Merit-based hiring has been severely weakened by the Act and accountability for unfair or biased staffing processes has deteriorated. Also, the Act has opened the door to stringent and unnecessary restrictions on the political rights of public service workers by the Public Service Commission.
In the 29-page report, PSAC outlines how the legislative changes that came as a result of the passing of the Public Service Modernization Act (PSMA) have failed to achieve the objectives of improving working relations in the federal government and ensuring better and more efficient services to Canadians.
"The public service cannot serve the interests of Canada, or promote the constitutional goal of peace, order and good government, by unduly curtailing the constitutional rights of its own workers," said John Gordon, National President of PSAC. "The legitimate interest of the public in an impartial public service must be balanced against the political rights of workers."
The PSMA brought about changes to two key pieces of legislation which provide the framework for staffing and labour relations in the federal public service: the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA).
One of the main problems with the changes to the PSEA is the new definition of merit in hiring public service employees. The new definition of merit allows the criteria through which merit is determined to include present and future needs. This definition creates tremendous latitude to establish criteria for selection for which there can be no accountability, as future needs are entirely speculative.
"Canadians rightly expect that when the government hires in the public service, the most qualified candidate amongst a pool of qualified candidates will get the job," said Gordon. "The new legislation's definition of merit in hiring actually contradicts the principles of excellence and accountability that Canadians expect, and opens the door to favouritism and partisan appointments."
The Public Service Staffing Tribunal set up to investigate cases of abuse in hiring has issued less than 20 decisions in which it has accepted the allegations which have been put before it with regard to abuse of authority and other matters falling within its statutory mandate. Worse, the new legislation eliminates independent third party review of errors, irregularities and omissions in the selection process. In some cases, deputy heads of departments have assumed responsibility for investigation processes even where they themselves are personally implicated.
"In the absence of real accountability for botched staffing actions, hiring in the public service is becoming looser and in some cases, slip-shod," said Gordon. "We are on the cusp of a culture shift in public service staffing -- less accountability will inevitably mean more unfairness."
PSAC is also concerned that notwithstanding the Supreme Court's striking down of prior restrictions on political activities for public service workers, the Public Service Commission is attempting to exceed its authority under the Act to monitor and restrict all political and "advocacy" work of public service workers. The Commission is also considering monitoring Facebook and other social networking sites for what it considers to be potentially partisan activity by public service workers. This is an unjustifiable intrusion into the private lives of government employees which will stifle political expression and undermine the democratic rights of workers.
Changes to the PSLRA, the labour relations framework for the federal public service, have failed to improve long standing problems. Meaningful consultation and effective joint resolution of labour relations issues have not improved since the legislation was enacted.
Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as the ones provided by the Public Service Labour Relations Board's mediation services have been very useful in avoiding the further escalation of disputes in certain instances. Unfortunately, mediation has not been taken seriously by many departments, which has exacerbated labour relations across the federal government. PSAC would like to see the Board take a pro-active role in managing mediation processes including the expectations of the parties prior to mediation to ensure that the individuals attending have the delegated authority to settle disputes.
The report also outlines concerns related to essential service agreements, which must ensure a balance is struck between ensuring the safety of the Canadian public and respect for the rights of union members to strike.
"The raison d'être of the Public Service Modernization Act was to improve working relations and produce a better work environment in the federal public service," said Gordon. "After more than five years under the new legislation, it is clear that it has failed to produce its stated objective."
PSAC is calling on the federal government to consider its recommendations as it proceeds with its statutory review of the PSMA.
Scientists Oppose Cuts to Environmental Research
On September 12 reports emerged that scientists and research institutes around the world have been informally told that Environment Canada will shut down the Canadian ozone science and monitoring program known as "the Ozone Network" as a result of cuts to government spending.
The Canadian observation network provides one-third of the Arctic's ozone measurements and is made up of 17 stations from London, Ontario to Alert, Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. The stations use several techniques to measure ozone, including the weekly launching of weather balloons from 11 of the stations. Atmospheric scientists and research institutes around the world use the data collected by the network for their research. This year the network contributed key data showing unprecedented depletion of stratospheric ozone over the Arctic. With regular in situ measurements going back to 1966, Canada also holds the longest-running record of atmospheric ozone levels in the world.
"Canada has been a linchpin of Arctic ozone observation," says Neil Harris, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who heads the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit. "It has contributed very substantial data to research that allows us to be diagnostic about what's happening in the Arctic stratosphere. If we were to lose one-third of our monitoring capability in the Arctic the overall loss in scientific value will be much greater."
