Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Two

Introduction

This is a continuation of a previous post. In a previous post, I criticized the first reviewer’s assessment of an article I had written on collective bargaining and the situation of teachers in Nova Scotia.

Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.

Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.

The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.” 

My Abstract or Summary of My Article

Abstract

This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.

Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey

The decision to reject the article as is, as well as the second review are given below along with my comments on the second review. I put the reviewer’s evaluation in quotation marks:

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education, “A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and a fair contract”. Our decision is to: Decline submission.

Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.

All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.

I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on this project.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca

Reviewer B’s Assessment and My Comments

Reviewer B:

“This manuscript makes a convincing argument that there is no such thing as a good contract because in a capitalist economy, some portion of workers’ labor will, inevitably, be appropriated by capitalists.”

That is hardly what is argued in my article. The author is probably thinking of Marx’s theory of surplus value, in a capitalist economy, where the value produced by workers is greater than the value that they receive—necessarily–if the capitalist economy is to continue to exist.

How this reviewer concludes that I make a “convincing argument” of the inadequacy of a contract due to “some portion of workers’ labor will inevitably be appropriated by capitalists” is beyond me. I explicitly wrote: ‘Of course, the purpose of the whole process is to obtain more money at the end of the process than at the beginning. The whole process would have no purpose if the money that the capitalist receives at the end of the process were the same quantity as at the beginning of the process; the capitalist system would not last very long. The continued existence of the capitalist system, then, requires that the money at the end of the process, generally, be greater than at the beginning. Where the surplus money comes from does not concern us in this essay, though.’

I did not want to discuss Marx’s theory of surplus value as such since that theory, though very important in understanding the dynamics of capitalist production, exchange and accumulation, is not the only basis for criticizing the employer-employee relation. Employees of the government (state workers) do not produce a surplus value—but they are still used as means for purposes foreign to them (see The Money Circuit of Capital). This is anti-democratic and in fact dictatorial. It treats human beings as mere things who have no or little say in the determination of the purposes of their action as employees.

The point of the presentation of the money circuit of capital is to show that human beings are means to purposes external to them in order to criticize such use in the first place. It is implicitly a criticism of such union attitudes as expressed by John Urkevich, union rep for the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services (AESES) (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)–a public sector union. According to 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.” See my criticism of such a view in ( 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).

The reviewer obviously missed the point of presenting the money circuit of capital and imposed his/her own assumed view of Marxian theory onto the money circuit.

“That said, issues in the manuscript start with the title: labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject, and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself.”

True and false. It is a critique of Brian Forbes’ implicit model of collective bargaining—which is the typical model of union reps (whether explicit or implicit). A critique of such an implicit model is simultaneously a critique of the typical model. Apparently, it is too much to expect academics to understand this.

Consequently, the first clause “labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject” is true, but the next clause “and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself” is false since the implicit model is Brian Forbes’ model, which provides an exemplar for collective bargaining itself. Variations in collective bargaining, such as Jane McAlevey’s model, although innovative in some respects, still fall within the limits of the same collective-bargaining model since her model idealizes collective agreements as well. Furthermore, her wholly inadequate solution to the problem of agency and social structure by identifying the two at the micro level of the plant level or the specific institution level leads her to idealize such contracts rather than criticizing them as completely inadequate expressions of the interests of workers (even if it is the best that can be achieved under given power relations).

“Although the title is a minor problem, it returns in the abstract., which opens with a critique of the Nova Scotia contract rather than what it is a case  and then announces something like a review of McAlevey.  At a minimum, a clearer sense of, and focus on, what the manuscript is about–the limits of even more democratic forms of collective bargaining, with much of the evidence from the author’s own experience- needs to be clear throughout.”

Let us take a look at my abstract. It reads:

‘This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.’

The structure of my proposed article is:

Introduction (not an explicit section with that title, but it is implied)

The Resistance of Teachers to the High-handed Methods of the McNeil Government and of the Provincial Executive

Jane McAlevey’s Alternative Approach to Collective Bargaining

The Limitations of McAlevey’s Approach to Collective Bargaining

Practical Considerations

Theoretical Considerations: Limited Standards of Fairness versus Human Standards of Fairness

Conclusion

I organized the presentation in an ascending order of forms of collective bargaining, from the least positive form of collective bargaining (the McNeil Government’s underhanded method of collective bargaining) to more adequate forms of collective bargaining (Brian Forbes’ implicit model, which is the typical model), to Jane McAlevey’s innovative model, in order to show, on the one hand, that there are indeed better and worse ways of engaging in collective bargaining from the point of view of the working class—but that collective bargaining even in the form of McAlevey’s model is wholly inadequate. The inadequacy of even McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining is broken up into practical limitations and theoretical considerations. The practical considerations involved a comparison of a collective agreement under which I worked as a brewery worker in the early 1980s with the idealized collective agreement that Ms. McAlevey negotiated. Her persistent reference to the collective agreement as a “good contract” is typical of social-reformist leftists, and this is the implicit target of the article. The idealization of unions and collective bargaining needs to be criticized, and this reviewer generally fails to understand that.

As for my personal experiences—I intersperse them throughout the article as occasion and relevance arises. The underhanded way in which the McNeil Nova Scotia (located in Canada) government tried to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process was similar to Winnipeg’s (Manitoba, Canada) mayor Susan Thompson attempt to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process. My reference to Paul Moist, one time head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees union outside workers in Winnipeg (and, eventually, the national head of that union—one of the largest unions in Canada) d his use of the cliché “A contract is a contract” is meant to highlight how union reps assume that the basis for relations between humans must be in the form of a contract.

It never ceases to amaze me how little thought is given by academics (and others) about the legitimacy of the employer-employee relation. I have found, personally, that unions are necessary but by no means sufficient for expressing my own interests. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and all of them have assumed the legitimacy of that relation in one way or another. That academics fail, theoretically or practically (or both) to seek to go beyond such relations by creating all kinds of subterfuges should no longer be surprising, however. Most lack any burning desire to have exploitation really stop. They may pay lip-service to the abolition of exploitation, but their own practices (and often their own writings) belie such lip-service.

Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to write for so-called peer-reviewed journals and started this blog? Often, for an article to be accepted it is necessary to alter substantially the content of an article to accord with the demands of the academic reviewers. There is no point in trying to please such reviewers—to do so is not in the interests of the working class. Quite to the contrary. Reviewers are unlikely to be concerned with such interests and thus to fail to understand the point of an article that addresses such needs. It is in the interests of the working class to oppose being used as means for the employers’ ends, but unions have no intention of pursuing such opposition. The limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements express the limitations of unions in relation to the working class, but it is highly unlikely that academic reviewers will understand that.

