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Miramichi workers' just demand to expropriate multinational UPM mill

THE MIRAMICHI forestry workers in New Brunswick are demanding that the groundwood and coated paper mills owned by the Finnish monopoly UPM (UPM-Kymmene Group) be expropriated.

The layoffs at the Miramichi paper mill will put about 540 people out of work. UPM also operates sawmills in Blackville and Bathurst, and manages woodlands under Crown forest licences. The company says the future of those operations is also under consideration.

When UPM announced on December 17, 2007 that the shutdown of these mills, which was supposed to last between nine and twelve months, was to be permanent, the workers and the population intensified their mass actions to protect their livelihoods and the livelihoods of the people of the region. While continuing to try to convince UPM to keep the facility open and to negotiate various issues, the workers organized mass actions to protest the closure and to demand that UPM's cutting rights on Crown lands be cancelled. They are demanding that a full environmental review be done if UPM removes equipment or dismantles the facility. They are opposing the creation of an atmosphere of fatalistic acceptance of the closure, as expressed, for example, in ads by the City of Miramichi which were already talking about the life in Miramichi after the closure of the mill. They have now decided to demand the expropriation of the facilities and the population is behind them.

Altogether over 650 workers will lose their jobs with the closure and the spin-off effect is very severe. All of this adds to the acute crisis that is already affecting the forestry industry in New Brunswick.

The demand for the expropriation of the mills is the logical conclusion after the years of struggle and tribulation of the Miramichi workers. They have waged strikes and other forms of struggle to defend their rights and at various times they have also made concessions in wages and work rules with the hope that this would stabilize their situation and save their livelihoods. They have travelled to Finland to meet company officials as well as other UPM workers. They have made representations to the provincial government to stress the importance of the industry for New Brunswick and the north of the province in particular.

They have drawn the conclusion that UPM was never interested and is not interested now in the livelihood of the workers and of the people in the communities nor is it interested in the well being of the industry itself. For UPM, as is the case with other empire builders that dominate the industry, a facility and the people who operate it and depend on it are merely pawns and numbers in a global game of monopoly competition. These empire builders recognize no social responsibility toward the workers and the people and they arrogantly declare that they can shut down whatever they want with full impunity. Far from protecting the public good and public right, governments are doing everything possible to protect monopoly right.

The Miramichi workers are courageously saying no to this impunity. UPM must pay a price for the conscious devastation of the lives of the people and of the industry. In this regard, the workers are addressing the provincial government and demanding that it take up its own social responsibility and proceed with the expropriation and stop UPM from cutting wood on Crown lands and exporting it outside of New Brunswick. Monopoly right cannot be allowed to trump public right and the governments are duty-bound to uphold public right.

The government must address the urgency of the situation and not try to excuse itself from doing anything by saying that there is no legal precedent for an expropriation in New Brunswick. It is not true that there is no precedent. The people of New Brunswick still remember the expropriation of some 250 families totalling over 1,200 people from their homes and lands at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s for the building of the Kouchibouguac National Park. The courts, the police, the bulldozers and tear gas were used against the people, forcing their eviction and depriving these families, who had fished and farmed the land for generations, of their livelihood and homes. Who in New Brunswick has forgotten that?

By demanding the expropriation of the UPM mills, the workers are contributing to the struggle of the workers across Canada who are striving to bring social consciousness to the organization of the economy. For the workers and the people, the natural resources, the human productive force, the machinery and industrial facilities are elements that can be used to build something new that serves the people instead of being instruments to build and expand private empires over which we have no control. This struggle is just and it is the struggle of all the workers for a way out of this crisis.

Once again, full support for the demand of the Miramichi workers for the expropriation of the UPM mills.

* The article has been slightly edited for Shunpiking Online. Pierre Chénier is secretary of the Workers' Centre of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).

Source: TML Daily, 23 January 2008 - No. 7


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