How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left

The above title is a take on a scene in the movie Enter the Dragon, where Bruce Lee says: “My style is the art of fighting without fighting.” See the end of this post for a description. 

This is a more colloquial or informal way of expressing my point about the need to include the goal or the aim in present actions if we are going to go beyond a society characterized by a class of employers (capitalism) and live a socialist life (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). It does so by briefly looking at what I mean and then looking at a concrete example of this by a self-declared socialist feminist, Sue Ferguson (or what she calls a social-reproduction feminist).

To start with a conclusion: aiming for a socialist society is just that–incorporating the goal, consciously, of overcoming the class power of employers, including the economic, political and social relations and structures connected to that power and the creation of a society free of class relations and relations of oppression.

Social democrats and reformers (including self-proclaimed Marxists who practically do the same thing), on the other hand, believe (even if they are not conscious of this belief) that it is possible to achieve a socialist society without aiming for it.

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed. 

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education, saw the distinction clearly in relation to schools. Most of those reading this post merely have to reflect on their own experiences in schools and how schools have often severed their interest in the present and forced an external future upon them. As Dewey noted, in chapter five of one of his two major works in the philosophy of education, Democracy and Education (2004), pages 58-59):

Chapter 5

Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline

Education as Preparation

We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth. This conception contrasts sharply with other ideas which have influenced practice. By making the contrast explicit, the meaning of the conception will be brought more clearly to light. The first contrast is with the idea that education is a process of preparation or getting ready. What is to be prepared for is, of course, the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. Children are not regarded as social members in full and regular standing. They are looked upon as candidates; they are placed on the waiting list. The conception is only carried a little farther when the life of adults is considered as not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for “another life”. The idea is but another form of the notion of the negative and privative character of growth already criticized; hence we shall not repeat the criticisms, but pass on to the evil consequences which flow from putting education on this basis.

In the first place, it involves loss of impetus. Motive power is not utilized. Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact not to be evaded, but it is an excellence. The future just as future lacks urgency and body. To get ready for something, one knows not what nor why, is to throw away the leverage that exists, and to seek for motive power in a vague chance. Under such circumstances, there is, in the second place, a premium put on shilly-shallying and procrastination. The future prepared for is a long way off; plenty of time will intervene before it becomes a present. Why be in a hurry about getting ready for it?

We have already seen this severance of the future struggle for socialism and the present struggle for socialism by Herman Rosenfeld, a self-styled Marxist who refers vaguely to socialism a hundred years from now (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three and, more generally, Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). The focus on reforms above all else and the denigration of the need for incorporating an explicit aim in the present of abolishing the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations will at best lead to capitalism with a human face–and not its abolition. 

There are two typical tendencies that express this attitude of severing the present from the future and the future from the present. Treating reforms as if they were, in themselves, somehow leading to a socialist society is a typical trick among the left; they treat the future (socialist society) as already present rather than the present being in need of radical reconstruction. The second tendency denigrates the need for aiming explicitly or consciously at radical transformation of class, economic, political and social structure in the present (which in effect is a revolution–although I believe that politically it is a waste of time to call for revolution–as the sectarian radical left frequently do

The treatment of the present as if it were already the future via current experiences and reforms is reflected by Sue Ferguson, a self-proclaimed socialist, who claims the following  (Women and Work: An Interview with Sue Ferguson):

As I argue in Women and Work, social reproduction feminism provides a strategic focus and direction that avoids the contradictions of equality feminism. Because, in this view, oppression is built into the very ways we reproduce ourselves, overcoming oppression requires reorganizing the processes and institutions of life-making. This cannot happen in boardrooms or by electing more women into state office. It can happen only when people are encouraged to mobilize with others to resist the priorities of the current social reproduction regime, and learn together how to reorganize and take collective, responsible control of the resources of life-making. And in a small way, this is what education worker strikes do: they assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs [my emphasis]. 

Do “education worker strikes” really “assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs?” Perhaps they do–“in a small way”–but that is not the same as aiming for “expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources” at more than a local level. That teachers who go out on strike may well aim to improve their working lives and the lives of their students is not in question. The issue is whether the aim of such actions is of the same nature as aiming for a socialist society. I deny that such is the case in most cases since there is no explicit aim to overcome a society characterized by the class of employers; improvements in working lives and lives of children does not necessarily involve aiming for a socialist society.

By claiming “in a small way,” that education workers somehow, is the same as the “democratizing our life-making powers and resources” is a social-democratic trick. It equates reformist changes at the local level with radical changes in  social structures and relations.

