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

 

 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit). The largest employer, in terms of employment, is the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers by various employers, such as Magna International in an earlier post (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.

I also calculated the rate of exploitation of Air Canada workers (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada). This time I calculated the rate of exploitation of another airline: WestJet. 

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.

I took the data from the 2018 annual report–the most accessible annual report. 

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 have the following:

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=232,658.7/997,313.3=23%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at WestJet works around an additional 14 minutes for free for WestJet. 

In a 5.2 hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 4 hours 14 minutes (254 minutes) and works 58 minutes for free for WestJet.

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). The same applies to the following. 

In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6.5 hours and works for 1.5 hours free for WestJet.

In an 8.5-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in  6 hours 55 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 35 minutes for WestJet.

In a 10-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 8 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 42 minutes for WestJet. 

Given this rate of exploitation and oppression, what are we to make of the following management rights clause in the collective agreement between WestJet and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4070 (or, in French, Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP))? 

ARTICLE 3 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3-1.01 Except to the extent expressly limited or modified by a specific provision of this Agreement, the Company reserves and retains, solely and exclusively, all of the inherent rights, powers and authority to manage the business and direct its workforce and all the matters relating thereto. These rights, powers and authority include, but are not limited to hiring, assigning, promoting, demoting, classifying, transferring, lay-off, recall, suspending, discharging or otherwise disciplining Cabin Personnel; establishing and enforcing rules of conduct; maintaining order and efficiency; requiring Cabin Personnel to observe reasonable rules and regulations which may be promulgated by the Company, introducing new equipment; determining the location(s) of the workforce, operations, and facilities; planning, scheduling, directing and controlling operations.

3-1.02 The Union shall be advised of any changes to policies governing Cabin Personnel at least five (5) Days before such policies become effective unless the Parties mutually agree to a shorter advance notification period. This five (5) Day requirement will not apply when the Company is required by law to make immediate changes or in the event of emergency circumstances that reasonably require immediate change.

Is this management rights clause an example of the nature of “fair contracts” according to the major Canadian unions (such as CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE)? See  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)  and Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)(The Second Largest Union in Canada).      

Should not unions, even in the public sector, be teaching the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining? In the private sector, should they not also be teaching the workers that no collective agreement and no collective-bargaining process can abolish the exploitation of the workers–without driving the company out of business?

Or are unions silent on such limitations? Moreover, do they try to sell the idea to their members that the collective agreement is fair? 

What do you think? Given what you think, what should you be doing? Are you doing it? Why or why not? 

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

I will calculate the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value for each approximate variation of the length of the working day (a more detailed explanation of how to calculate the rate of exploitation is provided in the post The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada).

(in thousands of Canadian dollars)

Revenue 4,733,462
Operating expenses 4,578,235
Earnings from operations 155,227
Earnings before income taxes (EBT) 135,882

There is a difference of 19,345 between the category “Earnings from operations” and “Earnings before income taxes” (155,227-135,882=19345).

This difference can be accounted for on the basis of the category “Non-operating income (expense)”. 

Non-operating income (expense):
Finance income 29,421
Finance cost (57,027)
Gain (loss) on foreign exchange 2,966
Gain on disposal of property and equipment 4,049
Gain (loss) on derivatives 1,246

When you add the numbers that are without parentheses (that is to say, considered to be income) and subtract the numbers that are in parentheses (that is to say, considered to be an expense), then the net result is an expense of (19,345). 

Operating expenses need to be broken down further since expenses for maintaining workers as wage workers form one of the two considerations for the calculation of the rate of exploitation.

Expenses ($ in thousands)
Aircraft fuel 1,231,632
Salaries and benefits 999,381
Rates and fees 691,293
Sales and marketing 440,292
Depreciation and amortization 429,906
Maintenance 232,053
Aircraft leasing 139,703
Other 398,038
Employee profit share 15,937
Total operating expenses 4,578,235

Adjustments

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.

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 taxes.”  

Adjustments of Non-operating income (expense) and Surplus Value (s)

I will treat this subcategory and its amount “Finance cost (57,027)”  as part of the surplus value produced by WestJet workers but paid out as interest to loan capitalists (banks, for example). The same applies to the other amounts within this category. The result is an additional $94,709 thousands (29,421+57,027+2,966+4,049+1,246=94,709). This amount needs to be added to “Earnings before income taxes (EBT),” 135,882, with the result: 

Temporarily adjusted Earnings before income taxes (surplus value (s) $230,591 thousands. 

