Management Rights, Part Six: Public Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia

I thought it appropriate to include a collective agreement of the place where I used to work. I worked as a bilingual library technician at the District Resource Centre of School District No 57, Prince George, British Columbia for about two and a half years. I was also the union steward at the board office and participated as a member of the bargaining committee in collective bargaining.

Unlike the social-democratic left, I hardly found my working experience there to be “decent” (as in “decent work,” a phrase used by the social-democratic left often enough, without explaining what they mean by it). Being riveted in front of a computer screen day after day became boring and oppressive. In the old collective agreement (in the early 1990s), it was the Operating Engineers Union, Local 858, that represented the workers. In that collective agreement, those who worked in front of a computer screen could do alternative work for ten minutes per hour. I began to exercise that right and did some clerical work (affixing labels to items, for example). Needless to say, this created an implicit friction between my immediate supervisor, Carrie Yuen-Lo, and me since it interfered with management’s decision-making power to determine what I and my fellow workers were to do.

Interestingly enough, other workers who worked in front of computer screens did not use this right to escape from being in front of the computer screen for hours on end without a break. Perhaps they enjoyed their work so much that they felt no need to take a break. Or perhaps they felt intimidated and feared making waves. I will let the reader decide which was the more probable reason.

Should workers comply with collective agreements out of necessity (because their enemy has more power than they do–for now), or should they comply with them because it is the “decent” or right thing to do? Union reps have few if any answers to this question. Why is that?

From

AGREEMENT
BETWEEN
THE BOARD OF SCHOOL TRUSTEES OF
SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 57 (PRINCE GEORGE}
AND
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES
LOCAL 4991
JULY 1,2014 TO JUNE 30,2019

page 5:

ARTICLE 4 • MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union recognizes the right and responsibility of the Board to manage and
operate the school district, and agrees that the employment, assignment, direction
and determination of employment status of the work force Is vested exclusively in the Board, except as otherwise specifically provided in this agreement Of applicable legislation.

4.02 It is mutually agreed that no third party Shall have the right to amend, modify or expand the provisions of the collective agreement and any Issue arising during the term of the agreement on which the Board has not specifically agreed to some limitation on the exercise of its authority will be conclusively determined by the judgement of the Board until otherwise established through subsequent collective bargaining.

The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC): One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward?

I thought it appropriate, on May 1, the International Workers’ Day, to refer to something that disturbed me on Facebook yesterday–a post by the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC), which included some remarks (and a video) by Howard Eng.
Howard Eng is the CEO of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, the operator and manager of Toronto Pearson International Airport, the largest airport in Canada, with between 40,000 and 50,000 workers.

The step forward is the effort and success by some union members at the airport in creating a workers’ organization that not only cuts across union jurisdictions–the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council–but also makes efforts to create solidarity among airport workers across countries.

The two steps backward is the obvious reliance on representatives of employers in achieving goals of the TAWC. It is not that any workers’ organization should not make compromises; it is how such compromises are dealt with internally within the union membership which determines whether such compromise is worthwhile.

Compromise with management needs to be explained as a tactical necessity for the time being because of the superior forces of management at the time–and not justified in somehow expressing common interests. Workers, ultimately, do not have common interests with employers (unless it is argued that it is in the interests of workers to be treated as things for purposes which they themselves do not define. See https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/ for an explanation of how workers are necessarily treated as things by employers, whether in the private or public sector.)

A video featuring a short speech by him was posted, without comment, on the Facebook page for the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC). There was also a picture of Mr. Eng and a woman (presumably a union rep) in front of a YYZ solidarity banner (YYZ is the city airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport).


On the Facebook page, it is stated (and Mr. Eng is quoted. See https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=tawc%3A%20toronto%20airport%20workers’%20council&epa=SEARCH_BOX ):

The GTAA and the TAWC have been working to collect data on the makeup of our workforce, on best practices used by other airport when dealing with labour issues, and on safety initiatives. He was glad he “has the support of the unions, working collaboratively together to move forward, not just for our airport but for everyone that works here.”


Howard didn’t shy away from speaking about the difficult times we have had over the years and the challenges that have come. He asked for patience and to keep bringing forward our issues so that we can do our best to come up with solutions to address them.


Howard finished by stating: “change takes time. Let’s work together to make this a better place to work for the 50,000 that work here.”

This statement by Mr. Eng is typical employer rhetoric: workers and management are, ultimately, one big family, and need to cooperate to achieve a common goal. There is no comment by union representatives on the Facebook page to counter this rhetoric.

I did not make some comments concerning this.

My first comment:

Did any of the workshops aim to counter the ideology expressed by this representative of employers? Or was there silence over the issue?

There was one reply:

Alex Ceric Change does not take time. I’s a very simple decision to improve the live of the workers. And when that decision is made the change is instantaneous. What takes time is for them do drop off a cookie crumb here and a cookie crumb there until it amounts to one single improvement.

I just wrote a reply:

This is pure rhetoric. The bottom line is profit at the airport, is it not? Safety comes second to that bottom line. Or does it not?

Besides, it is not just a question of change but what kind of change but also who makes the decision to change and how that decision is made.


Mr. Eng has power to make change, within limits. Who gave him that power? Why does he have it? Does his possession of power imply that a majority of workers have less power?


And on a technical note: change always takes time. No change is “instantaneous.” Please explain how any change is instantaneous.

Finally, the issue of Mr. Eng’s rhetoric that implies that management and workers have ultimately the same interest. What is TAWC’s position on such rhetoric? What is it doing to counteract such rhetoric, if anything?

My second comment:

I wonder how it is possible to address the problem of health and safety at a workplace when those who actually do the work are treated as things at work. To address health and safety requires democratic control over the workplace–for regular workers to be the “decision makers,” including determining who are the decision makers.

To refer to “opportunity to speak with the decision makers” sounds very anti-democratic, does it not? Who is the majority at the airport? The workers or the decision makers? If the decision makers are a minority and are not elected–would we not call that a dictatorship at the political level? And yet there is utter silence about the issue when it comes to the economic level.

