Getting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law

Steven Bittle, in his doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster (Kingston, Ontario: Queen’s University argues the following (from page ii):

Overall, the dissertation suggests that the assumptions that animated Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation and the meanings inscribed in its provisions throw serious doubt on its ability to hold corporations legally accountable for their harmful, anti-social acts. There is little reason to believe that the Westray bill will produce a crackdown on safety crimes, or seriously challenge corporations to address workplace injuries and death. While it will hold some corporations and corporate actors accountable – and thus far it has been the smallest and weakest – the primary causes of workplace injury and death (e.g., the tension between profit maximization and the costs of safety and the relative worth of workers/employees versus owners and investors) will continue.

The typical presentation of what is dangerous in our society is–crime. You merely have to look at the different tv shows (or Netflix shows) that have as their theme murder (one person or serial) compared to the number of shows that show how serious corporate actions lead to death and injury.

However, this focus on individual crime and violence goes hand in hand with a lack of focus on social crime and social violence–the violence of a class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class.

This lack of focus on the violence of the class of employers and the violence of the social structure is reflected in the social democratic left’s general attitude towards “accidents” at work. Undoubtedly, at particular work sites, and with particular union representatives, there is a sustained effort to reduce the possibility of injury and death. However, such efforts are inadequate because they do not address the systemic impact of the pursuit of profit on shifting the burden of danger towards workers (and, it should be said, consumers).

If the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular took seriously the violence perpetrated by the class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class, would they not begin a movement for the abolition of the class of employers and the social structure that supports that class? Is there any such movement in Canada? Perhaps there is, but I am unaware of such a movement.

In a previous post, it was pointed out that about double the number of workers die each year on the job when compared to the number of murders in Canada (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers) . Should this fact not be a constant topic of discussion for workers, for citizens, for permanent residents and for non-status immigrants?

What do you think of the health and safety of workers who work for an employer? Should it be a topic for constant discussion?

 

 

 

 

 

A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Two: The Ontario History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

This post is a continuation of a previous post on the Manitoba history curriculum (see   A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). The background to the post is provided in that previous post.

But just a reminder: the research question is: Does the history curriculum (or, if not available, the social-studies curriculum) provide much of an opportunity for students to understand how and why employers (and employees arose)?

The Ontario secondary curriculum that pertains to Canadian history consists of two documents: Canadian and World Studies, grades 9 and 10, and Canadian and World Studies, grades 11 and 12. Both include history as a separate section. No relevant hits that would answer the question came up when I used the search term “employ” for the grades 9 and 10 history curriculum. A few hits referred to employment (access of the latter for women, for example or unemployment), but nothing in the way of an exploration of the historical emergence of the employer-employees relation in Canada. The same applies when I used the search term “work.” A few topics came up (such as the impact of the decline of the manufacturing sector on workers), but no explanation of why workers need to sell their capacity to work to an employer and subordinate their will to the employer.

The grades 11 and 12 history curriculum covers more material, including Canadian, American and world history. Like other curricula, the use of the search term “employ” resulted in hits that had nothing to do with explaining why employers emerged and have the power to dictate to workers at work. Hits deal with the employment of children and women in factories, or unemployment. One reference, however, does provide some possibility for exploring the historical emergence of employers and employees. On page 399, students are asked to “analyse interrelationships between specific groups in various societies around the world during this period [1650-1789] (e.g., between slaves and masters, serfs and lords, apprentices and employers….”

Here there is real potential for students to answer the question. However, it is buried in suggestions for analysis of other class relations rather than being a focal point. To be sure, a comparative approach to class relations may help in clarifying the distinctive nature and historical conditions of the employer-employees relation, but if the study of history is to enable us to understand our current situation better, then the historical conditions for the emergence of the employer-employees relation should be the focus, and differences from other class relations could then provide a contrast to further clarify the distinctive nature of the employer-employees relation in order for students to understand how and why most workers are now employees subject to the dictatorship of employers and how this is different from other forms of class relations. The contrast could also form the point of departure for the exploration of the question of whether another form of class relation will arise if the employer-employees relation no longer exists or whether no classes will exist due to the development of substantially changed technological conditions that no longer require class relations at all.

The curriculum designers were probably quite unconscious of the implications of their inclusion of a reference to employers and to other class relations. Nonetheless, the curriculum, however slightly, does provide an opening for students to explore the issue, but that opening should be a central feature of the history curriculum since it is a central feature of modern capitalist life.

Another limitation of this reference to employers is the connection of the latter to apprentices rather than to employees. The apprenticeship system occurred in guilds at first so that subordinates were to become master artisans and not employees. As capitalist relations developed, however, apprentices saw their chances of becoming a master artisan dwindle, and they saw themselves becoming an employee (and resisted accordingly). An historical focus on the transition from apprenticeship status to the status of being an employee should have been included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the world-historical shift from apprenticeship status to the persistent subordinate status of an employee and the emergence of employers as a distinct, controlling class.