Adjustments of Salaries and Benefits: Variable Capital (v)

Salaries and benefit plans can be further broken down:

Salaries and benefits plans 880,701
Employee share purchase plan 102,692
Share-based payment plans 15,988
Total salaries and benefits 999,381

The category “Employee share purchase plan” does not need any adjustment since it does indeed form part of the benefits of WestJet workers.

A note provides additional information:

Employee share purchase plan (ESPP)

The ESPP encourages employees to become owners of WestJet and provides employees with the opportunity to significantly enhance their earnings. Under the terms of the ESPP, employees may, dependent on their employment agreement, contribute up to a maximum of 10 per cent, 15 per cent or 20 per cent of their gross salary to acquire voting shares of WestJet at the current fair market value. The contributions are matched by WestJet and are required to be held within the ESPP for a period of one year. For the year ended December 31, 2018, our matching expense was $102.7 million.

The above $102,692 million is thus WestJet’s contribution to the purchase of WestJet stock.

I will assume that the employee share purchase plan forms part of the total income of WestJet workers. This assumption is justified since such a plan is designed, apparently, to replace a pension plan (and I have treated pension plans when calculating the rate of exploitation as part of salaries and benefits). From The Globe and Mail (May 14, 2019):

The questions from employee groups on the call quickly focused on the employee share-purchase plan. Instead of a pension plan, workers can invest as much as 20 per cent of their pay in WestJet stock and the company will match it. 

The employee share purchase plan amount does not change the calculation of v, but it does clarify why it should be included in the category “Total salaries and benefits.”

If the $102,692 is added to the amount of salaries and benefits, we obtain $983,393. 

Adjustments for Share Based Payment Plans

The same could only partially be said of the other category “Share based payment plans.” 

The following note elaborates on the nature of “Share-based payment plans”:

Share-based payment plans
We have three equity-settled share-based payment plans whereby either stock options, restricted share units (RSUs) or performance share units (PSUs) may be awarded to pilots, senior executives and certain non-executive employees. For the year ended December 31, 2018, share-based payment expense totaled $16.0 million.

“Share-based payment plans” is further broken down as follows:

Stock option plan 10,428
Key employee plan 5,039
Executive share unit plan 521
Total share-based payment expense 15,988

With no further detailed information about “Stock option plan,” and since pilots undoubtedly produce surplus value (they are exploited), I will assume that only ten percent of 10,428 is surplus value appropriated by senior management; this is also justified since pilots are likely to form most of the personnel in this category (although it is impossible to determine this with precision). Consequently, 10 percent of 10,428 is 1042.8 and is subtracted from “Total share-based payment expense” and added to “Earnings before income taxes (EBT).” The remaining 9,385.2 million is added to the category “Salaries and benefits plans” and the added amount from “Employee Share

Adjustments for Stock Option Plan

Temporarily adjusted Earnings before income taxes (surplus value (s): $231,633.8 thousands. 
Temporarily adjusted salaries and benefits: variable capital (v): $992,778.2 

Adjustments for Key Employee Plan

A note indicates the nature of the “Key employee plan”:

(d) Key employee plan
The Corporation has a key employee plan (KEP), whereby restricted share units (RSU) are issued to senior management and pilots of the Corporation.

Since pilots form part of this group, I will follow the same logic as for the group who receive stock options–10 percent of 5,039 is 503.9 and is subtracted from “Total share-based payment expense” and added to “Earnings before income taxes (EBT).”  The remaining $4535.1 ]  is added to the category “Salaries and benefits plans.

Accordingly: 

Temporarily adjusted Earnings before income taxes (surplus value (s): $232,137.7 thousands. 
Temporarily adjusted salaries and benefits: variable capital (v): $997,313.3

Final Adjustments: Executive Share Unit Plan

The category “Executive share unit plan” is different from the other two share-based payment plans.

A note indicates the nature of “Executive share unit plan”: 

(e) Executive share unit plan
The Corporation has an equity-based executive share unit (ESU) plan, whereby RSUs [restricted share units] and performance share units (PSU) may be issued to senior executive officers.

“Executive share unit plan” is probably compensation, not mainly for the coordination of the work of others but for the exploitation of others–it is pure surplus value. Accordingly, 521 is therefore completely subtracted from “Total share-based payment expense” and added to “Earnings before income taxes (EBT).” 

With this, final adjustments are possible and the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation can be calculated. 

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: 

Adjusted earnings before income taxes (surplus value (s): $232,658.7 thousands. 
Adjusted total salaries and benefits: variable capital (v): $997,313.3

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Adjusted earnings before income taxes” (s) by “Adjusted total salaries and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=232,658.7/997313.3=23%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at WestJet works around an additional 14 minutes for free for WestJet. 

