Socialism, What It May Look Like: The Series

I have written a number of posts as series rather than just one long post. This is due to a number of reasons. To work out a view requires elaboration and time, and posting as a series permits such elaboration over a longer period of time. Also, I have many interests (which correspond in part to my own experiences as an oppressed and exploited worker, oppressed father and so forth).

However, I thought it may be useful to some readers to string series that I may not expand further into one long post in order to present more content on the same theme. I will not edit the series to make it more like one long essay; readers can pick and choose the posts that interest them.

I will probably do this with various other series on this blog.

Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like

“My wife asked me what other kind of society could we live than the one we are living now. I suspect that most people have the same kind of question. It is difficult to imagine another kind of life than the life that we have experienced all our lives.

There are, of course, no magic answers. The answers will be experimental, with some failures and some successes, and not in ideal circumstances, of course.

However, some ideas can still be provided about some possible ways of living that provide an alternative vision–a vision so obviously lacking among the so-called left these days.

Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), provides a description of some aspects of a possible future kind of society. He borrows his model largely from David Schweichart’s model of economic democracy in After Capitalism (2002) (which I have not read). He adds three modifications of his own.

I will cut and paste short pieces from this work. He paints various aspects of a socialist society that need to be incorporated into a socialist society. There are undoubtedly other aspects, and his own account may have to be modified.

I will not pursue the topic week after week after week until the topic is exhausted since there are other topics which I consider relevant–above all a critique of the power of the class of employers, but also a critique of the social-reformist left and the so-called radical left that do not question the power of employers as a class.

From Smith’s book, page 303:

The model Schweickart defends has the following essential elements:

(i) Production and distribution are primarily undertaken within worker
collectives. Workers are not hired as wage-labourers by capital; they instead
join worker collectives as fellow members. There is a basic right to employment,
with state enterprises providing jobs for those unable to find positions in
collectives.

This condition is to initiate a reduction in economic coercion as an essential move towards an increase in economic and individual freedom.

There is, of course, a possible problem of increased inefficiency, but Smith addresses this issue in further democratic socialist measures.

 Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From  Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(ii) Managers of worker collectives are democratically accountable to those
over whom they exercise authority, either through direct elections or through
appointment by a workers’ council that is itself directly elected. These
enterprises are required to have representatives from a range of social
movements (environmental groups, consumer groups, feminist groups, and
so on) on their boards of directors, accountable to those movements.

What do you think of such proposals? How do they relate to democracy? To the lack of democracy in your life? Do you think that such proposals are worth fighting for?

Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Michael Perelman contrasts what many people experience in their lives: their own contrast between an activity which they enjoy doing and their experience working for an employer, which they often enough find to be draining.

From Michael Perelman, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011),

Just What Is Work?

To understand the potential for transforming the economy, consider a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, upstanding citizens of the United States would never subject themselves to the life of a farm worker for poverty wages.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During the time they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Gardeners are producing for themselves rather than for someone else who will benefit from their work.

As the psychologist John Neulinger says: “Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to.”43 We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers pass virtually unnoticed. In our society, farm work is never “respectable” work; well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farm workers.

Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand. …

As suggested earlier, the key to the Procrustean trap is not the threat of physical force but rather the inability to imagine anything outside of the constrained present circumstances. The willingness to take seriously Margaret Thatcher’s preposterous claim—“There is no alternative”—perfectly sums up this state of mind.

A writer for Bloomberg.com reminisced about Thatcher’s Procrustean destructive success:

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.
Stick to the plan long enough and the people who are good at making money acquire huge sums and, along with them, power. In time, they become the culture’s dominant voice. And they love you for it.46

Thatcher’s scheme actually worked. Her acolytes were so convinced that the mere utterance of Thatcher’s acronym TINA seemed sufficient to cut off any debate with skeptics.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left in Toronto certainly has reinforced the TINA principle. The so-called radical left, by keeping silent out of fear of becoming isolated, themselves becomes part of the social-democratic left. They, like the social-reformist left, provide no real alternative vision to the oppressive and exploitative nature of work characteristic of the power of employers as a class.

In fact, through their silence and their lack of criticism, they contribute to the perpetuation of class rule. They are, practically, social reformists who will never go beyond the existing class system despite their rhetoric of class struggle and struggle from below.

Socialism, Part Four: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(iii) Worker collectives produce public goods, inputs into the production process, or final consumption goods. Funds for the first are directly allocated to collectives by the relevant planning agencies (see below). The latter two categories of products are offered for sale in producer and consumer markets. In Schweickart’s view, attempts to centrally plan all inputs and outputs in a top-down fashion are simply not feasible, at least not in a complex and dynamic economy. But it does not follow that capitalist market societies are the only acceptable forms of economic organisation. It is possible to imagine a feasible and normatively attractive society combining markets with the socialisation of the means of production, that is, a society making use of producer and consumer markets after abolishing both capital markets and
labour markets.

In addition to the elimination of a market for workers and management of work enterprises being accountable to work councils and community councils, capital markets in the sense of an investment process owned by a minority would no longer exist. There would, nonetheless, be markets that produced means of production and markets that produced consumption goods. For example, at the brewery where I worked, the workers who produced the soaker or the filler that the brewery workers used would be subject to competition from other workers who produce soakers or fillers. Workers in the brewery would be subject to competition from workers in other breweries.

Unfortunately, Smith does not elaborate much on what he means by the abolition of capital markets. His reference to David Schweickart’s work Against Capitalism, however, gives a clue to what he means. Schweikart has the following to say (page 172):

First, we issue a decree abolishing all enterprise obligations to pay interest or stock dividends to private individuals or private institutions.

This decree will need no enforcement, since enterprises are not going to insist on paying what they are no longer legally obligated to pay.

But Schweickart sees a flaw in the abolition of all capital markets, at least immediately (page 173):

6.3.2 Once More, This Time with Feeling (for the Stockholders)

Too Simple? Of course. The above is not meant to be a realistic scenario. Above all, it fails to take into account the fact that millions of ordinary citizens (not only capitalists) have resources tied up in the financial markets. People with savings accounts or holdings in stocks and bonds have been counting on their dividend and interest checks. (Nearly half of all American households have direct or indirect holdings in the stock market, mostly in pension plans.) Eliminating all dividend and interest income-which is what Radical Quick does-will not strike these fellow citizens as a welcome reform. Let us run through our story again, this time complicating it to take into account their legitimate concerns.

Schweickart, realistically, recognizes that workers have investments in capital markets and hence are in some ways tied to such markets. His solution is to imagine a situation where at least the key corporations, due to the circumstances of a crisis, would be subject to elimination from capital markets (pages 173-174):

Let me first set the stage a little more fully than I did with Radical Quick. Let us suppose that a genuine counterproject to capitalism has developed, and that, gradually gaining in strength, it has been able to elect a leftist government that has put most of the reforms outlined earlier in this chapter on the table and has secured the passage of some of them. Suppose investors decide they’ve had enough and begin cashing in their stock holdings. A stock-market crash ensues. In reaction, the citizenry decide that they too have had enough-and give their leftist government an even stronger mandate to take full responsibility for an economy now tumbling into crisis.

Our new government declares a bank holiday, pending reorganization (as Roosevelt did following his election in 1932). All publicly traded corporations are declared to be worker-controlled. Note: This control extends only to corporations, not to small businesses or even to privately held capitalist firms. It is decided that it will be sufficient  to redefine property rights only in those firms for which ownership has already been largely separated from management. (With the “commanding heights” of the economy now democratized, most other firms can be expected to come under increased pressure from their own workers, over time, to follow suit.)

The exact way in which capital markets would be reduced and eventually abolished would vary across time and place, depending on circumstances.

As I have emphasized throughout this blog, though, it is much less likely that workers will be receptive to a call for the elimination of capital markets and markets for workers unless they find the situation to be unfair. The ideology of the social-reformist left consistently makes reference to fairness within the limits of the employer-employee relation. We need to break with such ideology if we are to initiate such a process without having to respond erratically when a crisis hits.

Or are there alternatives? What do you think?

Socialism, Part Five: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the right of use by workers of the places, machinery and so forth where they work, but with the local community being the owner of local resources (and regional and national communities being the owners of regional and national enterprises of regional or national scope). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 304:

(iv) Workers in enterprises are granted use rights to facilities and other
means of production. But ultimate ownership rights remain with the local
community. Workers cannot use their enterprise as a cash cow and then walk
away; they have a legal duty to maintain the value of the community’s
investments. If sufficient depreciation funds cannot be appropriated from
revenues to maintain the value of these investments, it is the responsibility
of community banks to shut down an enterprise. Once depreciated funds
have been deducted, the remainder of the revenues from public allocations
or sales in consumer/producer markets (apart from the taxes to be considered
below) are then distributed among the members of the collective according
to formulae set by the democratically accountable management

Since the workers are the trustees of the workplaces and not their owners, each year, the workers in the sector that produces either consumer goods for the market or the raw material, machines and so forth required to produce both themselves and consumer goods, have to set aside a certain amount of the proceeds from sales to purchase worn out means of production. The workers must also include in that depreciation fund a fund for repairs.

Workers have a responsibility to the present community and to future communities to maintain the general conditions for the continued livelihood of the community. This means that any cooperative that fails to maintain the value of the means of production must be closed down, and workers in such cooperatives must find work in another, more viable cooperative.

The sales revenue will be distributed generally into three parts: (1) the depreciation fund, (2) a tax on capital assets (which will be explained in another post), and a residual of what is called profits, to be distributed to the members of the cooperative as their personal income according to distribution rules created by themselves. (There also may be income tax and consumption tax, but I will not address that).


Socialism, Part Six: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment and the supply of public goods. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 304-305:



(v) The origin of funds for new investment and public goods is a flat tax
on the non-labour assets of all enterprises.16 In Schweickart’s proposal, the
rate of this tax is initially set by a democratically elected legislature, operating
on the national level. This legislature also decides on the appropriate division
of revenues between funding for national public goods and funds that are
allocated to democratically elected regional and local legislative bodies. Each
of these assemblies, in turn, must also decide upon the level of funding for
public goods to be supplied in the relevant geographical area vis-à-vis the
level of funds set aside for distribution to the level below it. These legislative
bodies can also set aside a percentage of funds for investment in areas of
pressing social needs.


(vi) After all decisions have been made regarding the general level of new
investment and the order of social priorities, and after funds required for
public goods on the national, regional, and local levels have been allocated, the remaining revenues are distributed to local communities on a per capita
basis (at least this should be the presumption in the absence of compelling
reasons to do otherwise, such as the need to temporarily favour historically
disadvantaged regions). Community banks would then undertake the actual
allocation of new investment funds to worker collectives. The boards of
directors of these banks would include representatives of a broad range of
social groups affected by the banks’ decisions. New enterprises would be
formed, and existing ones expanded, through allocations by community banks
rather than private capital markets.


The capital-assets tax assumes that the workers have right of use of most of the means of production of our lives (there may be some room for independent businesses, but they do not form the bulk of economic activity). If they do, then instead of new investment being derived from the private decisions of boards of directors of corporations, it is derived from a democratically-elected national legislature which sets the rate of the capital-assets tax.

There are two general aspects to the tax (like any tax): the flow from a source to the government and the flow of the tax to institutions. The source is the capital assets used by democratic worker cooperatives. It is a flat-rate tax based on the value of the means of production that is applied to capital assets used by workers.

The flow of the revenue generated by the tax to people only arises after deductions from revenue required for investment in projects at the national level. Once this has been deducted, then the revenue is distributed to the regional communities on a perc capita (per person) basis; the regional democratic bodies which in turn allocate investment funds for investment in projects at the regional level. The remainder is then allocated to the local community via public banks, likewise on a per capita (per person) basis.

This principle of distribution of the revenue generated from the capital-assets tax on a per capita basis means that, in areas where there is a concentration of means of production relative to the number of people who live in the area, the outflow of taxes paid will be relatively greater than the inflow of revenue from taxes when compared to areas where the concentration of means of production is relatively smaller.

The capital-assets tax is to replace interest and dividend payments. As noted in the previous post on this topic, since many workers in the more industrialized capitalist countries have at least some investments in the stock market or hold bonds, GICs, and so forth and, furthermore, pension funds are generally linked to investment, a policy that at one sweep sought to abolish interest and dividend payments may well be opposed by the working class, initially. Consequently, some form of transitional program may be necessary, one where interest and dividend payments are gradually phased out, or one where compensation for nationalization occurs. In any case, the ultimate goal is to abolish interest and dividend payments and replace them with a flat capital-assets tax.

Socialism, Part Seven: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the criteria to be used in the distribution of the flat-rate capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment (and which was outlined in the last post on this topic). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 305:

(vii) When allocating investment funds for new worker collectives and the
expansion of existing ones, community banks must take three main questions
into account. Is there likely to be sufficient demand for the output of the given
enterprise for it to maintain the value of the community’s investment and
provide adequate income for its members? Will the investment provide stable
employment? And is the investment consistent with the set of social priorities
democratically affirmed on the national, regional and local levels? Extensive
external financial and social audits can be regularly imposed on all enterprises
and community banks to assess their performances in terms of these criteria.
These independent social audits are a crucial component of the socialist version
of the principle of transparency, institutionalising a level of accountability
and transparency far beyond the limited neoliberal version of the principle.17
Community banks can then be ranked on the basis of the results of these
audits. The level of income of the staff of a particular bank, and the amount
of funds allocated to this bank for distribution in the future, are determined
by the bank’s place in this ranking.

The distribution of investment funds to existing and new worker collectives through community banks would be controlled by taking into account:

  1. Whether the level of demand would likely be sufficient to not only maintain the value of the means of production (machinery, buildings and so forth) but to ensure a reasonable income for the working members of the cooperative.
  2. Whether the investment would result in unemployment of the members, or would there be sufficient work for all members (without jeopardizing efficiency, presumably).
  3. Whether the investment would result in effects that contribute to the realization of plans democratically decided on at the local, regional and national levels.

To ensure that these criteria for lending to worker cooperatives via public banks were satisfied, social audits could be carried out systematically and transparently. Since the revenue of workers in public banks would be a function of their success in extending loans based on the three criteria (and subject to social audits), workers in public banks would be motivated to more likely extend loans to worker cooperatives that were most likely to meet these three criteria.

Socialism, Part Eight: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

This is a continuation of earlier posts on the subject of the nature of socialism–a society that aims at the abolition of the power of employers as a class and the initial appropriation of the necessary requirements for us to control our lives as a collectivity and as individuals.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on some kinds of relations that may emerge between a nation that is socialist and other nations (whether socialist or not). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 305-306:

(viii) In Schweickart’s model, there are no markets for capital assets, and
so there will be no capital flight in the form of cross-border investments in
capital assets. There will also be little foreign direct investment, since worker
collectives are unlikely to outsource their own jobs, and community banks
are assessed according to the extent they create employment in their own
communities. But there will still be trade across borders. For a period of time,
this may include trade with regions that have not institutionalised a version of economic democracy. In such circumstances, regions committed to socialist
globalisation should follow the principle of fair trade rather than ‘free’ trade.
To ensure that this occurs, Schweickart calls for a ‘social tariff’.18 If oppressive
labour practices hold down wage levels in a given region, the prices of imports
from that region will be raised to what they would have been had worker
income been comparable to the level prevailing in the importing country. A
social tariff will also be imposed to compensate for a lack of adequate spending
on the environment, worker health and safety, or social welfare in the exporting
nation. The revenues collected by this tariff will then be distributed to the
groups in the exporting country with the best record of effectively implementing
anti-poverty programmes, whether or not they are agencies of the government

There will little if any flow of capital investment beyond the borders of the socialist nation (hence little or no capital flight); workers are unlikely to invest abroad rather than locally since this would result in loss of employment. Furthermore, community banks would prevent such investment through its enforcement of the criteria of employment creation (see previous post).

It is possible that trade between socialist and non-socialist nations would still occur. In trade between a socialist nation and a capitalist nation, the socialist nation would create a social tariff, imposing it to prevent unfair competition on the basis of capitalist ways of producing wealth (such as reduced wages or lack of health and safety measures).

This social tariff, rather than being used for the benefit of the socialist workers and community members, would flow back to workers in the non-socialist world as an expression of solidarity with them via agencies or organizations of the exporting non-capitalist country that have proven to be effective enforcers of anti-poverty measures in the non-capitalist country.

Smith adds three other measures that have an international focus: (1) the creation of international monetary clearing units, which would serve as world money that would function, among other things, to ensure that excessive trade imbalances would not arise, especially for the more vulnerable parts of the world economy; (2) a global representative assembly that would legislate and oversee issues between nations in a much more democratic manner than the current United Nations model; and, finally, (3) a democratically accountable international planning agency that would ensure equitable investment funding for the provision of international public goods, distributed according to the number of people (per capita), with provisions for exceptions on the basis of past historical biases of economic development.

All these measures refer to what has come to be known as “market socialism.” Such a system, if democratically organized, would likely not only be more efficient than a capitalist economy but definitely superior in terms of ethics. However, before addressing that issue in further posts, I will, in a future post, consider whether the idea of market socialism is an adequate model for a future society without capitalism, or whether it leaves out of consideration some essential aspects that need to be considered if we are to resolve our social problems on this planet.

Socialism, Part Nine: An Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part One

The class formal principle of employers–that workers receive from society what they contribute (contradicted at a practical level through systematic exploitation of workers necessarily in a capitalist context–that is why it is a formal principle that contradicts reality–see  for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One) would be realized in a socialist society on average since exploitation of one class by another would be eliminated. However, the principle of relating individual life to labour is still a bourgeois or capitalist principle that needs to targeted because it still reduces human beings to merely one criterion–labour. From  Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, pages 86-87 of Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 24):

Hence, equal right here is still in principle bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange only exists on the average and not in the individual case.

