THE DENATIONALIZATION OF CARIBBEAN BAUXITE: ALCOA IN GUYANA

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Well, we felt that she was an ignorant colored woman. – Board Chairman of the Aluminium Company of America, Arthur V. Davis, about a Guyanese, in 1939.

Bauxite, the ore of aluminium, is one of the most important natural resources in the Caribbean region. Production and exports of the ore and its products give rise to a significant part of the total income of the people in Jamaica, Guyana and Surinam. But so far the production and use of this material has not been in the hands of the people who live here. Rather they have been in the hands of a small group of people from North America, who have created specialised organisations for this purpose.

These enterprises – the aluminium companies – not only mine the bauxite of the Caribbean, but also refine it into alumina, smelt the alumina into aluminium, and manufacture semi-finished and finished aluminium goods from the aluminium metal. Hence they are vertically-integrated. These operations are carried out not only in the Caribbean, but also in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Thus, the companies are also multi-national in scope. But they are also national in the sense that ownership and control reside in a particular country and, the company owes allegiance to the Government of that country. It is even truer to say that the Governments of their home countries owe allegiance to the companies. Three of the “Big Four” aluminium companies – the Aluminium Company of America, Reynolds Metals, and Kaiser Aluminium are based in the United States, and the fourth, Alcan Aluminium Ltd. is based in Canada.

Through these organizations Caribbean bauxite – which until recently supplied the needs of nearly one-half the world aluminium industry – is used as part of a world-wide system of production for private profit.

The value of the annual turnover in the world primary aluminium industry, i.e. exclusive of manufactured aluminium products, is now over $10 billion; the combined assets of the Big Four in 1969 were worth over $15 billion, their combined sales over $9 billion, and their combined profits over $660 million. Over one hundred and sixty-six thousand men and women work for the Big Four around the world. But overall control and decision-making is carried out by a small group, numbering fifty at most, who have their offices respectively in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Richmond, Virginia, Oakland, California, and Montreal, Canada.

It is these men who decide what will be produced and sold, and where, and what will be done with the profits thereby earned. And these private empires to a large extent were founded and continue to be based on the use of Caribbean material. It is natural that those who own and control any natural resource will use such ownership and control to serve their own economic interest and maximise their own material welfare, in a way which is systematic and well-planned. This is not to say that others will not get material benefits from the production and use of the resource. Employees have to be paid wages and salaries, purchases have to be made from other firms, and Governments must be paid taxes. But such benefits are entirely incidental to the main purpose of the management and owners of the companies. It is therefore not surprising that so far Caribbean bauxite has done little to contribute to the development of the people of the region, when compared to its contribution to the development of the North American economy in general and to the growth of large private international empires in particular. Thus Caribbean dispossession and underdevelopment are directly related to metropolitan control and development. The connecting link is metropolitan enterprise.