Socialism, What It May Look Like: The Series

I have written a number of posts as series rather than just one long post. This is due to a number of reasons. To work out a view requires elaboration and time, and posting as a series permits such elaboration over a longer period of time. Also, I have many interests (which correspond in part to my own experiences as an oppressed and exploited worker, oppressed father and so forth).

However, I thought it may be useful to some readers to string series that I may not expand further into one long post in order to present more content on the same theme. I will not edit the series to make it more like one long essay; readers can pick and choose the posts that interest them.

I will probably do this with various other series on this blog.

Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like

“My wife asked me what other kind of society could we live than the one we are living now. I suspect that most people have the same kind of question. It is difficult to imagine another kind of life than the life that we have experienced all our lives.

There are, of course, no magic answers. The answers will be experimental, with some failures and some successes, and not in ideal circumstances, of course.

However, some ideas can still be provided about some possible ways of living that provide an alternative vision–a vision so obviously lacking among the so-called left these days.

Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), provides a description of some aspects of a possible future kind of society. He borrows his model largely from David Schweichart’s model of economic democracy in After Capitalism (2002) (which I have not read). He adds three modifications of his own.

I will cut and paste short pieces from this work. He paints various aspects of a socialist society that need to be incorporated into a socialist society. There are undoubtedly other aspects, and his own account may have to be modified.

I will not pursue the topic week after week after week until the topic is exhausted since there are other topics which I consider relevant–above all a critique of the power of the class of employers, but also a critique of the social-reformist left and the so-called radical left that do not question the power of employers as a class.

From Smith’s book, page 303:

The model Schweickart defends has the following essential elements:

(i) Production and distribution are primarily undertaken within worker
collectives. Workers are not hired as wage-labourers by capital; they instead
join worker collectives as fellow members. There is a basic right to employment,
with state enterprises providing jobs for those unable to find positions in
collectives.

This condition is to initiate a reduction in economic coercion as an essential move towards an increase in economic and individual freedom.

There is, of course, a possible problem of increased inefficiency, but Smith addresses this issue in further democratic socialist measures.

 Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From  Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(ii) Managers of worker collectives are democratically accountable to those
over whom they exercise authority, either through direct elections or through
appointment by a workers’ council that is itself directly elected. These
enterprises are required to have representatives from a range of social
movements (environmental groups, consumer groups, feminist groups, and
so on) on their boards of directors, accountable to those movements.

What do you think of such proposals? How do they relate to democracy? To the lack of democracy in your life? Do you think that such proposals are worth fighting for?

Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Michael Perelman contrasts what many people experience in their lives: their own contrast between an activity which they enjoy doing and their experience working for an employer, which they often enough find to be draining.

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

Just What Is Work?

To understand the potential for transforming the economy, consider a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, upstanding citizens of the United States would never subject themselves to the life of a farm worker for poverty wages.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During the time they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Gardeners are producing for themselves rather than for someone else who will benefit from their work.

As the psychologist John Neulinger says: “Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to.”43 We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers pass virtually unnoticed. In our society, farm work is never “respectable” work; well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farm workers.

Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand. …

As suggested earlier, the key to the Procrustean trap is not the threat of physical force but rather the inability to imagine anything outside of the constrained present circumstances. The willingness to take seriously Margaret Thatcher’s preposterous claim—“There is no alternative”—perfectly sums up this state of mind.

A writer for Bloomberg.com reminisced about Thatcher’s Procrustean destructive success:

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.
Stick to the plan long enough and the people who are good at making money acquire huge sums and, along with them, power. In time, they become the culture’s dominant voice. And they love you for it.46

Thatcher’s scheme actually worked. Her acolytes were so convinced that the mere utterance of Thatcher’s acronym TINA seemed sufficient to cut off any debate with skeptics.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left in Toronto certainly has reinforced the TINA principle. The so-called radical left, by keeping silent out of fear of becoming isolated, themselves becomes part of the social-democratic left. They, like the social-reformist left, provide no real alternative vision to the oppressive and exploitative nature of work characteristic of the power of employers as a class.

In fact, through their silence and their lack of criticism, they contribute to the perpetuation of class rule. They are, practically, social reformists who will never go beyond the existing class system despite their rhetoric of class struggle and struggle from below.

Socialism, Part Four: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(iii) Worker collectives produce public goods, inputs into the production process, or final consumption goods. Funds for the first are directly allocated to collectives by the relevant planning agencies (see below). The latter two categories of products are offered for sale in producer and consumer markets. In Schweickart’s view, attempts to centrally plan all inputs and outputs in a top-down fashion are simply not feasible, at least not in a complex and dynamic economy. But it does not follow that capitalist market societies are the only acceptable forms of economic organisation. It is possible to imagine a feasible and normatively attractive society combining markets with the socialisation of the means of production, that is, a society making use of producer and consumer markets after abolishing both capital markets and
labour markets.

In addition to the elimination of a market for workers and management of work enterprises being accountable to work councils and community councils, capital markets in the sense of an investment process owned by a minority would no longer exist. There would, nonetheless, be markets that produced means of production and markets that produced consumption goods. For example, at the brewery where I worked, the workers who produced the soaker or the filler that the brewery workers used would be subject to competition from other workers who produce soakers or fillers. Workers in the brewery would be subject to competition from workers in other breweries.

Unfortunately, Smith does not elaborate much on what he means by the abolition of capital markets. His reference to David Schweickart’s work Against Capitalism, however, gives a clue to what he means. Schweikart has the following to say (page 172):

First, we issue a decree abolishing all enterprise obligations to pay interest or stock dividends to private individuals or private institutions.

This decree will need no enforcement, since enterprises are not going to insist on paying what they are no longer legally obligated to pay.

But Schweickart sees a flaw in the abolition of all capital markets, at least immediately (page 173):

6.3.2 Once More, This Time with Feeling (for the Stockholders)

Too Simple? Of course. The above is not meant to be a realistic scenario. Above all, it fails to take into account the fact that millions of ordinary citizens (not only capitalists) have resources tied up in the financial markets. People with savings accounts or holdings in stocks and bonds have been counting on their dividend and interest checks. (Nearly half of all American households have direct or indirect holdings in the stock market, mostly in pension plans.) Eliminating all dividend and interest income-which is what Radical Quick does-will not strike these fellow citizens as a welcome reform. Let us run through our story again, this time complicating it to take into account their legitimate concerns.

Schweickart, realistically, recognizes that workers have investments in capital markets and hence are in some ways tied to such markets. His solution is to imagine a situation where at least the key corporations, due to the circumstances of a crisis, would be subject to elimination from capital markets (pages 173-174):

Let me first set the stage a little more fully than I did with Radical Quick. Let us suppose that a genuine counterproject to capitalism has developed, and that, gradually gaining in strength, it has been able to elect a leftist government that has put most of the reforms outlined earlier in this chapter on the table and has secured the passage of some of them. Suppose investors decide they’ve had enough and begin cashing in their stock holdings. A stock-market crash ensues. In reaction, the citizenry decide that they too have had enough-and give their leftist government an even stronger mandate to take full responsibility for an economy now tumbling into crisis.

Our new government declares a bank holiday, pending reorganization (as Roosevelt did following his election in 1932). All publicly traded corporations are declared to be worker-controlled. Note: This control extends only to corporations, not to small businesses or even to privately held capitalist firms. It is decided that it will be sufficient  to redefine property rights only in those firms for which ownership has already been largely separated from management. (With the “commanding heights” of the economy now democratized, most other firms can be expected to come under increased pressure from their own workers, over time, to follow suit.)

The exact way in which capital markets would be reduced and eventually abolished would vary across time and place, depending on circumstances.

As I have emphasized throughout this blog, though, it is much less likely that workers will be receptive to a call for the elimination of capital markets and markets for workers unless they find the situation to be unfair. The ideology of the social-reformist left consistently makes reference to fairness within the limits of the employer-employee relation. We need to break with such ideology if we are to initiate such a process without having to respond erratically when a crisis hits.

Or are there alternatives? What do you think?

Socialism, Part Five: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the right of use by workers of the places, machinery and so forth where they work, but with the local community being the owner of local resources (and regional and national communities being the owners of regional and national enterprises of regional or national scope). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 304:

(iv) Workers in enterprises are granted use rights to facilities and other
means of production. But ultimate ownership rights remain with the local
community. Workers cannot use their enterprise as a cash cow and then walk
away; they have a legal duty to maintain the value of the community’s
investments. If sufficient depreciation funds cannot be appropriated from
revenues to maintain the value of these investments, it is the responsibility
of community banks to shut down an enterprise. Once depreciated funds
have been deducted, the remainder of the revenues from public allocations
or sales in consumer/producer markets (apart from the taxes to be considered
below) are then distributed among the members of the collective according
to formulae set by the democratically accountable management

Since the workers are the trustees of the workplaces and not their owners, each year, the workers in the sector that produces either consumer goods for the market or the raw material, machines and so forth required to produce both themselves and consumer goods, have to set aside a certain amount of the proceeds from sales to purchase worn out means of production. The workers must also include in that depreciation fund a fund for repairs.

Workers have a responsibility to the present community and to future communities to maintain the general conditions for the continued livelihood of the community. This means that any cooperative that fails to maintain the value of the means of production must be closed down, and workers in such cooperatives must find work in another, more viable cooperative.

The sales revenue will be distributed generally into three parts: (1) the depreciation fund, (2) a tax on capital assets (which will be explained in another post), and a residual of what is called profits, to be distributed to the members of the cooperative as their personal income according to distribution rules created by themselves. (There also may be income tax and consumption tax, but I will not address that).


Socialism, Part Six: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment and the supply of public goods. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 304-305:



(v) The origin of funds for new investment and public goods is a flat tax
on the non-labour assets of all enterprises.16 In Schweickart’s proposal, the
rate of this tax is initially set by a democratically elected legislature, operating
on the national level. This legislature also decides on the appropriate division
of revenues between funding for national public goods and funds that are
allocated to democratically elected regional and local legislative bodies. Each
of these assemblies, in turn, must also decide upon the level of funding for
public goods to be supplied in the relevant geographical area vis-à-vis the
level of funds set aside for distribution to the level below it. These legislative
bodies can also set aside a percentage of funds for investment in areas of
pressing social needs.


(vi) After all decisions have been made regarding the general level of new
investment and the order of social priorities, and after funds required for
public goods on the national, regional, and local levels have been allocated, the remaining revenues are distributed to local communities on a per capita
basis (at least this should be the presumption in the absence of compelling
reasons to do otherwise, such as the need to temporarily favour historically
disadvantaged regions). Community banks would then undertake the actual
allocation of new investment funds to worker collectives. The boards of
directors of these banks would include representatives of a broad range of
social groups affected by the banks’ decisions. New enterprises would be
formed, and existing ones expanded, through allocations by community banks
rather than private capital markets.


The capital-assets tax assumes that the workers have right of use of most of the means of production of our lives (there may be some room for independent businesses, but they do not form the bulk of economic activity). If they do, then instead of new investment being derived from the private decisions of boards of directors of corporations, it is derived from a democratically-elected national legislature which sets the rate of the capital-assets tax.

There are two general aspects to the tax (like any tax): the flow from a source to the government and the flow of the tax to institutions. The source is the capital assets used by democratic worker cooperatives. It is a flat-rate tax based on the value of the means of production that is applied to capital assets used by workers.

The flow of the revenue generated by the tax to people only arises after deductions from revenue required for investment in projects at the national level. Once this has been deducted, then the revenue is distributed to the regional communities on a perc capita (per person) basis; the regional democratic bodies which in turn allocate investment funds for investment in projects at the regional level. The remainder is then allocated to the local community via public banks, likewise on a per capita (per person) basis.

This principle of distribution of the revenue generated from the capital-assets tax on a per capita basis means that, in areas where there is a concentration of means of production relative to the number of people who live in the area, the outflow of taxes paid will be relatively greater than the inflow of revenue from taxes when compared to areas where the concentration of means of production is relatively smaller.

The capital-assets tax is to replace interest and dividend payments. As noted in the previous post on this topic, since many workers in the more industrialized capitalist countries have at least some investments in the stock market or hold bonds, GICs, and so forth and, furthermore, pension funds are generally linked to investment, a policy that at one sweep sought to abolish interest and dividend payments may well be opposed by the working class, initially. Consequently, some form of transitional program may be necessary, one where interest and dividend payments are gradually phased out, or one where compensation for nationalization occurs. In any case, the ultimate goal is to abolish interest and dividend payments and replace them with a flat capital-assets tax.

Socialism, Part Seven: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the criteria to be used in the distribution of the flat-rate capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment (and which was outlined in the last post on this topic). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 305:

(vii) When allocating investment funds for new worker collectives and the
expansion of existing ones, community banks must take three main questions
into account. Is there likely to be sufficient demand for the output of the given
enterprise for it to maintain the value of the community’s investment and
provide adequate income for its members? Will the investment provide stable
employment? And is the investment consistent with the set of social priorities
democratically affirmed on the national, regional and local levels? Extensive
external financial and social audits can be regularly imposed on all enterprises
and community banks to assess their performances in terms of these criteria.
These independent social audits are a crucial component of the socialist version
of the principle of transparency, institutionalising a level of accountability
and transparency far beyond the limited neoliberal version of the principle.17
Community banks can then be ranked on the basis of the results of these
audits. The level of income of the staff of a particular bank, and the amount
of funds allocated to this bank for distribution in the future, are determined
by the bank’s place in this ranking.

The distribution of investment funds to existing and new worker collectives through community banks would be controlled by taking into account:

  1. Whether the level of demand would likely be sufficient to not only maintain the value of the means of production (machinery, buildings and so forth) but to ensure a reasonable income for the working members of the cooperative.
  2. Whether the investment would result in unemployment of the members, or would there be sufficient work for all members (without jeopardizing efficiency, presumably).
  3. Whether the investment would result in effects that contribute to the realization of plans democratically decided on at the local, regional and national levels.

To ensure that these criteria for lending to worker cooperatives via public banks were satisfied, social audits could be carried out systematically and transparently. Since the revenue of workers in public banks would be a function of their success in extending loans based on the three criteria (and subject to social audits), workers in public banks would be motivated to more likely extend loans to worker cooperatives that were most likely to meet these three criteria.

Socialism, Part Eight: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

This is a continuation of earlier posts on the subject of the nature of socialism–a society that aims at the abolition of the power of employers as a class and the initial appropriation of the necessary requirements for us to control our lives as a collectivity and as individuals.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on some kinds of relations that may emerge between a nation that is socialist and other nations (whether socialist or not). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 305-306:

(viii) In Schweickart’s model, there are no markets for capital assets, and
so there will be no capital flight in the form of cross-border investments in
capital assets. There will also be little foreign direct investment, since worker
collectives are unlikely to outsource their own jobs, and community banks
are assessed according to the extent they create employment in their own
communities. But there will still be trade across borders. For a period of time,
this may include trade with regions that have not institutionalised a version of economic democracy. In such circumstances, regions committed to socialist
globalisation should follow the principle of fair trade rather than ‘free’ trade.
To ensure that this occurs, Schweickart calls for a ‘social tariff’.18 If oppressive
labour practices hold down wage levels in a given region, the prices of imports
from that region will be raised to what they would have been had worker
income been comparable to the level prevailing in the importing country. A
social tariff will also be imposed to compensate for a lack of adequate spending
on the environment, worker health and safety, or social welfare in the exporting
nation. The revenues collected by this tariff will then be distributed to the
groups in the exporting country with the best record of effectively implementing
anti-poverty programmes, whether or not they are agencies of the government

There will little if any flow of capital investment beyond the borders of the socialist nation (hence little or no capital flight); workers are unlikely to invest abroad rather than locally since this would result in loss of employment. Furthermore, community banks would prevent such investment through its enforcement of the criteria of employment creation (see previous post).

It is possible that trade between socialist and non-socialist nations would still occur. In trade between a socialist nation and a capitalist nation, the socialist nation would create a social tariff, imposing it to prevent unfair competition on the basis of capitalist ways of producing wealth (such as reduced wages or lack of health and safety measures).

This social tariff, rather than being used for the benefit of the socialist workers and community members, would flow back to workers in the non-socialist world as an expression of solidarity with them via agencies or organizations of the exporting non-capitalist country that have proven to be effective enforcers of anti-poverty measures in the non-capitalist country.

Smith adds three other measures that have an international focus: (1) the creation of international monetary clearing units, which would serve as world money that would function, among other things, to ensure that excessive trade imbalances would not arise, especially for the more vulnerable parts of the world economy; (2) a global representative assembly that would legislate and oversee issues between nations in a much more democratic manner than the current United Nations model; and, finally, (3) a democratically accountable international planning agency that would ensure equitable investment funding for the provision of international public goods, distributed according to the number of people (per capita), with provisions for exceptions on the basis of past historical biases of economic development.

All these measures refer to what has come to be known as “market socialism.” Such a system, if democratically organized, would likely not only be more efficient than a capitalist economy but definitely superior in terms of ethics. However, before addressing that issue in further posts, I will, in a future post, consider whether the idea of market socialism is an adequate model for a future society without capitalism, or whether it leaves out of consideration some essential aspects that need to be considered if we are to resolve our social problems on this planet.

Socialism, Part Nine: An Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part One

The class formal principle of employers–that workers receive from society what they contribute (contradicted at a practical level through systematic exploitation of workers necessarily in a capitalist context–that is why it is a formal principle that contradicts reality–see  for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One) would be realized in a socialist society on average since exploitation of one class by another would be eliminated. However, the principle of relating individual life to labour is still a bourgeois or capitalist principle that needs to targeted because it still reduces human beings to merely one criterion–labour. From  Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, pages 86-87 of Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 24):

Hence, equal right here is still in principle bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange only exists on the average and not in the individual case.

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly encumbered by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour. But one man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies more labour in the same time, or can work for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal  abour. It recognises no class distinctions, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognises the unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity of the workers as natural privileges. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right by its nature can exist only as the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable by an equal standard only insofar as they are made subject to an equal criterion, are taken from a certain side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Besides, one worker is married, another not; one has more children than another, etc., etc. Thus, given an equal amount of work done, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, etc. To avoid all these defects, right would have to be unequal rather than equal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birthpangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development which this determines.

Neither Tony Smith nor Schweickart, both advocates of market socialism, refer to this. For Schweickart at least, any elimination of the market economy will lead to various negative effects, such as authoritarian conditions. Sam Gindin, similarly, does not take into consideration the inadequacy of markets as an expression of human freedom.

This model so far is a market-socialist model. Rather than conceiving it as a definitive model of how future society will work, however, we should consider it as a transition society that may last for longer than Marx thought but, nonetheless, is itself inadequate.

This inadequacy can be seen in the omission by Smith and Schweickart of any consideration of the need to transform the division of labour. In Schweickart’s book, for example, there is no discussion at all of the division of labour. If we are to live in a full life, though, we need to reduce or eliminate the gap between labour that is predominantly physical and labour that is predominantly intellectual.

Another aspect over which both Smith and Schweickart are silent is the implication for human beings if prices are to continue to exist. Schweickart does not directly address the question, but his assumption that prices will always exist fails to address the problem of the continued valuation of objects ultimately in terms of labour. Marx’s theory of exploitation is not just a critique of exploitation but a critique of the form of exploitation–through the mediation of relations between objects instead of a conscious connection with other human beings. Human beings, via ultimately money, are related to each other via objectified labour measured externally as money.

Market socialism may well be needed for some time, but it is inadequate as a form of society for human beings. At first, it is necessary to create a society where the reality of labour time being the measure of human wealth corresponds to the principle of determination by labour time: what workers contribute to society and what they receive from it do not differ quantitatively (workers are not exploited).

However, the principle of the life process is still based on one principle–labour and its measure, time. The human life process, however, is much more than this process, and the need for human beings will be to surpass this principle and to break the link between contribution and the flow of goods and services based on that contribution.

Now, let us listen to a person who claims to aim at realistic socialism–Sam Gindin, head of the Toronto Labour Committee (and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor). Mr. Gindin implies that, due to what he calls scarcity, we will always need a market form of socialism:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin, it is clear, identifies the need to make choices of “labour time and resources” with scarcity. There is an identity between the need to make choices in the realm of labour and the continued existence of scarcity. 

The counterpart of this is the implicit denial of the need to make choices in “leisure,” which is identified with the “realm of freedom.” Mr. Gindin, of course, fails to justify this identity and fails as well to explore the nature of “leisure.” 

Mr. Gindin follows neoclassical economics (which justifies capitalism in various ways) by arguing that “scarcity” in the abstract (eternally or forever, without qualification) characterizes human life. Consider the following quotation from a typical textbook on neoclassical (or capitalist) economics (Steven A. Greenlaw, Timothy Taylor, Principles of Microeconomics, page 8:

Economics is the study of how humans make decisions in the face of scarcity. These can be individual decisions, family decisions, business decisions or societal decisions. If you look around carefully, you will see that scarcity is a fact of life. Scarcity means that human wants for goods, services and resources exceed what is available. Resources, such as labor, tools, land, and raw materials are necessary to produce the goods and services we want but they exist in limited supply. Of course, the ultimate scarce resource is time- everyone, rich or poor, has just 24 hours in the day to try to acquire the goods they want. At any point in time, there is only a finite amount of resources available.

People live in a world of scarcity: that is, they can’t have all the time, money, possessions, and experiences they wish.

Mr. Gindin argues, then, that scarcity arises objectively when there are alternative possibilities that exist for the use of resources and labour time. Choices must be made, and the choices necessarily involve the realization of some projects and the exclusion of others. We can never have our cake and eat it simultaneously.

This idea seems valid, and yet it is really superficial. Mr. Gindin practically wants to ridicule those who believe that work can be itself a realm of freedom–despite the need to make choices and despite the need to engage in the production of food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and so forth. To be realistic for Mr. Gindin is to believe in the necessity of drudgery throughout human history. What else does he mean when he writes “And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of incentives becomes paramount.”

Mr. Gindin’s implicit assumption is that all incentives are external or instrumental in nature. There is, for this social democrat, no such thing as an intrinsic incentive (or motivation). Such an assumption needs to be questioned.

Rather than addressing the issue of scarcity (pure necessity for Mr. Gindin) directly, let us look at the so-called opposite realm of leisure (pure freedom for Mr. Gindin).

He claims that leisure is somehow the “realm of freedom.” What leisure is that? Leisure is a concept that is purely non-instrumental, it would seem, for Mr. Gindin. All leisure.

As an aside: Mr. Gindin borrows his concepts from current experiences and then generalizes them throughout history. Thus, leisure in the current context of work life characterized by the power of employers using people as things for their own ends is often a compensation for the drudgery of such daily life. Such an uncritical use of the concept of leisure will be addressed in another post.

Thus, Mr. Gindin separates completely labour and leisure. Leisure is purely non-instrumental, and labour can be to a certain extent enjoyable but, ultimately, is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature. Since leisure is identified with the “realm of freedom” and non-instrumentality, and labour is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature, scarcity must arise by necessity since workers by their very nature would prefer leisure (freedom) over work (necessity and instrumentality). To engage in work, workers must be externally motivated to do so (since their default mode is to prefer leisure (pure freedom) over work (pure necessity).

Mr. Gindin’s assumption concerning the so-called identity of leisure with the realm of freedom and a lack of instrumentality is questionable. Many so-called leisure activities have an instrumental aspect to them. For example, I “leisurely” drove my daughter, Francesca, to the Royal Tyrrell Museum summer camp in Alberta some time ago, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (about a distance of 1,300 kilometers). It took a “leisurely” time of around 18 hours (stopping along the way for lunch and supper). For me, the activity was stressful though enjoyable (when compared to working for an employer) since Francesca was with me. The leisure activity of driving, though, was instrumental since it was a means to the end of developing my daughter’s capacities–that was the real end.

I had a choice to make in whether I was going to ask Francesca whether she wanted to go to the camp at all and, given that choice, what means I would use to achieve that goal. 

It cannot be said that the act of driving the car was secondary to the end of developing her capacities in a certain direction since she could not do so without attending the camp. The act of driving the car, though instrumental, was an essential condition for achieving that end (of course, it was not the only means by which to achieve that end–taking a plane, bus or train were possible alternatives). Furthermore, the end of developing Francesca’s capacities motivated me to drive for long periods of time in the first place, so the end itself formed an instrumental aspect of my activity of driving the car–it formed an ideal or motivating aspect of the physical aspect of driving the car.

My drive to Drumheller was thus instrumental for Francesca, my daughter, despite being a leisure activity. I had to make choices, of course. I could have taken a bus with her. We could have flown. The goal of the trip, for me, though constrained by certain means, was non-instrumental as an ultimately intrinsic end and yet was instrumental, ideally, in guiding my own activity in the present (driving the car towards Drumheller, Alberta, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located). I had an internal incentive or intrinsic incentive.

Of course, human life is finite, but who would deny that? However, Mr. Gindin draws false conclusions from that fact not only in relation to leisure but also to “education” and “art.” These issues will be dealt with in another post or posts.

Mr. Gindin’s assumption, then, that leisure is the pure realm of freedom is simple nonsense. Mr. Gindin’s hidden assumption of the mutual exclusion of instrumentality and intrinsic ends–that they are separate–remains an unproven assumption.

But some may say that this is an example from the realm of leisure (which does not exclude the realm of necessity despite Mr. Gindin’s implicit assertion to the contrary). What of the realm of work? Does it need external incentives because alternatives arise and choices must be made?

In a follow-up post, I will shift to Mr. Gindin’s opposite view concerning work. Since leisure is supposedly the pure realm of freedom that lacks instrumentality, work, according to Mr. Gindin, if in any way instrumental (which it must be for Mr. Gindin), involves a lack of freedom, which is expressed in the concept of scarcity and thus requires external or extrinsic motivation. Just as leisure is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, so too the realm of work is supposed to be always tainted by the realm of necessity. 

This issue has to do with the two main divisions of labour: academic or intellectual and practical (or manual or physical). I referred briefly to such a division when I provided a critique of such a division in schools and the school curriculum (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three). 

(As an aside: Mr. Gindin probably follows his colleague, Leo Panitch (they wrote a book together), in rejecting (without understanding) Marx’s so-called labour theory of value (really a theory of commodities and capital). (I attended Mr. Panitch’s class on globalization in the winter of 2014. Mr. Panitch explicitly stated that he considered Marx to have taken a wrong turn in Capital, especially Marx’s use of some of the dialectic of the German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, who, among other things, argued for the need to reconcile opposite relations, such as freedom and necessity)


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s view that leisure is the pure realm of freedom. (Sam Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor)). In this post, I will criticize his view that work, being a world of necessity, requires external incentives.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s superficial imagination leads him to apply the current poverty of work relations, implicitly, as the standard for determining the so-called “realm of necessity.” Like leisure, which is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, he separates freedom and necessity at work.

Consider my work at the brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When I worked at the brewery, we were obliged to work to produce not only beer, but beer for the market, and not only for the market but for the ultimate goal of more profit. We were things to be used by the employer (see https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/).

