Vive Le Canada

NAFTA strikes again!!!
Date: Sunday, March 04 2007
Topic:


I noticed a few comments attached to another article concerning the closing of the Smiths Falls Hershey plant. As noted in the comments, this involves some 400 directly affected (lost) jobs and potentially a few hundred indirectly affected (lost) jobs. Hershey was kind enough to announce a 'global supply chain transformation' that included a new plant in Mexico, leaving no doubt in my, or, I'm sure, any other Vive participant's, mind as to the primary rationale for the closure.

As Ed Deak pointed out in one of the above-mentioned comments and I agree (though as pissed off about the overall situation as he doubtless is), there's nothing unusual here as this is simply another example of a situation that's been well documented by many through the past twenty odd years and began shortly after Canada's signing of the NAFTA agreement.

However, as might be imagined, it's pretty devastating to lose this number of half decent jobs in a community of 9000 people that, just to put the icing on the cake, has proudly referred to itself as 'Chocolate Town Canada' for a number of years.

I've been thinking about, among other things, Canadian economic sovereignty on and off for some thirty odd years.

However, before now, I've never actually been close to anything that brought things home first hand. And, I don't like what I'm seeing.

It's really demonstrated to me the difference between my previous understanding on an intellectual level of the detrimental impact of NAFTA on many Canadians (and U.S. citizens) and understanding this on an emotional level by in, if only peripherally as a community member and not an affected worker, the situation while it's happening.

I've included below a couple of (hitherto unpublished) letters that I've sent to the community newspapers.

These might help answer the question asked one of the above-mentioned comments as to 'what are they doing about it?'.

There have been petitions raised (to be sent to Hershey's and provincial legislature members) and demonstrations outside of the plant. However, outside of comments of a union official pertaining to these job losses being part of the 325,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Canada the past few years and some published letters to the editor, there's been nothing said in the media or by politicians as to the actual reason the always profitable plant is closing, or any indication who should actually be petitioned and about what, i.e., NAFTA.

It's become pretty apparent to me that most people keep 'accepting' this type of circumstance not so much because they are 'sheeple' or stupid or lazy but rather that the information they need to understand isn't provided by either the media or those who they pay to represent them in government.

If both government and the media are telling people that what's happening is simply 'the way of the world' and they should accept it and move on, what are people to think?

I know there are many online resources such as Vive where people could get an alternative view of NAFTA than what's presented by the Fraser Institute and various other corporate shills in the mainstream media. However, how many people are going to google around looking for these alternative views even they have no inkling these exist, particularly if they're constantly told that what's happening is unavoidable and/or simply the cat's meow in terms of Canadian 'prosperity' and that anyone who gripes is just a leftist wingnut?

I mean, I've been using the internet since the early nineties and I'm still amazed at what I frequently come across that I never knew existed before and what I never would have thought to even look for. Geez, I happened on Vive by accident.

Anyway, the letters below pretty much outline what's going on here, and has probably gone on the past twenty years in every community adversely affect by NAFTA.

Maybe a pretty pathetic effort compared to stuff other Vive participants have been involved in; however, as at least a couple of Vive members will know and others can probably figure out why, I am putting something on the line simply by attaching my name (deleted for internet purposes) to the letters.

I'm going to put up some signs around town directing anyone interested to Vive.

Hopefully if anyone visits, they won't be greeted by one of the 'how many U.S. capitalist fascists can dance on the head of a pin' type discussions that happen around here now and again because, as I've indicated before, the hearts and minds of most Canadians aren't likely to be captured by leftist rhetoric (though an exposure to some of the 'individualist' neo-con thought that surfaces here from time to time defending their God-given right to insatiable greed might be a real eye-opener to many.).
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Dear Editor:

Re: 'Hershey plant won't close without a fight...'

My bet would be that The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the major factor in Hershey's 'global supply chain transformation'.

The $170 to $190 million extra profit, or 'savings' as Hershey would have it, anticipated by Hershey from the 'transformation' would, I suspect, largely be based on two factors.

