The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of workers in several capitalist companies: Magna International, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia), Bank of Montreal (BMO), Telus, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Suncor Energy, Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank),Rogers Communications Inc., the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and  Air Canada,  (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One).

I thought it might be useful to begin the comparison of rates of exploitation of the same capitalist employer for different years. Although this fails to capture the dynamic of capitalist relations of production and exchange (being two snapshots at different times), it may provide further insight into the nature of capitalist society.

The structure of the post is as follows:

  1. I outline the nature of the rate of exploitation
  2. I then provide “Conclusion first,”
    a. the 2020 rate of exploitation is indicated
    b. the 2020 rate of exploitation is compared with the 2019 rate and some possible explanations of the differences are provided
    c. a long quote of a discussion around tactics and strategies between Sam Gindin (former research director of the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor) and me relating to  union ideology.
    d. Further brief criticisms of Mr. Gindin’s political position
    e. Consideration of an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 in relation to Mr. Gindin’s views
  3. How I calculated the rate of exploitation (including adjustments) as well as a justification for interpreting the substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation in terms of “fixed costs.”
  4. The conclusions as stated in 2.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions First

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

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation is likely due to the treatment of workers as “fixed costs” as the pandemic forced employers to retain workers despite the relatively extra costs associated with it (partly offset by federal, provincial and municipal supports).

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Political Considerations

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic will likely call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

I will include a rather long quote from a previous post. It is a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me:

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matter And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -”

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

I guess workers’ explicit consciousness of their own exploitation and oppression and their discussion of such experiences is to arise only after the emergence of “larger structures to fight through.” It is, however, likely that such “larger structures” will simply mimic the “narrower” structures if both are not criticized. How is the CLC substantially different from union structures in terms of challenging the class power of employers? Or is Mr. Gindin referring to the larger structures, such as the class power of employers?

My own experience with union reps has been that they assume the necessity and legitimacy of the class power of employers–and do not do anything to raise the issue of the legitimacy of the class power of employers, the exploitation of workers and their oppression among their own members; their aim is to improve the working conditions without questioning at all such class power, exploitation and oppression. I have been a union member, a union rep (union steward and member of a collective-bargaining committee), a member of the executive of a union and a rep for an Equity and Social Justice Committee. I have seen up close the assumptions and limitations and unions–and have tried to address such limitations when and where I could.

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

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] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it. I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements

Let us look at an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 (see  https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/uniforlocal444/pages/43/attachments/original/1604838387/Integram_Ratification_Bulletin.pdf?1604838387).

It contains such enlightening items as the following:

Our members are their most vital asset that sets the supplier bar in this industry and deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour and aids the company in retaining their highly skilled workforce. [my emphasis]

I find this language both typical of union reps–and disturbing. As I pointed out above, it is likely that Magna International treated the workers as a “fixed cost” in order to retain them during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, to read a union rep write that Magna workers are “an asset” surely is both disturbing and in need of criticism. Should any human being be considered and treated as an “asset?” Consider any member of your family. Would you want them to be treated as “an asset?”

That they are “assets” is real enough–to be exploited by Magna International (and all other private companies)–but should we not be criticizing this? Is Mr. Gindin in any specific way? Apparently not–since radicals are supposed to only criticize such views in “material cents.” Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide an example of this in his own concrete practice? I see no concrete examples of his recommendations–they are so vague.

Where is Mr. Gindin’s “humility?” Where is his “self-criticism?”

Let us continue with this Integram Bargaining Report:

deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour

This is ideology frequently expressed by union reps. “Proper compensation” is a synonym for “fair wages” and, indirectly, a “fair contract.” The union rep clings to the appearance of workers selling their “labour” [labour is an activity that requires a material link between that labour and the means to be used–without those means, there is only a capacity for labour or labour-power. As Marx remarked, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, page 277:

When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not speak of labour, any more than we
speak of digestion when we speak of capacity for digestion. As is well known, the latter process requires something more than a good stomach.

Workers lack the conditions for the realization of their capacity for labour–just as many in the world lack the conditions for the use of their digestive tract–they lack food. The Unifor union rep. by identifying labour with the commodity which the worker sells simply ignores the difference between a capacity and the conditions for its exercise–and such neglect of the conditions is hardly in the interests of workers.

How workers sell “labour” that is already linked to the means of production owned by (Magna) Integram (and hence under the control of Integram is a mystery. Furthermore, by identifying compensation with labour, the exploitation of workers by Magna Integram is excluded, and the internal or necessary relation between the wage and the profit of Magna Integram becomes broken.

Does Mr. Gindin criticize this approach so typical of union reps? Not at all. Rather, he criticizes those who engage in such criticism. For him, radicals are to indulge such beliefs. After all, it is only “discourse” and has no “autonomy.” This dismissal of ideological struggles is itself arrogant and lacks humility. Mr. Gindin somehow knows what workers need without even considering in any detail how union reps aid to legitimate the existing class power of employers by constantly using such language.

Where has Wayne Dealy provided any criticism of collective agreements (not the particular provisions of collective agreements) publicly? Sean Smith? Frankly, I find it astounding that such arrogance displayed by Mr. Gindin in his assumption that we are not to engage in criticism of union reps’ views is paraded as “humility” and “self-criticism.”

Let us listen to what Mr. Gindin called “Our Tracy” (McMaster, a union steward for Local 561 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); who was also vice-president of the local union at one point):

Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none.

I have hardly denied that collective bargaining is better than none. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and I certainly would prefer to belong to a union when working for an employer than not belonging to one. However, I do not take seriously her claim that “Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect.” I see no evidence that Ms. McMaster takes such a view seriously. Where is the evidence that she has inquired into “the limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining? Rather, for Ms. McMaster, collective bargaining provides an imperfect but ultimately fair contract.

Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide evidence to the contrary it. I doubt that he will–or can.

Mr. Gindin’s tactics are as follows: Let us try to convince such union reps of our views. Frankly, I think such an effort is, for the most part, a waste of time. Of course, there are exceptions, and it is necessary to use one’s judgement under specific circumstances and in relation to specific union reps. However, my judgement was and is that it Ms. McMaster would never be really convinced of the “limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining.

Rather than indulging such union reps, it is in the interests of workers to criticize them and to expose their lack of a critical approach to collective bargaining.

Let us continue to look at this Bargaining Report:

Your bargaining committee achieved Pay Raises, Benefits Improvements, Lowering the new higher grid, Buy-out packages, and Signing Bonus. A healthy contract that reflects a greater worth in our Integram members.

Such achievements, of course, are in the interests of the workers. But why call it a “healthy contract?” Apparently, this is a synonym for a “fair contract”–and I have shown that Canadian unions persistently use such language to justify both the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements (see, for example,   Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). No collective agreement can express something legitimate–unless the necessary exploitation and oppression of workers by employers (including Magna Integram) is somehow legitimate.

In the Bargaining Report, there then follows a list of items that were obtained by the bargaining committee. Not one word of the “limited and imperfect” nature of the collective agreement or the collective-bargaining process. Not one word on the management rights clause, implicit or explicit in the collective agreement. Do not workers persistently experience the power of management in a variety of ways? Why the silence over such experiences? Does the collective agreement address such power? Or does it only address the limited areas defined by collective-bargaining legislation?

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

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

Now, the calculation:

In millions US dollars:

Sales $32,647
Costs and expenses $31,641

Cost of goods sold 28,207

Material $19,750
Direct labour 2,498
Overhead 5,959

Depreciation and amortization 1,366
Selling, general & administrative 1,587
Interest expense, net 86
Equity income (189)
Other expense, net 584
Income from operations before income taxes $1,006

[28,207+1,366+1,587+86+584=31,830; 31,830+1006=32,836; 32,836-189=32,647]

Adjustments

As I indicated in the 2019 post, a couple of adjustments are necessary.

Adjustment on Cost Side of Direct Labour and Corresponding Adjustment of Income  from Operations Before Taxes

I wrote in the 2019 post:

On page 37 [of the 2019 annual report], there is a reference to pension benefits. I assume that this category belongs to “direct labour” since it forms part of the deferred wages of workers that is paid in the current year (but then again, it is unclear whether the category of direct labour includes this, but since it is subtracted from net income, this leads me to believe that it is not included in that category). This should be added to direct labour. Hence, direct labour would be: 2,815+47=2,862, “Costs and expenses” would be $37, 255 “Costs of goods sold”would be $34,069, and “Income from operations before taxes” should be adjusted downward accordingly.

Now the 2020 “Pension and post-retirement benefits” is  (11).

This US $11 million should be added to “Cost and Expenses,” “Direct labour” and subtracted from “Income from operations before taxes.” Accordingly:

Temporarily Adjusted Costs and Expenses: $31,652
Temporary Adjusted Costs of Goods Sold: $28,218
Adjusted Direct Labour Costs: $2,509
Temporarily Adjusted income from operations before income taxes: $995

Adjustment of income from operations before income taxes due to interest expense, net

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the 2019 rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest: despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

Accordingly, it is necessary to add $86 “Interest expense, net” to “Income from operations before income taxes” and subtract it from “Cost and expenses.”

(“Equity income” is already subtracted from costs since it is not really a cost at all but rather income.)

Adjusted Cost and Expenses $31,566
Adjusted Direct Labour $2,509
Adjusted income from operations before income taxes $1081

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

The following provides information about the length of the working day:

  1. There are 3 shifts. 9 hours a shift.
  2. Typical 8 – 12 hours per shift.
  3. 8-12 hrs, 7 days a week, with very last minute overtime mandating, and i mean literally as your punching out theyll tell you that you have to stay for another 4+ hours. No work life balance and management could care less because theyre at home on the weekends. Better positions come with 100% more stress, more responsibilities that others pass off cause they dont want to do it, 1000s of strings attached and literally no way to avoid getting screwed by them. Constant harassment and belittling by management and engineers and if you report it, youre facing constant retaliation and impending termination. If your not part of the HR posse or the “good ol’ boys club”, youre nothing but a rug for them to walk across. So, if you value your sanity, health and family, this is not a place to work.
  4. I have been there for 3 years until i quit and half of the plant is doing either 10 or 12 hours 7 days a week
  5. Article 17 (page 51) of the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009AP: Employees normally work an eight-hour day, five days per week

Accordingly:

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

Factors or Determinants of the Rate of Exploitation and Its Changes

Normally, when there is a change in the rate of exploitation, whether positive or negative, we should look at the general factors that govern the production of surplus value.  In general, there are three ways of changing the rate of exploitation:

  1. changing the real wage (the absolute amount and variety of commodities consumed by workers);
  2. changing the absolute amount of surplus value produced either by
    1. changing the length of the working day intensity of labour or
    2. changing the intensity of labour length of the working day
  3. changing (in fact, increasing) the relative amount of surplus value produced, generally through new technology, thereby decreasing the value of the commodities produced that form the real wage consumed by workers (with a fixed or constant working day and a constant amount of commodities consumed by workers, but with less labour time required to produce them, the amount of labour time required to reproduce the workers’ wages is reduced and more labour time constitutes surplus value).

As Ben Fine  and Alfredo Saad-Filho (2016) describe the factors with a view to increasing the rate of exploitation by employers in their book Marx’s Capital, pages 36-37:

Assume, now, that real wages remain unchanged. The rate of exploitation can be increased
in two ways….

First, e [the rate of exploitation[ can be increased through what Marx calls the production of absolute surplus value. On the basis of existing methods of production – that is, with commodity values remaining the same – the simplest way to do this is through the extension of the working day. …

There are other ways of producing absolute surplus value. For example, if work becomes more intense during a given working day, more labour will be performed in the same period, and absolute surplus value will be produced. The same result can be achieved through making work continuous, without breaks even for rest and refreshment. The production of absolute surplus value is often a by-product of technical change, because the
introduction of new machines, such as conveyors and, later, robots in the production line, also allows for the reorganisation of the labour process. This offers an excuse for the elimination of breaks or ‘pores’ in the working day that are sources of inefficiency for
the capitalists and, simultaneously, leads to increased control over the labour process (as well as greater labour intensity) and higher profitability, independently of the value changes brought about by the new machinery.