The riveting of material production to the goal of profit as the ultimate goal prevents workers who produce beer from reorganizing their lives both inside and outside the brewery in such a way that they can integrate their working lives with other aspects of the process of producing beer. For example, at the brewery in Calgary, there was a chemist who probably, among other things, tested the quality and properties of the beer being produced (being “only a bottling worker,” I really did not understand what the chemist did when I worked at the brewery).

Mr. Gindin tips his hand by referring to “scarcity” as somehow requiring incentives. He fails to explore what is meant by “incentives,” but implicitly assumes that all incentives are external and cannot be internal to the process which produces beer–a mechanical materialist point of view.

Under a socialist way of life, initially, workers would produce beer for others via the market. Even at this stage, here is no reason why workers could not begin to integrate a study of chemistry with the production of beer. The same could be said of the mechanics, physics and mathematics of beer production. For example, the filler–a machine for the filling of beer bottles rotated in a circular motion, with spouts attached to the machine. The velocity of rotation, the speed of the incoming bottles and so forth could be calculated and adjusted to attain certain specific rates of output and qualities of beer production (rather than being externally specified by managers as the representatives of employers).

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, pointed out somewhere that there is no such thing as a purely biological human experience, a purely mathematical human experience, a purely physical human experience and so forth. Human experience is all those aspects and more. The apparently most mundane human act or experience contains a rich variety of potentially worthwhile pursuits that can be analyzed and pursued in ever greater depth and breadth. The production of beer can be integrated into the study of chemistry, physics, mechanics, biology, mathematics, history, geography and other sciences. Despite beer production being instrumental for the production of beer as a consumer good, it could be the point of departure for the infinite expansion of the capacities of workers who produce beer–with the only limit being their own capacities for the pursuit of such sciences and the finite period of time in which they live on this planet before dying. Workers could thus freely expand their intellectual and physical horizons even when they produce beer.

Mr. Gindin’s superficial separation of freedom and necessity at work, like his superficial separation of freedom and necessity during leisure hours (as pointed out in the previous post), leads him to false conclusions concerning the nature of work in a socialist society. This should not surprise anyone.

Mr. Gindin’s false conclusions concerning the nature of the relationship of freedom and necessity under socialism go beyond the issue of leisure and work. He claims the following in relation to education and art, among other areas of human life:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

In another post, I will show that Mr. Gindin’s reference to “more and richer education” can integrate–contrary to Mr. Gindin’s mechancial separation of the two–both elements of necessity and freedom. I may also address in a future post his claim that the demand for the expansion of art somehow involves the separation of necessity and freedom.


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.

Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Four: Art

This is the conclusion of a series of previous posts on the subject.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s claim that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union. See Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. However, just as Mr. Gindin does not criticize the particular form of education in modern society, he does not consider the limitations of the particular form of art in modern society. He writes the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of … the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Mr. Gindin seems to consider the “expansion of art and cultural spaces” in purely quantitative terms. The existing “art and cultural spaces” are supposed to be “expanded” rather than qualitatively transformed. Given the specific class nature of modern society dominated by a class of employers and the general class nature of human history after the agricultural revolution, the view that art and culture needs mere expansion rather than qualitative transformation reflects an impoverished view of the nature of socialist society. If socialist society is characterized by the abolition of classes, and classes involve exploitation and oppression, then the nature and development of art and culture should accordingly change qualitatively.

The issue can be approached from different angles. One issue is the question of the form of art (something which Mr. Gindin does not even adddress). John Dewey’s philosophy of art can aid us in understanding the limitations of Mr. Gindin’s characterization of “scarcity” and art in a socialist society.
Dewey points out that the form of modern art is isolated from common human experience. It is this isolated form itself that prevents a proper understanding of the nature of art as a refined development of common-sense human experience. From John Dewey (1934), Art as Experience , pages 3-4:

BY ONE of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience.

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications., The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish.

If one is willing to grant this position, even if only by way of temporary experiment, he will see that there follows a conclusion at first sight surprising. In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic. We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour. For theory is concerned with understanding, insight, not without exclamations of admiration, and stimulation of that emotional out burst often called appreciation. It is quite possible to enjoy flowers in their colored form and delicate fragrance without knowing any thing about plants theoretically. But if one sets out to understand the flowering of plants, he is committed to finding out something about the interactions of soil, air, water and sunlight that condition the growth of plants.

The isolation of art from ordinary human experience distorts an understanding of the nature of art. Such a distortion is like a mirror, in which we only see the reflection offered to us and not the background material (and social) conditions for the mirror to function as a mirror. From Thomas Nail (2020), Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism, page 149-150:

A mirror is something that reflects almost all the light that it receives within a certain limited frame. A mirror, however, also actively changes the light it receives and limits the range of light returned based on the limits of its frame. The danger of the mirror, as the myth of Narcissus reminds us, is mistaking the mirror for nothing other than the image it reflects. The mirror is thus a tricky kind of object because it so easily conceals its own quality, use- value, or sensuous materiality: the frame, the tain (silver backing), as well as the agency of light itself. Narcissus dies because he mistakes the sensuous agency of nature (water, light, air) as nothing other than himself.

The isolation of art in a socialist society from the rest of human experience would proceed to break down as the power of the class of employers was superseded and as the objectified power of workers is abolished and the human life process comes under the workers’ and the diverse communities’ control.

Mr. Gindin simply ignores any qualitative transformation of art and culture and refers to the (quantitative) expansion of arts and culture–as if the integration of the domain of art with other domains of life would not in itself involve “an expansion of art and culture.” Mr. Gindin fails to see that the modern art form itself expresses oppressive conditions, where art is relegated to an isolated activity by a relative minority. He succumbs to the ideology of the mirror, seeing only the reflected form of the alienated art form as a permanent form that merely requires–“mechanical” elements rather than organic elements that grow from the common source of human daily life experience.

Art in modern capitalist society would undergo a qualitative change–it would be freed of the exploitative and oppressive conditions that give rise to it as something separate and divorced from everyday living and working. From Piotr Hoffmann (1982), The Anatomy of Idealism: Passivity and Activity in Kant, Hegel and Marx, page 98:

In effect, since human labor is guided by conception and imagination, the Marxian “architect” from Capital is always capable of embodying in the material an original vision of things; he can tear the veil of banality and commonplace which stifles the potential of our sensibility. Needless to say, according to Marx this aesthetic potential of human senses must be stifled and repressed under the prevailing conditions of commodity production and of alienation of labor in general. 54 But it is the same conditions – the increasing sophistication of the labor-process – which both create the new potential of human senses and needs and repress its emerging claims and requirements. Indeed the whole process of labor, such as we know it in its past and present form, has that double, paradoxical function: at the same time that it creates those new and higher qualities of human life it also represses them by creating a mode of human intercourse which prevents their realization. “Certainly, labor obtains its measure from outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But [ …] this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity [ …] the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realization, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labor. ” It is in

Grundrisse, not in

Pans Manuscripts, that Marx writes these words. His intention couldn’t be clearer: labor is not only a response to need and dependency upon external objects, but a truly creative and (as Marx put it) “liberating” process through which man gives a higher form to his life-activity, a form where his senses, needs and tastes become refined and stripped of their crude utilitarian functions.

In societies before the emergence of capitalism, art was not as divorced from daily life as it is now. Art forms were closely related to utility and daily living, with art expressing more, initially, an assumed magical function related to survival than some sort of separate form expressing emotion and aesthetic refinement. From Arnold Hauser (1951), The Social History of Art, Volume 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, page 3:

When the Palaeolithic artist painted an animal on the rock, he produced a real animal. For him the world of fiction and pictures, the sphere of art and mere imitation, was not yet a special province of its own, different and separate from empirical reality; he did not as yet confront the two different spheres, but saw in one the direct, undifferentiated continuation of the other. He will have had the same attitude to art as Lévy- Bruhl’s Sioux Red Indian, who said of a research worker whom he saw preparing sketches: ‘I know that this man has put many of our bisons into his book. I was there when he did it, and since then we have had no bisons.’ The conception of this sphere of art as a direct continuation of ordinary reality never disappears completely despite the later predominance of a conception of art as something opposed to reality.

Later on, emotional expression and aesthetic concerns emerged with the development of agriculture. Here art and aesthetics (the appreciation of art from the side of consumption) now became somewhat divorced from daily life–with the emergence of class society. Religious rite took the place of magic. However, even then the degree of separation of art from daily life characteristic of modern capitalist society, with art appearing to be a separate realm from the realm of human life and its self-reproduction, was much less. In feudal society, for example, production and consumption were not as separated since they were still closely linked to daily life and utility. Page 93:

‘Urban economy’ in the sense of Buecher’s theory of economic stages signifies, in contrast to the earlier production for own use, a production for the customer, that is, of goods that are not consumed in, the economic unit in which they are produced. It is distinguished from the following stage of ‘national economy’ in that exchange of goods still takes the ‘direct’ form—i.e. the goods go direct from the producing to the consuming unit, production as a rule not being for stock or the free market, but to the direct order of definite customers personally acquainted with the producer. We are thus at the first stage of the separation of production from consumption, but still far removed from the completely abstract method of modern production by which goods have to pass through a whole series of hands before they reach the consumer. This difference of principle between the medieval ‘town economy’ and the modern ‘national economy’ still remains, even when we pass from Buecher’s ‘ideal type’ of town economy to the actual historical facts; for although pure production to order never existed by itself, the relationship between the tradesman and consumer in the Middle Ages was far closer than nowadays; the producer was not yet faced with a completely unknown and indefinite market as he was later. These characteristics of the ‘urban’ way of production showed themselves in medieval art in a greater independence of the artist, on the one hand, as compared with the artist of Romanesque times, but, on the other hand, in a complete absence of that modern phenomenon, the unappreciated artist working in a total vacuum of estrangement from the public and remoteness from actuality.

The abolition of classes in a socialist society, undoubtedly, would revolutionize the relation between art and daily life–just as the agricultural revolution and the emergence of class societies also revolutionized the relation between art and daily life. The abolition of classes would mean that even in work relations there would be the possibility of expressing ourselves without exploitation and oppression preventing us from doing so. The relation between freedom and necessity would change accordingly. There would be a qualitative change in the nature of art as it became integrated into the daily lives of individuals–but this time on a higher, more refined plane than earlier.

Mr. Gindin, though, just sees “an expansion of art”–undoubtedly in purely quantitative terms. He has an impoverished view of the nature of a socialist society and the relation between freedom and necessity in a socialist society.

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bombardier, 2018, One of the Largest Private Employers in Quebec and in Toronto, Ontario: Or: How Unionized Jobs are Not Decent or Good

Introduction

In two others posts I presented a list of some of the largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada)  and Quebec (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees). 

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers in various companies for these two areas, including  Air Canada  (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada) and the Royal Bank of Canada (Banque Royale du Canada)  (The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada). 

Bombardier, the aircraft manufacturer, is also on both lists for Toronto and Quebec. I will calculate the rate of exploitation for this capitalist company not only for this reason. In the documentary Company Town, one worke Jennifer Akkermanr, who was going to lose her job at the General Motors (GM) plant in Oshawa when it was to close on December 18, 2019) indicated that she liked her job when working for GM but that she was going to work for Bombardier. I calculated, using fairly rough data, the rate of exploitation of GM workers in order to show that workers who claim that they enjoy their jobs at GM, in effect (even if they are unconscious of it) are claiming that they enjoy their exploitative jobs at GM. 

I thought it appropriate to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers to see to what extent the rates of exploitation of workers at GM and at Bombardier differed, if at all. 

I used data from 2018 rather than 2019 to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers because, in 2019, there seemed to be no calculable rate of exploitation since in 2019 there was an actual profit loss. Unless there are specific reasons for including abnormal years, it is better to calculate the rate of exploitation using more normal data. Besides, any company that operates at a constant loss by failing to exploit workers will cease to exist after a certain period of time.

Of course, if the rate of exploitation is calculated for a number of years, then losses need to be included. I have not found any books or articles that deal with how to handle such losses in calculating the rate of exploitation for such a year. It is, in any case, probably better to include such years in a multi-year calculation of the rate of exploitation in order to gain a more accurate view of the rate of exploitation in the medium- and long-term. Perhaps some readers can provide suggestions on how to do so. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “”fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One and  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for this rhetoric of the largest unions in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and  Unifor) , “fair wages” and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in workers’ lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? Do the left? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in this Agreement

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

Comparison of the Rate of Exploitation of Bombardier Workers to the Rate of Exploitation of Other Workers

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. From the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). Higher rates of exploitation mean, among other things, that the need to work for a certain relative proportion of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers in order to produce the value of the workers’ consumer goods (means of consumption). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of
Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, 177-19  page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold. 

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

In the case of Bombardier, I have had some difficulty in reconciling numbers related to interest. I will show this below. 

But first, let us look at the general calculation: 

Surplus Value (Profit)

EBIT: Earnings before interest and taxes (or: Profitability: Revenues-Costs or Expenses) 
Revenues$ 16,236
Cost of sales 13,958
Gross margin 2,278 [16,236-13,958]
SG&A (Selling, General and Administrative Expenses) 1,156
R&D (Research and Development) 217
Share of income of joint ventures and associates (66)
Other expense (income)  (58)
EBIT before Special Items (Earnings before Interest and taxes) (2) 1,029 [2,278-1156-217+66+58=1029]
Special items 28
EBIT 1001 (1029-28=1001) 

Non-adjustment of EBT by Excluding Special Items from the Calculation

Clarification of the nature of the category “Special Items” in the Annual Report is as follows: 

Special items

Special items comprise items which do not reflect our core performance or where their separate presentation will assist users in understanding our results for the period. Such items include, among others, the impact of restructuring charges and significant impairment charges and reversals.

There exists several items in this category. To go over each item and decide whether it should be excluded or included (without further information) seems an exercise for those with accounting skills–I invite them to provide a rational for including any or all of the items; I exclude the category in its entirety from the calculation. 

Consequently, so far the EBIT is 1,001. Now, particular employers treat the need to pay interest as an expense–which it is from the point of view of the particular employer. Accordingly, there is an additional category: EBT, or Earnings Before Taxes: 

EBT (Earnings before taxes)
Interest
Financing expense 712
Financing income (106) [This is actual income received and hence is in parentheses since it is not really an expense but the opposite and must be subtracted from “Financing expense”.)
Net financing expense 606 (712-106=606)
EBT (Earnings before taxes) (EBIT (1001)-Net financing expense (606)) 395

Adjustments

I will treat, theoretically, the two categories “Financing expense” and “Financing income” separately, and only then will I make the necessary adjustements. 

Financing Expense

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest). When they are expenses at the macro level of the class of employers and not just at the micro level of the particular employer, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

For example, interest is such a category. 

As I wrote in another post: 

As explained in another post, interest in many instances can be treated as part of the surplus value produced and therefore added to net income since, although from the point of view of the individual capitalist it is an expense, from the capitalist economy as a whole it is derived from the production of surplus value. 

Accordingly, it is EBIT and not EBT that should form the basis for determining the surplus value produced since interest is derived from surplus value–although it is an expense from the point of view of the particular employer. 

Financing Income 

The category “Financing Income” is income that is a result of, among other things, investment in securities. Since, as I explained in the post on the rate of exploitation of General Motors workers,

Since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded.

Accordingly, the amount included in this category does indeed need to be subtracted from EBIT since it is surplus value arising from the exploitation of workers other than Bombardier workers. 

Temporary Adjusted Earnings Before Income Taxes 895 (1001-106)

Further adjustments of EBIT must await the calculation of variable capital, or the total cost of producing the commodity labour power, or the capacity of labour power.

Variable Capital

Presumably, the following data form part of the category “Cost of Sales.” 

EMPLOYEE BENEFIT COSTS
Wages, salaries and other employee benefits $ 4,919 
Retirement benefits 464 
Share-based expense 74
Restructuring, severance and other involuntary termination costs 46 
Total $ 5,503

To explain the nature of the category “Share-based expenses.” it is first necessary to indicate the word form of the acronyms PSU, RSU and DSU:

PSU Performance share unit
RSU Restricted share unit
DSU Deferred share unit

The annual report indicates the nature of these: 

SHARE-BASED PLANS

PSU, DSU and RSU plans
The Board of Directors of the Corporation approved a PSU and a RSU plan under which PSUs and RSUs may be granted to executives and other designated employees. The PSUs and the RSUs give recipients the right, upon vesting, to receive a certain number of the Corporation’s Class B Shares (subordinate voting). The RSUs also give certain recipients the right to receive a cash payment equal to the value of the RSUs. The Board of Directors of the Corporation has also approved a DSU plan under which DSUs may be granted to senior officers. The DSU plan is similar to the PSU plan, except that their exercise can only occur upon retirement or termination of employment. 

It seems clear that the money allocated to the category is limited to select employees–unlike some annual reports, where it was unclear whether regular workers had access to share-based programs or not (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). The reasoning for including some (if not all) of it as part of surplus value is that this compensation is not mainly for the coordination of the work of others but for the exploitation of others–it is pure surplus value. 

If it was unclear whether the category was limited to those who exploit other workers, I merely calculated 10 percent of the total as forming surplus value, leaving 90 percent to form part of variable capital. In the case of Bombardier, though, the total amount of 74 million seems to be earmarked exclusively for key employees who exploit other workers. 

Accordingly, it is necessary to subtract 74 from “Employee benefit costs” and add it to EBIT: 

Adjusted EBIT or Surplus Value (Profit) 969 (895+74)
Temporarily Adjusted Employee benefit costs (variable capital, v) 5,429 (5,503-74)

Further Adjustment of Variable Capital (Wages and Benefits)

There is a list of items in the category “Other expense (income).” One of the items needs to be shifted to be included in the calculation of variable capital:

“Severance and other involuntary termination costs (including changes in estimates)” 3.

Since the shift is within the general category of “Expenses,” it does not affect the calculation of surplus value and hence profit; the category “Cost of sales” would increase by 3, from 13,958 to 13,961, and the category “Other expense (income)  (58)” would decrease by 3, from (58) to 55, with the result that the EBIT would not change. 

However, it does affect the calculation of variable capital and hence the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation. We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value.

Final Calculation (Based on Adjustments) of Surplus Value, Variable Capital (Salaries or Wages and Benefits) and the Rate of Surplus Value 

The result of all of these adjustments is: 

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier
In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

I have used the lengths of the working day as 8, 8.67, 9, 10, 10.67 and 12  because the length of the working day varies. According to different sources:

Working hours are 8:00am – 4:40pm

12hr shifts

The hours that I worked were from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Friday Saturday & Sunday and possibly coming in 2 hours early on Saturday & Sunday and or possibly staying late Friday thru Sunday depending whether or not we had a customer who had to leave early or late in the evening.

8-9 hours per day.

8 to 10 hours a day

I worked eight hours a day

The 2019-2022 collective agreement between Bombardier and Unifor Local 62 states:

ARTICLE 14 WORK SCHEDULES

14.01 The Employer determines the use of the different work schedules provided in article 14.08 according to the operational needs.

14.02 Unless otherwise stipulated in this Agreement, the normal work week is forty (40) hours.

14.03 The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-A and 1-B) is of forty (40) hours distributed on five (5) consecutive days of eight (8) hours from Monday to Friday

The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-C and D) is of forty (40) hours distributed over four (4) consecutive days of ten (10) hours from Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday

… 

14.05 The work week for employees on the third (3rd) shift (schedule 3) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on four (4) consecutive nights of nine (9) hours from Monday night to Friday morning, paid as forty (40) hours.

… 

14.06 The work week for employees on the weekend day shift (schedule 4-A et 4-B) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive days of twelve (12) hours, as follows: Saturday, Sunday and Friday Saturday, Sunday and Monday, paid for forty-two (42) hours.

… 

14.07 The work week for employees on the weekend night shift (schedule 5) if of thirty-two (32) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive evenings as follows: twelve (12) hours on Saturday and Sunday, and eight (8) hours on Friday [32 hours divided by 3=10.67 hours or 10 hours 40 minutes]. The employees are paid for forty (40) hours including the night premium.

Political Considerations and Conclusion 

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in this Agreement

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

The collective agreement fosters the illusion that the workers are paid for the whole working day. Workers may indeed receive more wages under certain circumstances, but that means that the cost of production of their capacity for working for an employer increases (perhaps due to an accelerated use of their labour power). This consideration, however, is irrelevant here since the total wages, salaries and benefits is what matters, and any increase in v due to such considerations are included in the data.

Comparison of Rates of Exploitation 

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. Higher rates of exploitation mean that the need to work for a certain length of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers from the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold.

From Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts, “The Long Roots of the Present Crisis: Keynesians, Austerians, and Marx’s Law,” in World in Crisis: A Global Analysis of Marx’s Law of Profitability. Edited by Carchedit and Roberts: 

The question is whether an increase in the rate of profit due to a sufficiently high rate of exploitation is a step toward recovery.

A recovery presupposes the rise in the new value generated within the context of a rising ARP [average rate of profit]. A pro-capital distribution of value within the context of a falling ARP can revive the ARP, but this does not denote a recovery. This higher profitability hides the decreasing production of value and surplus value—that is, it hides the deterioration of the economy.

A more detailed way to approach this is is by considering the two basic sectors of the economy. Sector 1 produces means of production [Bombardier primarily belongs to this sector since it produces jets] , and sector 2 produces means of consumption [GM primarly produces in this sector–although a smaller proporition of vehicle production undoubtedly serves as means of production as well]. If one or both sectors innovate, usually the OCC rises and the ARP falls. All sectors realize tendentially the same, but lower, rate of profit. The capitalists might react to the lower ARP by lowering the level of wages, that is, by increasing the rate of exploitation across the board. This upsets the initial tendential equalization of the profit rates. But this equalization presupposes full realization [full sale of the commodities produced], which is impossible if stopping or reversing the fall in the ARP is to be achieved by raising the rate of exploitation.

Suppose wages are reduced by the same percentage, Δ symbol for a change in something], both in sector 1 and in sector 2, represented by the equation –Δv1 = –Δv2 [the percentage change decrease in variable capital is the same in both sectors 1 and 2]. Then, sector 1 gains Δs1 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δs1 [sic–which means that the quoter quotes exactly as written despite a possible error in the original: this should be the negative percentage change in v1]) [the percentage change increase in surplus value in sector 1 . Sector 2 on the one hand gains Δs2 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δv2) but on the other loses –(Δs1 + Δs2), the loss due to the unsold means of consumption to the workers both of sector 1 and of sector 2 [sector 2 loses because the levels of v1 and v2 have decreased with the result that they cannot purchase means of consumption equal to their loss]. On balance, sector 2 loses –Δs1, which is sector 1’s gain. Means of consumption for a value of Δs1 are unsold. This is overproduction in sector 2.

The ARP is unchanged (what is lost by one sector is gained by the other), but the two rates of profit differ: that in sector 1 has risen by Δs1, while that in sector 2 has fallen by the same quantity. The greater the fall in wages, the greater the fall of profitability in sector 2. This spells crisis in sector 2. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises. But this is not a sign of recovery in that sector. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises not because more value and surplus value is produced in it, but because surplus value is appropriated from sector 2 within the context of a hidden fall in the ARP. Wage cuts can, at most, postpone the crisis.

(I have some doubts about the theoretical accuracy of the above quote. The assumption of equal percentage increases in s and equal percentage decreases in v seems to assume a 100 percent rate of exploitation; if, however, the rate of exploitation is, say, 400 percent, s:v=4:1, so if s is 100, v is 25. If s increases in percentage terms by 25% to 125, a decrease in percentage terms of v by 25 percent is 6.25 (25 percent of 25 is 6.25). I will leave the issue to those who are better equipped in mathematics to determine its accuracy. Perhaps others can enlighten us by providing critical commentary.)

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

Conclusion

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 


The Rate of Exploitation of General Motors Workers

I thought it would be politically relevant to try to estimate the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers for 2019 (since annual reports starting in 2020 would distort the picture because of the pandemic). I say politically relevant because of the closure of the GM Oshawa plant on December 18, 2019 and the subsequent making of the document Company Town, which dealt with the coming closure, the attitude of Jerry Dias, president of Unifor (the union that represents the workers at Oshawa) and the consequences of the closing of the factory.

However, GM annual reports (like many annual reports based in the United States), provide insufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation. For example, there are no data on wages and salaries paid out (although there are for benefits).

Nonetheless, I searched for substitutes for the data. Undoubtedly, such calculations will be even more imperfect than the rates of exploitation I calculated for various large employers in Canada. It will undoubtedly only include bare statistics, without much refinement and with few adjustments. Still, such estimates may provide a ballpark figure of the extent of exploitation.

I invite others to criticize the data used and the manner of determining the rate of exploitation–by providing more accurate data and a more accurate manner of determining the rate of exploitation.

Where possible, I provide the website addresses where I found the information if the information is not drawn from the Annual Report.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies (if they are available) in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers.

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.597 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consults” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants” and the lack of such power by unionized workers.

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement
•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly a level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies. (in millions of U.S. dollars)

Total net sales and revenue  137,237

Total costs and expenses 131,756

Operating income 5,481 [137,237-131,756=5481]

Adjustments of Surplus Value (Profit)

It is necessary to make some adjustments to this since the annual report also refers to the following additional categories:

Automotive interest expense 782
Interest income and other non-operating income, net  1,469
Equity income (Note 8) 1,268

Starting with the category “Automotive interest expense,” it is necessary to make an adjustment.  It is necessary to add 782 (Automotive interest expense) to “Operating income” since (as I explained in another post):

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Accordingly:

Temporarily adjusted income before taxes 5,481+782=6,263

Moving to the next category, “Interest income and other non-operating income, net,” since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded. I did not think this through or consider this when I calculated the rate of exploitation of some other employers (such as Air Canada); I may or may not recalculate the rate of exploitation of such employers in the future–that depends on how much time I have to dedicate to writing other posts and engaging in my own research as well as my own personal commitments to my daughter and wife.

In the particular case of General Motors, I will exclude such income from the calculation since the income is derived from workers other than the workers of GM.

The last category, “Equity income,” seems to reflect net surplus value after expenses are subtracted from revenue. Note 8 elaborates:

Note 8. Equity in Net Assets of Nonconsolidated Affiliates

Nonconsolidated affiliates are entities in which we maintain an equity ownership interest and for which we use the equity method of accounting due to our ability to exert significant influence over decisions relating to their operating and fmancial affairs. Revenue and expenses of our joint ventures are not consolidated into our financial statements; rather, our proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture is reflected as Equity income.

Since “Equity income” reflects the “proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture,” it constitutes the net result of GM exploiting workers in joint ventures. Accordingly, it is necessary to make an adjustment. It is necessary to add 1,268 to Income before income taxes. The final adjustment is:

Adjusted income before taxes 7,531

Wages and Salaries (v)

Although there are statistics in the annual report for employee benefits, there are no statistics in it for wages or salaries.

