Glen Norcliffe. Global Game, Local Arena: Restructuring in Corner Brook. -

Glen Norcliffe. Global Game, Local Arena: Restructuring in Corner Brook.

Sean Cadigan
Memorial University

St. John’s: ISER, 2005, ISBN 1-894725-03-4

1 THIS BOOK EXAMINES the restructuring of the pulp and paper industry in Corner Brook. The author focuses on the transition from the Bowaters to Kruger operations in 1984, but places this change in historical context. Norcliffe argues that we must go beyond empirical description of the transition of pulp and paper production from early company paternalism through Fordism to the lean production of the Kruger era. Such description of structural shifts in production allows us to place what happened in one town in a global context of the integration and liberalization of international markets, trade patterns and the movement of capital. But it obscures the manner in which local circumstances and social relationships resist and consequently shape the precise form of industrial adjustment to global forces. This book advances the importance of understanding the "reflexivity" of restructuring, arguing "that you cannot simply read off local consequences of restructuring from some master template: local outcomes are constructed [emphasis in original] through a subtle interaction of global and local interests" (p. 18).

2 The study’s analysis of the impact of industrial restructuring on the lives of Corner Brook’s mill workers and their families is effective. The Kruger takeover kept the mill open. Although people clearly appreciated the chance to continue to have work in the forestry industry, it is also clear that they have paid a high price. Norcliffe documents that Kruger made production leaner by investing in labour-saving technology, some of which cut pollution from the mill. The company reduced staffing levels in the mill, cut wages, and expected workers to be much more flexible about the duties they are to fulfill at the mill. The new company discarded the seniority system, labour organization, family-based recruitment, and apprenticeship training of the Bowaters era. The company made lay-offs and bumping a routine part of work at the mill, which resulted in much less job security, greater anxiety, and reduced benefits for many employees. Kruger’s introduction of a twelve-hour shift system, using a combination of shift, day, and casual workers places terrible stress on the last group of workers. Casual workers fill the gaps made by other workers’ sick leave, vacations, and other absences. Most casual workers have few, irregular hours of work. Nonetheless, to maintain any hope of getting better work, casual labourers have to wait constantly for the telephone to ring. In the meantime, their families, especially their wives, keep their households going by constantly rebalancing their own jobs, domestic work, and child-care. Women often sacrifice their own education and careers so that their husbands have a chance to work in the mill. As was the case in the Bowaters era, the pulp and paper industry under Kruger provides few employment opportunities for women.

3 Norcliffe’s analysis suggests that the older company paternalism of Bowaters left workers, their unions, and the community unprepared to deal with the new industrial approach of Kruger. The author further suggests, as in the case of the Peckford government’s gutting of laid-off workers’ rights to back wages from Bowaters in 1984 through Bill 37, that there was little local people could do to resist the global forces of restructuring as represented by Kruger. This is puzzling because Norcliffe wishes to demonstrate that globalization is really an aggregate of many locally constructed economies, and the implication is that "locally we are not obliged to ‘shut up and dance’ to the tune of an all-knowing global Pied Piper" (47).

4 Norcliffe argues that people do not confront restructuring because Kruger’s lean production allows them to stay in Corner Brook and maintain a particular form of identity. The author asserts that what is really important to mill workers, including casual workers, is that the shift system allows most of them four days off in a row, floating holidays, and other vacation time so that they may continue to go moose hunting, enjoy their cabins, and spend a lot of time snowmobiling, skiing, or engaged in other winter sports. Workers use employment by Kruger to assert their common-property rights to the great outdoors. To such workers, persistence in Corner Brook is "a form of rejection of certain things modern" (186). Norcliffe believes that such a "reattachment to the land" is a "form of local resistance to globalization" (187). Although he acknowledges that such an argument is controversial, Norcliffe thinks that workers’ willingness not to worry about changes in the mill and their happiness with playing outdoors allows them to avoid "fruitless confrontations with global forces" (193).

5 There is another way to interpret the impact of mill workers’ and their families’ sense of attachment to place. This sense entices workers into accepting the drastic restructuring of the pulp and paper industry. It further justifies the appalling price women are willing to pay to allow their families to remain in Corner Brook. A sense of attachment means that the community supports a form of lean production that transfers much of the wealth generated by the forestry sector out of Newfoundland and Labrador. The provincial government has manipulated people’s desire to stay to justify a legislative framework for a more exploitative employment in the pulp and paper industry. The only real benefit Norcliffe suggests that might arise from the sense of place is that "Corner Brook now has a voice — it is becoming proactive and reflexive in the way it views itself" (210). This "Corner Brook" is planning for a post-industrial future, and no longer sees itself as a forestry town, but we have no evidence that the community speaks with one voice regardless of class or gender, or that competing visions of a post-industrial future in tourism development and retirement homes will guarantee working people their common property rights.

Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. ISSN: 1715-1430