Aluminum Industry's "Project ELYSIS" Characterized as "Progressive Modernization"

The letter written by the Aluminum Association of Canada to the Quebec government in February with its recommendation for the modernization of the aluminum sector, exposes its self-serving arguments. The letter of the AAC suggests that the aluminum industry is well placed to profit from the current trend towards decarbonization and automation. It wants the Quebec government to assist the sector in strengthening its global competitive position by consolidating its control of the North American supply chain through its "Project ELYSIS" characterized as "progressive modernization." It proposes to produce traceable low carbon material putting emphasis on reducing the price of production through digital 4.0 automation to eliminate workers and accomplish what it calls best environmental practices. To reach its goal to dominate "North America," defeat global competitors and reduce the workforce, the AAC says it must receive government funds from subsidies, tax breaks and changes in regulations. (All quotations are from the letter.)[1]

Working Class Gets No Say on Pay-the-Rich Schemes

Rio Tinto Alma aluminum workers denounce Quebec governments subsidization of company's hydro during lockout in 2012.

The AAC bemoans the fact that the cartel's factories are old and require renewal to become digitized to respond to the needs of a revamped low carbon market and global competition. All this is expensive and the industry thinks it is entitled to receive public funds to finance the transformation even though the benefits will be private. The private owners do not want to be burdened with the cost and risks of a direction they themselves have contrived. Nor do they accept any social responsibility for the workers made redundant through automation and tossed to the wind along with their families.

The aluminum cartel wants all the existing or what it calls "traditional" forms of paying the rich to remain in place, such as subsidies and cheap electricity. In addition, it wants governments to "look beyond" with augmented forms including favourable regulations and tax benefits. The cartel asks for government funds to assist directly in automating through robotization and new technologies resulting in energy efficiency, fewer workers and lower carbon output. It says that if the cartel is forced to use its own social wealth or borrow it on the private market, the return on investment from the resulting price of production would not be high enough to satisfy its investors and majority owners. To raise the return on investment and rate of profit various factors are required, which the AAC outlines as follows.

The AAC wants its cartel members to be able to rapidly write off as tax deductions any investments in 4.0 modernization. It refers to this demand in imperialist jargon as an acceleration of the amortization of capital expenditure. It demands this from both the Quebec and federal governments. The AAC insists aluminum smelters become eligible immediately for investment tax credits that are currently only available to manufacturing companies. These forms of tax credits include the amount invested for the purchase of production equipment and its installation.

Modernization Must Not Be on the Backs of Workers and Society

The AAC wants the government to furnish unspecified pay-the-rich schemes for its member companies, the three primary producers of aluminium in Quebec and Canada: Alcoa, Aluminerie Alouette and Rio Tinto. These schemes would pay for any technological improvements and components the companies may require in their 4.0 modernization programs "in the fields of automation, robotization and AI, and (to) accelerate 'ready to go' projects."

The AAC wants the government to assume any risks that may be involved with the use of artificial intelligence in aluminum smelters. It demands governments establish tax credits for any payments for consulting and training services required to adapt these technologies to smelting and to extend these credits to the use of "secondary scrap" so as to "stimulate the valuation" of smelting of scrap aluminum. Larger tax credits should also be made available, it says, to promote the electrification of the equipment and processes used in smelting as this is obviously "good for the environment." Note that cheap and abundant hydro-electricity for smelters provided at so-called industrial rates is a major attraction for the global aluminum monopolies to produce in Quebec and BC.

The AAC wants tax credits for the amount paid to construction workers on all smelter modernization projects. It also wants subsidies or tax credits for work-time required to train workers on new equipment and any technological improvements. Within all these demands, it makes no mention of the fate of workers made redundant through automation. This silence implies the industry owners do not want to bear any social responsibility for workers and their families' well-being and futures as that would reduce the return on investment.

The Green Marketing Fraud

The AAC shamelessly plays the green card suggesting all the pay-the-rich corrupt schemes it demands surrounding 4.0 modernization are good for the environment, not to speak of good for the global private interests who own and control the sector. It is fraud to keep repeating that there are common interests between the narrow private interests which benefit from the resources which belong to the nation of Quebec and the workers as if the workers cannot do without the private owners. The fraud is that governments pretend to be representing the national interest when in fact they represent the narrow private interests which are not even Quebeckers!

As if the aluminum production sector in Quebec and BC is owned and controlled by Canadians and Quebeckers, the AAC says it is constantly on the defensive against global competitors and consequently the Quebec and Canadian governments must pay to strengthen these private companies by paying for their modernization. In fact most of the new value workers have produced during decades of aluminum production has flowed out of the country, expropriated as profit by global oligarchs. This outflow of added-value includes expropriation of profit from new value Hydro-Quebec and BC Hydro workers have produced, which the aluminum cartel seizes in the form of electricity prices below the price of production.