I failed to find any direct information of total salaries, wages and benefits on the Net. The best that I could do was to find data about the total number of employees and then try to find data on the average wage/salary as well as average benefits and multiply the sum of the average wage/salary and benefits by the total number of employees.
To improve such calculations, I invite Sam Gindin, former research director to the Canadian Auto Workers (now Unifor) or Jim Stanford, former economist for the same union, to provide more accurate data (perhaps insider data?).
In 2019, there were 164,000 employees:
Employees At December 31, 2019 we employed approximately 95,000 (58%) hourly employees and approximately 69,000(42%) salaried employees.
This is consistent with the following:
This number, as I argued above, needs to be multiplied by the average cost of a GM worker, including benefits.  According to some, the average cost to use a GM worker in 2019 was about $63 US an hour. From   https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/trending/Fic7Dwvvxuh14hs9rmjwJw2, dated January 15, 2020:
GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be … $63 in 2019.
I assume that this includes benefits. This amount is less than the amount estimated in 2006 (or perhaps 2009–it is unclear). From
Average Hourly Compensation 2006 (US Wages and Benefits)
Last updated on: 1/21/2009 6:47:00 AM PST
“The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word ‘compensation.’ It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda;s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.

The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.”

As to be expected, the estimated $63 an hour ($US) is certainly much higher than the estimated hourly wage of American auto workers. From Automotive Industry Labour Market Analysis: Wage Report (Canadian Skills Training and Employment Coalition, Prism Economics and Analysis, and the Automotive Policy Research Centre, October 2019), page 30:
Research done by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) found that nominal wages for U.S. workers in the auto manufacturing sector increased by just over 6% from $28.49 in 2002 to $30.20 in 2018 but real wages fell by 23.5% (as cited in Haglund, 2019).

Think tank says UAW deals increased automakers’ labor costs

New contracts between the United Auto Workers union and Detroit’s three automakers substantially increased the cost gap between Detroit and foreign automakers with U.S. factories

ByThe Associated Press
January 15, 2020, 3:40 PM

Total labor costs include wages, health care, pensions and other expenses.

Center Vice President Kristin Dziczek calculated that GM’s labor costs would rise from $63 per hour before the new contract to $71.

GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be $71 in 2023, up 12.7% from $63 in 2019 and up 29.1% from $55 in 2015, Dziczek said during a Jan. 15 webcast. Ford’s hourly labor costs would be $69 in 2023, up 13.1% from $61 in 2019 and up 21.1% from $57 in 2015. Fiat Chrysler’s costs would go up to $66 in 2023, up 20% from $55 in 2019 and up 40.4% from $47 in 2015.
Given the above, $63 an hour seems to be the average cost of a GM employee whereever s/he works. There will be no adjustments for this category despite the above calculated reduction of 173.5 from “Tranformation activities” due to some of that category involving separation benefits received by workers since, presumably, the $63 an hour includes such separation benefits.

Jim Stanford’s Disagreement with the Estimate of $63 an Hour Cost of Variable Capital V)

However, Jim Stanford would dispute such an hourly cost since he disputes the hourly cost of $75 (see How Much do Autoworkers REALLY Make? Surprise: It’s NOT $75 Per Hour!  http://unifor584retirees.ca/caw_retirees/pdf/hourly_labour_costs_09.pdf). He argues that workers receive between $43 and $44 hour.
Before I delve into this issue, let me preface it with the purpose of calculating the rate of exploitation. It is supposed to determine the proportion of hours worked that produce the value of the wage received by the workers in relation to the hours worked for no compensation and thus free for the employer. The wage is a composite of the actual wage rate and benefits and cannot be limited to the given wage rate.
Generally, the rate of exploitation is a class phenomenon, and the value of labour power or variable capital (v) and surplus value as its components are also class phenomenon. As Ben Fine states, in relation to the value of labour power, pages 104-105:
… for Marx the value of labour power is the consequence of an exchange between capital and labour, confronting each other as the two major economic classes. It is not simply the wage earned on the labour-market by one individual as opposed to another. …
the value of labour power is a more complex concept than the wage rate or earnings
of the typical worker.
Some of the costs of variable capital for employers are class costs, or the costs to the class of employers and apply across the board to all employers (or at least to a section of employers in a particular industry). Workers may not individually receive them, but some workers do; which workers depends on various conditions, such as the level of unemployment, the age of the workers, their health and so on. They need to be included in the value of labour power or variable capital even if no specific set of workers receive them as a benefit since they are costs for the employer being an employer of any set of workers whatsoever.
Stanford, however, excludes several categories which is included in the above $63 an hour–a category called “All-in Active Hourly Labour Cost.” The subcategories of this category and the corresponding amounts are: 
Overtime and shift premiums $3
Cost per hour worked of paid time off $8-9
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime $1-3
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Statutory taxes $3-4
Overtime and shfit premiums
Stanford excludes this subcategory from his calculation on the basis of the following:
Occasionally companies will require their workers to stay overtime, beyond normal working hours. Overtime is worked ins response to surges in consumer demand, to make up for production problems or bottlenecks, or in some cases because employers have decided it’s cheaper to work its existing staff extra hours than to hire new workers. In every case, it is the employer’s choice when overtime is worked.
Workers required to work overtime are paid a wage premium (usually 50%) for those hours. To a large extent (depending on the specific hours involved), overtime pay is mandated by labour law (although a labour contract can require overtime to be paid in some circumstances when it is not legally required).

In addition, in the auto industry and other manufacturing settings, it is standard practice to pay a shift premium for workers who staff evening and night shifts. (In CAW-represented auto plants, there is a 5% premium paid for evening shifts, and a 10% premium for overnight shifts, to reflect the added stress on family life of those working hours.)

Is the overtime premium part of one’s “hourly wage”? Few Canadians would conceive it that way – although those working overtime certainly appreciate the extra money. And remember: overtime is
something that occurs because employers desire it. 
According to Statistics Canada, in 2007 (most recent data), auto assembly workers in Canada worked an average of about 3.5 hours of overtime per week. This increased total average wage payments (weighted across all hours worked in the year) by around $2. Shift premiums added, on average, about another dollar per hour.
This argument is unconvincing. Overtime is supposed to not constitute compensation, he implies,  because it is not voluntary. Being voluntary or involuntary has nothing directly to do with the cost of workers. How workers conceive overtime also hardly determines whether it is a cost. As for shift premiums, the same logic applies; they too are costs. Stanford never indicates what overtime payments and shift premiums objectively are.
We can, however, get some idea of what they are by referring to the value of labour power as subject to a normal working day under average conditions. Since overtime work in effect extends the working day beyond the norm, it involves abnormal consumption of the labour power of workers. As Marc Linder (2000) argues ( “Moments are the elements of profit”: overtime and the deregulation of working hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act, pages 5-6):
Marx also furnished a general framework for understanding struggles over the length of the workday or workweek. On the surface, this struggle centers on the conflict between the buyer and the seller of a commodity which generates special problems because, unlike the situation with a general run-of-the-mill commodity, the body and mind of the human seller of labor power cannot be separated from its daily use by the buyer. Since the law of exchange of commodities, however, does not recognize any special rules for this particular exchange, the capitalist buyer tries to extract the greatest possible profit from the use of the worker’s labor power for the day’s or week’s worth he has bought. The question then becomes: how long is a workday or workweek? Since the human seller lives beyond the day, he must make sure that he sells his only commodity for a price high enough to enable him to reappear at work the next day with his labor power in a condition of strength and health that meets the standards set by his competitors. But the worker as a rational labor market participant must also exercise sufficient foresight to husband his only economic asset for a lifetime—or at least the standard working life of his type of labor. If the daily value of his commodity equals its lifetime value divided by 30 years or approximately 10,000 workdays, then he must make sure that overlong workdays and workweeks do not force him to expend so much additional energy that he uses up 1/5,000 or 1/3,333
of his lifetime supply for only 1/10,000 of its lifetime value. For this reason socialist unions regarded eight-hour laws as “life lengthening” acts.The worker therefore regards such overwork as crossing the line from the capitalist’s rightful use to plundering of his labor power and, as such, a breach of their contract and of the law of the exchange of commodities. His demand for a workday or workweek of normal length—defined by its compatibility with a healthy 30-year worklife—is as rightful as the capitalist’s demand that the worker work as long as possible each day and week. Because the capitalist is not a slaveholder, he has no (capital-) invested interest in the length of the worklife of his individual employees: “A quick succession of unhealthy and short-lived generations will keep the labour market as well supplied as a series of vigorous and long-lived generations.” Thus as long as the employer can find equivalent replacements in the labor market when he needs them, this private contractual dispute cannot be resolved between individual buyer and seller. The resulting “antinomy” of right against right27 must, Marx argued, be decided by “the respective powers of the combatants.” But since “in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side,” a class-wide settlement of the hours issue was possible only through “general political action,” which meant “legislative interference” under pressure from the working class.2* Consequently, the normalization of the workday and workweek appears historically as a struggle between the “aggregate capitalist, i.e., the class of capitalists, and the aggregate worker, or the working class.”
Overtime and shift work can be conceived as compensatory costs for abnormal consumption of workers–but they are costs of hiring workers, exploiting them and oppressing them.
Cost per hour worked of paid time off 
Stanford has the following to say on the matter in order to justify excluding this subcategory:
Now here is where it starts to get more complicated. “All-in hourly labour cost,” in the auto industry, is not calculated by dividing total compensation by the number of normal working hours in a year (as we have done above: 40 hours per week
times 52 weeks in a year equals 2080 working hours in a year).
Let us pause here. What Stanford calls “normal working hours” is not the statistic that can be used to calculate the rate of exploitation since it is not the number of actual hours worked. It is the actual hours worked that produces the equivalent of the total compensation received by workers that is relevant–and not some “normal working hours” that no workers actually work.
From Anwar Shaikh and E. Ahmet Tonak (1994), From Measuring the wealth of nations: The political economy of national accounts, page 178: 

By definition, Marxian labor value added is simply the number of hours worked by productive workers
Let us continue with Stanford’s views.
Instead, all-in hourly labour costs are calculated over a much smaller base of hours. Total
compensation costs are divided by the numbers of hours actually worked in a year. Actual hours worked, the denominator of this fraction, differs from the number of standard working hours in a year (2080) for several reasons:
  • Paid time off (for vacation and holidays)
  • Sick leave (CAW autoworkers do not receive any pay during the first days of
    an illness, after which they are compensated under a sickness and accident
    insurance scheme)
  • Time not worked due to layoffs or downtimeIt is simple mathematics that the lower is the number of hours actually worked,
    the higher is the apparent “all-in hourly labour cost.”

    The CAW has placed great emphasis over the years on negotiating more paid time off, as a deliberate strategy to try to protect employment levels against the effects of technological change and productivity growth, and to provide for needed time away from the physical and mental stresses of assembly line work. However, in recent contracts the amount of paid time off has been reduced by 80 hours per year (in the face of intense cost-cutting pressure from the employers). Today a CAW production worker with maximum seniority (over 20 years) qualifies for 6 weeks of paid time off (for vacation, scheduled mandatory vacation or “SPA,” and personal leave). A new hire qualifies for 2 weeks (the legal minimum). A worker with 5 or more years seniority qualifies for 4 weeks.

    Holidays (including regular statutory holidays and a week-long Christmas shutdown) reduce working time by another 15 days per year.

    Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation. It can also be considered a basic human and labour right – one that workers have fought for over the centuries, and that is essential to the quality of life of working people and their families. Of the paid time off received by CAW autoworkers, about half is required by law. The rest reflects additional time negotiated by the union. I doubt, however, that many Canadians consider their paid time off as part of their hourly wage. They conceptualize it separately, as time. Someone who earns $15 per hour, but is allowed to take a total of five weeks off per year (3 weeks vacation, and 10 days of statutory holidays), actually earns $16.60 for each hour they work (assuming they had no other time off the job for illness or layoff). But I have never heard someone adjust their hourly pay in that manner to reflect their entitlement (legal and otherwise) to paid time off.

    According to the methodology of all-in hourly labour cost, paid time off (since it reduces the denominator over which all-in labour costs are calculated) directly increases all-in hourly labour costs. Each week of paid time off (including the two weeks of vacation required per year under Canadian law, and the roughly two weeks of statutory holidays also required by Canadian law) translates into a roughly 2% increase in hourly labour cost.

Again, his argument is unconvincing. Although undoubtedly, for example, workers who receive a minimum wage, unionized workers and other workers are unlikely to conceive of paid holidays as part of their compensation, this hardly means that the paid holidays and vacaction do not form part of their compensation. Stanford himself admits this: “Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation.” Actual hours worked and the total amount of compensation received by workers are the relevant statistics for determining variable capital costs and not imputed hours worked during holidays and vacation (when workers are not subject to the direct power of employers).
Furthermore, even some union reps in the auto industry conceived vacation pay and other fringe benefits as part of the compensation package. From Frank Lovell (May-June 1968), “The Reuther-Meany Split,” in pages 36-58, International Socialist Review, page 51:
Reuther accurately reported the new wage scales as follows:”The average production worker will receive a 20-cents-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage increase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of 58 cents an hour over the three-year period of the contract.”The average skilled trades worker will receive a 50-cent-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage incrase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of $1.02 an hour over the three-year period of the contract.” (“Roll up” consists of increases in wage-related fringe benefits such as holiday pay, vacation pay, shift premiums, etc.[my emphasis]

Let us look at vacation pay and holiday pay. Essentially, it means that workers receive payment without having to work for their employer during that specific time. The amount of labour performed is thereby reduced to that extent than otherwise would be the case, with a flow of money (and indirectly commodities) going to the workers. The wage is not reproduced during that time, and no surplus value is produced either since no labour is performed.
Holiday pay and vacation pay are tied to work performed because those who do not work for the particular employer simply do not receive such holiday pay and (more obviously) vacation pay– but this condition seems too often to be overlooked. The payment of holiday pay and vacation pay is tied to the need for the worker to have actually worked for the particular employer.
The payment is tied to labour having been  performed, but not from any labour performed during the holiday or vacation. Since the workers receive the money and not the employer, the money represents the equivalent of higher wages and less surplus value available for the employer.
There is no logical reason why, when calculating the rate of exploitation, vacation pay, sick leave pay and holiday pay should not be included in the calculation.
The issue is not clear cut, but some Marxian works also include vacation pay, etc. as forms of compensation. From Edward Wolff (1987), Growth, accumulation, and unproductive activity: An analysis of the postwar U.S. economy, pages 61-62: 

Mean real labor compensation seems the most direct measure of the costs of reproducing labor power. Employee compensation is the sum of wages, salaries, and tips; fringe benefits such as health insurance, pension contributions, vacation pay, and the like;
Shaikh and Tonak also consider them to form part of compensation. From page 304: 
We use employee compensation (EC) because it includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. This is the appropriate base for estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
They reiterate their view on page 322:
Employee compensation being the sum of supplements and wages and salaries.
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime
Stanford reasons as follows in order to exclude this subcategory from the determination of the costs of employing workers:
The Impact of Downtime and Layoffs Even more far-fetched is the notion that time away from work resulting from illness, layoff, or plant shutdown should also be reflected in your “hourly wage.” Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union. Suppose that workers are laid off for 8 weeks in a year because of slow sales. This reduces annual hours worked by 320 hours. That’s a reduction of as much as 20% in hours worked (after adjusting for paid time off) – causing a corresponding increase in the apparent hourly cost of fixed annual benefits (like the pensions, health premiums, and other benefits listed above). Based on the level of benefits described earlier, this amount of downtime (not unusual given recent experience) would add $3 per hour to all-in costs. A longer six-month layoff would add over $10 to the all-in hourly cost!
This seems like a double penalty: first workers experience the income loss and insecurity of being laid off for significant amounts of time. And then they are “charged,” in the form of a higher apparent “wage,” for the fact that they didn’t work for the complete year.
Differences in the number of hours worked account for a significant portion of differences in the all-in hourly labour costs between different companies. Chrysler Canada’s all-in labour cost calculation for 2008 (which has been widely debated in the course of current restructuring discussions) was based on a very low average level of hours worked per worker that year (just 1550 hours). That was significantly lower than the number of hours worked per worker at GM and Ford that year – and far, far lower than average hours worked at Toyota and Honda plants (which until recently have been running flat out). This difference in assumed hours worked accounts for about $2 per hour in all-in labour cost differences between Chrysler and the other two North American producers in Canada. And it accounts for $4 or more per hour of the all-in hourly labour cost differences between Chrysler and the non-union Canadian facilities.
Is a worker really “more expensive” because he or she didn’t work the full year, due to downtime associated with slow sales? Not really. This is not an issue of compensation. This is an issue of capacity utilization – a variable which is clearly a responsibility of management to optimize, and is beyond the control of workers and their union.
The hours not worked do not involve exploitation, and the hours not worked do involve payment without being under the direct control of the employer due to fixed costs, such as health insurance premiums. They are like vacation pay, holiday pay and sick-leave pay.
As for the decrease in hours worked, of course, if the number of hours decreases, with fixed benefit costs, the cost per hour employed will increase for the capitalists in general. This was seen indirectly when I calculated the rate of exploitation of Magna Internaitonal workers for 2020, during the pandemic (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020). As I wrote in that post:
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation is likely due to the treatment of workers as “fixed costs” as the pandemic forced employers to retain workers despite the relatively extra costs associated with it (partly offset by federal, provincial and municipal supports).
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers was likely largely due to a decrease in the production of surplus value, although there was also a decrease in the costs of workers for Magna International:
2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

Surplus value decreased by 1,177, or 52 percent ((1081-2258)/2258×100); variable capital decreased by 353, or ((2509-2862)/2862×100)=12 percent.
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers is likely due to the fixed costs associated with keeping them on payroll while not exploiting them (because they did not work or perform labour).
Stanford’s justification or logic for discounting the increased costs of workers per hour worked seems to be: because the relation of payments to workers and hours actually worked is independent of the workers and their unions, these increased costs should not be calculated that way, he reasons:
Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union.
The rate of exploitation is hardly to be calculated on the basis of what workers and their unions are able to control. The issue is: What does it cost for the workers to produce the value of the labour power or the capacity of workers to perform work relative to the value they produce for free?
I reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory.
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Standord reasons as follows for rejecting this subcategory:
Over the years auto unions have negotiated a range of income security programs to protect against the effects of the layoffs (which are regularly incurred in the auto industry due to market swings, new model launches, and other factors inherent to the auto industry). These are called supplementary unemployment benefits (SUB), and they top up the benefits received from public unemployment insurance programs.SUB costs are incorporated into all-in labour cost by attributing them to the hours which were actually worked (by those workers who were not laid off). Are SUB benefits a form of compensation? Yes, in a form. But it is not compensation received by the workers who are still working. SUB benefits are received by the workers who are laid-off (as a partial compensation for the cost they incur as a result of the lay-off). And by far the best way to reduce labour costs, in this context, is to put autoworkers back to work: they enjoy more income and security, the company pays out less SUB costs, and the cost per hour worked of all other benefits declines by several dollars.
Because of the extensive downtime experienced in most auto plants in recent years, SUB and related programs can add $3 or more to all-in hourly labour costs in CAW facilities.
The Canadian government website reads:

Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program

Overview

Employers can use a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) plan to increase their employees’ weekly earnings when they are unemployed due to a temporary stoppage of work, training, illness, injury or quarantine.

It is certainly true that those who continue to be exploited directly by GM do not receive the benefits of SUB-but exploitation is hardly just an affair of temporary changes in the distribution of work such that only those workers who happen to have seniority are exploited throughout the year. Layoffs in the auto industry have occurred often enough for unions to attempt to address the issue. From Robert Albritton (2022), A Japanese Approach to Stages of Capitalist Development: What Comes Next?:
For this reason, the continuation of even the partial commodification of labour-power, requires that the labour market be supported by all sorts of protections, guarantees, and stabilizing mechanisms. The auto industry in general took the lead in this respect with “productivity deals” that ensured wage increases in line with productivity increases and with “supplementary unemployment benefits” (SUBS) that protected worker’s income during the annual lay-offs in the auto industry, and with pension plans, early retirement, medical benefits, etc.
Unions obliged GM to pay laid off GM workers (not fired GM workers) a top-up to unemployment benefits. This is a condition for GM to exploit the collective labour of the particular bargaining unit and forms part of the cost of employing GM workers. To exclude this cost from variable capital would exclude the flow of additional money (and commodities) that temporarily unemployed workers receive from GM. Since variable capital is supposed to measure the amount of labour required to produce the equivalent of labour power as a commodity available on the market, and SUB is a condition for such availability in this situation, it should be included as part of variable capital that GM pays.
One historian has interpreted SUB as resulting in a “greater share of the pie” going to workers. From David Noble (1984), Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, page 253:
Reuther embraced wholeheartedly the tempo of technology and the gospel of growth, and sought to halt job erosion through industrial expansion which would presumably raise the level of aggregate demand for labor. At the same time, he strove to secure for workers a larger share of the expanding pie, through guaranteed wage agreements and so-called progress-sharing agreements (as with American Motors), and to ease the plight of displaced workers, through supplementary unemployment benefits, advance notification clauses, and company-financed retraining programs (as with General Motors). [my emphasis]
I also reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory; SUB forms part of the costs of production of GM workers.
Statutory taxes $3-4
Stanford notes the following:

The all-in hourly labour cost methodology also considers various employmentrelated
taxes paid by employers to governments. In Canada, these statutory
costs include four major items:

  • Employer CPP premiums (up to a maximum of about $2050 per year
  • Employer EI premiums (up to a maximum of about $1000 per year)
  • Employer Health Tax (equal to about 2% of earnings)
  • WSIB premiums (variable rates, usually about 3% of earnings)These government payments amount to around $3-4 per normal working hour in
    Canadian auto plants.
He makes the following comment to justify excluding them from the cost of workers to GM:
These tax payments, while they fund important public programs, obviously do not
constitute compensation for workers.
If by compensation is meant “not received in the current year,” then it is true. However, costs in the present for employers can be deferred revenue for workers; in the case of the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), Canadian employers must pay the same amount paid by employees, up to a maximum of contributions per year. I fail to see why this should not be included in the cost of variable capital to GM. Furthermore, if pension benefits paid out by GM or deferred government pension benefits are excluded from the current year, when would they ever be included in the calculation of the value of labour power?
Unemployment insurance is a little more difficult to assess (in Canada, the Canadian government euphemestically calls it employment insurance). Some if not the majority of GM workers may not access unemployment insurance benefits at all during their life. It may not ever therefore be a deferred form of revenue for them. However, it should be remembered that GM workers can access unemployment insurance if they are laid off (and they also can receive SUB) and thus the same logic applies as the subcategory for SUB.
(By the way, the unemployment insurance that workers receive should also be included in the calculation of variable capital, but this would require more detailed information about the absolute amounts, the number of GM workers laid off, the average period of time laid off and other data which I doubt is readily available. Perhaps those with more skill or with better access to data could provide details.)
Furthermore, the nature of insurance in general is such that payments or costs may not result in any flow back in the form of services rendered. How many reading this post have purchased insurance of one form or another (such as car insurance or travel insurance) only not to use it? It is a cost that may never be recouped and is grounded in the nature of the capitalist society–which is subject to unemployment in various sectors at different times. Costs paid by employers associated with unemployment insurance is a charge on the class of employers for funding former workers who have had their relationship to any particular employer severed (or who severed it themselves by quitting–although here in Canada workers must prove “just cause” for quitting in order to be eligible and must not have been fired for “just cause”).
For GM workers who are never laid off, unemployment insurance is obviously not a form of compensation for any GM worker–but it is still a cost of reproducing the value of labour power as a commodity (if not the particular set of workers called GM employees). It is part of the cost for GM of being able to exploit this particular set of workers.
The Employer Health Tax, according to the Ontario government website, is:

The Employer Health Tax (EHT) is a payroll tax on remuneration (for example, salaries, wages, bonuses, taxable benefits, stock options etc.) that employers in Ontario provide to current and former employees.

The purpose of this tax is to assist in providing the government with revenue to fund health care in Ontario.

The provision of certain services by the government without workers having to pay for them constitute part of the “social wage” of workers. In this particular case, sufficiently large employers are forced to pay for part of those services (smaller capitalist firms are exempt). These costs for the employer are necessary to ensure a certain level of health services and health of workers. I fail to see why they should not be considered part of the necessary costs that Ontario employers must pay if they are to exploit Ontario employees.
An indirect argument for including the EHT in the calculation of variable capital is provided by Wolff (cited above), page 78:
One further refinement should be added. Not only private consumption but also publicly provided consumption is required to reproduce the labor force. In particular, part of the government’s expenditures on education, health, fire protection, roads, and the like
contributes directly to the welfare of workers. Thus, in order to correctly estimate the necessary consumption of workers, government expenditures on productive goods and services, Gp, must be distributed among the beneficiaries of the expenditures.
As for Workers’ Compensation premiums paid by GM, although Shaikh and Tonak (1994) do not directly address this specific category, they do generally include “employer contributions to social security” in their calculation of the value of labour power. Page 108:
for wages we use “employee compensation” (EC), which includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. Employee compensation is the appropriate measure upon which to base our estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
Rodrigo Finkelstein (2015) more specifically argues that workers’ compensation premiums constitute the exchange value of workers’ injuries,”The Commodity Form of Safety Information,” in pages 610-623, triple C, Volume 13, Number 2, page 622:
Through injuries, diseases and deaths, workers transfer to the premium the value they themselves lose during the labour process by the destruction of their own use-value. Workers’ use-value—i.e. labour-power—uure [sic–this term indicates that something is quoted exactly as written despite it likely being an error]-appears in the value of every commodity as the premium.
Like shift premiums and overtime, workers’ compensation premiums can be conceived as compensation for accelerated use of workers’ labour power; unlike shift premiums and overtime, the money is not appropriated directly by individual workers but is mediated through a bureuacratic appropriation and distribution process that pools the accelerated use of  workers’ labour power at the provincial level in Canada.
(These premiums should not, however, be considered the accurate costs of accelerated use of the labour power of workers. Premiums are based on claimed employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths, but actual employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths is much higher (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health).
It should come as no surprise that Stanford ignores workers’ compensation as a cost. Firstly, he considers the view that what is healthy for “the economy” is somehow also healthy for workers. This correspondence may to a certain extent arise because capitalists, ultimately, must rely on human bodies if they are to exploit them, and unhealthy bodies may be detrimental to their exploitation.
On the other hand, there obviously is a counter-tendency for employers to create working conditions that are dangerous for workers in one way or another (see my critique of Stanford’s attempt to treat the capitalist economy as if it were an economy primarily based on the production of products that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants need–rather than a capitalist economy designed to obtain as much surplus value as possible–at the expense of workers in the posts Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads and Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Four: Is There Such a Thing as a Responsible Employer in Relation to the Health of Workers?).
Stanford’s analysis of the real cost of the value of labour power matches his economics for social democrats. His economics of capitalism for “everyone” (the main title of a book he wrote) is really an economics for social reformists–and is hardly expressive of the interests of the working class.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his social-democratic views.  Workers’ compensation premiums are linked to the determination of the value of the loss of various parts of the body, for example–equating money and the loss of human body parts. As Nate Holdren (2020),in Injury Impoverished: Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and the Law in the Progressive Era remarks, page 5:
I remarked that it felt a little creepy that my hand had a dollar value. The lawyer laughed and agreed that it was creepy. He told me that there were tables that listed the value of all the different body parts. …  I repeated that it was a creepy idea that my body parts in particular had a dollar value, and that in general there were tables written down with the value of body parts calculated in advance. The lawyer replied that a lot of people got hurt at work and that the injuries and the payments for them were all a regular process.That meeting with the lawyer is where I first encountered what I now think of as the “tyranny of the table,” but it is both more and less than  tyranny. What I mean by the tyranny of the table is that within compensation laws human lives and human suffering have the fixed monetary values ascribed – no more than that, and not subject to discussion. What doesn’t fit into the values of the table? Nearly everything. All of the elements of a human being other than our paychecks.
Behind the numbers lie real human beings, with histories linked to other human beings in various ways. Workers’ compensation itself hides this reality behind the numbers, and Stanford’s cavalier dismissal of the payment of premiums by employers as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his own dismissal of the real and necessary experiences of many workers working for employers–and the diseases and injuries they experience that they suffer–and the deaths (the ending of any possibility of further human experience or any possibility of further human progress).
In Stanford’s haste at being a “progressive economist,” (he is the founder of the Progressive Economic Forum), he dismisses too hastily various costs that are relevant for characterizing the experience of workers in a capitalist society (such as the premiums paid to the Workers’ Compensation Board).
Although this post is about the rate of exploitation, it should never be forgotten that this rate of exploitation is linked to real people being used as things for the benefit of employers, with real negative consequences for members of the working class. Holdren points out how workers who work for an employer are often under the threat of being injured in one way or another, and if they are, their lives are often changed forever, page 1:
Nettie Blom worked in the laundry of a hotel in Yellowstone Park. On June 30, 1900, Blom was operating a machine called a mangle, which used steam-heated and steam-powered metal rollers to iron flat linens. The wet cloth stuck to her hand for a moment too long, and she was pulled into the machine. Blom’s hand was crushed and burnt. When a co-worker managed to free her from the machine, Blom’s hand looked like “boiled meat.” Three of her co-workers fainted at the sight. Blom suffered terrible pain and lost the use of her hand due to her injuries.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the value of labour power also hides the shift from what Holdren calls the tyranny of the trial to the tyrranny of the tables. The (unlikely) possibility of workers suing and winning a case against their employer constituted part of the tyranny of the trial historically, but gradually governments shifted the issue of health and safety compensation from the courts to government bureaucracies–Worker’s Compensaiton Boards. This shift from the workers’ financial point of view had the advantage that compensation would be forthcoming for proven injuries, disease or death–but it had the major disadvantage of eliminating any exposure of the real human damage and suffering that is so often connected to workplace injuries, diseases and death–an exposure that was at least minimally possible during a trial. In its place arose what Holdren calls the “tyranny of the table,” which depersonalized human injury and suffering at work. This is an important issue that the social-democratic left simply ignore or sidestep through the use of such euphemisms as “decent work,” “decent jobs,” “fair contracts” and the like. It is appropriate here to quote Holdren here more extensively about some of the implications of what the paying of premiums has involved for silencing workers’ grievances. Pages 115-118:
MORAL THINNING AND IMPOVERISHED INJURYIn order to standardize payments and thus create predictability for employers, compensation laws removed from the law arguments about injustice and narration of the individual effects of injury. This loss of deliberation changed the ethical grammar of the law, so to speak, deepening the eclipse of recognition, further impoverishing injury. The human meaning of injury had no place in the law. I call this phenomenon moral thinning: from murder to statistics. Non-financial harms also had no place under compensation laws. Pain and loss became newly worthless as the law provided no more space for people to narrate what it meant to lose a limb or a family member in an industrial accident. Injured wage earners became conceptually disembedded from their social and interpersonal contexts.