This social-democratic trick is reiterated in her book (she goes by Susan in the book), Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, pages 135-136:

That is, strikes do not have to be exercises in revolutionary commons to model alternative ways of organizing life-making. The potential to unleash creative energies and ideas about how to build a better world and engender social bonds to counter the alienation and isolation of capitalist subjectivity is inherent in the very act of organizing with others to improve control over the conditions of work and life. Perhaps the most vivid recent example of this come from the 2018 wave of education worker strikes to hit the United States. Eric Blanc’s interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma strike movements lead him to conclude that strikers were “profoundly transformed” [my emphasis] by their participation. They connected in new ways with co-workers they had barely known and had little in common with culturally and ideologically; they strategized, waved placards, shared meals, chanted, sang, and camped out on the state legislative grounds together; they jointly endured moments of disappointment, debate and defeat, and even bigger moments of celebration. And they connected in new ways with the communities they worked in as passersby honked and waved in support, as strangers identifying them by their distinctive red T-shirts approached them in grocery stores to thank them for their job action, and as students and parents stood on their lines and rallied in support. In the words of Arizona teacher Noah Karvelis, interviewed by Blanc:

Since the strike, there’s a definite sense of solidarity that wasn’t there before. When you go into school and see all of your coworkers in red, it’s like they’re saying, “I’m with you, I got you.” It’s hard to even sum up that feeling. You used to go in to school, do your thing, and go home. Now if there’s a struggle, we go do something about it because we’re in it together. It’s not just that there are a lot more personal friendships—we saw that we had power.

Such solidarity did not magically appear. It had to be built. The strikers were divided by all the usual social cleavages. Not all teachers were in the union and most were white. They differed in political allegiance, religious affiliation, and income (in West Virginia bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, custodians, and other support staff walked out as well). Moreover, as social reproductive workers in the public sector, the walkout risked creating a wedge between themselves and the community they served. Rather than deny these divisions, organizers and strikers consciously addressed them—figuring out imaginative ways of addressing needs and drawing people in: bilingual signs and chants, GoFundMe sites to help lower-income strikers make ends meet, soliciting food donations, and delivering care packages for families who otherwise rely on school lunches. As Kate Doyle Griffiths observes, strikers temporarily and partially reorganized the relations of social reproductive labour “on the basis of workers control for the benefit of the wider working class” while also fostering solidarity with community members. And although strikers did not generally politicize around racial issues, Blanc notes, they were self-consciously inclusive and won the support of the majority black and brown student base and their families through their calls for increased school funding and (in Arizona) opposition to cuts to Medicaid and services for those with disabilities.37 These are not-so-small and incredibly important examples of how strikers organize new ways of life-making, ways that defy the alienating, individualizing experiences of everyday life under capitalism.

Of course, such struggles and organizing should be supported, and they do indeed form a possible bridge between the conscious aim of struggling in the present for a socialist society and the creation of such a future society. However, let us not idealize them. They are not necessarily expressions of a conscious aim to overcome the class power of employers. As I have shown elsewhere (see for example The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement  and   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One), such movements do not necessarily involve such an aim. By equating such struggles with the conscious aim to overcome such class power, social democrats in effect claim that we should not struggle to aim for such a goal in the present by, among other things, criticizing the limitations of the aims of such strikes and movements.

To not question whether there has indeed been “profound transformations” is to be blind to the force of habit in working-class and community behaviour. Not just decades but centuries of indoctrination, of exploitation, subordination and oppression are not going to magically be transformed through such efforts. To overcome such situations will take years if not decades of internal struggle in order for a conscious movement aiming to overcome the class power of employers to arise in the present and not vanish because of superficial adherence to “social justice” and similar general terms. The present leftist movement must aim for a socialist society in diverse domains and integrate such domains in as coherent a fashion as possible.

The other tendency of splitting the present from the future and the future from the present by denigrating the need for radical transformation of economic, political and social structures. frequently by casting the term “revolution” in a purely negative light. As I noted above, I do agree that using the term “revolution” is a waste of time politically; workers and community members will likely look upon such talk as akin to religion. Nonetheless, their attitude of avoiding the term “revolution” often leads to reformism by being unable to offer anything other than reform and more reform–as if many reforms will not be absorbed by the capitalist economic, political and social structure. The class power of employers and the capitalist state have many resources to engage in reformist politics if there is sufficient organization and power to threaten the power of the class of employers.