Why is that?

No one has responded.

I have little doubt that many union reps at the airport, if they read this, will consider the writer to be a “condescending prick” (as CUPE local 3902 rep Wayne Dealy once called me). (CUPE is the Canadian Union of Public Employees). I would prefer to be called that and bring up issues which they hide rather than not be called that and remain silent over such issues. We workers deserve far more than the rhetoric of Howard Eng.

Do we workers not deserve more than such rhetoric?

What Kind of Organization or Structure does an Anti-Capitalist Struggle Require?

The following is a critical look at a leftist conference held on April 26, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, entitled Building Solidarity Against Austerity. Session 3. Fighting Austerity Today. Specifically, it looks critically at the presentation by Dave Bush, a leftist activist in Toronto, who argues that it is necessary to create an organization for the long-term struggle.

Mr. Bush implies that we need something beyond the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is a social-reformist political party, but he does not explicitly explain why we need something beyond it. Implicitly, though, he argues that a new organization is needed to fight against the neoliberal austerity program.

The new organization required seems to be a purely negative organization since its main purpose is to fight against austerity. Fighting against austerity, however, is not necessarily the same as abolishing the class relation between employers and employees.
Indeed, fighting against austerity is perfectly consistent with the stated aims of the NDP and other social democratic organizations. On the federal NDP website , it states:

Canada’s NDP has a proud history of fighting for ordinary Canadians and delivering results. Over the last 50 years, New Democrats have helped ensure the introduction of universal medical care, public pensions, and the expansion of Canada’s social safety net.

New Democrats are champions for people – not corporations or the ultra-rich. We believe in building a society that is more equal and more just for everybody. We are determined to fight for solutions people urgently need right now. From skyrocketing housing prices to soaring out-of-pocket healthcare costs – Canadians haven’t received the help they need.

Mr. Bush perhaps advocates for a new organization because the NDP does not, in practice, live up to its own claims. This interpretation is justified since Mr. Bush points out that we need to think about what is needed to the left of the NDP. Yes, we do. Unfortunately, his references to “ripping apart our collective services” seems to assume that public services are our services. Public services are hardly democratic, as he undoubtedly knows, and yet his vocabulary leads to a false image of the public sector as a collectivity of some sort. Workers in the public sector are employees just as much as employees in the private sector. How being “public services” magically converts being a public employee into a collective organization that provides “our collective services” is never explained.

Mr. Bush also refers to “making gains beyond a specific campaign” as being strategic. In what sense is it strategic? One campaign to which he refers in Halifax was to fight for converting hydro from a private corporation and monopoly into a public one. I certainly agree that privatization should be fought against, but the left then tends to limit its demands to its opposite–make it public, which is exactly what Solidarity Halifax advocated. Nationalizing utilities, however, is hardly a socialist measure if by a socialist measure you mean increased control over our lives at work and in life generally.

Nationalizing hydro does not even take it to the same level as education (at the public school level) and health services in that, at least theoretically, the use of the services do not require money. To use hydro that is publicly run by the capitalist state still requires that the users have money. How is that a major socialist gain? From the point of view of public workers, how is it a gain? Do they not have “jobs” working for an employer (the capitalist state)? Is that what is meant by socialism? How is that a enriching life, to have to work for the capitalist state as your employer?

Mr. Bush argues that advocating for the nationalization (or rather provincialization) of hydro was strategic for two additional reasons than just the need to protect public services as public: firstly the private corporation would raise rates whenever it wanted to do so, so there was a potential large opposition to it and hence for conversion to a public corporation. Secondly, none of the regular political parties, including the NDP, were making it an issue. Hence, Solidarity Halifax could distinguish itself by focusing on a large potential need.

However, It could in fact be said that Mr. Bush and the rest of the left is now in fact a purely anti-austerity movement. It considers, practically, that fighting against austerity is the only practical thing to do. To challenge the power of employers as a class is off the agenda forever for the left here in Toronto and indeed in most parts of Canada. At best, Mr. Bush illustrates the limits of the social-reformist left, which cannot envision a world beyond the power of employers as a class.

Mr. Bush also says that we need to engage in coalition building. On what basis? There was little discussion about what the goals of such coalition building would be,

Coalition building perhaps was supposed to be centered around the fight against privatization in general and the privatization of Canadian postal services in particular. This seems to be some of what Mr. Bush is aiming to achieve. However, having services performed by state employees rather than the private sector may be preferable in that, on the one hand, more employees are proportionately unionized in the public sector than in the private sector and, on the other, at least on the side of consumption workers who receive services do not need to pay directly out of their pocket; consumption is socialized and made available to all (in theory if not always in practice).

Although these two reasons form a basis for fighting against austerity, they hardly question the principle recognized theoretically but not practically by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) (a leftist organization that resists policies that lead to “immiseration and destitution”): that economic coercion forms the necessary base of class relations in a capitalist society. State employees are subject to economic coercion like their private-sector counterparts (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Fighting against austerity through nationalization and other measures should be a means towards the end of abolishing the power of employers as a class; fighting austerity should not be an end in itself–which is what Mr. Bush seems to seek.

Mr. Bush further argues that the community’s role is mainly one of support. Admittedly, he makes this assertion in the context of the potential privatization of postal services, but is that the major role of the community? Is the community merely to be a reflective support for “labour” (actually, unionized workers), or can it not be both supportive and critical? Or can it be supportive by being critical? The view that the community’s main role is to be supportive assumes that the union movement represents a standard that is sufficiently robust and powerful to justify subordinating the community to it.

Why should we accept that assumption? The open letter by John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council to the union movement on January 30, 2018,  refers to economic justice, and yet in another post (see Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two), it was pointed out just how inadequate is Cartwright’s implicit claim that the union movement has as its goal economic justice when the power of employers as a class is not questioned.

It can be further added that the nationalization of hydro involves its own set of problems that the social-democratic left do not seem to want to address. For example, public sector workers are employees. Being employees, they lack freedom in various ways. How does the fact that public sector workers are employees relate to socialism? Is socialism consistent with the existence of employees? If so, then it is consistent with using human beings as things, is it not? Is that then socialism or capitalism?

