The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector

Introduction

Premier Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause to prevent a union legal challgenge to legislation forcing education workers back to work despite the workers not even going out on strike yet should give the left pause for thought. Is not Ford’s government part of the public sector? 

And yet the social-democratic or social reformsist left frequently idealize the public sector (as the good) (see for example  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Six: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part One  , or  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  or    The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services      contrasting it with the bad (the private sector). 

Of course, the social-democratic left will deny that what they mean by the public sector includes the likes of Doug Ford. However, he was elected premier of Ontario despite their wishes, and he does form part of the public sector. What the reformist left want is, however, to elect “progressive” leaders and prevent the election of such right-wing leaders as Doug Ford. However, there will always exist the possibility of the emergence of such right-wing leaders as Ford in such a system since the power of employers remains intact. Furthermore, Ford’s power comes from the hierarchical nature of government and not just from the nature of Ford’s politics. 

The social-democratic left should be questioning the democratic nature of the public sector and not just Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. That it does not do so should give one food for thought. 

French History and Ford’s Use of the Notwithstaning Clause: A Lesson to be Learned

Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause (and his imposition of a maximum increase of one percent increase in wages in the public sector via Bill 124, legislated in 2019 and quashed just this week by an Ontario court, which Ford will apparently appeal) has parallels with French history in the nineteenth century. 

Napoleon had followed up the plebescite with a wave of arrests that left the French branch of
the IW A disoriented and leaderless. The entire twenty-year period of Bonapartist rule, Engels [Marx’s friend] lamented to Marx on August 8, has “produced enormous demoralization. One is hardly justified in reckoning on revolutionary heroism.

Engels in this instance was mistaken; he underestimated the creative capacity and potential of workers. Napoleon III entered into war between 1870 and 1871 with Prussia (a part of the North German Confederation in 1867).  Napoleon lost power to the provisional government, headed by Adolphe Thiers in 1870. Early in 1871 there was a French vote for peace–but not for right-wing reaction of the Thiers provisional government (which installed itself in Versailles, outside Paris due to the radical climate that then prevailed in the capital). .From Richard Hunt (1984), The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels. Volume 2.  Classical Marxism, 1850-1895, page 112: 

The overwhelming vote for peace [between Prussia and France]  in February 1871, then, had not
been a simple vote for restoration, a state of affairs which must have been appreciated at Versailles if one notes, as Marx was bound to, the zeal with which the Versaillese hermetically sealed off communication between Paris and the rest of France, immediately passed legislation which strangled self-government in all towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants, adopted a new law restricting freedom of the press, and enacted what Marx characterized as a “new-fangled, Draconic code of deportation” for political offenses. The National Assembly did not behave like a government confident of its own popular support, or one under which democracy would long survive.

Ford’s draconian measure of not only passing legislation that forced the workers back to work (even before they went out on strike) was intensified by a further draconian measure of invoking the notwithstanding clause. Draconian measures, though on a larger scale, were instituted by the provsional government in Versailles in 1871. The executive branch of the modern government will always be a threat to a democratic way of life because of its hierarchical and unelected nature. 

When the French army suffered complete defeat in March 1871, first the Parisian National Guard revolted (when Thiers’s government tried to strip Paris of its cannon, then those residing in Paris revolted, setting up a government independent of the provisional government. The Parisian government was called the Paris Commune. 

This government elected its administrative body and did not rely on a hierarchy of unelected civil servants or officials. Hunt, page 130: 

The ninety-odd councillors who formed the communal assembly- or the “Commune” in the narrow sense Marx employs here-did their administrative work through ten commissions (for finance, public works, justice, etc.) elected from among their own numbers and responsible to the whole assembly, just as each councillor was in turn responsible to to his popular electorate in the ward, by whom he could be recalled at any time. The intent was to make all administrative posts elective and responsible,
which would have the effect, as Marx elaborated in his First Draft, of “doing away with the state hierarchy altogether and replacing the haughteous masters of the people into always removable servants, a mockresponsibility by a real responsibility, as they act continuously under public supervision.”

The potentialities of some situations give rise to the calling into question of hierarchies and power structures that have dampened the creative power of workers. From Kristin Ross (2015), Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune:

In one of his earliest essays, Rancière suggests that the poetry written by workers like Pottier, stealing time in the late night hours their schedules allowed them, was not a means of revindication—neither the form nor the thematic content of the poetry were what mattered. “It is not through its descriptive
content nor its revindications that worker poetry becomes a social oeuvre, but rather through its pure act of existing.”17 The poetry illustrates neither the misery of the worker’s conditions nor the heroism of his struggle—what it says, rather, is aesthetic capacity, the transgression of the division that assigns to some manual work and to others the activity of thinking. It is the proof that one participates in another life. When Marx says that the greatest accomplishment of the Paris Commune was “its own working existence” he is saying much the same thing. More important than any laws the Communards were able to enact was simply the way in which their daily workings inverted entrenched hierarchies and divisions—first and foremost among these the division between manual and artistic or intellectual labor. The world is divided between those who can and those who cannot afford the luxury of playing with words or images. When that division is overcome, as it was under the Commune, or as it is conveyed in the phrase “communal luxury,” what matters more than any images conveyed, laws passed, or institutions founded are the capacities set in motion. You do not have to start at the beginning—you can start anywhere.

In facing the Ford government, with its unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause to impose directly the class power of employers on the workers, workers could, potentially, come to perceive the gross class power of the executive of the modern government or state and to understand that it could not be used to express their own class interests: 

The new sentence Marx felt obliged to add to the new preface to the Communist Manifesto he wrote in 1872—”the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for their own purpose”—indicates clearly the distance that the Commune made him take toward his earlier thoughts about state centralization.25 What he now understood was that under the Second Empire, the state’s formal independence from civil society, its growth as “a parasitic excrescence” grafted onto civil society, was itself the form through which the bourgeoisie ruled.26 Attacking the separation between the state and civil society was not one of communism’s remote objectives but was instead the
practical means for its attainment, the very medium for class struggle. The form of the Commune, in turn, was less a form than a set of dismantling acts, the critique-in-act of the bureaucratic state, a critique that, in Marx’s words, amounted to the state’s abolishment. The Communards had not decreed or proclaimed the abolishment of the state. Rather, they had set about, step by step, dismantling, in the short time they had, all of its bureaucratic underpinnings. An acting, not a parliamentary body, the Commune was both executive and legislative at once. The army was eliminated; all foreigners were admitted into the Commune; state functionaries were eliminated (certain of their tasks still existed, but they were performed by anyone—at a worker’s salary, and subject to immediate recall); priests were sent off to “the recesses of private life.”

The Social-Democratic Left’s Silence About Executive Power

The social-democratic or reformist do not even mention the issue of the undemocratic nature of the exeuctive power. Their focus is on Ford–as if Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause were not an expression of a deeper-lying problem of the undemocratic and hierarchical nature of the public sector. Of course, it was indeed necessary to criticize Ford’s undemocratic move, but there is no hint that the very structure of the executive power of government is undemocratic. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which supported a wildcat support strike of its own section of education workers in favour of the striking education workers, made the following press release  (https://www.baytoday.ca/local-news/opseu-workers-to-join-friday-strike-in-support-of-cupe-6049790): 

“Bill 28, which is a legislative attack on workers’ constitutional right to fair and free collective bargaining, was introduced on October 31 after CUPE gave its five days’ notice for job action, with the possible start of a strike on Friday, November 4.,” says an OPSEU news release. “Bill 28 preemptively prohibits these workers’ right to strike, imposes massive fines, imposes four-year long collective agreements, and invokes the notwithstanding clause to preclude any legal action against Ford’s unconstitutional and undemocratic attempt at strong-arming.

The issue of the undemocratic nature of the executive branch of the government is not questioned, though. In other words, OPSEU presents Ford’s actions as undemocratic–but not the general nature of the executive branch of modern government, with its hierarchy of power and appointed positions–much like the dictatorial hierarchy that exists in employer-dominated workplaces (see Employers as Dictators, Part One). 

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish Marxist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, developed some points that are relevant for the issue in relation to participation in the government (rather than the participation in elections or in parlaiment or congress). From Michael Brie and Jörn Schütrumpf (2021), Rosa Luxemburg
A Revolutionary Marxist at the Limits of Marxism, page 88: 

In the debate on socialist participation in government, Luxemburg established four decisive theses for her understanding of the state: (1) reforms within capitalism never transform the capitalist character of property relations so fundamentally as to bring forth elements and tendencies of a new order. Socialism cannot be ‘implemented’ as a gradual transformation, but rather must be done so by a state with an entirely socialist character. The seizure of state power by the working class is the actual goal, as this is the only way to overturn the economic order. (2) The bourgeois state is the most significant impediment to a socialist reorganisation of society. It forms the wall that must be battered down for a revolution to be initiated. (3) From the executive of a bourgeois state, only bourgeois politics can be pursued, whereas in the legislative branch, it is possible to attempt to implement social reforms while ‘simultaneously opposing the bourgeois government as a whole – something that is manifested,
among other places, in the rejection of the budget’ (Luxemburg 1979a, 485). (4) Struggling to protect bourgeois democracy and being prepared to undertake revolutionary violence go hand-in-hand.

The social-democratic or social-reformsit left, by contrast left fall all over themselves trying to elect “progressives” to government–and never question the necessarily anti-democratic nature of the exeuctive branch. 

Rather, they speak like Herman Rosenfeld, when he speaks of reforming the police: 

Shouldn’t that institution [the police] be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

Compare this with what happened during the short period of the Paris Commune: police as a separate unit controlled by a central authority independently of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers was abolished and a new force was created, subject to power from below. From Marx, The Civil War in France, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 22,  page 331: 

The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, of acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes [my emphasis], and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the
Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the Administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The vested
interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of State disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves.b Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of
the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the State was laid into the hands of the Commune.

Indeed, if a general strike did in fact arise, the issue of the organization of the police and its anti-democratic nature might have arisen as well. After all, when a general strike arises, the issue of the responsibility for public safety arises. The separation of the police as a force to oppress workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers then might arise.

Since financing both the wages demanded by the striking workers and the issue of funding of extra staff separated the two sides, the an indication of an altnerative source of revenue by shifting resources from the police to schools could at least have been highlghted.

One of the issues that arose during Covid was the abolition or defunding of the police. This too could have been raised as an issue and another spoke that revolved around the hub of a general strike. 

Conclusion

The lack of criticizing of the undemocratic nature of the executive power of modern government by the social-democratic or reformist left should not come as a surprise to radicals. Like much else, the social-democratic or social-reformist left lacks any intention of criticizing its own cherished assumptions–such as the implicit view that we live in a democratic society. There is some democratic aspects, to be sure, such as elections, but they are hardly matched by the dictatorial structures and processes characteristic of both the executive branch of modern government and the power of employers at work. 

The idealization of the public sector by the social-democratic or social-reformist left must be criticized at every turn. The public sector is hardly the embodiment of democracy. 

The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism

Introduction 

The recent wildcat strike by 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members, represented by the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU, who work in schools in Ontario, Canada, was stimulated by the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28, which not only legislated workers back to work, but also used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and Rights to Freedom to prevent any legal challenge–essentially stripping away collective-bargaining rights–including the right to strike.

The wildcat strike has resulted in two distinct political positions on what should have been done: push forward to aim for a general strike, or limit the movement to the aim of defeating the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28 and of obtaining a collective agreement.

The two distinct political positions are expresssed in the largely Canadian social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension, with Martin Schoots-McAlpine arguing for a general strike (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-general-strike-that-could-have-been) and Herman Rosenfeld aguing that a call for a general strike was premature and, he implies, ultra-leftist (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/a-first-post-pandemic-political-victoryhardly-a-general-strike-that-could-have-been ).

I will argue that Schoots-McAlpine’s political position, at least with respect to his advocacy of a general strike before the repeal of Bill 28, is the more reasonable radical position and that Rosenfeld’s position reflects a conservative radical’s political position–or rather a social-democratic or social-reformist political position.

I will not enter into detail into Schoots-McAlpine’s article since it is more important to address the inadequacies of Rosenfeld’s social-reformist position since that position has ultimately been practically realized.

The Conservative Radical’s Political Position

The Aim of the Movement Should Be Limited to the Repeal of Bill 28

Rosenfeld paints the restriction of the victory (and it was a victory in the negative sense of forcing the Conservative Doug Ford’s government to agree to abolish Bill 28) in a very positive light: 

A determined, organized and mobilized local union, the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), closed down most of the main school boards in a “political protest” which doubled as a contract strike. The Ford government withdrew its Bill 28, a constitutional attack and challenge at the OLRB, and was forced to go back to the bargaining table. CUPE maintained its right to strike if an agreement was not reached.

This was a big victory for CUPE, public sector workers, and the labour movement writ large, even though, like all such wins, it is temporary, conditional, and is only one moment in an ongoing class struggle which takes both economic and political forms. It was recognized as such by most working people, union members, officials, and critics from the left and socialists across the board.

Rosenfeld obviously considered it emintently realistic to aim only at the repeal of Bill 28: 

And, of course, the main issue was not to change the Ford government’s larger political agenda all in one go, but to defend the right of the CUPE local to bargain, build support amongst the larger working class for their demands and opposition to the government, and force Ford to back off. That was the initial step in this ongoing war and workers mobilized around it and won.

Rosenfeld’s Characterization of Schoots-McAlpine’s Position as Naive, Mechanistic, Abstract Ultra-leftism–and Inconsistent to Boot 

He then turns to what he considers the dark side (the Darth Vaderian side)–what he considers to be an ultra-leftist position. He characterizes this position in negative terms: 

Yet, in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise, this wasn’t good enough for Martin Schoots-McAlpine. For him, in his article published yesterday in Canadian Dimension (and there are other activists and comrades who clearly feel the same way), getting Ford to back down on this battle didn’t matter. The promise of a larger general strike—to be led by the dreaded labour bureaucrats he so roundly attacks—developing into a greater political movement (led by whom?) targeting many of the key elements of the capitalist agenda in the city and province was in the wind and was ended unilaterally, and wrongly, by calling off the CUPE strike and the movement towards a general strike.

