Where public interest feels the pain, private interest is sure to gain
By KEVIN CORKILL
Diana Whalen, Minister of Finance for the Liberal McNeil government of Nova Scotia, delivered a pre-budget speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Halifax on March 25, 2015. She began with some truths: fewer working age people live in Nova Scotia; and, in her words, “The status quo is really not working for us.”
Fair enough, but who is the “us” for which the status quo is not working? Her government is attacking the claims of public sector workers on the value they produce. Her government is privatizing public services resulting in social wealth being diverted away from the public and into the pockets of private interests. The McNeil government is wrecking social programs Nova Scotians rely on and need for their well-being and security. Her government does not hesitate to give subsidies and other handouts to global monopolies. This status quo of continually paying the rich, attacking the living standard of workers, privatizing public services and wrecking social programs is not working for the vast majority of Nova Scotians, “the fewer working age people who live in Nova Scotia” because so many are forced to leave in search of work.
The “us” yearns for pro-social change away from the neo-liberal status quo and forward in a new pro-social direction for the economy and politics. Her idea of “us” is not the working people and those on fixed incomes for whom the status quo is not working but rather an elite group of the rich, maybe many of those sitting in her audience, who yearn for even more backward anti-social measures to consolidate their class privilege and private interests.
Attacking the Social Contract and Public Interest
Whalen’s idea of the status quo that needs to change is the social contract with the working class, part of which is the system of fair collective bargaining and a public authority that delivers universal public services and social programs to the vulnerable.
Her government is busy attacking what it views as the status quo by firing 11 child welfare workers in Guysborough and Barrington Passage and firing 58 workers with the closure of Visitor Information Centres in Pictou and Digby and turning all seven other provincial parks into what it calls “self-service.” It plans to privatize three Registries of Service Nova Scotia: Land Registry, Motor Vehicles and Joint Stock Companies including the transformation of the NS Tourism agency into a private sector-led Crown corporation.
To this end of attacking the social contract, which she conflates with the status quo, Whalen says we “simply cannot afford to continue doing all of the things that government has been doing.” Just what the doctor ordered for all those owners of social wealth who refuse to invest in new production and services and would rather pillage existing public services and have government guarantee profitable service delivery contracts through public-private partnerships (P3s) and other neo-liberal schemes.
Whalen continues her anti-status quo speech by promising to open the door to more privatizations and lauding the possibilities of a flurry of P3s. P3s line the road to private riches as governments take the risk while private interests reap the rewards. Case in point, Whalen revealed that the government has granted permission to the Waterfront Development Corporation to purchase Halifax land from the federal government for $6.5 million which will then be used to build an “Ocean Innovation Centre.” This centre will become a hub not to further the public interest with vigorous marine research and public enterprise for the benefit of all but a means to enrich select private sector businesses and research at the government’s expense. The status quo of class privilege is secured but this is not the status quo in the government’s sights.
Speaking to the plan to privatize Service Nova Scotia Registries, Whalen states, “If private partners can deliver high quality services on our behalf, it will allow government to focus on doing better in our core areas like health and education.” With this logic why does government do anything at all in any areas let alone core? Governments across the country are wiping their hands clean of having to meet the needs of the people precisely in the core areas of health and education under the hoax that “private partners can deliver high quality services on our behalf.” Core or non-core, what is the difference when the logic is to destroy the public authority and open all public services for private business to profit? The logic is not to serve the people and the public interest; the logic is to serve class privilege and narrow private interests.
Denounce the Attacks on Public Services and the Workers Who Defend Our Collective Well-Being
The heart of Whalen’s speech is a vicious attack on the livelihoods of public sector workers and the services they provide. She says, if we are going to improve our prospects then “we all have to feel some pain.” In this case Whalen’s “we” to feel the pain is public service workers and the people of Nova Scotia who need those services. The pain begins with layoffs, cuts to services, wage freezes for public sector workers and the elimination of the Public Service Award (severance).