I have referred to Jeffrey Noonan’s opposition to “revolution”–but he has little to offer but more reforms within the present class structure (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Another example is the article written by Richard Sandbrook and posted on the Toronto-based Socialist Project website (Racism, Class Solidarity and Systemic Change). Here is what he claims:

Non-Reformist Reformism

But what strategy would horizontal unity serve? Any viable strategy would be gradualist. Compromises would need to be made to build a majority coalition in a (quasi)democratic process. But gradualism does not signify mere reformism or cosmetic changes. The widespread disaffection and the challenge posed by invigorated populist-nativists demand genuine structural changes. Policies to de-commodify labour, money, health care, knowledge, and education; to democratize the economy by promoting cooperative production; and to deepen political democracy must be pressed at the local, national and, eventually, global level. But there would not be a “big bang”, in which society is irrevocably transformed; instead, we would have non-reformist reformism.

The problem with the above view is that Mr. Sandbrook does not discuss how such reformism in the present can be prevented from leading–as it so often has in the past–to incorporation into the class structure and to the continued control of our lives by a class of employers. I seriously now question the real intent of those who claim that they aim for a socialist society and yet not only accept compromises that need to be accepted because of the present limited power but freeze such compromises into an ideology of the left (such as the terms “fair contract,” “fair or free collective bargaining,” “fair wages,” “decent work,” or the pairing of the term “Fairness” with the movement for the fight of a minimum wage of $15.

Mr. Sandbrook appears to see the need for avoiding both reformism characteristic of the social-democratic left and the sectarianism of the radical left:

If this is the only viable and morally justifiable path, the progressive movements would need to steer clear of two pitfalls that have ensnared earlier experiments: Third-Wayism and revolutionism. The first represents compromise to the point of co-optation, leading to renewed hegemony; the second, an unwillingness to compromise in order to preserve the ideal, leading to irrelevance.

Avoiding Two Pitfalls

The Third Way, as it developed in the early 1990s, reflected the attitude “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” …

The lesson is clear. Reformism that, in the longer term, reinforces the hegemony of neoliberalism and plutocracy is self-defeating. When times get hard, voters dessert “socialist” parties that lack an alternative vision.

The opposite pitfall is a purist approach that, positing a narrow choice between capitalism and socialism (or “barbarism or socialism”), refuses to compromise with the former. In the academy, this approach is often associated with a scholasticism that is strong on abstract theorization but weak in developing concepts with any popular appeal. The purists are also prone to an irritating smugness, as though moral superiority is more important than winning power.

Starkly casting the alternatives as binary is problematical for two reasons. It strikes many people as unrealistic. How, for example, do we totally transform society and economy to replace markets with participatory planning at all levels? And secondly, it essentializes capitalism. The latter comes in a myriad of forms. If its essence is private ownership and free labour, there are many degrees.

Capitalisms are not all the same. The Anglo-American model differs from the Scandinavian model, which differs from Chinese authoritarian state capitalism. The Keynesian accord introduced what many have called the golden age of capitalism, which neoliberalism ended. A gradualist program of decommodification, democratization, and equal freedom is a voyage that begins within capitalism; however, we may not even be aware of the precise point at which we traverse the boundary.

There are indeed variations in the kind of capitalism, and some forms are definitely preferable to other forms. This hardly addresses the issue of how any “gradualist” approach is going to maintain the aim of eliminating the general class power of employers over our lives in the present without being co-opted. (The Scandinavian model is, in any case, itself in retreat because of general changes in capitalist class structures and the idealization of such models in the past and present). Mr. Sandbrook does not address what workers and community members who live in any form of capitalism (as depicted in The Money Circuit of Capital, for example), are supposed to do to overcome the general nature of capital. Or is the general nature of capital somehow just or fair?

Decommodification, for example. of health services, does not mean that those who fight for such decommodication or those who implement it or those who use such decommodified services aim to achieve a socialist society. (See A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Decommodification or the conversion from gaining access to commodities (including services) by means of purchase and sale to direct access or use without the mediation of purchase and sale may or may not express the aim of achieving a socialist society.

My experiences in Toronto and elsewhere is that we need to aim consciously and persistently in the present for radical changes in various domains (with the focus on the work relations dominated by a class of employers). We indeed will have to make compromises because we lack the necessary power to do otherwise–but that also should form part of our own consciousness–and not the acceptance of such compromises through such social-democratic phrases as “decent work” or “fair contracts.” To achieve such deep-seated consciousness and aim will require years if not decades of internal struggle within working-class communities and workplaces.

