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

The following is the third 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. This post deals with the performance evaluation of grade 8 French. It also includes my “Teacher’s response” to that evaluation.  

For the context of the “clinical evaluation,” see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

As a teacher, I was earning around $85,000 a year at the time. Undoubtedly, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left, it was a “good job,” “decent work,” and other such clichés. Being under clinical evaluation or supervision, however, was in effect legal torture–and I could not grieve the continued harassment by the principal since it was within management’s rights to “evaluate” a teacher’s performance.

I responded to Mr. MacNeil’s clinical evaluation with an initial 43-page reply, with the then Manitoba Teachers Society  (MTS) staff officer Roland Stankevicius (later General Secretary of the MTS) providing edited suggestions that reduced it to about 30 pages.

Mr. Stankevicius remarked that the evaluation reflected negatively–on Mr. MacNeil:

You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened.  I hope you agree with my suggestions. …

You have made your points here.  NM [Neil MacNeil] does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).

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.

I provide Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts (and post by followed by my reflections (response) that I provided. In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades is distributed over three posts. In the case of Grade 6, I also included the first area of evaluation (Domain I, Professional Responsibilities), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response). Four further posts follow that include Domain I (Professional Responsibilities),  Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships).

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)

  1. Date and Focus of Teacher/Administrator Pre-Conferences and Post Conferences

3. Grade 8 French 2011 12 05 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.

“Pre-conference: Reviewing a quiz on passe compose. Fred will clarify expectations for a sports bulletin around research, then go up to the library for this research.

To note:

– nothing noted.

Post-conference: Fred was asked for his assessment of how this class went. He spoke to the need to review the passe compose again with the class, and to clarify again the intent of the assignment that the class was given for their sports bulletin.

I stated that, in my view, this was not the primary issue in the class. I pointed out that this was a class of 5 girls, with one new student who started this class today, and another boy whose attendance was “hit and miss” in Fred’s words. In my observation, all of the girls were unengaged and disinterested throughout the class. (Fred had occasion to remonstrate with each of the girls during this 35 minute class, and with some as many as a dozen times.)

I asked Fred for his assessment about how the situation had come to this pass, where I heard three of the girls state “I hate French” during the class. He responded by speaking to each of the girls in turn, describing what he believed to be their fault(s) in this matter. He pointed out that at least two of the girls were being forced to be there against their will, and I replied that, if we were to remove the students who did not want to be there, there might be no students left. After further prompting from me, about how this should not be the case for this class, he went back to previous years, where he spoke to the role of two boys, who have since dropped French, in having destroyed the atmosphere of the class.

I pointed out to Fred that, in all of this, he had not acknowledged his own role for the state of affairs in the class. He acknowledged that he did have some responsibility, for not having been sufficiently disciplinary with these students, but that he was working on this. He pointed out the detentions list he now has on his whiteboard. I asked how he intended to repair the relationships with these students, which he acknowledged to be damaged, and he said that he would talk with them.

Finally, Fred inquired about the next steps in this process. I clarified for him that the notes from the first two observations that I had given him were not part of my report. I told him that I would complete my report (using this template), give it to him for his comments, and that it would then be forwarded to the superintendent.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 8

Re: “Post-conference: Fred was asked for his assessment of how this class went. He spoke to the need to review the passe compose again with the class, and to clarify again the intent of the assignment that the class was given for their sports bulletin.

I stated that, in my view, this was not the primary issue in the class. I pointed out that this was a class of 5 girls, with one new student who started this class today, and another boy whose attendance was “hit and miss” in Fred’s words. In my observation, all of the girls were unengaged and disinterested throughout the class. (Fred had occasion to remonstrate with each of the girls during this 35 minute class, and with some as many as a dozen times.)”

This is true. With one girl in particular, who has persistently been oppositional or defiant. I have since changed my tactics. If she does not do her work in French class, she then makes up for it during recess.

Re: “I asked Fred for his assessment about how the situation had come to this pass, where I heard three of the girls state “I hate French” during the class. He responded by speaking to each of the girls in turn, describing what he believed to be their fault(s) in this matter.”

The first thing that I said was that my formative assessment of their skills had been inaccurate—that I had overestimated their skill set. It was indeed an issue that came out when I had a discussion with the students subsequent to the observation and post-conference. One student said that I expected too much of them; I have taken that criticism into consideration and have tried to proceed more slowly and have made changes to the material as a support for their learning.

With respect to the issue of discipline, I would say that I made a serious mistake in trying to reason with certain students in past years who are no longer in French. My general approach has been to be empathetic to students (despite the contrary proposition by the administrator); I was too tolerant. I failed to identify real disrespect from mere shenanigans, and as a consequence I allowed the two students the year before too much leeway.

I have continued with the detention if the students talk while I am teaching.

As for referring to each student in turn, I indicated what they were doing that interfered with my direct instruction (such as persistent talking while I was trying to teach).

One circumstance that I did not mention was the obligation to teach in the home economics room. At the beginning of the year, I did not even know where I was going to teach. I was then assigned to the home economics room—a room ill-suited for teaching in general (apart from home economics) let alone French in particular. The room was several times used for meetings (in the evening and the day). I did not even have chalk at first and had to ask other teachers for some chalk. Then I was shifted to a different classroom. My sense was that such references to the unsuitability of environmental conditions and changes in environmental conditions would be interpreted by the administrator as “excuses.”

May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract

Introduction

I did not attend the May Day rally here in Toronto. I did however attend it in 2014 (I had moved to Toronto at the end of August 2013). At the time, in 2014, it looked mainly like a protest of the fringe left who were not supported by organized unions. There were a few unions present (if I remember correctly, for example, CUPE 3903, a union “representing contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and part-time librarians and assistants.”

I did, however, in 2022, look at a couple of videos on YouTube that showed some of the speeches given. This year union representatives were present.

Now, I have little doubt that my personal presence at the rally would make no difference politically. On the other hand, personal presence is sometimes necessary to show workers’ strength in numbers. However, from the speeches that I heard on YouTube, it was evident that the main agenda was a critique of the Conservative Doug Ford government here in Ontario (elections were on June 2, 2022).

Of course, it is understandable that the immediate aim should have been the defeat of the Ford government. The government has been, as some of the speakers had indicated, a very pro-employer government.

On the other hand, there was no indication of any other point of view than the implicit social-democratic or social-reformist point of view. After workers have experienced the personal stress of having to work under even worse conditions than they normally do on a global scale, and after many citizens, immigrants and migrant workers have personally experienced tragedy in their lives during the pandemic, the need to organize to end the class power of employers was nowhere to be seen.

Thus, one video shows a speech by J.P. Hornick, the relatively new president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). Her main target is Doug Ford’s government.

Ms. Hornick is likely an improvement over the former president of OPSEU, Warren “Smokey” Thomas (see my criticisms of his views in the posts Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) ) and Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class). But then again, it would be hard to not be an improvement over a union “leader” who criticizes those who criticize Conservative Ontario leader Doug Ford.

Indirect Evidence That Ms. J.P. Hornick, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is a Social Democrat or a Social Reformer

But who is JP Hornick? Obviously, to characterize any person is a complicated process that involves delving into history. As John Dewey once noted (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry), logically, to properly describe something necessarily involves a narrative form, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The following obviously falls short of this standard, but at least it is a beginning. I invite others to improve on it.

Ms. Hornick works (or worked) at George Brown College in Toronto as a professor. From https://www.georgebrown.ca/preparatory-liberal-studies/liberal-arts-sciences/school-of-labour/staff-profiles ):

Professor JP Hornick

JP Hornick is the current Coordinator of the School of Labour at George Brown College and a long-time social activist. JP is also vice-chair of the OPSEU Divisional Executive for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology–Academic. She is presently on the Board of Directors of the community arts organization Red Dress Productions.

An experienced educator and steward, JP is committed to bringing a socially progressive labour perspective to students and workers through workshops, training, and community events

A natural question would be: What is the School of Labour? A webpage from the College ( https://www.georgebrown.ca/preparatory-liberal-studies/liberal-arts-sciences/school-of-labour) indicates the following: 

George Brown College has partnered with the Labour Council of Toronto and York Region since 1992 to establish and maintain the School of Labour. It is governed by a Joint Board, co-chaired by the Presidents of the College and of Labour Council.

Together, our commitment is to socially progressive curriculum that respects working people and expands their access to post-secondary education. We work to make George Brown a “labour-friendly” college because we believe that labour contributes to and enriches not just the college’s culture, but the whole society’s.

Our Mission Statement

Our mission is to:

  • Facilitate improved access to post-secondary education and socially progressive, relevant curriculum for working people.
  • Facilitate effective working relationships among the College, unions and their members for the benefit of working people.
  • Bring a progressive labour perspective to the College and its students.
  • Help ensure that George Brown College retains and strengthens a reputation as a ‘labour-friendly’ educational institution, and an awareness that labour contributes to and enriches the culture of the college.

Working Principles

Both the Labour Council and George Brown College are guided by the following principles in working together:

  • A respect for working people, the union movement and its educators.
  • A respect for the right of working people to formally-accredited, worker-centred education and training.
  • A commitment to expanding the access of workers to education and training.
  • A belief in the educational value of work experience.
  • A belief in the value of formal links between the publicly-funded education system and the trade union movement.

In offering training and services to unionized workers, and labour education to George Brown College students, the School of Labour works in coordination with the Labour Education Centre (LEC), the educational project of the Labour Council.

Coordinator: JP Hornick
Phone: 416.415.5000 ext. 3531 Email: jphornic@georgebrown.ca

Labour Educator: Kathryn Payne
Phone: 416-415-5000 ext. 3414 – E-Mail: kpayne@georgebrown.ca

Given the link between the School of Labour and Toronto & York Region Labour Council, it is probable that the School of Labour is a social-democratic or reformist organization. John Cartwright, the former president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council wrote the following in 2018:

We need to fight for labour law reform including broader based bargaining so that precarious workers can have a vehicle in which to achieve dignity and economic justice.

My comment to that statement, made in a previous post:

It is unlikely that he means by economic justice the creation of a working-class movement organized to abolish the treatment of workers as a class. He probably means the signing of a collective agreement, with its management rights clause. (For an example of a management rights clause.  Management Rights: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia

Compare this with the money circuit of capital (The Money Circuit of Capital) to determine whether workers experience economic justice even in the best-case scenario of a collective agreement. Or do not socialist principles include opposing treating human beings as things, as mere means for others’ purposes?

More Direct Evidence that Ms. Hornick is a Social Democrat or Social Reformer

But this is only indirect evidence that Ms. Hornick holds social-democratic or social-reformist views–views that aim to humanize the class power of employers (alias capitalism) rather than abolish it. Is there more direct evidence? Yes, there is. 

Ms. Hornick, although likely an improvement over Mr. Thomas’ leadership, shares much of Thomas’ beliefs–and those of other union leaders throughout Canada. Thus, she, like they, uses the rhetoric of “fair contracts.”

  1. From  https://opseu.org/news/on-the-line-college-faculty-strike-bulletin-4/16849/, dated November 1, 2017: 

On the Line: College Faculty Strike Bulletin #4

Your bargaining team is ready to bargain when contract talks resume Thursday.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system. We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.” JP Hornick, bargaining team chair. [my emphasis]

On November 8, 2017, OPSEU had a news conference concerning negotiations between academic faculty in Ontario colleges and the College Employer Council (CEC, or the Council), representative for the employer. At the beginning of the presentation, there is written the following: 

OPSEU college faculty held a press conference in Toronto, Tuesday, November 7, affirming their commitment to bargaining a fair contract that includes quality education and fairness for all faculty. [my emphases]

A further message indicates how the management side acted: 

Colleges have called for a forced vote on their final offer, which contains serious concessions. Meanwhile, faculty remain strong on the picket line at colleges across the province. 

Mr. Thomas, who at the time was the president of OPSEU, then indicated that the union negotiating team had not thought that there was a great gulf between the parties to negotiations. However, on Monday the government as negotiator indicated that it was going to ask the Ministry of Labour to conduct a vote–a legal move that they can do once. Mr. Thomas then indicated that the union negotiating team modified its demands and met the employer more than half way. They wanted the Council  to come back to the bargaining table since they were very close to a deal. 

Ms. Hornick, presumably as a member of the negotiating team, then implied that the Council’s request for a vote was continuous with the tactics of the Council since July, “which is to dictate rather than negotiate.” Despite the dictatorial attitude of the Council, both sides did manage to agree on many things before the last request for a vote. What was mainly left was the academic freedom piece. That issue revolved around “who is better placed to make decisions for our classrooms? Is it the faculty who are working with the students, or administrators who may have not even taught before or don’t know the subject matter.” The union negotiating team tabled an offer at that point, and the Council came back with a new final offer that contained many concessions that were designed to undermine the work the union negotiating team had done on protecting contract faculty. Their counter offer also tried to create unlimited overtime and individual bargaining with faculty. The union negotiating team could not accept this. The Council then indicated  that it was taking this to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for a forced offer vote. 

The night before this conference, the union negotiating team came back with a counter offer: retain the old collective agreement except for the items that both had already agreed to during negotiations, such as language that would protect contract faculty in terms of job security and seniority. The union negotiating team also took the language concerning academic freedom used by other party and worked into a clause that should have been acceptable by Council. Ms. Hornick then summarized what the union negotiating team had offered the night before the conference:  

  1. status quo
  2. things they had agreed on 
  3. and academic freedom–a no-cost item

But the Council rejected the offer.