The first is that the product can be manufactured more cheaply in Mexico due to a reduced labour costs from relocating unionized Canadian and U.S. jobs to a non-unionized Mexican environment.

I doubt the Hershey decision is based on there being a stronger market for their product in Mexico than Canada or the U.S., so the second factor is is the ability to sell the product back in the U.S. and Canadian markets at the current price without being subject to high, or any, importation tariffs courtesy of the NAFTA agreement.

I rather doubt the increased profits, or 'savings', would be there if Hershey was allowed to sell only the product it manufactured in Canada and U.S. in those countries. Nor would it be there if the company was hit with hefty importation tariffs on the products manufactured in Mexico and then imported to the U.S. or Canada, as would have been the case in pre-NAFTA days.

Assuming that NAFTA is the reason for Hershey's decision, there's nothing Dennis Staples, Norm Sterling or Dalton McGuinty can do that will have any impact on the Hershey decision because NAFTA is in the federal government ballpark.

Which is why I found Scott Reid's comments rather interesting.

Scott is well aware of the above. So the comment '...and remember that they came here because it made sense to be here' is rather ironic because he's obviously knows that under NAFTA the reason 'it made
sense to be here' is no longer there.

It 'made sense to be here' when it was cheaper to manufacture product intended for the Canadian market in this country than it was to manufacture the product in the U.S. and be hit with a tariff when the
product was imported into Canada.

At that time it was seen as good to offer some protection to Canadian workers employed in industries making products that competed with foreign companies making the same product more cheaply due to access to lower wage labor or by dint of being far more massive than the Canadian company. This made sense because employed people pay taxes and taxes pay for highways, hospitals and other public infrastructure, so it's desirable from a national perspective to have people employed in decent paying jobs.

With 'free trade', it no longer makes the same sense for a company to be here if a product can be made elsewhere at a lower labour cost and then sold in Canada and the U.S. without being subject to a significant, or any, importation tariff. Basically these corporations can now suck money out of the Canadian and U.S. markets without making any significant contribution whatsoever to the economy of either nation, particularly if the corporate income is being taxed in the lower wage country and the government offered them reduced taxation rates to get them there.

Scott's comment that 'the point of business is to make money' is quite true. That being the case, the point is to maximize earnings and if this can be achieved by relocating manufacturing facilities to nations where workers can be obtained for starvation wages then importing it back to sell in the nations that lost the jobs, then this is what a corporation must do.

Fortunately more and more Canadians and U.S. citizens are waking up to the fact that the primary beneficiaries of the 'free trade' con job foisted upon us are large multi-national corporations and that for the most parts agreements like NAFTA have not provided the benefits on which these were sold to most Canadian or U.S. citizens, and in fact have harmed the lives of many citizens in both nations.

It may have taken people longer than it should have to realize they've been scammed with NAFTA and various similar agreements.

However, in our defense, the beneficiaries of these agreements have spent considerable time and money the past thirty years in hammering the 'free trade is good (for them)' and 'globalization is inevitable' message home in the mainstream media through corporate funded 'independent' mouthpieces like the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

If people are constantly barraged by mainstream media and some of their politicians by a message that it's somehow good for Canadians to have their jobs exported to foreign nations, leaving out the part that it's really only good for large corporations, and that it's 'inevitable' anyway, so we might as well just roll=over and accept it, who can blame them for eventually believing this nonsense must be true?

The unfortunate fact is that the Hershey situation is just another in a long line of similar small community disasters throughout eastern Ontario and the rest of Canada since the signing of NAFTA. And while
Smiths Falls residents are rightly concerned, most Canadians won't think twice about it, just as Smiths Falls residents probably didn't when similar closures happened in other communities, because they don't
believe it affects them.

Canadians seem to have lost the understanding that as a nation everything that happens anywhere in this nation can, similar to any family, and often does affect all of us. So our little communities fall victim to the results of ill-conceived policies implemented by politicians, who often seem to live quite comfortable private sector lives after leaving politics, one by one because when it happens elsewhere, we don't make our voices heard or take the time to become educated on the issue because it doesn't seem to affect us and when it becomes our turn there's no one making their voices heard on our behalf because they don't believe it affects them.