“The manuscript does a nice job analyzing elements of McAlevey’s argument and acknowledging the benefits of a more empowered rank and file, but at crucial junctures the manuscript was not persuasive. The author makes a brief and, in my view, inadequate case for the essential similarity of private and public sector workers. After rightly acknowledges that capitalism sets limits on the contract because pay has to be less than the value of what is produced,”

Again, this is an imposition of the reviewer’s reading on what I wrote. I specifically wrote the following:

‘If we ignore the exchange process, we have the following: M1 … P … M2. Here, it is clearly seen that the production process is a means for obtaining more money. Since workers are part of the production process, they too are means for obtaining more money—even if they are organized collectively and act militantly. Being used as a means so that others can obtain more money is not an expression of a just and moral society, where human beings are agents of their own social structures and relations. Rather, it expresses a society that treats human beings as things to be used for the benefit of others obtaining more money.’

The issue is the context of criticizing McAlevey’s claim that the relation between agency and structure is solved when the whole set of workers is organized—structure then melds into agency and agency into structure. The money circuit of capital shows that this is a wholly inadequate solution to the problem; agency must address the macro level if the workers are going to become agents of their own lives. The issue of whether the “pay has to be less than the value of what is produced” is not addressed at all. More money (M2) than M1 is characteristic of capitalist relations, but then so too is the use of workers as means to obtaining more money. The issue of exploitation is a related but separate issue. If, for example, M1 and M2 were the same, workers would still be used as means—but in this instance the employer would have no incentive to do so.

“the author then treats teachers as deserving unlimited resources.”

What nonsense. This reading illustrates once again the limited nature of academic reviews. Where did I imply that ‘teachers deserve’ “unlimited resources?”

“A much more developed theory and analysis of schooling in of the capitalist state is needed.”

I agree with this assertion. Two points can serve as a response. Firstly, peer-reviewed journals limit necessarily the extent to which authors can elaborate on certain points through a limitation on the number of words that an author can compose. In the case of the journal Critical Education,the limit: “Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.” To enter directly into the question of the “theory and analysis of schooling in the capitalist state” when the issue is the limitations of collective bargaining would be impossible.

Peer reviewers can thus use the impossibility of addressing all relevant issues as an excuse for criticizing what would be needed in a more well-rounded and fuller discussion.

Secondly, it is obvious that Marx’s theory of capital is the beginning of such an analysis and requires elaboration in relation to the specifically capitalist state. I mention taxes in relation to the capitalist state and imply that a further analysis of the capitalist state would benefit from a consideration of taxes. Jack Barbalet refers to the relevance of taxes, the state debt and finance capital for Marx’s theory of the capitalist state in his Marx’s Construction of Social Theory as does Ingo Stützle in Staatsverschuldung als Kategorie der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Eine Forschungsnotiz. However, I definitely do not have the theoretical background as yet (if ever) to discuss adequately the nature of the capitalist state and its relation to schooling.

Such work, as Hegel once pointed out, requires time, as a new theory or principle needs to be worked out in detail.

In any case, although it is true that, for a fully developed criticism of the capitalist state and schooling, it would be necessary to delve into and analyse the capitalist state and its relation to schooling, for the purposes of the essay, such a demand is absurd given the imposed limitations of the journal itself. 

“Moreover, the focus on class size (rather than, say, wages) suggests that teachers’ self-interest will inevitably align with children’s or public interest.”

This is absurd. I chose class size to illustrate—the limitations and inadequacy of collective bargaining in relation to the working conditions of teachers. Here is what I wrote:

‘In relation to teachers as employees, the purpose of a teacher’s work, just like the work of nurses and other public-sector workers, is not defined by those teachers. Teachers certainly can choose how they teach in many ways (pedagogy has come a long way), but there are many areas in their work that can be addressed only to a limited extent, if at all, at the level of collective bargaining. For example, the issue of class size can be and has been addressed at the level of collective bargaining. Can the results of collective bargaining over this issue adequately address the needs of increasingly diversified student populations?

It is useful to compare a fairly homogenous student population–the students in the Dewey School in Chicago between 1896 and 1904—with this situation. After three years of functioning, as an experimental school, the School had 125 students, with fifteen full-time staff and 16 assistants (the assistants’ hours varied from half an hour to three hours a day (Camp & Mayhew, 1936/1966). If we take the average number of hours of these assistants, based on the minimum and maximum number of hours they worked per day, they worked an average 1.75 hours per day (.5+3)/2=1.75). If we assume a work day of 5.25 hours per day, then roughly there were five full-time equivalent assistants per day. Consequently, there were 21 adults working with 125 students—an average of about six children per adult; class size was definitely limited. Has any collective agreement in Canada for public teachers come close to such a class size?

Rather than addressing the need to reduce class size to a level required to address adequately the needs of individual students, teachers are expected to differentiate instruction. Of course, trying to address the needs of 20 or 30 children or adolescents based on differentiated instruction increases the workload of teachers. If class size decreases to a limited extent due to collective bargaining, often enough, the workload increases in other areas in order to compensate for such a reduced class size.’

I compared the typical class size of teachers in public schools with the class size in the Dewey School, where the class size in relation to the number of adults was substantially lower. I pointed out that collective bargaining over class size has not been able to limit the class size to the extent found in the Dewey School. I imply that children’s learning needs require a relatively high adult-to-pupil ratio, but collective bargaining has never been able to address this issue adequately. That teachers are interested in class size and yet cannot address adequately that working condition within  the confines of collective bargaining provides an illustration of the limitations of collective bargaining.

By the way, the reviewer’s concept of “public interest” is pure abstraction—as if there were some independent public interest that can be identified independently of class relations.

“In this, the manuscript treats kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made.”

This is not only absurd, but it is insulting. How do I treat kids “more or less like the hops in the beer the author made?” Where do I do this? I guess it is treating “kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made” to imply that collective bargaining cannot address adequately a reduced class size—and that is one of the conditions that children require to learn adequately—not just “differentiated instruction.”

I did not bring the salaries or wages of teachers into the picture because I wanted to illustrate the limitations of collective bargaining. Teachers’ salaries are relatively high absolutely when compared to the salaries or wages of lower-level workers (I was earning, gross, around $85,000 a year), but what would have to at least be factored in is the number of hours that teachers actually work and not the number of hours they officially work. From my own experience, I know that teachers work much longer than the official number of hours. I used to get to school around 7:15 in the morning (classes started at 9:00). My lunch hour had students in the classroom while I ate. I often stayed until 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon and worked at home afterwards. The higher salaries reflect in part, the longer working day of teachers. Undoubtedly other factors may also partially explain the relatively higher salary of teachers , but the focus on salary would detract from the limitations of collective bargaining in relation to the working lives of teachers as teacher-employees.

