Viewpoint - Labour and Peace: Alberta and the Attack on Organized Labour

March 23, 2008, Sean Currie – Edmonton Peace Council

Alberta is a focus of international concern. So much so that the first time the World Heavy Oil Congress was held in North America it was hosted in Alberta by the City of Edmonton from March 10-12 2008. The congress was attended by over 800 delegates from 14 countries including China, Brazil, Venezuela, Russia, Norway, Spain, France, Netherlands, Colombia, Argentina, Kazakhstan and USA.
Premier Ed Stelmach stressing the importance of Alberta, in national and international economies, stated in his remarks to the congress that:
“Alberta's oil sands play a major role in Canada's economy, and in the North American energy market. As you know, they are the second-largest proven oil reserve in the world. And in 2006, oil sands production averaged 1.25 million barrels per day. Our forecasts are that production will increase to three million barrels per day by 2016, and to five million barrels per day by 2030. Since 2000, over $53 billion has been invested in 81 currently producing oil sands projects. Some $20 billion is forecast to be invested in oil sands this year, more investment than is anticipated for the rest of Canada's entire manufacturing sector. That's investment on a massive scale, and underlines the growing importance of Alberta's heavy oil, not just to our provincial economy but to Canada's economic health.”
The congress also brought together some of the largest multi-national oil companies to discuss, network and plan the future of Alberta. Suncor Energy, Conoco Phillips, Shell, Nexen, Halliburton, Total, Schlumberger and many, many more, considered “stakeholders” and “partners” of the event, presented and listened to technical, business and commercial plans and “visions”. Yet nowhere was organized labour represented. Organized labour neither considered a stakeholder nor partner. Organized labour was shut out.
Business elites, stock market speculators and energy investors, with an eye on maximizing profit, flock to Alberta and engage in a frenzied rush to export the energy resources of the province to US markets. Organized labour has been barred from having a say in the future development of Alberta. Workers are left broken after a life of labouring for the nation and with an uncertain future as the reward for their work.
Premier Stelmach reassured the congress delegates of his government’s willingness to ensure that full value is returned to investors who do business in this province. Stelmach stated his eagerness to remain amenable to business when he remarked to the delegates that:
“Alberta is definitely in the world's spotlight, and the expectations for our province are high. We will meet those expectations. We will be a leader in energy production, and a leader in environmental protection. Industry and investors can be assured that Alberta will remain a stable and secure place to do business. We want your investment.”
A Growing Gap – Profits High, Wages Low
Alberta workers, as with Canadian workers in general, see a rapidly growing gap between what they produce and what is returned to them. Profits of major corporations rise while wages remain stagnant or retreat against growing inflation. Bank and oil profits are at an all time high even in the “uncertain” stock market crisis. Mounting pressures for organized labour to concede the meagre relative wage gains they have won over the past decade are being led by a federal government bent on breaking labour by attacking the CAW and abandoning auto sector workers to market forces and demanding Ontario cut corporate tax rates.
Stats Canada reported March 14 2008 that Canadian labour productivity worsened in the fourth quarter of last year. This drop marks the biggest decline in productivity since 1995 as workers clocked more hours on the job even as the economy slowed sharply. The Globe and Mail reported Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns lamenting that, “This is yet another disappointing chapter in the long-running saga of Canada's sub par productivity performance”. In other words workers must work harder to ensure that profits remain high.
In another March Stats Canada report it was stated that over the last 2 decades the number of hours that full time workers put in on the job has declined. The report said, “The decline in overall usual hours worked continues the downward trend seen between 1976 and 1996 during which the average workweek slipped by 1.6 hours. The bulk of that 20-year decline was due mostly to a growth in part-time employment, that is, jobs of under 30 hours a week.” The report went on to say that fewer people were putting in work weeks of 49 hours or more.
These two reports indicate that fewer people are working in full time jobs and those that have full time employment work longer hours with diminishing return for their labour.
The corporate line of “work harder and you will be rewarded” is not translating into real gains for workers. Household debt is rising, deregulated energy markets impose greater home heating costs on working families, transportation, education, healthcare, homecare and childcare are rapidly becoming out reach for working families while pensions are under threat of stock market speculators. At the same time corporate taxes are reduced, social services are gutted and defence spending increases.