The desired pace of work could also be obtained through a crudely applied discipline. There may be constant supervision by middle management and penalties, even dismissal, or rewards for harder work (i.e. producing more value).

The above are general conditions for the determination of the rate of exploitation and its changes. The specific change observed in the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International are unlikely due to these general conditions. Rather, the decrease in the rate of exploitation in 2020 relative to 2019 is likely due to the specific economic conditions that accompanied the pandemic.

One Possible Explanation for the Substantial Decrease in the Rate of Exploitation

Part of the explanation for the  substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation was probably the treatment of workers at Magna International, in part, as “fixed costs.”

Initially, Magna International laid off many of “its” workers, but it also sought to retain them by paying them additional money beyond that flowing from the government initially through federal  unemployment insurance (although it may have also been a function of provisions in the collective agreement concerning layoffs).

Magna International did lay off around 2,000 workers in Ontario during the initial wave of COVID. From https://lfpress.com/business/local-business/magna-cuts-production-2000-local-staff-amid-fallout-from-covid-19:

Magna cuts production, 2,000 local staff amid fallout from COVID-19

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

Article content

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

The Canadian auto parts giant has closed its two St. Thomas plants, Presstran and Formet, employing a combined 1,500 to 2,000, as well as Qualtech in London, which employs about 275.

“Both Formet and Presstran will be temporarily suspending operations today . . . Qualtech will also temporarily suspend its operations,” read a statement from Scott Worden of Magna’s corporate communications department.

“Magna is committed to both the health and financial well-being of our employees. We will be providing additional payments to employees beyond the minimums provided under the federal Employment Insurance program.”

The closings are not unexpected, and may not last long, as the Detroit Three automakers, Toyota and Honda have all closed plants for up to two weeks across North America as a result of the coronavirus.

Presstran is a stamping plant and Formet supplies several different parts to many automakers, including truck frames to GM plants in the U.S. Qualtech supplies seating systems.

“Magna continues to closely monitor developments related to coronavirus (COVID-19) with a focus on the health and safety of our employees and our operations. In addition, we are in daily communication with our customers, many of which have recently announced partial or full temporary production suspensions at plants in Europe and North America,” read an additional statement from Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications at Magna.

The automaker said it will continue to follow World Health Organization protocol on cleaning the workplace and limiting contact with between people.

“We continue to assess our operations on an individual basis and are beginning to temporarily suspend manufacturing operations at a number of our manufacturing divisions around the world . . . many of our facilities are expected to suspend operations with production status re-evaluated week to week,” said Fuerst.

Further evidence for treating Magna International workers as fixed costs comes from Annual Information Form, Magna International Inc., March 25, 2021, page A-17:

Despite inevitable temporary layoffs of employees in light of the suspension of production during the first half of 2020, we took a number of steps to minimize the impact felt by our employees, including: maintaining employee benefits coverages through the temporary layoff period; …

We also engaged emergency government support programs primarily for employees to maintain compensation levels and/or benefits for a certain period, where applicable. The countries in which Magna engaged such programs included Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and China. These programs allowed participating employees to remain on our payroll while inactive or furloughed due to mandatory stay at home orders, with Magna receiving full or partial reimbursement for such inactive labour.

The view that workers were treated more as fixed costs (probably out of fear that Magna International would lose such workers to other employers if they were not treated as fixed costs) is supported by the relatively limited decrease in v when compared to s.

Treating workers as “fixed costs” under the conditions of the pandemic is understandable since workers are not linked politically or legally to particular employers; they can work for another employer (if they can find another employer who will hire them). See 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).

This treatment of workers as fixed costs (to retain them over the short term) and the resulting decrease in the rate of exploitation is consistent with abnormal conditions that capitalist employers generally try to avoid since, on the one hand, they own means of production (c) that fail to absorb surplus value and, hire relatively more workers (v) than can be exploited under given conditions. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 2, The Process of , page 111:

The point is simply that under all circumstances the part of the money that is spent on means of production – the means of production bought in M-mp [money used to purchase means of production, such as computers and other machines, raw material, buildings and other produced commodities necessary for labour to be performed] means of production – must be sufficient, i.e. must be reckoned up from the start and be provided in appropriate proportions. To put it another way, the means of production must be sufficient in mass to absorb the mass of labour which is to be turned into products through them. If sufficient means of production are not present, then the surplus lahour which the purchaser has at his disposal cannot be made use of; his right, to dispose of it will lead to nothing. If more means of production are available than disposable labour, then these remain unsaturated with labour, and are not transformed into products.

In effect, in terms of the pandemic, Magna International purchased too much labour power (the capacity to use the means of production and to produce value–a capacity sold by workers) and too many means of production. Not all of the labour power purchased could be exploited, and not all the means of production owned by Magna International could absorb labour and hence surplus labour and surplus value.

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Conclusion

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic is likely due to the temporary) overinvestment in the purchase of labour power relative to the inability of management to use the means of production to exploit the workers. This situation will likely now call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

Where is there evidence that Mr. Gindin has contributed to the creation of material structures that question the fundamental economic, political and social structures characteristic of a society dominated by a class power of employers by indulging in the beliefs of union reps? Does the organization Green Jobs Oshawa, to which Mr. Gindin contributes, do so? Where is the evidence that it does?

What are Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld (who worked in the education department of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) doing to fight against the exploitation of workers and oppression of Magna workers? Mr. Rosenfeld wrote an article, criticizing the existence, practically, of a company union at Magna, CAW Local 88, comparing it to the independent union Unifor Local 2009 AP. The independent union is certainly preferable to a company union, but even an independent union at the local level of a particular employer in effect assumes the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class (see my criticism in the post    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).

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

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] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it.

I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

:

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For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

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A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees

The following is a list of the twenty-two largest companies in Quebec according to the number of employees for 2019. The silence of the social-democratic left concerning the power of these employers over the lives of employees reflects the incapacity of the social-democratic left to face up to the reality of most people’s lives these days. As I argued in another post (An Example of the Inadequacy of the Canadian Left, or How the Canadian Left Contributes to the Emergence of the Canadian Right), such disregard for the experiences of regular working people feeds into the development of right-wing attitudes.

The information is drawn from The Largest Private Employers in Quebec:

Company                                                                              Number of Employees in Quebec

  1. Metro                                                                           59,660

  2. Desjardins                                                                  40,868

  3. Sobeys                                                                         35,000

  4. George Weston                                                          27,500

  5. McDonald du Canada                                              20,000

  6. Hydro-Quebec                                                           19,904

  7. Banque Nationale                                                     15,981

  8. Walmart Canada                                                       15,000

  9. Bombardier                                                               14,500

  10. BCE                                                                              14,100

  11. GardaWorld                                                               13,500

  12. Le Coop federee                                                        10,294

  13. Societe de Transport de Montreal (STM)             10,029

  14. Lowe’s Canada                                                          10,000

  15. Quebecor                                                                    9,900

  16. St-Hubert (Groupe)                                                   9,300

  17. Alimentation Couche-Tard                                      8,500

  18. Costco (Les entrepots)                                              7,492

  19. Air Canada                                                                  7,477

  20. Banque Royale du Canada                                       7,000

  21. CGI                                                                                7,000

  22. Rio Tinto                                                                      7,000

Total Number of Employees: 370,005.

The average number of employees per employer in Quebec for these 22 companies is 16,818.

Does this situation express the freedom of workers? How many of those workers can direct their own lives at work? How many have their lives directed at work by a minority?

Certainly, workers are not forced directly to work for a specific employer, but ownership or rental of the conditions of work (buildings, chairs, desks, computers, photocopiers, printers and so forth) by these employers and the exclusion of such ownership by the workers indirectly obliges workers to work for an employer (though not a specific employer–although even then, given certain skills or lack of skills, workers must work for a specific employer within a specific group of workers. Thus, a worker with teaching skills will unlikely work as a flight attendant and hence can only work for certain employers.)

The relative–and restricted–freedom of workers to choose a particular employer has as its counterpart the much greater freedom of employers to choose whom they will hire. How many of you have gone to job interviews and felt the unequal power relations between you and the interviewer–even in a unionized setting? Why is that?

An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three

Introduction

In two earlier posts, I criticized the views of the  radical activist here in Toronto, John Clarke (see  Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One and   Critique of a Limited Definition of the Problem: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Two). In particular, I criticized his proposed solution or aim in the first post (decent wages) and his identification of the problem in the second post (unequal distribution of produced consumer commodities). I now address his criticism of the proposal of a basic income. 

Let me add that, in the second post, I added an addendum, in which Mr. Clarke proposed engaging in radical practice to replace capitalism (a.k.a., the class power of employers). Mr. Clarke continues to advocate for more radical solutions. Thus, he wrote on Facebook (May 3, 2022): 

The murder of Rosa Luxemburg by social democratic leaders points to something about reformism. If you think capitalism can be incrementally transformed, you need it to function well. This means, at a time of crisis, you have to be prepared to defend it against the very working class you claim your political project will liberate.

In time, the logic of the reformist approach produces representatives who dispense with any polite fictions of socialism in the cloudy future and whose loyalty to capitalism is beyond question. They then go about breaking strikes, imposing austerity, degrading the environment and dropping bombs on oppressed countries with every bit as much enthusiasm as any openly declared representative of the capitalist class.

The problem with the above is not what it states, but in what it omits. Before Mr. Clarke’s more explicit radical turn, he advocated such reformist policies as “decent wages” and a reformed welfare state (despite acknowledging that economic coercion formed a necessary aspect of a society characterized by the class power of employers). Indeed, as I wrote in another post: 

I have already criticized, briefly, his apparent recognition of economic coercion and his subsequent ignoring of this recognition in a pamphlet with several articles written by him (see  Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance  and “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)). I have, however, now come to the conclusion that Mr. Clarke recognizes the existence of economic coercion only in order to criticize neoliberalism and not the class power of employers and hence not capitalism as such. 

Mr. Clarke, if he has indeed taken a more radical turn, would do well to engage in critical inquiry into his former beliefs. He should also rethink the thrust of his criticism of basic income in light of his more explicit rejection of capitalism. Of course, if he comes to the conclusion that basic income should still be rejected, but has an alternative proposal that would link immediate needs of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers with the long-term need to abolish the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures, and he provides valid reasons for his rejection, I would agree with him. Basic income as a policy is really only a tool or means to the end of economic coercion, and if there are better alternatives that will link immediate and long-term needs, then I would support them and reject basic income. 

Let us turn to Mr. Clarke’s views on basic income–at least before his more radical turn.

Mr. Clarke’s Critique of Basic Income

Mr. Clarke has this to say about basic income (see his post, dated June 21, 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r40D6fU760s&t=4s) (The following is practically verbatim):

Part 2: Basic Income

Those among the left who support basic income make a fundamental mistake in that they don’t take into account the necessity of economic coercion that was outlined above. They imagine that basic income has some magic quality that would make it exempt from the factors that constitute economic coercion and that would prevent basic income from being realized. Furthermore, they believe that existing income-support systems fail to meet people’s needs because of some design flaw; they believe that only if income-support systems could be reorganized in a better way, it would meet people’s needs. But that is not what is driving the process that is making them inadequate.

The left make an unwarranted assumption that basic income would be more adequate–that it is somehow going to meet people’s needs that existing programs do not. It will somehow be exempt from the limitations that other income-support programs are not.

Some among the left point to the pilot project of basic income instituted by the former Liberal government in Ontario. It is true that the project provided levels of income significantly higher than current social assistance levels, but to assume that such a project, if generalized throughout Ontario, would maintain such levels, is unwarranted.

Another unwarranted assumption is that basic income would be better because it would be universal. Those among the left who advance this view are filled with false hopes since no program of basic income actually being considered in the real world has universal scope; it will be targeted, with only some people qualifying.

