Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Two

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The author of the following article, “Clinical Pragmatism in Bioethics: A Pastoral Approach,” uses Dewey’s model of pragmatism to address ethical issues related to his work as a pastor in different situations often involving death and health care. Bioethical pragmatism, as he calls it, must determine whether an ethical situation exists, whether further data is required before making a decision, whether there may be a conflict of values and interests and to whom one owes a duty. Although the context of the article is health care, the pastor’s use of pragmatism is relevant to the school system.

The pastor points out that Dewey’s pragmatism requires inquiry as a basic part of the process of deliberation in situations characteristic of conflicting elements that involve ethical decisions. He argues that in the situations he describes, the issue is less one of making a moral decision and an immoral decision and more one of making a less immoral decision and a more immoral decision.

He argues that inquiry forms a necessary part of the process in order to arrive at the best possible decision under the specific circumstances of the case (determination of context by means of inquiry is essential). He emphasizes that the inductive approach forms an essential part of the process rather than a merely deductive approach.

One of the limitations of the article is the lack of questioning of some of the elements listed as forming the context. He mentions financial aspects as forming part of the context for health care. How that plays out in reality in the context of a class society would require inquiry. The author provides no evidence of engaging in inquiry about the impact of the financial context on health-care outcomes or consequences. Undoubtedly, financial aspects do enter into decision-making processes of health care. Does that mean that the financial aspects are considered as just part of the facts that need to be elicited through inquiry but are not questioned? Does inquiry involve questioning the premises of, for example, the financial aspects?

Equity and social justice issues in schools evidently deal with ethical issues. However, how many who are interested in equity and social justice issues engage in clinical pragmatism?

Fred

Working for Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Five

In Dwyer’s book, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, in a passage quoted below, he argues that so-called accidents at work are socially caused but, historically, have been defined otherwise–as technical problems, for example, or as a result of individual mistakes.

In the passage below, he notes that health and safety issues should be identified and resolved according to need, with the priority being on the most destructive threats to health and safety. However due to the drive towards maximum profit at the expense of workers as mere things to be used to that end (see The Money Circuit of Capital), such a priority is often shelved in favour of solutions that agree with the interests of employers and those in political power.

From Tom Dwyer, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error. New York: Springer Science+Business Media, pages. 26-27:

Accident Prevention as Political Rationality

One might suppose that problems should be attacked according to
need: accidents provoked by different technically defined causes kill and
injure at dissimilar rates, and from a socially rational viewpoint the most
destructive of these should be the first to be treated. It appears, how ever, that accidents were singled out for treatment on the basis of rational
criteria developed within the economic and political spheres. In
the former case [the economic sphere] the commercial availability and viability of the products of scientific and technical development appears to be an important factor. In the latter [the political sphere], prevention appears to be primarily concerned with those accidents identified as having important political consequences–disasters constitute a prime example.65 In other words, it appears that early safety legislation was formulated neither as a function of needs
ascertained through a form of social rationality nor as a function of a
perception that accidents result from the operation of social forces within
the workplace. Reference to the social world is precluded in developing
criteria of need and strategies of prevention.

Unions often address the issue of health and safety through shifting focus from the worksite itself to legislative measures. From Dwyer, page 27: 

The attention of unions was increasingly channeled away from the
worksite and toward legislative change to be conquered through the
efforts of members of Parliament sympathetic to the workers’ cause. The
power of the bureaucracy grew as industrial problems became increasingly
subject to political control through their transformation into
administrative questions.

Legislature measures may indeed address some health and safety concerns, but as just indicated, by shifting focus away from the worksite, legislative measures often transform the question to an administrative level. This shift is consistent with the shift in the nature of the capitalist state from legislative measures to administrative measures (see Mark Neocleous, Administering Civil Society: Towards a Theory of State Power).

Legislative measures are thus insufficient for addressing health and safety issues since they are transformed into a form of administrating workplace relations that are less directly subject to the control of workers. 

What is needed, at least in part,  is what Jane McCalevey, in her book No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age argues calls deep organizing at the worksite itself. Worker organization and solidarity at the worksite is required. Organized worker opposition at the worksite needs to be developed as a culture. Supplementary tactics (such as those suggested by the International Workers of the World (IWW) should also be integrated; a march on the boss, for instance, where a group of workers face the immediate supervisor with an issue that concerns them, provides workers with a collective means that solidifies their workplace power.