The neo-liberal assault on workers and their claim on the value they produce begins in earnest with the customary line that workers are a cost to the privileged class of owners of social wealth. “The largest cost that we have for the provincial government,” Whalen says, “is the wage bill that we pay. Which amounts to $4.9 billion of our expenditures and that’s almost 60 percent of our program spending.”
Workers hand over to their employers their capacity to work; they work and give rise to value; they produce a good or service; they claim a portion of the value they produce in return for having given to their employer their capacity to work; and they are damned as a cost! A cost to whom! Workers produce the social wealth from which all claims are met!
Whalen goes further in her abuse of public sector workers, attacking the modest raises they received in the previous three-year collective agreement: 2 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent. Minister Whalen decries the obligation of her government and future governments to pay these raises saying with much sighing and exasperation: they add up to $700 million per year! Oh my God!
Public sector workers reject Whalen’s neo-liberal line that their wages and benefits are a “cost” to the economy. Furthermore, it is an affront for her to act like the wage increases of the past three years are an act of greed by public sector workers. Public sector workers produce new value for the economy, reproduce the value they claim in wages and benefits, and preserve the value of the public assets and material they use while working. It is a gross lie and distortion to suggest that the economy loses the value public sector and other workers reproduce in the form of wages, benefits and pensions.
To heap shame and guilt on public sector workers Whalen declares, “Last year, we had the slowest growing GDP and the highest public sector wage increases. Those two things just don’t add up.” They do not add up, Minister Whalen, because the status quo of class privilege is blocking Nova Scotia from a dynamic new pro-social direction for the economy. Class privilege wants more wrecking and transfer of wealth from the people to the rich; it loves the anti-social status quo dominated by the global monopolies and does everything in its power to stop the people from moving the economy in a new pro-social direction.
Whalen and the McNeil government are setting the stage to destroy public services and attack the wages, benefits and pensions of public sector workers beyond what they have already done. They are doing this by attacking public opinion on the question of the necessity of public services and social programs in a modern economy. They are attacking public opinion on the issue of the rights people have by virtue of being human and the key role of government in guaranteeing the rights of all. They are attacking public opinion on who creates the value, the social wealth, in a modern economy – the working people.
Whalen is setting the stage as to what Nova Scotians can expect from their government and that is the further destruction of public assets and the promotion of narrow private interests. This includes privatizing valuable public assets to pay the rich and to meet their need for profitable areas to invest with government guarantees at the expense of the interests of Nova Scotians. She says, “this is the expression of our faith in the private sector,” and “government needs to get out of the way and let the private sector lead.”
Our duty is to question why this McNeil government bothers to exist at all if it wants to “get out of the way” and let the private sector determine the direction of the economy and society. In effect, she is calling for an open dictatorship of the rich over the people, a dictatorship that serves the narrow private interests of a privileged few.
“Governments critical role is to clear the way and create an environment that sets the stage for businesses to invest, produce, compete and grow […] our role is to create the right conditions for economic success.” For whose economic success Minister Whalen? If Minister Whalen’s idea of the role of government is to meet the needs of private interest at the expense of the public interest they should not be in government.
The McNeil government is proving that it is not fit to govern and does not have the best interests of Nova Scotians at heart; rather it holds high the narrow interests of the ruling capitalist elite. The Nova Scotia government’s role should be to provide a direction for the economy that is aimed at meeting the needs of the people for livelihoods and assure their well-being, and to guarantee the services they need to live and thrive. Attacking public sector workers, their livelihoods and the services they provide is an obvious step in the wrong direction for Nova Scotia.
Stop the McNeil Government’s Attacks on the Public Authority and Public Interests!
Stand Up for the Public Interest, Public Services and Public Sector Workers!
Stand Up for Yourself and All Nova Scotians Against the Neo-Liberal Assault of the Privileged Capitalist Elite on Our Rights and Society!
Source: TML Weekly Information Project, April 4, 2015, No. 14