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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





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

December 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

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

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

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

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE Unifor

 

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

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE Unifor

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

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

ips_media_release_photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Another Ideological Call for a Fair Contract–By CUPE 3902

I received the following in an email (https://weareuoft.com/e-action/):

Thanks for helping the members of CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] 3902, Unit 1, win a fair deal at the table! Our proposals are progressive and necessary to ensure good working conditions for our members and their students. Fill out the form below to send an email to UofT’s administration asking them to fairly consider our proposals! [my emphasis]

I have already commented a number of times about this cliché of a “fair deal,” “fair contract,” and so forth (see, for example, Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One, or The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left).

The persistent use of this cliché by union reps to defend their actions indicates the contradictory (and limited) nature of unions. On the one hand, unions function to limit the power of a particular employer; on the other hand, they also function to justify the continued existence of a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police).

By the way, I did send the email that CUPE 3902 wanted people to send to university management; it is necessary to support particular unions in their fight against particular employers–all the while criticizing the limitations of their rhetoric and actions.

Striking Brewery Workers and a Fair Deal or Contract (Collective Agreement): The Impossible Dream

I thought it might be useful to paste a short conservation I had on Facebook concerning locked-out brewery workers:

February 26 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

 

Thank you to everyone who has shown support for us during this lockout.
As essential workers, we were pretty shocked to be put out on the street since bargaining was progressing. Your solidarity is very important to us and will help us get back to the table with Molson Coors to negotiate a fair deal[my emphasis] for all of our members.

 

Keep the solidarity coming!

 

What is a fair deal? How can any collective agreement express a fair deal when workers (including brewery workers) are used as things for other people’s benefits?

 

 

badge icon
Author
Fred Harris

 i hear you, a fair deal would be a planned economy and a transition to socialism, but workers need means to keep from pauperization between revolutionary upsurges. I would also tend to think worker associations would still be relevant in a communist society to advocate for specific industries and sectors. But you are definitely hitting on something.

The issue is not that workers need to construct organizations of defense against the rapacious and oppressive power of employers; of course they need to do so. The issue is: Why is it that the reps in such defensive organizations time after time then turn around and claim that defensive measures (such as a collective agreement) are then idealized by claiming that all workers want is a fair contract.
On my blog recently, I posted a collection of quotes from CUPE reps that claimed that collective agreements were fair. I will, in the future, find and post similar claims by the next largest union–Unifor.

 

Socialists need to constantly criticize such idealization of collective agreements since fairness cannot be achieved in such terms.; it is an illusion.

 

Collective agreements are, certainly, in general better than no collective agreement–but fairness is not one of their characteristics.

 

Unless of course the implicit or explicit management clause is also fair–which requires workers to follow orders and transfer some of their decision-making power to the employer and reps of the employer. I have also provided on my blog many examples of management clauses that specify the general power of management in relation to work and workers.

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One

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

I will provide a series of examples from various unions in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly.

1. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

  1. On February 20, 2020, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) published the following on its website (https://cupe.ca/union-offers-better-contingency-plan-city-toronto-negotiate-fair-contract).

Following the City of Toronto’s announcement on contingency plans for a possible labour disruption, CUPE 416 offered their own plan, one that respects all parties: negotiate a fair contract and avoid a labour dispute.

Nowhere does the webpage indicate what is meant by ‘fair contract.” The complaint against the City of Toronto as employer in relation to collective bargaining seems to have to do with the implied bad faith in bargaining–hence the reference to ‘respects all parties.” It is implied that the City of Toronto’s bargaining team does not respect the other party–the negotiating team and, by implication, the city of Toronto’s unionized workers. If only the city’s negotiating team would engage in real negotiations rather than aiming for a labour dispute from the beginning, then a fair contract could arise, it is implied:

“How does the City Manager stand up there and say the City respects its workers and looks out for the best interests of residents when they have been driving these talks toward a deadline and a dispute from the beginning?” said Eddie Mariconda, president of CUPE 416.

It is never questioned how treating human beings as costs could indicate an unfair situation as such:

 “They say that they want a contract that is affordable and sustainable. 416 members are already affordable and sustainable, and we deliver great services too.

City of Toronto workers are affordable–their costs are “reasonable.” How treating workers as costs is reasonable is never explained–it is assumed. Treating workers as costs reduces human beings to mere means to ends defined by others (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

It should be noted that CUPE is the largest Canadian union (from https://cupe.ca/cupe-largest-union-canada-and-we-keep-growing):

Canada’s largest labour union keeps on growing as today we announce our membership has reached 680,000 workers nationwide.

2. In the Collective Bargaining section of the CUPE website (https://cupe.ca/collective-bargaining) , we read:

Negotiating strong contracts for our members is what we do best. The solidarity of our members is the heart of our bargaining power, and makes gains possible. Together, we’ve built strong communities and achieved better wages, benefits, pensions and fair treatment, for workers.

It is implied that it is possible to be treated fairly despite the existence of the employer-employee relation. If, however, the employer-employee relation is inherently unfair, then CUPE’s reference to fair treatment (by means of, probably, collective bargaining and collective agreements) in effect justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of workers. After all, if workers are indeed fairly treated by means of collective bargaining, collective agreements and the existence of unions, then there is no need to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. Furthermore, workers who work in unionized environments who still consider their treatment by the employer to be unfair–despite such treatment not breaching the collective agreement–would logically be subject to criticism by union reps or at least indifference.

3. On CUPE Local 79, it reads http://cupelocal79.org/bargaining/ (of course, this link may no longer exist once a collective agreement has been signed):

CUPE Local 79 is entering into negotiations with the City of Toronto in late 2019 as the four collective agreements expire on December 31, 2019. Our union is seeking a fair deal for City of Toronto employees who work hard every day to take care of Toronto.

4. Another webpage (https://cupe.on.ca/marchingforfairness/ ) has the following (no date):

We are asking the March of Dimes to support us in the work that we do by negotiating a fair contract that respects the residents of March of Dimes Independent Living and the support workers who empower them to live independent lives. Help us by sending a message to the March of Dimes to ask them to negotiate a fair contract of support service attendants.

5. Dated November 16, 2020, the following post implies that unionized workers not only desire fair treatment but actually obtained it by means of collective bargaining and the collective agreement (https://cupe.ca/new-collective-agreement-garda-employees):

New collective agreement for Garda employees

This Monday, the Syndicat des employé.e.s du transport de valeurs et des salles de comptage de Garda (SNCF-SCFP 3812) signed a new six-year collective agreement, which calls for wage increases of 14% for the period between 2018 to 2024.