However, this view definitely needs to be linked to a general critique of the power of employers as a class–which is what McCalevey does not do. She argues, incorrectly, if workers are organized at the workplace level, that organization or structure is the same as worker agency, or the idea that workers’ nature as persons is taken into account. However, the peculiar nature of capitalist relations is that what is produced by workers is used by the class of employers is used as a means to exploit, to oppress and to use workers for the purposes of the employers. The class issue cannot be resolved at the level of the workplace since the class issue is much, much wider than any worksite.

The attempt to shift to a legislative focus at least expresses the impossibility of resolving the exploitation, oppression and use of workers by employers solely at the level of the workplace.

What is needed to address health and workplace issues, then, is deep organizing at the workplace with a general critique and movement against the power of employers as a class. In this way, the real health and safety needs of workers can more adequately be addressed.

Should not the issue of the health and safety of workers be a priority? Is it? Can it be when a class of employers exist? Can it be when human beings are treated as means for the benefit of employers?

Should not union members call to account their union reps concerning the impossibility of adequately protecting workers in the face of the power of employers?

Should not workers begin to organize to end that power in order to make health and safety a priority at work?

The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left on the Standards They Use in Relation to Health and Safety

I had a debate on the Facebook page of the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC), an organization designed to facilitate communication and common actions among unions at the Toronto International Pearson Airport. The issue was health and safety and workers’ compensation. In Canada, most workers who work for an employer are covered by workers’ compensation–a fund derived from premiums that employers pay, based on the rate and extent of accidents in the particular industry as well as the accident record of particular employers. Being covered by workers’ compensation means that, if an injury (or disease) is work related, then the worker has the right to be compensated.

The following conversation occurred on October 18, 2019, first with an anonymous member of TAWC and then with the TAWC member Mike Corrado (who is also the general chairperson of the central region of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW):

Premier Ford [of Ontario,Canada] says he cares about safety, but after the 5th temp agency worker death at Fiera Foods Company, he still refuses to take action. Legislation already exists to stop companies from treating temp workers’ lives as disposable. Tell FordNationto implement this law, now! VISIT: www.15andFairness.org

Fred Harris Are there any statistics about now many non-temporary agency workers have died since 1999? Or even during Doug Ford’s term as premier? Is one death one too many in that situation? If so, what is being done about it? Why the focus exclusively on temporary workers? Certainly, that issue should be addressed–but what about those who supposedly have :”good jobs” (unionized, for example)? Do they not still die needlessly in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers?

Tawc Yyz Thats far too many questions to realistically answer on this post.

Fred Harris Let us assume that this is the case. There are six questions in the above post. Take any question and answer it. Or perhaps one question per week? Or per month? Every two months?

Should not at least one question be answered now? If not, why not?

Take any of the six questions and answer it. Or is one quetion “too much” to realistically answer on this post?”

I remember when I worked at one of those so-called “decent jobs” that much of the social-democratic left talk about. One night, a few days after the brewery was “inspected” (mysteriously the brewery was advised of the inspection beforehand so that the machinery, etc. could be cleaned), a worker lost a couple of fingers when his glove got caught in a chain on the conveyor belt. Not long afterwards, we started to produce beer again.

I guess non-temporary workers have it so good that the issue of whether workers will ever be safe under working conditions controlled in large part by employers should not be brought up? That the general issue of the unsafe working conditions in various forms should not be brought up? Or is that too many questions to answer in a post? If so, then feel free to answer it on my blog.

That temporary workers are more subject to the possibility of unsafe working conditions than regular working conditions is probably true (I worked as a substitute teacher–a temporary worker–though not for a temp agency) for a number of years. That did not prevent me from questioning the more general question.

Mike Corrado The brewery workers were fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB whereas temp workers aren’t afforded with the same rights!

Open Letter to Premier Ford
October 8, 2019

RE: Urgent action required after fifth temp worker death at Fiera Foods

Dear Premier Doug Ford,

As you know, on Wednesday, September 25, Enrico Miranda, a father of two, was killed on the job. As you also know, Mr. Miranda is the fifth temporary agency worker who has died on the job at Fiera Foods or an affiliated company.

