The Meaning of Being Hired, Fired and Laid Off

The following is a debate on Facebook I had with a pro-employer right-winger. The context was the closing down of the Oshawa GM auto factory (among others) in Ontario, Canada, the loss of around 3,000 direct jobs there and the possible loss of around 15,000 additional workers due to the spin-off losses of the suppliers of the factory.

I initially indicated that the 15,000 workers would be fired, not laid off. A right-winger named Jim Edgeworth argued that they were laid off rather than fired and referred to Brampton (Ontario, Canada) workers at Chrysler allegedly eight years ago as proof that the 15,000 workers would be laid off, not fired.

The issue is interesting in terms of what hiring, firing and laying off mean—something lost in most discussions about “jobs.”

I do not report the verbatim arguments of Jim Edgeworth; he deleted his arguments from Facebook.

Let us assume for the moment that that is true. Then all the more reason to eliminate a class of employers that must fire “over 15,000” since they cannot exploit them adequately (to say “laid off” assumes that that is temporary).

Of course, this person is not really concerned about the 15,000 fired. Rather, he is concerned about defending the interests of employers at any cost.

I then respond to Edgeworth’s reference to the Brampton workers at Chrysler:

Who defines what constitutes “laid off.” Are the Brampton workers still waiting around, expecting to be rehired? Or have they moved on to other employers? The person needs to provide facts to substantiate the view that workers have somehow being “laid off”–despite not working for the same worker for “eight years ago.”

I ignored Edgeworth’s attempt to insult me, and wrote:

This right-winger, evidently, is more concerned with his own egotistical nature than with addressing the problems and sufferings of real human beings–a characteristic of employers, who use human beings as means for their own end of obtaining more and more money.

Rather than indulging in the same kind of trite behavior, let us look at this so-called fact of being laid off or being fired. To be laid off or fired, it is first necessary to be hired. What does it mean to be hired by Chrysler at Brampton?

To be hired requires that the workers themselves lack economic independence–the means by which they can realize their act of working belong to others–to a minority called employers. At a brewery, for example, the soaker, filler and labeler are owned by the brewery employer and not by the workers who use the soaker, filler or labeler (and not by those workers who produced the soaker, filler and labeler).

If workers were economically independent, they would be able to sell the commodities that they produced than their own capacity or ability to work.

Workers in a society characterized by production mainly for exchange need money in order to obtain the means necessary for them to live (means of consumption). They then sell their capacity to work as a commodity (a thing to be exchanged and used by another) for money, and then they buy other commodities necessary to live.

To obtain the money necessary to live, they must sell their capacity to labour to the owners of the means of production (call such means MP). We can then show the process of hiring, from the point of view of the employer, as M-C (=L), where M represents the money of the employer, – or a dash represents an exchange, C represents a commodity and L represents the specific commodity sold by the worker, labour power or the capacity to work or use the means of production (MP).

Of course, L (labour power or the capacity to work by using the means of production) is bought only in order to oblige the workers to use the means of production (MP) owned by employers, and the means of production (MP) is generally must be purchased before labour power (L) since the employer only has temporary power to use of labour power (L) and cannot own L outright (unlike the means of production, MP).

The initial exchange of the employer is then divided into two parts: M-C(L) and M-C (MP), or M-C(=L+MP).

We now have sufficient information to understand what being fired and what being laid off mean. One of the major functions of money in a capitalist society is to unite workers (L) and means of production (MP)–because capitalist property relations ensure that workers and the conditions of their living are separated into two opposed classes.

When workers are laid off, they are temporarily separated from the means of production (MP), with the real possibility of being united with them again with the same employer (of course, the nature of the means of production may change due to technological change). Being laid off is a temporary severance of the relationship between the workers and the means of production, on the one hand, and the particular employer on the other.

It should be noted that it is the employer who makes a decision to lay off and not the workers.

Workers who are fired have the relationship between them and the means of production, on the one hand, and a particular employer on the other, permanently broken or severed.

In a capitalist society, workers do not have to legally work for a particular employer; they are not full-time slaves. As a class, of course, they do have to work for the class of employers as long a capitalism persists–otherwise, capitalism could not continue to exist.

Now, this right-winger claims that workers who have not worked for eight years for Chrysler in Brampton are laid off because they have the right of recall (according to a collective agreement, undoubtedly, since workers do not have the right to recall otherwise).

