Sunday, October 07, 2012

Globalization’s Discontents: Maude Barlow, the Hollow Men, and the Conversation that’s just beginning

Brian 'Hollow Man' Mulroney
Brain Mulroney was boasting about his magnificent act in getting the US-Canada free trade agreement signed. What he did not talk about – and probably does not realize – is that he is one the Hollow Men: those who, consciously or unconsciously, set about hollowing out the industrial heartland of Canada and America.

The Hollow Men favoured globalization and its means, free trade agreements (as opposed to fair trade agreements), as a way to enrich corporations and  shareholders, while helping workers in poorer countries to find jobs in the many factories that were relocated there because of loose regulations, anti-trade union laws, and low wages.

The Hollow Men not only allowed the flight to the bottom of the wage pile to take place, they reveled in it. Just as Mulroney crows about ‘his’ free trade achievement, so do many others.
Maude Barlow in The Huffington Post points out a few potholes in this glorious road to success:

When I say potholes I'm referring to those awkward facts about free trade, like that Canada lost 334,000 manufacturing jobs in the first five years after the Canada-U.S. deal was signed -- a decline that continued under NAFTA and continues to this day. 

Good paying full-time jobs are more often than not replaced by precarious part-time work, which contributes to Canada's stagnating middle-income wages over the past 20 years. 

It's a harsh reality of the free trade era that most of the new wealth created -- and free trade does create wealth -- went straight to the top, to the richest one per cent in Canada and globally.

It's a reality our government may refuse to accept but which is driving a new global movement of occupiers, indignados, workers, students, and others against corporate-led globalization. The Great Free Trade Debate of the late 1980s didn't end in victory for Mulroney and his big business backers. The debate never stopped raging…

We saw it in the 1999 Battle in Seattle protests, which sparked a resistance that eventually stalled multilateral free trade talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO). We saw it years later when public concerns with greater North American security and economic integration helped derail the Security and Prosperity Partnership. It was there again in the prolonged fight against the Canada-Colombia FTA -- a deal that protected Canadian mining companies and banks in a country where Indigenous, labour and environmental rights are much more at risk.

Today we see the free trade debate burning in the background of controversies over China's purchase of Canadian energy resources. It's in the tension between the federal government's hands-off approach to creating jobs and Ontario's Green Energy Act, with its local content requirements on renewable energy projects. It underpins the local food movement's challenge to the large-scale, environmentally and socially harmful agri-trade.

The free trade versus fair trade debate  in Canada has been renewed under an invigorated NDP led by Jack Layton and now Thomas Mulcair.

And the Liberal Party of Canada will need to reconsider its slavish support of free trade – and disregard of fair trade – it it is really and truly to help the middle class workers find good paying, secure jobs, rather than the McJobs that we have seen over the past 20 years.


  1. Which reminds me, I notice that no press has bothered to mention Chretien's election promise, to renegotiate or abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement, in 1993, if elected. Instead he quickly signed on the dotted line after winning big time, and reneging on the Liberal PROMISE.

    Moreover, Chrétien subsequently went on to negotiate two supplemental agreements with the new US president.

    The agreements never were about making free trade fairer, but just better for big business and corporations.

    Only party to make a promise for fairer trade was and continues to be the NDP.

    Even Justin Trudeau in his maiden leadership speech mentions "free trade" and not "fair trade". But than I don't hold out much expectation for a son of a former PM who was a millionaire. I say it like it was and is to this day.


  2. Jan, Trudeau did say in his launching speech that the Liberals had to now fight for the middle class; he particularly spoke about the 20 years of falling wages and lost good jobs. So he is on record as recognizing publicly the hollowing out of Canada, and promising to lead the party - if he is elected - in taking steps to remedy the hollowing out.

    One of those steps obviously has to be not entering into any more free trade agreements that do not fairly protect Canadian jobs, and ensure that the other countries have a commitment - and action taken - to help their workers increase their living standards (through increased wages, rights to organize trade unions, proper education; fair deals for women and girls in the economies; and decent health standards in the workplace.

