All-candidates ‘debate’: Opposing the militarization of shipbuilding

By TONY SEED

IN ONE of the few interventions allowed from the floor at the Dalhousie University All Candidates Debate on October 6, 2008 [1], a representative of the Canadian Auto Workers rightly condemned the Harper handout of $80 million to Ford as an an attempt to buy seats in Windsor, denounced Harper’s destruction of Canadian shipbuilding, and asked the candidates for their views.

It is impossible to clarify any serious issue within the restrictive limits dictated by the “debate” format, limiting questions and answers to thirty seconds, especially if your microphone is repeatedly cut off in a hostile manner! Nevertheless, a good part of the audience applauded my answer, as they did every attack on the warmongering positions of the Harper government, and many people afterwards commented positively on them. A lady who had been a contender for the NDP candidacy told me outside that I had touched a nerve, raising a perspective and facts about the issue that no-one had heard before. In a quick exchange the CAW representative called out, “Tell that to my 800 union members, Mr. Seed!” and I as quickly replied, “I look forward to it. Let’s organize the date.” But my microphone had been turned off which is perhaps the reason I have not heard back from the CAW. I am thus elaborating my views on the issue of shipbuilding, one of the traditional industries in the Maritimes which is in crisis, and the reasons for them.

Megan Leslie, the candidate of the NDP, called “for all ship and military vessels to be built in Canada.” The party preens itself on having appointed a parliamentary “critic” for shipbuilding, Peter Stouffer, an open advocate for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan.

Likewise the Green candidate, Darry Whetter, echoing Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams and the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, condemned Peter MacKay for cancelling a shipbuilding contact for naval and coast guard vessels. Sounding like a young Tony Blair or William Clinton, he separately called for the Canadian Forces to be redeployed from Afghanistan to intervene in Darfur in the name of “white man’s burden” and “humanitarian intervention,” presumably served by the warships-to-be-built in Atlantic Canada. The NDP and Green both demanded that the $3 billion budget for naval and coast ships be “maximized on a buy-Canada basis.” The Liberal and Conservative candidates had nothing to contribute that I can recollect.

In the “great debate” in the Central Nova riding, Elizabeth May attacked both Harper and MacKay “for outsourcing our future by contracting to buy navy and coast guard vessels out of this country.” MacKay for his part evasively accused the Greens of deception, and he made a big-time promise: “We are absolutely going to build ships – icebreakers, destroyers – in Canada. It’s fear-mongering to suggest that these ships are being outsourced.” May asserts they are being “outsourced,” MacKay said.

Thus the issue presented is whether the contract is to be “outsourced” or not. And what if it is? The only alternative presented is “insourcing” – if such a word even exists.

Why is such a vital industry as ship repair and ship building being auctioned in this way? It would be a good thing if the NDP and the Greens took a principled position. It would give rise to much popular support. It is insulting to the dignity and worth of labour to treat the shipyard workers as a vote bank. Visions and slogans are one thing, facts are another, and very stubborn at that.

On the one hand, the economy, “jobs,” and “buy Canadian” as a means of stimulus is declared the “number one issue” in the most narrow, self-serving way, to the exclusion of the consequences of the economic crisis. On the other, the militarization of the economy and the $20 billion war budget is presented as the solution in the name of “buy Canadian.” Neither MacKay, the NDP nor the Greens discuss the consequences of the militarization of the economy nor the dangerous aim and mission being given this modernized imperialist armada. They are all for it, but do not want to say so openly for fear of offending their constituencies. Only the MLPC presents the necessity for a nation-building project including shipbuilding, merchant marine, the fisheries and the steel industry.

Harper’s armada

Ottawa is planning a massive expansion in the preparations for bloody war and foreign intervention in the service of the U.S. empire, but a war profitable for the big bankers, and there is furious bidding for fabulous military orders. Harper’s “Canada First Defence Strategy” involves a military budget of $490 billion. The naval shipbuilding contract involves a more than $3 billion program for the transfer of public funds to private shipbuilding and armaments monopolies. It was initiated by the Chrétien Liberals and adopted by Paul Martin in April, 2004 as part of the “modernization” and “transformation” of the Canadian Forces demanded by Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon of the NATO “allies.”

