The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’

Sixth in a series of articles on the Nova Scotia elections by TONY SEED*

Michelin threat advertisement

NOVA SCOTIA NDP leader Darrell Dexter, to whom the polls have ascribed victory in the June 9 provincial election, has stressed that Michelin Tires Manufacturing of Canada, a subsidiary of the world’s leading tire monopoly that controls 20 per cent of the world market, has been “a good corporate citizen in this province.”

The statement does not represent any change in NDP policy as some media want to divert. In an address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on February 12, he went even further in his accolade:

“When I recently toured the Michelin plant in Bridgewater, and heard from their management team how that plant has led the world in product development, I saw first hand yet another example of the excellence that wins investment, wins contracts, and sustains our economy over the long haul.”[1]

The rubber workers at the three Michelin plants in Nova Scotia are indeed skilled workers who produce what are acknowledged to be excellent tires. But that is not what Mr Dexter is referring to. Mr Dexter’s exhortation speaks volumes of what happens to those states which fall prey to the exploitation and enslavement by multinationals. Michelin ruthlessly pillaged Indo-China for rubber to build its empire, actively supported the fascist Vichy France regime in World War II, conspires throughout the world to crush workers wherever they raise their demands, and systematically loots the public treasury of the Canadian state. These are Mr Dexter’s examples of being a “good corporate citizen.” For Mr Dexter, the monopoly economy is a sustainable economy; what’s good for Michelin is good for Nova Scotia. The proof is that he “saw” it “first hand.” The truth is what works, the pragmatist philosophy of the bottom line and the quarterly report.

It is worth recalling some historical and contemporary facts beyond the empiricist pale of this narrow capitalcentric world view espoused by the premier-in-waiting and its negation of the human factor/social consciousness.

In Canada, all levels of the state – the legislature, the courts and the treasury – have been put at the disposal of this giant multinational. Michelin receives other gratuities; its planes are not even charged landing fees at local airports. In turn it is praised by the private and public media; why, it even donates funds to the Special Olympics and is a practitioner of “diversity” in hiring!

Just in this past decade, the Michelin file includes the following concrete examples of its “good corporate citizenship”:

1999: Michelin fleeces Nova Scotia

In 1999, when Edouard Michelin succeeded his father François, one of the first steps he took was to transfer 10 per cent of workers throughout the Michelin empire. In the same year, the Michelin factories increased their profits by 20 per cent, some $47.5 million of which was contributed by Nova Scotia, which wrote off a previous loan while contributing another $17.5 million in job training.

2001: Michelin layoffs in Nova Scotia

In 2001 Michelin laid off 200 workers at its three Nova Scotian plants in Granton, Waterville and Bridgewater.

2002: Michelin makes workers pay for disabilities

At the end of December, 2002, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal set aside a Workers’ Compensation ruling in favour of Richard Ross, a shift worker at the Michelin tire plant in Bridgewater Nova Scotia. Ross had been awarded compensation for “shift-work maladaptation syndrome,” severe sleep deprivation which he claimed was caused by his rotating shift schedule at the plant. The worker’s schedule varied between three days of midnight to 8:00 am, time off, four days working 4:00 pm to midnight, two days off and a few days of 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

In defence of Michelin, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association argued the ruling could undermine companies that rely on shift workers.

In Ross v. Michelin North America (Canada) Inc., the unanimous verdict of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal was that Mr. Ross failed to establish that his disability arose in the course of his employment and that his condition was the result of his innate personal characteristics.[2]

2006: Michelin shuts down unionized plant in Kitchener

On July 23, 2006 Michelin arbitrarily and suddenly closed a modern tire plant in Kitchener, Ontario. The onetime Uniroyal-Goodrich factory was the only unionized Michelin plant. The closure deprived 1,100 rubber workers of their livelihood, denying the social economy potential added-value of billions of dollars in rubber products and seriously harmed the local economy. It said it would move production to its plants in Tuscaloosa and Opelika in Alabama, a former slave state without much union organizing, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, giving them “the capacity utilization they need to maintain their competitiveness.”