There is an element of moral thinning involved whenever the commodification of persons begins to occur, because commodification must ignore differences and particularities, setting aside whatever is unique or nonequivalent about them. Commodification tramples on singularity. This makes no difference when singularity makes no difference: the uniqueness of my morning cup of coffee does not matter; what matters is its instrumental use in my struggle toward wakefulness. The uniqueness of human beings, however, does matter: the reduction of human beings to abstract instrumental objects should trouble us. Recognition and commodification co-exist at best uneasily.

The moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table is more apparent when juxtaposed to the tyranny of the trial. Despite the many limits of the court-based system of employee injury law, that system did allow some space for fragments of the experiential truths of injury, which made possible elements of justice as recognition. As historian Kimberly Welch has put it, “[s]torytelling is omnipresent in human discourse.. . . Telling stories in court is an attempt to organize, interpret, and direct the world in which one lives, and the stories told in adversarial processes signal the narrator’s interpretation of how the world ought to operate.” The contending oughts embedded in legal stories made courts into places of normative deliberation, places where the contest of stories had explicitly moral and political stakes.

Access to that site of deliberation, and the recognition that came through that access, is likely part of what working-class people wanted from the court-based system of employee injury law. As historian James Schmidt has put it, injured plaintiffs and their families “came to court with a desire to talk about the miseries that had befallen them.” That telling intersected with other actors in court to produce what Schmidt calls “judicial morality plays.” Going to court was one kind of ritual through which people processed and, in important respects, produced the meaning of what Schmidt rightly calls industrial violence. There was, then, some space for this ritual use of law under the tyranny of the trial. With compensation laws, employee injury law was deritualized, no longer made available to working-class people in the same way.

To be clear, compensation laws never said that no other framework for valuing human beings existed in society, but these laws did not allow any other such framework to touch the legal response to employee injury. In the court system multiple systems of valuation could intersect, while under compensation laws non-pecuniary valuations of people, their experiences, their relationships, and their bodies had no legal space. The point is absolutely not to celebrate the tyranny of the trial, but to use the courts’ narrative and value plurality to highlight the moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table. In the court-based system of injury law at least it was possible to pose the questions of whether or not an injury was a wrong, and what it meant in the lives of the persons affected. There was no more space for these questions or for the answering stories of injury and its effects under the tyranny of the table.

Workers’ compensation premiums serve in part to hide the viciousness of a society dominated by a class of employers–a viciousness hidden by such social-democratic phrases as “decent jobs,” “decent work,” “fair contracts” and other euphemisms accepted by many on the so-called left these days. After all, they imply, working for an employer is not really all that bad; such is the moral thinning of social democrats these days. This is a class cost–Stanford’s dismissal of it notwithstadning.
Returning to the issue of the cost of workers, this cost of $63, of course, is probably less since GM workers in other parts of the world (such as in Mexico) would receive substantially less. However, without access to such detailed statistics, I will assume that the $63 per hour is still the average hourly wage for GM workers; perhaps Mr. Stanford (and Mr. Gindin) could provide more detailed statistics. Such statistics would be most welcome. 
Given a wage of $63 U.S. an hour, and given an estimated 1,800 hours of actual work per employee (see page 2 of Stanford’s article), and given 164,000 employees, the result is:

Total wages and benefits: $18.5976 billion

Calculation of the Rate of Exploitation

We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers (in billions of U.S. dollars)

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.5976 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

I calculated the division between v and s according to the following:

I have used the lengths of the working day (and the corresponding division between v and s) as 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and because the length of the working day varies. According to one source:

8 hours is normal. Many will average 7 or 9 per day.

8 hours per, except for the new models introduction period.The working hours varies depending upon the targeted productions orders.

Salaried, so come in between 6 and 9, leave within 8 or 10 hours.

Typical from 7:00am to 6:00 pm M-F with weekend work typical.
One week work over 70 hours

The hours where long 10-12 sometimes

I organized the division of the working day into v and s from the shortest working day to the longest.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consult” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “and the lack of such power (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants.”

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement

•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly some level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

What do you think? Are union reps looking after the needs of the working class? If not, what can be done about it?

Once Again on the General Strike that Almost Was in Ontario, Canada, Part Two: Sam Gindin’s Analysis

Introduction

For some of the context of the strike, see a couple of earlier posts (The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism and The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector). 

A few more leftists have made commentary on the initial strike of 55,000 education workers and the possibility of a general strike in Ontario. I looked at the debate between Adam King and Abdul Malik and in the online newsletter Passage  https://readpassage.com/should-cupe-have-kept-education-workers-on-strike/) in my last post.  Then there is Sam Gindin’s analysis on the Socialist Project’s website  https://socialistproject.ca/2022/12/education-workers-lead-but-come-up-short/. I will now look at his article. 

The title of his article–Education Workers Lead But Come Up Short: What Lessons for Labour?–indicates that workers and the left can and should draw lessons from the strike. His article is organized as follows (using his headings as guides): 

Introduction
Threats of Fines and Legislation
Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike
Organize, Organize, Organize!
General Strike?
Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?
Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

Gindin then lists and explains a number of points. In his own words: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

1. Organizing
2. Coordination
3. Addressing Class
4. Union Transformation
5. Politics

Introduction

In the introduction, Gindin rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation which the education workers faced. Unlike the typical scenario of the government legislating striking workers back to work and union reps grumbling about its anti-democratic nature but complying with the legislation–and the workers also complying with the legislation–Ford passed the legisaltion before the workers even went out on strike: 

The divergence from earlier experiences began with the way the Ford administration tried to end the strike. Rather than wait until the strike was actually on, Ford used his parliamentary majority to pass legislation that criminalized the right of these workers to strike even before they actually went out (in the infamous Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act). With inflation running just under 7%, the legislation imposed a collective agreement offering 2.5% for workers earning under $43,000 annually and 1.5% for those earning above that princely sum. (The distinction the government made between low-paid and less low-paid workers was perhaps intended to push 1.5% as the standard for future collective bargaining in the public sector with the additional sum for lower-paid workers an ‘exceptional’ add-on for this sector alone.)

Threats and Fines

In the section on Threats of Fines and Legislation, Gindin points out to the second difference from the typical union scenario–the use of the notwithstanding clause, which reverberated not only within the union movement but beyond it: 

and, in addition, [the Ford government] invoked the notwithstanding clause to prevent a legal challenge to such legilsation.

Gindin then points out that the workers (not the union reps) did not follow the typical script: they refused to comply with the legislation and walked off the job: 

The main break with past collective bargaining came next. Unlike earlier labour responses, the education workers rejected the script. Across the province, school custodians, maintenance workers, education assistants, early childhood educators, lunchroom and safety monitors, librarians, and office staff ignored the legislation and walked out.

The audacity of the education workers galvanized the larger labour movement against Ford’s authoritarian over-reaction. On the ensuing weekend, after the first day of the strike, rumours spread of an imminent escalation of the conflict. A press conference was called for Monday morning (Nov. 6) where unions leaders were to announce a ‘general strike’. What was so recently unthinkable – a province-wide shut-down – seemed to have become an actual possibility.

This led to Ford backtracking and to an improved wage offer at the bargaining table: 

With this, the government’s once definitive ‘final offer’ also became flexible. In response to the union’s demand to ’put more money on the table’ Ford conceded that the government would indeed increase the wage offer if the workers ended the strike and returned to the bargaining table. The union complied and on November 20, the two sides announced a tentative agreement. It included monetary gains, though short of workers’ hopes, but no gains on staffing. More than two weeks later, 76% of members voted on the tentative agreement with 73% voting for ratification (it’s unclear why ratification took more than two weeks).

Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike

In the section “Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike,” Gindin outlines why Ford acted as he did and why the wildcat strike likely happened whereas it had not happened earlier for many years among other workers: 

Like other public sector workers, the education workers had suffered under the 1% cap on wages in their last agreement. Over the past decade (2012-2021), their real wages had fallen by some 10% as prices increased by 19% while wage increases were under 9%. Moreover, while all workers have been hard hit over this period, Ontario’s education workers’ wages fell further behind the province’s broader public sector, where average wages had increased by 12.2%. Federally regulated workplaces had seen their wages increase by 18.6%, municipal unions by 19.1%, and private sector workers by 20.3%.

The education workers’ 1% wage cap had expired with the end of their previous collective agreement, ‘freeing’ CUPE to bargain without that cap – the first major agreement to be in that position. This set the stage for the face-off with the government. For the Ford administration the demands of the education workers were not just about one sub-sector but a Trojan Horse for gains across the public sector. They had to be aggressively contained.

He then claims that CUPE OSBCU faced, however, definite obstacles to engaging in a fight with the Ford government; it was only one union that faced the Ford government head on despite the significance for the public sector; he also claims that the significance for privat-sector bargaining was less directly affected: 

This morphed a ‘normal’ conflict with a set of employers (the school boards) into what was essentially a political strike against the government. The dilemma for the union was that in spite of the conflict’s significance for the entire public sector (and less directly, for private sector bargaining), the battle was being led and fought by only a sub-sector of the union movement.

This underestimates union reps’ perceived threat that the use of preemptive legislation and the use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford threatened their own economic, political and ideological interests, as I argued in an earlier post on this topic (see  The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism). To quote from that post: 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Gindin, like his ally Herman Rosenfeld, underestimaes the extent to which Ford’s move threatened the interests of not only public-sector unions but also private-sector unions. This underestimation then permits him to neglect the potentiality of uniting the union movement and workers in unions due to the pecularities of that situation–a peculiarity which Malik rightly emphasizes: 

Continuing to organize is important, but the massive groundswell of support and mobilization is already dwindling. I believe it’s doubtful we’ll see this degree of action again anytime soon, and we’re all worse off for it.

Gindin’s pessimism is reinforced by his view that only sporadic lights of hope have emerged in unions’ fights in recent years: 

Further militating against the aspirations of the education workers was that the prevailing mood of labour as a whole was characterized by a dispiriting passivity. It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike and ATU’s (Amalgamated Transit Union) GO bus strike had generated some optimism. So too did progressive changes in union leadership in OPSEU, Unifor, and the Toronto elementary teachers. But the grumbling across unions over the 1% caps on wages included little or no substantive resistance. Strikes in the public and also private sectors were at an ebb. Tentative agreements were rarely rejected. Wildcats were almost unheard of.

Gindin’s pessimism reminds me of of-quoted remark by Marx. From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 33, page 103: 

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given
and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Yes, let us be cautious when the situation warrants it, but the situation which not only the education workers faced but also the entire Canadian working class faced because of Ford’s authoritarian actions hardly warranted a conservative stance. By looking towards the past rather than the potential of the present and thus the future, Gindin, like his fellow conservative radical Rosenfeld, thereby urges the gradual approach of step-by-step organization–without any consideration of possible situations that may potentially accelerate organization and class consciousness. 

In addition, Gindin, like Rosenfeld, underestimates the potential the situation had for unifying the labour movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada since Ford’s use of the withstanding clause had the potential to threaten the collective-bargaining process across Canada if other premiers used it to prevent legal challenges to their own anti-labour legislation. Gindin, like Rosenfeld, positions himself as a radical conservative or a conservative radical by failing to take into account the potentialities of the situation. 

On the other hand, we certainly need to look at the limitations of past leftist actions in contributing to limitations on the potentials of unique situations. Gindin and his ally Rosenfeld, as well as the left here in Toronto in general, have done nothing to undermine the idealization of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Gindin, for example, justified unions’ use of the ideological phrase “decent work” in the context of working for employers because unions were acting defensively–as if unionized settings consitute decent work when workers are still used as means or things for    employers’  own purposes–see The Money Circuit of Capital for the objective situation of workers in both the private and public sectors). Bullshitting the workers with such rhetoric is hardly in the class interests of workers–and yet Gindin justifies such rhetoric. Go figure. 

What is needed when such potentially radical situations are not on the horizon is to undermine union rhetoric by exposing, on the one hand, the actual relations of workers to their employers and, on the other hand, exposing and underming directly the union rhetoric of “decent jobs,” “fair contracts,” and other such euphemisms that hide the reality of class oppression and class exploitation. 

Gindin also refers to parents as players in the scenario.Undoubtedly, parents are a player in determining the level of public support for such a strike: 

Of concern as well to the union was the likely response of parents. Parents had experienced the negative impact of COVID on their kids’ education and with their kids at home, they faced interruptions in their own work. Even though the union had prioritized its concern for kids and their parents in its emphasis on improving badly-needed school services, and there had been very impressive organizing among parents by the Ontario Parents Action Network, Ford would no doubt try to position himself as the defender of in-school learning against its ‘disrupters’.

Gindin probably underesitmates the level of parent support for the striking education workers; at the picket line and the rally that I attended on November 4, there were a number of parents who had signs that supported the workers. The use of the notwithstanding clause probably angered not just unionized workers and represenatives but also parents. 

Organize, Organize, Organize!

In the section “Organize, Organize, Organize!,” Gindin argues that the education workers’ strike was largely successful in beating back Ford’s authoritarian legislation because of the eight-month lead in organizing workers up to the strike, using Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. Although McAlevey’s organizing model is certainly innovative, focusing on using organic leaders who are the recognized leaders at the workplace (and not necessarily union or political activists) as well as “structured tests” as mini-tests to determine whether there is indeed power to back up demands). 

This emphasis on the need to engage in “deep organizing” is certainly relevant, but as I pointed out in my critiques of McAlevey’s books (see my review “Review: Jane McAlevey’s No shortcuts: Organizing for power in the new gilded age,” in the section “Publications and Writings” on this blog and the posts Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One  and  Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), McAlevey’s approach does little to address the larger class problem of the class power of employers–and such power concentrated in the government or state. 

General Strike?

The next section addresses the issue of whether a general strike was a viable option. Unfortunately, Gindin then hands over the ball to his ally, Herman Rosenfeld, by referring to an article written by Rosenfeld, who argues that a general stike was not realistically on the table: 

These are hopeful sentiments. But we need to be sober about the state of the labour movement and what it takes to pull off even a partially successful general strike (see especially the account by Herman Rosenfeld). If we credit the pre-strike organizing by education workers for their illegal walk-out, a corollary is that since labour as a whole generally has done so little of such organizing, it could not have successfully pulled off much of a general strike. The above optimism over what might emerge from a general strike does not tell us how to actually achieve a general strike.

As I have argued against Rosenfeld’s position in another post, I refer the reader to that post (    ). 

Gindin provides further arguments that it would have been unrealistic to call for a general strike under existing circumstances: 

Consider. The teachers, as noted earlier, were not supportive of the education workers’ disruption of classes and this didn’t bode well for other sectors walking out. Would public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously? Ditto private sector workers, whose unions often defended and even sold concessions such as two-tier wages to their members. Moreover, would we expect – or even want – workers to go on a general strike when they haven’t been consulted, the strategy hasn’t been debated, no education has occurred, and no larger plan articulated?

Firstly, were teachers not supportive, or were teachers’ unions not supportive? Gindin assumes there is an identity between the two. Whether there were such an identity would have to be proven, not assumed. Secondly, even if teachers themselves opposed supporting the striking workers, would other “public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously?” That would have remained to have been seen. Given Ford’s authoritarian fist of using the notwithstanding clause, they may or may not have done so; this would have been a test to see who had more power. Even if the other public-sector workers were not organized on the basis of McAlevey’s approach, they could at least have been partially organized in order to support a general strike. We will never know, of course. But there could have been partial mobilization in support of a general strike that could have provided further pressure on the Ford government and not, as Gindin implies, some long-drawn out process that requires the step-by-step gradualism that he and his ally Rosenfeld evidently advocate.

Furthermore, this would have been an appropriate occasion for bringing up explicitly the issue of the adequacy of “free collective bargaining” and what union reps mean by that. Gindin remains silent over this issue. 

Of course, strategy should be debated–but part of what is interesting about the situation is the open-endedness of the situation, as even Mark Hancock, the president of CUPE National stated: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

For Gindin, like Rosenfeld, what is needed is–debate, debate and more debate! and not the translation of even imperfect debates into action (and even then, the debate must occur within limits deemed relevant by Gindin–see below concerning his belief that it is irrelevant to debate whether union rhetoric that unionized work is decent).. Like his fellow ally, Rosenfeld, his approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. 

Gindin also opposes the advocacy of a general strike because it was unclear what the term meant: 

Nor was it even clear what the union leaders intended by a ‘general strike’. Did they mean an indefinite strike or – more likely – a one, perhaps two-day strike which, though of consequence would essentially amount to another protest rather than a fundamental challenge to authority (protests had preceded the talk of a general strike; they were spirited and not insignificant, but far from overwhelming).

Note the downplaying of around 10,000 workers and supporters at the picket line/rally on November 4 in the context of the head of a government legislating workers back to work before they even had begun a strike and using the notwithstanding clause to prevent any legal challenge to such legislation. For Gindin, it would seem, only if hundreds of thousands of workers were organized and out on the streets should any realistic talk of a general strike be attempted.  Let us not risk anything; let us be 99 percent certain of victoy before we act. Gindin, apparently idealizes the Days of Action in the 1990s, when about 200,000 people in Toronto alone participated in a city general strike that formed part of a rolling provincial general strike (shifting from one city to another, such as from London or Hamilton–see the interview with Gindin (https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/so-you-want-to-have-a-general-strike-feat-sam-gindin/id1472061764?i=1000463838625). 

If there were 200,000 Sam Gindin’s in Toronto participating in a strike, I doubt that the Ford government would have to worry; even if organized, they would seek a very slow, very cautious path that would not upset the status quo–except perhaps in 200,000 years. 

Gindin’s cautious attitude also reminds me of a parliamentary attitude towards mass actions–despite Gindin’s own undoubtedly sincere acknowledgement of the importance of mass action. From Johannes Agnoli, Collected Works, Volume 2, page 70 (my loose translation): 

… exactly herein lies the point of divergence between attempted communism and  conformist social democracy. There will surely be many comrades at the base and in the top committees, who (without knowing that they are therewith repeating the watchword of narrow-minded German conservatism) will say: We will make no experiments, we will not stake our organization and our methods of struggle,  which are well tried and function well, in favour of a new path whose outcome  we do not know. The German social democrats had already proclaimed, when faced with the rise of Nazism: “Let’s not risk too much in order not to lose everything.” Yet one day comrades will in fact begin to think about a somewhat currious phenomenon, that the organizations and methods tried and tested by history in the western capitalist countries have not only never led in any particular case to revolution but also have not not even been good enough to stop the counter-revolution. [Werner Bonfeld, in “Constitutional Norm versus Constitutional Reality in Germany:  A Review Article on Johannes Agnoli’s Die Transformation der Demokratie und andere Schriften zur Kritik der Politik
(The Transformation of Democracy and other writings on the Critique of Politics),” in pages 65-88, Capital & Class, Volume 16, Issue No. 1, page 66). By “counter-revolution” Agnoli means, as Werner Bonefeld explains, “Agnoli understands the political integration, and thus reformulation, of social struggles for social emancipation as being bound up with a merely political emancipation which characterises the constitution of power in bourgeois societies.”

Gindin fails to take into account the effective nature of the capitalist state in co-opting or integrating  social movements in general and union movements in particular into the capitalist system (backed up, when necessary, by the iron fist of the police and, at times, the military). 

Thomas Mathiesen saw this danger to which Gindin is blind. Mathiesen calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. From Mathiesen (1980), Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism ,page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

On the other hand, Gindin does accurately assess the union reps’ likely response to Ford’s backing down over Bill 28: 

In any case, the proposed general strike wasn’t actually over the workers’ demands, but the Premier’s especially authoritarian legislation. Once that law was repealed, so too was talk of a general strike. And based on what we saw in the media and heard from other channels, while the labour leadership was rightly proud of getting Ford to step back, it seemed quite universally relieved that their threat of a total provincial walk-out would not be tested.

Yes, the union leadership was probably relieved. However, that does not mean that the rank-and-file necessarily were.

The underestimation of the co-optive capacity of the capitalist state leads Gindin to fail to support the potential opposition to the government arising from various sources–a lost opportunity. 

Bill 24, as a specific piece of  authoritarian legislation, was the continuation of earlier authoritarian legislation, such as Bill 5, which had changed–in 2018 mid-municipal elections–ward boundaries. In 2021, when the Ontario Supreme Court judged parts of Bill 254 (which pertained to doubling the length of time a third party could run pre-election ads) to be unconstitutional,  Ford used the notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 307–which contained those parts judged unconsttutional; the use of the notwithstanding clause to quash a judges rulings should be seen in the context of provincial elections the following year–which Ford won. More directly relevant was Bill 124, which capped public-sector wage increases to one percent per year for three years. Just recently, on November 29, the Ontario Supreme Court judged the Bill unconsitutional; Ford’s government is appealing the decision. 

There has been plenty of evidence that Ford has used the political system to quash even liberal political democracy when he can. Given that only about 43.5 percent or, to put it the other way, about 56.5 percent did not bother to vote in the 2022 provincial elections, this in itself indicates that actual support for Ford was probably quite a bit lower. Given the historical record of Ford’s authoritarian administration, and the use of the notwithstanding clause to break not only the union but also set a precedent that could be used to block “free collective bargaining” in the future not only in Ontario but across Canada, the potential for substantial opposition to Ford’s government was there. Furthermore, given the pent-up lives of many during the COVID pandemic, the potential was probably even greater. 

Gindin ignores this potential. 

And what did Gindin do before this situation to call into question the typical union model of “free collective bargaining?” His advocacy of Jane McAlevey’s approach to organizing as deep organizing (with stress tests to see how much power workers have) is a start, but he vastly underestimates the need to engage in ideological struggle if micro-organizing is going to be linked effectively with macro organizing with the aim of overcoming and abolishing the class power of employers. His own defence of unions’ use of such rhetoric as “decent work,” fair contracts” and so forth hardly prepared workers for a grasp of the inadequacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements as vehicles for realizing their interests. 

Gindin then provides a rather weak explanation of why Ford backed down by agreeing to repeal Bill 28: 

And yet Ford did back down in the shadow of labour’s threat of an all-out war with his government. What are we to make of this? Though speculative, it seems that it was not so much the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford, but a growing web of contradictions. He had been trying to carry the populist banner of representing ‘the little man’ and nurturing labour leaders to his side. But the chain of events that the education strike set off exposed his true anti-worker colours and lost him the seven endorsements, primarily from unions in the construction trades, that he had previously recruited.

I will not explore further Gindin’s speculation except to speculate that it was indeed probably “the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford.” Gindin wants to play down the possibility of such a successful strike and thus provides a speculative account of why Ford backed down that does not involve evidence that a general strike might have achieved more than Gindin is willing to admit. 

He then paints a geneal strike as somehow useful at times but not the only or even the most appropriate weapon workers can use to accomplish their goals: 

None of this denies that general strikes can be a crucial instrument in labour’s arsenal in the struggle to make our society more democratic and equal and our lives more secure and meaningful. But ill-prepared general strikes may also expose the weakness of the labour movement rather than showcase its potential. And general strikes are not necessarily the strategic pinnacle of labour opposition.

Consider the contrast with the Days of Action in the mid-1990s. In that earlier period the labour movement understood that it didn’t have the strength to call and sustain a general strike. The alternative chosen was to turn to a series of community shut-downs. This allowed labour to start with communities where it was stronger, concentrate their best organizers there, spend a good deal of time to prepare for each action, and ultimately sustain the protest over eleven one-day regional strikes over two and a half years.

Firstly, there are undoubtedly times when the call for a general strike would be ill-advised. When I attended a second rally in Toronto in support of the education workers on November 11, 2022, there were perhaps only 300 protesters when compared to the 10,000 a week earlier. Despite this, Socialist Action, a far-left political organization here in Toronto, had a poster that called for a general strike; it was evident that such a call for a general strike would fall mostly on deaf ears at this stage. However, before the calling off of the strike on November 7, the potential for a successful strike was much greater to at least force Ford to repeal Bill 28 before workers were to go back to work. It also had the potential to snowball into a call for the repeal of Bill 124 (the legislation that limited public-sector workers’ wages to one percent per year–which a court has recently declared invalid, a decision which Ford has appealed). 

