Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Free Trade and Canadair
Hi. I am now about mid-way through the very absorbing and provocative “Great Shark Hunt”, a series of articles and other musings by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) – I think the “Dr.” is an honorary degree rather than anything else. Specifically, I have just finished reading the chapter entitled “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan” which is actually the reprint of something Thompson wrote for “Rolling Stone” magazine about the murder by police in East L.A. of Reuben Salazar, a Chicano journalist and activist killed in 1970 during a Chicano demonstration against the Vietnam War when a tear gas canister fired by cops from outside an East Los Angeles bar blew half of his head away. (Thompson says that the difference between a Mexican-American and a Chicano is the difference between a Negro and a Black, from the point of view of a white man, that is.)
Thompson was a Hippie in the early 1970’s (and died one as well less than ten years ago) and was doing this work less than five years removed from the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’. Therefore, some of his ideas might seem dated at first glance but does that automatically imply that his philosophy is wrong, that it is irrelevant today – approximately fifty years after the publication of “The Great Shark Hunt”? (I once had a philosophy professor at McGill who believed that there was no such thing as a wrong idea.) You say yes. I say no. I also say that I strongly disagree and, further, I’ll bet the ‘yea’ sayers amongst us – that is those who believe that radical philosophy and politics from the sixties and seventies are irrelevant in today’s world – come from the small minority of wealthy and powerful people in our society.
We all recognise what it means to be wealthy but only a few who have never been part of the elite, the wise among us in other words, know what power is and what it can do. For instance take the example of Canadian government and the Free Trade election in the early 1980’s. Mulroney’s Conservatives were taking on the unions – and vice-versa – on the issue of the Free Trade Agreement (F.T.A.) with the United States, with the unions taking exception to the proposed agreement on the grounds that cheap imports from the United States entering Canada tariff-free would mean the elimination of Canadians jobs. I’m already tangenting so I will put this particular union argument to rest a bit later on. Suffice to say, for the moment, that economic and trade theory undercuts the argument concerning the negative potential impact of the introduction of Free Trade on Canada’s employment picture. Like I said, I will deal with this argument later. (Maybe tomorrow but since this is getting pretty long, I won’t have time to cover it today.)
Anyway, I was discussing power in terms of the powerful peoples’ take on HST’s ideological bent, and their rejection of some or all of its/his tenets … Then I was going to give an example of what a powerful oligarchy can do when it feels threatened or perceives a benefit to be derived for it and for it alone – if the average person happens to “feast” on the scraps, then so much the better, tant mieux comme on dit – as in the example of Free Trade. Anything to keep the people down, in their place so to speak, so that they do not revolt against the existing power structure and also to ensure that there is sufficient space at the feeding bin for that small sliver of humanity – the really rich and the really powerful. We’re not talking government here. We are talking about those who control the government, “them’s what pulls the strings of power” (as Cletis from the Simpson’s TV show would say) at the highest possible level.
Now back to free trade. The people who ran Canadair at that time believed that the Mulroney-inspired F.T.A. which was then the election issue, would be good for their business. So one, two, three or more of the bigwigs call a meeting with Canadair’s workforce which numbered about fifteen hundred at that time, and lay the corporation’s position in the line: the F.T.A. would be good for Canada and that a Conservative government’s defeat in the upcoming election would imply the absence of a free trade agreement for Canada for at least the immediate future. This small leadership group then went on to declare what they wanted their workers to believe that the failure of free trade could cost them their jobs. Did the workers know any differently? Did anyone?
Without some serious research beyond the scope of this JL, it would be hard to gauge the effects of the introduction of free trade on Canada’s employment picture. Also complicating arriving at a definitive conclusion in this area is the fact that Canadair was eventually privatized and sold off by the Mulroney Conservatives to Bombardier. This obviously makes the measuring of the F.T.A.’s impact on the job scene there much more difficult if not next to impossible. Did the F.T.A. actually protect their jobs as the fifteen hundred had been told that it would, or were jobs actually lost, something which the elite had stated would not happen? Another complicating factor is that free trade (Globalization) has become the way of the world lately with the expansion of the European Community, the F.T.A. which has become NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) with the addition of Mexico as well as burgeoning globalization in Asia as well as in Central and South America.
One more thing. It used to be that full employment meant just that. Then we moved onto different ground, then arguing that four percent (4%) of the labour force is always between jobs due either to frictional, seasonal, structural or other types of unemployment, therefore altering the definition of the term full employment to contemplate and include an unemployment rate of four percent. Now it seems that our unemployment rate – as well as that in the States – is and has been around seven percent (7%) at the very least – how did that happen? Does free trade have anything to do with that? Will we ever see four percent unemployment again? I guess not but who the fuck knows. Fucking fed up. Really and truly.
Just because Dr. Thompson lived and thrived in the sixties and seventies does not make what he is saying irrelevant to our lives today. Workers, for the most part are still exploited and taken advantage of by bosses; the common folk still get ripped off at every turn. Power and wealth are still as concentrated as ever and bourgeois politicians still make laws to help themselves and their friends.
A friend, ex-student and bro of mine said more than once when this question came up during casual conversation … “we live in a different world now” and “the world is a lot different now than it was then” but offered only silence in return when I asked him (twice, as a matter of fact) that even if we agree that the world is in actuality a really different place today, then does that by extension mean that HST’s philosophy and political orientation is irrelevant to the contemporary world, i.e. a very different world from that which Hunter did most of his major work in. Probably not in my view at least because Thompson’s philosophy is ageless and that things today are worse, yes worse, in terms of the unequal distribution of power and wealth in our society. Without trivializing the matter with the use of cliches, suffice to say that regardless of the technological and other progress we have made over the last half-century or so that the rich continue to get richer and more powerful, the poor continue to get poorer and, by extension, less powerful, and not only that but the gap seems to be widening. What a very sad state of affairs. How can anyone not think so?!!
More on this fairly soon.