“The union achieved the objectives it wanted, particularly with respect to salaries and full retroactivity for all employees and major adjustments to schedules and statutory holidays. We have adjusted to the health crisis and have held virtual general meetings, including a vote. The agreement achieved 73.5% support, reflective of the excellent work done by the bargaining committee,” declared Jocelyn Tremblay, a CUPE union representative and trustee of SNCF-SCFP 3812.

In addition to maintaining and even improving their purchasing power, the union is particularly proud of regaining several things they had negotiated after rejecting an initial tentative agreement in April 2019. The employees subsequently voted more than 83% in favour of resorting to pressure tactics up to and including an unlimited general strike.

“This mobilization on the part of employees enabled us to be heard at the bargaining table. These people showed management that they wanted a fair agreement in line with the efforts made on a daily basis for the company,” added CUPE union representative Marcin Kazmierczak.

SNCF-SCFP 3812 represents slightly more than 1000 members.

6. On June 30, 2020, we read, from the National President’s Report (https://cupe.ca/national-presidents-report-june-2020):

The only sector presently bargaining with government is the health care sector. At that table, the government’s opening proposals included eliminating any retroactivity for wages beyond the April 1, 2020 effective date. This was rejected and CUPE will continue to fight for a fair collective agreement [my emphasis] and a strong pension plan.

7. On August 21, 2020, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/solidarity-with-port-of-montreal-longshore-workers-cupe-ontario-salutes-the-announcement-of-a-truce/):

CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members salute the announcement of a truce agreed to today between striking longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, members of CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). Both parties announced during a joint press conference that they believe they can come to a negotiated collective agreement during the truce which will end on March 20, 2021.

On August 10th, the 1,125 longshore workers began strike action to defend their collective agreement after the employer, MEA, unilaterally changed working conditions.

The workers’ previous collective agreement expired on December 31, 2018 and, instead of negotiating a fair agreement [my emphasis], the employer had been attacking workers’ rights, threatening the use of replacement workers, and diverting ships to other ports, including those outside of Canada.

The MEA spent months attacking workers’ rights in the courts, making the case that all members of CUPE Local 375, working at the Port of Montreal, should not have the right to strike. But the longshore workers fought back, and the Canada Industrial Relations Board upheld their existing strike rights. This was an important victory, not only for longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, but for all working people in Canada.

Since the beginning of the strike, CUPE Local 375 members have offered to unload and move all cargo linked to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure community safety. Despite this, the employer has tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to threaten the use of replacement workers, otherwise known as scabs. This week, when it looked like the employer was going to enact the threat, the Local mobilized with other unions for mass solidarity picket which caused the employer to back down.

CUPE Ontario will act in steadfast solidarity with CUPE Local 375 until the parties reach a fair collective agreement that treats the Port of Montreal longshore workers with the respect they deserve. The members of CUPE Ontario will continue offering support and resources to defend Local 375 members’ rights and protect working conditions.

Fred Hahn, President

Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer

It may seem inappropriate to criticize those who defend workers from attacks of employers. Attacks from particular employers or a group of employers do indeed need to be criticized, and to that extent Fred Hahn’s and Candace Resnick’s critique of the Maritime Employers Association should be praised. On the other hand, the reference to “fair agreement” needs to be criticized. 

8. On November 4, 2019, we read (http://cupe1764.ca/help-brampton-caledon-community-living-workers-get-a-fair-contract/): 

Help Brampton-Caledon Community Living workers get a fair contract

We are the members of CUPE 966. We work hard every day to provide the quality care at Brampton-Caledon Community Living (BCCL). It can be difficult work, but we do it because we care about the individuals we support, and we love to make a difference for them and their families.

BCCL is attempting to make our jobs even more difficult by keeping workers in precarious, part-time positions. We just want to negotiate a fair contract that respects our physically demanding work and protects the services we provide. We believe that no worker should see their working conditions reduced. We do not want a strike, but we are being pushed that way.

Help us continue to provide quality care to the individuals we support by telling BCCL to negotiate a fair contract now! [my emphasis]

It may seem even more inappropriate to criticize those workers who are experiencing an attack by an employer. However, where does their idea of a “fair contract” come from? Have they been indoctrinated by CUPE (and other unions)? Do they really consider it possible to obtain a fair contract? Even if they do, what is their view of management rights? 

9. On another CUPE webpage, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/somethingspecial/):

10. We read, on December 2, 2015 (https://cupe2544.ca/with-deadline-looming-warden-woods-needs-to-get-serious-about-negotiating-a-fair-contract/): 

With deadline looming, Warden Woods needs to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair contract

With a strike deadline of December 13 rapidly approaching, the union representing workers at Warden Woods Community Centre urged management to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair collective agreement. [my emphasis]

“For more than a year, our members have been trying to negotiate a fair first contract [my emphasis] with Warden Woods, but I am extremely concerned that management needs to get serious about finishing the job,” said Barbara Garcia, President of Local 5218 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 5218).

“The community depends on, and expects, the vital services our members provide. We’re committed to this community, but Warden Woods’ management needs to demonstrate their commitment to getting the job done.

CUPE 5218 has been in negotiations with Warden Woods for over a year. While some progress towards securing a first contract has taken place, several items remain outstanding. Additionally, staff have not had a wage increase in eight years.

The countdown to a lockout or strike began when Warden Woods’ management declared an impasse last month.

“We are prepared to bargain for as long as it takes to secure a fair contract, but the employer’s actions have set us on a fast track to a work stoppage, unless they get serious about finishing the job of negotiating with us,” said Garcia.

“We have been extremely reasonable in offering good faith solutions we believe are fair to our members [my emphasis], protect vital public services the community depends on, and ensure the long-term viability of Warden Woods,” she added.

Warden Woods is a multi-service community agency based in Scarborough providing supports to seniors, youth and children. The 44 members of CUPE 5218 provide a wide range of programming and services at the main office, several satellite locations, and in people’s homes.

For more information, please contact:

Barbara Garcia
CUPE 5218 President
416-725-4437

Kevin Wilson
CUPE Communications
416-821-6641

The use of the term “fair” in “fair contract,” “fair treatment,” and “fair deal” is not accidental. The implication is that the goal of collective bargaining must not just to achieve a contract or collective agreement–but a fair contract or agreement. The goal of reaching a collective agreement is qualified constantly by the adjective “fair.” The natural question would be: In what way is it fair? What is meant by a “fair contract,” etc.?

