Basic Income as A Radical Reform That Points Beyond Capitalism and Towards Socialism

This is a continuation of a previous post (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), which critically analyses Simran Dhunna’s and David Bush’s article that criticizes moves towards a universal basic income (see https://springmag.ca/against-the-market-we-can-do-better-than-basic-income).

In previous posts on this topic, I have mainly focused on a negative critique of Dhunna and Bush’s views on basic income.

This post will look at proposals for a more robust form of basic income–a form that could begin to challenge the power of employers as a class. In other words, rather than engaging in a negative critique of the social-democratic critique of basic income, I will look at basic income from a positive point of view. In future posts in this series, I will, however, continue with the negative critique.

The main point is that a radical proposal for universal basic income can have two distinct aims: one aim may be to realize such a proposal within the confines of the class power of employers. Another aim–the one that will be discussed in this post–is to use a radical proposal for universal basic income to push beyond a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures and relations.

Of course, a universal basic income that questions the very existence of a market for workers and the existence of a class of employers would meet with organized opposition from the class of employers. And? Dhunna and Bush do not even address this issue, but assume it away–because their aim is not to question the premises of a society characterized by the class power of employers and the economic, political and social structures that are associated with such class power.

A generous UBI would undoubtedly be robust. It would undoubtedly also be ambitious, as David Calnitsky (Fall 2018) points out. From “Does Basic Income Assume a Can Opener?” Catalyst, Volume 2, Issue 3, no page number):

It is true that the policy is incredibly ambitious, but ambitious thinking about transforming the world is at the core of the socialist project, and basic income would not be exciting if it wasn’t so ambitious.

It is necessary to distinguish, though, between a policy of basic income that aims to be as consistent with a society based on the power of employers as a class and a policy that aims to question the power and legitimacy of the class of employers.

Any socialist policy should involve a springboard for providing, on the one hand, a critique of the present class power of employers and, on the other, a vision of an alternative kind of society.

The strawman approach of Dhunna and Bush to basic income (which I will outline in another post in this series) does not permit such a springboard. Their strawman approach is countered by Bryant Sculos, in his article (2018), “Socialism & Universal Basic Income,” Class, Race and Corporate Power: Volume 6, Issue 1 , Article 9 (no page number): [What Sculos calls “thick” I call “robust” since Dhunna and Bush use that term]”:

My point here will be to provide reasons for why socialists should support a thick conception of UBI as a kind of radical reform from within capitalism, as part of a broader left agenda. …

First, it is quite true that not all UBI programs would be worth supporting. Any UBI program
that would have the likelihood of leaving the poor and vulnerable worse off should certainly
be opposed by any socialist or progressive. This kind of welfare-state replacement UBI is the
kind that white supremacist and conservative thought-leader Charles Murray and other
libertarians often support. However, simply because not all UBI programs are worth
supporting, does not mean that there are not thick or expansive conceptions of UBI that
absolutely are. An example of a conception of UBI that socialists should support would be
one that is—as the acronym requires—universal and also set at or above subsistence. This
means that all people, regardless of their ability or willingness to work, would at least be
much more likely to live a life without lacking any fundamental necessities.

Why cannot workers organize and create a movement for the establishment of a level of basic income that ultimately questions the premise or assumption of the permanent existence of a market for workers and the existence of a class of employers?

There are policies that can indeed be realized through modifications of the economic and political structures and relations of capitalism–and there are policies that challenge such economic and political structures and relations. A movement towards the establishment of a robust basic income could do just that. Furthermore, as I stated in an earlier post, a social movement for basic income could complement existing public services and not abolish them; they are not mutually exclusive.

Some, such as Tony Smith, may argue that an adequate basic income is incompatible with capitalist relations and therefore, presumably, should not be considered–but how we are going to get from the present class society to a challenge to that society remains unspecified. From Tony Smith, Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 269-270:

Another sort of contradiction arises when cosmopolitan theorists call for proposals that are effectively ruled out by the social relations defining the model they defend. Measures designed to provide high levels of basic income and meaningful ‘access avenues’ to industrial and financial decision-making throughout the global economy are ultimately incompatible with the capital/wage labor relation that remains an essential feature of the democratic cosmopolitan model [my emphasis]. The reproduction of this relation requires that those who do not have access to capital continue to see entering into wage contracts as their best available option. This implies that social assistance must be quite limited, since few will choose to sell their labour power for the low wages most workers in the global economy are offered if acceptable alternatives were available. The limited level of basic income compatible with capitalist property relations is unlikely to provide the material conditions for effective exercises of autonomy to anything approaching the extent required by the precepts of cosmopolitan democratic theory.

Although Smith cannot be accused of not providing proposals for moving from the present to the future (see for example How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left), his proposals still remain less concrete than is necessary to begin to move in the direction that he proposes.

There are those, of course, who propose a minimal basic income that would not challenge the basic premise of an extremely dependent class of workers on not just the class of employers but even specific employers; such a minimal basic income has nothing to do with a socialist proposal for a robust basic income.