Secondly Gindin refers to the Days of Action and the lack of a general strike but rather eleven one-day regional strikes over two and half years.” What was accomplished by such a tactic? Gindin fails to specify what was gained. Was it a further advance in the organizational capacity of workers? A further understanding of the class nature of our society? A further weakening of the legitimacy of government? When I came to Toronto at the end of August 2013. the left was dominated by social democrats or social reformers–and Gindin reinforced their dominance by failing to engage in any real criticism of their political position. 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

This section tries to answer the question in the heading: 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

The most vexing question emerging out of the education workers’ strike is how it ended. Rather than following the common union practice of staying on strike until there was a concrete offer on hand and ratified by the membership, the leadership ended the strike, returned to negotiations, and also accepted a blackout on information.

The practical point here is that the return to work took the pressure off the employer. Even if talks broke down and picket lines returned, in the interim the momentum of the strike will likely have been eroded. The democratic point is that staying on strike until workers have seen and ratified a deal gives concrete expression to the promise that ‘the union belongs to the workers’. Furthermore, the labour movement seemed to be solidly behind the strike and polls showed the workers had the support of more than six parents in ten. Why, after all the preparations and this apparently favourable moment, would the union end the strike?

As for the media blackout on information, usually justified as allowing the bargaining to ‘go more smoothly’, this generally comes from employers more concerned with trying to freeze the union’s on-going mobilization. For the union, on the other hand, keeping the members informed was a matter of respecting the wisdom of workers and of the commitment to continuous organizing. Transparent bargaining could also facilitate getting a better read on where the members were at as the conflict progressed.

Moreover, in light of Ford’s recent embarrassed retreat, the union had some leverage in rejecting a bargaining blackout. Anxious to quickly end the strike, Ford would have had trouble delaying bargaining so as to control and block information flows. (The obvious compromise was to put any blackout on hold; if bargaining did seem at some point to demand a blackout this could, through mutual agreement be reconsidered.)

Gindin is right to point out the unusual backing down of the reps for the education workers in calling off a strike until demands had been met. The lack of transparency in negotiations is also of concern since this reflects typical anti-democratic behaviour of many union reps. 

Gindin further argues: 

Yet, there were two factors making the continuation of the strike problematic. First, Ford’s eating humble pie changed the dynamics of the bargaining conflict. The labour movement’s prime concern had been Ford’s removal of the right to strike and once that was defeated, the use of that right became secondary. For the labour movement, the negotiations between the education workers and the government drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation.

Ford’s “eating humble pie” did indeed change “the dynamic of the bargaining conflict”–for union reps. Their focus was on defending “free collective bargaining,” and once that had been achieved by a written guarantee by Ford that he would appeal the law, they “drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation. This should have been met by a radical critique of not only this shift but the obvious earlier idealzing of the whole collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective-bargaining agreements as inadequate expressions of the interests of workers. Gindin has done no such thing. 

The radical left needs to explicitly address the inadequacies of the collective-bargaining process, critizing union rhetoric at every turn. It needs to use every opportunity to open up debate about the legitimacy of that process–and such a debate has not been opened up since I moved to Toronto in 2013. Should not socialists be addressing this explicitly whenever they can? 

The second factor to which Gindin refers is parent support: 

Along similar lines, the support of parents could not be indefinitely counted on. After Ford had shown some ‘flexibility’ in annulling his legislation and expressing a readiness to modify his final offer, parents could be expected to pressure the union to show a parallel flexibility by ending the strike and returning to negotiations.

It is true that parents cannot be the determining factor for union strategies – the first consideration must be the workers affected – but neither can the reaction of parents be easily dismissed. Parent attitudes can affect the morale of workers and are critical to any future alliance for improvements in school conditions and funding. And with a good number of parents themselves workers, a relationship to parents is also critical to the building of a more coherent working class. Still, risking the loss of parent support might have been the route to go if it weren’t for the second factor.

Continuing the strike demanded a strike-able issue but in moving to a wage settlement, the union undermined both the staffing issue and the possibility of continuing the strike to win more. This clearly requires some unpacking. In doing so, the point isn’t to make judgements with the benefit of hindsight, but to explore some of the dynamics of bargaining to the end of rethinking future tactics/strategies.

It is true that parent support would likely not last indefinitely–short of much more radical measures. Gindin’s point is that the union could have tried to shift the central issue in bargaining from wages to the other issue of staffing levels–which would resonate more with parents than wage increases. This was perhaps a tactical error even for union reps–they could have achieved more at the bargaining table if they could sustain parent support.

Gindin then, interestingly enough, suggests an alternative scenario that would have addressed the staffing issue even if it were not a priority for the bargining committee: 

When they did, any pressure on the government moving on staffing was essentially gone. The union could not sustain a strike on staffing alone, which would have been a hard task in any case but certainly after wages, the workers main issue, was settled. Like wages, the call for more staffing went against Ford’s determination to continue reductions in expenditures across the public sector. What was distinct about staffing was that it challenged employers’ sacred ‘management right’ to rule the workplace. Getting the government to bend on staffing would be especially difficult and uncertain.

To have escaped this dilemma, the union would likely have had to concentrate on the staffing issue before getting to wages. This may seem peculiar given that wages were the obvious priority. But there is a distinction between priorities and the tactics of putting a package together. Unions in fact commonly try to address critical workplace and management rights issues before turning to wages, even when wages increases are the main goal.

When Ford offered to modify the government’s final offer in exchange for the union ending the strike and returning to the table, what if the union had responded not by pointing to wages but by leaving the wages to the side – knowing they would in the end return to the centre – and demanding some movement on staffing before they ended the strike? If Ford bit and offered something – anything – that in itself would give the workers a breakthrough to build on. If he didn’t, then twinning wages and staffing (unlike staffing alone) could sustain the continuation of the strike.

This indeed could have been done. Pressing for an inroad into what is traditionally management rights would have opened up the possibility of further politicizing the issue. However, such a possibility would have to be built on and not just swept under the rug–which is what the social-democratic or reformist left do so often. 

In addition, Gindin does not question the adequacy of addressing staffing levels–which have to do with adequate services under the existing school system. Adequate staffing levels appears then to assume that the school system is itself adequate and what is needed is an expansion of money and current services–and public education will be adequate. Public education, however, is riveted with contradictions and inadequacies, such as the rhetoric of addressing the educational needs of children while simultaneously using grades or marks to control, oppress and stream students (see in general the series of posts titled “Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher” and for the partiular criticism of the use of grades or marks in schools see  Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fifteen: Progressive Versus Regressive Grading Systems in Schools). 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

This final section before drawing up lessons learned is a summing up of whether the education workers won or lost. 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

It’s hard to claim a victory when wages will fall even further behind inflation and staffing remains as is. But what can be said is that the internal organizing among the education workers and their readiness to strike illegally mattered. In a mere two days, the education workers had, remarkably, forced an aggressive Premier to back off a law dangerous to the labour movement as a whole, pushed the employer to drop concessionary demands like the erosion of paid sick days, and in spite of Ford’s absolute ‘final offer’, raised wages by a dollar across the workforce in each year of the agreement (a near doubling of the earlier offer).

Beyond this, the education workers were a showcase for implementing systematic member organizing into union strategy and demonstrating that workers can fight back even in the worst of circumstances. The education workers tried to derail the grim austerity agenda the Ford government has been pursuing but fell short. This poses a challenge to the larger labour movement to acknowledge its decades long internal crisis and start to confront seriously what reversing that crisis will mean.

It will take time to assess whether, considering everything, this strike is deemed a win or not. It will take some time to get a read on whether the education workers and the labour movement as a whole came out of this stronger or weaker. Time to learn about the impact on the consciousness and confidence of the education workers and time to see how the union deals with lingering disappointment. Time, that is, to see whether the example of the education workers affects the orientation and culture of the labour movement.

The education workers did indeed gain something–an increase in wages that they would otherwise have not gained, They also gained in organizing themselves and in learning to organize themselves. These positive gains also must include the negative gain of defeating Bill 28. However, largely what was gained was–a return to the status quo without any real questioning of the premises of the class power of employers. There is little indication that the workers drew any radical conclusions about the nature of working for an employer, the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements or the nature of class oppression and class exploitation.

Why is that? 

My prediction is that what transpired will have little effect on “the orientation and culture of the labour movement.” It had the potential to do so–but the potential was wasted–and Gindin, ultimately, is in agreement with such waste even if he is not conscious of his implicit agreement.

Gindin then refers to what he claims is needed for the labour movement: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

He actually refers to five, not four, “challenges/tests”: 

1. Organizing

Activists should be pressing the parent union of the education workers CUPE, the largest union in the country, to extend the education/training carried out with such success in its education sector to the rest of CUPE. And activists everywhere should push their union to emulate the internal organizing the education workers did, adapted of course to their own circumstances. Among other things this would require setting up a cross-union school for training instructors. and essentially adding ‘organizing schools’ to the characterization of what unions are.

Yes, internal organizing and organizing schools should be created–but they should be combined with a critical part of such education–on the one hand, the critical determination of the nature of the kind of society in which we live and, on the other hand, a critical discussion of the limits of collective bargaining and collective agreements. 

The second challenge/test: 

2. Coordination

It is stunning that in the face of the 1% caps on public sector wage agreements, no systematic coordination occurred across unions. There have been ad hoc attempts to coordinate bargaining in some sectors like health, but it has been limited. Any broader coordination across unions will be difficult, yet with the public sector facing common attacks from the state, it’s surely time for the creation of a permanent council of public sector unions to strategize and build solidarity for the confrontations that we know are sure to come.

Yes, this too should arise. However, coordination across the public sector that fails to be crticial of union rhetoric is likely to result in the same kind of business union concerns that individual unions address. For example, when I attended a meeting of the Toronto Airport Workers Assembly (TAWC), an organization where union reps from various local unions whose jurisdiction is Toronto Pearson Airport workers, the meeting seemed like an enlarged union meeting, with the concerns of union reps being addressed without any critical larger issues being addressed (for addtional information on TAWC, see the posts  The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC): One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward?    and  The Pearson Survey of the 50,000 Employees at the Toronto International Airport: A Document Expressing the Ideology of Employers  as well as TAWC’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=tawc%3A%20toronto%20airport%20workers%27%20council. What we also need is not just defensive coordination but offensive coordination. Unions have not engage in offensive tactics and strategies for a long time–and that does not just mean going on strike to achieve better contracts; it also means coordinating efforts with the explicit purpose of challenging the class power of employers in various ways, such as economic, political and ideological struggle. 

Gindin refers to the third challenge/test–and it sounds radical: 

3. Addressing Class

While organizing at the base and coordinating at the top complement each other, both need a clear strategic vision. What are workers being educated and trained for? What struggles would coordination prepare workers for? Some four decades ago Doug Fraser, then president of the UAW, clearly identified the emerging reality: “A class war is being waged in this country but only one class is fighting.” This remains true today and workers have suffered immensely for it. If this is to change, workers must come to grips with who they are, who is there with them, and where they ‘fit’ in the system. Class penetrates every aspect of workers’ lives and unless workers integrate class into how they think and act, the future will, if anything, be even worse than the past and present.

There is evidence that  what Gindin means by “class” is quite different from what I understandin by class. Thus,  part of the nature of class is to criticize slogans that hide the real nature of oppression and exploitation at work. As Gindin wrote on  November 24, 2017: 

Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.  Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve. ‘Decent jobs’ or a ‘good contract’ are a way of expressing defensive gains when radical gains are not even on the table and we – those on this exchange – don’t have the capacity tooter [to offer?] them any kind of alternative jobs. So criticizing them for this hardly seems an effective way to move them to your view – which is not to say you shouldn’t raise it but that you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t suddenly act on your point.

Gindin’s approach is far from Marx’s approach. From a letter written by Marx to Arnold Ruge, September 1843 (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 3, page 142): 

But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists,
ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

“Everyone pretty much knows … that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve.” Really? I doubt that. Where is the evidence that workers or even the so-called radical left here in Toronto take seriously the nature of exploitation in Toronto? It is nowhere to be found.  Who is this everyone?

Indeed, it is one of the basic features of capitalist relations (class relations in a capitalist society) that they take the form of a relation between things and thus hide the nature of class exploitation. Social relations between workers become an objective relation that controls the workers rather than vice versa.  From Nicholas Gray (Winter 2012), “Against Perversion and Fetish: The Marxian Theory of Revolution as Practical Demystification,” in pages 13-24, Studies in Social and Political Thought, Volume 20, page 19: 

Thus, in bourgeois society, although individuals hold their “social power in their pocket” or “in the shape of a thing” (Marx, 1973, p. 157), in fact it is they who are beholden to it, or under its sway: they are “ruled by abstractions” (their own social relations which have become abstracted from them – i.e. alienated from them) (1973, p. 164). The alienation of social power goes hand in hand with an ontological inversion characteristic of the money form of value: money is transformed from means of exchange to a relation of power which subjugates individuals; a social relation alienated such that
it becomes autonomous, self-standing, and an end in itself.

These objective relations between workers results in their exploitation–but such exploitation is not visible–unlike earlier kinds of society. From Meghnad Desai (1974), Marxian Economic Theory, page 16: 

The contradiction between the juridically free status of the labourer and his exploitation is the original contradiction of capitalism. It is original since it appears at the origin in capitalism. In  no other society does exploitation take the value form [objective form of the relations between producers] since in no society does it have to be masked from visible relationships.

Class relations are hidden by relations of exchange, or relations of buying and selling commodities. Desai, page 23: 

The difference lies not in the characterization of the productive process, similar for all schools of
economics, but in the process of buying and selling labour power,  which lies at the beginning of the productive process and leads to appropriation of surplus value by one class. Throughout all the participants perceive only legitimate exchange relations and not unequal relations of class and
exploitation.

Exploitation is hardly evident in a class society characterized by capitalist relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. Quite to the contrary. The capitalist process of exploitation appears in the form of its opposite. From Desai, page 55: 

In Neoclassical economic theory, preferences and technology are the structural relations which explain the observed pricequantity data. Marx would reject these Neoclassical relations as not
penetrating beneath the surface of exchange relationships to the relations of production and the forces of production. But Marx went further than this. He also emphasised that the observed reality was the inverse or mirror image of the true social relationship. Thus, exchange shows equality where the true relationships are of exploitation. In this sense, observed reality is upside down, and empirical data unless approached within a value theoretic framework would lead to conclusions which will contradict the predictions of the value theory.

Exchange relations appear as what they are–formal relations of equality between buyer and seller. No one threatens through the use of physical violence for workers to work for a particular employer. This formal exchange relation, however, conflicts with the exploitation and oppression of workers when they are working.

In addition to exchange relations hiding the real nature of exploitation, distribution relations also hide the nature of exploitation. Although I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of specific workers working for specific employers (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), the amount of surplus value or profit particular employers receive need not and indeed rarely coincides with the surplus value that their workers produce. The amount of surplus value (s) or profit employers receive is mediated through the distribution of the surplus value produced according to the rule of equal rates of profit for equal amount of total capital invested (for an example of this complicating issue, see my response to a comment made by Biswadip Dasgupta on my post  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada). As Desai remarks, page 56: 

The role of price mechanism and exchange in Marx’ s theory is to mask surplus value and make it appear legitimate as profit. The profit of anyone particular firm, industry or Department does not equal the surplus value produced by it. … The link between profits and surplus value becomes complex and in fighting against exploitation workers cannot fight against their own industry’s owners in isolation; they have to fight the whole system.

What workers face immediately, however, is a particular employer so that the fight has its point of departure there but has class exploitation as its background and supposition.

Given the nature of capitalist reality, exploitation is hardly evident to workers. An ideological struggle is thus necessary to expose such a reality–but Gindin obviously considers such struggle to be secondary to the magic of “organization.” As I wrote in another post: 

Mr. Gindin fails to see the need to combine a specific kind of organization with ideological struggle. To be sure, without organization workers cannot gain power, but workers will unlikely gain power without engaging in organization and ideological struggle simultaneously. Mr. Gindin minimizes the importance of ideological struggle and exaggerates the importance of mere changes in organizational struggles (such as Ms. McAlevey’s innovations in organizing). Both are required simultaneously, and that means engaging in an ideological battle with the traditional left. Mr. Gindin, however, indulges the social-democratic left and panders to them by avoiding an ideological struggle. Any organization that emerges as a consequence will unlikely be more than an organization that accepts the power of employers as a class.

Gindin ignores the specific nature of exploitation in a capitalist society–its hidden nature. 

Or is Gindin referring to some union reps being aware of exploitation, such as Wayne Dealy (executive director of CUPE local 3902) or Tracy McMaster (union steward, former president of the Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), and former vice president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)? 

Perhaps Dealy plays lip service to the existence of exploitation (although I have never seen any evidence of this), but does he take such exploitation into account when formulating a plan of action? There is no evidence that he does so. Let Gindin provide evidence to the contrary. 

As for Tracy McMaster–“Our Tracy,” as Gindin once called her–her views are linked to Dealy’s response to her email sent to those on the listserve of the Toronto Labour Committee: 

Hello all,
 
Sean,  It was great hearing you on CBC this morning talking about   TAWC!  In case you haven’t heard, our neighbours the Molson’s   workers from Local 325 CUBGE are on the picket line. Representing  airport & airline workers I spoke at their Solidarity BBQ last week   at the International Drive/Carlingview entrance. They are in a tough battle with a huge corporate (and American) giant in Coors and could  really use our support. Please boycott Molsons products for the  duration of the strike, and feel free to drop by the picket line  -honking support is also welcome! The workers just want a fair deal, good jobs, pension security and fair benefits [my emphases] but the employer won’t even bargain.  I hope you all   will join me in showing solidarity with the brewery workers from   Local 325! 
 
In solidarity,

 

Tracy
Since I wanted to open up debate on such an issue, I responded thus: 
Hello everyone,
 
 
I would like to respond to Tracy’s reference to a “fair deal” and  “good job.”
 
These workers do certainly deserve to be supported in various   ways–it is a question of solidarity.
 
However, I do hear often enough such terms by those who support  unions. I too support unions, but the use of such terms needs to be  debated.
 
Having worked in a brewery for about four years, I do have some  experience in the area. I fail to see how what workers at a brewery  do is considered to be a good job. They are used as means to obtain  
more money for investors. Is being used to obtain more money for investors something to be proud of?
 
Would a parent sincerely want her or his child to be used to obtain   more money for others? To be treated as a means to that end?
 
Yes, brewery workers may receive higher wages than some, and they  may receive benefits as well (if they fight for them through  organizing themselves). However, is this adequate compensation for  
being treated, ultimately, as things to be used by investors and  their representatives in order to obtain more money? Do we not   deserve better–much better?
 
But let us assume that these workers have whatever is called a good  job and are not used by others (a cooperative could be such a  situation where workers have more control over their immediate  working lives). Firstly, what of the other workers in other  industries, or those who work in the public sector?Are their lives  not a means for obtaining a profit (the private sector), or for  realizing the mission of the particular public sector (without much  control over their own working lives). Even on the assumption that a particular group of workers have somehow a “good” job involves other  workers lacking control over their working lives. Such a situation  contradicts the principle of solidarity among workers,does it not?
 
Unless of course there is a growing movement for all workers to  control their working lives–which involves the conscious intent to  do so and the practical effort to realize such a goal.
 
The same logic applies to a “fair” deal.
 
What is meant by a “good job,” a “decent job,” or a “fair deal?”
 

Fred

Dealy responded thus: 
Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?
 
 
Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science
University of Toronto
My response: 
It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has  something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.
 
Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts  (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed,  the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real  concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in  relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response  itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on  March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.
 
Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker
By the way, the topic was never addressed by the Toronto Labour Committee at the date and time indicated–and never while I was a member of that organization. 
 
Dealy’s response: 

wayne.dealy@utoronto.ca

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.
 
Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.
 
On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of
employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.
 
And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.
 
Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.
 
Wayne.
 
p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick
Gindin’s intervention involves his cavalier dismissal in the quote above of my concerns, beginning with: “Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.”
 
Further evidence that McMaster does not take exploitation and oppression seriously is one of her emails, a response to an email I sent, part of which is reproduced below: 

On Feb 2, 2018, at 4:32 PM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

The idea that 20,000 new members have been organized as part of a collective-bargaining unit is certainly better than not belonging to a collective-bargaining unit. One has to wonder, though, what Jane McAlevey would think about such an accomplishment. Is it the old model of a union engaging in collective bargaining while the membership grieve mainly through legal means (the grievance procedure) and, otherwise, remain passive? Is it the model where at best 2,000 of those members attend union meetings (probably substantially less, if the number who attended UNITE HERE Local 75 meetings is any indication)? Where union really means an objectified social structure that fails to really unify the workers against management on a day-to-day basis?

Of course, since there are no details provided about what organizing 20,000 part-time workers actually means for the lives of these 20,000 workers, it is difficult to determine how significant this is.

What is needed, instead of merely citing numbers (purely quantitative considerations), is an opening into a qualitative debate and conversation about the goals of the labour movement and of the union movement and their relation to the power of employers as a class–unless of course we already have fairness, economic justice and fair contracts–in the best of all possible worlds.

Fred

McMaster responded as follows: 

Tracy MacMaster
Fri 2018-02-02 7:33 PM
 
Hi Fred,
I don’t normally repsond to your emails, but I feel compelled.  20,000 workers, who for 50 years had almost no protections in the workplace, since they were excluded from many of the most basic protections of the Employment Standards Act, will now have a voice in the workplace.  The potential to improve their material circumstances, as well as their health – precarious workers are at greater risk for negative health outcomes, due to uncertainty, and of course poverty – gives me hope.
 
Having worked alongside numerous activists on this project for the past 13 years, I can only express delight that they finally have come this far.  Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none [my emphasis]. I hope you can attend the meeting to hear what’s going on with them, particularly in the context of the pressure being put on their employer through the recent faculty strike. Theory is a marvelous thing, but we need to acknowledge concrete gains and losses if we have any hope of affecting change.
 
In solidarity,
Tracy
In the first place, I had already recognized that collective bargaining that results in a collective bargaining is better than no collective agreement. In the second place, her claim that “collective bargaining is limited and imperfect” sounds like more union rhetoric. If it is limited and imperfect, in what way? If so, what is McMaster doing about it? The reference to “limited and imperfect” is union rhetoric that hides any real consideration of such limits and imperfections and taking them to heart. The only way to convince Ms. McMaster, as far as I can see, is to–agree with her. She idealizes collective bargaining and fails to address its limitations.
 
I sincerely doubt that McMaster takes seriously the limitations and imperfections of collective bargaining. If there is such evidence, others should provide us. If she did, she would have discussed such limitations and imperfections as well as what needs to be done to overcome such limitations and imperfections. She merely pays lip service to such limitations and imperfections. In practice, she operates entirely in terms of collective bargaining.
 
Gindin’s claim that “Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve” rings hollow both at the level of working class in general and at the level of so-called trade-union activists. 

The fourth “challenge/test” also seems to be radical: 

4. Union Transformation

Carrying out the above projects is not just a matter of adding certain functions to unions. To deal with them seriously is to recognize that what is at stake is transforming our unions. Truly addressing all of the above means changing union structures and priorities, how unions allocate their funds, the role of the staff, the leadership’s relationship to their members, the unions’ approach to bargaining, and its orientation to ‘politics’.

Given Gindin’s position in point three above (unless he has changed his position in the meantime), his call for transforming unions is insufficient. When faced with a challenge by me of a typical union position, he defended the union position and criticized my position without a thought. His meaning of what union transformation involves and what I mean are obviously quite different. 

Furthermore, in Gindin’s article, he implies above that going out on strike 

It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike.

How was the college strike an indication “of a reawakening within the labour movement?” Gindin fails to explain how this was so. Going out on stike as a means to obtain a collective agreement has formed part of the union scene even during the Second World War and has formed a part of that scence during the post-War settlement. That strikes have decreased in frequency does not mean that a resurgence in strikes questions the premises of the class power of employers in any way. It may just be a tactic to obtain a better collective agreement. 

How is this change to arise if not through criticism? Through open debate? I withdrew from the Toronto Labour Committee and started this blog in large part because of the lack of open debate in the Toronto Labour Committee over issues that I consider important. I fail to see how Gindin’s position has changed in the meantime. Perhaps he can enlighten his readers on this point. 

The only change that Gindin seems to propose concretely is to follow Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. He fails to address how the macro issue of the class power of employes is to be addressed (McAlevey fails to address it). He nowhere takes into account how the nature of capitalist economic, political, legal and ideological relations hide the nature of exploitation and oppression. He also fails to address the issue of how unions are to be transformed when they persistently define the limits of their actions in terms of collective bargaining. Even McAlevey repeatedly refers to “good contracts”–as if there were such a thing. 

Fifth challenge: Politics

5. Politics

The problems workers face go beyond any workplace, union, or sector. And at some point we need to clearly address why things are the way they are: Why do inequalities keep rising? Why is there unemployment and why is there inflation? Why do we have a looming environmental crisis? Politics is not so much about good policies as about building the social base so we have the power to see those policies implemented. At the centre of building such a base is the making of a working class with the understandings, coherence, individual and collective capacities, and confidence to make change. At this moment in time, the over-riding political question is how we to organize ourselves so as to build that kind of working class. The Ontario CUPE education workers gave us a glimpse of what is needed and what is possible. Will the labour movement in Canada build on this? There is much more to be done. •

Note Gindin’s focus here: increasing inequalities, unemployment, inflation, the environmental crisis. All of these are real enough and of concern for workers, but there is also the daily politics of subordinating billions of workers’ lives and wills to the power of employers. No mention of exploitation here. I guess we never really need to make exploitation an essential aspect of any critical approach to class politics. 

Gindin seems also to asusme that what is needed is to develop the social power of workers–so that they can push through policies that the state will then implement–why else refer to “have the power to see those policies implemented”? Who does the implementing of policies is vital. It is crucial that workers not only “have the power to see those policies implemented” but that they have the power to implement them as well and to oversee such implementation–the democratisation of the state through the abolition of its hierarchical, separate and objective nature (see the post The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector for an elaboration of this)–in effect abolishing the nature of the state as an oppressive feature in our lives and self-government through an a great expansion of who is elected (administrators and judgeds would themselves be elected) and a great expansion of control over those elected through the right to recall elected officials–real accountability, not the pseudo-accountability of the present neoliberal state. 

Conclusion

On the positive side,  he rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation–especially Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. Gindin also emphasizes the need for deep organizing as suggested by Jane McAlevey–and how the education workers used that principle to organize their own strike. In addition, he correctly assesses the probable desire of union leaders to return to the status quo of “free collective bargaining” as soon as possible. Furthermore, Gindin also usefully refers to the need to consider tactical considerations (and public support) when emphasizing certain bargaining demands, Finally, he justifiably indicates that the education workers did make some gains

,  -but . He certainly does not really engage with the issue of how working for an employer is oppressive and exploitative nor how collective-bargaining and collective agreements cannot adequately address this common situation of workers

There are nontheless many problems with Gindin’s analysis. Gindin’s approach clings to caution, caution and more caution. His underestimation of the uniqueness of the situation to unify the union movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada leads him, in part to be overly cautious. This cautious attitude is reinforced by his underestimation of the probable level of public support for the striking workers. He also downplays the probabe real fear that Ford experienced of a possible general strike.