Shockingly, it has been almost two weeks since his death and yet we have heard nothing from you. You have chosen to remain silent, despite having the power to implement legislation that could have prevented this tragedy.

Mr. Ford, this is the second worker killed at Fiera Foods under your watch.

Had you implemented Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act – legislation which has already passed, but simply needs your signature – Mr. Miranda might still be alive today.

That’s why we are writing to you to demand that you immediately enact this existing law that will make companies using temp agencies financially responsible under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act for workplace deaths and injuries.

Laws like this will make companies like Fiera Foods think twice before putting temp workers into harm’s way.

There’s no more time to waste, and we need you to take action to make sure this is the last temp agency worker death.

Implement Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act – right now!

We expect to hear from you right away, and certainly no later than Friday, October 11.

Ontarians deserve to know whether their premier will stand up for workers – or whether he will remain silent and continue allowing companies to treat their workers’ lives as disposable.

Fred Harris Yes, the brewery workers were “fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB”–and is this compensation for the man who lost his two fingers?

Furthermore, substitute teachers (at least in Manitoba) are not covered by workers compensation.

In addition, the answer that “being fully covered under workers’ compensation” (or not) skirts the question of whether workers, whether covered or not, can ever be safe under conditions that are dominated by a class of employers.

Why shift the issue to being “fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB” or not to the issue of whether human safety is really possible under conditions dominated by a class of employers?

Of course, this does not mean that workers who are not covered by worker’s compensation should not struggle to obtain coverage (and others should support such struggle). However, the standard is itself ‘workers who are covered by worker’s compensation or WSIB”–an inadequate standard,.

Let us assume that all workers who work for employers are covered by worker’s compensation. On such a view, then workers would be safe? If not, why not? How many workers have suffered injury at the airport in the last five years? Two years? One year? Do they qualify for worker’s compensation?

Finally, legislation can prevent some injuries and deaths–but hardly all injuries and deaths under existing conditions of domination of the economy by a class of employers and the social structures that go along with that domination. Human beings are things to be used by employers–like machines. Given that situation, there are bound to be injuries and deaths. Or why is it that there around 1000 deaths at work a year in Canada and over 600,000 injuries?

No further response was forthcoming. Was my question about whether being covered by workers’ compensation was an adequate standard out of line? Do not workers deserve an answer to the question? Why the silence?

To be fair to Mike Corrado, at least he broke the silence typical of much of the social-democratic left. Unfortunately, he chose to then revert back to the silence so typical of the social-democratic left when it comes to the power of employers as a class.

Furthermore, Mr. Corrado’s position with respect to the power of employers as a class shines through on the same Facebook page just prior to the Canadian federal elections held on October 21, 2019:

Election Day is Monday. Family values, workers rights, healthcare, pharmacare, the economy, privatization, electoral reform, the environment and the wealthy paying their fair share are at stake and so is my child’s future!

I too am for workers’ rights, healhcare, pharmacare, etc. But what does Mr. Corrado mean by “the wealthy paying their fare share?” This is a social-democratic slogan or cliche. What does it mean? There is no elaboration about what it means. The slogan implies that the wealthy should continue to be wealthy–but only that they should “pay their fair share.” As long as they pay “their fair share,” they can continue to treat workers as things at work. They can continue to make decisions about what to produce, how to produce, when to produce and where to produce. They can continue to dictate to workers (subject to the collective agreement). They can continue to make decisions concerning how much of their wealth will be reinvested and how much will be personally consumed (determining thereby the rate of accumulation and the level of economy growth and the quality of that growth).

Just as the social-democratic left are silent concerning the adequacy of the standard of workers’ compensation, so too they are silent concerning the legitimacy of the existence of a class of persons who make decisions that affect, directly and indirectly, the lives of millions of workers.

Why the silence? Why are not workers constantly talking about these issues?

Employers as Dictators, Part Three

The social-democratic left in Toronto, undoubtedly like social-democratic reformists throughout the world, continue to ignore criticisms of their attempt to equate positive reforms with the realization of adequate forms through such rhetoric as “decent work.”