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly encumbered by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour. But one man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies more labour in the same time, or can work for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal  abour. It recognises no class distinctions, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognises the unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity of the workers as natural privileges. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right by its nature can exist only as the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable by an equal standard only insofar as they are made subject to an equal criterion, are taken from a certain side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Besides, one worker is married, another not; one has more children than another, etc., etc. Thus, given an equal amount of work done, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, etc. To avoid all these defects, right would have to be unequal rather than equal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birthpangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development which this determines.

Neither Tony Smith nor Schweickart, both advocates of market socialism, refer to this. For Schweickart at least, any elimination of the market economy will lead to various negative effects, such as authoritarian conditions. Sam Gindin, similarly, does not take into consideration the inadequacy of markets as an expression of human freedom.

This model so far is a market-socialist model. Rather than conceiving it as a definitive model of how future society will work, however, we should consider it as a transition society that may last for longer than Marx thought but, nonetheless, is itself inadequate.

This inadequacy can be seen in the omission by Smith and Schweickart of any consideration of the need to transform the division of labour. In Schweickart’s book, for example, there is no discussion at all of the division of labour. If we are to live in a full life, though, we need to reduce or eliminate the gap between labour that is predominantly physical and labour that is predominantly intellectual.

Another aspect over which both Smith and Schweickart are silent is the implication for human beings if prices are to continue to exist. Schweickart does not directly address the question, but his assumption that prices will always exist fails to address the problem of the continued valuation of objects ultimately in terms of labour. Marx’s theory of exploitation is not just a critique of exploitation but a critique of the form of exploitation–through the mediation of relations between objects instead of a conscious connection with other human beings. Human beings, via ultimately money, are related to each other via objectified labour measured externally as money.

Market socialism may well be needed for some time, but it is inadequate as a form of society for human beings. At first, it is necessary to create a society where the reality of labour time being the measure of human wealth corresponds to the principle of determination by labour time: what workers contribute to society and what they receive from it do not differ quantitatively (workers are not exploited).

However, the principle of the life process is still based on one principle–labour and its measure, time. The human life process, however, is much more than this process, and the need for human beings will be to surpass this principle and to break the link between contribution and the flow of goods and services based on that contribution.

Now, let us listen to a person who claims to aim at realistic socialism–Sam Gindin, head of the Toronto Labour Committee (and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor). Mr. Gindin implies that, due to what he calls scarcity, we will always need a market form of socialism:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin, it is clear, identifies the need to make choices of “labour time and resources” with scarcity. There is an identity between the need to make choices in the realm of labour and the continued existence of scarcity. 

The counterpart of this is the implicit denial of the need to make choices in “leisure,” which is identified with the “realm of freedom.” Mr. Gindin, of course, fails to justify this identity and fails as well to explore the nature of “leisure.” 

Mr. Gindin follows neoclassical economics (which justifies capitalism in various ways) by arguing that “scarcity” in the abstract (eternally or forever, without qualification) characterizes human life. Consider the following quotation from a typical textbook on neoclassical (or capitalist) economics (Steven A. Greenlaw, Timothy Taylor, Principles of Microeconomics, page 8:

Economics is the study of how humans make decisions in the face of scarcity. These can be individual decisions, family decisions, business decisions or societal decisions. If you look around carefully, you will see that scarcity is a fact of life. Scarcity means that human wants for goods, services and resources exceed what is available. Resources, such as labor, tools, land, and raw materials are necessary to produce the goods and services we want but they exist in limited supply. Of course, the ultimate scarce resource is time- everyone, rich or poor, has just 24 hours in the day to try to acquire the goods they want. At any point in time, there is only a finite amount of resources available.

People live in a world of scarcity: that is, they can’t have all the time, money, possessions, and experiences they wish.

Mr. Gindin argues, then, that scarcity arises objectively when there are alternative possibilities that exist for the use of resources and labour time. Choices must be made, and the choices necessarily involve the realization of some projects and the exclusion of others. We can never have our cake and eat it simultaneously.

This idea seems valid, and yet it is really superficial. Mr. Gindin practically wants to ridicule those who believe that work can be itself a realm of freedom–despite the need to make choices and despite the need to engage in the production of food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and so forth. To be realistic for Mr. Gindin is to believe in the necessity of drudgery throughout human history. What else does he mean when he writes “And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of incentives becomes paramount.”

Mr. Gindin’s implicit assumption is that all incentives are external or instrumental in nature. There is, for this social democrat, no such thing as an intrinsic incentive (or motivation). Such an assumption needs to be questioned.

Rather than addressing the issue of scarcity (pure necessity for Mr. Gindin) directly, let us look at the so-called opposite realm of leisure (pure freedom for Mr. Gindin).

He claims that leisure is somehow the “realm of freedom.” What leisure is that? Leisure is a concept that is purely non-instrumental, it would seem, for Mr. Gindin. All leisure.

As an aside: Mr. Gindin borrows his concepts from current experiences and then generalizes them throughout history. Thus, leisure in the current context of work life characterized by the power of employers using people as things for their own ends is often a compensation for the drudgery of such daily life. Such an uncritical use of the concept of leisure will be addressed in another post.

Thus, Mr. Gindin separates completely labour and leisure. Leisure is purely non-instrumental, and labour can be to a certain extent enjoyable but, ultimately, is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature. Since leisure is identified with the “realm of freedom” and non-instrumentality, and labour is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature, scarcity must arise by necessity since workers by their very nature would prefer leisure (freedom) over work (necessity and instrumentality). To engage in work, workers must be externally motivated to do so (since their default mode is to prefer leisure (pure freedom) over work (pure necessity).

Mr. Gindin’s assumption concerning the so-called identity of leisure with the realm of freedom and a lack of instrumentality is questionable. Many so-called leisure activities have an instrumental aspect to them. For example, I “leisurely” drove my daughter, Francesca, to the Royal Tyrrell Museum summer camp in Alberta some time ago, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (about a distance of 1,300 kilometers). It took a “leisurely” time of around 18 hours (stopping along the way for lunch and supper). For me, the activity was stressful though enjoyable (when compared to working for an employer) since Francesca was with me. The leisure activity of driving, though, was instrumental since it was a means to the end of developing my daughter’s capacities–that was the real end.

I had a choice to make in whether I was going to ask Francesca whether she wanted to go to the camp at all and, given that choice, what means I would use to achieve that goal. 

It cannot be said that the act of driving the car was secondary to the end of developing her capacities in a certain direction since she could not do so without attending the camp. The act of driving the car, though instrumental, was an essential condition for achieving that end (of course, it was not the only means by which to achieve that end–taking a plane, bus or train were possible alternatives). Furthermore, the end of developing Francesca’s capacities motivated me to drive for long periods of time in the first place, so the end itself formed an instrumental aspect of my activity of driving the car–it formed an ideal or motivating aspect of the physical aspect of driving the car.

My drive to Drumheller was thus instrumental for Francesca, my daughter, despite being a leisure activity. I had to make choices, of course. I could have taken a bus with her. We could have flown. The goal of the trip, for me, though constrained by certain means, was non-instrumental as an ultimately intrinsic end and yet was instrumental, ideally, in guiding my own activity in the present (driving the car towards Drumheller, Alberta, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located). I had an internal incentive or intrinsic incentive.

Of course, human life is finite, but who would deny that? However, Mr. Gindin draws false conclusions from that fact not only in relation to leisure but also to “education” and “art.” These issues will be dealt with in another post or posts.

Mr. Gindin’s assumption, then, that leisure is the pure realm of freedom is simple nonsense. Mr. Gindin’s hidden assumption of the mutual exclusion of instrumentality and intrinsic ends–that they are separate–remains an unproven assumption.

But some may say that this is an example from the realm of leisure (which does not exclude the realm of necessity despite Mr. Gindin’s implicit assertion to the contrary). What of the realm of work? Does it need external incentives because alternatives arise and choices must be made?

In a follow-up post, I will shift to Mr. Gindin’s opposite view concerning work. Since leisure is supposedly the pure realm of freedom that lacks instrumentality, work, according to Mr. Gindin, if in any way instrumental (which it must be for Mr. Gindin), involves a lack of freedom, which is expressed in the concept of scarcity and thus requires external or extrinsic motivation. Just as leisure is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, so too the realm of work is supposed to be always tainted by the realm of necessity. 

This issue has to do with the two main divisions of labour: academic or intellectual and practical (or manual or physical). I referred briefly to such a division when I provided a critique of such a division in schools and the school curriculum (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three). 

(As an aside: Mr. Gindin probably follows his colleague, Leo Panitch (they wrote a book together), in rejecting (without understanding) Marx’s so-called labour theory of value (really a theory of commodities and capital). (I attended Mr. Panitch’s class on globalization in the winter of 2014. Mr. Panitch explicitly stated that he considered Marx to have taken a wrong turn in Capital, especially Marx’s use of some of the dialectic of the German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, who, among other things, argued for the need to reconcile opposite relations, such as freedom and necessity)


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s view that leisure is the pure realm of freedom. (Sam Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor)). In this post, I will criticize his view that work, being a world of necessity, requires external incentives.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s superficial imagination leads him to apply the current poverty of work relations, implicitly, as the standard for determining the so-called “realm of necessity.” Like leisure, which is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, he separates freedom and necessity at work.

Consider my work at the brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When I worked at the brewery, we were obliged to work to produce not only beer, but beer for the market, and not only for the market but for the ultimate goal of more profit. We were things to be used by the employer (see https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/).

The riveting of material production to the goal of profit as the ultimate goal prevents workers who produce beer from reorganizing their lives both inside and outside the brewery in such a way that they can integrate their working lives with other aspects of the process of producing beer. For example, at the brewery in Calgary, there was a chemist who probably, among other things, tested the quality and properties of the beer being produced (being “only a bottling worker,” I really did not understand what the chemist did when I worked at the brewery).

Mr. Gindin tips his hand by referring to “scarcity” as somehow requiring incentives. He fails to explore what is meant by “incentives,” but implicitly assumes that all incentives are external and cannot be internal to the process which produces beer–a mechanical materialist point of view.

Under a socialist way of life, initially, workers would produce beer for others via the market. Even at this stage, here is no reason why workers could not begin to integrate a study of chemistry with the production of beer. The same could be said of the mechanics, physics and mathematics of beer production. For example, the filler–a machine for the filling of beer bottles rotated in a circular motion, with spouts attached to the machine. The velocity of rotation, the speed of the incoming bottles and so forth could be calculated and adjusted to attain certain specific rates of output and qualities of beer production (rather than being externally specified by managers as the representatives of employers).

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, pointed out somewhere that there is no such thing as a purely biological human experience, a purely mathematical human experience, a purely physical human experience and so forth. Human experience is all those aspects and more. The apparently most mundane human act or experience contains a rich variety of potentially worthwhile pursuits that can be analyzed and pursued in ever greater depth and breadth. The production of beer can be integrated into the study of chemistry, physics, mechanics, biology, mathematics, history, geography and other sciences. Despite beer production being instrumental for the production of beer as a consumer good, it could be the point of departure for the infinite expansion of the capacities of workers who produce beer–with the only limit being their own capacities for the pursuit of such sciences and the finite period of time in which they live on this planet before dying. Workers could thus freely expand their intellectual and physical horizons even when they produce beer.

Mr. Gindin’s superficial separation of freedom and necessity at work, like his superficial separation of freedom and necessity during leisure hours (as pointed out in the previous post), leads him to false conclusions concerning the nature of work in a socialist society. This should not surprise anyone.

Mr. Gindin’s false conclusions concerning the nature of the relationship of freedom and necessity under socialism go beyond the issue of leisure and work. He claims the following in relation to education and art, among other areas of human life:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

In another post, I will show that Mr. Gindin’s reference to “more and richer education” can integrate–contrary to Mr. Gindin’s mechancial separation of the two–both elements of necessity and freedom. I may also address in a future post his claim that the demand for the expansion of art somehow involves the separation of necessity and freedom.


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.

Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Four: Art

This is the conclusion of a series of previous posts on the subject.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s claim that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union. See Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. However, just as Mr. Gindin does not criticize the particular form of education in modern society, he does not consider the limitations of the particular form of art in modern society. He writes the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of … the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Mr. Gindin seems to consider the “expansion of art and cultural spaces” in purely quantitative terms. The existing “art and cultural spaces” are supposed to be “expanded” rather than qualitatively transformed. Given the specific class nature of modern society dominated by a class of employers and the general class nature of human history after the agricultural revolution, the view that art and culture needs mere expansion rather than qualitative transformation reflects an impoverished view of the nature of socialist society. If socialist society is characterized by the abolition of classes, and classes involve exploitation and oppression, then the nature and development of art and culture should accordingly change qualitatively.

The issue can be approached from different angles. One issue is the question of the form of art (something which Mr. Gindin does not even adddress). John Dewey’s philosophy of art can aid us in understanding the limitations of Mr. Gindin’s characterization of “scarcity” and art in a socialist society.
Dewey points out that the form of modern art is isolated from common human experience. It is this isolated form itself that prevents a proper understanding of the nature of art as a refined development of common-sense human experience. From John Dewey (1934), Art as Experience , pages 3-4:

BY ONE of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience.

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications., The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish.

If one is willing to grant this position, even if only by way of temporary experiment, he will see that there follows a conclusion at first sight surprising. In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic. We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour. For theory is concerned with understanding, insight, not without exclamations of admiration, and stimulation of that emotional out burst often called appreciation. It is quite possible to enjoy flowers in their colored form and delicate fragrance without knowing any thing about plants theoretically. But if one sets out to understand the flowering of plants, he is committed to finding out something about the interactions of soil, air, water and sunlight that condition the growth of plants.

The isolation of art from ordinary human experience distorts an understanding of the nature of art. Such a distortion is like a mirror, in which we only see the reflection offered to us and not the background material (and social) conditions for the mirror to function as a mirror. From Thomas Nail (2020), Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism, page 149-150:

A mirror is something that reflects almost all the light that it receives within a certain limited frame. A mirror, however, also actively changes the light it receives and limits the range of light returned based on the limits of its frame. The danger of the mirror, as the myth of Narcissus reminds us, is mistaking the mirror for nothing other than the image it reflects. The mirror is thus a tricky kind of object because it so easily conceals its own quality, use- value, or sensuous materiality: the frame, the tain (silver backing), as well as the agency of light itself. Narcissus dies because he mistakes the sensuous agency of nature (water, light, air) as nothing other than himself.

The isolation of art in a socialist society from the rest of human experience would proceed to break down as the power of the class of employers was superseded and as the objectified power of workers is abolished and the human life process comes under the workers’ and the diverse communities’ control.

Mr. Gindin simply ignores any qualitative transformation of art and culture and refers to the (quantitative) expansion of arts and culture–as if the integration of the domain of art with other domains of life would not in itself involve “an expansion of art and culture.” Mr. Gindin fails to see that the modern art form itself expresses oppressive conditions, where art is relegated to an isolated activity by a relative minority. He succumbs to the ideology of the mirror, seeing only the reflected form of the alienated art form as a permanent form that merely requires–“mechanical” elements rather than organic elements that grow from the common source of human daily life experience.

Art in modern capitalist society would undergo a qualitative change–it would be freed of the exploitative and oppressive conditions that give rise to it as something separate and divorced from everyday living and working. From Piotr Hoffmann (1982), The Anatomy of Idealism: Passivity and Activity in Kant, Hegel and Marx, page 98:

In effect, since human labor is guided by conception and imagination, the Marxian “architect” from Capital is always capable of embodying in the material an original vision of things; he can tear the veil of banality and commonplace which stifles the potential of our sensibility. Needless to say, according to Marx this aesthetic potential of human senses must be stifled and repressed under the prevailing conditions of commodity production and of alienation of labor in general. 54 But it is the same conditions – the increasing sophistication of the labor-process – which both create the new potential of human senses and needs and repress its emerging claims and requirements. Indeed the whole process of labor, such as we know it in its past and present form, has that double, paradoxical function: at the same time that it creates those new and higher qualities of human life it also represses them by creating a mode of human intercourse which prevents their realization. “Certainly, labor obtains its measure from outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But [ …] this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity [ …] the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realization, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labor. ” It is in

Grundrisse, not in

Pans Manuscripts, that Marx writes these words. His intention couldn’t be clearer: labor is not only a response to need and dependency upon external objects, but a truly creative and (as Marx put it) “liberating” process through which man gives a higher form to his life-activity, a form where his senses, needs and tastes become refined and stripped of their crude utilitarian functions.

In societies before the emergence of capitalism, art was not as divorced from daily life as it is now. Art forms were closely related to utility and daily living, with art expressing more, initially, an assumed magical function related to survival than some sort of separate form expressing emotion and aesthetic refinement. From Arnold Hauser (1951), The Social History of Art, Volume 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, page 3:

When the Palaeolithic artist painted an animal on the rock, he produced a real animal. For him the world of fiction and pictures, the sphere of art and mere imitation, was not yet a special province of its own, different and separate from empirical reality; he did not as yet confront the two different spheres, but saw in one the direct, undifferentiated continuation of the other. He will have had the same attitude to art as Lévy- Bruhl’s Sioux Red Indian, who said of a research worker whom he saw preparing sketches: ‘I know that this man has put many of our bisons into his book. I was there when he did it, and since then we have had no bisons.’ The conception of this sphere of art as a direct continuation of ordinary reality never disappears completely despite the later predominance of a conception of art as something opposed to reality.