In a 5.2 hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 4 hours 14 minutes (254 minutes) and works 58 minutes for free for WestJet. 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 work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6.5 hours and works for 1.5 hours free for WestJet.

In an 8.5-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in  6 hours 55 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 35 minutes for WestJet.

In a 10-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 8 minutes and works for free for 1 hour 42 minutes for WestJet. 

I have used the lengths of the working day as 5.2, 8 8.5 and 10 because the length of the working day varies. According to one source:

They have a flexible schedule for part time. Full time is required 40 hours. They do permit shift trading.

In my last role 8.5hrs, in prior roles it depended on my shifts etc.

8 to 10 hours per day

26 hours a week. Everyone starts out a part time.

The above lengths of the working day, translated into hours per day (assuming a five-day work week) are:

  1. 5.2 hours per day or 312 minutes
  2. 8 hours per day or 480 minutes
  3. 8.5 hours per day or 510 minutes
  4. 10 hours per day or 600 minutes 

Comparison of the Rate of Exploitation of WestJet Workers with Other Workers

The rate of exploitation of WestJet workers is quite low relative to other workers. Below I organize the rates of exploitation that I have calculated so far, from lowest to highest: 

  1. WestJet workers: 23%
  2. Telus workers: 58% 
  3. Air Canada workers: 70%
  4. Magna International workers: 79% (2019); 43% (2020) 
  5. Bank of Montreal (BMO): 92% 
  6. Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE): 100% 
  7. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC): 120%
  8. Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank): 123% 
  9. Royal Bank of Canada (RBC): 124% 
  10. ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia): 147% 
  11. Suncor Energy workers: 148% 
  12. Rogers Communication: 209% 

The divergences in the rate of exploitation are substantial: the absolute percentage difference between the rate of exploitation of WestJet workers and the rate of exploitation of Rogers Communications workers is 186%. 

Factors That Determine the Rate of Exploitation in Relation to Divergences in the Rates of Exploitation 

The rate of surplus value has three main factors which determine its level: 

1. The real wage (basket of commodities consumed by workers at non-changing prices). In the short term, the real wage is undoubtedly influenced by the class struggle–the level of organization of workers, the aims of such organization, the extent of the elimination of competition among workers and so forth. Even in the long run, it may be influenced through the incorporation of more and qualitatively more diverse commodities (historical and moral influence)–but this should not be exaggerated since real wages ultimately are limited by the rate of accumulation.

2.  The absolute level of the production of surplus value, determined by such factors as

a. the length of the working day. For example, if workers work 7 hours a day, with a rate of exploitation of 100%, then the worker produces her/his wage in 3.5 hours and produces a surplus value of 3.5 hours. If the working day increases to 7.5 hours, then the rate of exploitation increases, from 100% to 114% (s=4; v=3.5; s/v=4/3.5=1.14=114%). 

b. the intensity of work (which itself can be a function of other factors, such as the level of managerial organization, the principles of managerial supervision and technological conditions that force workers to work at an intensified level). The same number of hours may contain, relative to before, more labour. With a constant real wage, more surplus value is produced and hence a higher rate of exploitation. 

3.  Relative surplus value, determined by changes in technology (which alter the value of the commodities consumed by workers, reducing the value of the commodities consumed by workers, thereby increasing the remaining value as surplus value. For example, at the brewery where I worked, when I first started to work there, we could produce a maximum of 550 bottles of beer per minute, and when I quit, we could produce a maximum of 1,400 bottles per minute. The value of the bottles of beer undoubtedly decreased (although the price did not reflect this proportionately–taxes form a substantial portion of price). With lower values–and prices–for commodities consumed by workers, the workers perform less time producing the equivalent value of their wage and hence more time producing a surplus value, which therefore raises the rate of exploitation, s/v. Thus, with the technological change in beer production, the value of beer decreased. With the same level of worker beer consumption as before (the same real wage), the value of the commodity the workers sell (labour power–the capacity to perform labour for a certain period of time) decreases, leading to more value remaining for the employer–hence more surplus value and a higher rate of exploitation.  

To explain the divergences in the rate of exploitation at this micro level according to the above three factors or variables would require much more empirical work (and probably theoretical work to make required connections). I lack the capacity for this. If others can in any way improve on the calculation of the rate of exploitation, feel free to do so.

In any case, other factors undoubtedly influence the perceived or empirical rate of exploitation (as calculated by me). Thus, one major factor that would need to be included is the difference between the surplus value initially produced (or received by commercial and banking institutions) and the final distribution of surplus value. The production of surplus value and its distribution are unlikely to be the same since the proportion of investment in constant capital (c) and variable capital (v) will vary according to the kind of industry and level of technological development. I explain this in a comment to the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada.  