It is also suggested that the stigma attached to existing income-support systems would be reduced if basic income were introduced and therefore would be more popular and it would be harder for governments to cut it. Mr. Clarke disagree with this. If a basic income were introduced, it would be attacked and questioned in exactly the same way as existing programs. In addition, popularity even if it existed would not save it. Public health-care programs have been under attack and faced massive austerity cutbacks despite being vital, necessary and popular.

Another suggestion is that basic income would be an unconditional benefit. In practice, that is unlikely to be the case. Mr. Clarke, on the other hand, does agree that existing income-support programs are bureaucratically intrusive. They are fused with elements of moral policing. And these things do indeed need to be challenged.

It has also been suggested that basic income will happen and will save us from the workless future based on robots. This view that we are on the cusp of an automated life is exaggerated, and the real situation is much more nuanced than that. On the other hand, Mr. Clarke does not deny that technological displacement is not a real issue. What he does question is that basic income is the magic solution to that problem. Capitalism does not function by allocating a certain adequate fund owned by billionaires in Silicon Valley so that people can receive an adequate standard of living. Since the industrial revolution, capitalists have used the introduction of new machinery to gain a competitive edge over their rivals, to displace workers and to create a greater climate of desperation and to try to drive down wages and that’s the fight that we are going to be in. We are going to have to fight in this situation as workers have always fought against technological displacement. We are going to have to fight for reduced hours of work. We are going to have to take up a whole series of important struggles.

It must be said that only under an irrational, profit-driven greedy system is this an issue. The idea that technological gains, which increase the productivity of human labour, should be something that we should be alarmed about, is confined to this system. Why should not those productive gains be used to benefit everyone? Why do we not take the machines away from the capitalists and use them to everyone’s advantage?

Mr. Clarke then refers to the various pilot projects on basic income because this is a big selling point for people who promote basic income. In Ontario, as mentioned above, a pilot project in basic income was initiated under the Liberal government for 2000 people. It provided a higher level of income than social assistance, it was relatively secure until the Tories cut it. They did intensive studies to show that people were better off. The studies prove nothing. They were not studying basic income but rather poor people. Of course, it is obvious that if you increase the level of income, people’s health is better and, in general, people’s lives are better.

The question that needs to be posed is: What effect basic income would have if it were implemented across a larger area of a capitalist economy. Basic income takes us in directions that are very dangerous–directions that we should be fighting rather than embracing. Basic income is essentially a proposal for a massive extension of social provision by way of the cash benefit. Seventy percent of the people in the pilot project in Ontario were not on social assistance. What they were primarily looking at was a wage top-up system. So the idea of basic income is to extend the benefit to a wider proportion of the working population.

This situation entails the commodification of social provisions, and such commodification is enormously dangerous. What it does is have you accept the low-wage, precarious workforce. But you then allegedly take away the worst effects of it by taking tax revenues paid by other working-class people not just a wage top up to those workers but what is in effect a wage subsidy to low wage employers. This has the effect of removing pressure on such employers to increase wages. It undermines the efforts to raise minimum wages. It simply accepts the low-wage precarious workforce but tries to provide a kind of limited sedative. This is a major mistake.

Mr. Clarke also believes that by providing so much more in the form of a cash benefit, you would facilitate the agenda of austerity and privatization. This cash benefit would be used, in practice, to justify the further gutting of public services. This is why the right is so enamored with the idea of basic income. Both eff Bezos and Milton Friedman favoured a basic income, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce favours a national pilot project on basic income. Friedman n particular argued that unions, minimum wages and social programs were all monstrous totalitarian interferences in the freedom of the marketplace. On the other hand, he recognized that pure capitalism without limits could be counterproductive. Consequently, what was necessary was the provision of a basic income at a minimum level, without any other social support system in place. The American right-winger Charles Murray has developed this further as has the Canadian right-wing institute the Fraser Institute. Murray advocates providing a minimum basic income that does not interfere with the flow of low-wage workers but that at the same time prevents social breakdown. Basic income for Murray is not to supplement and augment existing social provisions but rather replaces them.

Focusing on basic income enables the right to divert attention from the gross inadequacy of existing income-support systems. Basic income as a social policy would thus take us to playing the game of the right in the context of a capitalist economy and especially at this time, with the present balance of forces in society.

The counterargument by progressives on the left, of course, is that that is not their vision–that that is not the kind of basic income that they want. They want other systems to be strengthened; they want good minimum wages. The problem with that is that it does not take into account the prevailing situation. It does not take into account the present balance of forces. It does not take into account the agenda of capitalism. It assumes somehow that a wish will get you there. The kind of basic income that comes into existence would be shaped by the prevailing situation. If you assume that what you want or imagine can be realized, then you can create any number of utopias. Some people claim that universal basic income could be provided at such a level that they can literally decide whether they can participate in the job market or not. Where the money is to come from, and who is to provide it is unclear.

But as Pam Frache, from Toronto’s Workers Action Centre put it so well, to expect the capitalist state to provide the working class with an unlimited strike fund is an absurdity. And to suggest at this point in time, after forty years of defeat at the hands of neoliberal attack, that we’re in a position to win even a fraction of that is preposterous. Someone the other day stated that Mr. Clarke’s arguments were wrong because his version of basic income would be universal; it must be adequate; and it must be financed entirely by attacks on wealth. Of course, you can demand that the sky rain whiskey, but it’s just not going to happen. It is not realistic. Philippe van Parijs, Belgian advocate of basic income, has even suggested that basic income could even transform, could transform society, could abolish capitalism. Of course, if wishes were horses we could bet on basic income. However, we have to deal with reality. At the moment, it constitutes a very dangerous and distracting leftist illusion.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) [the social-democratic party here in Canada) are making a lot of effort in trying to win a basic income. Mr. Clarke is sad to say that some union leaders are buying into the idea. Social movements are backing it. Even a section of the anti-capitalist left is embracing basic income in this situation. It poses sometimes as a very transformative, radical bold proposal, but Mr. Clarke believes that it makes its peace with the capitalist marketplace and the neoliberal order. It says: wages will remain low, but it will be topped up by the tax revenues. This is a mistaken direction.

The Potentiality of Radical Proposals, Such as a Robust Basic Income, to Point Beyond a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers

It should be noticed that Mr. Clarke’s soul reference to what could be considered a radical aim that points beyond a society dominated by a class of employers is an isolated reference that Mr. Clarke fails to integrate in any way with his proposal for an enhanced welfare state. Thus, he states above: 

Why do we not take the machines away from the capitalists and use them to everyone’s advantage?

Yes, indeed, why do we not do that? How would we do that? By only enhancing the welfare state? How does only enhancing the welfare state contribute to that goal or aim? Mr. Clarke’s question is actually purely rhetorical. It serves no purpose that would enable workers to organize themselves in the present to realize that goal–an internal aim. Mr. Clarke’s aim of enhancing the welfare state is the primary focus; the reference to taking “the machines away from the capitalists and using them to everyone’s advantage” is not linked in any way to that focus. 

Could proposing a radical basic income that points beyond a market for workers by involving  a robust or enhanced or thick basic income that increases the freedom of workers from economic coercion be a stepping stone to the goal of taking “the machines away from the capitalists and using the to everyone’s advantage?” 

Of course, I fully admit that a basic income can be used for conservative purposes, for social-democratic purposes or for socialist purposes–just as can a proposal for welfare reform. It is to what basic income is linked that determines its conservative, social-democratic or socialist nature and not the proposal itself. Mr. Clarke, however, cannot admit that because his goal is decidedly reformist despite his radical rhetoric to the contrary. 

Consider Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborgh’s (2017) view in Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, page 124: 

There is, however, no reason why one should wait until full abundance to start realizing partially the distributive principle that defines communism. Indeed, if it turns out—in light of historical experience and for deep-seated reasons to which Marx paid insufficient attention—that capitalism does better than socialism at developing the forces of production, this gradual transition to communism could happen in the context of a capitalist economy. The proposal of an unconditional basic income makes a lot of sense in this perspective. While not yet in a state of abundance, our society may plausibly be regarded as affluent in the sense that it could cover everyone’s fundamental needs unconditionally with a basic income, topped up in some cases to address special needs such as disabilities

This sounds fine, but I agree with Mr. Clarke that it is likely utopian–but not for Mr. Clarke’s reason that it is unrealizable. A robust basic income would interfere in the market for workers. Even if the resistance of employers were overcome–a big if–the working of the capitalist economy would be distorted substantially, leading to breakdowns in the accumulation process of capital and could be a threat to other workers–unless further measures were introduced. Thus, if a robust basic income were in place, it is likely that productivity of labour would initially decrease as economic coercion became less effective; absenteeism and other measures that entail the avoidance of work (understandable given the dictatorial nature of such work–see for example my post  Employers as Dictators, Part One) would also likely rise. For example, resistance by workers to work certainly characterized some sections of the working class during Michael Seidman (1991), Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts, page 9: 

Furthermore, I wish to bring out the utopian dimension of resistance, a word which I have chosen because of its positive connotations. The importance of resistance in two major European cities in the fourth decade of the twentieth century indicates that refusals of work should not be dismissed as the behavior of “backward” or “primitive” working classes. Certainly, resisters did not articulate any clear future vision of the workplace or of society. Unlike the Marxists, they did not fight to take state power or, in contrast to the anarchosyndicalists, abolish or minimize the role of the state. I do not wish to
ignore the fact that workers’ refusals to work harmed the fight against Franco and weakened French defenses in a period of Nazi rearmament. Yet one might interpret resistance itself as suggesting a working-class utopia in which wage labor would be reduced to a minimum. Resistance was also a conjunctural and cyclical phenomenon, but refusals remained an intrinsic part of working-class culture and manifested themselves in different periods with various divisions of labor. During the Popular Fronts, workers revolted against a variety of disciplines, including that imposed by working-class organizations. Wage earners certainly wished to control their workplaces but generally in order to work less. One may speculate that the way to eliminate resistance is not by workers’ control of the means of production but rather by the abolition of wage labor itself.

The idealization of work in its present form meets the resistance of workers in various ways. Marx recognized this. From Marx-Engels Collected Works, 1843-1844, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Estranged Labour,” page 274: 

What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour? First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another.

If a robust basic income were implemented, it would interfere with the accumulation of capital, leading to the emergence of problems that would require further measures that would involve further interference in the process of the accumulation of capital. It would be better to be conscious of such a possibility and the need for a conscious movement that aimed to abolish wage labour–rather than enhancing the welfare state (itself still grounded on wage labour) or in a reversion to a neoliberal paradise.

Mr. Clarke’s implicit assumption that it is utopian to propose a robust or enhanced basic income, given economic coercion, is a conservative stance. It uses a radical view–that economic coercion is a fact of life in a society dominated by a class of employers–to draw conservative (social-reformist) conclusions. The same method was used by Mr. Bush in his one-sided use of Marx’s theory of surplus value (see Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two and  Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Mr. Clarke’s Inconsistent Call for Class Struggle

Mr. Clarke often calls for struggle (including class struggle) to achieve reformist aims. Of course, we should struggle to obtain higher wages, more secure employment, safer workplaces, expanded and better social housing, expanded universal healthcare, childcare and so forth. But why does he include struggle for an enhanced welfare state and exclude it from the process by which basic income arises? Mr. Clarke provides no reason for his exclusion of struggle for a basic income. He simply assumes that the class of employers will automatically achieve a minimal form of basic income–and simultaneously assumes that, if we struggle, we can achieve an enhanced welfare state despite the resistance of the class of employers.