Later on, emotional expression and aesthetic concerns emerged with the development of agriculture. Here art and aesthetics (the appreciation of art from the side of consumption) now became somewhat divorced from daily life–with the emergence of class society. Religious rite took the place of magic. However, even then the degree of separation of art from daily life characteristic of modern capitalist society, with art appearing to be a separate realm from the realm of human life and its self-reproduction, was much less. In feudal society, for example, production and consumption were not as separated since they were still closely linked to daily life and utility. Page 93:

‘Urban economy’ in the sense of Buecher’s theory of economic stages signifies, in contrast to the earlier production for own use, a production for the customer, that is, of goods that are not consumed in, the economic unit in which they are produced. It is distinguished from the following stage of ‘national economy’ in that exchange of goods still takes the ‘direct’ form—i.e. the goods go direct from the producing to the consuming unit, production as a rule not being for stock or the free market, but to the direct order of definite customers personally acquainted with the producer. We are thus at the first stage of the separation of production from consumption, but still far removed from the completely abstract method of modern production by which goods have to pass through a whole series of hands before they reach the consumer. This difference of principle between the medieval ‘town economy’ and the modern ‘national economy’ still remains, even when we pass from Buecher’s ‘ideal type’ of town economy to the actual historical facts; for although pure production to order never existed by itself, the relationship between the tradesman and consumer in the Middle Ages was far closer than nowadays; the producer was not yet faced with a completely unknown and indefinite market as he was later. These characteristics of the ‘urban’ way of production showed themselves in medieval art in a greater independence of the artist, on the one hand, as compared with the artist of Romanesque times, but, on the other hand, in a complete absence of that modern phenomenon, the unappreciated artist working in a total vacuum of estrangement from the public and remoteness from actuality.

The abolition of classes in a socialist society, undoubtedly, would revolutionize the relation between art and daily life–just as the agricultural revolution and the emergence of class societies also revolutionized the relation between art and daily life. The abolition of classes would mean that even in work relations there would be the possibility of expressing ourselves without exploitation and oppression preventing us from doing so. The relation between freedom and necessity would change accordingly. There would be a qualitative change in the nature of art as it became integrated into the daily lives of individuals–but this time on a higher, more refined plane than earlier.

Mr. Gindin, though, just sees “an expansion of art”–undoubtedly in purely quantitative terms. He has an impoverished view of the nature of a socialist society and the relation between freedom and necessity in a socialist society.

A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eleven, Or: How Psychologists Cannot Deal with the Oppressive Experiences of the Working Class

Introduction

This is a continuation of previous posts.

I went on sick leave in February 2012 after having been a French teacher for Lakeshore School Division in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, for three and a half years. (For details of my decision to go on sick leave, see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight  and  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine). 

In order to receive at first short-term disability benefits and then long-term disability benefits provided by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), if the issue is not purely physical, it is presumably necessary to be subject to psychiatric evaluation and then psychological “care” (provided the psychiatrist furnishes an assessment, I assume, that justifies not being able to work for an employer). To receive such benefits, the worker must “agree” to both the evaluation and the care. 

But what is the Manitoba Teachers’ Society? Its Facebook page indicates the following:

About

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society is the collective bargaining and professional development organization for all of Manitoba’s 15,000 public school teachers.

Additional information

Founded in 1919, the Society provides assistance to local associations in collective bargaining, offers professional development workshops and lobbies government on legislation that affects education, students and teachers.

As well, MTS provides a range of wellness services including the Disability Benefits Plan and Educator Assistance Program.

It also provides publication services for teacher organizations such as Special Area Groups and publishes the teachers’ newsletter, the annual handbook, annual report and an extensive range of brochures and other handbooks

MTS is thus not a union as such, but it is more like a union of unions; it provides services to specific teachers’ associaitons and, through them, to the members of the specific teachers’ association. 

Under the terms of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society Disability Benefits Plan, I had to be under the “care” of a psychologist; in Winnipeg (where I lived at the time), I was under the “care” of Alan Slusky, a clinical psychologist. In my last post, I quoted one of Mr. Alan Slusky’s summaries of his psychological assessment (see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Ten) and indicated how I felt oppressed by his “care.”

In part to escape Mr. Slusky’s oppressive “care,” I moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at the end of August, 2013. I was still subject to control by a psychologist, this time by Silvina Galperin. Of course, I had little choice over whether I was to receive “therapy” or not.

From One Oppressive Situation to Another Oppressive Situation

Ms. Galperin, like Alan Slusky and Degen Gene (another psychologist whom I did voluntarily see while I was still working as a teacher under the Employee Assistance Plan of MTS due to the great level of oppression to which I was subject–see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight) also used “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT, or mindfulness) to try to “cure” me of my oppositional ways. It did not work.

I quote Ms. Galperin’s initial assessment below:

October 8th, 2014

Mr. Harris attended 5 sessions of psychotherapy with this writer. His first session was on August 29, 2014 and his last session was on September 29, 2014. He attended all the schedules sessions.

On mental status exam, Mr. Harris is a 57 year-old man of slight build appearing younger than his stated age. He wore loose clothes. His facial expression was sad and his posture slouched. He appeared tired. He made infrequent eye contact with this therapist and kept his eyes half closed. His attitude was open and cooperative with the interviewer but showed an oppositional approach towards society in general. Speech was slow and volume low, at times difficult to understand due to blurred speech. Orientation for person, place and time was unremarkable. He presented as moderately depressed. There was no indication of suicidal intent.

Mr. Harris reported feelings of disappointment, loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, irritability, frustration even over small matters, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, so that even small tasks seemed to demand a big effort for him. He explained that he requires resting and taking naps during the day due to lack of energy. He also explained that he suffers from anxiety and takes medication for a heart-related condition. Physical symptoms of anxiety included wobbliness in legs, heart racing, feelings of choking, difficulty breathing, abdominal discomfort and numbness or tingling. 

Mr. Harris had a very difficult childhood. His father was alcoholic and his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and intermittently living in and out of psychiatric hospitals for several years. Mr. Harris witnessed at the age of 5 years old, men taking his mother out of their home in a straightjacket, which was very traumatic. He lives with his father, who was violent and disciplined him and his brother physically and using the belt. 

He reported that he worried about our society functioning and believes that all the employers exploit their employees. The client presented an emotional state of frustration and discontent, fixating on situations where he became involved with the legal system, the RCMP, his ex-wife, the Children Aid Society, and health-care professionals with whom he got involved. He feels that all these people betrayed him and therefore cannot trust in this system. Mr. Harris argued that he is a fervent Marxist and that for him Marxism is the only acceptable societal structure for humanity. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) Mr. Harris meets the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder and Other Specified Anxiety Disorder. 

Mr. Harris does not believe in the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model. He explained that his years in university studying philosophy shaped him to question every theoretical concept. He wrote several pages challenging numerous parts of the book Feeling Good by David Burns, a widely accepted volume used by psychologists. He used a philosophical method to question each concept.

Goals for treatment included teaching Mr. Harris techniques to cope with his depression, anxiety and to challenge his generalized mistrustful beliefs about people. As the client manifested that he does not agree with the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy theory, the initial approach has been to allow the client to talk about his past difficulties, his current situation and to offer strategies to deal with specific concerns. Mr. Harris reported that talking about his difficulties with this therapist helped him to process his angst and sorrows. 

Dr. Silvina Galperin, C. Psych.

I engaged in criticism of the psychological approach by sending her some of my articles and, by coincidence, writing something that is relevant to the Covid pandemic:

Since you indicated that the article was too long, I am sending a shorter article—it is almost finished. It is part of my volunteering.

I have also rethought the issue of the report. I would like a copy of the report via email as soon as possible.

Since the issue of compassion came up, I thought that the issue of the ebola crisis would be relevant. According to the Saturday Toronto Star, the WHO reacted too slowly to the crisis because of budget cuts. Such budget cuts are endemic to the neoliberal onslaught. How many people have died needlessly because of such cuts? Where is the compassion of the ruling class and the politicians? Where is the compassion of those who talk about compassion but are blind about the need to struggle if compassion is to be really realized in this world?

Time to put Ebola into perspective (page WD3):

“But lost in the debate is something central to the future. According to many experts, the Ebola outbreak has been an entirely ‘avoidable’ crisis that can largely be traced to the impact of budget cuts. It was made possible by a series of brutal [interesting adjective] reductions—supported by the world’s industrialized [re: industrialized capitalist] countries], including Canada—to the UN’s main health organization, effectively preventing it from responding to the outbreak earlier. In addition, several countries (including Canada) cut budgets to national health institutes, which have delayed research for a vaccine.”

Typical of psychologists is how they try to reduce the concerns of individuals to purely “individual” issues. My experiences as a father are simply an extension of the common experiences of many people throughout the world.

Dewey, by the way, originally published a work on psychology (1887), when philosophy and psychology were very close. He branched out into educational philosophy (mathematical education, 1895; Dewey School, 1896-1904, How We Think (1910), Democracy and Education (1916)), logic (a work in 1903 and his magnum opus Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), ethics (1908 and revised 1932), naturalistic metaphysics (Experience and Nature, 1925), politics (Public and its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry  (1927), art and aesthetics (Art as Experience, epistemology and linguistics (The Knowing and the Known (1949). Compared to what I have observed about the capacities, judgements and ethics of psychiatrists and psychologists, Dewey, despite his ultimately reformist position, stands far above them, theoretically and practically.

Fred

Ms. Galperin talked about compassion and forgiveness in one of the sessions. Here is my response:

Attached is the finished article from the draft.

With respect to compassion and forgiveness. Some facts (from Robert Albritton’s  Let Them Eat Junk: How Capitalism Creates Hunger and Obesity):

1. Every 30 minutes there are 360 pre-school children will die of starvation and malnutrition–about 6 million pre-school children a year.
2. The news media are generally silent about this [as are most intellectuals and other professionals].
3. What the media does report is how rising food prices are good for business in general and investment in particular.

I fail to see where the compassion exists in ignoring such statistics. The term “compassion” is, to the contrary, often used to cloak such facts. I also fail to see where “forgiveness” comes into play. To forgive such needless deaths is to be complacent about the conditions that persistently lead to such deaths.

Fred

Or again, another email:

Attached is something that I sent my 20-year old daughter some time ago. It pertains to the distribution of land in the department (equivalent to a province administratively) where Francesca studied Spanish (Antigua is the city where she studied).

The issue is: why is the distribution of land so skewed? Where is the “compassion” of people? Of the ruling class? Where is their “forgiveness”? How many people suffer because of such distribution? How many die?

Fred

Conclusion

Ms. Galperin had no answers to my questions–her training had prevented her from dealing with such facts. Her CBT or “mindfulness” approach itself could not deal with such human experiences. 

This “care” that could not deal at all with the actual oppressive experiences of the majority of people in this world–is it not just another form of oppression under the guise of “care?” 

What do you think? 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bombardier, 2018, One of the Largest Private Employers in Quebec and in Toronto, Ontario: Or: How Unionized Jobs are Not Decent or Good

Introduction

In two others posts I presented a list of some of the largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada)  and Quebec (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees). 

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers in various companies for these two areas, including  Air Canada  (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada) and the Royal Bank of Canada (Banque Royale du Canada)  (The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada). 

Bombardier, the aircraft manufacturer, is also on both lists for Toronto and Quebec. I will calculate the rate of exploitation for this capitalist company not only for this reason. In the documentary Company Town, one worke Jennifer Akkermanr, who was going to lose her job at the General Motors (GM) plant in Oshawa when it was to close on December 18, 2019) indicated that she liked her job when working for GM but that she was going to work for Bombardier. I calculated, using fairly rough data, the rate of exploitation of GM workers in order to show that workers who claim that they enjoy their jobs at GM, in effect (even if they are unconscious of it) are claiming that they enjoy their exploitative jobs at GM. 

I thought it appropriate to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers to see to what extent the rates of exploitation of workers at GM and at Bombardier differed, if at all. 

I used data from 2018 rather than 2019 to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers because, in 2019, there seemed to be no calculable rate of exploitation since in 2019 there was an actual profit loss. Unless there are specific reasons for including abnormal years, it is better to calculate the rate of exploitation using more normal data. Besides, any company that operates at a constant loss by failing to exploit workers will cease to exist after a certain period of time.

Of course, if the rate of exploitation is calculated for a number of years, then losses need to be included. I have not found any books or articles that deal with how to handle such losses in calculating the rate of exploitation for such a year. It is, in any case, probably better to include such years in a multi-year calculation of the rate of exploitation in order to gain a more accurate view of the rate of exploitation in the medium- and long-term. Perhaps some readers can provide suggestions on how to do so. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “”fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One and  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for this rhetoric of the largest unions in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and  Unifor) , “fair wages” and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in workers’ lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? Do the left? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in this Agreement

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

Comparison of the Rate of Exploitation of Bombardier Workers to the Rate of Exploitation of Other Workers

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. From the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). Higher rates of exploitation mean, among other things, that the need to work for a certain relative proportion of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers in order to produce the value of the workers’ consumer goods (means of consumption). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of
Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, 177-19  page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold. 

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

In the case of Bombardier, I have had some difficulty in reconciling numbers related to interest. I will show this below. 

But first, let us look at the general calculation: 

Surplus Value (Profit)

EBIT: Earnings before interest and taxes (or: Profitability: Revenues-Costs or Expenses) 
Revenues$ 16,236
Cost of sales 13,958
Gross margin 2,278 [16,236-13,958]
SG&A (Selling, General and Administrative Expenses) 1,156
R&D (Research and Development) 217
Share of income of joint ventures and associates (66)
Other expense (income)  (58)
EBIT before Special Items (Earnings before Interest and taxes) (2) 1,029 [2,278-1156-217+66+58=1029]
Special items 28
EBIT 1001 (1029-28=1001) 

Non-adjustment of EBT by Excluding Special Items from the Calculation

Clarification of the nature of the category “Special Items” in the Annual Report is as follows: 

Special items

Special items comprise items which do not reflect our core performance or where their separate presentation will assist users in understanding our results for the period. Such items include, among others, the impact of restructuring charges and significant impairment charges and reversals.

There exists several items in this category. To go over each item and decide whether it should be excluded or included (without further information) seems an exercise for those with accounting skills–I invite them to provide a rational for including any or all of the items; I exclude the category in its entirety from the calculation. 

Consequently, so far the EBIT is 1,001. Now, particular employers treat the need to pay interest as an expense–which it is from the point of view of the particular employer. Accordingly, there is an additional category: EBT, or Earnings Before Taxes: 

EBT (Earnings before taxes)
Interest
Financing expense 712
Financing income (106) [This is actual income received and hence is in parentheses since it is not really an expense but the opposite and must be subtracted from “Financing expense”.)
Net financing expense 606 (712-106=606)
EBT (Earnings before taxes) (EBIT (1001)-Net financing expense (606)) 395

Adjustments

I will treat, theoretically, the two categories “Financing expense” and “Financing income” separately, and only then will I make the necessary adjustements. 

Financing Expense

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest). When they are expenses at the macro level of the class of employers and not just at the micro level of the particular employer, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

For example, interest is such a category. 

As I wrote in another post: 

As explained in another post, interest in many instances can be treated as part of the surplus value produced and therefore added to net income since, although from the point of view of the individual capitalist it is an expense, from the capitalist economy as a whole it is derived from the production of surplus value. 

Accordingly, it is EBIT and not EBT that should form the basis for determining the surplus value produced since interest is derived from surplus value–although it is an expense from the point of view of the particular employer. 

Financing Income 

The category “Financing Income” is income that is a result of, among other things, investment in securities. Since, as I explained in the post on the rate of exploitation of General Motors workers,

Since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded.

Accordingly, the amount included in this category does indeed need to be subtracted from EBIT since it is surplus value arising from the exploitation of workers other than Bombardier workers. 

Temporary Adjusted Earnings Before Income Taxes 895 (1001-106)

Further adjustments of EBIT must await the calculation of variable capital, or the total cost of producing the commodity labour power, or the capacity of labour power.

Variable Capital

Presumably, the following data form part of the category “Cost of Sales.” 

EMPLOYEE BENEFIT COSTS
Wages, salaries and other employee benefits $ 4,919 
Retirement benefits 464 
Share-based expense 74
Restructuring, severance and other involuntary termination costs 46 
Total $ 5,503

To explain the nature of the category “Share-based expenses.” it is first necessary to indicate the word form of the acronyms PSU, RSU and DSU:

PSU Performance share unit
RSU Restricted share unit
DSU Deferred share unit

The annual report indicates the nature of these: 

SHARE-BASED PLANS

PSU, DSU and RSU plans
The Board of Directors of the Corporation approved a PSU and a RSU plan under which PSUs and RSUs may be granted to executives and other designated employees. The PSUs and the RSUs give recipients the right, upon vesting, to receive a certain number of the Corporation’s Class B Shares (subordinate voting). The RSUs also give certain recipients the right to receive a cash payment equal to the value of the RSUs. The Board of Directors of the Corporation has also approved a DSU plan under which DSUs may be granted to senior officers. The DSU plan is similar to the PSU plan, except that their exercise can only occur upon retirement or termination of employment. 

It seems clear that the money allocated to the category is limited to select employees–unlike some annual reports, where it was unclear whether regular workers had access to share-based programs or not (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). The reasoning for including some (if not all) of it as part of surplus value is that this compensation is not mainly for the coordination of the work of others but for the exploitation of others–it is pure surplus value. 

If it was unclear whether the category was limited to those who exploit other workers, I merely calculated 10 percent of the total as forming surplus value, leaving 90 percent to form part of variable capital. In the case of Bombardier, though, the total amount of 74 million seems to be earmarked exclusively for key employees who exploit other workers. 

Accordingly, it is necessary to subtract 74 from “Employee benefit costs” and add it to EBIT: 

Adjusted EBIT or Surplus Value (Profit) 969 (895+74)
Temporarily Adjusted Employee benefit costs (variable capital, v) 5,429 (5,503-74)

Further Adjustment of Variable Capital (Wages and Benefits)

There is a list of items in the category “Other expense (income).” One of the items needs to be shifted to be included in the calculation of variable capital:

“Severance and other involuntary termination costs (including changes in estimates)” 3.

Since the shift is within the general category of “Expenses,” it does not affect the calculation of surplus value and hence profit; the category “Cost of sales” would increase by 3, from 13,958 to 13,961, and the category “Other expense (income)  (58)” would decrease by 3, from (58) to 55, with the result that the EBIT would not change. 

