Employers as Dictators, Part Three

The social-democratic left in Toronto, undoubtedly like social-democratic reformists throughout the world, continue to ignore criticisms of their attempt to equate positive reforms with the realization of adequate forms through such rhetoric as “decent work.”

Consider Elizabeth Anderson’s critique of the power of employers, page 130:

Private government at work embeds inequalities in authority,
standing, and esteem in the organizations upon which people
depend for their livelihood. Those consigned to the status of
wage worker for life have no real way out: while they can quit
any given employer, often at great cost and risk, they cannot
opt out of the wage labor system that structurally degrades and
demeans them.

The social-democratic left, however, create all kinds of euphemisms for this fact of economic dictatorship: “decent work,” “fairness,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” “fair compensation”  and the like. In a recent post on Facebook by Tina Faibish (president of local 552 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, or OPSEU), for example, we read: “Willowdale wants decent work!”: There are people with signs saying “Minimum wage of $15 and decent work for all.” The signs also say “$15 and Fairness.”

We certainly need to fight for a higher minimum wage and improved working conditions, but why is it that the social-democratic left need to embellish such demands with such absurd claims as “decent work” and “fairness”? They apparently cannot even face the reality that employers dictate to workers every day in one way or another and that the daily lives of workers, whether they receive a higher minimum wage and improved working conditions, is decidedly not decent work and not fair.

The social-democratic left, however, would have to make a radical break with their own ideology. They, however, undoubtedly will cling to their ideology all the more in order to fend off having to face up to the reality which most people face on a daily basis. They seem incapable of dealing with that reality. They either react with hostility against those who criticize their reformist ideology (calling their critics “condescending pricks,” for example), or they will remain silent.

Thus, I made the following comment on Facebook about the issue of decent work:

Such low expectations–working for an employer=decent work? Good luck being used as a thing for employers–with or without a collective agreement. Management clauses (implicit or explicit in collective agreements) enable management–a minority–to dictate to the majority. Such is decent work in a society dominated by employers–a lack of economic democracy and the existence of dictatorship.

The response by the social-democratic left? Silence. They refuse to consider that they share the same assumptions as their conservative opponents, namely, that working for an employer can be fair and decent.

Furthermore, there is a contradictory view of whether working for an employer is decent. Thus, on the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council Facebook page, there is reference to the death of an airport worker, 24-year old Kenrick Darrell Hudson, in Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 12, 2019, where a luggage vehicle flipped, pinning the worker and killing him:

Sending love and solidarity from YYZ to the friends, family, and coworkers of the worker that lost his life last night in Charlotte.

Work smart, stay safe, and look out for one another. Airport workers across the globe share the same goal, we all want to go home safely at the end of the day.

It is difficult to see how the goal of going “home safely at the end of the day” can be achieved under conditions dictated by a class of employers and the ultimate goal of profit. After all, human beings are means to the end of profit and not their own ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Indeed, in a video presentation of the airport, one construction worker pointed out that “It’s like a racetrack out there” (Airline employee killed after luggage vehicle flips).

Ironically (and sadly), a few days after TAWC sent the above message to workers and family in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was an accident at the Toronto Pearson International Airport:

INCIDENT Baggage handler trapped under a tractor. Extricated by Toronto Pearson Fire. Transported to trauma centre by Peel Paramedics with serious injuries. Scene being held for investigation. Occurred on the ramp between T1 & T3.

How can safety ever be first when profit is the priority? When human beings are “costs” like other things? Was the work of that dead employee decent work before the accident but not decent afterwards? How can work be decent if it involves the possible injury of workers due to social conditions over which they lack control?

Social democrats should answer these questions, should they not?

A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When belonging to a leftist organization called the Toronto Labour Committee (Ontario, Canada), I worked on, in a minor position, on some statistics related to financial campaign contributions for the Toronto elections. Not being satisfied with this, I proposed that we start trying to develop a class analysis of Toronto. I indicated, though, that I did not really know how to proceed in this. I sent this over the Toronto Labour Committee listserve, and the response was–silence.

The following attempts to fill in, however inadequately, that silence.  If others can provide more detailed and sophisticated statistics and analysis (while still being comprehensible), I would much appreciate it.

In an earlier post, I provided a list of some of the largest employers in Canada, according to profit. The following is a short list of the largest employers in Toronto (where I currently live), according to employment. The reason why I think such a list would be useful is that it provides at least a somewhat concrete picture of who really has power in society and the extent of that power. Since most social-reformist leftists ignore the power of employers and assume such power as a background which they can assume as constant, they then consider their reformist policies without calling into question such power.

I hope to expand this later. If readers have better statistics or statistics from other countries or cities, feel free to comment. This should be a work in progress.

It is taken from the following, for February 2018:

Largest Enployers in Toronto According to Employment Level

It should be pointed out that these statistics are probably for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) rather than the City of Toronto as such since the website states “This list estimates the number of residents from Toronto and surrounding area that each company employs. These numbers exclude international employees.” Furthermore, the method of collecting the data is vague (“Based on some research conducted on the number of available LinkedIn profiles, here is a list of the top 20 largest employers in Toronto as of February 2018.”) Consequently, the statistics should not be taken too literally. Nevertheless, they may give an idea of the relative order of the larger employers in relation to the level of employment.

