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

This is a continuation of a previous post.

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, the short version of the third review (there is a long version of the third review, but I will not post that–it would be tedious to reply to all of reviewer C’s comments) as well as  my comments on the third review.

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 C begins his comments as follows:

Reviewer C:

“Please see the uploaded document for my complete review of the manuscript. Review of manuscript: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract”

The manuscript has potential; however, it requires major rewriting. The present manuscript lacks a clear focus and coherence. The author implies that the focus of the paper is the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and Brian Forbes’ perspective about collective bargaining in relation to that struggle. However, there is very little content in the article that addresses the NS teachers’ struggle, the collective bargaining process, or the ‘collective agreement’ that was the outcome.”

The academic did not even understand the point of the article. I hardly implied “that the focus of the paper is the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and Brian Forbes’ perspective about collective bargaining in relation to that struggle.” The focus of the article is on Brian Forbes’ perspective on collective bargaining in general as illustrated by his implied view of the fairness of collective bargaining in the case of bargaining and the breach of that form of what he considers fair collective bargaining by the Nova Scotia government.

The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike was an occasion to critically analyze a general perspective on collective bargaining by a former head of the Nova Scotia teachers’ union. This perspective, in turn, is illustrative of many trade-union representatives in Canada, such as Tracy McMaster, president of Greater Toronto Area Council (GTAC), to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), who referred to “decent work” and “fair wages” as something realizable in an employment relationship.

To be fair to the reviewer, in his long review, he does at one point correctly identify the point of my article: I wrote, on page 23:

Free collective bargaining cannot remedy the basic problem of treating human beings as means or things for others’ purposes

He wrote:

This seems to be the central thesis. Why not present this early as the focus the paper?

Part of what I was trying to do was indeed to show that collective bargaining and collective agreements cannot remedy this situation. However, since trade union representatives often claim that a contract is fair (even if they do not explicitly state it), my purpose was to criticize this implicit assumption. As I said near the beginning of the article:

The purpose of this article, though, is not to review the articles in the journal. Rather, it is to point out and criticize the hidden standard that is uncritically assumed by most of the authors of articles in the journal.

The reviewer fails to consider the need to criticize explicitly such hidden standards:

Indeed, only a paragraph is quoted in the words of Brian Forbes and the quote does not say what the author says it does. Forbes states that negotiating a contract with the full participation of the negotiating teams of both parties, instead of through backroom deals, would be an approach more likely to result in an agreement that both sides could live with. He was speaking about the process of collective bargaining, but the author claims that Forbes is referring to the outcomes of the process—the contents of the agreement. There is no evidence that this is the case.

This too is inaccurate. I explicitly state that the purpose of the article:

The purpose of this summary, however, is to provide the background for a critique of the implicit assumption by Forbes (and many of the other authors of the spring/summer edition) that the typical model of collective bargaining and the corresponding collective agreements constitute something that is fair or just to the members of the contract.

Process (collective bargaining) and product (the collective agreement) are both seen as limited, with the inadequacies of the process being reflected or expressed in the inadequacies of the product.

But let us look at my quote of Brian Forbes, or rather both what I wrote before the quote, the quote itself, and what I wrote immediately after the quote.

What I wrote before the quote:

The first question to ask is: Who is Brian Forbes? The brief biography at the end of the article provides a summary: “… a retired teacher. He taught for 30 years in Amherst and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia before serving as President of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union from 2000 to 2004” (2017, 29). The second question to ask is: What standard or criterion does he use to criticize what happened in Nova Scotia? A quote in the Herald News (Gorman, 27 November 2015) indicates what that standard is:

My quote of Brian Forbes’ statement:

What we suggest would be a reasonable way out is that the union … would say to the government, ‘There’s a lot of opposition to what has been presented to the members and very well may not pass and we should go back to the table, engage in proper collective bargaining, give the process time to work, discuss the issues that you said you want to discuss and try to arrive at something that we can both live with,’” said Forbes’.

What I wrote after the above quote:

The implication is that bargaining should occur through the bargaining teams ([quote of Brian Forbes’ statement] ‘engage in proper collective bargaining’). Further evidence of what Forbes believes is a legitimate or fair collective bargaining process is his statement in an information release from the South Shore District School Board, dated April 28 2003, when Forbes was president of the NSTU:

NSTU President Brian Forbes said, ‘The negotiations were conducted in a very professional manner, the resulting agreement was achieved in a timely fashion and teachers are satisfied with the results. I believe this agreement will not only benefit the South Shore District School Board and its teachers but, most importantly, the students.”