I will simply quote from previous posts as well as from above Mr. Clarke’s many references to the need for struggle in order to substantiate my claim that he emphasizes struggle for enhanced welfare reforms, on the one hand, while ignoring the possibility and the need for struggle to achieve a robust basic income that threatens the existence of the market for workers on the other; such a collection of quotes provide a concentrated form of proof of my claim (rather than just being scattered). The quotes are sometimes overlapping since Mr. sometimes simultaneously argues for the need to fight for enhanced welfare reform while ignoring such need in the case of a robust radical basic income: 

Mr. Clarke’s Call for Class Struggle in the Case of an Enhanced Form of Welfare Capitalism

The alternative is to rejuvenate our unions and fight for decent wages, to fight to increase minimum wages, to fight for workers’ rights–rather than extend the cash benefits and extend the reach of the marketplace. It is far better to put considerable effort into the struggle for public services. … 

We need a fight to ensure that disability benefits are adequate and meet people’s needs and that they are secure. We need to challenge the intrusion and moral policing that goes on within these systems.

Again: 

But to extend the cash benefit widely out into the workforce is a huge mistake. And we could do so much better. Rather than try to get what in practice would be a meager cash benefit, it would be so much better to struggle to challenge the commodification of housing, the neoliberal city, the blighting of urban space with this agenda of greed by fighting for a massive extension of social housing. So that’s a benefit that goes to working-class people and does not go into the pocket of landlords. There’s a need to fight for increases in the adequacy of healthcare. The pandemic has made that absolutely clear. We need pharmacare, dental care, a unviersal childcare program that is not an empty perennial liberal promise. We need post-secondary education to be free; we need free public transport systems. On all of these fronts, we need to take up a fight.

But people will say: We have suffered defeats. We cannot win these things. Mr. Clarke argues that the left has for a very long time been forced on the defensive. The class struggle has not gone in our favour for a considerable period of time. But there is no alternative but to rebuild and to fight back and to win what we can. And to challenge this society but to fight for a different society. That’s absolutely indispensable. There in fact is not some social policy ruse that can just put things right.

Again: 

During the pandemic, struggles have broken out across the world, from Minneapolis to New Delhi to East Jerusalem. As the global health crisis subsides, there will be a strong determination to fight for something better. As we challenge, not just the ‘economic scarring’ left by the pandemic, but the impact of decades of austerity, we shouldn’t settle for a commodified form of social provision that makes its peace with the neoliberal order. We need to fight employers to win decent wages and to take to the streets to demand massively expanded social housing, greatly improved public healthcare, free public transit, universal child care and much else beside.

Mr. Clarke’s Lack of Reference for the Need to Engage in Class Struggle in the Case of the Proposal for Basic Income

Let us now see how Mr. Clarke presents basic income: 

Basic income is not going to solve the problem. Our lack of strength, our lack of ability to fight in the way we need to fight is the problem we have to address. We need to build that movement now more than ever. In this situation of global crisis we need more than ever to fight back, and we can do so much better in focusing our struggles than to fight for the commodification of social provision and basic income.

Again:

I wish I could convince more BI supporters to consider the foundations before they try to put the roof on. One such supporter told me a few months ago that my arguments on the role of income support in this society constituted ‘an irrelevant history lesson’ but I beg to differ. To provide nothing at all to people who are unemployed or otherwise outside of the paid workforce has proven impossible so income support emerged to contain social unrest. However, it is always provided reluctantly and to the least degree possible because it limits the economic coercion the job market rests on.

Conclusion

This inconsistency is explained by Mr. Clarke’s reformist aims. Despite Mr. Clarke’s references to exploitation  and economic coercion, he assumes that they are somehow fixed and permanent. Rather than directly trying to develop a movement for abolishing exploitation and economic coercion (with a struggle for both enhanced welfare reforms and a robust basic income being linked to such an aim), Mr. Clarke proposes reformist measures that do not address at all the issue of exploitation or economic coercion as such. Somehow, the movement for welfare reform is supposed to lead to taking over the machines owned by employers. This is utopian in the bad sense of the term as being unrealistic. 

Rather, a proposal for a robust basic income that questions the premises of the class power of employers and the associated economic, social and political relations would point the way out of both the current situation and the class situation that we constantly face. 

In a future post, I may will inquire into a possible explanation hinted at above: Mr. Clarke’s real aim is not the elimination of capitalism but of neoliberalism. 

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Seven: The National Day of Mourning in Canada and the Social Causes of Injury, Disease and Death

On April 28 is the National Day of Mourning  in Canada to commemorate those workers who have suffered disease, injury or death at work. However, unions rarely if ever raise the issue of how effective such a day of mourning is for addressing the health and safety problems that  workers experience. Why do more or less 1,000 workers die every year at work and around 600,000 experience injuries or disease (Bob Barneston (2010), The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada).

For example, I listened to the “Welcome to the Toronto & York Region Labour Council’s Day of Mourning ceremonies” for 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl-7e8Ta-H8&list=LL&index=14). In none of the presentations do the presenters attribute problems of health and safety to the structural situation of the persistent need to accumulate capital at the expense of workers’ health and safety.

One of the ways in which the health and safety of workers who work for an employer has been jeopardized is the administrative shift in the capitalist government’s definition of the causes of dangers to health and safety. Government or state representatives defined health and safety problems in purely technical terms, ignoring the social causes of dangers to the health and safety of workers.

From Tom Dwyer (1991), Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 26:

Conflict over the weakness of safety laws proceeded [in England], especially from the 1870s when workers were able to achieve greater parliamentary representation. Through an examination of the content of regulations, we can see that workers’ social demands were largely ignored as, increasingly, solutions to problems emerged in important political compromises that were channeled technically. … The vision that the state lent to the prevention of accidents was overwhelmingly based on the development of technical criteria, while social criteria were, with some notable exceptions, given little attention.

The shift from defining health and safety dangers from social causes to technical causes led to the increasingly bureaucratic or administrative definition and treatment of the problem; this in turn contributed to the fragmentation of workers’ organization and struggle of the workers in relation to the social power of the class of employers.

From Tom Dwyer, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 27:

The attention of unions was increasingly channeled away from the worksite and toward legislative change to be conquered through the efforts of members of Parliament sympathetic to the workers’ cause. The power of the bureaucracy grew as industrial problems became increasingly subject to political control through their transformation into administrative questions.

This view of the shift towards governmental administration of problems and away from class organization and class struggle is consistent with the view of a more general shift towards a capitalist government that administers laws–public administration.

From Mark Neocleous (1996), Administering Civil Society: Towards a Theory of State Power, pages 106-107:

In fact, the theoretical ‘problem’ over the relationship between struggle and
structure only arises by separating them and thus being faced with the necessity of syncretically syncretic • \sincretic=characterized or brought about by a combination of different forms of belief or practice] drawing them together again, or at least positing a causal relationship. But, as Werner Bonefeld [a Marxist theoretician] writes, structures are a mode of class antagonism and thus both the result and premise of class struggle. This is true of the capitalist state generally and specific institutional developments of that state. For the other moment of the making of the English working class was the (re)making of the modern state. Far from being supine [which means: failing to act or protest as a result of moral weakness or laziness], in the process of struggle the working class forced the emergence of new state structures – of political administration- and through these a reordering, far more fundamental than that forced by the bourgeoisie in its struggle, of the relation between state and civil society [capitalist society apart from the government or state]. The British state, faced with struggling classes, pre-empted revolutionary change by subsuming class struggle under the state through the development of administrative structures and mechanisms. The development of the state can be traced to the incorporation of working-class struggle into its very structures, as increasing elements of civil society found themselves structured, restructured and submerged. With typical flexibility and a seemingly endless ability to adapt itself, the British state responded by creating a space within itself for this purpose. Thus, although the working class was constituted by the state, the state itself was constituted through class struggle. The working class was both constituted by and constitutive of the structures of political administration and state power. (To put this another way: we need a conception of the working class not only as subjected, but also as subject.) The only way to incorporate the English working class was for the state to be altered accordingly, new (administrative) forms emerging which could then be used against the working class. Political administration, then, acts as the fulcrum around which both the working class and the modern state were ordered. Just as humans ‘by their own toil keep in existence a reality which enslaves them in ever greater degree’, so the working class in its struggles produce the real structures which then enslave it. Poulantzas [a Marxist political theoretician] rightly claims that ‘struggles are inscribed in the institutional materiality of the state, even though they are not concluded in it; it is a materiality that carries the traces of these muted and multiform struggles.’

This insight can be strengthened and tightened by positing political administration as a specific form of working class struggle, by following Adorno [a Marxist critical theorist] in arguing that administration acts as a process of subsumption, a mechanism for ordering and covering over. ‘Administration’ has feudal origins referring to the management of the estates of the dead; hence ‘the administration of wills’.67 I am arguing that we think of political administration as state management of the struggles of the working class. By subsuming struggle, political administration is ‘working-class power post festum [after the fact]; working-class political victories captured and formalized at their moment of triumph.’68 In these administrative structures the state appropriates and nullifies the struggle of the working class; as such they are the fossilized remnants of class struggle; they are the subsumption [meaning: of including under another, usually something more general] of struggle – working-class struggle abolished and preserved. Born of the struggle of the working class these structures are then left with the task of administering that same class, a task performed in relation to both collective organizations of the working class and its decomposed elements known as ‘citizens’. It is therefore through the very process of struggle that the working class, and not its ‘aristocratic’ elements, now most definitely of civil society, also finds its struggles incorporated into the state, transformed into administrative structures and turned against it. Thus in its struggle to become a class of civil society, the class discovers itself also to be a class of the state.

The administration of the health and safety of workers by the capitalist government or state channeled workers’ struggles in this area into a redefinition of the nature of the causes of health and safety issues, away from social causes–such as the very nature of the power of the class of employers and how they, directly or indirectly, use workers for purposes over which workers have no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital) and which is inherently connected to the possibility of disease, injury and death.

If the capitalist government is adept or skillful at channeling worker discontent into new administrative forms, then issues must be addressed in such a way that the capitalist government cannot accommodate them (see, for instance, my argument for a generous universal basic income that erodes the market for the hiring and firing of workers, A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform).

In relation to health and safety issues, strong workers’ organizations at the local level (not just unions and union reps), coupled with increasing links between workers’ organizations across industries, would be a necessary step in preparing workers to resist forms of class struggle that include legislative changes that define problems as non-social and, correspondingly, shift solutions to the redefined problems by means of administrative means.

To achieve this, would it not be necessary to abandon all talk of “fair compensation,” “fair wages,” “fair contract,” “Fair labour laws save lives,” “decent work,” and so forth? Such phrases paper over the real and persistent threat of disease, injury and death that workers face.  Opposition to such phrases, of course, is hardly sufficient. Is not opposition to such cliches necessary, though, if workers are going to initiate a movement dedicated to addressing the social causes of their own sufferings.

Taking Possession of Vacant Housing and Protecting the Environment from Profits: The Need to Consider Both Process and Product or Result

A person on Facebook posted the following relating to the problem of accessible housing:

Isabella Gamk shared a post.

Thought the group would like this
May be an image of car and road

Isabella Gamk
“Housing Shortage”? This is not that old of a building and could be fixed up. This building has been shuttered to make room for a condo. There are many such buildings in Toronto. In Canada there 1.3 million empty homes in Canada, many just sitting vacant waiting to be turned into condos. They never talk about this when they say they need to build more homes.

Fred Harris

But to turn them into homes–would it not require an attack on the principle of the sanctity of private property on a massive scale? And would not that require an organized mass struggle? And why stop there? What of the means of production used to construct houses? Why not convert them into common property of all?
well we are on a planet with finite resources. Perhaps we should leave some of those resources for future generations and civilizations.
Fred Harris

Which resources? The cranes, drills used to construct the houses? These are supposed to be left untouched–in the name of “future generations?” If we leave these means of production to employers–we in fact leave a process that constantly strips the natural world of what future generations will need. Employers who own drills, cranes, etc. purchase or rent them with the goal of obtaining more money–profit. But profit at the end of the process is just–money–and not more money. So they need to reinvest again–and again–and again.
To end the rape of the earth, it is necessary to end the rule of the class of employers.
Unless you have an alternative diagnosis of the problem of the rape of the earth and how to stop it. I am all ears.