I briefly pointed out that Harper and his sidekick MacKay are merely putting into place new tendering arrangements for domestic and foreign monopolies under the pretext that the existing tenders were too high. To elaborate: this would have included $324 million for the procurement, operation and maintenance of six new coast guard vessels – as well as the previously announced $2.9 billion joint support ship procurement.

The Coast Guard ships are being modernized as part of the contention of vested interests for Arctic shipping routes and oil reserves, the “benefit” of climatic change. The Canadian Coast Guard, whose prosecution of tankers for oil spills has been cut by fully one third since 1994, has been brought under the command of U.S. Homeland Security since 9/11 as part of the new U.S.-Canadian “security” arrangements.

The three naval “joint support ships” to be commissioned are massive state-of-the-art command-and-control warships, unique in the world. They are being positioned to become a principal weapon for offensive operations in the seven seas of the world, wherever the U.S. Empire has need of them. This comes when The US Navy – Status of the Navy tells us that 92 per cent of its surface ships are currently obsolete or deployed. The “joint support ships” combine a supply and provisioning role for forward combat operations and a command centre, capable of directing amphibious invasions of coastal and sovereign countries. They will be far superior in high-tech electronics and armour than anything afloat. This explains the global dreams and megalomaniac ambitions of the ruling elite. Vast sums in the tens of billions of dollars – far greater than the $3 billion – will be expended if either the Conservatives or Liberals are re-elected. In this way, they are meeting the U.S. demand that Canada pay a far greater share of the defence of Fortress America and the Canadian Forces be fully annexed under the Pentagon. They then present their military “ship procurement strategy” as a “Canadian shipbuilding strategy.” The neo-liberal and imperialistic policies have nothing whatever to do with the defence of Canada or developing a modern shipbuilding sector, but they are being justified in the name of the “Buy Canada” and “protecting Canadian sovereignty” propaganda carried by the NDP and the Green in the election.

Secondly, the policies of Ottawa in military procurement (“defence production”) have always involved arrangements through which finance capital subjugates the assets of the particular sector of the economy involved, as the AVRO Arrow affair famously illustrated.

At present, the vicious inter-monopoly competition for the contracts has both a national and international dimension, involving the cartelization of the armaments and shipbuilding sector of the economy within the U.S.-NATO bloc, which has not yet been resolved.

The domestic monopolies include the U.S.-owned Kiewit yard in Marystown, Newfoundland, the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyards, Davie Yards Inc. in Quebec City (also involving Norwegian interests), and the U.S.-owned Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. The German shipbuilding corporation, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Canada, though rarely mentioned, also lurks in the background, as does SNC Lavalin with its well-known links to Paul Martin, whose family owns Canada Steamship Lines. In February, 2006, both were selected to receive a contract for the Project Definition Phase of the Joint Support Ship project and paid $12.5 million each to develop designs and submit bids by the summer of 2008. So much for MacKay’s lies concerning “outsourcing.” These warships not only involve building hulls, at which Canadian shipyard workers are second to none, but also foreign armaments and electronics all to be imported, from which fabulous profits are made. None of the domestic monopolies have revealed with whom they are linked. In this regard, is it not fortuitous that Lockheed Martin has established an operation right within the bowels of CFB Stadacona in Halifax?

Harper and MacKay are maneouvring to extend the tenders until the new arrangements can be brought into being. For instance, there are efforts aimed at forging one European shipbuilding company a German/French ship production – under German leadership (the ThyssenKrupp Steel and Industry Corporation). And, just as in Hitler’s time, the concentration of the European maritime shipyards under German leadership has so far been thwarted by France’s resistance, which also seeks a predominating position in the production of warships.

ThyssenKrupp is the largest builder of warships in the European Union which has plans for its own Rapid Reaction Force, distinct from NATO. ThyssenKrupp represents the combination of the biggest German Nazi armaments trusts brought about under U.S. leadership after WWII and the rearming of Germany in violation of the Potsdam Agreement. It is important to remember the important political ties between the Conservatives and Germany. Remember the Schreiber Airbus arrangements with Brian Mulroney and Elmer MacKay, the former cabinet minister and Schreiber bagman (he put up his bail), which included plans for an armaments plant in Bear Head, Nova Scotia. [2] ThyssenKrupp’s legal staff once included the then-lawyer Peter MacKay in its Kassel, Germany office in 1991, what I call the missing page in his resumé. Now MacKay is an honourable Defence Minister and the Canadian representative in NATO. As one blogger put it, “you can’t make this stuff up.“

Thirdly, the Ship Procurement Strategy will also involve scores of smaller vessels. This occurs when the Harper government, under the banner of “free trade,” is already removing tariffs to allow interests in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – to knock off the smaller shipyards and swallow their shrinking market for medium-sized vessels. Under the EFTA agreement negotiated last year (June, 2007), a key shipbuilding tariff of up to 25 per cent on foreign-built vessels coming into Canada will be phased out.