And, further, even though this was to be led by the dreaded bureaucrats, Schoots-McAlpine writes, it seems that the working class, and the members of the union movement were chomping at the bit to build this movement. He writes, “for a brief moment we as workers in Ontario had an opportunity to really change the direction of this province for the better…workers across the province were willing to fight.”

Rosenfeld can hardly hide his contempt for any position that is more radical than his own. I have already pointed out in a previous post how he unjustifiably characterized a more radical position than his own as “sloppy thinking” and that his own views reflect “sloppy thinking” (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One)  Now he accues Schoots-McAlpine of engaging “in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise.” 

Rosenfeld further engages in character assassination with the title of one of his subsections: 

Delusions and wishes can’t substitute for materialist analysis of reality

Rosenfeld’s Justification For Limiting the Labour and Social Movements to Repealing Bill 28

How does Rosenfeld justify such a negative characterization? Apparently, by providing “a materialist analysis of reality.” What is this “materialist analysis?” Rosenfeld seems to argue under the above section title that workers and union leaders generally did not aim for anything more than the repeal of Bill 28; they were not prevented from pursuing a general strike since that was never really on the agenda. The following two sections are titled “Of leadership, bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers,” and “A word on general strikes.”

The section on union bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers seems to deny that the Rand formula of automatic dues deduction interfered with the relationship between union leaders and rank-and-file members. He also argues that although there has historically been a gap between union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file, leading to constraints on what the rank-and-file can do, this is not written in stone. Socialists in particular can challenge such constraints and this is what is needed. Rosenfeld admits that there is a tendency for union leaders to be co-opted, but he denies its inevitability. On the other hand, Schoots-McAlpine’s assumption that the rank-and-file are automatically militant is questionable. Workers have contradictory views since at a bare minimum they depend economically on their employer. If workers were so militant, they would have themselves called for a general strike: 

 If workers had this understanding already, they would be challenging the agreement for CUPE to go back to the bargaining table, pushing for a general strike, and calling for a political movement arguing for the demands that Schoots-McAlpine legitimately calls for on their own. But calling for general strike plans to go ahead anyway avoids the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it happen. Schoots-McAlpine leaves no place for it to happen.

Furthermore, as a counter-example to the characterization of union leaders as bureaucratic, he refers to, among others, J.P. Hornick, current leader of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU). Workers should definitely appreciate the militancy of Hornick, who supported a wildcat strike by section three (education workers) of OPSEU who themselves supported the striking CUPE members (see https://socialistaction.ca/our-initiatives/the-red-review/ for details), we should not fail to recognize the limiations of Hornick’s own views (see my criticisms of her views in May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract  and May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: More Rhetoric from a Union Rep: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part Two: Do Corrections Officers Protect Us?  ). Rosenfeld does not address such limitations and thus remains quite abstract. 

Let us add one more quote, from the section about delusions: 

Moments of struggle always provide openings to build and move forward, and for workers who are participating, to learn key lessons and develop deeper consciousness and understanding. But every struggle and every moment aren’t necessarily similar. As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them.

Let us stop here. We need, according to Rosenfeld, base our analysis on a materialist realiy and focus on the particularities (specifities) of the experience and potentials. However, Rosenfeld does not even go into the material reality of the peculiarity of Ford trying to use the notwithstanding clause to impose a unilateral contract (to call it a collective agreement would be an oxymoron). Nor does he enter into analysing the potential of this peculiar situation to build up a movement in a short period of time. It is in such circumstances that workers may well go beyond their representatives and even their union leaders.

The Unique or Peculiar Situation of an Attack on the Union Movement in General: A Materialist Analysis of the Situation 

Rosenfeld does not engage in the specific nature of the use of the notwithstanding clause as an impulse for union leaders, union rank-and-file and probably social movements to engage in protests, picket-line walking and rallies.  

In normal times, it would be inconsistent  to rely on the bureaucratic union leadership to lead a general strike. However, the Ford government’s  use of the notwithstanding clause to preempt a strik indicated  abnormal times. The bureuacratic union leadership might have felt forced to move towards in a general strike for two reasons. Firstly, they themselves identified with “free collective bargainng” as a principle, and that principle was being threatened. Secondly, they might have been subject to pressure from below. It would of course be necessary to determine if there was such pressure, but the willingness of many workers to engage in an illegal strike/political protest and be subject to $4000 fine a day, as well as the support of the strike by Unifor national, CUPE national and OPSEU, as well as the support of some parents, indicates a willingness to support a move towards a general strike. 

Indeed, in a press conference following the agreement by the Ford government that it would rescind Bill 28, Mark Hancock, president of CUPE National, had this to say when asked about what preparations had been made for a general strike: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

There is such a thing as the “logic of events.” The need for union bureaucrats to appear to represent the will of their members, especially in the context of such a public and political event as Ford’s open use of the cudgel of the notwithstanding clause might well have forced them to take measures that they would not normally take. Furthermore, their own evident belief in the sanctity of collective bargaining  might have reinforced this pressure to engage in more radical measures. 

Rosenfeld’s “materialist analysis of reality” simply ignores the “particularities” of the situation. But the particularities of a situation do not just involve facts–but potentialities. Rosenfeld also ignores the potentialties of the situation. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of the Situation

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Unifying Unions Across Canada

Furthermore, Rosenfeld’s statement: “As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them” is empty. The use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford opened up the potentiality for a national struggle and not just a provincial struggle. That is why Unifor national president spoke at the press conference as did the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. That is why even unions that supported Ford criticized him. The potential to unify unionized workers across the public and private sectors existed because of Ford’s imposition of the notwithstanding clause. 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Hancock used the term “unprecedented” to chaacterize the situation. Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), also used the same term: 

The Draconian legislation the Ford government passed to impose a collective agreement on CUPE and remove their Charter Rights to free and fair collective bargaining and to strike was an unprecedented attack on collective-bargaining rights the likes of which we have never seen in Canadian history. Rest assured, we, our members, my colleagues, people of Ontario, we will hold Premier Ford to his word to rescind Bill 28. We stand in stead-fast solidarity with you. You can count on us. You can count on ETFO. Solidarity.

Rosenfeld neglects to take into consideration the “unprecedented” threat to the Canadian union movement of Ford’s actions. He wants to restrict it to the issue of repealing Bill 28. Such radical conservatiism. Such conservative radicalism. Such naivety. Such mechanical thinking. Such abstract thinking. 

Of course, like Schoots-McAlpine, I would hardly interpret this rhetoric in a radical sense. Hancock and others, since they sell unions on the basis of the principle of free collective bargaining, rightly saw what Ford did as a threat to their own economic, political and ideological positions. They likely wanted to get back to the status quo as quickly as possible–trade-union cretinism similar to parliamentaty cretinism, which uses voting and social movements as means to pressure the government to obtain limited reforms independently of linking up such reforms with the aim of abolishing the class power of employers. 

This potentiality to unify union forces across Canada and not just in Ontario was there–and squandered. Rosenfeld agress with such a waste of potentiality. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Accelerating Worker Creativity, Organization and Class Consciousness  

Rosenfeld also underestimates the potentiality of workers for accelerating their creativiy and class consciousness in such situations. Indeed, Marx criticized those who failed to recognize the creativity of the working class. From Daniel Gaido (2021), “The First Workers’ Government in History: Karl Marx’s Addenda to Lissagaray’s History of the Commune of 1871,” in pages 1-64, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, page 42: 

In the extensive section inserted by Marx to criticise the leaders of the Paris Commune, he delved into the question of revolutionary leadership …,  pointing out how the enormous potential power of the working class had ‘always been squandered, diverted, annihilated … by a swarm of declaimers and sectarians … others who are only anxious to climb up the social ladder … [and] a bunch of blind hotheads…’

Marx insisted that ‘If a party needs wisdom, clarity, reason, leadership, it is the revolutionary party.’ [and by party marx did not necessarily mean a formal political party but a group of those who oppose the class power of employers].

Nowhere does Rosenfeld address this potentiality. Indeed, for him the concept of potentiality is limited to the conscious immediate aims of all participants indepdently of the peculiar situaiton of Ford’s invocation of the notwithstaning clause. . Why else does he not refer to the unprecedented situation of an elected official using the notwithstanding clause to break not only a particular union but trying to abolish the right to strike and the potential of that situation? He acknowledges that the right to strike was at issue, and so was the entire union movement not only in Ontario but throughout Canada (since any provincial government could then use the notwithstanding clause at any time to break a union). This fact was initated by the Ford government, and it threatened (had the potential) to unify different union movements thoughout Canada over the issue (and provide a focal point for community organizations to link their demands to that issue as well). 

The potentialities of the situation, however, should not lead us to the conclusion that workers will spontaneously come to the conclusion that we need to go beyond the collective-bargaining regime. This is where previous socialist criticisms of the limtiations of collective bargaining and collective agreements can play a role. Without such criticism, the extent to which workers will be willing to go beyond such a situation will likely be limited. The negative work required to undermine faith in the fairness of the collective-bargaining system needs to become more general if the potentialities of the system are to be realized in such a way that the workers go beyond such a situation. The danger of co-optation is ever present as a limitation to an expansion of the movement in a socialist direction of the abolition of the class power of employers. (For a short critique of the exaggeration of the implied spontaneous leap in class consciousness in such situations, see The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario). 

Overestimation of Rosenfeld’s Own Political Position and Actions

Rosenfeld’s implied claim that only if the workers defeated Bill 28–and then subsequently built on that short-term victory–is consistent with his gradualist approach. Only one step at a time–baby steps. The problem with that approach is that the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is most often forgotten in the process. 

Another problem is that it allows the represenatives of employers to figure out strategies that co-opt the movement (a danger that Roesnfeld simply ignores). I pointed Rosenfeld’s neglect of this in another post:

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms.

Rosenfeld’s strategy leads the left down the path to nowhere but reformism and to limits to class struggle that fail to realistically organize to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. 

Rosenfeld, by arguing that we must create 

the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it [a general strike] happen.

adopts a conservative stance. We must take baby steps, always being cautious, never assuming that certain situations may have the potential to accelerate class creativity, class organizing and class consciousness. 

The following is another piece of abstract and mechanical thinking (sloppy thinking–a term Rosenfeld used in another atticle to characterize another radical–see my criticism of his views on this in Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One): 

The education necessary to eventually organize more widespread, radical, and concerted actions still needs to be done within unions, locals, and communities in the education, health care, and other sectors. Is the author of this article willing to contribute to this, or would he prefer to sit on the sidelines and criticize the main protagonists?

This is hardly realistic. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I presented “educationals” to workers at the Toronto Pearson Airport in the mid 2010s (and, I will admit, they did more work on the course than I did–I never have liked speaking in public). However, at one point, we had to wait almost two years to provide one course. Such educationals hardly provide a dent in the armour of the class of employers. Something much more is needed–and the situation which developed was far more important for providing an educational context than such educationals. 

Let Rosenfeld provide an account of just how he has educated the workers about their exploitation and oppression. Let him enlighten us on just how effective he and his fellow radical conservatives or conservative radicals have educated the workers on their class situation. 

Frankly, his abstract and mechanical thinking leads to a situation of just talking and talking rather than taking bold steps that may indeed fail–but are better than just chattering about socialism without really advancing it at all. His approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. And hardly ever any real critical discussion.

Indeed, when we had three educationals at the airport, the first of them was without hand-picked trade union reps. The educational lost its focus (our curriculum) because the session turned into a series of long complaints about the employer and the union. None of us really had an idea about what to do with the situation. Finally,, I perceived that one of the workers attending had an exaggerated understanding of the power of collective bargaining and collective agreements and did at least manage to point that out. The following two educationals were with hand-picked trade union reps who were more “docile.” Thus, when these hand-picked union reps were presented with the situation at the brewery where I worked (I was not identified in the exercise personally), in which I refused to carry out an order by the foremen, most stated that the person should have grieved the issue and acquiesced–hardly a dignified response and also a response that would have prevented workers to engage in solidarity at the actual workplace–which is what happened. 

Conclusion

I will end here, for now. Rosenfeld obviously believes that limiting the illegal political protest/strike by CUPE education workers to the repeal of Bill 28 was justified under the circumstances. To that end, he engages in name calling by claiming that Schoots-McAlpine’s defense of a general strike expressed a naive, mechanistic and intellectualist point of view. In fact, such a defense is delusional for Rosenfeld. 

Despite his claim to engage in a matrialist analysis of reality, he fails to engage in an analysis of the unique or peculiar situation which not only workers but union leaders faced when Ford passed Bill 28. His materialist analysis is wanting. The same could be said of his lack of analysis of the potentialities of that situation. Bill 28 threatened unions across Canada, and it had the potential to create more permanent links between unions across Canada. In such a situation, workers’ own creativity, organizing capacity and class consciousness could have developed further–if the strike had not been called off on Monday, November 7. Finally, Rosenfeld greatly overestimates his own political postion and actions; his analysis and actions remain puny beside the rage, the actions, the unity and the solidarity of union members, parents and others when Ford passed Bill 28. 

One can only wonder who is delusional in such a situation. 

There are undoubtedly many other issues that have arisen that are relevant to Ford’s attempt to impose a preemptive contract on workers, with the help of the notwithstanding clause. I may or may not write further on this topic and, if I do, I may then convert this into the first part of a two-part series, or I may simply write another post about some related topics on the issue. Or I may just modify this post. 