Static Versus Dynamic Considerations of the Rate of Exploitation

The above comparative analysis definitely has limitations since it provides only a snapshot picture of rates of exploitation for different employers. When we consider the mobility of workers within and between industries, however, there may be a tendency towards an equalization of the rate of exploitation. This would require further empirical research, of course, as well as further theoretical considerations.

One author argues that there is a tendency towards equal rates of exploitation via worker mobility (he sometimes calls it labour mobility). He refers to Adam Smith’s theory of worker mobility. Adam Smith was a political philosopher and political economist who published the book The Wealth of Nations in 1776.

From Jonathan Cogliano (2021), “Marx’s Equalized Rate of Exploitation,” Working Paper Series, University of Massachusetts, page 20: 

One implication of the view put forward in sections 4 and 5 is that Marx fully adopts [Adam] Smith’s theory of the turbulent equalization of the whole of the advantages and disadvantages and re-purposes it into a turbulently equalizing rate of exploitation is that workers then know the degree to which they are exploited and move between sectors accordingly. Marx discusses how workers understand that they are exploited in his discussion of the struggle over the length of the working day, but he does not state explicitly that workers know their rate of exploitation (Marx 1976, pp.342-344). However, the wholesale adoption of Smith’s balancing whole of the advantages and disadvantages of labor implies that workers do know the degree to which they are exploited and migrate across sectors in response to changes or differentials across sectors.

Workers making decisions of how to allocate their labor across industries in this way does not require that workers base the decision on magnitudes measured in labor values— i.e. basing the decision on surplus value and the value of labor power. Workers’ movement across sectors as informed by money prices still induces the EQRE. As Foley (2016, pp.378- 380) discusses, surplus value captures overall surplus labor effort in the money form and if workers base their mobility decisions on the effort they expend and the wage they are paid then these movement decisions will tendentially induce the EQRE. This rests on some notion of a connection between labor effort and money value added

It would be necessary to consider both theoretically and empirically the dynamics of worker mobility in relation to the rate of exploitation to determine whether such a tendency in fact holds. Unfortunately, there is little research here in Toronto or indeed in Canada, as far as I can tell, concerning anything having to do with the rate of exploitation at the micro level and its interface with tendencies at the macro level.


Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats

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 [my emphases].

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, Hermand 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). 

Let us first look at Oxfam. In a relatively recent publication (September 2020, titled Power, Profits and the Pandemic: From Corporate Extraction for the Few to an Economy that Works for All) (available for download at https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/power-profits-and-pandemic ), Oxfam criticizes, in various ways, how the pandemic has increased inequalities throughout the world. 

Rather than focusing on its critique (which centres mainly on differences in income, excluding consideration of the distribution of wealth that is used to produce both means of production (machinery (including computers), plant or buildings, raw materials, auxiliary materials) and means of consumption (bread, meat, coffee, tea, milk, refrigerators, fans, cars and so forth), let us look at some of its recommendations. 

The recommendations look very much like a social-democratic or social-reformist wish list. In essence, they seek to roll back the clock to the time after the Second-World War–without the conditions that then prevailed (such as a working class that was not only more organized but had experience in fighting a war and a substantial part of the capital owned by employers  being destroyed (thereby reducing the constant part of capital as well as obsolete technology and raising the rate of profit). 

Capitalism with a Humane Face: The End of Neoliberalism

Decent Work

Oxfam on Decent Work

What Oxfam seeks is the elimination of neoliberalism–but not the class power of employers. This is typical of modern-day social democrats. Thus, we read (pages 40-41): 

People: putting people at the center of business

Companies should redesign their business models to center on the wellbeing of people in their operations, supply chains and broader society – and be incentivized to do so. This will require investing in decent jobs, addressing human rights risks and supporting efforts for universal social protection.

It then outlines what it means by “decent jobs” (page 41): 

Decent work
• Governments must require, and companies should pay living wages, provide safe and healthy working conditions, and work with trade unions to increase the negotiating power of workers.
• Governments must require and companies should provide paid leave and ensure women have equal opportunities for advancement.
• Companies should eliminate commercial and trading practices that place undue levels of risk and pressure to cut costs on suppliers.
• Companies should exercise preferential sourcing from suppliers that guarantee a living wage and are unionized.

If there is a market for workers, how can there be such a thing as “decent jobs?” This is the “abstract slogan” of social democrats everywhere. The class power of employers and the general nature of such a society ensures that jobs and the human beings that perform them will be used as means for the pursuit of more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital). (For a critique of the concept of “decent jobs” or “decent work,” see Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?).

