The rich, a little class warfare and anti-union Vale Inco

Lana
Lana Payne
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Warren Buffett is an odd guy. Some might say eccentric.
He is the third-richest man on the planet and yet he says the rich - including himself and his wealthy friends - should pay higher taxes.
And the American businessman, investor and multibillionaire freely admits to a class warfare - a war the rich are winning, he says.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2006, Buffett proclaimed, "It's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
And the recession barely slowed them down. It was the rich, the speculators, the banks and financial institutions that caused the incredible hardship being felt by the poor and working citizens around the globe. For them, the economic recovery is in full swing.
Now they have moved on to their next battle - eliminate government deficits at all costs, feeding into the deficit hysteria.
On Monday, when the Williams government brings down its budget, including a small deficit, business groups in our province will raise their voices with those clamouring for governments to cut back in order to purge deficits, even though to do so could prolong economic recovery.
Fear-mongering about taxes and deficits and accusing those who promote wealth distribution as instigating class warfare when it is really the rich who renewed this war is not new.
This is just part and parcel of the bigger class warfare that Buffett has referred to many times.

Getting richer
According to Forbes Magazine's latest list of the obscenely wealthy, the world's richest men got a whole lot richer in 2009 even while millions of people around the world continued to lose their jobs or fall into abject poverty.
The wealth of the world's richest billionaires grew by 50 per cent last year. In fact, the number of billionaires climbed to more than 1,000 worldwide, despite a dip in 2008 because of the financial meltdown. They enjoyed a combined wealth of a staggering $3.6 trillion.
Topping the list is Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, whose wealth is estimated to be in the $53.5 billion range - an increase of $18.5 billion from the previous year. Falling into second and third place with wealth of $53 billion and $47 billion, respectively, were Microsoft owner Bill Gates and Buffett.
The three men saw their combined wealth increase by $41.5 billion in the past year.
At the same time that the world's richest people were rebounding nicely from the recession, the International Labour Organization estimates unemployment grew in 2009 by 60 million workers - bringing global unemployment to the highest ever on record.

Sense of entitlement
Yes, the rich are winning the class war. Conventional wisdom is they are entitled to their billions, while average workers are attacked if they dare to reach for a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.
Look at how easily it is to berate autoworkers and federal government employees for making decent wages. Yet it's OK for the super rich to get richer. Somehow they are entitled to their riches, while everyday working people have to fight, not just to hang on to what they have, but to justify it.
Look at how easily corporations like Vale Inco can get away with their anti-union tactics in both this province and in Ontario. One of the world's richest mining corporations, it is seeking concessions at the bargaining table and engaging in some good old-fashioned union busting outside the bargaining table, including the blatant use of replacement workers.
But then working people, especially those organized in unions, rarely have governments on their side. The right to strike and free collective bargaining in Canada continues to be attacked and eroded.
Instead of standing up for citizens, far too many political leaders either cower in the face of global corporate power or agree with their view of the world.

Up for the fight?
Premier Danny Williams has, on numerous occasions, shown his willingness to take on global corporate capital - from oil companies to forestry giants.
It has yet to be seen whether he will give Vale Inco the dressing down, and more, that they deserve. He has been urged to do so by the labour movement.
It is yet to be seen whether the provincial government will stand up for the workers and ensure their right to strike actually means something.
As a society, we have to stop blaming working people for seeking a better life for themselves and their kids. This is not the problem.
This is actually part of the solution. It is how we can better share the wealth created in our province and in our world.
If promoting a better sharing of our nation's wealth or if calling for the rich to pay more taxes is to engage in class warfare, then bring it on. It's time to address the growing income gap between those with the most and those with the least.
And our political leaders, if they believe in a more just and equal society, shouldn't be afraid to have this adult conversation either. They have already granted too much ground to the likes of Stephen Harper, his right-wing think-tanks and Conservative columnists.
It's time to come out of the corner and start fighting back.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.
Her column returns April 10.

Organizations: New York Times, Forbes Magazine, Microsoft International Labour Organization Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Ontario, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Stop the Racket
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Lana dont you even know that Danny Williams is anti union nayway. That was eveident with the public sector strike a few years back. Get with the program Lana. Look how he is now dealing with the Doctors. Danny Williams dosent negotiate he dictates and hes really good at it.

  • Nasty
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Lana you sound like you are a little miffed that you are a have not rather then a have. Guess you went into the wrong line of work eh.

    I would rather negotiate my contract with the employer rather then a union mob. Guess that comes from knowing what ones rights are rather then being told. Just how much cash do these union mobsters have? Might surprise you to find out they are right up there with the corporations so many dislike in the first place. How did the union leaders earn all that cash, well they ripped it off from the backs of the workers they have taken advantage of for decades.

  • Phoebe Tilley
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Well Lana you never fail to show how out of touch you really are. Now you want Danny Williams on your side. That man is perhpas more anti-union than Vale Inco. Remember how Danny blamed the Union for pounding the crap out of hjis son on George St during the public sector strike. They can all stay out till the cows come home were Dannys words. Without any proof of any kind he blamed the Union for causing problems with his son. Williams cant and wont negotiate with anyone. You of all people should be fully aware of that Lana. While your at it Lana why dont you try and get Jerome Kennedy on your side as well. Temper Tantrum Danny and Motor Mouth Kennedy. A winning combination if there ever was one.

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I have a suggestion for all the union types railing against their ugly bosses. Buy the company and run it yourself.
    Oh, you don't have the capital to do that. Well then I guess that's the difference. The guy who has the gold makes the rules.

  • Stop the Racket
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Lana dont you even know that Danny Williams is anti union nayway. That was eveident with the public sector strike a few years back. Get with the program Lana. Look how he is now dealing with the Doctors. Danny Williams dosent negotiate he dictates and hes really good at it.

  • Nasty
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Lana you sound like you are a little miffed that you are a have not rather then a have. Guess you went into the wrong line of work eh.

    I would rather negotiate my contract with the employer rather then a union mob. Guess that comes from knowing what ones rights are rather then being told. Just how much cash do these union mobsters have? Might surprise you to find out they are right up there with the corporations so many dislike in the first place. How did the union leaders earn all that cash, well they ripped it off from the backs of the workers they have taken advantage of for decades.

  • Phoebe Tilley
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Well Lana you never fail to show how out of touch you really are. Now you want Danny Williams on your side. That man is perhpas more anti-union than Vale Inco. Remember how Danny blamed the Union for pounding the crap out of hjis son on George St during the public sector strike. They can all stay out till the cows come home were Dannys words. Without any proof of any kind he blamed the Union for causing problems with his son. Williams cant and wont negotiate with anyone. You of all people should be fully aware of that Lana. While your at it Lana why dont you try and get Jerome Kennedy on your side as well. Temper Tantrum Danny and Motor Mouth Kennedy. A winning combination if there ever was one.

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    I have a suggestion for all the union types railing against their ugly bosses. Buy the company and run it yourself.
    Oh, you don't have the capital to do that. Well then I guess that's the difference. The guy who has the gold makes the rules.