Indeed, the reviewer is correct to point out that Mr. Forbes is referring to the process of collective bargaining:

 Forbes states that negotiating a contract with the full participation of the negotiating teams of both parties, instead of through backroom deals, would be an approach more likely to result in an agreement that both sides could live with.

Forbes, unlike the reviewer, is not only referring to the process, but is implying that the process of collective bargaining in general leads to results that are fair. How else could “both sides live with it?” If one of the sides does not believe the agreement is fair, why would they comply with the provisions (except due to a consciousness of being forced to comply with the collective agreement)? Forbes , when he was president of the NSTU, links “the professional nature of the collective bargaining process” to the agreement being realized “in a timely fashion” and to teachers being “satisfied with the results.” Process and product are united. If the process is tainted (as it was in the case of the McNeil government), then the product will be tainted as well. Mr. Forbes does not explicitly state this, but it can be inferred from what he wrote. Such a connection between “free collective bargaining” and “fair contracts” (product) is constantly made by trade union reps either implicitly or explicitly.

The reviewer continues:

The preamble masks the real focus of the article, which is (apparently) a critique of the industrial model of labour-management relations and, in particular, a critique of business unionism within that model. At certain points, the manuscript becomes a critique of capitalism.

I explicitly stated, in the second paragraph, the following:

The purpose of this article, though, is not to review the articles in the journal. Rather, it is to point out and criticize the hidden standard that is uncritically assumed by most of the authors of articles in the journal.

That hidden standard, as I attempt to show, is the legitimacy or fairness of both collective bargaining as process and product—which is a legitimization of capitalism and the power of employers as a class.

The critique is hardly just of “business unionism”–but of unionism as an ideology that the left and the labour movement never questions.

The reviewer continues:

The problem is not only lack of clarity about the central argument, but the way in which the manuscript rambles and sometimes goes off on tangents that seem unrelated to the argument. Concepts and theories are not clearly presented (e.g., McAlevey’s ideas) and that leaves the reader floundering while trying to identify and understand the author’s argument.

Since the reviewer’s critique both distorts the nature of article and fails to understand the argument, I will leave it up to the reader to determine whether “the manuscript rambles….”

The reviewer continues:

Some of the claims made in the manuscript are not well supported. For example, the author claims that union leaders represent the voice of employers, not the voice of union members.

I never implied that. Unions are often contradictory, with elements that oppose particular employers in diverse ways. However, they generally accept the power of employers as a class, and that acceptance is expressed in diverse manners.

The reviewer continues:

I think he means to say that if a union operates under a business unionism model, the union leaders’ perspective about the labour-management relationship is likely to be skewed in favour of management’s interests.

This way of putting it is itself likely to be interpreted in a skewed manner. “Management’s interests” is often tied to a particular interest (this particular employer and this particular management structure). Unions have to deal with this particular structure, but my focus is on management’s interests as class interests and their representation of the power of employers as a class—and the ideology that expresses such interests—such as the so-called legitimacy of collective agreements.

The reviewer continues:

If the argument is that the NSTU operates according to business unionism, then this should be stated and supported with evidence. Making a generalization to all unions is wild and unjustifiable.

Hardly. Various posts on this blog express the hostility of unions (whether “business unions” or “social unions”) to my views.

Another example is the author’s assumption that all workers belong to a single class—a Marxist argument that has criticized and long-since debunked. It presents an overly simplistic representation of modern day capitalism.

This view that all workers belong to a single class as having been debunked is written from a purely academic point of view, of course. What would this academic do when faced with workers in the private sector and in the public sector—if s/he aimed to oppose the power of employers as a class?

Initially, as Geofrrey Kay and James Mott imply in their work: Political Order and the Law of Labour, those who work for an employer can be considered as part of the working class since they are economically dependent on a wage. The elimination of certain wage workers from consideration of the working class organizationally can then proceed; for example, one of the major functions of the police is to protect private property in general and capitalist private property; organizationally, they oppress the working class and cannot be considered part of it. Another group are managers. Some have the objective or material function of coordinating work, but this coordination is overlaid by their function to exploit and oppress workers.

In the private sector, part of their work makes pulls them towards the working class and part towards the class of employers; some of their work contributes to the production of surplus value and part of it to the extraction of surplus value.  In the public sector, bureaucratic and financial pressures also function to have managers pressure workers to work more intensely. Organizationally and partially objectively, they are not part of the working class.

