By George Penney
The dilemma in which the plant workers of Fortune and the Fish Food and Allied Workers union currently find themselves should have been solved long, long ago. The problem stems from the universally known fact that Newfoundland, prior to and since Confederation with Canada, has produced raw materials that were then shipped offshore to be further processed for value-added marketability.
Even Canada itself, in the 21st century, is prone to follow that same philosophy. Our politicians, both provincially and federally, seem to place more value on the immediacy of raw material jobs rather than providing a marketable finished product with greater value.
One has only to look to the Labrador mining industry to witness the movement of pelletized ore to the steel mills of the United States. The ore from Buchans mines, for decades, was shipped to the United States. During the ’60s and ’70s we gladly shipped our fish in frozen block form to the U.S. where the labour-intensive finishing was done for the consumer market.
One could go on with our wild berry crop, our Voisey’s Bay nickel pellets and, of course, the export of our labour force to serve the industrial needs of other jurisdictions.
How could this current clash of interests between workers and union have been avoided? How could it have been rendered unnecessary? I think the answer lies with the intestinal fortitude (actually the lack of it) of former governments and the industrialists who developed our industries in the past generations. That was a time when they perhaps should have invested further and provided the infrastructure to produce a finished product instead of shipping raw material (which provided minimal job opportunities locally) for the almighty quick buck.
For the sake of convenience I will coin a word for the FFAW’s opposition to shipping raw product to an offshore buyer — “McCurdyism.” I feel he deserves recognition for taking such an unpopular stand while also knowing he would be targeted by angry protesters. One can only wonder what took so long for some leadership to realize a need for the adoption of such a policy.
TV newscasts clearly demonstrate the initiative needed to stand up and publicly defend the union position. On the other hand, the position of the plant workers is rather desperate and immediate. We cannot ignore their pleas or dismiss their pleading. For them it means employment now, it means financial stability in the face of economic hardship and family need. For that we have to praise the strength of character and the fortitude of the position that they have no other choice but to take.
We are told that the union and government will be holding talks soon. I suggest that the issue is an urgent one and needs immediate answers to lessen tensions and provide a sense of relief for both sides in this dispute.
I feel that the government now has an opportunity to show genuine leadership here and not open the floodgates to more giveaways by allowing another unfinished product to be exported. Whatever it takes to stabilize the welfare of the workers, let’s get on with it. Let’s demonstrate some backbone and do whatever is necessary in the short haul to shore up our determination to be masters over our own resources. It should have been done many years ago.
I can’t help but think that our easy-going indifference toward achieving maximum industrial benefits has tagged us as easy prey for those who could benefit by pushing their own agenda.
George Penney writes from Blackhead,
Conception Bay North.