Nowhere does CUPE explain what it means by a fair collective agreement or how it is possible given the power of employers as a class. Why is that? Why is it that the union often qualifies the contract or collective agreement as “fair?” Is it by accident, or is it a means to “sell” the collective agreement to its members?

Would it be more in the interests of workers to point out that the collective agreement is unfair–but it is the best that can be obtained under the circumstances (the power structure that currently exists)? Or would it be better to merely express the rhetoric of fair contracts, etc. without discussing what is meant by that?

Which is a reformist tactic? A tactic in the best interests of workers?

Transparency in Collective Bargaining: A Necessary but Insufficient Condition for Democratic and Rational Working-Class Practice

Rebecca Keetch wrote an article that was posted on the Socialist Project’s website on transparency and collective bargaining (https://socialistproject.ca/2020/09/canadian-auto-workers-fight-for-contract-transparency/). Ms. Keetch was a former GM worker at Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and she is a member and activist of Green Jobs Oshawa.

Ms. Keetch advocates for transparent bargaining in a form similar to what I tried to do when I was a member of the negotiating committee for the support workers of the Prince George School District No. 57, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). Not only must we present to our unionized fellow workers the proposals that we have tentatively negotiated but also what we have been unsuccessful in negotiating or had to modify in the process:

As bargaining at the Detroit Three automakers kicks off in Canada, union members are fighting back against a longstanding undemocratic contract ratification process. In an unprecedented development, the Solidarity Movement, a rank-and-file movement within Unifor, has launched a petition to demand full disclosure of the collective agreement before voting takes place. Since the launch in early August, more than 1,800 members have signed.

The petition calls on Unifor leadership to “provide full disclosure of the contents of the contract, five days before ratification, by publishing all revisions, additions, deletions, and changes to the contract, clearly marked, on the Unifor National website and the websites of the locals involved in ‘Detroit Three’ bargaining.” It also requests “that the ratification highlights include a clear statement of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.”

In the US, the United Auto Workers publishes the full contract with all changes on its website where Detroit Three members can read it before they go to their ratification/information meetings — a long-time demand of American union reformers. The UAW began posting the tentative Detroit Three contracts online in 2011.

This movement to create transparency is to be welcomed. Workers deserve to be able to see what negotiators have done on their behalf before making a decision on whether to ratify the collective agreement or to reject it. It is their lives, and they have a right to make decisions concerning its direction and quality as far as is humanly possible.

Ms. Keetch certainly is moving in a more democratic position when she writes:

The members’ concerns should be acknowledged, not simply dismissed. Real democracy means taking our lead from the members.

She then outlines the procedures used in typical undemocratic collective bargaining:

Historically, auto negotiations are secretive. Once contract demands are collected by leadership, workers are nearly shut out of bargaining, which takes place behind closed doors. At the completion of bargaining, information/ratification meetings are immediately scheduled.

As members enter the meeting, they are given a handout called a “Bargaining Report.” The Bargaining Report contains highlights of the tentative agreement and includes messages from the national president and other leaders encouraging ratification. Union leadership and staff make a presentation on the highlights of the agreement. Members are given limited time and opportunity to ask questions and no opportunity to meaningfully discuss the agreement with each other before being required to vote. Historically, voting has taken place at the information meeting.

She then argues that the Constitution of Unifor is supposed to be democratic and that it is necessary for it be in reality democratic rather than just formally:

Democracy In The Constitution

The Unifor constitution makes it clear that Unifor is intended to be a democratic organization and that the members are meant to control the union. Article 2, Section 1 states, “Unifor is a voluntary organization that belongs to its members. It is controlled by members and driven by members. Its role is to serve their collective interests in the workplace and in our communities. The life of Unifor is shaped by the essential ingredient of democratic participation. Democratic values are the foundation of all that we do. Our commitment to the principles and practices of democratic unionism define who we are and are reflected in our rules, structures, and processes.”

Our constitution cannot just be words on paper. If union leadership doesn’t live and breathe to empower and engage the membership, if leadership limits worker agency, participation, discussion, and debate, then the inevitable outcome is a weak, disempowered membership that can’t fight back when the bosses are trying to walk all over us.

Unifor members are often told to just trust our leadership. But ratifying a collective agreement isn’t about rubberstamping whatever the leadership brings. If that were the case, why would we even go to the time and trouble of having a ratification vote? With technology today, it couldn’t be cheaper or easier to make the contract available ahead of ratification.

The democratization of the collective bargaining process at the level of the local is certainly necessary. However, even if it were democratized, the result would not overcome limitations which Ms. Keetch does not address.

She makes the following claim:

Though the collective agreement is one of the most important documents to shape a worker’s life, Canadian auto workers at General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, and Ford are not allowed to see it before we are asked to ratify it. Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, represents nearly 17,000 auto workers at the Detroit Three.

Technically, as a document, the collective agreement does indeed shape a worker’s life–by limiting what the employer can do. From a worker’s perspective, it is, on the one hand, a a tool for limiting the power of management and, on the other, an expression of monetary remuneration and benefits for transferring the power of control over the worker’s life, temporarily, to the employer.

Ms. Keetch’s critique of the collective bargaining process is more advanced than Brian Forbes’ implicit defense of typical collective-bargaining procedures (see the article “Critique of Collective-Bargaining Models in Canada” found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog) since Mr. Forbes fails to criticize the traditional anti-democratic model of collective bargaining.

However, what if you democratize a process in the context of a situation that is undemocratic? Ms. Keetch nowhere explores the limitations as such of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement in the context of a class of employers. How does this context “shape a worker’s life?” Is this context more or less important than the collective agreement?

Readers who have read some of my posts will already know my answer: the context of a class of employers and the associated economic and political structures influences workers’ lives much more than any collective agreement. The level of influence of this context can be seen explicitly seen in various managements rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia or Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario). This lack of reference to this class situation will at most enable particular workers working for particular employers to limit their particular employer’s power in the best way possible without moving towards threatening the power of employers as a class.

Transparency is not only necessary at the level of the particular employer but at the macro level of the class economy. Mr. Keetch’s reference to democracy needs to involve both micro and macro level transparency if workers are to make rational decisions concerning the working lives and the purpose of their organizations.