Now, I am hardly objecting to the goal of trying to take over vacant homes in order to address the serious problem of a lack of adequate housing in Canada and elsewhere. If a movement to seriously aim for that goal were ignited and grew, it could form the point of departure for pointing to solutions that go beyond a society dominated by a class of employers.

To find out more about Ms. Gamk, I looked on the Net. I did listen to an interview with her, dated September 28, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFZOhVXcmf4&list=LL).

Ms. Gamk is the founder of POOF–Protecting ODSP OW Funding. ODSP is the Ontario Disability Support Program and OW is Ontario Works (social assistance). She has had a number of health issues in her life, including cocaine addiction, HIV and glaucoma, among other issues.

She receives ODSP, but she points out that ODSP covers $497 for rent and welfare will cover $390. She argues that these need to be doubled–immediately–and then within six months it needs to brought up to average market rent. She argues that even if you double the amount from ODSP, it is $994, but a bachelor suite rents out now between $1100 and $1500; this means that those who receive ODSP would still have to dip into money destined for basic needs was $662 prior to last fall’s 1.5 percent increase–it increased to $672. This is inadequate to survive. Many are now relying on food banks and community meals to eat. Even the NDP, which stated that it would increase rent allowances by 27 percent over three years, would be insufficient, leading to homelessness. Ninety-five percent of the people on the streets receive ODSP or OW.

To double the rates, people would freak because they would be afraid that it would be necessary to raise taxes substantially. But they could tax the corporations and stop giving them incentives, etc. to them.

She also argues that many on the streets want to have a job, but they are stuck because of their homeless circumstances. Furthermore, although there are a number of vacant units for the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, which provides subsidized housing; many of these units are inhabitable due to the large repair bill that TCHC has–without sufficient funding to provide such repairs. She had to wait 20 years to gain access to a unit with TCHC, but even then repairs are often shoddy because of a lack of money and there are often cockroaches and bed bugs. But the homeless will still have to wait 10 to 20 years to gain access to TCHC units. This is wrong.

TCHC, or Toronto Housing, is charging $139 for rent for those who receive ODSP or OW. Why is not John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, increasing the rent to $390 (as allowed for those who receive OW, which is funded by the province) in order for Toronto Housing to receive increased funds to repair the buildings and units? The argument that it is $139 for low-income workers is invalid. The minimum wage, now being $14 an hour works out to $1,750 for a four-week month. That person making $1,750 can surely afford $390 for rent.

She has organized protest rallies, created. distributed and emailed flyers for the rallies. She joined ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now); their logo is on her flyers. She had already been a member of OCAP–the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty). OCAP in particular did not support POOF; they never put POOF’s events on their pages; they never helped distribute flyers; they didn’t help with anything.

OCAP pulled out in part because she opposed affordable, subsidized housing based on the level of income because she believes such housing keeps people in poverty; she also opposes shelters for the same reason; furthermore, she opposes homeless people having the right to live in stairwells whereas OCAP believes they should have the right to do so. ACORN and POOF are fighting to clean up the buildings; OCAP does not care about the buildings or the tenants in the building; they care only about the homeless–but only to the extent that they want to keep them in shelters. POOF, on the other hand, is demanding more money for ODSP and OW recipients.

Another reason why OCAP opposes POOF is because Isabella does not consider sex work to be a job like any other job. If you do it because you want to, then that is fine. However, if you do it because you are in poverty and need to do it in order to obtain money, then it is not right.

Once you are in such a system, it is difficult to move anywhere else except within the system–which leads to the perpetuation of poverty. Furthermore, it is difficult to move within the system even if you have problems with neighbours–whether due to noise or harassment. In addition, if you want to move outside of Toronto Housing, with the inadequate level of rent money that ODSP and OW recipients receive, they cannot afford to move anywhere else except within the Toronto Housing system.

Her solution would be to scrap Toronto Housing and bring ODSP and OW rates for rent to average market rent, and low-income families should receive a rent-subsidy cheque so they could afford average-market rents.  Furthermore, if Toronto Housing is still to exist, land owned by that organization should be used exclusively, she implies, for Toronto Housing units rather than to build condo units as is happening now.

The interviewer, Michael Masurkevitch, implied that we could fund such a system by taking away some of the income of CEOs and distributing it to the lower-income people and homeless in order to achieve a balance.

Ms. Gamk argued that this is true since she implied that the use of high-end or very expensive cars in public these days (which was not the case in earlier times) provides evidence of the availability of money and hence the possibility of taxing the rich to a greater extent.

Given the more recent advocacy for taking over vacant homes on Facebook–as the quotes at the beginning indicate–it would seem that Ms. Gamk now advocates more radical measures in order to address the issue of the lack of housing in Toronto and in Canada. However, it is unclear whether she advocates taking over the vacant homes with compensation or without compensation. I should have asked her that in order to clarify the situation.

However, there are a number of points that can be made.

  1. Focusing on the seizure of existing housing stock (a social product of various workers) without considering the processes that produce such housing stock is one-sided. They are two sides of the same coin. The initiator of the above Facebook post, Isabelle Gank, may not have thought about this before, but when I pointed it out, she shifted her attention (in effect ignoring the connection between process and product) to the issue of finite resources on Earth.
  2. However, when I pointed out that the kind of society in which we live necessarily involves a tendency towards the infinite exhaustion of resources, Ms. Gamk did not respond. Now, this lack of response can be interpreted in various ways. Perhaps she would reconsider her position–and respond later. However, there is no such response from her despite three days having passed. Or she considers my response incomprehensible. If so, she should have asked for clarification–which she did not. Or she chose to simply ignore my response and ignore the need to connect up the fact of limited resources on this planet and the tendential infinite process characterized by an economy–which contradicts the finite nature of the world on which and through which we live.Given the fact that Ms. Gamk did not respond, I choose to interpret her silence as an indication of her failure to connect up the result of diminishing resources on this planet with this tendential process (which I have briefly indicated on my blog on the page The Money Circuit of Capital; I also tend to believe that she probably fails to link up the  result of homes being empty and not being used despite a lack of adequate housing here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with the process of producing those homes.

Her reference to treating sex work as a job as being okay if the person wants to do it but not okay if they are in poverty and have to do it in order to obtain money to live fails to address using the same logic to all jobs that involve working for an employer. She probably means by poverty a certain level of income; the use of this category to determine whether a person lives in poverty or not is shared by the social-democratic or social-reformist left. The use of level of income as the prime factor in defining what constitutes poverty certainly has its place in terms of level of consumption and the quality of life outside work; I too have had a lack of money to the extent that I had to apply for and receive social assistance temporarily. I also remember trying to find enough pennies in the apartment (when they existed) in order to be able to go to McDonalds to buy the relatively cheap coffee and muffin combination.

Nonetheless, Ms. Gamk obviously accepts the market standard since she advocates such a standard for ODSP and OW recipients receiving the market rate. Of course, advocating increased rates for such recipients is legitimate, but we should question the adequacy of such a standard. We should also question whether people who work for an employer do so out of their own free will or whether they do so out of need to obtain money–even if their wage or salary is considered by some as relatively high. If we question that, then we can redefine what poverty means–a definition that is broader than the definition of poverty according to level of income. I quoted such a definition in another post (“Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)). From Geoffrey Kay, The Economic Theory of the Working Class. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1979, pages 2-3:

The absolute poverty of the working class is visibly present in the conditions of work where everything the worker touches belongs to another. The means of production he uses, that is, the machines, buildings, materials, etc. all belong to the employer, who also owns the output. The only thing the worker owns is his capacity to work, and his economic welfare depends upon his being able to sell this at the best possible price. In the course of this [the twentieth) century, particularly during the period of the post-war boom, this price measured in terms of the commodities it can purchase, the real wage, has risen to unprecedented heights, at least in the advanced industrial countries of the west.

As a result of this and the maintenance of full or near full employment backed up by social welfare, the working class has enjoyed greater prosperity and security than at any time in history. In these circumstances it appears strange to talk of absolute poverty, and the old socialist claim that the working class has nothing to lose but its chains seems and archaic relic of the past when the working class did indeed live in dire poverty. Yet the fact remains that the working class today has no greater economic autonomy than its forbears a hundred years ago.

Consider the situation of a contemporary worker who loses his job. This has happened to several million workers in the industrialized world since the long boom faltered in 1973 not counting the other millions of young people who have never found jobs at all. Many of the workers who have recently suffered unemployment for the first time, earned wages that allowed them to enjoy all the trappings of ‘affluency’—decent housing, cars, television, refrigerators and so on. But the loss of the job puts the standard of living immediately in jeopardy, particularly if unemployment lasts for anything more than a few weeks. In the unlikely event of a working class family having a large private income, its initial response to unemployment is to cut back spending on marginal items, and attempt to maintain its lifestyle intact in the hope that new work will be found shortly. As the period of unemployment lengthens, it begins to eat into savings, but this does not hold out much hope.

Working class savings are notoriously low, and often take the form of insurance policies that can only be cashed in at a considerable loss. If the family decides to sell of its consumer durables, apart from reducing its standard of living immediately, it will invariably make further losses as second-hand prices are always far below prices for new articles. Moreover, many working class purchases are financial by hire purchase where the interest element makes the actual price higher than the market price, and the family that sells off relatively new times bought in this way often finds that, far from releasing cash, it lands itself in further debt. Working class affluence is entirely dependent upon wages: remove these—i.e., unemployment—and the absolute poverty of its social situation shows through very quickly. In the nineteenth century unemployment meant immediate destitution; the modern worker is clearly much better off than his forbears—for him and his family poverty is a few weeks, maybe even a few months away.

As Marx also wrote, in relation to prostitution not in its usual, particularized, sense but in a general sense (from Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), page 153–a draft written between 1857 and 1858, which forms the basis for the writing of Capital, volume one of which was published in 1867)

(The exchangeability of all products, activities and relations with a third, objective entity [money] which can be re-exchanged for everything without distinction – that is, the development of exchange values (and of money relations) is identical with universal venality, corruption. Universal prostitution appears as a necessary phase in the development of the social character of personal talents, capacities, abilities, activities. More politely expressed : the universal relation of utility and use. The equation of the incompatible, as Shakespeare nicely defined money.

I invite Ms. Gamk and any others to broaden their definition of poverty to include most workers who need to work for an employer in order to obtain the money they need to live (some workers, such as managers, may be excluded since their function is to exploit and oppress workers–even if they too need to work for an employer).

The major problem with Ms. Gamk’s approach has to do with focusing on issues of distribution of already produced commodities rather than their production. For once I agree with Sam Gindin (although this should be center-stage and the focus for criticism of all social-democratic or reformist organizations). He writes ( https://socialistproject.ca/2022/04/inflation-reframing-the-narrative/):

But we need to be sober about an inevitable ceiling on redistributive policies. If we don’t also address the democratization of production – if we don’t also redistribute economic power, capital’s control over production and investment will leave it with the capacity to undermine or sabotage alternative priorities and redistribution goals.

We can put controls on house prices, but developers can refrain from building more houses or build the kinds of housing society needs. We can put controls on gas prices, but this won’t address the issue of a planned phase-out of the oil industry and investment in renewables. We can set drug prices, but the drug companies will still decide which kinds of illnesses they should focus on to maximize their profits. And we can’t control the price of food or adequately subsidize food as needed without a radical rethinking of food production.

As the struggle over distribution comes up against such impasses and causes new crises, the crucial lesson to internalize is not to retreat from our goals. It is to organize to go further.

However, Mr. Gindin then elaborates a little by what he means by “going further”:

and pose public ownership and planning in key sectors – not just for ideological reasons but also as a practical matter of self-defence and meeting critical social needs.

If he means by “public ownership” the mere nationalization of industries without a thorough restructuring, then my earlier criticism of “public ownership” also applies to his proposal (see, for example, my criticism in  A Critical Look at The Socialist Project’s Pamphlet on Green Jobs Oshawa).

Public ownership hardly is identical to democratic control of the workplace by workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

I will leave the issue there.

