Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)

In the previous post in this series, I quoted several references by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to “fair contracts,” “fair treatment,” and similar expressions (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One). This is a continuation of the series.

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

The following series of quotes are from various webpages of Unifor–the largest private-sector union in Canada. They show how Unifor refers to such rhetoric as

1. Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:

Paramedics and supporters in Sault Ste. Marie demonstrated in front of City Hall on January 8, calling for a new collective agreement for EMS workers represented by Local 1359. 

The demonstration was organized to remind city councillors that paramedics need a fair deal, which takes into account issues such as: lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and benefits between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD.

The group, made up of paramedics, nurses, retired health care workers, union members, family and supporters, marched into the council chambers after the rally with signs and Unifor flags. 
“Our employer is not negotiating fairly. City representatives continually talk about the debt and nothing else,” said Mary Casola, Local 1359 unit chair and paramedic of 28 years. “They offered workers a measly wage increase of 10 cents an hour, per year. That’s 0.25 per cent. But as our sign says – ‘10 cents is non-sense.’”


  1. Of course, the issues of “lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD” are immediate issues that are important to unionized (and non-unionized) workers and need to be addressed. They should not be just shoved aside and “revolution” declared. On the other hand, while addressing these issues, the possibility or impossibility of actually achieving a “fair deal” should be discussed; in my experiences as a union member, it never is. Unions thereby become ideological institutions, in part, for the class of employers–even if they are unaware of it.





    In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, some employers have become even more exploitative and vicious than normal. However, unions that legitimately focus on resisting such employers have no right that somehow, if they resist such employers successfully, there will be such a thing as “a fair and equitable contract.”
    Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:
  2. From https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/health-care-workers-hold-rally-demand-a-fair-collective-agreement:

December 8, 2020

WINDSOR – Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions by holding a rally outside of Fairfield Park long term care home to demand a fair and equitable collective.

“The employers’ approach of viewing our members as zeroes instead of heroes is insulting and disrespectful,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “To think at a time where these health care heroes are risking their lives to care for others, their employer turns around and puts forward a laundry list of concessions and says this is what you’re worth. This employer should be ashamed. Let’s get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement, free of concessions.

Last week a rally was held outside of Broulliette Manor, urging the employer to return to the bargaining table and withdraw its long list of concessions.

“I have negotiated many contracts in my day, but I have never seen an employer so blatantly disrespectful,” said Chris Taylor, Unifor National Staff Representative. “The pandemic has forced long term care workers across the country to do more with less and here we have an employer that’s asking these COVID heroes to take on all the new protocols and get nothing in return.  Our members will not be made to feel worthless and we will continue to ramp up our actions until they receive the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Contract negotiations opened with Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor on October 27, 2020. The union proposed modest changes to the collective agreement that were immediately rejected by the employer’s legal representatives. The employer’s representatives presented the union with more than six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.

The union is steadfast in its resolve to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.
To arrange in person, phone or FaceTime interviews or for more information please contact Unifor Communications Representative Hamid Osman at hamid.osman@unifor.org or 647-448-2823 (cell).

Again, it is certainly necessary to have a union that fights against “six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.” The union should be praised for doing so.

On the other hand, it should be criticized for making such statements as: “Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions … to demand a fair and equitable collective [agreement]”

As shown in the last post, unions persistently claim that, through collective bargaining and a collective agreement, there can arise somehow (by magic?) “a fair and equitable collective agreement.” There can be no such thing as long as there exists a market for workers, where human beings are treated as things and as means for purposes over which they have little control. To claim otherwise is to bullshit workers–and workers deserve much better than this.

Or perhaps union representatives can explain how collective bargaining and collective agreements can express “a fair and equitable collective agreement?” If they truly believe that it does, why do they not explain how it does so in the context of the power of both a particular employer and the power of the class of employers. (For a critical analysis of a lame attempt to minimize the power of management over workers by a representative in a unionized setting , see the post Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994. Also see the much more honest assessment of the real limited powers of unions in relation to employers, see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers)

The union should also be criticized for claiming “to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.” Obviously, the agreement should address the needs of the workers at these facilities, but “the needs of the members working” for an employer go far beyond the capacity of a collective agreement to address them.

3. Dated August 31, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-members-detroit-3-give-bargaining-committees-strong-strike-mandate:

TORONTO—Unifor members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors have authorized their bargaining committees to take strike action, if necessary, to secure fair contract settlements.

4. Dated January 7, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/locked-out-workers-escalate-fight-a-fair-deal-co-op-refinery:

REGINA – Hundreds of members of Unifor Local 594 and their supporters rallied at noon today to show the Co-op Refinery that, on day 34 of the lockout, their resolve has never been stronger.

“Co-op will not bust our union by using profits only made possible by your hard work. We are going to hold them to their pension promises. Our union will intensify our campaign to achieve a fair collective agreement for our members,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer.

Payne told locked out Local 594 members that locals across Canada will mobilize and send members to Regina as the union ramps up the fight for a fair deal.

“While refinery workers walked picket lines 24-7 in the frigid cold, their greedy employer posted revenues of $9.2 billion last year,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator and Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President. “For Co-op to attack workers with lies and misinformation while claiming to respect workers is just shameful.”

During the rally, secondary pickets were also underway at Co-op retailers in Western Canada as the union announced an escalation of the boycott campaign against Co-op. The union’s Boycott TV commercial has been seen by millions of Canadians, including during Saturday’s Gold Medal World Juniors Hockey game.

“Co-op must return to the bargaining table with a deal that does not include gutting half the value of our pensions as was promised in the last round of bargaining,” said Kevin Bittman, President of Unifor Local 594. “We just want to get back to doing the jobs we love.”

The event was streamed live on Unifor’s Facebook Page. Photos from the rally will also be available on Facebook. Facts about the dispute can be found at http://unifor594.com.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

5. Dated May 15, 2019: at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-energy-workers-sign-historic-pattern-deal:

May 15, 2019

MONTREAL— Unifor has achieved a new tentative agreement that establishes the pattern for 8,500 members of the National Energy Program.

“The energy and chemical sector continues to be an important economic driver in Canada. By working together, our members have used their collective power to make much-deserved significant gains,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Energy and chemical jobs continue to be good jobs in communities right across the country.”

The tentative agreement covers Unifor members working in the sector across Canada. Suncor was selected by Unifor as the chosen employer to set the pattern that will be rolled out to the remaining employers after ratification.

During this round of bargaining Unifor and Suncor bargained both local and national issues concurrently during one week, ensuring that no one union local was left behind.

“Make no mistake: energy companies provide good jobs across this country and are critical to Canada’s economy,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor’s Quebec Director. “Unifor members are instrumental in the success of energy and chemical companies and have earned a fair contract.” [my emphasis]

6. A campaign promoted by Unifor also claimed that, if realized, it would make the situation fair (https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/help-change-ontarios-labour-law-make-it-fair), dated July 13, 2016:

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

Today in Ontario, more than 1.7 million workers are earning at or around minimum wage and many Ontarians are trapped working precarious part-time, temporary, contract and subcontracted jobs, without a union.  

The Government of Ontario has initiated its “Changing Workplace Review” to examine the out-dated Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. In order to seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the provincial review, the OFL [the Ontario Federation of Labour] has launched the “Make It Fair” campaign [my emphasis] to push for employment reform. 

As part of this campaign, the OFL and unions across Ontario have launched a survey on precarious work – an issue that is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ for Ontario’s seven million workers.  The goal of the survey is to speak to union members about their experiences and the experiences of their families with precarious work. Lend your voice – participate in the survey here:

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

 “Inequality and precarious work are on the rise across our growing province, but collectively each of us has the power to change the law and help Ontario workers out of poverty,” said OFL President Chris Buckley.

Unionized workers have a long history of incredible gains at the bargaining table, including the 40-hour work week, maternity/parental benefits and unemployment insurance, which have become the law of the land.  

“There is an urgent need for new laws as workers, particularly young workers, increasingly find themselves in part-time or contract positions with low pay, few benefits and unpredictable schedules,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier. “Our goal is to ensure that the voices of union members are heard in the changes that will come.”

Upon finishing the survey, participants will also have a chance to enter to win a $200 gift card for either Loblaws or Metro grocery stores.  

Unifor is a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents approximately 1 million working people across Ontario.

7. Dated November 15, 2017 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/picket-highlights-need-first-contract-youth-workers:

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

Members of Unifor Local 333 working at Kennedy Youth Services organized an information picket on November 14 to highlight their struggles to reach a fair first collective agreement and increase pressure on their employer.

Prior to bargaining the employer  repeatedly refused to follow the Employment Standards Act around overtime, meal breaks, statutory holidays and vacation pay.  Kennedy Youth Services has also failed to provide a safe work environment, with workers regularly getting injured on the job. On top of the current workplace issues, the employer is pushing to introduce a 10-year wage progression from $17 an hour to $18.75 and has made any wage increase contingent on centre funding. The bargaining committee has said firmly enough is enough and will continue to push for fairness and a safer workplace.

“We need more safety measures at work. Arms are getting broken, staff members are being beaten and nothing is done about it – it’s not right,” said Amber Simpson, bargaining committee member. “Frequently, there are untrained temporary staff people who are brought in and this puts everyone in greater danger.”

The 42 developmental service workers are employed at two residential homes, providing care and support to vulnerable youth and adults with developmental disabilities. The workers joined Unifor in February and negotiations started in late October. After two days, the employer broke away from conciliation and requested a no-board report, which opens the door to locking out the workers.

“These workers joined the union because they want to improve their working lives in areas of fair wages and work schedules, and want the employer to be sensitive to the effect their work has on their health and well-being both physically and mentally,” said Kelly-Anne Orr, national representative.

Orr said that the employer did not come to the table to negotiate a fair agreement and seems to have no interest in acknowledging even basic rights as required by the law.

8. Dated January 30, 2021 at https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/iiroc-trading-halt-nee-db-180300576.html

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

OTTAWA, ONJan. 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor has reached a tentative contract with VIA Rail, in negotiations covering more than 2,000 rail workers.

VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)
VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)

“My congratulations go to members and the bargaining committees who adapted to bargaining online through the pandemic, and remained committed to reaching a fair deal for all members [my emphasis] while VIA Rail faces truly unprecedented challenges,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We must highlight all the work done by our members to ensure safe, clean standards on board trains and also, to ensure that the trains are in impeccable condition for the safety of this critical transit infrastructure. In the current difficult circumstances, this collective agreement secures good unionized jobs in the sector for years to come.”

The agreement covers Unifor National Council 4000 and Unifor Local 100 members, who work as maintenance workers, on-board service personnel, chefs, sales agents and customer service staff at VIA Rail.

“Unifor members in rail have made incredible contributions to the industry, and advancements in workers rights and labour laws have been made possible with thanks to them. Our members are greatly affected by the pandemic, and Unifor has put all the necessary resources to support them and counter the attempts at concessions made by the employer,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor Quebec Director.

The new 2-year contract replaced the collective agreement that expired on December 31, 2019. Contract talks began in October 2019 and were conducted in recent months remotely, with the assistance of mediators assigned by the federal government.

“I wish to thank our members for their support throughout the bargaining process. This is a good contract that will ensure fairness for members,” said Dave Kissack, President of Unifor’s Council 4000.

Zoltan Czippel, President of Local 100 echoed the message, adding that, “This deal represents the end of a long negotiation where the bargaining team put member’s priorities front and centre. I’m proud to recommend adoption.”

Details of the deal will only be released following ratification by members. Votes will be conducted in the coming weeks.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

 

9. Dated October 20, 2019 at https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-saskcrowns-853371456.html:

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

REGINA, Oct. 20, 2019 /CNW/ – Unifor bargaining committees have signed tentative agreements with SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskWater, DirectWest, and SecureTek, ending a 17-day strike by nearly 5,000 workers across the province.

“Solidarity and the support from Unifor members at all six Crowns along with those who joined our picket lines from across the province were key to achieving this agreement,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “I want to thank Ian Davidson, President, Unifor Local 649, Dave Kuntz, President, Unifor Local 1-S, Penny Matheson, President, Unifor Local 2-S and Doug Lang, President, Unifor Local 820 for showing tremendous resolve and leadership to stand together and fight back against the regressive Moe government mandate to achieve a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The details of the tentative agreements will be released following the ratification votes, which will be held this month.

Unifor members have been escalating strike action after the employers rejected the union’s offer to go to binding arbitration. On Saturday the Poplar River power plant in Coronach was behind reinforced picket lines that only granted access to essential services staff. Unifor members also picketed SaskTel dealers across the province asking customers to support locked out workers and take their business elsewhere.

“Unifor members proved that they are vital to their communities and the Saskatchewan economy,” said Chris MacDonald, Assistant to the National President.