Working harder (productivity) is a smokescreen of corporate doublespeak that just does not align to the reality on the ground for workers. Just how much harder and longer must workers labour before their labour translates into real gains? Workers are working harder, and as much as “official” statistics attempt show that workers are working less, any worker will say that they are working more and getting less. Workers understand the real economic situation they don’t need lectures on working harder or productivity. All one has to do in Edmonton is look out the window to see the massive wealth created in the “Industrial Heartland”.
Stelmach Fears a Unified Labour National Agenda of Workers before Profit
Underlying workers’ increasing realization of being left behind is a growing sense of anxiety for the future. It is from within this increasing real connection between what is being sensed with what is actually occurring that is leading organised labour away from the grip of corporate policies of business first. Hopelessness, peddled by the doom and gloom intelligentsia, is being rejected and transformed into a conscious anger and finally into organized struggle. Organized labour is leading these fights.
This rising uncertainty for the future is what the Stelmach brain trust attempts to avoid and deflect. Posing as an “honest man of the people” looking out for the future of “all” Albertans, the Stelmach Conservatives actually fear organized labour and actively employ agents and disrupters to keep labour docile and marginalized.
Organized labour is growing in influence and remains the best hope for workers’ future in Alberta. The strategic role Alberta workers occupy in the now undeniably important energy sector, nationally and internationally, through unity in action, can vastly improve their own best interests and the best interests of all Canadians who want a better deal from their own natural resources. Premier Stelmach and the profit interests he represents will never do that for us.
The need for a national development agenda which speaks to working people is urgent. A labour program that places in front of the nation a list of demands which will serve as the basis for evaluating political support by labour can form the content of national labour fight back strategies. Such a program can only be developed by organized labour, advocated by organized labour and owned by organized labour. Such a program can form the content of anti-monopoly struggles, social justice fight backs, and democracy, wage, and unity struggles. Such a program can be the basis of how workers vote and who they vote for.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has untaken the start of such a program. It is program of development for Alberta’s oil resources in a proposed policy framework for the Alberta Oil Sands entitled “Black Gold, Clear Vision”. It forms the basis of an overall labour program that with the input from the Parkland, Public Interest Alberta, and other labour organization and social advocacy groups can be developed into larger political program of labour.
Labour Can Lead the Nation
Labour can lead the nation. This is what Big Oil, finance capital and the bosses fear most – a united organized labour movement engaged in political struggle. The Alberta provincial election and the deepened executive control of the legislature is an outcome which forms part of the same unified strategy of corporate Canada – keep labour out. It is a strategy to marginalize and sideline organized labour in national policy debates and relegate the role of unions to narrow issues of wages. It is an attempt to separate organized labour from Canadian workers and from setting the agenda for the nation.
This strategy is being modeled by the Harper political advisers in Ottawa – to keep the people out of political activity and the “leave it to the professionals” baffle gab of corporate lobbyists. Anti-labour strategy is being implemented by the Harper western base of support in Stelmach Alberta and Brad Wall Saskatchewan. This anti-labour strategy is implemented first by attacking and eroding public sector organized labour and then by neutering labour fight back through repressive laws, “legal” frameworks and regulatory boards all couched in the neo-con phraseology of “security” and “essential services”.
The political brain trusts of corporate power spend 100’s of millions of dollars to prevent labour from entering the political arena. They use all forms and methods, “legal” and illegal, in an attempt to deflect a sharpening debate, which is taking place on a daily basis in the workplace and around the kitchen tables of millions of Canadian wage workers, from challenging the corporate control of city councils, legislatures and of parliament. It is a fear that guides corporate policy. It is a fear that Stelmach economic, social and environmental policy is based on. The Stelmach-CAPP alliance fear united demands of labour first.
