Not rosy for all

Lana Payne
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Charles Dickens would not lack for material.

The class struggle he wrote about in the 1800s is played out every day on the business pages of Canada’s newspapers.

In so many fundamental ways, not that much has changed from the days when he wrote those infamous words, “Please sir, can I have some more?”

The unfettered rich class is still telling the rest of us what we deserve or don’t deserve. Hardly a day goes by when a business leader, CEO or tycoon is not preaching to the masses about what society can afford or can’t afford. His salary, bonuses and stock options are rarely questioned as affordable, fair or just.

The discussion in the mainstream media is rarely about growing income inequality and how those at the top, including corporations, are just not paying their fair share.

The latest is the attack against deferred wages or pensions for working people in both the private and public sectors.

While CEOs and executives have one or even two gold-plated pension plans, the people who work for them are told retirement security is just not for them.

Society just can’t afford pensions, we are told. Yet somehow society can afford obscene corporate profits and unchecked and reckless corporate tax cuts.

Sometimes the message is disguised in the debt-hawk double-speak we get from the St. John’s Board of Trade. Other times, it is a very clear vitriolic attack against pensions issued by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

But the target is the same: workers and their pensions.

Part of the campaign to dismantle pensions is to pit government workers against those in the private sector. The theory is if we are busy defending, there is less time to counter an effective offence that highlights the real problems in our economy.

That is the mind-blowing amount of wealth being produced in our economy and how that wealth is being shared, or rather not shared.

Let them eat cake

Incredibly last week on the same day that a super-wealthy, retired CEO of a giant oil and gas company attacked workers’ pensions in a Globe and Mail commentary, a second article lamented poor economic growth, while corporate profits in Canada soar.

Despite what the article referred to as sluggish growth in Canada’s GDP (Newfoundland and Labrador is the exception), the picture for corporate profits remains “rosy.” A 52 per cent year-over-year increase is profits makes rosy somewhat of an understatement.

And yet we have a federal government that continues to hand out tax cuts to corporate Canada like candy to a baby and preaches austerity to the rest of us. Folks, there is something really, really wrong with this picture.

An economist with Gluskin Sheff and Associates noted in the article that this was “absolutely wonderful news for the capitalists.”  No doubt it is.

It is also mind-boggling. And it is this dramatic shift in how we share, or don’t share, the wealth from our economy that has the United States in such an economic mess.

Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in economics, recently wrote about what he called the “ideological crisis of western capitalism.

“I was among those who hoped that somehow the financial crisis would teach Americans (and others) a lesson about the need for greater equality, stronger regulation and a better balance between the market and government. Alas, that has not been the case. On the contrary, a resurgence of right-wing economics, driven, as always, by ideology and special interests, once again threatens the global economy.”

Canada, under Stephen Harper, has now embraced those right-wing economics that Stiglitz refers to. Like some voices in Canada, Stiglitz has been very critical of the so-called austerity plans touted in some parts of Europe and in North America.

“The financial markets and right-wing economists have gotten the problem backwards. They believe austerity produces confidence and that confidence will produce growth, but austerity undermines growth, worsening the government’s fiscal position,” he notes.

Politicians and policy makers have already forgotten the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis, says Paul Krugman, economist and New York Times columnist.

Corporations and bankers have returned to their heyday while workers are still paying a very steep price for something they did not cause.

Interestingly, Charles Munder, the vice-chair of the U.S. mega-corporation Berkshire Hathaway (the chair is Warren Buffett), recently noted that the economic problems in his country were caused by a combination of “megalomania, insanity and evil in … investment banking, and mortgage banking.”

The debate last week in the United States around the debt ceiling, the refusal by the Republicans to agree to a fairer taxation system is a very big indication that the “insanity” is still in high gear.

But it’s not just a U.S. problem. Canada is dangerously following down the same path. As noted by economist Jim Stanford in a recent commentary, Canada’s 50 most profitable corporations raked in an astounding $80 billion worth of after-tax net income in 2010.

And Stephen Harper gave them a $6 billion tax break. Go figure.

The richest corporations are dominated by two sectors. Yep, you guessed it: financial and resource sectors — banks, insurance companies, mining, and oil and gas.