  3. Remind me again why I owe any corporation money for the sole reason that they share a passport with me? Globalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people in export-oriented economies out of a grindingly poor peasantry and increased their standards of living dramatically, while providing the developed world with cheaper goods. If such advancement means that the rich worlds' unskilled factory workers are making only as much as they were 20 years ago, and still colossally more than the rest of the world's advancing workers, what of it?

    the famous socialist Upton Sinclair once wrote that protectionism was "an ingenious device whereby the workingman permitted the manufacturer to charge him higher prices, in order that he might receive higher wages; thus taking his money out of his pocket with one hand, and putting a part of it back with the other"

    This is as true today as it was in 1906

    1. "protectionism was "an ingenious device whereby the workingman permitted the manufacturer to charge him higher prices"

      Missing in that over simplification are things like still being able to use the same toaster for 20 plus years rather than 2 and that though many items were far more expensive, not only did your neighbor have a shot at a job making and providing said items, you did too. The toaster, TV, car starter etc. were also built to be reparable and that provided more jobs at home.

      The requirements to bring these cheaper goods to market is another obvious consideration which adds to consumption of raw materials of various types, including fuel. That increased demand on fuel factors into the overall price structure particularly as conventional crude reserves are depleted and replaced with sources at much higher cost. Now when you put the price of fuel up substantially, what do you have in essence? Why a tax on everything of course as the price of fuel affects virtually every class of goods and services. Then in many cases, there is also increased tax burden on the increased price of fuel and related energy.

      As to the benefits to those hundreds of millions of poor peasants, I think the better option would have been to use established economic resources to assist them to advance their existing way of life as in improved farming techniques, greater access to water supplies, irrigation and sewage systems. Plus expansion of the means of production and distribution for domestic consumption rather than massive industrial development for export purposes resulting in wide scale chemical pollution of their traditional agricultural and residential space plus endangering their water supplies to the extent that many are unusable or have all but dried up.

      Globalization as we know it, has brought many consequences that are only now being recognized by those who are paying attention. This wouldn't be the first case of the best laid plans of mice and men going awry.

    2. One thing I find interesting in the "assertion" that "Globalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people in export-oriented economies out of a grindingly poor peasantry and increased their standards of living dramatically, while providing the developed world with cheaper goods", is the following: growth in GDP does not show how individuals are doing on the ground but how the country as a whole is doing. It doesn't actually show the widening disparities, for example. That requires a different economic instrument of measure, and from what I have seen, classical economists don't want people to know the truth. Just like in Canada and overall western society, there is a widening income gap, disappearance of middle class and the rise in wealth of those who are already wealthy. So once again, the owners (eg. global corporations) are asserting their domination.
      And yes, Paul Martin as finance minister helped with our local restructuring to ensure companies like his, Canadian Steam Ship Lines would con't to generate lots of bucks for his family.
      Read Dobbin's article, the Libs were in knew deep and to pretend otherwise shows what fools we all are. Justin just wants to suck in youth with liberal fool's gold - again.

  4. CC, I heard JT say he supports "free trade" and that says it all. I agree with Dobbin here and sorry i won't be fooled again, with Liberal fool's gold. Those who sit in silence are condoning and lack a backbone.

    Whose Liberals Will Justin Trudeau Lead?
    "Vague on six key issues

    There is no indication that Trudeau thinks any mistakes were made. He is, in his attitudes, ideology and patrician background, a full patch member of the Liberal gang. The only thing likely to be renewed is classic Liberal opportunism: run from the left and hope to govern from the right. The 1993 Red Book of Liberal promises turned out to be a book of lies. Trudeau will have to work hard to convince people he won't play the same game."

  5. jan, the juty is out on Justin Trudeau. We will know in a few months when he releases the policy papers he has said he will. I am also interested in whether he seriously intends to remedy the democratic deficits which have helped deter millions of Canadians from voting (40% or so), including millions of young people who see no point in participating in a system so blatantly capable of being skewed by Harper-like tactics.

    As for free trade, the fallacy is to agree with Maggie Thatcher (TINA, or There Is No Alternative). Either-Or reasoning lets you fall into the TINA trap.

    It is NOT just a choice of Free Trade or No Free Trade.

    There is and was a middle choice - Fair Trade. Trade agreements which were negotiated so as to raise the standards of living of third world countries, create middle classes there who earned enough to create domestic markets; allow greater movement of people as well as goods and services; encouraging - indeed, requring - freedome for labour unions to organize, and educational systems to be dramatically improved and non-discriminatory against girls.

    There was and is that Third Way. And that's what I believe we should have done and should be doing today.

    That Third Way is the only way I can think of to allow a fair balancing of the multiple moral goods we are faced with: helping poorer countries to grow, poorer people to acquire work and wealth, while preventing the hollowing out almost in its entirety of the industrial base of North America and increasingly Europe.


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