What is more likely meant by socialism is what existed before the emergence of what is called neoliberalism: a truce between unions, employers and government and the resurgence of the old welfare state.

What I call socialism would include the abolition of the employer-employee relation–period. It is not about nationalizing utilities and converting institutions merely from private to public government; it would involve the democratization of the economy (see Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like,  Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like,   Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers).

Despite these many limitations of Mr. Bush’s presentation of what an anti-capitalist movement needs to become, his idea of having an organization as a membership based organization does have merit. The idea is that membership will determine what is feasible in terms of human capacity. If there are only four members, then only four-member actions should be taken. If 400 members, then larger actions, or more coordinated actions, can emerge. Mr. Bush’s recognition of some of the limitations placed on leftist organizations, unfortunately, does not extend to any recognition of his own views on leftist organization.

Mr. Bush claims that it is necessary to build a non-sectarian left, but what that means he fails to spell out. His own brand of anti-capitalism is really only anti-austerity and is itself sectarian.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Two

I thought it appropriate to post on the issue of safety and health in relation to working for an employer at this time since, in Canada, April 28 is the National Day of Mourning, or Workers’ Mourning Day, for workers killed, injured or suffering illnesses due to workplace hazards.

Why do unions and the social-reformist left often speak in terms of “fairness,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth in the light of persistent deaths and injuries on the job? They do so in order to justify their own practices–which generally do not question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class. By limiting their reference to fairness and justice to social relations within the present class system, they serve as ideologues or representatives of employers (even if they do not intend to do so).

Part of the purpose of this blog is to undermine the typical ways of thinking about social problems among the social-democratic or reformist left and among radicals. It is highly unlikely that any major social changes will arise without a frontal attack on the ways of thinking of many workers (including trade unionists). Tom Dwyer points out the importance of this task (Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, pages 97-98:)

The effect whereby notions of truth and justice are undermined is of great importance for sociology, anthropology, and, as we shall see in highly complex industries, for cognitive psychology. This effect potentially modifies cultural systems, contributes to the destruction of one set of visions of truth and justice and their replacement through the building up of another

Of course, notions of truth and justice are not just undermined and others arise through ideological means. Struggles against those in power play an important part, but the explicit critique of old, upper-class expressions of truth and justice and their replacement by new, working-class expressions of truth and justice are important in unifying the direction of diverse movements consciously and in modifying the direction of each separate struggle accordingly.

The idealization of unions by the left, on the other hand, play into the hands of employers since union representatives and rank-and-file members often diverge over key concerns related to, for example, safety and health issues (from Dwyer,  pages 78-79):

Studies from the United States illustrate this last point: the union movement perceives safety in a manner different to workers. A survey by the Upjohn Institute found that unionized automobile and steel workers placed job health and safety issues at the top of their priorities. This was corroborated by a national survey which found that in “the labor standards areas . . . most important to workers were those relating principally to the general area of health and safety.”121 In the Upjohn study, union leaders and top management “both thought money rather than working conditions deserved the most attention, an almost exact reversal of the blue collar attitudes.”122 In other words, these are clear
signs that the union movement integrates an uneasy tension between political demands, which are perceived, built, and responded to by its leadership, and social demands from its base.

It is high time the radical left begin to openly criticize the persistent ideological conceptions of truth and justice characteristic of trade union reps. If they do not, they form part of the problem rather than a solution to the social problems characteristic of capitalism and the domination of our lives by the class of employers.

Worker Resistance Against Management, Part Two

This is a continuation of a series of posts on worker resistance. The following was written by Herman Rosenfeld. Since it formed part of a course that he, Jordan House and I presented for workers at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, I am including the preliminary instructions and the subsequent questions so that others can modify and make use of it in similar courses.

Activity Sheet 3: Learning from Collective Resistance Experiences

This is a small group activity.
Read the story and answer the questions below together.
Be prepared to describe the collective struggle to the whole class, and report your answers.
You have 25 minutes to complete this exercise. [This exercise, initially, was combined with resistance against management at the brewery, so we permitted them 25 minutes for both.]

Clapping for Lisa Raitt

When CAW (Canada Auto Workers union] Air-Canada reservation and air ticket agents briefly went on strike over a series of contract concessions demanded by management, the Conservative government [of Stephen Harper, prime minister at the federal or Canada-wide level], though Labour Minister Lisa Raitt quickly introduced a law to legislate them back to work. (It would have been the 5th time in 5 years that the Harper government had taken away workers’ right to strike.) An agreement was reached between the union and Air Canada.

The workers who handle baggage, members of the IAM (International Association of Machinists) rejected the tentative agreement bargained by their leadership and demanded that they go back to the table and bargain improvements.

After the rejection, the workers started forming “Action Committees” to prepare co-workers to organize rallies at the airport, to pressure the employer to bargain seriously. The IAM workers had previously supported the actions of Reservation and Flight Attendants, who had protested the elimination of their right to strike.

A key action was to write a letter to the company president, complaining about endless demands for concessions and the culture of entitlement for the top executives.

Some quotes from the letter:

“It smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order to be led by Executives that continually demand we make sacrifices for the “viability” of the Company and then watch those same Executives pocket millions in bonuses and receive raises in pay and pension benefits in excess of 70% in a year.

A day doesn’t go by without us hearing about how we are the problem and how management is trying to find ways to replace us with “low cost” workers from senior Executives whoa are never replaceable and must be highly compensated in order to maintain their loyalty to the Company.

Over the past decade we have agreed to take wave after wave of concessions and have watched this goodwill allow Senior management to make hundreds of millions in payments of “special distributions” to their corporate backers or in golden parachutes to departing millionaire Executives.

It is time to lead by example. It’s time to end this culture of senior executives viewing us workers as a cost in which to be squeezed for more bonuses at the top.

This will require a major change in culture including management not using their friends in Ottawa to threaten our unions into concessionary agreements, ending the disastrous habit of unilaterally imposing policies on us (lie the unilateral changes to travel charges) and ending the out of control greed at the top.

