A HARMFUL BACTERIA carried in processed meat has swept across the country with serious consequences. Twenty-nine infections have been confirmed to date, including 16 deaths: 12 in Ontario, two in British Columbia and one each in Saskatchewan and Quebec. Thirty-five other infections remain under investigation as linked to the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Dr. Mark Raizenne said Canadians most at risk of severe complications after coming into contact with the bacteria are the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. According to press reports, some of the infected meat was destined for consumption in hospitals and nursing homes where a number of deaths have occurred.
Public health officials have now established a link between the fatal strain of Listeria monocytogenes found within ready-to-eat meats and a Maple Leaf Foods meat packing plant in Toronto. This plant, owned and controlled by one of the richest families in Canada, sends over 220 different meat products through the wholesale sector to roughly 15,000 institutions, distributors and retailers across the country. All products from the Toronto plant, which carry the factory identifier “97b,” have been officially recalled and should not be eaten.
This tragedy is inexcusable in a modern socialized economy. The particular bacteria is well known to science and methods to stop it from entering meat products have also been clearly identified. What then has blocked government, science and modern methods of work from preventing this outbreak? The answer to this difficult question is found in the relations of production right within the plant and their reflection in the lack of political power of the working class.
Maple Leaf Foods
Maple Leaf Foods is majority owned and controlled by the McCain family oligarchs. The Maple Leaf Toronto plant identified as the source of the bacteria is one facility within a highly socialized monopoly of meat production, processing, rendering and distribution directly involving 23,000 workers across the country. The Maple Leaf monopoly further depends on thousands more workers as suppliers of agricultural product and distributors within the wholesale and retail sectors.
The food industry relates decisively to the people’s health, well-being and general standard of living. Modern socialized production and distribution of food frees up members to work in non-agricultural sectors of the economy and for society to invest in manufacturing, social programs and services, culture and sports. This would be impossible if petty production of food were still the norm. The many problems associated with socialized production and distribution of food do not lie with its mass socialized character but with the private ownership relations governing its existence. Those relations based on private ownership of the modern food industry are not in harmony with its socialized quality.
People who yearn for a return to petty production in the food industry because of its domination by junk food and its many unhealthy practices are in essence demanding harmony between the socialized system of production and its ownership and control, which is not public but still private.
Ownership and control of petty production for the most part is identified with the actual producers. The actual producers who worked and owned or at least controlled the means of petty production also owned whatever they produced. Their obligations to the ruling elite were met in various ways including payment in kind or through service.
In modern socialized mass production, the actual producers or workers do not own the facility where they work; they do not exercise any control over its operations nor do they own what they produce. A third party of owners of capital stands above the actual producers and dominates them and government. Workers are marginalized from methods of work and the aim of production, and considered in the consciousness of the owners of capital to be costs of production.
The aim and consciousness of the owners of Maple Leaf Foods to make profit for privileged individuals standing above the actual producers and government are inconsistent and in contradiction with the reality of modern socialized production. Socialized production harmonized with socialized ownership would result in only two parties claiming added-value – the actual producers or working class and the society represented by government.
With petty production, the actual workers claimed all added-value except for a portion handed over to a privileged elite holding political authority.
Under conditions of socialized production owned and controlled by a third party of owners of capital, the actual producers claim in the form of wages or salaries only a portion of the added-value they produce. Government claims some added-value on behalf of society, and the rest is claimed as profit by private owners who are not producers and do not necessarily even have any direct connection with the production process.
The alienation of the actual producers from ownership and control of socialized production and the negation of the human factor/social consciousness lead to problems such as bacterial infection and other fundamental issues such as recurring economic crises. Alienation of the actual producers from ownership and control of the means of production and their social product marginalizes the essential human factor, and within modern socialized production this results in a negation of social consciousness.
Power within Maple leaf Foods rests with its owners and not with the producers. This power of the McCain oligarchs within Maple Leaf Foods is reflected also as political power and control over the government. Workers are not only marginalized from power and control within their workplaces but from political power as participants in governing the country. Private ownership of socialized production negates workers and the human factor/social consciousness both at the workplace and in governance.
Those who call for stronger regulations of socialized production are often well meaning but tend to ignore that regulations are part of government. The regulators are under the control of those who own the means of production, who in turn control the government. Without the actual producers having power through public ownership and control of the plants and the wholesale and retail systems, without the human factor/social consciousness in control as the basic consideration of the socialized economy, and without the working class having political power, enforcement of regulations comes into conflict with and is subordinate to the owners of capital and the anachronistic system of private ownership of socialized production.
Also, without political power in the hands of the working class, the provision of public services, enforcement of regulations and a government serving the public good come into contradiction with the private narrow interests, aims, consciousness and self-serving control of those who own the main means of production and use their wealth and privilege to assert their political will.
Workers must discuss and think about the current reality, which includes their lack of power both at their workplaces and in governance. During the federal election workers should organize to put forward their peers as candidates, create conditions whereby they can be elected, and discuss the way forward to democratic renewal.
TML Daily, September 2, 2008 – No. 110