BP oil disaster
Profit system pits jobs vs. environment
Published Jun 10, 2010 12:49 PM
It is an unforgettable, heartbreaking image. A seabird from Grand Island, La.,
lies in a basket, covered with a thick brownish layer of oil, gasping for air
and blinking its eyes as if in stunned amazement.
As BP announced that its latest “fix” had been partially
successful, this and other images of devastation from around the Gulf of Mexico
region have brought home the enormity of the crime which BP and its capitalist
collaborators have perpetrated. The so-called containment cap which was lowered
into place on June 4 has had limited success: only about a third of the 750,000
gallons per day gushing from the destroyed wellhead is being siphoned off.
Why is it that we are moved by images of dying birds? On an immediate level is
the empathy we have for the life and suffering of other sentient beings with
whom we share the planet. But in a more profound sense, it is because at some
deep level we realize that the destruction of these birds and their habitats is
also an attack on our own habitat, and on our own ability to survive and make a
living, although the devastation may not be as immediately obvious.
When the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers, employees
from at least 13 different companies were on board. Besides high-level
engineers from Transocean, which operated the rig, and BP, which held the lease
on it, the workers included welders, divers, rig roustabouts, cooks, tank
washers and laundry workers employed by a medley of subcontracted companies.
And for each exploration and production job, there are an estimated four
supporting jobs in and around the region.
There are 5,000 offshore oil and gas platforms in Louisiana alone, many of
which can be seen from the coast, in addition to 17 oil refineries, 74,000
miles of pipeline and 90 major chemical plants. The Louisiana port system is
the largest in the world with six deepwater, eight coastal and 13 inland ports.
Port Fourchon itself handles 90 percent of the traffic servicing the deep-water
oil and gas industry in the Gulf. These facilities exist side by side with a
commercial and sport fishing industry which brings in $2.5 billion annually.
There is also a large tourism industry.
BP has released an ad campaign costing an estimated $50 million in which its
CEO, Tony Hayward, promises to clean up the mess that BP caused. Of course,
Hayward will do nothing — it is an army of thousands of workers who will
actually perform the cleanup tasks.
On May 27, the U.S. Interior Department issued a six-month moratorium on
deep-water drilling in the Gulf in order to “determine what went wrong
and how to remedy safety deficiencies.” The moratorium most directly
affects 17 oil companies, including multinational giants like BP, Exxon Mobil,
Shell and Chevron, that were forced to shut down operations at 33 rigs.
Most environmental scientists have said that six months is woefully inadequate.
However, the oil and gas industries of Louisiana, and the politicians
associated with them, are already complaining. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who
has been quite vocal in decrying the destruction of the environment along the
Gulf Coast, was nevertheless very critical of the moratorium. “During one
of the most challenging economic periods in decades, the last thing we need is
to enact public policies that will certainly destroy thousands of existing jobs
while preventing the creation of thousands more,” he said in a letter to
President Barack Obama.
The environment versus jobs?
Whenever a capitalist corporation perceives a threat to its profits, it is
quick to threaten the workers with the loss of jobs. Workers know from bitter
experience that these are not idle threats. Capitalists like to portray
themselves as benevolent demigods who bestow jobs on those who are
“deserving.” But for most workers, their jobs are their only means
of survival. When employers threaten workers with losing their jobs, they
threaten workers’ very survival.
The workers in the Gulf region are in many ways similar to those in the coal
mines of Appalachia. They perform difficult, dangerous jobs for companies that
rape the environment and ruin nearby communities. Because they operate in
economically depressed areas, the companies attempt to divide working people by
pitting those most impacted by the destruction of the environment against those
who actually work in the mines and on the drilling rigs.
A list of 100 of the “Most Popular Jobs Where the Majority of Workers Do
Not Have College Educations” published for New Orleans, shows a
preponderance of jobs related to the oil, gas, shipping and chemical
industries. (CityTowninfo.com) Invariably these are also among the highest
paying jobs. The bosses tell the workers that they must choose between not
befouling and destroying their surroundings and a decent-paying (although often
dirty and dangerous) job.
These bosses are not really concerned about saving workers’ jobs. Some
environmentalists have noted that should the present oil slick migrate to areas
where other drilling platforms are located, those rigs would be forced to shut
down indefinitely anyway. The real concern of the Gulf-area capitalists is more
related to globalization than to any modest moratorium on drilling. They
don’t want rig owners and operators to cancel their contracts and move
operations to the coastal areas of Africa or Brazil or elsewhere abroad.
Poor and working people should not be forced to choose between a clean habitat
and a decent-paying job. Unlike the oil-soaked seabirds of the Gulf, workers
and oppressed peoples have the consciousness and the power to fight the vicious
capitalist system and ultimately create a society in which the contradictions
between humans and the natural environment are at last resolved.
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