This is the continuation of a previous post. In the first post, I looked critically at the web site of the United Way Centraide Canada. The following post looks critically at one of its branch publications, Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation (May, 2019), by United Way Greater Toronto.
The publication contains many implicit statements that illustrate its own view that employees and employers can, somehow, live in harmony. Such a view of class harmony, of course, has been persistently criticized on this blog from the start, when I created the page The Money Circuit of Capital.
The limitations of the publication–and hence the United Way–can be seen implicitly even in the Foreword. It says (page 5):
With the data available to us, this report begins with a look at how inequality is impacting certain groups.
The publication–typical of social-reformist or social-democratic publications–measures inequality and poverty in terms of level of income. Since I have already criticized this way of analyzing poverty, inequality and class (see School Rhetoric: Ideological Use of the Concept of Social Justice, Part One), I refer the reader to that post; its analysis applies equally to the limited implicit definition of poverty by the United Way.
The rhetoric of class harmony can be seen in the following (page 6):
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is a great place to live. It is one of the most diverse regions in the world, where we are held together by a collective identity that is fueled by a shared commitment and interest in one another despite our differences. This shared commitment is built on the trust and reciprocity that exists between community members and is an important reason the GTA is such a desirable place for people to live, raise their families, and grow their businesses.
But there are growing forces undermining that shared commitment to each other: the GTA labour market is increasingly characterized by precarious work; there is a lack of affordable places for people to live; and people continue to face systemic discrimination in the economy and everyday life.
The first paragraph merely asserts–without any proof or evidence–that there is such a thing as a “collective identity”–as if living in an area called Greater Toronto Area automatically creates a collective identity. This is pure rhetoric that hides the reality of class exploitation by some of the very donors to the United Way (see my previous post as well as the post A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada).
What is the “shared commitment and interest” of employees of the Royal Bank of Canada and their employer? A real sharing involves relatively equal participation in both the decisions of an organization and the consequences of that organization (and organizations connected to it). Do the employees who work for the Royal Bank of Canada (or any of the largest corporations in Toronto) share relatively equally in participatory power with upper management and the Board of Directors of the Royal Bank of Canada? Of course not.
This “shared commitment and interest to each other,” although containing some truth (employees in the Royal Bank of Canada obviously need their job if they are to live, to enjoy and to fulfill some aspects of their lives–as long as employers exist), is riveted with its opposite–a shared antagonism of commitments and interests since it is also not in the interests of such employees to be used as things or means for the benefit of the Royal Bank of Canada and other corporations obtaining as much money as possible.
On page 7, we read:
Fairness and opportunity are core values that bind us together; they are at the heart of the community we all love and feel proud of. The promise of the opportunity equation must be available to everyone for this to remain true. Otherwise, divisions will grow and the GTA of the future will be a less desirable place to live, raise a family, or grow a business. This report helps us to better understand where to focus our resources to make the promise of the opportunity equation a reality for everyone.
Since working for an employer is necessarily unfair (see The Money Circuit of Capital), the United Way would have had to propose that we move forward by developing a movement that is dedicated to the elimination of the power of the class of employers and the economic, political and social structures that support that power. Of course, it would be very difficult to do so since part of the funding for the United Way comes from the very corporations whose interests are opposed to the creation of social relations that can be characterized by fairness.
The 152 page publication then goes on to show how inequality in income has increased–in many cases substantially–based on age, immigration status (born in Canada or not born here), race and gender.
The increase in income gaps along these diverse lines should not be ignored, of course. However, the publication completely ignores the impact of the economic structure on whether various categories can actually gain control over their lives–the real test of fairness. Consider the category of race. The data provided in the publication shows that (page 63):
Racialized groups experienced income gains from 2005 to 2015, after ten years of little movement. However, within each employment type, the income gap between racialized and white groups grew in Canada, Peel, Toronto, and York. This divide was more pronounced for those engaged in permanent, full-time employment, where the average incomes of white groups in permanent, full-time jobs increased at a faster rate than the incomes of racialized groups. By 2015, the average income of white groups in permanent, full-time employment was 1.3 times greater than that of racialized groups in the same form of employment in Peel and York and 1.7 times greater in Toronto.
Employment relations may well be racialized (I have not researched the issue). Reducing income gaps between permanent (or even part-time) white employees and permanent racialized groups is certainly necessary (not by reducing the incomes of white employees but by raising the incomes of racialized employees), but such struggle, if successful, will eat into the profits of some of the funders of United Way. The United Way makes no mention of this–due to its class-harmony approach of referring to “collective identity” and “shared commitment and interest.”
Indeed, none of the solutions proposed by the United Way to the problems of growing income gaps based on various differences refer to the problem of the power of employers as a class. They offer three general recommendations (page 77):
- ensuring everyone can participate in society
- enabling people to get ahead
- making life more affordable.
1. Ensuring Everyone Can Participate in Society
The first recommendation excludes democratic participation in companies, such as the Royal Bank of Canada, Air Canada, Canadian Natural Resources and so forth. What it does include is three sub-recommendations (page 77):
1. Undertake a national dialogue on social cohesion.
2. Develop and coordinate data-informed social cohesion strategies.
3. Support funding and innovation in the community services sector.
On page 78, the United Way then states:
When people are not connected to each other, everyone suffers the consequences. It wears on the foundations of our communities.