Mr. Gindin’s Social-Democratic View on Decent Work

Mr. Gindin nowhere engages in a critique of this abstract slogan. On the contrary. When I tried to bring up the issue, here is what Mr. Gindin had to say on the subject (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. Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not Dealy 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.

The reference to Dealy is to Wayne Dealy, the  executive director for Local 3902 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), called me a “condescending prick” for criticizing another union rep (Tracy McMaster), who claimed that all that striking brewery workers wanted was “fair wages” and “decent jobs.”

Mr. Gindin fails to see how the concept of “decent work” or “decent jobs” has been used by social-democratic organizations as a means of avoiding engaging in debate about whether working for any employer can be considered “decent.” Such a phrase is an “abstract slogan” that unions persistently use without teaching their members just how limited collective bargaining and collective agreements are. Oxfam uses the same abstract slogan as unions. 

Such a debate has to do, among other things, with the standards we use to judge activities as appropriate to our natural characteristics as living human beings, to our historical characteristics as living human beings who socially produce our own lives on the basis of already produced means of production inherited from the  past and to our current situation as living human beings who have created a world of machines (including computers) that we need to produce our lives but that we do not control.

It should not, however, come as a surprise that Mr. Gindin would defend the use of the ideological expression “decent work.” He himself has used such an expression in the past. From  “Rethinking Unions, Registering Socialism,” in pages 26-51, Socialist Register 2013, pages 39-40: 

1. From bargaining to jobs

‘The last 30 years have changed us’, the CEO of Gallup recently noted by way of introducing what he described as one of the firm’s most consistent polling results: ‘The primary will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that’. The implication for unions could not be more profound since unions have traditionally been structured around the conditions and price of workers’ labour power, not whether they have a job in the first place. This inability to address their members’ top priority is a problem in itself and, because of the related insecurity, also undermines the
union capacity to deliver on what they are allegedly structured to do – defend and improve wages, benefits and working conditions. There can be no union renewal without addressing access to decent jobs [my emphasis]. Unions had previously avoided this contradiction by looking to growth and Keynesian stimulus to provide the jobs while the union concerned itself with negotiating labour’s price. Though fiscal stimulus does have currency at this particular moment – even many economists, mainstream commentators and corporate heads have come to see that fixing the banks is not enough to restore growth and save capitalism from itself – Keynesianism is dead and buried as a long-term strategy for addressing worker job security. Capital has made it abundantly clear that its strategies for growth now rest on worker discipline, containing inflation and increasing international competitiveness – all of which militate against worker job and social security. There has been growth in recent decades but, driven by the restoration of profits and weakening of unions, it has brought ever greater inequality while not delivering the levels of private investment that can bring anything close to full employment, never mind well-paying secure jobs.45

Note 45 at the end of the above quote provides further detail about what Mr. Gindin means by “decent jobs” (page 51): 

Even at relatively low unemployment rates, decent jobs are no longer necessarily provided – in 2004, the unemployment rate was down to 4 per cent but workers were no less insecure because restructuring was so intense (the positions were opening up were either inferior or not accessible to workers newly unemployed). The reserve army is no longer just the unemployed but also includes the precarious and low-paid in a context of accelerated restructuring. See Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury, 2011; and John Evans and Euan Gibb, ‘Moving from Precarious Employment to Decent Work’, Discussion Paper 13, Global Union Research Network, Geneva, 2009.

A decent job, then, is a job that is relatively secure. The working class certainly considers job security to be an essential need. However, the level of job security possible within a society dominated by a class of employers is a question of degree; no job–and hence no level of working-class income–is secure from the shifting sands of the accumulation process of capital. Job insecurity has been and is a common feature of working-class experience. For example, I worked at a capitalist brewery until 1983 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (when I quit.). Eleven years later, in 1994, the employer (Molson) closed the brewery. 

Gindin’s implied view that job security is somehow really possible in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers seemed to be possible in the years following the Second World War (when massive amounts of constant capital–machinery, buildings, raw material, auxiliary material–were destroyed and millions of workers were killed), but the years since the late 1960s has shown that this security has been increasingly a will-o-the-wisp for many workers. To seek job security in such a context is purely reformist–and idealist. Job security will likely be secured if a massive war erupts (with the possible extinction of the human species)–or a socialist society is secured. 

To speak of job security independently of the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is social-democratic rhetoric–an abstract slogan. 

Mr. Gindin’s reference to Oxfam as a progressive organization thus expresses his own lack of critical engagement with social-democratic or social-reformist rhetoric. It reflects a lack of self-criticism. Mr. Gindin fails to criticize his own views about decent jobs or decent work. As I said in a previous post ( The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020): 

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism.