At the micro level, even if there were complete transparency during collective bargaining, how would workers decide on what to do if they took no or little account of the macro structure that involves treating them as impersonal means for impersonal ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Should there not be open discussion about the kind of economy that exists in order for workers to make rational decisions about the adequacy of collective agreements in meeting their lives, both inside and outside work? To exclude transparency in the wider situation is like looking at the hand and treating it as if it were the whole body. The hand may look to be in perfect condition, but not when linked to a body that has invasive cancer in the bladder, or rectal cancer or metastatic liver cancer.

Nor can any collective agreement be considered a fair contract without considering the context of exploitation and oppression characteristic of the general situation of workers–whether in the public or private sectors (see various posts on management rights in both the public and private sectors on this blog. See also such posts as Employers as Dictators, Part One , The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One and The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

It is thus questionable whether collective bargaining can really be transparent if the wider picture of the general economic and political structure is excluded. If the purpose of transparency of the collective-bargaining process at the micro level is to ensure that workers make democratic and rational decisions concerning their lives, it is necessary to move towards macro transparency.

The purpose of this blog is, in part, to move in that direction. If others wish to do so as well, they are most welcome to do so on this blog or by providing links to their own blogs or other resources.

The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process

Relatively recently,  Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), wrote an article praising collective bargaining:

Collective bargaining is good for everyone

December 23, 2019

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in the Globe and Mail.  

The holidays aren’t solely about gift-giving and spreading good cheer. Many workers find themselves having to walk a picket line around this time of year.

Everywhere you look these days, teachers, public transit workers, railway and refinery workers seem to be involved in some kind of job action as contracts expire and end-of-year negotiations fail.

It can be frustrating for those affected and may even seem unfair that workers disadvantage the public in pursuit of better working conditions and better wages.

But make no mistake, collective bargaining is a fundamental right that helps ensure workers are getting their fair share. This is especially true when we consistently see certain governments, shareholders and corporate CEOs squeezing workers in order to improve their own bottom lines. “Without the right to pursue workplace goals collectively, workers may be left essentially powerless in dealing with their employer or influencing their employment conditions,” reads a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling upholding the right of RCMP officers to unionize.

Unsurprising that some employers, private interest groups and opinion shapers insist on back-to-work legislation whenever a group of workers flexes collective muscle. But the reality is that work stoppages are a rarity—with almost all collective agreements in Canada reached and renewed without a strike or lockout.

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended. Workers leverage their collective strength in order to influence the terms and conditions of their employment. Their efforts to stand up for themselves will often have a ripple effect, improving conditions for non-unionized workers in related industries as well as for the people they serve. When teachers oppose larger class sizes and rail engineers insist on safety improvements, the public directly benefits, too.

The significantly low unemployment rate is also contributing to renewed confidence among workers. More discouraged workers and those overcoming barriers to employment have been able to find work. The number of underemployed workers, like part-timers who prefer but can’t find full-time hours, have ebbed.

This is long overdue. For a decade, young people have been graduating into a high unemployment job market with limited prospects. Women and newcomers to Canada have struggled with a shortage of decent jobs.  While joblessness remains far too high in oil-producing provinces and the Atlantic region (in Alberta, it hovers at a shocking 20% for males under the age of 25), there are gains elsewhere. In Ontario, Quebec and BC, the improving job market has allowed wages to tick up – finally. Since mid-year, wage growth has begun to pick up, averaging over 4%.

During the last ten years of sluggish growth, high unemployment and weak wage gains, typical workers in Canada have seen very little improvement in their wages, adjusted for inflation. Flat earnings are partly responsible for the fact that debt as a share of household disposable income has doubled in the past 25 years. Furthermore, fewer workers even belong to a union at all which often translates in lower earnings and fewer benefits and little recourse to improve matters. Compounded with the rise of the gig economy and with more companies outsourcing work, it’s that much harder for workers to unionize as we are seeing at corporations like IBM and Amazon.

In the meantime, Canada’s top corporate CEOs were paid nearly 200 times what the average worker made in 2017. In 2018, quarterly operating profits reached a post-recession high. Workers have spent the ‘recovery’ simply fighting to hold onto what they have.

It’s not just unions that welcome a stronger labour market and decent wage gains. The Bank of Canada also thinks it’s a good idea. Because inflation remains well under control, it has hesitated to raise interest rates. That’s a good strategy because it helps reduce inequality and strengthens the ability of households to cope with debt, food and shelter costs.

We must all recognize that even when work stoppages do happen, they are simply evidence that the collective bargaining process is working. Despite occasional work-to-rule and walk-outs, this is actually a very good thing because it ensures workers still have a say – as they should.

To be sure, it is generally preferable for workers and their representatives to participate in collective bargaining in order to obtain a collective agreement, but the idealization of the process and the resulting collective agreement, as well as the exaggeration of the fairness of the process and the resulting collective agreement, simply ignores the reality of the power of employers and their representatives (management).

In the article, Mr. Yussuff implies that, through the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement, workers can obtain their “fair share.” Mr. Yussuff provides no evidence of this. A fair share is presented only in terms of shaping the collective working conditions and wages of workers but not in actually controlling those collective working conditions by those who actually do the work–economic democracy or socialism (see the series of posts on what socialism would like on this blog). Mr. Yussuff ignores the implicit or explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see numerous examples of explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements on this blog, for example, Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario).

There is obviously a pattern that often shows up in social-democratic rhetoric–how marvelous collective bargaining and collective agreements are (see my criticism of Jane McAlevey’s idealization of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement on this blog) as well as my review of her book in the Publications and Writings Section of this blog) .

It is interesting that Mr. Yussuff also tries to “sell” collective bargaining and collective agreements by implying that the proper functioning of collective bargaining and collective agreements results in fewer strikes:

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended.

At least Ms. McAlevey considers strike activity to often be necessary to back up the collective bargaining process whereas Mr. Yussuff’s more conservative stance considers strikes to be a last-ditch effort to be avoided if at all possible. On the other hand, both her and Mr. Yussuff consider the collective-bargaining process to be somehow capable of realizing fairness at the workplace. How this is in fact the case no trade unionist has ever explained to me in the face of the power of the class of employers.

Mr. Yussuff’s idea that workers should have a say minimizes the need for workers to have the say in their work lives–in conjunction with local communities–and not “a say”–as if they were condemned forever as a junior “partner” in the capitalist corporation.

The conservatism of the Canadian labour movement is astounding–but the left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) remain silent about such conservatism–since they share the same assumption of the legitimacy of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements.

 

Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two

This is the continuation of a post that reviews Jane McAlevey’s latest book entitled A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy. 