Fourthly, the Harper government and the monopolies are demanding that shipyard workers make concessions to capital in the name of “restructuring” and line up between each individual shipbuilding monopoly in each region (Maritimes, Quebec, British Columbia) in the cutthroat competition for the ultimate contract.

Here we have the “Canadian Way” – the vision and programme of the bourgeoisie to make the monopolies successful in the global market and enrich the financial oligarchy, as well as an attempt to liquidate the independent movement of the working class and people by conciliating it with the neo-liberal agenda.

What is the alternative?

The question is: what is the alternative? The NDP and Greens say it is “Buy Canada,” “insourcing,” and “protecting Canadian [economic] sovereignty.” The elections are now being used to advocate support for militarization in the service of empire building so long as the fraudulent “balance” with “jobs for Atlantic Canadians” is maintained. In other words, there is no alternative – except whom gets the tender!

The first thing about the alternative is to reject the logic of there being “no alternative” – except to join Irving or Kiewit to fight for “Atlantic Canadian jobs.”

There is “no alternative” only if it is to be accepted that maximum capitalist profit is the motive force for production, if it is to be accepted that making businesses competitive in the global marketplace is the first priority, if it is to be accepted that the government has no responsibility to ensure a livelihood for every member of society and for every region of the country. This is the logic of “no alternative.” In other words, there is no way out of this crisis.

The consequences are brutal. I was able to point out, for example, that the MLPC defends the rights of workers to a livelihood, jobs that must be provided with a guarantee. There is no contradiction between its well-known anti-war positions and its stand on the economy. Militarization of the economy is the kiss of death for jobs.

Supporting Irving is the kiss of death. To illustrate: in 1977, that deified monopoly of privilege was awarded a contract by the Trudeau Liberals for construction of none of a fleet of 12 warships of the Halifax-frigate class. Their tender was some $1.2 billion.

The 4,750-tonne Halifax-frigate class was built according to U.S. and NATO “standardized” specifications in the 1980s for bluewater operations; all the armaments and electronic and navigation systems were imported from the merchants of death – a Swedish main gun, Dutch fire control, U.S. air-search radar, gas turbines, point defence and anti-ship missiles and close-in weapons systems. [3] Frigates designed for coastal defence average around 3,000-tonnes. But the Halifax class was designed to shell targets on foreign coastlines as well as against enemy aircraft and ships. When they leave Canadian waters they come directly under overall U.S. and NATO command.

When the contract was finished, by the end of the 1980s, the Irvings had billed out at over $9 billion from the public treasury, some 800 per cent over and above the original tender. Tens of millions of dollars were spent upgrading the Saint John yard to build them. What happened? The workers were forced to surrender their rights. Five thousand workers were thrown into the streets, and the shipyard was mothballed. In 2003 the federal government gave J.D. Irving Ltd. $55 million to close down the Saint John Shipbuilding yard, one of the largest and most technologically advanced shipyards in Canada. The Canadian Autoworkers Union says “This yard still contains its equipment, its services and highly skilled workers are still available to build ships in this yard. The problem is that as part of its deal with the government, J..D. Irving agreed not to build ships at the facility for 20 years.”

s. Nor did this particular transfer of wealth do anything for research and development in the shipbuilding industry, let alone in armaments. Irving’s shipping line, Kent Lines, is itself registered offshore, in Bermuda. So much for the false “alternative” in the name of “jobs.” The Irving monopoly later took over the shipyard in Halifax.

At one time Canadian shipyards, which two decades ago employed 16,000 workers, about twice of what is was today, produced commercial vessels of the highest quality, which of course required steel of the highest quality. Already in contemporary Nova Scotia our steel works have been cratered, along with many small and medium-sized shipyards. This has been a big disaster. Meanwhile, the federal government facilitated the more cannibalization of Stelco and its annexation by US Steel, ignoring the bold call of the Hamilton steelworkers for Canada to take up a nation-building project.

