Monday, November 29, 2010

Clive Palmer’s Christmas Present

Ross Gwyther, November 2010

From the Surplus Value website:

“..The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps..”
(Shelley’s Song to the Men of England)

You may have been struck by the news in November that millionaire businessman Clive Palmer bought some of his workers a Mercedes for Christmas!

What a turnaround for the books. This slightly overweight and usually dishevelled capitalist who disdains the trappings of the suited corporate world treats his employees so handsomely. Or does he?

The story was told in the Australian on November 20th. Palmer’s nickel processing factory north of Townsville had netted him $200 million this year. In return he paid for a holiday to Fiji for each of the 750 workers at the plant. As well as this, he bought for the 50 most valued workers a $50,000 Mercedes Benz. Quite a Christmas present – or so our national rag would have us believe.

In reality what Clive did, was to give back to these workers a little of the money they had made for him. It takes only a minute to work this out for yourself.
$200 million profit created by 800 workers – that amounts to $250,000 profit created by each worker on average. This is after the cost of the raw material (nickel) and the other processing materials. It is after the cost of the electricity to make the plant operate. It is after the cost of renting or buying the factory. It is after the cost of paying each worker their annual wage.

Where did all the money – the costs of the raw materials and power and wages, as well as the $200 million profits come from? Well a moment’s thought answers the question. It came from the added value which the work of those workers created – they took nickel ore, and turned it into ingots of nickel. Each worker- whether they pulled the furnace, fixed the electric cabling, added up the company’s books, or designed the marketing brochures for selling the nickel – all were essential to this transformation of rocks into metal that could be sold to the world.

In other words it was their labour which transformed those rocks – and created the extra value which ingots of nickel have over dusty rocks from the centre of Australia.

Palmers “magnanimous” action puts him in the long tradition of the philanthropists of capital – the Carnegies and Rockerfellers. In the short run their actions endear them to the working class. They are portrayed as kind and generous, rather than as robber barons.

In the long run we can only thank them for exposing the reality of capitalism. Their actions show up in stark reality the full extent to which they exploit those who work for them. They provide a nice lesson in what surplus value really means – or as George Bernard Shaw said, “behind every great fortune, there is a great crime”
Ross Gwyther (PhD) works in Brisbane as an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union, after an earlier career of more than 20 years as a research geophysicist specialising in earthquake studies. His interests centre around strategies for labour movement renewal and union organisation, and the intersection of these with community movements around ecological and peace issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A belief in the permanency of a stable, contradiction free capitalism ,delivering a secure high waged future to the Australian people just from royalties on resources and incomes from shares they may not even have company shares in, without the need for class struggle or a struggle for national independence is also … “a nice little intellectual exercise” in wishful thinking. “Which is fine.”
Just sit back and enjoy the ride !
But ,that’s a bit like believing in faith in capitalist stability in the old days, that all Australians could live forever with high boom time incomes ,with work for all and that everybody could live like fat pigs off the sheep’s back forever.
With relative stability of spuds and a 2 mutton chops bonus on every plate!

But practice, reality , tends to trump these nice intellectual exercises of faith in a benevolent capitalism

“Someone will always want to mine our quarries”
I suppose all those old time pick and shovel ozzie coal miners thought their incomes were stable and secure too! …
“capitalism still has plenty of reserves.”
And indeed it does, for example the possibility of capitalists investing competitively in coal and other mineral resources mines in other countries ,like they are doing now building infrastructure in China, and in Africa, complete with that other “resource” it can tap into cheaper labour.

But “Someone will always want to mine “OUR” quarries” and the high price boom will last forever!Right!