In the last post, I showed that Ms. McAlevey exaggerates the extent to which strikes and collective bargaining can offset the power imbalance between the class of employers and the working class. In this post, I will show that Ms. McAlevey’s point of view is definitely social democratic or social reformist.

She writes the following in her book:

There’s nothing neutral about suicide nets; there’s nothing inevitable about creating a greater climate crisis by offshoring jobs so ships bigger than small towns cross oceans, killing the ecosystem and creating a need for more fuel; there’s nothing comforting about creating millions of close-to-slavery working conditions in faraway lands that Americans can’t see when they happily upgrade to the latest phone. We don’t need robots to care for the aging population. We need the rich to pay their taxes. We need unions to level the power of corporations.

This call for corporations to pay taxes–certainly, corporations should be forced to pay more taxes, but the implication here is that if corporations did pay more taxes, there would be a fair system. I will criticize this social-democratic view in another post, where I will criticize the Canadian social-democratic call for corporations to pay their “fair share” of taxes? Corporations need to be taken over by workers if they are to control their own lives since corporations form part of the economic structure that expresses a kind of economy where workers are controlled by their own products rather than the workers controlling their own products.

In the quotation above,there is a further problem that illustrates Ms. McAlevey’s social-democratic approach. She refers to the need for “unions [in order] to level the power of corporations.” How does the existence of unions “level the power of corporations?” To conclude this is to exaggerate the capacity of unions to challenge the employers as a class. The unions in the 1930s did not “level the power of corporations.” Ms. McAlevey provides no evidence that they did. They limited the power of corporations, but it is bullshit to say that unions have or can level the power of corporations. Such a view ignores the power of employers to dictate what to produce, how to produce, when to produce and so forth. I worked in several unionized environments, both private and public, and I failed each time to see how unions even approached the power necessary to “level the power of corporations.

As I showed in my review of Ms. McAlevey,’s  earlier book, No Short Cuts: Prganizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog), Ms. McAlevey claims incorrectly that, when workers organize at the firm level, there is no difference between structural power and the power of agents. She confuses the micro level of organizing with the macro level of the capitalist economy as a whole. In her most recent book, she ignores altogether the difference and merely assumes what she needs to prove: that organized workers at the level of the firm or corporation somehow magically control their own lives and are equal in power to corporations.

Ms. McAlevey’s view concerning unions and their supposed power to level the playing field merely echos Canadian liberal sentiments, such as expressed in the work Reconcilable Differences: New Directions in Canadian Labour Law, by Paul Weiler (1980).

Furthermore, as a number of posts have shown (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia), the management rights clause in collective agreements provides management, as the representatives of employers, with wide powers; collective agreements do not question such power but only limit it. Even when a collective agreement does not have an explicit management rights clause, arbitration boards have indicated that there is an implicit management rights clause. Ms. McAlevey conveniently ignores such facts and thereby idealizes the power of unions, the power of collective bargaining and the power of collective agreements.

In another post, I pointed out how, in the context of health and safety, one union representative admitted the limited power of unions (see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers).

Ms. McAlevey’s confusion of the micro and the macro extends to her exaggerated claims concerning the extent to which workers gain from strikes directed against a particular employer. She often uses the term “big” when referring to wins by workers and unions. From the introduction:

Chapter 1 discusses three such examples of women winning big.

To win big, we have to follow the methods of spending very little time engaging with people who already agree, and devote most of our time to the harder work of helping people who do not agree come to understand who is really to blame for the pain in their lives. Pulling off a big, successful strike means talking to everyone, working through hard conversations, over and over, until everyone agrees. All-out strikes then produce something else desperately needed today: clarity about the two sides of any issue. Big strikes are political education, bigly.

It is certainly an innovation to focus on winning over those who disagree with us–the left often are a clique that simply address themselves. However, this constant reference to winning big hides the fact that even more important and wider successes are considered big wins rather than skirmishes that should lead towards the overthrow of corporate power. Divorced from such a movement, they can hardly be considered “big wins.” Only those who have faith in the legitimacy of the collective bargaining system to produce fair results could use such a term as “big.”

Nowhere does Ms. McAlevey question corporate power as such but assumes its legitimacy.

Just as Ms. McAlevey confuses power at the micro level with power at the macro level in relation to unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements, she confuses the levels of power when it comes to identifying problems related to the environment. She writes:

There’s plenty of money to make a Green New Deal happen. Investigative journalist Christian Parenti has recently pointed out that corporations are currently sitting on $4.8 trillion in cash—a subset of $22.1 trillion they hoard. That money could be used to quickly transition the economy to a robust unionized green economy, one that can reproduce a dignified quality of life for workers of the future and end the destructive jobs-versus-the-environment debate. But to access that money, it takes real power and know-how—the kind of authority that unions in New York still have, along with a few other major states. To rebuild union power elsewhere, the environmental movement will have to stand up and fight alongside them—really fight, not just talk about green jobs. That means actively throwing their support behind workers’ right to strike and actively backing workers. That kind of organizing and the power it builds will be necessary to raise taxes on the rich (versus just talking about it) [my emphasis] and make progress on shifting federal subsidies away from fossil fuels and toward a safe, resilient economy that works for humans and our planet.

Just as the British Labour Party, in its Manifesto It’s Time for Real Change, jumps on the bandwagon of climate change, so too does Ms. McAlevey. The view that climate change will be solved on the continued basis of the existence of a class of employers–a capitalist basis–by only making the rich pay more taxes is typical of social democrats these days (for my criticism of such a view, see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One).

Ms. McAlvey’s social-democratic position finds expression as well in her idealization of other capitalist countries:

There is a third option: the kind of income supports that come with the social democratic policies found throughout much of Western Europe. This would allow greater labor-force participation by both parents, but it would require radical changes to the fabric of our economy. In Sweden, people have generous paid parental leave—two back-to-back years, one for each parent—so that each baby born has a parent as its primary full-time caregiver for the first two years of life. When this parental leave is exhausted, Swedish toddlers enter a nationalized child-care system that is essentially free: paid for with a fairer taxation system that levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward.

The idealization of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries is another ploy used by social democrats to prop up their own reformist tendencies.