The workers planned to present the letter to the president at the private management celebration of the 75th anniversary of Air Canada’s founding. They stormed into the meeting and, after a scuffle with the police, agreed to select 2 representatives to deliver the latter. Rovinescu, the company president, received the letter, but was not happy about it.

Shortly after this incident, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, landed at Pearson Airport for a meeting. As she exited the plane, the worker who recognized her, started a slow, rhythmic clapping, as a kind of spontaneous protest against the attack on their collective bargaining rights, followed her through the terminal, as the crowd of clapping workers grew Raitt, who fancied herself as a kind of “friend of the workers” was angry, and called on the police to,” “arrest these animals!”

The police took no action, but Air Canada security guards sent 5 or 6 of the protesters home, in an action that usually signifies a discharge.

The word of the firings went viral. All of the IAM workers at Pearson stopped work and stayed out all night, demanding that the fired workers be reinstated, and that collective bargaining begin again. All 30 of the workers who went on the wildcat were promptly fired.

The morning shift workers refused to work. All workers in Vancouver, Montreal and in airports across Canada downed their tools as well. It made the national news.

The company and the union began talks, and agreed to send the issue of the wildcat to an arbitrator (one often used by Air Canada and its unions, but one not known for his friendliness to union and worker issues).

After heated debate, the workers decided to stay out until the workers were reinstated. The striking workers spent a lot of time talking with members of the other unions at the airport, building solidarity with their actions and issues. When the fired workers were reinstated (although further discipline was planned), the wildcat was ended. Bargaining on the contract began soon afterwards.

A few months later, after the contract was signed, Air Canada fired a number of activist workers using their private E-mail comments, as “incriminating” evidence against them.

Questions

  1. What were some of the plans and decisions that made this action successful?
  2. What were some of the limits of this action–and things that might hold the union back from moving forward after this action? How might these limits be addressed?
  3. What lessons can be learned from this experience for your own workplace, union and efforts to build the power of workers there?

The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement

The social-reformist left like to claim that what they are interested in is class struggle from below–the self-organization of the working class that opposes the power of the class of employers. In a podcast, David Camfield’s analysis of the West Virginia teachers strike is an example of such a claim by the social-reformist left (This Is How to Fight!, recorded on March 29, 2018).

There were undoubtedly innovations in the strike that make it different from other strikes. Firstly, the context is different from most other teachers’ strikes. West Virginia teachers do not have a typical collective-bargaining system since West Virginia is a “right-to-work” state, with no legal right to collective bargaining. Secondly, the degree of solidarity among teachers that was shown during the events leading up to the strike and during the strike is much deeper than normal  (such as throughthe Facebook coordination of more than 20,000 . Thirdly, the degree of solidarity between teachers and other school staff was also much deeper than normal. Fourthly, the degree of solidarity displayed by both teachers and other workers in the public sector was much deeper (by, for example, the refusal to end the strike unless all public-sector workers received the same pay raise). Finally, the recognition of the needs of the poorest sections of their students for continued provision of breakfast and lunch programs through the continued provision of food during the strike indicated a consciousness of addressing the needs of a vulnerable section of the community while they were on strike.

Undoubtedly there are other notable features of the strike that make it stand out from the typical strike.

These distinctive features of the strike should, of course, not be downplayed. In the face of a difficult situation (facing the reactionary billionaire Governor Justice, on the one hand, and a lack of collective bargaining rights on the other), the teachers and support staff stood fast and forced through an agreement that goes beyond what they would have achieved if they had engaged in collective bargaining separately and legally.

However, David Camfield, as a social-reformist leftist, idealizes this situation. Firstly, the results of the strike were mixed. The across-the-board five percent increase for all public-sector workers was certainly a win for solidarity at one level, but at another level it indicated uneven wage and salary increases since five percent for those near the top of the wage and salary schedule means a greater absolute gain than those at the bottom. A demand for an across-the-board increase for all public-sector employees, with the total amount distributed controlled by workers democratically, would have been a demand more consistent with a socialist vision. That there is no reference to such a demand in Camfield’s presentation indicates one of the limitations of Camfield’s analysis.

Secondly, the issue of adequate health-care insurance paid by the employer rather than the workers remained unresolved and was shuffled off to a “task force.” This is a typical stalling tactic by management and employers in order to diffuse a situation and often does not resolve an issue for workers, or the solution becomes watered-down and more acceptable to management.

Thirdly, although there may have been some socialists who aimed at the abolition of the power of employers as a class in the movement, there has been, as far as I am aware, no indication of any explicit expression of a rejection of the power of employers as a class by Virginia teachers. The social-reformist left do not do so, and even the radical left often fear doing so out of fear of isolation from the working class.

Mr. Camfield claims that this form of class-struggle from below makes such workers more susceptible to socialist ideas. That may or may not be the case. It would require investigation to determine whether that is true. Camfield does not investigate whether that is true, so his assertion is pure speculation. It may, however, be a convenient ideology, since it may then be used to divert attention from the need to fight against current social-reformist ideology (such as “decent jobs,” “fair wages,” “economic justice”) and other such rhetoric in the here and now. That would require opposing union ideology in its various forms consistently and more assertively.

Mr. Camfield also does not refer to and hence does not take into account the specific situation of teachers in general in relation to other members of the working class nor the specific situation of the teachers in West Virginia (and in some other states). In relation to the first point–the specific nature of teachers in relation to other members of the working class–teachers’ jobs, as Beverly Silver, in her work Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870, argues (pages 116-117), are not interdependent in their work like autoworkers technically; on the other hand, they are linked to the social division of labour via the disruptive impact of strikes on the routines of workers as parents, which in turn can have an impact on other employers. Furthermore, unlike the auto industry, it is difficult to increase productivity through changes in technology; teaching is still relatively labour-intensive. In addition, the labour of teachers is difficult to export geographically (unlike, for example, jobs in the auto industry); Consequently, teachers have, potentially, a certain kind of economic power–a spatial fix–lacking in other industries (although workers in other industries may have different forms of economic power–a technical fix in the case of auto workers, for instance).