We need to use the aim for a future socialist society in the present to realize such a future society while all the time modifying specific goals within that general aim based on current conditions and circumstances.

As I indicated at the beginning, the title of this post is a take on a statement made by Bruce Lee in the movie Enter the Dragon. The following is a description of the scene by Brian Freer: 

There is a scene in the 1973 kung fu classic “Enter the Dragon” where a man (Peter Archer, who plays Parsons] walks around a boat bullying passengers. When the man accosts Bruce Lee by throwing air strikes near his face, Lee unflinchingly looks at him and replies, “don’t waste yourself.”

“What’s your style?” the bullying man asks.

“The art of fighting without fighting,” says Lee.

“Show me some of it.”

Lee tries to walk off, but the bullying man insists he show him what the “art of fighting without fighting” looks like. Since the boat was crowded, Lee suggests that they take a dingy to a nearby beach for more space. As the bully boards the dingy, Lee releases slack from the rope, watching the dingy with the bully inside drift away. Lee then releases the rope to the bully’s onetime victims who laugh heartily as the dingy takes on water from the crashing waves.

Although this isn’t the most exhilarating fight scene in “Enter the Dragon,” it is clearly the most complete victory in the film. Lee uses wit to overcome his opponent without ever raising his fists. He is without fear and clear of mind. The bullying man wanted to fight so badly that he was willing to ride a dingy to a remote island to do so.

Freer then philosophizes: 

There are many reasons to fight. It’s deep within our nature. And yes, sometimes we have no choice. Ideologues tell us the world is a scary place. They attempt to influence our interpretation of the world to reinforce our fears. And fear is the real bully in the boat. You see, Bruce Lee’s character mastered his fear. He liberated his mind from it. Fear is a tarp that covers our understanding. It stifles our self-control. You have to look it right in the eye, because when you must finally resort to violence, you’ve clearly run out of ideas.

I take something different from the scene. Firstly, Lee did not directly engage in a fight with the bully at the time, but enabled those who were bullied to hold the power to let go of the rope attached to the dinghy. 

Freer fails to ask, however, the following obvious question: What happened to Lee and the bully once they landed? Would not the bully try to fight Lee? The art of fighting without fighting might have been a short-term tactic, but the goal of avoiding a fight would might not have been achieved. The fight might have occurred on the island where they landed. The aim of avoiding a fight was put off to a not-so-distant future. The aim was perhaps to, avoid a fight under existing conditions of riding the boat

Freer simply ignores this aspect. Lee would undoubtedly have known that there would exist the possibility of a fight in the near-future. Or perhaps Lee would  hope that, having arrived on the island, the rules of the tournament would convince Parsons to not engage in a fight?  We could speculate forever, of course.

In the case of the social-democratic left, the art of aiming for socialism without aiming for it, ignore the need to aim explicitly for a socialist society–a society without classes. The social-democratic or social-reformist left do not aim to achieve a classless society but rather a humanized capitalist society. Their view, explicitly or explicitly, is that aiming for such a society is idealist or utopian at present (and will, practically, forever, be the case). 

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police

I read an article on unions and the police that I thought would be useful for readers: George Rigakos & Aysegul Ergul (2011), “Policing the Industrial Reserve Army: An International Study,” in Crime, Law & Social Change, Volume 56, Number 4. (see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227052617_Policing_the_industrial_reserve_army_An_international_study). I came across the article while researching the function of the police in a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers. The article explains, indirectly, why social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld have a hostile attitude towards more radical political positions (see earlier posts in this series for a criticism of Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic position on the issue of the abolition of the police).

In the article, the authors argue that there is empirical evidence (factual data used as evidence for a hypothesis or theory) among many countries that shows that unions, at the micro level, function to limit exploitation of workers but, at the macro level, they may well function to limit the radical nature of the working class. This is consistent with some of my own experiences with and observations of unions–as well as the social-democratic left.

Let us first look at their arguments and evidence for their view that unions limit the radical nature of the working class (page 330):

After the Second World War, the dominant form of trade unionism recognized the primacy of the liberal democratic state and accepted the capitalist organization of production and private property. The revolutionary Marxist claims of overthrowing the state through the destruction of the capitalist mode of production were replaced by efforts to generate a dialogue and social pact among labour, capital and the state [158]. To put it differently, the goal of trade-unions to mobilize working class power for revolutionary purposes was abandoned in exchange for the legal recognition of collective bargaining and thus the state of trade-unions became crystallized as that of political actors representing an organized interest group within liberal democracy. The internalization of the attitude of “peaceful accommodation with capitalist interests” caused a deradicalization and depoliticization of the trade union movement [158]. The effects of a paradigm shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism, therefore, have deeply cut into both trade-union membership and political activism.