“Or to put it slightly differently, one would not, I think, say that the police controlling all conditions of their work in the colonized communities of the poor is self-evidently good.  Teachers have often been among those advocating corporal punishment in schools and the removal of difficult children. Why does teachers’ control of their work equate with the greater good?”

Note how the reviewer now shifts to an isolationist or micro position in order to argue against worker control (including teacher control) of their work. My assumption was that in a socialist society worker control would extend across the public and private sectors; such a situation would prevent teachers from being used as mere means for purposes foreign to their own lives. Motivations for engaging in teaching would likely change, and advocacy for corporal punishment would likely diminish substantially. If the children in schools were adequately cared for, so-called “difficult children” would be diminished.

The reviewer tries to engage in moral superiority. Obviously, this reviewer claims to disagree with corporal punishment—in schools. What does the reviewer do in relation to the corporal punishment characterized by parents? S/he fails to mention this at all and the role courts have played in perpetuating the physical abuse of children (see my own personal experience in, for example, the following post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One) as well as the summary of some of the physical abuse experienced by my daughter by her mother in the second part under the same name–part two). S/he also fails to address the impact on the behaviour of adults towards children of a kind of society where there is a market for workers—and that includes teachers. S/he also fails to address the imposition of a modern curriculum at the elementary level that focuses on symbolic learning (reading and writing) at the expense of children’s active interest in the world around them (including social life). My reference to Dewey was hardly accidental; Dewey criticized severely the lack of consideration of the specificity of children and their existence as living beings in schools. The Dewey School was meant to address many of these inadequacies by focusing on the production and reproduction of the common needs of human beings from a geographical and historical angle—and the accompanying intellectual development that that entails.

As for the reference to the police–I hardly idealize the police (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

The reviewer’s implied concern for children may or may not be true, but to try to impose her/his own agenda without any real basis further weakens the objectivity of her/his own review.

If work were organized democratically, the work would also change. The concept of “difficult children” might well vanish.

Of course, under existing conditions, some teachers do advocate for corporal punishment and want to have difficult children removed from their class. And? The reviewer is trying to argue from a position where teachers lack control over their own working lives in general in conjunction with all other workers.

I hardly idealize the current social situation in the proposed article, nor do I idealize teachers. Quite to the contrary. In other articles that I have written, I have implied that teachers largely accept the curriculum as specified by departments of education and fail to criticize the content and structure of the curriculum (see some of my articles in the Publications and Writings link). Furthermore, having been the chair of the Equity and Social Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers Association, I tried to widen the issue to include the employer-employee relation as such (among other issues). I tried to generate discussion among the other chairs of Equity and Social Justice Committees, but the only response was an insult, where one chair called my views asinine since, according to him, I was claiming that teachers did not address social-justice issues in the classroom. Of course, I was trying to have the teachers redefine what was meant by social justice—a redefinition that would involve the wider issue of the kind of society in which we live and work. Other than that response, the chairs remained silent over what I wrote. I am well aware of the limitations of teachers’ points of view.

“One could answer this question in a number of ways; one way or another, it is a question that needs addressing.  If they had the freedom to do so, teachers, the author seems to suggest, would reject their role as part of the ideological state apparatus.  Why?”

Why would I want to address this issue in this article? Are there not many issues in the world that need to be addressed? I was not addressing the issue of “teachers” only since the freedom of control over our working lives is hardly limited to teachers, and the limitations of collective bargaining and the collective agreement are hardly limited to teacher unions.

“Similarly, the relationship of teachers’ workplace concerns to those of the working class as a whole.”

I was trying to address this issue indirectly by showing the inadequacy of collective bargaining in general. My reference to class-size and the inadequate way in which collective-bargaining addresses the issue points in this direction—but the reviewer, rather than recognizing this, accuses me of idealizing teachers. Such is the nature of reviewing and an underhanded way of rejecting articles that contradict the point of view of the reviewer,

“The author makes many points which seem to me valid: no doubt unions generally do not educate members and collective bargaining has its limits. I am not suggesting different conclusions in the essay. Rather, the stances the author takes need more development.”

My view is that, on the one hand, many of the the reviewer”s criticisms are invalid and, on the other, when her/his views are valid, s/he is asking for the impossible—to deal adequately with everything brought up would go far beyond the limits specified by the journal Critical Education. According to the journal: ‘Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.’

“On p. 14 the analysis of different pay scales was a bit confusing.”

Perhaps, but without further elaboration, it is impossible to determine why the reviewer believes that.

Conclusion

When a writer submits an article for possible publication, it is to be expected that revision will likely be necessary. There is, however, a difference between the need for revision and the requirement that the writer submit to the point of view and experiences of the reviewer.

I have had several articles published (see Publications and Writings section of this blog). I have had to revise each submission, and I have learned to accept this as a normal part of the publication of articles. However, I found the criticisms of the reviewers to go far beyond what the role of reviewers should be. As a consequence, I started this blog as a way of expressing my own point of view–without censorship.

Writing articles in peer-reviewed journals are inadequate for expressing issues of concern to the working class.

I will be posting, in the future, a final post concerning Reviewer C’s review of my submbitted article.

Academic Narrow-mindedness, or the Idealization of Collective Bargaining: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part One

It has been slightly more than three years since I started this blog. I thought it appropriate to begin a series of posts on what, partly, inspired me to start this blog. 

Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.

Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.

The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.”

Abstract

This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.

Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey

The decision to reject the article as is, as well as the first review are given below along with my comments on the first review. I put the reviewer’s evaluation in quotation marks:

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education, “A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and a fair contract”.
Our decision is to: Decline submission.

Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.

All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.

I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on this project.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca
——————————————————
Reviewer A:

“The author identifies his/her aim as using the  Nova Scotia teachers’ strike “in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context.” The author disputes the assumption that workers under capitalism can use collective bargaining (hereafter CB) to create human workplaces, using Jane McAlevey’s book with a new paradigm for collective bargaining as an example of why even reformed CB will not succeed in transcending what are  CB’s inherent limitations as a strategy for creating a humane workplace.

I think this submission could be a useful addition to research and thinking about the limitations of  CB in altering teachers’ work, however for it to be so it requires significant revision.

 • The Nova Scotia strike becomes lost in the paper’s analysis. If the author wants to retain this focus, the critique of McAlevey’s book should be applied to the Nova Scotia strike.”

This reviewer at least appears to capture my intent—although s/he subsequently fails to show such understanding. I do indeed aim at showing the limitations of collective bargaining even in the improved form of Jane McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining.