Practically, these workers have had to look for other employment (or received income from government assistance–or starved). How else would they continue to live? The right of recall hardly takes precedence over the need to live. The right of recall after eight years of time, practically, results in being fired (severed permanently from using the means of production and having a real relation to the employer by being exploited by the employer).

But since the right-winger does not specify where he obtains his information concerning the right of recall, let us take a look at the collective agreement between Oakley subassembly Windsor ULC Brampton plant and Unifor Local 1825 (October 4, 2013-October 3, 2016). On page 16, clause 12.03, it says the following:

“Seniority will be lost and an employee will be terminated if an employee: …
“(c) is laid off and not recalled for a period of eighteen (18) months or for a period of time equal to the employee’s accumulated seniority at date of layoff, whichever is greater, with a maximum of thirty six (36) months”

The right-winger, of course, does not really care whether the workers eight years ago were fired or laid off–nor with understanding the difference between them nor with understanding the kind of society in which we live. He is a superficial mouthpiece of employers and, like employers, he has used the workers at Brampton to serve his own egotistical ends.

By the way, the left share similar beliefs to this right-winger–despite their opposition toward each other. Both he and the left believe in the necessity of employers. He considers anything employers as a class do as good whereas the left believe in the humanization of the employer-employee relation. Why else would the left talk about “decent work,” “fair wages,” (expressed by, for example, Tracy McMaster, president of Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), “economic justice,” (expressed by John Cartwright, president, Toronto & York Region Labour Council), “fairness” (as in the expression “Fight for $15 and Fairness,” a grassroots and union movement in Ontario), and Fair Labour Laws (as posted on the JFAAP website but copied from a union (Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, a grassroots organization in one of poorer and racialized areas of Toronto)? All in the context of a society characterized by the use of human beings as means for the private sector employers to obtain more and more money (and public sector employers to use workers as means for purposes not defined by them but by senior management).

Such is the nature of the right and the social-reformist left.

Should we workers not understand better what it means to be hired, fired and laid off in order to grasp better the nature of our lives? Does the social-reformist left provide us with the tools necessary to understand our own experiences? Do they themselves bother in providing us with an understanding of our own experiences in this world? If not, why not? And if not, does that not demonstrate both a lack of democracy among the social-reformist left?

Does not the social-reformist left not have contempt for the regular worker when they remain silent about the meaning of the social structures which workers experience on a regular basis as a class?

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier post,  over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

The first talk is by Dan Karasik, an activist in the movement for the fight for $15. He claims that the goal now is to hold on to the gains that have been made through the passing of Bill 148 (reform of employment law, which introduced a number of employment laws beneficial to unorganized workers and increased the minimum wage to $14 an hour as of January 1, 2018 and was scheduled to increase as of January 1, 2019). In the short term, such a goal is of course realistic; organized opposition to the class of employers will not occur overnight.

However, Dan likely overestimates, like much of the social-reformist left, the immediate potentiality for radicalizing sections of the working class in terms of the immediate conditions prior to an election. He claims that a radicalization of working-class politics can occur because of the elections. Alternatively, his definition of radical politics is social-reformist and is radical only in relation to Doug Ford’s immediate political position. Both likely share similar positions concerning the necessity of the class of employers (see my earlier post about a social reformist who claims that the fight for $15 is indeed fair, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Dan argues that Doug Ford is a populist who was elected the premier of Ontario, Canada, in June 2018 in part to represent “the people,” with a substantial part of the people, according to Dan, expecting Doug Ford to maintain the provisions set out in Bill 148. With the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calling on the Ontario government to completely repeal the Bill, the mood among the social-reformist left has shifted from being celebratory to a mood characterized by a mood characterized by increasing jitters Nevertheless, there is now a space for radicalization since the fight for $15 and what Dan still calls “fairness” potentially has done is to open up a struggle amongst racialized and gendered sections of the working class since minimum wage jobs in Toronto are predominantly filled by racialized and gendered members of the working class–should Ford ultimately decide to follow the recommendations of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Although there may indeed may be some space for organizing along these lines, Dan at no time indicated what he meant by radical politics. Somehow the false promise of Doug Ford to represent “the people” is to magically transform racialized and gendered working-class members into radicals.

