Thursday, December 03, 2009

Now here's an encouraging piece of news, fresh in from the Terrace Standard out BC way. The Eurocan West Fraser pulp and paper mill out there was due to close down at the end of the month/year. Rather than meekly accept the result the workers involved, represented by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP Union) held a vote, and 91% of the workers involved in one local supported the idea of buying out the plant and operating it as a producers' cooperative. According to the article they have the enthusiastic support of local municipal councillors and at least the half-hearted approval of the provincial government. The CEP union is one Canadian union that is quite supportive of such initiatives, and their buyout of the CHEK TV station in Victoria BC has recently been approved by the CRTC (November 9). That purchase was, admittedly, a rather mixed affair, involving not just the station employees but an unnamed "consortium" of local investors. One can hope that the people in Kitimat/Terrance will see fit to go with either a "pure" producers' co-op or some sort of mixed worker/community ownership. Not that private investment should be totally disavowed, but any such input should purchase either non-voting shares or bonds ie managerial control should not reside in people outside of the workers and the community. The CEP union is quite the creative outfit. besides the official website mentioned above interested people can also follow the actions of the union via the (quite) unofficial CEP Union Blog. See also the website of CEP Union Local 298.
Actions such as these are to be highly commended, with due deference to the financial difficulties that are often involved. They are actually a much more practical way to respond to not just the present economic difficulties but also to the desire of ordinary workers to live a better life in sunnier times. It is actions such as these, not demands for nationalization nor government bailouts, that build the sort of democratic and local (libertarian) socialism that Molly believes in. It is only sad that this sort of thing is usually only undertaken at the worst possible time-one where the firm in question has buggered up its finances up to or beyond the point of no return.
Here's the story.
UNIONIZED WORKERS workers at West Fraser’s Eurocan pulp and kraft paper mill are supporting the idea of buying the operation the company wants to close down the end of next month.

First results from voting earlier this week indicate 91 per cent of the members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Local 298 support of the idea, according to a union spokesperson. At press time, results were not yet available for the decision of Local 1127.

Forest minister Pat Bell, in Kitimat Tuesday, said he’s a “big fan of employee-owned business models.”

“The power of employees with their own money invested in an operation is significant,” he said. “I’d never want to bet against someone who, not only is their job on the line, but their house is on the line because they just mortgaged it to invest in the facility.”

“If there’s a future for West Fraser, it is likely under an employee ownership model of some kind.”

Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan said that a group was formed in-camera at the Nov. 30 council committee of the whole meeting. The group’s members, from both the union and council, will work together to decide the feasibility of a union buyout of Eurocan.

Councillors Richard McLaren, Randy Halyk as well as district manager Trafford Hall volunteered to be part of the team.

“It is an avenue that needs to be pursued,” said Monaghan.

Kitimat councillors were informed of the idea of a union purchase at their Nov. 23 council meeting by Local 298 president Mary Murphy.

“On November 30th, I’ll be requesting direction and support from my membership for a buyout strategy,” she said. “Both locals will need a huge amount of support in order to make this venture a success.”

Her presentation was followed with applause from the council gallery.

“The closure of Eurocan will have a direct effect on Kitimat, Terrace and everyone in BC,” she said. “CEP National and our local union are continually looking for opportunities in having the mill viable and running. I believe that the mill can be successful, and I’m not the only one.”

Her announcement came on the heels of news that an unnamed Chinese company had expressed interest in the mill.

Provincial forest minister Pat Bell has also told reporters that a company with “fairly large interests in China” is looking at the mill’s financial records.

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