It is precisely because a robust basic income begins to question the link between living and having to work for any particular employer that it is potentially a transitional demand that can form a link between the present society dominated by a class of employers and a future society not only without employers but without classes. .

Radicals who reject a basic income as a radical reform are often left with nothing concrete to propose in moving from the present to the future, as David Zeglen (2018) argues, in “Basic Income as Ideology from Below,” Lateral, Issue 7.2, (no page number):

After his demolition of the impossible economics behind universal basic income, Zamora concludes
that we should “reconnect with the postwar period’s emancipatory heritage,” while
Gourevitch and Stanczyk similarly finish their piece arguing that socialists need to “build a
new working-class consciousness.” These seem like obvious points that socialists can
broadly agree upon and yet there is no clear rhetorical strategy or narrative for how to
accomplish this within a political organization. Indeed, the question boils down to a
double bind regarding the state’s position in relation to basic income: what kind of
narrative can encapsulate both the necessity for a demand for a basic income from the
capitalist state, while acknowledging the realities of the limitations of the capitalist state
to offer a universal basic income, thus necessitating the historical negation of the said
state?

The proposal for a robust basic income would, of course, not free the working class from the class of employers. I have argued in a couple of other posts that a worker in a society dominated by a class of employers works for a particular employer (workers generally are conscious of this, of course) as well as for the class of employers (workers are more or less conscious of this).

A robust basic income would likely increase the freedom of workers to move from one particular employer to another particular employer. James Hickson (2020) recognizes this (although he disagrees with such a proposal, on such grounds as the threat of capital flight due to the level of taxation needed to fund a robust basic income, for example). From A Political Theory of Precarious Work. Ph. D. dissertation, pages 127-128:

In this respect, the introduction of a basic income could be particularly impactful for precarious workers. The provision of a basic income would disarm the extraordinary discretionary power that employers hold over precarious workers: the power to demand extra work, to withhold work, and to deny work altogether without reference to the interests of the individual worker. For example, the zero-hours contract worker would have less to fear from a week without any shifts from their employer if they know they can fall back on a guaranteed income paid as right by the state. Meanwhile, the temporary agency worker in the Amazon fulfilment centre may feel less inclined to bend over backwards to meet the company’s ever-more intense performance targets when they know they can walk away from the job and still have access to an income. The effects of their precarious employment would be mitigated by an alternative source of economic security that is independent from work. when they know they can walk away from the job and still have access to an income. The effects of their precarious employment would be mitigated by an alternative source of economic security that is independent from work.

To finance a robust basic income, workers and employers would have to be taxed–and that presupposes the continued existence of a class of employers; there would still be social forces that would oblige workers as a class to work for the class of employers. A proposal for a robust basic income would still need to be linked to an explicit program for freeing workers from the power of the class of employers and not from the power of a limited group of employers

That the class of employers would try to take measures that would undermine increased freedom of workers from particular employers and from power of employers as a class goes without saying, and any socialist movement that aims to abolish the power of the class of employers would have to take measures that would need to prevent the class of employers from undermining a socialist movement. (I ignore Hickson’s further objections and his proposed alternative solution of what he calls a “republican political program” since it it parallels Dhunna’s and Bush’s social-democratic proposals for an enhanced regulatory welfare state–and not the abolition of class relations).

Indeed, the proposal for a robust basic income may be similar to proposals and measures taken by the Paris Commune in 1871. (The Paris Commune arose when French army was defeated by the Prussian army; the French representatives of the class of employers, such as Adolphe Thiers, wanted to disarm Parisian workers, but the Parisian workers initially repulsed such efforts. A civil war ensued, in which thousands of Parisian workers were massacred and many others were imprisoned or exiled.) From Monty Johnstone (1971) The Paris Commune and Marx’s Conception of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, The Massachusetts Review (pages 447-462), Volume 12, Number 3), page 451:

This placing of “the unconscious tendencies of the Commune … to its credit as more or less conscious plans” was in Engels’ view “justified and even necessary under the circumstances.” In
doing so, Marx was anticipating the socialist measures that his class analysis of society (as well as his knowledge of the socialist trends and demands in the Paris labour movement) led him to expect sooner or later from a workers’ government. “The political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the perpetuation of his social slavery,” he wrote in the Address. Such a concept was nothing new for Marx: it belonged to the heart of his dialectic of social development. Already in 1844, in The Holy Family, he and Engels had written: “The question is not what this or that proletarian, or even the whole of the
proletariat at the moment considers as its aim. The question is what the proletariat is, and what, consequent on that being, it will be compelled to do.” In the first draft of The Civil War he wrote: “The Commune does not (do) away with the class struggles, through which the working classes strive for the abolition of all classes . . . but it affords the rational medium in which the class struggle can run through its different phases in the most rational and humane way.”

