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Solutions: There is an alternative



ON 4 August 2005 the then-premier of New Brunswick, Bernard Lord, greeted the announcement by Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., an American monopoly based in Missouri, that it was closing its corrugated paper mill in Bathurst with the following statement, according to CBC News of that date: "There might not be anything they can do to change the company's mind, which made a decision it felt made economic sense."

Lord declared there was no alternative whatsoever except to continue surrendering to monopoly dictate. Lord said: "Businesses make these decisions for business reasons. We have to continue to work at making sure New Brunswick remains competitive.'" Translated this high ideal of "making New Brunswick (or Nova Scotia et al, Canada, etc.) competitive" simply means maximizing value for the monopolies, nothing more, nothing less. The human factor and the conditions it requires to flourish do not enter the picture.

The forestry monopolies and the federal and provincial governments are throwing thousands of forestry workers out on the streets and from their communities. These workers are at the heart of whole regions that depend almost solely on this industry to make a living. Yet the forestry monopolies and the governments are waging an ideological assault against the workers and the people of the remote areas of the Maritimes and Canada in particular to justify the massive closures and the anti-labour restructuring that is taking place. What is being imposed is the ideology and culture of hooliganism. Accordingly, the sole way that the forestry industry can survive is by becoming competitive on the global markets and society has no responsibility for the outcome of what happens as a result of the competition. All the assets of society, natural, technical, human, have to be rounded up to make the forestry monopolies competitive on the global markets. If this still fails to make them competitive, then they should be allowed to close and to leave the workers, the local communities and whole regions to their fate.

The future and well-being of the more than 300 forestry communities in Canada - 360,000 workers directly employed and close to 600,000 workers indirectly working in the forestry sector - are at stake.

New Brunswick is one of the provinces deeply affected by the closures and the anti-labour restructuring of the forestry monopolies. About half of New Brunswick's 14.6 million acres of productive forest lands is provincially controlled. Most of the more than seven million acres of crown land is leased to forest products monopolies. The workers and people of the province are waging a courageous struggle to defend themselves and are demanding that the New Brunswick government take a stand that protects them. In the two-and-a-half years since Lord's utterance, the Conservatives have been replaced by the Liberals due to popular discontent yet, all in all, four pulp and paper mills and seven saw mills have closed in New Brunswick. Of 85 mills that were running in New Brunswick in 1995, only 16 are now fully operational. The others have permanently or temporarily closed or are running at reduced capacity.

All this adds to a crisis-ridden province. Provincially, the participation rate of 63.9 per cent is far less than the national average. Participation rates are lowest (just under 60 per cent) in the Campbellton-Miramichi region. Participation rates correlate with difficulty in entering the labour force. Unemployment is highest in the Campbellton-Miramichi region. Traditionally, young New Brunswickers have had to emigrate to find employment. Not since Confederation has the province held its entire natural population increase; the 1960s recorded a net loss of 59 per cent "going down the road."

New Brunswick has also recently announced plans to slash the number of rural silviculture workers in the province by half, or 4,000 workers, by cutting $4 million in annual funding of the program. "Not only will the government cut funding in half," notes the Bugle Observer in Woodstock, NB, "it will drop its share of silviculture costs from 80 per cent to 50 per cent." It adds that "a resource that at one time was responsible for ten per cent of the gross provincial product is being exhausted" while a handful of molochs are enriching themselves as fast as possible.

Furthermore, since the mid 1990s, resource exploitation of New Brunswick and neighbouring Maine is being seamlessly integrated into one unit, with the demand for Atlantica and new transportation networks its political and economic reflection.