Of course, part of the problem may be the way in which I responded to her post. If others have suggestions about how I can improve my communication skills, feel free to comment. I am always open to improvement in my communication skills. Or perhaps my logic is faulty. If so, please provide counterarguments.

Critique of the View That the Government or State is Neutral: A Critical Look at the Assumptions of the Leader of the New Brunswick NDP (New Democratic Party) Mackenzie Thomason

Introduction 

On my Facebook page, I made some notes and comments on a post by Julius Arscott, a member of the supposedly radical organization here in Toronto called Socialist Action in relation to the public union strike in New Brunswick in the late fall of 2021. The poster referred to the following 49-minute podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/45SB74uv1Hj0zRvQkPPa9z?fbclid=IwAR36H2KzFsopOUYcfwzkl5ocP1p3gNhdvIgLs-btRwZy4z_QtWEjpvWPJQw. The poster stated the following:

As striking CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] NB SCFP [Le Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique] workers vote on a tentative agreement, check out the latest episode of The Red Review, brought to you by Socialist Action Canada, where Emily Steers and I [Julius Arscott] interview CUPE 1253 member, bus driver, and leader of the New Brunswick NDP Mackenzie Thomason!

Mackenzie talks picket line vibes, community support, demands of striking workers, taking on the Irving empire, government ban on land acknowledgements, and a surging New Brunswick NDP that puts people first, not profit!

I commented the following:

Fred Harris
Where is there evidence that the New Brunswick NDP “put people first, not profit?”
To answer that question, I did listen to the 49-minute interview, took some note an made a few comments. I will produce a more polished version in the future on my blog.

The following is a revised version of my notes and commentaries.

Mr. Arscott failed to respond to my commentaries.  The so-called radical political organization Socialist Action fails to engage critically with NDP views–which makes it in effect a social-democratic or social-reformist organization. Silence is golden for social-democrats or social reformers when their views are criticized, it would seem. 

A Fair Wage in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers? 

An increase in wages was, initially, a sticking point during negotiations. Mr. Thomason had this to say: 

We were supposedly appreciated as heroes during the pandemic, but as the pandemic subsided, we were then undervalued and underappreciated. We no longer deserved a fair raise nor decent benefits.

It is undoubtedly true that the representatives of employer, seeing that essential services were indeed necessary to maintain, produce and reproduce our (and their) lives, referred to essential workers as heroes–until the pandemic crisis had been reduced, after which they then shifted to the typical attitude of treating essential workers as mere means for purposes defined by employers. Mr. Thomason is right to point out the hypocrisy of the representatives of employers in this instance. 

However, his reference to a “fair raise and benefits” implies that there is such a thing as a fair wage and benefits. The implication is that there is such a thing as “a fair raise and decent benefits.” Mr. Thomason does not question this assumption, but accepts it. The radical left should also reject it since the issue of exploitation is simply ignored. From Richard  Arneson (1981), “What’s Wrong with Exploitation? In pages 202-227, Ethics, Volume 91, Number2,
pages 205-206: 

,,, exploitation involves an exercise of power by some over others, to the disadvantage of the less powerful. Marx never tires of emphasizing that ownership of capital [and managers  in the hierarchical division of labour within the government or state]  confers power to command the labor of others. Within any class society wrongful exploitation will involve interactions between persons of markedly unequal social power, and the inequality will determine the distribution of benefits from the interaction. In market economies these inequalities of power assume the form of great disparities in bargaining strength between capitalists and workers.

Does Mr. Thomason take into account the necessary differences in bargaining power of unionized workers and management? Not at all. He addresses the issue completely in terms of the amount of raise which he and others consider fair “under the circumstances”–and those circumstances include the economic dependence of workers on employers and the general economic coercion that that involves. 

Just think of why you do not express your real opinions at work in front of management. Or why, when you or others are expressing yourselves freely in the lunchroom, when a manager comes in, the talk changes. 

Economic coercion involves oppression and exploitation despite the exchange between employers and workers

From Arneson, page 219:

It appears that the worker exchanges a day’s labor for a day’s wage, but according to Marx it is really labor power that is exchanged for the subsistence cost of its reproduction; and furthermore, according to Marx this latter exchange is only apparently an exchange,
whereas in reality the capitalist coerces the worker who has no genuine choice in the matter. The appearance of exchange conceals the worker’s “economical bondage”; “In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital.” [or the government or state]

Rather than criticizing an economic form such as the wage and the economic coercion that arises with that economic form, Mr. Thomason assumes its legitimacy. What is illegitimate for him is not the qualitative question of whether wages are legitimate or illegitimate because they involve the lack of freedom of the workers, at the level of classes (since there is indeed some freedom of choice at the individual level of trying to find a particular employer), but the quantitative question of the level of wages.

To be sure, the level of wages is indeed of concern for workers–in order to be able to live–and live with at least a variety of choices as consumer and to provide for one’s family. To deny the importance of the quantitative level of wages for workers is absurd, but to focus on this aspect of the employer-worker relation without looking at what the wage relation involves in terms of the lack of freedom of workers is to be blind to a large part of what life involves in a society dominated by a class of employers. 

A fair raise or wage in the context of the class power of employers is social democratic—not socialist. Exploitation and oppression constitute necessary features of such a society, and to refer to fair raises or wages in that kind of society is reformist and does nothing to enlighten workers about how to address this inherent exploitation and oppression and to seek to solve them once and for all.

A Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Justification for Defined Pensions

Although wages were a sticking point for negotiations, the union decreased its wage demands and management increased its wage offer, so some kind of meeting of minds took place over wages. 

However, the sticking point has been the government’s insistence that workers’ pensions should be in the form of a shared-risk model rather than the current defined benefit model for the locals 1253 and 2745: bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, payroll clerks, administrative assistants, educational assistants, and administrative workers broadly.

A defined benefit pension provides a stable and steady income for pensioners regardless of the economic conditions of particular employers, and in this instance it is the government as employer which is burdened with variability in economic conditions of the stock market.

A shared-risk pension, on the other hand, shifts the variability of stock markets onto the pensioners. 

Mr. Thomason’s justification for defined pensions reflects a social-democratic or social-reformist point of view: “you have worked hard, you have done what you have been asked to do by society and by the economy.”

This fails to even question the present class power at work and the class and alienated structure of the economy. Workers allegedly deserve a defined pension because they have kowtowed to their employers and to the general oppressive and exploitative economic, political and social conditions (what else does “you have done what you have been asked to do by society and by the economy” mean?)

Note the complete identification of “society” and “economy” with the present class society and class economy. By identifying the two, Mr. Thomason forfeits any opportunity to oppose the class nature of “society” and “economy” in general and the particular kind of class society and economy in particular–a society and economy dominated by a class of employers. (In other periods and places, serfs were subject to the power of lords, or slaves were subject to the power of slave owners, or peasants formed part of a village economy and so forth). Mr. Thomason performs the trick of identifying the present specific class structure, with its class of employers, with “society” and the “economy” in general. 

What he could have said to justify defined pensions is something like: the government as employer uses workers as things to achieve the government’s goals without permitting the workers the right to participate in the formulation of purposes of the government. Given this lack of freedom at work, workers should struggle to abolish such a situation, but they lack the power to do so for now. For those who retire from this situation, they deserve to experience a stable income if not a stable life (unlikely in a society dominated by a class of employers), and defined pensions provide a more stable form of income than a shared-risk pension.

Not only did Mr. Thomason fail to use the situation as an opportunity to expose both the historical nature of modern class society but, by referring to the “economy” and “society” without qualification he becomes an ideologue of present economic, political and social relations of power. He undoubtedly does not intend on being such an ideologue, but objectively he does in fact serve as such an ideologue. 

The New Brunswick Billionaire Family the Irvings and the Social-Democratic Cliché of Having the Rich Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

The social-democratic or social-reformist left are full of clichés. I have already criticized the cliché above of “fair wages.” Another social-democratic cliché is the idea of having the rich “pay their fair share of taxes.” Mr. Thomason continues with his cliché-ridden talk by claiming that the New Brunswick billionaire family the Irvings should somehow pay their fair share of taxes. He says:

They [the Irving family] will have to play ball with us and help us to invest in public services by paying their fair share in taxes and their fair share in property taxes, or they can leave.

If we take a look at the money circuit of capital (The Money Circuit of Capital), we can see that workers are used as mere means for obtaining more profit (or, in the case of the government, for purposes undefined by workers). For Mr. Thomason, as long as the Irvings pay “their fair share of taxes”–they can continue to exploit workers. Such is the logic of the social-democratic left. How do these social democrats represent the general interests of workers (the class interests of workers)? 

Furthermore, although looking at “billionaires” may be useful in some circumstances, it completely overlooks the structural logic characteristic of a society dominated by the class power of employers; this structural logic needs to be criticized and abolished. This structural logic, in part, is expressed in The Money Circuit of Capital (other aspects of this logic include, but are not limited to, the productive circuit of capital and the commodity circuit of capital as outlined in volume two of Marx’s Capital). 

A Brief Look at the Issue of Taxes

Mr. Thomason not only uses the cliché of employers “paying their fair share of taxes” but does not even bother to inquire into how taxes hide the exploitative nature of the “economy.” Surplus value, which has its unitary source in the first instance in value (and  expressed in money–see    Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part One: Critique of Jim Stanford’s One-Sided View of Job Creation in a Capitalist Society) and in the second instance in surplus value derived from directly exploited workers in the private sphere–appears as separate–as profits, interest and rent on land. Since profits, interest and rent on land (natural resources) is related to wages as the rate of surplus value (surplus value as a whole in the form of profits, interest and rent added together) divided by wages, salaries and benefits), the treatment of each category of surplus as a form of income on the same level as wages (and as taxable income) makes it appear as if there is no connection between the level of wages, salaries and benefits on the one hand, and the level of profits, interest and rent on the other. Marx’s theory of the dual nature of labour (concrete and abstract labour), this theory of money and his theory of surplus value are meant to expose the internal or intrinsic relation between the level of wages and profit, interest and rent.

As John Passant (2015) says, in “Some Basic Marxist Concepts to Help Understand Income Tax,” pages 263-312, The Journal Jurisprudence, page 287: 

It [the income tax system] not only hides the exploitation of workers, it mislocates the creation of profit, interest, rent and dividends – specific examples of the general category of surplus value – in the hands of capital rather than labour. It views workers as being rewarded for their labour rather than the reality of the reward being for their ability to labour and taxes them accordingly.

What the tax system deals with is the phenomena arising in the distribution of
surplus value, not its production.

Taxes can be derived from a variety of sources, and can be direct (such as an income tax) or indirect tax (such as government taxes on commodities that we purchase, such as gas, alcohol and cigarettes). In either case, the source of the taxes is hidden since all sources are aggregated or summed up in the general form of “taxes.” There is a corresponding subject who pays taxes–the “taxpayer.” The division of income into wages on the one hand and and profits, interest and rent is dissolved in the form of taxes. 

Or, as Passant writes in another article, “Income Tax in Australia: From Appearance to Reality,” page 1: 

This idealization of the tax system is typical of social democrats or social reformers.

The income tax system reflects the idea and the surface reality that businesses earn their income in the form of profits or rents or dividends or interest rather than extracting that income (what Marxists call surplus value) from the value that workers create in the process of production which is then realised or monetised in exchange. Income tax also applies to the wages workers receive. Wages are the surface expression, the price, of the value of workers’ labour power or ability to work, not a payment for the work they do or reward for the value they create.

The Political Implications of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Position: The Iron Fist of Social Democracy

The view that there is such a thing as employers paying their fair share of taxes implies that workers, too, ought to pay their fair share of taxes. After all, workers also are obliged to pay income tax.  Therefore, since the government or state forces corporations and workers to pay taxes, if corporations are said to pay their fair share of taxes, then workers who do not “voluntarily” pay their fair share of taxes should, according to this reformist reading and logic, be forced to pay their “fair share of taxes.” 

