Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Part Two: The Social-Democratic Left Share Some of We Day’s Assumptions

In a previous post, I outlined how We Day is a form of indoctrination and that schools form vehicles for such indoctrination. What is the social-democratic left’s position in relation to  this indoctrination and its incorporation into schools?

I already mentioned the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) decision not to promote We Day since some of the corporations that sponsor the event act in contradiction to some of We Day’s professed principles (perhaps, by way of example, Cadbury’s use of cocoa produced with child labour from Ghana). MTS writes:

MTS Bows Out of We Day

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society will no longer be involved in promoting or participating in We Day events.

Delegates to annual meeting agreed with a recommendation from the organization’s Equity and Social Justice Committee and provincial executive.

“The Manitoba Teachers’ Society model of social justice is not reflected in We Day,” the resolution said. “We Day doesn’t promote, support or include a model of social justice that the Society identifies as effective in advancing social change. We Day is more of a charity model that doesn’t address the roots for systemic inequity.”

We Day is a yearly concert and speaker series attended by tens of thousands of students in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In recent years it has attracted controversy because of the number of corporate sponsors involved in the events. Some of those sponsors have been accused of actions in other countries that run counter to the messages on which We Day is based.

The decision by delegates does not extend to the involvement of schools and students. In the past, both MTS staff and elected officials have promoted and been participants in We Day.

Would MTS, however, have decided to not support We Day if all the sponsors were consistent with the professed principles of the creators of We Charity, Craig and Marc Kielburger? It is difficult to say, but since they consider a charity model to be insufficient to address the problem of systemic inequity, they would presumably still oppose the model characteristic of We Day. When I searched for the meaning of “systemic inequity” on their website, the only hit that came up with that term was–the item on We Day. (Replacing “equity” by “equality” resulted in zero hits.) Hence, the reader of their site cannot determine why specifically they do not support We Day. This vagueness prevents a reader from determining whether MTS’s position is reasonable in diverse social contexts, such as systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic ignoring of the power of employers as a class, and so forth.

When I searched The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) website for “We Day,” I found zero hits. Nonetheless, I did find some hits when I searched using “Kielburger”–the surname of the founders of WE Charity and organizers of We Day held annually at many schools throughout Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Some of the material refers to Craig Kielburger as a model “hero,” as an example of a person who has made a difference, and a “high” recommendation of the book Take Action! A Guide to Active Citizenship by Marc and Craig Kielburger for activism advocacy.

For the many students who attend We Day, the vague reference to “systemic inequity” and the idealization of the Kielburgers as persons and as activists will probably confuse more than enlighten.

Lisa Howell, in an article written in 2015 “A parent & teacher’s reflections on “WE DAY”
how can a social movement feel so meaningless,” expresses her contradictory experience of expecting an inspirational day while attending We Day in Ottawa and experiencing a consumerist and anti-environmental day.

This contradiction between rhetoric and reality should not, however, surprise anyone who understands the nature of capitalist relations at work. In The Money Circuit of Capital, the end of the process of obtaining more money (the goal of private employers) results in more money in relation to the initial process but in itself it is merely a sum of money. To become capital, both the principal and some of the profit must be invested if the employer is to continue to function as an employer (since otherwise competition from other employers will result in being undercut and eventually going bankrupt). This whole process is infinite and can never be reached–it is a goal that can never be satisfied–the infinite process of the accumulation of capital.  How much money is enough? Never enough.

To state it differently: the birth of capital is simultaneously its death; consequently, the being of capital is a process that is only through it always reaching beyond itself.

In a finite world characteristic of the environment, capital is contradictory. There must be a contradiction between the environment and the nature of capitalist social relations. To resolve this problem requires surpassing this infinite process of capital accumulation. It requires a socialist society.

The Kielburgers, as seen in the first part of this two-part series of posts, do not question the legitimacy of this infinite process. They revel in it when they refer to “corporate and social responsibility.” The solutions which they offer, at best, a slight reduction in the impact that this accumulation process has on human beings, on human life and on the environment. Since they fail to question the legitimacy of the process of the process of capital accumulation, their solution actually diverts attention away from the pressing need to go beyond this accumulation process if the problems of child labour, poverty and environmental destruction are to be resolved.