Consider Elizabeth Anderson’s critique of the power of employers, page 130:

Private government at work embeds inequalities in authority,
standing, and esteem in the organizations upon which people
depend for their livelihood. Those consigned to the status of
wage worker for life have no real way out: while they can quit
any given employer, often at great cost and risk, they cannot
opt out of the wage labor system that structurally degrades and
demeans them.

The social-democratic left, however, create all kinds of euphemisms for this fact of economic dictatorship: “decent work,” “fairness,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” “fair compensation”  and the like. In a recent post on Facebook by Tina Faibish (president of local 552 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, or OPSEU), for example, we read: “Willowdale wants decent work!”: There are people with signs saying “Minimum wage of $15 and decent work for all.” The signs also say “$15 and Fairness.”

We certainly need to fight for a higher minimum wage and improved working conditions, but why is it that the social-democratic left need to embellish such demands with such absurd claims as “decent work” and “fairness”? They apparently cannot even face the reality that employers dictate to workers every day in one way or another and that the daily lives of workers, whether they receive a higher minimum wage and improved working conditions, is decidedly not decent work and not fair.

The social-democratic left, however, would have to make a radical break with their own ideology. They, however, undoubtedly will cling to their ideology all the more in order to fend off having to face up to the reality which most people face on a daily basis. They seem incapable of dealing with that reality. They either react with hostility against those who criticize their reformist ideology (calling their critics “condescending pricks,” for example), or they will remain silent.

Thus, I made the following comment on Facebook about the issue of decent work:

Such low expectations–working for an employer=decent work? Good luck being used as a thing for employers–with or without a collective agreement. Management clauses (implicit or explicit in collective agreements) enable management–a minority–to dictate to the majority. Such is decent work in a society dominated by employers–a lack of economic democracy and the existence of dictatorship.

The response by the social-democratic left? Silence. They refuse to consider that they share the same assumptions as their conservative opponents, namely, that working for an employer can be fair and decent.

Furthermore, there is a contradictory view of whether working for an employer is decent. Thus, on the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council Facebook page, there is reference to the death of an airport worker, 24-year old Kenrick Darrell Hudson, in Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 12, 2019, where a luggage vehicle flipped, pinning the worker and killing him:

Sending love and solidarity from YYZ to the friends, family, and coworkers of the worker that lost his life last night in Charlotte.

Work smart, stay safe, and look out for one another. Airport workers across the globe share the same goal, we all want to go home safely at the end of the day.

It is difficult to see how the goal of going “home safely at the end of the day” can be achieved under conditions dictated by a class of employers and the ultimate goal of profit. After all, human beings are means to the end of profit and not their own ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Indeed, in a video presentation of the airport, one construction worker pointed out that “It’s like a racetrack out there” (Airline employee killed after luggage vehicle flips).

Ironically (and sadly), a few days after TAWC sent the above message to workers and family in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was an accident at the Toronto Pearson International Airport:

INCIDENT Baggage handler trapped under a tractor. Extricated by Toronto Pearson Fire. Transported to trauma centre by Peel Paramedics with serious injuries. Scene being held for investigation. Occurred on the ramp between T1 & T3.

How can safety ever be first when profit is the priority? When human beings are “costs” like other things? Was the work of that dead employee decent work before the accident but not decent afterwards? How can work be decent if it involves the possible injury of workers due to social conditions over which they lack control?

Social democrats should answer these questions, should they not?

A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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

The following attempts to fill in, however inadequately, that silence.  If others can provide more detailed and sophisticated statistics and analysis (while still being comprehensible), I would much appreciate it.

In an earlier post, I provided a list of some of the largest employers in Canada, according to profit. The following is a short list of the largest employers in Toronto (where I currently live), according to employment. The reason why I think such a list would be useful is that it provides at least a somewhat concrete picture of who really has power in society and the extent of that power. Since most social-reformist leftists ignore the power of employers and assume such power as a background which they can assume as constant, they then consider their reformist policies without calling into question such power.