At the time, the United Steelworkers of America were saying they would unionize the three Michelin plants in Nova Scotia, but then gave up the project. This action by Michelin said to workers in Nova Scotia that if you unionize, we sill shut your plant down. If you resist concessions, we will simply eliminate your job. Suffice to recall the statement of the Steelworkers’ Atlantic Division made at the time:

“It is outrageous that the company has never discussed alternatives with the union and simply dropped a bomb on the whole city. It’s a mean-spirited terrible way to treat workers, their families and the whole community. This is a productive facility with a talented work force, many with more than 20 years working for the company. They deserve respect and an opportunity to save their jobs.”[3]

Such is the “exemplary citizenship” of an anti-worker dictatorship extolled by Mr Dexter.

The announcement came just six days after then Premier of Nova Scotia John Hamm announced a government-funded expansion of Michelin’s non-unionized plant in Waterville, NS under the pretext of creating 73 non-union jobs.

The year before, Michelin reported a profit of $1.63 billion in 2005 (up five per cent) on revenues of $18.3 billion (up 3.6 per cent). This included the receipt of public funds in 2004-05 from Canada of (a) $92 million from the federal treasury and (b) a grant of $10.8 million over five years from Nova Scotia.

This equated to an incredible $1.37 million pay-off for each job “created.”

Peter MacKay, federal Defence Minister and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Minister for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, whose riding includes a Michelin plant, stated in February 2006: “I’m favourably disposed to seeing what we can do to ensure the very beneficial, mututally beneficial, relationship continues.”

Mr. Dexter also jumped forward to endorse the vicious inter-monopoly competition between states and provinces to finance these global multinationals, stating in January 2006: “Any provincial investment that secures the future of the plant is welcome news.” He called on Nova Scotians to take the side of “their monopolies” in the name of “economic realities.”[4] Workers and even governments are played off one another to the benefit of this or that monopoly and to the detriment of the working class, their communities and the social economy.

2006: Michelin conceals asbestos exposure

In November 2006 a court in southern France found Michelin guilty of gross negligence for exposing workers to dangerous levels of asbestos, one of some 40 lawsuits against the company for asbestos-related claims. The court in Clermont-Ferrand, where Michelin is based, ruled in favour of a former worker and the wives of three others who died from complications of a form of lung cancer contracted after asbestos exposure. The dangers of asbestos were known as far back as 1965. The lawsuit alleged that Michelin sought to keep them secret from their employees.[5]

2005-07: Michelin denies pension benefits

In 2007 Michelin crushed the class action lawsuit initiated in 2005 of a group of Michelin pension fund beneficiaries in Canada who sought the payment of $350 million into a pension fund. Before the May, 2007, trial, the pensioners amended the amount of their demand to $268 million. Their main demand: Michelin live up to its social responsibility and ensure full pensions and a dignified life for retired rubber workers. In October, 2007, after the trial, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court (the trial court) entered a judgment on the substantive merits of the case in favor of Michelin Canada and against the Plaintiffs in all respects. The court callously forced the pensioners to fund 50 per cent of Michelin’s legal costs ($299,688.97) and directed that Michelin could reimburse itself from the pension trust fund for the other $299,688.97. In January 2008 the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.[6]

2007: Forcing workers to retire

In 2007 Michelin shedded 100 jobs in 2007 at its Granton plant through a myriad of “early retirements” and “cancellations” of contract positions. “We’ve been here for 35 years, and like anywhere, we have an aging workforce,” a Michelin spokesperson told the New Glasgow News. “Fifty per cent of our workers across Nova Scotia are eligible to retire.”

“They want to get rid of as many regular Michelin guys as they can,” a worker told the newspaper. “They’re doing these cuts in areas of high seniority, people who have been there for 30 years plus. They’re telling them this job is going and offering them miserable work instead, in the hope they’ll retire.”[7]

2009: Using layoffs to fleece the treasury

On February 4, 2009 Michelin laid off another 95 workers at Waterville. These are considered to be “flex workers,” who do not have guaranteed shifts or hours per week. The plant had already cut one 12-hour shift a few weeks before that. Michelin stated at the time “there’s no guarantee there won’t be more.”