Alberta Is Not Insulated from the War Policies of Washington
Alberta is neither separated nor insulated from changing international and national conditions. Political and economic drivers operating globally affect Alberta in an increasingly dramatic way. Growing distortions within the Canadian economy brought on by a made in US economic debt crisis, rooted in a $2US trillion US led Middle East two front war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have already found their way into eastern Canada and are beginning to be felt in Alberta. The effects of the US recession are herding tens of thousands of eastern Canadian workers into Alberta and into isolation from their families and cultural roots without union protection.
The effects of the US recession are growing into a potential full blown depression. The US Federal Reserve has implemented Depression-era provisions that for the first time are providing direct Fed loans to investment banks, has provided a $30US billion line of credit to JP Morgan to purchase the bankrupt Bear Stearns investment bank and continues to devalue the US dollar in a panicked attempt to protect its teetering banking, finance and stock market sectors transferring the crisis on to the public sector by keep the “interest spread” between what is loaned to the banks and what is charged by the banks high.
Associated press reported on March 23 2008 that:
“The slumping U.S. economy has already hit Canada's manufacturing sector hard since demand has been squeezed for Canadian shipments of everything from cement and auto parts to lumber, industrial products and roofing supplies, which come mainly from the industrial provinces of Ontario and Quebec. But an even greater drop in economic activity south of the border will eventually spread to all provinces and cut growth projections for all parts of Canada.”
While the threat to the global economy gains in severity the US administration continues to divert more spending to prop up its wars of aggression, enflames a new arms race, continues to add to its armada of 800 US foreign military bases around the world and develops and deploys new nuclear, “conventional” and space based weapons systems.
Prime Minister Harper continues to spend and divert public money to combat operations in Kandahar at a rate of over $100CDN million per month. Of every dollar spent on “reconstruction” 12 dollars are spent on combat. Military spending for 2007 was $17.5CDN billion. $17.2CDN billion of new offensive strategic and tactical hardware is being purchased:
· $2.9CDN billion for three navy Joint Support Ships;
· $1.2CDN billion for 2,300 medium trucks;
· $4.7CDN billion for 16 medium-heavy lift helicopters;
· $8.3CDN billion for Boeing heavy lift strategic C-17 and C-130J tactical medium lift transport planes.
Defence Minster McKay will be in Brussels at the NATO summit in April to cut new military arms deals and assure the NATO supreme council of Canada’s continued support of US-NATO wars of aggression.
Harper’s war government continues to underwrite combat operations in Kandahar with public money and the uni-centric model of single market energy exports from Alberta. This is occurring while Ontario manufacturing desperately needs access to cheap energy for its manufacturing and while Harper’s chief financial officer, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, lectures Ontario workers on productivity demanding that they accept more corporate handouts and cut social programs or risk becoming a “have not” province.
The “New” Stelmach Administration
This was the context of the recent Alberta elections. Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach dispatched a blue ribbon delegation of oil executives to Washington prior to the election to assure US oil magnates that his tinkering with the royalty fees charged to companies working in the Oil Sands would not threaten their investments and was just a ploy to get re-elected. The Big Oil machine rallied around Stelmach and supported him as “their guy” separating Stelmach from the machismo policies of the Klein administration, painting Stelmach as a “new” “honest” Conservative “in tune” with the needs of “ordinary” Albertans.
Stelmach, speaking to Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties Spring 2007 Convention in Edmonton on March 21 2007, said, “As Premier of Alberta, I have pledged that my government will act thoughtfully and decisively based on Albertans' priorities - to achieve a higher standard of living, greater opportunities, and a better quality of life for all. And it will do so with honesty, integrity and compassion.” Everyone must have been choked up that day.
Speaking a year later to the same convention on March 19 2008 Stelmach said:
“Albertans have entrusted our government with a renewed mandate. A mandate to tackle the pressures of today, and secure the opportunities of tomorrow. During the election campaign - and over the past 15 months - we presented a clear, realistic and positive plan to build a strong and stable future for our province. Albertans have embraced that plan, and rewarded us with their trust. Now they expect us to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job. They expect action. And that's what I plan to deliver.”
This claim was made in light of the fact that the official percentage of eligible voters casting votes was 39%, a drop in 5% from the previous election - the lowest in Alberta history. The election resulted in an overwhelming majority for Stelmach of 72 seats, virtually wiping out any legislative opposition.
