Workers’ choice in a brutal game.


From the Windsor waterfront, one can see a stream of cars leaving the Joe Louis arena after a Red Wing game. It is a comforting scene, yet Detroit provides a brutal lesson on how to struggle to a new economy. Sudbury and Windsor may seem distant from each other, yet shared experiences of working people in both places should provide support and lessons in hard times. Windsor could never afford to ignore the world because it sits on the edge of the American empire with Detroit as an example of how wrong things can go.

detroit1Photo: Paul Chislett

The predicted and devastating job losses in Sudbury have awakened Sudburians to the realties of global free market capitalism. Sudbury’s insistence that the area was immune to the unfolding global calamity was equivalent to whistling in the dark, knowing something is about to knock us off our feet. The fact that the ore bodies are foreign owned is really secondary to the challenges Sudbury workers face. If the political will was present, a government could nationalize the mines; however, local workers would still be in dire straits. It is not the collapse of an economic system that is devastating workers lives as much as it is a collapse of values. In Canada we had debates about values beginning with the Free Trade Agreement of 1988, through to the North American Free Trade Agreement and on into the sell off of Ontario’s manufacturing base. Additionally, the Mike Harris regime in Ontario, and the 16 year old national liberal/conservative coalition, made matters worse, implementing tax cuts which destroyed the progressive tax system we had; a system dependent on a wage economy that redistributed wealth into public services such as health care, housing, education, and the like.

It is not that jobs being lost, especially in the auto industry, may never come back (they won’t in the numbers we knew); it is that we are facing the end of the wage economy and the benefits that went with it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but to avoid catastrophe a historic shift in values is required. So far the working people of Canada are failing to rise to the challenge. In Windsor, Professor Jeff Noonan, a former Sudburian now at the University of Windsor, has organized a discussion group entitled, Philosophy for Workers: Where we are, How we got here, and Where can we go? The discussion group will grapple with the problems facing workers in Windsor and Essex County by investigating “…the system of values that rules political choices and … how those in power reason about the choices they make and impose on everyone else”[1].

This is an activity that workers in Sudbury urgently need to do. In fact, what should be occurring across Canada are a series of general strikes so that workers can convene such discussion groups out of which could be born a new sense of empowerment not seen since the struggles for unions and women’s rights. The stunning lack of coverage, by the Canadian corporate media, of recent worker movements demanding more from their governments, most notably in France, indicates that corporate elites are not so fearful of the economic meltdown as they are of workers mobilizing to determine new values, modes of production, and in fact, a new economy, thus undermining the positions of power and prestige that the elites undeservingly hold.

The ruling global oligarchy is running out of answers. The reasoning behind their decisions and their value system of commodifying everything on the planet, including human labour, is now laid bare for the self-serving lie that it was. We must carve out our space in an economy that doesn’t work for us so we can ask the questions which should lead us to discover our own system of values. Such a value system could lead to a mix of co-operative worker owned enterprises, state owned, worker run factories producing major goods for human requirements, sustainable energy production and transportation policies, and especially, sustainable farm operations growing healthy food close to where people live.

The challenge for Northern Ontario will be recognizing, as some do, that as consumption levels fall – as they must if we are to preserve the planet – there can only be scaled down commodity extraction activity. The future of the north lies in the preservation of the land and waters while building a mixed economy which includes mining and forestry, but more importantly, local manufacturing, fishing, farming, and the like; offset perhaps, with a guaranteed annual income. A national manufacturing policy can share work around the country and this will be required on a global scale as well. Workers have a stark choice, we either value cooperation and sharing of resources, or we live under the yoke of others’ choices in a world of violence and competition. As beings of inherent worth and dignity we have no right to allow a minority; a cabal of clever schemers, to determine our future. In fact, we have a historic opportunity to remake national and global economies so they work for people. From urban to rural, from Sudbury and Windsor to Shanghai and the slums of the world, we must grab hold of our destinies or accept being passive victims in someone else’s game.

This article appeared in the March 11th  issue of Northern Life

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