The business parties – together with the mass media – present the practice of paying the rich as a benefit to the people of the Maritimes where the public funds are destined to flow. The rich of the Maritimes are identified with the people, and the declared benefits trickling down to the people of the region, usually employment, are said to be reason enough to vote for whatever party is championing the scheme. This practice is as corrupt as the sponsorship scandal or any other scheme where the consideration of a public program or spending is not the overall public good but the electoral fortunes of a particular political party and the making of personal fortunes.

Furthermore, regional disparities and regional disputes are becoming sharper and this transfer of pooled public wealth to private hands will exacerbate the problems.

For example, now J. D. Irving – the greatest polluter in New Brunswick and greatest backer of the Liberal Party and its carbon tax (remember IrvingAir) – is using the threat of transferring paper production from Saint John to a region in Quebec where working class and government claims on added-value are lower, land is cheaper and regulations more lax to demand even greater subsidies from the province of New Brunswick. To the same end, Irving is championing the Atlantic Gateway scheme which aims to convert the Maritimes into a transit zone to the USA and in which trade union, environmental standards and social rights are to be surrendered.

There is an alternative

The central issue is to stop paying the rich, and stand for a nation-building project utilizing the socialized and integrated character of the modern economy in which public control is extended over its privately-owned, competing parts that is currently blocking the development of an all-sided self-reliant economy in all the regions of Canada.

Militarization of shipbuilding negates the necessity of Canada having its own merchant, fishing and coastal fleet which is where the interests of the shipbuilding workers, the Maritimes, and the nation should lie.

Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, BC and other regions of Canada need steelworks and industrial mills and factories with which an all-sided, self-reliant economy can be built to meet the needs of the people.

If genuine sovereignty was exercised over the territorial limits of the Canadian 200-mile limit, possibilities would be created for the expansion of the fisheries and its development to provide food for the Canadian people instead of the U.S. commercial market, with a need for new or renovated fishing vessels. As a result of the fishing crisis, many vessels are being transferred from Canada and the European Union to the African and Asian fisheries, an unequal transfer financed through “aid” and loans from the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and CIDA. Internationally, shipbuilding facilities could be exchanged with Latin America for oil and other resource preferences on an equal basis.

People are demanding an end to Canada’s participation in war on behalf of the US Empire and also demanding an end to all military contact with the US Empire-builders, including withdrawal from NATO and NORAD.

There is a growing movement for an anti-war government and to stop Canadian participation in the war of aggression and occupation of Afghanistan. Canadians can play an important role by refusing to have public monies, military forces, finished goods such as steel and raw materials especially oil and gas used to strengthen the U.S. military and the NATO bloc.

Along with voting Marxist-Leninist as a vote for an anti-war government and an anti-war MP, the alternative, therefore, is to fight, discuss, organise, make preparations, within the perspective of opening the path to escaping the crisis, to setting a different agenda for society, the agenda of No Harbour for War!

Endnotes

1 Organizers attempted to close the meeting at 9:30 p.m. with 20 people still standing at microphones to ask questions. Many of the questions were dealing with foreign policy and international issues. Darryl Whetter and myself both protested, forcing the extension of the debate for another four questions. The proposal of the MLPC to the organizers and other candidates that the debate be continued the following evening was simply ignored. I pointed out: “It behooves our responsibility as candidates to make ourselves available, even at a moment’s notice, so that the fullest discussion possible on the issues facing the electors takes place.” However, the business parties and their university acolytes are not interested in any discussion of military and foreign policy because these parties are factors for war, not peace and for annexation, not sovereignty.

2. Schreiber also at about that time reportedly paid Walther Leisler Kiep, the treasurer of the German Christian Democratic Party with 1 million Deutch Marks after a Thyssen deal to sell tanks to Saudi Arabia – an arms sale that was approved by then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a close confidante of both Mulroney and Ronald Reagan.

3. The “standardization” program was implemented to create a unified NATO market for the U.S. arms industry, at the expense of Europe and to integrate national navies in the name of “interoperability” under the USA whose commanders head up the NATO forces.

4. Buzz Hargrove, Globe and Mail, May 3, 2004

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, No Harbour for War (Halifax), Working Class

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s