Pleasing Washington and the Boys from Brussels
The Stelmach regime and the royalty of blue eyed sheiks at the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association (CAPP) are revelling in the “renewed mandate” “entrusted” to them in the provincial election. It is a euphoria that makes the war planners in Ottawa, Washington and Brussels giddy with anticipation. A “renewed mandate” of high profits, stable labour, low wages, new military contracts and unregulated heavy oil exports to US military fuel refineries will not be broken, but in fact can now be accelerated and along with it, strategic interests brokered.
Harper can now hasten the extension of his “energy superpower” foreign policy knowing “his oil is safe in Ed’s hands”.
Harper is now free to dispatch the McKay-Bernier-Hillier “Capo Bastones” to Brussels with assurances to uphold up the “family honour” through a continuation of the aggressive war policies of intervention and occupation by the US-NATO “Cosa Nostra” supreme council. Harper knows his offering will earn much favour with the “Capo dei capi” in Washington.
Stelmach has signalled that he will fall in line with Ottawa and continue to manage the “mandate” of power on behalf of multi-national oil companies, foreign engineering houses and speculative equity and energy capital pools, continuing a generational legacy of monopoly oil power.
Speaking to the Alberta Enterprise Group Energy Forum in Washington, D.C. on January 16, 2008 Stelmach and his blue ribbon panel of oil money assured his Washington friends that the oil is safe with Honest Ed. Premier Stelmach remarked:
“I'm pleased to have this opportunity to tell you about my home province of Alberta, and its role in building North American energy security. If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that real energy security requires secure, reliable, affordable energy. That's what Alberta offers — and it's right here in North America within a politically stable, U.S.-friendly, and business-oriented jurisdiction. Alberta is positioned to play a vital role in U.S. energy security. That's a role we want to play.”
His Washington friends were pleased.
Power Politics and the Decline of Eastern Canada
The outcome of the Alberta provincial election has exposed the Stelmach agenda as an anti-worker agenda, aligned more closely with the Harper Washington-first foreign policy of resource sell-out. The results indicate that after more then a decade of the Klein slash and burn administration, the power policies of Big Oil remains the dominant force to be contended with in Alberta. The election has separated the people of Alberta even further from the massive wealth that they create on a daily basis and from how that wealth is to be used.
Far from a vote of support for the policies and agenda of the Stelmach-CAPP alliance of intensified lease-dig-dump oil development, the people of Alberta have been barred from a voice within the provincial administration and a say in how the provincial economy should proceed. The election outcome is a reflection of the power of the political right to marshal and rally its forces in their interests – even outside of domestic borders.
Capital migration into Alberta continues at a rapid pace threatening the overall development of Canada by a handful of powerful oil executives and shifting the centre of power in the country to Alberta. The Globe and Mail reported February 28 2008 that economic investment in Canada for 2008 is set to reach $250 billion dollars, more then half of that number is to be invested in Alberta.
While Alberta continues to absorb an influx of capital, Ontario is being threatened by the Harper Conservatives to cut taxes and pass the Harper-Flaherty economic crisis onto the workers of Ontario. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty abandons the workers of Ontario while increasing military spending and increasing an already inflated war budget even more.
Flaherty is pressuring Ontario labour to accept the full brunt of the Harper Washington-first economic crisis in manufacturing with the loss of 300,000 high paying jobs and fall in line with the demands of Nancy Hughes Anthony, President and CEO of the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) avocation of tax burden transfers onto Canadian workers. (See APN Vol. 1 Iss. 3)
Flaherty, doing the bidding of CBA, said Ontario should aim to reduce its corporate taxes to 10 per cent by 2012. At that point, he said, the federal government will cut their corporate taxes to 15 per cent, presenting investors with a total tax rate of 25 per cent.
On the eve of the Ontario provincial budget Finance Minister Flaherty took the unprecedented step and called a news conference openly demanding Ontario fall in line with threats and economic thuggery. Flaherty said, "Ontario needs to be more competitive for business investment and the issue that sticks out like a sore thumb is the issue of high business taxes”.