Mr. Hornick then proceeded to indicate that the union negotiating team was still ready to negotiate so that a final negotiated agreement could be taken for ratification and faculty would be happily back in our classrooms very soon. 

The college faculty went out on strike, and the strike lasted for about five weeks, until the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne legislated the workers back to work. 

To return to the main issue: how is it possible to obtain “fair contracts” in the context of the class power of employers? What does the term “fair contracts” mean? Sam Gindin, former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), wrote the following:

[But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

Is this persistent reference to “fair contract” an abstract slogan? Does it not cover up the real nature of the power relation between management and workers? 

What of the phrase “fairness for all faculty?” What does that mean? Is it possible to achieve fairness for all faculty in the context of the employer-employee relation? Such a relation is hierarchical and characterized by dictatorship (see for example  Employers as Dictators, Part One). 

Or is the following an example of a “fair contract?” From Academic Employees Collective Agreement Between College Employer Council (the Council) for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and: Ontario Public Service Employees Union (for Academic Employees), effective from: October 1, 2017 to: September 30, 2021. 

Article 6
MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS

6.01 It is the exclusive function of the Colleges to:

(i) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

(ii) hire, discharge, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, lay off, recall and suspend or otherwise discipline employees subject to the right to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent provided in this Agreement;

(iii) manage the College and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, courses, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of campuses and facilities, services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment, or cessation of operations and all other rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

6.02 The Colleges agree that these functions will be exercised in a manner consistent
with the provisions of this Agreement.

Who made the employer the dictator? Why is it that they have such power? Why the separation of administrative powers from the actual work of the workers who constitute and make up the university? And not just academic faculty. There are library workers, administrative personnel, cleaning personnel, trade persons and so forth. 

What of “good jobs?” 

As I wrote in another post (The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Three: Collective Bargaining and the Interests of the Working Class): 

Furthermore, a few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have “decent jobs,” but even that situation has eroded over time. It should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

The concept of “decent jobs” or “decent work” even in the case of tenured professors cannot be divorced from the general economic, political and social context within which such workers work. As Thomas Hodgskin wrote (1825):

To enable … the labourer to devote himself to any particular occupation, it is … necessary that he should possess … a conviction that while he is labouring at his particular occupation the things which he does not produce himself will be provided for him, and that he will be able to procure them and pay for them by the produce of his own labour. This conviction arises, in the first instance, without any reflection from habit. As we expect
that the sun will rise tomorrow, so we also expect that men in all time to come will be actuated by the same motives as they have been in times past. If we push our inquiries still further, all that we can learn is, that there are other men in existence who are preparing those things we need, while we are preparing those which they need. The conviction may, perhaps, ultimately be traced them to our knowledge that other men exist and labour.

Ms. Hornick, of course, cannot be accused of focusing exclusively on the work of tenured professors. She, along with the other members of the bargaining team, attempted to provide protection for contract faculty as well. However, the implicit standard of the bargaining team in general and Ms. Hornick in particular for determining what constitutes “good jobs” is permanent, relatively secure employment–with a particular employer.

Even if all faculty in the colleges had relatively secure positions (a big if), in the first place, there are other workers in the colleges that do not have such security. Furthermore, to ignore the insecurity of other workers in all branches of work (industrial, commercial, financial, transport, agriculture, construction, high technology, education, health care) and to call the isolated work of relatively secured work at colleges “good jobs” is to define what constitutes a good job on the basis of a part of a whole that involves ignoring the whole of which it is a part. 

To ignore the division of labour and what makes possible the work of any particular part simply leads to narrow-mindedness and, ultimately, to the illusion of security since, if the sea of other workers involves insecure work, how can even the secure workers remain secure?

As I wrote in the other post: 

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Guatemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.”

To focus exclusively on the work of a bargaining unit (which is what unions do, at least in Canada) while neglecting the general context in which the bargaining unit functions is a narrow and sectionalist point of view that ignores the reality of social interdependence of workers on each other. As Hodgskin pointed out, pages 45-46: 

To enable either the master manufacturer or the labourer to devote himself to any particular occupation, it is only necessary that he should possess … a conviction that while he is labouring at his particular occupation the things which he does not produce himself will be provided for him, and that he will be able to procure them and pay for them by the produce of his own labour. This conviction arises, in the first instance, without
any reflection from habit. As we expect that the sun will rise to-morrow, so we also expect that men in all time to come will be actuated by the same motives as they have been in times past. If we push our inquiries still further, all that we can learn is, that there are other men in existence who are preparing those things we need, while we are preparing those which they need. The conviction may, perhaps, ultimately be traced then to our knowledge that other men exist and labour.

The unconscious dependence of one set of workers on other workers, however, should not be used as a reason for omitting such objective dependence; those who represent workers should acknolwedge such dependence–after all, such objective dependence is the basis for arguing for the need for solidarity among workers. 

Admittedly, tenured professors have much more freedom in their work than untenured ones and contract faculty (faculty who do not have permanent status and who often experience precarious working conditions), but this freedom, when set in the context of the general lack of freedom among the working class, needs to be taken into account when referring to “fair contracts” and “good jobs.” Freedom for a minority of workers that involves the negation of freedom for the majority of workers hardly constitutes freedom based on working-class solidarity. 

As for “quality education,” although it is certainly better to fight for faculty workers who have a more stable position and thus provide more consistent and continuous service to students, quality education as a goal requires a consideration of the entire educational system, from kindergarten to university. For example, what is Ms. Hornick’s position with respect to the existence and need for grades (marks) when evaluating a student’s work? Does she think that the existence of grades interferes with the learning process? Collective agreements hardly have begun to address that, and I doubt that Ms. Hornick refers to this at all in her reference to “quality education.” Her reference is to a very narrow definition of what constitutes “quality education”–limited in reference to the immediate situation of the university. (For a critique of the use of grades in schools, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). 

2. On May 5, 2021, we read: 

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Conversation

Of course, unionized settings, by limiting the power of management, do tend to keep communities safER, but hardly SAFE. This is bullshitting the workers. Another union rep was more truthful. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster, doctoral dissertation, page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

“…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

3. From    http://www.local244.ca/2022/jobaction , dated January 17, 2022: 

W2R Update #4: Town Hall Meeting, Jan 5, 2022 06:30 PM

5. What should I tell my students about work-to-rule?

You are invited to adapt either of the following messages, to suit your purposes…: 

“In response to the College Employer Council’s decision to unilaterally impose employment conditions after college faculty voted to support strike actions (https://www.collegefaculty.org/2021/12/17/opseu-sefpo-stands-in-support-of-college-faculty-members/), Ontario college faculty are now following work-to-rule guidelines established by the Faculty Bargaining Team.

Faculty have chosen to focus on our students’ needs and not interrupt College courses with a strike at this time, while demanding that our employer negotiate a fair resolution to this labour dispute [my emphasis]. Work-to-rule means that we will be working only the time outlined by our current contract and workload assignments, or our job descriptions. This means that we may not be available for additional, volunteer work that we may normally do, or work outside of regular work hours. Therefore, we may take more time than usual to respond to emails or other forms of communication and any additional work-related requests.

Currently we are in Phase 2 of the planned work-to-rule job actions. For more information on these actions including a work-to-rule FAQ, please visit: https://www.collegefaculty.org/work-to-rule/.

We appreciate your patience and your support in our efforts to improve working conditions for Ontario college faculty and the learning conditions of Ontario college students.”

In solidarity,

Your CAATA Bargaining Team

Ms. Hornick was chair of  the CAATA bargaining team at the time. 

4. The following is from a series of bargaining updates: From  https://opseu354.ca/bargaining-updates/   : 

Faculty solidarity works: your team is doing everything we can to protect the year for students, and to achieve a fair settlement that addresses faculty needs. It is up to the College Presidents to do their part.

In solidarity,

JP, Jonathan, Katie, Michelle, Ravi, Rebecca, Shawn

Your CAAT-A Bargaining Team

I assume JP means J.P. Hornick.

Ms. Hornick’s position is very similar to the position of Brian Forbes, who was president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union from 2002 until 2004 (see for example my post Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Three).  Mr. Forbes complained that the Nova Scotia government, as employer, was engaging in underhanded methods by, on the one hand, not negotiating in good faith and, on the other hand, in trying to negotiate independently of the negotiating team. From Brian Forbes (Spring/Summer 2017), “The Assault on Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Rights in Nova Scotia,” in pages 20-29, Our Schools/Our Selves, page 21: 

While the two [negotiating] teams were engaged in trying to establish dates for further meetings, the Union’s chief negotiator, lawyer Ron Pink, was “approached by senior representative of the province … and asked if [he] would have a ‘discussion’ with the government about the possibility of settling the issues in dispute without lengthy and diffcult negotiations.” According to Mr. Pink, that led to “negotiations” between himself and the individual who had approached him, during which he consulted with “senior leadership of the union” and relayed their responses back to the unnamed government representative. 

Brian Forbes implies that was needed was fair negotiations–the usual process of give and take of conceding certain demands of the other side of negotiations if the other side does the same to the point where an agreement is reached that addresses the interests of both parties. The intent is to reach an agreement–but not at the expense of one’s own “bottom line.” Strikes or lockouts thus form part of the whole process even in the case of “fair negotiations.” 

I have constantly questioned on this blog the idea that, from the workers’ point of view, that there can be such a thing as a fair collective-bargaining process or fair collective agreement (fair contract). This is ideology that hides the reality of oppression and exploitation for most workers, whether unionized or non-unionized. 

Ms. Hornick undoubtedly is right to show concern about the tactics of management. As she stated in her presentation in the first point above, the union negotiating team bent over backward to reach an agreement: they proposed the maintenance of the former collective agreement, with the exception of three areas. 

The above quote manages to contain two clichés: “fair contracts” and “good jobs”(a.k.a. “decent work.” Good jobs are, apparently, relatively secure jobs that pay a unionized rate and provide some protection from the power of management. The opposite of good jobs is precarious jobs that pay minimum wage, are non-unionized and provide little protection from the power of management (except as provided by legislation, such as the Employment Standards Act). “Fair contracts” are, presumably, contracts negotiated by employers in good faith, recognizing the legitimacy of the union and the concerns of workers that are negotiated. 

I will not repeat what I have written elsewhere concerning the lack of critical thinking when it comes to using these two clichés (see for example Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and  Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?). 

5. On May 9, 2022, Ms. Hornick retweeted: 

JP Hornick Retweeted

OPSEU 231
 
@local231opseu

Thinking of our Union brothers and sisters with

as they begin their job action to get a fair agreement [my emphasis]. #SolidarityForever

Quote Tweet
 
CityNews Toronto
 
@CityNewsTO
·
Industrial and commercial construction projects across Ontario are expected to be impacted after workers with the Carpenters District Council of Ontario walked off the job at midnight. toronto.citynews.ca/2022/05/09/car
 

Of course, any radical leftist, out of solidarity, would generally support strike efforts of union members, but they would take issue about the rhetoric of “fair agreement.” 

Further evidence of her reformist views is her praise of the work of correction officers–whom she believes “keep us safe” in some fashion. But I will leave that, perhaps, to follow-up post. How they do so she fails to indicate.

Conclusion

Ms. Hornick’s stint as president of OPSEU will probably be an improvement, at least initially, over the former president, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, who was president for over 14 years. However, given that she shares the same beliefs as Mr. Thomas when it comes to the issue of the fairness of collective agreements, she may well end up similar to the current views of Mr. Thomas. It would be interesting to compare Mr. Thomas’ views, when he initially became president of OPSEU, and his current views. 

In a future post on this topic, perhaps, it will be shown that Ms. Hornick’s views on the role of corrections officers, whom OPSEU represents, reflect once again a social-democratic view–if not a more conservative and reactionary view. 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Thirteen: A Critique of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE)

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.

In previous posts (see for example A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One), I have implied that the principal of Ashern Central School, Neil MacNeil, used, among other methods, outcome-based education as a method of oppressing me when evaluating my performance as a teacher. He wrote:

We discussed whether students should have learning goals identified for them. I pointed out the research backing doing so; Fred characterized this as unnecessary and counterproductive to the “inductive” methods he is utilizing with them. I also encouraged Fred to at least ensure that the learning goals were clarified in future preconference meetings.

In my written response, I replied to this:

If there is indeed research, I am certainly willing to read up on the issue. In fact, I indicated during one of the conferences that I would appreciate references so that I could read such research (especially articles since I do not have the time to read many books these days). He claimed that the specification of learning goals was the single most important variable in determining learning. As a philosopher of education, I am skeptical of such wide-sweeping assertions. My understanding of the learning process is that it is much more complicated than that. However, I am certainly open to such a claim and would enjoy reading up on the matter. I wanted to know more.

I did search for an hour at the resources on learning goals that the administrator provided me the day before I received the clinical evaluation report. I found no specific research that justifies the assertion that the specification of learning goals is the most important determinant of learning. Attached is a copy of evidence that I did go on the sites referenced by the administrator. I received the sites for resources only the evening before I received the clinical evaluation, and in effect only read them a little while before receiving the clinical evaluation.

Re: “Fred characterized this as unnecessary and counterproductive to the “inductive” methods he is utilizing with them.”

The use of “ ” marks in this observation may be a sign of a lack of respect for my ideas. The administrator has shown little empathy for my ideas.

OBE, therefore, has political implications.

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

Colleen Capper and Michael Jamison, in their article, “Outcomes-Based Education Reexamined: From Structural Functionalism to Poststructuralism,” find that outcome-based education (OBE), though in a few respects empowering to students, generally reproduce the same oppressive school structure as before.

