Fifth in a series of articles on the Nova Scotia elections*
By ENA BOUTILIER and TONY SEED
AT A RECENT campaign stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia MLA – and prospective Premier – Darrell Dexter proclaimed that, if elected, his NDP government will not repeal the anti-labour “Michelin Bill” of 1979. “I have no interest in fighting battles that happened 30 years ago,” he said on May 11. Far from contesting ancient history, Mr. Dexter has declared that his Nova Scotia will fight to remain an open shop for the exploitation and plunder of the province by monopoly capital, for monopoly right, for militarizaton and for annexation to the United States through such projects as the Atlantic Gateway.
This clearly shows that a Dexter government will be concerned with the negation of rights of various sectors of the population of Nova Scotia, as well as around the world, where the right to be will be negated or reduced to a privilege that may be withheld based on behaviour the ruling power deems unacceptable.
Michelin: How a multinational made its own law
Mr Dexter may have consigned to antiquity the just concerns of many Nova Scotian workers and given the monopolies and their local representatives a better night’s sleep, but he also provides a timely opportunity for this province’s workers to assess at face value the nature of a “union friendly” party.
The statement itself does not represent any fundamental change in NDP policy, as some media analysts seem to want to divert in their rendering of the party’s realpolitik. A July 1999 interview with the Halifax Chronicle Herald and then NDP chief Robert Chisholm featured this exchange:
“Q: In return for the support of labour, would you consider repealing the Michelin and Steen legislation?
“A: No. I think that there are some out there that are still upset at the government for having done these things, having waded in to upset the balance that was there. We’re not prepared to fight old battles. We’re going to move forward from here. We have no intentions of doing that. We’ve made that very clear.”
In 2000, NDP leadership candidate Dave Peters, the former head of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, told an NDP leadership forum in Dartmouth on May 13: “A lot of time has passed …To regurgitate that, to me, is a lose-lose situation. My inclination would be, from my heart, not to touch it.”
The bill in question is a 1979 amendment to the Nova Scotia Trade Union Act that allowed the Labour Board to deny union certification to workers if they are unable to sign up a majority at their employers’ other locations within the province. Through this law, a company is able to make an application to the Board to determine that its manufacturing locations are “interdependent” and thus constitute one single bargaining unit.
The infamous bill was written at a time when the United Rubber Workers (URW) were on the verge of successfully unionizing workers at the Michelin Plant in Granton, NS after a three-year campaign. By demanding that organizers also sign a majority at its Bridgewater plant, the provisions of the new law effectively invalidated the URW certification bid – after workers at the Granton plant had already cast their vote.
The legislation was called the “Michelin Bill,” because the only company in the province affected by the law was Michelin. The votes were never counted because of the new law. Moreover, one day after the made-in-Michelin bill was proposed, Michelin confirmed its plans to open up a third location in Waterville, heavily subsidized by provincial taxdollars, in a move that was contingent on the successful passage of the bill.
During the 1980s the opposition of the NDP to the Michelin Bill was rhetorical: “Very, very vulgar” was how former Nova Scotia NDP leader Alexa McDonough described it. The Canadian Labour Congress – at the time – termed it “a deplorable sham of democracy” and mobilized an ineffective “common front” against the Buchanan government.
Since his announcement of his support for the bill, Mr. Dexter has received accolades – even from his seeming ideological opponents such as the columnists of the Halifax Chronicle Herald – for his “measured policies” and “pragmatism,” the politics of the end justifies the means, in standing up to “left loonies” as well as the caricatured and demonized labour movement that he ostensibly represents.
Mr. Dexter even went so far as to stress in the same statement that Michelin Tires Manufacturing of Canada, a subsidiary of the world’s leading tire monopoly which controls 20 per cent of the world market, has been “a good corporate citizen in this province.”
In 2005-06, Michelin, then Premier John Hamm, MP Peter MacKay and Mr. Dexter invoked the spectre of the possible closure of its operations to justify Michelin’s plunder of (a) $92 million from the federal treasury, and (b) $10.8 million granted over five years from Nova Scotia. Proponents of the Michelin Bill are now shamelessly invoking that same spectre of layoffs.
Multinationals like Michelin are holding Nova Scotia workers hostage by demanding tribute from the added value produced by the working class, impunity in their treatment of workers as expendable commodities and obedience from our so-called political representatives, all in return for a temporary refrain in the threatening of more layoffs.
On behalf of “today’s families,” the NDP leader sends their gratitude and friendship for such grace.