However, it does affect the calculation of variable capital and hence the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation. We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value.

Final Calculation (Based on Adjustments) of Surplus Value, Variable Capital (Salaries or Wages and Benefits) and the Rate of Surplus Value 

The result of all of these adjustments is: 

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier
In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

I have used the lengths of the working day as 8, 8.67, 9, 10, 10.67 and 12  because the length of the working day varies. According to different sources:

Working hours are 8:00am – 4:40pm

12hr shifts

The hours that I worked were from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Friday Saturday & Sunday and possibly coming in 2 hours early on Saturday & Sunday and or possibly staying late Friday thru Sunday depending whether or not we had a customer who had to leave early or late in the evening.

8-9 hours per day.

8 to 10 hours a day

I worked eight hours a day

The 2019-2022 collective agreement between Bombardier and Unifor Local 62 states:

ARTICLE 14 WORK SCHEDULES

14.01 The Employer determines the use of the different work schedules provided in article 14.08 according to the operational needs.

14.02 Unless otherwise stipulated in this Agreement, the normal work week is forty (40) hours.

14.03 The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-A and 1-B) is of forty (40) hours distributed on five (5) consecutive days of eight (8) hours from Monday to Friday

The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-C and D) is of forty (40) hours distributed over four (4) consecutive days of ten (10) hours from Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday

… 

14.05 The work week for employees on the third (3rd) shift (schedule 3) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on four (4) consecutive nights of nine (9) hours from Monday night to Friday morning, paid as forty (40) hours.

… 

14.06 The work week for employees on the weekend day shift (schedule 4-A et 4-B) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive days of twelve (12) hours, as follows: Saturday, Sunday and Friday Saturday, Sunday and Monday, paid for forty-two (42) hours.

… 

14.07 The work week for employees on the weekend night shift (schedule 5) if of thirty-two (32) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive evenings as follows: twelve (12) hours on Saturday and Sunday, and eight (8) hours on Friday [32 hours divided by 3=10.67 hours or 10 hours 40 minutes]. The employees are paid for forty (40) hours including the night premium.

Political Considerations and Conclusion 

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in this Agreement

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

The collective agreement fosters the illusion that the workers are paid for the whole working day. Workers may indeed receive more wages under certain circumstances, but that means that the cost of production of their capacity for working for an employer increases (perhaps due to an accelerated use of their labour power). This consideration, however, is irrelevant here since the total wages, salaries and benefits is what matters, and any increase in v due to such considerations are included in the data.

Comparison of Rates of Exploitation 

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. Higher rates of exploitation mean that the need to work for a certain length of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers from the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold.

From Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts, “The Long Roots of the Present Crisis: Keynesians, Austerians, and Marx’s Law,” in World in Crisis: A Global Analysis of Marx’s Law of Profitability. Edited by Carchedit and Roberts: 

The question is whether an increase in the rate of profit due to a sufficiently high rate of exploitation is a step toward recovery.

A recovery presupposes the rise in the new value generated within the context of a rising ARP [average rate of profit]. A pro-capital distribution of value within the context of a falling ARP can revive the ARP, but this does not denote a recovery. This higher profitability hides the decreasing production of value and surplus value—that is, it hides the deterioration of the economy.

A more detailed way to approach this is is by considering the two basic sectors of the economy. Sector 1 produces means of production [Bombardier primarily belongs to this sector since it produces jets] , and sector 2 produces means of consumption [GM primarly produces in this sector–although a smaller proporition of vehicle production undoubtedly serves as means of production as well]. If one or both sectors innovate, usually the OCC rises and the ARP falls. All sectors realize tendentially the same, but lower, rate of profit. The capitalists might react to the lower ARP by lowering the level of wages, that is, by increasing the rate of exploitation across the board. This upsets the initial tendential equalization of the profit rates. But this equalization presupposes full realization [full sale of the commodities produced], which is impossible if stopping or reversing the fall in the ARP is to be achieved by raising the rate of exploitation.

Suppose wages are reduced by the same percentage, Δ symbol for a change in something], both in sector 1 and in sector 2, represented by the equation –Δv1 = –Δv2 [the percentage change decrease in variable capital is the same in both sectors 1 and 2]. Then, sector 1 gains Δs1 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δs1 [sic–which means that the quoter quotes exactly as written despite a possible error in the original: this should be the negative percentage change in v1]) [the percentage change increase in surplus value in sector 1 . Sector 2 on the one hand gains Δs2 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δv2) but on the other loses –(Δs1 + Δs2), the loss due to the unsold means of consumption to the workers both of sector 1 and of sector 2 [sector 2 loses because the levels of v1 and v2 have decreased with the result that they cannot purchase means of consumption equal to their loss]. On balance, sector 2 loses –Δs1, which is sector 1’s gain. Means of consumption for a value of Δs1 are unsold. This is overproduction in sector 2.

The ARP is unchanged (what is lost by one sector is gained by the other), but the two rates of profit differ: that in sector 1 has risen by Δs1, while that in sector 2 has fallen by the same quantity. The greater the fall in wages, the greater the fall of profitability in sector 2. This spells crisis in sector 2. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises. But this is not a sign of recovery in that sector. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises not because more value and surplus value is produced in it, but because surplus value is appropriated from sector 2 within the context of a hidden fall in the ARP. Wage cuts can, at most, postpone the crisis.

(I have some doubts about the theoretical accuracy of the above quote. The assumption of equal percentage increases in s and equal percentage decreases in v seems to assume a 100 percent rate of exploitation; if, however, the rate of exploitation is, say, 400 percent, s:v=4:1, so if s is 100, v is 25. If s increases in percentage terms by 25% to 125, a decrease in percentage terms of v by 25 percent is 6.25 (25 percent of 25 is 6.25). I will leave the issue to those who are better equipped in mathematics to determine its accuracy. Perhaps others can enlighten us by providing critical commentary.)

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

Conclusion

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 


Company Town: A Critical Review of a Documentary on the Closing of the Oshawa Plant by General Motors (GM), Part One: Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222

Introduction

The documentary (https://gem.cbc.ca/media/cbc-docs-pov/s04e05?cmp=sch-company%20town)  presents the situation in Oshawa, Ontario, where General Motors (GM) decided to close its plant. GM had operated in Oshawa for  around a century. On November 16, 2018, GM announced that it was closing the plant, throwing around 2,500 direct workers out of work and affecting thousands more indirectly (through the elimination of demand for parts as well as the multiplier effect the closing would have on the demand for workers in Oshawa locally and Ontario regionally). The factory closed on December 18, 2019. 

Colin James was president of Local 222 of Unifor, the union that represented the workers at GM; Unifor is the largest Canadian union of workers in the private sector. 

Before the shutdown, we read such things as the following: 

  1. From  https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-lands-gm-truck-program-in-auto-parts-sector-621777743.html, dated May 9, 2017: 

Unifor Lands GM Truck Program in Auto Parts Sector


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Unifor 

May 09, 2017, 14:18 ET

… 

“The new contract addresses needs for the workers, the company and the community. This demonstrates the power of the union to secure a future for good jobs in Canada,” said President of Local 222 Colin James.

2. From   https://www.hrreporter.com/focus-areas/labour-relations/unifor-delivers-strike-mandate-to-lear-corporation-in-ajax-ont/296101, dated April 24, 2018: 

“Unifor is seeking to eliminate the current pay disparity in the seat-manufacturing sector,” said Colin James, Unifor local president. “It’s our hope that a strike can be avoided, but the clock is running out for the employer to come to the table with a fair offer.” [my emphasis] 

3. After the announcement by GM that it was closing the Oshawa plant, we read the following (from https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/more-200-unifor-activists-storm-canadian-auto-show  , dated February 17, 2019 ): 

More than 200 Unifor activists storm Canadian Auto Show

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TORONTO – Visitors to the Canadian Auto Show in Toronto this weekend were greeted by Unifor members and encouraged to join Unifor’s campaign to boycott GM vehicles made in Mexico.

More than 200 workers and retirees from the Oshawa Assembly Plant, and feeder plants Lear, Inteva and other Unifor units showed up at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Saturday wearing #SaveOshawaGM t-shirts.

“I am so proud of these fearless activists who will stop at nothing in the fight to convince GM it is not too late to reverse its plans for the Oshawa plant,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

“Sell here? Build here!” chanted the group of Unifor workers and retirees, as they raised awareness in the middle of GM’s display. “We will not give up and we will not be intimidated by GM or anyone else.

That is why we held a mini rally right where GM would take notice, in the heart of the auto show,” said Colin James, President, Local 222.

Activists also handed out leaflets that explain how to support the union’s efforts to stop the closure of the Oshawa Assembly plant and save 24 thousand good Canadian jobs. [my emphasis]

Canadian consumers are urged to pledge to boycott all GM vehicles made in Mexico but signing up at SaveOshawaGM.

More photos are available here on Unifor Canada’s Facebook Album.

For more information, please contact Unifor Director of Communications Natalie Clancy at Natalie.Clancy@unifor.org or 416-707-5794 (cell).

 

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Although Mr. James does not explicitly express the view that the Oshawa jobs are “good jobs,” it is probable that he accepts such a view–given the context and the other statements that he has made. 

4. From  https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/unifor-members-take-action-gm-headquarters-oshawa , dated  January 23, 2019  : 

“The solidarity shown today proves once again, Unifor members are united in our resistance to corporate greed,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222. [my emphasis] “This union is a family. We are fiercely united in our support of one another, and of the Oshawa auto community.”

The idea of resistance to “corporate greed” sounds very radical. However, is it not in the very nature of GM, like any other private employer, to pursue–more money? Is not  The Money Circuit of Capital  an accurate description of the general purpose and movement of investment by employers? Is not capitalist greed inherent in the nature  of present society? 

What Mr. James seems to object to is not this normal greed but the apparently abnormal greed that involves the closing down of the Oshawa plant. Otherwise, why would he not have complained about “corporate greed” earlier? He apparently does not object to normal corporate greed, but only corporate greed that leads to the shutting down of factories. Indeed, in the documentary, Mr. James stated that when he found out about the closing by watching CP24, he was stunned.

To be fair to Mr. James, he might have meant that it was the way he found out that stunned him. If, however, he meant that he was stunned because of the actual closing of the factory, then it would seem that he failed to understand the nature of capitalist operations–despite being a union representative for workers who work for a capitalist organization. Closure of operations occur all the time if they are not considered sufficiently profitable. (I quit the brewery in Calgary, where I worked, in 1983. It closed down in 1994, and it remains closed to this day.) 

5. From  https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/auto-parts-workers-hold-solidarity-rally-and-picnic-oshawa  , dated August 15, 2019: 

Auto parts workers hold solidarity rally and picnic in Oshawa

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On August 10, hundreds of members of Unifor Locals 222, 444, and 1090 as well as members of the general public, gathered at Memorial Park in Oshawa for a rally and picnic in solidarity with independent auto parts supplier workers facing plant closures and ongoing negotiations of restructuring agreements.

The family-friendly event featured live music, entertainment, and a public address from Unifor Local 222 President Colin James, Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi, Oshawa Member of Provincial Parliament Jennifer French, and Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley.

“This rally brought together Unifor members, elected officials, and the public in solidarity with the 1,700 women and men who deserve fair and just severance [my emphasis] for their years of hard work and sacrifice,” said Colin James, Unifor Local 222 President. “All of us need to come together and stay strong as we use every tool available to us to get the best possible deal for auto parts supplier workers.”

We of course should not criticize any effort to obtain “the best possible deal for auto parts supplier workers”–or for other workers, for that matter. In the case of job loss, the situation can be devastating for many workers.

However, what is “fair and just severance?” Why does GM have the right to separate GM workers from the use of the factory? Is not the right of GM to do that unfair? If so, how can Mr. James talk of “fair and just severance?” Is this not to take the right of GM to make the decision to stop production (based on the criterion of profitability) as “fair and just?” Why not question this right and criticize its fairness? 

But this is just what unions fail to do. They assume that the employer-employee relation is somehow “fair and just,” and that contracts or “deals” can somehow make everything all right. Tell that to the thousands of workers, some of whom probably lost their jobs for almost two years (GM announced on November 4, 2020 that it would be reopening the plant, but the first Silverado truck rolled off the line on November 10, 2021). 

I will deal with Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor national, in another post. 

Conclusion

Employers generally have the right to shut down plants (or offices) whenever and wherever they want. You rarely–ever?–here union reps criticize this general right. Rather, they, like Colin James, only express criticism when the potentiality to close down becomes put into effect. In the meantime, they talk of “good jobs,” “fair contracts,” “decent wages” and such like rhetoric that hides on the one hand the power of employers to make decisions unilaterally–like dictators– and, on the other hand, the fact that workers are used as means for goals external to their own purposes. 

What do you think? Do you think unions in their daily operations represent the general interests of workers? Or should unions be criticized for accepting too much of the economic, political and social system? 

 

Class Harmony and Social Reformism: The United Way as a Reformist Organization, Part One

This is the first of a two-part post. The first post will look at some of the limitations of the United Way (a charitable organization) as expressed on its website. The second post will look at some of the limitations of the United Way as expressed in one of its publications, Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation. The authors are Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu, Laura McDonough, Dylan Simone, Ben Johnson, Stephanie Procyk, Michelynn Laflèch and Alan Walks. For the purposes of the two posts, I will refer to the publication as United Way’s publication.

According to The United Way website:

UWCs [United Way Centraide] in Canada focus on ensuring people move from a life of poverty, to one of possibility; that communities are built to sustain healthy people; and that kids can be all that they can be.  Together with many agencies and partners, we improve lives, locally.  As part of an international network, UWCC links with the United Way Worldwide to share best practices and build capacity in 44 member countries, investing over $5 Billion US per year.

The United Way is part of an extensive international organization.

In another part of the website, it further says:

OUR MOVEMENT

United Way is a federated network of over 80 local United Way Centraide offices serving more than 5,000 communities across Canada, each registered as its own non-profit organization and governed by an independent volunteer-led local Board of Directors. Locally and nationally, our goal is the same – to create opportunities for a better life for everyone in our communities.

Who could object to creating “opportunities for a better life for everyone in our communities?”

There is nothing wrong in aiming to improve people’s lives. In fact, it is admirable. The problem is whether such aims are linked, directly or indirectly, with other aims that limit people’s improvement in their lives.

The United Way does just that–it limits people’s improvements in their lives by assuming explicitly and implicitly improvement must occur while leaving the general economic structure (the economy, if you like) intact. In other words, it assumes that social reform is not only possible but is in fact the only possibility.

This can be seen through its donors and through its publications. Let us take a look first at its donors.

At first sight, it would appear that the United Way/Centraide (in French) Canada would be more favourable to workers. On its “Our Partners” web page, it explicitly mentions, in a separate subsection, Labour:

United Way and the Canadian Labour Congress have been partners since 1988 – working together to strengthen communities across Canada. The partnership developed around a common interest: ensuring that workers and working families have the support they need to succeed.

Unions across Canada are longstanding and generous contributors to United Way campaigns, encouraging members to volunteer and give. But the partnership goes much deeper than just financial support. Labour representatives advocate for those in need in their communities. They serve on United Way boards and committees, and offer programs like cooperative housing, childcare and other services.

Each year, United Way partners with unions across the country to improve lives in local communities. In 2016, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff endorsed the national partnership and our continued commitment to working together.

Of course, since the Canadian Labour Congress is essentially a reformist organization that fails to challenge the power of employers as a class (see  The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process), its support of the United Way already indicates a possible limitation on the nature of the United Way (but that issue will be for a later post).

On the same web page, however, there is explicitly an indication that there is a limitation to reformist efforts:

THANKS A MILLION

United Way is honoured to work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers and labour organizations in communities across the country. Thanks to their remarkable generosity, and that of their employees and members, we are improving lives locally from coast to coast to coast.

Compromise is undoubtedly necessary even if you do not want to do so; asymmetrical power relations oblige workers and their representatives to make compromises with employers and their representatives all the time. However, making compromises and presenting those compromises as not compromises is often a trick of social reformists or social democrats.

By saying that “United Way is honored [my emphasis] to work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers….,” the United Way already has compromised to the point where it is legitimating the power of employers as a class.

On the same web page, there is a link to those organizations that have donated at least $10 million and $1+ million. The 2018 $10 million donors are:

  1. BMO [Bank of Montreal] Financial Group
  2. Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)
  3. CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce)
  4. Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign
  5. Royal Bank of Canada
  6. ScotiaBank
  7. TD Bank Group.

The $1+ million donors forms a list of 80 organizations, some of which are labour unions–and of course many capitalist companies and government employers.

Ten of the twenty most profitable capitalist companies in Canada (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit) are on the list of the the $10 million and $1+ million donors:

  1. BCE [Bell Canada Enterprises]
  2. BMO
  3. Canadian Natural Resources
  4. CIBC
  5. Manulife
  6. Power Financial [which appears to be a subsidiary of Power Corporation]
  7. Royal Bank of Canada
  8. ScotiaBank
  9. Sun Life
  10. TD Bank Group

In fact, there are 11 of the largest private employers who have donated at least $1 million to the United Way since the Great West Life Co. is a subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada.

Given the nature of the donors, how is it an honour to receive such money from such employers and to “work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers….?” Is it an honour to have such corporations treat “their” workers as things to be used for the purpose of obtaining a profit (see The Money Circuit of Capital)? How is this an honour? How is it an honour for the Unite Way to receive money from such companies given that such companies exploit and oppress their workers (see for example  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Bank of Montreal (BMO), One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada and The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada).

Not only do such employers use “their” workers as things for the purpose of obtaining as much profit as possible, they also dictate to workers on a daily basis (see, for example, Employers as Dictators, Part One). Such organizations take from workers, use them and then use a small portion of the money as a donation to “help” those in poverty (defined according to the level of income–itself a limited way of defining poverty)–people who are in poverty because of the economic structure in which we live.