Obviously, there are different ways of considering what the largest employers are. At least four come to mind readily: according to profit, according to employment, according to total revenue (sales) and according to assets.

The following list of the 20 largest employers lists in Toronto according to level of employment.

1. CIBC = 15,000
2. Scotiabank = 14,400
3. Magna International = 11,500
4. Rogers = 10,000
5. Bank of Montreal = 9,000
6. Bell Canada = 7,900
7. TD Bank = 6,100
8. Toronto School Board District = 5,500
9. Deloitte = 4,000
10. Hudson’s Bay Company = 4,100
11. Telus = 4, 000
12. Air Canada = 3,100
13. Toronto Transit Commission = 2,500
14. Bombardier Inc. = 2,030
15. Royal Bank of Canada = 1, 700
16. EY = 1,700
17. CGI = 1,700
18. Maple Leaf Foods = 1,300
19. PwC = 1,300
20. The Coca Cola Company = 1, 100

The total number of workers is: 107,930 workers.

In Toronto (not the Greater Toronto Area), the number of employees in 2017 was 1, 518,560. The population in Toronto in 2016 was  2,731,571; the population in the GTA was 6,417,526 in 2016. If we divide the GTA population by Toronto’s population, we have 6,417,526/2,731,571=2.34939. If we multiply this number by the number of workers in Toronto, we should have a rough estimate of the number of workers in the GTA: 2.34939×1,518,560=3, 567, 690 workers in the GTA.

If the number of workers of the 20 largest employers is divided by the number of workers in the GTA, then those workers represent only 3% of the number of workers in the GTA.

In terms of employment, the 20 largest employers in the GTA do not represent a great percentage of total employment. Nonetheless, it is likely that they do represent a substantial political force via their control over key industries (financing and communications in particular) and their influence through such organizations as the Toronto Board of Trade. On the other hand, at least in terms of employment, it is unlikely these large employers (defined as those with 500 or more employees) that constitute the bulk of employment in Toronto but rather medium (100-500 employees) and especially small employers (1-99 employees) since, in Canada, it is small businesses that employee most workers:  “As of 2017, small businesses employed 8.29 million individuals in Canada, or 69.7 percent of the total private labour force. By comparison, medium-sized businesses employed 2.37 million individuals (19.9 percent of the private labour force) and large businesses employed 1.23 million individuals (10.4 percent of the private labour force)” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 3).

On the other hand, the value of output in Canada according to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is, relatively, much larger for large employers than for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since the number of large employers is much smaller than the number of SMEs: “In 2014, the contribution of small businesses to gross domestic product generated by the private sector was 41.5 percent, the contribution of medium-sized businesses was 11.0 percent and the contribution of large businesses was 47.5 percent.” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 4).

If we subtract the number of public-sector workers from the above Toronto list, we have 107,930-(5500+2500=8000)=99,930 private-sector workers, or 99,930. Dividing this by the number of workers in the GTA would result in only 2.8 percent of the working population. If, however, we consider that 10.4 percent of the private labour force is found in Canada but 47.5 percent of the GDP is produced by this labour force in Canada, then we can calculate 47.5/10.4=4.5673 times the GDP is produced by employees working for large-scale employers. We can then times this amount by 2.8 percent (4.5673×2.8)=12.79 percent. The 18 private largest employers in Toronto probably exert around 12.79 percent in terms of economic power in Toronto. Despite the limited level of employment power and the limited number of employers, the level of economic power is substantial. It would be interesting to see if this economic power is translated in various ways into political power.

(If anyone has any alternative ways of estimating economic power, I would like to know. Undoubtedly, the above is imperfect, but I fail to see anyone on the so-called left referring to major employers in Toronto having any economic and political power. There is of course the usual “capitalist this” and “capitalist that,” but very few concrete details.)

Of course, this is a very rough estimate. Furthermore, more useful statistics would include the value of the means of production and, for the 18 private companies, profits as well. In addition, there is no distinction made between part-time and full-time employees.

If we compare the 20 largest Canadian employers according to profit to the list of the largest Toronto employers, there are several on both lists: all five major banks and Rogers Communication.

 

Worker Resistance Against Management, Part Four

This is a continuation of a series of posts on worker resistance. The following was written by Herman Rosenfeld. Since it formed part of a course that he, Jordan House and I presented for workers at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, I am including the preliminary instructions and the subsequent questions so that others can modify and make use of it in similar courses.

Activity Sheet 3: Learning from Collective Resistance Experiences

This is a small group activity.
Read the story and answer the questions below together.
Be prepared to describe the collective struggle to the whole class, and report your answers.
You have 25 minutes to complete this exercise. [This exercise, initially, was combined with other experiences of resistance against management, so we permitted them 25 minutes.]