“This was an historic and yet complicated round of bargaining and the bargaining committees will be recommending members ratify the tentative agreement reached today,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President.

The members want to thank the public, and other unions and Unifor members across the country who showed support on picket lines in more than 80 locations.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

10. Dated July1, 2019 at http://unifor1996-o.ca/unifor-demands-fair-restructuring-agreements-for-auto-parts-workers-impacted-by-gm-oshawa/:

Unifor demands fair restructuring agreements for auto parts workers impacted by GM Oshawa

ips_media_release_photo

TORONTO Unifor is reinforcing its demand for fair agreements [my emphasis] for workers negatively impacted by the discontinuation of vehicle production at General Motors Oshawa as the union enters discussions with multiple auto parts and service provider companies.

“As Unifor warned, thousands of additional independent parts and suppliers (IPS) workers are now facing job loss as a direct result of the assembly line closure at GM Oshawa,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The workers deserve respect and support as operations are restructured or wound down. Unifor is determined to secure agreements that address important issues such as transition to retirement opportunities, financial support, and adjustment support.”

Vehicle manufacturing at Oshawa GM will start to wind down in late September and cease completely in December 2019. This will cause the closure of several independent parts suppliers. An estimated 1,700 Unifor members are facing job loss due to closure or restructuring.

“In every one of these workplaces, severance is a key issue. Workers facing job loss need a financial bridge as they transition. That is why we are demanding that all of these companies step up and provide enhanced severance for affected workers,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222.

The majority of the job losses will occur at CEVA Logistics, Syncreon Supplier Park, Inteva, Oakley, Auto Warehousing, Marek Hospitality, Securitas, Robinson Solutions, Robinson Building Services and Lear Whitby.

On Sunday June 23, Lear Whitby workers, members of Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa, met with Local and National Union leadership to discuss concerns over pension eligibility, severance, and health care benefits.

“This is devastating to workers at companies like Lear Whitby where the vast majority of the workers are in their mid-fifties and have at least 30 years of service. The closure creates a massive problem as it currently prevents many of these members from reaching retirement eligibility under the pension plan. This issue highlights why we fought so hard to try to convince GM to keep building vehicles in Oshawa,” said Dias. “On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Oakley and CEVA where our members are younger and need access to adjustment centre funding as they try to transition to new employment.”

The union is actively engaged in negotiations with all involved employers as it calls on the companies to provide the necessary support for workers in all age groups.

The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada

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 as well as the rate of exploitation of workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) (see 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 ), among others.

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 if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more local level.

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.

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value of RBC workers is s/v; therefore, s/v is 16,903/13,611=124 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $1.24 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of CIBC bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Royal Bank of Canada worker works 74 minutes (or 1 hour 14 minutes) for free for RBC.

It also means the following:

  1. For a 5.75- hour working day (345 minutes), RBC workers spend 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 191 minutes (3 hours 11 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for CIBC.
  2. For a six-hour working day, follow the same procedures as above, but replace 345 by 360: result: in a 6-hour working day, RBC workers spend 161 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 199 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  3. 7-hour working day: 420 minutes:i n a 7-hour working day, RBC workers spend 188 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 232 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  4. 7.5-hour working day: 450 minutes: in a 7,5-hour working day, RBC workers spend 201 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  5. 8-hour working day: 480 minutes: in an 8-hour working day, RBC workers spend 214 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  6. 10-hour working day: 600 minutes: in a 10-hour working day, RBC workers spend 268 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.

As in the post for the determination of the rate of exploitation of workers at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, I have the same questions for social democrats.

Royal Bank workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract,” “decent wages,” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.

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 by has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

In millions of Canadian dollars:

Total revenue $ 46,002
Provision for credit losses (PCL) 1,864
Insurance policyholder benefits, claims and acquisition expense (PBCAE) 4,085
Non-interest expense 24,139 [add the first three: 1,864+4,085+24,139=30,088; subtract this from 46,002 gives you 15,914)
Income before income taxes 15,914

Provision for credit losses is explained in Investopedia (James Chen (2019) as:

The provision for credit losses (PCL) is an estimation of potential losses that a company might experience due to credit risk. The provision for credit losses is treated as an expense on the company’s financial statements. They are expected losses from delinquent and bad debt or other credit that is likely to default or become unrecoverable. If, for example, the company calculates that accounts over 90 days past due have a recovery rate of 40%, it will make a provision for credit losses based on 40% of the balance of these accounts.

It is an expense in the sense that loans and other financial services may lead to defaults, or it may be due to the decreased value of collateral for such loans and it is an estimate of the loss of revenue due to defaults. It is therefore subtracted from total (or gross) revenue.

RBC issues insurance in various areas, and the category of “PBCAE” reflects expenses associated with fulfilling its obligations in paying out for insurance policies. It too is subtracted from total revenue.

In the annual report, the category of “Non-interest expenses” is subtracted from total revenue, to yield the category “Income before income taxes.” However, to calculate the rate of exploitation according to the principles of Marxian economics, it is necessary to make certain adjustments. To that end, we need to look in more detail at the category “Non-interest expense.”

Non-interest expense (before adjustments)

(Millions of Canadian dollars)
Human resources $ 14,600
Salaries $ 6,600
Variable compensation 5,706
Benefits and retention compensation 1,876
Share-based compensation 418
Equipment 1,777
Occupancy 1,635
Communications 1,090
Professional fees 1,305
Amortization of other intangibles 1,197
Other 2,535
Total non-interest expense $ 24,139

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 issues are related to the category “Human resources.” The category “Variable compensation” is difficult to determine. Should it be categorized as part of salaries or as part of surplus value? Without more information, it is impossible to tell how much is received due to exploitation of regular bank workers and how much is due to being exploited by management. It can, however, be assumed that some of the compensation is due to the exploitation ow regular bank workers. For example, in the proxy circular of the RBC, it is stated (page 52):

A significant portion of variable compensation (at least 70% for the CEO, at least 65% for members of group executive and at least 40% for other material risk takers) is deferred with a vesting period of three or four years, consistent with our compensation principles and relevant regulatory guidelines.

The guidelines used are based on the Financial Stability Board standards (FSB standards). On page 3 of FSB Principles for Sound Compensation Practices: Implementation Standards (2009), it is stated:

Subdued or negative financial performance of the firm should generally lead to a considerable contraction of the firm’s total variable compensation, taking into account both current compensation and reductions in payouts of amounts previously earned…

Accordingly, as in the case of another Canadian bank (CIBC), I have decided to allocate 10 percent of such variable compensation to surplus value or profit and the rest to wages and benefits.

Of course, I may be wrong. Variable compensation for bank workers could be directly tied to the number of hours worked (just as the level of income varies for workers who work by the piece is tied to the number of hours worked and to the intensity of the work). However, counterarguments (and, perhaps, further data) would have to be provided to justify including it as part of “Human resources.”

On the other hand, the category “Benefits and Retention Compensation” is probably, for the most part, costs for employing bank workers and therefore should be included in calculating variable capital. Benefits include such items as

medical; prescription drug; dental; life and accident insurance; and short-term and long-term
income protection. Employees also have access to a number of health and wellness initiatives including our Employee Care program, which provides 24 hour a day access to information and confidential consultation on a wide range of work/life issues.

The category “Share-based compensation” is limited “to certain key employees and to our non-employee directors.” These are probably not “salaries” as payment for working at RBC but form part of compensation for exploiting the rest of the workers at RBC. Unlike the “Performance-based compensation” category in the case of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), this category seems independent of work-based compensation. Hence, I include “Share-based compensation” as part of surplus value (s).

Treating share-based compensation purely as surplus value increases the total “Income before income taxes” results in a greater level of adjustment than was the case for the calculations for CIBC and TD Bank workers, but it perhaps reflects a more accurate calculation of surplus value obtained since it involves a somewhat more detailed categorization of the distribution of compensation.

I accept the other categories without adjustments (unless someone can provide reasons for adjusting them).

Ten percent of the amount in the category “Variable compensation”(ten percent of 5,706=571)) and “Share-based compensation” (418) are added to the revenue category “Income before income taxes,” (15,914) to yield the following accounts:

Adjusted Results

Income before income taxes (surplus value or s): 16,903

Human resources (total variable capital, or total v) $ 13, 611
Salaries $ 6,600
Variable compensation 5, 135
Benefits and retention compensation 1,876

The Rate of Exploitation of RBC Workers

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value is s/v; therefore, s/v is 16,903/13,611=124 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $1.24 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of CIBC bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Royal Bank of Canada worker works 74 minutes (or 1 hour 14 minutes) for free for RBC.

To translate this into the number of hours RBC workers work free for RBC and how many hours they would have produced an equivalent value to their own cost of production (if they worked in a sector that produced value rather than just transferred it), to it would be necessary to know the length of time that they work per day, or the length of the working day. Unfortunately, I was unable to find that information. Consequently, I used the information I found on the length of the working day for the workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

According to a few people who have worked at CIBC, the length of the working day is:

8 hours a day

Work hours are manageable and flexible. The company is accommodating with every schedule.

They vary – just like it does anywhere.

8 hours in a day, 1 hour for break and lunch.

8-10 hours

I work 7.5 hours each day.

6 – 5.75 hours a day, 4 days a week. for the last 1.5 years

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes rather than hours.

  1. For a 5.75- hour working day (345 minutes), RBC workers spend 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 191 minutes (3 hours 11 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  2. For a six-hour working day, follow the same procedures as above, but replace 345 by 360: result: in a 6-hour working day, RBC workers spend 161 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 199 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  3. 7-hour working day: 420 minutes: in a 7-hour working day, RBC workers spend 188 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 232 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  4. 7.5-hour working day: 450 minutes: in a 7,5-hour working day, RBC workers spend 201 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  5. 8-hour working day: 480 minutes: in an 8-hour working day, RBC workers spend 214 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  6. 10-hour working day: 600 minutes: in a 10-hour working day, RBC workers spend 268 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, bank workers, as well as sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as CIBC to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

As in the post for the determination of the rate of exploitation of workers at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, I have the same questions for social democrats.

RBC workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.



A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Seven: Complaint Against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Manitoba Ombudsman

Introduction

As I indicated in my last post, my substantial complaint to the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers (MIRSW) against a social worker was dismissed without really considering the nature of the complaint. Of course, Francesca, my daughter, was still being physically abused by her mother I pursued the issue by filing a complaint against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) with the Manitoba Ombudsman.

Of course, Francesca’s mother in the meantime continued to use a belt, a wooden stick and physically abuse Francesca in various other ways (as I outlined in my previous posts in this series. I continued to complain to Winnipeg Child and Family Services about this physical abuse.

As I indicated in an earlier post, the physical abuse included (but was not limited) to the following: Since the civil trial in April 1999, my daughter complained of the following  (as of February 18, 2000): 1. Her mother was using a wooden stick on her buttocks; 2. Her mother used a belt to spank her on the same area; 3. Her mother grabbed Francesca and forced her into the apartment building; 4. Her mother had grabbed Francesca’s throat in the elevator and warned her not to tell me that her mother had hit her; 5. Her mother shoved Francesca to the floor on two separate occasions; 6. Her mother hit Francesca on the head with a book; 7. Her mother pulled Francesca’s hair; 8. Her mother scratched Francesca with a comb.

Oppressive Letter from Dan Berg, Assistant Program Manager, Winnipeg Child and Family Services

In the meantime, I received a letter from Dan Berg, assistant program manager, Intake and Early Intervention Program, of Winnipeg Child and Family Services. It was dated January 22, 2004.

Here is the content of the letter:

My name is Dan Berg. I am an Assistant Program Manager with the Branch of Winnipeg Child and Family Services based out of 835 Portage Avenue, phone number is 944-6750.

I recently reviewed the referral letter sent by yourself on January 5, 2004, regarding Francesca your daughter receiving a bruise on her leg resultant of her mother Veronica Harris allegedly hitting her with a remote control on her leg.

As a standard practice in our Abuse Unit we review the entire file on each family, their background history with our Branch to inform our current decision to investigate a matter or not,. I personally took on this responsibility given the extensive history of involvement our Branch has had with your family 

Frankly, as an Assistant Program Manager with over twenty years in the child welfare field, I am very concerned about the number of referrals you have made to our office regarding your ex-wife. 

We as a branch have consistently interfered in your wife’s affairs resultant of these referrals to our Agency by yourself. Investigations continue to be unfounded and your daughter has been subjected to numerous interviews and medically examined a very intrusive measure on more than one occasion.

We as a Branch, will not be investigating your most recent disclosure regarding your daughter and your ex-wife.