In response, Development Minister Murray Scott told the Chronicle Herald on February 6, 2009 that “the provincial government will do everything it can to support Michelin,” “which he said has a great working relationship with the province.” He promised additional “help” to Michelin “through payroll rebates, Nova Scotia Business Inc. or the Industrial Expansion Fund.”[8]

These are Darrell Dexter’s capital-centred examples of “a good corporate citizen.”

The issue is not whether or not the province should “sit on its hands” but why “Nova Scotia jobs” do not belong to Nova Scotians.

Why is it that Nova Scotians cannot have their own industry, create their own jobs and train their own people?

Why should the province subsidize a foreign multinational?

Why does Nova Scotia not have a stable and socialized home manufacturing industry which is part of a national economy which serves the home market first and foremost and then trades with others on the basis of mutual benefit?

It sends shivers down the spine to watch Mr Dexter’s and the media’s self-serving tales of Michelin’s “exemplary citizenship.” For these individuals only their own interest matters, and they then use the name of Nova Scotia in order to justify their stand and every kind of infamy and crime by a predatory monopoly that preys on workers globally. This Michelin will set things right for them. In pursuit of this accommodation, a lie is transformed into the truth, simply because Darrell Dexter says so. And we are to be grateful for this.

Endnotes

1. NDP Caucus, Speeches, http://www.ndpcaucus.ns.ca/speeches.asp?ID=30

2. “Shift Work Compensation” (www.chass.utoronto.ca/cir/library/wwreport/wwr2003_01_20.html) and “Shift Work Unhealthy,” The Informed Worker, London, Ontario, Winter 2002.

3. See “French tire monopoly to close its only unionized factory in Canada,” TML Daily, February 13, 2006 – No. 14, and “Michelin puts medal to Nova Scotia all over again,” Shunpiking Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 48, Spring 2006, p. 4

4. “MacKay favours support for Michelin expansion,” Chronicle Herald, February 2, 2006.

Before entering federal politics, Peter MacKay was employed by the German steel and armaments multinational Thyssen Krupp, a principal financier of the German Nazis, in its legal office. It is the missing page in his resumé. Thyssen was also linked with the Michelin family.

Thyssen, its failed project for an armoured car military factory in Bear’s Head, Cape Breton (on the Canso Straits) and the role of Peter MacKay’s father, Elmer MacKay, a former Tory federal cabinet minister in the Mulroney government, figures prominently in the Mulroney-Screiber scandal.

5. “French court finds Michelin guilty of negligence in asbestos contamination, Associated Press,” 16 November 2006, http://www.shunpiking.com/ol0308/0308-WD-mich.htm

6. Smith v. Michelin, Nova Scotia Supreme Court 2008. Michelin Annual Report, 2007. Michelin’s law firm was Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, which includes 450+ lawyers in Toronto, Montréal, Calgary, Ottawa and New York.

7. “Michelin workers angry about job cuts,” United Press International, April 19, 2007

8. “Michelin lays off 95 fill-in workers,” Chronicle Herald, February 6, 2009
http://thechronicleherald.ca/Business/1104976.html

Source: TML Daily, June 9, 2009 – No. 114. The article has been revised since its original publication.

* Series on the Nova Scotia elections 2009
• Nova Scotia elections 2009 – There is an alternative!
• Atlantic Gateway: the politics of pragmatism and the elephant in the room
• ‘Real Life’: Democracy 251 and the ‘devotion’ to ‘a mature democracy’
• The Nova Scotia election and the bard Dan Alec MacDonald — ‘tonight, she walks the streets with Yankees’
• The Michelin File: No more deals — Nova Scotians must reject the politics of ‘pragmatism’
• The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’
• The Michelin File: Drive to empire

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under No Harbour for War (Halifax), Nova Scotia Government, Working Class

4 responses to “The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’

  1. Pingback: The Michelin File: Drive to empire | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  2. Pingback: Atlantic Gateway: The politics of pragmatism and the elephant in the room | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  3. Pingback: ‘Real Life’: Democracy 251 and ‘devotion’ to ‘a mature democracy’ | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  4. robert

    Yes I worked there for 35 years plus, I was not born a slave, but was treated as such.

    Like

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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