Mr. Camfield also fails to provide any details at all concerning the specific nature of the West Virginia teachers strike. Firstly, the strikers themselves recognized that there was an imbalance between teacher demand and teacher supply: teacher demand exceeded teacher supply. Secondly, the West-Virginia teachers, as Hakan Yilmaz argues (Public Education, the State and the Crisis, 2018), there has been at least a two-pronged attack against the working class since the early 1970s, when economic crises became more prevalent. One prong has been an attack on unions, wages and benefits to shore up profit and the profit rate (the practical measurement for capitalists of how well they are doing in the economy–it is measured variously, but in general it is after-tax profit divided by total invested).

Another prong has been the shift in the tax rate. At the federal level, in the U.S. from 1981 to the end of the 1980s, the tax rate decreased from 70% to 33%. This shift in the tax rate was not that relevant directly for educational financing (since such financing occurs more at the state and local levels), but it provided the overall ideological climate for such shifts at those levels later on. The federal public debt skyrocketed, which provided the justification for federal neoliberal austerity measures (reduction of federal social services, for example).

When the great economic crisis of 2007-2008 arose, there were further attacks on the working class, including public-sector workers. As investment decreased following the crisis, tax revenues were also hit. In West Virginia, during the last quarter of 2017, for instance, state revenue was still 7% below the pre-crisis level; the state funding formula for West Virginia decreased by 11.4% between 2008 and 2018. Simultaneously, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid increased, and the costs of health care for public employees were being increased directly paid out by teachers, among others: “patient costs” increased from “zero in 1988 to over four hundred dollars a month today” (Kate Doyle Griffiths, March 13, 2018: Crossroads and Country Roads: Wildcat West Virginia and the Possibilities of a Working Class Offensive), page 2.

As Yilmaz points out, “lower state revenues and higher state costs have led to significant declines in teachers’ salaries and benefits” (page 22). This has often had implications for teachers salaries. In the case of West Virginia, teacher salaries declined “from $49,999 to $45,701” between 2003 and 2016 (page 23). With rising health costs and absolutely decreasing salaries, the pressure on teachers’ own livelihoods was increasing. Undoubtedly the movement gained momentum and reached the level of solidarity it did in part because of these circumstances These circumstances, although they may aid in developing class consciousness, a rejection of capitalism and the power of employers as a class and for socialism, need not do so. To do so requires sustained criticism of the power of employers as a class, criticisms of justifications of that power (such as “fair wages,” “decent work,” “a fair contract,” and similar clichés, and a vision of an alternative kind of society.

However, I remember Mr. Camfield being the keynote speaker at one of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society’s meetings (the Manitoba Teachers Society is an organization, according to its own website, that “is the collective bargaining and professional development organization for all of Manitoba’s 15,000 public school teachers”). What Mr. Camfield said was hardly radical. This is not surprising given not only the reformist nature of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society but also its conservative nature. When I was attending the French university in Winnipeg (College universitaire de Saint-Boniface) to obtain a bachelor of education degree, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society presented its services to teacher candidates. It provided scenarios to show what teachers should do in various situations. In one scenario, a teacher could have criticized its employers, but the presenter indicated that under no circumstances should teachers do so.

All in all, Mr. Camfield’s podcast presentation is an example of idealizing the struggle of workers and claiming that such struggles are somehow socialist. He nowhere indicates the need for socialists to make explicit and to challenge those in the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular concerning their persistent justification of the power of employers as a class.

Although such struggles undoubtedly need to be supported, they are insufficient. Such struggles need to become more explicitly aimed at ending the power of employers as a class. Struggles against a particular employer, in other words, need to be generalized and become indeed a class struggle explicitly. Such struggles need to become radicalized through the goal of ending of the power of employers as a class being made explicit and using that goal in the present to organize for the goal of overthrowing that power.

Such a goal requires that socialists–including academics–risk being oppressed in various ways by the diverse powers of the class of employers and their representatives inside and outside the state. It demands that socialists be thoroughly critical, challenging the power of employers any way they can–including their ideology–and that includes challenging the ideology of union representatives. What kind of a socialist is that who does not do that but demands that workers risk their lives? To refer to class struggle from below without risk is hypocritical because it demands that workers risk their lives–but not socialists.

Or are there not objective and subjective conditions required for challenging the power of employers as a class?

A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Four: The Saskatchewan History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

This post is a continuation of  previous posts on the Canadian history curriculum.   The background to the post is provided in that first post (see A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

But just a reminder: the research question is: Does the history curriculum (or, if not available, the social-studies curriculum) provide much of an opportunity for students to understand how and why employers (and employees arose)?

The Saskatchewan curriculum, though it is a pdf file, is non-searchable. Consequently, I contacted Brent Toles, of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, and he recommended that I look at units two and five of the Canadian Studies 30—History curriculum, unit two of Canadian Studies 30—Social Studies curriculum and unit two of Social Studies 10. Since my methodology involves limiting the research, as far as possible, to the Canadian history curriculum, I limited the non-computer-assisted search to units two and five of Canadian Studies 30. I did not, of course, use the regular search terms, but scanned the two units for any relevant material that may answer the research question.

The history curriculum contains little that would enable students to answer the question. In the nineteenth century, much of it has to do with the realization of a Canadian nation, with references to the national economy without any qualification as to the kind of economy it was becoming. There is reference to interest groups on page 206, and the possibility of variable influence, but the kinds of interest groups (such as employers or trade unions) is left unspecified. On page 210, it is noted that York, Montreal and Hamilton grew as people migrated there in search of employment in expanding manufacturing. No reference to exploring why workers would migrate (the conditions for workers to migrate in the sense referred to is the deprivation of independent means for survival—the formation of a working class) and no reference to exploring the conditions for such an expansion of employment (the creation of a capitalist class, or a class that owns and controls the means or conditions for workers to work and hence to live) is provided.