However, given this focus, the Nova Scotia strike and Brian Forbes’ implicit contrast of what “good collective bargaining” should be when compared to what transpired during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike (Brian Forbes’ implicit attitude is an example of what the typical trade-union leaders’ attitude is towards collective bargaining), serve as an exemplar of the implicit attitude of union representatives towards collective bargaining as a process and product (the collective agreement). In other words, I use the case of the NTSU and Brian Forbes’ implicit use of the run-of-the bill bargaining process (and the resulting run-of-the-mill collective agreement) as a representative of what is typical among union representatives in their practical dealings with workers, managers and employers: As John Dewey argued, in his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 436-437):

We arrive again at the conclusion that “induction” is a name for the complex of methods by which a given case is determined to be representative, a function that is expressed in its being a specimen or sample case.’ The problem of inductive inquiry, and the precautions that have to be observed in conducting it, all have to do with ascertaining that the given case is representative, or is a sample or specimen. There is no doubt that some cases, several or many, have to be examined in the course of inquiry: this is necessarily involved in the function of comparison-contrast within inquiry. But the validity of the inferred conclusion does not depend upon their number. On the contrary, the survey and operational comparison of several cases is strictiy instrumental to determination of what actually takes place in anyone case. The moment anyone case is determined to be such that it is an exemplary representative, the problem in hand is solved. It is customary to infer from examples and illustrations; from what Peirce calls diagrams or “icons.” That course has been frequently followed in the course of previous discussions. But it should be clear without argument that the entire value of such a mode of inference depends upon whether or not the case is genuinely exemplary and illustrative.

I used the NSTU [Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union] strike and Brian Forbes’ attitude towards an obvious breach in collective-bargaining protocol as an exemplar or representative  of the limitations of traditional collective bargaining.

I used Jane McAlevey’s book as an illustration (exemplar) of a changed collective-bargaining practice that, though it breaks new ground in some areas of collective bargaining, nonetheless shares many of the assumptions of the traditional collective-bargaining model. Ms. McAlevey persistently refers to the contract that she negotiated as a “good contract.”

In addition, when Ms. McAlevey presented her model in Toronto, I specifically pointed out that I had tried to expose the limitations of the collective-bargaining process by indicating what we had demanded and what we had obtained. Her response was that she did not know whether that was such a good idea. That is the point—her model, like the traditional collective-bargaining model, does not enable workers to see the limitations of the model. Ultimately, despite the innovations in her model, Ms. McAlevey idealizes collective bargaining in a modified form—her own model. The point is not to idealize it but to expose its inadequacies.

“• The language is often polemical in a way that undercuts the author’s credibility as a passionate and also objective analyst. Describing an action as “underhanded” isn’t useful or necessary. Present instead empirical evidence.  One way this can be done is to identify who besides the author understood the action as “underhanded”? Others present? Leaflets? This becomes the source of the description.”

The suggestion of providing further evidence is useful in order to bolster the argument. However, to claim that polemics undercuts credibility is an academic point of view. The audience to whom I aim are workers—not academics. What would be an “objective” analysis in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers?

“• Often the article is not clear in its focus. Is this a critique of the limitations of CB or of the limitations of trade unionism under capitalism?”

It is both; they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are tied together during this time. Some trade unions may not engage in the rhetoric of fair contracts and so forth, but where are they? Certainly in Canada the trade-union leaders idealize both the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement. See two previous posts that illustrate the rhetoric of fair contracts by the two largest unions in Canada (  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One  and ???     ). 

“If it’s the former, what would unions do to protect workers’ rights if they didn’t negotiate contracts in a capitalist society?  What might workers’ struggles look like?”

It is not a question of not negotiating contracts; it is a question of not idealizing such contracts and bullshitting workers by claiming that such contracts are somehow “fair” or that they somehow are “livable”–a typically apologist point of view of management and union alike.

“A provocative example of this is how teachers and school employees in West Virginia who do
not have the right to bargain collectively or the right to strike have closed down the schools in the entire state for a week, outside of the union’s control or leadership.”

This is beside the point. The strike was a wildcat strike; wildcat strikes have occurred in other contexts. Such strikes have not aimed at challenging the inadequacy of collective bargaining in principle but the inadequacy in particular circumstances. They may or may not challenge such inadequacy—but the point is to do just that.

In addition, did the West Virginia strike actually challenge the idealization of collective bargaining? It could have the potential to do so—but whether such potential was realized would require evidence that the potential was realized in practice.

Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it can be concluded that since collective bargaining is illegal in West Virginia, the strike did not challenge the principle of collective bargaining. It was an effort to achieve results without collective bargaining by going on an illegal strike. Workers have gone on illegal (wildcat) strikes before (even when collective bargaining is legal) without challenging the inadequacy of collective-bargaining in principle. Such strikes do indeed challenge the inadequacy of particular collective agreements (and the concomitant collective-bargaining process), but they often do not often do so explicitly and need not be a general criticism of the collective-bargaining process or a general criticism of collective agreements. That is what is needed now.

[For an analysis of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, see the post The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement).

“• I think the piece will be more focused without the author’s anecdotes about his/her work experiences as a teacher and union representative.”

In other words, forget about a worker’s own experiences “as a teacher” (that is to say, as a worker of a particular kind) “and union representative” (that is to say, as a radical union representative who questioned the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it and how to do it)). Linked to the claim that the polemical style lacks objectivity, the idea that a radical worker’s personal experiences should be excluded is meant to “academize” the writing—making it more conform to the typical form and content of academic writing.

Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to have any further writings published by means of formal academic journals?

“But if these are included, they should be more closely tied to analysis about the Nova Scotia strike.”

The Nova Scotia strike is an occasion for illustrating the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the inadequacy of present unions—and my experiences as a teacher (and as an employee) and as a radical union representative were also to be illustrative of this. The focus is hardly the Nova Scotia strike; the issues are much wider.

“• The author briefly discusses education, teachers’ work and CB. If this material is retained, it should make note of some of the considerable research on teachers’ work.”

Teachers are employees; the specificity of their work as teachers is irrelevant in relation to the issue of their existence as employees and their relationship to the typical process of collective bargaining and to the collective agreement (although the specific nature of their work may have an impact in other circumstances). To discuss that specificity would detract from the focus on the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the collective agreement.

“I suggest this manuscript be taken through a significant revision, moderating its language, supporting its claims with evidence,  to do what it states is its focus: A critical examination of the limits of CB in the strike in Nova Scotia.”

The academic contradicts her/himself. S/he accurately characterizes, initially, the manuscript as using the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike as a means of criticizing collective bargaining. Now, s/he claims that I claim that my focus is a critical examination of collective bargaining in the strike in Nova Scotia. They are not the same thing by any means. S/he aims to narrow my aim, but such narrowness is exactly what I am criticizing.

“The questions it is addressing seem to me  “What was needed to improve teachers’ working conditions?” “How did ideology about the role of unions in capitalism and within that, the importance of CB, affect the outcome?”  The latter question will involve application of Jane McAlevey’s book.”

Again, it is the reviewer who is confused—s/he at first accurately characterizes my intent in the article and then inaccurately characterizes it.

