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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social and economic restructuring in the forest products sector : a case study of Chemainus, British Columbia Stanton, Michelle


During the last decade, industrial restructuring has generated significant and enduring changes in the social and economic organisation of capitalist accumulation. Such developments have stimulated vigorous discussion in the industrial geography literature around a number of controversial questions. At issue is the precise nature of the currently emerging social and economic formation. To inform such debates, studies of restructuring in specific industries and regions are required. To this end, this thesis examines the impact of restructuring in B.C.'s forest industry. With reference to Chemainus, a resource town on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and the MacMillan Bloedel sawmill located there, I analyse forest industry restructuring from a French Regulationist perspective (following the work of Aglietta, 1979, Lipietz, 1986, 1987, Leborgne and Lipietz, 1988, among others). Like much of the industrial restructuring literature, French Regulationism is andro-centric and concerned only with social relations in the workplace, thus failing to account for the more general set of processes enabling working class reproduction in the household. To rectify this deficiency, I attempt to reformulate French Regulationism to include a discussion of two processes which determine the nature and means of this broader social reproduction: participation in the informal sector and patriarchy. These processes are discussed because they provide crucial insights into both social and gender relations and thereby enable a fuller understanding of the post-recession, "flexible" regime of capitalist accumulation. I assess Chemainus' restructured economy with reference to three developments: the significant growth in the amount of informal work performed by the town's working population; the recomposition of the industrial workforce into a "skill-flexible core" and a "time-flexible periphery" (Atkinson, 1985, Jessop et al, 1987); and the development of "symbolic capital" as a circuit of capitalist accumulation (after Harvey, 1987). These three developments followed the closure of MacMillan Bloedel’s old Chemainus sawmill (an event which precipitated immediate mass unemployment in the community), and the construction of a replacement mill. The result was the restructuring of Chemainus' labour market, and the consequent decline in opportunities for "family wage earning" for men as "flexible technology" was adopted in the new sawmill. Meanwhile, opportunities for peripheral, non-unionised employment for both men and women also increased. Despite the greater labour force participation of women, and the demise of the conventional "male breadwinner-housewife" division of labour, women retain responsibility for reproduction tasks such as domestic work and child-care. This is due to the persistence of patriarchal norms which require women to undertake a "double day" of work in the flexible regime. Overall, the economic realities of flexible accumulation in resource communities such as Chemainus, are undermining the ability of the peripheral workforce to reproduce itself and its labour power. Working class interests are fragmented between core and peripheral workers, and the labour market is stratified along lines other than current gender and class-based divisions.

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