Just as the Commune was a political “rational medium in which class struggle can run through its different phases in the most rational and humane way,” so too is the policy of a robust basic income one of the rational forms through which the different phases of the class struggle can develop in the most rational and humane way.

Formulated another way, the proposal of a robust basic income could lead, given the economic and political situation of the working class as a class, to measures that would enable them to work out the conditions for their own self-emancipation, From Marc Mulholland (2009), Marx, the Proletariat, and the ‘Will to Socialism’,
Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory (pages 319-343) Volume 37, Issue #3, page 340:

Of course, a revolutionary situation promised a much deeper working out of the logic of class consciousness. Marx extrapolated the potential of working-class consciousness in the light of a brief revolutionary episode, the Paris Commune of 1871. He explicitly stated that the proletariat carries to power ‘no ready made utopias to introduce par ‘decret du peuple’. Class instinct instead realises itself as a drive towards the practical ‘co-operative production’ of workers which, when challenged by the countervailing logic of capital as expressed in ‘constant anarchy and periodical convulsions’, gropes towards horizontal and vertical collaboration in ‘co-operative societies’. This generates the desire to
‘regulate national production upon a common plan’: what Marx called ‘possible communism’. Even this, however, is only preparatory to the resolution of that philosophical conundrum that had first propelled Marx into politics: the estrangement of the individual from society.

Dhunna and Bush, however, do not even address the issue of ending a class society characterized by the domination of a class of employers, in association with the economic, political and social structures that reflect that domination.

There may be other policies that are superior to the policy of a basic income in initiating a movement towards the abolition of the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures–but then it would be necessary to indicate how and why they are superior in relation to the goal of abolishing the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social power structures.

Dhunna and Bush, however, have different aims–social-democratic or social-reformist aims. They want a more humane capitalism–a refurbished welfare state.

Their critique of the proposal for a basic income is a social-democratic or social-reformist critique. In their critique, they fail to address the need to overcome the class power of employers.

Further posts in this series will critique Dhunna’s strawman approach to basic income; in other words, they create an easy (and distorted) target so that they can easily show its inadequacy.

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Five

Introduction

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers.

I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience.

Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee.

Limitations of Collective Bargaining

A Philosophical (Critical) Commentary on the Labour Law Review, November 14-15, 2007

On November 14 and 15 I attended the 13th Annual Review of Labour Law. The structure of the presentation made the Review more lively than otherwise: a rotating set of two different lawyers presented each section, one representing the employees’ side and the other representing the employers’ side. The Review specifically related to law connected to workplaces governed by collective agreements as opposed to general employment law.

The Review was divided into six sections: accommodation of employees, especially with regard to disabilities according to human rights legislation; discipline in relation to the disabled employee; arbitrators’ responses to harassment at the workplace; updates to Manitoba Labour Board decisions; updates to arbitration board decisions; and trends in Manitoba labour relations.

The bottom line of issues centering on accommodations of those with disabilities is that the employer must reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities on a continuous basis up to the point of undue hardship for the employer.

Discipline of employees with disabilities covered mainly those with addictions of one form or another. The issue here is to what extent the conduct leading to discipline is attributable to the addiction and to what extent it is attributable to the employee’s own control.

The third section on harassment in the workplace described the broadening of the definition of harassment from harassment based on stereotypical categories specified in the legislation to harassment based on persona characteristics, or in more colloquial terms, harassment characteristic of bullying.

The fourth section provided an overview of relatively recent Manitoba Labour Board decisions. An interesting case was between United Steelworkers of America and Buhler Manufacturing. The Labour Board found that the employer was obliged to provide to the union contact information (telephone numbers and home addresses) of all members in the bargaining unit, and the list was to be updated every six months.

An interesting case in the fifth section was between the Province and the Manitoba Government Employees’ Union. The Province put certain employees on an attendance management program. The arbitrator found that the medical information requested by the employer was far in excess of what was reasonable under the circumstances. Another interesting element of this case was the inclusion in the collective agreement of the clause that the employee may or shall be requested to provide a medical certificate or statutory declaration of having been sick.

The final section considered some possible trends in labour relations, such as the duty to accommodate disabled employees, increasing privacy rights of the individual versus the right of the employer for relevant information to run the business (drug testing and surveillance of employees).

One comment made by a union lawyer while discussing the issue of accommodation of disabled employees in the first section should leave teachers with food for thought. He indicated that it is a little known fact that the employer has the right to grieve. In all arbitration cases presented during the two days, however, there was no case in which the employer grieved. The main reason why employers rarely grieve was not addressed. The main reason why employers rarely grieve is that they do not need to do so; they possess the economic power to implement their goals independently of the grievance process. What the collective agreement does, via labour law, is to limit the economic power of employers to do what they want with the employees. The collective agreement is a defensive mechanism, not an offensive mechanism.