Let us look for a moment at Sweden. The consensus between employers and unions started to break down in the 1980s, and accelerated during the 1990s, when there was an economic crisis. (From “Education and Inequality in Sweden: A Literature Review,”
Carl le Grand, Ryszard Szulkin and Michael Tåhlin; in Editors: Rita Asplund and Erling Barth, Education and Wage Inequality in Europe: A Literature Review, 2005, page 355):

However, since the beginning of the 1980s, the consensus around the
solidarity wage policy has been undermined. The national federation of
employers has adopted new policies aiming at wage determination at the
firm level, while the attitudes among the trade unions have been mixed.
This new situation has resulted in a decentralisation of wage negotiations, giving more space for local agreements. Hence, the scope for variation in earnings, both between and within groups, has increased markedly in Sweden during the last decades.

The increase in within-group inequality is connected to two developments
in the Swedish labour market that have important policy implications. First,
the gender wage gap has been stable in the last two decades although the
gender differences in years of experience have diminished markedly. This
lack of improvements in the gender wage differentials is closely related to the
fact that the returns to education have decreased for women in relation to
those for men. Thus, the trend towards increased within-group wage inequality
seems to be to the disadvantage of women in Sweden. …

Second, the relative wages for public sector employees have fallen drastically
in the last decades. This development is closely related to a decrease
in the returns to education for public sector employees in relation to those
for private sector workers. This trend is, of course, related to the first
trend, as women dominate strongly in the public sector. Reasonably, the
main explanation for the rise of earnings inequality between public and
private sector employees is the increasing financial problem of the public
sector, as well as the decentralisation of the wage-setting processes that has
taken place in Sweden since the first half of the 1980s.

Changes in the labour market were followed by changed in education in the 1990s, characterized by a shift in governmental policy towards management by objectives–including education. (From Anne Berg  and Samuel Edquist, 2017, The Capitalist State and the Construction of Civil Society: Public Funding and the Regulation of Popular Education in Sweden, 1870–1991 , page 173):

However, as a consequence of the turmoil surrounding the oil crisis in 1973, the digital revolution, and the rise of finance capitalism and global outsourcing, many classic Swedish industries, such as shipbuilding and clothing manufacturing, started to go out of business. Unemployment rates rose and consumption stagnated. Sweden
managed to hold off the worst consequences of the crisis, but the path towards a change in policy and governance had been set. The reform of 1991 was part of a general shift in government policy from traditional rule by guidelines and directives to management by objectives. It followed a broader trend of reforms inspired by neo-liberalism, which called for decentralisation and marketisation of welfare services: education, health care and social security. The neo-liberal ideology had gathered strength in the 1980s, encompassing all the major political parties including the Social Democrats. The neo-liberal programme was set out to solve the problem of how to manage society and the bureaucratic system of government while saving resources. The market, not government, was to handle issues such as social security and education.13 In 1988, there was a decision in principle to implement management by objectives and results throughout the Swedish government apparatus. Soon, such a reform was decided on for the compulsory and upper secondary school system, combined with a move to decentralisation, both of which were to be particularly important for the subsequent changes in popular education policy.14 Interestingly, this policy change, mainly intended to make public administration more efficient, was also suggested for the administration of popular
education and its grant system. Goal-oriented management was seen at the government level as a way of safeguarding and strengthening the independence of popular education.

According to management by objectives, education can be taught according to discrete objectives that are then somehow magically integrated. I will critique in a future post management by objectives (outcome-based education, or OBE) via a critique of several articles of a former professor of mine (Robert Renaud) concerning Bloom’s taxonomy, which forms a ground for outcome-based education. (From Qin Liu (2015), Outcomes Based Education Initiatives in Ontario Postsecondary Education: Case Studies, page 7):

OBE’s precursors can be found in the earlier objectives movement, as represented by Tyler’s (1949) Basic Principles of Curriculum and Design, Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, and Mager’s 1962) Preparing Instructional Objectives, as well as in mastery learning (Block, 1971; Gusky, 1985), criterionbased assessment (Masters & Evans, 1986) and competency-based education (France, 1978). From these sources, it becomes apparent that OBE stemmed from and is rooted in efforts to address pedagogical concerns.

The idea that Sweden “levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward” is a myth.

Furthermore, I will, in a future post, criticize the idea that there is such a thing as “a fairer taxation system that levels the playing field for children’s opportunity and success from birth forward” in relation to schools. This idea of “leveling the playing field” is pure rhetoric, and presents a completely false picture of the decidedly uneven playing field characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers–whether unionized or not.

I will also further argue that even if equal opportunity did exist, it would not change the hierarchical nature of the division of labour and the class structure since competition between workers, inheritance laws and the hierarchical ownership of the conditions of lives would be recreated as workers competed (with some losing and others gaining in the process–thereby merely mirroring the present class structure).

I started out, in the first post, by quoting Sam Gindin, with Mr. Gindin pointing out how popular Ms. McAlevey is these days. Her popularity is undoubtedly due in part to her own innovations in organizing. It is, however, also due to her exaggerated claims concerning the efficacy of her own approach to collective bargaining in eliminating power, wealth and income differentials between the class of employers and the working class.

In the next post, I will refer to how the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)–a social-democratic organization of unions federated to it and representing more than three millions Canadian workers– idealizes collective bargaining–like Ms. McAlevey.

 

Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One

Jane McAlevey is everywhere these days. Recently appointed a senior fellow at Berkeley’s Labor Center, she is now also a regular columnist for both the Nation and Jacobin. Her webinar (“Organizing for Union Power”) has a global audience. She continues to be called on to address unions and run training sessions in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Germany. In the midst of all this, McAlevey has just come out with a third book on unions and working-class struggles, A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing and the Fight for Democracy (and a fourth is not far behind).

So writes Sam Gindin in an article published on the Socialist Project’s website (“Workplace Struggles and Democracy: Challenges for Union Organizing,” December 13, 2019). Her popularity is undoubtedly due to her skills as an innovative union organizer and collective bargainer. It is, however, undoubtedly also due to her idealization of collective bargaining (and, implicitly, collective agreements)–which is a favourite tactic of the social-democratic left.

I reviewed Ms. McAlvey’s previous book, No Short Cuts: Prganizing for Power in the New Gilded Age before (see the section “Publications and Writings” on the home page of this blog). In that work, at least, Ms. McAlevey had an explicit section on the issue of the relationship between social structure and social agency (or conscious social action). I pointed out, in my review, that Ms. McAlevey, far from solving the problem, not only ignored the issue of the relationship between micro-organizing and the macro social structure but short-circuited the issue by identifying the solution to be micro-organizing at the level of the workplace. As a consequence, she idealized workplace organizing, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

In her latest book, she does not even seek to address explicitly the issue of the relationship between social structure and social agency. As a result, she continues to idealize local workplace struggles, collective bargaining and collective agreements. She also confuses the power of employers as persons and the power of employers as a class.

