Multi-national minerals company Rio Tinto is threatening to close its Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Bluff and move its production offshore if the Emissions Trading Scheme is enacted because they say it will increase power prices.
This is not the first time Rio Tinto has held New Zealand to ransom using the threat of closing this economic powerhouse of Southland. In fact, pretty much every year Rio Tinto threatens to pull the plug over something, whether it be power prices (Tiwai Point uses 13% of New Zealand’s electricity and gets it at a massively discounted secret price) its desire to buy Manapouri power station, (which supplies Tiwai Point with power) or tax rates (the 10% drop in the corporate rate that came on April 1 is already forgotten). Rio Tinto is making record profits as the world price for alumina sours – profits in the last four years total nearly $500 million – but it knows the Government can’t afford to let a factory that, directly and indirectly, employs 3000 people and brings around $500 million to the economy annually to close. So it keeps on demanding more.
This is a greedy, heartless company, that always wants more, and has a record of doing what it takes to get it. In New Zealand, they exploited National’s Employment Contracts Act to break the workers’ union. They are implicated in human rights violations across the globe including the support of apartheid, have illegally mined uranium in Namibia and their “security services” have engaged in mercenary work in support of dictatorships. The company started the Bougainville conflict when it used its political muscle in Australia and Papua New Guinea to get the right to dig the world’s biggest hole, the Panguna copper mine, on Bougainville. Locals objected to the rape of their land by Rio Tinto, others wanted the gold for themselves. A civil war ignited that cost 30,000 lives. Rio Tinto made hundreds of millions and moved on.
What Rio Tinto is trying now over the ETS is a classic example of capital holding democracy over the barrel. Capital is international; it can leave a country if it wants. Democracy is limited to competing nation-states that only have limited cooperation. So, if a country’s people want better wages, or taxes to pay for social services, or to reduce greenhouse gases and big business doesn’t like it, they can threaten that country’s government with a capital strike: ‘play by our rules or we leave, and you lose jobs’.
Well, I say Rio Tinto should fuck off. This is our country and we will make the rules here, not some soulless multi-national that is only out for itself. Rio Tinto can withdraw their capital but there will still be a state of the art smelter and trained workforce in Bluff. The smelter can be brought into public ownership and run by New Zealand, with the profits staying in New Zealand.