The immediate relevance of the issue of the extent to which OBE is empowering or oppressive is the push in Canadian circles for having teachers specify learning on the basis of outcomes (or “learning goals”), with the design of units to be a process of “backward design”.

The idea of specifying outcomes and then specifying the means to achieve those outcomes seems at first glance to be logical. The authors question, however, whether OBE is really as liberating for students (and teachers) as its advocates imply.

OBE has at least four aspects: the focus is on student success, with schools controlling the environmental conditions for success; curriculum design and pedagogy are a function of explicit learner outcomes; outcomes are differentiated into core (or essential) outcomes for all learners and extended outcomes (for the more gifted); mastery learning (based on Bloom’s concept of mastery learning), or the learning of prerequisite skills before moving on to more complicated or advanced skills with time constraints of the traditional curriculum being loosened (credit recovery, for example);  a management information system that permits the teacher to monitor students’ progress in terms of prerequisite skills learned and to group students according to skill sets already achieved; and, finally, an assessment system that tests the whole range of skills required for mastery learning a loosening of traditional time constraints, with an incomplete being assigned until the student has completed the set of defined skills.

Advocates of OBE imply that it enables a clearer conception of the curricula, permits the use of better pedagogical techniques and satisfies the need for more reliable and valid assessment measures of student achievement.

There are at least three forms of OBE. Traditional OBE involves the use of the same curriculum, but with clearer focus on learning outcomes. Transitional OBE specifies essential learning outcomes. Transformational OBE, being the most advanced form for some, in addition to specifying the essential outcomes to be learned for success, emphasizes attitudes and skills that have broad implications for success in their future in the modern world, such as critical thinking skills; it requires a reworking of the curriculum to satisfy those broad implications for success.

Ironically, one feature of OBE seems to have been at best only partially adopted in modern school systems in Canada—constraints of time. Traditional schooling has operated according to instructional time distributed over a set curriculum. OBE permits the breakdown of learning into outcomes that students can master at their own pace. Mastery of the material rather than ploughing through the material in a set period of time becomes possible; results can be the focus rather than the inputs from a set curriculum in a limited period of time. However, in Canada OBE the use of credit recovery, for example, only partially offsets constraints of time.

In addition to learner outcomes, a complete OBE program includes, among other things, a core and extended curriculum and criterion-referenced assessment. Its watchword is student success, and it assumes that all students can succeed.

The authors then analyze OBE from various theoretical lenses: structural-functionalist, interpretive, critical and poststuctural. Structural-functionalist and interpretive paradigms aid in reproducing the status quo; the difference between them is that structural-functionalism considers the status quo to be objective whereas interpretivism considers the status quo to be constructed socially and subjectively. Critical theory, by contrast, seeks social change by intellectually grasping and criticizing social reality that is largely oppressive. Critical theory is grounded in pure reason, considers a universal consensus among the oppressed to be possible and focuses more on class rather than on other forms of oppression; Capper considers these aspects of critical theory to be limiting factors.

Poststructuralism shares with critical theory a concern for social change but casts suspicion on any claim for universality and objectivity through reason given that people have multiple identities. Like interpretivism, it views the social world as a product of subjective reality.

The authors examine the language of OBE, its construction of personal identity and the extent to which OBE reproduces inequities from the point of view of the various paradigms.

OBE shares much with the structural-functionalist paradigm. For instance, knowledge is treated as a summation of its parts rather than the whole being more than its parts.  Discrete bits of learning are determined beforehand, dissected and distributed, often through a central agency. Control by others is the watchword despite the rhetoric of student success. Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices are centralized (controlled from a central bureaucracy), and learners are organized according to predefined skill sets.

Transformational OBE does share with the interpretivist paradigm a concern for cooperative structures of learning. However, the interpretivist paradigm also holds that students learn best when what they are learning connects with their own interests—something which OBE, transformational or otherwise, ignores.

From the point of view of critical theory, there is little in OBE, transformational or otherwise, that leads to greater social equity and equality of opportunity. OBE does not aim at social change in such a way that oppression is lessened. Tightened control over the teaching process is hardly equivalent to real social change that leads to more equitable results.

Advocates of OBE may reply that, by removing time constraints for achievement, students are indeed empowered to a  greater extent. They may even suggest that they are concerned with fighting against oppression and for social justice.

However, Capper and Jamison question such advocates claims since OBE’s underside involves authoritarian structures of power—as poststructuralist analysis reveals. In particular, OBE does fails those who are disabled, especially the cognitively disabled. Furthermore, since OBE grounds its assessment on performance of set achievements, if a person cannot perform adequately even if understanding of the material is present, then failure will ensue.

A more telling criticism of OBE, even in its transformative form, is that the skills and knowledge specified in advance as required for success are assumed to enable students to succeed in current society. Current social structures within mainstream society are assumed to be the standard; there is little criticism of that standard itself. OBE is therefore conservative in its very nature and hardly progressive. One can imagine a white, male principal defining OBE in terms of student success—as defined by the experiences of the white, male principal and not in terms of the student’s own background and experiences. In the end, as the German philosopher wrote of Schelling’s philosophy—all cows are black (or white, male and middle class in this instance).

Mastery of the curriculum outcomes typical of OBE leaves little room for co-evolution of the curriculum and the students’ experiences. Furthermore, those who determine the outcomes are little different from earlier, state-mandated curriculum: policy makers, curriculum consultants and a few teachers. The outcomes are externally determined and controlled and defined according to what this minority deems to be worthy and relevant to have learned by the time students have finished high school. There is little flexibility in terms of the content of the curriculum. Related to this issue is the lack of control by most teachers  in determining outcomes; OBE is a way of increasing control over teachers by rigidly defining what they are to teach and by assessing them on that basis.

Differentiation of the curriculum into core and extended components also easily leads to a continued division of students into average students and an elite set of students destined to university or other, more prestige post-secondary institutions.

Finally, criterion-based assessment, in practice, results in students in the same age-level working on  substantially different outcomes as some require to spend substantial periods of time in attaining the minimal level of achievement specified in advance for advancement to another level of skill. Some may never be exposed to the extended curriculum since they must demonstrate mastery at a certain level before they can advance. OBE, together with criterion-based assessment, merely reproduces the inequities that already exist between different sets of students—despite the rhetoric of success for all students.

OBE, in whatever form, essentially relies on the structural-functionalist paradigm, which merely reproduces the status quo of injustice and inequity.

The authors then argue that what is required is participation by students and community in the determination of their own curriculum and education. They then note that poststructural and critical theory may be wed in some fashion by critical theory providing the direction and poststructuralism providing the deconstruction necessary for reason to be continuously challenged through tension and disagreement.

Such a view, though, is so general that it provides little guidance in practice. For example, school bureaucrats, who are also representatives of the employers of teachers, are so certain that they are right in instituting OBE and criterion-referenced assessment (currently characteristic of Manitoba public schools) and all others who question them are wrong, that the question becomes: How are we to struggle against such authoritarian impositions?

Indeed, why is it that teachers have not engaged in such struggle? An answer may lie in the deskilling of teachers and their becoming more like the rest of the working class: cogs in the economic  and school structure. In other words, an answer may lie in what teachers also are: employees, or things to be used by employers.

Should we as teachers and as employees not query whether OBE leads to just outcomes and is educationally sound?

Fred

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?

The Toronto Star published an article in the Opinion section by the social-democratic reformer here in Toronto, Jim Stanford, on January 8, 2022, which directly relates to a previous post  (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  )   as well as to other posts in this series critically analyzing Mr. Stanford’s economic theories and assumptions.

I am going to quote verbatim the entire article by Mr. Stanford in order for the reader to see the complete picture which Stanford paints before analyzing it. I will refer to an earlier post to show how Stanford contradicts himself.

When death is a cost of business

Strong rules needed to force employers to do right thing

Throughout COVID-19, there’s been an uncomfortable tension in how political leaders, employers and public opinion have reacted to the challenges of working during a pandemic.

On one hand, many acknowledged the courage and sacrifice of those who kept providing essential services despite the risks. We applauded health care workers and first responders. And we thanked those in more humble, undervalued roles: like grocery clerks, cleaners, and delivery drivers, whose continued labour helped us weather the crisis.

On the other hand, a deeper reflex remained in place among employers and governments. They could quickly revert to a more dollars-and-sense perspective, in which workers are just another productive input: something whose continued supply must be assured and whose cost must be minimized.

Grocery chains offered $2 an hour bonuses during the scary initial weeks of the pandemic, but snatched them away as soon as operationally (and politically) feasible. Pandemic pay was replaced by million-dollar bonuses for CEO amidst a COVID-fueled grocery boom. Premiers [heads of provincial governments in Canada] praised health care workers for their bravery, and then demanded cuts in their pay. And from the outset, the willingness of negligent employers to sacrifice the health and even lives of workers to maintain production–in slaughterhouses, corporate farms and Amazon warehouses–was a frightening reminder of the amorality of the profit motive.

Now, with Omicron out of control, it seems employers and public health officers have thrown in the towel in the fight to limit contagion, protect workers and customers, and support isolation when needed.

The cannon shot signalling this new, grim approach was the relaxation of isolation requirements for workers with COVID. This started in December when the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention cut the isolation period to just five days (for those infected and close contacts). It was lobbied hard by U.S. employers, who wanted sick workers back on the job faster.

Scientific evidence on this issue is mixed at best. Recent research suggests the average contagious period for vaccinated COVID patients is 5.5 days–and since that’s the average, it’s longer for many patients. But it wasn’t science that ruled the day: it was the complaints of employers that isolation was depriving them of needed workers.

Other jurisdictions rejected the U.S. precedent. And America’s sorry COVID record (it registered more than a million new cases last Monday alone) hardly constitutes a role model. But influenced by similar complaints from Canadian employers, our officials fell in line.

The five-day rule has now been mimicked in several provinces (including Ontario, Alberta and B.C. [British Columbia].

In Quebec, the government even requires some health workers to stay on the job with COVID. Alberta gives individual employers discretion in deciding staff shortages necessitate isolation periods of less than five days. Meanwhile, B.C.’s health officer bluntly stated she is no longer interested in “telling (employers) what to do.” Instead, each business should make its own plan to avoid shutting down because of staff shortages.

Leaving life-and-death decisions to the discretion of individual profit-seeking employers wilfully ignores the power imbalances that shape the day-to-day reality of workplaces. Without clear, strong rules, workers don’t have a chance of forcing their employers to behave responsibly.

Business leaders celebrate this turn to light-touch COVID-regulation. Workers can be forgiven for feeling differently. Now, in addition to fears of catching COVID, accessing testing and protecting loved ones, workers face an added danger: their employer can demand coworkers return to work even if contagious. Most perversely of all, almost no Canadian jurisdictions (outside of federally regulated industries and B.C.) guarantee enough sick pay to cover even this shorter isolation period.

Perhaps more than any recent history, COVID-19 has highlighted the callous logic of capitalism. Bosses need workers to keep working, no matter what: after all, that’s what produces the value added. And if workers must die in the process, so be it. We must keep the wheels of commerce turning–and keep profits (which perversely rose during the pandemic) flowing.

No wonder workers are angry. No wonder there are more strikes, more union drives and more individual acts of resistance (like resignations). When you suddenly realize your boss will tolerate your death as a cost of doing business, your attitude toward them (and your job) changes considerably.

Let us list several facts pointed out in the article:

  1. “Throughout COVID-19, there’s been an uncomfortable tension in how political leaders, employers and public opinion have reacted to the challenges of working during a pandemic.” (It is unclear who the “public” is. Does it include mainly workers? Mainly workers but, in addition, the unemployed (challenges of not working and trying to find a job), children and adolescents in school (children of parents surely “react” to the challenges their parents often have faced during the pandemic), seniors who are not working for an employer, self-employed (they work), and so forth. Probably, but it would have been helpful to have differentiated public opinion somewhat; of course, in a newspaper, there is a limited amount of space for elaboration. In any case, there has been some tension between three “groups.”
  2. This tension was expressed, on the one hand, in the recognition of the heroic sacrifice of essential workers who produced what we needed to both survive and have access at least to some of our normal comforts (such as agricultural workers producing food; factory workers producing toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks; grocery workers processing the exchange relations that permitted the transfer of property from capitalist corporations to consumers) and health workers who attended to the sick from COVID-19 and, on the other hand, in the priority of the pursuit of profit by employers and reinforced by governments by treating workers as mere inputs to the production and exchange process, an input whose costs need to be minimized in order to maximize profits.Why would anyone who understands even the basic nature of the relations characterized by the class power of employers be surprised by this? If I remember correctly, John Dewey, a philosopher of education, objected to teaching children the fantasy that lions do not kill and eat their prey–teaching children in effect that the nature of lions is other than what it is and that the natural world needs to be interpreted in human terms. (I learned just how lions do really act when I was an adolescent (or younger–I do not really remember how old I was). My mother and I went to the zoo. We were looking at the lions in a cage. A boy was throwing pebbles at the male lion. Suddenly, the male lion jumped towards me–I froze. It was evident that had the cage not been there, the lion would have attacked me. There was no hesitancy in his act–unlike those who let their morals influence their acts to the detriment of acting at all (as the German philosopher Hegel recounted in his account of the “beautiful soul” who is afraid of tainting the moral soul by engaging in any act).Of course, there have been tensions between the well-being of workers and the class interests of employers and governments that, ultimately, represent their interests.Does Stanford think that, all of a sudden, the nature and interests of employers and a  government that, among other reasons, depends on the flow of tax revenues  from the “private economy” for its continued power and existence, would change? Why would anyone who understands the nature of capitalism be surprised by this?One explanation is that Stanford believes that there is such a thing as the “real economy” that is disconnected from the pursuit of profit (the pursuit of ever more money). His theory of money as “purchasing power,” disconnected from production and the nature of the labour that occurs in capitalist workplaces, then enables him to refer to such a world as the “real economy”–under present class power.