Oxfam on Collective Bargaining

This ideological reference by Oxfam to decent work is coupled with a call for collective bargaining and, implicitly collective agreements, without ever engaging in an analysis of the limits of such bargaining in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures. From page 43: 

Collective bargaining
•Governments must support and companies should respect collective bargaining rights and engage with independent trade unions.
•Governments must support and companies should enable women workers to raise their voices safely and effectively in company operations and supply chains.
•Companies should create robust grievance mechanism for employees and workers across their supply chains.

I have criticized the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements in a number of posts (see, for example  Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract? or Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One ). 

Oxfam on Corporations as Needing to Pay Their “Fair Share of Taxes”

Further evidence that Oxfam is a social-democratic or social-reformist organization that does not aim to challenge the general class power of employers is its recommendation that corporations “pay their fair share of taxes”–another abstract slogan. From Oxfam’s 2020 publication, page 42: 

Governments should ensure large multinational companies pay their fair share of taxes [my emphasis] where economic activity takes place, including through a corporate global minimum tax, applied at a country-by-country level.

The concept of corporations “paying their fair share of taxes” is an abstract slogan. What does it mean? If all corporations exploit the workers they employ, how is it possible for them to pay any taxes that are “fair?” There is the implicit assumption that the profit of corporations is somehow “fair”–but that corporations are not paying a portion of that as taxes that would constitute a fair share. In other words, it is implied that it is fair to exploit and oppress workers–provided that the corporations “pay their fair share of taxes.” 

Oxfam’s Unrealistic Recommendation of Putting People First in the Context of the Class Power of Employers

Just as Oxfam fails to question the abstract slogan of corporations paying their fair share of taxes, it also fails to question the abstract slogan of putting people before profits. Oxfam recommends the following as well:

People: putting people at the center of business
Companies should redesign their business models to center on the wellbeing of people in their operations, supply chains and broader society – and be incentivized to do so. 

People are indeed at the “center” of the operations of businesses: they are means for obtaining more and more profit (see The Money Circuit of Capital). As I wrote in my post on Socialist Action: 

If we take a look at the money circuit of capital (The Money Circuit of Capital), we can see that workers are used as mere means for obtaining more profit (or, in the case of the government, for purposes undefined by workers). For Mr. Thomason, as long as the Irvings pay “their fair share of taxes”–they can continue to exploit workers. Such is the logic of the social-democratic left. How do these social democrats represent the general interests of workers (the class interests of workers)? 

In an article written by Craig Berry and Clive Gabay (2009), Transnational political action and ’global civil society’ in practice: the case of Oxfam, they argue that Oxfam does not oppose globalization nor transnational (or multinational) corporations (TNCs or MNCs), but rather seeks to use them and the consequences that flow from them to “humanize” the world: 

The general argument seems to be that both market forces and technological change have contributed to the development of globalization. The principal implication of globalization, however, is the birth of a global economy operating beyond the confines of nation-states. Crucially, moreover, this is generally a positive development. Even criticism of transnational corporations (TNCs), the apparent targets of the anti-globalization movement, is muted:

Technological change has made globalization possible. Transnational companies have made it happen. Through their investment, production and marketing activities, TNCs bring the world’s economies and people more closely together’ (Oxfam International 2002: 14).

Oxfam therefore merely identifies TNCs as the carriers of the inexorable force of technological development, the logical outcome of which is increased trade. In general, there appears to be no appetite within Oxfam to challenge what they deem the process of
globalization. Two local organizers argued:

The challenge is to make globalization, which is unavoidable in some ways and in some ways very, very desirable, work for people. I think in some ways it has been shown not to work, but in others there have been some very positive outcomes of globalization.

If we take the best aspects of globalization, the best results of globalization… if we can use the forces of globalization to create a baseline around the world so that everyone has a choice, everyone has access to a doctor, a school, these real baseline Millennium
Development Goals-type aspirations, I do think globalization can deliver.

It seems the problem with globalization for Oxfam is that it is not working for enough
people. It is its goal of rectifying this situation that gives Oxfam its identity as a
‘development’ organisation. Yet we see this strange paradox whereby globalization is said to require better management, yet it is deemed in itself positive: Oxfam separates current
governance arrangements, orchestrated by nation-states, from the economic process.