Rather than look first at some of the strengths of her latest book (which I already looked at in my review of her earlier book), I will look at the weaknesses of her book.

From Chapter 1 of her book:

Despite the weakened state of most unions, workers today who are either forming new ones or reforming older ones point us in the direction of how to solve the crisis engulfing our society and our politics. In the midterm elections in 2018—dubbed the year of the woman—the misogyny oozing from the White House was somewhat rebuked at the polls. Yet the year before, working women scored a series of thoroughly impressive wins, just after Donald Trump lost the popular vote but eked out a win from the Electoral College. Many of those victories received far less media attention. As in the midterm elections, men contributed to these wins, certainly, but the central characters were women—often women of color—who waged tireless campaigns of which the outcomes would have drastic consequences. Chapter 1 discusses three such examples of women winning big.

The arena for these battles was the workplace, in the mostly female sectors of the economy such as health care, education, and hospitality, but also in the tech sector, where sexual harassment and the gender pay gap serve as a stark reminder that, despite the tech elite’s rhetoric of building a new society, nothing much has changed, unless you count the creation of the new generation of Silicon Valley billionaires as progress. Women worker-led policy changes included people wresting control of their schedules away from tone-deaf managers, most of whom have never had to pick up their kids at the bus stop; securing fair and meaningful pay raises; achieving bold new safeguards from sexual predators; and ending racism and other discriminatory practices in their salary structure. The mechanism for securing these victories was the collective bargaining process [my emphasis], and each involved strikes—the key leveraging mechanism of unions.

Strikes are uniquely powerful under the capitalist system because employers need one thing, and one thing only, from workers: show up and make the employer money. When it comes to forcing the top executives to rethink their pay, benefits, or other policies, there’s no form of regulation more powerful than a serious strike. The strikes that work the best and win the most are the ones in which at least 90 percent of all the workers walk out, having first forged unity among themselves and with their broader community. To gain the trust and support of those whose lives may be affected, smart unions work diligently to erase the line separating the workplace from society.

Strikes (and well-organized and well-strategized strikes at that) will certainly form a part of a movement for the creation of a different kind of society, but already Ms. McAlevey idealizes the collective bargaining process. She never specifies how the collective bargaining process actually expresses anything more than some gains made by workers in the face of the overwhelming economic (and political) power of the class of employers.

I have persistently referred to management rights clauses in collective agreements–and collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement do not address this issue except as a limitation (and not as a negation) of the power of any particular employer as a member of the class of employers (and that applies to both the private and public sector). See the various management rights clauses on this blog (for example,     Management Rights, Part Eight: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Quebec).

This exaggeration of the efficacy of the collective-bargaining process forms part of the exaggerated rhetoric of the social-democratic left–such as “fair contracts.” It is a sell job in order to get workers to support unions. This may have short-term gains, but when workers then experience the day-to-day grind of working for an employer (even a unionized worker and even deeply organized workers), the rhetoric of “securing victories” starts to wear thin. So does such rhetoric as the following:

The women-powered collective bargaining wins described in chapters 1, 5, and 6 represent monumental improvements to worker and community lives[my emphasis]  that happened much faster than traditional policy changes—unless, perhaps, you are the billionaire class.

What are these “monumental improvements?” In her previous book she often refers to “good agreements.” I compared one of her “good agreements” with a collective agreement between the brewery union to which I belonged and the employer. I concluded that the brewery collective agreement was probably slightly better–but that it hardly expressed a “good agreement.”

The reference to the billionaire class sounds very “class-like”–but there are also millionaires who are capitalists, and of course there are many workers in the public sector, many of whose bosses are not capitalists at all in the strict sense.

Although it is certainly necessary to personalize the employer class rather than always referring to such generalities as the “capitalist class,” the “employer class” and the like, the problem is not just billionaires but the economic, social and political structures that constitute the mechanisms by which workers are maintained as employees (and as unemployed and underemployed for a section of the working class). To reduce the problem to the “1%” may be legitimate as a short-hand for those structures, it may also hide the need to challenge these macro structures at every opportunity. By idealizing collective bargaining and collective agreements, on the one hand, and by reducing the power of the class of employers to “the 1%,” on the other, Ms. McAlevey simply ignores the problem of the relationship between social structure and social agency.

How are we going to solve that problem and control our lives by ignoring such a problem? How are we going to do when we read such rhetoric as:

It is precisely because unions can produce these kinds of gains, even in their emaciated state, that they have been the targets of sustained attacks from the corporate class. Unions’ track record of redistributing power—and therefore wealth—and changing how workplaces are governed is what led to a war waged against them by the business class. In just twelve years in the private sector, from 1935 to 1947, with massive strikes at the core of their strategy, workers made huge breakthroughs that benefited most people and created the concept of the American Dream—that your kids will do better than you, along with home ownership for workers and a right to retire and play with those grandkids.

“huge breakthroughs?” Ms. McAlevey is prone to exaggeration–as are many social democrats. Improvements there were, and such improvements as a rising standard of living in various domains are to be welcomed through struggling against the employer class, but this reference to the “American Dream” was hardly generalized, and one of the reasons why this Dream has increasingly vanished for the working class is the exaggeration of the gains achieved through collective bargaining, collective agreements and the union movement. Workers were still used as things for the benefit of employers-something which Ms. McAlevey never addresses (see  The Money Circuit of Capital).

Ms. McAlevey’s standard for improvement is rather low. Workers deserve much better–they deserve to control their own life process, and no collective agreement can ever do that.

Ms. McAlvey exaggerates often:

The methods organizers use to achieve these kinds of all-out strikes require the discipline and focus of devoting almost all of their time and effort reaching out to the workers who don’t initially agree, or even may think they are opposed to the strike, if not the entire idea of the union. This commitment to consensus building is exactly what’s needed to save democracy. To win big, we have to follow the methods of spending very little time engaging with people who already agree, and devote most of our time to the harder work of helping people who do not agree come to understand who is really to blame for the pain in their lives. Pulling off a big, successful strike means talking to everyone, working through hard conversations, over and over, until everyone agrees. All-out strikes then produce something else desperately needed today: clarity about the two sides of any issue. Big strikes are political education, bigly. [My emphasis] 

Strikes can indeed contribute to political education, but since there is evidence that Ms. McAlevey’s political education is drastically incomplete (ignoring the issue of the relationship between social structure and social agency and how to bridge the gap indicates a drastic lack of political education–as does the idealization of collective bargaining), “big strikes” do not necessarily generate certain kinds of political education.

