Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Duke Energy, Anadarko, GM. Only workers' control can stop them.

Oops! How can we make this go away?
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

A week or so ago, I commented on the looming crisis facing automaker GM in the light of the corporation’s cover up of faulty equipment that has so far led to13 deaths. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has fined GM $28,000 and is threatening stiffer penalties in response to the company’s failure to answer the regulators questions as to why it took ten years to begin recalling 2.6 million vehicles with defective ignition switches.

The defective switches have been blamed for cutting off power shutting down power steering, power brakes and preventing air bags from deploying. The NHTSA itself is coming under pressure from members of the US Congress who themselves face pressure form their constituents; sometimes they have to act like they represent the wage earning public. On top of the $28,000, GM is being fined $7000 a day by the NHTSA until all the agency’s questions are answered.

The new head of GM, Mary Barra, the first women to head what was once the world’s largest corporation, has responded to the crisis publicly telling legislators that “The new GM…..will be transparent, and put safety first.” WSJ 4-9-14. The politicians are hastily attempting to show their concern. “If GM is truly committed to the transparency they’ve promised….”, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D Mo) said yesterday, “….they need to cooperate fully with safety officials and their failure to turn over the necessary documents is a troubling start to the next phase of this process.” According to the WSJ, GM had until April 3rd to answer 107 questions put to the company by the NHTSA but has only answered one third of them.

While we should not oppose regulation, we have stated many times before on this blog that capitalists, or its representatives, which means judges, politicians, or government bureaucrats will not regulate these sort of market driven disasters away. It is not simply a matter of an individual company being allowed free rein to do what it wants; it’s about the system in its entirety.

Almost every day there are accounts of businesses flaunting safety or environmental laws and regulations that cause untold damage to the environment and cost human lives. We had the leaking of chemicals in to a community’s drinking water in West Virginia. The BP spill also comes to mind where regulators allowed the energy industry to write its own rules with regard to deep water drilling. There have been numerous refinery explosions, mine disasters food contamination cases oil spills and recently, regulators in North Carolina cited Duke Energy for “deliberately” dumping 61 million gallons of toxic coal ash in to the Cape Fear River (see video below) . We had the Kosher meat factory and other factory horror stories. These crises are more frequent due to the weakening of Unions as well.

The largest environmental cash settlement in history was announced last week as the US Justice Department nailed Anadarko Petroleum with a $5.15 billion settlement to clean up “dozens” of sites across the country. The sites were poisoned over the past 85 years by one of its subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee. The company will also compensate some 7000 people poisoned by this pollution.

According to the Washington,  Post Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that “Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake. It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill.”

But what we should note about this settlement, and all of them, is that not only do they not stop these catastrophes’, companies involved can actually profit from them. Kerr-McGee’s stock price rose 14.5% after the news of the $5 billion settlement. In fact, the Washington Post also pointed out, the company expects to “receive a net $550 million tax benefit from the deal.” The other issue is that no one ever, or extremely rarely, goes to jail.

Fool me once are the opening words of a very famous adage. And we must surely apply it to this idea that we can regulate capitalism to the point that it will not destroy human life and the very environment on which we depend. While it may be said with some reservations that we don’t really live in a democracy as we only have a choice of which candidate of one of the two Wall Street parties we vote for every four years, it can be said with certainty that when it comes to a say in how social production takes place, what we produce, when and how and in what way we distribute these necessities of life-----we have no say at all, not the slightest.

Capitalism is a system of production. In a capitalist economic system the means of production is in private hands. Production is set in to motion on the basis of profit either for an individual or more often than not a group of individuals; it is a “for profit” system.

The workers at GM, the workers at Duke or the workers at BP including those that lost their lives in the Gulf catastrophe, have no say in how production takes place, none of us do. Business is a secretive world and it is the right of business to be secretive. The business of business is not “our” business.

“The Nation should, without interfering with the power of the States in the matter itself, also assume power of supervision and regulation over all corporations doing an interstate business.,” said Theodore Roosevelt who was famous for his claim to reign in the trusts as they called them.

So this idea that we can regulate them to be nice has been around a long time. Not only have combinations or corporations not been reined in, they have become more reckless and powerful. The fines matter not and will be paid with no problem. The pollution will continue, the deaths will mount because profit is paramount; it is the reason for the capitalist’s existence. “The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at.” Wrote Marx. Profit making, “becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will.”

I received an appeal from a watchdog group this week that we “Stand up and demand an end to their war on the environment.” Another told me to “Demand justice for the people of North Carolina.” But demand it of whom?

We can demand fairness and environmental justice all we like, capitalism and its representatives will not provide it; it cannot stop a war on the environment because capitalism is itself a permanent state of war. The faceless nameless people that own Duke Energy, Anadarko Petroleum and the major corprations will not regulate themselves out of history, they can’t. We can slow their activity at times, force them to become more covert or force them to poison the environment of Ecuador and destroy communities in the third world, but we will never make capitalism an environmentally friendly system of production.

We must stop fooling ourselves and confront the false understanding within our own minds that the Duke Energy's and GM’s of this world can only be owned by capitalists and that workers can never collectively own the means of producing life’s necessities and decide what those necessities should be.

Only through collective worker/community ownership and planning as opposed to the anarchy of the market can transparency actually take place as there will be no force to keep secrets from, we would be hiding the truth from ourselves.

Most important of all is that the environment can be protected from the ravages of the market and humans can enter the realm of real freedom-------our control over productive life.

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