    In an earlier post mentioned above, I quoted Stanford: “The economy is not a thing in and of itself. The economy is what we refer to as the work that people do to produce goods and services and then how those goods and services are distributed and used.”

  3. He then implied that this “real economy” was somehow operating independently of the class of employers–an illegitimate assumption. The economy in the kind of society cannot be separated from the pursuit of more money–because that is the nature of the beast (just like a lion’s hunting and killing its prey (when it succeeds) is the nature of lions). The economy is a capitalist economy, and this economy is not the same as “the work that people do to produce goods and services and then how those goods and services are distributed and used”–as if the goal were the mere production of socially useful things and their distribution to others so that they can use them. When I worked at the capitalist brewery, our production of beer was necessarily united with our oppression and exploitation.
  4. In the initial phase of the pandemic, grocery stores increased wages by $2 an hour, but then they eliminated them. Stanford’s reference to snatching away this $2 an hour “as soon as operationally (and politically) feasible” does not explain anything. An increase in $2 an hour was probably tied to two typical reasons in an employer-dominated economy for increasing wages: danger pay and a shortage of workers, as an article by Sylvain Charlebois implies (https://retail-insider.com/retail-insider/2020/06/the-end-of-hero-pay-for-grocery-workers-in-canada-an-operational-necessity-expert/): The economics of pay increases at retail are always weak, especially in food retailing. With such low margins, these stipends were offered simply to keep enough staff around and not have operations affected by higher absenteeism rates. It worked for a while, but COVID-19 fears are slowly fading away. But so is the need to incentivize employees to show up for work. The COVID-19 fear factor is diminishing. The money will instead be spent on PPEs and other protective shields, which are likely to remain in place for a while. This seems to be where things are going. Disappointing for employees, but not surprising.
  5. Increases in CEO pay. This is nothing new; it has been going on as the class power of employers has assumed a neoliberal form, with shareholder value and short-term profits taking precedence. (But we should never forget that before neoliberalism, even longer-term profit seeking led to economic crises and necessarily involved daily exploitation and oppression of workers.)
  6. Premiers [heads of provincial governments in Canada] praised health care workers for their bravery, and then demanded cuts in their pay.

    Did all premiers advocate cuts in pay? In Alberta and Ontario they certainly did. But for factually accuracy (I am not a fan of the NDP government as anyone who has read certain posts on this blog will know), in British Columbia the NDP government did not. From https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021HLTH0157-001703

    Beginning this fall, the Province will serve notice under the terms of 21 commercial service contracts and start a phased approach to repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts. The move will improve wages, working conditions, job security and stability for approximately 4,000 workers who rely on their jobs, and the countless patients that they help each day. By promoting a stable and effective workforce, government will be better positioned to offer attractive jobs options to people interested in joining the workforce.

    “Health-care workers rely on a committed and stable workforce to help them with their jobs, and this move also better protects support service workers in their positions,” said Premier John Horgan. “Previous government actions cut health-care wages, took away the jobs they relied on, and created a chain reaction of layoffs that saw women disproportionately affected – the largest such layoffs in Canada’s history. Nearly 20 years later, we are still living with the aftermath of those choices, with workers paid less to do the same work as their colleagues in the public system. It’s time to put a stop to it.”

    This move started with Bill 47 (Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act), which was brought into force through regulation on July 1, 2019. Bill 47 repealed two existing pieces of legislation – the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act (Bill 29) and the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act (Bill 94), which facilitated contracting out in the health sector and caused significant labour impacts.

  7. And from the outset, the willingness of negligent employers to sacrifice the health and even lives of workers to maintain production–in slaughterhouses, corporate farms and Amazon warehouses–was a frightening reminder of the amorality of the profit motive.

If the profit motive is amoral, would it not be logical to advocate for the elimination of the class power of employers and the economic, political and social structures that serve to produce that power and that permits the existence and dominance of the priority of the profit motive over the health of workers?

Stanford contradicts himself. If the profit motive is amoral, why does he say the following:

Without clear, strong rules, workers don’t have a chance of forcing their employers to behave responsibly.

However, Stanford nowhere explicitly or even implicitly advocates the abolition of the class power of employers. Why is that? I will let the reader infer the reasons for Mr. Stanford’s silence over the issue. 

 Conclusion

Mr. Stanford published a book in 2008 titled Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. It is not really a good guide since it fails to characterize a basic fact of capitalism: the sacrifice of the health of workers for the good of–an economy dominated by a class of employers. If rules were really strong enough to force employers to act responsbly, the rules would involve the self-abolition of the class power of employers.

Rather than waiting for that utopian vision, it would be better for workers to organize to abolish the class power of employers themselves.

Basic Income, Decent Wages and John Clarke’s Radicalism: A Tale of Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Deja Vu

I have criticized Mr. Clarke’s views of basic income on a number of occasions, the most recent one being An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three: Basic Income), so i will simply quote a couple of his relatively recent posts on Facebook. The first post is dated May 17, 2022, and the second is dated August 4, 2022.. I will also briefly quote from an article he published on August 6, 2022, in Counterfire ( https://www.counterfire.org/articles/opinion/23380-the-false-promise-of-basic-income-in-wales ) and make a few additional comments. I refer the reader to the above-mentioned post for more detailed criticism.

“With a basic income program, recipients would be motivated to participate in the labour market and feel empowered to discover the most fulfilling way to work without fearing for their financial security.”

That quote leaps out at you as the clearest expression of the basic income delusion. What is proposed here is the provision of a level of income to millions of people that would utterly shift the balance between workers and employers in this society.

The article completely fails to understand that the capitalist job market rests on economic coercion and the seller’s market it envisages here would represent a devastating defeat for the capitalists. Yet this enormous retreat by that class is supposed to happen on the basis of a social policy redesign.

In reality, however, the measure that is being proposed here would work in a way that would actually worsen the situation of working class people because the payment would function as a subsidy to employers and as a cash replacement for existing public services.
Mr. Clarke simply repeats himself in a contradictory manner. Of course, if a minimum basic income is all that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers can expect, then it would probably be better to leave the current welfare system as it is (although Mr. Clarke does not really provide any convincing arguments to the contrary). 
 
Mr. Clarke continues to assume that only a minimum basic income would be the aim of a movement to free workers from the dictates of the market for workers. He continues to contradict himself since he assumes, on the other hand, that adequate housing, free university tuition and so forth will arise with a struggle (see  Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One). Struggle for a radical basic income is not something in the cards, for him–but a struggle for various welfare reforms are. Why does he persist in assuming that those who advocate a radical basic income would presume that it would not require much struggle, indeed, a major struggle between workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants, on the one hand, and the class of employers and the government on the other?
 
Let us assume, however, that he is right. What proposals does he have from moving from the present welfare system to a society freed from the power of a class of employers? His proposals boil down to a refurbished welfare state, with various public services provided by the capitalist state. Of course, even if a refurbished welfare state arose, there would always be the threat of a return to some form of neoliberalism–which is what I argue in another post (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism).
 
Mr. Clarke accuses those who propose a radical basic income of being delusional. I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusion conerning the clarity of Mr. Clarke’s own vision of the nature of the real world, its problems and solutions to those problems. 
 
From August 4, 2022, Facebook:
 
“A Universal Basic Income would require a rethink of the values attached to different types of work, as workers would not be forced to accept just any job.”

I just saw this on Twitter and want to draw attention to it because it so perfectly captures the essence of the sadly pervasive basic income delusion. The problem is a failure to understand the nature and present condition of the society that we live in. What is being proposed is to take from the capitalist class their capacity to exploit workers by ending the economic coercion the job market rests on. This isn’t just about ‘values’ but a proposal to fundamentally challenge capitalism. I’m in favour of such a challenge but that’s a job for the mass action of the working class and not a social policy enactment.

You notice that the tweet pays no attention whatever to the means by which this shattering course of action might be achieved. There’s no proposal for the massive social action to completely change the balance of power in this society that would begin to make this proposal coherent. It is simply assumed that UBI has about it a rationality and fairness that can prevail regardless of social reality. Yet, because the political level is so low in this society, it is possible to write something like this and be taken seriously. If someone were to tweet out that “Staying young means never getting old,” the absurdity would immediately be apparent because those who read it would pass from the desirability of eternal youth to considering how likely it is to happen. Yet, the notion that governments that have worked for decades to intensify the exploitation of the working class are going to suddenly enact a measure that will overturn the very basis for capitalism is taken quite seriously.
At a time when what we demand and how we fight for it are critical issues, the faith based basic income delusion is a preposterous diversion that we must outgrow.
 
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Daphne L. Hunt

UBI = Universal Bandaid Income. Over the past 40 years or so, the corporate sector has contributed less and less to the tax “burden” and more of it is shouldered by individuals. These individuals don’t seem to get that that’s why their taxes are so “high” and they are getting less from them and yet they are yakking on about “personal responsibility” without reference to corporate responsibility. One tells them about the co-operative sector as a means of alleviating poverty and they sniff at it and say “fairy tales” or “granola” sector unaware of the $billions it contributes to GDP and tax revenue, helping people stay employed, and making a healthier economy. But John, you already know all that. I just needed to vent. Thank you.
 
Daniele Colajacomo

I agree with you. Whole policy changes do happen, but if the capitalist class retains its pivotal influence in law making and market manipulation, it will attempt, and likely succeed, in neutering the effects of basic income, likely by bankrupting the state as they try to do with every institution that works against their insatiable interest, then pointing the finger at ubi as the culprit.

Of course, if there is no class struggle, then any universal basic income that threatens the availability of workers for exploitation by employers would be successfully resisted. A social policy that is not backed up by organized power of the working class would be whittled away for the benefit of employers. 

The pilot program initiated in Wales certainly would not become universal. From the article by John Clarke in Counterfire

Following in the footsteps of a sizable number of their international counterparts, the Welsh government has launched a pilot project to study the possibilities of basic income. As it unfolds, ‘more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.’

Mr. Clarke is certainly correct to question whether such a program would be generalized (become universal) since it would probably threaten the job market, as he himself argues: 

In a capitalist society, the job market rests on economic coercion and, if workers or potential workers have an alternative source of income that meets their needs, their bargaining power is massively increased. For that reason, social benefit levels are set high enough to control social unrest but great care is taken to ensure that they are not adequate enough to discourage people from taking low paid jobs.

So, since such a policy would increase the bargaining power of workers. Mr. Clarke, however, does not mention that to aim for such a goal would also threaten the class power of employers. Such a goal could serve as an organizing tool and a rallying point to increase not just “the bargaining power of workers” but their class consciousness and their class power by having workers coming to understand that employers need to have persistent economic coercion in place if they are to control workers in the first place and that the workers need to organize to counterpose such economic coercion by aiming to formulate policies that negate such economic coercion.

What does Mr. Clarke propose as an alternative to a radical basic income? A refurbished welfare system (as I argued in my posts above. He also repeats his social-reformist rhetoric of “decent wages” in his published article: 

The great problem with basic income is that, precisely when there is such an acute need for a major fight back, it seeks a non-existent detour around the class struggle. If precarious, low-wage work has proliferated, rather than fight for decent wages and workers’ rights, it lets the exploiters keep their profits and asks only for wage tops up, paid for out of the taxes of other workers. In its response to technological displacement, instead of fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay, it again lets the capitalists off the hook. [my emphasis]

Mr. Clarke nowhere justifies his assumption that radicals who propose a radical basic income “seek a non-existent detour around the class struggle.” My view (subject to change since a radical basic income policy is a means to an end of aiming to challenge the class power of employers and not an end in itself) is that such a policy likely has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than a refurbished welfare state. It also has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than the aim of “decent wages”–a figment of Mr. Clarke’s social-reformist or social-democratic imagination since there exists no such thing as decent wages in a society dominated by a class of employers. As I wrote in one of my posts cited above: 

Let me make a categorical statement: There is no such thing as a decent wage. To work for an employer is in itself degrading, exploitative and oppressive. The concept of a decent wage serves to hide this exploitative situation (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Mr. Clarke, apparently, only aims at refurbishing the welfare state rather than abolishing exploitation. Like Mr. Bush’s own references to exploitation, Mr. Clarke uses the concept as a rhetorical flourish (in his case, to criticize a radical policy of basic income) while conveniently “forgetting” the concept when it comes to the issue of whether wages can ever be decent.

Furthermore, there is no logical basis for counteposing a struggle for a radical basic income and 
“fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.” They are not mutually exclusive. Mr. Clarke fails to justify his implicit claim that the struggle for a radical basic income cannot include a struggle for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.

The fact that economic coercion exists is used by this social refomer to oppose a policy that possibly challenges such economic coercion–because of the fact itself of economic coercion! It is like saying that because economic exploitation of workers by employers is a fact that therefore workers should not struggle to abolish economic exploitation. 

Critique of a Book Used by Many Psychologists and Psychiatrists to Oppress Patients, Part One

Introduction

This is the first of a five-part series of posts that criticize a book that serves to oppress individuals, whether they have mental health problems or not.

As I indicated in another post (A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine), I engaged in a partial critique of the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, M.D. (1999). This book is used by many psychologists and psychiatrists as a basis for the psychological technique called “mindfulness”–and with reason since Dr. Burns defines human problems independently of social context–quite convenient for the class of employers since the economic, social and political oppressive and exploitative contexts are thereby ignored–or rather suppressed.