As for saving democracy–political democracy has more or less existed (although even that is debatable), but the dictatorship which characterizes most workplaces–even unionized and radical ones–forms part and parcel of political democracy (see, for example, my post Employers as Dictators, Part One on economic dictatorship).

Ms. McAlevey refers to “working through hard conversations,” but when I tried to engage in such a conversation about the reference to “decent work” and “fair contracts,” with what I believed were the radical left in Toronto, I was insulted and ridiculed. I decided that such “hard conversations” had to occur without such insults and ridicule. I also decided to start this blog because, when I submitted an article for possible publication to the Canadian journal Critical Education, three anonymous reviewers rejected the article as it was and recommended extensive revisions. Since I did not consider their criticisms to be valid, I sought an alternative venue for expressing my views–hence this blog. (I will be posting their criticisms as well as my critical analysis of their criticisms in future posts.)

Ms. McAlevey often refers to winning “big”–while ignoring the impossibility of really winning control over our lives unless we address the macro issue. It is a definite limitation of her approach:

Chapter 1 discusses three such examples of women winning big.

The first chapter’s title is “Workers Can Still Win Big.” Ms. McAlevey refers to the strike of Local 2850 of Unite Here against Marriott Hotels in 2018. I tried to find the collective agreement but was unable to do so (if someone finds it, please send a commentary with the link). I looked at the UNITE HERE Local 2850 website, the American site for private-sector collective agreements, the following site Collective Bargaining Agreements File: Online Listings of Private and Public Sector Agreements – OLMS (Office of Labor-Management Standards), Department of Labor, United States) and the UNITE HERE Local 2850 Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/UniteHere2850/.

On the Facebook page, one reference to the strike provides some idea of what was won:

Today members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 at the Oakland Marriott City Center ratified an agreement with Marriott and will end our strike as of tomorrow. We thank our allies who supported us in our fight for jobs that are enough to live on in Oakland.

The collective agreement, then, in this judgement, permits the workers represented by the Local sufficient wages to be able to live in Oakland.

She does refer to the persistent sexual harassment to which many hotel workers have been subject and the measures that have been taken to address the issue–as indeed the Local should. The Local, through such representatives as Irma Perez, has expanded its work to include organizing to push for (and pass) legislation that addresses sexual harassment at work.

In a footnote, Ms. McAlevey writes:

Irma Perez, author interview. Irma is what’s called a shop steward in her hotel, so she’s deeply familiar with her own contract and the standards in her area. She states, “We have to clean 15 rooms a day at my job. But at hotels that are not unionized, workers have to clean 28 rooms a day, or sometimes even 30.” From my time working in Las Vegas, the same union versus nonunion standard applied to number of rooms cleaned per day, fifteen in a unionized hotel versus upward of thirty in a nonunion casino.

Cleaning 15 rooms rather than 28 or 30 rooms is certainly a large improvement in working conditions for those who clean hotel rooms. I remember my mother, a small woman (4′ 9″ or around 145 cm) working at a hotel in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, at a hotel. She found it difficult. She finally quit when her supervisor (a Yugoslavian woman) slapped her in the face. A reduction in the intensity of labour by almost 100 percent indeed is significant.

However, let us not exaggerate such a change. The hotel workers still must do what management wants in general–there is no dignity in that–nor equity.

The strike, implicitly, was about better pay in order to eliminate the need to have two jobs to make ends meet:

has the kind of energy that can motivate everyone on the picket line for days on end, dancing as she’s [Irma Perez] chanting to remind the workers and their supporters that they are fighting for a better life, for the freedom from having to work two full-time jobs. Every picket sign has the strike slogan and the worker’s demand, ONE JOB SHOULD BE ENOUGH!

The standard of having only one job that pays sufficiently well to make ends meet is certainly a standard worthy to fight for. However, this does not meet that it is an adequate standard to justify writing such things as the following:

In addition to the wins I’ve already listed, the three unions in the case studies here have secured the right to affordable, high-quality health care; equitable pay [my emphasis]; pay policies that eliminate gender and racial disparities, and favoritism; the right to keep control over your own schedule; improvements in safety on the job, for the workers as well as the patients, students, or guests; effective tools to combat sexual harassment; advances in paid time off, whether to have and get to love a baby, to take vacation, or get sick and avoid getting everyone else sick by going to work. Part of what makes unions and collective bargaining so effective is that workers themselves pull up to the negotiation table to decide how to redistribute the profits they make for others and design rules that actually solve their immediate problems. No other mechanisms engage the ingenuity of workers themselves.

Ms. McAlevey now engages in social-democratic ideology–“equitable pay,” “fair contracts,” “decent work” and the like are catch phrases used by the social democratic left to hide the continued dictatorship of employers over the lives of workers–whether unionized or not.

I probably received higher pay in the unionized jobs that I worked than the UNITE HERE Local 2850 workers, but to claim that what I received was “equitable” in any way simply ignores the issue of how it is equitable. On what basis does Ms. McAlevey justify her claim of equitable pay? She simply ignores the issue.

Furthermore, her reference to “redistribute the profits they make for others” assumes that it is legitimate for employers to use workers to produce a profit in the first place; fighting for complete control over the workplace (and the massive class struggle that that would entail) is simply ignored.

Of course, Sam Gindin and other social-democratic activists consider such explicit aims as “taking control of the economy” (at the grassroots level) as unrealistic under existing conditions. They believe in some magical future where the issue of the power of employers as a class will be addressed–they will always push such an issue to the waited-for future.

How any aim is to be achieved except by using it in the present to organize our present activities is a mystery to me–for that is what a real aim is and not a pseudo-aim. (Among children, the inductive approach of realizing an aim less explicitly may be more appropriate, and adults may even formulate more explicit aims of what they are trying to achieve after engaging in practice for a certain time–but then again, they may never do so). This does not mean that the aim has to be clear from the outset–far from it since aims are often clarified as they are put into effect. Nevertheless, an explicit aim of eliminating the power of employers as a class is certainly a legitimate aim to be put on the agenda of the working class and discussing it in the present–rather than putting it off to the distant future that social democrats are accustomed to doing.

I will continue a critical review of Ms. McAlevey’s book in another post.