Dan never gets around to indicating what he means by “radical politics,” let alone “radical working-class politics.” Since he never does question pairing the term “Fight for $15” with the term “fairness,” his radical politics probably is defined entirely within the limits of the social-reformist left’s definition of radical politics–social reforms that in no way question the power of employers as a class. The questioning of such power is implicitly “off the agenda.”  See several of my posts for criticisms of the positions of politics of the social-reformist left.

Dan briefly referred to the situation of capital and labour in Toronto–without stating anything further. What is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? When I was a member of the Toronto Labour Committee (with Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray practically being the leaders), I proposed  a class analysis of Toronto (but indicated that I did not really know how to go about doing that–although I was willing to learn–I was involved in another project in gathering data pertaining to the ruling class analysis in Toronto, but it could not really be considered directly related to the ruling class, but perhaps to the class of self-employed and small to middle-sized employers–but that would have required more refined tools than those used). The response was–silence.

So, what is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? You would not be able to tell at all from anything Dan had to say. (Perhaps someone can refer me to recent articles and books on the subject? I would definitely appreciate it.)

In general, Dan’s talk refers to a radical politics, but it really contains very little in the way of specifying what that may mean. The audience is left to “fill in” what that may mean. Since the moderator already filled in part of it by referring to “decent work,” (see an earlier post), it is highly probable that Dan’s radical politics really means more of the same social-reformist politics that has been circulating since the employer class went on the offensive in the 1970s. In essence, this radicalism wants to return to a renewed welfare state, with social housing, enhanced unemployment benefits, improved welfare benefits, reductions in austerity, reformed employment laws and so forth. Such a politics, however, has no intention, though, of questioning the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers. That is not on the agenda.

It certainly was not mentioned by Dan at all. Such is the radical space left untouched in the first talk in the series.

What’s left, Toronto? So far, social-reformism and the acceptance of the power of employers as a class.

 

An Example of the Inadequacy of the Canadian Left, or How the Canadian Left Contributes to the Emergence of the Canadian Right

On Facebook, a social-reformist leftist posted the fact that the Ontario Conservative government, headed by the right-wing millionaire Doug Ford, had eliminated the position of Ontario Child Advocate Office, integrating it with the Ombudsman’s Office.  The person had attached the comment “Shameful”. A subsequent comment objected to the fact that the man who filled the position of Child Advocate, Irwin Elman, found out that his position had been eliminated through the media rather than directly through his employer.

I had a discussion with some social-reformist left on Facebook concerning this. I first posted the following:

Although such an institution may be useful in some cases, the social-reformist left fail to provide any critical distance and question whether such institutions are adequate to their alleged purpose. In other words, the left tend to react to the closing down of downsizing of any institution with a knee-jerk reaction of “let us save this institution” without inquiring while assuming that such institutions do not need to be criticized or changed. In other words, the left often lacks critical distance. When schools were to be closed, what did the left do? “Let us save the schools”–as if schools all of a sudden were ideal institutions.

Another, more personal example. In Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada], when my daughter told me that her mother had slapped her in the face so hard that her tooth was bleeding in Winnipeg, I went to the Children’s Advocate to complain about it, The Children’s Advocate, claimed that there had been indication of physical abuse–but the only institution that could really do something about it was–the Winnipeg Child and Family Services.

The last time that I had complained to the Winnipeg Child and Family Services about physical abuse by her mother was a complaint that her mother had kicked my daughter in the back, The response by Winnipeg Child and Family Services was, initially, that there were no marks. The second response was a letter in January, 2004, indicating that they would no longer investigate my complaints and that they may even consult their lawyer and the Winnipeg Police for allegedly making false accusations (which several years later they indirectly admitted were true).

The Children’s Advocate did nothing about my allegation of my daughter’s slapping Francesca (my daughter) in the face, and it was the Winnipeg Child and Family Services which inquired into the slapping–about three months later, with no consequences as far as I could see.

This does not mean that Ford should not be criticized; but the left’s typical uncritical stance concerning such institutions needs to be pointed out and criticized. The left’s lack of criticism of criticism of social institutions can be seen in other areas–such as work, where they thoughtlessly use such terms as “decent work,” “fair wages,” “economic justice,” and “fairness.”