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

It is taken from the following, for February 2018:

Largest Enployers in Toronto According to Employment Level

It should be pointed out that these statistics are probably for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) rather than the City of Toronto as such since the website states “This list estimates the number of residents from Toronto and surrounding area that each company employs. These numbers exclude international employees.” Furthermore, the method of collecting the data is vague (“Based on some research conducted on the number of available LinkedIn profiles, here is a list of the top 20 largest employers in Toronto as of February 2018.”) Consequently, the statistics should not be taken too literally. Nevertheless, they may give an idea of the relative order of the larger employers in relation to the level of employment.

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

The following list of the 20 largest employers lists in Toronto according to level of employment.

1. CIBC = 15,000
2. Scotiabank = 14,400
3. Magna International = 11,500
4. Rogers = 10,000
5. Bank of Montreal = 9,000
6. Bell Canada = 7,900
7. TD Bank = 6,100
8. Toronto School Board District = 5,500
9. Deloitte = 4,000
10. Hudson’s Bay Company = 4,100
11. Telus = 4, 000
12. Air Canada = 3,100
13. Toronto Transit Commission = 2,500
14. Bombardier Inc. = 2,030
15. Royal Bank of Canada = 1, 700
16. EY = 1,700
17. CGI = 1,700
18. Maple Leaf Foods = 1,300
19. PwC = 1,300
20. The Coca Cola Company = 1, 100

The total number of workers is: 107,930 workers.

In Toronto (not the Greater Toronto Area), the number of employees in 2017 was 1, 518,560. The population in Toronto in 2016 was  2,731,571; the population in the GTA was 6,417,526 in 2016. If we divide the GTA population by Toronto’s population, we have 6,417,526/2,731,571=2.34939. If we multiply this number by the number of workers in Toronto, we should have a rough estimate of the number of workers in the GTA: 2.34939×1,518,560=3, 567, 690 workers in the GTA.

If the number of workers of the 20 largest employers is divided by the number of workers in the GTA, then those workers represent only 3% of the number of workers in the GTA.

In terms of employment, the 20 largest employers in the GTA do not represent a great percentage of total employment. Nonetheless, it is likely that they do represent a substantial political force via their control over key industries (financing and communications in particular) and their influence through such organizations as the Toronto Board of Trade. On the other hand, at least in terms of employment, it is unlikely these large employers (defined as those with 500 or more employees) that constitute the bulk of employment in Toronto but rather medium (100-500 employees) and especially small employers (1-99 employees) since, in Canada, it is small businesses that employee most workers:  “As of 2017, small businesses employed 8.29 million individuals in Canada, or 69.7 percent of the total private labour force. By comparison, medium-sized businesses employed 2.37 million individuals (19.9 percent of the private labour force) and large businesses employed 1.23 million individuals (10.4 percent of the private labour force)” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 3).

On the other hand, the value of output in Canada according to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is, relatively, much larger for large employers than for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since the number of large employers is much smaller than the number of SMEs: “In 2014, the contribution of small businesses to gross domestic product generated by the private sector was 41.5 percent, the contribution of medium-sized businesses was 11.0 percent and the contribution of large businesses was 47.5 percent.” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 4).

If we subtract the number of public-sector workers from the above Toronto list, we have 107,930-(5500+2500=8000)=99,930 private-sector workers, or 99,930. Dividing this by the number of workers in the GTA would result in only 2.8 percent of the working population. If, however, we consider that 10.4 percent of the private labour force is found in Canada but 47.5 percent of the GDP is produced by this labour force in Canada, then we can calculate 47.5/10.4=4.5673 times the GDP is produced by employees working for large-scale employers. We can then times this amount by 2.8 percent (4.5673×2.8)=12.79 percent. The 18 private largest employers in Toronto probably exert around 12.79 percent in terms of economic power in Toronto. Despite the limited level of employment power and the limited number of employers, the level of economic power is substantial. It would be interesting to see if this economic power is translated in various ways into political power.

(If anyone has any alternative ways of estimating economic power, I would like to know. Undoubtedly, the above is imperfect, but I fail to see anyone on the so-called left referring to major employers in Toronto having any economic and political power. There is of course the usual “capitalist this” and “capitalist that,” but very few concrete details.)

Of course, this is a very rough estimate. Furthermore, more useful statistics would include the value of the means of production and, for the 18 private companies, profits as well. In addition, there is no distinction made between part-time and full-time employees.