So folks, the next time a CEO attacks a worker’s pension, the next time a business organization says we can’t afford something, respond by questioning the stunning and spectacular profits taken out of our economy, including right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, by mining and oil companies and ask, are we really getting our fair share of these resources? I can guarantee that we are not.

And the days of begging for our just share should be good and over. I believe Charles Dickens would agree.

Lana Payne is president of the

Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at Her column returns July 30.

Organizations: Board of Trade, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.But, Globe and Mail Gluskin Sheff and Associates Columbia University New York Times Berkshire Hathaway Republicans Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Newfoundland and Labrador Europe North America

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Recent comments

  • baie boy
    July 22, 2011 - 20:32

    The problem with these pension plans is people retire to early. Put the retirement age to 65 & they may work. In NL we have thousands of civil servents/teachers who payed in less than one years pension & have 10-18 years pension, $300.000- $600,000. ++ drawn out of the plan before they reach 65. Its obivious why these plans are broke. Then the expect others to work till their 65+ to pay for their pension & have the nerve to look for a raise & complain that their CPP is clawed back, something they & their union agreed to. Not rosy for those who have to work till their 65, to pay for someones elses very generous early retirement. These early retirees are just not paying their fair share. I believe Charles Dickens would agree.

  • Colin Burke
    July 21, 2011 - 15:08

    Trade unions like those belonging to the Federation of Labour are complicit in the unfairness Ms. Payne rails against; they are content to work for corporate enterprises instead of being corporate enterprises -- so far as corporate enterprises are necessary, which is not so much as we are led to believe. Most "necessity" today is artificial. For instance, if newspapers were necessary, they themselves would not need to rely on advertising revenue but could charge prices allowing reasonable profit in addition to covering the cost of their production. If newspapers were necessary, they would not hire reporters but rather firms of reporters would hire owners of printing presses.

  • Anna
    July 18, 2011 - 11:54

    Every week it is the same garbage, but not once does Ms. Payne explain to us who is going to pay for all of this. Corporations employ people and this is why they have to get tax credits, if not all the jobs are going to go to China and India. Does she expect the government to pay for everyone and where is that money coming from? Must be nice to have a job like hers and all she has to do is make the unions believe she is on their side without giving any thought for those of us not in unions.

  • Carl
    July 18, 2011 - 09:57

    Ms. Payne, like the true socialist she is, thinks "society" can pay for everything for everyone. Well, just who does she think "society" is? And where does she think the money would come from? Her answer is to tax the rich to give free stuff to everyone else. Ms. Payne hates rich people, but doesn't realize that the vast majority of the so-called "rich" people in our society didn't start off that way - they earned it! Punishing success is not a formula for a strong or prosperous future, Ms. Payne.

  • Harvey
    July 17, 2011 - 09:26

    And so many of our provincial politicians campaigned openly for the Conservative feds on May 2. Obviously, they want to remain with the unfair distribution of our wealth. Let the rich suck it hell with those who suffer!!!

  • Rick Bungay
    July 16, 2011 - 20:16

    Boy, Mrs. Payne must really hate the rich and hate big government because it seems every column she writes she either has a problem with big business or Stephen Harper. Perhaps we should go with a classless society eh Lana.

  • Cyril Rogers
    July 16, 2011 - 14:24

    Ms Payne, the problem with most of us is that we are too complacent about how governments and the business sector spew their venom and propaganda. We all know that businesses need to make money in order to survive. The key question is: how much profit is reasonable? Also, to what extent do businesses have responsibility to give back to society in general. We all benefit from good roads, clean water, health services and othe essential services and somebody has to pay. Most average Canadians certainly pay a fair portion of their income through income tax, the HST, and assorted user fees. Those who are richer need to step up to the plate and also pay a fair share. There is little doubt that this is no longer the case and we have fewer corporations that are vested in the community like they once were. Too much changing of corporate entities and too many foreign dollars controlling these corporations is the root cause of that! Governments have been co-opted into the corporate mindset and, by extension, so have we. After all, we voted for them or, by failing to vote, allowed the Harperites to seize control.

    • Mary
      July 18, 2011 - 08:19

      Mr. Bungay, it's not big business,or government, that Ms. Payne hates, it's the unfairness, and as for Mr. Harper, I don't like him either. I call him the jerk, with the perpetual smirk.