A subsequent comment was made by Willy Noiles, the president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) (the same person who objected to the indirect way of informing Irwin Elman that he had lost his position) to the effect that I had read too much into his comment and that he would agree to such a criticism of the Ontario Child Advocate (and presumably other such institutions) if a third party, upon inquiry, found the institution negligent of its duties. (The president deleted his comment subsequently since it is no longer there; consequently, I cannot provide his answer verbatim.)

My response was as follows:

I hardly read into this person’s comments anything except silence concerning the efficacy of such an institution in relation to advocating for children. This person failed to mention anything about such efficacy in the original post.

As for “third party” investigation–which third party? I filed a complaint against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Ombudsman’s Office. Their judgement: the Winnipeg Child and Family Services had committed no breach of its duties, etc. As for the Children’s Advocate–it lacked the power of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services and did nothing, practically, to save my daughter from further abuse.

So, this person, instead of focusing on adequacy of such institutions (including “third parties”), complains about how the employee was treated.

This person’s criticism of the way the government operated is certainly valid–but he leaves out so much that should be included but rarely is by the left–the adequacy of the institutions themselves.

As for employer’s indicating that the Children’s advocate, Irwin Elman was to lose his job through the media–undoubtedly this should be criticized.

But what of the thousands of other people who silently are crushed by their employer or who are afraid of complaining about the power of their employer? Does this person complain about that, which undoubtedly an NDP government [the NDP is a social-reformist political party] would fail to address since it assumes that the power of employers is sacrosanct?

What is the position of this person on the power of employers in general? Why complain about the abuse of a particular employer only? Why not complain about the abuse of employers as a class? Or use this particular abuse as an example of such abuse?

Instead of criticizing only Ford and his government, why not criticize the accepted assumption by the left and the right of the legitimacy of employers in general?

Another person then commented that she supported Ford’s decision to close the Ontario Child’s Advocate since, according to her, it has done little to advocate for children. She claimed that there were other similar programs set up that were politically motivated but that they have not even “come remotely close to addressing their mandate.” She accused the former Ontario Liberal government of Kathleen Wynn of creating many such useless institutions due to political patronage. She therefore supported “Ford needs to drain the swamp of these types of ‘institutions’ because they are nothing but institutional welfare for academics in most cases.”

She then claimed that she is “not of any political stripe…in fact I deplore ‘politics’, but I support anyone who is willing to clean up the mess we are all paying for.”

I responded:

The left should take a long look at the above post by [this woman]. The left, by not taking a critical stance on many issues and institutions (they assume that certain institutions, such as schools, the Children’s Advocate, the employer-employee relationship in general, labour laws, collective agreements or employment laws) are somehow the embodiment of fairness, justice and decency.

It is the right that then captures the sympathy of certain individuals by eliminating or reducing funding to certain institutions. Such individuals then falsely generalize to believing that “Ford needs to drain the swamp of these types of institutions.” Ford becomes popular because the left fails to criticize certain institutions that deserve criticism–and then individuals turn to the right by overgeneralizing–as if Ford were sympathetic to the creation of a humanistic world rather than pandering after the interests of employers.

The left is just as responsible as the right for “Ford nation.” In addition to failing to criticize social institutions, it also shares with Ford the belief that employers as a class are somehow necessary. Why else would they talk about “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” decent work,” “economic justice” and “fairness?”

The woman then reiterated that she was not for any political party and was neither left-wing or right-wing. She even claimed that she opposed multinational corporations. However, she then reiterated that she would support a government that opposed “a bureaucracy where the head makes over a quarter million dollars annually, plus, plus, plus. We are paying horrific prices for these political ‘gifts’.”

My reply:

The problem with this approach is that we are forced to take sides in the real world. I oppose Ford because of what he represents–the interests of employers. His elimination of the Children’s Advocate has little to do with benefiting children and probably more to do with his agenda of streamlining government so that employers have to pay less. All this talk of saving “taxpayers’ money” is itself a cloak for the benefit of employers.

To be opposed to multinational corporations would entail being opposed to Ford on many fronts–why then focus on “supporting Ford” on a particular issue since the general issue is what Ford represents–employers as a class?

Ford is a parasite–he is an employer and a millionaire. How did he obtain his money if not by exploiting workers? Why not criticize this form of parasitism–which is the central parasitism of our times–rather than a particular parasite? Or why not criticize Ford as exemplary of such central parasitism?

Or where do the profits of employers come from except from the exploitation of workers (employees)?