A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Edmonton, Alberta, Based on the Number of Employees

The following is a list of the twenty-two largest private employers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, based on the number of employees. I restrict this list to private employers since the number of employees across government departments seems to be provincial and not city-based. For example, the number of employees in Alberta Health Services is 123,000, which far exceeds the number of employees for private-based companies. The list also excludes not-for profit companies.

The statistics are based on the following site: Largest Employers in Edmonton

  1. Stantec: 22,000
  2. PCL Employees Holdings Ltd.: 16,000
  3. Bee-Clean Building Maintenance (Gingras Enterprises): 9,500
  4. Katz Group: 8,000
  5. Brick Warehouse Corporation: 5,700
  6. ATB Financial: 5,600
  7. AutoCanada Inc.: 4,200
  8. Chemco: 2,500
  9. EPCOR Utilities: 2,340
  10. Canadian Western Bank: 2,300
  11. Lilydale (Sofina Foods Inc.): 2,300
  12. Services Credit Union Ltd.: 2,200
  13. Alcanna: 2000
  14. Lockerbie & Hole Inc.: 2000
  15. Fountain Tire: 1,600
  16. Morgan Construction & Environmental Ltd.: 1,500
  17. Pyramid Corporation (A PTW Company): 1,300
  18. DynaLIFE: 1,200
  19. West Edmonton Mall Attractions Inc.: 1,200
  20. All Weather Windows: 1,000
  21. IBM Canada Limited: 1,000
  22. K-Bro Linen Inc.: 1,000

Total Employees: 94,140
Average Employees per Employer: 4,279 

The statistics do not reflect in any precise manner the number of employees specifically employed in Edmonton. For example, Stantec employees are spread across the world, but without further dis-aggregation of the statistics, it is impossible to tell how many employees Stantec employees only in Edmonto. Consequently, the total number of employees is skewed as is the average employees per employer.

In any case, what is the power of these employers in Edmonton? In Alberta? In Canada? In the world? Compare your power to its power, whether you are unionized or not? Could it not be concluded that, compared to such employers, you have little power? As a worker? As a unionized worker? As a voter? As a legal subject? All talk about freedom, democracy and the like ignore such realities.

In the movie The Lord of the Rings, Part 2, The Two Towers, King Theoden says: “How did it come to this?” How indeed did it come to the point where individuals have little power and employers have concentrated power?

To be sure, belonging to a union can increase the power of individuals and decrease to a limited extent the power of an employer, but we should not have the illusion that unions somehow balance the power relations. Even if there were a balance of power, since employers’ goal is external to employees, such a balance would not be maintained for very long; employers would revolt and attempt to subordinate workers to their wills.

The social-democratic left have little to say on this score. They talk about “fair contracts,” “decent work,” and the like. They themselves contribute to the power of employers by failing to look beyond such cliches to the reality of the power that employers have as a class over workers at work (whether unionized or not), in “public life” and in the political sphere. Or they talk about such employers “paying their fair share of the taxes.” In such a view, as long as such employers pay a certain percentage of taxes, they have the right to use workers as things (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Does this situation express the freedom of workers? Or the freedom of employers? Their freedom to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and how much to produce?

What should be done about such a situation? The first thing to be done is to recognize the situation and to discuss its economic social and political implications. The radical left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) do not do so. They talk about capitalism this and capitalism that, but they are so vague that no one takes them seriously. Or, alternatively, they are so afraid of upsetting trade unionists that they timidly bring up such questions. Is this what we need–given the situation that workers working for such employers face?

A Missed Opportunity: The Limitations of Trade Unions

This is a very short post.

When I went to the political picket line/strike and rally on November 4, 2022, there were thousands of people present in front of the Ontario legislative buildings. Premier Doug Ford’s ramming through of Bill 28–legislating workers back to work and using the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and Rights to Freedom to prevent any legal challenge–essentially stripped away collective-bargaining rights–including the right to strike. This-galvanized workers, citizens, immigrants, migrants and parents and led to to support for the workers. Even union reps felt their cherished ideal of free collective-bargaining and a fair contract threatened, and thus supported a wildcat strike.

However, as soon as Ford promised to rescind the legislation, unions welcomed this move since their primary concern was to negotiate a collective agreement and not engage in challenges to the existing class power of employers.

After returning to the bargaining table, the two sides have still not been able to come to an agreement; wages as an issue have been settled, but the main issue now is staffing levels and job security. 

The education workers will go on strike again on November 21 unless there is a settlement. In the meantime, there will be a rally in Toronto (among other places) in two locations on November 19 (not in front of the legislature building). My prediction is that there will still be support–but hardly the level of support shown on November 4. The opportunity to force the Conservative Ford government’s hand has been lost. 

May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: More Rhetoric from a Union Rep: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part Two: Do Corrections Officers Protect Us?

Introduction

In my previous post in this two-part series, I showed that J.P. Hornick, the relevatively new president of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) holds social-reformist or social-democratic views. I showed that she used the social-reformist and euphemistic phrases, such as “fair contract” and “good jobs”–which the management rights clause contradicts.

I thought it appropriate to post the second part of the series now because Ms. Hornick appears to be a militant union leader who defends the rights of workers. She does indeed defend the rights of workers–to bargain collectively–but not their right to be free of exploitation and oppression (see Solidarity with Union Members–and an Occasion for Discussing the Limitations of Collective Bargaining: The Ontario Ford Government’s Legislation to Force CUPE Education Workers to Abandon Their Strike).

Further evidence of her reformist views is her praise of the work of correction officers–whom she believes “keep us safe” in some fashion.

From https://opseu.org/news/honouring-our-corrections-members-this-week-and-every-week/153542/  , dated May 3, 2022:

Honouring our Corrections members this week – and every week

Corrections Division logo (keys crossed)

It’s Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week, and we feel privileged to lead a union that represents thousands of these dedicated professionals.

OPSEU/SEFPO members include correctional officers, probation and parole officers, Nurses and Social workers, recreation and administrative staff. They put their lives at risk every day to keep Ontarians safe.

We were honoured to attend the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance on Tuesday at the Ontario legislature, a tribute to Corrections workers who have died on the job. [my emphasis]

Our members care deeply about their communities, and it does not stop at the end of the workday.   OPSEU/SEFPO’s members created a Corrections Cares campaign recently, where they have raised money and collected food for community support groups.

OPSEU/SEFPO has for years warned of a crisis in the Corrections system. Understaffing and crumbling infrastructure have put the health and safety of both inmates and staff at risk.

In addition to the day-to-day challenges of working in Corrections, our members have had to contend with COVID-19. Some of our members have contracted COVID more than once during the pandemic.

Thanks to our union’s efforts, progress has been made, but so much more remains to be done. Most institutions continue to house far more inmates than they were ever designed to hold. The proportion of Correctional Officers to offender population continues to pose serious risks, leading to overwork, stress and burnout.  Probation and Parole are constantly having to juggle higher caseloads with inadequate staff.

As the Correctional Bargaining Unit is in the midst of negotiating a new collective agreement, we again demand that the government repeal Bill 124 [which “generally limits annual salary increases to one per cent for many parts of the public sector in the province” of Ontario]. Corrections is an inherently hazardous occupation. Working conditions are among the worst imaginable. If we wish to attract and retain correctional workers, they must be paid commensurately with the exceptional risks they take every single day on the job. [my emphasis] 

OPSEU/SEFPO will back its Corrections members at every step of the way with every possible professional and financial support. We are determined to ensure get the kind of contract that properly reflects their professionalism, integrity and contributions.

During Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week, OPSEU/SEFPO joins every Ontarian in thanking Corrections workers for their courageous and selfless work to keep us safe [my emphasis]

In solidarity,

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer

This evident defense of corrections officers (prison guards) is interesting. Why the emphasis on corrections officers and not, say, on nurses (another profession which OPSEU represents)?

Questionable Assumptions

False Assumption 1: Unions Have the Power to Force Employers to Act Safely

Perhaps Ms. Hornick could provide research that substantiates that corrections officers’ work is much more dangerous than most workplaces. It may be the case, but  suassumptions should be looked at in relation to the issue of the health and safety of workers (and of citizens, immigrants and migrant workers). Thus, she wrote a message (dated April 27, 2022) for the April 28 Canadian National Day of Mourning of those who have died or been injured at work (https://opseu.org/news/day-of-mourning-2022-opseu-sefpo-remembers-lives-lost/153063/):

Day of Mourning 2022: OPSEU/SEFPO remembers lives lost

April 27, 2022 – 11:33 am
Notice
Awareness Days, Health and safety
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Workplace health and safety is one of the fundamental reasons unions exist, so that every worker feels safe and protected while doing their jobs. On this Day of Mourning, we remember those who were killed on the job because of workplace incidents, and we also stand in solidarity with those who have been injured due to workplace hazards.

Day of Mourning is observed annually on April 28. This day also commemorates the United Nations’ World Day for Safety and Health at Work, marked to highlight the importance of accident and disease prevention at work and to foster strong Occupational Health and Safety workplace cultures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated workplace health and safety hazards in Ontario and around the world. It has increased the stress of our members working on the frontlines of the pandemic. They’ve faced increased risks and it has taken a mental and emotional toll.

OPSEU/SEFPO stands with our allies to honour those who were killed as well as those injured on the job. We must continue to work together to make sure Occupational Health and Safety legislation and workplace policies are strengthened and enforced. As safety risks increase, employers must work with us to ensure that the necessary protections keep pace.

We will continue to keep health and safety a top priority in every conversation with employers and the government, because all workers deserve to feel safe in their workplaces and return to their loved ones when the work day is done.

Find Day of Mourning events across Ontario that you can take part in.

In solidarity,

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President

Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer

This is typical union rhetoric. Should workers not ask whether “Occupational Health and Safety legislation and workplace policies” actually provide protection–aka safety? Unions undoubtedly have provided some protection from death, injury and disease, but their power to do so should not be exaggerated.

Let me quote a union rep in relation to health and safety as quoted from Steven Bittle’s doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster. The quote is in the context of legislation to make it a criminal offence for corporations to harm workers (ultimately diluted, of course). Page 202:

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

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

Ms. Hornick simply engages in union rhetoric and does not address the fact, as the union rep above admits, that workers–whether unionized or not–have limited say over their own health and safety.Working for an employer is often dangerous and leads to injury–and sometimes death.

How is the work of corrections officers any different in this respect? Let Ms. Hornick provide concrete statistics to substantiate her assumption that corrections officers are subject to “the exceptional risks they take every single day on the job.” I doubt that she has looked at any such statistics. She assumes, without question, that correcions officers’ lives are more subject to risks” (why else use the adjective “exceptional”)? Such is the nature of the rhetoric of leaders of unions these days.

Interlude: The Prison System and the Property System in Which We Live

Let us look at the prison system, briefly. Obviously there is some truth in the function of prisons as protective; there are people who are violent and would probably do harm to others if they were not controlled in some way (Trump comes to mind). However, to appreciate the nature of prisons, it is necessary to link them up to the kind of society in which we live.

Most people in Canada and in many other countries need to work for an employer in order to obtain money. Some people–like me–do not want to work for an employer since, among other reasons, they find having to do so to be in effect a denial of our freedom to choose; in effect, having to work for an employer is a dictatorship (see for example Employers as Dictators, Part One). Being treated as a means for other person’s ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital) is hardly an expression of freedom; rather, it is an expression of a dicatorship.

For some of those people who find working for an employer to be disgusting, it would seem preferable to seek alternative means of obtaining money and hence an alternative means to live. Many legitimate alternative means to live have been gradually eliminated, leaving the need to engage in the exchange process with an employer as the primary means by which to obtain the means to live.

Exchange involves mutual recognition of the right of the other to own the property that is offered for exchange. In other words, it excludes direct coercion to obtain what one needs. You must have something to offer the other party that that party to the exchange relation wants  if you are to obtain what the other party owns.

Here is where the police, law, the courts, prisons and of course corrections officers enter the picture. In general, a system of general exchange has two forms of law to deal with breaches of exchange: civil law and criminal law.

Civil law deals with any breach of the exchange relation (or contract), and it usually applies to breaches between individual parties to a contract. A typical example these days is the credit card. Let us say that you use the credit card to purchase food at a grocery store. By using the credit card, you have implicitly agreed to pay the company that issued the credit card money after a certain time. If you fail to do so, the company can take you to civil court, and if proven, the court can force you to pay the company (unless you declare bankruptcy–which is another issue). You, legally, freely entered into an implicit contract with the company, and by breaching the contract, the civil court is forcing you to hold up your end of the bargain. The issue is a particular breach of contract between you and the company; you have not breached the general structure of exchange relations and the principles on which they are based.

Criminal law and criminal courts and crimes, on the other hand, deal generally with breaches of the general structure and the principles of exchange, which includes but is not limited to the employer-employee relation. This general structure and principles of exchange constitute the basic conditions for the class power of employers, the economic dependence of workers on employers and economic coercion since it is in and through exchange that workers are exploited and oppressed. (Undoubtedly, the distinction between civil law and criminal law is more complicated than this, but this initial distinction is useful for outlining the essential functions of police and corrections officers as defenders of exploitative and oppressive relations.)

The criminal system thus protects a property system that results in the exploitation and oppression of workers. That some people may become violent in such a system in order to achieve their ends, of course, then involves a demand, not only by employers but also by workers, of some form of protection from such violence. However, since the violence perpetrated by the class structure (such as the killing and injury of workers on the job) is not generally addressed by such a system, the police, the courts, the prison system–and correction officers– do not effectiely protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers from the dangers they face in such a society.

Prisons do not protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers from such violence. Do they, however, protect us from violent criminals?

Let us first look at the issue of whether prisons protect us from the dangers characteristic of a society dominated by a property system that protects the property of a class of employers.

