Globalisation could be catalyst for greater achievement
by Linda Rutherford
March 23, 2000
VISITING Professor of History Dr James Millette says globalisation is not all bad as it is made out to be, if only it could be seen as a catalyst for greater achievement among the ordinary people the world over.
It was a topic with which he dealt in his address yesterday at the opening of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre. Earlier in the day, Millette said in an interview: "I feel the globalisation process is the precursor to a new spurt of achievement by ordinary people, not only in Third World and developing countries but in the developed countries as well."
A long-time friend and colleague of the late President Cheddi Jagan, Millette, whose forte is Caribbean, African and African-American History, was specially invited to deliver the keynote address at the Centre's opening.
He chose as his topic the issue of globalisation and its many challenges from the perspective of what is happening in the world of business today, particularly in the US and other industrialised nations, whereby large companies are being swallowed up by even larger companies.
Millette used as typical examples two major take-overs in the oil industry, namely Mobil Oil by Exxon and Amoco by British Petroleum (BP). He mentioned too, the acquisition of the Time Warner group, the parent company of CNN (Cable News Network), `Time' magazine and a whole host of other media and entertainment businesses, by what he termed "an upstart company called America Online (AOL)".
One of his major concerns in all this, Millette said, is that for every merger, acquisition or consolidation of production and finance, there is an attrition in terms of jobs. For instance, he said, when Amoco took over Mobil, it targeted the attrition of 10,000 workers.
At one time in the US, he said, there was a man named Dunlop who actually made his living off such transactions, which inevitably earned him the nickname of `Chainsaw Dunlop'.
Dunlop's modus operandi was to go into a firm in distress, lay off half the workforce and in so doing turn its fortunes around while at the same time making a sizeable profit for himself. One such operation is said to have earned him a cool US$250M.
Millette said these were the kinds of processes and their impact on ordinary people the world over, including the US, that he proposed looking at in his address. Contrary to popular belief that everything is honky dory in the United States, Millette said there are ordinary Americans who are paying a high price for these mergers and acquisitions and the processes of globalisation.
Asked about the implications of BP's acquisition of Amoco on his native Trinidad and Tobago, Millette's immediate response was: "You know, that's a very amusing question."
Amusing, he explained, because after the Black Power upheavals of 1970 in Trinidad, BP, which was one of the companies operating there at the time, was nationalised by the government. After BP left, the government brought in Amoco, which has been responsible for some of the country's major marine oil finds and production activities.
The irony here, he said, is that this same BP that was kicked out in the 70s is now back in operation in Trinidad, which he assumes must be "causing some very red faces" among his countrymen.
This, he said, was a fitting example of what is happening in the world today, whereby the state ownership of yesteryear may well become the private ownership of today. All of these things, he said, are tied in to the process of globalisation, which, in effect, is the wholesale concentration and reconcentration of resources into the hands of transnational corporations, essentially First World companies and global conglomerates.
But, he concedes, "I don't think it is all negative, because my feeling always is that people rise to challenges with which they are faced."
He used the African slave trade to support his argument, reflecting briefly upon its genesis to events which finally led to its abolition throughout the hemisphere - beginning with Haiti in 1791 through Brazil in 1888.
Another case in point, he said, was the `scramble for Africa' as the period of colonisation in Africa is termed, which began around 1880. But by 1914, he said, the decolonisation process had begun; the system had started to collapse.
He said it is his belief that there are a number of people today in the developed countries, as witnessed by the confrontation at the Seattle Conference late last year over the alleged unfair practices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), "who are beginning to feel like Third World people and who are associating themselves with causes with which Third World people alone used to be fighting in the old days. So I think that the future is bright".
Millette, who taught for 20 years at the University of the West Indies (UWI), leaves today for Trinidad, before returning to the United States where he has been based for the past nine years. He currently lectures at the Oberlin College in Ohio.