“If the author wants to discuss a framework for labor that transcends CB, I suggest looking at Stanley Aronowitz’s “The death and life of American labor: Toward a new workers’ movement.” Although it focuses on US labor its arguments seem quite relevant to the Canadian context. “The future of our schools,” by Lois Weiner might also be useful as it discusses the limitations of CB.”

I subsequently looked at Aronowitz’s book and included a reference to it in this blog (see The Educational Needs of the Labour Movement: A Radical Imagination). Aronowitz does provide an interesting point of view that is consistent with this blog. Thus, Aronowitz argues that we need to have a new labour movement with a social vision of the good life. However, my emphasis in the article that I sent was on the implicit inadequacy of the collective-bargaining model that Brian Forbes implicitly uses to criticize what happened during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike. A new social vision requires a break, at least in Canada, with the typical idealization of the collective-bargaining process and the idealization of the collective agreement.

Although there were a few useful suggestions in the above review, in general the reviewer failed to adequately capture how I carried out of my intent to expose the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Along with the comments of the other reviewers, I decided that it was a waste of time to attempt to have my views formally published in academic journals. Starting a blog would carry out more effectively my intent.

A future post will look, critically, at the second reviewer’s assessment.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Five: Middle-Class Delusions

This is a continuation of a critique of an academic leftist (aka academic historical materialist), the philosopher Jeff Noonan.


As noted in a previous post, Professor Noonan makes the following statement in relation to employees at a university (from Thinkings 4Collected Interventions, Readings, Evocations, 2014-2015, page 13):

Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true

Professor Noonan may respond that he wrote the above in hypothetical form–“if that claim is true”–rather than stating “That claim is true.” By not inquiring into whether the claim is in fact true, though, and proceeding on the basis as if it were true, he practically makes the claim that it is true.

Professor Noonan fails to consider the hierarchy at work as illegitimate; democracy for him, it seems, maintains a hierarchical division of labour; the difference is one where (page 13):

all the groups who together make up the university ought to cooperate (not without respectful disagreement) in the determination of the budgets, policies, rules, and goals that guide the institution’s mission. The best ideas emerge through deliberative and democratic argument—no one group knows best just because of the position they occupy in the hierarchy.

Given the employer-employee relation, Professor Noonan’s position is contradictory. If there is an unelected hierarchy, then how is their democratic argument? Does not an unelected hierarchy necessarily prevent democratic argument since democratic argument requires relative equality of power? In other words, Professor Noonan assumes a socialist organization in the first place, but in the context of an unelected hierarchy, which involves unequal power relations. Or does Professor Noonan consider that an unelected hierarchy does not involve unequal power relations?

Furthermore, given the unelected hierarchy, who will be at an advantage in “the determination of budgets, policies, rules, and goals that guide the institution’s mission?” Of course, academics and the upper echelons of administration. This situation is hardly democratic (although it is certainly to the advantage of tenured academics and the upper echelons of administration).

What is more, Professor Noonan’s implicit acceptance of the current structure of the division of labour hardly reflects a just society. as James Furner has argued, in order for there to be a free society, it is necessary to abolish occupational confinement and occupational identity (see https://www.academia.edu/24290808/Marxs_Sketch_of_Communist_Society_in_The_German_Ideology_and_the_Problems_of_Occupational_Confinement_and_Occupational_Identity ).

In addition, to claim that all workers at a university should have the same goal, where the economic relation of employer-employee is dominant, is to perceive the world from the upper echelons. Why should all workers at a university have the same goal when they are treated as things by the unelected hierarchy? Or are they not treated as things? How is it possible to not be treated as a thing when there exists an employer-employee relation? Perhaps Professor Noonan can explain how this is possible.

Finally, Professor Noonan advocates class collaboration, implicitly if not explicitly. His use of the verb “cooperate” indicates that he believes that all the diverse kinds of employees working at a university should get along in a collegial fashion in order to pursue the same goal. A Marxist, by contrast, would see that although workers have a certain interest in maintaining the university as an institution in the short-run because they need money in order to live, they are used as means for the benefit of the upper echelons’ purposes and are excluded in fact from doing so (see https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/). Calls for cooperation in such a context work against their own long-term interest of abolishing such a situation. Rather, calls for the intensification of conflict would be more appropriate since there is already an antagonistic relation between workers as employees and management at universities.

Professor Noonan’s position, is, therefore half-hearted. Rather than seeking the elimination of the power of employers as a class, he opts for the illusion of democracy in the public sector–as if that were possible given the dominance of the power of employers as a class in both the public and private sectors.

Such is the poverty of academic leftists, social democracy and reformist leftism these days.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Two: Collective Bargaining and the Interests of the Working Class

Professor Jeff Noonan, as contained in a reference to his work in a previous post( The Poverty of Academic Marxism, Part One), claimed that historical materialism must evolve. This seems to imply that his form of historical materialism, under present conditions, is superior to the historical materialism proposed by Marx.

Professor Noonan claims the following (from Thinkings 4Collected Interventions, Readings, Evocations, 2014-2015, page 8:

A glaring example of the dangers of striking occurred in February of 2012, when workers in London, Ontario were taught a brutal object lesson in the reality of global capitalism. Then Canadian Auto Workers on strike against the locomotive maker Electro-motive were given an impossible choice. The company (a subsidiary of Caterpillar) demanded that the union agree to cut their existing wages in half, or face the closure of the plant. Seeing that what was at stake was not just their plant, but the future of the union movement in the Ontario manufacturing sector, these workers heroically sacrificed themselves, went on strike, and watched their livelihood move to Muncie, Indiana. Had they not stood up to the brutish tactics of Electro-motive, every manufacturer in the country would have been encouraged to make the same demands. What boss wouldn’t want to cut her or his workers’ wages in half? While the jobs were lost, the massive public outcry against legalized extortion preserved the possibility of meaningful collective bargaining in other plants, at least for the time being.

What does “meaningful collective bargaining” mean for Professor Noonan? It is difficult to know since he does not explicitly provide an answer, but the following may what he means (page 12):

v) The University will cease collecting union dues from members and forwarding those dues to WUFA (Article 4:01 and 4:02).”

Now, on one level, these changes are not alarming, for they are changes that would occur in the case of a lockout. What is most disconcerting is that they were unexpectedly thrown into the room when it appeared that both sides were making progress by negotiating and not threatening. Both teams bargained past the lockout deadline and had scheduled meetings for the next day. The assumption amongst members– naïve, as it turned out– was that both sides had found common ground and were splitting the differences that get split for the sake of reaching an agreement with which everyone can live.

Meaningful bargaining is where the parties engage in negotiations in order to achieve a common ground “for the sake of reaching an agreement with which everyone can live.”