The social-democratic left do seem to object to We Day on occasion. Thus, Molly McCracken, Manitoba director of the social-democratic Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote a short article published online at (We Day Sidesteps the Real Issues of Child Poverty). She points out the bias of We Day of pandering to corporations, who get free publicity and appear to be socially responsible. The problem of child poverty, she points out, is not addressed in such a forum.

However, let us look at some of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ own attitude towards corporations. I did a search, using the terms “fair share taxes.” Several hits came up, with such titles (and dates) as:

  • Demanding a Fair Share (July 20, 2017)
  • Replacing MSP with fair taxes would mean savings for most BC families: economist (July 6, 2016)
  • Change in direction on tax policy needed to escape budget crunch, ensure high-income British Columbians and corporations pay fair share: study (January 29, 2013)
  • A decade of eroding tax fairness in BC (June 30, 2011)
  • Fair Shares (April 27, 2011)
  • Canada’s rich not contributing fair share in taxes: study (November 8, 2007)

The criticism of corporations is restricted to the level of taxes that they pay. Neoliberal governments have reduced corporate taxes and taxes on the rich unfairly whereas the rest of the Canadian population has to pay a disproportionate (and unfair) level of taxes relative to the corporations and the rich.

The implication is that if progressive taxes are re-instituted, then fairness will be realized. This is a social-democratic  point of view, of course. One of the strategies of he social-democratic point of view is to focus on distribution after it has been produced and to disregard the process by which it has been produced (and, when it does focus on the process of production, it neglects the issue of the whether workers are free or not by using such cliches as “good jobs,” “decent work,” “fair contracts” and the like).

This does not mean that the left should not criticize skewed tax policies–but why do they simultaneously do so by implying that a change in tax policies will somehow magically convert the social world into a fair world? If corporations were to pay their “fair share,” then they should have the right to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it and how to do it, should they not? Would child labour, poverty and environmental destruction end if corporations paid their “fair share.”

This idea of “fair share” forms another cliche that the social-democratic left use to hide the reality of the social dictatorship that prevails when working for an employer.

What does the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives mean by “fair share” of taxes? Presumably the following (from the above 2007 article):

The study finds the top 1 percent of families in 2005 paid a lower total tax rate than the bottom 10 percent of families.

“Canada’s tax system now fails a basic test of fairness,” says Marc Lee, senior economist with the CCPA’s B.C. office and author of the study. “Tax cuts have contributed to a slow and steady shift to a less progressive tax system in Canada.”

Paying a fair share of taxes would then mean that the bottom 10 percent of families would pay a lower tax rate than the top 1 percent of families. As long as this is the case, then We Day promoters would then be justified in having corporate sponsors for the event. Of course, some may object that some sponsors may still contradict the principles of We day, but assuming that no corporation exploited child labour (for example), would the social democrats then criticize We Day? Presumably not. They believe, implicitly, that there can be such a thing as corporate fairness and corporate responsibility–just like the Kielburgers. Social democrats and neoliberals share certain assumptions together.

The social-democratic left cannot deal with the contradictory nature of the society in which we live; their inadequate way of dealing with We Day illustrate their inadequate capacity for dealing with this contradictory society.  They either vaguely refer to “systemic inequity,” or they find their expectation and reality contradictory, or they imply that as long as corporations pay their “fair share” of taxes, then We Day should be supported.

Since the social-democratic left cannot deal adequately with the nature of We Day, it is necessary to go beyond their point of view–to a socialist point of view, where the intent is to overcome the infinite process of the accumulation of capital and its corresponding conflicts, struggles and contradictions.

What of the radical left? As far as I can tell, they are, at least in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) oblivious to We Day and the extent to which students in schools are bombarded with employer ideology through such events. The radical left here in Toronto does not even bother to engage in ideological struggle; it accepts such ideologically loaded phrases as “decent work,” “a fair contract,” “fair labour laws,” and so forth.

What is the social-democratic left like where you live? The radical left?


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