False Assumption 2: The Legal System Protects Us Against the Dangers That We Face in Our Lives

Ms. Hornick’s rhetoric of corrections officers ‘keeping us safe” flies in the face of the real dangers that we face–real dangers that arise from a system driven by the class power of employers which, ultimately, is for the pursuit of profit. From Harry Glasbeek (2018), Capitalism: A Crime Story:

Law’s different definition of risk in non-capitalist
spheres

Welfare in terms of what people need to be safe and healthy plays no special role, certainly not a central role, in the normal practices of capitalism. If the central goal of production was not profit but the satisfaction of needs rather than wants, that is, if it was to meet people’s essential necessities rather than their desires (inbred or stimulated), the business plan of producers (even if still private) would be quite different. Some of the principal needs to be satisfied by the productive activity would
be the health and safety of the workers, of their communities, and of their physical and cultural environments. The balance between risk-creation and outcome would be totally different than it is under capitalism. There would still be injuries and harms, but they would be different both in kind and
number: the rate and kinds of “accidents” and “spills” would be totally different

Workplace and environmental injuries, diseases and deaths are linked to the class power of employers and the pursuit of profit, but they are not considered “violent crimes.” From Glasbeek:

She [Lisa Heinzerling, a writer on ethics and environmental law] notes the extent of some of the actual harms caused by ethical inattention and records that unchecked, uncalculated, but
checkable and calculable, impacts of for-profit activities, such as mining, mean that “fine particulates in the ambient air kill tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone … 26% increase in premature deaths are attributed to fine-particulate air pollution … [and that] widely used chemicals such as vinyl chloride pose risks of lethal cancers and other diseases … greenhouse gases [also have grave impacts on health and welfare].”86

There are many similar data that strongly suggest that not taking precautions when there is a practically foreseeable certainty that harm will ensue inflicts a lot of injuries and environmental and other ills on society. Take, for instance, a summary compiled by David Whyte of the U.K. reports on the incidence of health and safety harms. His overview led him to conclude that

managements are responsible—and are legally liable—for the majority of deaths caused by working … we can say with little doubt that the minority of deaths caused by working can be regarded purely as “misfortunes” or “accidents” which were not avoidable … the majority of deaths at work do not result from “out of control” or haphazard circumstances, but are the result of decisions or non-decisions that could … be traced to the authors of those decisions. [emphases added by Glasbeek]

The infliction of potentially foreseeable deaths and harms short of death by routinely exercised inattention,87 by failures to act as the ethics and morality espoused by an idealized liberal society dictate, is commonplace in capitalism.

Worldwide, the actual harm characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers undoubtedly remains one of the hidden facts which Ms. Hornick simply ignores. From Glasbeek:

Unlike fighters or hockey or football players, who all run a very similar risk of being the injured party as a result of the violence of their interaction, this is markedly not the case when the risks to workers,
consumers, communities, and the environment are created by capitalists and their corporations. Among the two million deaths, 270 million injuries, and 160 million occupational related diseases inflicted per annum worldwide, a miniscule number are suffered by employers. Of the millions of people adversely affected by pollution arising from profit-maximizing activities, the overwhelming majority are not profit-maximizers. Rather, they are people who cannot live on top of the hills, away from the prevailing winds, in wooded lands, or more pointedly, they are people who live in the
economically impoverished parts of the globe; they are non-capitalists and, among them, the poorest are likely to suffer the most.97 In capitalism, the risk of harm does not constitute an equal opportunity terrain. The riskcreators are not the risk-takers. In capitalism everything is upside-down. The point being belaboured is that, even when regulated capitalists search for profits within the boundaries set by regulations, their conduct is criminal in nature as they are allowed to continue to inflict harms on non-consenting individuals. Capitalism’s legitimacy should always be in issue.

What is the situation in Canada? As I pointed out in another post:

More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.

Murders are the focus of the social media and the criminal legal system. Inquiries into murders do occur, and some are very thorough. On the other hand, inquiries into the extent to which the pursuit of profit played a major role in the death of employees (or the extent to which the undemocratic nature of work of public-sector employers) are lacking. There is an implicit assumption that such deaths are acceptable and the cost of living in the modern world. Should not those concerned with social justice query such an assumption? Is there much discussion concerning the facts? Or is there silence over such facts?

But Hornick does not call into question capitalism’s legitimacy. Rather, through her rhetoric, clichés or abstract slogans of “fair contracts” (see my previous post in this series, May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract)  and corrections officers ‘keeping us safe,” she herself contributes to the legitimacy of capitalism. And this from a so-called radical union leader.

False Assumption 3: Prisons Provide Major Protection for Workers, Citizens, Immigrants and Migrant Workers From Violent Crimes

Let us now look at the other question: Whether prisons protect us from violent crimes?

Not much, if at all.

I will use several quotations with brief commentaries by me from Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton’s book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice (2017) to show what I mean.

From Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton’s book, pages 40-41:

The Brennan Center concluded that during the 1990s, incarceration had no effect (zero percent) on violent crime and reduced property crime by six percent; from 2000 to 2013, incarceration had no effect (zero percent) on violent crime and reduced property crime by 0.2 percent.79

The models from seven high-quality studies, when updated with new data for subsequent years, showed that between 2000 and 2013 incarceration caused between a four percent decline to a one percent increase in violent crime. This is consistent with the findings of the National Academy of Sciences panel on incarceration, which found that “mandatory minimum sentence and three-strike laws have little or no effect on crime rates,” and with respect to the effect of the overall increase in incarceration, “the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.”80 This distinguished panel of criminologists noted further: “The evidence reviewed in this report reveals that the costs of today’s unprecedented rate of incarceration, particularly the long prison sentences imposed under recent sentencing laws, outweigh the observable benefits.”

The imprisonment binge had only a modest effect on crime rates because American jurisdictions have   always been highly likely to imprison violent offenders, so the increase in incarceration swept up more people with less significant criminal propensities. Incarcerating people who are less dangerous means there is less of
an impact on public safety. Indeed, a substantial number of those admitted to prison were people who had their parole revoked for technical reasons, not because they were charged with or convicted of a new crime.

False (Hidden) Assumption 4: Prisons Protect Us Without Discrimination

Correction officers do not just protect us from those who have committed violent crimes; They disproportionately “protect” us from poor male indigenous youth. Although the following claim would have to be modified by referring to other characteristics–such as being Aboriginal–it probably applies for the most part to the situation in Canada. From Reiman and Leighton, pages 82-83:

This was the Typical Criminal in 1974, but little has changed since. Let us look more closely at the face in today’s criminal justice mirror, and we shall see much the same Typical Criminal.

The person is, first of all, a he. Of 8.8 million persons arrested for crimes in 2014, 73 percent were males. Of persons arrested for violent crimes, 80 percent were men. Second, he is young. More than one-third (36 percent) of men arrested for all crimes were under the age of 25, and the same is true of violent crimes (37 percent). Third, he is predominantly urban.19 Fourth, he is disproportionately black: In 2014, with blacks representing 13 percent of the nation’s population, they made up 38 percent of violent crime arrests and 28 percent of all crime arrests.20 Finally, he is poor. Almost one-third (29 percent) of 2002 jail inmates were unemployed (without full- or part-time work) prior to being arrested, an unemployment rate considerably higher than that of adults in the general population.21 A 2004 study, updated to include inflation through 2014, found that the pre-arrest income of incarcerated males was 41 percent less than comparably aged nonincarcerated men. As the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice reported in 1967, “The offender at the end of the road in prison is likely to be a member of the lowest social and economic groups in the country.”

This is the Typical Criminal feared by most law-abiding Americans. Poor, young, urban,
(disproportionately) black males make up the core of the enemy forces in the crime war. They are seen as a menace, threatening the lives, limbs, and possessions of the law-abiding members of society, necessitating recourse to the ultimate weapons of force and detention in our common defense. This picture is widely shared.

In Canada (from  https://pressprogress.ca/canadas-prairie-provinces-are-failing-to-address-systemic-racism-in-the-criminal-justice-system-experts-say/#:~:text=Manitoba%20and%20Saskatchewan%20also%20have,Manitoba%20and%2076%25%20in%20Saskatchewan.), dated July 14, 2021:

Yet the number of Indigenous people incarcerated in federal prisons has been steadily rising — Indigenous people currently make up 30% of federal inmates despite making up only 5% of the general population in Canada

The class bias of the legal system against the lower layers of the working class  can also be seen in the length of sentences of those who obtain less income or who are unemployed. From Reiman and Leighton, pages 140-141:

Research on adult offenders consistently finds economic discrimination. D’Alessio and Stolzenberg’s study of a random sample of 2,760 Florida offenders found that poor offenders received longer sentences for violent crimes, such as manslaughter, and for morals offenses, such as narcotics possession.100 A study of individuals convicted of drunk driving found that increased education (an indicator of higher economic status) “increase[d] the rate of movement from case filing to probation and decrease[d] the rate of movement to prison.”101

Chiricos and Bales found that, for individuals guilty of similar offenses and with similar prior records,
unemployed defendants were more than twice as likely as their employed counterparts to be incarcerated if found guilty.102 McCarthy noted a similar link between unemployment and greater likelihood of incarceration.103 In his study of 28,315 Southern felony defendants, Champion also found that offenders who could afford private counsel had a greater likelihood of probation and received shorter sentences when incarceration was imposed.104 A study of the effects of implementing Minnesota’s determinate sentencing program shows that socioeconomic bias is “more subtle, but no less real” than before the new program.105

Tillman and Pontell examined the sentences received by individuals convicted of Medicaid-provider fraud in California. Because such offenders normally have no prior arrests and are charged with grand theft, their sentences were compared with the sentences of other offenders convicted of grand theft who also had no prior records. While 37.7 percent of the Medicaid defrauders were sentenced to some jail or prison time, 79.2 percent of the others convicted of grand theft were sentenced to jail or prison. This was so even though the median dollar loss due to the Medicaid frauds was $13,000, more than 10 times the median loss due to the other grand thefts ($1,149). The authors point out that most of the Medicaid defrauders were health professionals, while most of the others convicted of grand theft had low-level jobs or were unemployed. They conclude that “differences in the sentences imposed on the two samples are indeed the result of the different social statuses of their members.”106

Data on racial discrimination in sentencing tell the same story of the treatment of those who cannot afford  the going price of justice. A study of 9,690 males who entered Florida prisons in 1992 and 1993, and who were legally eligible for stricter sentencing under the habitual offender statute, shows that for similar prior records and seriousness of crime, race had a “significant and substantial” effect: Black defendants were particularly disadvantaged “for drug offenses and for property crimes.”107 Based on a total of 40 recent studies of both federal and state data, Spohn concludes that “Black and Hispanic offenders—particularly those who are young, male, or unemployed—are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison; they also may receive longer sentences than similarly situated white offenders.”108 The National Academy of Sciences panel on incarceration finds that the racial “disparities are enormous,” not only with incarceration but also capital punishment and life sentences.

Ms. Hornick’s acceptance of the rhetoric that corrections officers mainly “keep us safe” hides the reality of an oppressive racist and classist legal system.

Indeed, as already pointed out above, Hornick plays into the stereotypical view of corrections officers as ‘keeping us safe,” since the real threats that we typically face in the real world are swept under the rug. From Reiman & Leighton,  pages 90-91:

This last point is important. It indicates that we have a mental image not only of the Typical Criminal but also of the Typical Crime. If the Typical Criminal is a young, lower-class male, the Typical Crime is one-on-one harm—where “harm” means physical injury, loss of something valuable, or both. Certainly this is the Typical Crime portrayed on any random sample of police or private-eye shows on television.

Moreover, the media portray violent crime way out of proportion to its occurrence in the real world. One in-depth study of local and cable news found that 30 percent of all stories on news programs were about crime, and half of those were about murder.33 In contrast, murder makes up about 14,000 of the 9.4 million crimes reported to the police.34 Further, popular police TV programs do not show the policing of consumer fraud, environmental pollution, financial crimes, or unsafe workplaces. When Law & Order detectives track down a well-heeled criminal, it is for a one-on-one harm, usually murder.

Notice, then, that TV crime shows focus on the crimes typically committed by poor people, but they do not present these as only committed by poor people. Rather than contradict the Pyrrhic defeat theory, this combination confirms it in a powerful way. The result of this combination is that TV crime shows broadcast a double-edged message: (1) that the one-on-one crimes of the poor are the typical crimes that rich and poor criminals alike commit—thus, they are not caused uniquely by the pressures of poverty; and (2) that the criminal justice system pursues both rich and poor criminals—thus, when the criminal justice system happens mainly to pounce on the poor in real life, it is not from any class bias. By overrepresenting violent, one-on-one crimes, television confirms the commonsense view that these are the crimes that threaten us. Since, in the real world those crimes are disproportionately committed by poor people, the image that it is the poor who pose the greatest danger to law-abiding Americans is projected for all to see.

It is important to identify this model of the Typical Crime because it functions like a set of blinders. It
keeps us from calling an industrial “disaster” a massacre even if 14 men were killed and even if someone is responsible for the unsafe conditions in which they worked and died. One study of newspaper reporting of a food-processing plant fire, in which 25 workers were killed and criminal charges were ultimately brought, concludes that “the newspapers showed little consciousness that corporate violence might be seen as a crime.”35 More recently, the Washington Post reported that the Peanut Corporation of America “knowingly shipped out contaminated peanut butter 12 times in the past two years.” The company’s salmonella-tainted peanuts were linked to 9 deaths and over 700 cases of illness, many requiring hospitalization.36 Media covered the recall of more than four thousand peanut-based products but made no mention of “mass murder” or even “crime,” although federal law makes it a felony to intentionally place adulterated food into commerce. A press conference, at which the victims called for criminal charges, received no attention from mainstream media.37 This is due to our fixation on the model of the Typical Crime. This particular piece of mental furniture so blocks our view that it keeps us from using the criminal justice system to protect ourselves from the greatest
threats to our bodies and possessions.