Qualified Support for Oxfam–After Engaging in its Critique

What might a more appropriate leftist political position be in relation to Oxfam? Its limitations need to be pointed out (some of which were specified above). On the other hand, once these limitations have been identified and described, it can certainly be acknowledged that Oxfam has done some good work in certain areas. Its research into the increasing inequality could be used to good advantage, for example, as could its statistics on how profits during Covid evidently were more important for corporations than the interests of their workers–and how government subsidies to corporations did not change corporation’s behaviour. 

Furthermore, its opposition to violence against girls and women is also commendable–see my own efforts in relation to my daughter in such posts as  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services

Nonetheless, for those who oppose the class power of employers, these efforts and this research need to be linked to a critique of the implied standard used by Oxfam and so many other so-called progressive organizations or “material structures”: the standard of a humanized capitalism. 

Conclusions

Mr. Gindin’s claim that

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

rings hollow. Oxfam challenges a particular version of capitalism (neoliberalism) but not the nature of capitalism as such. Oxfam seeks to reform capitalism–not abolish it. Oxfam is like Mr. Gindin’s right-hand man, Herman Rosenfeld, who argues the same in regard to the police:  

Shouldn’t that institution [the police] be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

If we substitute “neoliberal capitalism” for “the police”, we have Oxfam’s views. Decent work under the rule of employers, collective bargaining with the power of employers modified but not eliminated, corporations paying their fair share of taxes while exploiting and oppressing workers and putting people at the center–of exploitation and oppression–this is the contradiction of Oxfam. Mr. Gindin, however, claims the opposite–that “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.” Oxfam aims to modify the profit priorities of employers but not eliminate their power. 

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? 

In effect, the social-democratic left often engage in rubber stamping other so-called progressive organizations without engaging in any inquiry into their nature and limitations (see for example another example of rubber stamping by the grassroots organization Social Housing Green Deal here in Toronto  Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Two: Critique of the Standard of Canadians and Landed Immigrants Working for an Employer). Indeed, I get the impression that there is lots of rubber stamping among the social-democratic left. 

In a related post, I may take a look in a general way at whether Amnesty International (AI) is a “progressive organization,” and in a follow-up post may look in more detail at AI’s silence  concerning economic coercion, exploitation and oppression, on the one hand, and its contradictory treatment of the capitalist government or state and its limited critique of that institution on the other. 

Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Three, or How Commodities and Money Dominate Our Lives

Introduction

I have already criticized Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as purchasing power in two previous posts (see 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   and Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Two). I turn now to the social effect of commodity and money production as commodity fetishism and money fetishism. 

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money fails to connect it to the peculiar kind of social labour that produces commodities and how this peculiar kind of social labour necessarily gives rise to money as the monopolizer of purchasing power. To repeat his definition of money (from Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism, 2008, page 189: 

Very broadly, money is anything that allows its holder to purchase other goods and services. In other words, money is purchasing power.

We can compare this with Marx’s views on money. From pages 168-169: 

The forms which stamp products as commodities and which are therefore the preliminary requirements for the circulation of commodities, already possess the fixed quality of natural forms of social life before man seeks to give an account, not of their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but of their content and meaning. Consequently, it was solely the analysis of the prices of commodities which led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and solely the common expression of all commodities in money which led to the establishment of their character as values. It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly.

Since money as simply given hides the “social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers,” it is necessary to analyze how it arises theoretically (and practically through the actual exchange process)–which is what Stanford precisely fails to do. From Capital, page 139: 

Everyone knows, if nothing else, that commodities have a common value-form which contrasts in the most striking manner with the motley natural forms of their use-values. I refer to the money-form. Now, however, we have to perform a task never even attempted by bourgeois economics. That is, we have to show the origin of this money-form, we have to trace the development of the expression of value contained in the value-relation of commodities from its simplest, almost imperceptible outline to the dazzling money-form. When this has been done, the mystery of money will immediately disappear.

For Stanford, however, there is no mystery to money. It is simply the power of a specific thing to purchase other things. How and why money permits its owner to purchase other things–including the capacity of workers to perform human labour–remains a mystery on the basis of Stanford’s definition. Stanford, in fact, merely assumes the power of money to purchase commodities. At least eighteenth and nineteenth century political economists were able to infer from exchange relations that labour formed their basis as value (although they also assumed that the kind of social labour that produced value was concrete labour). From pages Capital, 173-175: 

Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely,  and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product.  These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature-imposed necessity as productive labour itself.

The above quote links up to the theme of commodity fetishism and money fetishism, or the loss of power by workers over their own life process (the production process of their own lives) and the positive acquisition of power of the things they produce–commodities, money and, ultimately, capital. 

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as “purchasing power” fails miserably to address something which is very relevant for members of the working class: Why does the ownership of money by employers confer so much power over the workers at work? 