Now, in typical collective bargaining, any member of a negotiating team knows that all items on the table will not be achieved. There will be items that are considered more important. The relative strength of the parties to the negotiations in the particular conditions will affect what can be realistically be achieved in the short term (and this includes the possible resources used in lockouts and strikes).

But why refer to the idea of an “agreement with which everyone can live?” Does Mr. Noonan mean by that an attitude by workers that, given the balance of class forces, this is the best that can be achieved, but otherwise it is not something that “everyone can live with”–but have to do so for the time being? That is to say, that the collective agreement is something that does not express fairness but rather expresses the weakness of workers collectively until such time as they no longer need to negotiate agreements that entail their subordination to the power of employers (and managers as their representatives)? Do the various management rights clauses that have so far been posted on this blog express “an agreement with which everyone can live?” Or do they express the asymmetrical power relations between unionized workers and the class power of employers?

What would Professor Noonan say to a worker who works under the collective agreement at the university where he works (see Management Rights, Part Five: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario) if that worker did not find not only the particular collective agreement unfair but all collective agreements unfair since they presuppose the subordination of the will of workers to the power of an employer (and his or her representatives)?

There is a world of difference between understanding that a collective agreement may be the best that can be hoped for under existing conditions of class power and the view that a collective agreement is something that people can live with. In the first case, there is a smoldering presence of a feeling of unfairness, which can surface when conditions change. In the second case, there is a feeling of fairness, and workers who breach a collective agreement can legitimately be reprimanded. Professor Noonan’s failure to specify any difference between the two probably expresses his own working conditions, which are undoubtedly superior to most workers who are employees.

Imagine a situation where a group of thugs decide to set up a process of collective bargaining between themselves and people whom they have sexually abused. Representatives of the sexually abused engage in negotiations with representatives of the thugs. Under given circumstances, the thugs have much more power than those who are sexually abused. If they come to an agreement over the extent of sexual abuse (with both parties bargaining in good faith), would professor Noonan call the resulting agreement an agreement “with which everyone can agree with?”

Yes, workers are not sexually abused, but as employees they are used as things for purposes over which they lack control (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Why should anyone who is an employee feel that they can live with such an agreement except for the recognition that they have to do so, given the necessarily unequal power relations between them and the class of employers?

Despite Professor Noonan’s radical rhetoric, his hidden assumption is that working for an employer is not really all that bad. How else could he refer to an agreement “with which everyone can agree with?”

In the movie Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee is fighting against several people, and he runs into a chamber where the walls suddenly close on all sides. He cannot escape, realistically. He sits down and accepts the situation–not because it is fair but, presumably, because he lacks the power to oppose the situation. This is what the collective-bargaining process should express and not such social-reformist rhetoric as accepting a contract “with which everyone can agree.”

Professor Noonan reminds seems to forget–or perhaps he never learned–the lesson of Bob Dylan’s song, Like a Rolling Stone. In that song, Dylan sings the following:

You never turned around to see the frowns
on the jugglers and the clowns
when they all did tricks for you.

Although I can never be sure, the hidden resentment that people feel in the face of those in power is probably well expressed in the expression of a Guatemalan (perhaps a peasant) sitting on a roadside when the military was there. (See at around 2:30, Guatemala–Pete Sears) Guatemalan peasants had to live with the extreme oppression characteristic of Guatemala in the later 1970s and especially in the early 1980s, but they need not “learn to live with it.”

Professor Noonan may argue that he merely needed to qualify his reference to collective agreements “with which everyone can agree,” as I have done above, but since he failed to qualify such an assertion, it can be inferred that Professor Noonan does not really come to grips with the daily oppression and the daily grind that most workers face at his own workplace, let alone in the wider city of Windsor and, indeed, in the province of Ontario, in Canada and in the world.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part One

I had a short debate with the academic philosopher Jeff Noonan on his blog. I am pasting it here since there was no further reply to my criticisms on his post.

[Jeff’s reply] Hi Fred,
Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comments. Some brief replies:

[My initial reply]: Some of the above post is dead on, but there are some points that are debatable.

[Jeff’s initial post] “If another equally well-paying job could immediately replace the one they lost, then change would just be that: change, neither better nor worse. But as manufacturing jobs in old plants and industries disappear, they are not replaced with equally good manufacturing jobs in new industries that locate in historical working class communities. Workers suffer.”

[My initial reply] Undoubtedly workers suffer, but it would be more accurate to say that they suffer more. Relatively high-paying jobs do not mean that they do not suffer. Having worked at a brewery for around four years, where the wage was relatively high, I certainly suffered by being treated as a thing for the benefit of employers.

[Jeff’s reply] True enough, I did not intend to supply a complete critique of the problems of work under capitalism, but to speak to the immediate situation on the ground when well-paying jobs are lost.

[Jeff’s initial post] “Localised struggles, on the other hand, while they are demanded by the dignity of the affected workers, cannot succeed. So long as investment decisions are driven by calculations of profitability, and profitability depends on competitive forces, workers in older industries will eventually have to pay the price that creative destruction demands: unemployment and then re-employment in lower paying service industry work.”

[My initial reply] Localised struggles are part and parcel of global struggle.

[Jeff’s reply] Yes, true again: I should have said: isolated and reactive local struggles.
Where else do struggles take place except “locally.” The issue is how such local struggles are handled. If workers consciously link such struggles to a struggle against the class of employers and attempt to link with other workers across industries (and across the private/public divide), then they cannot succeed immediately but do have a better capacity to succeed globally and in the longer term.

[Jeff’s initial post] ” part of the problem with capitalism is that there really is not any one to blame.”

[My initial reply] True in an abstract sense since no particular individuals are responsible for structural conditions that exceed particular individuals. However, three points can be made against such a view. Employers, although they cannot be identified with the structural conditions of capitalism (eliminate all employers and workers themselves still may perform that role structurally) are the immediate set of persons who can be considered responsible agents for those structural conditions.

[Jeff’s reply] True, but changing them does not change anything: case in point: the obsession in the US liberal left today with the gnder and coloiur of the boss: it does not matter to their function as bosses).

[My initial reply] Then there are the direct and obvious ideologues and representatives of the interests of employers. There is also the social-reformist left, who categorically refuse to consider any changes to the present social structure except those that are consistent with the general structure.

[Jeff’s reply] I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

“Reducing that dependence means reducing the social and personal costs of plant closures and job losses.”

[My reply] This statement is consistent with social-reformist positions. See above.

When I was younger, unemployment insurance was 66% of wages and there was no issue of eligibility if you quit or were fired. We workers were less dependent economically on employers in general. That does not mean that we lived in a socialist society.

Admittedly, the context seems to be a socialist economy, but given the predominance of social-reformist thinking among the left these days, to prevent any misinterpretation, it would be necessary to make more explicit the distinction between reducing economic dependence as part and parcel of a larger project of eliminating capitalist relations and reducing economic dependence as the goal of the social-reformist left.