Some may make the counterargument that collective bargaining has permitted the extension of certain rights, such as maternity leave. On this view, collective bargaining, consequently, can become an offensive weapon by gradually extending employees’ rights in various directions. Such a conclusion would be valid if employers were passive and the world were static. However, as teachers in this Division have experienced, employers make many unilateral decisions, such as CAP, the online report card system and the requirement that substitute teachers provide reasons for refusing jobs. Employers use their economic power to achieve their goals, and they rarely need to grieve to achieve them.

If this is the case, and the employer-employees relation, as I argued in the last article, involves subordination to the will of the employer, then the economic power not only of the Division as employer but all employers needs to be discussed thoroughly and on an ongoing basis.

For instance, does the economic power of employers result in employees fearing to express their opinions because they fear retaliation by the employer? If so, what does that tell us about the kind of society in which we live? Do we want our children to grow up in the same fearful relations, if they exist? What are the implications of living in fear for the formation of character? Since education, ultimately, is the formation of human character, how does the employer-employees relation work itself out in the formation of human character? In other words, does the employer-employee relation work for or against the educational process?

These questions, even indirectly, were not addressed at the Labour Law Review. Both union lawyers and employer lawyers, from opposite sides to be sure, shared the same premise: the employer-employees relation is legitimate. The differences between the two sides had to do with whether the collective agreement had been breached by the employer. The shared premise of the legitimacy of the employer-employees relation prevented them from questioning their own logic. Should we not be discussing this premise as teachers and as employees?

Fred Harris, executive member

Engaging in Concrete Administrative Issues in a Union

In the WTA newsletter, I also provided concrete information relevant to substitute teachers for members of the Substitute Teachers Committee (and, perhaps, for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember whether I submitted the information to the WTA):

Good afternoon, everyone.

At the executive meeting, I asked for clarification concerning whether substitute teachers, if injured, had any insurance. The answer is: no. Teachers, according to law, are excluded from receiving Workers’ Compensation, and this is a non-negotiable item (only employers pay into Workers’ Compensation). However, private insurance of some type would be possible, but none now exists. So, if you get injured on the job as a substitute teacher—you can always sue the Division. Other than that, you are responsible for your own disability or injury.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

Furthermore, I provided information in the WTA newsletter about the new substitute-calling system (SmartFinder):

Substitute Teacher Access to Listed Jobs

SmartFinder Express has now been programmed to permit substitute teachers to access jobs available, either online or by telephone. In either case, key in your employee number and pin number. Next, for the computer system, click on Available Jobs, and then specify the range of dates and click on Submit. For the telephone system, press number 2.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

I also wrote about some relevant information (and problems) for substitute teachers with the SmartFinder system:

Elements of the Current SmartFinder Express System for Substitute Teachers

The current SmartFinder Express system has several features (or lack of features) about which substitute teachers should be aware:

  1. Should a substitute teacher refuse four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  2. Should a substitute teacher not answer four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  3. Should a substitute teacher hang up three consecutive times, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  4. In some instances, the SmartFinder system has called substitute teachers for the same day when they have already been booked for that day. Since the system still requires substitute teachers to provide reasons, they may be penalized for refusing jobs that they should not have received in the first place.
  5. When a substitute teacher tries to find available jobs to accept, there are rarely any such jobs. However, in some other divisions (such as St. James-Assiniboia), substitute teachers can go online and accept posted jobs for substitute teachers.

Informing Substitute Teachers of Clauses in the Collective Agreement Especially Relevant for Them

Furthermore, I wrote the following to the members of the Substitute Committee (and perhaps drafted one for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember):

Good afternoon, everyone.

As indicated in the minutes, I am sending everyone a copy of the clause about professional development in the collective agreement:

16.03 (f) Professional Development

A substitute teacher who has worked for the Division for at least fifty (50) teaching days in the previous school year shall be entitled to request in writing to the Director of Human Resources, or designate, to attend one professional development day in the next school year. Attendance, if approved, shall be considered as time worked under Article 16.03, Substitute Teachers.

A substitute teacher not meeting the above eligibility requirements may request to attend scheduled professional development days. Such attendance, if approved, shall be on a without pay basis.

Approval in either instance shall be at the sole discretion of the Division.

Fred

Advocating as Representative of a Subsection of the Union Membership to the Negotiating Committee 

In addition to these initiatives, I wanted to present recommending to the negotiating committee possible clauses of relevance to the substitute teachers in relation to a salary cap for substitute teachers (which did not apply to permanent teachers) :

Justification for Recommending that the Negotiating Committee Consider the Proposal for Removing the Clause in the Collective Agreement

Firstly, to justify the maintenance of the clause in the collective agreement, 16.03 (c) (iii) “No substitute shall receive a salary rate higher than the maximum salary rate provided under the Basic Salary Schedule for a Class IV teacher,” it has been pointed out that the substitute teachers in Winnipeg School Division No. 1 are the highest paid substitute teachers in Winnipeg. However, if the teachers in the WTA were also the highest paid teachers in Winnipeg, would it be justifiable to limit their salaries to the maximum level of class IV until they have worked 20 days or more? Of course, if there were such a cap, it would not matter to permanent contract teachers since they would automatically reach the 20 days. That is not the case for substitute teachers. On principle, though, is the fact that substitute teachers are the highest paid sufficient grounds for justifying the maintenance of such a clause?