An implicit naturalistic explanation of why workers worked for employers is offered when it is noted that the Canadian Shield did not offer the best land for immigrants to become farmers. Some French Canadians migrated to New England to work in factories or worked in lumber camps or sawmills in the Canadian Shield. Who owned the camps and mills and why they did so is not even mentioned. Of course, a teacher who already knows the history of employer-employees relations could guide students, but since there is general silence about the historical origins of either class, it is unlikely that teachers would bring up the subject.

On page 212, there is a reference to Montreal’s business elite, but there is no explanation or reference for further exploration of how and why they became the business elite. On page 217, there is a reference to economic interests possibly forming the basis for influence, but what “economic interests” means is left vague. On page 219, there is a reference to regional economic power as the basis for national influence, and there is a reference to the government awarding contracts that influence levels of employment and industries in a region, but the issue of why and how employers emerged in Canada is simply ignored. On page 232, there is a reference to one of the problems with open voting, where a voter had to declare their preference openly: employers often coerced employees into voting according to their will. Why employers were not subject to the democratic process of control by workers is not even hinted at. (Indeed, if employers were subject to direct democratic control by workers they would not be employers at all since employers by their very nature have to have dictatorial powers over employees—the curriculum writers implicitly avoid having students explore the specific kind of property relations characteristic of the employer-employee relation and the power employers have over employees.)

On page 234, it is noted that the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association was created in 1874 and that employers employed 180,000 employees in manufacturing in 1871. There is no suggestion of exploring why and how they could employee so many workers. It is noted that they form a powerful “interest group,” but a group that daily controls the lives of 180,000 workers is more than just a powerful interest group. It is a class that dictates, on a daily basis, the lives of the working class for the purpose of ever accumulating profit.

On page 242, the authors note that powerful manufacturing interests supported national railway development and that the CPR was granted, among other things, exemption from paying taxes. There is a possibility for some exploration of how and why such powerful manufacturing interests arose, but it is hardly a focal point. The same could be said of the reasons why the CPR would be granted exemption from paying taxes. On page 244, the authors express their fetishistic understanding of the nature of capitalist relations by claiming that, in order to build the railway, it was necessary to import both capital and labour. Since capital is a relation and not a thing (a relation where a minority monopolize the conditions of livelihood of the majority who work for them through exchange relations), the importation of capital and labour could not occur unless workers had no means by which to live in the first place and another class had a monopoly of such means. No mention of this condition is provided.

On page 256, there is reference to the fact that most women worked as domestics but, by 1900, half of the textile workers were women. There is no distinction made between the two, but domestic workers, despite being hired, worked for someone at a personal level whereas work in a capitalist factory involves working for an impersonal employer whose primary concern is obtaining as much profit as possible in the shortest period of time and at the lowest possible cost. The authors of the curriculum do not even make such a vital distinction and thereby do not enable students to gain a proper understanding of the dynamics of a capitalist system and why the present life system is the way it is. They do a disservice to students.

On page 506, which is in unit 5, there is reference to the attempt to gain equal opportunity. Such a view does not address how equality of opportunity is to be obtained in the context of the power of employers to decide, to a large extent, where, when and how much to invest and accumulate. Equality of opportunity among workers means, essentially, leveling the playing field so that they can compete against each other as far as possible on equal terms—it does not mean the elimination of competition among workers, which has been one of the aims of unions historically.

On page 528, there is a reference to the waves of immigrants and the fear that this posed among workers that they would face stiff competition from such workers on the labour market. However, there is no indication that students should explore why a labour market existed in the first place—its conditions and consequences for the kind of life Canadians and immigrants were living. It is noted that the government was unconcerned about the concerns of workers about competition from other workers, but there is little exploration of why workers would be so concerned about such competition in the first place—their economic dependence on employers for a wage for their own existence and the maintenance of a standard of living that could be undercut through such competition.

On page 540, the neo-conservative (and neoliberal) ideology of the marketplace is mentioned, and yet the implications of a market economy—that workers become commodities and have to sell their capacity to work on the market since they do not own the conditions for producing other kinds of commodities—is not mentioned at all. On page 548, there is reference to increasing unemployment in the late 1970s and early 1980s—but who makes the decision to increase unemployment, why they make such decisions and why they have a monopoly over such decision-making power is not explored.

On page 550, it is noted that multinational corporations have increasingly been able to influence the decisions made by governments, but students earlier had not been given the opportunity to explore how and why national corporations earlier had influenced government; students would not unlikely perceive the continuity between present conditions and past conditions.

Reference on page 550 that globalization has led to restrictions on national sovereignty also are not linked to the daily restrictions on sovereignty of workers who are under the control of unelected employers, directly through supervisors or technology or indirectly through the power to hire and fire. It is also noted on the same page that multinational corporations have more than double the wealth of all nations’ central bank monetary reserves and international monetary institutions together, and yet it is not mentioned that the combined wealth of Bill Gates ($46.5 billion) and Warren Buffet ($44 billion), in 2005, added up to 90.5 billion, not much less than the wealth of 40 percent (120 million) of the total U.S. population, or $95 billion (Chrysia Freeland, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012), p. 15). Nor does it mention that the Thompson family is one of the richest Canadian families (around $20 billion).

The Saskatchewan history curriculum, therefore, does not provide much of an opportunity for having students understand how and why employers and employees arose. The so-called left are oblivious to the problem. Is this not a problem?

A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit

When belonging to a leftist organization called the Toronto Labour Committee (Ontario, Canada), I worked on, in a minor position, on some statistics related to financial campaign contributions for the Toronto elections. Not being satisfied with this, I proposed that we start trying to develop a class analysis of Toronto. I indicated, though, that I did not really know how to proceed in this. I sent this over the Toronto Labour Committee listserve, and the response was–silence.

The following attempts to fill in, however inadequately, that silence, but it is first addressed at the more macro level of Canada. If others can provide more detailed and sophisticated statistics and analysis (while still being comprehensible), I would much appreciate it.

I thought it would be useful to provide a list of some of the largest employers in Canada. The reason why I think such a list would be useful is that it provides at least a somewhat concrete picture of who really has power in society and the extent of that power. Since most social-reformist leftists ignore the power of employers and assume such power as a background which they can assume as constant, they then consider their reformist policies without calling into question such power.