If we compare the 20 largest Canadian employers according to profit to the list of the largest Toronto employers, there are several on both lists: all five major banks and Rogers Communication.

 

Worker Resistance Against Management, Part Four

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

Activity Sheet 3: Learning from Collective Resistance Experiences

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

Overtime Action in the Ontario Legislature

In the early 2000s, members of a public-sector union in Ontario–policy advisors, analysts and other public-service workers–were fighting their employer, the Government of Ontario, for a first overtime provision in their collective agreement. Up until that time, members of the union could be forced to work unlimited hours. The Employment Standards Act does not apply to most civil servants.

As bargaining got started, it became clear the employer did not want to bargain the overtime provision. The union had made it a priority, in part because it was known that many members worked several uncompensated hours on a weekly basis.

The union is organized into chapters along ministry lines. The chapter at the Ministry of Labour was typically the most radical in the union and included people who well understood the challenges facing the union movement in the province. Conscious of the fact that the overtime provision was going to be tough to win, the chapter hatched a plan, with the quiet endorsement of the union’s head office.

When the legislature is in session, policy advisors are expected to complete their House notes by 8:30 a.m. These are documents that government ministers read from when asked questions in the House by opposition members. House notes often take up to one hour to complete. The chapter identified House note “production” as a pressure point that could be used in bargaining. Not having house notes when needed, if done as a collective act, would send a strong message to the employer. That first week the House was in session, the chapter made sure that every House note that was to be delivered to the Minister arrived an hour late. The Minister found herself in the House with no papers to read from when called upon to answer questions. It was an embarrassing performance, indeed!

The message was sent. The following week the employer began to bargain the overtime provision, which was eventually won a few months later and incorporated into a new collective agreement. The Labour Chapter understood how to keep up the pressure in the context of bargaining. The tactic with House notes forced the employer to bargain a provision that the entire membership now benefits from.

Questions

  1. How might this example show that worlplace cultures and practices, favourable to the boss, can be changed?
  2. What were some of the things that the union chapter in the Ministry of Labour would have had to do, in order to build the confidence and resolve necessary to carry out such a collective action? 
  3. What lessons can be learned from this example that applies to your workplace? 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part One

This is the first of a long series of posts of summaries of articles, mainly on education. 

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions: 

The author of the following article “Intelligence, Knowledge, and the Hand/Brain Divide,” (Mike Rose) argues that, despite some advances in curriculum in the past century, the academic/vocational divide in the curriculum—and among students—still prevails in the modern school system. This problem is wider than the school system, however. It expresses the bias towards defining intelligence as equivalent to academic excellence rather than a way of acting that occurs in daily life and which is expressed in blue-collar and service work, such as waitressing.

The author shows how vocational education in schools, originally, had to become isolated if it were to survive and not be dominated by those who defined good schools exclusively in terms of academic subjects. However, this isolation led to streaming of children of working-class parents, parents of colour and immigrant parents into vocational education and the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of such children as unintelligent and, at the same time, the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of students in the academic stream as exclusively intelligent.

This treatment of students who enter the vocational stream as unintelligent has often been incorporated into vocational programs as cognitive requirements have been diluted. Similarly, students in the vocational stream, although they often express contempt for the academic stream, themselves internalize the academic definition of intelligence and consider themselves to be unintelligent.

The author notes that, at least in the United States, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990, coupled with the complementary School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, proposed the integration of academic and vocational subjects. The author notes how one school linked a course on chemistry with a course on graphic arts, and others have effectively linked vocational and academic courses in terms of an occupational theme—the latter reminiscent of Dewey’s use of occupational themes to integrate the curriculum in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School as it was officially named).

However, the author also points out that, in general, these two Acts have really only resulted in the external addition of a few academic requirements rather than any real efforts at integration and parity of the academic and the vocational.

The modern school system, therefore, is still class-based and racist more often than not—hardly conducive to a democratic social order.

Should those concerned with equity and social justice issues be concerned about this situation?

Fred

 

 

Management Rights, Part Eight: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Quebec

Here is another clause from a collective agreement concerning management rights, this time from the private sector–and in a province in Canada where French is predominant officially. Undoubtedly for the social-democratic left, it expresses a situation where there is decent work–a cliché among the left, who refuse to investigate its meaning in a democratic fashion. 