What keeps an industrial “disaster” from being a mass murder in our eyes is that it is not a one-on-one
harm where the desire of someone (or someones) is to harm someone (or someones) else. An attack by a gang on one or more persons or an attack by one individual on several still fits the one-on-one harm model of interpersonal violence. Once he selects his victim, the rapist, the mugger, or the murderer all want that person to suffer. A executive, on the other hand, does not want his employees to be harmed. He would truly prefer that there be no accident and no injured or dead workers. What he does want is something legitimate. It is what he has been hired to get: maximum profits at minimum costs. If he cuts corners to save a buck, he is just doing his job. If ten men die because he cut corners on safety, we may think him crude or callous but not a murderer. He is, at most, responsible for indirect harm not one-on-one harm. For this, he may even be criminally indictable for violating safety regulations but not for murder. The men are dead as an unwanted consequence of his (perhaps overzealous or under-cautious) pursuit of a legitimate goal. So, unlike the Typical Criminal, he has not committed the Typical Crime and therefore should not be a target of the criminal justice system—or so we generally believe. As a result, men are dead who might be alive now if cutting corners of the kind that leads to loss of life, whether specifically aimed at or not, were treated as murder.

This is our point. Because we accept the belief—encouraged by our politicians’ statements about crime and by the media’s portrayal of crime—that the model for crime is one person specifically and directly trying to harm another, we accept a legal system that leaves us unprotected against much greater dangers to our lives and well-being than those threatened by the Typical Criminal.

This focus on “individual crime” as opposed to the actions of institutions that harm us diverts us from focusing on those institutions and the economic, political and social structures that support them. From Reiman and Leighton pages 177-178:

Any criminal justice system like ours conveys a subtle yet powerful message in support of established
institutions. It does this for two interconnected reasons. First, it concentrates on individual wrongdoers. This means that it diverts our attention away from our institutions, away from consideration of whether our institutions themselves are wrong or unjust or indeed “criminal.”

Second, the criminal law is put forth as the minimum neutral ground rules for any social living. We are taught that no society can exist without rules against theft and violence, and thus the criminal law seems to be politically neutral: the minimum requirements for any society, the minimum obligations that any individual owes his or her fellows to make social life of any decent sort possible. Because the criminal law protects the established institutions (the prevailing economic arrangements are protected by laws against theft, and so on), attacks on those established institutions become equivalent to violations of the minimum requirements for any social life at all. In effect, the criminal law enshrines the established institutions as equivalent to the minimum requirements for any decent social existence—and it brands the individual who attacks those institutions as one who has declared war on all organized society and who must, therefore, be met with the weapons of war. Let us look more closely at this process.

What is the effect of focusing on individual guilt? Not only does this divert our attention from the possible evils in our institutions, but it also puts forth half the problem of justice as if it were the whole problem. To focus on individual guilt is to ask whether the individual citizen has fulfilled his or her obligations to his or her fellow citizens. It is to look away from the issue of whether the fellow citizens have fulfilled their obligations to him or her. To look only at individual responsibility is to look away from social responsibility. Writing about her stint as a “story analyst” for a prime-time TV “real crime” show based on videotapes of actual police busts, Debra Seagal describes the way focus on individual criminals deflects attention away from the social context of crime and how television reproduces this effect in millions of homes daily:

By the time our 9 million viewers flip on their tubes, we’ve reduced fifty or sixty hours of mundane and compromising video into short, action-packed segments of tantalizing, crack-filled, dope-dealing, junkiebusting cop culture. How easily we downplay the pathos of the suspect; how cleverly we breeze past the complexities that cast doubt on the very system that has produced the criminal activity in the first place

Seagal’s description illustrates as well how a television program that shows nothing but videos of actual events can distort reality by selecting and recombining pieces of real events.

A study of 69 TV crime dramas finds that fictional presentations of homicide focus on individual
motivations and ignore social conditions: “Television crime dramas portray these events as specific
psychological episodes in the characters’ lives and little, if any, effort is made to connect them to basic social institutions or the nature of society within which they occur.”15 (Criminology, too, focuses on why individuals break the law, and the study of neighborhoods, cities, and larger regions is “the road not taken.”16)

To look only at individual criminality is to close one’s eyes to social injustice and to close one’s ears to the question of whether our social institutions have exploited or violated the individual. Criminologists James Unnever and Shaun Gabbidon in their important book A Theory of African American Offending link black criminality with a “long history of public dishonor and ritualized humiliation”—including by the criminal justice system—due to racism.17 As a result, African Americans are less likely to have respect for the law and weaker bonds with conventional institutions. Focusing only on individual responsibility obscures the contribution of racism to African American criminality.

Justice is a two-way street—but criminal justice is a one-way street. Individuals owe obligations to their fellow citizens because their fellow citizens owe obligations to them. Criminal justice focuses on the first and looks away from the second. Thus, by focusing on individual responsibility for crime, the criminal justice system effectively acquits the existing social order of any charge of injustice!

This is an extremely important bit of ideological alchemy. It stems from the fact that the same act can be criminal or not, unjust or just, depending on the circumstances in which it takes place. Killing someone is ordinarily a crime, but if it is in self-defense or to stop a deadly crime, it is not. Taking property by force is usually a crime, but if the taking is retrieving what has been stolen, then no crime has been committed. Robin Hood’s thefts from the rich to give to the poor are seen as heroic and just even though the legal system run by the rich declared him a criminal. Further, acts of violence are ordinarily crimes, but if the violence is provoked by the threat of violence or by oppressive conditions, then, like the Boston Tea Party,18 what might ordinarily be called criminal (even terrorist) is celebrated as just.

This means that when we call an act a crime, we are also making an implicit judgment about the conditions in response to which it takes place. When we call an act a crime, we are saying that the conditions in which it occurs are not themselves criminal or deadly or oppressive or so unjust as to make an extreme response reasonable or justified or noncriminal. This means that when the system holds an individual responsible for a crime, it implicitly conveys the message that the social conditions in which the crime occurred are not responsible for the crime, that they are not so unjust as to make a violent response to them excusable.

Although we definitely need to take into account the social context within which society has been or not been responsible towards the individuals who commit crimes, we should also take into account that characterizing them as pure victims is one sided. To be a pure victim of society takes away the capacity and responsibility of individuals to make decisions towards their own social situation and towards others. Thomas Mathiesen (1980) calls the view that those who suffer from societal oppression and exploitation the symptom theory. The opposite theory, which attributes responsibility purely to individual activity, he calls action theory. From  Law, Society and Political Action Towards a Strategy under Late Capitalism, pages 243-244:

… it is also true that the ‘action theory’ which Hollie presents (the expression is mine, as a counterpart to ‘symptom theory’), leads, if that theory remains alone, to a one-sided reform-oriented policy out of touch with the fundamental conditions which necessitate the use of drugs for an increasing number of
people. While Hollie is right in emphasizing that the symptom theory alone is politically pacifying, the action theory alone is obstructive to the political perspective. The action theory is necessary for the mobilization to struggle, the symptom theory (or a refinement of the symptom theory) is necessary for the understanding of the forces one struggles against; neither of the theories is sufficient in itself; both are necessary because both contain elements which together comprise a total truth. Again the combination is implemented this way: the information which a given political action provides about the system which the action opposes is captured and made into common knowledge through continual discussion, so that a continually larger number become more and more alert to the deeper
premises of the system.

Both the victimization of individuals by the class system and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions are required–as are discussions of how individual actions against the class system affect that system.

Mathiesen’s distinction between symptom theory and action theory is useful since it addresses the problem of whether social structures completely determine our actions, or whether individuals can be agents of their own actions and change their social circumstances or conditions:

From Mathiesen, page 246:

The insurmountability of the structural barriers presupposes (i.e. has as a necessary and sufficient condition) precisely the political demoralization and passivity which follows from the perspective of
domination if it reigns alone. In other words, the insurmountability of the structural barriers presupposes a phenomenology, on the part of the suppressed with potential power, which emphasizes the futility of opposition. This phenomenology is itself generated by the domination perspective, if it prevails alone. The compelling imperatives of domination, the insurmountable boundaries of the structure, are, on the contrary, in principle able to be abolished if the main condition for domination—the political passivity, the phenomenology of futility—is abolished in those who are suppressed and also have potential power. In society a series of consciousness-producing agencies are established, the function of which is precisely to maintain the ‘domination perspective’ as a single perspective among the suppressed. Thus the surmountability of domination, which exists in principle, is prevented from being materialized.

This does not mean, if we return to the economic level of the mode of production, that the individual capitalist may act very differently from normal if he wishes to survive. Neither does it mean that the individual worker may act very differently if he wishes to survive. For both, individually, the structural barriers constitute insurmouhtable boundaries for action: the capitalist must accumulate
in order to survive; the worker must sell his labour in order to survive. It does tnean, however, that the workers collectively may break the barriers of the structure. In principle and in the end the workers can, if they stand entirely united and ict in unison—nationally and internationally— with one stroke abolish the earlier insurmountable and structural barriers.

It should be sufficient from the above that Hornick deals with rhetoric, cliches or abstract slogans by claiming that correction officers “keep us safe.”

Not only does Hornick, by claiming that corrections officers “keep us safe,” assume that those who are in prison are the real threat to our lives, but she assumes that she (like her fellow former trade-union bureaucrat, Herman Rosenfeld, who refers to the police protecting us from murder and theft  (see Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two),there is some homeogenous “we” (direct object form “us” in her “keep us safe”) that are being kept safe by corrections officers (and others, like the police).This is another myth and cliché. From Reiman and Leighton, page 173:

Households with annual income below the poverty level were victims of violent crimes at a rate nearly twice that for high-income households. Indeed, as Table 4.1 shows, rates of victimization by all categories of “common” crime are substantially higher for the poorest segment of the population and drop dramatically as we ascend the economic ladder.

The difference in the rates of property-crime victimization between rich and poor understates the difference in the harms that result. The poor are far less likely than the affluent to have insurance against theft, and because they have little to start with, what they lose to theft takes a much deeper bite out of their ability to meet their basic needs. Needless to add, the various noncriminal harms documented in Chapter 2 (occupational hazards, pollution, poverty, and so on) also fall more harshly on workers and those at the bottom of society than on those at the top.

What is Hornick’s situation? Would she face the same probability of experiencing a crime, violent or non-violent, when compared with the lower levels of the working class? As a professor at the School of Labour, in 1921, she received $116,957.02 + $74.25 in benefits, for a total of $117,031.27 (https://www.sunshineliststats.com/Salary/jphornick/2021/9/?employer=georgebrowncollegeofappliedartsandtechnology&f=1).  Hornick is much less likely to experience crime, however defined, than the lower echelons of the working class. Her reference to the work of corrections officers who “keep US safe,” hides how the legal system is both bias against the lower layers of the working class and their personal actions when compared to the impersonal but violent actions of employers and against the greater likelihood of being incarcerated.

False (Hidden) Assumption 5: Implicit Connection Between the So-Called Exceptional Risks Taken by Corrections Officers and the Risks Taken by Police Officers

When we look at the OPSEU webpage for the event “Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance”  ( https://opseu.org/event/2022-corrections-ceremony-of-remembrance/#:~:text=The%202022%20Corrections%20Ceremony%20of,Park%20Cres%20E%2C%20Toronto%20ON.), we read the following:

2022 Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance

Corrections Bargaining Unit logo
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

The 2022 Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance, which honours Correctional workers who died in the line of duty, takes place May 3 at 12 noon at Queen’s Park.

The ceremony takes place beside the Ontario Police Memorial Park, at  23 Queen’s Park Cres E, Toronto ON.  Queen’s Park Circle. It is just to the east of the legislative buildings.

It is instructive to note that the place of the memorial for corrections officers who have died at work is “beside the Ontario Police Memorial Park.” This is hardly a coincidence. The memorial for murdered correction officers is obviously meant to be closely tied to murdered police officers. Toronto Police Service

We read the following (http://Ontario Police Memorial – Toronto, Ontario, Canada):

Ontario Police Memorial – Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Ontario Police Memorial

Preserving the memory of fallen officers

The Ontario Police Memorial is dedicated to all of the brave police officers in Ontario’s history who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The memorial is made up of a bronze statue of a male and female officer standing atop a large granite pedestal. The names of fallen officers are carved into a granite wall – the Wall of Honour – that stands on each side of the pedestal.

The words, “Heroes in Life, Not Death,” are carved on the memorial. This is to recognize that police officers risk their lives, every day, to protect people and neighbourhoods, and deserve the respect and gratitude of the citizens they serve [my emphasis]. The Ontario Police Memorial is in a small park at the corner of Queen’s Park Crescent and Grosvenor Street in Toronto.

Given the intent of making a close tie between murdered correction officers at work and murdered police officers at work, and given that the main function of the police is to maintain social order in an exploitative and oppressive society dominated by a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism), it is highly likely that the main function of correction officers is also to maintain social order in an exploitative and oppressive society–and not “to protect people and neighbourhoods,” After all, there is an obviously close connection between the power of the  police to arrest and the prison system.

Conclusion

Ms. Hornick’s political tendency is towards social reformism at best. She makes a number of false assumptions (more or less open) concerning the work of corrections officers and unions. Unions do not, generally, have the power to enforce health and safety on the job. The legal system does not protect us agains the major dangers that we face in our lives. Prisons do not provide us with protection against violent crimes. Prisons do not protect us from discriminatory practices against the lower-sections of the working class and Aboriginal and Afro-American peoples. Corrections officers no more than police protect us from many of the dangers that we face but rather protect a system that involves systemic exploitation and oppression.

My prediction is that Ms. Hornick, as leader of OPSEU, will be more militant than the former president Mr. Warren “Smokey” Thomas, but she will still be a typical union bureaucrat. Her belief in the collective-bargaining system as a system that produces “fair contracts” is typical of most Canadian union reps. Furthermore, her belief that corrections officers really “keep us safe,” although it contains a grain of truth, hides the reality of many unsafe environments for Canadian workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario

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Educational workers in Ontario were set to strike on Friday November 4, 2022. Premier Doug Ford not only passed legislation that makes the strike illegal but used the “notwithstanding clause” in the Constitution to prevent legal challenges to such legislation for five years. This measure has indeed galvanized the workers’ movement, to a certain extent. 