Despite his recognition of the need to fashion bargaining demands that take into account likely public reaction (especially in the public sector) while making inroads in management rights, he does not consider the larger qualitative issue of the adequacy of the social services provided in the public sector (such as the adequacy of the grading system to meet the learning needs of students). 

Gindin leaves open the impact of the education workers’ strike on the union and labour movement. My assessment is that there will be little impact of what occurred on the larger labour movement. Gindin ignores both the specific hidden nature of exploitation and the co-optive capacity of the modern capitalist state. 

Organizing will continue on the same basis, and “free collective bargaining” will continue to be idealized. Even deep organizing will fail to address the wider class issues. So too will coordination within the public sector unless it addresses the exploitative and oppressive nature of the employment relaitonship and the inadequacies of “free collective bargaining.” 

Gindin’s call for making class central sounds radical, but his understanding of class does not come to grips with the specific nature of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Given the nature of class exploitation and oppression in modern capitalism, his call for union transformation, accordingly, has a hollow ring to it since he fails to address the economic, political and ideological obstacles to such a transformation. Similarly, his call for class politics sounds radical, but he apparently conceives the modern government, with its hierarchy and anti-democratic executive structure, to be the vehicle for the realization of the social power of the working class. Class politics, however, also needs to involve a radical breaking down of the hierarchy through the expansion of the election of administrators and judges and the closer control of them by workers and the general public. 

Now that the opportunity for a general strike or at least a more unified union and labour movement–along with advanced in the repeal of repressive Bills (such as Bill 124) through workers’ own initiative rather than through the courts–has been lost, what will Gindin do? Probably continue to engage in his slow, social-reformist approach that will not serve the interests of the working class as a whole. 

All in all, Gindin’s article, like Rosenfeld’s article, expresses conservative radicalism or radical coservativism.

 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fifteen: Progressive Versus Regressive Grading Systems in Schools

Introduction

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

This series is appropriate at this time in Toronto and in Ontario, Canada, because of the recent almost general strike that was initiated by the strike of 55,000 education workers that officially began on November 4, 2022 and that spread through strike support by other unions, parents and concerned citizens, immigrants and migrant workers (for detals see the previous post  The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism).

The Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) included in its demands an increase in staffing levels in schools for custodians, librarians educational assistants and so forth. This seems progressive–an attempt to encroach on the perceived inherent management right of hiring–and in some ways it is. The sanctity of the principle of management’s rights to determing staffing levels was questioned. However, this still is a purely quantitative question–how many workers are to be allocated to the given school system. There is no questioning of the adequate nature of the school system in its various aspects. The standard is still the present school system, and what OBSCU sought to vary was the staffing level of a presupposed fixed school system.

What is needed is a critique of the school system and not just quantitative changes. That was the purpose of writing this and other posts in this series.

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

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

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

The reference to Janet’s “intensive supervision” is to Janet Martell, superintendent of Lakeshore School Division at the time. Following a clinical supervision performed by Neil MacNeil, principal at the time of Ashern Central School (I will elaborate on this at a future date), Ms. Martell decided to place me on “intensive supervision,” which meant that I would be directly supervised by her.

Grading Systems and Equity in Schools

The attached article for the ESJ Ning is prefaced by the following:
Hello everyone,
The attached article refers to the ritual practice of grading (marking) in schools.

Janet, during the conference that was to lead to my “intensive supervision,” indicated that she and I could have a debate about whether formative and summative assessment were contradictory later on during the conference (I had contended that they easily could be in my response to Neil’s exemplary assessment). I declined such a challenge—given the context. [Summative assessment is the typical grading system in school, with either letter grades or percentage grades. Formative assessment is feedback by the teacher to the student for the purpose of improving the work of the student.] 

The question that should be asked is: Would Janet have challenged me to such a debate outside that particular context? Would I have declined to debate her if the context had been different? The answers to those questions would be instructive about the nature of our society.

I prefaced the article with the following:

The following article, “An Amercian Ritual : Grading as a Cultural Function,” though dated, provides an overview of some of the equity issues surrounding grading. The author, N. Ray Hiner, points out that the grading system constitutes a constant experience of children and adolescents during their school years. It symbolizes, among other things, a reward system for students. Students become used to having their work quantified and, by implication, themselves quantified on a comparative basis.  Grades are the currency or money of the school system.

The distribution of rewards in American (and Canadian) society seems to be a function of two principles. On the one hand, individual achievement should be rewarded. On the other hand, there should be equality between individuals. Equal opportunity is seen by many as a compromise between the two principles.

The two principles, however, can easily clash, and different grading systems approach one or the other end of the two principles most closely. (A superintendent, Janet Martell, contended that formative assessment and summative assessment hardly need clash. This was in the context of the employer-employee relation, with her being a representative of the employer and I being an employee. Given the imbalance in power in such a relation, I did not think that a debate with the superintendent would achieve anything. However, if any principal or superintendent would care to enter an open debate with me (provided they do not represent an employer vis-à-vis me), I am open to engaging in such a debate. By the way, the superintendent evidently believes in outcome-based education and criterion-referenced assessment.)

The author argues that different grading systems are more or less egalitarian and more or less achievement-oriented. The least egalitarian but the most achievement oriented is, ironically, criterion-referenced grading systems (which the Manitoba Department of Education has adopted in the form of learning outcomes). The author does not elaborate to any great extent why it is the least egalitarian, but it can be surmised that students with more “cultural capital” at their disposal (based on family background and resources) will achieve more than those students with less cultural capital; there is no equal opportunity to counteract such inequality of cultural capital.

Slightly more egalitarian but still achievement-oriented is norm-referenced assessments, where individual students are assessed in relation to each other rather than to objective criteria. The author’s reason for claiming that it is more egalitarian than criterion-referenced assessment is that the bell-curve mechanism for assigning grades will ensure that those who achieve average performance will, on average, receive an average grade (or at least a pass of C).The majority will pass; in criterion-referenced assessment, there is no such guarantee.

A more egalitarian model of grading is based on effort and less on individual achievement. Those endowed with superior cultural capital or resources may rest on their laurels and so make less effort and, accordingly, receive a lower mark than someone who makes a greater effort even if achievement is wanting. There is a greater possibility for equality of opportunity based on effort in this model.

Blanket grading is even more egalitarian but much less dependent on individual achievement since all students receive the same grade. Minimum requirements are specified, but they are set so that everyone can achieve them. This form of grading is rare.

The most egalitarian grading system but least based on individual achievement is a no-grade system. The reasoning behind such a grading system includes the view that irrelevant distinctions among individuals arise that have no place in a democratic society. Furthermore, grading results in class distinctions, with an arrogant minority considering itself to be superior to those below them on the basis of grades (and future life opportunities). Grading also alienates a large part of the student population and leads to low self-esteem among many students. Finally, those who advocate a no-grading policy do not denigrate achievement. Achievement is its own reward and does not need an external reward system.

The no-grade policy, as far as I can determine, was instituted in the Dewey University Laboratory School from 1896 to 1904 in Chicago. Grading only came into consideration when college entrance examinations came into question:

The oldest members of this united group (who normally would have been classified as Group XII) were given special tutoring and review courses in preparation for their college board examinations, which were complicating the program. Had the group consisted solely of those who had followed the consecutively developing program of the school, and had it not been hampered by the demands of college entrance examinations, the various courses for the oldest children doubtless would have followed a far different and more logical plan, hints of which appear in the records” (K. Mayhew & A. Edwards, (1966).The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896-1903. New York: Atherson Press. (Original work published in 1936, p. 237).

The author argues that a particular grading system will undoubtedly generate vigorous debate. After all, it is a cultural instrument.

Hiner was too hopeful. The shift to outcome-based education in Manitoba, for instance, does not seem to have generated much debate.

A particular grading system is indeed a cultural instrument and, indeed, any grading system is a cultural instrument.

Is not a grading system needed when there is a market for workers? If there were no grading system, how would students be restricted from entering university? How would employers be able to differentiate more easily different kinds of potential employees? If all who attended obtained a high-school diploma or a university degree, how would allocation of workers to different employers be effected?

A summative grading system seems to be tied to a market for workers. Without a market for workers, would there be a need for a summative grading system? If so, why?

There are many questions, but educational researchers rarely ask such questions. Most educational researchers are more concerned with asking questions that relate to the present school structure (or a variation within such a structure) rather than questioning the premises of such a structure and engaging in research related to questioning those premises.

Educational research needs to become more critical. Education, after all, is supposed to generate critical thinking.

What kind of grading system, if any, would be most equitable and just? Under what social conditions?

Conclusion

Grading systems form an essential oppressive aspect of the experiences of hundreds of millions of children throughout the world–and yet you would not know it when reading leftist literature, which often ignores such daily experiences. Janet Martell, the superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, where I worked, implicitly understood the importance of the grading system by attacking my characterization of summative assessment to be in contradition to formative assessment.

The left should take note, should it not, about what the representatives of employers considers to be important and what such represenatives conceive as a threat? Such observations would permit the left to focus on fault lines in the point of view of such representatives in order to attack them since it is a weak point in their defenses.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Workers-First Agenda: A Critique: Part One

Introduction

The so-called radical left here in Toronto rarely engages in any detailed criticism of unions or groups of unions. Quite to the contrary. They either make vague assertions about “the trade-union elite” or the “trade-union bureaucracy” (union bureaucrats or business unions), or they remain silent when faced with the persistent rhetoric that unions. It is hardly in the interests of the working-class to read merely vague criticisms of unions or to not read anything concerning the limitations of unions or groups of unions. 

To enlighten workers concerning such limitations, I have on a number of occasions criticized unions in various ways. The following is a further example of such criticism. It pertains to Ontario Federation of Labour’s “Workers-First Agenda” campaign.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

What is the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)? On its website, we read the following: 

WHO WE ARE

Just as workers unite in a union to protect their rights, unions also unite in federations of labour to fight for better working and living conditions. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) serves as an umbrella group for working people and their unions.

From our inception in 1957, the OFL has grown to represent over one million Ontario workers belonging to more than 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions, making us Canada’s largest labour federation. Our strong membership and constant vigilance make us a formidable political voice.

WHAT WE DO

We push for legislative change in every area that affects people’s daily lives. Areas like health, education, workplace safety, minimum wage and other employment standards, human rights, women’s rights, workers’ compensation, and pensions.

We also make regular presentations and submissions to the Ontario government and mount internal and public awareness campaigns to mobilize the kind of political pressure that secures positive change for all workers – whether you belong to a union or not.

To accomplish these goals, we work with affiliated local unions and labour councils across the province. We also partner with other community and social justice organizations to build a fairer and more inclusive society that meets everyone’s needs.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Worker’s-First Agenda Campaign

The Ontario Federation of Labour (Ontario is a large province in Canada) has initiated a campaign called “Building the Fight for a Workers-First Agenda” (https://ofl.ca/event/activist-assembly-2022/). 

I certainly agree that workers need to fight to create a workers-first agenda. However, I seriously question that what the Ontario Federation of Labour calls a workers’ agenda expresses a full and complete workers’ agenda. 

As is usual, I hardly oppose the fight for reforms that benefit workers. However, is what is proposed anything other than the fight for a more humanized form of capitalism? Let us see. 

On the above web page, we read: 

That means good jobs and decent work for all workers; a $20 minimum wage; high quality affordable housing; accessible and well funded health care, long term care, education, and other public services; justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities; climate justice and a livable planet; and so much more!

These are winnable demands, but only if we fight for them. That’s why we need you to help build the fight for a workers first agenda in our province.

A $20 minimum wage is certainly better than $15; high quality affordable housing is certainly better than privatized unaffordable housing, or affordable but dilapidated housing (I used to live in a dilapidated house in Calgary, Alberta), more accessible and better funded health care, long-term care, education and other public services  that are more accessible and better funded, It is certainly preferable to achieve greater justice for Indigenous and racialized communities. It is also better to reduce global warming and the destruction of our planet. 

But what is the standard used to determine 

  1. what good and decent jobs are? 
  2. high-quality affordable housing? 
  3. accessible and well-funded health care?
  4. accessible and well-funded long-term care?
  5. accessible and well-funded education?
  6. justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities?
  7. climate justice?
  8. a livable planet? 

Decent work would undoubtedly include 10 paid sick days for all workers (including gig workers and migrant workers). A more detailed treatment of what the Ontario Federation of Labour means by “decent work” can be found in their document titled Protection for Every Worker
Establishing the Future of Decent Work in Ontario, a “Submission to the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development,” dated July 21, 2021 (see the post on the webpage https://ofl.ca/   by using the search terms “decent work”). 

In that document, we read: 

1. THE DECENT WORK AGENDA

As we emphasized in the OFL’s extensive submissions to the Changing Workplaces Review, a job should be a pathway out of poverty. We strongly encourage the OWRAC [Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee] to review the OFL’s submission to the Changing Workplaces Review, which outlines a suite of required changes to both the ESA [Employment Standards Act{ and the LRA [Labour Relations Act]. While some Ontarians are staying home, those keeping the province running – and facing a greater risk of infection – are people working in jobs that traditionally have been the lowest paid with few benefits and no access to unionization. And it is women workers, racialized and Indigenous workers, migrant and immigrant workers, and workers with disabilities that are overrepresented in these precarious but essential jobs. A full economic recovery will require the government to legislate increases to workers’ wages and protections as well as to correct the inherent power imbalance between workers and employers.

The Limitations of the OFL’s “Workers First” Labour Agenda Campaign

The OFL admits that there is an “inherent power imbalance between workers and employers”–but fails to explain why such an inherent imbalance of power exists in the first place. Surely it is due to the workers not having a right of access to the means of producing their own lives (machines–including computers–buildings, offices, office supplies, raw material and so forth) and employers having the right to exclude workers from such right of access. Why is the OFL silent over an elaboration of the nature of such imbalance? 

I searched on the Ontario Federation of Labour’s website using the search term “power imbalance” (in quotation marks). These are the results (three of them) (my emphases): 

  1. The OFL’s submission puts forth recommendations to both the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act that will raise the minimum standards for all Ontario workers, expand access to our fundamental freedom to associate for the meaningful pursuit of collective workplace goals, correct the inherent power imbalance in the employment relationship, and protect vulnerable workers.
  2. Ontario’s outdated labour laws can do little to remedy the dramatic power imbalance that exists between well-heeled company owners and their employees

  3. “Migrant workers endure an incredible power imbalance in the face of their employers and are often gendered and racialized workers,” said Irwin Nanda, Executive Vice-President of the OFL. “To address the root of this exploitation, the province must also push the federal government to scale back the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and return to a robust national policy of permanent immigration that provides migrant workers with opportunities for permanent residency.”

The incredible lack of educational content in this reference to “imbalance of power” is typical of the social-democratic or social-reformist left here in Toronto (and the so-called radicals here rarely if ever challenge this). 

So, there is acknowledged an inherent imbalance of power between employers and employees–but the OFL fails to explain why that is so. This is the first limitation of their so-called “workers-first agenda.” 

The second limitation also relates to this inherent balance of power between employers and employees; the OFL implies that this inherent balance of power between employers and employers can somehow be overcome by “correcting” the imbalance of power. 

How is this to be done? Nowhere does the OFL really spell this out, but it can be inferred, from the typical justification for reference to “decent work” among the social-democratic or social-reformist left is free collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement.

This is simple nonsense. As I have argued in a number of other posts (see for example Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?), collective bargaining limits the power of employers over workers but hardly leads to a balance of power; oppression is inherent in both public and private employment, and exploitation is inherent in the private sector (if not in the public sector). To be an employer inherently involves more power than workers (this of course does not mean that key workers in specific industries cannot disrupt the power of employers if the material conditions are such that they form a strategic place in the chain of production of commodities. Such disruption, unless it aims to overcome the inherent imbalance of power between workers as a class and employers as a class by abolishing classes, can hardly change the ultimate class-based imbalance of power between workers and employers). 

The inadequate solution to the problem of the imbalance of power between employers and workers is linked to the inadequate definition of the problem. By failing to engage in inquiry into why workers face an imbalance of power, the OFL’s implicit proposal of correcting the imbalance of power by means of collective bargaining and collective agreements fails to address the inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers even when “fair” collective bargaining and collective agreements exist; management rights (implicit or explicit in collective agreements) give the lie to the claim that such an imbalance of power can be “corrected.” 

Conclusion

The OFL, like so many other social-democratic or social-reformist organizations, does not and cannot face the reality that unionized workers face. It itself contributes to the persistent imbalance of power between employers and workers by inadequately defining the problem and the corresponding solution. 

References to good and decent jobs are not equivalent to creating a balance of power between workers and employers.

By defining the problem the way it does, the OFL necessarily excludes the solution of developing a movement that aims to abolish the power of employers–period. For the OFL, the existence of employers is permanent; what needs to be changed for it is the power imbalance through unionization. 

Frankly, this is social-democratic ideology. It needs to be constantly challenged by the radical left (unlike the so-called radical left that fears to challenge it) and in some detail (unlike the radical left, that often refers vaguely to capitalism this and capitalism that).

As for my other questions, I will deal briefly with some of them in another post since I have already dealt with them in other posts and will refer the reader to those posts. 

 

 

 

 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Metro, One of the Largest Private Employers in Quebec, or: How Unionized Jobs Are Not Decent or Good Jobs

Introduction

In three others posts I presented a list of some of the largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Calgary  (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Based on the Number of Employees)  and Quebec (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees). Metro was the largest employer in terms of the number of employees in Quebec. 

What is Metro? 

The nature of Metro is set out in its Annual Report: 

COMPANY PROFILE

METRO INC. is a food and pharmacy leader in Québec and Ontario. As a retailer, franchisor, distributor, and manufacturer, the company operates or services a network of 950 food stores under several banners including Metro, Metro Plus, Super C, Food Basics, Adonis and Première Moisson, as well as 650 drugstores primarily under the Jean Coutu, Brunet, Metro Pharmacy and Food Basics Pharmacy banners, providing employment directly or indirectly to almost 90,000 people.

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers in various companies, including  Magna International (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. 

In this post, I calculate the rate of exploitation of Metro workers. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies (if they are available) in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

Adjusted Results

Adjusted earnings before income taxes (surplus value, or s) $1110.62 (in millions of Canadian dollars–in all calculations unless otherwise indicated)
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: $966.4 

The Rate of Exploitation of Metro Workers

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Adjusted earnings before income taxes” to “Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=1110.62; v=966.4. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1110.62/966.4=115 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Metro works around an additional 69 minutes (1 hour 9 minutes) for free for Metro. Alternatively expressed, for every hour worked that produces her/his wae, a worker at Metro works 28 minutes that produces her/his wage and 32 mintues for free for Metro. 

I calculate the division of the working day according to various lengths of the working day.  I use minutes rather and not just hours.

  1. For a 4 hour working day (240 minutes), Metro workers spend 112 minutes (1 hour 52 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 128 minutes (2 hours 8 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  2. For a 5 hour working day (300 minutes), Metro workers spend 140 minutes (2 hours 20  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 160 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  3. For a 7 hour working day (420 minutes), Metro workers spend 195 minutes (3 hours 15 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 225 minutes (3 hours 45  minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  4. For an 8 hour working day (480 minutes), Metro workers spend 223 minutes (3 hours 43  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 237 minutes (3 hours 57 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  5. For a 9 hour working day (540 minutes), Metro workers spend 251 minutes (4 hours 11 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 289 minutes (4 hours 49 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 

Of course, during the time that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Most Metro workers belong to a union. This is what the annual report has to say about labour relations: 

LABOUR RELATIONS

The majority of our store and distribution centre employees are unionized. Collective bargaining may give rise to work stoppages or slowdowns that could impact negatively the Corporation. We negotiate agreements with different maturity dates and conditions that ensure our competitiveness, and terms that promote a positive work environment in all our business segments. We have experienced some minor labour conflicts over the last few years but expect(3) to maintain good labour relations in the future.

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

Between METRO ONTARIO INC. C.O.B. AS METRO RIDEAU
and
UNIFOR AND ITS LOCAL 414 UNIFOR Union Canada
Effective from: February 18, 2017 to February 17, 2020

ARTICLE 6: MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

6.01 The union acknowledges the right of the company to manage and operate its business in all respects, to direct the working force and to establish and maintain reasonable rules and regulations.

6.02 The union acknowledges further that it is the function of the company to hire, promote, demote, transfer and lay-off employees and to suspend, discipline and discharge employees for just and sufficient cause. Any exercise of these rights in conflict or inconsistent with the provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the grievance procedure set forth in Article 4.

How does the existence of a collective agreement turn the exploitative and oppresive situation of workers into one where they have a “fair contract” and “decent work?” Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

Workers and not just unions, however, cannot resist the power of the employers as a class unless workers organize as a class, and furthermore they cannot change the situation unless they themselves realize the limitations of their own local, regional and national organizations when faced with the power of the class of employers (and the government that supports them), teach that to their members and are open persistently to criticism from below. In addition, unless they start to organize as a class with the aim of eliminating the class power of employers, they will be subject to a back-and-forth movement of reform and counter-reform (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism). 

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the social-democratic or social-reformist left.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

I initially try to outline how the annual report calculates the Earnings Before Income Taxes (EBIT) and then makes some adjustments according to Marxian theory and on the basis of certain quantiative assumptions. 

Now, the calculation (in millions of Canadian dollars)

Sales 16,767.5 
Cost of sales (13,438.8) 
Gross margins 3,328.7 [16,767.5-13,438.8=3,328.7]

Operating expenses
Wages and fringe benefits (880.6)
Employee benefits expense (note 23) (85.8)
Rents and occupancy charges (529.2)
Retail network restructuring expenses (36.0)
Gain on divestiture of pharmacies 6.0
Others (481.6)
Total operating expenses 2007.2 (Add all the numbers in parentheses and subtract the 6.0 that is not=2007.2)

Since wages and benefits constitute variable capital (v), we should add them together:
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: 966.4

Income net of operating expenses $1,321.5 [Gross margins-Total operating expenses=3,328.7-2007.2=1,321.5]

Depreciation and amortization

Fixed assets (note 11) (210.3) 
Investment properties (note 12) (0.7) 
Intangible assets (note 13) (75.4) 
Total (286.4) (=210.3+0.7+75.4)

Income net of depreciation and amortization 1035.1 [1,321.5-286.4=1035.1]

Financial costs, net
Current interest (2.9) 
Non-current interest (103.5) 
Interests on defined benefit obligations net of plan assets (note 23) (2.1) 
Amortization of deferred financing costs (2.9) 
Interest income 7.8 
Passage of time (0.2) 

Total net financial costs (103.8) (numbers in parentheses mean that the numbers were deducted from income as they are considered an expense from a particular capitalist’s point of view; those without parentheses are income and need to be subtracted since they are income) (2.9+103.5+2.1+2.9+0.2=111.6; 111.6-7.8=103.8)
Earnings before income taxes 931.3 (1035.1-103.8=931.3). 

The annual report, though, has “Earnings before income taxes” as 969.2. However, this number includes the following: 

Gain on disposal of a portion of the investment in an associate 36.4 (note 10)
Gain on revaluation and disposal of an investment at fair value 1.5 (note 10)

Note 10 indicates the following:

During the first quarter of 2019, the Corporation finalized the disposal of the entire investment at fair value in Alimentation Couche Tard Inc. (ACT).

It cannot be assumed that the value of property disposed of has nothing to do with the exploitation of Metro workers; the profit obtained from their exploitation might have been reinvested in the acquisition of ACT in the first place.

However, since such possible exploitation would have occurred earlier, I will exclude it from the calculations since the issue is the current rate of exploitation in 2019. 

36.4+15.=37.9; 969.2-37.9=931.3
Earnings before income taxes and before adjustments 931.3

Adjustments 

Adjustments of Surplus Value (Profit)

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); where there is a coincidence of expenses for individual employers and the class of employers, the expense is deducted from total revenue.

Adjustment of Interest

On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes. For example, interest is such a category. 

As I wrote in another post: 

As explained in another post, interest in many instances can be treated as part of the surplus value produced and therefore added to net income since, although from the point of view of the individual capitalist it is an expense, from the capitalist economy as a whole it is derived from the production of surplus value. 

In addition, there are some so-called expenses that are allegedly salaries and other forms of income that are likely derived from surplus value; they have the form or appearance of wages or salaries but are really surplus value in disguise (such as the “salary” of CEOs). They need to be subtracted from expenses and added to “Earnings before income taxes.”  

Since interest forms part of surplus value, the total interest paid, 111.6, needs to be added to “Earnings before incomes taxes.” Accordingly: 

Temporality adjusted earnings before income taxes 1042.9 (931.3 + 111.6=1042.9)

Adjustment of Various Managerial Benefits

Various forms of income are available for senior managers and key employees that likely are derived exclusively from exploiting the rest of the workers. There are three categories in particular that apply here: stock option plan, peformance share unit plan and deferred share unit plan. Below, I quote from the annual report to show the nature of each plan as a plan for upper managerial employees of one form or another:

Stock option plan
The Corporation has a stock option plan for certain Corporation employees providing for the grant of options to purchase up to 30,000,000 Common Shares. As at September 28, 2019, a balance of 4,189,336 shares could be issued following the exercise of stock options.

Performance share unit plan (PSU)
The Corporation has a PSU plan. Under this program, senior executives and other key employees (participants) periodically receive a given number of PSUs. The PSUs entitle the participant to Common Shares of the Corporation, or at the latter’s discretion, the cash equivalent, if the Corporation meets certain financial performance indicators. 

Deferred Share Unit Plan (DSU)
The Corporation has a DSU plan designed to encourage stock ownership by directors who are not Corporation officers. Under this program, directors who meet the stock ownership guidelines may choose to receive all or part of their compensation in DSUs. 

Conveniently, the money for these managers is separately calculated for each category: 

Stock options: $2 million; PSUs: $6.6 million; DSUs: $6.2 million. Total: $14.8 million. This must be added to Earnings before income taxes. 

Temporarily adjusted earnings before income taxes 1057.7 (1042.9+14.8)

Adjustment for Rents and occupancy charges

As I wrote in another post: 

Another expense category is also relevant for making adjustments–the category “Rents and occupancy charges.” The rent of buildings, like the rent of equipment, is an expense both at the level of the firm and at the level of the economy as a whole. However, in the case of occupancy, rent also includes the capitalized value of land, and this capitalized value of land is derived from surplus value (see Jorden Sandemose (2018), Class and Property in Marx’s Economic Thought: Exploring the Basis for Capitalism). Again, without further information, it is impossible to tell or determine the proportion that is paid for the rental of buildings and the rental of land. I will assume that 10 percent of rent is due to the exclusive ownership of land (a non-produced means of production).