It should be pointed out that the power of employers (via the power of managers) is independent of language–their power is expressed in many languages, just as their use of workers for their own ends is expressed in many languages. Differences in languages (and differences in nations), therefore, should not be something for workers which divides them since they face the same enemy in various languages and across many borders–the class of employers as dictators.

Should we not be discussing this issue thoroughly? Why are we not doing so? Why is there hostility to such discussion? 

 

From

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
2013 – 2017
FOR THE RESIDENTIAL SECTOR
OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Between the APCHQ and
the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques
(CSD-Construction), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN-Construction),
the Conseil provincial du Québec
des métiers de la construction (International),
the Fédération des travailleurs
et travailleuses du Québec
(FTQ-Construction)
and the Syndicat Québécois
de la construction (SQC)

page 7:

2.03 Management Right The signatory representative associations recognize an employer’s right to exercise its supervisory, administration and management duties in a manner that is compatible with the provisions of this collective agreement.

 

The Contradictions of Unions: Reformist and Radical Assessments

Steven Tufts, in an article first published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, on The Star website, and republished on the Socialist Project website on September 25 (Pension Plans Should Not Invest in Companies That Harm Working People), tries to show that, despite unions consciously disassociating themselves from investments that harm workers, their own pension fund managers may pursue policies that contradict such conscious disassociation.

(As an aside, Professor Tufts is a representative of the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC).

He writes:

For example, Caesar’s Entertainment partnered with Oxford Properties, the real-estate investment arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). Community groups lead by No Casino Toronto did successfully mobilize against these proposals, which divided council at the time. Members of CUPE Local 79 also deputed against the proposals as front-line city workers would have had to deal with the negative social and economic impacts of gambling.

At the same time, fund managers at OMERS, the pension fund of Local 79 members, deputed on the economic virtues of casino development. Here we see the contradictions of pension fund investments that negatively impact the very workers making contributions.

However, Professor Tufts does not question how unions can escape this situation. Pension funds generally have to invest money in some capitalist companies, and those companies are expected to obtain a profit. If this is the case, then there is a typical social-reformist strategy of opposing particular kinds of investments or particular kinds of employers while implicitly accepting the need for capitalist investments in general or the need for a set of employers.

In other words, does not any investment “harm workers?” Professor Tuft remains silent on how workers can escape this contradiction. Of course, there are degrees of harm of workers by employers, with some employers definitely treating workers worse than other employers. However, do not all employers harm workers by necessarily treating them as things to be used to obtain more money (private sector) or by excluding them from the right to determine the purpose of their work (public sector)? (See The Money Circuit of Capital).

Professor Tuft further states:

All workers deserve pensions, but pension funds for some built on tax cuts and privatization schemes are neither just nor sustainable over the long term. Unions continue to shield themselves against efforts to politicize pension investments, but this has a cost.

This criticism aims at the neoliberal model of “tax cuts and privatization schemes.” What if the pension schemes did not rely on such tax cuts and privatization schemes? What happens if they relied on merely–exploiting other workers in a non-neoliberal way (as they did before the emergence of neoliberalism)? Would that eliminate the contradiction between workers’ interests as workers and their interests as future retirees? I fail to see how it would.

Indeed, Professor Tuft states:

It is time for union leaders to confront pension plans that seek to transform our cities in ways that harm working people.

Surely, all pension plans, whether private or public, are riveted with the basic contradiction of being funded by workers while being used to exploit and oppress other workers. This contradiction cannot be abolished without abolishing the situation where a class of employers exploits and oppresses a class of workers called employees.

If this basic contradiction is acknowledged, then variations in levels of harm to working people can then be assessed. However, as it stands, Professor Tufts’ article implies that there can be “pension plans that seek to transform our cities in ways that” do not harm working people. Such a view is typical of reformist policies that fail to address the harm necessarily caused to workers because of the existence of a class of employers and the accompanying economic and political structure.

By not acknowledging the general harm that all employers pose for working people, Professor Tuft does not acknowledge the need to create organizations that oppose the class power of employers as such.