In the context of the accumulation process of capital (the reinvestment of the surplus produced by workers), some workers are thrown out of work (the unemployed, or what Marxian economists call the reserve army of labour), others are insecure in their work and some are more secure.

The end of the social pact among “labour, capital and the state [government]”–at least from the point of view of capital, and increasingly of the state or government–has left workers with less protection from the onslaught of the vicious nature of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations. There has been an increase in inequality in terms of income and wealth in the neoliberal era of privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization (page 342):

The income gap between people living in the top fifth of the richest countries and those living in the bottom fifth was 30:1 in 1960, 60:1 in 1990, and 74:1 in 1997. In 2005, the Human Development Report stated “the world’s richest 500 individuals have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.” In the same year the 2.5 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, that lived on less than two dollars a day accounted for 5% of global income while the richest 10%, almost all of whom lived in high income countries, accounted for 54% of global income [163]. According the World Institute for Economic Research [31], the richest two per cent of adults in the world owned
more than half of global household wealth while the poorer 50% of the world’s adults owned barely 1% of global wealth.

The increase in inequality in the neoliberal era has led to increased insecurity. You would think that with increased insecurity and inequality, there would be a need for more police, both private and public. However, what is interesting is how the presence of unions has generally not led to increases in the level of policing. Ironically, Mr. Rosenfeld, in his criticism of the idea of the abolition of the police, refers to the concept of “legitimation”:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism. The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter).

Yes, the working class can modify or reform certain economic, political and social institutions through their strength. However, Mr. Rosenfeld does not look at the opposite process: how this modification leads to the modification of the demands of the working class, blunting their power to oppose the class of employers as an independent class.

This limitation of the potential power of the working class can be seen in the lack of the need for increased policing despite increased levels of insecurity–because most unions now serve at the macro level to legitimate the continued existence of the class of employers (page 354):

Union membership was unrelated to policing employment, whether public, private or
combined for all countries. But when post-USSR states were removed from the sample a
statistically significant inverse relationship between private security or total policing employment and unionization appeared. … This finding provides empirical evidence for the claim that unions may actually provide a surrogate policing function for capital in western nations. That is, a stronger union presence lessens the necessity for more policing. This is particularly evident among northern European (and Ghent countries [Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden) where the average unionization rate is 25.6%, the highest by far among all regions, but the average total policing rate is 453.4, the lowest among all regions.

The reason for excluding the former USSR countries is because in those countries there is indeed a positive relationship with high unionization and high levels of public policing–undoubtedly because of the centralized policing function of the former USSR-countries (page 354):

In former USSR countries, on the other hand, a high unionization rate (12.5%) coincides with more
policing, particularly public policing (620.6) as the massive post-totalitarian apparatus has been largely maintained in the form of new protection rackets.

Should workers then not form or join unions? This is hardly what is being argued. It is vital for workers to protect themselves–but of course this protective function should be such that it does not legitimate the power of employers as a class. Furthermore, unions that rely on the organizational strength of their members rather than mainly on the power of the government or the state to enforce the protective function are superior.

At the macro level, modern unions often function to legitimate the class of employers, thereby serving a legitimating function for that class. At the micro level, however, they do serve as organizations of resistance (provided that they are indeed independent organizations at the micro level) (page 355):

What labour militancy does seem to provide, however, is a reduction in the rate of exploitation as measured by the extraction of surplus-value. Thus, surplus-value is inversely correlated to strikes and lock-outs)even when post-USSR states are omitted. There is no direct relationship, however, between policing employment and strikes and lock-outs. This suggests that while strikes and lock-outs may not directly threaten capitalist relations as measured by the necessity to employ more police and security, such work interruptions do have a statistically significant impact in reducing rates of exploitation. As Marxian political economy would indicate, the data also suggest unions are adept at checking exploitation by pushing for more favourable wage and hourly conditions but this does not translate into any direct threat to the established order of security as indicated by more policing.

In other words, unions are contradictory. On the one hand, they function to legitimate the power of the class of employers (even if that is not their intention), but simultaneously they function to limit the exploitation of workers.

