it will move its head office elsewhere. More to the point, of course, is that much of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is controlled from abroad. That led Harold Innis (Google him) to note in the late 1940s that Canada is a country with its brains spread all over the globe.

Economists and journalists need to give their head a shake and stop letting corporate capital and its governmental lackeys lead them around by the nose.

 

The “Canadian Economy?”

Following my last post where I look at Statistic Canada’s analysis of intergenerational income in Canada without coming to any conclusions, today, I intend to make one specific point. That point also relates to a Statistics Canada post today on labour productivity in Canada.

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/161202/dq161202b-eng.htm

The point I want to make has already been make frequently enough. Harold Innis, the pre-eminent political economist who worked at the University of Toronto and who died in 1952 and his mentor and predecessor, Thorstein Veblen, the even more pre-eminent economic historian who taught in various American universities and who died in 1929 both in their own ways decried the use of statistics on a purely national basis. The transnational nature of corporate power and control has been studied carefully by scores of scholars over the decades. See in particular the work of William Carroll at UVic and the network of scholars with whom he is associated worldwide. In my own dissertation (1981) I argued following Innis that the weather doesn’t stop at national borders, nor should statistical analysis.

In an age where corporations are spread all over the globe and where a head office may be in one country, research and development in a couple of others and commodity production in several others, how does it make sense to talk about the ‘Canadian’ economy? If StatsCan wants to get with the times it needs to begin to follow corporations in the various parts of their businesses wherever they happen to be. It’s telling that the former Canadian Manufacturers’ Association is now the Canadian Manufacturers’ and Exporters Association. With the massive reductions in value-added production in Canada over the past half century, the concept of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is losing its relevance. This is even more true when we consider that the extractive industries in Canada, especially in the petroleum industries are 95% under foreign control.

There is no such thing as the Canadian economy. The sooner we accept that and change our patterns of gathering data the sooner we will get an accurate picture of the global reality of ‘the economy.’ Of course Statistics Canada is there to serve the Canadian government so it’s by it’s very nature political. Harold Innis warned decades ago that scholars should not let politicians lead them around by the nose. It seems like that’s exactly what has happened for a long time now and is still the driving force of data collection in StatsCan.

I deal with this topic in several posts. Check my archives for more.

Global Corporate Charters

http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/IssuePerspectives/GTI-Perspectives-Global_Corporate_Charters.pdf

So, I’ve been researching and teaching about the expansion of the global capitalist system for decades.  From all the research I’ve done, it strikes me as just about inevitable that business will soon break away from its national charter licence system to one that is supra-national.

International law as it now stands is virtually toothless, but it won’t be long before a global justice system with enforcement capabilities will be necessary.  When large business corporations no longer operate nationally, but have their headquarters in one country, research and development in another and production in several others with no one country able to legislate their activities, it’s time for a change.  The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, formerly the Canadian Manufacturers Association, has no problem representing businesses who produce nothing (or virtually nothing) in Canada.  Businesses that formerly produced (manufactured) refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in Canada but who now produce them in China in their own factories or under licence to Chinese companies or in other countries with low wages and virtually no health and safety standards for workers are still considered Canadian manufacturers.  To me that’s pretty odd.

As business corporations become more and more global they will need to be regulated more and more globally if we have any hope at all of avoiding becoming nothing but fodder for the creation of obscene corporate profits. Of course, it’s much more complicated than I’ve stated it here.  I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent blog posts.  In the meantime, have a look at the article for which I’ve included a link above.  Check out its provenance,  the Tellus Foundation.  What they propose in this article is a new global charter system for business corporations.

RBC outsourcing controversy a new low-point for Temporary Foreign Workers Program | Daily Brew – Yahoo! News Canada

RBC outsourcing controversy a new low-point for Temporary Foreign Workers Program | Daily Brew – Yahoo! News Canada.

Well, we need to expect this kind of thing and more.  This is just another incidence of the global push to devalue labour everywhere it’s possible.  But ‘Canadian’ corporations have been ‘offshore outsourcing’ jobs for years and setting up factories or contracting out production in export processing zones all over the ‘3rd’ World.  RBC brass, when asked about why they were doing this, the answer was ‘efficiency.’  Of course, how can we argue with that?  But efficiency always means the elimination of workers and jobs or the devaluation of labour-power by whatever means possible.  RBC brass were shocked that the interests of the nation would have anything to do with their business.

Businesses have been contracting out for a long time and that tactic is proceeding apace everywhere.  BC Hydro has contracted out a large part of its maintenance functions to other businesses, non-union ones with low wages and not a lot of job security.  And they aren’t the only ones, by any stretch.  Offshore outsourcing is just another step in the complete control of labour by capital.

The globalization of commodity production and service provision must, by definition,  include labour-power, itself being a commodity.  Let’s make no mistake about it, what you sell when you go to work is time, life and self-determination.  The more money (wages) you get for it, the less ‘the company’ can extract from the productive process surplus-value and profit.  Wages and profits are the shock points of the ‘class war.’  They are in direct conflict.  When a company announces laying off thousands of workers in the name of efficiency, shareholders applaud and, of course, the government can celebrate a rise in productivity.  But people are put out of work.  And out-of-work people don’t buy things.  Have fun cutting your own throats, corporate world!  What we are witnessing now is just part of the process of corporate concentration of power and the demise of whatever little democracy we had in the process.

The RBC brouhaha is compounded by nationalism and the expectation that our national government is out to protect our national interests.  I hope you don’t still believe that lie. I know it’s hard not to.  It’s OUR country after all.  Well, yes it is, strictly speaking, but if you read my last post you’ll come to realize that countries (not all and not always) by and large are instruments of private capital accumulation.  The Harper government will do everything it can to support capital against labour but it must face the still strong belief among Canadians that Canada means something and is important.  We’re like a big family.  Maybe, but the forces of capital are now stronger than the ideology of nationalism.  We’ll see who wins this struggle.

VIEW: Inequality hurts BC’s economy and democracy | The Hook

John Peters from Laurentian University is in Vancouver on Thursday, March 14 (today) at 7 p.m. for  a presentation at the Rhizome Cafe, 317 East Broadway of the book he edited called: Boom, Bust and Crisis: Labour, Corporate Power and Politics in Canada.  If you’re in Vancouver and interested you should check it out.  The article you can access by clicking on the link below outlines some interesting scenarios for our economic futures…

via VIEW: Inequality hurts BC’s economy and democracy | The Hook.

More from me soon on this topic.