I recommend to the author that he focus his paper on problematizing the taken-for-granted assumptions about collective bargaining, especially in the public sector, and especially in an era when governments have decided to use their legislative power to legislate so-called ‘collective agreements.’

The point of the essay is to question the legitimacy of collective agreements even if the best-case scenario of respect for the process of collective bargaining and respect for its product, the collective agreement. To introduce the issue of back-to-work legislation would only cloud the main issue. The critique fails to understand the target of my criticism.

The reviewer continues:

If the argument is that the industrial model of labour-management relations does not (and possibly never did) work well for teachers and other workers, then focus on that.

Again, the argument is that no collective-bargaining process as such has definite limitations—limitations which the social-reformist left do not recognize or discuss. This academic’s own failure to understand the point of the essay illustrates this.

The NSTU case might be an example of the dysfunction of the arrangement but would not be the central focus of the manuscript. I recommend that the author read Tangled Hierarchies by Joseph Shedd and Samuel Bacharach to gain background information about the settlement between teachers and their employers that happened decades ago and what its implications are.

Any reference may be relevant. I will read this when I have the time. However, I will undoubtedly draw different conclusions than this academic if I do read it.

The reviewer continues:

Finally, if the present system of labour-management relations does not work, what does the author think should replace it? If the author believes that workers should have agency or control over their working lives, what would that look like?

To require this in an essay is absurd. One of the first things to do is to criticize the existing situation. What will replace this system is a related issue, but it can hardly be divorced from the definition of the problem. In other words, solutions are functions of problem definition.

The reviewer continues:

“What would be the pros and cons of such a model and for whom?”

What a stupid way of looking at the world—as if it were a question of listing the pros and cons and checking them off. For workers who work for an employer, being treated as a thing is the con; all other pros can hardly compensate for this treatment of human beings as things. Perhaps this academic would do well to consider whether her/his question would be appropriate in the context of the master/slave relation. Imagine if an academic asked the following question about slavery: “What are the pros and cons of such a model and for whom?”

As for what it would look like, I have specified that in posts what an alternative might look like (see for instance Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like) but such a discussion would require much more space than that allotted by the journal, as I indicate in a previous post.

I suspect that one of the ways in which academic reviewers limit the publications of those with whom they disagree is by this method: the author, they claim, should have included such and such—whereas journals generally impose strict limitations on the length of journals.

The author needs to take into consideration that the public sector involves many stakeholders, not just employers and employees.

Firstly, who are these “stakeholders?” The concept of “public sector” independently of the employer-employee relation has no meaning in a capitalist context.

Secondly, in her/his detailed comments, s/he mentions “social justice for children, social justice for taxpayers, social justice for society.” The author simply assumes that the status quo will continue to exist.

In a society without employers, the tax structure would be very different (if taxes would exist at all)–a subject for debate). In a society without employers, the school structure would be very different, with a far greater integration of physical and intellectual activities than exist at present—the abolition of the division of labour between physical and intellectual (and artistic and aesthetic) activities. In a society without employers, society would be very, very different.

“How do we achieve social justice in a complex system? And social justice for whom? Should the rights of workers trump the rights of others?”

That of course would be up for negotiations, but workers are the “front-line” class who face employers directly. Other groups, as Tony Smith implies (Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Approach) would definitely have their interests represented in a socialist society (which I have outlined in other posts), but the leverage for eliminating the class of employers and the social structures corresponding to their power must come from somewhere, and workers, being the front-line class which both positively faces the power of employers and negatively can oppose that power through their organization, are key. However, this is not the concern of this undoubtedly social-reformist leftist.

The reviewer continues: 

I recommend that the manuscript be rewritten and resubmitted for review. I have attached the manuscript with more detailed feedback.

Since I refused to rewrite according to the criticisms of these academics (undoubtedly some of the writing could have been improved—as can all writings), I decided to eliminate these “middle-(wo)men” and start my own blog. It is obvious that most so-called leftist academics lack a critical attitude towards the society in which we live. I naively expected more from a journal with the title Critical Education. What is meant by “critical” in the title is critical according to social-reformist criteria.

I should have been wiser; when attending university, when the professor was sympathetic to my views, I generally obtained better grades; when they opposed my views, I received worse grades. I also had my experience as a Marxist father to go by (see for example A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One).

Although workers’ experiences are hardly the last word, they should also form an essential part or any “Critical Education”–but the reviewers of my article obviously consider their academic backgrounds to be superior to anything workers’ experience on a daily basis at work–even in unionized settings subject to collective bargaining and collective agreements.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy In The Constitution

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

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

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

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

She makes the following claim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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