"This is devastating for the whole field," says Tom Duck, who conducts atmospheric research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "The funding crisis in this country is really hammering our ability to observe and protect the environment of Canada. I have already lost most of my group because I just can't pay them any more. If help doesn't come soon, many others will shut up shop," he added.
Markus Rex, an ozone researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, who has previously worked with the Canadian network said, "I'm worried that the cuts will lead to an erosion of the Montreal Protocol, which obliges Arctic countries to monitor the ozone layer and maintain scientific ozone research."
Canadian environmental research is also facing the looming closure of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which provides the majority of funds for climate and atmospheric science in the country. The charitable foundation has received no federal funding since 2003 and is expected to close next year.
Reports have also surfaced that Ottawa may shut down a one-of-a-kind archive of ancient Canadian ice cores, collected over a period of 40 years. Geological Survey of Canada glaciologist Christian Zdanowicz has appealed to universities and other scientific bodies to consider taking over management of the ice archive that is threatened by "strategic budget compressions" at Natural Resources Canada. Environment Canada is also said to be planning to eliminate a research group looking at aircraft icing issues and a laser radar network that monitors particles thrown into the atmosphere by polluters and volcanoes, such as from the Icelandic eruptions that grounded air travellers.
Speaking to the wide-ranging cuts at Environment Canada, Duck stated: "It's just the wilful destruction of capacity. We're losing our capabilities to monitor the environment, and at the same time we're losing our capabilities to respond to problems, or even to recognize that they are there before it's too late."
Veterans to Hold National Day of Protest
The organization Canadian Veteran's Advocacy (CVA) has called for a National Day of Protest against cuts to support for veterans. In a September 13 press release, the CVA points out that the Harper government's proposed cuts of five to ten per cent to Veterans Affairs' operating budget will exacerbate a situation where major cuts to veterans' pensions and other supports have already been made since 2006 when the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act (or New Veteran's Charter (NVC)) came into force to replace the existing arrangements.
The CVA notes that the proposed cuts to Veterans Affairs will amount to as much as $300 million. The group adds that "[l]ast spring, the Canadian Government acknowledged veterans concerns about inadequate support through the passage of Bill C-55, in essence, the provision of 2 Billion dollars of enhancements to address NVC shortfalls. Bill C-55 was rushed through parliament and senate without time for proper debate and the consequences, as demonstrated by Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President Patricia Varga's extraordinary accusations about discrimination against WW2, Korean and Peacekeeping veterans, are not surprising." At present, the CVA reports that $189 million of the $2 billion has been allotted for disbursement over the next five years, or $38 million per year, an amount that may be exceeded by the proposed cuts this year alone. "DO the math. Add 38 million dollars compliments [of] Bill C-55, and then deduct 150-300 million from VAC's operating budget. How does this serve our wounded warriors? Should not their treatment be considered in the same vein as politicians salaries, exempt from any draconian austerity programs? Is it right for politicians to pay off the national debt on the backs of disabled veterans they sent to war?" the CVA writes.
The CVA identifies other recent changes to compensation for wounded veterans. One is the implementation of a Lump Sum Award for wounded veterans, brought in as part of the NVC in 2006, that replaced the Veterans' Affairs Pension. It points out that, "Prior to 2006, a wounded veteran's patriotic commitment to Canada would be acknowledged through a Veterans Affair Pension for pain and suffering, not income replacement. This special award was not subject to taxation and was dispersed over the course of the veteran's lifetime in monthly payments, a policy that ensured the veteran's well being after age sixty-five when injury related long-term-disability or extended- leave-bank benefits cease and the veteran's service pension is clawed back." The CVA calls the disparity between the pension and the lump sum award "obscenely unjust."
The CVA also notes in its press release the problem of clawbacks to veterans' pensions, taxation of veterans' widows, lack of compensation for those who experienced long-term exposure to Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown, pointing out the reluctance or even legal measures (i.e., attempting to prevent a class action lawsuit) the Harper government has taken to block veterans' demands.
Alberta Government Holds Closed Door
Calgary, Labour Day 2011
At Labour Day events in Edmonton and Calgary, workers were keenly discussing the significance of these attacks and the need to act as one to block this anti-worker, anti-social action by the government. This is of concern to every member of the society. Everyone has a right to know what is being discussed and who is taking part in the discussion on such important questions. Just as important is who sets the agenda for the discussion. Here the agenda has been set on the basis of the demand that monopoly right trump public right and that the workers' rights should be trampled in the mud. It is anti-democratic, anti-worker and anti-social all down the line.