The AAC exhibits considerable excitement over the possibilities to profit from Quebec and Canadian governments' post pandemic public spending on infrastructure. It writes, "Public procurement practices should leverage every dollar towards a more sustainable economy, enabling the use and implementation of innovative solutions using low carbon materials such as aluminum like never before. This will help achieve national targets for reducing CO2 emissions." It may be so, but who should pay? Who should decide the direction of the economy?

To promote the common corruption of theft of public resources by powerful and privileged private interests as somehow acceptable and serving the common good by playing the green card is unacceptable! The AAC says government pay-the-rich schemes to innovate the sector "is essential to the industry's leadership in the future and to its contribution to reducing 'Greenhouse Gas Emissions.'" It suggests these corrupt payments to global private interests create "national wealth" from the "R&D and potential technology exports" and for this reason "must be supported." That paying the rich creates national wealth for all, serves the common good and leads to nation-building is simply stated and pushed relentlessly without question by the imperialist think tanks and mass media. When they respond, workers and their organizations must reject this fraud as a starting point.

Workers Are Not Dispensable!

The AAC states openly that this "shift to Industry 4.0" will result in loss of employment in the sector. It expresses concern not for the working class but rather for a change in regulations that would make the absence of concern for redundant workers and the rich becoming richer and more powerful acceptable and legal. It says that the inevitable redundancies "mean that financial support policies (the traditional pay-the-rich schemes) can no longer be anchored on a jobs per dollar basis, and must instead be based on wealth creation. They (governments) must understand the wealth generated upstream from automation, robots and AI is the new paradigm." In other words, pay-the-rich schemes based on the deception of job creation are no longer feasible and now must be based on the deception of "wealth creation." The AAC deliberately leaves hazy who will seize this created wealth yet the global oligarchs control and own the means of production and according to the imperialist rules of ownership are legally entitled to any new profit and a return on investment that is competitive internationally to attract investment.

The AAC says, "Investissement Québec's financial support for the ELYSIS project is fundamental and helps anchor the development and future commercialization of technology that makes a rupture with what exists in Quebec. This financial intervention capacity must be maintained and used to accelerate industrial innovation in Quebec."

Of no concern to the AAC is the fact that private global cartels such as Apple stand to gain from the public funding of 4.0 modernization through the sale of its products and private expertise captured as "intellectual property." The AAC repeats over and over that public funds going to private interests serve the common good such as government money for "Project ELYSIS." And besides AAC says, the project will result in aluminum production from inert anodes without any release of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). It speaks more quietly of the fact that the new production technique will certainly result in loss of jobs. Furthermore the new type of anodes, which last far longer than the current ones will not be produced in Quebec as the current anode is, at least that is the widespread belief. The fact that GHGs will be reduced and recycling of aluminum will increase becomes a cover to hide all the problems, including the attacks on workers' rights and livelihoods, and the corruption of paying the rich to consolidate their social wealth, power and class privilege.

Further Integration into the U.S. War Economy

The AAC hails the recently concluded Canada, U.S., Mexico (Free Trade) Agreement and the Canadian government's financing of the aluminum industry's "stronger" integration into the U.S. (war) economy. Aluminum is crucial to the U.S. military, its war materiel and preparations, and the U.S.-dominated auto industry and other manufacturing.

To ensure this integration into the U.S. war economy and Homeland Security, the AAC wants the "implementation of traceability technology in aluminum smelters in Canada, with the financial support of the Canadian government." Traceability "will help to ensure (that) this link" with the U.S. economy remains secure, as U.S. leaders will be confident the aluminum does not come from global competitors, in particular China and Russia against whom they are generating hatred in preparation for war. In this regard the AAC commends "funding through Canada Economic Development required point-of-entry tracing technology to allow full traceability of metals in the downstream value chain. The government of Quebec should ensure access by processing SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to the appropriate point-of-entry technology by providing financial support through existing programs such as 'industry 4.0.'"

This means all mining, refining and processing in Quebec and Canada will be subject to "security clearance" from U.S. imperialism to prove loyalty and willingness to engage in war preparations against China, Russia and all others the U.S. declares an enemy. In this way the aluminum sector and all its parts are ensured integration and entry into the U.S. market.

The working class throughout Quebec and Canada has to deal with how attacks on its rights and claims, such as those proposed by the AAC, are permitted by governments to proceed without resistance and defiance. Workers and their organizations will need to tackle the demands of global oligarchs in light of the need for modernization. The 4.0 automation in the way the AAC describes with pay-the-rich schemes, nation-wrecking, no attention to the well-being, rights and claims of the working people and clamouring for competition and war must be confronted before it is too late and the entire country is dragged to war. A new direction is required that defends the rights of workers and nation-building with the objective of bringing into being an independent self-reliant human-centred economy that stops paying the rich, increases investments in social programs, trades with all peoples in a spirit of mutual benefit and development and peace. A starting point in this direction is the rejection of the proposals put forward by the AAC letter and demand that the government listen to the workers.


1. For the AAC letter click here. English translation by TML.

(Photos: TML, S. Duchenes)

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 6 - June 6, 2021

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