This 10 percent is equal to $52.92 million and must be added to the category “Earnings before income taxes.” Accordingly:

Adjusted Results

Adjusted earnings before income taxes 1110.62 (1057.7+52.92)
Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense: 966.4

The Rate of Exploitation of Metro Workers

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Adjusted earnings before income taxes” to “Wages, fringe benefits and employee benefits expense” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=1110.62; v=966.4. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1110.62/966.4=115 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Metro works around an additional 69 minutes (1 hour 9 minutes) for free for Metro. Alternatively expressed, for every hour worked that produces her/his wae, a worker at Metro works 28 minutes that produces her/his wage and 32 mintues for free for Metro. 

According to a few people who have worked at Metro, the length of the working day is:

you will work up to 9 hrs or 4hrs

On a average day you work 8 hours

5-8hours/day

7 hours a day and 4 hours on weekdays.

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes and not just hours.

  1. For a 4 hour working day (240 minutes), Metro workers spend 112 minutes (1 hour 52 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 128 minutes (2 hours 8 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  2. For a 5 hour working day (300 minutes), Metro workers spend 140 minutes (2 hours 20  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 160 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  3. For a 7 hour working day (420 minutes), Metro workers spend 195 minutes (3 hours 15 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 225 minutes (3 hours 45  minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  4. For an 8 hour working day (480 minutes), Metro workers spend 223 minutes (3 hours 43  minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 237 minutes (3 hours 57 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 
  5. For a 9 hour working day (540 minutes), Metro workers spend 251 minutes (4 hours 11 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 289 minutes (4 hours 49 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for Metro. 

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as Metro to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

Furthermore, some Metro workers do produce surplus value in that their labour involves transportation services; storage workers may perhaps also produce surplus value (this is a grey area for me). 

Of course, during the time that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Most Metro workers belong to a union. This is what the annual report has to say about labour relations: 

LABOUR RELATIONS

The majority of our store and distribution centre employees are unionized. Collective bargaining may give rise to work stoppages or slowdowns that could impact negatively the Corporation. We negotiate agreements with different maturity dates and conditions that ensure our competitiveness, and terms that promote a positive work environment in all our business segments. We have experienced some minor labour conflicts over the last few years but expect(3) to maintain good labour relations in the future.

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

Between METRO ONTARIO INC. C.O.B. AS METRO RIDEAU
and
UNIFOR AND ITS LOCAL 414 UNIFOR Union Canada
Effective from: February 18, 2017 to February 17, 2020

ARTICLE 6: MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

6.01 The union acknowledges the right of the company to manage and operate its business in all respects, to direct the working force and to establish and maintain reasonable rules and regulations.

6.02 The union acknowledges further that it is the function of the company to hire, promote, demote, transfer and lay-off employees and to suspend, discipline and discharge employees for just and sufficient cause. Any exercise of these rights in conflict or inconsistent with the provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the provisions of the grievance procedure set forth in Article 4.

How does the existence of a collective agreement turn the exploitative and oppresive situation of workers into one where they have a “fair contract” and “decent work?” Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

Workers and not just unions, however, cannot resist the power of the employers as a class unless workers organize as a class, and furthermore they cannot change the situation unless they themselves realize the limitations of their own local, regional and national organizations when faced with the power of the class of employers (and the government that supports them), teach that to their members and are open persistently to criticism from below. In addition, unless they start to organize as a class with the aim of eliminating the class power of employers, they will be subject to a back-and-forth movement of reform and counter-reform (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism). 

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the social-democratic or social-reformist left.

Is Amnesty International a Progressive Organization?–or Is the Term “Progressive Organization” an Example of an Abstract Slogan of Social Democrats? Part Two

Introduction

In a previous post, I looked in a general way at the shortcomings of Amnesty International (AI) as a “progressive organization”–one of the abstract slogans of the social-democratic or social-reformist left here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere).

In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. 

Mr. Black states the following:

SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?

Mr. Gindin’s response?

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

I have already addressed the issue of whether Oxfam is a “progressive organization” in a previous post (Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats).

In this post, I will look at the specific shortcoming of AI in relation to the world of work in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. I will also look, briefly, at its shortcomings when it comes to the capitalist state in general and to police in particular.

The Focus of AI on Human Rights Leads to Silence Over Economic Coercion, Exploitation and Oppression of Workers on a Daily Basis

As I argued in the previous post, the human-rights movement emerged as a substitute for a socialist movement. In essence, the class power of employers is, implicitly or explicitly, assumed to be legitimate. AI therefore shifts our attention from the daily economic coercion characteristic of a society dominated by the class power of employers to more direct forms of coercion that involve work. Although such forms of coercion should hardly be ignored, the shift to an almost exclusive focus on more direct forms of coercion at work lead to a legitimation of the economic or indirect form of coercion characteristic of the more industrialized capitalist countries (and also of many less industrialized capitalist countries).

On Amnesty International’s website (https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/ , there are 19 issues listed:

  1. armed conflict
  2. arms control
  3. child rights
  4. climate change
  5. corporate accountability
  6. death penalty
  7. detention
  8. disappearances
  9. discrimination
  10. freedom of expression
  11. indigenous peoples
  12. international justice
  13. living in dignity
  14. police violence
  15. refugees, asylum seekers and migrants
  16. sexual and reproductive rights
  17. torture
  18. United Nations
  19. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Quite a list. Let us, however, look at at point 13, “Living in dignity.”

The ideal company would provide “fair conditions of employment” (drawn from the “Living in Dignity” section). What “fair conditions of employment” would mean is not elaborated on at the website, but the AI document (2014) Human Rights for Human Dignity: A Primer on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does elaborate. From page 54:

The right to work and rights at work

The [United Nations] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has emphasized the interdependence of the provisions of the Covenant that safeguard the right to work, rights at work and the right to form and join a trade union, as well as to strike. The right to work remains less well understood than some of the other rights discussed here and is sometimes misinterpreted as the right to a job. The right to work entails access to employment without discrimination of any kind, to choose freely and not be forced into work, access to a system of protection against unfair dismissals, and a supportive structure that aids access to employment, including appropriate vocational education.105 The right to work covers both paid work and people working independently (referred to as
livelihoods in certain contexts) and requires governments to extend protections to people
working in the informal sectors of the economy.

Rights at work protect the right of everyone to just and favourable conditions of work,
including to fair wages, equal pay for work of equal value, safe and healthy working
conditions, reasonable limitations on working hours, protections for workers during and
after pregnancy, and equality of treatment in employment.

The idea of the right to work is thus taken from a document published by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The AI document referred to above says:

The right to work entails access to employment without discrimination of any kind

The implied emphasis here is on discrimination and not on the absolute right to access employment. Employers are not to discriminate in permitting access to work–they need to treat all workers equally regardless of race, gender and so forth. If there is a lack of discrimination, it is implied, then the employment relation is legitimate–subject to other conditions, such as not being coerced employment. From Karl Widerquist (2010), “The Physical Basis of Voluntary Trade,” in pages 83-103, Human Rights Review, Volume 11, page 87:

… coercion (or force) implies a deviation from “the normal course of events;” thus, the answer depends on what one considers the normal course of events to be.

What does AI consider to be “the normal course of events?”

The right to work entails … [the right] to choose freely and not be forced into work.

AI’s position assumes a normalized conception of what constitutes work that is freely chosen, and thereby judges what deviates from this normalized conception as a human rights abuse.

A lack of discrimination at work and not being coerced directly to work for an employer, however, is quite consistent with the indirect coercion of workers and their exploitation and oppression  that characterizes the class power of employers–aka capitalism. AI is silent about economic coercion–the golden chain which obliges workers to work involuntarily.

Mr. Gindin, by referring to AI as a “progressive organization,” simply papers over the issue.

From Widerquiest, page 84:

In two senses, a market economy can be characterized as voluntary. First, people can choose with whom they trade subject to the limits of the property rights of the people involved. They can say yes or no to any one other than the participant. Second, people have the legal right to choose whether or not to trade at all. They have the legal right to say yes or no to trade with all other participants. We can call these the physical conditions of voluntary trade.

But, there is a crucial third sense in which trade is not voluntary for many people today. That is, they are effectively denied any legal means to survive without providing services to someone who controls property. If the law ignores the existence of human needs, it can nominally establish the legal conditions of voluntary trade while legally subverting the physical conditions necessary for voluntary trade. Many people enter the economic system owning nothing; finding that all the resources are owned by someone else, they see that someone will interfere with any effort they make to meet their own needs. Therefore, they are forced to provide services for property owners to obtain money to buy resources. It is the aspect of obtaining money that concerns the discussion here, not spending it. Although trade involves both buying and selling, it is the things we do to obtain money that involve providing services for others; spending money involves other people providing services for us. It is not particularly problematic that a person with government-created tokens called money has to hand them to other people to receive goods and services, but it is a problem for voluntary trade if a person without money has no legal means to survive unless she provides services for people who hold money. It is, of course, desirable that nonmarket interaction, such as marriage and friendship, is also voluntary; but, the primary concern here is trade, specifically the things people do to get money which, for most of us means the labor market.

This article builds on the work I have done to define and argue for the importance of
freedom as effective control …  which, in short, is freedom as the power to say no. More exactly, … freedom is the effective power to accept or refuse interaction with other willing people. I have argued that genuinely voluntary interaction requires that all people have … freedom and that … freedom requires an exit option—some way that a person can survive without being forced to provide services for, to take orders from, or to meet conditions set by any particular group of other people (Widerquist 2006a). … the conditions necessary to secure the power to say no are often ignored in law and in many discussion of economics and human rights, in ways that make one group of people subservient to another. A society that establishes nominal self-ownership but interferes with individuals’ attempts to preserve their effective control self-ownership secures the right to say no but denies the power to say no.

AI makes an implicit distinction between “forced work” and work that is freely chosen. If the work is freely chosen, then it is legitimate, and there is no human rights abuse, as far as AI is concerned. Only if the work is not freely chosen is it illegitimate and a breach of human rights. However, AI implicitly accepts that the billions of workers who work for an ideal company somehow freely choose to work for that employer. As I have argued elsewhere, workers do indeed have some freedom to choose–they generally are not forced to work for a particular employer; that does not prevent them from being forced, as a class, from working for an employer (see Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and  Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left; see also The Money Circuit of Capital).

Of course, AI implicitly considers that workers who work for an employer without any explicit economic coercion are not forced to work. Mr. Gindin may not consciously agree with such a view, but by rubber-stamping the view that AI is a progressive organization, he in fact does agree to such a view.

Forcing workers to work for employers is not personal; such a situation forms part of the economic structure of a society dominated by a class of employers and is reinforced by the legal system. From Widerquist, page 88:

The question is why people enter the market in a position in which they must sell their labor to people who own property. For this, there is only one explanation: if propertyless individuals try to produce goods to meet their own needs without trade, someone who claims ownership of the natural resources they need to do so will interfere with them, thus, forcing them to work for people who own property. According to Robert Hale, if the law designates other people as owners of anything with which an individual might secure her own diet, those laws coerce her to offer whatever services she can to someone with property (Hale 1923, 471–473).

Contradictory Call for States to Enforce Human Rights

According to AI:

States have a responsibility to protect human rights.

Human rights as defined by AI can only be enforced by states. However, as AI recognizes in its 19-point list, states often abuse AI’s definition of human rights–such as torture or disappearances. States are supposed to enforce human rights–but states are, even in terms of AI’s own limited definition of human rights–some of the worst perpetrators of human rights. How are states then to enforce human rights with any consistency since they themselves can only enforce human rights?

The old question “Do not the educators themselves need to be educated?” applies here: Do not states themselves need to be regulated? Who is going to do that? AI simply does not address the problem.

Consider point 14 on “police violence.” According to AI:

The most important thing to remember is this: it is the utmost obligation of state authorities, including police, to respect and protect the right to life.

This is ideology in a number of ways. Firstly, the emergence of the modern police goes hand in hand with the oppression and control of members of the working class (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism). AI simply ignores the major function of the police as a control mechanism for ensuring workers do not get out of hand. As I wrote in that post:

Modern police function to maintain workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants in a state of poverty–not in the sense of a level of consumption below a defined poverty line, but in terms of a state of dependence on having to work for a class of employers. Those who form the edges of this kind of poverty–who are almost teetering into indigence–are particular targets of the modern police since they represent a more likely direct threat to the premises of that state of poverty and dependence on employers.

Secondly, police hardly exist to “respect and protect the right to life.” If they did, then the police would protect workers’ lives at work–which is hardly what happens. As I wrote in another post:

Some representatives of employers surely did not know what was best for the capitalist economy–whether to shut down for as long as necessary until the number of deaths and infections were reduced, to leave parts of the economy (in addition to essential economic structures, such as food, hand sanitizer and mask production) functioning or to leave most of the economy dominated by a class of employers functioning. But “sacrificing ourselves for our employers” even in normal times is run of the mill. Why is it that there are, on average, over 1,000 deaths officially at work per year and more than 600,000 injuries in Canada (and many more deaths when unofficial deaths are included (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health).

That the police do protect life to a certain extent is true–but a half-truth. The other side is not only the lack of protection of life at work but the persistent threat of the use of the police as a weapon against workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

AI recognizes that laws may make it legal for the state or government to threaten life; on the other hand, it relies on the state or government to protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers. This position is contradictory, but nowhere does AI address the contradiction.

Conclusion

Nor does Mr. Gindin. Indeed, his abstract slogan “progressive organization” hides the contradiction, sweeping it underneath an apparent purely positive characterization of AI as “progressive.” For anyone who has been subject to the exploitation and oppression of employers, on the one hand, and the power of the capitalist state (including the police) on the other, Mr. Gindin’s reference to AI being “a progressive organization” rings hollow.

As I wrote Mr. Gindin claimed, as I indicated in my post in this series on Oxfam (see Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats):

Mr. Gindin implied that it was necessary to create “material structures” first rather than engage in criticizing the ideology of trade-unions (see my critique Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)). Oxfam certainly has a material structure. Is Oxfam the embodiment of Mr. Gindin’s ideas (since it is “a progressive organization”)? Or is there need to question the implicit assumption by Oxfam that the exploitation and oppression of workers is legitimate? If so, why would Mr. Gindin call it a “progressive organization?”

Does not Mr. Gindin, like so many social-democrats, engage in abstract slogans by claiming that Oxfam is a progressive organization that somehow threatens capitalism?

The same critique applies to AI.

Does not Mr. Gindin, like so many social-democrats, engage in abstract slogans by claiming that Amnesty International is a progressive organization that somehow threatens capitalism? Or are organizations that do not threaten capitalism somehow progressive?

Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Four: Is There Such a Thing as a Responsible Employer in Relation to the Health of Workers?

The Toronto Star published an article in the Opinion section by the social-democratic reformer here in Toronto, Jim Stanford, on January 8, 2022, which directly relates to a previous post  (Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads  )   as well as to other posts in this series critically analyzing Mr. Stanford’s economic theories and assumptions.

I am going to quote verbatim the entire article by Mr. Stanford in order for the reader to see the complete picture which Stanford paints before analyzing it. I will refer to an earlier post to show how Stanford contradicts himself.

When death is a cost of business

Strong rules needed to force employers to do right thing

Throughout COVID-19, there’s been an uncomfortable tension in how political leaders, employers and public opinion have reacted to the challenges of working during a pandemic.

On one hand, many acknowledged the courage and sacrifice of those who kept providing essential services despite the risks. We applauded health care workers and first responders. And we thanked those in more humble, undervalued roles: like grocery clerks, cleaners, and delivery drivers, whose continued labour helped us weather the crisis.

On the other hand, a deeper reflex remained in place among employers and governments. They could quickly revert to a more dollars-and-sense perspective, in which workers are just another productive input: something whose continued supply must be assured and whose cost must be minimized.

Grocery chains offered $2 an hour bonuses during the scary initial weeks of the pandemic, but snatched them away as soon as operationally (and politically) feasible. Pandemic pay was replaced by million-dollar bonuses for CEO amidst a COVID-fueled grocery boom. Premiers [heads of provincial governments in Canada] praised health care workers for their bravery, and then demanded cuts in their pay. And from the outset, the willingness of negligent employers to sacrifice the health and even lives of workers to maintain production–in slaughterhouses, corporate farms and Amazon warehouses–was a frightening reminder of the amorality of the profit motive.

Now, with Omicron out of control, it seems employers and public health officers have thrown in the towel in the fight to limit contagion, protect workers and customers, and support isolation when needed.

The cannon shot signalling this new, grim approach was the relaxation of isolation requirements for workers with COVID. This started in December when the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention cut the isolation period to just five days (for those infected and close contacts). It was lobbied hard by U.S. employers, who wanted sick workers back on the job faster.

Scientific evidence on this issue is mixed at best. Recent research suggests the average contagious period for vaccinated COVID patients is 5.5 days–and since that’s the average, it’s longer for many patients. But it wasn’t science that ruled the day: it was the complaints of employers that isolation was depriving them of needed workers.

Other jurisdictions rejected the U.S. precedent. And America’s sorry COVID record (it registered more than a million new cases last Monday alone) hardly constitutes a role model. But influenced by similar complaints from Canadian employers, our officials fell in line.

The five-day rule has now been mimicked in several provinces (including Ontario, Alberta and B.C. [British Columbia].

In Quebec, the government even requires some health workers to stay on the job with COVID. Alberta gives individual employers discretion in deciding staff shortages necessitate isolation periods of less than five days. Meanwhile, B.C.’s health officer bluntly stated she is no longer interested in “telling (employers) what to do.” Instead, each business should make its own plan to avoid shutting down because of staff shortages.

Leaving life-and-death decisions to the discretion of individual profit-seeking employers wilfully ignores the power imbalances that shape the day-to-day reality of workplaces. Without clear, strong rules, workers don’t have a chance of forcing their employers to behave responsibly.

Business leaders celebrate this turn to light-touch COVID-regulation. Workers can be forgiven for feeling differently. Now, in addition to fears of catching COVID, accessing testing and protecting loved ones, workers face an added danger: their employer can demand coworkers return to work even if contagious. Most perversely of all, almost no Canadian jurisdictions (outside of federally regulated industries and B.C.) guarantee enough sick pay to cover even this shorter isolation period.

Perhaps more than any recent history, COVID-19 has highlighted the callous logic of capitalism. Bosses need workers to keep working, no matter what: after all, that’s what produces the value added. And if workers must die in the process, so be it. We must keep the wheels of commerce turning–and keep profits (which perversely rose during the pandemic) flowing.

No wonder workers are angry. No wonder there are more strikes, more union drives and more individual acts of resistance (like resignations). When you suddenly realize your boss will tolerate your death as a cost of doing business, your attitude toward them (and your job) changes considerably.

Let us list several facts pointed out in the article:

  1. “Throughout COVID-19, there’s been an uncomfortable tension in how political leaders, employers and public opinion have reacted to the challenges of working during a pandemic.” (It is unclear who the “public” is. Does it include mainly workers? Mainly workers but, in addition, the unemployed (challenges of not working and trying to find a job), children and adolescents in school (children of parents surely “react” to the challenges their parents often have faced during the pandemic), seniors who are not working for an employer, self-employed (they work), and so forth. Probably, but it would have been helpful to have differentiated public opinion somewhat; of course, in a newspaper, there is a limited amount of space for elaboration. In any case, there has been some tension between three “groups.”
  2. This tension was expressed, on the one hand, in the recognition of the heroic sacrifice of essential workers who produced what we needed to both survive and have access at least to some of our normal comforts (such as agricultural workers producing food; factory workers producing toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks; grocery workers processing the exchange relations that permitted the transfer of property from capitalist corporations to consumers) and health workers who attended to the sick from COVID-19 and, on the other hand, in the priority of the pursuit of profit by employers and reinforced by governments by treating workers as mere inputs to the production and exchange process, an input whose costs need to be minimized in order to maximize profits.Why would anyone who understands even the basic nature of the relations characterized by the class power of employers be surprised by this? If I remember correctly, John Dewey, a philosopher of education, objected to teaching children the fantasy that lions do not kill and eat their prey–teaching children in effect that the nature of lions is other than what it is and that the natural world needs to be interpreted in human terms. (I learned just how lions do really act when I was an adolescent (or younger–I do not really remember how old I was). My mother and I went to the zoo. We were looking at the lions in a cage. A boy was throwing pebbles at the male lion. Suddenly, the male lion jumped towards me–I froze. It was evident that had the cage not been there, the lion would have attacked me. There was no hesitancy in his act–unlike those who let their morals influence their acts to the detriment of acting at all (as the German philosopher Hegel recounted in his account of the “beautiful soul” who is afraid of tainting the moral soul by engaging in any act).Of course, there have been tensions between the well-being of workers and the class interests of employers and governments that, ultimately, represent their interests.Does Stanford think that, all of a sudden, the nature and interests of employers and a  government that, among other reasons, depends on the flow of tax revenues  from the “private economy” for its continued power and existence, would change? Why would anyone who understands the nature of capitalism be surprised by this?One explanation is that Stanford believes that there is such a thing as the “real economy” that is disconnected from the pursuit of profit (the pursuit of ever more money). His theory of money as “purchasing power,” disconnected from production and the nature of the labour that occurs in capitalist workplaces, then enables him to refer to such a world as the “real economy”–under present class power.

    In an earlier post mentioned above, I quoted Stanford: “The economy is not a thing in and of itself. The economy is what we refer to as the work that people do to produce goods and services and then how those goods and services are distributed and used.”

  3. He then implied that this “real economy” was somehow operating independently of the class of employers–an illegitimate assumption. The economy in the kind of society cannot be separated from the pursuit of more money–because that is the nature of the beast (just like a lion’s hunting and killing its prey (when it succeeds) is the nature of lions). The economy is a capitalist economy, and this economy is not the same as “the work that people do to produce goods and services and then how those goods and services are distributed and used”–as if the goal were the mere production of socially useful things and their distribution to others so that they can use them. When I worked at the capitalist brewery, our production of beer was necessarily united with our oppression and exploitation.
  4. In the initial phase of the pandemic, grocery stores increased wages by $2 an hour, but then they eliminated them. Stanford’s reference to snatching away this $2 an hour “as soon as operationally (and politically) feasible” does not explain anything. An increase in $2 an hour was probably tied to two typical reasons in an employer-dominated economy for increasing wages: danger pay and a shortage of workers, as an article by Sylvain Charlebois implies (https://retail-insider.com/retail-insider/2020/06/the-end-of-hero-pay-for-grocery-workers-in-canada-an-operational-necessity-expert/): The economics of pay increases at retail are always weak, especially in food retailing. With such low margins, these stipends were offered simply to keep enough staff around and not have operations affected by higher absenteeism rates. It worked for a while, but COVID-19 fears are slowly fading away. But so is the need to incentivize employees to show up for work. The COVID-19 fear factor is diminishing. The money will instead be spent on PPEs and other protective shields, which are likely to remain in place for a while. This seems to be where things are going. Disappointing for employees, but not surprising.
  5. Increases in CEO pay. This is nothing new; it has been going on as the class power of employers has assumed a neoliberal form, with shareholder value and short-term profits taking precedence. (But we should never forget that before neoliberalism, even longer-term profit seeking led to economic crises and necessarily involved daily exploitation and oppression of workers.)
  6. Premiers [heads of provincial governments in Canada] praised health care workers for their bravery, and then demanded cuts in their pay.

    Did all premiers advocate cuts in pay? In Alberta and Ontario they certainly did. But for factually accuracy (I am not a fan of the NDP government as anyone who has read certain posts on this blog will know), in British Columbia the NDP government did not. From https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021HLTH0157-001703

    Beginning this fall, the Province will serve notice under the terms of 21 commercial service contracts and start a phased approach to repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts. The move will improve wages, working conditions, job security and stability for approximately 4,000 workers who rely on their jobs, and the countless patients that they help each day. By promoting a stable and effective workforce, government will be better positioned to offer attractive jobs options to people interested in joining the workforce.

    “Health-care workers rely on a committed and stable workforce to help them with their jobs, and this move also better protects support service workers in their positions,” said Premier John Horgan. “Previous government actions cut health-care wages, took away the jobs they relied on, and created a chain reaction of layoffs that saw women disproportionately affected – the largest such layoffs in Canada’s history. Nearly 20 years later, we are still living with the aftermath of those choices, with workers paid less to do the same work as their colleagues in the public system. It’s time to put a stop to it.”

    This move started with Bill 47 (Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act), which was brought into force through regulation on July 1, 2019. Bill 47 repealed two existing pieces of legislation – the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act (Bill 29) and the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act (Bill 94), which facilitated contracting out in the health sector and caused significant labour impacts.

  7. And from the outset, the willingness of negligent employers to sacrifice the health and even lives of workers to maintain production–in slaughterhouses, corporate farms and Amazon warehouses–was a frightening reminder of the amorality of the profit motive.

If the profit motive is amoral, would it not be logical to advocate for the elimination of the class power of employers and the economic, political and social structures that serve to produce that power and that permits the existence and dominance of the priority of the profit motive over the health of workers?

Stanford contradicts himself. If the profit motive is amoral, why does he say the following:

Without clear, strong rules, workers don’t have a chance of forcing their employers to behave responsibly.

However, Stanford nowhere explicitly or even implicitly advocates the abolition of the class power of employers. Why is that? I will let the reader infer the reasons for Mr. Stanford’s silence over the issue. 

 Conclusion

Mr. Stanford published a book in 2008 titled Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. It is not really a good guide since it fails to characterize a basic fact of capitalism: the sacrifice of the health of workers for the good of–an economy dominated by a class of employers. If rules were really strong enough to force employers to act responsbly, the rules would involve the self-abolition of the class power of employers.

Rather than waiting for that utopian vision, it would be better for workers to organize to abolish the class power of employers themselves.

Is Amnesty International a Progressive Organization?–or Is the Term “Progressive Organization” an Example of an Abstract Slogan of Social Democrats? Part One

Introduction

In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. 

Mr. Black states the following: 

SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?

Mr. Gindin’s response? 

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

I have already addressed the issue of whether Oxfam is a “progressive organization” in a previous post (Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats).

This concept of “progressive organizations”–without qualifications or analysis–sounds very much like “an abstract slogan.” Calling such organizations progressive without further ado fails to address the possible limitations of such organizations. It also sounds very much like the use of the term “radical” used by Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrat, Herman Rosenfeld, who has used the term “radical” in a merely social-reformist or social-democratic sense (see my series of posts on the topic, such as What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two). 

Whether an organization is progressive or not should depend on not only what it fights against but also what it implicitly or explicitly accepts as legitimate. In the case of Amnesty International, as I will show below, it implicitly accepts as legitimate the power of employers to exploit and oppress workers. It does not say this, of course, but what it focuses on, what it does not criticize and some of its recommendations imply that existence of employers is legitimate.

In this post, I will provide a general critique of organizations dedicated specifically to human rights and then move to a critique of Amnesty International’s general position. In a subsequent post in this series, I will delve in more detail into AI’s position in relation to the world of work in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. I will also look, briefly, at its shortcomings when it comes to the capitalist state in general and to police in particular.