Using the search term “work,” I found little of direct relevance in answering the question although there is some indirect relevance—but insufficient to guide the teacher in developing lesson plans that would help students the modern employer-employees relation. For instance, on page 307 it is suggested to have students compare the lives of working-class children working in industrial cities to children working as slaves on a southern plantation and to compare both to the children of wealthy families. Such a comparison is certainly better than much of what is offered in other history curricula, but it remains mainly static. How and why did children become working-class children, children of slaves or children of wealthy parents? Furthermore, if, as the philosopher of education John Dewey argued, the nature of anything includes its transformation into something else, then the nature of slave society and the nature of capitalist society (which included the working class) involves a consideration of what they are changing into: “Every event as such is passing into other things, in such a way that a later occurrence is an integral part of the character or nature of present existence” (Experience and Nature, London: Allen & Unwin, 1929, p. 111). History is not just about the past but about change and the kind of change that is possible—and the kinds of possibilities that were closed as other paths were taken.

Comparative relations are also suggested on page 356 by having students compare what is called traditional, mixed, agricultural, industrialized or free-market capitalist economies. Again, such a comparative view is better than the other curricula, but what is needed is a focus on the dynamic element—from one changing into the other, and how and why that occurs. Often, the dynamic is reduced to technological change—the mass production and mass use of cars, for instance. Furthermore, as already noted, the focus is not on coming to understand the current economic relations—which is indeed what the focus should be if students are to gain an understanding of the social world around them and to gain collective control over their own lives—which forms an essential element of real education.

The implicit bias (through its lack of focus on the question posed at the beginning of this essay) becomes more explicit on page 441 when the authors write: “Why have some groups been critical of the power of unions?” It is certainly true that some groups have been critical of the power of unions—employers. Nowhere in the document can we find a reference to the following question: “Why have some groups been critical of the power of employers?”

I used the search term “capital,” but there was only the occasional reference to capitalism. On page 332 there is a reference to how capitalism was transforming early societies in the fifteenth century, so there does arise some slight possibility for exploring the question, but the nature of capitalism is left unexplored. The role of the state and violence in establishing capitalism is not mentioned, though. Vague references to capitalism, without any reference to the emergence of a class of employers and a class of workers who subordinated their will to the class of employers, leaves the teacher and students without any real guidepost to explore the reasons why and how employers emerged and why there exists a general market for workers emerged.

Using the search term “class,” I did come across the occasional reference to class differences (for example, on page 304), but the question of the modern significance of class relations and the kind of class relations is left unexplored. On page 414, there is a question concerning the significance of wage labour in China during the Ming dynasty, but the dominance of wage labour in modern capitalist relations (wage labour as the dominant mode of production and exchange implies capitalism and a class of employers), is not explored. An opening for the exploration of the existence of wage labour in Canada and throughout the world is closed by the restricted reference to China in the past.

To sum up: There is some openings for an exploration of the nature and origins of employers and employees in Canada, but in general it is unlikely that most teachers are provided sufficiently strong guidelines to make the topic an integral part of the Canadian history curriculum in Ontario.

In other words, Ontario schools provide limited scope for enlightening students on the nature and origin of employers and employees. Hence, they contribute to the indoctrination of students by largely excluding the topic from explicit consideration.

Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Educational Needs of the Labour Movement: A Radical Imagination

The radical left in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) has failed to engage in the radical imagination. When I participated as a facilitator in a few educational workshops for some workers and worker representatives at the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), two other leftists  and I created a program that included three sections on capitalism. The first section dealt with the capitalist class (a part of the class of employers), the second section with the working class and the third section with the capitalist state (or capitalist government). It was a two-day session.

The next session, however, was reduced to only one day. The sections on the capitalist class, the working class and the capitalist state or government were omitted. I went along with such an omission–and regretted it afterwards. I should have been more vigorous in my objections.

For over two years, we waited again to give another course!

Finally, this year, the two men gave another course (I had withdrawn from the organization to which they belonged). It would be interesting to find out whether their course focused exclusively on worker activism at the local level and excluded the more general context of an economy dominated by a class of employers and the related social structures that accompany such domination. Did they include content that involved the radical imagination?

Below is a quote from Stanley Aronowitz’s book The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement. London: Verso, 2014,

near the end of chapter 6 (no page number):

Today, labor education has suffered sharp decline. After World War II, some unions relied primarily on university-based union leadership programs to train their shop-level stewards and officers in contract administration, labor law, and political action; others sent their full-time organizing and service staff to short-term education and training sessions offered by the universities. In the 1970s, worker education entered a new phase when some universities began offering degree programs to union members and their families. There is intellectual training available through the unions today. But it is not radical intellectual training. What has disappeared is the radical imagination.

The times require a radical imagination that goes beyond the clichés that the social-reformist left dish out–like “decent or good jobs,” “fair wages,” “economic justice” and “social justice.” We need labour education that incorporates a different vision of life–a humanized life, a life that respects human life. Such a life is impossible given the power of employers, and hence such a vision requires a vision that seeks to challenge and to go beyond such power. What is needed is a socialist vision.