I hope to expand this later. If readers have better statistics or statistics from other countries, feel free to comment. This should be a work in progress.

It is taken from the following: Largest Employers in Canada.

Obviously, there are different ways of considering what the largest employers are. At least four come to mind readily: according to profit, according to employment, according to total revenue (sales) and according to assets.

The following list of the 20 largest employers lists them according to (after-tax) profit for the year 2012. The profit is indicated in parentheses. The currency is Canadian.

Statistics relating profit to wages and salaries would be useful to obtain an approximate rate of exploitation (undoubtedly Marxian economists would find the procedure faulty, but if so, then they should provide their own correctives at a concrete level–unless they are only academics who are little concerned with bridging the gap between theory and the more empirical experiences of the working class).

1. The Royal Bank of Canada ($7 billion 442 million)
2. The Bank of Nova Scotia ($6 billion 466 million)
3. Toronto Dominion Bank ($6 billion 367 million)
4. The Bank of Montreal ($4 billion 115 million)
5. Imperial Oil ($3 billion 766 million)
6. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) ($3 billion 339 million)
7. Suncore Energy ($2  billion 783 million)
8. BCE ($2 billion 763 million)
9. Canadian National Railway ($2 billion 680 million)
10. Potash ($2 billion 79 million)
11.Thomson Reuters Corp. ($2 billion 70 million)
12. Husky Energy ($2 billion 22 million)
13. Great-West Life Co. ($1 billion 930 million)
14. Canadian Natural Resources ($1 billion 882 million)
15. First Quantum Minerals ($1 billion 772 million)
16. Goldcorp Inc. ($1 billion 749 million)
17. Manulife Financial ($1 billion 736 million)
18. Rogers Communications ($1 billion 730 million)
19. Sunlife Insurance ($1 billion 674 million)
20. Power Financial ($1 billion 626 million)

If you sum up the amount of profit for these 20 companies, you get $59 billion 991 million.

To get an idea of the meaning of this amount of profit, we can do several calculations:

  1. Divide this amount by the total population of Canada: 37, 177, 886 (estimated, March 10, 2019, but for calculating convenience let us say 40,000,000): That is $1500 extra per year more for every person in Canada.
  2. Divide this amount by the total employed in February 2019: 18 million 991 thousand workers (for convenience, 19 million): An extra $3157 per year for every employed worker.
  3. The redistribution of all profits according to the whole population or to those who are employed would probably not have a great impact on many individuals and families; of course, a more refined analysis, with incomes lower than the average being affected relatively more than others with incomes greater than the average.
  4. This can be seen if we divide this amount by the total unemployed in the last three months of 2018: 1 million 30 thousand (for convenience, 1 million): That is $59,991 per year more for every unemployed Canadian.
  5. If we combine #3 and #4, and divide by the sum of the two (unemployed, 1 million, + employed, 19 million, or 20 million in total): $3000 per year extra for every unemployed or employed worker. Again, as an average, the redistribution would not have a major impact if spread out equally among all employed and unemployed workers. Its impact would be all the greater the more the redistribution would be limited to those who are unemployed or to those with limited incomes.However, this does not mean that such redistribution of profits would merely involve propping up the level of income of unemployed and those with limited incomes. As I have argued in several other posts on the nature of socialism, a substantial portion of profits would be allocated to an investment fund that would be distributed nationally, regionally and locally to various communities. Some profits might be allocated initially to provide for those who are unable to work, but with the elimination of a market for workers and the abolition of a class of employers, workers would increasingly not need to resort to such supplementary funds.
  6. It should be remembered that the above statistics are limited only to the 20 largest private companies. There are many other companies with profits, and if all those profits were included in the calculation, the impact on total income would likely be much larger and more significant than it is here indicated.

The position of the social-reformist left, of course, is for some kind of redistribution of such profits–but not to the complete redistribution of such profits. For them, there is such a thing as “fair share of the profits” via changed tax policies.

For example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) published a work by Toby Sanger entitled Fair Shares: How Banks, Brokers and the Financial Industry Can Pay Fairer Taxes (page 23) (The title itself shows confusion since something that is fairer need not be fair):

As other Canadians are paying for the costs of the financial crisis, Canada’s under-taxed financial industry should also be required to pay its fair share.

Again, at the provincial level, in Ontario on the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) website (https://www.ontariondp.ca/platform)-a social-reformist political party linked to unions).

Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share

At the federal level, the NDP, in its pamphlet POLICY OF THE New Democratic Party of Canada  EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 2018, page 3 reads:

Ensuring that large profitable corporations pay a fair share of taxes.

According to the money circuit of capital, though, there is no such thing as a fair share since it is inherently unfair to treat human beings as means for obtaining more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

What do you think of the profits of such companies? What is the source of such profits? What should be done with them? Should workers control them? Communities at various geographical levels?

Is there such a thing as a fair share under existing economic conditions of a class of employers controlling our selves.

Fixed Social Dogmas and the Special Language of the Social-Reformist Left

Michael Perleman refers to the Procrustean dogma that characterizes much of the discussion about the social world in which we currently live. What better characterization of the social-democratic rhetoric of “fairness,” “decent work,” a “fair wage,” “economic justice” and “social justice?”

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

CHAPTER TEN
Where Do We Go from Here?

The Procrustean Language

Presently, two conflicting trends are colliding. On the one hand, those in control are successfully accumulating more power, solidifying the hold of Procrusteanism. On the other hand, the application of these new powers is producing dismal results, except for the most privileged sectors of society. Once people come to recognize the growing gap between economic performance and the potential productivity of society, the destructive nature of Procrusteanism will, hopefully, become self-evident.

Even so, the ideology of the status quo is so thoroughly ingrained that little progress—or even little hope of progress—appears on the horizon. We can only hope that Frederic Jameson was wrong when he observed that within contemporary society “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” One precondition of moving in a progressive direction is to carefully reframe the imagery of the economy. The problem is that the Procrustean world has created a special language, one that intentionally clouds the harsh reality in which people find themselves, in effect, making the handcuffs invisible and questions of class unthinkable.