Overtime Action in the Ontario Legislature

In the early 2000s, members of a public-sector union in Ontario–policy advisors, analysts and other public-service workers–were fighting their employer, the Government of Ontario, for a first overtime provision in their collective agreement. Up until that time, members of the union could be forced to work unlimited hours. The Employment Standards Act does not apply to most civil servants.

As bargaining got started, it became clear the employer did not want to bargain the overtime provision. The union had made it a priority, in part because it was known that many members worked several uncompensated hours on a weekly basis.

The union is organized into chapters along ministry lines. The chapter at the Ministry of Labour was typically the most radical in the union and included people who well understood the challenges facing the union movement in the province. Conscious of the fact that the overtime provision was going to be tough to win, the chapter hatched a plan, with the quiet endorsement of the union’s head office.

When the legislature is in session, policy advisors are expected to complete their House notes by 8:30 a.m. These are documents that government ministers read from when asked questions in the House by opposition members. House notes often take up to one hour to complete. The chapter identified House note “production” as a pressure point that could be used in bargaining. Not having house notes when needed, if done as a collective act, would send a strong message to the employer. That first week the House was in session, the chapter made sure that every House note that was to be delivered to the Minister arrived an hour late. The Minister found herself in the House with no papers to read from when called upon to answer questions. It was an embarrassing performance, indeed!

The message was sent. The following week the employer began to bargain the overtime provision, which was eventually won a few months later and incorporated into a new collective agreement. The Labour Chapter understood how to keep up the pressure in the context of bargaining. The tactic with House notes forced the employer to bargain a provision that the entire membership now benefits from.

Questions

  1. How might this example show that worlplace cultures and practices, favourable to the boss, can be changed?
  2. What were some of the things that the union chapter in the Ministry of Labour would have had to do, in order to build the confidence and resolve necessary to carry out such a collective action? 
  3. What lessons can be learned from this example that applies to your workplace? 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part One

This is the first of a long series of posts of summaries of articles, mainly on education. 

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to copy critical articles, 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 author of the following article “Intelligence, Knowledge, and the Hand/Brain Divide,” (Mike Rose) argues that, despite some advances in curriculum in the past century, the academic/vocational divide in the curriculum—and among students—still prevails in the modern school system. This problem is wider than the school system, however. It expresses the bias towards defining intelligence as equivalent to academic excellence rather than a way of acting that occurs in daily life and which is expressed in blue-collar and service work, such as waitressing.

The author shows how vocational education in schools, originally, had to become isolated if it were to survive and not be dominated by those who defined good schools exclusively in terms of academic subjects. However, this isolation led to streaming of children of working-class parents, parents of colour and immigrant parents into vocational education and the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of such children as unintelligent and, at the same time, the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of students in the academic stream as exclusively intelligent.

This treatment of students who enter the vocational stream as unintelligent has often been incorporated into vocational programs as cognitive requirements have been diluted. Similarly, students in the vocational stream, although they often express contempt for the academic stream, themselves internalize the academic definition of intelligence and consider themselves to be unintelligent.

The author notes that, at least in the United States, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990, coupled with the complementary School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, proposed the integration of academic and vocational subjects. The author notes how one school linked a course on chemistry with a course on graphic arts, and others have effectively linked vocational and academic courses in terms of an occupational theme—the latter reminiscent of Dewey’s use of occupational themes to integrate the curriculum in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School as it was officially named).

However, the author also points out that, in general, these two Acts have really only resulted in the external addition of a few academic requirements rather than any real efforts at integration and parity of the academic and the vocational.

The modern school system, therefore, is still class-based and racist more often than not—hardly conducive to a democratic social order.

Should those concerned with equity and social justice issues be concerned about this situation?

Fred

 

 

Management Rights, Part Eight: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Quebec

Here is another clause from a collective agreement concerning management rights, this time from the private sector–and in a province in Canada where French is predominant officially. Undoubtedly for the social-democratic left, it expresses a situation where there is decent work–a cliché among the left, who refuse to investigate its meaning in a democratic fashion. 

It should be pointed out that the power of employers (via the power of managers) is independent of language–their power is expressed in many languages, just as their use of workers for their own ends is expressed in many languages. Differences in languages (and differences in nations), therefore, should not be something for workers which divides them since they face the same enemy in various languages and across many borders–the class of employers as dictators.

Should we not be discussing this issue thoroughly? Why are we not doing so? Why is there hostility to such discussion? 

 

From

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
2013 – 2017
FOR THE RESIDENTIAL SECTOR
OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Between the APCHQ and
the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques
(CSD-Construction), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN-Construction),
the Conseil provincial du Québec
des métiers de la construction (International),
the Fédération des travailleurs
et travailleuses du Québec
(FTQ-Construction)
and the Syndicat Québécois
de la construction (SQC)

page 7:

2.03 Management Right The signatory representative associations recognize an employer’s right to exercise its supervisory, administration and management duties in a manner that is compatible with the provisions of this collective agreement.