How is this honourable?

There are other problems with the social-democratic rhetoric of the United Way’s website, but such problems will be addressed in the next post in this series in relation to one of its publications, as noted above: Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation.

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Sixteen: The Mechanistic Learning in Schools Versus a Democratic and Living Way of Learning

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The attached article for the ESJ Ning is prefaced by the following:
Hello everyone,
Attached is another article I sent to the ESJ Ning. I introduced it with the following:

Richard Gibboney, author of the article,” Intelligence by Design: Thorndike versus Dewey”, argues that Thorndike’s mechanistic views on education won out over Dewey’s humanistic views. As a consequence,  the vast majority of reforms over the past half a century have not improved schools.

Thorndike’s mechanistic views of education have been implemented in schools. The author implies that teachers’ own work has been deskilled in the process. Experts are able to define what to teach, how to teach and how to assess independently of the interaction of the teacher, on the one hand, and children and adolescents on the other.

The author is certainly correct to point out that Dewey was concerned that schooling lead to the formation of democratic relations, but democracy was to be a way of life and not merely a political form of governance. The democratic way of life was to be intimately connected to the democratic control of basic processes vital for human life, such as the production of food, clothing and shelter.

Learning in schools, as the author affirms, was for Dewey to be a process of developing an attitude to learning—being motivated to learn as varying conditions warrant it (an evolutionary view); such learning could not be captured through “tests.” Thorndike, by contrast, considered learning to be subject-bound and tested within narrow limits—a feature characteristic of most modern schools.

Gibboney draws the contrast in the following manner: Thorndike considered education in the form or image of the machine whereas Dewey considered education in the form or image of life. Since modern schools have opted for Thorndike over Dewey, they have reduced the educational process to a machine process rather than a living process. For Thorndike, all quality could be reduced to quantity—and the modern school system reduces all human life to purely quantitative terms as well (see the post Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fifteen: Progressive Versus Regressive Grading Systems in Schools).  

Thorndike relied on a mechanistic stimulus-response schema to explain human behaviour whereas Dewey argued that a child’s or adolescent’s aims contributed to what constituted a stimulus and thus had to be taken into account in formulating a theory of learning and putting it into practice.

Thorndike implied that tests were objective and certain; Dewey, on the other hand, considered problems to arise from uncertainty and, although solutions may be sought and realized, they were always subject to revision—an essential characteristic of the scientific method.

The author considers an evaluation of school reforms in light of two criteria, derived from Dewey’s theory and not Thorndike’s theory: 1. Do the reforms contribute to a democratic education; 2. Do the reforms lead to practice that is more intelligent by the teacher on the one hand, and children and adolescents on the other. Gibboney found only six reforms in the last half of the twentieth century that satisfy these two criteria.

Most reforms in the second half of the twentieth century have led, in fact, to a weakening of the democratic ethos even when they contributed to the intelligence of teachers, on the one hand, and children and adolescents on the other—defined in narrow, curricular terms, of course. Thorndike’s mechanistic view of education has predominated throughout schools in the last half of the twentieth century.

Gibboney—rightly—castigates teacher organizations for having remained complacent about the attack on the democratic curriculum in schools. They have largely ignored such an attack.

They have also, he implies, bought into the ideological rhetoric that school reform alone will address the needs of children and adolescents and will ensure equality of opportunity. It is poverty that leads to school failure, and no school reform will be able to compensate for the effect of poverty on school outcomes. What is needed, rather than curriculuar reform, in the first instance, is a concerted assault on child poverty.

Gibboney, however, does not really address how child poverty is to be attacked. Surely, it will require sustained struggle against those in power: internally, ranging from senior bureaucrats in the school system to principals who define learning in terms of the modern school system and, externally, ranging from elected representatives who espouse rhetoric of ending child poverty but do little to address the issue to those within the modern economic structure, who command the mass of labour of others at work—employers and their representatives.

 The rhetoric of the importance of children and adolescents is rampant in school circles. The reality is otherwise. When judged on the basis of addressing child poverty, children and adolescents are not important.

Should not those who are concerned with equity and social justice face the fact that micro solutions to macro problems will not work? Should we not be organizing to end child poverty? Should we not be struggling against those in power who oppose such a goal? Should we not fight for an end to child poverty and for a democratic way of life?

Or should we acquiesce and have the Thorndike’s of the world win out over a Deweyan vision—as occurred in the second half of the twentieth century?

What does equity and social justice demand?

 

Fair Contracts, Decent Work and Other Social-democratic or Social-reformist Clichés: The Case of the Amazon Labour Union

Introduction

The relatively recent organizing of Amazon workers into the Amazon Labour Union (ALU) is presented by the social-democratic or reformist left as an astounding success. Certainly, the organization of Amazon workers into a formal union is noteworthy because of, on the one hand, the increasing importance of such “gig” workers in a society dominated by a class of employers and, on the other, the explicit anti-union tactics of such employers as Amazon.

It can also be said that workers can learn an important lesson when faced with the difficulty of organizing in the face of an explicit anti-union employer: the actual organizing of workers in a workplace by the same workers in that workplace constitutes an inside advantage when compared to organizing from the outside by professional union organizers. As Jordan House and Paul Gray note (from https://socialistproject.ca/2022/04/amazon-workers-form-a-union/):

One of the reasons why Amazon workers in Staten Island were so successful is because they formed an independent, grassroots organization to unionize their particular workplace. Other efforts have been led by already established unions, like the RWDSU in Bessemer, Ala., or the Teamsters in Nisku, Alta.

Union organizing is ultimately about relationships and trust. Organizers from within a workplace don’t have to develop relationships from scratch the same way organizers from outside an organization do. ALU organizers emphasized that they “didn’t come from somewhere else to organize JFK8; we literally work there.”

This stands in stark contrast to the campaigns in Alabama and Alberta. In the latter case, the secretary treasurer of the Teamsters Local 362 acknowledged that “we didn’t have anybody on the inside” in the Nisku facility.

Independent, grassroots unions are able to avoid some of the baggage of more established unions. While the ALU faced specific criticisms by Amazon and its union-avoidance consultants, these largely revolved around the ALU’s upstart status. As Amazon’s anti-ALU website states, “the ALU has no track record that you can use to judge whether their representation would be worth it to you or not.”

The ALU also developed tactics that are much more effective when workers on the inside are organizing. For example, ALU worker-organizers researched Amazon’s union-avoidance consultants by scouring Labor Department reports and warehouse lists of third-party vendors. Then, in one-on-one conversations with their co-workers, they shared their research on how these consultants, whose typical rate is $3,200 (US) per day, “get rich ‘convincing poor people to stay poor’.”

The stark contrast between what Amazon was willing to pay these consultants and worker salaries persuaded many to support the ALU. These workers also organized their co-workers to fearlessly challenge anti-union talking points at the captive audience meetings, which inspired other, more cautious co-workers to do the same.

Despite the odds, the ALU succeeded where some of North America’s largest and established private sector unions have failed. The ALU has proven that one of the most powerful anti-union companies in North America can be unionized. This doesn’t mean that the already established unions can’t beat Amazon, but as the ALU has made clear, inside workers have to take the lead. 

Idealization of Unionizing 

Despite the benefits of insider organizing, the authors do not provide any critical distancing concerning the ideology expressed by both those involved in the union-organizing drive and those who defend such unions uncritically. For example, on the ALU website ( https://www.amazonlaborunion.org/), we read the following: 

How do contract negotiations work?

Negotiations are led by the ALU Bargaining Committee, made up of workers from each shift and department. We need intelligent, strong-minded workers to step forward to help negotiate a fair contract for all workers. We do all of the work, we should have a say in our working conditions. [my emphasis]
Although it is understandable that a new union, which has faced major opposition from an anti-union employer, should emphasize winning a union-organizing drive, this does not justify the use of the ideological cliche of a “fair contract.” This misleads the workers into a false sense of what collective bargaining and collective agreements can and cannot achieve. 

Another example: this time from a liberal/social-democratic point of view. From The Atlantic   https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/04/amazon-labor-union/629550/      

The egalitarian potential of the labor movement, by contrast, is very real. Unions can unite workers across ethnic, racial, religious, and linguistic barriers with a common interest in decent wages, safe working conditions, and protection from exploitation. Unions do not erase political disagreements among workers, but they model a world where those disagreements can be resolved in the name of the greater good. [my emphasis]

It is kind of difficult to achieve “decent wages”  and “protection from exploitation” when exploitation and oppression are necessary characteristics of working for an employer (see for example The Money Circuit of Capital, The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One  and The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

Better wages are often possible when unionized, of course. Similarly, unionized workplaces provide safer working conditions, but safe working conditions when working for an employers is a will-o’-the-wisp (see the money circuit of capital above as well as such posts as Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Four: Is There Such a Thing as a Responsible Employer in Relation to the Health of Workers? or Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Seven: The National Day of Mourning in Canada and the Social Causes of Injury, Disease and Death  or Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads). 

In a recent debate on the Marxmail listserve (  https://groups.io/g/marxmail/topic/the_social_democratic_left/96265876?p=,,,20,0,0,0::recentpostdate/sticky,,,20,2,0,96265876,previd%3D1674045053168565529,nextid%3D1673790420258174809&previd=1674045053168565529&nextid=1673790420258174809 )with Marv Gandall, Gandall wrote the following: 

“You’re not suggesting that the Amazon and other fledgling unions try to organize and strike deals with their powerful employers outside of the legally sanctioned industrial relations regime, and that is is only the “reformists” (including on this list!) who are holding them back, are you? That does seem to be the practical implications of your abundant theorizing.”

I responded: 

Hardly. Gandall cannot draw logical conclusions since his premises are faulty.

The Amazon Union should not bullshit workers about the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement to be fair. It should explicitly try to have open discussions about the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the limitations of collective agreements. It should try to have discussions about why almost all grievances against the collective agreement arise from the union side. It should foster its members to question why that is the case. It should refer to the management right clauses in many collective agreements and what the implications of that is for the lives of workers.

I must say: Gandall’s response is certainly what I would expect from social democrats—they fail to address whether collective bargaining only limits the power of management while also legitimating it—a double-edged sword (but social democrats only recognize one edge—the positive side of collective agreements) and what, if anything, is to be done about the undemocratic economic coercion and economic blackmail that characterizes the employer-employee relation.

Perhaps Gandall can enlighten us about what he and others would do about management rights? About the continued exploitation and oppression of even unionized workers? About using workers as means for purposes undefined by them? About the dictatorship at workers by employers despite the existence of “free collective bargaining” and collective agreements? And many, many other features of an exploitative and oppressive society—which social democrats deny, of course.

Of course, unionized workers may have other ideas—than union bureaucrats and their ideological representatives.

Conclusion

The need to defend workers’ immediate interests against vicious anti-union employers such as Amazon through rank-and-file organizing certainly should be defended. However, such organizing has fallen into the trap as bureuacratic unions–it has idealized the nature of the contract or collective agreement rather than presenting it as a necessary but temporary truce in the long-term class struggle against the class of employers.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Real Assumption of Some Bureaucratic Tribunals, Part Five

It is supposed to be a fundamental principle of criminal law that a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the State (government). This is the ideology or the rhetoric (which much of the left have swallowed). The reality is otherwise. In reality, the administrative apparatus of various organizations of the government and semi-governmental organizations assume that you are guilty first and that you have to prove your innocence; otherwise, you suffer negative consequences.

An example is the requirements that the Ontario College of Teachers imposed on me in order for me to qualify as a teacher in the province of Ontario after I moved from the province of Manitoba. To qualify as a teacher in Ontario, you must gain the approval of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). The OCT website explains what this organization does:

ABOUT THE COLLEGE

The Ontario College of Teachers licenses, governs and regulates Ontario’s teaching profession in the public interest. It was created by the Ontario College of Teachers Act to:

  • issue, suspend and revoke teaching certificates
  • set ethical standards and standards of practice
  • investigate and hear concerns and complaints about members
  • accredit teacher education programs and courses.

All publically funded school teachers and administrators in Ontario must be certified by us and be members of the College.

OUR COUNCIL

The College is currently transitioning to a new governance model. A Transition Supervisory Officer (TSO) has been appointed to help the College with the changes. The TSO acts in place of Council during the transition period. 

Once established, the new College Council, statutory and regulatory committees, will be established through a competency-based selection process. All committees will include an equal number of Ontario Certified Teachers and members of the public.  

OUR LEADERSHIP

Our executive team includes the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer, the Deputy Registrar and four Directors overseeing:

  • Corporate and Council Services
  • Investigations and Hearings
  • Membership Services
  • Standards of Practice and Accreditation.

To qualify as a teacher in Ontario, among other things, you have to answer a questionnaire. On the questionnaire, there are questions concerning arrest–and since I was arrested by the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police)  (but never convicted), I was obliged to prove my innocence in various ways.

I sent, along with my explanation, a table that I had constructed concerning my experiences (and the experiences of my daughter, Francesca) with the child welfare organization Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS), located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The table that I constructed about events is a revised version (always subject to change as I gather further evidence). I will post the table gradually, in the section Publications and Writings on this blog.

I outlined in earlier posts in this series that I had to justify myself via a questionnaire on the Ontario College of Teachers website (see for example Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Real Assumption of Some Bureaucratic Tribunals, Part One). Below is a reply by the Ontario College of Teachers, specifying the conditions that I must satisfy in order to be granted a teaching certificate in Ontario–despite never having been convicted of any crime.

July 2, 2014.                                                                                                                 Application No. 653493

Fred Harris
3250 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3M 3C5

Dear Mr. Harris, 

Re: Your Application for Certification and Membership

Thank you for your application to the Ontario College of Teachers. I note on your application that you answered yes to several questions within the Declaration portion of the application. I have reviewed the explanations that you provided on your application as well as the related documentation you submitted.

Please provide me with the following additional information: 

  • Copies of reports from the Children’s Aid Society related to any investigation of you, as well as any reports from Anishinaable Child and Family Services related to you, especially the information from the agency’s worker, Daryl [should be Darrell] Shorting. I probably made this mistake in spelling.]
  • Copies of police reports from Ashern RCMP, regarding the charges you cited in your application. As you provided no information in your application re these charges and the criminal record check report received at the College is negative, please also provide me with court documents that arose from the charges indicating the disposition of the charges.
  • Please arrange to have sent, directly to my attention, letters of reference from at least three individuals who have known you for at least five years, yet are not related to you, who are aware of the charges and incidents declared on your application and can attest to your suitability to be licensed as a teacher. These individuals should be professionals such as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, spiritual leader or employer. Please ensure the letters are sent to me directly from the referees and that they indicate in the letter their awareness of the charges and incidents.
  • Please provide me with your written, signed authorization to discuss your file with a representative of the Human Resources department in the Lakeshore School Division, Manitoba, regarding your statement that you were not fired from the school division but placed under “intensive supervision.” 
  • Please provide me with your written signed authorization to discuss your file with the principal who completed the clinical supervision.

Once I have received the additional information, I will review your file. More information may be required. Please contact me at 416-961-8800, ext. 398 if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Linda Zaks-Walker
Director of Membership Services 

There are a nunber of noteable things to observe about the above. Firstly, nformation from the Winnipeg Child and Family Services in general indicates definite bias–and yet this is what I had to provide (see the post A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services for a table of my dealings with the Winnipeg Child and Family Services).

Secondly, why would she request information from Darrell Shorting? Mr. Shorting evidently considered it appropriate to judge me beforehand as guilty without a trial (why else would he claim that he knew what I had done–choked my daughter and threw her to the ground?) Furthermore, why would she expect me to have any information from Mr. Shoring? I received no information from him other than his judgement and his threat that if I did not inform the principal that I was under investigation by the Ashinaable Child and Family Services, he would inform them. Finally, and ironically, as I wrote in another post:

(As an aside, it may be that Darrell Shorting is the same person who complained about how children in First Nations communities should be kept in their own communities rather than shipped to Winnipeg under the “protection” of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-is-new-residential-school-system-says-former-cfs-investigator-1.2788730 ). If so, then Mr. Shorting saw fit to falsely accuse me of choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground and contributing to Francesca’s legal separation from me. Mr. Darrell, Shorting, as the article shows, was a former CFS abuse investigator for Aninshinaabe CFS.) 

Thirdly, reference to the RCMP indicates that this institution, for bureaucratic organizations such as the Ontario College of Teachers, is beyond reproach. The “official” judgement of the RCMP is more important than anything I wrote or provided as evidence of the oppressive nature of its function. 

Fourthly, the requirement that I had to have three references that attested to my suitability to teach assumes once again that I, a citizen, am less worthy than others because I was charged (but never convicted). The fact that the charges were dropped without any explanation is irrelevant for the Ontario College of Teachers. The RCMP proceeds to charge me, and then drops the charges several months later–and yet I still had to prove my “innocence.” This is the real world of “law,”, not the fantasy world of so-called socialists like Herman Rosenfeld, who talk of “transforming the police” without even inquiring into the real nature of the police and the courts.   

Fifthly, letters of reference from “professionals” indicates another bias; workers who are less than “professionals” are implicitly considered unworthy of providing adequate, accurate and relevant information. Such arrogance and bias. 

Sixthly, a possible letter of reference from an “employer” indicates another bias–to be an employer is to be elevated beyond reproach–as if the view of an employer were tantamount to a statement of the truth whereas the statement of, say, a custodian, were expected to be a lie. 

Seventhly, although I hardly had any problem with the Ontario College of Teachers dicussing my file with the principal, Neil MacNeil (I have written several posts that contain Mr. MacNeil’s clincial evaluation and my critical response–see for example A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One   ), it is instructive that it wanted to consult with the principal–in this context, a representative of the employer. 

