About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ARCO's Sneeze: Thirty Years Ago in a Global Economy

Thirty years ago Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) announced the closing of the Anaconda copper mines in Butte, Montana, and the metals smelting facilities in Anaconda and Great Falls, Montana. The great Anaconda - the mighty copper company that was once a local company but became part of the Rockefeller Empire - it seems had reached too far. ARCO, of course, purchased the Anaconda company only in 1977 after it had experienced nationalization in Chile and Mexico. Unfamiliar with copper mining, it made bad investment after bad investment all while squeezing labor in its coils (which drove strike after strike). Indeed, my father's only claim to fame was being photographed by the local paper in 1979, the Great Falls Tribune, as he picketed ARCO leaning up against his 67 Buick Special.

And that, I think, is my point today. Globalized corporations have the power to reach across oceans and bring together markets and maximize profits, but they also tie together labor in a way the labor (outside of the internationals) has no idea about. Miners in Butte - especially in the increasingly conservative unions - had little understanding of how they fueled an empire that reached into the heart of South America and squeezed out the life blood of labor there with brutal practices. Workers in Chile had little understanding that their nationalization would create a spiral in prices and stocks that would pull the legs out from underneath a poor, extractive area on the other side of the globe. And of course, you can be sure that the owners in the middle weren't flipping burgers at Mickey D's when the smoke cleared. In fact, ARCO went on to become a subsidiary of BP, today dragging its feet on cleaning up the mining mess in Butte (the largest in the US) while simultaneously fixing oil prices in Russia, abusing human rights in Azerbaijan, dumping oil on the ground in Alaska, and paying paramilitaries to assault farmers in Colombia with weapons purchased for them by US tax dollars.

It is the industrial-sindical zen of globalization, I suppose. Link us all together and an angry doctor from Argentina, a greedy executive from New York or London, a slightly kooky Chilean socialist, and a broken family from Montana all fuel each other's dreams ... and nightmares.

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