Another way in which the legitimating function of unions can be seen is when mass movements that clash with the police arise. Unions often are aloof from such movements, or even engage in conservative attacks on such movements. For example, in France (page 358):

The 2006 youth protests occurred throughout the country as an opposition to the new labour law (First Employment Contract) whose goal was to reduce high youth unemployment through giving more flexibility to employers. In other words, the bill was to make it easier for employers to fire young workers without any compensation. Consequently, the youth responded to this bill by demonstrating on the streets, occupying universities, and blocking university activities including strikes. The insistence of youth in their opposition to the First Employment Contract eventually brought them support from unions. But why did the trade-unions not resist such a bill in the first place? How would the unions have acted had the youth not challenged the First Employment Contract? The unions’ (overly) cautious attitude in responding to issues concerning the labour market and the vested rights of workers is one of the most overt examples of their “policing” role in society. Perhaps the low employment and unionization rates among Parisien youth made them unrestrained by union membership, necessitating massive police intervention. …

It should come as no surprise by now that France and Greece have among the highest rates of total policing employment in Europe.

What should the radical left do? It depends, of course, in part on “where they are at.” They may be unemployed, retired or working (in unionized jobs, professional jobs, insecure jobs and so forth). What can generally be said is that the class issue, or the macro issue, needs to be addressed wherever possible. At the same time, it is of course necessary to engage in tasks that protect the immediate interests of workers.

What they should not do, though, is engage in legitimizing acts and rhetoric for the class of employers–which is what they also often do, in which case they need to be criticized.

Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?

In the previous post, I calculated the rate of exploitation of workers who work for Rogers Communication (see The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of Rogers Communications Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto). Below you will find the management rights clause of a collective agreement between Rogers Communications and Metro Cable TV Maintenance and Service Employees Association.

In a previous post, I also posted several quotes by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) that assert, without proof, that the collective agreements of CUPE locals are fair contracts (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I will continue to provide occasional posts with management rights clauses from collective agreements from different provinces to show that the management rights clause is something that unionized workers face throughout Canada–and which deserve to be often discussed among union members to see whether such clauses express in any way a democratic way of living or a dictatorial way of living (for the dictatorship of employers, see for example, Employers as Dictators, Part One).

However, I will also include collective agreements that relate to my other posts on the rate of exploitation of workers who work for a particular employer. I will, in future, post both the management rights clause (if there is an explicit one since arbitrators recognize management rights even if there is no such clause in the collective agreement) from the collective agreement and simultaneously my calculation of the rate of exploitation of the particular employer in another post (when possible).

A question for those who consider collective agreements to be fair and to provide conditions for decent work to be performed: Does the following management rights clause express the freedom of the unionized workers or their lack of freedom to determine their own lives at work? If it expresses a lack of freedom, how is the collective agreement fair? How is the work performed an expression of decent work (another cliche expression used by union reps)?

I have found it interesting that, despite my posts that refer to the management rights clauses of collective agreements and my criticisms of such clauses, there have been no explicit criticisms of such posts by defenders of union reps. I suspect that unions reps, like their social-democratic counterparts, simply want to avoid the issue since it is an Achilles heel for their claim to produce “fair contracts”

From page 9:

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT BETWEEN
ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS PARTNERSHIP
AND
METRO CABLE TV MAINTENANCE AND SERVICE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 TO AUGUST 31, 2019

Section 3 – Management Rights

3.01 The Association acknowledges that the Company retains the right to manage its operations in all respects in accordance with its commitments and its obligations and responsibilities, to direct the working force and to hire, promote, transfer, demote or lay off employees and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause, the right to decide on the number of employees needed by the employer at any time in accordance with the provisions of Company and Association seniority, the right to use modem methods, technology and equipment, and jurisdiction over all operations, buildings and equipment are solely and exclusively the responsibility of the employer; provided that any exercise of these rights by the Company which conflict with any provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the grievance procedure set out in Section 11. The employer also has the right to make, alter and enforce rules and regulations to be observed by the employees provided such rules and regulations are not inconsistent with the terms of this agreement.

3.02 The Company and Association agree that no employee shall in any manner be discriminated against or coerced, restrained or influenced on account of membership or non-membership in any labour organization or by reason of activity or lack of activity in any labour organization.

3.03 Supervisory/Managerial personnel will not perform bargaining unit work unless an explanation acceptable to both parties is provided for the performance of such work.

The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of Rogers Communications Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit). 