The woman did not comment after this, but one man indicated that Ford was even worse because “inherited his company from his father, then shut down most Ontario operations and moved to the US.”

Another woman made a final comment: “And even one of those operations in the US was run into the ground killing jobs.”

One of the lessons of this discussion is, as I indicated in my post to Facebook, the left often reacts in  knee-jerk way to the actions of the right in relation to specific social institutions in such a way that they alienate others who consider those social institutions to be a waste. The left in effect act as conservatives of past institutions that may well deserve to be restructured or eliminated in order to address problems internal to such institutions.

A second lesson is that the left do not see that there is mixed in the beliefs of supporters of the right critical aspects that may form a way in which to undermine such support (such as the woman’s belief in eliminating parasites and her opposition to multinational companies).

A third lesson is that the left, by assuming that employers are necessary, form an implicit alliance with the right despite the apparent opposition to them. The issues between the social-reformist left and the right stem mainly from the issue of the extent to which the state will be a welfare state or not–a social-democratic state versus a neoliberal state. The left, however, like the right, assume that employers as a class are here to stay. The issue for it is never in questioning the legitimacy of employers but whether a society dominated by a class of employers can accommodate a welfare state.

By not engaging in a critique of the power of employers as a class, the left miss an opportunity for connecting with those who support some of the actions of the right. Has not the right restructured the state? Has not sections of the working class supported such restructuring in part because of the lack of criticism by the left of a society dominated by a class of employers? The left will at best propose welfare reforms, but since it shares with the right the belief in the sanctity of the employer-employee relation and the limits that imposes on state restructuring and reform, it will likely produce a backlash in the form of support for right-wing policies by sections of the working class.

Should not the left engage in self-criticism? Should it not begin to criticism its own rhetoric of “decent work,” fair wages,” “economic justice,” “fairness,” and “fair labour laws.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Michael Perelman contrasts what many people experience in their lives: their own contrast between an activity which they enjoy doing and their experience working for an employer, which they often enough find to be draining.

From Michael Perelman, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011),

Just What Is Work?

To understand the potential for transforming the economy, consider a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, upstanding citizens of the United States would never subject themselves to the life of a farm worker for poverty wages.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During the time they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Gardeners are producing for themselves rather than for someone else who will benefit from their work.

As the psychologist John Neulinger says: “Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to.”43 We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers pass virtually unnoticed. In our society, farm work is never “respectable” work; well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farm workers.
Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand. …

As suggested earlier, the key to the Procrustean trap is not the threat of physical force but rather the inability to imagine anything outside of the constrained present circumstances. The willingness to take seriously Margaret Thatcher’s preposterous claim—“There is no alternative”—perfectly sums up this state of mind.

A writer for Bloomberg.com reminisced about Thatcher’s Procrustean destructive success:

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.
Stick to the plan long enough and the people who are good at making money acquire huge sums and, along with them, power. In time, they become the culture’s dominant voice. And they love you for it.46

Thatcher’s scheme actually worked. Her acolytes were so convinced that the mere utterance of Thatcher’s acronym TINA seemed sufficient to cut off any debate with skeptics.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left in Toronto certainly has reinforced the TINA principle. The so-called radical left, by keeping silent out of fear of becoming isolated, themselves becomes part of the social-democratic left. They, like the social-reformist left, provide no real alternative vision to the oppressive and exploitative nature of work characteristic of the power of employers as a class.

In fact, through their silence and their lack of criticism, they contribute to the perpetuation of class rule. They are, practically, social reformists who will never go beyond the existing class system despite their rhetoric of class struggle and struggle from below.

 

 

The Canadian Left’s Lack of a Vision of the Good Life Beyond a Class of Employers

Stanley Aronowitz, in his book The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement (New York: Verso, page 162) , points out how the left has in effect abandoned any real intention of developing a movement powerful enough to challenge a system dominated by the class of employers:

Professional intellectuals need not be the only formulators of a new vision of the good life, but they may be needed to boldly put the questions associated with the good life back on the table. As we have seen, even political groups motivated by the promise of new social arrangements refrain from openly discussing their transformative views in their trade unions or in public forums, for fear they will be labeled as sectarians and lose access to the rank and file.