This is surely false. The foundations of an economy based on the power of the class of employers is precisely the initial lack of connection of people to each other. Brewery workers are not connected to other workers as workers directly but via the production of the things which they produce as social things with powers that are expressed in money. The initial disconnection of workers from each other, furthermore, then needs an external connection, represented by employers, who own what they produce disconnectedly (Thomas Hodgskin, Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital, pages 71-72):
Betwixt him who produces food and him who produces clothing, betwixt him who makes instruments and him who uses them, in steps the capitalist, who neither makes nor uses them, and appropriates to himself the produce of both. With as niggard a hand as possible he transfers to each a part of the produce of the other, keeping to himself the large share. Gradually and successively has he insinuated himself betwixt them, expanding in bulk as he has been nourished by their increasingly productive labours, and separating them so widely from each other that neither can see whence that supply is drawn which each receives through the capitalist. While he despoils both, so completely does he exclude one from the view of the other that both believe they are indebted him for subsistence. He is the middleman of all labourers.
Connection must then occur, not through the voluntary will of workers, but through the force of the class of employers and through the force of the market. In other words, disconnection and connection are necessarily linked to each other. The United Way papers over the essential nature of the kind of society in which we live, which is characterized by the power of a class of employers. It offers platitudes about “connections between people” without ever asking what kinds of disconnections are indeed beneficial for employers and what kinds of connections are harmful to them (workers organizing themselves for the purpose of abolishing the power of employers). The world of the United Way cannot even deal with the basic fact of capitalist society–that disconnection and separation are necessary characteristics of this kind of society. It then claims that such disconnection is not beneficial to anyone–which is patently false.
Furthermore, how could competition between employers ever arise if there were no such thing as disconnection? Competition assumes both connection and disconnection. Different employers in the same industry are disconnected from each other and from consumers; however, the different employers compete on the market (and are thus connected).
The rhetoric of class harmony can be found repeatedly (page 79):
Ultimately, unless we address the discriminatory attitudes, like racism and xenophobia, that underlie the opportunity equation, the income and social inequality trends identified in this report will not improve. If anything, they will continue on their trajectory and get worse. We need to revisit our social foundations and lay out a new plan for who we want to be in the future. Building connected communities means emphasizing our civic likeness and the things that hold us together—common understanding, acceptance, inclusion, and active reliance on each other. Together, we can (re)define what it means to be Canadian in this increasingly polarized world.
It goes without saying that any “common understanding” must arise under the watchful eyes of the class of employers and their representatives. It is an illusion to refer to a community interest within the context of the power of a class of employers.
2. Enabling People to Get Ahead
The second general recommendation has much to do with making the “labour market” function more smoothly, enabling young people, immigrants, non-whites and women to be employed in better-paying and more secure jobs. Of course, better paying and more secure jobs is undoubtedly better than jobs that pay less and that are more insecure. However, that is the limit of this recommendation (page 83):
Even with the right mix of education and training, there is no guarantee of a good job as too few training programs are linked from the outset to employers’ needs.
I have on many occasions criticized the rhetoric of “good jobs” or “decent work.” The United Way does not question the existence of a market for workers in the first place; it proposes, rather, a better matching skills, education and credentials to jobs. By not questioning the market for workers in the first place, the United Way implicitly agrees with the existence of the power of employers over the class of employees.
The United Way also feeds into the ideology of the middle-class, about which I wrote in another post (see School Rhetoric: Ideological Use of the Concept of Social Justice, Part One) (page 86):
Stable, secure jobs were more common in the past than they are in today’s labour market. In the past, these kinds of jobs allowed many people to achieve a stable and secure lifestyle and to join the middle class. Today, these jobs make up a smaller proportion of the overall labour market, as precarious employment has become entrenched in the Toronto region.
The United Way, at best, opposes neoliberalism but not capitalism–like social reformists and social democrats of various stripes.
Furthermore, I have already criticized one of the proposals in this general recommendation before (see What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five), namely Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs). The United Way has this to say about CBAs (page 84):
CBAs in the GTA, such as those used in the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction and
the Hurontario Light Rail Transit project, have leveraged public infrastructure projects to offer training and employment opportunities to local people who are experiencing multiple barriers to the labour market, like youth and newcomers. Through these CBAs, workers from local communities have developed relevant and marketable skills and have gained access to jobs that pay decent wages and provide career pathways to other opportunities.
CBAs may help a minority obtain better paying and more secure jobs, but it is a minor tool that has little power to change the systemic biases of the labour market.
3. Making Life More Affordable
This general recommendation considers such problems as the affordability of housing, transport and child care. In all three cases, there is a mismatch of supply and demand, with demand outstripping supply or supply being inadequate to demand. The need is then to balance supply and demand (pages 90-91):
we focus on three social anchors—affordable housing, public transportation, and child care—because these areas are reaching a crisis point and require urgent attention in the GTA. Improvements to the accessibility of these social anchors will benefit the entire region but will disproportionately impact those groups whose incomes have stagnated—young adults, immigrants, racialized groups, and women—and create the conditions for these groups to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the preceding recommendations.
The balancing of supply and demand in these areas would probably increase the standard of living of the four targeted groups and is certainly, like other recommendations, not to be opposed just because they are reformist. Reformism, however, that limits itself to reformist measures only and assumes that this is the only game in town–as does the United Way–needs to be thoroughly criticized.
There are also a problem with this approach in relation to housing that United Way does not mention. As I argued in another post (What’s Left, Toronto? Part Three), some workers who own condominiums, duplexes, townhouses or detached houses may benefit from the mismatch between the supply and demand of housing as the price of their major asset increases. The United Way does not mention this problem at all.
The United Way limits its recommendations to proposals that would humanize capitalism–to make capitalism more tolerable. This is its real goal. Its whole approach assumes the legitimacy of capitalism as such.
In Toronto, I have not seen any criticisms of the United Way. Is this not a reflection of the impotence of the left? Should we not question its social-reformist or social-democratic assumptions?
Or should we accept (tolerate) such social reformism in the name of the need for compromise?