I will instruct our Crisis Response Unit to screen all calls from yourself from this date forward particularly if they reference your wife and and the quality of care of your daughter Francesca Harris is receiving. As a Branch responsible for child welfare matters in the city, we will respond to legitimate calls.

If in the future our Branch staff follow up on a referral call from yourself and we determine that the call is unfounded and malicious in nature, we will be consulting our legal counsel and the police to consider legal action. 

You should give some serious consideration to exploring Family Conciliation Counseling so your daughter does not have to continue to be caught in the middle of your differences. Children of separated and divorced parents can learn to cope quite well if the parents put their child’s needs first. 

I trust future referrals to our Agency will be seriously screened by yourself to their validity in the future. I am available for you to contact me directly at 944-6750.

Sincerely,

Dan Berg
Assistant Program Manager
Intake and Early Intervention Program

Patrick Harrison
Program Manager
Intake and Early Intervention Program

cc. Diva Faria, CRU Supervisor
     Diana Verrier, CRU Supervisor

I have included the letter as written–including its grammatical and punctuation errors.

Evasive and Oppressive Letter from Manitoba Ombudsman

Among other communications from Manitoba Ombudsman, I received the following, dated May 12, 2005. I will not quote all of it since the main points are the following: 

Our office has investigated the concerns you raised and have concluded that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable. Accordingly there is no recommendation that can be made on your behalf.

In the January 13, 2003 letter, Rhonda Warren, assistant program manager to the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, stated the following:

Whether we agree or not regarding the issue of corporal punishment, it is not illegal for a parent to use such practice and in absence of injury Child and Family Services does not have the authority to demand change. It appears from your lengthy correspondence that you and … [the] mother have very different childrearing practices.

This implies that Francesca’s mother was using corporal punishment. However, just a year later, Dan Berg implied that I was making false allegations of physical abuse–like the social worker who wrote the court-ordered assessment. Why is that? The letter from Manitoba Ombudsman does not explain how it drew the conclusion “that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable.”

How is it reasonable to claim that Dan Berg’s refusal to further investigate my complaints of physical abuse by the mother and his threat of consulting legal counsel and contacting the police was reasonable when Rhonda Warren, who held the same position as Dan Berg the year before, implied use of corporal punishment by Francesca’s mother for at least six years?  

By the way, the claim by Rhonda Warren, assistant program manager to the Winnipeg Child and Family Servicesthat  that “it is not illegal for a parent to use such practice and in absence of injury Child and Family Services does not have the authority to demand change” is hypocritical. I was living in a bachelor’s suite, with a separate bed for myself and for Francesca but in the same room, obviously (I could not afford at the time a one-bedroom apartment)–after I had been falsely accused of sexually abusing by both the mother and Winnipeg Child and Family Services. Francesca would sleep with me despite having her own bed, and I did not think anything about it. The mother apparently complained to WCFS, and the WCFS contacted me, implying that if I did not stop sleeping with Francesca, they would take Francesca away from me. I had to force Francesca to sleep in her own bed–and that included spanking her–for the first time. Both of us were crying. The WCFS abused both Francesca and me–despite a child sleeping with a parent not being “illegal.” 

The conclusion that I drew from this is that the legal provisions for the protection of children were being used to justify conclusions that were already formed beforehand. The “rule of law” so much by the social-democratic left and liberals is a farce–just as was the court-ordered assessment (see my critiques of the “Marxist” Herman Rosenfeld, who claimed that what was needed was somehow a “transformation” of the police rather than their abolition in the series of posts on the reform or abolition of the police (for example, Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). 

In a follow up letter, dated January 9, 2006, Manitoba Ombudsman indicated the following: 

As you are aware, the Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Legislature whose duty is to investigate administrative acts, decisions or omissions of a departments and agencies of the provincial and municipal governments. 

The Winnipeg Child and Family Service did not consider that Francesca needed protection and that the threat to consult legal counsel and phone the police was reasonable. Both judgements were “reasonable” according to the Manitoba Ombudsman. 

Of course, what is reasonable is very dependent on the point of view of those who interpret the law–and a citizen’s interpretation is irrelevant unless they have the money to pursue the issue in court. 

The Winnipeg and Child and Family Services is supposed to protect children from physical abuse. On page 2 of the January 9, 2006 letter from Ombudsman Manitoba, they quote the following from “the law”:

Child in need of protection

17 (1) For purposes of this Act, a child is in need of protection where the life, health or emotional well- being of the child is endangered by the act or omission of a person.

Illustrations of child in need

(17 (2) Without restricting the generality of subsection (1), a child is in need of protection where the child …

(b) is in the care, custody, control or charge of a person …

    (ii) whose conduct endangers or endanger the life, health or emotional well-being of the child

(c) is abused or in danger of being abused …

(e) is likely to suffer harm or injury due to the behaviour, condition, domestic environment or associations of the child or a person having care, custody, control or charge of the child; 

(f) is subjected to aggression or sexual harassment that endangers the life, health or emotional well-being of the child.

Protection of the informant

18.1 (1) No action lies against a person for providing information in good faith and in compliance with section 18. 

What happens when the definition of child abuse differs between a citizen and the capitalist state or government–or an official of the capitalist state or government? Since I considered all my complaints to the WCFS to be instances of child abuse, and the WCFS did not, the default is–with the government. I would have had to appeal, probably, up to the Supreme Court (if I could)–and I did not have either the knowledge nor the money to do so. 

The same could be said of any appeal of the Manitoba Ombudsman decision.

In relation to the WCFS’s threat to take legal action and to phone the police, how could the Manitoba Ombudsman, in its letter dated May 12, 2005 conclude that “the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letter of January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable?”

So, despite section 18.1 (1) providing protection for those who provide “information in good faith,” the threat of Dan Berg and the WCFS to consult its legal counsel and to phone the police was “not clearly wrong or unreasonable.” 

Like the Manitoba Registered Social Workers Institute’s rejection of my complaint against the social worker who wrote the court-ordered assessment, the farcical nature of the whole process of filing a complaint against unfair treatment was becoming ever clearer. 

It is true that In the letter by Ombudsman Manitoba dated January 9, 2006, they did indicate that I could still make complaints to the WCFS if I had concerns about the way her mother treated Francesca. In the same letter, however, they wrote the following:

WCFS is now aware that the tone and choice of wording of the letter in question gave you the impression [note how Ombudsman Office makes the matter look like a mere question of interpretation–gave you the impression”–as if others would not have interpreted the letter from Dan Berg, assistant program manager of the WCFS as a threat] that they felt your complaints were not legitimate and that you would be subjected to police involvement. We have confirmed that WCFS will respond to you as specified in The Child and Family Services Act. 

I responded, verbally I believe, to Ombudsman Manitoba that it was not the “tone and wording of the letter in question” was not the issue–but the real threat of phoning the police. That real threat will be the topic of future posts. 

Further Physical and Emotional Abuse of Francesca Subsequent to Dan Berg’s Letter and the Lack of Action of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services

Subsequent to Dan Berg’s letter in January 2004, in June, 2004, Francesca indicated to me the following: Francesca’s mother hits Francesca in the nose, causing it to bleed as well as the mother throwing a wooden stick near Francesca’s face.

On July 5, 2004, I took Francesca to the Children’s Advocate office, where Francesca was interviewed. The person who interviewed her, Janet Minwald, then talked to me. She indicated that there had been a disclosure this time about physical abuse. Apparently, it took the WCFS several months before it interviewed Francesca (ironically, only the WCFS had the authority to inquire into allegations of child abuse–not the Children’s Advocate). 

However, the last time that I complained to the WCFS was after the June 2004 incident. Francesca had told me that her mother had kicked her in the back. I took Francesca to the WCFS, and the response was: “There was no mark” so they could do nothing. From that time onward, I saw no further point in filing complaints to the WCFS. The institution was oppressive and, in fact, contributed to the physical abuse of Francesca–and all this with the blessing of Ombudsman Manitoba and indeed, indirectly, the Minister of Family Services and Housing and the head of the provincial government, Gary Doer.

The Responsibility of the New Democratic Party for Francesca’s Continued Physical and Emotional Abuse

I had sent a letter to the Minister of Family Services and Housing on May 1, 2005 since I had not yet received a response from Ombudsman Manitoba. I received this response: 

Mqy 18, 2005

Dear Mr. Harris: 

Thank you for your letter to Premier Gary Doer dated May 1, 2005, regarding the report you have been expecting from the Office of the Ombudsman. As the Coordinator of Issues Management for the Child Protection Branch, your letter has been referred to me for response. 

I understand from your letter you were anticipating that a report from the Office of the Ombudsman into your complaint against Winnipeg Child and Family Services was to be ready by February 18, 2005. I further understand that to date, this report has not been received. As the concerns that you are experiencing are related to the Office of the Ombudsman, by copy of this letter, I am referring this matter to the Office of the Ombudsman and request that they respond to you directly.

Thank you again for bringing this matter to our attention. I truest that the Office of the Ombudsman will be able to respond to your concerns. 

Sincerely,

Shelley Sorin, Coordinator Issues Management

cc: Premier Gary Doer
     Honourable Christine Melnick, Ministry of Family Services and Housing
     Ms. Irene Hamilton, Ombudsman

Gary Doer was the New Democratic Party (NDP) premier (head of government) of Manitoba at the time. The NDP is a social-democratic political party in Canada.

More General Political Considerations Concerning Government Oppression and the Social-democratic Left

The social-democratic left often call for the expansion of public services–without ever inquiring into how oppressive those services can be for citizens, immigrants and migrants. The social-democratic left’s solution of the expansion of public services for those who have often experienced government oppression, evasion and subterfuge is not a solution at all but a problem. (For various posts that outline this idealization of public services or seek an expansion of public services as a solution to the problems faced by workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants, see for example Basic Income, Public Ownership and the Radical Left in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Critique, The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two and The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part Two: Oppressive Welfare Services). 

This is one of the reasons why the right has increased in strength–because the left idealizes public services and fails to acknowledge and to take into account oppressive experiences of regular people when such people deal with the government. Many people perceive the policies of expanded public services as an expansion of oppressive powers of government–with reason. 

Indeed, the social-democratic or social-reformist left simply ignore the tentacles of the oppressive capitalist state that have spread throughout civil society or the so-called non-state and non-market sector. Indeed, Marc Mulholland (2016), in “Revolution and the Whip of Reaction: Technicians of Power and the Dialectic of
Radicalisation,” Journal of Historical Sociology, has rightly criticized such ignorance. Pages 2-3: 

Social science analyses of historical revolutions often concentrate upon the destruction of the central executive government, what we might call the regime, without paying sufficient attention to the
machinery and personnel of governance extending throughout the state territory. Laws, rules and regulations comprise the technical machinery of power, but this machine requires skilled operators sufficiently familiar with the technique of practical governance. These skilled operators are the vital intermediary between the executive directors of power on the one hand, and the instruments of power – soldiers, bailiffs, police, office-administrators, propagandists, etc. – on the other. We may call these intermediary strata the technicians of power. The technicians of power do not design or construct the machinery of political and social administration, but they maintain it and they know how it works and how they like to see it working. Technicians of power are not randomly selected. They are drawn from particular social classes and have their own political predilections and the power to act on them. …

A regime might be decapitated, but its servants throughout the land cannot be so easily removed. Revolution cannot scatter its opponents at one blow. This is perfectly understandable once we appreciate that the structures of established governance run deep through society, and resist easy transformation.

Ignoring the extent to which the capitalist state is extended through various agencies formally outside the state or government underestimates greatly the difficulty of overcoming the power of capitalist class both before taking power and after taking power. For example, as I indicated in an earlier post (see Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police), the movement to defund the police here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) will unlikely be successful for various reasons. One of the reasons is its neglecting the various oppressive powers and structures linked to the police that support the police function in various ways. Their moral critique of the police lacks an engagement in inquiry into those forces linked to the police that support the police in various ways; their target for defunding is one-sided and limited and therefore will unlikely be successful. 

Conclusion

My experiences with the WCFS, from the initial false allegation of sexually abusing Francesca in 1996, to the last time I complained to the WCFS about Francesca’s mother kicking her in the back, were mostly oppressive. Furthermore, the WCFS Ombudsman Manitoba and the government did nothing to protect Francesca.  

In my next post, I will fast forward to 2007-2008, when Francesca skipped school so much that she was obliged to repeat grade eight in 2008. By that time, not even her mother could control her. Nor could I. Francesca had been violent towards me since 1999, when her mother refused to let me see Francesca or let  Francesca to see me for almost three months. 