This self-censorship among U.S. radicals is nothing new. It dates from two closely related developments: Samuel Gompers’s refusal to link the labor movement to an ideological flag, a stance that led more radical thinkers to form the rival IWW; and the Socialist Party’s entry, with both feet, into the electoral arena, where the terms of engagement implied acceptance of the capitalist system as the given framework within which the struggles for social reform were to be conducted.

The Canadian left, probably like much of the left, refuse to try to open up debate about where the labour movement is really going. Rhetoric, such as “decent work,” “a good job,” “fair wages,” ‘economic justice” and indeed “fairness” in general are thrown around without the left ever bothering explaining what they mean by such terms.

The Toronto left, for example, is certainly afraid of trying to oblige union representatives to justify their platitudes such as “decent work.” Thus, in Toronto there was a call for supporting the striking brewery workers here. Such a call is certainly to be supported. However, to justify such a call, it was claimed that the brewery workers wanted decent jobs and a fair wage. The call went was sent over a list serve through an organization to which I belonged (the Toronto Labour Committee), headed by Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray. I decided to criticize the use of such expressions while also indicating the need for supporting the striking brewery workers (I had worked as a brewery worker in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for about four years, and I knew about wages and working conditions from personal experience).

Eventually, I was called a “condescending prick” by a union representative, and the only defense of my action came from Herman Rosenfeld, who claimed that both I and the union representative were both right (it is nice to be able to have your cake and eat it too).

The point of all this is–there is a decided lack of discussion within the union movement and in the public sphere here in Toronto (and, I suspect, elsewhere in North America)–due to such intimidation tactics. The rhetoric of democracy within the left is just that–it is rhetoric.

There is no real discussion about the obvious dictatorship which billions of workers experience daily in their lives. There is no discussion of any alternative vision of what kind of life we humans really deserve. There is rhetoric of social justice, but there is no real substantial discussion of what that means and no movement towards building a society worthy of our nature as human beings.

There is much talk of resistance–but to what end? Resistance for resistance sake? To hold on to what we have? Not to dare think of anything beyond $15 and fairness or the idea of decent work? The hostility I met from the union reps and the so-called radical left when I questioned such ideas evidently expresses a lack of vision of the good life. For the so-called progressive left, there have been employers, there are employers, and there will always be employers. Such is the nature of the “progressive” left these days. They lack any vision of the good life beyond the class of employers.

 

Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers

In the context of the process of passing legislation related to the Westray mining disaster (ultimately diluted to satisfy the interests of employers), a union representative explicitly expressed the reality that workers face when they work for employers. The problem with this explicit admission of the power of employers is that it does not play any real role in the education of the working class. Compare what is said below with union rhetoric about “decent jobs” or a “fair wage.” From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

“…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

One of the distinguishing features of human beings is our capacity to choose–our capacity to be free, to make decisions. The union representative openly admits that in the context of businesses, it is management that mainly decides and that all that a collective agreement does is restrict the authority of management to decide. Regulation and legislation, in a few cases, also limit that authority. Other than that, management has dictatorial powers at work. In other words, workers are treated as things at work–as objects to be used; they are thing-like objects, without the power to participate equally in decisions that affect their lives.

And the social-reformist left repeatedly refer to “decent jobs” and “fairness.” Even the so-called radical left (see the previous post, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right) engage in such rhetoric. How being treated as things can be magically converted into decent jobs and fair wages is beyond me. The religious nature of this rhetoric (most frequently expressed by trade unionists) is obvious by the lack of any critical discussion concerning whether it reflects the experience of the millions (and indeed billions) of workers worldwide.

What do you think of the above honest statement of the reality or situation of even the more privileged section of the working class (for, generally, unionized workers are more privileged) when compared to the rhetoric of “decent work” and “fair wages” or “fairness” as expressed by the social-reformist left (and even the radical left)?

Should we not start discussing these issues openly and honestly? Are we? If we are not, why are we not doing so?

Unions and Safety on Jobs Controlled by Employers

The following tries to explain why unions do not adequately address the safety concerns of rank-and-file workers who work for an employer. Of course, safety conditions in non-unionized settings may be even worse, but we should not idealize unionized settings either. They are better than non-unionized settings, generally, but they remain inadequate since workers’ safety and well-being are sacrificed for the benefit of the particular employer as well as for the benefit of the class of employers.

From Tom Dwyer (1991), Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error. (New York: Springer Science+Business Media), page 77:

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