Workers and Community Members Need to Discuss Their Experiences and Lives Openly

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education of the twentieth century, argued that we need to take seriously our experiences in this world–because our experiences are really all that we have in this world. He did not mean by this that all experiences are on the same level of accuracy, but he did mean that our experiences are the only source of who we are and how we can improve our lives. If we increase our control over our experiences, then we can direct our lives in a more fulfilling manner rather than having our lives directed forces beyond our control.

However, as Michael Perleman implies in the following quote, the experiences of many in a world dominated by a class of employers escapes their own control and understanding:

Working hours keep increasing, and virtually everyone but the wealthy has an increasingly hard time making ends meet. In addition, global economic forces are making more and more people within the advanced market economies redundant, replacing them with much cheaper labor from the poorer regions of the world. Even people with professional skills are coming under intense pressure.

Reason should dictate that the people who are falling under the wheels of this juggernaut would question the prevailing Procrusteanism, but for the most part they have not yet succeeded in identifying their underlying problem. Alas, despite the fact that the existing economic system is not working for the benefit of the majority, Procrusteanism now has a tighter hold on society than Keynes could ever imagine.
The underlying force preventing the transition Keynes envisioned is not, as he thought, one of economic necessity, but rather a system of power and class, which consigns the majority of people to constrained lives that block the mobilization of their potential, whether to create a better way of life or to meet the growing challenges that endanger humanity.

I recently experienced the grip of “Procrusteanism” (fixed ideas that are not subject to revision in light of experience) by a member the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)  Local 113 here in Toronto, when I responded to the claim of a socialist here in Toronto that an article in the Jacobin on the Democratic Socialists of America was a good statement. The unionist claimed that I was an abrasive person and that, therefore, she would not bother looking at my blog.

My suspicion is that anyone who criticizes the assumptions of social-reformist unionists are subject to insults. No arguments are provided. The insult is a method by which to divert attention so that “Procrusteanism” can prevail.

There is very little discussion promoted among the so-called left about the increasingly oppressive lives that most of us now lead. Many are, in fact, anti-democratic in their outlook since they have no desire to open up discussions about the many social ills that many experience and what to do about them. They consider that they have the solution at hand–more unionization, for example. Any questioning of such “Procrusteanism” is met with hostility.

Ultimately, the attitude among the social-reformist list is–TINA–there is no alternative. They believe that reform is possible, but the dominance of employers is inevitable.

There is, then, a general lack of democratic discussion, and one of the reasons (of course not the only reason) is the hostility of the social-reformist left to any real discussion of issues that affect the working class.

 

 

 

 

 

Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario

Workers in the public sector are used just as much as means for purposes over which they have little or no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital). The left often denies this implicitly by idealizing the public sector over the private sector. Workers in the public sector, however, are employees, and as employees they are economically dependent on an employer and hence are, economically, coerced into doing the bidding of their employer–as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) recognizes (although it does not, interestingly enough, pursue the issue. See  “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)).

A collective agreement is, in general, better than no collective agreement, but it hardly expresses “economic justice” (to use the ideological expression of a union representative here in Toronto). It limits the power of employers, but since employers still have the power to use workers (employees) for ends over which the workers have little say, the collective agreement simultaneously expresses their subordination and subjugation to the power of management, to a particular employer and to the power of the class of employers.

From

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
Between
The Toronto District
School Board (TDSB)
And
The Elementary Teachers’
Federation of Ontario (ETFO or ETT)
September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2019

page 37:

L – A.2.2. All matters and rights not prescribed by this Agreement, shall remain within the sole and exclusive right of the Board to manage its affairs.

This short clause in the collective agreement hides the real power of the Board over the employees of the collective agreement. Since economic coercion is the basic premise of having to work for an employer, the economic dependence of teachers on the Board alters their behavior in a number of ways. For example, in many schools, teachers, when the principal enters the staff lounge, change their behavior or their conversations. Why is that?

Although the principal in the above scenario is theoretically an educational leader, s/he represents the economic power of the employer, and that power is intimidating–unless teachers, like other workers, learn to organize and resist that power in their daily working lives.