Secondly, it has been said that there are few substitute teachers who would experience the effects of such a clause. There is no data to substantiate such a conclusion. The survey did not contain a question pertaining to level of qualifications (it should have done so). Without such data, the number and percentage of substitute teachers who would fall under such a clause is indeterminate. However, about one third of substitute teachers have substituted for at least 10 years. I know of at least three others who have substituted as long as I have who have their Masters’ degree.

Thirdly, even on the assumption that there are few substitute teachers who fall under the clause, should the same principle then apply to salary scale according to qualification and experience in any given year? For example, if there were no teachers with nine years experience and class 7 qualifications in a particular year, should we then agree to capping those with so many years experience and so much education since there are few or no members in the set in any particular year? We should also remember that even if in any given year there might be few members in such a set, situations evolve, and there might be more members in the set in some years than in others.

Fourthly, the issue is not just one of a few substitute teachers. The collective agreement embodies the recognition of the principle that differentiation of the qualities of teachers results in differential treatment. For example, differential experience and differential educational qualifications results in differential pay scales despite all teachers being members of the WTA. Since those substitute teachers who have worked for a number of years probably, though not necessarily, worked for the Division for a number of years, this clause contradicts the Associations’ principle of differential pay according to years of experience and level of qualifications. To be consistent with the Associations’ principles, should not the Negotiating Committee try to remove the clause from the collective agreement?

I provided a table of possible differences if the cap on the salary of substitute teachers was eliminated:

The maximum salary rate for class IV is $67, 522 according to the salary grid. The calculations are based on the yearly rate divided by 200 working days to give the rate per day. The ground base for any change in pay is $67, 522/200, or 337.61 a day. The two variables are the length of service (level of experience) and the level of qualifications:

Class 5, level 8, Yearly rate=69,948; daily rate=$338.30

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1691.50 2.45
6 2025.66 2029.80 4.24
7 2363.27 2368.10 4.83
8 2700.88 2706.40 5.52
9 3038.49 3044.70 6.21
10 3376.10 3383.00 6.90
11 3713.71 3721.30 7.59
12 4051.32 4059.60 8.28
13 4388.93 4379.90 9.03
14 4726.54 4736.20 9.66
15 5064.15 5074.50 10.35
16 5401.76 5412.80 11.04
17 5739.37 5751.10 11.73
18 6076.98 6089.40 12.42
19 6414.59 6427.70 13.11

Class 5, level 9, Yearly rate=$71,358, daily rate=$356.79

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1783.95 95.90
6 2025.66 2140.74 115.08
7 2363.27 2497.53 134.26
8 2700.88 2854.32 153.44
9 3038.49 3211.11 172.62
10 3376.10 3567.90 191.80
11 3713.71 3924.69 210.98
12 4051.32 4281.48 230.16
13 4388.93 4638.27 249.34
14 4726.54 4995.06 268.52
15 5064.15 5351.85 287.70
16 5401.76 5708.64 306.88
17 5739.37 6065.43 326.06
18 6076.98 6422.22 345.24
19 6414.59 6779.01 364.42

Class 6, level 7, Yearly rate=$69,713, daily rate=$345.87

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1729.35 41.30
6 2025.66 2075.22 49.56
7 2363.27 2421.09 57.82
8 2700.88 2766.96 66.08
9 3038.49 3112.83 74.34
10 3376.10 3458.70 82.60
11 3713.71 3804.57 90.86
12 4051.32 4150.44 99.12
13 4388.93 4496.31 107.38
14 4726.54 4842.18 115.64
15 5064.15 5188.05 123.90
16 5401.76 5533.92 132.16
17 5739.37 5879.79 140.42
18 6076.98 6225.66 148.68
19 6414.59 6571.53 156.94

Class 6, level 8, Yearly rate=$72,152, daily rate=$360.76

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1803.80 115.75
6 2025.66 2164.56 138.90
7 2363.27 2525.32 162.05
8 2700.88 2886.08 185.20
9 3038.49 3246.84 208.35
10 3376.10 3607.60 231.50
11 3713.71 3968.36 254.65
12 4051.32 4329.12 277.80
13 4388.93 4689.88 300.95
14 4726.54 5050.64 324.10
15 5064.15 5411.40 347.25
16 5401.76 5772.16 370.40
17 5739.37 6132.92 393.55
18 6076.98 6493.68 416.70
19 6414.59 6854.44 439.85