Is there really any wonder why some workers have turned to the right, when the social-democratic or social-reformist left adopt clichés whose implications involve the legitimation of political coercion by the government or state? 

According to the federal government website (currently a Liberal government):

What are the consequences of tax evasion?
Tax evasion is a crime. Whether you’re cheating on your taxes here in Canada or hiding assets or money in foreign jurisdictions, the consequences are serious. Tax evasion has a financial cost. Being convicted of tax evasion can also lead to fingerprinting, court imposed fines, jail time, and a criminal record.

When taxpayers are convicted of tax evasion, they must still repay the full amount of taxes owing, plus interest and any civil penalties assessed by the CRA. In addition, the courts may fine them up to 200% of the taxes evaded and impose a jail term of up to five years.

The only current social-democratic provincial government is in British Columbia, where the New Democratic Party (NDP) holds power. On its government website (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/taxes/report-tax-tip), it has a webpage for reporting tax evasion:  

Report a tip on suspected non-compliance with B.C. tax laws

Tax revenues help fund important government programs and services such as healthcare, infrastructure and education. You can play an important role to ensure there is tax compliance in B.C. With your help, people in B.C. can continue to access programs and services and support a fair tax system in the province.

If you know or suspect an individual or business isn’t complying with B.C. tax laws, you can anonymously report them by using the online tip form 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

You can use the tip form to report concerns, such as individuals or businesses:

  • Only accepting cash for payment (for instance, they don’t take credit cards, cheques or e-transfers)
  • Not providing receipts or invoices when you pay
  • Not collecting tax on products or services that are taxable
  • Collecting tax but not reporting or paying it to the provincial government
  • Not reporting all sales or income
  • Importing products or possessions into B.C. but not paying tax on them
  • Not paying or avoiding tax on real estate (such as houses, condos, property taxes) 
  • Reporting incorrect values on vehicle transfer papers (such as reporting only $1 to pay lower taxes on a second-hand car or boat)
  • Not collecting or paying tax on tobacco sales (such as singles or packs of cigarettes, cigars, loose tobacco)
  • Receiving a benefit they’re not entitled to

Helpful information you can provide us includes:

  • Details about the individual or business (such as names, contact information, names of shareholders or related companies if it’s a business)
  • Details about the allegations (such as what, where, when, who and how)
  • Supporting documents (such as invoices, contracts, financial statements)

You can also report a tip over the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-877-977-0858.

We will work with the reported individuals or businesses to educate them on how to file and pay taxes correctly. 

We take tip submissions seriously. We may follow up with you for additional information if you choose to disclose your contact information. However, we will not update you on the results of your tip. We can’t disclose any personal information, including details about our contact with anyone or potential outcomes of tip investigations.

Submit your tip now

Given the assumption that employers who pay “their fair share of the taxes” can legitimately obtain profits by hiring workers and using them to obtain more money (see my reference to the money circuit of capital above), then workers who fail to pay “their fair share of the taxes” would, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist way, force workers to pay their taxes–with the threat of fining or jailing them, or both. Such is the nature of a government that allegedly “puts people before profits.” 

A government that is indeed a government that expresses the interests of workers could legitimately force particular workers to comply with laws established by that government in order to ensure that the struggle against employers achieved its maximum effectiveness. (The anarchist view that that discipline and force would not be necessary simply ignores the probable organized resistance of employers to a workers’ government.) 

However, the implicit illegitimate assumption made by Mr. Thomason is that a government or state that does not question the legitimacy of the existence of employers as a class–and the economic, political and social structures associated with the class power of employers–is somehow neutral rather than a class state. Such a  class state treats workers’ exploitation and oppression as legitimate (as Mr. Thomason himself evidently does–even if he is unaware of it). Such exploitation is a consequence of economic coercion as well as political coercion (by ensuring that workers comply with the conditions for their continued economic coercion). 

Behind Mr. Thomason’s rhetoric of putting people before profits is the opposite–putting profits before people–backed up by the iron first of the government or state. 

Consequently, as I argued in another post, the social-democratic or social-reformist left are themselves partly responsible for the continued oppressive situation in which we live in general and the continued exploitation of workers in particular (see for example Ontario Election of Conservatives: Will the Social-Reformist Left Learn?). 

Overestimation of the Ease of Controlling the Class of Employers In the Neoliberal Epoch

We need to enter briefly into the nature of capitalism in the neoliberal epoch. Mr. Thomason vastly underestimates the power of employers and overestimates the power of the government or state in the face of the economic and political changes that have occurred over the past four decades. He indicates that, if the Irving family resists paying its “fair share of taxes,” the government will simply take over their companies and put the workers to work as the Irvings had done before. He says: 

I am willing to take on any billionaire who thinks that he deserves services that the rest of don’t.  If the Irvings do not do what the future NDP government requires them to do and threatens to move, then they can try, and we will nationalize their corporations, employ everybody as they did before, and use the revenue to move into a sustainable, green economy.

I have already criticized the view that it is an illusion to develop a sustainable, green economy without the elimination of the class power of employers and transferring that power to the workers themselves (see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). This irresponsible, utopian view of the environmental crisis in its various facets (climate change, the destruction of biodiversity and so forth) is coupled with the irresponsible, utopian view that the power of employers is somehow magically eliminated through nationalizations (for a critique of the view that nationalization is the same as socialism, see my post The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two).

Moritz Muller (2019),  in his article”Of (Anti-)Capitalism, Countermovements, and Social-democratic Bedtime Stories. A Review of Recent Literature on Polanyi,” pages 135-148, Culture, Practice & Europeanization, Volume 4, Number 1, page 136, accurately characterizes the social-democratic attitude that Mr. Thomason expressed: 

… social democracy’s concept of socialism centers around the idea that private ownership should be replaced by public and/or cooperative ownership, together with the state’s acceptance of its role as the responsible institution for social welfare.

Furthermore, Mr.Thomason ignores some earlier historical efforts to nationalize industries by more powerful governments than the New Brunswick provincial government–such as France under President Francois Mitterrand in the early 1980s. 

President Mitterrand had more power than any premier (head) of an NDP premier would have if elected. Firstly, Mitterrand was the president of an entire country and not merely a region (equivalent to a Canadian province administratively). 

Secondly, the office of president in France has centralized powers that a premier would unlikely have in New Brunswick. From James Bond (2012), “French Elections and the Euro: What the Candidates Are Not telling the Electors,” in Sens Publique: 

France’s current presidential system, introduced by General de Gaulle in 1958, confers widerpowers on the country’s President than in almost any other developed country. … Today, these powers mean that the President and his team for the most part define
economic policy, with few checks and balances from parliament or the judiciary, and dramatic changes in direction are possible.

Despite the centralized power, the Mitterrand government was forced to retreat when it tried to implement Keynesian (not socialist) measures of nationalization: 

For example, at the start of the first term of Socialist President François Mitterrand in 1981, the government nationalized broad swathes of the economy which were the electoral promises outlined in the Socialist/Communist coalition’s “Programme Commun”. Massive capital flight ensued, and the value of the French franc plummeted. President Mitterrand had to backtrack, but not before significant damage had been done to the economy.

Undoubtedly the nationalization of the Irving property would not have the same effect on the Canadian dollar as nationalization of industries in France on the franc, but there would undoubtedly be pressures to backtrack, from other employers in New Brunswick and other employers within Canada (if not internationally), as well as from both from other provinces and from the federal government 

Even if there were no such pressure, the nonchalant manner in which Mr. Thomason expresses the supposed ease with which nationalization would occur–because it is vague. Mr. Thomason does not even address the issue of whether the nationalization would involve compensation or not. If it did involve compensation, then the New Brunswick government would have to borrow money for such compensation, raise taxes or reduce services. All of these involve their own problems, but Mr. Thomason simply ignores them–in a typical politician-style fashion of making vague promises that may not be able to be realized. 

Conclusions to Be Drawn from the Above

Those who claim to represent the interests of workers, such as unions and leftist political parties (such as the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Socialist Action here in Canada( have a lot to answer for. Their rhetoric is often just that–rhetoric. When analyzed, their own contradictory political position becomes evident.

That perhaps explains why no one on Facebook engaged with my comments. Given the lack of engagement, it can be inferred that the left here in Toronto simply want to cling to their views regardless of what anyone says or writes. The workers of course, need to learn who really represents their interests and how to critically look at the rhetoric expressed by the social-democratic or social-reformist left (sometimes parading as the radical left). 

Mr. Thomason’s view that there is such a thing as a “fair raise” and, by implication, a “fair wage or salary” gives away his social-democratic or social-reformist views. Since there is no such thing as a fair wage in a society dominated by the class power of employers, his views ultimately lead to an apology for the continued exploitation and oppression of workers. 

Similarly, although it is certainly necessary to defend defined pensions as opposed to shared-risk pensions, Mr. Thomason’s justification of why workers deserve a defined pension as opposed to a shared-risk pension assumes not only the legitimacy of the existence of the class of employers but the legitimacy of workers having to subordinate their lives to that class power. 

The issue of billionaires (and corporations) paying their “fair share of taxes” raises the issue of how the government, by treating wages and various forms of surplus value (profit, interest and rent) on the same level as different forms of taxable revenue hides the exploitative and oppressive nature of working for employers. It also raises the issue of whether workers should be legitimately be forced to pay taxes–and how the far right have captured workers’ dissatisfactions with the coercive nature of government in order to restructure the government by reducing benefits to workers (reduction of unemployment insurance benefits for example) and reducing the benefits to non-workers (social assistance recipients, for example). 

Mr. Thomason’s underestimation of the difficulty of nationalizing industries, his silence over whether the nationalization would involve compensation or not and his silence over whether nationalized industries would still involve exploitation and oppression express the typical idealization of “public services” characteristic of social democrats or social reformers. 

Mr. Thomason’s conception of socialism is really just humanized capitalism. 

Turning to the Mr. Thomason’s implicit conception of socialism, his conception reminds me of a Winnipeg teacher. I was working as a casual library clerk in the school where she worked in Winnipeg. She was the teacher librarian, and she claimed to be a socialist. She instructed me to label some of the books with labels and a felt marker according to the Dewey Decimal library classification system. She then left for a few days (I forget why). 

My printing abilities (as well as my writing abilities in terms of legibility) leave much to be desired; my typing accuracy and speed, on the other hand, are much better. I already had been a bilingual library technician in Prince George, British Columbia for over two years. I had been used to the labels for library material to be printed by a printer and did not have to worry about the legibility of my printing and writing.

I did the best that I could. When she returned, she was shocked for two reasons. She thought that I would have progressed much more quickly (quantitative critique), and she was very critical of the quality of the printing on the call number labels (qualitative critique). I was never called back to that library or school–with no explanation. She did not even inquire into why her quantitative and qualitative concerns had not been met. 

The teacher’s “socialism” was restricted to supporting public welfare services–welfare capitalism, if you will. She obviously believed in some form of hierarchical command system at work and not humanized forms of work; she showed little understanding of my own limitations in a given context and my own capacities in another context. This is likely Mr. Thomason’s view as well as well.

This socialism is really aiming to reestablish a social-democratic government that arose after the Second World War. Such a social-democratic government is unlikely now that globalization has arisen. The Second World War saw a massive destruction of means of production (and workers) so that the proportion of what Marx called constant capital (machinery, plant, raw material, auxiliary material and so forth) was lower than before the War. The reduction of constant capital improved the rate of profit for a time, but as the accumulation of capital proceeded, economic crises were bound to arise, and with such crises, crises in the relatively temporary truce between workers and employers via collective bargaining and collective agreements. The attack by the class of employers, and the capitalist government or state through a retrenchment of real wages, reductions in welfare measures and in many cases increased in expenditures in government bodies dedicated to increased oppressions of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers was hardly surprising. 

Another example also comes to mind. When I was working at the brewery, there was a lab assistant who tested the beer for quality control. We talked in the lunch room occasionally, and he indicated that he was somewhat of a socialist. He later became a foreman–and oppressed us just as much as other foremen. His socialism was similar to the socialism of the teacher; both conceived of socialism in terms of welfare capitalism and not in terms of the elimination of the class power of employers. 