Even then, organizing at the local level, ultimately, is no match for the economic power of the employers as a class–unless there is a conscious aim to go beyond such an economic power and to control our lives, along with other workers–in a socialist society.

What is the position of teachers’ representatives concerning the right of management to direct the workforce as it sees fit, subject to the limitations of the collective agreement? Is there any discussion over the right of management to do so? Or is there mere paper phrases, like “economic justice,” or “fairness”, or the most popular these days, “social justice”–without any discussion of why teachers have to subordinate their will to their employer and why other workers have to do the same thing?

In a democratic society, should there not be discussion about why management has the power and rights that it does at work, either implicitly or explicitly?

 

 

Intelligent Activity According to John Dewey: Its Political Implications for the Left

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education of the twentieth century, has this to say about intelligent activity. From Democracy and Education. Pennsylvania State University, 2001,

page 108:

 

The net conclusion is that acting with an aim is all one
with acting intelligently. To foresee a terminus of an act
is to have a basis upon which to observe, to select, and
to order objects and our own capacities. To do these things
means to have a mind—for mind is precisely intentional
purposeful activity controlled by perception of facts and
their relationships to one another. To have a mind to do
a thing is to foresee a future possibility; it is to have a
plan for its accomplishment; it is to note the means which
make the plan capable of execution and the obstructions
in the way,—or, if it is really a mind to do the thing and
not a vague aspiration—it is to have a plan which takes
account of resources and difficulties. Mind is capacity to
refer present conditions to future results, and future consequences
to present conditions. And these traits are just
what is meant by having an aim or a purpose. A man is
stupid or blind or unintelligent—lacking in mind—just
in the degree in which in any activity he does not know
what he is about, namely, the probable consequences of
his acts. A man is imperfectly intelligent when he contents
himself with looser guesses about the outcome than
is needful, just taking a chance with his luck, or when he
forms plans apart from study of the actual conditions,
including his own capacities. Such relative absence of
mind means to make our feelings the measure of what is
to happen. To be intelligent we must “stop, look, listen”
in making the plan of an activity.

We indeed, should “stop, look, listen”–but is that being done? Is not the context for most Canadians a context, directly or indirectly, characterized by the dominance of a class of employers?  That context, ultimately, is one dominated by the goal of obtaining more and more money–at the expense of the workers (and the environment). See (The Money Circuit of Capital).

Is there much discussion about this context? What is the consequence, for workers, of not questioning this context of the power of employers as a class? Exploitation? Oppression? Injury? Death? Is this acting intelligently?

Without taking into account the capitalist context, it is highly unlikely that workers will be able to act intelligently. Is there constant discussion about that context? Or is such discussion suppressed? Without a consideration of present social conditions, how can anyone act intelligently?

The lack of such discussion among most workers shows the extent to which those who call for “practice” and believe that they are eminently practical are eminently impractical; they neglect one of the fundamental conditions for practical intelligence: taking into account the social context when acting. To neglect the social context when acting is to act unintelligently.

What exactly is the aim of those who engage in “practice” among the left? Is there any real discussion about the aims? Or is there simply a rush to engage in one “practice” after another without really engaging in any attempt to unify in a consistent fashion the various actions? If so, is that acting intelligently? Or is it acting unintelligently?

 

 

A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

I submitted a longer essay to the popular Canadian educational journal Our Schools Our Selves for publication. It was never published.

The idea for the following has a personal basis: when my daughter was studying grade 11 Canadian history in Manitoba (Manitoba is one of 10 provinces in Canada, with three additional territories), I decided to look at the history curriculum in case I could provide some supports for her studies. In the process, it became evident to me that the entire curriculum left a gaping hole that failed to address my experiences in this world. Thus, I have generally worked for an employer in order to obtain money, which in turn enabled me to buy the things that I needed to live. The Manitoba Canadian history curriculum is devoid of any historical explanation of such an experience.

My experience is hardly unique. How many of those who now are reading this have worked for an employer or are now working for an employer? Is it not a little odd that a course on history fails to explain how and why employers—and their counterpart employees (employers cannot exist without economically dependent employees)–arose?

This is my research question.