The reason why I read the book was that I was required to see a psychologist as a condition of receiving disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers Society (see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Ten). Mr. Alan Slusky, a psychologist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, recommended the book and, in fact, it was supposed to be part of my “therapy”–bibliotherapy. According to Wikipedia:

Bibliotherapy is a creative arts therapies modality that involves storytelling or the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy.

I refer occasionally to John Dewey’s philosophy of science, which I will look at to some extent in the fourth post but especially in the last post of this series. I also refer occasionally to my dissertation. My doctoral dissertation compared the philosophies of human nature of John Dewey (an :American philosopher of education and author of, among other books, Human Nature and Social Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, Democracy and Education and Logic: The Theory of Inquiry) and Paulo Freire (a Brazilian philosopher of education and author, among other books, of Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Critique of the Contents of the Book

Let us now turn to the contents of the book and some of my criticisms.  I do not present my criticism in the order in which I wrote it since the initial points are fairly abstract (I leave those for the fourth and fifth posts in this series). My critical comments are usually either in square brackets or separate points  as a continuation of my comments: 

    1. p.xxx: “Depression is one of the worst forms of suffering because of the immense feelings of shame, worthlessness, hopelessness and demoralization. Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem. Many depressed patients have told me, in fact, that they yearned for death and that they prayed every night that they would get cancer, so they could die in dignity without having to commit suicide.”

    2. P. 9: “In fact, depression is so widespread it is considered the common cold of psychiatric disturbances.” [Would that not be evidence of a social problem for a scientist? Would not even the lay person who is curious wonder why it is so common?]

    3. Page 10: Note: “The idea that thinking patterns can profoundly influence your moods has been described by a number of philosophers [why did he not name a few?] in the past 2500 years. More recently, the cognitive view of emotional disturbances has been explored in the writings of many psychiatrists and psychologists including Alfred Adler, Albert Ellis, Karen Horney, and Arnold Lazarus, to name just a few. A history of this movement has been described in Ellis, A., Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy.”

    4. Page 11: “2. Understanding: A clear understanding of why you get moody and what you can do to change your moods. You will learn what causes your powerful feelings; how to distinguish “normal” from “abnormal” emotions; and how to diagnose and assess the severity of your upsets.”

    5. Page 11: Self-control: You will learn how to apply safe and effective coping strategies that will make you feel better whenever you are upset. … As you apply it, your moods can come under greater voluntary control.

    6. Page 12: “The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your “cognitions,” or thoughts. … You feel the way you do because of the thoughts that you are thinking in this moment. [One of the categories that he uses is “overgeneralization.” Here is a good example of overgeneralization. What is a thought? What is a feeling? What is the relationship between the two? Do feelings cause thoughts? What is the specific causal mechanism that leads from thoughts to feelings? What narrative structure, in conjunction with the descriptive structure? Furthermore, the “self” of human beings is constituted by a set of ways of acting, which are linked to how others act. Money. A set of habits is generally unconscious until a problem arises.] [Which came first? Thoughts or feelings in the process of evolution?]

    7. You create those feelings [feelings are products of the self—the environment plays no part for Burns. The subject of the action of creating feelings is “you”—apparently, you do not consist of feelings—they arise out of thin air. You are feelingless, and the feelings then are magically produced by something completely different from the feelings—thoughts.” Does Burns explain anywhere how people create feelings? Unlikely. This is mysticism, not science, or rather it is mysticism parading as science. How do thoughts “create” feelings? What is the difference between thoughts and feelings?] by the dialogue you are having with this book. [Presentation of the individual self as purely internal. There is no relation to an environment. Feelings are purely internal as are thoughts. But if both are purely internal, are they not the same in some way? This is idealist—and subjective idealism at that—by reducing the individual to purely internal processes. Anti-evolutionary.] [Burns is inferior to anything that Dewey has to offer. Burns assumes the “you” without inquiring into what he means by the “you” Does he mean the person or the body? The formation of the human person? If the “you” is itself a social process that has its focal point in an individual who becomes conscious of processes between the environment and the living being, then this “you” is itself a product and a cause. This one-sided reduction of the “you” to pure thought cannot begin to grasp the complexity of the nature of human beings. Burns does not even reflect on the use of his terms—a lack of critical thinking.]

    8. If “you” are a product of a social process, what then is the relation between the “individual” and the “social”? Burns does not even try to determine the relation since he reduces human nature to the isolated individual who is already formed—and assumes that this isolated individual is the point of departure.

    9. He assumes, in effect, that the human individual is a formed individual, and simply ignores the environmental conditions that contribute to the construction of the “you.”

    10. From Burns’ point of view, prehistoric people merely had to change their way of thinking and they would be like us.

    11. Is not the “you”—and thoughts and feelings—linked to the kind of society in which we live? Would Burns have the you that he does without the Gutenberg press?

    12. Your emotional reaction is generated not by the sentences you are reading but by the way you are thinking. Your thought actually creates the emotion. [creates? How? There is an organic aspect to all reactions, and that organic aspect, when grounded in the cns (central nervous system), can be called feeling. Feeling becomes emotion (something with an object attached to it. Feeling has organic roots and is quite independent of “thought.” Let us see whether this “scientist” explains how thought “creates ”emotion.”]Thought does not create emotion; it is a necessary condition for emotion to arise, but then so too is the environment. This person is an idealist and so too is his theory—despite the “scientific research” he claims. As for science, if thoughts “cause” feelings—in a real scientific sense and not in his pseudo-scientific conception of science, then he should be able to link up the “cause” with the “effect” in one narrative structure such that the beginning and the end form a history. See my dissertation.]

    13. The second principle is that when you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity.” Really? Such a generalization independent of context? His principle must be a physical principle since only physic-chemical principles are universal. Even if it were true—and? The implication is that “negativity” is an unreasonable or unjustifiable response to conditions. Such an assumption is unjustifiable. See the article on justifiable depression.] Social science that pretends to be universal is ideological—except for a few generalities that cannot grasp any definite, concrete relation (cannot exist independently of determinate, concrete relations).

    14. p. 13: “This feeling is absolutely illogical, but it seems so real that you have convinced yourself that your inadequacy will go on forever.” [Does this person live on this planet? There are many individuals who live in hopeless situations. How many children die each year throughout the world from malnutrition and starvation? Should their parents not be depressed? Has he ever experienced depression? This “scientist” becomes ever more pompous and lacks any depth of understanding of what people in this world experience.] [In any case, his statement that it is “absolutely illogical” is itself illogical. No rational scientist would make such a categorical statement independently of circumstances. [Watched a movie recently called “Guilty,” in French. The man was accused falsely of sexual abuse; he was imprisoned; his children were taken away from him (his children were his life); his wife eventually was let go, but she began seeing another man. His mother died while he was in prison. He stayed in prison for almost two years. Despite the recantation of the woman who accused him of sexual abuse, the judges condemned him to 18 months of probation. He tried to kill himself several times. Was it his negative thoughts that led to his depressed feelings? Was it the total situation? “Negative thoughts” may be a contributing determinant of depression, but to reduce depression to just this aspect is a fallacy—a fallacy of reducing a total process and situation to one event within the process or one aspect of it.]

    15. P.13: “The third principle is of substantial philosophical and therapeutic importance. Our research has documented that the negative thoughts which cause your emotional turmoil nearly always contain gross distortion. [Why the emphasis on “always.” Obviously because negative feelings have no real basis—always. But what happens if they do have a basis in reality, but that Burns and company have neglected to determine this in a scientific manner? Do they consider the context in which people live? That is to say, the environment? Or do they act like pre-evolutionary scientists and pretend that human beings are isolated monads, cut off from their environment?] [Who determines what constitutes gross distortions? Burns has such a grip on reality that he does not live in a distorted world? If capitalist society is by its very nature a distorted world, then what are the implications, psychologically?] Although these thoughts appear valid, you will learn that they are irrational or just plain wrong and that twisted thinking is a major cause of your suffering.” [If so many people have twisted thoughts—at the beginning, Burns claims that depression is like the common cold for psychiatrists since it is so prevalent a problem for them, then is not the educational system a possible cause for such twisted thinking? Is not education supposed to teach people how to think? See John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Education Process—the need for reflective thinking (not rationalism as usually defined as pure reason independently of context. Would it not be rational for a person who finds that depression is common to inquire into the conditions of its emergence? But Burns has the magic answer in his cap—negative thoughts. Why so many people have negative thoughts never enters his “scientific” mind, which seems to involve a curious lack of desire to inquire into anything that may contradict his theory. If schools contribute to the lack of a capacity to think, then individual solutions of “changing” thoughts will not do. Burns will have none of that, of course.] [It can be concluded that Burns’ theory ‘nearly always contain[s] great distortions.]

    16. : “Some of the major symptoms include… the conviction that external forces are controlling your mind or body….” [There are—necessarily—in a society characterized by commodity production—a lack of control over forces that determine our body and mind.]

Is Amnesty International a Progressive Organization?–or Is the Term “Progressive Organization” an Example of an Abstract Slogan of Social Democrats? Part One

Introduction

In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. 

Mr. Black states the following: 

SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?

Mr. Gindin’s response? 

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

I have already addressed the issue of whether Oxfam is a “progressive organization” in a previous post (Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats).

This concept of “progressive organizations”–without qualifications or analysis–sounds very much like “an abstract slogan.” Calling such organizations progressive without further ado fails to address the possible limitations of such organizations. It also sounds very much like the use of the term “radical” used by Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrat, Herman Rosenfeld, who has used the term “radical” in a merely social-reformist or social-democratic sense (see my series of posts on the topic, such as What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two). 

Whether an organization is progressive or not should depend on not only what it fights against but also what it implicitly or explicitly accepts as legitimate. In the case of Amnesty International, as I will show below, it implicitly accepts as legitimate the power of employers to exploit and oppress workers. It does not say this, of course, but what it focuses on, what it does not criticize and some of its recommendations imply that existence of employers is legitimate.

In this post, I will provide a general critique of organizations dedicated specifically to human rights and then move to a critique of Amnesty International’s general position. In a subsequent post in this series, I will delve in more detail into AI’s position in relation to the world of work in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. I will also look, briefly, at its shortcomings when it comes to the capitalist state in general and to police in particular.

General Considerations

The use of the term “progressive organizations” usually has a ring of truth about it among the left. Such organizations undoubtedly do some good. However, there are many social organizations that do some good sometimes, but at the same time harm workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers. Government agencies, such as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, undoubtedly protect some children from abuse–but they themselves also harm other children in various ways (see for example  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services  or  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Seven: Complaint Against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Manitoba Ombudsman). 

Doing some good is thus insufficient for determining whether an organization is “progressive.” Or is it that Oxfam and Amnesty International are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and that, as NGOs, they necessarily perform progressive functions? Such a view is, of course, dangerous. 

Consider, for example, a photo connected to the International Labour Organization and UNICEF (and indirectly to OXFAM). The photo–dishonestly–depicts a young girl apparently working as a shoe shiner in order to “sell” opposition to child labour. However, such a photo presents a very unlikely scenario since, firstly, shoeshining is predominantly a male occupation (including boys) and, secondly, the age of the girl would make it highly unlikely that such a person would ever engage in shoeshining in order to try to survive–her hands would be too small and weak to even engage in shoeshining. I quote Thomas  Offit (2008), Conquistadores de la Calle: Child street labor in Guatemala City, pages 19-22: 

Pictures also have served as a means of confusing if not outright misrepresenting the lives of child street laborers. Of course, the camera can lie, and photographers may not be aware of the uses that their employers will dedicate their pictures to, but the image presented in Figure 1.1 stands out in my mind as a photograph that communicates a great deal, little of which has to do with the lived reality of its subject. While I doubt that the authors of the books that utilize the photo intended to misrepresent their subjects, and likely believed that the photo provided visual representation for their well-meaning objectives, by misrepresenting the truth, the photo robs children of their agency as individuals performing meaningful valuable labor.

Figure 1.1 shows a picture from the book Combating Child Labour, an edited volume published in 1988 by the International Labour Organization that details the plight of child laborers in different industries in countries throughout the developing world (Bequele and Boyden 1988). Th e picture is presented with a caption that states “Child working at a street shoe-shining stand in Ecuador,” and also credits the photographer and the organization that provided the photo. Despite the ambiguity of the caption (is the child the shoeshiner and therefore the child laborer, or is she merely working there performing some other task?), the image presented does not equivocate. Of the six chapters in the book that discuss specific types of child labor in specific countries, neither Ecuador nor street labor is specifically addressed, yet the photo appears in the book as a means of accompanying the text. It is an excellent and provocative photo, showing a very young girl with a shock of hair and large eyes looking meekly up at the camera while supporting herself by grabbing onto the shoeshine bench, shoe polish at her side. On the edge of a frame is a cropped image of an unidentified seated adult, presumably a customer. One image and a few words convey to the reader the grave injustice of child labor. I was so struck by the photo when I first saw it that I posted it on the wall of my office as a means of inspiration during the grant-writing stage of my research.This photo was also reprinted in the book Child Labor by ex-UNICEF and Oxfam Education specialist Alec Fyfe (1989). Th e caption in this book reads only “Girl shoe-shining, Ecuador” and credits UNICEF as the source. Th e ambiguity concerning what job the girl is performing is resolved, and as shoeshiners are directly compensated for their labor by their customers, we know that the girl is a child laborer and not a child worker merely helping out a family member. In this photo, only the child and the shoeshine bench are visible; the older adult has been edited out of the picture.