John Clarke, a radical social democrat here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has this to say about the recent strike wave of educational workers (from Facebook): 

At this moment in Ontario, tens of thousands of education workers are defying the government and fighting back. Much greater numbers of working class people are looking to this with hope and drawing strength from it.

 

Yet, I’m utterly astounded by how many comments I see on Facebook and Twitter, coming from those with generally left perspectives, that hammer out the refrain that people sat at home and let the Tories get elected, so they deserve everything they get. A couple of points need to be made about this.
Firstly, don’t overestimate the difference that would have been made by an alternative electoral outcome. Certainly, the Ford Tories are the most clear cut representatives of the present regressive agenda but the fundamental thrust of the attack would be playing out had there been a different result at the ballot box. Bluntly, if you conclude that electing social democratic politicians means a just society without the need to fight for it, you haven’t been paying much attention to what’s been happening in the world.

 

Secondly, and more importantly, in thousands of ways, this society works to prevent working class people drawing the conclusion that they can act together in their own interests and win. Indeed, we are living in a period when such an understanding has been rendered especially difficult to draw. Yet, we find ourselves at this moment and a powerful struggle is underway. We should be thinking about how we can take it forward and draw into it other workers and communities that are under such sharp attack.

 

A moment of possibility for mass action and a major victory on this scale hasn’t existed in this province for more than twenty years. The class struggle is such an explosive force precisely because it involves sudden leaps in thought, when masses of people who saw no way forward come to life and act together. This could be such a time and the issue is to do all we can to ensure that it is as powerful and effective as it possibly can be.
Having attended the picket line and rally on Friday, November 4, I certainly felt that these workers were angry and that others supported them (several signs indicated parents were supportive of the strike). However, there was little recognition of the need to go beyond the social conditions that already exist. In other words, the organizing was mainly defensive, not offensive. 
 
What was being defended was “free collective bargaining”–and there was little indication that anyone had any aims that went beyond that. There is little wonder of that given the lack of ideological struggle by the radical left against the limitaitons of “free collective bargaiing,” on the one hand, and the lack of aiming for social relations beyond a refurbished welfare state on the other. Clarke himself, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, does not really aim to go beyond an enhanced welfare state. Thus, he acknowledges economic coercion, but he has not indicated how we are to overcome it.
 
Furthermore, given that the picket line/rally that I attended occurred around the provincial legislative buildings, a radical leap in thought would have at least referred to the few police who were within sight (undoubtedly, there were many more waiting and available for deployment if the government considered it advisable). There was no such reference. Indeed, one of the speakers at the rally, J.P. Hornick, leader of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, had defended correction officers previously (I will post something on that theme later on). 
 
Whatever the outcome of this strike, I doubt that there will be “sudden leaps in thought”–such a vague term because the ideological work required to wear away at the faith of the “free collective bargaining system” has not been instituted by the radical left. 

Solidarity with Union Members–and an Occasion for Discussing the Limitations of Collective Bargaining: The Ontario Ford Government’s Legislation to Force CUPE Education Workers to Abandon Their Strike

The recent passing of legislation to force Ontario education workers to abandon a strike that they had not even yet started deserves to be opposed energetically. Ford, the Ontario premier, furthermore, justified the law practically by invoking the “notwithstanding” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights. This clause involves the following:

The notwithstanding clause — or Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability, through the passage of a law, to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term. Effectively, it allows governments to pass pieces of legislation notwithstanding their potential violations of Charter rights.

The context of the legislation is the following: 

The law involving the notwithstanding clause came after Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government could not reach an agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The union has been seeking wage increases for the education workers, and indicated it would strike on Friday if an agreement was not met.

In response, Premier Doug Ford’s government pre-emptively passed a law that banned a strike, and set fines for violating the ban of up to $4,000 per employee per day — which could amount to $220 million for all 55,000 workers — and up to $500,000 per day for the union.

CUPE has said it will fight the fines, and that its job actions will continue indefinitely.

The Progressive Conservative government included the notwithstanding clause in its legislation, saying it intends to use it to guard against constitutional challenges to its strike ban. Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce justified its use by citing the need to keep students in school following a disruptive two-and-a-half years of learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions.

Now, let me state explicitly that CUPE workers deserve unequivocal support for their actions of striking despite the legislation. I, for example, went to the picket-line rally on Friday, November 4, held at the Ontario legislative buildings in support of the strikers. The number of supporters was impressive; solidarity was both evident and necessary in the face of such reactionary laws. 

However, should not the radical left, while supporting unequivocally the striking workers, use the occasion to open up discussions about the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements? Solidarity, yes, absolutely, but critical solidarity–not rubber-stampting solidarity–as if workers have no right to engage in criticism of what is being defended. 

Thus, at the rally, J.P. Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), had this to say (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPhQ_mo3h84&list=LL): 

Everyone from an equity-deserving group knows where this ends, and it’s not good for any of us. This is an attack on the very Constitution itself: our freedom of association, our freedom of expression. The reason that unions exist is to build worker power by allowing us to come together and bargain freely and fairly for better working conditions. Doug Ford might understand this, but he needs to know: When you punch down on a worker, you raise a movement.  

Yes, when a government tries to take away the limited power of the collective-bargaing process and the resulting collective agreement, we should indeed fight back. But we should not idealize this so-called free collective-bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. This is what Hornick does–as do many other trade-union leaders. As if the existence of a collective-bargaining process somehow magically transforms working for an employer into a free life. Collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement limit the power of employers–but that is all. Look at a management rights clause to see what power management still has. Should it have such power? Does such power express the freedom of workers? 

I will not repeat criticisms of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements–I have made such criticims of them in previous posts, including a relatively recent post criticiaing Hornick’s views (see May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract). 

What is interesting is how the so-called radical left have merely called for support for the strikers without addressing critically the standard of “free collective bargaining.” Thus, the Socialist Project Steering Committee did not provide any criticial distancing concerning the adequacy of “free collective bargaining” in addressing workers’ continued exploitation and oppression by employers   (https://socialistproject.ca/2022/11/support-cupe-education-workers/).  It simply calls for support: 

They have received support from the Ontario Federation of Labour and a number of other unions, for a series of demonstrations, rallies and picketing. This is important and should be celebrated.

This though, is not enough. Successfully beating back Ford requires a response that must be built over time. Like the Ontario Days of Action in 1995 – a series of one day general strikes across the province, led by the OFL – there needs to be some form of wider strike action built over a relatively short period by other public and private sector unions. But this can’t happen by itself – it must be built.

How do we do this?

  • As individuals and socialists, first and foremost, engage in all forms of support for the CUPE strikers. Join the protests, pickets and demonstrations. Talk to family, friends, neighbours and organize their collective participation.
  • The provincial labour movement must create a collective strategy to build for and organize solidaristic strike actions, modelled on the one day general strikes of the Days of Action. But the infrastructure for this isn’t there yet. The union movement has to get itself into shape.
  • OFL affiliates, Unifor and other non-affiliated unions, led by education and healthcare unions should organize educational sessions for all of their locals, explaining why challenging Ford’s actions and plans are essential for our rights as workers, and why they need to engage in these actions. They should include training on how to talk with co-workers, neighbours, parents and family. During the Days of Action, many workers who supported Harris were won over to these actions by the educational work organized through the OFL and spearheaded by key affiliate unions.
  • Build similar educational campaigns in local communities of parents, students, healthcare workers, and families of patients and those in long term care facilities. Many parents are concerned about their kids’ education, but they are also aware of the cynical and cruel actions of the government. We have to win them over and engage them.

The labour and community networks need to come to the aid of the CUPE workers, and to keep the momentum going as it continues and what come after. This is not a battle that will end soon – regardless of what the government does in the next few days. Building against Ford and creating a fighting infrastructure of struggle and political understanding in the union movement, inspired by the CUPE fight will take longer, but it needs to happen.

The Socialist Project supports CUPE and all efforts to stand up to Ford and Lecce, and the economic interests behind them and the necessary and welcome campaigns to build further. •

Building towards solidarity is indeed needed–but to what end? “Free collective bargaining?” Or towards a socialist society–while also defending the freedom of workers to engage in collective bargaining? The Socialist Project Steering Committee does not even address the issue. Perhaps it believes that through such struggles, there will arise in the future a concern for challenging the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Such a future often never arrives since social reformists constantly push that issue to some vague future. When will the so-called left start questioning the sanctity of collective baragining and collective agreements (while simultaneously defending them as necessary defensive means in a prolonged struggle)? 

It is much better to unite the aim of creating a socialist society with the aim of defending the limited power that we do have while not idealizing that limited power and ascribing “freedom” to such limited power–and not wait for some distant future to count on the creation of a socialist society.

 

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Workers-First Agenda: A Critique: Part One

Introduction

The so-called radical left here in Toronto rarely engages in any detailed criticism of unions or groups of unions. Quite to the contrary. They either make vague assertions about “the trade-union elite” or the “trade-union bureaucracy” (union bureaucrats or business unions), or they remain silent when faced with the persistent rhetoric that unions. It is hardly in the interests of the working-class to read merely vague criticisms of unions or to not read anything concerning the limitations of unions or groups of unions. 

To enlighten workers concerning such limitations, I have on a number of occasions criticized unions in various ways. The following is a further example of such criticism. It pertains to Ontario Federation of Labour’s “Workers-First Agenda” campaign.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

What is the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)? On its website, we read the following: 

WHO WE ARE

Just as workers unite in a union to protect their rights, unions also unite in federations of labour to fight for better working and living conditions. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) serves as an umbrella group for working people and their unions.

From our inception in 1957, the OFL has grown to represent over one million Ontario workers belonging to more than 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions, making us Canada’s largest labour federation. Our strong membership and constant vigilance make us a formidable political voice.

WHAT WE DO

We push for legislative change in every area that affects people’s daily lives. Areas like health, education, workplace safety, minimum wage and other employment standards, human rights, women’s rights, workers’ compensation, and pensions.

We also make regular presentations and submissions to the Ontario government and mount internal and public awareness campaigns to mobilize the kind of political pressure that secures positive change for all workers – whether you belong to a union or not.

To accomplish these goals, we work with affiliated local unions and labour councils across the province. We also partner with other community and social justice organizations to build a fairer and more inclusive society that meets everyone’s needs.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Worker’s-First Agenda Campaign

The Ontario Federation of Labour (Ontario is a large province in Canada) has initiated a campaign called “Building the Fight for a Workers-First Agenda” (https://ofl.ca/event/activist-assembly-2022/). 

I certainly agree that workers need to fight to create a workers-first agenda. However, I seriously question that what the Ontario Federation of Labour calls a workers’ agenda expresses a full and complete workers’ agenda. 

As is usual, I hardly oppose the fight for reforms that benefit workers. However, is what is proposed anything other than the fight for a more humanized form of capitalism? Let us see. 

On the above web page, we read: 

That means good jobs and decent work for all workers; a $20 minimum wage; high quality affordable housing; accessible and well funded health care, long term care, education, and other public services; justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities; climate justice and a livable planet; and so much more!

These are winnable demands, but only if we fight for them. That’s why we need you to help build the fight for a workers first agenda in our province.

A $20 minimum wage is certainly better than $15; high quality affordable housing is certainly better than privatized unaffordable housing, or affordable but dilapidated housing (I used to live in a dilapidated house in Calgary, Alberta), more accessible and better funded health care, long-term care, education and other public services  that are more accessible and better funded, It is certainly preferable to achieve greater justice for Indigenous and racialized communities. It is also better to reduce global warming and the destruction of our planet. 

But what is the standard used to determine 

  1. what good and decent jobs are? 
  2. high-quality affordable housing? 
  3. accessible and well-funded health care?
  4. accessible and well-funded long-term care?
  5. accessible and well-funded education?
  6. justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities?
  7. climate justice?
  8. a livable planet? 

Decent work would undoubtedly include 10 paid sick days for all workers (including gig workers and migrant workers). A more detailed treatment of what the Ontario Federation of Labour means by “decent work” can be found in their document titled Protection for Every Worker
Establishing the Future of Decent Work in Ontario, a “Submission to the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development,” dated July 21, 2021 (see the post on the webpage https://ofl.ca/   by using the search terms “decent work”). 

In that document, we read: 

1. THE DECENT WORK AGENDA

As we emphasized in the OFL’s extensive submissions to the Changing Workplaces Review, a job should be a pathway out of poverty. We strongly encourage the OWRAC [Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee] to review the OFL’s submission to the Changing Workplaces Review, which outlines a suite of required changes to both the ESA [Employment Standards Act{ and the LRA [Labour Relations Act]. While some Ontarians are staying home, those keeping the province running – and facing a greater risk of infection – are people working in jobs that traditionally have been the lowest paid with few benefits and no access to unionization. And it is women workers, racialized and Indigenous workers, migrant and immigrant workers, and workers with disabilities that are overrepresented in these precarious but essential jobs. A full economic recovery will require the government to legislate increases to workers’ wages and protections as well as to correct the inherent power imbalance between workers and employers.

The Limitations of the OFL’s “Workers First” Labour Agenda Campaign

The OFL admits that there is an “inherent power imbalance between workers and employers”–but fails to explain why such an inherent imbalance of power exists in the first place. Surely it is due to the workers not having a right of access to the means of producing their own lives (machines–including computers–buildings, offices, office supplies, raw material and so forth) and employers having the right to exclude workers from such right of access. Why is the OFL silent over an elaboration of the nature of such imbalance? 