Neither the federal nor the New Brunswick governments oppose the closures. The federal government washes its hands of the human factor and dislocation in the economy as a whole coming from the neo-liberal, anti-social offensive. It hides behind the argument that the affair is in provincial jurisdiction. The provincial government, the Irving media and other monopoly media, insist that the grave crisis in the forestry industry is unavoidable and that everyone must live with it. Their outlook is that the workers should view themselves as stakeholders in the forestry monopolies and that the monopolies' well-being is the same thing as the workers' well-being. They promote the fiction that labour is a cost of production rather than, together with nature, the source of wealth. Thus, when profits are down, it is the workers who are expected to fall on their swords. Workers should solely concern themselves with retraining for call centres or hitting the trail. As one forestry worker from New Brunswick recently said, "Today, they are all pushing us to move to Alberta, and soon they are going to bring the national guard to keep us out."

Using a climate of despair to force concessions from the forestry workers, the monopolies and the governments are trying to hide that they actually have no plans for the "recovery" of the industry. Consolidation of the forest industry into a few giant monopolies based on serving the US market, and strengthening selected monopolies such as the Irvings, is presented as the sole alternative.

This is made very clear from the response of Lord's successors, the Graham Liberals. Through orders-in-council, it quickly reallocated softwood wood supply previously leased from Crown lands for the now-closed pulp and paper mills to J.D. Irving. The figures are stunning. The Conservation Council of New Brunswick reported on 10 March 2008 that "In Dalhousie/Restigouche 11 per cent has already been reallocated to J.D. Irving while another 22 per cent is up for grabs. In southeastern New Brunswick 58 per cent of its public wood supply has been transferred to Irving mills, while in Carleton County 52 per cent of its public wood supply is up for grabs."

That is not all. In January, J.D. Irving Ltd., Flakeboard Company Ltd. and Fraser Papers Inc. demanded up to a 30 per cent concession on hydro rates. In the case of Irving alone, that runs to $20 million. In March, Irving then publicly threatened it was reviewing a plan to relocate its Saint John pulp and paper mill to Quebec. New Brunswick Hydro responded by saying it would review electrical rates. On 8 April 2008 the province announced a $9 million loan to Irving Paper Ltd. to cover half the cost of purchasing a new boiler for its Saint John mill. Irving then renewed its demand for additional concessions in its power rates. "This doesn't impact the electricity side," Mark Mosher , an Irving vice-president, said.

Do the math. The population of New Brunswick is 719,000. A billionaire family ranked as the 106th richest in the world with an estimated $5.5 billion wealth receives what works out to $120.00 per person or, for a family of four, to $500.00. The $9 million loan is repayable in ten years, amortized at a mere 4.7 per cent interest, while at the same time Irving estimates it will save $4.5 million a year with its new boiler in decreased fuel costs. "It will also put the mill in a better financial position," the Irving vice-president told CBC News, "with projections suggesting it will save the company at least $4.5 million annually." That works out to at least a $45 million profit over ten years for the Irvings. This is what Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne called being "pro-active."

In Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the pattern is the same. In Nova Scotia the provincial government has advanced $30 million since 1996 to just one sawmill (MacTara, 75 per cent owned in Georgia [Fulghum Fibers, Inc.] whose debt is controlled by John Hancock of Boston), the province's largest. MacTara went bankrupt in October, 2007, leaving some 130 unorganized workers high and dry. The bulk of the funds went due South. This is not to overlook the tens of millions advanced to Swedish-owned Stora Enso and US-owned Bowaters Mersey.

This shows that the aim of the government at all levels is to uphold monopoly right, and "restructure" the forestlands for the benefit of a few, as they have already done to the fisheries and oceans. It is a constituent part of a neo-liberal, anti-social offensive of the international financial oligarchy, which is determined to seize native lands and the resources of the soil and subsoil in the name of advancement of humankind.

In New Brunswick, 20 per cent of the public wood that had been used by now closed mills has been permanently reallocated to J.D. Irving. This brings Irving's share of the public wood supply to more than 40 per cent of the total. This represents an increase of an increase of its holdings of 25 per cent since 2002. At that time, J.D. Irving held 965,138 hectares or 32 per cent of all crown land - an area the size of Prince Edward Island. The division of Crown land amongst the closed mills in 2002 (see chart) was: the Finnish multinational, UPM Kymmene, then controlled 30 per cent, Bowater 14 per cent and Parsons and Whittemore of New York (St Anne Nackawic) five per cent. J.D. Irving has also acquired over one million acres in Maine since the late 1990s where it is reportedly bringing in un-organized, migrant contract workers.