Based on my experience, both versions of this photo are misleading, and the second borders on deliberate misrepresentation. In my two years of research in Guatemala, I never saw a girl or a woman shining shoes on the street. While this may be more common in Ecuador, it is rarely reported in the literature on the topic, and I believe it to be anomalous, as shoeshining in Latin America is a male-dominated street occupation. Second, it is also rare that a child as young as the girl pictured, regardless of sex, would be engaged in this task, as it demands a good deal of strength and dexterity that a child of her age would not be likely to possess. If a child her age were to be engaged in child labor, she would be far more likely to be selling newspapers near a family member or engaged in a less physically demanding task. Third, as anyone who has seen a street shoeshiner is likely to observe, the hands and forearms of anyone performing this job, child or adult, are covered with shoe polish even after one or two shines, and the girl in the photo shows no evidence of having shined shoes that day. She looks quite clean, especially considering the grime that surrounds her. Finally, as anyone who knows the intricacies of shoeshining can attest, the purported shoeshine girl is sitting on the customer’s side of the shoeshine bench! Th e sloping footrest that she holds is meant to be facing the shiner so that the toe of the customer is elevated to allow for easier access to the shoe. Based on this photo, it is far more likely that the adult whose image is cropped in the first photo and deliberately eliminated in the second is the shoeshiner, and the young girl, though sitting near him, is either a child street worker engaged in some other task, or simply a child accompanying an adult to work. Th is photo, reprinted here in its first version and many more times in similar volumes as a definitive image of the injustice of child labor, does not picture a child laborer!

Oxfam, the ILO and UNICEF undoubtedly do some good–but we should not assume that this is sufficient for labeling them “progressive organizations.”  Doing good can easily be coupled with doing harm. NGOs should hardly be exempt from criticism. 

A General Look at the Beginnings of the Human Rights Movement

It is interesting how Gindin, a professed socialist and Marxist, neglects to mention how a grassroots  movement for human rights really emerged only in the late 1960s and early 1970s–by stripping such movements of concern for social and economic rights. From Samuel Moyn (2018), Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, pages 121-122: 

THE HUMAN RIGHTS revolution occurred almost ex nihilo in the 1970s. There had been talk and even treaty making in the United Nations since the 1940s, but it testified more to states colluding to protect one another. No serious move had ever been made to fulfill the organization’s promise in its charter to institutionalize not simply peace but justice too. The lone exception of the increasingly outcast state of South Africa aside, human rights rhetoric at the governmental level had remained stillborn, and no state had a visible human rights policy. That changed in a series of stages, above all as new social movements of the 1960s were winnowed down and those movements defined in terms of human rights burst into consciousness across the next decade. Amnesty International, the first high-profile human rights non-governmental organization in history, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, the same year that the American president Jimmy Carter committed his country to a new human rights policy, in part to cleanse the stain of Vietnam from the national image.

Easily the most extraordinary fact about this human rights revolution, from the perspective of ideals about how to distribute the good things in life, is that, with some key exceptions, it unceremoniously purged attention to economic and social rights, to say nothing of a fuller-fledged commitment to distributive equality. It was a striking contrast to the spirit of social rights in the era of national welfare, when they were not only integral to human rights overall but linked to egalitarian idealism and outcomes at the national scale. Now, as if the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) had never been about national welfare, it was remembered as a charter meant to save the individual from the state’s depredations of civil liberties rather than to empower the state to make individual flourishing and equality a reality.

Moyn certainly neglects increasing concerns for human rights before the 1970s, as Sarita Cargas (2016) argues, in “Questioning Samuel Moyn’s Revisionist History of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 38, Number 2, , page 425: 

This conclusion [that human rights was in public discourse] is finally supported by a review of how many articles in the New York Times referred to human rights. In 1930, sixty articles used the phrase, in 1940, eighty-one articles. But by 1948, 571 articles include it. In 1950, 495 articles use it but only 260 in 1955. But by 1968, the number of articles referring to human rights jumps to 625. This data means, on average, the reader of the New York Times would have read about human rights in one to three articles every single day from the late 1940s onward. This does not negate Moyn’s statement that “In 1977 the New York Times featured the phrase ‘human rights’ five times more frequently than in any prior year,”80 but it does disprove the assertion that no one had heard the phrase before Carter’s inaugural speech.

However, Sarita herself neglects the increasing grassroots nature of the movement for human rights. Furthermore, since she shows little concern for the issue of capitalism versus socialism (an issue which an academic leftist, Jeff Noonan, considers to be a dead-end–see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Nine: The Nature of Capitalism) she neglects how both Amnesty International and its close cousin, Human Rights Watch, emerged as substitutes for a socialist movement. From Moyn (2018), pages 122-123: 

… especially in the global north, Cold War assumptions had long since damaged the 1940s communion of civil and political with economic and social rights, through the sheer force of insistence and repetition. And then, the new visibility of human rights ideals occurred as activists, disillusioned about the failures of socialism, the violence socialist politics sparked, or both—including in socialism’s postcolonial forms—embraced their roles, conceiving of “human rights” as a morally pure form of activism that would not require the exaggerated hopes or depressing compromises of past utopias.

Graphic evidence of the turn away from socialism and the skepticism toward social rights comes from Peter Benenson and Aryeh Neier, the respective founders of the first prominent global non-governmental organization and of the major American one concerned with human rights across the period. Despite having stood as a candidate for the Labour Party several times in his earlier life, when Benenson founded Amnesty International in the 1960s, he explicitly understood it as an alternative to socialism and set in motion a pattern that led the group to confine its attention to a narrow focus on political imprisonment. It added torture to its bailiwick in the 1970s. and the death penalty in the 1980s, shifting to poverty only after the millennium. “Look on the Socialist Parties the world over, ye mighty, and despair,” Benenson explained to a correspondent in justification of his emphases. Part of the reason for his depression was his own serial losses in election campaigns, but he also admitted, in the Christian idiom that frequently crept into his work, that “the quest for an outward and visible Kingdom is mistaken.” For the founder, human rights activism was much more about saving the activist’s soul, rather than building social justice. 

American Aryeh Neier founded Human Rights Watch in the 1970s with an exclusionary attention to political violations in left-and right-wing regimes. Despite his early political awakening, thanks to the six-time socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas, and his past as the president of the labor-affiliated Student League for Industrial Democracy (which later became Students for a Democratic Society), Neier nonetheless chose a class-free civil libertarianism as his definitive mode of politics. Given that the American Civil Liberties Union, over which he presided before co-founding Human Rights Watch, had ascended to prominence by departing from the class politics that originally birthed it, Neier’s Cold War stewardship of liberties and rights confined his attention to basics like free speech and a free press. Human Rights Watch functioned primarily to transfer such single-minded civil libertarianism abroad, with funding from foundation grants that singled out state repression rather than pursuing a more contentious social justice. Through the end of his career in the organization, Neier fought bitterly with anyone who tried to make room for distributive justice, including as a matter of social rights, tirelessly invoking the Cold War liberal Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between negative liberty and positive self-realization in his defense.

Human rights as an international grassroots movement emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, and it arose and flourished shortly before neoliberalism arose. This is no coincidence. This does not mean that they are the same, but they are both hegemonic projects that inhibit a movement towards the abolition of a society characterized by the class power of employers and therefore the emergence of a socialist way of living. 

Human rights as usually presented via AI not only substitute the pursuit of human rights at the expense of the struggle for the elimination of the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social forms of exploitation and oppression–that is to say, as a substitute for the struggle for socialism. Human rights organizations, despite their own sometimes detailed efforts to substantiate what they consider to be human rights abuses, often simply neglect to contextualize such abuses in the wider context of the class power of employers. 

From Christoph Henning 2005), Philosophy After Marx: 100 years of misreadings and the normative turn in political philosophy, pages 8-9: 

Marx has largely disappeared from the stage of philosophy since 1989: he has been
declared definitively dead by his critics. His place has been taken, within the sociophilosophical literature published in Germany since the 1990s, by the rise of normative principles. Discussions turned on whether the newly unified country required a new constitution, on how to conceptualise the hierarchy of norms within the ‘postnational constellation’ formed by the new nation state and the new Europe, on how human rights and ‘justice’ might be grounded philosophically, and such like. As rewarding as such normative reflections are, they cannot replace inquiries into the material base. When a normativistically restricted point of view takes the place of the former social theory,
super-normativism results.

Human rights organizations and individuals often justify their activities and views on the basis of an abstract respect for being human without linking this up with the general exploitative and oppressive structure of the capitalist economy and the capitalist state.  Indeed, human rights organizations display a decided lack of analysis of the socially determined material conditions of the production of human life characteristic of class society. In particular, advocates of human rights can consistently oppose violations of human rights and the continued existence of the exploitation and oppression of workers on a daily basis. From Samuel Moyn (2014), “A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism,” in pages 147-169, Law and Contemporary Problems, Volume 77, page 149: 

although the record of capitalism in our time is highly mixed when it comes to the achievement and violation of basic human rights, its most serious victim is equality (of resources and opportunities alike) both in national and global settings—a value that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the international human rights movements following in its wake do not even set out to defend.

It must be said that it is debatable whether “its most serious victim is equality;” its most serious victim may well be freedom. That issue, however, will not be addressed here. 

It could be said, of course, that the human rights movement has provided some welcome gains in the area of protection from state oppression, such as the illegal detention of citizens, immigrants and migrants for political reasons–political prisoners. 

Let us look at Amnesty International (AI) and perhaps, in another post, another human rights institution called Human Rights Watch (HRW) in relation to two issues: the right to choose work freely and the supposed need for the police to secure our lives. The first issue will be addressed in this post and the second issue in a subsequent post. 

Amnesty International Does Not Contextualize Human Abuses

Naomi Klein, author of, among other works, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2008), has a comment included on the cover of Jim Stanford’s book Economics for Everyone: :

Stanford is that rare breed: the teacher who changed your life. He has written a book–both pragmatic and idealistic–with the power to change the world.

Given the inadequate nature of Mr. Stanford’s economics for a characterization of the kind of capitalist society in which we live (see for example Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One), Ms. Klein’s comment indicates a lack of a critical attitude in that area. Nonetheless, she does display a more critical attitude towards Amnesty International than does Mr. Gindin. Ms. Klein has expressed the inadequate nature of Amnesty International in that AI does not enable people to grasp the social context within which human rights abuses occur. 

Klein has the following to say about AI from her bookpages 119-120: 

The narrow scope is most problematic in Amnesty International’s 1976 report on Argentina, a breakthrough account of the junta’s atrocities and worthy of its Nobel Prize. Yet for all its thoroughness, the report sheds no light on why the abuses were occurring. It asks the question “to what extent are the violations explicable or necessary” to establish “security”—which was the junta’s official rationale for the “dirty war.”14 After the evidence was examined, the report concludes that the threat posed by left-wing guerrillas was in no way commensurate with the level of repression used by the state.

But was there some other goal that made the violence “explicable or necessary”? Amnesty made no mention of it. In fact, in its ninety-two-page report, it made no mention that the junta was in the process of remaking the country along radically capitalist lines. It offered no comment on the deepening poverty or the dramatic reversal of programs to redistribute wealth, though these were the policy centerpieces of junta rule. It carefully lists all the junta laws and decrees that violated civil liberties but named none of the economic decrees that lowered wages and increased prices, thereby violating the right to food and shelter—also enshrined in the UN charter. If the junta’s revolutionary economic project had been even superficially examined, it would have been clear why such extraordinary repression was necessary, just as it would have explained why so many of Amnesty’s prisoners of conscience were peaceful trade unionists and social workers.

In another major omission, Amnesty presented the conflict as one restricted to the local military and the left-wing extremists. No other players are mentioned —not the U.S. government or the CIA; not local landowners; not multinational corporations. Without an examination of the larger plan to impose “pure” capitalism on Latin America, and the powerful interests behind that project, the acts of sadism documented in the report made no sense at all —they were just random, free-floating bad events, drifting in the political ether, to be condemned by all people of conscience but impossible to understand.

This suppression of social context is characteristic of the social-democratic or social-reformist left in general. This suppression assumed an internal form–self-suppression of criticisms of government and the class of employers because of internal repression (and such self-repression is understandable), but it is no excuse for suppressing it internationally. From pages 120-121: 

Every facet of the human rights movement was functioning under highly restricted circumstances, though for different reasons. Inside the affected countries, the first people to call attention to the terror were friends and relatives of the victims, but there were severe limits on what they could say. They didn’t talk about the political or economic agendas behind the disappearances because to do so was to risk being disappeared themselves. The most famous human rights activists to emerge under these dangerous circumstances were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, known in Argentina as the Madres. At their weekly demonstrations outside the house of government in Buenos Aires, the Madres did not dare hold up protest signs —instead they clasped photographs of their missing children with the caption “Donde estan?” Where are they? In the place of chants, they circled silently, wearing white headscarves embroidered with their children’s names. Many of the Madres had strong political beliefs, but they were careful to present themselves as nothing more threatening to the regime than grieving mothers, desperate to know where their innocent children had been taken.*

* After the end of dictatorship, the Madres became some of the fiercest critics of the new
economic order in Argentina, as they still are today.

In Chile, the largest of the human rights groups was the Peace Committee, formed by opposition politicians, lawyers and Church leaders. These were lifelong political activists who knew that the attempt to stop torture and to free political prisoners was only one front in a much broader battle over who would have control of Chile’s wealth. But in order to avoid becoming the regime’s next victims, they dropped their usual old-left denunciations of the bourgeoisie and learned the new language of “universal human rights.” Scrubbed clean of references to the rich and the poor, the weak and strong, the North and the South, this way of explaining the world, so popular in North America and Europe, simply asserted that everyone has the right to a fair trial and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It didn’t ask why, it just asserted that In the mixture of legalese and human interest that characterizes the human rights lexicon, they learned that their imprisoned companeros were actually prisoners of conscience whose right to freedom of thought and speech, protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, had been violated.