The key concepts of this rhetorical façade are freedom and equality.

The special language of the social-reformist left include such key concepts as “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” “fairness,” “decent work,” “a contract you can live with,” “social justice” and “economic justice.” The social-reformist left never get around to discussing what that actually means in the context of a society dominated by employers–they simply assume that what they call “fair,” “decent work,” “a contract you can live,” “economic justice” and other such rhetorical expressions is what is fair, decent, livable and economically just without any further discussion.

Anyone who calls into question their rhetoric is then often  treated as a pariah, insulted or ostracized. Such is the anti-democratic nature of the social-reformist left. Is there really any wonder why the right has gained ground when the so-called left seek to hide the real problems which workers face as members of a class?

Critique of a Social-Reformist Left’s Position in RankandFile.Ca on GM’s Decision to Close the Oshawa auto plant

An article (Buckle Up: GM Declares War on Oshawa)   by Gerard Di Trollo, Dave (or David) Bush and Doug Nesbitt, written for the social-reformist unionist website Rankandfile.ca purports to look critically at GM’s decision to close the Oshawa plant. It is far from critical in this regard.

The title of their article is GM’s supposed declaration of war against Oshawa. One of the authors, Gerard di Trollo, has another article with a similar title: “Ford’s teacher snitch line is a declaration of war.” Apparently, we are in a war now overtly. Let us see whether the proposed solutions to this alleged war situation correspond to the rhetoric of war.

Some of the criticisms that I made in an earlier post concerning the GM situation in Oshawa relating to the statement made by the Socialist Project Steering Committee applies to the post by these three social-reformist leftist activists. Indeed, since the article by Di Trollo, Bush and Nesbitt was published earlier than the statement, it is likely that some of the ideas of the statement are derived in part from this article (such as Unifor’s inadequate response, or the need to shift production into green production). Indeed, there is some similarity of wording: The Di Trollo, Bush and Nesbitt article: “…we need to retool the plants to build mass transportation, electric vehicles, and other green transition infrastructure and equipment.” The Steering Committee statement: “GM could easily retool these plants, and produce both new electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as the SUVs that are dominating current markets.”

There are differences, though. The statement goes into less detail about the inadequacy of Unifor’s bargaining tactics whereas the Di Trollo, Bush and Nesbitt article criticizes–rightly–Unifor’s acceptance of a two-tiered pension system. They also criticize Unifor’s pandering after attracting jobs at all costs–and at the expense of the jobs in other countries.

This, however, is where their proposed solution runs into problems. They claim the following:

The labour movement has little room to protect jobs for workers unless they redouble their efforts to promote a real green transition strategy founded on international workers’ solidarity. It’s the only way to create jobs without succumbing to the elite’s real strategy of race-to-the-bottom.

Part of the solution is similar to the Steering Committee’s statement (“a real green transition strategy”). It is different in proposing that international solidarity as the only possible solution to prevent a “race-to-the-bottom.”

There are two problems with this strategy. Firstly, although international solidarity among workers is certainly to be lauded as a goal, there is no indication of how such solidarity is to be achieved and on what basis. It is, like much of social-reformist leftist rhetoric, vague. How is this to be achieved in the concrete between, say, workers in Canada and workers in Mexico? Forming links without thinking about the kinds of links that promote international solidarity is likely to break down quickly or to end up merely with a general call for solidarity among union leaders without the rank-and-file really forming solid links with other workers across countries.

This leads to a second problem: there are implied terms to the kinds of such linkage required when they write the following: “Our society needs the productive capacity in places like Oshawa, and the skills and job knowledge of the autoworkers. We not only need these good jobs….” They do not go into detail what constitutes “good jobs,” but there is a fact that constitutes evidence of what they mean by good jobs.

I had a debate with Dave Bush on Facebook about the appropriateness of pairing the Fight for $15 in Ontario with the idea of “fairness.” Mr. Bush nowhere explained why it was fair; he simply declared it. The employment laws that expressed that “fairness” were certainly better than before, but their provisions are generally less adequate that many collective agreements. Since I have implied that collective agreements are unfair since they merely limit the capacity of management to dictate to workers what to do, where and when to do their work and how to do it (Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario), thereby still permitting employers to treat workers as things or objects for the benefit of the employer, employment laws and their provisions by implication are even less fair than the provisions of collective agreements.

Solidarity across borders as a class of workers against the class of employers cannot be expressed in terms of “good jobs” since there is no such thing in the given social relations characterized by a class of employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Workers in the Oshawa plant did not have good jobs; they had better jobs than many other workers in terms of pay and benefits and, perhaps, some working conditions, but they did not have good jobs. This is an ideology of employers, repeated ad nauseum by the social-reformist left and union leaders. The standard of what constitutes a “good job” for such people is–the existence of a class of employers with a “humanized face.” This is really liberal rhetoric disguising itself as radical.

In any case, the call for international solidarity at this stage will unlikely have any meaningful impact in terms of whether the Oshawa plant will be shut down. What is required is not just occupation of the plant but an explicit rejection of the claim that such jobs can ever be characterized as good in a context characterized by the dictatorship of an economy by a class of employers.

It would be in the interest of the working class to not only seize the plant and not only shift production to more earth-friendly forms of transportation (certainly not though, SUVs, contrary to the article), but to establish solidarity on a ground characteristic of a lack of bullshit concerning “good jobs” and the like as long as employment is controlled by a class of employers. Solidarity needs to be grounded in rejection of the shared assumption of the right and left concerning the continued need for a class of employers–as expressed in the rhetoric of “good jobs.”

Unfortunately, the bullshit rhetoric of the social-reformist left concerning “good jobs” (and other such rhetoric) prevails among many trade unionists, with the consequence that no such solidarity will likely arise without prolonged struggle against such bullshit. In the meantime, it is likely that the Oshawa GM workers will be thrown out of work and no real solidarity will arise internationally for some time to come.

 Or is this an inaccurate analysis of the situation? What do you think?