I searched on the Ontario Federation of Labour’s website using the search term “power imbalance” (in quotation marks). These are the results (three of them) (my emphases): 

  1. The OFL’s submission puts forth recommendations to both the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act that will raise the minimum standards for all Ontario workers, expand access to our fundamental freedom to associate for the meaningful pursuit of collective workplace goals, correct the inherent power imbalance in the employment relationship, and protect vulnerable workers.
  2. Ontario’s outdated labour laws can do little to remedy the dramatic power imbalance that exists between well-heeled company owners and their employees

  3. “Migrant workers endure an incredible power imbalance in the face of their employers and are often gendered and racialized workers,” said Irwin Nanda, Executive Vice-President of the OFL. “To address the root of this exploitation, the province must also push the federal government to scale back the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and return to a robust national policy of permanent immigration that provides migrant workers with opportunities for permanent residency.”

The incredible lack of educational content in this reference to “imbalance of power” is typical of the social-democratic or social-reformist left here in Toronto (and the so-called radicals here rarely if ever challenge this). 

So, there is acknowledged an inherent imbalance of power between employers and employees–but the OFL fails to explain why that is so. This is the first limitation of their so-called “workers-first agenda.” 

The second limitation also relates to this inherent balance of power between employers and employees; the OFL implies that this inherent balance of power between employers and employers can somehow be overcome by “correcting” the imbalance of power. 

How is this to be done? Nowhere does the OFL really spell this out, but it can be inferred, from the typical justification for reference to “decent work” among the social-democratic or social-reformist left is free collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement.

This is simple nonsense. As I have argued in a number of other posts (see for example Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?), collective bargaining limits the power of employers over workers but hardly leads to a balance of power; oppression is inherent in both public and private employment, and exploitation is inherent in the private sector (if not in the public sector). To be an employer inherently involves more power than workers (this of course does not mean that key workers in specific industries cannot disrupt the power of employers if the material conditions are such that they form a strategic place in the chain of production of commodities. Such disruption, unless it aims to overcome the inherent imbalance of power between workers as a class and employers as a class by abolishing classes, can hardly change the ultimate class-based imbalance of power between workers and employers). 

The inadequate solution to the problem of the imbalance of power between employers and workers is linked to the inadequate definition of the problem. By failing to engage in inquiry into why workers face an imbalance of power, the OFL’s implicit proposal of correcting the imbalance of power by means of collective bargaining and collective agreements fails to address the inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers even when “fair” collective bargaining and collective agreements exist; management rights (implicit or explicit in collective agreements) give the lie to the claim that such an imbalance of power can be “corrected.” 

Conclusion

The OFL, like so many other social-democratic or social-reformist organizations, does not and cannot face the reality that unionized workers face. It itself contributes to the persistent imbalance of power between employers and workers by inadequately defining the problem and the corresponding solution. 

References to good and decent jobs are not equivalent to creating a balance of power between workers and employers.

By defining the problem the way it does, the OFL necessarily excludes the solution of developing a movement that aims to abolish the power of employers–period. For the OFL, the existence of employers is permanent; what needs to be changed for it is the power imbalance through unionization. 

Frankly, this is social-democratic ideology. It needs to be constantly challenged by the radical left (unlike the so-called radical left that fears to challenge it) and in some detail (unlike the radical left, that often refers vaguely to capitalism this and capitalism that).

As for my other questions, I will deal briefly with some of them in another post since I have already dealt with them in other posts and will refer the reader to those posts. 

 

 

 

 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fourteen: A Critique of the Educational Nature of So-called Educational Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Rossides’ article, “Knee-Jerk Formalism: Reforming American Education,” provides a detailed criticism of various school reforms in the United States. Since it does not focus on reforms for high-stakes testing (which have not found general acceptance in Canada), much of his criticism is also directed to Canadian school reforms.

Rossides not only argues against the neoliberal reform effort at high-stakes testing but also liberal reformers of schools. In fact, he argues that all school reform efforts in their current form will lead to naught.

He questions the view that schools (he calls it education) produce good workers and good citizens. There is no evidence to support those two claims. He also questions the view that schools sort individuals into various hierarchies at work according to relative merit.

Rossides’ reliance on educational research to justify his conclusions is all the more interesting since educational research invariably assumes that modern schools constitute the standard for determining the validity and reliability of educational research. The inadequacy of educational research will not be addressed here, but on the basis of educational research itself changes in schools can do little to offset the disadvantages of poverty.

Rossides argues that the school outcomes of those children and adolescents whose parents are from the lower classes will not change unless we shift resources both to those lower-class families and to the schools where those children and adolescents attend. School reforms that aim at supposedly changing the outcomes for the lower classes have been shown to be historically ineffective. School reform focuses on—school reform and not in reform of the socio-economic conditions of the lower class families and their neighbourhood.

The modern school system is characterized by a class system according to socio-economic status (SES). [The adequacy of such a definition of class should be queried, but I will not do so here. For some purposes, SES is legitimate—but it is hardly an adequate characterization of class since the source of income and not just the level is relevant in determining class.]

It is the middle- and upper-classes who have aided in producing lower-class learners with disabilities, the mentally retarded and so forth—by defining children and adolescents of lower-class parents by defining the characteristics of such children and adolescents as learned disabilities, mental retardation and so forth and then treating the children and adolescents as learners with disabilities, with mental retardation and so forth.

The extremely skewed nature of wealth and income, the persistence over generations of middle- and upper class dominance and lower class subordination, an excess of workers over the demand for workers (especially at the lower levels) with corresponding  poverty-stricken families and the domination of social and political life by the middle- and upper classes aids in defining the children and adolescents of the lower classes as deviant and labelled according to middle- and upper-class standards (and not, of course, vice versa—except when rebellions break out).

Although Rossides referent is the United States, there is little doubt that much of what he writes applies to Canada.

The modern school system is characterized by what seems to be classlessness: all classes attend the same school. The facts belie such a rosy picture.  Features of the school system are biased towards the middle and upper classes and against the lower classes; such features as an emphasis on literacy, abstract knowledge and patriotism (one—white—principal had the hypocritical audacity to announce over the PA system that Canada was the best country in the world—when two thirds of the student population were probably living in substandard conditions).

The fact that children and adolescents of various classes attend the same school, given the emphasis on middle-class and upper class concerns and definitions of what constitutes and education (such as academic subjects and literacy rather than the use of the body in combination with literacy and academic subjects), along  with a grading and testing system that streams or tracks students, as Rossides notes, hardly leads to a meritocracy. Rather, it merely reproduces the status quo.

Furthermore, there has been a decided trend towards class-based segregation of schools, with inner-city schools for the children and adolescents of the lower classes and suburban schools for the middle- and upper classes. (Of course, there is an added racist aspect of this structure, but poor white children are also caught in the web—or trap).

Rossides notes that, when SES was factored out of the equation, school reforms had little impact on the academic outcome of children and adolescents from poorer families. (Note, however, the bias of defining “success” in terms of academic outcomes.) The author points out that what is needed is not just more resources at the school level but more resources at the level of the family. Without addressing the extreme inequality of family incomes, changes in school resources and school reforms will likely have little effect in changing outcomes (despite the rhetoric of school bureaucrats and liberal ideologues in universities).

Equalizing school expenditures will not address the inequities that characterize income inequalities.

Rossides points out that study after study has shown that school aspirations, school outcomes, expenditure per capita, regularity of attendance, scholarships, entrance into college or university and so forth correlate highly with social classes and class origin.

In post-secondary institutions, the proportion of members of the lower classes represented on governing boards is lower than their proportion in the population and, correspondingly, the proportion of members from the middle and upper classes is overrepresented.

The proportion of those young adults who attend university is class-based, with more than double, for example, attending a four-year college program than those from the lower middle and working classes. Scholarships are skewed towards to those already with high grades, and these are typically not the lower classes. Thus, young adults whose parents can more afford to pay for their tuition and other expenses receive free money whereas young adults whose parents cannot afford to pay for their children’s tuition and other expenses are excluded from consideration—all this under the cloak of equality of opportunity.

The divide between public universities and colleges and private ones has practically been removed in many instances, with public colleges and universities operating as private institutions, with high tuition and partnerships with private firms (but with no public accountability in many instances). Public universities and colleges function more like markets than public institutions and are accessible to those with money—or high grades (which often probably correlate).

Rossides pinpoints formal education’s simple role: to determine where one enters in the occupational hierarchy. Formulated differently, the primary role of schools and other formal institutions linked to them is to allocate people to positions on the market for workers. The rhetoric about learning is secondary to this role.

Employers certainly believe that more formal schooling results in better workers, so credentials are important for hiring. However, once hired, differences in levels of formal schooling, surprisingly, do not lead to increases in productivity. 

Credentials and class are correlated, so credentials form another mechanism for the perpetuation of class differences.

Rossides also criticizes the view that schooling leads to improved citizenship—increase in knowledge about politics and creative public service (active and creative political participation). Political participation in fact has declined. Furthermore, in the United States, schools have not led to increased integration of children and adolescents through civics and other courses. The rhetoric of schools as producers of good citizens hides a reality of schools that perpetuate class divisions and inequality.

Although Rossides’ point is well taken, he seems to miss something vital about what schools do when he refers to schools hiding the real nature of schools. Schools do in some ways serve to integrate children and adolescents into the real world of inequality and class divisions by—hiding those realities from them. (Besides, he implies as much further in the article, in relation to his explanation of why school failure continues for the lower classes.)

 Through the rhetoric of equality of opportunity, civics and other courses (such as history), children and adolescents learn the supposed equality of all and supposed meritocracy. Rather than having children and adolescents learn just how unfair and inequitable modern society is, schools cover up the reality through the administrative, hierarchical structure, with administrators frequently attempting to impose their middle-class will on working-class children and adolescents (who may rebel in school through various means, ranging from passive absenteeism to active “misbehaviour”) in the name of efficient administration and ”learning.” By redefining children and adolescents as pure “learners” (learning machines), administrators then often discipline them for not acquiescing in the unequal situation in which many working-class (coupled often with racially oppressed) youth find themselves.

Schools have also not led to increased knowledge of the world in which they live that they can and do use in their daily lives. The knowledge that children and adolescents learn in schools is often what could be called “inert” knowledge—knowledge that is never used. Even if children and adolescents learned abstractly what political participation involved, since they do not use such knowledge in their daily lives (perhaps they would use it against school administration), they do not really learn to become good citizens.

Schools also serve to depoliticize learning by focusing on abstract cognitive skills rather than skills that relate to the daily lives of children and adolescents. Individuals become, to a greater and greater degree, interchangeable non-political units. Abstract literacy, by failing to link up to the social experience of children and adolescents, is soon forgotten outside school boundaries. The environment in which it is learned is so artificial that children and adolescents cannot transfer what they have learned to any other environment.  Furthermore, we have one life, but the fragmented way in which we study the world in school and formal learning prevents any synthesis of our experiences in school. That too leads to rapid forgetting of what was learned in schools.

This fragmentation of experience contributes to the continuance of the status quo since those in and outside schools can focus on their limited activity within a fragmented, academic and abstract curriculum and ignore the poverty, oppression and devastation that the children and adolescents inside and outside the school experience.

Rossides then explains why, despite the failure of schools to make children and adolescents better workers and citizens, by noting that the situation accords with the interests of the upper class in maintaining the appearance of a meritocracy; in other words, the present school system aids in hiding its own oppressive nature of the working class. Those who have an economic and cultural interest in maintaining the present system of inequality limit access to credentials to their own children while presenting the present system as the very embodiment of equality and meritocracy. Much of what is studied, the author implies, is irrelevant, but it serves to weed out the lower classes from occupations that pay higher incomes.

The claim that schooling (or “education”) is the key to ensuring equality, social justice and equity serves to divert attention, as well, from the social inequalities, social injustices and social inequities rampant in our society.

After briefly looking at the invalidity and unreliability of mass testing suggested by conservative proponents of school reform, the author makes an interesting and important point about how conservative school reform has pushed for student outcomes based on so-called objective norms (outcome-based education again). Since Rossides considers this a conservative reform effort, it can be concluded, if his analysis is valid, that the NDP has instituted a conservative performance system provincially without many people, including teachers, even raising objections to this conservative trend.

He mentions in passing that parents of the upper class oppose any attempt to eliminate the grading system since the grading system is integral to the children of the upper class “inheriting” the same class position—a very interesting observation that warrants much more analysis and serious discussion. Unfortunately, it seems that educators do not want to discuss seriously such issues.

Rossides does maintain that the push for outcome-based education has no objective basis since there is no agreement on what constitutes objective standards. It would be interesting to have the Minister of Education, Nancy Allen, in the spotlight in order to determine how she defines such objective standards and how she developed such standards—along with other conservatives, of course.

The author argues that there are two real reasons for the poor performance of the United States (and, I might add, Canada). Firstly, there is the belief and practice that an unplanned economy, including unplanned capital investment, will lead to the good life. Secondly, there is the belief and practice that the antiquated political-legal system will enable most people to live a good life.

The back-to-basics movement (reading, writing and mathematics) typical of the present trend in the school system substitutes what should be means to ends into ends in themselves. (The same could be said of the so-called academic subjects.)

Rossides does contend that schools do matter, but he then commits similar errors as the views that he has criticized. He outlines what a good school is in purely conventional terms, such as a strong administrator who emphasizes academic subjects and reading. Rossides takes from one hand and gives with the other. He further argues that the main problem with schools, as learning institutions, has not been historically and is not now at the elementary school level but at the high-school level. Such a view deserves to be criticized.

Elementary schools focus mainly on reading—without many children (especially those from the working class) understanding why they are engaged in a process of learning how to read, write and do arithmetic. There is undoubtedly pedagogical process, but such progress applies just as much to high schools as it does to elementary schools.