In 2008, I obtained a position as a permanent teacher in September 2008, in Ashern, Manitoba, a very small town about 160 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Francesca’s mother agreed to have Francesca live with me since her mother could no longer control her. I decided to home school Francesca while living in Ashern and teaching there. I enrolled Francesca in distance education courses in June 2008, and I gave her the courses. She then left with her cousin, Laura, for Kelowna, a city in the province of British Columbia. I expected Francesca at least to work a bit on the distance education courses during the summer of 2008. She never did. That was the beginning of our problems. 

What happened subsequently will be the subject of other posts. In the next post in this series, though, I will expose my own limitations–as father of Francesca. The left needs to learn to criticize itself. 

 

The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part Two: Oppressive Welfare Services

Introduction 

This is a continuation of two previous posts (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 and The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services), 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 my previous post, I endeavoured to show that Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” by calling for an expansion of public services as a solution is inadequate because they fail to consider the oppressive nature of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. Specifically, I looked at how educational services are oppressive by imposing grades or marks on students and by imposing a curriculum that often has little meaning for students.

In this post, I look at how welfare services are oppressive.

Oppressive Welfare Services

Public services include welfare services in various forms, such as child welfare, social assistance (called welfare when I was young) and unemployment insurance (now euphemistically called “employment insurance” in Canada). Related to educational services in some ways since children are often involved, do welfare services provide “”publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure?” Is there democracy within the provision of welfare services? Or is “publicly operated infrastructure” an oppressive infrastructure?

From Don Lash (2017), “When the Welfare People Come”: Race and Class in the Child Protection System:

This theory is generally applicable to child welfare workers. Workers, whether investigators, caseworkers, or lawyers, operate with some discretion in forming judgments, albeit with layers of management oversight and final say on decisions, and even greater discretion over the way in which a client is treated. Their work also has an enormous potential impact on their clients. Finally, they are accountable to managers for datadriven outcomes, to judges, to the pressures of media attention, and to countless other “stakeholders” with more influence than the parents and families with whom they work. Because of the pressure of caseloads and paperwork requirements, they are also prone to routinization and simplification to manage the work and meet management expectations. Conscientiousness, empathy, and even professional ethics may not always be trumped by the dynamics of street-level bureaucracy, but there will always be a tension that is seldom resolved solely in the interests of the client.

Two child welfare workers who worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) describe the position of DCFS social workers. They are nominally given professional discretion to be exercised in the best interest of the children and families to whom they are assigned, but operate under constant pressure to act in the best interest of the department. In a memoir about their work experiences, they wrote:

If CSWs [Certified Social Workers] could speak frankly without fear of retribution, many of
these well-meaning workers who should place the welfare of their case children and/or families
above all else do not feel able to do so. If they felt free to speak the truth, they would say that
they are being made to do whatever they’re told without question or hesitation, and if they do
otherwise, they would find themselves under threat of discipline. They are fully aware that to
resist certain morally questionable directives may mean putting any hopes of advancement or
even their entire careers in jeopardy. They realize that in demonstrating reluctance to go along
with these directives, they may even run the risk of facing trumped-up charges on grounds of
insubordination.

This does not sound very democratic, either from the point of view of the workers or those who receive their services. Why are Dhunna and Bush silent about the oppressive nature of the welfare state? In a society dominated by a class of employers, where civil servants are wage workers, is there not bound to be a conflict between the needs of those who receive the services and those who perform them? After all, civil servants in modern capitalist society are wage workers, and there exists a hierarchy of managers to which front-line workers are subordinate. Dhunna and Bush, however, simply ignore this fact, idealizing instead the modern state’s provision of services.

But the above quote is from a situation in the United States. What of more social-democratic states?

In Sweden, work-for-welfare was introduced in the 1990s. From Katarina Thorén (2008), “Activation Policy in Action” A Street-Level Study of Social Assistance in the Swedish Welfare State, page 5:

…municipal activation policies were introduced in the 1990s in the municipal social services organizations. The Swedish form of activation policies target unemployed social assistance recipients and require them to participate in local activation measures in return for financial support.

Of course, Dunnah and Bush would probably argue that they oppose such work-for-welfare programs. However, since they fail to engage in any way with the fact that there is a market for workers–employed by a class of employers–their opposition is more rhetoric than reality. Why would they oppose such programs? As long as there is a market for workers, there is bound to be a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “non-deserving poor.” And the deserving poor are those who are willing to work–for an employer. Since Dunnah and Bush do not address the class relation at all in any direct fashion, any criticism they offer against work-for-welfare will only be partial and limited; to be effective, it is necessary to criticize the employer-employee relation as such.

But let us turn to the Swedish case. Do Swedish welfare services, which are “publicly owned infrastructure,” provide “publicly operated infrastructure” in a humane manner? 

In the Swedish case, there was a division of labour between social workers and “activation staff,” or the front-line workers who directly related to welfare “clients.” The activation staff tried to use this division in order to hide the oppressive nature of their own activities. Pages 130-132: 

But activation staff, for their part, admitted that they wanted to be viewed as “nice” and not part of the mandatory requirement process in order to keep a friendly atmosphere at the activation
programs. From a street-level bureaucracy perspective, the activation staff had an incentive, therefore, to conceal the coercive elements of the activation requirements. 

Local Organizational Arrangements and Bureaucratic Responsibilities

In part to limit the tensions with frustrated clients, there was an organizational divide of the formal responsibilities of social workers and activation workers. Clients were told that the social workers were responsible for all formal decisions and activation workers, whom they saw on a daily basis, would merely execute the activation requirements and related services. At the first information
meeting, clients were informed through a power point presentation that:

“WHY ARE YOU HERE? (Statement in Power Point presentation)
… You should not feel that you are forced to go here … participation here is a resource for those how are looking for jobs and receive social assistance … the goal is to be self-sufficient and to say “goodbye” to your social worker … (Commentary from job coach)

JOBBCENTRUM IS AN OFFER! (Statement in Power Point presentation)
… It’s not the staff at Jobbcentrum that decides that you are required to be here, it’s the Stockholm Municipality that has decided that and it’s your social worker that is taking care of all formal decisions. (Commentary from job coach)”

Thus, activation workers presented the activation requirement as an offer and concealed, rather successfully, the mandatory feature of the activation process, which, from a street-level bureaucracy perspective, was important for the activation staff. Clients were thereby encouraged to see activation workers as somehow removed from the formal decision-making. Clients were frequently referred to the social workers whenever they had questions regarding requirements, entitlements, and administration practices, although the activation staff was well informed about the local policy rules. But the right to social assistance was based on the clients’ performance at the activation program. Most clients could see that their first point of inquiry, negotiation, and tension would be with the activation worker who monitored their performance and attitude on a daily basis. The claim
of an organizational divide displaced this overt power held by activation workers, and tried to keep activation workers appearing neutral in an unequal bureaucratic relationship, and this may have only added to client frustrations and tensions within the program. Especially, when they found out that the activation staff reported their program performance to the social workers on a regular basis.

In one case, a client, whose social assistance had been withdrawn after her job coach had reported her as “inactive”, was very upset and told me the following:

“The social worker told me that the job coach had called her to say that I wasn’t active enough at Jobbcentrum and that he was disap-spoke with my job coach and he said that I was going good … why did he do so, he’s “my” job coach and supposed to support me….”

When it became apparent that the job coach had, in fact, reported her performance and thereby becoming a real factor in the decision-making process, the client felt she was not taken seriously and that they “gone behind her back”.

Thus, the organizational arrangement to separate the “exercise of public authority” between the social workers and the activation workers was mainly symbolic since the activation requirement indirectly determined the right to social assistance and activation staff reported clients’ activation performance to the social workers. Similar administrative arrangements have been demonstrated elsewhere.
Carstens (1998) claims that there is an underlying conflict between clients’ interest and organizations’ interest within the activation policy context and masked issues that demonstrate the asymmetric relationships in the activation policy process in Denmark.

Welfare services are anything but democratic–for both those who provide the services and for those who receive them.

The sectarian social-democratic left, of course, will claim that the oppressive nature of state work–for state workers and for citizens who receive those services–is due mainly to the neoliberal policies that currently exist. However, since neoliberalism–privatization of state services, deregulation of financial services, etc.–is only one form of the class power of employers, how any particular form of capitalist government or state can solve the problem of the tension or contradiction between state as both an employer of workers, on the one hand, and defender and supporter of a market for workers for the class of employers, on the other, is beyond me.

Of course, there are a range of possible policies that are better or worse by treating both social workers and those who use their services more or less humanely, but these are modifications around a basic point: As long as there exists a class of employers–both private and public–and a market for workers, there will always be a tension between the needs of those who provide services and those who receive them.

Perhaps the social-democratic left can provide an outline of how “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure” can achieve this without calling into question the class power of employers

Frankly, I doubt that they can. Hence their silence about the issue.

What has been the main purpose of welfare services? There are undoubtedly many purposes, but one of the main purposes has been to reduce the aspirations of workers–as David Graeber (2015) points out in the German case, The Utopia of Rules On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, pages 154-155 :

Even though Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the great mastermind behind the creation of the German
state, allowed his parliament only limited powers, he was confounded by the rapid rise of workers’ parties, and continually worried by the prospect of a Socialist majority, or a possible Paris Commune-style uprising in his new united Germany. His reaction to Socialist electoral success from 1878 was twofold: on · the one hand, to ban the Socialist party, trade unions, and leftist newspapers; on the other, when this proved ineffective (Socialist candidates continued to run, and win, as independents) ,
to create a top-down alternative to the free schools, workers’ associations, friendly societies, libraries, theaters, and the larger process of building socialism from below. This took the form of a program of social insurance (for unemployment, health and disability, etc.), free education, pensions, and so forth-much of it watered-down versions of policies that had been part of the Socialist platform, but in every case, carefully purged of any democratic, participatory elements. In private, at least, he was utterly candid about describing these efforts as a “bribe,” an effort to buy out working-class loyalties to his conservative nationalist project. [note 117, incorrectly numbered 116]. When left-wing regimes did later take power, the template had already been established, and almost invariably, they took the same top-down approach, incorporating locally organized clinics, libraries, mutual banking initiatives, workers’ education centers, and the like into the administrative structure of the state.

Two points are relevant here. Firstly, the purpose of welfare services need not be to enhance workers’ control over their own lives but to limit their capacity of seeking to go beyond the class system of employers. Graeber argues that Bismarck consciously sought to institute welfare services in order to bribe the working class. From Graeber (2015), page 252, note 117:

As he [Otto von Bismarck] put it to an American visitor at the time: “My idea was to bribe the working classes, or shall I say, to win them over, to regard the state as a social institution existing for their sake and interested in their welfare” (cited in William Thomas Stead, On the Eve: A Handbook for the General Election [London: Review of Reviews Publishing, 1892], p. 62). The quote is useful to bear in mind since I find that the general point-that the welfare state was largely created to pay off the working class for fear of their becoming revolutionaries- tends to be met with skepticism, and demands for proof that this was the self-conscious intention of the ruling class. But here we have the very first such effort described by its founder quite explicitly as such.

It would be unfair to Dhunna and Bush to argue that they seek to bribe the working class since they seek to force the provision of welfare services through power emanating from below, of course. However, given that the ruling class has used the provision of welfare services as a means of blunting the demands of workers, it would be necessary to seek means by which to prevent welfare measures from actually blunting workers’ demands. They fail to provide any such means in their article; indeed, they seem to believe that the provision of welfare services by the capitalist state is somehow in itself socialist. They also fail to consider whether the demand for a robust universal basic income could be just such a means from below that could question the power of employers as a class. 

Secondly, the form in which welfare services are provided is top-down–a hierarchy of employees, with little democratic structure within the provision of welfare services. Dhunna and Bush are also silent over this issue.

Oppressive Administration of Welfare Services Results in Fragmentation or Division of Interests of the Public 

I have already referred to my own personal experiences of the oppressive nature of “public services” via their administration (indirectly, in this case, via the courts and a court-ordered assessor (see for example A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One).

Dhunna and Bush do not address the issue of the administration of the decommodified programs and how such administration creates various “subpublics” that divide people from one another through bureaucratic means. From Michael Kratke (1989), “Does Social Security Create a New Class? On the Restructuring of Social Inequality by Welfare State Arrangements,” in Political Regulation in the “Great Crisis,” pages 285-315, edited by Werner Vath, pages 305-307:

At this point the fragmentation thesis enters. It says that the institutional fragmentation of the social security system, the coexistence of different systems of social insurance and social assistance, and, last not least, the administrative practice of classifying and sub-classifying client groups altogether lead to just as many cleavages among welfare state clients. Take for example the Dutch social security system once again. Its clients are officially put into a whole string of subsystems and categorized accordingly as AOWers, WAOers, WWers, WWVers, RWWers, IOAWers, ZWers, WBPers, ABWers, AWWers and so on. No doubt, European social politics have been and still are obsessed with such classifications of client groups as they were in vogue for centuries. Such classifications of inactives are part and parcel of any social security system which is built upon the principle of specific and conditional rights to specific benefits. Only under & regime of an unconditional and universal grant for all citizens such [classifications would be unnecessary.