[Jeff’s initial post] “Sadly, imagination does not pay the bills. Hence the political paradox that bedevils all efforts to solve the underlying structural problems that manifest themselves as local tragedies. In order to survive, people are forced to think short term. Desperate times make some prey to the illusions spun by right-wing populists that their problems are due to political enemies or other (foreign) workers. In order to free themselves from the capricious destructiveness of capitalism, people must think long term about how to build new economic values and institutions rooted in and growing up from our shared fundamental needs. But then those needs call out, from the stomach and the head, and people have to shelve their imaginations and find another job.”

[My initial reply] From a political point of view, it is hardly accurate. The social-reformist left goes out of its way to focus on short-term goals, thus contributing to the need to focus on immediate bread-and-butter issues. The pairing of the Fight for $15 with the idea of fairness expresses such a limitation. It ideologically implies that working for an employer, with the changes corresponding to Bill 148, somehow constitutes a fair system. The social-reformist left constantly contributes to short-sightedness by becoming ideologues for the present system.

[Jeff’s reply] But calling for radical change in a political vacuum without any coherent organization will not mobilise anyone.

[My initial reply] But then again, I am a condescending prick according to Wayne Dealy, union rep for CUPE 3902. All the above should be discounted. Unions and union reps know best.

My response to Jeff’s intervention (to which Jeff did not reply. References like “Jeff’s reply” refer to his reply, to my initial reply and not to any further reply by Jeff to my intervention]:
Fred Harris on December 4, 2018 at 4:24 pm said:
[Jeff’s reply] “Yes, true again: I should have said: isolated and reactive local struggles.”
[My reply] This is related to further arguments provided below:

[Jeff’s reply] “I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.”

[My reply] ] I do not think that the reform/revolution divide is archaic. I see no point in even referring to revolution as a term–it puts workers off and is a distraction from real tasks. However, the idea of radical change as opposed to reformism is certainly relevant.

[Jeff’s reply] “think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems”

[Fred] My view is that there is no common agenda of structural change since most so-called leftists have simply thrown in the towel and, at a practical level, believe in the TINA syndrome. When, for example, the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” campaign was introduced, was there any discussion of the appropriateness of pairing the fight with the concept of fairness? How democratic was such discussion? The social-reformist left really do not want to discuss structural change but prefer to pat themselves on the back and think they are progressive and righteous.

Are there not conditions for structural change? Are the social-reformist left willing to take seriously the requirements for structural change? Why did OCAP, in arguing against basic income, point out that capitalism is characterized by economic coercion and then, in the same breath, ignore this fact throughout its pamphlet? Why did David Bush, an activist in Toronto, argue that the fight for $15 was fair and yet provided no argument for such fairness? Why did Jane McAlevey, in her most recent book, constantly refer to “a good contract?” On ideological and practical grounds, many who identify as the left act as if there was such a thing as fairness within capitalism.

If that is so, then are they really not an impediment to structural change? Do they not share some of the same assumptions as the right?

What should one do when an activist refers to “decent work” and “fair wages,” as Tracy McMaster did when calling out support for striking brewery workers? Not bring up the issue at all?

There is little discussion among the so-called left in Canada about such issues–and that is part of the problem.

So, I fail to see how the reform/structural change issue is irrelevant. If it were irrelevant, I would still be attending the Toronto Labour Committee, headed by Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray. However, the reaction of these and others within the committee when I called into question Tracy McMaster’s use of the concepts of “decent work” and “fair wages” reflected, as far as I can see, an attitude that does not reflect my experiences in this world and my attitude towards employers. They reacted as if it did not matter.

It certainly matters to me. How can any socialist not object to the use of such terms? And yet there is a decided lack of discussion about such terms and what they mean in the context of the power of a class of employers.

So, the social-reformist left not only have problems–they are one of the problems. They categorically refuse to take seriously the need for addressing the issue of structural change now, not as somehow immediately capable of being addressed, but at least of making the issue public and out in the open.

As John Dewey pointed out, a goal or aim in view, if it is a real goal, is used in the present as a means of organizing present activity in order to achieve the goal in the first place. A goal that is divorced from organizing the present is a fantasy.

Does the social-reformist left really organize its activities with the goal of “working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be)?”

I withdrew from the Toronto Labour Committee because it became clear to me that its members are too closely tied to unions and fear alienating them. Structures are somehow going to be created from within without calling into question from the beginning exploitative and oppressive social structures. And yet, just as change can only occur spatially initially at the local level, it can also only occur in the present and not in some distant future.

“but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twnetieth centiury ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.”

To be a meaningful political force in a structural sense at least requires an attempt to aim at addressing structural conditions of oppression and exploitation in the present and to transform them into something else. The first thing to be done is to recognize that it is necessary to stop justifying those very structures with such platitudes as “fairness” and so forth. The issue of fairness, etc. is hardly irrelevant, and yet the social-reformist left act as if it either does not matter, or that the issue has already been settled.

This romanticism of the concept of “revolution” sounds realistic, but for anyone who works for an employer and hates it, the issue is not about “revolution” but how to stop being treated as a thing. Does the social-reformist left really address this issue? Why did not the so-called social-reformist left criticize Pam Frache and others for pairing the Fight for $15 with “fairness”? I tried to at a meeting (chaired by Sean Smith), raised my hand maybe four times (I was going to ask that very question) and was never recognized by the chair.

The issue is not “revolution.” The issue is–not bullshitting workers with such rhetoric as “fairness.” It is to treat their suffering and their class hatred as real (if hidden) and to address their being subjects who are simultaneously treated as objects (who may not want to admit that fact to themselves but who experience degradation of themselves in various ways. What of Tim Horton’s workers not having the right to sit down on the job? Why not? What of the many, many other ways in which the daily oppression and exploitation of workers was simply ignored? All the focus on Bill 148 left the entire structural power of employers out of the discussion–by pairing that Bill with fairness? Or what of JFAAP and unions using the slogan “Fair Labour Laws Save Lives.”

And so forth.

Structural change is not on the agenda for most of the so-called left in Toronto–and structural change is revolutionary, even if the word is not used. The reformist left reject any real organization and practice in the present with the end-in-view of realizing structural change that results in a movement “that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be).”

The first requirement, as far as I can see, is to openly discuss what regular workers who work for employers experience (and not what union reps claim they experience) and why they experience it with the purpose of doing something about ending such experience. Openly discussing such issues itself requires struggle–for the social-reformist left does not engage in such discussion nor does it seem to want to do so. In fact, its attitude is that openly discussing such issues is a waste of time and is generally hostile to such open discussion. What is required is pure practice–out on the streets for whatever reason–or pure rhetoric, without really addressing the vast gap between such rhetoric and the daily experiences of regular working people. One of the reasons that the so-called left is no political force, as I maintained, is because it itself does not call into question its own assumptions.