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. I also calculated the rate of exploitation for Air Canada workers and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) workers. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

Income before income tax expense s=$3.773 billion or $3773.5 million and
Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation v=$1.8045 billion or $1804.5 million

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=3773.5/1804.5=209%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Rogers Communications works around an additional 125 minutes or 2 hours 5 minutes for free for Rogers Communications. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Rogers Communications worker produces $2.09 surplus value or profit for free. 

  1. In a 4.5-hour work day (270 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in about 87 minutes (1 hour 27 minutes) and works 183 minutes (3 hours 3 minutes) for free for Rogers Communication.
  2. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in about 146 minutes (2 hours 26 minutes) and works 304 minutes (5 hours 4 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.
  3. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes). the worker produces her/his wage in about 155 minutes (2 hours 35 minutes) and works 325 minutes (5 hours 25 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.
  4. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes). the worker produces her/his wage in about 194 minutes (3 hours 14 minutes) and works 406 minutes (6 hours 46 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.

Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

Now, the calculation:

In millions of Canadian dollars:

The data are taken from Rogers Communications Inc. Annual Report.

Total revenue 15,073

Operating Expenses

Operating Costs

Cost of equipment sales 2,254
Merchandise for resale 242
Other external purchases 4,360
Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation 2,005

Total operating costs 8,861
Depreciation and amortization 2,488
Restructuring, acquisition and other 139

Total operating expenses 11,488
Finance costs 840

Interest on borrowings  746
Interest on post-employment benefits liability  11
Interest on lease liabilities  61
Capitalized interest (19)
Loss on repayment of long-term debt 19
(Gain) loss on foreign exchange (79)
Change in fair value of derivative instruments 80
Other 21

Total finance costs 840
Other income  (10)
Income before income tax expense 2,755

Total revenue therefore=11,488+840-10+12,318+2,755=15,073 (as above)

To calculate the rate of surplus value, the key categories are “Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation,” which is equivalent to wages/salaries (=v) and “Income before income tax expense” (surplus value (s) or profit).

Adjustments

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Adjustment of Stock-Based Compensation

The subcategory “stock-based compensation” in the category “Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation” includes two further subcategories (sub-sub categories, so to speak): 1. Options to purchase Class B Non-Voting Shares on a one-for-one basis (granted to employees, directors, and officers) and 2. Performance options (granted to certain key executives). It may seem unnecessary to adjust for the second sub-sub category since there were ” nil performance-based options” in 2019. However, there are at least two reasons for making adjustments. Firstly, payment for some of the stock-based compensation is due to stock-based compensation acquired in previous years: “These options vest on a graded basis over four years provided that certain targeted stock prices are met on or after each anniversary date. As at December 31, 2019, we had 1,068,776 performance options outstanding.”

Secondly, some of the stock options  in the first sub-sub category are based on “performance-based options” on the part of middle and senior management: “We granted 180,896 performance-based RSUs [restricted share units] to certain key executives in 2019.” 

I use the following logic from my post on the rate of exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Workers to justify shifting 10 percent of the amount from the category ” (I change the wording slightly to make the quote apply to Rogers Communications workers): 

Most employees, whether executive or not, seem to be eligible to some support of bonus as a function of performance. However, the gap between executive pay and the pay of regular employees has widened over the years, so it is reasonable to infer that the category “Stock-based compensation” is divided into two parts: one part is a function of the number of hours worked as well as the intensity of that work by regular employees; the other is based on the extent to which managers and senior executives are successful in exploiting those regular employees. 

It is impossible to determine the proportion of stock options that form part of salaries and bonuses that represent the exploitation of Rogers Communications regular workers. 

It is probably reasonable to assume that a minimum of 10 percent of the “Stock-based compensation” comes from the exploitation by middle and senior Rogers Communications executives of regular workers.

It would be necessary to have more detailed information to determine whether more or less of the money obtained in this category were distributed between regular bank workers and management executives. If regular bank workers received more, then the rate of exploitation would be less than the rate calculated below. If management executives received more, then the rate of exploitation would be more than the rate calculated below.

On the assumption of 10 percent, this means that 10 percent of the total “Stock-based compensation is reduced by 10 percent, or $200.5 million dollars, and that amount is added to “Income before income tax expense.” This gives, so far: 

Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation $1804.5 billion
Income before income tax expense $2955.5 billion

Adjustment of Finance Costs

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest: despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

As for the category “Interest on post-employment benefits liability,” from the point of view of Rogers Communications, it is an expense or cost because, presumably, Rogers Communications had to borrow money (and pay interest) to meet its financial obligations to its retired workers; this interest comes from the surplus value produced by the workers and is therefore included as part of profit.