All these classifications bear moral overtones and are burdened with notions of “decency” and “respectability”. In moral terms, social security classes are certainly divided in an upper, a middle and an underclass retired people occupying the ranks of the most respectable upper clas$»j| the sick, the handicapped and the disabled occupying the less respected] but still deserving middle class, and the (long-term and young) unemployed filling the ranks of the least respected, more or less “undeservinging” underclass. (School)children, students, apprentices should be ranked some kind of a “upper middle class”, as they are doing some useful work preparing themselves to become part of the working population in the future. Members of the upper and especially the middle class can define themselves in terms of a special profession of trade–the profession trade they once belonged to or they will belong to in the near future And they have links with the groups of the working population they belonged to or will belong to–apprentices and students much stronger ones than the retired and disabled. But the latter still know to which group they will belong and try to stay in touch with their former colleagues, their trade unions and their clubs and associations. Maintaining some kind of a professional group identity certainly works as a means to keep the less deserving welfare state clients, the people on the dole and the mass of wretches living on social assistance at some social distance at least. Pensioners of various kinds–the largest group of welfare state clients– thus keep in touch with official politics, too; they are still included to some degree in professional organizations trade unions in the first place which they expect to represent their interests.

The administration of public services through a bureaucracy also often involves complicity, where pretense of a meritocratic system of assignment of people within a hierarchy is based mainly on merit and not on other criteria–such as nepotism. From Graeber (2015), pages 26-27:

Such institutions [bureaucracies] always create a culture of complicity. It’s not just that some people get to break the rules-it’s that loyalty to the 0rganization is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening. And insofar as bureaucratic logic is extended to the society as a whole, all of us start playing along.

This point is worth expanding on. W hat I am saying is that we are not just looking at a double standard, but a particular kind of double standard typical of bureaucratic systems everywhere.
All bureaucracies are to a certain degree utopian, in the sense that they propose an abstract ideal that real human beings can never live up to. Take the initial point about credentialism. Sociologists since Weber always note that it is one of the defining features of any bureaucracy that those who staff it are
selected by formal, impersonal criteria-most often, some kind of written test. (That is, bureaucrats are not, say, elected like politicians, but neither should they get the job just because they are someone’s cousin.) In theory they are meritocracies. In fact everyone knows the system is compromised in a thousand different ways … Many of the staff are in fact there just because they are someone’s cousin, and everybody knows it. The first criterion of loyalty to the organization becomes complicity. Career advancement is not based on merit, and not even based necessarily on being someone’s cousin; above all, it’s based on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, even though everyone knows this not to be true.  Or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when, in fact, they are often deployed as a means for entirely arbitrary personal power.

Nor do Dunnah and Bush address how their proposals will enable people to control their own lives when the power of employers as a class is not addressed directly. From Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster (July 2010), “The Dialectic of Social and Ecological Metabolism: Marx, Meszaros, and the Absolute Limits of Capital,” Socialism and Democracy, pages 124-138, Volume 24, Number 2, page 129:

The ecological and social challenges that confront us are often minimized as the logic of capital goes unquestioned and various reforms are put forward (such as improving energy efficiency via
market incentives) under the assumption that the system can be tamed to accommodate human needs and environmental concerns. Such positions fail to acknowledge that the structural determinations of capital will inevitably grind onwards, threatening to undermine the conditions of life, unless systematic change is pursued to eradicate the capital relation entirely.

Possibility of Recommodification of Public Services

Since Dunnah and Bush fail to address the power of employers at work (see the previous post), their proposal for an enhanced welfare state would always be subject to the threat of the conversion of public services into private services provided by capitalist employers. Their approach lacks any realistic assessment of how decommodification of these services (the conversion of services into universally free and accessible) can be realized as a viable permanent solution to the problems which people face since Dhunna and Bush do not aim at dismantling the labour market, abolishing the power of the class of employers and hence the existence of classes.

Decommodification will always be threatened by recommodification (as it has been during the neoliberal era of privatization and deregulation) unless the power of employers as a class is broken for good–and they fail even to address this issue. From Chris Wright (2014), Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, pages 147-148:

With respect to the very long run, Marx was always right that capitalism is not sustainable. There are many reasons for this, including the contradiction between a system that requires infinite growth and a natural environment that is finite, but the reason most relevant to Marxism is that
ultimately capital can never stop accumulating power at the expense of every other force in society. It is insatiable; its [competition-driven] lust for ever more profit and power condemns it to a life of Faustian discontent. It can never rest. Any accommodations, therefore, between the wage-earning
class and capital—such accommodations as the welfare state and the legitimization of collective bargaining—are bound to be temporary. Sooner or later capital’s aggressiveness will overpower contrary trends and consume everything, like a societal black hole (to change the metaphor). Everything is sucked into the vortex, including social welfare, the nation state, even nature itself. The logic is that nothing will remain but The Corporation [in the plural], and government protections of the people will be dismantled because such protections are not in the interest of capital. This absurd,
totalitarian logic can never reach its theoretical culmination, but it will, it must, proceed far enough, eventually, that an apocalyptic struggle between the masses and capital ensues. A relatively mild version of this happened once before, in the 1930s and ’40s, and a compromise [in the West]—the
mature welfare state—was the result. But then, as I said, capital repudiated the compromise (or is doing so as I write these words), and the old trends Marx diagnosed returned with a vengeance, and so humanity could look forward, this time, to a final reckoning. A final settling of accounts will occur in the coming century or two.

Conclusion

Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” through an expansion of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers is more rhetoric than reality since they fail to inquire into the nature of those public services. Welfare services are often oppressive, undemocratic and divisive. Furthermore, as long as the class power of employers is not explicitly challenged, the expansion of welfare services will always be threatened with a reduction of such services. 

So far in this series, I have shown that two of the three aims implied in Dhunna’s and Bush’s article–““meaningfully improve the material realities of working-class and oppressed people” and “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure“–are hardly solutions to the problems which regular workers, citizens and community members face these days.

I will pursue a different tactic in future posts that criticize Dhunnah’s and Bush’s article. Specifically, I will show how they almost always illegitimately assume a minimal basic income, distort the nature of the references they use to justify their claims and fail to take into consideration proposals that involve a robust universal basic income the aim of which is to challenge the legitimacy of a market for workers.

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A Short List of the Largest Employers in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Mainly Based on Revenue

The following is a list of the 20 largest employers in Vancouver in 2018, based on revenue (rather than based on the number of employees, profit, assets or other criteria). For a couple of other lists, using profits or number of employees as criterion, see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit and A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

For a short list based on the number of employees and profit in Sweden, see A Short List of the Largest Swedish Employers by the Number of Employees, Profits and the Profits per Worker.

How many among the left in Vancouver (or in Canada) consider such companies to provide “decent work?” “Fair contracts?” How many in Canada?

The information was obtained from the following site:  Largest Employers in Vancouver Based on Revenue.  rounded off to the nearest million in some cases.

  1. Telus Corp.: $14 billion 368 million ($14, 368,000,000)
  2. Teck Resources ($12 billion 564 million) ($12, 564,000,000)
  3. Jim Pattison Group ($10 billion 600 million) ($10,600,000,000)
  4. Finning International ($6 billion, 996 million) ($6,996,000,000)
  5. B.C. Hydro and Power Authority ($6 billion 237 million) ($6,237,000,000)
  6. West Fraser Timber Co. ($6 billion 118 million) ($6,118,000,000)
  7. H.Y Louie Co. ($5 billion 560 million) ($5,560,000,000)
  8. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia ($5 billion 442 million) ($5,442,000,000)
  9. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ($5 billion 350 million) ($5,350,000,000)
  10. First Quatum Minerals ($5 billion 139 million) ($5,139,000,000)
  11. Methanex Corp. ($5 billion 94 million) ($5,094,000,000)
  12. Canfor Corp. ($5 billion 44 million) ($5,044,000,000)’
  13. Best Buy Canada ($4 billion 129 million) ($4,129,000,000)
  14. GoldCorp ($3 billion 929 million) ($3,929, 000,000)
  15. BC Liquor Distribution Branch ($3 billion 498 million) $3,498,000,000)
  16. Westcoast Energy ($3 billion 473 million) ($3,473,000,000)
  17. Lululemon Athletica ($3 billion 433 million) ($3,433,000,000)
  18. British Columbia Lottery Corp. ($3 billion 267 million) ($3,267,000,000)
  19. Premium Brands Holding Corp. ($3 billion 26 million) ($3,026,000,000)
  20. London Drugs ($2 billion 575 million) ($2,575,000,000)

Total Revenue: $115 billion 842 million ($115,842,000,000)
Average Revenue per Employer: $5 billion 792 million ($5,792,000,000)

To gain an understanding of how much money that is, we can divide that amount by the 2018 Canadian population of about 37 million: $3130 per person. If we confine ourselves to the population in British Columbia (5 million 16 thousand–5,016,000), the per person revenue would be $23,094 per person.

Of course, revenue must cover operating costs and initial purchase of means of production (buildings, machines, raw materials such as electricity) and workers. These numbers would have to be further analyzed in order to determine profit in relation to total revenue.

Furthermore, it would be useful to determine the number of employees per employer to determine the approximate amount of profit produced per employer in order to see how workers are used to produce that profit. (The problem is that the statistics may not distinguish between the revenue obtained and whether it is confined to the province. For example, is the total revenue from Best Buy limited to total sales in Best Buy in Vancouver or does it apply to the total sales throughout British Columbia or indeed throughout Canada. It would be necessary to inquire further, of course.)

Finally, we can certainly ask how such employers can be justified as social organizations that use workers as means for ends not defined by the workers. Do you find it legitimate to use people for ends not defined by them? (See   The Money Circuit of Capital). In particular, do you find it legitimate to treat workers as mere costs, on the same level with the machines, buildings, office supplies, electricity  and so forth that workers use? If so, why do you think that? If not, what can be done about it?

What are the implications of the control of such revenue by such employers for the control of the lives of those who live in Vancouver? At work? Outside work? Does such a situation express the freedom of workers? Of consumers? What does it say about the power of employers? Of the power of their representatives–management? The best possible way of organizing work? Of organizing our lives? Or is there an alternative way of organizing our lives?

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.

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police

Introduction

From around February 20 until May 23, 2021 I belonged to an organization in Toronto called Social Housing Green Deal. The organization came to my attention when one of my friends on Facebook invited me to join.

The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.

The following outlines how I actually started participating in the organization and how such participation led to the practical censorship of my views through both actual censorship and the possible manipulation of protocols used for general meetings.

My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.

I wish I were wrong, but given their collapse of strategy into tactics and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto. I doubt it.

I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization:

 J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.

It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas. I will elaborate on this assertion in a future post. 

Joining the Group

To join the group, it was necessary to answer why you wanted to join. Anna Jessup is the moderator and administrator. Ms. Jessup asked the following question on February 17, 2021:

Hi Frederick.  Before I add you to our group tell me a bit about yourself.  What made you want to join?
 
Anna

Here is how I responded on February 18, 2021:

Hello Anna,
 
  1. We have met before–at ETTO, I believe, and at Black Creek Community Farm, where, unfortunately, a list of things to be done were itemized but, as far as I know, nothing came of it.
  2. The question, perhaps, is meant to ensure that right-wing people do not attend.
  3. To answer the question properly would involve much personal information and history, and I am uninclined to share that at this time.
  4. I could, as well, ask what the purpose of the group is; I am somewhat reluctant to get involved in organizations that are purely reformist in nature.
  5. To be more specific: Why do I want to “participate?” Because the police are a central feature of a society dominated by a class of employers. They are central to the reproduction of a social order that treats human beings as things to be used by employers.
  6. I have a blog (the abolitonary.ca–although I do not think it is accessible only via that URL, but you made try if interested.) I have posted five posts with the title “Reform versus the Abolition of Police,” and I argue for the abolition of police.
  7. I will be posting a sixth post on Friday concerning the relation between police and unions (not police unions), where I use an article that tries to show that unions function to protect workers by limiting their exploitation (defensive mechanism) but simultaneously function as ideological organizations to integrate workers into the class system of employers.
  8. James Wilt, in Canadian Dimension, argued for the abolition of police whereas Herman Rosenfeld argued for their “transformation.” I criticize severely Mr. Rosenfeld’s view, arguing that his claim that Mr. Wilt engages in sloppy thinking in fact applies to him.
  9. I will be drafting a critique of Harry Kopyto’s critique of Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the police can somehow be reformed–and then concedes way too much by claiming that Mr. Rosenfeld is however correct to argue for “reforms” “in the meantime.” This is a social-democratic trick of putting off forever the aim of abolishing the police. Of course, the police cannot be abolished all at once, but the aim of such abolition should always be present–and accepting reforms for the moment when there is insufficient power but always pressing for the abolition of the police. 
  10. My purpose of “participating” in the zoom conference is really to listen–nothing more, for now (perhaps I can learn some things). I have experienced insults from “the left” here in Toronto–“condescending prick” from Wayne Dealy, executive director of CUPE 3902, and “insane” from Errol Young, of JFAAP. I am undoubtedly considered by some among the left as “sectarian”–but they do not seem to want to engage in any kind of debate on my blog concerning issues that I have raised. 
  11. I self-identify as a Marxist.