For those living under dictatorship, the new language was essentially a code; just as musicians hid the political messages in their lyrics in sly metaphors, they were disguising their leftism in legalese—a way of engaging in politics without mentioning politics.*

*Note: Even with these precautions, human rights activists were not safe from the terror. Chile’s jails were filled with human rights lawyers, and in Argentina the junta sent one of its top torturers to infiltrate the Madres, posing as a grieving relative. In December 1977, the group was raided; twelve mothers were permanently disappeared, including the leader of the Madres, Azucena de Vicenti, along with two French nuns.

When I first went to Guatemala in 1980, it became evident that public discussion of anything political was dangerous. For example, when I started to discuss the political situation in Guatemala, one man in the plaza (town square) in Quetzaltenango (the second largest city in Guatemala) indicated that he would not discuss such things “here.”  

Yes, AI may do some good–but simultaneously, by excluding the social context, it does harm. 

If AI decontextualizes social events, how is that a progressive organization? Mr. Gindin claims that we do not need abstract slogans, and yet when referring to AI as a “progressive organization” he himself is engaged in producing an abstract slogan. 

Corporate Accountability

From Amnesty International’s website (most of the bold are my emphases, on which I will comment after the quote): 

OVERVIEW

Globalization has changed the world we live in. It presents new and complex challenges for the protection of human rights.

Economic players, especially multinational companies that operate across national borders, have gained unprecedented power and influence across the world.

Companies have an enormous impact on people’s lives and the communities in which they operate. Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

There are few effective mechanisms at national or international level to prevent corporate human rights abuses or to hold companies to account. Amnesty is working to change this.

In Bodo Creek in Ogoniland, Nigeria, two oil spills (August/December 2008) destroyed thousands of livelihoods. Oil poured from faults in the Trans-Niger Pipeline for weeks, covering the area in a thick slick of oil. Amnesty and our partner, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, worked with the community to get the oil company responsible – Shell – to clean up its mess and pay proper compensation. Finally in December 2014, the Bodo community won a long-awaited victory when Shell paid out an unprecedented £55million in compensation after legal action in the UK.

“We are thankful to all that have contributed in one way or another to the conclusion of this case such as the various NGOs, especially Amnesty International, who have come to our aid.” said Chief Sylvester Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders.

Children outside the former Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India. 1 December 2012. © Giles Clarke/Getty Images Reportage

THE PROBLEM

States have a responsibility to protect human rights. However, many are failing to do this, especially when it comes to company operations – whether because of lack of capacity, dependence on the company as an investor or outright corruption.

Injustice incorporated

Companies operating across borders are often involved in severe abuses, such as forced labour or forcibly relocating communities from their lands.

Unsurprisingly, abuses are particularly stark in the extractive sector, with companies racing against each other to mine scarce and valuable resources. Traditional livelihoods are destroyed as land is contaminated and water supplies polluted such as in Ogoniland, Nigeria. The impact can be particularly severe for Indigenous Peoples because their way of life and their identity is often closely related to their land.

Affected communities are frequently denied access to information about the impact of company operations. Meaning they are excluded from participating in decisions that affect their lives.

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses. Despite laws in many countries that allow companies to be prosecuted, governments rarely even investigate corporate wrongdoing.

When communities’ attempt to get justice they are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, a lack of access to information, corruption and powerful state-corporate alliances. Worryingly, when the poor cannot secure justice, companies learn that they can exploit poverty without consequences.

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).
• Accountability: companies must be held to account for abuses they commit.
• Remedy: people whose rights have been abused by companies must be able to access justice and effective remedy.
• Protect rights beyond borders: companies operate across borders, so the law must also operate across borders to protect people’s rights.

Average payment of $1,000 a person – for killing and poisoning the Bhopal community. What an insult. Get Union Carbide back in court. #Whereartdhow

THE ISSUE IN DETAIL

The accountability gap

Companies have lobbied governments to create international investment, trade and tax laws that protect corporate interests. But the same companies frequently argue against any development in international law and standards to protect human rights in the context of business operations.

Companies are taking advantage of weak regulatory systems, especially in developing countries, and it is often the poorest people who are most at risk of exploitation. Governments are obliged to protect people from human rights abuses, this includes abuses committed by companies. All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

Bhopal’s 30 year fight for justice

It was once known as the City of Lakes. But Bhopal has since gone down in history as the site of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

In 1984, a toxic gas leak in the central Indian city left more than 20,000 people dead and poisoned more than half a million. Thirty years later, that tragedy has turned into a human rights horror, with survivors and activists leading a relentless fight for justice.

The players in this battle have taken on mythical overtones — David and Goliath come to mind. On the one side are thousands of people who somehow survived the gas leak and are searching for truth, justice and compensation; on the other, the multinational corporations Union Carbide and Dow, along with the US and Indian governments who have effectively protected them.

The story of what happened in Bhopal, and the struggle that has endured for three decades, is best told by the people closest to it: the survivors and their supporters.

Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.”

Given the economic dependence–economic coercion, really–of workers on employers for access to the use of the means by which they live (machines (including computers), buildings, raw material and auxiliary material), workers for the most part prefer to be employed (used and abused) rather than remaining unemployed. In this sense, investment by employers that lead to the creation of jobs (demand for workers) is positive. However, nowhere does Amnesty International imply that the resulting oppression and exploitation of workers on a regular basis is against human rights. The creation of jobs as “positive” necessarily goes hand in hand with the oppression and exploitation of workers in the context of the class power of employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital). In other words, Amnesty International in essence is an organization that criticizes companies and governments that deviate from some idealized capitalist economy and government. The ideal company would not employ (oppress and exploit) children (only adults).

At best, AI criticizes the need to work for particular employers who violate its definition of human rights rather than the need to work  for an employer. AI fails, in other words, to criticize the lack of right of workers and the community to have the right of access to use, collectively, the means necessary to produce (and reproduce) their own lives (for more on economic coercion, see the brief post Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance ; see also the two posts on the issue of whether workers work for a particular employer or for the class of employers Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left). 

As it stands, AI does not intend to challenge the power of employers to coerce economically workers on a daily basis to work for them. This view is expressed in various ways in the above “Overview” quote: 

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

Countless? If corporations continue to exist, they must exploit workers–whether unionized or not. This is how the system works. Workers, whether unionized or not, depend economically on employers, and they are oppressed and exploited by them (often to the detriment of their own health and welfare–and despite health and safety laws). (for examples of the calculation of the rate of exploitaiton, see among others The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One). 

AI, by referring to “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation” imply that what is required is “strong and adequately enforced domestic regulation.” Of course, “strong and enforced domestic regulation” of working conditions is generally better than “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation”–but the assumption is that such strong and enforced domestic regulation is–adequate. AI is, in effect, arguing for a refurbished welfare state that provides regulatory conditions for the operation of companies; it obviously does not seek to challenge the idea that working for any employer or corporation or company is legitimate or justified. 

There is further evidence of this attitude: 

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses.

Are not profits built always through the exploitation of workers? How does Mr. Gindin explain the origin of profit if not from the exploitation of workers? If profits require human exploitation and oppression, and AI in effect is claiming that some profits are legitimate, then is not AI indirectly justifying the continued exploitation and oppression of billions of workers worldwide? 

As I pointed out above, AI normalizes daily exploitation and oppression of workers only in order to highlight deviations from this normal situation as “human rights abuses.” Exploiting and oppressing workers normally is, therefore, not a human rights issue for AI. 

Again: 

All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

If all profit is derived from the exploitation and oppression of workers, then AI, if it were consistent, would call for the abolition of corporations and the establishment of a socialist society, where workers would control their own living conditions. Rather than advocating such a society, all AI does–like social democrats and social reformers–the “left” these days–is advocate “regulation.” The AI is a social-democratic organization. 

By calling AI a “progressive organization,” then Mr. Gindin is calling for a social-democratic world order–even if he is unaware of this. 

AI’s social-democratic identification of the problems with corporations correspond to its social-democratic solutions: 

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).

Since companies necessarily exploit and oppress workers, AI should in effect call for companies to abolish themselves–since companies would have to ‘identity’ themselves as necessarily abusing humans by treating them as things to be used to obtain more and more profit. Of course, such a view would be wishful thinking. 

The same logic applies to “preventing” human rights abuses and “addressing” human rights abuses. Obviously, AI is a reformist organization that seeks to normalize exploitation and oppression and not abolish it. Why otherwise imply that companies somehow can escape from exploiting and oppressing workers?

If AI were to admit that workers were, as part of the nature of companies, exploited and oppressed, it would have to radically change its characterization of human rights. Its standard would not be a refurbished welfare state but a socialist society, with nothing short of the abolition of the class of employers as the standard. 

Conclusion

Is Amnesty International a progressive organization? If you are a social democrat or social reformer, you undoubtedly will think so. If, however, you consider the class power of employers to be illegitimate, you will not. That AI does some good does not mean that it is a progressive organization since it, ultimately, assumes the legitimacy of the class power of employers. The standard of such organizations, in other words, remains well within the bounds of capitalism. 

The social-democratic left here in Toronto, however, engage in political rhetoric when they call such organizations “progressive.” If such rhetoric is then called into question, the social-democratic left then accuse the critiques of, among other things, lacking in “self-criticism” and “humility,” or they resort to insults. 

I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusions about how the social-democratic left deal with criticisms of their own political rhetoric by quoting two social democrats or social reformers here in Toronto: Sam Gindin and Wayne Dealy. Ask yourself whether Mr. Gindin engages in his advice. As for Wayne Dealy, ask yourself what Mr. Dealy does to expose the real nature of the social world in which we live. 

Sam Gindin: (I quote from a previous post)

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Wayne Dealy (I quote from a previous post the context and Dealy’s response): 

I had worked in a brewery for around four years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I questioned this reference to a good (or decent) work and a fair contract. I did not try to attack the representative personally. I tried to address the issues.

I also pointed out that the striking workers did deserve our support–that it was a question of solidarity.

Wayne Dealy, who is a representative of a local Toronto union here, then intervened, stating the following:

Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?

I expressed a point of view that was different–and was roundly insulted on a listserve.

I replied:

It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.

Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed, the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.

Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker

I was too hopeful. No one from the listserve–including Sam Gindin–addressed the real issues of whether there is such a thing as good jobs or a fair contract.

Wayne Dealy replied:

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.

Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy  et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.

On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.

And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.

Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.

Wayne.

p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick

Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science

 
University of Toronto

 

 

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

This is a continuation of a previous post

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 the Ontario teaching profession in the public interest.

Teachers who work in publicly funded schools in Ontario must be certified to teach in the province and be members of the College.

The College:

  • sets ethical standards and standards of practice
  • issues teaching certificates and may suspend or revoke them
  • accredits teacher education programs and courses
  • investigates and hears complaints about members

The College is accountable to the public for how it carries out its responsibilities.

You can find the qualifications, credentials and current status of every College member at Find a Teacher.

The College is governed by a 37-member Council.

  • 23 members of the College are elected by their peers
  • 14 members are appointed by the provincial government.

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 or order it better). I posted it earlier (see  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services).

Below is the second and third parts of the answer to the second question (relating to whether i was fired)

II. Issues about my teaching ability. This issue needs to be broken into three parts: the issue of my competency as a senior-high French teacher, my competency as a middle-years French teacher before my assignment as a glorified educational assistant in September 2011 and my competency as a middle-years French teacher during the period from September 2011 to February 2012.

B.

Middle-years French: Earlier, I had undoubtedly some difficulties in this area—especially classroom management issues. Many students simply did not want to learn French, and I had to teach it. Since I philosophically disagreed with forcing students to learn something that they found useless and resisted whenever they could, I did my best in a bad situation. That some students hated French was obvious—and understandable.

Nonetheless, despite this bad situation, when the principal, Randy Chartrand, evaluated me in November 2010, his assessment was generally favourable (see the accompanying evaluation).

C.

By the time I started school in September 2011, my heart was already pounding occasionally. Being assigned the role of educational assistant to one special-needs grade nine student in power mechanics for the morning (the school was on the Copernican system of quarterly terms, with two classes per day for senior-high students) was humiliating. Given that many students already knew that I had a doctorate, they undoubtedly would be wondering why I was assigned the role of educational assistant. Given that Ashern has only a population of about 1,400, so too would the community. I did not find any place where I could really relax.

I still taught the afternoon middle-years French classes. However, it was clear that the principal (and the superintendent) wanted me to resign. Evidence of this, in addition to my assignment to one special-needs student in September was the situation that I faced as a middle-years French teacher at the beginning of September, 2011, I did not know where I was to teach middle-year French at first. Furthermore, once I was assigned a classroom for middle-years French, it was where the foods and nutrition teacher taught her classes—hardly the ideal environment for teaching middle-years French. It was the only classroom where there were still chalkboards rather than whiteboards. Furthermore, Zumba classes were often held at noon in the classroom so that I had little time to set up for the class.

In October 2011, my heart was pounding to such an extent that I consulted a medical doctor to determine whether there had been any physiological damage. An EKG showed that there was no rhythmic problems at least. I received some medication to reduce the pounding, but the pounding continued.