Every review of the labour laws conducted in Alberta since the 1980s has been directed at obstructing workers exercising their right to organize their collectives and take effective action in defence of their rights. The workers who actually produce the added-value and have every right to demand a secure livelihood, Canadian standard of living, and safe and healthy working conditions are told that they are nothing but a "cost of production." The very conception that workers have any rights is under daily attack. The monopolies are demanding unfettered "monopoly right" to do whatever they like and use their dominant position and their control of the state to make it so.
The Alberta government is very straightforward in declaring that it has no responsibility for the members of society, only for the rich. The Alberta Competitiveness Act states: "WHEREAS the Government of Alberta believes that the role of government is to create the conditions for competitiveness so that entrepreneurship, innovation and investment will generate benefits for Albertans." The determination that workers are expressing to block this anti-worker review shows that the workers are taking up their social responsibility to resist the imposition of the naked rule of monopoly right at the expense of the public good and workers' rights.
All of this shows that the social contract established after the Second World War is dead. This group of employers has trained its guns on the ability of workers to organize, and the aim is either non-union workplaces or an arrangement with CLAC. Either way, this means there are no mechanisms to sort out the conflicting interests of capital and labour and all that remains is monopoly dictate. It must not pass!
The Alberta government must be held to account for its refusal to carry out its social responsibilities. Now is the time to stand as one to defeat this attack and demand new legal arrangements that defend the rights and claims of workers to the added-value they produce and which recognize their inviolable right to organize their collectives and defend their rights.
Capital-centred reformism is meant to turn the working class against its own interests and the progressive trend of history. The battle between capital-centred reformism and human-centred reformism centres on whether the working class takes the initiative to defend its rights or leaves its fate up to the owners of capital and their political and academic representatives.
The words of the capital-centred reformers sound so sweet and captivating but they are poison meant to disarm the working class and leave it without its own thinking, outlook, politics and leadership. The words are aimed at the brain of the working class movement, at its capacity to think for itself and chart a path forward that corresponds with the progressive trend of history towards the emancipation of the working class and the establishment of one humanity in harmony with the social and natural environment without social classes and the exploitation of humans by humans.
An example of the siren song of capital-centred reformism is the editorial The Limping Middle Class in the September 3 New York Times. The author is Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Democratic Party secretary of labour during the presidency of Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Mr. Reich is currently a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and prolific author and active propagandist for capital-centred reformism.
Reich divides the U.S. population according to wealth into three classes: lower, middle and the rich or sometimes the "very rich."
He writes, "The 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody's Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal.
"When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn't have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt -- which, as we've seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?
"The economy won't really bounce back until America's surge toward inequality is reversed. Even if by some miracle President Obama gets support for a second big stimulus while Ben S. Bernanke's Fed keeps interest rates near zero, neither will do the trick without a middle class capable of spending. Pump-priming works only when a well contains enough water."
Mr. Reich's words sound plausible and sensible enough. His description of inequality has statistical backing from Moody's. The problem with description and statistics is that in themselves they are not science; they are the surface sheen, which fascinates but does not explain the phenomenon at work, the root of the problem and its contradictions. His description and statistics are not analysis; they explain nothing and lead nowhere because they do not deduce the forces at play that gave rise to the surface sheen, description and statistics. With his description of a hierarchy of wealth and inequality bolstered by statistics, Mr. Reich teaches us nothing about the social class forces in conflict within the United States or the objective economic conditions. He gives us no direction as to what to do to change the situation except the sense that inequality must somehow give way to more equality or "the economy won't really bounce back." His capital-centred reformism rests on disarming the working class with policy objectives to reduce inequality.
Inequality in wealth is a concept outside a historical context and objective conditions. Every class society contains inequality in wealth. Social classes relate to how people acquire their living within a specific mode of production. The modern working class must work to earn a claim on the added-value it produces. This generally means working for owners of capital or a public enterprise but also includes those who are self-employed. Owners of capital must employ workers either directly or indirectly through investments to claim a portion of the added-value workers produce.
Class struggle between the working class and owners of capital over the distribution and control of added-value is a powerful motive force for change within the capitalist system. This class struggle is not for equality but for the rights of workers (the actual producers) to claim and eventually control that which they produce and to solve the basic contradictions of the capitalist system without being blocked by owners of capital.