As for the “revolutionary” left: again, the idea of revolution is unimportant, but the idea of structural change–is that not revolutionary? But structural change must address the conditions that impede structural change and overcome them. Is that not–revolutionary?

End of my response on Jeff’s blog]

Since Jeff did not bother responding to my second response, it can be assumed that he agrees with the social-reformist left. He would probably then have remained silent when Tracy McMaster referred to “decent work” and “fair wages” in relation to the goals of striking brewery workers and a call for support. He would remain silent when he read Jane McAlevey’s new book, No Shortcuts: Organizing Power in the New Gilded Age although he noted many times her reference to good contracts. He would have remained silent when the Fight for $15 in Ontario was paired with the concept of “Fairness.”

Perhaps he has the same attitude as Tim Heffernan, a member of the Toronto Labour Committee and a member of the political organization, Socialist Alternative. I quote from part of a debate I had with him as a member of the Toronto Labour Committee:

Fred raises some interesting points. However, I think he’s confusing social-democratic/reformist demands with transitional demands. There’s a difference which I can elaborate on if needed but the practical contrast between them can be seen in Seattle itself where I would argue that Rosenblum encapsulated an honest and militant social democratic approach while Kshama Sawant & Socialist Alternative (also militant and honest) pushed the movement to its limits by raising the demand for 15/taxing the rich to the need for a socialist transformation of society. But I will concede that there are some in the US left who label SA as reformist too.

Also, we need to look at the concrete not the abstract. The “15 movement” in North America has seen different manifestations and the slogans/demands put forward have varied in time and place. So in Seattle in 2013-14, it was “15 Now”, in other parts of the US it became “15 and a union” and in Ontario it was ” 15 & Fairness”. Fred objects to the term “fairness” presumably because of its association with the old trade union demand of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Engels dealt with this demand back in 1881 where he recognized the usefulness of it in the early stages of developing class consciousness of the British working class, in the first half of the 19th Century, but saw it as an impediment at the time he was writing.

To today and “15 and Fairness”. I think the addition of “fairness” to the straight “15” demand was an excellent move. Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more

If the above be bullshit, so be it. I like to think that Engels, were he alive today, would have his criticisms of the limitations of 15 & Fairness but would be overwhelmingly positive about what it has achieved so far.

Tim

To which I responded:

Hello all,

Tim’s justification for “fairness” is that it is–somehow–a transitional demand. Let him elaborate on how it is in any way a “transitional” demand. I believe that that is simply bullshit.

He further argues the following:

“Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more”

How does Tim draw such conclusions? It is a tautology (repetition of what is assumed to be true) to say that it is fair if “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), etc. is considered “fair.”

Why should these goals be tied to “fairness”? I had paid sick days at the brewery, I belonged to a union (there was, however, evident racism among some of the brewery workers and there was also a probationary six-month period before obtaining a full union-wage). Was that then a “fair” situation? I guess so–according to Tim’s logic. Why not then shut my mouth and not complain since I lived a “fair” life at the brewery? But, of course, I did not shut my mouth.

But does Tim believe that merely gaining “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), the right to a union, the fight against racism and discrimination and more” is fair? If he did, he would then presumably cease being a member of Socialist Alternative since he would have achieved his goals. However, he likely does not believe that it is fair. What he proposes, then, is to lie (bullshit) to workers by not revealing what he really believes as a “transitional” demand. He does not really believe that it is fair, but he believes that such rhetoric is a useful tool in developing a movement. Frankly, I believe that such a view is both dishonest and opportunistic. Workers deserve better–it is they who continue to be exploited despite “paid sick days,” etc. Receiving paid sick days is better than not receiving paid sick days, but all the demands obtained cannot constitute “fairness.” And yet workers who buy into the rhetoric (bullshit) of fairness may believe this fairy tale (it is, after all, a fairy tale presented by social democrats often enough, among others). Rather than enlightening the workers about their situation, such rhetoric serves to obscure it and to confuse workers–support for the Donald Trump’s of the world in the making.

Such low standards. Rather than calling into question the power of employers to direct their lives by control over the products of their own labour, it implicitly assumes the legitimacy of such power. Ask many of those who refer to the fight for $15 and Fairness–are they opposed in any way to the power of employers as a class? Not just verbally, but practically? Or do they believe that we need employers? That we need to have our work directed by them? That working for an employer is an inevitable part of daily life? That there is no alternative? That working for an employer is not really all that bad?

When working at the brewery, I took a course at the University of Calgary. The professor was interested in doing solidarity work for the Polish organization Solidarity at the time. I told him that I felt like I was being raped at the brewery. He looked at me with disgust–how could I equate being raped (sexually assaulted) with working for an employer? I find that radicals these days really do not seem to consider working for an employer to be all that bad. If they did, they probably would use the same logic as their opposition to sexual assault. Sexual assault in itself is bad, but there are, of course, different degrees of sexual assault. Those who sexually assault a person may do so more violently or less violently; in that sense, those who sexually assault a person less violently are “better” than those who are more violent. However, sexual assault is in itself bad, so any talk of “fairness” in sexually assaulting someone is absurd. Similarly, any talk of fairness in exploiting someone is absurd. But not for the “radical” left these days, it would seem.

Fred

Since Jeff chose not to indicate how he would respond to concrete developments within the labour movement, it is of course impossible to know whether he would simply accept Tim’s argument. On a practical level, the Toronto Labour Committee did.

Just one final point. Jeff identifies the splitting of reform and “revolution” with Lenin. Was Rosa Luxemburg then a Leninist?She wrote on the issue as well, criticizing the reformism of Eduard Bernstein, among others. So did Bebel and Parvus, etc.

By referring to Lenin, Jeff is in fact red-baiting. The typical red baiter tries to, implicitly or explicitly, link sweeping rejections of the radical left by linking them to Stalin and other dictators. Since Lenin and Stalin are linked historically (Stalin ultimately succeeded Lenin as leader of the Bolshevik party), then referring to Lenin without further ado is a red-baiting method of simply dismissing the opponent without providing any further argument.

I will leave Professor Noonan with his call for structural change since he, apparently, refuses to make any distinction between changes that challenge the structure of the system and those that do not. I predict that his view will not address the problems the working class face at this time. He, like Sam Gindin, speak of structural change–within the confines of capitalist relations of production and exchange–despite rhetoric to the contrary. The left, according to this view, is just one happy family that involves no internal conflicts and no divisions. It is, to paraphrase the German philosophy Hegel, a left where all cows are black (or, alternatively, all white).

In a later post, the issue of Professor Noonan’s position on collective bargaining will be addressed.