Flaherty went further and blamed Ontario for not investing in productivity improvements. The March 24 Globe and Mail online edition reported that:
“Mr. Flaherty said he “expects” Mr. McGuinty to do three things in Tuesday's budget: reduce the provincial business income tax rate with a goal of meeting a combined 25 per cent business tax rate in Canada by 2012; promise to fully eliminate capital taxes for all businesses in all sectors, and take steps to harmonize Ontario's retail sales tax with the GST.”
TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond indicated that McGuinty has “chosen” to invest in education and infrastructure, pressuring McGuinty into a $3 billion reduction in corporate tax rates and implementing the tax cuts demanded by Flaherty. Flaherty lamented that, “McGuinty can't do anything about rising price of oil or the high value of Canadian dollar but he can take action to reduce business taxes".
Ontario may not be able to do anything about the “rising price of oil” but Ottawa can. Halt the flow of raw oil products to the US and reverse the disastrous single market strategy and shift that flow to Ontario with a made in Canada price for energy. Harper and Flaherty can do that.
Alberta Organized Labour Fighting Back
At the same time, Alberta organized labour has indicated, that while the control of the economy and the political agenda is currently in the hands of Big Oil and the construction owners, organized labour is entering into the political debate in a more independent and high profile way.
This shift in economic and political power in the country, while on the surface may seem a positive development to Alberta workers, in fact leaves Alberta workers more exposed to a uni-centric concentration of industrial development, tied to the policies of CAPP and the strategic goals of Washington. Placing such control in the hands of foreign multi-national and national oil executives leaves Canadian workers vulnerable to stock market crises in the economy, carrying on their backs the full weight of any crisis mitigation.
Organized labour is the only force capable of challenging and defeating the power of Big Oil. The power of labour is rooted in the fact that all material wealth is created by workers and the total productive capacity of the nation lay in the hands of workers.
The defeat of “the voice labour” in the provincial elections has sent ripples cascading through organized labour searching for the cause of such a defeat when it seemed as if a break though was in the air. The defeat suffered by labour’s voice was masterminded by the political right through a deliberate strategy of marginalizing labour’s largest centre and separating it from the industrial section of organized labour. Using the threat of higher royalties and cut backs in project development and playing to the anxiety of industrial workers over job loss, the Stelmach led anti-labour offensive first muted the growing unity in the rank and file of the building trades, and then mobilized the weight of the anti-labour legislation, Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and the executives at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) to divide the leadership.
It is a strategy which separates labour from the discussions unfolding in the nation and instead reduces and turns those larger discussions inward as “union issues”. The Stelmach tactics separate organized labour from speaking directly to the people of Alberta and Canada. It is the continuation of the same anti-worker anti-labour policies of the Klein regime by the current Stelmach administration in cooperation with CAPP and the dirty work of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) and the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).
The anti-union labour legislation and the intensification of work, the control of economic decisions in the hands of corporations has led to a fractured leadership role of organized labour. The rising rank and file anger within the building trades in the September 2007 collective bargaining cycle was a signal by workers to Big Oil that the policies of Stelmach-CAPP agenda of profit before people will not be tolerated. The emerging unity that was evident in that struggle was quickly smashed by the agents of the Stelmach regime avoiding labour unrest prior to the election and Stelmach’s Washington visit. The current attacks on the building trades in the form of “site agreements” have further weakened labours ability to withstand the intensification of capital in Alberta but increased the anger in the rank and file.
The Roots of Anti-Labour Policy – Imperialist Wars
The alignment of the Stelmach regime with the aims of US multi-national oil interests, Wall St. speculators and the suppliers of fuels to the US military has exposed the Harper-Stelmach policy of profit over people. The aftermath of the Alberta provincial election is an indication to the depths this alignment with Washington policy has become in Alberta.
The political and economic isolation Alberta organized labour has been bullied into, through fear, threats and intimidation of Stelmach’s labour police at COAA and ALRB, continues Klein’s belligerent anti-union legacy. Stelmach and the leading oil oligarchs at CAPP have abandoned any guise of managing the Alberta economy in the interests of working people and instead have embarked on a path which more fully integrates the working people of Alberta and Canada with the strategic aims of US-NATO doctrine of permanent war and occupation.