Obviously, some employers are better than others. However, the social-democratic left never get around to criticizing employers as such. They remind me of movies and television programs. Often, particular police officers or particular companies are presented as bad–but not the police function as such or employers as such.

Despite Professor Tuft’s evident desire to go beyond the limitations of union principles, he evidently operates within them implicitly since he assumes that workers’ pension plans can somehow magically overcome the contradiction of exploiting and oppressing workers by not following the neoliberal model–as if the capitalist relations of exploitation and oppression did not exist before the emergence of neoliberalism.

Should we not go beyond the limits of neoliberalism and challenge the economic and political power of the class of employers?

A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part Seven: The New Brunswick History Curriculum and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees

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

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

Since the pdf curriculum document is not searchable, I have read through the document with an eye for key words: employ, work, class, capital (and their derivates).

On page 3, under the title Inclusion of Social History, there is a reference to the theme of the working class.

On page 9, it states the following: “Role playing of characters from any era in Canadian history, including those who displayed an entrepreneurial spirit and initiative in our past, can allow the student to become aware of the legacy that is to be followed in the future.”

Page 29 perhaps provides a brief opportunity for exploring the origin of employers and employees–although it is unlikely since the focus is different: “Students should examine the motives of the following groups for western expansion: … The Hudson’s Bay Company.”

On page 35, it is mentioned how technology changed rural and urban life–without any mention of who owned and controlled the technology and who had the power to introduce it into the workplace and why.

Page 36 refers to the changing role of women since they started working in manufacturing and its impact on the family, but there is no mention of why women would work for an employer in the first place.

On page 37, the second unit begins, with the title 1896-1920: Canada’s Century Begins, with the first section entitled Immigration and Imperialism. Since the concept of imperialism is connected to capitalism and the power of the class of employers, perhaps this section will bear some fruit about why employers and employees exist. Unfortunately, on the same page it is claimed that modern society is pluralistic–not a very promising view since pluralism considers there to be no dominant classes.

On the following page, it states:  “Although industrialization allowed business and industrial growth, poverty for the lower classes and segregation of the social and ethnic classes eventually led to labour unrest.” There is hence some promise of explaining the origin and nature of the employer and employee relation, but it is hedged about by the terms “poverty” and “segregation of the social and ethnic classes.” There is no explanation of the meaning of those terms. It is unlikely that a teacher would interpret the term “poverty” as “having to work for an employer;” rather, s/he is likely to interpret the term in terms of level of income exclusively. And it is implied that if “poverty” and “segregation of the social and ethnic classes” had not occurred, there would be no labour unrest.

This limitation then probably spills over into one of the suggested activities: “Summarize, in order of importance, the changes in Canadian society due to industrialization and urbanization,. [Note the lack of reference to the dual change of the emergence of a class of employers who owned the conditions for producing our lives and the emergence of another class of employees who lacked ownership of those conditions and who consequently had to work for the class of employers.] What were the major tensions and social divisions caused by this? [The implication was that it was not the emergence of a class of employers and a class of employees which resulted in “major tensions and social divisions,” but the “neutral” process of industrialization and urbanization. Who however made the decisions to industrialize in the first place? And did not the rural population move into urban areas in search of “jobs” when they lacked the means of producing their own lives?]

On page 39, reference to imperialism is to British imperialism, and no connection is drawn between imperialism and the drive of employers to accumulate capital, which spills over national borders in one way or another. In other words, the term imperialism lacks any reference to its foundation in the class of employers and the class of employees.

On page 64, despite one of the expected outcomes being an understanding of the causes and consequences of the Great Crash of 1929 and the subsequent economic depression, there is no mention of the irrational nature of the economic system called capitalism, with a class of employers dominating a class of employees, and with a drive to obtain more and more profit as the ultimate goal, as being a cause on the corresponding pages 45-46.

In general, then, the New Brunswick history curriculum provides the student and teacher with little opportunity for understanding how and why employers and employees emerged in the first place and why students will, in all likelihood, be working for an employer (unless, of course, they aim to transform the economy into an economy controlled by workers and communities).

The document is another expression of silent indoctrination by what it omits. It is an ideological document and does students a disservice by not enabling them to understand what they experience and why they experience what they experience.