After having jumped through the many hoops required, I was–finally–“allowed” to teach in Ontario. I simply did not bother to do so since working as a teacher for any particular employer necessarily involves oppression in one form or another–and even more so initially as a substitute teacher. I was able to do so since I was receiving disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society Disability Benefits program–something like a guaranteed basic income for those who are “disabled.”

Conclusions

In effect, despite never having been convicted and never having been fired, I had to prove in fact that I was “worthy” of being a teacher in Ontario.

The social-democratic left generally ignore such oppressive experiences. Its idealization of “public education” and “public ownership” simply neglects the oppressive nature of much public education and much public organizations. By doing so, it of course plays into the hands of the right.

Why do the social-democratic left ignore such oppressive experiences? Is there really any wonder why there is a disconnect between regular people and the social-democratic left? Is there really any wonder why some would vote for the right?

The Rate of Exploitation of General Motors Workers

I thought it would be politically relevant to try to estimate the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers for 2019 (since annual reports starting in 2020 would distort the picture because of the pandemic). I say politically relevant because of the closure of the GM Oshawa plant on December 18, 2019 and the subsequent making of the document Company Town, which dealt with the coming closure, the attitude of Jerry Dias, president of Unifor (the union that represents the workers at Oshawa) and the consequences of the closing of the factory.

However, GM annual reports (like many annual reports based in the United States), provide insufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation. For example, there are no data on wages and salaries paid out (although there are for benefits).

Nonetheless, I searched for substitutes for the data. Undoubtedly, such calculations will be even more imperfect than the rates of exploitation I calculated for various large employers in Canada. It will undoubtedly only include bare statistics, without much refinement and with few adjustments. Still, such estimates may provide a ballpark figure of the extent of exploitation.

I invite others to criticize the data used and the manner of determining the rate of exploitation–by providing more accurate data and a more accurate manner of determining the rate of exploitation.

Where possible, I provide the website addresses where I found the information if the information is not drawn from the Annual Report.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies (if they are available) in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers.

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.597 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consults” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants” and the lack of such power by unionized workers.

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement
•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly a level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies. (in millions of U.S. dollars)

Total net sales and revenue  137,237

Total costs and expenses 131,756

Operating income 5,481 [137,237-131,756=5481]

Adjustments of Surplus Value (Profit)

It is necessary to make some adjustments to this since the annual report also refers to the following additional categories:

Automotive interest expense 782
Interest income and other non-operating income, net  1,469
Equity income (Note 8) 1,268

Starting with the category “Automotive interest expense,” it is necessary to make an adjustment.  It is necessary to add 782 (Automotive interest expense) to “Operating income” since (as I explained in another post):

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Accordingly:

Temporarily adjusted income before taxes 5,481+782=6,263

Moving to the next category, “Interest income and other non-operating income, net,” since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded. I did not think this through or consider this when I calculated the rate of exploitation of some other employers (such as Air Canada); I may or may not recalculate the rate of exploitation of such employers in the future–that depends on how much time I have to dedicate to writing other posts and engaging in my own research as well as my own personal commitments to my daughter and wife.

In the particular case of General Motors, I will exclude such income from the calculation since the income is derived from workers other than the workers of GM.

The last category, “Equity income,” seems to reflect net surplus value after expenses are subtracted from revenue. Note 8 elaborates:

Note 8. Equity in Net Assets of Nonconsolidated Affiliates

Nonconsolidated affiliates are entities in which we maintain an equity ownership interest and for which we use the equity method of accounting due to our ability to exert significant influence over decisions relating to their operating and fmancial affairs. Revenue and expenses of our joint ventures are not consolidated into our financial statements; rather, our proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture is reflected as Equity income.

Since “Equity income” reflects the “proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture,” it constitutes the net result of GM exploiting workers in joint ventures. Accordingly, it is necessary to make an adjustment. It is necessary to add 1,268 to Income before income taxes. The final adjustment is:

Adjusted income before taxes 7,531

Wages and Salaries (v)

Although there are statistics in the annual report for employee benefits, there are no statistics in it for wages or salaries.

I failed to find any direct information of total salaries, wages and benefits on the Net. The best that I could do was to find data about the total number of employees and then try to find data on the average wage/salary as well as average benefits and multiply the sum of the average wage/salary and benefits by the total number of employees.
To improve such calculations, I invite Sam Gindin, former research director to the Canadian Auto Workers (now Unifor) or Jim Stanford, former economist for the same union, to provide more accurate data (perhaps insider data?).
In 2019, there were 164,000 employees:
Employees At December 31, 2019 we employed approximately 95,000 (58%) hourly employees and approximately 69,000(42%) salaried employees.
This is consistent with the following:
This number, as I argued above, needs to be multiplied by the average cost of a GM worker, including benefits.  According to some, the average cost to use a GM worker in 2019 was about $63 US an hour. From   https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/trending/Fic7Dwvvxuh14hs9rmjwJw2, dated January 15, 2020:
GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be … $63 in 2019.
I assume that this includes benefits. This amount is less than the amount estimated in 2006 (or perhaps 2009–it is unclear). From
Average Hourly Compensation 2006 (US Wages and Benefits)
Last updated on: 1/21/2009 6:47:00 AM PST
“The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word ‘compensation.’ It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda;s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.

The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.”

As to be expected, the estimated $63 an hour ($US) is certainly much higher than the estimated hourly wage of American auto workers. From Automotive Industry Labour Market Analysis: Wage Report (Canadian Skills Training and Employment Coalition, Prism Economics and Analysis, and the Automotive Policy Research Centre, October 2019), page 30:
Research done by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) found that nominal wages for U.S. workers in the auto manufacturing sector increased by just over 6% from $28.49 in 2002 to $30.20 in 2018 but real wages fell by 23.5% (as cited in Haglund, 2019).

Think tank says UAW deals increased automakers’ labor costs

New contracts between the United Auto Workers union and Detroit’s three automakers substantially increased the cost gap between Detroit and foreign automakers with U.S. factories

ByThe Associated Press
January 15, 2020, 3:40 PM

Total labor costs include wages, health care, pensions and other expenses.

Center Vice President Kristin Dziczek calculated that GM’s labor costs would rise from $63 per hour before the new contract to $71.

GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be $71 in 2023, up 12.7% from $63 in 2019 and up 29.1% from $55 in 2015, Dziczek said during a Jan. 15 webcast. Ford’s hourly labor costs would be $69 in 2023, up 13.1% from $61 in 2019 and up 21.1% from $57 in 2015. Fiat Chrysler’s costs would go up to $66 in 2023, up 20% from $55 in 2019 and up 40.4% from $47 in 2015.
Given the above, $63 an hour seems to be the average cost of a GM employee whereever s/he works. There will be no adjustments for this category despite the above calculated reduction of 173.5 from “Tranformation activities” due to some of that category involving separation benefits received by workers since, presumably, the $63 an hour includes such separation benefits.

Jim Stanford’s Disagreement with the Estimate of $63 an Hour Cost of Variable Capital V)

However, Jim Stanford would dispute such an hourly cost since he disputes the hourly cost of $75 (see How Much do Autoworkers REALLY Make? Surprise: It’s NOT $75 Per Hour!  http://unifor584retirees.ca/caw_retirees/pdf/hourly_labour_costs_09.pdf). He argues that workers receive between $43 and $44 hour.
Before I delve into this issue, let me preface it with the purpose of calculating the rate of exploitation. It is supposed to determine the proportion of hours worked that produce the value of the wage received by the workers in relation to the hours worked for no compensation and thus free for the employer. The wage is a composite of the actual wage rate and benefits and cannot be limited to the given wage rate.
Generally, the rate of exploitation is a class phenomenon, and the value of labour power or variable capital (v) and surplus value as its components are also class phenomenon. As Ben Fine states, in relation to the value of labour power, pages 104-105:
… for Marx the value of labour power is the consequence of an exchange between capital and labour, confronting each other as the two major economic classes. It is not simply the wage earned on the labour-market by one individual as opposed to another. …
the value of labour power is a more complex concept than the wage rate or earnings
of the typical worker.
Some of the costs of variable capital for employers are class costs, or the costs to the class of employers and apply across the board to all employers (or at least to a section of employers in a particular industry). Workers may not individually receive them, but some workers do; which workers depends on various conditions, such as the level of unemployment, the age of the workers, their health and so on. They need to be included in the value of labour power or variable capital even if no specific set of workers receive them as a benefit since they are costs for the employer being an employer of any set of workers whatsoever.
Stanford, however, excludes several categories which is included in the above $63 an hour–a category called “All-in Active Hourly Labour Cost.” The subcategories of this category and the corresponding amounts are: 
Overtime and shift premiums $3
Cost per hour worked of paid time off $8-9
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime $1-3
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Statutory taxes $3-4
Overtime and shfit premiums
Stanford excludes this subcategory from his calculation on the basis of the following:
Occasionally companies will require their workers to stay overtime, beyond normal working hours. Overtime is worked ins response to surges in consumer demand, to make up for production problems or bottlenecks, or in some cases because employers have decided it’s cheaper to work its existing staff extra hours than to hire new workers. In every case, it is the employer’s choice when overtime is worked.
Workers required to work overtime are paid a wage premium (usually 50%) for those hours. To a large extent (depending on the specific hours involved), overtime pay is mandated by labour law (although a labour contract can require overtime to be paid in some circumstances when it is not legally required).

In addition, in the auto industry and other manufacturing settings, it is standard practice to pay a shift premium for workers who staff evening and night shifts. (In CAW-represented auto plants, there is a 5% premium paid for evening shifts, and a 10% premium for overnight shifts, to reflect the added stress on family life of those working hours.)

Is the overtime premium part of one’s “hourly wage”? Few Canadians would conceive it that way – although those working overtime certainly appreciate the extra money. And remember: overtime is
something that occurs because employers desire it. 
According to Statistics Canada, in 2007 (most recent data), auto assembly workers in Canada worked an average of about 3.5 hours of overtime per week. This increased total average wage payments (weighted across all hours worked in the year) by around $2. Shift premiums added, on average, about another dollar per hour.
This argument is unconvincing. Overtime is supposed to not constitute compensation, he implies,  because it is not voluntary. Being voluntary or involuntary has nothing directly to do with the cost of workers. How workers conceive overtime also hardly determines whether it is a cost. As for shift premiums, the same logic applies; they too are costs. Stanford never indicates what overtime payments and shift premiums objectively are.
We can, however, get some idea of what they are by referring to the value of labour power as subject to a normal working day under average conditions. Since overtime work in effect extends the working day beyond the norm, it involves abnormal consumption of the labour power of workers. As Marc Linder (2000) argues ( “Moments are the elements of profit”: overtime and the deregulation of working hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act, pages 5-6):
Marx also furnished a general framework for understanding struggles over the length of the workday or workweek. On the surface, this struggle centers on the conflict between the buyer and the seller of a commodity which generates special problems because, unlike the situation with a general run-of-the-mill commodity, the body and mind of the human seller of labor power cannot be separated from its daily use by the buyer. Since the law of exchange of commodities, however, does not recognize any special rules for this particular exchange, the capitalist buyer tries to extract the greatest possible profit from the use of the worker’s labor power for the day’s or week’s worth he has bought. The question then becomes: how long is a workday or workweek? Since the human seller lives beyond the day, he must make sure that he sells his only commodity for a price high enough to enable him to reappear at work the next day with his labor power in a condition of strength and health that meets the standards set by his competitors. But the worker as a rational labor market participant must also exercise sufficient foresight to husband his only economic asset for a lifetime—or at least the standard working life of his type of labor. If the daily value of his commodity equals its lifetime value divided by 30 years or approximately 10,000 workdays, then he must make sure that overlong workdays and workweeks do not force him to expend so much additional energy that he uses up 1/5,000 or 1/3,333
of his lifetime supply for only 1/10,000 of its lifetime value. For this reason socialist unions regarded eight-hour laws as “life lengthening” acts.The worker therefore regards such overwork as crossing the line from the capitalist’s rightful use to plundering of his labor power and, as such, a breach of their contract and of the law of the exchange of commodities. His demand for a workday or workweek of normal length—defined by its compatibility with a healthy 30-year worklife—is as rightful as the capitalist’s demand that the worker work as long as possible each day and week. Because the capitalist is not a slaveholder, he has no (capital-) invested interest in the length of the worklife of his individual employees: “A quick succession of unhealthy and short-lived generations will keep the labour market as well supplied as a series of vigorous and long-lived generations.” Thus as long as the employer can find equivalent replacements in the labor market when he needs them, this private contractual dispute cannot be resolved between individual buyer and seller. The resulting “antinomy” of right against right27 must, Marx argued, be decided by “the respective powers of the combatants.” But since “in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side,” a class-wide settlement of the hours issue was possible only through “general political action,” which meant “legislative interference” under pressure from the working class.2* Consequently, the normalization of the workday and workweek appears historically as a struggle between the “aggregate capitalist, i.e., the class of capitalists, and the aggregate worker, or the working class.”
Overtime and shift work can be conceived as compensatory costs for abnormal consumption of workers–but they are costs of hiring workers, exploiting them and oppressing them.
Cost per hour worked of paid time off 
Stanford has the following to say on the matter in order to justify excluding this subcategory:
Now here is where it starts to get more complicated. “All-in hourly labour cost,” in the auto industry, is not calculated by dividing total compensation by the number of normal working hours in a year (as we have done above: 40 hours per week
times 52 weeks in a year equals 2080 working hours in a year).
Let us pause here. What Stanford calls “normal working hours” is not the statistic that can be used to calculate the rate of exploitation since it is not the number of actual hours worked. It is the actual hours worked that produces the equivalent of the total compensation received by workers that is relevant–and not some “normal working hours” that no workers actually work.
From Anwar Shaikh and E. Ahmet Tonak (1994), From Measuring the wealth of nations: The political economy of national accounts, page 178: 

By definition, Marxian labor value added is simply the number of hours worked by productive workers
Let us continue with Stanford’s views.
Instead, all-in hourly labour costs are calculated over a much smaller base of hours. Total
compensation costs are divided by the numbers of hours actually worked in a year. Actual hours worked, the denominator of this fraction, differs from the number of standard working hours in a year (2080) for several reasons:
  • Paid time off (for vacation and holidays)
  • Sick leave (CAW autoworkers do not receive any pay during the first days of
    an illness, after which they are compensated under a sickness and accident
    insurance scheme)
  • Time not worked due to layoffs or downtimeIt is simple mathematics that the lower is the number of hours actually worked,
    the higher is the apparent “all-in hourly labour cost.”

    The CAW has placed great emphasis over the years on negotiating more paid time off, as a deliberate strategy to try to protect employment levels against the effects of technological change and productivity growth, and to provide for needed time away from the physical and mental stresses of assembly line work. However, in recent contracts the amount of paid time off has been reduced by 80 hours per year (in the face of intense cost-cutting pressure from the employers). Today a CAW production worker with maximum seniority (over 20 years) qualifies for 6 weeks of paid time off (for vacation, scheduled mandatory vacation or “SPA,” and personal leave). A new hire qualifies for 2 weeks (the legal minimum). A worker with 5 or more years seniority qualifies for 4 weeks.

    Holidays (including regular statutory holidays and a week-long Christmas shutdown) reduce working time by another 15 days per year.

    Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation. It can also be considered a basic human and labour right – one that workers have fought for over the centuries, and that is essential to the quality of life of working people and their families. Of the paid time off received by CAW autoworkers, about half is required by law. The rest reflects additional time negotiated by the union. I doubt, however, that many Canadians consider their paid time off as part of their hourly wage. They conceptualize it separately, as time. Someone who earns $15 per hour, but is allowed to take a total of five weeks off per year (3 weeks vacation, and 10 days of statutory holidays), actually earns $16.60 for each hour they work (assuming they had no other time off the job for illness or layoff). But I have never heard someone adjust their hourly pay in that manner to reflect their entitlement (legal and otherwise) to paid time off.

    According to the methodology of all-in hourly labour cost, paid time off (since it reduces the denominator over which all-in labour costs are calculated) directly increases all-in hourly labour costs. Each week of paid time off (including the two weeks of vacation required per year under Canadian law, and the roughly two weeks of statutory holidays also required by Canadian law) translates into a roughly 2% increase in hourly labour cost.