    Fred Harris

Ms. Jessup responded as follows, on February 20, 2021:

Yes Fred, I remember you.  I respect your Marxist analysis and certainly wish to apply such an analysis to on-the-ground work. 
 
One complication I ran into with our previous work, was that your posts ignited more discussion than I had the time or resources to moderate.  
 
Are you willing to avoid debate on this google group, and simply use it as a way to receive information about upcoming meetings and events?
 
Anna

I responded on the same day as follows:

Hello Anna,
 
I was going to participate at least to a  minimum degree at first, but given the email, I will not even do that. I will limit myself to listening and taking notes.
 
Fred

Being Drawn into Participation 

 
The same day I received the following message: 
 
The link to the meeting will come to you by email a few minutes before 3PM today.
Hope to see you all there.
 
Anna
The important point in the above message is that the zoom “link to the meeting will come to you by email before 3PM.” This is relevant for what happened on May 23, 2021.
 
On February 21, 2021, I wrote the following: 
 
Hello Anna,
 
I am copying below part of a post from my blog that may be relevant to the discussion yesterday–namely, the creation of protective teams, which I believe is a better approach than relying on pressuring council members to vote for defunding the police (until there is sufficient power on the ground).
 
Feel free to use part or all of it–or not.
 
Fred
What I sent Anna was a large part of the post on alternatives to policing (see  Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives). 
 
Ms. Jessup’s response was: 
 
Wow, what a great read.
 
I will post it if that’s alright.  I’ll cut out the criticism of Herman as I don’t want to make my friends defensive. 
 
I will post it on our Facebook group. 
 
Very glad I read this.  Thank you.
Ms. Jessup then sent a quest to have what I wrote put up on the organization’s website–which it was.
 
Being drawn into the organization, I started sending recommendations for reading, and in the process expressed some of my own views. On March 10, 2021, for example, I sent the following:
Hello Anna,
 
Attached is another open text document file, this time relating the police to the emergence and maintenance of capitalism. It is, as I indicate in the text, a series of short comments followed by many quotes from the book by Mark Neocleous (2000), The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power.  I will be posting this in the future on my blog. Again, feel free to do anything you want with part or all of it or anything at all.
 
Fred

Ms. Jessup’s response on March 11, 2021:

Thank you!

On April 3, 2021, I sent the following, along with the documents:

Hello Ana,
 
I am attaching two items. The first is a document recommended by SURJ  [Showing Up for Racial Justice] that I received recently, “Building the World We Want: A Roadmap to Police Free Futures,” assembled by Robyn Maynard, graphics by Sahra Soudi. In the document, there is much about defunding the police (much less about its abolition), and very little about the kind of society that the police protect. It is my view that unless the two are connected, it is highly unlikely that the police will be defunded/abolished on a permanent basis since, as I tried to show in the quotes from the book by Mark Neocleus (The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power) and my short comments, the emergence of the modern police and the emergence of a society dominated by a class of employers went hand in hand. 

Hence, the second document is from my blog, quoting from Elizabeth Anderson’s book on the nature of employment relationship: what, in effect, the police protect, is a dictatorship.

Feel free to edit it any way you want.
 
Fred
Ms. Jessup, on April 5, 2021, responded (edited to omit personal information that I should respect): 
Thank you so much.  I’ll need time before I can get to it … But it is very nice to get an email about something positive!
The second document is from my blog:  Employers as Dictators, Part One.
 
On April 6, 2021, Ms. Jessup added: 
 
Good reading.  Thank you.  I have added the Maynard piece to our group’s resource folder.
 
Out of curiosity, in your piece, which I enjoyed, why did you characterize totalitarian aspects of our society as communist rather than simply as totalitarian?
To which I responded on the same day:
 
Hello Anna,
 
To answer your question concerning communist vs. totalitarian: It was not I but Elizabeth Anderson who made a parallel between the dictatorship at work and a communist dictatorship.
 
I believe it was an astute tactic on her part. Many Americans undoubtedly still equate the former Soviet dictatorship with communism. To make a parallel with this former dictatorship may shock many Americans (and undoubtedly many Canadians and Europeans), but it also resonates with their experiences at work. It may thereby create an opening–by creating a contradiction in the readers’ point of view–for discussing the issue of just how democratic the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, England, etc. are. Such discussions are sadly lacking in the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

 On my blog, I have systematically tried to exhibit the dictatorial nature of employers even in unionized settings via the implicit or explicit management rights that employers have. I have also tried to expose how unions not only fail to address the dictatorial power of employers but serve, through their rhetoric of “fair contracts” and the like, as ideologues of employers. For example, I searched for the expression “fair contract,” “fair deal,” and similar expressions on the Net for CUPE–the largest union in Canada. I quoted 10 different CUPE sources using such ideological rhetoric.

I will be posting, in the future, a similar post on the second largest union in Canada, this time in the private sector, Unifor. 
On April 6, 2021, I received an email indicating that we would have a zoom meeting the following day (April 7), with a zoom link (so that we could video conference). It was to be at 7:30 p.m. rather than the usual 3:00 p.m.: 
 
At that meeting, the eviction of a father with his children was discussed, with twenty-three police cars showing up in Toronto.  I suggested that we need to try to connect this incident with larger issues (the micro with the macro). Ms. Jessup suggested that I do that. I stated that I would do that if someone else would jointly work on it since I lacked the specific details. There was silence.
 
As a consequence, I decided to draft something on my own that would connect up the micro with the macro, starting with the micro and linking it up with wider and wider issues. I did some research to familiarize myself with some writings on the subject of housing as well as to gain a more concrete understanding of the specific incident.
 
As a result, I wrote to Ms. Jessup, on April 15, 2021, I sent the following to her, with the subject heading “Write up: A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It.” 
 
Hello Anna,
 
Attached is a draft on some thoughts about the relationship between left-wing activism and the situation of the working class and what can be done about it–by linking short-term problems with long-term goals. 
 
If you or anyone else has any criticisms or suggestions, feel free to make them. I am all ears.
 
Fred
The draft follows. It is quite long (13 pages in draft form). The last part I copied from the page from this blog The Money Circuit of Capital, so I will omit that part. 
 

A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It

Introduction

I have been accused, among union circles, of being condescending. However, if by condescending is meant questioning actions that do not lead to goals that I believe are worth pursuing, then I admit to be condescending.

Some may consider the following to be academic. However, I have had some experience with activism. For example, in the early 1980s, when I worked at a brewery in Calgary, I refused an order by supervisors and justified my refusal by stating that I had nothing but contempt for capitalists and their representatives. I was sent home on two consecutive nights. When the union president and the bottling manager met to discuss the issue, the bottling manager stated: “Do you know what that Marxist son of a bitch said?” We workers won this particular battle—the order was cancelled. That, of course, did not mean that we had won the war.

I would appreciate criticisms and suggestions for improvement in what follows, both in terms of accuracy and in terms of arguments.

Immediate Incident as an Occasion for Grassroots Activism

On Good Friday, April 2, 2021, 23 police cruisers showed up at 33 Gabian Way, which is a 19-story building owned by Vila Gaspar Corte Real Inc., or Villa Gaspar Corte Real Non-Profit Housing Inc. (there is some inconsistency in spelling the company).

The building is a combination of rental and social housing, built in 1993. There are 248 residential units. Apparently, the building is linked to Project Esperance, which is a non-profit registered charity. It services 111 units of from one- to three-bedroom units. Rents are geared to income.

According to the police, there were so many police present in order to remove a large number of protesters. The facts speak otherwise.

There were indeed protesters; they were protesting the eviction of Alex, a father of a one-year old and a six-year child. Alex had made arrangements with the landlord to pay rent arrears by March 29. Alex had managed to obtain the money to pay the rent, but a sheriff’s officer showed up to evict him on April 2, without warning. He left the apartment with his two children, but he returned to obtain his possessions. The police showed up and forced their way into the apartment.

The police denied that they were there to enforce the eviction—but if that were the case, why did they force their way into the apartment? Furthermore, one police officer claimed that the police had a court order for eviction and that they were there to evict Alex.

Due to the resistance of neighbours and supporters, Alex was not evicted.

This incident has several aspects to it. Firstly, immediate organized resistance to those with power and wealth can be effective in the short-term. Secondly, when there are supporters for those who are to be evicted, it is likely that the police will show up—in force.

Thirdly, and something that was not emphasized in references to the incident, it is sheriff’s who have the legal right to evict a tenant (with the assistance of police if the sheriff believes there will be trouble), and they need not inform the tenant when they are coming, as the website Steps to Justice: Your Guide to Law In Ontario points out (https://stepstojustice.ca/questions/housing-law/what-happens-if-theres-eviction-order-and-i-dont-move):

After the Landlord and Tenant Board makes an order to evict a tenant, a court official called the Sheriff is in charge of enforcing or carrying out the order.

If you have not moved out by the date the eviction order says you must move, the Sheriff can make you leave and let your landlord change the locks.

Only the Sheriff is allowed to physically evict you

The law does not let your landlord, a private bailiff, or a security guard physically evict you or lock you out. Only the Sheriff can do this. The police can’t evict you either but the Sheriff can ask the police for help if the Sheriff thinks there might be violence.

You can get evicted at any time of year

Many tenants believe that the law does not allow evictions in the winter. That is not true. The Sheriff can enforce eviction orders at any time of year.

The Sheriff does not have to tell you when they are coming to evict you

If you have an eviction order against you, the Sheriff could come to change your locks on any weekday after the date the Board ordered you to move out.”

The issue of the power of sheriffs to evict links up to the more general issue of the modern property system and the aims of those who engage in resistance to evictions (and other forms of resistance involving law-enforcement officers).

Fourthly: What was the aim of the supporters and neighbours? To prevent the eviction, evidently. It worked. It is a short-term victory, however. There will be other evictions, and other evictions, and other evictions. This issue can be looked at from a number of angles.

Strategy and Tactics

The left here in Toronto and elsewhere frequently collapse strategy and tactics, in effect advocating only tactics. This leads nowhere except the perpetuation of the problems and the constant need to resist and to struggle—without any realistic hope of resolving the conditions which constantly generate the problem. This does not mean that reforms should be thrown out of the window. It does mean, however, that activism that stays at the level of tactics will never address the more profound causes of the immediate problems. Robert Knox (2012) addresses this problem in his article titled “Strategy and Tactics.” in pages 193-229, The Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Volume 21, writes, p. 205:

only tactical interventions occur, which are then branded as strategic interventions, foreclosing the possibility of an actual strategic intervention.”

What is the difference between strategic interventions and tactical interventions? The difference has been specified in terms of war as follows (pages 197-198):

Carl von Clausewitz, one of the most influential exponents of modern military theory, defined strategy as:

[T]he use of the engagement to attain the object of the war … It must therefore give an aim to the whole military action. Its aim must be in accord with the object of the war. In other words, strategy develops the plan of the war, and to the aforesaid aim links the series of acts which are to lead to it; that is, it plans the separate campaigns and arranges the engagements to be fought in each of them.

Strategy is – in essence – how it is that one would fight and win a war: connecting the various individual battles together so as to achieve this broader objective. In contradistinction to this is tactics, which is concerned with smaller and shorter term matters. Tactics are concerned with how to win the individual battles and engagements of which the war is composed.

If we wish to translate this metaphor into more general terms, we might say that strategy concerns the manner in which we achieve and eventually fulfil our long term aims or objectives, whereas tactics concerns the methods through which we achieve our shorter term aims or objectives. The obvious conclusion here, and one that will be important to bear in mind throughout this article, is that when we talk of ‘pragmatism’ or ‘effectiveness’ it need not be referring to only the immediate situation. As will be explored more fully below, any tactical intervention will also have strategic consequences. This means that when thinking about effectiveness, it is necessary to understand the inherent relation between strategy and tactics. In so doing, the distinction allows us to consider how effective particular (seemingly ‘short term’) interventions might be in the longer term.