Meanwhile, local wood producers have seen their market cut in half, and Maliseet and Mi'kmaq First Nations are arrested and punished for implementing their aboriginal logging rights. The hereditary rights of First Nations on almost all timberland has not been respected or considered by the settler regime. In its greed to seize the timber resource, the outstanding contradiction with hereditary rights is being ignored and negated by monopoly right.

No sooner than the pulp and paper workers started protesting mill closures in January 2008 than the New Brunswick government immediately cancelled a series of public "consultative meetings" scheduled to have taken place on the forestry for fear of the people.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants, loans and "bailouts" and from workers' pension funds have been simply turned over to the monopolies. Provincial pension fund regulations were arbitrarily reformed overnight to short change laid off workers at the St Anne Nackawic mill. From the workers' pension fund at Nackawic, an estimated $30 million was looted by Parsons and Whittemore, one of the largest in the world, under a bankruptcy fraud of a front company, with the connivance of the government.

Throughout the Maritimes, the government plan for the industry is a plan to hand over the wealth of Maritimers to the forestry monopolies and finance capital, plain and simple. This also extends to the annexation of vast timberlands across the border in Maine which are also being gobbled up by the same vested corporate and financial interests along the path they present as Atlantica, regional integration. The well-being of Canadians count for nothing with the US-dominated monopolies. The well-being of Maritimers, including pulp and paper and other forest workers mean nothing to those who consider workers a negative cost in their accounting ledger.

There is an alternative. The right to a livelihood of the workers and people of the forestry communities is a central issue in the Maritimes today.

The aim of the climate of despair is to prevent the workers from becoming conscious that they can only deal with the situation by relying on themselves and by envisioning independent solutions that serve their interests. The workers and people have the right to demand that their livelihood and communities be protected. As the producers of added-value, they have every right to a claim on the living social product so they can live in dignity and security. This must be contested as the antithesis of democratic rule by the people. As well, public opinion in the Maritimes is against the ruthless plunder of the forest by these few monopolies which is facilitated by order-in-council, i.e., rule by decree, and the denial of of the democratic rights of all the people to participate in deciding such important questions as public land use and socially responsible management. Once beautiful and productive forests that were once have been left to rot because the monopolies did not consider it profitable to renew them. Public opinion in the Maritimes is for aboriginal rights.

For decades, the forestry monopolies have enjoyed the privilege of having access to the public forests and a supply of wood guaranteed by the state. They have received all sorts of public monies. They must carry out their social responsibility regardless of the situation in which the industry finds itself at the moment. Governments have to stand with the forestry workers to create some stability in these communities and open a path to rebuild the industry in a way that serves the workers and sustains the national social economy.

Workers can only deal with the situation by relying on themselves and by envisioning independent solutions that serve their interests. The workers and people have the right to demand that their livelihood and communities be protected. As the producers of added-value, they have every right to a claim on the living social product so they can live in dignity and security.

Once beautiful and productive forests have been clearcut or left to rot because the monopolies did not consider it profitable to renew them. Public opinion in the Maritimes is against the ruthless plunder of the forest which is facilitated by order-in-council, i.e., rule by decree, and the denial of the democratic rights of all the people to participate in deciding such important questions as public land use and socially responsible management. This must be contested as the antithesis of democratic rule. Public opinion in the Maritimes is for aboriginal rights.

For the information of our readers, Shunpiking Online is posting news, commentaries and interviews on recent developments that highlight how serious the problems are and how the workers are responding at this time. We are reproducing several statements and articles advancing possible solutions to the crisis. As well, we will be printing a commentary on the 2006 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on aboriginal logging rights in New Brunswick.


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