Class 6, level 9, Yearly rate=$75,691, daily rate=$378.46

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1892.30 204.25
6 2025.66 2270.76 245.10
7 2363.27 2649.22 285.95
8 2700.88 3027.68 326.80
9 3038.49 3406.14 367.65
10 3376.10 3784.60 408.50
11 3713.71 4163.06 449.35
12 4051.32 4541.52 490.20
13 4388.93 4919.98 531.05
14 4726.54 5298.44 571.90
15 5064.15 5676.90 612.75
16 5401.76 6055.36 653.60
17 5739.37 6433.82 694.52
18 6076.98 6812.28 735.30
19 6414.59 7199.74 785.15

Class 7, level 6, Yearly rate=$69,948; daily rate=$349.74

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1748.70 60.65
6 2025.66 2098.44 72.78
7 2363.27 2448.18 84.91
8 2700.88 2797.92 97.04
9 3038.49 3147.66 109.17
10 3376.10 3497.40 121.30
11 3713.71 3847.14 133.43
12 4051.32 4196.88 145.56
13 4388.93 4546.62 157.69
14 4726.54 4896.36 169.82
15 5064.15 5246.10 181.95
16 5401.76 5595.84 194.08
17 5739.37 5945.58 206.21
18 6076.98 6295.32 218.34
19 6414.59 6645.06 230.47

Class 7, level 7, Yearly rate=$73,072, daily rate=$365.36

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1826.80 138.75
6 2025.66 2192.16 166.50
7 2363.27 2557.52 194.25
8 2700.88 2922.88 222.00
9 3038.49 3288.24 249.75
10 3376.10 3653.60 277.50
11 3713.71 4018.96 305.25
12 4051.32 4384.32 333.00
13 4388.93 4749.68 360.75
14 4726.54 5115.04 388.50
15 5064.15 5480.40 416.25
16 5401.76 5845.76 444.00
17 5739.37 6211.12 471.75
18 6076.98 6576.48 499.50
19 6414.59 6941.84 527.50

Class 7, level 8, Yearly rate=$76,204, daily rate=$381.02

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1905.10 217.05
6 2025.66 2286.12 260.46
7 2363.27 2667.14 303.87
8 2700.88 3048.16 347.28
9 3038.49 3429.18 390.69
10 3376.10 3810.20 434.10
11 3713.71 4191.22 477.51
12 4051.32 4572.24 520.92
13 4388.93 4953.26 564.33
14 4726.54 5334.28 607.74
15 5064.15 5715.30 651.15
16 5401.76 6096.32 694.56
17 5739.37 6477.34 737.97
18 6076.98 6858.36 781.38
19 6414.59 7239.38 824.79

Class 7, level 9, Yearly rate=$79,760, daily rate=$398.80

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1994.00 305.95
6 2025.66 2392.80 367.14
7 2363.27 2791.60 428.33
8 2700.88 3190.40 489.52
9 3038.49 3589.20 550.71
10 3376.10 3988.00 611.90
11 3713.71 4386.80 673.09
12 4051.32 4785.60 734.28
13 4388.93 5184.40 795.47
14 4726.54 5583.20 856.66
15 5064.15 5982.00 917.85
16 5401.76 6380.80 979.04
17 5739.37 6779.60 1040.23
18 6076.98 7178.40 1101.42
19 6414.59 7577.20 1162.61

Radicals need to be active on many fronts, including the nitty-gritty of providing concrete information to the members on relevant laws and clauses in the collective agreement and being an advocate for members in various ways.

Of course, it depends on their own specific situation as well. I, for example, no longer work for a specific employer. Consequently, my critical activism needs to take a different form.

A Private Employer’s “Humanism” in Sweden: The Dream of Social Democrats Everywhere

As I pointed out in my critique of Jane McAlevey’s reference to Sweden’s so-called ‘leveling of the playing field for children’s opportunity for success from birth onward,” (see   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), social democrats tend to idealize the Scandinavian countries. I began to more directly debunk this social-democratic myth in the post  A Short List of the Largest Swedish Employers by the Number of Employees, Profits and the Profits per Worker ).

Let us look at the behaviour of one private employer in Sweden, which supposedly instituted humanistic methods for helping workers to become more healthy: the private employer Scania, a multinational capitalist manufacturing firm (from page 140, Christian Maravelias, Torkild Thanem, Mikael Holmqvist. “March Meets Marx: The Politics of Exploitation and Exploration in the Management of Life and Labour”. Published online: 2012; pages 129-159):

Scania is an internationally leading manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and coaches, and industrial and marine engines. It operates in some 100 countries with approximately 34,000 employees [in another source, it says 45,235].. Scania was founded in the late nineteenth century and has built and delivered more than 1,500,000 trucks, buses and engines.

Scania is well known both for its products and for its stable and long-term strategic focus. It has grown organically, primarily through internal financing, and it has remained in the same product category for more than 80 years. This conservatism has been successful, yielding annual profits for more than seven consecutive decades and helped avoid regular lay-offs since the 1940s. Today Scania is regarded a stable and attractive employer known for combining continuous improvement in production with safe and professionally stimulating working conditions.