If evictions are going to be stopped permanently, then immediate forms of resistance and immediate actions need to be linked to that goal—not just to incidents of crisis as they arise.

Nothing Fails Like Success

This is a take on the title of chapter one of Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton (2017), in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice; that title is “Nothing Succeeds Like Failure.” They argue that the police and prisons fail to reduce crime rates and, in their failure, perpetuate their own need or existence. Page 45:

“Failure is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Here lies the key to understanding our failing criminal justices ystem: The failure of policies and institutions can serve vested interests and thus amount to success for them!

If we look at the system as “wanting” to reduce crime, it is an abysmal failure that we cannot understand. If we look at it as not wanting to reduce crime, it’s a howling success, and all we need to understand is why the goal of the criminal justice system is to fail to reduce crime. If we can understand this, then the system’s “failure,” as well as its obstinate refusal to implement the policies that could remedy that “failure,” becomes perfectly understandable. In other words, we can make more sense out of criminal justice policy by assuming that its goal is to maintain crime than by assuming that its goal is to reduce crime!”

Leftist activism, similarly, but from the opposite end, by succeeding in short-term tactics, perpetuates its own constant need to engage in activism—activism for activism’s sake. It may make those who engage in such activism feel useful, but it fails to address the need to incorporate a strategic approach into activism. If activism succeeded in eliminating the need for activism, it would eliminate itself. This is one reason why strategy is collapsed into tactics—it permanently perpetuates the need for activism. Its short-term successes guarantee the continued need to engage in—short-term tactics.

The Bad Infinite

We can give this problem a philosophical turn. G.W.F. Hegel, a German philosopher, criticized the theoretical equivalent of this view in the following terms of the “bad infinite”–an infinite that never reaches an end (from The Encyclopaedia Logic, page 150:

“A limit is set, it is exceeded, then there is another limit, and so on without end. So we have nothing here but a superficial alternation, which stays forever within the sphere of the finite. If we suppose that we can liberate ourselves from the finite by stepping out into that infinitude, this is in fact only a liberation through flight. And the person who flees is not yet free, for in fleeing, he is still determined by the very thing from which he is fleeing. So if people then add that the infinite cannot be attained, what they say is quite correct….”

The bad infinite never reaches any end since it presupposes the general context that generates the particular or specific problems will continue to exist. To go beyond the bad infinite requires questioning that context—and hence developing a strategy designed to specify the problem at the general level while simultaneously addressing more immediate problems in such a way that successes feed into the resolution of the problem at the more general level.

Housing and Capitalism

Houses and housing form a central aspect of capitalist society. This has been noticed since the World Economic Crisis of 2007-2008. Wolfgang Streeck (2016), in his book How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System, argues that there have been four crises of democratic capitalism since the last world war:

“With the crash of privatized Keynesianism in 2008, the crisis of postwar democratic capitalism entered its fourth and latest stage, after the successive eras of inflation, public deficits and private indebtedness (Figure 2.5). With the global financial system poised to disintegrate, nation states sought to restore economic confidence by socializing the bad loans licensed in compensation for fiscal consolidation. Together with the fiscal expansion necessary to prevent a breakdown of the ‘real economy’, this resulted in a dramatic new increase in public deficits and public debt – a development that, it may be noted, was not at all due to frivolous overspending by opportunistic politicians or misconceived public institutions….”

Monetary instability (inflation), unemployment, public deficit spending and indebtedness followed by a shift to private indebtedness and deregulation of credit (and austerity measures) led to a bubble in housing prices and to speculative credit extended to those unlikely to be able to pay for mortgages once interest rates rose or they became unemployed. Of course, the crash of 2007-2008 increased public debt several fold and the pandemic has done the same.

Housing, Capitalism and the Police

Brendan Beck and Adam Goldstein (2017), in their article “Governing Through Police? Housing Market Reliance, Welfare Retrenchment, and Police Budgeting in an Era of Declining Crime, argue somewhat differently from Reiman and Leighton—though both arguments may complement each other.

They note, like Reiman and Leighton do, that crime rates have generally declined since the 1990s. On the other hand, police budgets have generally blossomed. They explain this general increase in municipal police budgets because of the increased centrality of real estate in the city economy. Page 1183:

“One key puzzle is why penal state growth continued unabated long after crime levels peaked in the early 1990s. We focus on local policing and consider the relationship between growing city-level law enforcement expenditures and two shifts: first, the move toward an economy increasingly organized around residential real estate; and second, city-level welfare retrenchment. We argue that increasing economic reliance on housing price appreciation during the late 1990s and the 2000s heightened demand for expanded law enforcement even as actual risks of crime victimization fell. At the same time, cities increasingly addressed social problems through criminal justice—rather than social service—capacities.

As homes became a vehicle for workers to not only live but also to obtain some security with rising house prices, their interests in maintaining the price of the house increased. This interest has spilled over into support for policing efforts (however ineffective) that contribute to the maintenance of the prices of housing and land. This spillover, in turn, has racist implications since concentrations of coloured and minorities are perceived by homeowners as threats to property prices—but there is counterevidence that in the case of the Latino population there is no such perceived threat. Page 1186:

Thus, the threat theory hypothesizes that investment in police forces (per capita force size and/or expenditure) will be positively associated with racial minorities’ share of the local population, net of crime rates. Studies have consistently found support for this hypothesis (e.g., Carmichael and Kent 2014; Jacobs and Carmichael 2001; Kent and Jacobs 2005; McCarty, Ren, and Zhao 2012; Sever 2003; Vargas and McHarris 2017). In fact, the percentage of black residents typically appears as one of the single most significant predictors in models of city police strength. However, recent studies find no evidence of a similar positive association between the percentage of Latino residents and police strength, neither cross-sectionally nor longitudinally (Holmes et al. 2008; Zhao, Ren, and Lovrich 2010).”

On the other hand, it is necessary also to consider competition between workers in working for an employer:

Two different studies, King and Wheelock (2007) and Stults and Baumer (2007), use geocoded survey data to probe the mechanisms underlying racial threat effects. Both found that the observed association between the percent of black residents and police size is driven substantially by whites’ perceived economicthreats in the labor market and in social service provision. Racial threat is driven to a lesser extent by whites’ fears of crime victimization (Stults and Baumer 2007).”

However, their study seems to use the threat of falling residential prices as a proxy or for economic threat. Page 1187:

In examining the use of police as a means of governing housing markets, we also consider how the ethno-racial makeup of cities might have interacted with shifting forms of economic threat. As we elaborate below, as urban economies came to be based more and more around real estate, perceived economic threats (and the racialized fears on which they draw) increasingly took the form of concerns about protecting housing prices. Previous research, using the Gini coefficient to measure economic threat, finds a positive effect on police department size (Carmichael and Kent 2014). We use measures of more specific economic threats: those around housing.

They mention other factors that influence the growth of police budgets, such as the structure of municipal politics (the degree to which it is subject to partisan politics), whether it is a mayoral election year and the previous year’s budget.

The Financialization of the Housing Market

Beck and Goldstein argue that, as crime rates declined in the 1990s, there was a simultaneous financialization of the housing industry. This compensated, at least in part, for the stagnation in wages and salaries. Page 1188:

Between 1992 and 2005, the median home price doubled and the amount of outstanding mortgage debt tripled (Census Bureau 2012; Federal Reserve Board 2016). Wages were stagnant during this time, but the proliferation of home equity loan instruments allowed homeowners to utilize their houses as income streams, making homeownerseconomic livelihoods predicated increasingly on continual housing price growth (Davis 2010). Home equity extraction made up 10 percent of householdsincome nationally and as much as 15 percent in places like California and Florida (Greenspan and Kennedy 2007; Irwin 2006). Home value was important for homeowners and for regional economies.

Homeowners, especially in the present, where heightened prices for homes takes up some of the slack for limited wage and salary increases, tend to support the police more than renters:

“Given linkages in popular narratives between crime rates and residential property values, we suspect that part of the explanation for continual expansion of policing can be found in the increasingly central role of housing markets in the economy, and politicians’ responsiveness to homeowners’ concerns about protecting property prices. As Simon has theorized, “the more a person’s future economic security depends on the value of his or her home, rather than earning capacity, the more we might expect this person to focus on factors like crime that could damage the value of the home” (2010, 195). Past research has shown that homeowners are more satisfied with and supportive of police than are renters (Reisig and Parks 2000; Schuck, Rosenbaum, and Hawkins 2008).

The shift from homes being a place primarily to live in and have a private life to a form of equity involves not just support for measures to reduce crime but other measures to ensure that the “public area” of the surrounding neighbourhood be protected from potential threats of disorder and not just crime:

Economists have long documented the negative effects of reported crime levels on housing prices, and this effect was especially pronounced during the 1990s (Hellman and Naroff 1979; Pope and Pope 2012; Schwartz, Susin, and Voicu 2003). The deleterious impact of crime on property values represents a salient social fact within the residential real estate field, one that is ubiquitously repeated in popular media and on real estate websites. Indeed, the reorientation toward real estate heightened the importance of guarding against not only crime, but also disorder, lifestyle nuisances, loitering, and anything else that might threaten property values. The salience of such economic fears may help explain the fact that the same exact majority of GSS respondents (57 percent) supported spending more public money on law enforcement in 2006 as they did in 1990, when crime rates were 50 percent higher.3 Even safe-feeling homeowners might have supported expanded policing to protect home values.”

It was no longer actual crime (however defined by the status quo) but the threat or possibility of disorder and crime that became a concern. Pages 1188-1189:

“…policing strategies that had police respond to perceived disorder, the expanded role for police went hand in hand with an expansion in the justificatory logics and motives to rationalize continued growth. For instance, a 2010 Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services report aimed at the law enforcement community argues that police agencies should reconceptualize their role and refocus their energies on combating fear of crime (rather than crime) because—among other things—it undermines residential property values (Cordner 2010).

At the same time, as governments retrenched on welfare services, the police were called upon to address problems normally handled by such services. The expansion of police services and the retrenchment of welfare services, however, should not lead the left to idealize welfare services. Welfare services have been oppressive in various ways such as supervising personal lives to ensuring that those who receive assistance are the “deserving poor.”

Furthermore, as the incident at 33 Gabian Way demonstrates, public housing can be quite oppressive. Evictions can occur in just as brutal fashion as in private housing. The left should not idealize the public sector—which they often do.

Housing, Police and the Working Class

The use of houses as equity among the working class has led to a split within the class in terms of immediate material interests. From Michael Berry, Housing Provision and Class Relations under Capitalism: Some Implications of Recent Marxist Class Analysis, pages 109-121, Housing Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 115-116:

Income differences are, as has been argued, also internalised within classes. In the case of the working class, for example, higher paid workers in primary jobs are doubly advantaged; they enjoy both higher and more secure wages and a higher probability of: (a) gaining access to owner-occupation; and (b) securing high capital gains from domestic property ownership. Conversely, workers in the secondary job market and those relegated to the reserve army of unemployed are more likely to be denied access to home ownership, or, if allowed access, concentrated in housing submarkets where property values remain relatively stable. Tenancy therefore evolves as a residual tenure category in a dual sense; not only can land supporting rental housing often be converted to more profitable non-residential uses, it evolves as ‘housing of last resort’ for less privileged sections of the working and nonworking population whose low incomes place strict limits on the rental returns to landlords, both factors leading to a degree of underprovision and homelessness.

In summary, working class disunity, associated with unequal access to and benefits from home ownership, and its political expression through various forms of struggle, is part of a wider system of inequality and exploitation. Both forms of advantage to higher paid workers privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers. depend on their being able to maintain their privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers.

Bad Infinity Again, or the Labour of Sisyphus—Unless We Begin to Link Strategy and Tactics

The upshot of all this is that unless activists begin to linking the immediate issues to larger issues, it is highly likely that they will achieve only fleeting success. The split in the working class means that there will be substantial resistance by a substantial section of the population to efforts to defund the police or to abolish it unless measures are taken to address the wider concerns and issues.

How to Link Strategy and Tactics

How can this be done? One possibility is to divide those who do have relatively secure positions, with relatively well-paid jobs (frequently the unionized sector) into two or three age groups as well as dividing each group into homeowners and those who do not own homes (condos, townshomes, houses, life leases or other forms of home ownership).

Those who are nearing retirement are unlikely to want to threaten their own security, both in terms of their pensions and in terms of their home ownership (for the importance of security for identifying working-class consciousness, see Marc Mulholland (2010), ‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline Consideration. Pages 375-417, In Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 38, Issue 3—although I believe he fails to include other aspects that motivate workers, such as the fight for their freedom and justice). Older workers also do not also have a whole life ahead of them to work for an employer. It is likely that only if their livelihood were threatened in some way (such as redefining the age of retirement) would they be prone to engage in serious battles with the aim of changing the economic and political structure. Older unionized workers would more likely support the police and less likely support a movement for defunding the police or in abolishing the police (empirical studies are needed here. Are there any?)

