Part IV. Prospects and the larger political context
News Commentary by TONY SEED and ENA BOUTILIER
HALIFAX (1 May 2007) - THE STRUGGLE of the Halifax Casino workers to organize to defend their collective interests raises another important issue of our time. Can a private monopoly be permitted to do whatever it wishes, even if people are opposed to it? Whose will should prevail in such vital issues of livelihood, security and rights facing the Casino workers and their families?
The government of Nova Scotia makes a great pretence that gambling is a rules-based industry but at no time has it stepped in to restrict and regulate the gross exploitation by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation in partnership with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, a crown corporation, of 850-900 casino workers of Nova Scotia in Halifax and Sydney, or its anti-union maneouvres to ensure a disorganized workforce. It uses the hoax that these are "private" matters between the staff and the corporation to justify its indifference. This is deception.
Over the past eleven years since Las Vegas interests first launched these two gaming properties in Nova Scotia, numerous committees of the Nova Scotia Legislature have publicly met to hear and collect evidence regarding the contract between the gaming corporations and the province, the division of the gambling spoils, review the highly-paid big shot patronage appointments to the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, or debate the social ills associated with video lottery terminal gambling machines (VLTs) - most recently by the public accounts committee on 17 January 2007. Of course, these are deemed "public" matters, while the driving down of the wages and conditions of the casino staff and the expropriation of surplus value from Nova Scotians during these eleven years is deemed a "private" matter.
At no time has any of ruling political parties ever had the courage to raise the issue that the rights and conditions of Nova Scotian employees be guaranteed as an elementary requirement of the government-casino corporation partnership. At no time has the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation with its high ideals about "leading an economically sustainable and socially responsible gaming industry for the benefit of Nova Scotians and their communities" ever reported to the government or the public about the conditions being imposed on casino workers. Nor at any time has the media, who have an enormous interest in the proliferation of gambling (especially sports betting, e.g., publishing point spreads, the currency of American sports), ever reported the truth about the conditions of the Casino workforce. All these vested interests exhibit the most aloof anti-social consciousness. Instead of the well-being of the society being protected, the well-being of the gaming corporation is looked after while Nova Scotian workers are left to fend for themselves. In this way, the state is being used by such a monopoly to impose on the Casino staff wages and working conditions they cannot live with while the profits are sent out-of-province.
Furthermore, the conditions of the casino workers is a damning indictment of the current anti-social neo-liberal agenda being implemented by the Canadian and provincial governments that is channelling large amounts of social value from the people into the hands of the monopolies through cuts to social programs, privatization, deregulation and the plunder of people's savings through speculative investments of the pension funds. The dramatic rise of gaming is one of these means. As one of the speculative practices of finance capital, it is a favoured means of plundering people's savings while fostering the "get rich quick" narcosis by pocketing the wealth of others and utopian panacea of "beating the bank" as a way out of the human suffering gripping a crisis-ridden society.
Yet the reality of the testimony of the Casino workers as to their conditions is that it is precisely un-organized workplaces, super-exploitation, contracting out, and the ripping apart of the social fabric which are all contributing to an insecure life and work-related stress amongst Canadians. These contribute to people becoming prey to the "get rich quick" narcosis and empty escapism from the conditions being imposed on them.
Social value turned over to the monopolies from the anti-social offensive is being squandered on military adventures, integration with or annexation to the US, luxury spending by the rich and speculative gambling on and investment in get rich schemes. Here on the waterfront is the real face of the "culture of risk."
Part V. Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement
Another important dimension of this struggle is highlighted by a curious irony: the Casino workers' first press conference was held on 1 April 2007, the same day on which the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between Alberta and British Columbia officially came into effect.
Ostensibly aimed at reducing inter-provincial trade barriers between the two provinces, the TILMA is legislation that allows companies to sue provincial governments whose actions are thought to "restrict" or "impair" investments, severely limiting the ability of the public to combat the predatory actions of large monopolies. This agreement also serves as a blueprint for other provinces, which are considering joining this agreement, the result of which will involve a further escalation of the assault on the wages and working conditions of the Canadian people. Just as the prospect of capital flight from Canada has proven to be a barrier to unionization with the onset of the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA), the threat of capital flight within Canada will also become just such a threat and barrier to the unionization of large Canadian companies within Canada, and the struggle at Casino Halifax is a struggle precisely in the latter sense. Halifax should not become a place to which union-averse Canadian corporations come to feed on cheap labour, but the conditions for such a reality are already manifest and are likely to get worse if and when the Government of Nova Scotia embraces the TILMA. However, the struggle of casino workers in Halifax provides a much welcome counterpoint to this possible trend. It will be an excellent development if the staff at the Casino in Sydney, Cape Breton also take up the initiative to organize themselves collectively.
Shunpiking reiterates its support of the right of Casino workers - and all workers - to pursue further control over their work and working conditions, as well as its condemnation of all trends (i.e., NAFTA, Atlantica, TILMA, and the militarization of our harbours) which run contrary to that struggle.
1 See our article, "Behind the violation of rights of maritime workers and annexation in the name of 'security' - A grave escalation in the dangers posed to the sovereign interests of the Canadian people," this edition.
Please note. Part V of this series, entitled "The social irresponsibility of 'social responsible gaming'" is forthcoming.
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