Workers in Scania were subject to a scientific management system, with a top-down management style. As a consequence, (page 145):

the previous system was associated with high levels of personnel turnover (30%) and illness absenteeism (25%),

To deal with this problem, the union pressured for the development of a lean production model in the style of Toyota (pages 145-146):

the union was able to exercise considerable bargaining power, almost forcing the firm to accept a version of lean production that was aligned with principles of health and well-being.

However, Scanian management turned the situation to its advantage by coopting the process of a move towards  so-called health and wellness:

Like many lean production initiatives, Scania’s turn to this kind of system in the 1990s implied an emphasis on self-managing teams, continuous improvement and individual responsibility (see, e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler, Goldoftas, & Levine, 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge, Turnbull, & Wilkinson, 1992). Despite an emerging concern with well-being, the most apparent aspect of this related to the objective dimension of exploiting labour. As new tasks and responsibilities were added to all factory jobs, Scania was able to extract more value from the salary they paid workers. Making workers take individual responsibility for constantly improving the production process intensified work, as it meant that they had to do more for the same salary: in addition to take responsibility for executing predefined tasks, workers in self-managing teams were expected to set goals and find ways of reaching these goals.

This meant that each team member had dual roles: both as an operator and as a reflective practitioner. As operators, team members carried out more or less pre-defined tasks according to standard operating procedures. As reflective practitioners, they stepped out of these same processes and observed them from a distance to identify opportunities for improvement.

As reported through previous studies of lean production (e.g. Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992; Parker & Slaughter, 1990), the enhanced exploitation of labour and consequent work intensification was deeply related to speed, posing production speed in a tight relationship to production error.

The shift from strictly hierarchical managerial structures to more horizontal managerial structures (with, of course, the hierarchical managerial structure still prevailing “in the last instance”) led to the employer engaging in the exploration of new organizational structures to exploit its working force, a feature characteristic of capitalist firms as they are subject to the dual constraint of the need to exploit their working force while being subject to competitive rivalry from other capitalists (page 132):

The basic problem facing firms subject to increasing competitive pressures is to balance exploitation, which is incremental and may facilitate short-term competitiveness, with exploration, which is radical and might enable long-term competitiveness. The reason for this balancing act is that exploitative pursuits tend to undermine explorative pursuits.

This exploration of new ways of exploiting labour led to a focus on managing the health of workers (page 140):

To deal with problems of high costs and accident levels as well as high levels of production error, illness absenteeism and employee turnover, Scania decided to implement a lean production system inspired by the justin- time and total quality management principles of Toyotaism. This was later combined with investments in health promotion, and it is the emphasis on health in particular which makes this case distinct from previous studies of lean production.

The exploration of control over the health of the workers led, on the one hand, to attempts to control their subjectivity (their “mind set” or their “attitude”) (page 142):

Having the right job skills was only seen to constitute one part of this. Perhaps more reminiscent of previous research on service work (e.g. Callaghan & Thompson, 2002), high performance was just as much about having the right mind-set, that is having the motivation to be an active, committed and ambitious employee. It was acknowledged by managers and workers that this was not an easy task, because a partly new type of employee was required for the lean production system to work properly. Since working the production line was hard work, workers needed to be in
good shape. But since this also involved efforts to enhance output and quality, it required a particular person who was motivated and committed to change and improvement.

On the other hand, the attempt to control the subjectivity of the worker also led to attempts to control life after work through what programs that seemed to benefit workers (pages 142-143):

This approach blurred the boundaries between work and life. In the words of one team leader, ‘being active and motivated is not a capacity you can switch on and off, [y] it comes down to who you are and how you live your life’. Hence, workers were expected to go far in adapting to the system. But if Scania was to live up to its goal of being a ‘responsible and caring employer’ as well as a lean firm, this obliged them to make far-reaching adaptations, which go beyond what has been reported in previous studies (e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler et al., 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992). The mutual responsibilities of employees and employer were expressed through two company programmes known as the Employeeship and the 24 Hour Employee. These programmes were also pinnacles in the firm’s integration of lean production and health promotion, involving anything from safe machinery to helping employees lose weight.

These programs were not just window dressing; workers were conceived as resources in a similar fashion to the machines and buildings that Scania owned; workers were expected to take care of themselves outside work and inside work in order to increase the productivity of the company, and if they did not productivity would suffer (page 143):

Scania’s objective exploration of labour, which was aimed to enhance productivity, improve quality and increase profits, required them to re-socialise workers by subjectively exploring their lives, bodies and personalities and what potential they offered in terms of being exploited as labour. This was expressed in rather explicit expectations and norms concerning employee lifestyle. To be physically, mentally and technologically equipped to handle their work, one nurse emphasised that workers were expected to keep themselves in a ‘healthy workable condition’ and
show competence in ‘health-related things such as physical fitness [and] mental strength’.

