Clive Palmer’s Christmas Present

Clive Palmer’s Christmas Present
Ross Gwyther, November 2010

“..The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps..”
(Shelley’s Song to the Men of England)

You may have been struck by the news in November that millionaire businessman Clive Palmer bought some of his workers a Mercedes for Christmas!

What a turnaround for the books. This slightly overweight and usually dishevelled capitalist who disdains the trappings of the suited corporate world treats his employees so handsomely. Or does he?

The story was told in the Australian on November 20th. Palmer’s nickel processing factory north of Townsville had netted him $200 million this year. In return he paid for a holiday to Fiji for each of the 750 workers at the plant. As well as this, he bought for the 50 most valued workers a $50,000 Mercedes Benz. Quite a Christmas present – or so our national rag would have us believe.

In reality what Clive did, was to give back to these workers a little of the money they had made for him. It takes only a minute to work this out for yourself.

$200 million profit created by 800 workers – that amounts to $250,000 profit created by each worker on average. This is after the cost of the raw material (nickel) and the other processing materials. It is after the cost of the electricity to make the plant operate. It is after the cost of renting or buying the factory. It is after the cost of paying each worker their annual wage.

Where did all the money – the costs of the raw materials and power and wages, as well as the $200 million profits come from? Well a moment’s thought answers the question. It came from the added value which the work of those workers created – they took nickel ore, and turned it into ingots of nickel. Each worker- whether they pulled the furnace, fixed the electric cabling, added up the company’s books, or designed the marketing brochures for selling the nickel – all were essential to this transformation of rocks into metal that could be sold to the world.
In other words it was their labour which transformed those rocks – and created the extra value which ingots of nickel have over dusty rocks from the centre of Australia.

Palmers “magnanimous” action puts him in the long tradition of the philanthropists of capital – the Carnegies and Rockerfellers. In the short run their actions endear them to the working class. They are portrayed as kind and generous, rather than as robber barons.

In the long run we can only thank them for exposing the reality of capitalism. Their actions show up in stark reality the full extent to which they exploit those who work for them. They provide a nice lesson in what surplus value really means – or as George Bernard Shaw said, “behind every great fortune, there is a great crime”
Ross Gwyther (PhD) works in Brisbane as an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union, after an earlier career of more than 20 years as a research geophysicist specialising in earthquake studies. His interests centre around strategies for labour movement renewal and union organisation, and the intersection of these with community movements around ecological and peace issues.

3 thoughts on “Clive Palmer’s Christmas Present

  1. Ross,
    I guess Clive has 2 options (maybe there are more generally there are 2)
    1. Giving away the money -> so people say he is a generous boss.
    2. Keep the money (without any rewards to employee) -> too people say he is a stingy boss.

    If you were him, which option would you choose Ross ? Your criticism is somehow quite loose, i am not sure if you have believed in what you wrote first ?


  2. jim sharp says:

    i’d suggest palmer
    being an exploiting capitalist
    he’s trying to strike
    faustian bargain
    betwixt & between
    gawd & the devil

  3. Ross not Gwyther says:

    Clive Palmer is sharing the profits from the enterprise whilst not sharing any of the risk, which he carries. If he were to give his workers, and remember that they have a job courtesy of his exposure to risk, shares in the company instead of cash/cars/reward/other then I suspect that they would become very interested in the solvency/profitability of the business. They are quite within their rights to sell or exchange their reward for such shares however I doubt any of them would. Taking risk and enjoying the reward is what has made this country enjoy a standard of living and egalitarian-ship that is so far better than anything the ‘non capitalist’ movement has been able to produce, that any argument to the contrary can only be attributed to ‘ideological bloody minded-ness’.
    Exploitation of workers for the (cash) benefit of the business owner usually occurs when the unemployment rate reaches a critical mass and people without employment will suffer exploitation on order to feed their family, not an unreasonable reason, or when it is a state owned enterprise by a repressive, monopolistic or military government. How often have we seen this?
    And by the way, I do not own a business and belong to a fairly militant union.


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