This strategy of fear and intimidation attempts to billy-club forced compliance by organized labour into active and passive advocacy of Harper’s war agenda and make complicit wage earners in US-NATO wars of aggression. It is a strategy that endeavours to tie Alberta workers more tightly with oil capital as the sole source of wages. This is an extension of the same political bluster of Harper’s strategy of making the war in Afghanistan a “Canadian war” by intimidating parliament into supporting “our allies” and troops.
The ‘Hillier Youth’
These policies are developed within the think tanks of Department of National Defence (DND) Policy Group and right political policy forums of the Frazer Instute and the Preston Manning Institute to name but two. The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) is a large beneficiary of DND Policy Group funding (see APN Vol.1 Iss. 6).
J.L. Granatstein Fellow at the CDFAI and General Hillier cheerleader articulates this fear and intimidation strategy as “common ownership” in the Afghanistan war and with the US market as Canada’s defence and economic life line. Granatstein summarizes in his latest book, “Whose War Is it?” that:
“If your diplomacy, your foreign aid, and your armed forces are weak and are perceived by your friends and enemies abroad, your influence slips.
“Our anti-Americanism is a disease, a virus that has spread so deeply into the body politic that it threatens – at last – to anger the nation on whom Canada depends for its economic viability and defence.
“There is one additional affect from the Afghan conflict. Operating initially under the U.S. command but now serving in the NATO-led force, the soldiers have seen enough combat to become blooded…
“Some officers see Hillier and his young staff – the ‘Hillier Youth,’ they are called derisively – as creating a cult of personality…
“Will Canada at last sign on to Ballistic Missile Defence and continue to press NORAD with a wider mandate that at present?
“All that has been missing for decades past is vision and leadership – and a few great national projects that can unite and inspire all Canadians, both the immigrants and native born. Could Canada not develop the resolve to clean up its own water…clean up the Great Lakes…find the cure for AIDS…end [our] blight of child poverty? Such ideas could be effective in fostering a sense of true Canadian citizenship and, when exported, help in eliminating the root causes of terror.”
Whose war is it? It is sure not the war of Alberta workers labouring in Ft. McMurray. It is not the war of engineering and technical workings hunched over the drafting computers in the towers of Calgary. It is not a workers war. It is an imperialist war led by US-NATO commanders in Brussels and supported and advocated by finance speculators, arms profiteers and resources investors.
Foreign Aid for Washington Wars – War Aid
Of fundamental importance to the continuation US-NATO of policies of war over peace and occupation over negotiation and the broader and problematic deepening made in US economic crisis is the question of access to assured supplies of energy. Prime Minster Harper has stated his willingness to provide foreign aid to the teetering US economy in the form of federally unregulated raw oil exports to the crippled US mid-west and commodity hub of Illinois. He demands compliance from his western lieutenant Premier Stelmach.
War cannot be run without readily available access to large quantities of energy. A June 28 2007 news release from UOP LLP a Honeywell subsidiary reported that US-NATO war panes consume 2.5 billion US gallons of JP-8 fuel annually. This massive consumption of fuel translates into 294 bbl/day of refined product. Typical refinery capacity for jet fuels is 17% of gross feed stock. The majority of this production occurs in Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi and Texas.
Premier Stelmach assured Washington that Alberta will remain committed to that supply. Of secondary importance to the US military are high grade diesels required for the navy. A growing source of raw feedstock is being supplied by Alberta through a growing network of pipelines and pipeline capacity - one way flow that goes to Illinois, Oklahoma and on to Mississippi and Texas.
At the roots of the attack on organized labour is a teetering US economy and the belligerent policies of interference and war by the Bush-Cheney doctrine of permanent war. Canadian workers are being dragged along by the Harper-McKay-Hillier chest thumping doctrine of “emerging energy superpower”. The reported federal defence budget for 2007 topped out at over $17.5 billion. The cost of the Afghanistan war is over $100 million per month and climbing. The entrenchment of military policy makers into the Canadian foreign policy debate (see APN Vol.1 Iss. 3) advocates defence spending increases to the NATO average of 2.2% of national GDP. Given Alberta’s growing and soon to be leading contribution to the national GDP Alberta’s share of that figure is alarming.
