12 May 2012

Can Canada not protect its workers from foreign predators?

That the new global economy is a corporate construction is not in doubt. It is arranged to benefit investors and employers, not employees. Canadian and American companies can freely enter Mexico to exploit cheap labour but Mexican workers cannot freely enter Canada or the U.S. to exploit higher wages. It's a one-way street.

And of course not only Mexicans are open to predation. U.S.-based Caterpillar Inc. waltzed into Canada, bought a factory, stripped it of its assets, humiliated the workforce, and waltzed back home to the U.S. A raid carried out with almost military precision and the Canadian government never raised a hand to defend its citizens.

Now the U.S. giant Target has bought out Zellers and up to 13,500 employees will lose their jobs. Many will be re-hired to work for Target but with no guarantee they will be offered more than starting conditions.

We do have the Investment Canada Act to protect us from foreign investments not in our interest. The Act states that "A non-Canadian shall not implement an investment ... unless ... the Minister is satisfied ... that the investment is likely to be of net benefit to Canada." However "net benefit" is narrowly applied and buyouts only occasionally rejected.

As for Target's purchase of Zellers, it is difficult to see how this is of advantage to Canadians in any way. Messing about with thousands of workers as if they were chattel would seem to work very strongly indeed against "net benefit."

How the lords of the universe treat their employees should be of critical interest in assessing their net benefit to this country, including whether they respect basic human rights such as freedom of association. In 2010, the government rejected a proposed buyout of PotashCorp on the basis that it is a key strategic asset for Canada. It seems to me that workers are rather more of a strategic asset than potash. But then our government does seem to favour commodities over people.

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