Again, his argument is unconvincing. Although undoubtedly, for example, workers who receive a minimum wage, unionized workers and other workers are unlikely to conceive of paid holidays as part of their compensation, this hardly means that the paid holidays and vacaction do not form part of their compensation. Stanford himself admits this: “Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation.” Actual hours worked and the total amount of compensation received by workers are the relevant statistics for determining variable capital costs and not imputed hours worked during holidays and vacation (when workers are not subject to the direct power of employers).
Furthermore, even some union reps in the auto industry conceived vacation pay and other fringe benefits as part of the compensation package. From Frank Lovell (May-June 1968), “The Reuther-Meany Split,” in pages 36-58, International Socialist Review, page 51:
Reuther accurately reported the new wage scales as follows:”The average production worker will receive a 20-cents-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage increase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of 58 cents an hour over the three-year period of the contract.”The average skilled trades worker will receive a 50-cent-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage incrase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of $1.02 an hour over the three-year period of the contract.” (“Roll up” consists of increases in wage-related fringe benefits such as holiday pay, vacation pay, shift premiums, etc.[my emphasis]

Let us look at vacation pay and holiday pay. Essentially, it means that workers receive payment without having to work for their employer during that specific time. The amount of labour performed is thereby reduced to that extent than otherwise would be the case, with a flow of money (and indirectly commodities) going to the workers. The wage is not reproduced during that time, and no surplus value is produced either since no labour is performed.
Holiday pay and vacation pay are tied to work performed because those who do not work for the particular employer simply do not receive such holiday pay and (more obviously) vacation pay– but this condition seems too often to be overlooked. The payment of holiday pay and vacation pay is tied to the need for the worker to have actually worked for the particular employer.
The payment is tied to labour having been  performed, but not from any labour performed during the holiday or vacation. Since the workers receive the money and not the employer, the money represents the equivalent of higher wages and less surplus value available for the employer.
There is no logical reason why, when calculating the rate of exploitation, vacation pay, sick leave pay and holiday pay should not be included in the calculation.
The issue is not clear cut, but some Marxian works also include vacation pay, etc. as forms of compensation. From Edward Wolff (1987), Growth, accumulation, and unproductive activity: An analysis of the postwar U.S. economy, pages 61-62: 

Mean real labor compensation seems the most direct measure of the costs of reproducing labor power. Employee compensation is the sum of wages, salaries, and tips; fringe benefits such as health insurance, pension contributions, vacation pay, and the like;
Shaikh and Tonak also consider them to form part of compensation. From page 304: 
We use employee compensation (EC) because it includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. This is the appropriate base for estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
They reiterate their view on page 322:
Employee compensation being the sum of supplements and wages and salaries.
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime
Stanford reasons as follows in order to exclude this subcategory from the determination of the costs of employing workers:
The Impact of Downtime and Layoffs Even more far-fetched is the notion that time away from work resulting from illness, layoff, or plant shutdown should also be reflected in your “hourly wage.” Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union. Suppose that workers are laid off for 8 weeks in a year because of slow sales. This reduces annual hours worked by 320 hours. That’s a reduction of as much as 20% in hours worked (after adjusting for paid time off) – causing a corresponding increase in the apparent hourly cost of fixed annual benefits (like the pensions, health premiums, and other benefits listed above). Based on the level of benefits described earlier, this amount of downtime (not unusual given recent experience) would add $3 per hour to all-in costs. A longer six-month layoff would add over $10 to the all-in hourly cost!
This seems like a double penalty: first workers experience the income loss and insecurity of being laid off for significant amounts of time. And then they are “charged,” in the form of a higher apparent “wage,” for the fact that they didn’t work for the complete year.
Differences in the number of hours worked account for a significant portion of differences in the all-in hourly labour costs between different companies. Chrysler Canada’s all-in labour cost calculation for 2008 (which has been widely debated in the course of current restructuring discussions) was based on a very low average level of hours worked per worker that year (just 1550 hours). That was significantly lower than the number of hours worked per worker at GM and Ford that year – and far, far lower than average hours worked at Toyota and Honda plants (which until recently have been running flat out). This difference in assumed hours worked accounts for about $2 per hour in all-in labour cost differences between Chrysler and the other two North American producers in Canada. And it accounts for $4 or more per hour of the all-in hourly labour cost differences between Chrysler and the non-union Canadian facilities.
Is a worker really “more expensive” because he or she didn’t work the full year, due to downtime associated with slow sales? Not really. This is not an issue of compensation. This is an issue of capacity utilization – a variable which is clearly a responsibility of management to optimize, and is beyond the control of workers and their union.
The hours not worked do not involve exploitation, and the hours not worked do involve payment without being under the direct control of the employer due to fixed costs, such as health insurance premiums. They are like vacation pay, holiday pay and sick-leave pay.
As for the decrease in hours worked, of course, if the number of hours decreases, with fixed benefit costs, the cost per hour employed will increase for the capitalists in general. This was seen indirectly when I calculated the rate of exploitation of Magna Internaitonal workers for 2020, during the pandemic (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020). As I wrote in that post:
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation is likely due to the treatment of workers as “fixed costs” as the pandemic forced employers to retain workers despite the relatively extra costs associated with it (partly offset by federal, provincial and municipal supports).
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers was likely largely due to a decrease in the production of surplus value, although there was also a decrease in the costs of workers for Magna International:
2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

Surplus value decreased by 1,177, or 52 percent ((1081-2258)/2258×100); variable capital decreased by 353, or ((2509-2862)/2862×100)=12 percent.
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers is likely due to the fixed costs associated with keeping them on payroll while not exploiting them (because they did not work or perform labour).
Stanford’s justification or logic for discounting the increased costs of workers per hour worked seems to be: because the relation of payments to workers and hours actually worked is independent of the workers and their unions, these increased costs should not be calculated that way, he reasons:
Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union.
The rate of exploitation is hardly to be calculated on the basis of what workers and their unions are able to control. The issue is: What does it cost for the workers to produce the value of the labour power or the capacity of workers to perform work relative to the value they produce for free?
I reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory.
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Standord reasons as follows for rejecting this subcategory:
Over the years auto unions have negotiated a range of income security programs to protect against the effects of the layoffs (which are regularly incurred in the auto industry due to market swings, new model launches, and other factors inherent to the auto industry). These are called supplementary unemployment benefits (SUB), and they top up the benefits received from public unemployment insurance programs.SUB costs are incorporated into all-in labour cost by attributing them to the hours which were actually worked (by those workers who were not laid off). Are SUB benefits a form of compensation? Yes, in a form. But it is not compensation received by the workers who are still working. SUB benefits are received by the workers who are laid-off (as a partial compensation for the cost they incur as a result of the lay-off). And by far the best way to reduce labour costs, in this context, is to put autoworkers back to work: they enjoy more income and security, the company pays out less SUB costs, and the cost per hour worked of all other benefits declines by several dollars.
Because of the extensive downtime experienced in most auto plants in recent years, SUB and related programs can add $3 or more to all-in hourly labour costs in CAW facilities.
The Canadian government website reads:

Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program

Overview

Employers can use a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) plan to increase their employees’ weekly earnings when they are unemployed due to a temporary stoppage of work, training, illness, injury or quarantine.

It is certainly true that those who continue to be exploited directly by GM do not receive the benefits of SUB-but exploitation is hardly just an affair of temporary changes in the distribution of work such that only those workers who happen to have seniority are exploited throughout the year. Layoffs in the auto industry have occurred often enough for unions to attempt to address the issue. From Robert Albritton (2022), A Japanese Approach to Stages of Capitalist Development: What Comes Next?:
For this reason, the continuation of even the partial commodification of labour-power, requires that the labour market be supported by all sorts of protections, guarantees, and stabilizing mechanisms. The auto industry in general took the lead in this respect with “productivity deals” that ensured wage increases in line with productivity increases and with “supplementary unemployment benefits” (SUBS) that protected worker’s income during the annual lay-offs in the auto industry, and with pension plans, early retirement, medical benefits, etc.
Unions obliged GM to pay laid off GM workers (not fired GM workers) a top-up to unemployment benefits. This is a condition for GM to exploit the collective labour of the particular bargaining unit and forms part of the cost of employing GM workers. To exclude this cost from variable capital would exclude the flow of additional money (and commodities) that temporarily unemployed workers receive from GM. Since variable capital is supposed to measure the amount of labour required to produce the equivalent of labour power as a commodity available on the market, and SUB is a condition for such availability in this situation, it should be included as part of variable capital that GM pays.
One historian has interpreted SUB as resulting in a “greater share of the pie” going to workers. From David Noble (1984), Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, page 253:
Reuther embraced wholeheartedly the tempo of technology and the gospel of growth, and sought to halt job erosion through industrial expansion which would presumably raise the level of aggregate demand for labor. At the same time, he strove to secure for workers a larger share of the expanding pie, through guaranteed wage agreements and so-called progress-sharing agreements (as with American Motors), and to ease the plight of displaced workers, through supplementary unemployment benefits, advance notification clauses, and company-financed retraining programs (as with General Motors). [my emphasis]
I also reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory; SUB forms part of the costs of production of GM workers.
Statutory taxes $3-4
Stanford notes the following:

The all-in hourly labour cost methodology also considers various employmentrelated
taxes paid by employers to governments. In Canada, these statutory
costs include four major items:

  • Employer CPP premiums (up to a maximum of about $2050 per year
  • Employer EI premiums (up to a maximum of about $1000 per year)
  • Employer Health Tax (equal to about 2% of earnings)
  • WSIB premiums (variable rates, usually about 3% of earnings)These government payments amount to around $3-4 per normal working hour in
    Canadian auto plants.
He makes the following comment to justify excluding them from the cost of workers to GM:
These tax payments, while they fund important public programs, obviously do not
constitute compensation for workers.
If by compensation is meant “not received in the current year,” then it is true. However, costs in the present for employers can be deferred revenue for workers; in the case of the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), Canadian employers must pay the same amount paid by employees, up to a maximum of contributions per year. I fail to see why this should not be included in the cost of variable capital to GM. Furthermore, if pension benefits paid out by GM or deferred government pension benefits are excluded from the current year, when would they ever be included in the calculation of the value of labour power?
Unemployment insurance is a little more difficult to assess (in Canada, the Canadian government euphemestically calls it employment insurance). Some if not the majority of GM workers may not access unemployment insurance benefits at all during their life. It may not ever therefore be a deferred form of revenue for them. However, it should be remembered that GM workers can access unemployment insurance if they are laid off (and they also can receive SUB) and thus the same logic applies as the subcategory for SUB.
(By the way, the unemployment insurance that workers receive should also be included in the calculation of variable capital, but this would require more detailed information about the absolute amounts, the number of GM workers laid off, the average period of time laid off and other data which I doubt is readily available. Perhaps those with more skill or with better access to data could provide details.)
Furthermore, the nature of insurance in general is such that payments or costs may not result in any flow back in the form of services rendered. How many reading this post have purchased insurance of one form or another (such as car insurance or travel insurance) only not to use it? It is a cost that may never be recouped and is grounded in the nature of the capitalist society–which is subject to unemployment in various sectors at different times. Costs paid by employers associated with unemployment insurance is a charge on the class of employers for funding former workers who have had their relationship to any particular employer severed (or who severed it themselves by quitting–although here in Canada workers must prove “just cause” for quitting in order to be eligible and must not have been fired for “just cause”).
For GM workers who are never laid off, unemployment insurance is obviously not a form of compensation for any GM worker–but it is still a cost of reproducing the value of labour power as a commodity (if not the particular set of workers called GM employees). It is part of the cost for GM of being able to exploit this particular set of workers.
The Employer Health Tax, according to the Ontario government website, is:

The Employer Health Tax (EHT) is a payroll tax on remuneration (for example, salaries, wages, bonuses, taxable benefits, stock options etc.) that employers in Ontario provide to current and former employees.

The purpose of this tax is to assist in providing the government with revenue to fund health care in Ontario.

The provision of certain services by the government without workers having to pay for them constitute part of the “social wage” of workers. In this particular case, sufficiently large employers are forced to pay for part of those services (smaller capitalist firms are exempt). These costs for the employer are necessary to ensure a certain level of health services and health of workers. I fail to see why they should not be considered part of the necessary costs that Ontario employers must pay if they are to exploit Ontario employees.
An indirect argument for including the EHT in the calculation of variable capital is provided by Wolff (cited above), page 78:
One further refinement should be added. Not only private consumption but also publicly provided consumption is required to reproduce the labor force. In particular, part of the government’s expenditures on education, health, fire protection, roads, and the like
contributes directly to the welfare of workers. Thus, in order to correctly estimate the necessary consumption of workers, government expenditures on productive goods and services, Gp, must be distributed among the beneficiaries of the expenditures.
As for Workers’ Compensation premiums paid by GM, although Shaikh and Tonak (1994) do not directly address this specific category, they do generally include “employer contributions to social security” in their calculation of the value of labour power. Page 108:
for wages we use “employee compensation” (EC), which includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. Employee compensation is the appropriate measure upon which to base our estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
Rodrigo Finkelstein (2015) more specifically argues that workers’ compensation premiums constitute the exchange value of workers’ injuries,”The Commodity Form of Safety Information,” in pages 610-623, triple C, Volume 13, Number 2, page 622:
Through injuries, diseases and deaths, workers transfer to the premium the value they themselves lose during the labour process by the destruction of their own use-value. Workers’ use-value—i.e. labour-power—uure [sic–this term indicates that something is quoted exactly as written despite it likely being an error]-appears in the value of every commodity as the premium.
Like shift premiums and overtime, workers’ compensation premiums can be conceived as compensation for accelerated use of workers’ labour power; unlike shift premiums and overtime, the money is not appropriated directly by individual workers but is mediated through a bureuacratic appropriation and distribution process that pools the accelerated use of  workers’ labour power at the provincial level in Canada.
(These premiums should not, however, be considered the accurate costs of accelerated use of the labour power of workers. Premiums are based on claimed employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths, but actual employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths is much higher (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health).
It should come as no surprise that Stanford ignores workers’ compensation as a cost. Firstly, he considers the view that what is healthy for “the economy” is somehow also healthy for workers. This correspondence may to a certain extent arise because capitalists, ultimately, must rely on human bodies if they are to exploit them, and unhealthy bodies may be detrimental to their exploitation.
On the other hand, there obviously is a counter-tendency for employers to create working conditions that are dangerous for workers in one way or another (see my critique of Stanford’s attempt to treat the capitalist economy as if it were an economy primarily based on the production of products that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants need–rather than a capitalist economy designed to obtain as much surplus value as possible–at the expense of workers in the posts Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads and Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Four: Is There Such a Thing as a Responsible Employer in Relation to the Health of Workers?).
Stanford’s analysis of the real cost of the value of labour power matches his economics for social democrats. His economics of capitalism for “everyone” (the main title of a book he wrote) is really an economics for social reformists–and is hardly expressive of the interests of the working class.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his social-democratic views.  Workers’ compensation premiums are linked to the determination of the value of the loss of various parts of the body, for example–equating money and the loss of human body parts. As Nate Holdren (2020),in Injury Impoverished: Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and the Law in the Progressive Era remarks, page 5:
I remarked that it felt a little creepy that my hand had a dollar value. The lawyer laughed and agreed that it was creepy. He told me that there were tables that listed the value of all the different body parts. …  I repeated that it was a creepy idea that my body parts in particular had a dollar value, and that in general there were tables written down with the value of body parts calculated in advance. The lawyer replied that a lot of people got hurt at work and that the injuries and the payments for them were all a regular process.That meeting with the lawyer is where I first encountered what I now think of as the “tyranny of the table,” but it is both more and less than  tyranny. What I mean by the tyranny of the table is that within compensation laws human lives and human suffering have the fixed monetary values ascribed – no more than that, and not subject to discussion. What doesn’t fit into the values of the table? Nearly everything. All of the elements of a human being other than our paychecks.
Behind the numbers lie real human beings, with histories linked to other human beings in various ways. Workers’ compensation itself hides this reality behind the numbers, and Stanford’s cavalier dismissal of the payment of premiums by employers as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his own dismissal of the real and necessary experiences of many workers working for employers–and the diseases and injuries they experience that they suffer–and the deaths (the ending of any possibility of further human experience or any possibility of further human progress).
In Stanford’s haste at being a “progressive economist,” (he is the founder of the Progressive Economic Forum), he dismisses too hastily various costs that are relevant for characterizing the experience of workers in a capitalist society (such as the premiums paid to the Workers’ Compensation Board).
Although this post is about the rate of exploitation, it should never be forgotten that this rate of exploitation is linked to real people being used as things for the benefit of employers, with real negative consequences for members of the working class. Holdren points out how workers who work for an employer are often under the threat of being injured in one way or another, and if they are, their lives are often changed forever, page 1:
Nettie Blom worked in the laundry of a hotel in Yellowstone Park. On June 30, 1900, Blom was operating a machine called a mangle, which used steam-heated and steam-powered metal rollers to iron flat linens. The wet cloth stuck to her hand for a moment too long, and she was pulled into the machine. Blom’s hand was crushed and burnt. When a co-worker managed to free her from the machine, Blom’s hand looked like “boiled meat.” Three of her co-workers fainted at the sight. Blom suffered terrible pain and lost the use of her hand due to her injuries.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the value of labour power also hides the shift from what Holdren calls the tyranny of the trial to the tyrranny of the tables. The (unlikely) possibility of workers suing and winning a case against their employer constituted part of the tyranny of the trial historically, but gradually governments shifted the issue of health and safety compensation from the courts to government bureaucracies–Worker’s Compensaiton Boards. This shift from the workers’ financial point of view had the advantage that compensation would be forthcoming for proven injuries, disease or death–but it had the major disadvantage of eliminating any exposure of the real human damage and suffering that is so often connected to workplace injuries, diseases and death–an exposure that was at least minimally possible during a trial. In its place arose what Holdren calls the “tyranny of the table,” which depersonalized human injury and suffering at work. This is an important issue that the social-democratic left simply ignore or sidestep through the use of such euphemisms as “decent work,” “decent jobs,” “fair contracts” and the like. It is appropriate here to quote Holdren here more extensively about some of the implications of what the paying of premiums has involved for silencing workers’ grievances. Pages 115-118:
MORAL THINNING AND IMPOVERISHED INJURYIn order to standardize payments and thus create predictability for employers, compensation laws removed from the law arguments about injustice and narration of the individual effects of injury. This loss of deliberation changed the ethical grammar of the law, so to speak, deepening the eclipse of recognition, further impoverishing injury. The human meaning of injury had no place in the law. I call this phenomenon moral thinning: from murder to statistics. Non-financial harms also had no place under compensation laws. Pain and loss became newly worthless as the law provided no more space for people to narrate what it meant to lose a limb or a family member in an industrial accident. Injured wage earners became conceptually disembedded from their social and interpersonal contexts.

There is an element of moral thinning involved whenever the commodification of persons begins to occur, because commodification must ignore differences and particularities, setting aside whatever is unique or nonequivalent about them. Commodification tramples on singularity. This makes no difference when singularity makes no difference: the uniqueness of my morning cup of coffee does not matter; what matters is its instrumental use in my struggle toward wakefulness. The uniqueness of human beings, however, does matter: the reduction of human beings to abstract instrumental objects should trouble us. Recognition and commodification co-exist at best uneasily.

The moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table is more apparent when juxtaposed to the tyranny of the trial. Despite the many limits of the court-based system of employee injury law, that system did allow some space for fragments of the experiential truths of injury, which made possible elements of justice as recognition. As historian Kimberly Welch has put it, “[s]torytelling is omnipresent in human discourse.. . . Telling stories in court is an attempt to organize, interpret, and direct the world in which one lives, and the stories told in adversarial processes signal the narrator’s interpretation of how the world ought to operate.” The contending oughts embedded in legal stories made courts into places of normative deliberation, places where the contest of stories had explicitly moral and political stakes.

Access to that site of deliberation, and the recognition that came through that access, is likely part of what working-class people wanted from the court-based system of employee injury law. As historian James Schmidt has put it, injured plaintiffs and their families “came to court with a desire to talk about the miseries that had befallen them.” That telling intersected with other actors in court to produce what Schmidt calls “judicial morality plays.” Going to court was one kind of ritual through which people processed and, in important respects, produced the meaning of what Schmidt rightly calls industrial violence. There was, then, some space for this ritual use of law under the tyranny of the trial. With compensation laws, employee injury law was deritualized, no longer made available to working-class people in the same way.

To be clear, compensation laws never said that no other framework for valuing human beings existed in society, but these laws did not allow any other such framework to touch the legal response to employee injury. In the court system multiple systems of valuation could intersect, while under compensation laws non-pecuniary valuations of people, their experiences, their relationships, and their bodies had no legal space. The point is absolutely not to celebrate the tyranny of the trial, but to use the courts’ narrative and value plurality to highlight the moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table. In the court-based system of injury law at least it was possible to pose the questions of whether or not an injury was a wrong, and what it meant in the lives of the persons affected. There was no more space for these questions or for the answering stories of injury and its effects under the tyranny of the table.

Workers’ compensation premiums serve in part to hide the viciousness of a society dominated by a class of employers–a viciousness hidden by such social-democratic phrases as “decent jobs,” “decent work,” “fair contracts” and other euphemisms accepted by many on the so-called left these days. After all, they imply, working for an employer is not really all that bad; such is the moral thinning of social democrats these days. This is a class cost–Stanford’s dismissal of it notwithstadning.
Returning to the issue of the cost of workers, this cost of $63, of course, is probably less since GM workers in other parts of the world (such as in Mexico) would receive substantially less. However, without access to such detailed statistics, I will assume that the $63 per hour is still the average hourly wage for GM workers; perhaps Mr. Stanford (and Mr. Gindin) could provide more detailed statistics. Such statistics would be most welcome. 
Given a wage of $63 U.S. an hour, and given an estimated 1,800 hours of actual work per employee (see page 2 of Stanford’s article), and given 164,000 employees, the result is:

Total wages and benefits: $18.5976 billion

Calculation of the Rate of Exploitation

We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers (in billions of U.S. dollars)

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.5976 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

I calculated the division between v and s according to the following:

I have used the lengths of the working day (and the corresponding division between v and s) as 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and because the length of the working day varies. According to one source:

8 hours is normal. Many will average 7 or 9 per day.

8 hours per, except for the new models introduction period.The working hours varies depending upon the targeted productions orders.

Salaried, so come in between 6 and 9, leave within 8 or 10 hours.

Typical from 7:00am to 6:00 pm M-F with weekend work typical.
One week work over 70 hours

The hours where long 10-12 sometimes

I organized the division of the working day into v and s from the shortest working day to the longest.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consult” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “and the lack of such power (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants.”

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement

•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly some level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

What do you think? Are union reps looking after the needs of the working class? If not, what can be done about it?

A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part Four

The following is the fourth of several posts that provide a verbatim reply (with a somewhat different order) to a “clinical evaluation” (a performance evaluation of my teaching) made by the principal of Ashern Central School (Ashern, Manitoba, Canada), Neil MacNeil, in the fall of 2011 when I was teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 French.

I provided Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts, followed by my reflections (response).  In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades was distributed over three posts.

Four further posts follow that include performance evaluation criteria in Domain I (Professional Responsibilities), Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships). It also includes my “Teacher’s response.” 

This post deals with the performance evaluation criteria of Domain I (Professional Responsibilities).

When I refer to “see above” in some of the posts, it refers to previous posts in this series, such as   A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One.

The radical left should expose both what management does and how it does it. Discussion of the situation that various kinds of employees face need to be openly discussed, but to do that it is necessary to expose, in a transparent way, managerial behaviour.

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

Teacher: Fred Harris
School: Ashern Central School
Subject/Grade: MY French; ELA Trans. Focus 30S; SY Support

The teacher and administrator will review Administrative Regulations and Procedures Evaluation Process-Professional Staff (2.3)

Re: “Domain 1: Professional Responsibilities

1a Demonstrating knowledge of curriculum content and pedagogy

1b. Demonstrating knowledge of students

1c. Selecting appropriate instructional goals

1d. Demonstrating knowledge of resources

1e. Effective Instructional Design

1f. Assessment of Student Learning

1g. Maintaining accurate records

Administrator’s Comments

Fred has a strong command of the French language, in both written and verbal communication. This series of observations did not indicate his level of knowledge of the curricula set out by Manitoba Education. The instructional goals identified during the observations did correlate with goals set out in these curricula, however.

The pedagogy to which Fred ascribes (at least as according to our conversations) presupposes a level of motivation to learn and pursue a second language which he identifies as being lacking in most of his students. This has repeatedly been identified by Fred as an issue – that his students do not value the learning of French, and that it is therefore almost futile to be attempting to force them to learn the language. I have not identified any means by which Fred has successfully fostered an appropriate level of motivation in spite of the factors he’s identified as limiting this motivation. So, we are left with a situation where he believes that the students do not (for the most part) want to learn French, where he’s been unsuccessful in changing that situation, and where he therefore believes that their learning is necessarily restricted.

Earlier this year, it was made clear to Fred that a key element that appeared to be lacking was the formation of effective, empathetic relationships with the students in his classes. He has attempted to rectify this by engaging in question and answer sessions with them at the beginning of the class, wherein students ask him a question, he translates the question into French, and then responds in both French and English. It is not evident that this has led to a more effective relationship between Fred and his students. It is also not evident that this simple “exposure” to spoken French is leading to any learning of the language, as the dialogue from the students’ perspective is entirely in English – the spoken French, by Fred, seems to be ignored. To the extent that Fred has demonstrated a knowledge of his students, as persons and as learners, it would seem that the view is largely negative. For example, when we held our postconference after the 3rd observation (grade 8 French), and I asked Fred about the 5 girls who comprised this class, he described to me in turn why each of them was not an effective learner in his class. When I went further by asking how this situation had come about, he went back to the experience of earlier years, where he identified two other students (since discontinued in French) who had “poisoned” the other students’ attitudes toward French and toward himself.

At the beginning of this process, individual lessons were based upon the completion of identified tasks. Fred has resisted the notion that specific learning goals for students should be clarified and shared with students, but has begun to take some steps in this direction. As stated earlier, there is no evidence (and none identified by Fred during our postconferences) that the questioning back and forth between Fred and the students at the beginning of classes has led to any learning by the students. Although learning goals have begun to be identified, it has not been observed that any significant movement toward attaining these goals has been made during observed classes. For example, the second observation (grade 7) was meant to increase student competence in using possessive adjectives. As an observer, it was not clear that students understood this to be the lesson’s focus, nor did they demonstrate any increased competence or confidence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language.

Fred has not indicated any significant understanding of either the importance of formative assessment during a class, nor of how to effectively carry out the process. When I’ve questioned how Fred would know whether students are progressing effectively in their use of French, Fred has repeatedly referred to the subsequent use of summative assessments (at some future date) as indicating this progress. No means of encouraging or facilitating student self or peer assessment is present either. A significant emphasis within the MY French curricula is to facilitate an appreciation of French culture and language in students’ affective domain. When this has been raised, Fred has appealed (as previously noted) to the obstacles in the way of increasing this appreciation of French, and has not been able to supply any means by which this is being increased. Indeed, there appears to be a significant decline in students’ attitudes toward their French lessons from the grade 6 to the grade 8 levels in Fred’s classes. In the grade 6 class, some students are smiling, spontaneous and enthusiastic. This declines in the grade 7 class, and in grade 8 there were no smiles, and what seemed to be a complete lack of spontaneity and enthusiasm.

Teacher’s Reflections 

Re: “The pedagogy to which Fred ascribes (at least as according to our conversations) presupposes a level of motivation to learn and pursue a second language which he identifies as being lacking in most of his students.”

I believe that I have already addressed this issue.

Re: “This has repeatedly been identified by Fred as an issue – that his students do not value the learning of French, and that it is therefore almost futile to be attempting to force them to learn the language.”

I certainly view the forcing of learning French language to children many of whose lives at home are probably characterized by poverty to be oppressive and relatively meaningless for many of them—as I experienced when I was growing up.

Re: “I have not identified any means by which Fred has successfully fostered an appropriate level of motivation in spite of the factors he’s identified as limiting this motivation. So, we are left with a situation where he believes that the students do not (for the most part) want to learn French, where he’s been unsuccessful in changing that situation, and where he therefore believes that their learning is necessarily restricted.”

I have addressed this issue above.

Re: “Earlier this year, it was made clear to Fred that a key element that appeared to be lacking was the formation of effective, empathetic relationships with the students in his classes.”

I have displayed considerable empathy in trying to see the behaviour in the context of many students’ lives; I certainly do not consider throwing an airplane to be outrageous behaviour. To claim that I lacked empathy with students is an unfortunate misreading of situations.

Re: “He has attempted to rectify this by engaging in question and answer sessions with them at the beginning of the class, wherein students ask him a question, he translates the question into French, and then responds in both French and English. It is not evident that this has led to a more effective relationship between Fred and his students. It is also not evident that this simple “exposure” to spoken French is leading to any learning of the language, as the dialogue from the students’ perspective is entirely in English – the spoken French, by Fred, seems to be ignored. To the extent that Fred has demonstrated a knowledge of his students, as persons and as learners, it would seem that the view is largely negative. For example, when we held our postconference after the 3rd observation (grade 8 French), and I asked Fred about the 5 girls who comprised this class, he described to me in turn why each of them was not an effective learner in his class. When I went further by asking how this situation had come about, he went back to the experience of earlier years, where he identified two other students (since discontinued in French) who had “poisoned” the other students’ attitudes toward French and toward himself.”

Note the exclusive reliance on the relation to the grade 8 class as an example. An example implies something typical, and the situation with the grade 8 class is atypical.

I had tried, with the grade 8 class, the method of asking and answering questions, but they did not respond well.

Re: “At the beginning of this process, individual lessons were based upon the completion of identified tasks. Fred has resisted the notion that specific learning goals for students should be clarified and shared with students, but has begun to take some steps in this direction.”

I have already addressed  above the issue of tasks (from a Deweyan perspective, concrete goals for students) and learning goals (from a Deweyan perspective, the means towards concrete goals).

As stated earlier, there is no evidence (and none identified by Fred during our postconferences) that the questioning back and forth between Fred and the students at the beginning of classes has led to any learning by the students.”

See above.

Although learning goals have begun to be identified, it has not been observed that any significant movement toward attaining these goals has been made during observed classes. For example, the second observation (grade 7) was meant to increase student competence in using possessive adjectives. As an observer, it was not clear that students understood this to be the lesson’s focus, nor did they demonstrate any increased competence or confidence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language.”

See above.

Re: Fred has not indicated any significant understanding of either the importance of formative assessment during a class, nor of how to effectively carry out the process. When I’ve questioned how Fred would know whether students are progressing effectively in their use of French, Fred has repeatedly referred to the subsequent use of summative assessments (at some future date) as indicating this progress.”

I certainly agree that my formative assessment skills can be honed—like any other skill. To claim, however, that I fail to understand the importance of formative assessment a complete lack of understanding of my position and provides further evidence of the preformed conclusions of the administrator about my beliefs. In the University Laboratory School (also known as the Dewey School), as far as I have been able to determine, there was nothing but formative assessment. This feature of the school caused some difficulties when the students were to prepare for college entrance, but provision was made for addressing the issue:

The oldest members of this united group (who normally would have been classified as Group XII) were given special tutoring and review courses in preparation for their college board examinations, which were complicating the program. Had the group consisted solely of those who had followed the consecutively developing program of the school, and had it not been hampered by the demands of college entrance examinations, the various courses for the oldest children doubtless would have followed a far different and more logical plan, hints of which appear in the records” (Camp & Edwards, 1936/1966, p. 237).

Since the Dewey School was designed to be an experimental school, where hypotheses were formulated about the best conditions for learning, tested and modified, depending on the circumstances. Since no summative assessment was performed until the later years, and only then for the purpose of preparing the students for entry into college, it can be inferred that formative assessment was an ideal ground for learning.

On the other hand, the principal simply did not bother to delve deeper into my beliefs. His evident disdain for my beliefs and his evident drawing of conclusions without any process of objective inquiry prevented him from understanding what we share in common.

Furthermore, the implied claim that I do not understand the importance of the present moment rather than the future misses entirely my position.

From my dissertation:

Dewey, by contrast, considers that the prehistoric pattern of mind still functions, though in modified form, in present conditions and that it has some positive attributes. One of the major positive attributes for Dewey is the capacity to focus on the present situation. For Dewey, the present is where the life process centers, and the past and future are relative to the living present. The past divorced from the present is dead, and the future divorced from the present is fantasy.1

Dewey gives the example of hunting in prehistoric times (1902/1976e). He outlines what differentiates it from other modes of living or acting. It is much less concerned with the mediation process or the objective side of the relationship between human beings and their environment. Its focus has more to do with the subjective side of the life process, and the subjective side, or the animate term of the life process, is always a living present. The concerns of prehistoric peoples are largely related to the personal side and not to the impersonal side of the life process. The rhythm of life is characterized by a tension that is personally felt; the stages of the life process focus on the personal at the expense of the objective. This mode of the life process is characterized by the drama, where superficiality in the treatment of phenomena is compensated by the degree of intensity of the emotions and the sharpness of attention in the use of the senses for the purpose of enhancing the personal side, such as increased acquisition and display of skills.

This personal aspect of the life process is preserved in the modern life process in the form of the “pursuit of truth, plot interest, business adventure and speculation, to all intense and active forms of amusement, to gambling and the `sporting life’” (1902/1976e, 45). Educationally, Dewey uses the hunting occupation as a model by which to criticize various theories and practices that purport to be educational but which violate the principle of the life process centering on the present and its potentialities and possibilities. In chapter five of Democracy and education (1916/1980a), for example, Dewey refers to education as preparation. This way of defining education is still prevalent in modern schools—preparation for obtaining a job, for further studies and so forth. The activity engaged in by the child is supposed to be useful in the future rather than functional now. Since the use of a structure is an integral part in the formation of the structure—function mediates structure—then the separation of the formation of the structure from its use in the vague future leads to ineffective and distorted structures that do not effectively contribute to the living present, either now or in the future.

Education needs to be preparation for confrontation of the present situation, which includes the past as relevant to the identification of the nature of the present problematic situation and to the future as the hypothesized solution to the present situation. The present, however, is still the focus since it is only the tension within the present life process that converts the past into something relevant or meaningful to the present, and the future potentialities of present conditions are likewise only meaningful in relation to the present life process:

Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. (1938/1986, 238)

When the potentialities of the present situation are divorced from the formation of structures, then something external to the present must be attached to present behaviour—rewards and punishment. There is little wonder that Skinner’s concept of reinforcement, which focuses on the provision of an external reward having little to do with the activity, forms an essential component of the school system—the latter operates on an impoverished notion of education as preparation.

For Dewey, then, prehistoric life has something to teach us—the importance of the present as the locus for the relevance of the past and the future. Education is not preparation for some possible experience in the vague future. Freire’s philosophy, it is true, escapes some of the problems associated with defining education as preparation by incorporating some of the present problems of the peasants into the curriculum, but Freire’s abstraction from the life process a such prevents him from appreciating the positive aspect of prehistoric life and from incorporating those positive aspects into his educational philosophy and practice.

The Deweyan educational model incorporates the appreciation for the present living process whereas the Freirean model, though not excluding it, does not integrate it in the form of an appreciation of prehistoric life. Freire’s model, despite the emphasis on subjectivity, ironically, veers more towards the objective moment by treating prehistoric life as a stage to be overcome rather than a stage that is one-sided and that hence requires to be balanced by a more stable process of control of the objective conditions for human experience.”

On the other hand, I do recognize that there is often a conflict between formative and summative assessment. Summative assessment is important at the public level, for other institutions, for example, as well as for scholarships (in Deweyan terms, it is education for preparation—which Dewey adamantly criticized). There is a conflict between the importance of formative assessment, which is designed for improving learning, and summative assessment, which is designed for other purposes. The different purposes easily come into conflict.

I am in total agreement with the principal concerning the importance of formative assessment in the process of learning.

Re: “No means of encouraging or facilitating student self or peer assessment is present either.”

Agreed. It is something that I should incorporate into the process.

Re: “A significant emphasis within the MY French curricula is to facilitate an appreciation of French culture and language in students’ affective domain. When this has been raised, Fred has appealed (as previously noted) to the obstacles in the way of increasing this appreciation of French, and has not been able to supply any means by which this is being increased.”

I have addressed the issue of culture above and an appreciation of French in relation to the students’ own language.

Re: “Indeed, there appears to be a significant decline in students’ attitudes toward their French lessons from the grade 6 to the grade 8 levels in Fred’s classes. In the grade 6 class, some students are smiling, spontaneous and enthusiastic. This declines in the grade 7 class, and in grade 8 there were no smiles, and what seemed to be a complete lack of spontaneity and enthusiasm.”

The administrator’s characterization of the level of motivation as progressively lacking as grades increase is not my reading of the situation. I would say that the grade 6s are more motivated to learn than the grade 8s, with the grade 7s more motivated than the grade 6s or grade 8s.