Comparing inequality in wealth to that of social classes from low to high sets up the reader for Reich's deceptive assertion, "An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts." This leads to the assumption that the cycle of "booms and busts" can be stopped if the economy is not "dependent on the spending of a few." This fanciful statement can give rise to any capital-centred reformism one may desire to address inequality but it has nothing to do with the monopoly capitalist economy, its many contradictions and cycles or the class conflict between the working class and owners of capital.
For capital-centred reformers, the contradiction between the working class and owners of capital disappears within a sociological description of inequality and the necessity to strengthen the "middle class" and its "purchasing power to keep the economy going." The initiative for doing so must come from the elite, such as Reich himself, and enlightened members of the "rich," such as the billionaire investor Warren Buffett who yearns to pay personal income tax at the higher rate of his secretary but guards ferociously his monopoly right and control over those parts of the socialized economy he owns.
The contradiction between the socialized economy, comprised of interconnected parts and sectors of industrial mass production, and the private ownership of parts of that economy and the necessity of its resolution disappears in Reich's capital-centred reformism. The conflict among the working class, government and owners of capital over the distribution of added-value produced by the working class within the socialized economy likewise disappears as a motive force for change.
In contrast, human-centred reformism that corresponds to the progressive trend of history must take steps to restrict monopoly right and support public right when dealing with the basic contradictions and conflicts within the socialized economy. Human-centred reformism is the initiative of the working class itself to solve the problems that occur spontaneously within the socialized economy and to facilitate politically the modern definition of the distribution of added-value, where the working class has first priority on the value it produces, the government second and owners of capital last. Human-centred reformism is led and propelled forward by the mass mobilization of workers by and for themselves, and conscious activity to develop the human factor/social consciousness.
Capital-centred reformism does not directly take measures to deal with the contradictions and conflicts within the socialized economy and instead diverts reformism into one of reversing the "surge toward inequality." This becomes the policy objective of certain representatives of owners of capital who have the task of mobilizing the working class behind this reformism and doing everything possible to stop any restrictions on monopoly right. The main objectives of capital-centred reformism are to reverse the progressive trend of history, to keep workers enthralled within the capitalist historical crib without their own leadership, thinking, outlook and politics, and to suppress public right and the human factor/social consciousness.
Reich realizes that his opening statement is not good enough to convince his readers of much so he reverts to history and historical patterns to set readers up to accept his hypothesis without much thought or criticism.
He writes, "Look back over the last hundred years and you'll see the pattern. During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income -- as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 -- the nation as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.
"During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion -- as between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the present day -- growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered giant downturns. It's no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners' share of the nation's total income peaked in 1928 and 2007 -- the two years just preceding the biggest downturns."
He adds to his description of the present situation
these historical parallels and patterns that appear to carry weight and
bolster his view. Three historical periods are
highlighted, two are regressive as they generated inequality and one is
progressive, described as the "Great Prosperity" when inequality
receded and the "middle class" grew.
One period from 1933 to 1947 remains vague and not described. The
"Great Regression from 1981 to the present day" must be of some
personal note for Mr. Reich because
during that period of growing inequality he occupied one of the most
powerful political positions in the U.S. hierarchy.
His historical parallels and description of the present have one aspect in common: the class struggle of the working class for its rights is missing. In fact, the working class as the most dynamic and progressive social force the world has ever known disappears altogether into amorphous indistinct middle and lower classes. Importantly, the period from 1933 to 1947 that set the stage for the "Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977" is not highlighted. Why did this formative and tumultuous period disappear from Reich's description of historical events? Because this period marks the emergence and consolidation of the working class movement for its emancipation on an international scale. It marks the unity of the working class movement in the capitalist countries with the struggle of the oppressed peoples in the colonies for their independence from imperialism. It marks the period of the industrialization of the Soviet Union and its material and spiritual consolidation as the homeland of the international working class with its own constitution, outlook, politics and human-centred reformism in opposition to monopoly right. This period marks the worldwide victory over fascism and militarism and the mobilization of the human factor/social consciousness as a force that could not be ignored even by the most powerful monopolies within the United States and U.S. imperialism itself. It marks the formation of the U.S. industrial unions and their heroic struggles to break new ground in the defence of workers' rights and the rights of all. It marks a period when the working class even within the heartland of imperialism took measures to strengthen itself politically as an independent and conscious communist movement. That is what broke new ground and prepared the objective conditions for the "Great Prosperity" or social contract of the post-war period.