Although there was no formal right for Scania to control the workers’ lives outside work, on a practical level the two programs did lead to pressure to conform to the requirements of Scania to exploit the workers (page 144):

Of course, Scania had no formal right to interfere with what workers did in their spare time, but when a worker’s private life started to impact
negatively on their work, the firm was able to intervene in the opposite
direction, subordinating life to labour. As argued by one line manager:

If one of my employees doesn’t get enough sleep because he plays poker all night, it is his own business – as long as it doesn’t affect his ability to work. But if it  does  […] – and most likely it will – it is not just his business but my business as  well.

Workers were somewhat ambivalent about how they experienced this. In the words of an IT specialist:

a couple of years ago I went through a divorce. I started drinking a little bit too            much and somehow my boss found out about this. At first, he didn’t say  anything,  but after some time he did, and he also explained that he had spoken to a counsellor at the Health Office who he wanted me to contact. I did, and the therapy helped. But it was somewhat creepy to see how my family problems  were turned into a work problem.

This worker’s life, then, was subjectively re-socialised and explored to fit the new organisation of production which Scania was objectively exploring in the interest of more intensely exploiting labour.

The far-reaching nature of the employer–employee contract, their shared responsibilities and the blurring of the objective exploration of labour contra the subjective exploration of life was further reflected in the 24 Hour Employee programme. More specifically, this involved a mutual sense of caring, where the programme aimed to show how much the firm cares for its employees, on and off the job, by helping them live healthier. However, this programme also emphasised how workers were expected to take care of themselves during and after working hours. Workers did not necessarily view this contract as consensual, and some workers called it ‘a give-and-take thing’. While Scania promised a safe work environment and helped workers take care of themselves, the firm was seen to expect ‘an awful lot’ in return – that workers ‘live in accordance with its standards’.

Lean production did result in some workers feeling stressed out, but rather than attributing the problem to lean production itself (and the nature of the capitalist firm as capitalist firm), the problem is identified as an individual problem (a similar approach is the current psychological fad called “mindfulness”–a variant of the ancient Stoical philosophy of disregarding the real objective social constraints on our lives); used by management, this led to manipulation (pages 148-149): 

Through a therapeutic and reflective approach, the Health School sought to help workers gain better self-knowledge, set limits and prioritise. Again, this was anchored in an emphasis on individual responsibility, where participants had to accept responsibility for their own life and work. This was important since many participants initially tended to associate stress with outside factors, such as their job being too demanding or managers expecting too much. Hence, the therapeutic process was embedded in a somewhat contested terrain where therapists and participants tried to allocate responsibility and blame in opposite directions. Although therapists sometimes relaxed the responsibilities and performance targets for individual workers in the short term, there was never any doubt that participants were required to adapt to the system should they continue to work for the firm. Indeed, therapy made most participants accept individual responsibility for adapting to the system, who thereby ended up subjectively participating in their own exploitation (cp. e.g. Burawoy, 1979; Delbridge, 1995; Thompson, 1989).

The first step in the therapeutic process was to establish a trustful atmosphere where participants were ready to accept and commit to ‘the fact’ that they have a problem with stress. The second step involved mapping out the daily routines of individual participants and their colleagues. Participants were then taught how to become more aware and reflective about their own behaviour and attitudes, and taught to think in more strategic terms about all parts of their lives. While the integration of lean production and health promotion blurred the work–life boundary, this particular task encouraged participants to make distinctions between work, self and private life, and to define goals for all three areas. According to one health coach, this mindset was pursued in the spirit of helping participants gain control over their lives and ‘feel that their lives were the result of their own conscious and informed choices’ rather than forces beyond their control.

Failing to cope, then, was seen as an outcome of limited self-management skills. Incidentally, life became just a bit more like work. Although this might be seen as an example of skill expansion, we would argue that this chimes less with Adler’s (2007) upgrading thesis than with Thompson’s (2007) argument that multi-skilling does not necessarily lead to up-skilling. Here, the subjective exploration of life did not unequivocally make work more varied, diverse and interesting; it also involved a division, simplification and management of life to make it more appropriate for work.

It should be evident now that working for Scania is a double-edged sword since workers’ health, which involves the whole life of workers and not just the working part of their lives, is used as a means for enhancing the company’s bottom line. Ultimately, Scania follows the same process of subordinating workers’ lives to the pursuit of  more money on an ever increasing scale (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

The idealization of the Scandinavian countries by Ms. McAlevey and other social democrats thus does not stand up to scrutiny. Even on the assumption that children have equal opportunity at birth (as Ms. McAlevey claims–without further evidence), when they grow up many become employees–and as employees, they are used by employers as things for obtaining more and more money.

Working lives may in some ways be better in Sweden but in many ways they also may be worse under the social-democratic approach that co-opts workers’ own subjectivity.

This case also illustrates the importance of ideological struggle since employers have many resources to co-opt workers into their own schemes. Organizational struggle in itself is insufficient; it is necessary to engage in a simultaneous struggle both organizationally and ideologically.