Kellogg’s takes the money & runs

By BARRY WEISLEDER

How can they get away with it? Ontario taxpayers have given millions to cereal-maker Kellogg Co., which amassed $2 billion in operating profits last year. In 2007, the Liberal government gave the breakfast food giant $2.4 million to buy processing and packaging equipment for its London, Ontario, plant, two hours west of Toronto. A year later, the government provided Kellogg with a $9.7 million low-interest loan—about 10 per cent of the total cost of opening a new plant in Belleville, Ont., two hours east of Toronto. And until Kellogg announced on Dec. 10 that it is closing its 90-year-old plant in London, and thus killing 610 jobs by the end of 2014, Queen’s Park was set to give Kellogg another grant for $4.5 million.

In other words, the Ontario government has been helping Kellogg to build a new, non-union manufacturing plant in Belleville so that the company could shutter an older, unionized operation in London, Ont. The corporate move is part of an overall restructuring, which by 2018 will include closing a plant in Australia and expanding a facility in low-wage Thailand.

We’ve seen this film before. In 2008, the Ontario and federal governments helped bail out General Motors. But when GM became profitable again, the company closed one of its two Oshawa assembly lines, and shifted some production from Ingersoll, Ont., to Tennessee. How’s that for gratitude?

In recent years, Massey-Ferguson in Toronto, and the U.S. Steel Corp. in Hamilton behaved similarly.

So, to return to the question posed at the outset, how is this possible? It is both possible and inevitable because the politicians and governments bestowing the public largesse on those greedy, anti-social firms are the servants of the super-rich.

Why don’t leaders of the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party challenge the discredited practice of foolishly feeding the corporate elite, and instead advance the democratic idea of public ownership under workers’ and community control? Surely society is capable of planning the production of useful things without having to bribe private profiteers who operate for a while, then flee, with stuffed pockets, to greener pastures.

To put the democratic option on the table will take direct mass action from below—like Kellogg’s workers in London occupying the plant they made profitable with their sweat and toil—before its doors are locked forever.

Photo: Kellogg’s plant in London, Ont. By Dave Chidley / The Canadian Press