The fact that so many Nova Scotians are at the mercy of such shapeless “citizens” as Michelin highlights the need for a national self-reliant economy in which the right to a secure and dignified livelihood is one among many rights possessed by all by virtue of their humanity. By contrast, the state at the federal level is escalating its nation-wrecking agenda in order to help all monopolies – foreign and domestic – expand their private empires at the expense of national self reliance. Successive Tory and Grit regimes in Halifax have uniformly facilitated this agenda in guaranteeing to the monopolies a labour force that is cheap, compliant or marginalized. They demand and are granted impunity in cratering modern industrial plants, wrecking the economy and people’s livelihoods, and plundering the treasury of the nation. They do not break the law; they write the law. The NDP – whic presents himself as an alternative to the Liberal and Conservative cartels and which used to call Michelin a “corporate welfare bum” – is marching in lockstep with this agenda in its reaffirmation of its support of the Michelin Bill and, by extension, the conditions in which such bills are allowed to materialize.
A matter that extends far beyond Michelin
Lest the reader think that this issue is solely about Michelin, it is not. It is a matter that extends far beyond Michelin.
In fact, despite its nickname, the aforementioned bill does not even venture to mention Michelin by name, and the option of applying to the labour board and invoking the provisions of the Michelin Bill is open to any manufacturer within a year of its arrival in the province. Moreover, even before its final passage, the precedent to be set by the Michelin Bill was recognized by no less prestigious an institution than the New York Times (December 17, 1979). Since Michelin began construction in the United States in 1975, it has built or announced plans for eight factories. They all are located in in the former southern, “right-to-work” states – South Carolina, Alabama, and Texas, former slave states without much union organizing – in order to make them more difficult to organize. According to St. Mary’s University management professor Judy Haiven, the Michelin Bill “is used in classrooms and lecture halls throughout North Ameria as the ultimate example of anti-union legislation.”
The larger issue is the haste with which all stripes of big capital wish to maintain a toothless Trade Union Act. Most importantly, they are doing so in a national environment in which holes are being torn in all legal instruments that ostensibly protect workers’ right to strike or to join a union.
This is the environment in which chameleons are transforming yesterday’s “corporate welfare bums” into new exemplary “corporate citizens” to be courted to “invest” in Nova Scotia and Canada, in which they act as sovereign powers, without opposition by the people.
Mr Dexter’s pronouncement on the Michelin Bill and his party’s pragmatism reveals an unconditional fealty to those investors and the donors to its campaign fund, a promise that the rule of law and the inalienable rights of the working class and people will be suspended in their interests in the name of “balance,” and a betrayal of Canadians and the public good. Its pragmatism is not so much a temporary expedient to finally gain power in the traditional “two party” province of conservative Nova Scotia, as the argument as to how the political power vested in it will be used by an NDP government to marginalize and eliminate the rising discontent and the right to be of all in a modern Nova Scotia.
The language of “deals” and “balance” is a language in which the rights of the working class and people are held to be highly negotiable, if not insignificant. Workers are sick and tired of “deals,” especially when each newly packaged “deal” consistently offers less than its predecessor.
Public right must trump monopoly right. The right to form a union is a fundamental human right and forms an indivisible whole with the freedom of association and speech, the right to conscience, and the right to strike and to dissent and the right to be. The right to form a union and the right to strike are part of a seamless theory and set of rules within society meant to protect individual and collective rights without interference or negation by greater economic and political powers. Workers have rights by virtue of being producers of social product and providers of services and people have rights by virtue of being human. To have the right to form a union and the right to strike with other producers is part of the right to be. The essence of these rights is that no one should be denied the living out of their being, the expressions of who they are by virtue of their very existence. Workers can give this modern definition a constitutional guarantee through class struggle by organizing themselves as a united class of socialized workers within society as a whole, within their collectives and as conscious individual members of their working class. Attaining the lofty aims of workers to humanize the social and natural environments and build an alternative to capitalism entails organizing all the Michelin workers into a large and more powerful trade union.
The conception of the right of all to participate in the governing of one’s society and the need to establish state mechanisms and laws to guarantee that right to govern are to ensure the peoples have the necessary power to deny the negation of their right to be. Pragmatism seeks to negate the principles, rules and laws by which people conduct their relations with other humans and nature. When the people of Nova Scotia themselves decide the political and other affairs in the society that affect them, then they will no longer at the mercy of others to “tolerate” them or “recognize” their rights or declare them ancient history – an “old battle.” The working class and all justice loving people must not permit this anachronistic logic to pass but rather defend all who are under attack for expressing their right to be. Workers must militantly proclaim that no “deal” is acceptable. The right of workers to contribute to and benefit from the socialized economy is non-negotiable and the removal of any barriers to the realization of that right must be the first priority of any politicians who fashions themselves as true friends of labour.
Source: TML Daily, June 9, 2009 – No. 114
* Series on 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