Manitoba has a curriculum that does not answer the question of why employers and employees exist. Using the term “employ,” there was a reference to the super-exploitation of Chinese workers by employers. On page I-20 concerning possible inequities in employment. There is no reference to having students inquire about the possible inequity of the employer-employees relationship as such, that is to say, whether that relation necessarily involves inequities that cannot be resolved within the terms of that relation. When using the search term “work” some relevant hits for the history of the working class came up, such as the On-to-Ottawa trek (1935) or the Regina riot (1935), the trade union movement or the Workers’ Unity League, but the reason why employers and employees exist is nowhere to be found.

Using the search term “work,” I came upon a reference on pages II—28 and IV-5 to a possible exploration of the significance of the life of a worker in 1918 Winnipeg in terms of a wider concern about workers’ struggles, economic development or post Second World War events and discontents. There is a—very slight—chance that students would be able to explore the issue of why employers and employees exist, but inquiry could just as easily be carried out without determining why and how they exist.

Using the search term “class,” on page I-8 I found a reference to exclusion of citizenship was partially based on class. (On the same page, using the search term “capital,” I found the only reference to capitalism—that the Canadian economy, though a mixed economy, was mainly a capitalist economy.) On page I-9, it is argued that Canadian citizens continue to face fighting inequality based on class. Does this mean that the authors are referring to the capitalist class and the working class and are arguing that Canadian citizens are fighting to eliminate the employer-employees relation? Not at all. On page II-10, it is noted that trade unionists and socialists rejected the single narrative approach to Canadian history, but so far there is a decided singular attitude towards the employer—employees relation—it is presumed rather than being a subject of inquiry for students of Canadian history. On page II-46, there is a reference to socio-economic class, but what that means is never developed. Social democrats frequently use such a term to refer to level of income, and define the “middle class” as the socio-economic class that is above the poverty line (however defined). This way of defining class does not address the power of employees in relation to the situation of employees. Nothing else of relevance was found using this search term. The results of using the various search term show that students would not be capable of answering the question of why employers and employees exist. The document is a document in indoctrination—a document that implicitly has students accept the employer-employee as natural rather than an historical creation (and that, therefore, has an end).

According to the grade 11 Manitoba history curriculum, then, the issue of how and why employers emerged and how and why employees subordinate their will to employers is irrelevant. Is this silence an expression of social justice? On page II-31 33, there is reference to Chinese workers in 1887 and the fact that they were paid a substantially lower wage than other workers.

Again, the issue of why the wage relation exists on a large scale nowhere is to form a focus for inquiry within the curriculum. Wage work is assumed to be ahistorical through such an omission. That means, implicitly, that some people are born to be employees and some are born to be employers; it is not of course stated, but the assumption is there through the omission of any exploration of the wage relation. Or did workers freely become wage workers? Do not wage workers as a class require that another class control access to the means for them to produce their own lives? Did you freely choose to work for a wage or salary? When did you make this choice?

The reformist left share the same assumptions as the designers of this curriculum. On a listserve for the Toronto Labour Committee (to which I belonged), for example,  here in Toronto (the largest city in Canada), the regional coordinator for OPSEU (Ontario Provincial Service Employees Union) and president of GTAC (Greater Toronto Area Council), called for other workers to support striking brewery workers because, according to her, the brewery workers wanted a fair wage and decent work. I responded by agreeing that we should support them. However, when I questioned especially the idea of decent work, , a representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 eventually called me a condescending prick. A member of the Toronto Labour Committee responded that both the representative of CUPE 3902 and I were right and wrong. It is nice to be able to eat your cake and eat it too. The practical head of the Toronto Labour Committee then intervened, but the issue of decent work never got addressed.

The idea that working for an employer is somehow decent work is indoctrination–and the radical left is afraid to challenge such indoctrination.

The head of the Toronto Labour Committee stated that there should be a “discussion” about what decent work means. I doubt that there ever will be such a discussion that will emerge from the so-called radical left since the so-called radical left in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) is too afraid of upsetting its union contacts. It is too close to reformist unions to see that what is needed is a much more critical stance towards unions than what the Toronto Labour Committee displayed if the indoctrination characteristic in schools, in the economy, by unions (see an example of my critique of a management rights clause in collective agreements in   Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia , in courts, and in social services (see my critique of the position of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty:  Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance )  is to be challenged.