Socialist Action, at least as represented by Mackenzie Thomason, conceives of socialism in a similar manner to the teacher and the lab assistant/foreman–welfare capitalism. It is hardly what I would call socialism (for my conception of socialism, see for example Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like and the subsequent posts in that series). 

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

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 often 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 (OCT) 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 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. Despite no conviction, in other words, I had to prove my innocence. The social-democratic or social-reformist left, of course, are silent about such conditions (they are probably unaware of them).

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 my answer to the first question:

I. Explanation for the investigation of Dr. Fred Harris by the CFS [Child and Family Services] and the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police–the national police in Canada] (related to the accompanying table, which forms part of the explanation):

In all probability, my daughter panicked when I gave her the letter concerning my operation related to cancer; I categorically deny ever having choked my daughter. (My daughter recently told me that she had subsequently indicated to either the WCFS or to the RCMP that I had not choked her).

She may also not been able to face the fact that she had been violent towards her father when he had cancer. The only action that I regret is throwing the tea. I certainly had no intention of hurting my daughter, but for that I am responsible—nothing else. I lost control—that is a fact. The mitigating circumstance is that I had, unknown to myself, cancer at the time, which subsequently was considered to be terminal, in all probability.

However, the initial accusation by the WCFS was that I had choked my daughter; there was no reference to my throwing tea. Given the practical abuse of Francesca for over a decade by the mother—and the neglect by the WCFS in recognizing such abuse (it was only subsequent to the arrest that the WCFS apologized to Francesca, indicating that she had indeed been abused by her mother)—the timing of the apprehension of Francesca is certainly suspect.

Given both the timing and the fact that the ground for the apprehension was the falsehood that I had choked Francesca, I made it clear in court that I was acquiescing “without prejudice.” I then began to send a variant of the supplementary table to the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Education and the Premier, Greg Selinger, implying that they had apprehended Francesca on false grounds. This may have precipitated the investigation by the RCMP.

I asked my daughter this last December (2013) when the issue of the tea came up. She indicated that that issue arose subsequently. My interpretation is that the RCMP was fishing for any grounds (with the probable support of the CFS) for arresting me in addition to the false claims that I had choked my daughter and had thrown her to the ground. My interpretation is that the capitalist government was using Francesca to hide its own criminal neglect of Francesca for over a decade (and, possibly, because her father is a Marxist).

The need to hide the criminal neglect of the WCFS may have even been more urgent for the WCFS since Francesca, in claiming that I had choked her, also apparently claimed that her mother’s common-law husband had sexually abused her. (When she made that claim I am uncertain. On Father’s Day, 2010 Francesca informed me that she had told the WCFS that she had been sexually abused. If true (it is still before the court), the WCFS’s lack of action for over a decade would have contributed to such abuse.) [The court eventually dismissed the allegation of sexual abuse against the common-law husband of Francesca’s mother; I now believe that Francesca was sexually abused by him despite the court’s decision. I will  explain that in another post.]

I do not regret what I did (apart from the incident of the tea). The apology ten years after the fact is hardly sufficient for the persistent abuse that Francesca was subject to over the years. The WCFS and the CFS is a fascist organization that acts as if Canadian citizens are guilty first and must prove their innocence afterwards. It uses intimidation tactics (such as the letter of January 2004 and the October 6 2010 phone call by Darryl Shorting) to achieve its ends.

It is instructive that it is I who have to provide an explanation of the investigation. Undoubtedly, it could be argued that it is not the WCFS that is applying for teacher certification. That is true. However, the WCFS apparently need not explain anything at all to anyone.

My explanation, then, is that the organization that need not explain (the WCFS and the CFS) itself needs to explain—its neglect of Francesca (and probably many, many other children) for over a decade. It is necessary to expose such behaviour if the problem is going to be resolved—and not presume that those who have been investigated by such an organization have to explain their actions. It is the WCFS that needs to explain its (in)actions—and it will only have to do so if its neglect is exposed.

However, the WCFS will continue to act undoubtedly with impunity—until those who are intimidated by the WCFS (and the consequences that flow from speaking out) speak up and end the silent oppression that characterizes such an organization. Children deserve much more than the neglect characteristic of the WCFS and the CFS. Such a situation is characteristic of adult behaviour in general in relation to children (see the accompanying article, “Dewey’s Concepts of Stability and Precariousness in his Philosophy of Education”).

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

Management Rights Clause in a Collective Agreement in France: Progressive Discipline Is Better Than Arbitrary Discipline–But It Is Still Oppressive

Introduction

Discipline permeates our world–family. school and work. In an earlier post, in the context of schools, I have already explored, briefly, the difference between intrinsic or internal discipline and external discipline (see  Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Ten: Intrinsic or Internal Discipline Versus Extrinsic or External Discipline). I have also, indirectly, explored discipline within the family in the personal context of the physical abuse of my daughter, Francesca, by her mother and the official response of a government body of the capitalist state (see, for example, A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services).

In this post, I look at, briefly, discipline at work in the context of working for an employer. It also begins to widen references to collective agreement outside Canada in order to show that collective agreements in other countries do not somehow magically transform the employer-employee relation into “decent work” or “a decent job.”

Progressive Discipline in a French Collective Agreement

It was difficult to find a collective agreement from France that explicitly expressed the managerial power of the employer over employees. The following clause in a collective agreement, however, does express one aspect of that power–the power to discipline if employees do not follow the rules set out by management. The collective agreement is between Employers of Social and Family Cohesion (Employeurs du Lien Social et Familial (ELISFA)) and several unions (for example, National Federation of Health and Social Services (NFHSS) of the French Democratic Federation of Labour (FDFL)) (Fédération Nationale des services de santé et des services sociaux (FSSS), de la Confederation francaise democratique du travail (CFDT).

The clause outlines what has come to be known as “progressive discipline,” or discipline that begins with  the least amount of discipline and, progressively, becoming more severe.

The following is a rough translation of the clause (the original French is provided at the end of this post). From page 24:

Article 5

General conditions of discipline 

5.1 In accordance with law 16, the disciplinary measures applicable to the personnel of the enterprises or services are exercised under the following forms, which constitute the scale of sanctions [disciplines]:

–Observation (Remark)
–Warning
–Suspension with or without salary (in the last case [without pay] for a maximum of             three days
–Dismissal

Progressive discipline is certainly better than the arbitrary discipline that non-unionized employers have, but it is still discipline from an authority that originates from an economic structure characterized by, on the one hand, an impersonal and oppressive system that involves the use of workers as means to ends that they do not define and, on the other, by a class of employers (and their managerial representatives) that try to ensure that those impersonal and oppressive structures function independently of the will of the majority of workers (see The Money Circuit of Capital). As such, however “progressive” progressive discipline, it is still oppressive and hardly justifiable–unless using workers as means for purposes which they do not define is itself justifiable.

Article 5

Conditions générales de discipline

5.1
Conformément à la loi16 , les mesures disciplinaires applicables aux personnels des entreprises ou services s’exercent sous les formes suivantes, qui constituent l’échelle des sanctions :
– l’observation ;
– l’avertissement ;
– la mise à pied avec ou sans salaire (dans ce dernier cas pour un maximum de trois jours) ;
– le licenciement.

Conclusion

What do social democrats or social reformers have to say about such clauses in collective agreements? Here in Toronto there is no or little open discussion about such clauses or the power of managers, a minority, to dictate to workers, the majority. Do union members agree with the view that progressive discipline is indeed progressive? That it is fair? That such progressive discipline contributes to the transformation of the employer-employee relation into a relation among equals?

Such is the nature of social “democracy.”

Frankly, I doubt that social democrats and social reformers really want to discuss these issues. Nor do union officials. They hide behind such euphemistic phrases as “decent work,” “decent jobs,” “fair collective bargaining,” “fair wages,” and the like in order to prevent discussion of issues relevant to the interests of workers as a class.

Progressive discipline is better than the arbitrary discipline characteristic of non-unionized settings–but it is still oppressive and external discipline. To achieve internal or intrinsic discipline at work, it would be necessary to abolish the class power of employers.

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

The Rhetoric of Unions and Social Democrats or Social Reformers

I read the following on Facebook.

It is quite typical of social-democratic or reformist unions and social democrats or social reformers in general: The use of rhetoric to justify their activities without engaging in any form of discussion or debate. All bolded words or phrases are my emphases:

Support OPSEU Local 5119 ON STRIKE at LifeLabs!

 

After organizing to join OPSEU in 2020, 150 couriers and mailroom workers at LifeLabs have run into a brick wall trying to bargain a fair first contract. Why? Because the bosses at this billion-dollar-a-year private corporation refuse to negotiate decent wages and benefits for these workers, who earn an average of just $35,000 a year.

 

That’s why since March 14 Local 5119 members have been on strike to achieve fair working conditions and a living wage. And they need our help to get LifeLabs back to the table with a fair offer!

 

Showing Our Solidarity:
Two Ways You and Your Local Can Help!

 

1) Join the Strike Rally for a Living Wage
Thursday, March 24, 10 a.m.
LifeLabs Head Office, 100 International Blvd, Etobicoke
(West of Hwy 27, South of Dixon Road)
Bring your OPSEU flags & noisemakers!
Join, like & share the Event on Facebook
For info contact Local 5119 President Mahmood Alawneh, 647-333-5555, raneentrading@gmail.com

 

2) Donate to the Local 5119 Strike Fund
As a brand-new local, L5119 doesn’t have a reserve fund to support their members during the strike. So, OPSEU has put out a call to other locals to show our solidarity by donating to the Local 5119 strike fund.
For info and to donate, contact Local 5119 Treasurer Maria Calingaon at maria_calingaon@yahoo.ca
I certainly support such striking workers, but the rhetoric needs to be constantly criticized.  I replied: 
 
Fred Harris

 

What are “decent wages and benefits?” This phrase is simply rhetoric used by the social-democratic or social-reformist leftists without thinking about the meaning of the phrase. For example, does not working for an employer involve agreeing to be used by the employer for purposes or ends that the workers do not define? If so, what wage and benefit can convert this situation into “decent?”

 

The same could be said about the rhetorical phrase “fair working conditions.” To work for an employer in the public o private sector is inherently unfair, so why the rhetoric of “fair working conditions?” This is an uncritical and unthinking phrase bandied about by the social-democratic or social-reformist left without any thought or discussion about whether it is true or can be true in the context of a society dominated by the class power of employers.

 

The same could be said about a “fair offer.”

 

On my blog, I have already showed how the rhetoric of “fair contracts” or “fair collective agreements” is consistently expressed by the largest unions in Canada: CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE. They are ideologues for employers–not against them. To claim that any employment contract is somehow fair when workers are faced with the “management rights” is simple nonsense–and many workers know it (even if they do not want to admit it). That is one reason why unions are losing ground–because they cannot face up to the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining–and a realistic assessment of their limitations is a first step in achieving real fairness, not rhetorical fairness that contributes to the perpetuation of unfair working conditions–the unfair working conditions of having to work for an employer (not a particular employer) in the first place.
To which the sender and anyone else who read the post responded: Nothing. The silence of the social-democratic or reformist left concerning the meaning of “fair wages,” “decent work,” and similar rhetoric is deafening. Why do they insist on using such rhetoric? Are they bullshitting the workers? If not, why do they not elaborate on what they mean by fair first contract etc.? What makes it fair? What would an unfair contract involve? How does a fair contract exist when workers face management rights implicitly or explicitly (I have provided explicit management rights clauses from various collective agreements on this blog (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia .I eventually incorporated  them with into a post where I calculated the rate of exploitation. See for example 
 
In another post, I challenged the social-reformist left to justify their continual use of the rhetorical phrases that they use. See Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?
 
Are union reps bullshitting workers by using such phrases? If so, should their rhetoric not be challenged?