Labour’s Economic Assessment Sees More Hardship Ahead for Workers
The March 2008 edition of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) Economic Monitor pointed to the precarious US balance of payments deficit that continues to affect the world economy. The AFL quarterly report indicated that the proliferation of financial manipulations in the form of derivatives “remains a threat to financial institutions around the world, and no one knows exactly how large the problem is, or where the risks lie.” The March Economic Monitor stated that Alberta’s declining conventional oil and gas reserves are a result of the Klein administration “Alliance Pipeline policies” of short term profit. These policies are, the Monitor concludes, a continuation of the Earnest Manning administration.
Wage increases in Alberta have remained stagnant. While the increase in wages have been in the 5% range, overall real wages when the effects of inflation are taken into account have not changed and in many cases dropped in relation to the cost of living. Alberta workers are working more hours to maintain their real standard of living.
The cycle of lease-dig-dump policies of Klein remain entrenched in an emboldened Stelmach administration. The AFL stated in the March 2008 Monitor report that:
“The short-term profits will go to the same circle of politicians and corporations that have run the province for at least the last half century. The long-term costs – environmental, economic, social and political – will be borne by future generations.
“Unemployment is low while wages and settlements struggle to keep up with inflation. There are no immediate threats in the provincial environment, but global economic situation is extremely volatile right now. While our wealth of natural resources and the momentum generated by large-scale oil sands construction insulate us to some extent from this volatility, they don’t make us completely immune to economic crises in the rest of the world.”
Halt the Harper-Stelmach Sell-Out of Canada
The Stelmach regime is continuing the same “Alliance Pipeline strategy” as his predecessor. The AFL has warned of the growing trend away from value added refining to shipping raw bitumen to US refineries.
TransCanada Pipeline’s Keystone pipeline and Enbridge’s Clipper pipeline will deliver bitumen to the US central processing and refining centres in Illinois and deliver diluents back to Alberta through the Southern Lights pipeline to ship more bitumen south.
The AFL report, Black Gold, Clear Vision stated that, “Almost all of the projected increases in Alberta’s oil sands production could be taken away to refineries in the US by the Keystone and Alberta Clipper pipelines”. The AFL report went on to say that:
“A continental energy network with Alberta on the lower rung of the value added chain will be solidified over the next few years as American refineries make the multi-billion dollar investments needed to upgrade and re-tool their facilities to accept heavy crude from Alberta oil Sands. Once these investments have been made, the die will be cast and Alberta will have missed its opportunity to transform itself into a world-class value-added refining hub. That role will continue to fall to the refineries in the American mid-west and Gulf Coast.”
The Alberta economy is not separated from the world economy and does not live in isolation from the general economic drivers playing out on the global stage. The deepening integration of the Canadian economy is an attempt by the financial geniuses of Wall St. to transfer the US war crisis onto the backs of labour, make Canadian workers complicate in illegal wars and abdicate its responsibility for the deepening crisis. It is an attempt to maintain the preferential status of US companies in global markets.
Alberta’s growing importance in US immediate economic needs and long term strategic goals concentrates the success of those goals on more focused sectors of the Canadian economy. Energy plays the key role in those plans with the infrastructure of raw material exports, transportation, mining, thermal and hydro power in key positions. The overall economic development of Canada is being abandoned by the Harper-Flaherty-Prentice policies of raw resource exports, finance speculation and militarism in favour of enriching the Canadian Council of Chief Executive clique of power elites. Alberta is a key battle ground to marginalize and neuter labour and advance the agenda of monopoly forward.
Organized labour within these sectors will under go greater pressure by capital to give up economic gains and return to an obedient, flexible and mobile labour force. To stem the attacks and return the value created by the people of Canada and Alberta back into workers needs first will require a deepening of the emerging fight back organized labour is engaged in and broadening of a national program of peaceful development away form the Harper policies of war, finance capital and uni-centric energy extraction and export. Alberta organized labour is a key and strategically important element in this fight. Labour can lead the nation out of the war crisis. Labour will prevail.