This week, breweries and banks have provided Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) and Canadians with a few blunt lessons on the downside of globalization.
For more than two decades, globalization has been the Mother Teresa of politics — sainted, beyond criticism and bringing succour to the poor. In fact, globalization went one better than Mother Teresa, because it helps the rich, too.
RBC ignited outrage across the country when former employees went public with their complaint of being replaced by foreign workers. To be clear: the foreign workers in question were brought into Canada, rather than the Canadian jobs being shipped out, which is globalization’s usual method.
Foreign workers replaced several dozen RBC IT workers. A TV news clip showed an angry customer going into an RBC branch to close his account.
There were calls for the federal government to tighten restrictions on foreign workers.
This is indeed a rotten situation. But Canada has been moving toward it for 25 years, ever since votes were cast for Brian Mulroney and his free-trade policy.
Shipping jobs out or bringing foreigners in has the same result: they put Canadians out of work.
The truly strange and irrational aspect of the globalization debate — such that it was, because it seems to be over for almost everyone but the anarchists — was that it scorned self-sufficiency.
We didn’t need to make widgets. We could buy cheaper widgets made in China or Taiwan or Pakistan or Panama or Bangladesh or India or Honduras or dozens of other countries where workers’ rights are but a child’s daydream.
Canadians, according to the globalization theory, would be freed from their factories to work in the new “knowledge economy.”
Presumably, Canadian IT workers are part of said knowledge economy. Correct that: they were part of it.
Canadians have been suckered by politicians who believe their own bombast.
The overriding economic philosophy among corporate executives and too many politicians is that an economy without workers is a worthy goal — specifically, without Canadian workers or, barring that, without well-paid workers.
Despite broad public anger, RBC’s action makes perfect sense in a globalized economy. It is, after all, what people have been voting for since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the bosses at Labatt Breweries in St. John’s apparently thought it was a good idea to instruct their employees to train workers who would replace them in the event of a strike. The employees refused and walked out, and are currently on a wildcat strike.
The mind reels, and then reels some more upon news that a judge ordered the workers to stop interfering in Labatt’s daily business because, he said, they would do the company irreparable harm.
Apparently, in a globalized knowledge economy, being replaced on the job does not qualify as doing irreparable harm to a worker.
But then, in the globalized mindset, a worker is merely another cost, an irritating expense that, though sometimes necessary, must be cut or minimized whenever possible.
Boardrooms in Canada and elsewhere are stocked with MBAs and CEOs who must have skipped Economics 101. They don’t know, or don’t care, that a thriving economy depends on consumption and that, in order to consume, consumers need a decent income. Even ultra-capitalist Adam Smith and ultra-socialist Karl Marx agreed on this. (Their disagreement was, of course, about the production side of the equation.)
Casting aside bank workers and brewery workers and other workers will eventually but assuredly destroy the base of the economic pyramid, and the whole thing will crumble. We are seeing some of this already on a worldwide scale.
Someday, a CEO somewhere will lament about the once-worthwhile free enterprise system, “The arse has gone out of ’er.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.