And again, who can blame most Canadians, who these days spend ever increasing amounts of time working simply to try to survive with a reasonable standard of living and are too tired to wonder where the 'prosperity' we've been constantly promised from 'free trade' and selling off our non-renewable resources as quickly as possible at bargain prices actually is? Certainly never 'trickled down' to the average Canadian or U.S. citizen the past thirty years.

At any rate, while Hershey is likely a done deal, all petitions, letters, etc. should be directed to Scott Reid because as our federal representative he's the 'NAFTA' guy and NAFTA is the problem. Or at least a major contributor in the larger problem and question of whose interests this nation should be serving (perhaps most Canadians?) and in whose interests it has actually for years been run (perhaps a minority of Canadians and multi-national corporations?).

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Dear Editor:

Re: the 'five stages of grief' editorial.

When it comes to the 'acceptance' stage the citizens of Smiths Falls will have two things to accept, both courtesy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The first is that they've lost 500 jobs with Hershey leaving town.

The second is that there won't be any other similar employment coming to town to replace those jobs.

The first has to be accepted, barring some miracle in which Canada withdraws from NAFTA in the next few months.

The second doesn't have to be accepted so long as people across Canada start demanding the their federal MPs support Canada's withdrawal from NAFTA, and let them know that if they won't (which you can be pretty sure no Conservative or Liberal candidate will do), then they'll find a candidate who will. Who this might be, I don't know. Canadians don't have much to choose from in political parties that doesn't also involve accepting policies with which many might not agree.

People can do all the 'brainstorming' they want however, those jobs can't and won't be replaced in a NAFTA environment by reasonably equivalent employment. So, either NAFTA goes or Canadian jobs will continue to do so.

As to the editorial, I'd suggest that it is the duty of the media to explain to people exactly why their jobs are leaving, i.e., NAFTA, rather than indulging in the type of platitudes, e.g., 'like losing a friend, even a family member' expressed in the editorial and elsewhere in the March 02, 2007 edition of the paper. In reference to that comment, I'll just note that while I may be grief-stricken to lose or friend or family member, it isn't often this is also combined with the loss of my family's livelihood and the feelings that come with that.

For some reason the only mention of NAFTA in either of the town's two community papers has come from readers in 'Letter To The Editor' submissions, rather than from the politicians quoted or the newspaper's editorial staff.

I'll again suggest that the media has some responsibility to tell people exactly why their jobs are going and, if I and others are wrong re: NAFTA, explain to readers why we are and why the benefits of NAFTA outweigh the costs to communities like Smiths Falls for Canada as a whole.

This certainly isn't a difficult topic to research as sources such as the Fraser Institute (http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/) are only to happy to continuously spread the message of their corporate sponsors in the Ottawa Citizens and Suns of the world as to the 'prosperity' offered by NAFTA and similar agreements to all of us, including of course communities like Smiths Falls. Other lesser known sources, such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/) present the other side of the coin and Vive Le Canada (http://vivelecanada.ca) provides considerable information and comment on this topic, albeit at times with what some might describe as a left of center slant.

If as a media source, you don't want to do the research and analysis yourself, please at least provide people with sources to which they can refer and let them make their own decision as to which perspective, i.e., keep and expand NAFTA or withdraw from NAFTA, deserves their support as making the most sense for Canadians as a whole.

Of course, if people decide NAFTA and further expansion of the same are the way to go, the third thing that at least Hershey workers will need to 'accept' is a move to Alberta to find a decent job, at least so long as the oil and natural gas hold out, because it's highly unlikely any that may come here, e.g., part-time, minimum wage retail jobs, will offer any opportunity to support a family.

And those who remain in Smiths Falls will eventually need to 'accept' higher property taxes and fewer services as there won't be a Hershey around to chip into the town pot, although of course under NAFTA, their products will still be here for us to enjoy.

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[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on March 5, 2007]


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