However, Reich's brief description of the "Great Prosperity" is the biggest dagger in the heart of human-centred reformism. It ignores the counter attack of monopoly right that undermined the working class movement, which included the Cold War and its dogma from both sides of "you're either with us or them," and created the conditions for the unilateral ending of the social contract and the beginning of the "Great Regression" in the 1970s. Reich ignores the basic contradictions within the socialized economy itself that give rise to the inevitable business cycles of crisis, destruction and anti-social restructuring that occurred with regularity during the period of "Great Prosperity" and most dramatically in the 1970s when a falling rate of return on investment, high unemployment, inflation and intensified state-organized attacks on the trade union movement signalled the end of the period and the beginning of the "Great Regression."
Lower or higher inequality is not the decisive factor of any period; it reflects the relative strength of the social classes in conflict and the measures if any that have been taken collectively to limit the destructive effects of the underlying contradictions of a particular mode of production. But even that observation is muted by historical traditions and thought material a newly developed system may carry within it from the past. Reich's own words show that regression was to be the order of the day from the late 1970s because owners of capital and their representatives singing the blessings of capital-centred reformism, which were repeated as gospel by traitors in the trade union movement, had disarmed the working class and its political leadership in the capitalist countries, disarmed and disoriented the working class and its political leadership in the Soviet Union, and blocked the consolidation of the anti-imperialist movement in the colonies. The human factor/social consciousness began its retreat, as the working class globally no longer was breaking new ground to defend its rights and the rights of all and move history in a progressive direction. The working class movement lost its bearings and was compelled then and now to begin anew.
Reich writes of the post-WWII period, "We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats."
"A virtuous cycle [where] the rising tide did in fact lift all boats." With those words, Reich heralds the victory of capital-centred reformism over the working class during a period when inequality was in decline in the United States, the Soviet Union and in those nations that had stood up such as China.
For capital-centred reformers, the demand-side "rising tide" theory of the "Great Prosperity" easily became the neoliberal supply-side trickledown theory of the "Great Regression." Two sides of the same capital-centred coin. When the contradictions of the socialized economy burst forth and smashed the "virtuous cycle," the working class was unprepared to break new ground in 1977, as it had done from 1933 to 1947 and at the beginning of the social contract.
The working class movement showed in practice that it
had abandoned its own leadership, thinking, outlook, politics and
actions with analysis to defend its rights, restrict
monopoly right and uphold public right. The working class movement lost
its bearings, entrapped in the illusion of a "virtuous cycle" of
capital-centred reformism, and
dominated by the likes of Robert B. Reich. For the working class, it is
time to free itself from the confines of capital-centred reformism and
take its fate in its own hands
and organize consciously to break new ground in defence of its rights
and the rights of all and for human-centred reformism to restrict
monopoly right, defend public right
and push forward the progressive trend of history.
Workers in Colombia forced the Canadian company Petrominerales Ltd, to suspend output of 15,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), both the company and a union said. Petrominerales, the fourth largest oil producer in Latin America, is infamous for violating the rights of the communities it works in, its refusal to pay workers compensation for damages or to provide proper working conditions or pay.
According to Reuters, Petrominerales said groups of people began blocking roads near its Corcel and Guatiquia fields in Meta department, one of Colombia's most important oil provinces, on Tuesday evening. It said the protesters were not employees or contractors of the firm.
"These actions are illegal under Colombia law and accordingly, the Colombian government is currently in the process of restoring public order to the area," it said. This would include the kind of measures endorsed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his recent trip to Colombia to permit these Canadian mining companies to act with impunity in a country already notorious for its state organized human rights violations."
Isnardo Lozano Gomez, secretary general at the USO oil workers union, said local communities were protesting over environmental damage in the area, the need for locals in the firm's labour force, and the lack of social investment.
"Today this confrontation and manpower in the area ... has increased substantially, and the community at this time is being subject to a brutal aggression by (anti-riot police)," he told Reuters by telephone.
Petrominerales -- which is one of many Canadian explorers and producers in the country -- produces around 40,000 bpd from all its fields.
In mid-August, protesters blocked access to a major oil field run by Pacific Rubiales, also in Meta.
