Class Harmony and Social Reformism: The United Way as a Reformist Organization, Part One

This is the first of a two-part post. The first post will look at some of the limitations of the United Way (a charitable organization) as expressed on its website. The second post will look at some of the limitations of the United Way as expressed in one of its publications, Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation. The authors are Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu, Laura McDonough, Dylan Simone, Ben Johnson, Stephanie Procyk, Michelynn Laflèch and Alan Walks. For the purposes of the two posts, I will refer to the publication as United Way’s publication.

According to The United Way website:

UWCs [United Way Centraide] in Canada focus on ensuring people move from a life of poverty, to one of possibility; that communities are built to sustain healthy people; and that kids can be all that they can be.  Together with many agencies and partners, we improve lives, locally.  As part of an international network, UWCC links with the United Way Worldwide to share best practices and build capacity in 44 member countries, investing over $5 Billion US per year.

The United Way is part of an extensive international organization.

In another part of the website, it further says:


United Way is a federated network of over 80 local United Way Centraide offices serving more than 5,000 communities across Canada, each registered as its own non-profit organization and governed by an independent volunteer-led local Board of Directors. Locally and nationally, our goal is the same – to create opportunities for a better life for everyone in our communities.

Who could object to creating “opportunities for a better life for everyone in our communities?”

There is nothing wrong in aiming to improve people’s lives. In fact, it is admirable. The problem is whether such aims are linked, directly or indirectly, with other aims that limit people’s improvement in their lives.

The United Way does just that–it limits people’s improvements in their lives by assuming explicitly and implicitly improvement must occur while leaving the general economic structure (the economy, if you like) intact. In other words, it assumes that social reform is not only possible but is in fact the only possibility.

This can be seen through its donors and through its publications. Let us take a look first at its donors.

At first sight, it would appear that the United Way/Centraide (in French) Canada would be more favourable to workers. On its “Our Partners” web page, it explicitly mentions, in a separate subsection, Labour:

United Way and the Canadian Labour Congress have been partners since 1988 – working together to strengthen communities across Canada. The partnership developed around a common interest: ensuring that workers and working families have the support they need to succeed.

Unions across Canada are longstanding and generous contributors to United Way campaigns, encouraging members to volunteer and give. But the partnership goes much deeper than just financial support. Labour representatives advocate for those in need in their communities. They serve on United Way boards and committees, and offer programs like cooperative housing, childcare and other services.

Each year, United Way partners with unions across the country to improve lives in local communities. In 2016, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff endorsed the national partnership and our continued commitment to working together.

Of course, since the Canadian Labour Congress is essentially a reformist organization that fails to challenge the power of employers as a class (see  The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process), its support of the United Way already indicates a possible limitation on the nature of the United Way (but that issue will be for a later post).

On the same web page, however, there is explicitly an indication that there is a limitation to reformist efforts:


United Way is honoured to work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers and labour organizations in communities across the country. Thanks to their remarkable generosity, and that of their employees and members, we are improving lives locally from coast to coast to coast.

Compromise is undoubtedly necessary even if you do not want to do so; asymmetrical power relations oblige workers and their representatives to make compromises with employers and their representatives all the time. However, making compromises and presenting those compromises as not compromises is often a trick of social reformists or social democrats.

By saying that “United Way is honored [my emphasis] to work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers….,” the United Way already has compromised to the point where it is legitimating the power of employers as a class.

On the same web page, there is a link to those organizations that have donated at least $10 million and $1+ million. The 2018 $10 million donors are:

  1. BMO [Bank of Montreal] Financial Group
  2. Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)
  3. CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce)
  4. Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign
  5. Royal Bank of Canada
  6. ScotiaBank
  7. TD Bank Group.

The $1+ million donors forms a list of 80 organizations, some of which are labour unions–and of course many capitalist companies and government employers.

Ten of the twenty most profitable capitalist companies in Canada (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit) are on the list of the the $10 million and $1+ million donors:

  1. BCE [Bell Canada Enterprises]
  2. BMO
  3. Canadian Natural Resources
  4. CIBC
  5. Manulife
  6. Power Financial [which appears to be a subsidiary of Power Corporation]
  7. Royal Bank of Canada
  8. ScotiaBank
  9. Sun Life
  10. TD Bank Group

In fact, there are 11 of the largest private employers who have donated at least $1 million to the United Way since the Great West Life Co. is a subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada.

Given the nature of the donors, how is it an honour to receive such money from such employers and to “work with Canada’s leading corporations, employers….?” Is it an honour to have such corporations treat “their” workers as things to be used for the purpose of obtaining a profit (see The Money Circuit of Capital)? How is this an honour? How is it an honour for the Unite Way to receive money from such companies given that such companies exploit and oppress their workers (see for example  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Bank of Montreal (BMO), One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada and The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada).

Not only do such employers use “their” workers as things for the purpose of obtaining as much profit as possible, they also dictate to workers on a daily basis (see, for example, Employers as Dictators, Part One). Such organizations take from workers, use them and then use a small portion of the money as a donation to “help” those in poverty (defined according to the level of income–itself a limited way of defining poverty)–people who are in poverty because of the economic structure in which we live.

How is this honourable?

There are other problems with the social-democratic rhetoric of the United Way’s website, but such problems will be addressed in the next post in this series in relation to one of its publications, as noted above: Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.