Some middle-aged workers, on the other hand, may still have to pay off their mortgage and still have to subordinate their will to the power of an employer for some time; others, of course, may approach older unionized workers in having a secure life. Some middle-aged workers may thus be more prone to oppose the police whereas others may be more prone to support them. It all depends on their life circumstances.

Younger unionized workers may have inherited housing from their parents, so they may be more prone to support the police. On the other hand, they more likely have a lifetime of having to work for an employer (although some may aspire to owning their own businesses, of course). These workers may be more susceptible to opposing police funding and the existence of the police because of their life situation.

To combat some of the unionized workers’ tendency to support the police, it would be necessary to show them the nature of their situation for the foreseeable future and to criticize alternative views that present their lives as somehow being fair. On the one hand, it would be necessary to show that their life working for an employer in hopes of owning a home entails a substantial part of their lives being used as means for employers’ ends over which they have little control. On the other hand, it would be necessary to criticize union rhetoric that presents collective bargaining and collective agreements as somehow fair.

To provide such criticisms, it is necessary to show that workers are used as means for other person’s ends. To that end, I reproduce the page on my blog on the money circuit of capital (it is fairly detailed, but it is necessary in order to oppose the rosy picture presented by union and business rhetoric about the future life of workers—especially younger workers) (if anyone has alternative means for exposing the limitations of union rhetoric, feel free to criticize this writing, including what follows, or if they can simplify it in any way).

… 

Conclusion: Using All Opportunities for Criticizing the Treatment of Human Beings as Means for Other People’s Ends

If a movement for defunding the police is to gain ground, it is necessary to use every opportunity that arises to criticize the economic and political structure in the wider sense and not just engage in activist actions at the micro level. The micro (where tactical decisions must be made) and the macro (where strategic decisions must be made) need to be linked constantly. How to do that is the central question.

In the movement for a fight for $15, for example, for whatever reason, the fight in Canada (not in the United States) has been paired with the concept of “fairness.” This provides the more radical left with an opportunity to challenge such rhetoric.

The same could be same with union rhetoric. For example, I compiled a list of 10 statements by CUPE on the fairness of collective agreements, put them up on my blog and queried how collective agreements, which limit the power of employers (and hence are, generally, better than no collective agreements) are somehow fair.

I would like to hear from others on how to link strategy and tactics together in the case of defunding the police and abolishing the police. Alternatively, I would be interested in reading arguments that short-term tactics can solve long-term problems.

The Silence of the Social-Democratic Left 

On April 18, 2021, I received an email indicating another meeting was to take place on April 24 at 3:00 p.m.  However, on April 24 the meeting was postponed until the following week. I received an email on April 29, which contained a zoom link for the Sunday, May 2 meeting. 
 
I was already feeling frustrated by any lack of response to what I considered to be a request by Ms. Jessup as administrator and monitor of the organization for a linking of micro and macro issues. Ms. Jessup’s silence–and the possible lack of circulation of the draft that I had written to other members of the previous zoom meetings–seemed to indicate that my draft work may have been censored. I had agreed at the beginning of joining this organization not to participate in its meetings, and then I was invited to participate, which I did by drafting something that tried to link up issues on the ground with more general issues–only to be met with–silence and possible censorship. 
 
I wanted to place the issue on the agenda (it was not on the agenda), but I also wanted to avoid clashing with Ms. Jessup, so I did not say anything about it at the May 2 meeting. However, I did draft something else that was more immediately relevant to the meeting: On the agenda, there were two motions for support of statements made by other organizations; I made some comments on these statements. One was a statement made by an organization in Toronto called Justice for Immigrant Workers (J4MW). I sent it to Ms. Jessup on May 1, 2021. 
 
Ms. Jessup’s reply:
Great.  Looking forward to seeing you Sunday
I also sent her some comments on another motion for support of the statement made by “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.” 
 
Since this post is already quite long, I will post the two drafts  in future posts and conclude this series by including my final writing to this group, on the People’s Pandemic Shutdown.
 
I will merely repeat what I wrote near the beginning of this post: The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.
 
My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.
 
I wish I were wrong–even partial defunding of the police would improve our lives, but given the dogmatism of the social-democratic left and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto.
 
I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization: 

J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.

It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas. 

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Seven: Giving to Abolitionists with One Hand While Taking Back with the Other and Giving to Social Democrats

In his article published in the social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension on May 28, 2020, “Can We Ever Truly Transform or Democratize the Police? Measures Are Needed to Restrain and Neutralize Police Brutality to Whatever Extent Possible,” Harry Kopyto, ( https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/can-we-truly-transform-or-democratize-the-police) seems to agree much more with James Wilt in the debate between Mr. Wilt and Herman Rosenfeld in the same journal (see my posts, such as Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). He argues, in effect, that it is, in practice, impossible to reform the police:

Rosenfeld is correct in promoting legislative and other changes similar to the ones identified above in response to the litany of police violence described by Wilt, but he is wrong in sowing illusions that these measures will change the fundamental nature of the police and “transform” them.

On the other hand, he claims that both Mr. Wilt and Mr. Rosenfeld have something to learn from each other: 

In my view, based on a career working as a criminal lawyer and a legal advocate against police abuse for 47 years before retirement, they should both learn to listen to each other because they both have something insightful to say.

I deny that Mr. Rosenfeld has much to teach us about how we are to address the problem of the police in relation to the working class. Mr. Kopyto concedes too much to Mr. Rosenfeld. Indeed, Mr. Kopyto falls into the same position, ultimately, as Mr. Rosenfeld, when answering the question: What is to be done? 

For example, Mr. Kopyto concludes his article with the following (despite showing the oppressive nature of the police historically): 

On the other hand, Wilt is right to point out that as enforcers of capitalist laws, police forces are inherently violent instruments of class oppression and must be abolished along with the capitalist system they serve. However, in the meantime, until that happens, measures are needed to restrain and neutralize police brutality to whatever extent may be possible [my emphasis].

This is a defensive position. Of course, we need to restrict the powers of the police at every opportunity (but this contradicts Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that we need the police because they protect workers from the theft of their property and from murder–see my critique. Mr. Kopyto does not mention Mr. Roesenfeld’s defense of the police in terms of these two functions).

In martial arts, if you can attack and defend at the same time, all the better. From Alan Gibson (2000), Why Wing Chun Works, pages 39-40 (Wing Chun is a form of Chinese kung fu): 

Simultaneous attack and defence.

Simultaneous attack and defence does not only mean doing one thing with one hand, (defending) and something different with the other (attacking). In Wing Chun this happens most of the time. Simultaneous attack and defence also refers to one hand serving two purposes at once.

Defensive measures may, on occasion, be necessary under special circumstances, but it is much more preferable to engage in simultaneous attack and defence in order to win a battle. To engage in purely defensive actions constantly often leads to defeat or at least to a weakening of one’s actions–as has indeed occurred with the rise of neoliberalism and the weak, defensive response of unions in many parts of the world. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, with his reformist suggestion of “transforming and reforming the police,” puts off forever the need to take back the protection of our lives from threats to it from others–and that means the major threat that employers mean to working-class lives (something which Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider) (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

But let us return to Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime.” This “in the meantime” provides an opening to the social-democratic left to put off forever the abolition of the police. Their position, practically, is to perpetuate the existence of the police. They do not aim to abolish the police as a separate institution until some vague, distant future (Mr. Rosenfeld mentioned 100 years in his article–but it could well have been 1,000 years or 10,000 years–100 years is an arbitrary number chosen by Mr. Rosenfeld in order to postpone aiming to begin the process of abolition today). 

I will repeat (and quote) what I wrote in other posts about the difference between the abolitionist stance, which argues that it is necessary to incorporate the goal of abolishing the police in the present if that goal is to be realized. 

In a previous post (see How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left) , I wrote: 

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. 

Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime” provides an opening for social democrats to separate the future from the present and put off aiming for socialism in the present.

Let me repeat from still another post what a real or good aim means (not the pseudo-aim of social democrats who claim they are aiming for socialism). From Democracy and Education (2004):

The aim must always represent a freeing of activities. The term end in view is suggestive, for it puts before the mind the termination or conclusion of some process. The only way in which we can define an activity is by putting before ourselves the objects in which it terminates—as one’s aim in shooting is the target. But we must remember that the object is only a mark or sign by which the mind specifies the activity one desires to carry out. Strictly speaking, not the target but hitting the target is the end in view; one takes aim by means of the target, but also by the sight on the gun. The different objects which are thought of are means of directing the activity. Thus one aims at, say, a rabbit; what he wants is to shoot straight; a certain kind of activity. Or, if it is the rabbit he wants, it is not rabbit apart from his activity, but as a factor in activity; he wants to eat the rabbit, or to show it as evidence of his marksmanship—he wants to do something with it. The doing with the thing, not the thing in isolation, is his end. The object is but a phase of the active end,—continuing the activity successfully. This is what is meant by the phrase, used above, “freeing activity”

By contrast, the idea of “in the meantime” that is purely defensive involves an external aim or a pseudo-aim or not really even an aim since it fails to link up the present with the future and the future with the present:

In contrast with fulfilling some process in order that activity may go on, stands the static character of an end which is imposed from without the activity. It is always conceived of as fixed; it is something to be attained and possessed. When one has such a notion, activity is a mere unavoidable means to something else; it is not significant or important on its own account. As compared with the end it is but a necessary evil; something which must be gone through before one can reach the object which is alone worth while. In other words, the external idea of the aim leads to a separation of means from end, while an end which grows up within an activity as plan for its direction is always both ends and means, the distinction being only one of convenience. Every means is a temporary end until we have attained it. Every end becomes a means of carrying activity further as soon as it is achieved. We call it
end when it marks off the future direction of the activity in which we are engaged; means when it marks off the present direction.

Mr. Kopyto certainly does not intend to be a reformist, but his “in the meantime” leads directly and practically to such conclusions. His insights, such as the following, then can be dismissed by the social-democratic left:

The police, in Canada and elsewhere, were created to protect property rights and enforce repressive laws that were created and interpreted in the interests of the status quo. Even decades before it became the norm for police to break up demonstrations or target minorities, they were used to enforce criminal conspiracy charges against trade union “combines”. Police forces are not neutral or reformable—they are quasi-militarized with all emphasis on a culture of obedience and none on training to be able to exercise independent and critical judgment. Hence, sexism, racism, xenophobia and a “we-they” mentality run rampant in these institutions of repression. In many cases, as we know, police have been used to deny democratic rights and attack or restrict labour actions.

Why is it not possible to engage in defensive measures while simultaneously engaging in actions that serve to protect workers and other community members? I have already provided some examples of such efforts in the past (see Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives)? 

There has been a call for defunding the police and using some of the funds to hire mental health workers, social workers and others to investigate violent crimes and to deal with gender- and race-based violence, civil services to engage in traffic services, the enforcement of bylaws and minor offences, and a specialized unit for immediate intervention in violent crimes, with such a unit having all other present functions performed by police allocated to other kinds of people as outlined above, and therefore with a much reduced budget and area for intervening in citizens’ lives (see https://defundthepolice.org/alternatives-to-police-services/). 

Furthermore, why not use some funds to create protective organizations for workers and others outside work? For hiring or training workers in health and safety inspections since workers often face many more dangers from working for an employer than threats at being murdered (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

Such abolitionist initiatives need to be sought in the present and not in some distant future. From Ray Acheson,  (page 25): 

The imperative of now

Abolition is inevitably a long-term, ongoing project of change. But abolition is not just
about the future: it needs to start now.

In this moment that we are currently experiencing, this moment of profound shifts in
thinking and in action happening across the United States and around the world, it
is important to recognise that we are already doing abolitionist work. Throughout the
COVID-19 pandemic and during the recent protests, we have built and enriched mutual
aid networks—models of community support learned from, among others, Indigenous,
Black, and queer communities. People from all walks of life are coming together to care
for each other physically and emotionally. Many of these acts of solidarity and support are
being documented through independent media like Unicorn Riot; many of them will never
be recorded. But it is happening, and it shows what more we can do.

Mr. Kopyto may not have intended to argue that the police should be perpetuated, but his use of the phrase “in the meantime,” coupled with merely defensive measures that regulate the police in effect defend the perpetuation of the police. 

Socialists need to aim for abolition by bringing such an aim into the present–into actions and engagements that institute policies that link the present to the future aim, and the future aim to present actions and engagements. 

That is our task at the present as socialists.