"Colombia has seen billions of dollars in foreign direct investment since 2002 when a U.S.-backed offensive beat back rebels to remoter regions of the Andean country and opened up new areas to investment, especially in oil and mining," Reuters writes. "Better security and fiscal terms in the South American country have helped push Colombian national oil production to historic highs and have put it on track to produce 1 million bpd by the end of 2011," Reuters says.
However, an article by Nazih Richani published by Cuadernos Colombianos is more forthcoming. It points out:
"[I]n perhaps the largest recent strike held in Colombia in July, 10,000 workers walked out of several multinational oil companies in the Department of Meta. The strikes came after Montajes J.M. -- a subcontractor for the Spanish corporation CEPSA -- fired 1,100. The workers responded in protest against the layoffs and the dismal working conditions in most companies in Meta including Pacific Rubiales. It is noteworthy that Meta has become the epicentre of the country's oil production. Workers targeted the Canadian-based Pacific Rubiales, which has surpassed both BP and OXY to become the top oil company in Colombia, and the majority state-owned Ecopetrol. While 80% of Ecopetrol assets are owned by the Colombian state, the company often partners with Pacific Rubiales and has a share of 67% of the production from the Rubiales wells."
"The strike brought to the forefront two main issues that are important to address. One is in regards to the precarious working conditions of oil workers and the type of contracts that govern the multinational corporations, their subcontractors, as well as Ecopetrol, Cuadernos Colombianos pointed out. The second is the wider socioeconomic implications of what this oil boom is doing to the Department of Meta."
Cuadernos Colombianos points out the following working conditions as noteworthy:
- "Workers are forced to work more than 18 hours a day -- well above the maximum of 40 hours a week.
- "Workers work between 35 to 40 continuous days without any days off.
- "There is widespread discrimination in wages.
- "Some workers are not paid salaries during the three-month probationary period that they must work when they begin the job.
- "Workers are denied access to social security and pensions programs even after the lapse of the three-month probationary period.
- "The conditions of the worker's living quarters are
dismal -- similar, even, to those that prevailed in the 19th century
during the early period of the Industrial Revolution.
These dismal living conditions at least partially led to the strike.
Many of these workers are also migrants from other distant regions of
"It is important to note that while Pacific Rubiales has only 1,500 workers on its official payroll, its 600 subcontractors -- like Montajes J.M. -- employ 12,000 workers. This brings me to the second related issue -- the socioeconomic implications of such a sudden boom on the Department of Meta. If the historical experiences of the oil departments of Casanare and Arauca are of any help for us to better understand what is happening or is expected to happen in Meta, one may consider the following:
- "Local economies are being disrupted by a sudden influx of petrodollars, which increases the local prices of commodities, real estate, rents, and land values. All of this is detrimental to the agrarian economy, and particularly the small and subsistence peasant economy, which a good portion of this department's population depends on. This same process was also observed in Arauca and Casanare.
- "There has been a huge influx of migrant workers -- most of which are temporary and part-timers (recruited by the subcontractors) -- with no job security and benefits creating all the elements of a social explosion. Last week's strike and the confrontations that took place in Puerto Gaitán (in the Department of Meta) is only a preamble to a wider and more violent confrontation with the state.
- "In 2001, Puerto Gaitán, where the oil exploitation of Pacific Rubiales is concentrated, had a population of only 18,000. Over the last ten years it has doubled to 36,000. Migrant workers with no job security or benefits account for most of the population increase. Arauca and Casanare witnessed similar demographic booms with all of their socially destabilizing effects that often resulted in violence, due to the lack of conflict resolution channels and the extreme levels of class exploitation.
- "Until recently, Meta's economy depended on extensive
cattle ranching, rice production, African Palm oil, as well as the
peasant economy. These sectors have been
negatively affected by the oil boom, which has raised the price of
land, fertilizers, machines, and other imported commodities. The
cheapest commodity continues to be labour
power due to a stronger supply of labour and a lack of unionization.
This strike may usher in the beginning of a larger labour struggle to
increase salaries to at least match
the other price increases.
"I tried here to sketch some undercurrents of the Meta's strike, drawing parallels with Arauca and Casanare, all of which reveal a more encompassing subtext: Colombia is still rooted in an economic model that instead of bringing development, yields insecurity, instability, and most importantly generates deplorable working conditions for the masses. The latter is clear in Puerto Gaitán, besides many other places."
September 17, 2011 Bulletin • Return to Index • Write to: email@example.com