I treat the category “Interest on lease liabilities” like other interest categories: it is paid out of the surplus value produced by Rogers Communications workers.

The interest charges so far that must be subtracted from “Finance costs” and added to “Income before income tax expense” is $818 million. 

That leaves $22 million for Finance Costs so far. 

As I explained on my post on the rate of exploitation of Air Canada workers:

Some explanation of “interest capitalized” is in order. I have had difficulty in understanding the nature of “Interest capitalized.” As far as I can tell, interest that is normally paid and is an expense for the particular employer is treated, in Marxian economics, as part of surplus value because, at the macro level, it comes from the surplus value produced by the workers.

Interest capitalized seems to be different since the interest charged on money borrowed for the purpose of the construction of fixed assets (with a specific interest rate attached to it) is “capitalized,” or not considered part of interest expenses until the construction is finished and the fixed asset is ready to use. This accounting distinction, however, from the macro point of view, is irrelevant since both interest expenses and interest capitalized are derived from the surplus value produced by workers (or appropriated from them in another industry). Accordingly, both interest expenses and interest capitalized should be added to the amount of “Income before income taxes” category.

In the case of Air Canada, capitalized interest was positive (not in parentheses), and I therefore added it to the amount of surplus value produced by the workers. In the case of Rogers Communication, it is negative (since it is in parentheses). Accordingly, I have subtracted it from “Finance Costs” (as the accountants have done). Whether that it is legitimate I will leave for those who more adequately understand modern accounting principles and their relation to Marxian economics. I have found no guidance in the literature so far to aid me in dealing with such issues. 

The three categories, “Loss on repayment of long-term debt,” “(Gain) loss on foreign exchange,” and
“Change in fair value of derivative instruments” seem to have nothing directly to do with interest payments and therefore I leave them as part of “Finance Costs.”

Since the category “Other” remains unspecified, I also leave it as part of “Finance Costs.”

Accordingly, adjusted Finance Costs are:

Adjusted Finance Costs

Loss on repayment of long-term debt 19
(Gain) loss on foreign exchange (79)
Change in fair value of derivative instruments 80
Capitalized interest (19)
Other 21

Total finance costs 22

The category “Other income” is somewhat misleading since, in a note, the category is really “Other (income) expense.” The subcategories are as follows: 

Losses from associates and joint ventures 18 
Other investment income (35) 
Total other income (10)

The $10 million is actually additional investment income, but since it is placed in an expense category, it is put into parentheses. Normally, when an amount is placed in parentheses, it is subtracted, but since it is additional income rather than an expense, it is added. It therefore is already accounted for in the original “Income before income tax expense,” it is already accounted for. 

The remaining 818 in so-called finance costs (which are hidden surplus value) are transferred to the adjusted “Income before income tax expense” category, so that the adjustment for the total of the category is 2,955.5.+818=3773.5. 

So, with the adjustments in place:

Income before income tax expense s=$3.773 billion or $3773.5 million and
Employee salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation v=$1.8045 billion or $1804.5 million

The Rate of Exploitation

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=3773.5/1804.5=209%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Rogers Communications works around an additional 125 minutes or 2 hours 5 minutes for free for Rogers Communications. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Rogers Communications worker produces $2.09 surplus value or profit for free. 

The length of the working day at Rogers Communications, like most places, varies. Here are a sample of working days from the Internet:

  1. 7 days a week. 32 hours a week.
  2. Varying 8hr shifts depending on dept. two paid 15 minutes break and 30mins unpaid lunch
  3. 37.5 a week
  4. 7.5 to 8 hrs
  5. 8 – 10 hours per day depending on projects etc. There is a great deal of flexibility in how you work
  1. In a 4.5-hour work day (270 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in about 87 minutes (1 hour 27 minutes) and works 183 minutes (3 hours 3 minutes) for free for Rogers Communication.
  2. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in about 146 minutes (2 hours 26 minutes) and works 304 minutes (5 hours 4 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.
  3. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes). the worker produces her/his wage in about 155 minutes (2 hours 35 minutes) and works 325 minutes (5 hours 25 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.
  4. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes). the worker produces her/his wage in about 194 minutes (3 hours 14 minutes) and works 406 minutes (6 hours 46 minutes) for free for Rogers Communications.

Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected?