The following is the second of a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.
According to Bill Resnick, part two is an exploration of the potentialities for stimulating the working class from its lethargic state of passivity, cynicism and individual self-defense in order to inspire people to recognize their powers and capacities and thereby a socialist society.
Mr. Resnick then claims that climate change will oblige us to think how the economy is working.
Moving on to Mr. Gindin’s views, Mr. Gindin claims that it will be the environment that will be the key issue in relation to inequality. The rich are satisfied with the status quo of environmental conditions since they do not have to suffer the consequences from its deterioration.
Mr. Gindin then refers to the situation in Oshawa. He points out that, despite workers losing their jobs anyway, any suggestion of a serious alternative still meets with resistance since they have experienced thirty or forty years of lowering their expectations of what is possible. Their response to a left alternative is that it is a great idea, but it will never happen because they do not see their unions fighting for it nor do they see that larger social force fighting for it.
We should pause here. When have most unions, even during the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, generally fought for a larger vision of socialism? Most unions accepted the justice of collective bargaining and of collective agreements. Mr. Gindin implies that before the onset of neoliberalism 30 or 40 years ago, unions did have a larger social vision. That is a myth.
Indeed, red-baiting and the expulsion of communists from the Canadian labour movement forms part of the history of unions in Canada–a fact which Mr. Gindin conveniently ignores (see Irving Abella, The Canadian Labour Movement, 1902-1960). Social democracy won out within unions over any radical vision of society.
Why does Mr. Gindin ignore such facts? It is likely that Mr. Gindin indulges his supporters rather than taking the necessary step to criticize them. He probably panders after union support rather than criticizing the limitations of unions–including the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements.
He fails to criticize the responsibility of unions for, historically, partially contributing to the suppression of an alternative vision.
By the way, Mr. Gindin’s reference to the environment as being the key to inequality lacks any historical and factual basis. Where is there evidence that it is the environment that forms the center around which people are willing to fight against those in power and attempt to defeat them? It is the daily grind of working and living in a society dominated by a class of employers that will form the key issue–a social relation, and not the “environment” in the abstract sense of “nature” or environmental conditions in a general sense. Mr. Gindin, as I indicated in my earlier post, wants to jump on the bandwagon of environmentalism in general and the climate crisis in particular in order to prop up his appeal. I doubt that he will be successful.
Mr. Gindin then argues that we need to develop structures through which people can fight so that they can gain a clear vision of the forces that support them and the forces that oppose them as well as understanding the importance of collective action for realizing workers’ aims. That is why political parties are important because they form a space for strategizing about what needs to be done. We must take organizing seriously.
Mr. Gindin then reiterates how impressed he is about what the environmental movement has done. However, he points out the limitations of that movement, that criticizes corporate power or the 1% but does not seriously propose taking power away from them. It is insufficient to merely lobby against them. If we are going to have [democratic] planning, we cannot have corporations making the investment decisions.
Mr. Gindin is certainly correct to point out the limitations of the environmental movement–but he should be consistent and point out the limitations of unions as unions in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. He does not. He avoids alienating his social-democratic supporters. Is that what is needed at present?
Furthermore, he refers to the importance of organization–but is organization by itself going to lead to the questioning of corporate power? Ms. McAlevey does not question such power. Social democrats do not question such power. Both engage in organizing of one sort or another. It is not, then, organizing in general that is the issue but what kind of organizing–on what basis? Organizing from the start needs to question corporate power–and that includes questioning the legitimacy of their power to manage workers as such. We may need to make compromises along the way, as embodied in a collective agreement, but let us not bullshit the workers by calling such agreements or contracts “fair,” “just” and other such euphemisms.
To be consistent, Mr. Gindin should question the limitations of unions and union organizers in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. Why does he not do so?
Mr. Gindin claims that struggles are fundamental and that they develop the capacity to recognize the limits of being militant. They develop democratic capacities that prevent them from accepting authority.
Workers certainly do learn the limitations of being militant (they get fired, for example), but such a lesson hardly need translate into learning the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements. Workers may blame unions for the limitations of militancy–unless the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements are pointed out, on the one hand, and an alternative vision of what may be is outlined, on the other.
Although struggles are certainly necessary, are they sufficient to enable workers to come to the conclusion that the authority of the class of employers should be questioned? What is more likely is that such struggles will lead to criticisms of particular aspects of such power but not that power as such. Mr. Gindin vastly underestimates the ideological hold this kind of society has on workers and how it is vital to engage in constant ideological struggle if we are to develop democratically to the point where we can consciously and organizationally take corporate power away.
We need to take state power, but not just that. We need to take state power and transform that power so that we can develop our democratic capacity so that there is, on the one hand, a check on what the state does and, on the other, that people are actually participating in state power. This requires developing the technical capacity of ordinary workers to make appropriate decisions that affect their lives and not just having scientists come into government to make decisions for us.
We certainly do need to take state power–and transform it. However, if we are to do this consciously from the start, then we need to question the present state structures in their various dimensions. For example, we need to question the current educational structures, with their emphasis on assigning marks or grades to students, their separation of curriculum into academic (intellectual) and non-academic (vocational, which allegedly has more to do with the body), and so forth. When I belonged to the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly GTWA (which morphed into the Toronto Labour Committee), of which Mr. Gindin was practically the head, Mr. Jackson Potter was invited to discuss how the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) organized and led a successful strike. I eventually wrote up a critique of one of the CTU’s documents (see my article “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers‘ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog). The response of the GTWA to my critique was–silence.
Education, of course, is just one area that needs to be restructured through the abolition of its repressive features. The courts, police and the legal system need to be radically transformed as well (as I argued in another post and about which Mr Gindin was silent (see Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). Health is of course another area which needs to be radically restructured and its repressive features abolished (see various posts on the health and safety of workers on this blog).
Mr. Resnick then mentions Lucas Aerospace, which closed; in response, and workers came up with a plan to change things by focusing on products needed by the community. Workers built a powerful movement both inside and outside the union.
Mr. Gindin points out that Lucas ended in defeat. Nevertheless, what is inspiring in the case of Lucas and in Oshawa is the focus on producing not for profit but for social need, which stimulates the imagination and leads to diverse creative ideas. The problem is that you need the power to implement them.
You do indeed need the power to implement them. The illusion that workers have much power through collective bargaining and collective agreements needs to be constantly criticized so that they can begin to organize to challenge the power of employers as a class and not just particular employers. In other words, it requires ideological struggle and not just “organizational” struggle. How workers are to build power when they have faith in the collective-bargaining system and collective agreements is not something Mr. Gindin addresses. Why is that? Why does he ignore such a central issue when it comes to talking about unionized workplaces?
Mr. Gindin then points out that people do rebel, but the problem is how to sustain that rebellion.
That is indeed a problem, but failing to criticize one of the keystones of modern unions–collective bargaining and collective agreements–surely impedes a sustained effort at rebellion. Faith in the collective-bargaining process is bound to lead to cynicism since the cards are stacked against workers from the beginning because of the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in the collective agreement–and yet workers are fed the ideology that collective agreements are “fair,” “just” and so forth.
Mr. Gindin next claims that people can see that capitalism is not the ultimate end of history since it does not address their needs nor the needs of the environment.
This gives way too much trust in people’s rhetorical criticism of capitalism but their real acceptance of it–as he himself earlier implied. People lack a vision of a better world and accept, reluctantly at times, the so-called inevitability of capitalism in practice. Social democrats may refer to capitalism this and capitalism that, but they do not really seek to overthrow the power of employers.
Mr. Resnick then refers to racial, gender and sexual orientation as divisions that will be overcome in the social movement. Mr. Gindin does not specifically address these issues but claims that when people work together, they begin to form common dreams as they realize they have common problems.
Is there evidence that workers in the closed GM plant at Oshawa now are opposed to the power of employers as a class? After all, surely some of the workers for GM at Oshawa have come together and discussed some of their common problems. Yet earlier Mr. Gindin pointed out that there is much cynicism among such workers. It is not only insufficient for workers to get together and to discuss common problems–since there is such a thing as their immediate common problem–which centers around a particular employer, and the common problem of having to work for an employer as such (any employer)–a problem that is rarely if ever discussed.
Furthermore, Mr. Gindin’s view is not only naive, but there is evidence that contradicts it. As a member of the Toronto Labour Committee, and in good faith, I tried to bring up the issue, in the context of striking brewery workers, of whether their work constituted “decent work” and whether the wages that they sought should be called “fair wages.” I was met with insults by one trade unionist. Mr. Gindin, in addition, claimed that the reference to “decent work” was a purely defensive move. That is nonsense; it is ideology, and should have been criticized. People did not work together over the issue of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements; the issue was simply buried through insults and the rhetoric of “defense.”
There is a continuation of the theme that organization is the key–it is insufficient to become aware or that capitalism is bad.
Mr. Gindin fails to see the need to combine a specific kind of organization with ideological struggle. To be sure, without organization workers cannot gain power, but workers will unlikely gain power without engaging in organization and ideological struggle simultaneously. Mr. Gindin minimizes the importance of ideological struggle and exaggerates the importance of mere changes in organizational struggles (such as Ms. McAlevey’s innovations in organizing). Both are required simultaneously, and that means engaging in an ideological battle with the traditional left. Mr. Gindin, however, indulges the social-democratic left and panders to them by avoiding an ideological struggle. Any organization that emerges as a consequence will unlikely be more than an organization that accepts the power of employers as a class.
For Mr. Gindin, what has been defeated is the socialist idea.
That idea was long ago defeated–few workers in Canada adhered to it even in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, Mr. Gindin now implies that ideological struggle is indeed vital–but he implied just above that it was not that important–that organization was vital. Or is he now arguing that both organizational and ideological struggle are vital? If so, why does he not explicitly engage in ideological struggle with his social-democratic supporters?
The following does indeed imply that it is vital to unify organizational and ideological struggle:
We have to organize to end capitalism.
Good. To do so, however, requires meeting objective conditions–and one of those conditions is criticizing those within the labour movement who idealize organizing efforts that merely lead to collective bargaining and collective agreements (such as Tracy McMaster, union steward, organizer, former vice president, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), “our Tracy,” as Mr. Gindin once called her). Mr. Gindin, by not criticizing Ms. McMaster’s reference to “decent work” and “fair wages” fails to meet such objective conditions for the ending of capitalism.
However, Mr. Gindin then makes the following claim:
People see through the system.
Do they really? I doubt it. This view vastly underestimates the ideological hold that the power of employers in its various facets has on workers and the repressive character of various institutions–from work institutions to state institutions People do not see through the system. If they did, they would not pair the struggle for a minimum wage of $15 (and needed reforms in employment law) with the concept of “fairness” so nonchalantly. They would not call collective agreements fair, nor would they imply that there is a relatively equal power between organized (unionized) workers and employers.
Mr. Gindin once again minimizes the ideological struggle.
The issue of a worsening environment through global warming then comes up. Mr. Gindin argues once again that access to the environment will be one of the great inequalities of our times–access to the environment.
As I argued in the previous post, Mr. Gindin’s concept of the environment is faulty. The environment of human beings has included the use of land and tools for millenia. That access has been denied with the emergence of classes and some form of private property (and communal property can be private property relative to another communal property). Access to the environment has always been a class issue–even before capitalism.
An environmental crisis may lead to authoritarian structures arising rather than democratic ones. One of the problems is that people do not see structures through which they can work, commit and have confidence that such issues will be addressed–and this includes unions and political parties. People know that something is wrong, but they lack the confidence of getting at it. That is why fighting through unions is so important; you learn on a daily basis that collectively you can effect things: you can affect your workplace, you can affect your foremen, you can have different kinds of relationships to your workmates.
It keeps coming down to whether people do not know enough or whether people do not see the structures through which they can fight through and win. Mr. Gindin believes it is the lack of structures which forms the problem, not whether people do not know enough,
Mr. Gindin’s criticisms of unions is welcome–but too general and vague to be much help. He should elaborate on why unions are not the structures through which people can “work, commit and have confidence” that their problems will be addressed adequately. Why such a vague characterization of the inadequacy of unions and union structures? What is it about union structures that prevents workers from having the confidence and the commitment to work though them to achieve their goals?
Again, Mr. Gindin underestimates the importance of ideological struggle within the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.
The labour movement, despite having been kicked around for the last 30 or 40 years, has not concluded that we need to unite in class terms. Certainly, engaging in resistance is vital, but what have we learned from such resistance? To push harder for our own particular agenda, or have we learned that we need a class perspective to address our problems? That we need to recognize that gender, race and wage inequalities must be overcome so that we can function as a class? That does not happen automatically and has not happened automatically. That class perspective has to be built. Otherwise, workers are only individual, fragmented workers with particular identities separate from each other. We need to make ourselves a collective force–a class; it does not happen spontaneously. The potential for workers to make themselves a class has increased, but the potential will not be actualized automatically.
There are various openings or potentialities for politicization, but we should not exaggerate this by arguing that we are well on the way to winning. People are willing to fight, but then the question is: How do we actually organize ourselves to win. We are not very far along in that road.
That road is socialism, which allows the best aspects of humanity to develop.
Certainly, divisions within the working class need to be recognized and overcome in order to form a class. A class perspective needs to be fought for in various fronts. Unfortunately, Mr. Gindin does not see that such a class perspective requires a confrontation with the ideology of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements. There will be no spontaneous overcoming of the organizational limitations of unions (including the ones proposed by Ms. McAlevey in her various books) unless the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements is called into question. This does not mean that unions would not engage in collective bargaining or not have collective agreements voted on; rather, the limitations of collective bargaining and the corresponding limitations of collective agreements would be explicitly recognized via a class perspective, which permits recognition of the need for temporary truces because of a relative lack of power.
My prediction is that Mr. Gindin’s efforts in Oshawa will be in vain since he underestimates greatly the need for ideological struggle in general and the struggle in particular for union members to recognize the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements not just rhetorically or by way of lip service but rather practically by ceasing every opportunity to demonstrate their limitations and the need for an organization that addresses such limitations–a socialist organization.