General Considerations

The use of the term “progressive organizations” usually has a ring of truth about it among the left. Such organizations undoubtedly do some good. However, there are many social organizations that do some good sometimes, but at the same time harm workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers. Government agencies, such as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, undoubtedly protect some children from abuse–but they themselves also harm other children in various ways (see for example  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services  or  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Seven: Complaint Against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Manitoba Ombudsman). 

Doing some good is thus insufficient for determining whether an organization is “progressive.” Or is it that Oxfam and Amnesty International are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and that, as NGOs, they necessarily perform progressive functions? Such a view is, of course, dangerous. 

Consider, for example, a photo connected to the International Labour Organization and UNICEF (and indirectly to OXFAM). The photo–dishonestly–depicts a young girl apparently working as a shoe shiner in order to “sell” opposition to child labour. However, such a photo presents a very unlikely scenario since, firstly, shoeshining is predominantly a male occupation (including boys) and, secondly, the age of the girl would make it highly unlikely that such a person would ever engage in shoeshining in order to try to survive–her hands would be too small and weak to even engage in shoeshining. I quote Thomas  Offit (2008), Conquistadores de la Calle: Child street labor in Guatemala City, pages 19-22: 

Pictures also have served as a means of confusing if not outright misrepresenting the lives of child street laborers. Of course, the camera can lie, and photographers may not be aware of the uses that their employers will dedicate their pictures to, but the image presented in Figure 1.1 stands out in my mind as a photograph that communicates a great deal, little of which has to do with the lived reality of its subject. While I doubt that the authors of the books that utilize the photo intended to misrepresent their subjects, and likely believed that the photo provided visual representation for their well-meaning objectives, by misrepresenting the truth, the photo robs children of their agency as individuals performing meaningful valuable labor.

Figure 1.1 shows a picture from the book Combating Child Labour, an edited volume published in 1988 by the International Labour Organization that details the plight of child laborers in different industries in countries throughout the developing world (Bequele and Boyden 1988). Th e picture is presented with a caption that states “Child working at a street shoe-shining stand in Ecuador,” and also credits the photographer and the organization that provided the photo. Despite the ambiguity of the caption (is the child the shoeshiner and therefore the child laborer, or is she merely working there performing some other task?), the image presented does not equivocate. Of the six chapters in the book that discuss specific types of child labor in specific countries, neither Ecuador nor street labor is specifically addressed, yet the photo appears in the book as a means of accompanying the text. It is an excellent and provocative photo, showing a very young girl with a shock of hair and large eyes looking meekly up at the camera while supporting herself by grabbing onto the shoeshine bench, shoe polish at her side. On the edge of a frame is a cropped image of an unidentified seated adult, presumably a customer. One image and a few words convey to the reader the grave injustice of child labor. I was so struck by the photo when I first saw it that I posted it on the wall of my office as a means of inspiration during the grant-writing stage of my research.This photo was also reprinted in the book Child Labor by ex-UNICEF and Oxfam Education specialist Alec Fyfe (1989). Th e caption in this book reads only “Girl shoe-shining, Ecuador” and credits UNICEF as the source. Th e ambiguity concerning what job the girl is performing is resolved, and as shoeshiners are directly compensated for their labor by their customers, we know that the girl is a child laborer and not a child worker merely helping out a family member. In this photo, only the child and the shoeshine bench are visible; the older adult has been edited out of the picture.

Based on my experience, both versions of this photo are misleading, and the second borders on deliberate misrepresentation. In my two years of research in Guatemala, I never saw a girl or a woman shining shoes on the street. While this may be more common in Ecuador, it is rarely reported in the literature on the topic, and I believe it to be anomalous, as shoeshining in Latin America is a male-dominated street occupation. Second, it is also rare that a child as young as the girl pictured, regardless of sex, would be engaged in this task, as it demands a good deal of strength and dexterity that a child of her age would not be likely to possess. If a child her age were to be engaged in child labor, she would be far more likely to be selling newspapers near a family member or engaged in a less physically demanding task. Third, as anyone who has seen a street shoeshiner is likely to observe, the hands and forearms of anyone performing this job, child or adult, are covered with shoe polish even after one or two shines, and the girl in the photo shows no evidence of having shined shoes that day. She looks quite clean, especially considering the grime that surrounds her. Finally, as anyone who knows the intricacies of shoeshining can attest, the purported shoeshine girl is sitting on the customer’s side of the shoeshine bench! Th e sloping footrest that she holds is meant to be facing the shiner so that the toe of the customer is elevated to allow for easier access to the shoe. Based on this photo, it is far more likely that the adult whose image is cropped in the first photo and deliberately eliminated in the second is the shoeshiner, and the young girl, though sitting near him, is either a child street worker engaged in some other task, or simply a child accompanying an adult to work. Th is photo, reprinted here in its first version and many more times in similar volumes as a definitive image of the injustice of child labor, does not picture a child laborer!

Oxfam, the ILO and UNICEF undoubtedly do some good–but we should not assume that this is sufficient for labeling them “progressive organizations.”  Doing good can easily be coupled with doing harm. NGOs should hardly be exempt from criticism. 

A General Look at the Beginnings of the Human Rights Movement

It is interesting how Gindin, a professed socialist and Marxist, neglects to mention how a grassroots  movement for human rights really emerged only in the late 1960s and early 1970s–by stripping such movements of concern for social and economic rights. From Samuel Moyn (2018), Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, pages 121-122: 

THE HUMAN RIGHTS revolution occurred almost ex nihilo in the 1970s. There had been talk and even treaty making in the United Nations since the 1940s, but it testified more to states colluding to protect one another. No serious move had ever been made to fulfill the organization’s promise in its charter to institutionalize not simply peace but justice too. The lone exception of the increasingly outcast state of South Africa aside, human rights rhetoric at the governmental level had remained stillborn, and no state had a visible human rights policy. That changed in a series of stages, above all as new social movements of the 1960s were winnowed down and those movements defined in terms of human rights burst into consciousness across the next decade. Amnesty International, the first high-profile human rights non-governmental organization in history, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, the same year that the American president Jimmy Carter committed his country to a new human rights policy, in part to cleanse the stain of Vietnam from the national image.

Easily the most extraordinary fact about this human rights revolution, from the perspective of ideals about how to distribute the good things in life, is that, with some key exceptions, it unceremoniously purged attention to economic and social rights, to say nothing of a fuller-fledged commitment to distributive equality. It was a striking contrast to the spirit of social rights in the era of national welfare, when they were not only integral to human rights overall but linked to egalitarian idealism and outcomes at the national scale. Now, as if the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) had never been about national welfare, it was remembered as a charter meant to save the individual from the state’s depredations of civil liberties rather than to empower the state to make individual flourishing and equality a reality.

Moyn certainly neglects increasing concerns for human rights before the 1970s, as Sarita Cargas (2016) argues, in “Questioning Samuel Moyn’s Revisionist History of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 38, Number 2, , page 425: 

This conclusion [that human rights was in public discourse] is finally supported by a review of how many articles in the New York Times referred to human rights. In 1930, sixty articles used the phrase, in 1940, eighty-one articles. But by 1948, 571 articles include it. In 1950, 495 articles use it but only 260 in 1955. But by 1968, the number of articles referring to human rights jumps to 625. This data means, on average, the reader of the New York Times would have read about human rights in one to three articles every single day from the late 1940s onward. This does not negate Moyn’s statement that “In 1977 the New York Times featured the phrase ‘human rights’ five times more frequently than in any prior year,”80 but it does disprove the assertion that no one had heard the phrase before Carter’s inaugural speech.

However, Sarita herself neglects the increasing grassroots nature of the movement for human rights. Furthermore, since she shows little concern for the issue of capitalism versus socialism (an issue which an academic leftist, Jeff Noonan, considers to be a dead-end–see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Nine: The Nature of Capitalism) she neglects how both Amnesty International and its close cousin, Human Rights Watch, emerged as substitutes for a socialist movement. From Moyn (2018), pages 122-123: 

… especially in the global north, Cold War assumptions had long since damaged the 1940s communion of civil and political with economic and social rights, through the sheer force of insistence and repetition. And then, the new visibility of human rights ideals occurred as activists, disillusioned about the failures of socialism, the violence socialist politics sparked, or both—including in socialism’s postcolonial forms—embraced their roles, conceiving of “human rights” as a morally pure form of activism that would not require the exaggerated hopes or depressing compromises of past utopias.

Graphic evidence of the turn away from socialism and the skepticism toward social rights comes from Peter Benenson and Aryeh Neier, the respective founders of the first prominent global non-governmental organization and of the major American one concerned with human rights across the period. Despite having stood as a candidate for the Labour Party several times in his earlier life, when Benenson founded Amnesty International in the 1960s, he explicitly understood it as an alternative to socialism and set in motion a pattern that led the group to confine its attention to a narrow focus on political imprisonment. It added torture to its bailiwick in the 1970s. and the death penalty in the 1980s, shifting to poverty only after the millennium. “Look on the Socialist Parties the world over, ye mighty, and despair,” Benenson explained to a correspondent in justification of his emphases. Part of the reason for his depression was his own serial losses in election campaigns, but he also admitted, in the Christian idiom that frequently crept into his work, that “the quest for an outward and visible Kingdom is mistaken.” For the founder, human rights activism was much more about saving the activist’s soul, rather than building social justice. 

American Aryeh Neier founded Human Rights Watch in the 1970s with an exclusionary attention to political violations in left-and right-wing regimes. Despite his early political awakening, thanks to the six-time socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas, and his past as the president of the labor-affiliated Student League for Industrial Democracy (which later became Students for a Democratic Society), Neier nonetheless chose a class-free civil libertarianism as his definitive mode of politics. Given that the American Civil Liberties Union, over which he presided before co-founding Human Rights Watch, had ascended to prominence by departing from the class politics that originally birthed it, Neier’s Cold War stewardship of liberties and rights confined his attention to basics like free speech and a free press. Human Rights Watch functioned primarily to transfer such single-minded civil libertarianism abroad, with funding from foundation grants that singled out state repression rather than pursuing a more contentious social justice. Through the end of his career in the organization, Neier fought bitterly with anyone who tried to make room for distributive justice, including as a matter of social rights, tirelessly invoking the Cold War liberal Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between negative liberty and positive self-realization in his defense.

Human rights as an international grassroots movement emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, and it arose and flourished shortly before neoliberalism arose. This is no coincidence. This does not mean that they are the same, but they are both hegemonic projects that inhibit a movement towards the abolition of a society characterized by the class power of employers and therefore the emergence of a socialist way of living. 

Human rights as usually presented via AI not only substitute the pursuit of human rights at the expense of the struggle for the elimination of the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social forms of exploitation and oppression–that is to say, as a substitute for the struggle for socialism. Human rights organizations, despite their own sometimes detailed efforts to substantiate what they consider to be human rights abuses, often simply neglect to contextualize such abuses in the wider context of the class power of employers. 

From Christoph Henning 2005), Philosophy After Marx: 100 years of misreadings and the normative turn in political philosophy, pages 8-9: 

Marx has largely disappeared from the stage of philosophy since 1989: he has been
declared definitively dead by his critics. His place has been taken, within the sociophilosophical literature published in Germany since the 1990s, by the rise of normative principles. Discussions turned on whether the newly unified country required a new constitution, on how to conceptualise the hierarchy of norms within the ‘postnational constellation’ formed by the new nation state and the new Europe, on how human rights and ‘justice’ might be grounded philosophically, and such like. As rewarding as such normative reflections are, they cannot replace inquiries into the material base. When a normativistically restricted point of view takes the place of the former social theory,
super-normativism results.

Human rights organizations and individuals often justify their activities and views on the basis of an abstract respect for being human without linking this up with the general exploitative and oppressive structure of the capitalist economy and the capitalist state.  Indeed, human rights organizations display a decided lack of analysis of the socially determined material conditions of the production of human life characteristic of class society. In particular, advocates of human rights can consistently oppose violations of human rights and the continued existence of the exploitation and oppression of workers on a daily basis. From Samuel Moyn (2014), “A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism,” in pages 147-169, Law and Contemporary Problems, Volume 77, page 149: 

although the record of capitalism in our time is highly mixed when it comes to the achievement and violation of basic human rights, its most serious victim is equality (of resources and opportunities alike) both in national and global settings—a value that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the international human rights movements following in its wake do not even set out to defend.

It must be said that it is debatable whether “its most serious victim is equality;” its most serious victim may well be freedom. That issue, however, will not be addressed here. 

It could be said, of course, that the human rights movement has provided some welcome gains in the area of protection from state oppression, such as the illegal detention of citizens, immigrants and migrants for political reasons–political prisoners. 

Let us look at Amnesty International (AI) and perhaps, in another post, another human rights institution called Human Rights Watch (HRW) in relation to two issues: the right to choose work freely and the supposed need for the police to secure our lives. The first issue will be addressed in this post and the second issue in a subsequent post. 

Amnesty International Does Not Contextualize Human Abuses

Naomi Klein, author of, among other works, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2008), has a comment included on the cover of Jim Stanford’s book Economics for Everyone: :

Stanford is that rare breed: the teacher who changed your life. He has written a book–both pragmatic and idealistic–with the power to change the world.

Given the inadequate nature of Mr. Stanford’s economics for a characterization of the kind of capitalist society in which we live (see for example Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One), Ms. Klein’s comment indicates a lack of a critical attitude in that area. Nonetheless, she does display a more critical attitude towards Amnesty International than does Mr. Gindin. Ms. Klein has expressed the inadequate nature of Amnesty International in that AI does not enable people to grasp the social context within which human rights abuses occur. 

Klein has the following to say about AI from her bookpages 119-120: 

The narrow scope is most problematic in Amnesty International’s 1976 report on Argentina, a breakthrough account of the junta’s atrocities and worthy of its Nobel Prize. Yet for all its thoroughness, the report sheds no light on why the abuses were occurring. It asks the question “to what extent are the violations explicable or necessary” to establish “security”—which was the junta’s official rationale for the “dirty war.”14 After the evidence was examined, the report concludes that the threat posed by left-wing guerrillas was in no way commensurate with the level of repression used by the state.

But was there some other goal that made the violence “explicable or necessary”? Amnesty made no mention of it. In fact, in its ninety-two-page report, it made no mention that the junta was in the process of remaking the country along radically capitalist lines. It offered no comment on the deepening poverty or the dramatic reversal of programs to redistribute wealth, though these were the policy centerpieces of junta rule. It carefully lists all the junta laws and decrees that violated civil liberties but named none of the economic decrees that lowered wages and increased prices, thereby violating the right to food and shelter—also enshrined in the UN charter. If the junta’s revolutionary economic project had been even superficially examined, it would have been clear why such extraordinary repression was necessary, just as it would have explained why so many of Amnesty’s prisoners of conscience were peaceful trade unionists and social workers.

In another major omission, Amnesty presented the conflict as one restricted to the local military and the left-wing extremists. No other players are mentioned —not the U.S. government or the CIA; not local landowners; not multinational corporations. Without an examination of the larger plan to impose “pure” capitalism on Latin America, and the powerful interests behind that project, the acts of sadism documented in the report made no sense at all —they were just random, free-floating bad events, drifting in the political ether, to be condemned by all people of conscience but impossible to understand.

This suppression of social context is characteristic of the social-democratic or social-reformist left in general. This suppression assumed an internal form–self-suppression of criticisms of government and the class of employers because of internal repression (and such self-repression is understandable), but it is no excuse for suppressing it internationally. From pages 120-121: 

Every facet of the human rights movement was functioning under highly restricted circumstances, though for different reasons. Inside the affected countries, the first people to call attention to the terror were friends and relatives of the victims, but there were severe limits on what they could say. They didn’t talk about the political or economic agendas behind the disappearances because to do so was to risk being disappeared themselves. The most famous human rights activists to emerge under these dangerous circumstances were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, known in Argentina as the Madres. At their weekly demonstrations outside the house of government in Buenos Aires, the Madres did not dare hold up protest signs —instead they clasped photographs of their missing children with the caption “Donde estan?” Where are they? In the place of chants, they circled silently, wearing white headscarves embroidered with their children’s names. Many of the Madres had strong political beliefs, but they were careful to present themselves as nothing more threatening to the regime than grieving mothers, desperate to know where their innocent children had been taken.*

* After the end of dictatorship, the Madres became some of the fiercest critics of the new
economic order in Argentina, as they still are today.

In Chile, the largest of the human rights groups was the Peace Committee, formed by opposition politicians, lawyers and Church leaders. These were lifelong political activists who knew that the attempt to stop torture and to free political prisoners was only one front in a much broader battle over who would have control of Chile’s wealth. But in order to avoid becoming the regime’s next victims, they dropped their usual old-left denunciations of the bourgeoisie and learned the new language of “universal human rights.” Scrubbed clean of references to the rich and the poor, the weak and strong, the North and the South, this way of explaining the world, so popular in North America and Europe, simply asserted that everyone has the right to a fair trial and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It didn’t ask why, it just asserted that In the mixture of legalese and human interest that characterizes the human rights lexicon, they learned that their imprisoned companeros were actually prisoners of conscience whose right to freedom of thought and speech, protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, had been violated.

For those living under dictatorship, the new language was essentially a code; just as musicians hid the political messages in their lyrics in sly metaphors, they were disguising their leftism in legalese—a way of engaging in politics without mentioning politics.*

*Note: Even with these precautions, human rights activists were not safe from the terror. Chile’s jails were filled with human rights lawyers, and in Argentina the junta sent one of its top torturers to infiltrate the Madres, posing as a grieving relative. In December 1977, the group was raided; twelve mothers were permanently disappeared, including the leader of the Madres, Azucena de Vicenti, along with two French nuns.

When I first went to Guatemala in 1980, it became evident that public discussion of anything political was dangerous. For example, when I started to discuss the political situation in Guatemala, one man in the plaza (town square) in Quetzaltenango (the second largest city in Guatemala) indicated that he would not discuss such things “here.”  

Yes, AI may do some good–but simultaneously, by excluding the social context, it does harm. 

If AI decontextualizes social events, how is that a progressive organization? Mr. Gindin claims that we do not need abstract slogans, and yet when referring to AI as a “progressive organization” he himself is engaged in producing an abstract slogan. 

Corporate Accountability

From Amnesty International’s website (most of the bold are my emphases, on which I will comment after the quote): 

OVERVIEW

Globalization has changed the world we live in. It presents new and complex challenges for the protection of human rights.

Economic players, especially multinational companies that operate across national borders, have gained unprecedented power and influence across the world.

Companies have an enormous impact on people’s lives and the communities in which they operate. Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

There are few effective mechanisms at national or international level to prevent corporate human rights abuses or to hold companies to account. Amnesty is working to change this.

In Bodo Creek in Ogoniland, Nigeria, two oil spills (August/December 2008) destroyed thousands of livelihoods. Oil poured from faults in the Trans-Niger Pipeline for weeks, covering the area in a thick slick of oil. Amnesty and our partner, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, worked with the community to get the oil company responsible – Shell – to clean up its mess and pay proper compensation. Finally in December 2014, the Bodo community won a long-awaited victory when Shell paid out an unprecedented £55million in compensation after legal action in the UK.

“We are thankful to all that have contributed in one way or another to the conclusion of this case such as the various NGOs, especially Amnesty International, who have come to our aid.” said Chief Sylvester Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders.

Children outside the former Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India. 1 December 2012. © Giles Clarke/Getty Images Reportage

THE PROBLEM

States have a responsibility to protect human rights. However, many are failing to do this, especially when it comes to company operations – whether because of lack of capacity, dependence on the company as an investor or outright corruption.

Injustice incorporated

Companies operating across borders are often involved in severe abuses, such as forced labour or forcibly relocating communities from their lands.

Unsurprisingly, abuses are particularly stark in the extractive sector, with companies racing against each other to mine scarce and valuable resources. Traditional livelihoods are destroyed as land is contaminated and water supplies polluted such as in Ogoniland, Nigeria. The impact can be particularly severe for Indigenous Peoples because their way of life and their identity is often closely related to their land.

Affected communities are frequently denied access to information about the impact of company operations. Meaning they are excluded from participating in decisions that affect their lives.

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses. Despite laws in many countries that allow companies to be prosecuted, governments rarely even investigate corporate wrongdoing.

When communities’ attempt to get justice they are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, a lack of access to information, corruption and powerful state-corporate alliances. Worryingly, when the poor cannot secure justice, companies learn that they can exploit poverty without consequences.

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).
• Accountability: companies must be held to account for abuses they commit.
• Remedy: people whose rights have been abused by companies must be able to access justice and effective remedy.
• Protect rights beyond borders: companies operate across borders, so the law must also operate across borders to protect people’s rights.

Average payment of $1,000 a person – for killing and poisoning the Bhopal community. What an insult. Get Union Carbide back in court. #Whereartdhow

THE ISSUE IN DETAIL

The accountability gap

Companies have lobbied governments to create international investment, trade and tax laws that protect corporate interests. But the same companies frequently argue against any development in international law and standards to protect human rights in the context of business operations.

Companies are taking advantage of weak regulatory systems, especially in developing countries, and it is often the poorest people who are most at risk of exploitation. Governments are obliged to protect people from human rights abuses, this includes abuses committed by companies. All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

Bhopal’s 30 year fight for justice

It was once known as the City of Lakes. But Bhopal has since gone down in history as the site of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

In 1984, a toxic gas leak in the central Indian city left more than 20,000 people dead and poisoned more than half a million. Thirty years later, that tragedy has turned into a human rights horror, with survivors and activists leading a relentless fight for justice.

The players in this battle have taken on mythical overtones — David and Goliath come to mind. On the one side are thousands of people who somehow survived the gas leak and are searching for truth, justice and compensation; on the other, the multinational corporations Union Carbide and Dow, along with the US and Indian governments who have effectively protected them.

The story of what happened in Bhopal, and the struggle that has endured for three decades, is best told by the people closest to it: the survivors and their supporters.

Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.”

Given the economic dependence–economic coercion, really–of workers on employers for access to the use of the means by which they live (machines (including computers), buildings, raw material and auxiliary material), workers for the most part prefer to be employed (used and abused) rather than remaining unemployed. In this sense, investment by employers that lead to the creation of jobs (demand for workers) is positive. However, nowhere does Amnesty International imply that the resulting oppression and exploitation of workers on a regular basis is against human rights. The creation of jobs as “positive” necessarily goes hand in hand with the oppression and exploitation of workers in the context of the class power of employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital). In other words, Amnesty International in essence is an organization that criticizes companies and governments that deviate from some idealized capitalist economy and government. The ideal company would not employ (oppress and exploit) children (only adults).

At best, AI criticizes the need to work for particular employers who violate its definition of human rights rather than the need to work  for an employer. AI fails, in other words, to criticize the lack of right of workers and the community to have the right of access to use, collectively, the means necessary to produce (and reproduce) their own lives (for more on economic coercion, see the brief post Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance ; see also the two posts on the issue of whether workers work for a particular employer or for the class of employers Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left). 

As it stands, AI does not intend to challenge the power of employers to coerce economically workers on a daily basis to work for them. This view is expressed in various ways in the above “Overview” quote: 

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

Countless? If corporations continue to exist, they must exploit workers–whether unionized or not. This is how the system works. Workers, whether unionized or not, depend economically on employers, and they are oppressed and exploited by them (often to the detriment of their own health and welfare–and despite health and safety laws). (for examples of the calculation of the rate of exploitaiton, see among others The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One). 

AI, by referring to “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation” imply that what is required is “strong and adequately enforced domestic regulation.” Of course, “strong and enforced domestic regulation” of working conditions is generally better than “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation”–but the assumption is that such strong and enforced domestic regulation is–adequate. AI is, in effect, arguing for a refurbished welfare state that provides regulatory conditions for the operation of companies; it obviously does not seek to challenge the idea that working for any employer or corporation or company is legitimate or justified. 

There is further evidence of this attitude: 

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses.

Are not profits built always through the exploitation of workers? How does Mr. Gindin explain the origin of profit if not from the exploitation of workers? If profits require human exploitation and oppression, and AI in effect is claiming that some profits are legitimate, then is not AI indirectly justifying the continued exploitation and oppression of billions of workers worldwide? 

As I pointed out above, AI normalizes daily exploitation and oppression of workers only in order to highlight deviations from this normal situation as “human rights abuses.” Exploiting and oppressing workers normally is, therefore, not a human rights issue for AI. 

Again: 

All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

If all profit is derived from the exploitation and oppression of workers, then AI, if it were consistent, would call for the abolition of corporations and the establishment of a socialist society, where workers would control their own living conditions. Rather than advocating such a society, all AI does–like social democrats and social reformers–the “left” these days–is advocate “regulation.” The AI is a social-democratic organization. 

By calling AI a “progressive organization,” then Mr. Gindin is calling for a social-democratic world order–even if he is unaware of this. 

AI’s social-democratic identification of the problems with corporations correspond to its social-democratic solutions: 

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).

Since companies necessarily exploit and oppress workers, AI should in effect call for companies to abolish themselves–since companies would have to ‘identity’ themselves as necessarily abusing humans by treating them as things to be used to obtain more and more profit. Of course, such a view would be wishful thinking. 

The same logic applies to “preventing” human rights abuses and “addressing” human rights abuses. Obviously, AI is a reformist organization that seeks to normalize exploitation and oppression and not abolish it. Why otherwise imply that companies somehow can escape from exploiting and oppressing workers?

If AI were to admit that workers were, as part of the nature of companies, exploited and oppressed, it would have to radically change its characterization of human rights. Its standard would not be a refurbished welfare state but a socialist society, with nothing short of the abolition of the class of employers as the standard. 

Conclusion

Is Amnesty International a progressive organization? If you are a social democrat or social reformer, you undoubtedly will think so. If, however, you consider the class power of employers to be illegitimate, you will not. That AI does some good does not mean that it is a progressive organization since it, ultimately, assumes the legitimacy of the class power of employers. The standard of such organizations, in other words, remains well within the bounds of capitalism. 

The social-democratic left here in Toronto, however, engage in political rhetoric when they call such organizations “progressive.” If such rhetoric is then called into question, the social-democratic left then accuse the critiques of, among other things, lacking in “self-criticism” and “humility,” or they resort to insults. 

I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusions about how the social-democratic left deal with criticisms of their own political rhetoric by quoting two social democrats or social reformers here in Toronto: Sam Gindin and Wayne Dealy. Ask yourself whether Mr. Gindin engages in his advice. As for Wayne Dealy, ask yourself what Mr. Dealy does to expose the real nature of the social world in which we live. 

Sam Gindin: (I quote from a previous post)

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Wayne Dealy (I quote from a previous post the context and Dealy’s response): 

I had worked in a brewery for around four years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I questioned this reference to a good (or decent) work and a fair contract. I did not try to attack the representative personally. I tried to address the issues.

I also pointed out that the striking workers did deserve our support–that it was a question of solidarity.

Wayne Dealy, who is a representative of a local Toronto union here, then intervened, stating the following:

Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?

I expressed a point of view that was different–and was roundly insulted on a listserve.

I replied:

It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.

Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed, the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.

Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker

I was too hopeful. No one from the listserve–including Sam Gindin–addressed the real issues of whether there is such a thing as good jobs or a fair contract.

Wayne Dealy replied:

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.

Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy  et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.

On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.

And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.

Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.

Wayne.

p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick

Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science

 
University of Toronto