On October 26, the new principal, the superintendent, an MTS representative and I had a meeting. It was at this meeting that I was obliged to undergo clinical supervision again (see below for a possible explanation for such a condition—and not my so-called incompetence as a teacher).

This entire situation undoubtedly affected some aspects of my teaching ability—in one classroom, mainly, where I had increasing problems of dealing with the students’ behaviour and lack of engagement. The small class with which I had particular problems found French boring. I tried to make it “interesting,” but obviously failed in that effort. I had had four of the students in previous French classes, and only one made any real effort to learn French. I had contacted the parents often for the other students, but this led nowhere.

Furthermore, I had increasing problems with classroom management in that class. The situation deteriorated further in that classroom from January 2011 onwards. The students, when they often refused to do something that I wanted them to do, would complain to the principal. At one point, the principal called me into his office concerning their complaints that I was instituting detention because of their lack of compliance with my requests (and I personally find detention to be purely punitive and hardly educative, but I was expected to control their behaviour, so I instituted detention against my own philosophical beliefs). I felt my hands were tied. When the students continued to disobey me, I did blurt out at one point, “Why do you not tell the principal to have me fired.” This assertion undoubtedly led to the February meeting with the principal, the superintendent, an MTS representative and me (although nothing was specifically said about this incident).

At the February meeting, the superintendent mentioned that due to my cancer and the arrest, intensive supervision would be necessary. The superintendent indicated that I would receive various supports in order to enable me to attain the teaching standard expected of me. Since my interpretation of the intent of placing me on intensive supervision was an extension of the control expressed in assigning me to be an educational assistant and assigning me to an inappropriate environment for learning French—especially in the middle years—I spoke to a member of the EAP program of MTS (I had been seeing him since October 2011), who suggested that I go on sick leave. This is what I did.

I was not fired, but the conditions in which I was working were already difficult. I then met with a representative of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and the lawyer for the MTS. The lawyer informed me that I could grieve the requirement that I be placed on intensive supervision (the issue was grievable under Manitoba law), but I would still have to undergo the intensive supervision while the grievance was being processed, up to and including arbitration. Since I came to the conclusion that I had no further desire to work for that division, I resigned.

In any case, I was neither a great French teacher, nor the inept teacher that the principal made me out to be (see the accompanying combined report by the principal and my reply. The representative from MTS indicated that he thought that the report reflected badly—on the principal. He helped me edit it so that it was 30 pages in length (but unfortunately I do not have a copy of that report). [I subsequently found a copy of the report, which I have included in another series of posts.]

This is part of my explanation for answering “yes” in several of the questions.

Note that the Ontario College of Teachers presumed that a question of the firing of an employee requires the employee to justify her/himself and not the employer. The default judgement of semi- and governmental departments is that the employer makes legitimate judgements, and the (ex) employee has to justify her/himself in view of such judgments.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left, however, rarely even acknowledge this fact. Even the radical left (or what appears to be the radical left, often enough) fail to take such common experiences of the working class when they formulate their “strategies.” Thus, they are often blind to the need for persistent ideological struggle against this default view of the capitalist state.

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

The following is the second 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. This post deals with the performance evaluation of grade 7 French. It also includes my “Teacher’s response” to that evaluation.  

For the context of the “clinical evaluation,” see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

As a teacher, I was earning around $85,000 a year at the time. Undoubtedly, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left, it was a “good job,” “decent work,” and other such clichés. Being under clinical evaluation or supervision, however, was in effect legal torture–and I could not grieve the continued harassment by the principal since it was within management’s rights to “evaluate” a teacher’s performance.

I provide Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts (with each post followed by my reflections (response) that I provided. In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades is distributed over three posts.  Four further posts will follow that include Domain I (Professional Responsibilities), Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships).

I responded to Mr. MacNeil’s clinical evaluation with an initial 43-page reply, with the then Manitoba Teachers Society  (MTS) staff officer Roland Stankevicius (later General Secretary of the MTS) providing edited suggestions that reduced it to about 30 pages.

Mr. Stankevicius remarked that the evaluation reflected negatively–on Mr. MacNeil:

You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened.  I hope you agree with my suggestions. …

You have made your points here.  NM [Neil MacNeil] does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).

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 Clin

ical 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)

  1. Date and Focus of Teacher/Administrator Pre-Conferences and Post Conference

2. Grade 7 French 2011 11 29 2:15 – 2:50 p.m.

“Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred. Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

To note:

– in response, Fred says there is nothing to highlight, except that the class will be late due to coming in from recess.

Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.

We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.

I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class. I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 7

Re:” Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred.” I also asked questions of students.

Re: “Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

There seems to be some confusion here. The administrator was supposed to observe a lesson on the possessive adjectives the previous week, which included taking notes on the possessive adjective. However, the same day was career fair for high-school students, and many classrooms were being used for that purpose—including my own. Ironically, it was the RCMP presentation which was located in the classroom where I taught. The presentation went to 2:30, but the observation was supposed to start at 2:15. Consequently, the observation took place the following week.

I had had the students already take notes on the possessive adjective another day. I wanted to give them a sense of the form of the possessive adjectives (certainly not “master” it in such a short period of time). I had also another day indicated that the possessive adjectives are difficult since their form is determined by the thing possessed. It can become confusing since the thing possessed may be plural while the person possessing the thing may be singular or plural. For example, mon, ma, mes: singular in the sense of the possessor, but mes is the plural form of the thing possessed even when one person is possessing the thing (ma soeur: singular thing possessed: mes soeurs: my sisters). It is true that I wrote on the objectives that the students would learn the possessive adjectives; I should have qualified that (mon, ma, mes); I made a mistake.

Re: “Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.”

I have partially responded to this above [in a previous post]. There are further issues. I was under the mistaken impression that I had to elaborate on learning goals before moving onto a specific task (see attachment). The claim that there was little evidence that the students had learned the possessive adjectives is inaccurate. A few did use it correctly; one student, for example, who is hardly a stellar French student, stated “mon oncle.” A few others also indicated the correct form. However, once it was clear that some indeed did not remember, I reviewed the possessive adjectives on the board in combination with the vocabulary for family members. I did not expect them to understand the possessive adjective immediately.

However, on further reflection, what I should then have done was to verify that more students grasped the concept of the possessive adjective. To that extent, the administrator’s assessment is accurate. I could have improved on my formative assessment. My formative assessment skills can always be improved.

A large part of the class was dedicated to an explanation of the learning goals and the task. I reviewed the possessive adjectives.

Re: “We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.”

I am not certain about to which two students the principal is referring. We discussed one student’s lack of engagement. There was definitely one student who was tuned out and who did not pay attention. The principal has a valid point here. The principal suggested, besides the specific point of possibly attempting to incorporate the student’s drawing in order to engage the student that I differentiate instruction for the student. I have done that (see attachment), and the student has now drawn a family tree and written most of the required elements.

There was another student who interrupted me on occasion and who wanted to argue. I began to document her defiant behaviour. I called her parents, and we had a meeting. They were going to have her withdraw from French. They did not. I have attempted to walk a fine line in relation to this student.. Her defiant behaviour will probably continue, and I will address it when necessary, but to address it each time would disrupt the class. I have to use my judgement. When she is openly defiant, I will and have done something. For example, during a class subsequent to the observation, she wanted to get some white paper from the library for her family tree project. I let her, but she insisted on taking her binder. I saw no need for her to take her binder and told her to leave it. She made a point of taking it anyway; she had detention as a consequence.

Re: “I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class.”

This is a misreading of what I said. Given my philosophy of education, I would not expect that the students would have “increased their competence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language” during a few classes of French. I had reviewed possessive adjectives in French in general in previous lessons to provide a general but vague background. Concretization would arise through the process of creating a family tree within the limited context of using “mon, ma, mes” (delimitation of the set of possessive adjectives to a subset of them). To expect grade 7 students to be fluent in the use of even the possessive adjectives mon, ma and mes after a few lessons is unrealistic. Furthermore, since the use of these possessive adjectives constitutes a means to the end of creating a family tree (a solution to the problem of creating a family tree in French), they would be more efficiently learned—in context.

Re: “ I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

I have already addressed this issue in part. Furthermore, spontaneous oral response is harder than the written form (since spontaneous response is usually delimited by a shorter period of time) In addition, as indicated above, there were a few more students who did respond orally—not just one.

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Twelve: The Mondragon Educational System

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:

The authors of the following article [Christopher Meek and Warner Woodworth], “Technical Training and Enterprise: Mondragon’s Educational System and its Implications for other Cooperatives,” outlines the importance of the educational system for the success of the Mondragon cooperative system in the Basque region of Northern Spain.

There are two key components to the Mondragon educational system: the Escuela Politecnica Profesional (EPP) and Alecoop (a student-owned manufacturing firm). The EPP has provided the basis for the development of highly advanced engineering skills, and Alecoop has provided the basis for students applying emerging engineering  and managerial skills to real-life problems in the context of running a company that aids them to finance their own education.

The ideal of an egalitarian social and economic system has not led to a sacrifice of concerns for efficiency. Both are possible.

The roots of the Mondragon cooperative system lie in the extreme class division characteristic of the town, with a wealthy minority and a poor majority. Despite the level of poverty, the production of quality steel characterized the town. So too did a common language (the Basque language of Euskera) and social solidarity.

Don José Maria Arizmendiarrieta, priest and founder of the Mondragon cooperatives, arrived in Mondragon in 1941, when the fascist dictator Franco was in power. Some considered Arizmendiarreta to be a communist.

Arizmendiarrieta was asked by the Union Cerrajera to teach religion at the only school available for working-class youth, the Escuela de Aprendices. However, Arizmendiarrieta soon realized the inadequacy of the school. On the one hand, access was limited to the sons of the employees of the capitalist firm (excluding about 85 percent of eligible youth) and, on the other and, on the other, no son from the working class ever attended university. Arizmendiarrieta attempted to persuade the Union Cerrajera to open up the school to more youth, but the capitalist firm refused.

Arizmendiarrieta then initiated the establishment of an alternative school, with a proposal to tie the establishment of such a school to the buidling of a soccer field—tying the school to community interest.

Arizmendiarrieta initiated a technical school rather than a traditional liberal arts school because he considered the impoverished parents and students would do better to learn practical skills that would aid them to overcome their poverty. He also considered manual labour could be a dignified practice in the context of a cooperative organization. Technical skills, the dignity of the practical arts and principles of democratic social cooperation (economic democracy) formed key elements of the Mondragon cooperative system; social justice was linked to all three elements.

Emphasis on technical skills involved investment in machinery rather than limiting production to labour-intensive processes typical of many workers’ cooperatives. To incorporate technical skills into the production process, education that respected the importance of the practical arts and theoretical considerations linked to those practical arts became necessary.

The Spanish technical system of education is organized into three levels: 1. “Oficialia,” leading to an equivalent of middle-years education; 2. “Maestria,” which consists of traditional academic courses with, however, the capacity to engage in skilled technical work linked to electricity, electronics and mechanics; 3. “Perritos Industriales,” the equivalent of a bachelors degree in engineering and mechanics. EPP expanded as the number of students increased. In 1953, the Escuela Politecnica Popular (EPP) was established.

By 1947, 11 of the original students started the advanced stage of technical education. Dissatified with the way Union Cerrajera contradicted the principles that they had learned, in 1956, Ulgo, a cooperative manufacturing company, was established by five of the 11 original graduates of “Perritos Industriales.” They obtained funding from the community through word-of-mouth. Several other manufacturing cooperatives were initiated and so was a consumer cooperative.

In 1959, the Caja Laboral Popular, the “Working Peoples’ Bank,” was founded, aiding workers to establish other cooperatives. By 1987, it had aided in funding almost 200 cooperative organizations throughout the Basque region of Norther Spain.

The EPP was reorganized as a student cooperative that functioned for the industrial cooperatives. The General Assembly of the EPP is composed of three sets of stakeholders: 1. Students and parents; 2. the teachers; and 3. the cooperative and capitalist firms that subsidize the EPP budget. Due to expansion, more modern facilities were built in 1966, with workshops and laboratories.

The teachers at EPP are responsible for the creation of their own curriculum and write their own textbooks. Graduates of the EPP are highly skilled and in high demand. In the 1978/1979 school year, it had over a thousand students enrolled in the three levels of technical education.

The other piece of Mondragon education is Alecoop. About half of those attending EPP apply their learning to an actual manufacturing environment owned by students—Alecoop. It permits a closer alignment of theory and practice (and practice and theory)—and enables students to fund at least partially their own education. It was established in 1966. Alecoop struggled to continue to exist as it faced many problems. By about 1987 it had 601 students and 33 teachers.

As the authors conclude, education has been a key element in the success and expansion of the Mondragon cooperative system. Such an education is integrated in numerous ways: technical, academic, financial and managerial education are closely linked to the principles of economic democracy and the dignity of workers. Unlike many other cooperative movements, managers in the Mondragon cooperatives share the same vision with the other workers and teachers—rather than imposing their own vision on the workers and teachers. The unity of an educational strategy, linked to technical education and financial education on the one hand, and a cooperative economic principle on the other enabled the Mondragon cooperative system not only to survive but to thrive.

Rather than relying on experts, a cooperative system would be more effective if it relied on an internal analysis of local needs and values and then develop an educational plan. Experts, government agencies and so forth could then be consulted on ways in which the educational plan could be realized. A cooperative monitoring system would ensure that objectives are being met (or modified as required, depending on unforseen circumstances), costs are controlled and the cooperatived system expanded.

Democratic control of the economy (social justice) and the respect for persons can be combined with technical and financial education and efficiency—in a cooperatively organized economic system.

 Fred