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The case for seizing BP

The crashing sound that is the price of BP shares falling through the floor highlights not only the environmental consequences of deep water drilling for oil but also the fatal dependency on stock markets when it comes to workers’ pensions.

At the time of writing, the company’s market value was down by one third since the Horizon Deepwater drilling rig operated by Swiss corporation Transocean, exploded six weeks ago, killing 11 workers, and started pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico. 

This huge and sudden decline in its value and the growing uncertainty over the fate of BP places the pensions of millions in jeopardy. The company paid £6.6 billion in dividends last year – equal to £1 in every £7 paid out by all the companies in the FTSE 100 – and is a major holding in most pension funds. Most private pensions in the UK are dependent on investment funds managed by companies which are major shareholders in BP, previously the UK’s most valuable company. 

The oil spill disaster is an open and shut case for abolishing the unsustainable nature of capitalist ownership and production for profit. Even former US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich has called for the US government to take the company into a “temporary receivership.” 

Seize BP launches a nationwide campaign of protests in cities across the US from tomorrow. It is a part of the Answer coalition which consists of hundreds of organisations and prominent individuals and scores of campaigning centres in cities and towns across the US. 

The national steering committee represents major national organisations that have campaigned against US intervention in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia, as well as for social and economic justice for working and poor people in America itself. Seize BP says:

There must be remediation and compensation for all damages flowing from BP’s oil spill, including all losses to people, economy and otherwise. It should not be up to BP to decide if and when to dole out compensation.

BP reaped $5.6 billion of profits in the first quarter of 2010 and $17 billion in 2009. This is money made from BP’s aggressive push into ultra-hazardous deep water offshore drilling that has taken the lives of 11 workers in the recent explosion, and caused human misery and environmental wreckage that will persist for years to come. These huge sums are pure profit — what remains after all accounting manoeuvres and payments of the massive salaries and luxurious perks to executives.

Here, BP has committed acts causing devastation that threatens the spoliation and poisoning of the shorelands, wildlife, human health and economy of no less than the five states that have frontal coastline on the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Worst case scenarios would pollute and destroy the frontal coastlines of states up the Atlantic seaboard.

BP’s conduct constitutes an assault on the people and environment of the surrounding region of the Gulf of Mexico. BP’s assets should be immediately seized, and placed in a trust, in amounts proportionate to — and sufficient to fully compensate for — all projected harm from its dangerous and reckless acts in pursuit of super-profits.

The sticking point revolves about who is actually going to seize BP? Obama’s White House is certainly not going to, that’s for sure, however loud and militant the protests and petitions are. Expropriation of BP and other transnational corporations would be a revolutionary act, founded on mass mobilisation and a simultaneous political struggle for power. For the sake of both the environment and people’s pensions, this has to be the way forward.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
2 June 2010

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