The main function of elementary schooling is to have the children learn to read, write and do arithmetic, with the primary emphasis on reading. Elementary school teachers are specialists at best in reading.(It would be interesting to do a study on how many reading clinicians started out as elementary school teachers and how many taught only at the high-school level.) There are many problems with such a conception of learning. I merely refer to the many articles on Dewey’s philosophy and practice of education.

The author vastly overestimates the efficacy of elementary schools as institutions for real learning (as opposed to learn to read, write and do arithmetic—often for no ends than to read, write and do arithmetic. In other words, elementary schools, instead of teaching reading, writing and mathematics as means to an end, generally reduce them to the end of elementary school education.

Of course, the lack of inquiry into the world, a lack so characteristic of elementary schools and contrary to the nature of young children, becomes a burden that eventually distorts most children’s minds. The wonder of childhood becomes the boredom of formal learning rather than an expansion and deepening of our grasp and wonder of our experiences of the world.

Rossides` article, therefore, does have its limitations. Despite these limitations, his article contains an incisive critique of the neoliberal movement towards educational reform—and, more generally, the rhetoric that surrounds educational reform.

Should not those who attempt to achieve equity and social justice expose the rhetoric of educational reform?

Fred 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Metro, One of the Largest Private Employers in Quebec, or: How Unionized Jobs Are Not Decent or Good Jobs

Introduction

In three others posts I presented a list of some of the largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Calgary  (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Based on the Number of Employees)  and Quebec (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees). Metro was the largest employer in terms of the number of employees in Quebec. 

What is Metro? 

The nature of Metro is set out in its Annual Report: 

COMPANY PROFILE

METRO INC. is a food and pharmacy leader in Québec and Ontario. As a retailer, franchisor, distributor, and manufacturer, the company operates or services a network of 950 food stores under several banners including Metro, Metro Plus, Super C, Food Basics, Adonis and Première Moisson, as well as 650 drugstores primarily under the Jean Coutu, Brunet, Metro Pharmacy and Food Basics Pharmacy banners, providing employment directly or indirectly to almost 90,000 people.

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers in various companies, including  Magna International (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. 

In this post, I calculate the rate of exploitation of Metro workers. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions First

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

Adjusted Results

Adjusted earnings before income taxes (surplus value, or s) $1110.62 (in millions of Canadian dollars–in all calculations unless otherwise indicated)
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: $966.4 

The Rate of Exploitation of Metro Workers

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Adjusted earnings before income taxes” to “Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=1110.62; v=966.4. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1110.62/966.4=115 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Metro works around an additional 69 minutes (1 hour 9 minutes) for free for Metro. Alternatively expressed, for every hour worked that produces her/his wae, a worker at Metro works 28 minutes that produces her/his wage and 32 mintues for free for Metro. 

I calculate the division of the working day according to various lengths of the working day.  I use minutes rather and not just hours.

  1. For a 4 hour working day (240 minutes), Metro workers spend 112 minutes (1 hour 52 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 128 minutes (2 hours 8 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  2. For a 5 hour working day (300 minutes), Metro workers spend 140 minutes (2 hours 20  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 160 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  3. For a 7 hour working day (420 minutes), Metro workers spend 195 minutes (3 hours 15 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 225 minutes (3 hours 45  minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  4. For an 8 hour working day (480 minutes), Metro workers spend 223 minutes (3 hours 43  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 237 minutes (3 hours 57 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  5. For a 9 hour working day (540 minutes), Metro workers spend 251 minutes (4 hours 11 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 289 minutes (4 hours 49 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 

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

Most Metro workers belong to a union. This is what the annual report has to say about labour relations: 

LABOUR RELATIONS

The majority of our store and distribution centre employees are unionized. Collective bargaining may give rise to work stoppages or slowdowns that could impact negatively the Corporation. We negotiate agreements with different maturity dates and conditions that ensure our competitiveness, and terms that promote a positive work environment in all our business segments. We have experienced some minor labour conflicts over the last few years but expect(3) to maintain good labour relations in the future.

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

If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

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

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

Between METRO ONTARIO INC. C.O.B. AS METRO RIDEAU
and
UNIFOR AND ITS LOCAL 414 UNIFOR Union Canada
Effective from: February 18, 2017 to February 17, 2020

ARTICLE 6: MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

6.01 The union acknowledges the right of the company to manage and operate its business in all respects, to direct the working force and to establish and maintain reasonable rules and regulations.

6.02 The union acknowledges further that it is the function of the company to hire, promote, demote, transfer and lay-off employees and to suspend, discipline and discharge employees for just and sufficient cause. Any exercise of these rights in conflict or inconsistent with the provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the grievance procedure set forth in Article 4.

How does the existence of a collective agreement turn the exploitative and oppresive situation of workers into one where they have a “fair contract” and “decent work?” Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

Workers and not just unions, however, cannot resist the power of the employers as a class unless workers organize as a class, and furthermore they cannot change the situation unless they themselves realize the limitations of their own local, regional and national organizations when faced with the power of the class of employers (and the government that supports them), teach that to their members and are open persistently to criticism from below. In addition, unless they start to organize as a class with the aim of eliminating the class power of employers, they will be subject to a back-and-forth movement of reform and counter-reform (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism). 

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the social-democratic or social-reformist left.

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.

I initially try to outline how the annual report calculates the Earnings Before Income Taxes (EBIT) and then makes some adjustments according to Marxian theory and on the basis of certain quantiative assumptions. 

Now, the calculation (in millions of Canadian dollars)

Sales 16,767.5 
Cost of sales (13,438.8) 
Gross margins 3,328.7 [16,767.5-13,438.8=3,328.7]

Operating expenses
Wages and fringe benefits (880.6)
Employee benefits expense (note 23) (85.8)
Rents and occupancy charges (529.2)
Retail network restructuring expenses (36.0)
Gain on divestiture of pharmacies 6.0
Others (481.6)
Total operating expenses 2007.2 (Add all the numbers in parentheses and subtract the 6.0 that is not=2007.2)

Since wages and benefits constitute variable capital (v), we should add them together:
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: 966.4

Income net of operating expenses $1,321.5 [Gross margins-Total operating expenses=3,328.7-2007.2=1,321.5]

Depreciation and amortization

Fixed assets (note 11) (210.3) 
Investment properties (note 12) (0.7) 
Intangible assets (note 13) (75.4) 
Total (286.4) (=210.3+0.7+75.4)

Income net of depreciation and amortization 1035.1 [1,321.5-286.4=1035.1]

Financial costs, net
Current interest (2.9) 
Non-current interest (103.5) 
Interests on defined benefit obligations net of plan assets (note 23) (2.1) 
Amortization of deferred financing costs (2.9) 
Interest income 7.8 
Passage of time (0.2) 

Total net financial costs (103.8) (numbers in parentheses mean that the numbers were deducted from income as they are considered an expense from a particular capitalist’s point of view; those without parentheses are income and need to be subtracted since they are income) (2.9+103.5+2.1+2.9+0.2=111.6; 111.6-7.8=103.8)
Earnings before income taxes 931.3 (1035.1-103.8=931.3). 

The annual report, though, has “Earnings before income taxes” as 969.2. However, this number includes the following: 

Gain on disposal of a portion of the investment in an associate 36.4 (note 10)
Gain on revaluation and disposal of an investment at fair value 1.5 (note 10)

Note 10 indicates the following:

During the first quarter of 2019, the Corporation finalized the disposal of the entire investment at fair value in Alimentation Couche Tard Inc. (ACT).

It cannot be assumed that the value of property disposed of has nothing to do with the exploitation of Metro workers; the profit obtained from their exploitation might have been reinvested in the acquisition of ACT in the first place.

However, since such possible exploitation would have occurred earlier, I will exclude it from the calculations since the issue is the current rate of exploitation in 2019. 

36.4+15.=37.9; 969.2-37.9=931.3
Earnings before income taxes and before adjustments 931.3

Adjustments 

Adjustments of Surplus Value (Profit)

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); where there is a coincidence of expenses for individual employers and the class of employers, the expense is deducted from total revenue.

Adjustment of Interest

On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes. For example, interest is such a category. 

As I wrote in another post: 

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

In addition, there are some so-called expenses that are allegedly salaries and other forms of income that are likely derived from surplus value; they have the form or appearance of wages or salaries but are really surplus value in disguise (such as the “salary” of CEOs). They need to be subtracted from expenses and added to “Earnings before income taxes.”  

Since interest forms part of surplus value, the total interest paid, 111.6, needs to be added to “Earnings before incomes taxes.” Accordingly: 

Temporality adjusted earnings before income taxes 1042.9 (931.3 + 111.6=1042.9)

Adjustment of Various Managerial Benefits

Various forms of income are available for senior managers and key employees that likely are derived exclusively from exploiting the rest of the workers. There are three categories in particular that apply here: stock option plan, peformance share unit plan and deferred share unit plan. Below, I quote from the annual report to show the nature of each plan as a plan for upper managerial employees of one form or another:

Stock option plan
The Corporation has a stock option plan for certain Corporation employees providing for the grant of options to purchase up to 30,000,000 Common Shares. As at September 28, 2019, a balance of 4,189,336 shares could be issued following the exercise of stock options.

Performance share unit plan (PSU)
The Corporation has a PSU plan. Under this program, senior executives and other key employees (participants) periodically receive a given number of PSUs. The PSUs entitle the participant to Common Shares of the Corporation, or at the latter’s discretion, the cash equivalent, if the Corporation meets certain financial performance indicators. 

Deferred Share Unit Plan (DSU)
The Corporation has a DSU plan designed to encourage stock ownership by directors who are not Corporation officers. Under this program, directors who meet the stock ownership guidelines may choose to receive all or part of their compensation in DSUs. 

Conveniently, the money for these managers is separately calculated for each category: 

Stock options: $2 million; PSUs: $6.6 million; DSUs: $6.2 million. Total: $14.8 million. This must be added to Earnings before income taxes. 

Temporarily adjusted earnings before income taxes 1057.7 (1042.9+14.8)

Adjustment for Rents and occupancy charges

As I wrote in another post: 

Another expense category is also relevant for making adjustments–the category “Rents and occupancy charges.” The rent of buildings, like the rent of equipment, is an expense both at the level of the firm and at the level of the economy as a whole. However, in the case of occupancy, rent also includes the capitalized value of land, and this capitalized value of land is derived from surplus value (see Jorden Sandemose (2018), Class and Property in Marx’s Economic Thought: Exploring the Basis for Capitalism). Again, without further information, it is impossible to tell or determine the proportion that is paid for the rental of buildings and the rental of land. I will assume that 10 percent of rent is due to the exclusive ownership of land (a non-produced means of production).

This 10 percent is equal to $52.92 million and must be added to the category “Earnings before income taxes.” Accordingly:

Adjusted Results

Adjusted earnings before income taxes 1110.62 (1057.7+52.92)
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: 966.4

The Rate of Exploitation of Metro Workers

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Adjusted earnings before income taxes” to “Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=1110.62; v=966.4. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1110.62/966.4=115 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Metro works around an additional 69 minutes (1 hour 9 minutes) for free for Metro. Alternatively expressed, for every hour worked that produces her/his wae, a worker at Metro works 28 minutes that produces her/his wage and 32 mintues for free for Metro. 

According to a few people who have worked at Metro, the length of the working day is:

you will work up to 9 hrs or 4hrs

On a average day you work 8 hours

5-8hours/day

7 hours a day and 4 hours on weekdays.

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes rather and not just hours.

  1. For a 4 hour working day (240 minutes), Metro workers spend 112 minutes (1 hour 52 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 128 minutes (2 hours 8 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  2. For a 5 hour working day (300 minutes), Metro workers spend 140 minutes (2 hours 20  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 160 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  3. For a 7 hour working day (420 minutes), Metro workers spend 195 minutes (3 hours 15 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 225 minutes (3 hours 45  minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  4. For an 8 hour working day (480 minutes), Metro workers spend 223 minutes (3 hours 43  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 237 minutes (3 hours 57 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  5. For a 9 hour working day (540 minutes), Metro workers spend 251 minutes (4 hours 11 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 289 minutes (4 hours 49 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as Metro to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

Furthermore, some Metro workers do produce surplus value in that their labour involves transportation services; storage workers may perhaps also produce surplus value (this is a grey area for me). 

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

Most Metro workers belong to a union. This is what the annual report has to say about labour relations: 

LABOUR RELATIONS

The majority of our store and distribution centre employees are unionized. Collective bargaining may give rise to work stoppages or slowdowns that could impact negatively the Corporation. We negotiate agreements with different maturity dates and conditions that ensure our competitiveness, and terms that promote a positive work environment in all our business segments. We have experienced some minor labour conflicts over the last few years but expect(3) to maintain good labour relations in the future.

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

If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

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

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

Between METRO ONTARIO INC. C.O.B. AS METRO RIDEAU
and
UNIFOR AND ITS LOCAL 414 UNIFOR Union Canada
Effective from: February 18, 2017 to February 17, 2020

ARTICLE 6: MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

6.01 The union acknowledges the right of the company to manage and operate its business in all respects, to direct the working force and to establish and maintain reasonable rules and regulations.

6.02 The union acknowledges further that it is the function of the company to hire, promote, demote, transfer and lay-off employees and to suspend, discipline and discharge employees for just and sufficient cause. Any exercise of these rights in conflict or inconsistent with the provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the grievance procedure set forth in Article 4.

How does the existence of a collective agreement turn the exploitative and oppresive situation of workers into one where they have a “fair contract” and “decent work?” Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

Workers and not just unions, however, cannot resist the power of the employers as a class unless workers organize as a class, and furthermore they cannot change the situation unless they themselves realize the limitations of their own local, regional and national organizations when faced with the power of the class of employers (and the government that supports them), teach that to their members and are open persistently to criticism from below. In addition, unless they start to organize as a class with the aim of eliminating the class power of employers, they will be subject to a back-and-forth movement of reform and counter-reform (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism). 

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the social-democratic or social-reformist left.