By severing the connection between the positive monopoly of immediate purchasing power of money from the negative lack of such power of commodities, Stanford fails to grasp the organic or internal connection between the difference in power between commodity power–especially the commodity called labour power–and money power (represented by the employer)

Part of the answer to the question of the asymmetry in power relations between the owner of commodities and the owner of money is found in Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, and the associated theory of the money fetish, which is really a development from commodity fetishism. By fetishism is not meant some kind of personal fetish, such as a fetish for a particular part of the human body or a particular item of clothing. Rather, it is a fetish in that human powers appear as the power of things, whether as commodities (commodity fetishism) or as money (money fetishism), or indeed as a thing called capital (capital fetishism). As Elena Lange (2021) notes, Value without Fetish Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, page 225: 

The inversion of the problem – money is not to be explained on the basis of the fetish character of the commodity, but the commodity is to be explained on the basis of the fetish-character of money – however leaves open the question how money is capable of paradigmatically representing general social exchangeability.

Stanford, with his one-sided positive definition of money as purchasing power, cannot link the power that ownership of money confers to the employer. He cannot do so since he fails to link the nature of money in a capitalist society to the nature of the kind of labour that requires money as an external power (“purchasing power”).  Money for Stanford  just has purchasing power–it appears to have this active power independently of the way in which the producers’ own labour (the labour of the working class) is organized and how they relate to each other by way of the topsy-turvy relation between things (commodities and money).

The Nature of Commodity Fetishism–and the Domination of Workers 

Stanford cannot understand the nature of commodity fetishism since he simply assumes that a thing called money has purchasing power by nature. He obviously rejects connecting the nature of money to the peculiar social labour that produces commodities. In fact, I doubt that he is even aware of the connection (since he interprets Marx’s labour theory of value as some sort of moral theory that is applicable throughout history). 

Commodity fetishism arises because the labour performed by the workers is not social labour as it is being performed and, as a consequence, the relations between the labours of workers who work for different and independent employers lack direct social connections. Materially, though,  they form, interdependent relations. At the brewery where I worked, for example, brewery workers did not produce the bottles that they needed to produce the beer, nor the barrels of soap needed to make the bottles move smoothly along the line, nor the chains on which the bottles moved, nor the machines, such as the soaker, the filler or the labeler. There was thus a material dependence of the workers in the brewery on the workers who produced the bottles, the barrels, the soap, the chains, the soaker, the filler and the labeler. 

The labour performed by us to produce the beer, though materially dependent on other labour processes, did not express its dependent nature directly by means of those who produce beer, along with the whole set of other workers jointly communicating and deciding on what to produce, how much to produce and how to produce according to the diverse productive and personal needs of the producers (and other members of society). Rather, the dependent (and interdependent) nature is only expressed indirectly, through the relations of commodities to each other in the exchange relation and the exchange process–since the labour performed during production in a society characterized by a class of employers is only social labour indirectly. The commodities themselves then obtain human characteristics that appear to arise from the nature of the commodities as natural things (such as beer) rather than through their nature as social things. Thus, beer having a price seems to arise from the nature of beer  whereas price in fact arises in the first place because of the organization of production as private, isolated production.  This attribution of social relations between humans as an attribute of commodities and their relations is what Marx calls commodity fetishism. From Capital, Volume 1, pages 164-166: 

The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. Through this substitution, the products of labour become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social. In the same way, the impression made by a thing on the optic nerve is perceived not as a subjective excitation
of that nerve but as the objective form of a thing outside the eye. In the act of seeing, of course, light is really transmitted from one thing, the external object, to another thing, the eye. It is a physical relation between physical things. As against this, the commodity form,
and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations
arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

As the foregoing analysis has already demonstrated, this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them.

Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private labours appear only within this exchange. In other words, the labour of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers. To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things.

It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility.

Stanford, by assuming as given that money has purchasing power, fails to derive such power from human relations characteristic of a society where the workers lack the power to direct their own lives and–therefore–money arises as a result that permits others to direct their lives.

Stanford presents the purchasing power of money as natural to money–it is (“that is the way it is” attitude–with a shrug of the shoulders). The purchasing power of money, however, derives from the lack of such power by commodities, and the lack of such power is in turn derived from the nature of the labour that produces value–abstract labour, or labour that is not social as it is being performed but requires a further process–a process of exchange–if it is to form part of the labour of society. 

In a society characterized by the production of commodities and their expression in money (with its immediate power to purchase), the power of workers to produce their social lives (reciprocal production of human life) assumes the form of a relation between things produced. The origin of commodity and money fetishism is thus in production–the way production is organized. From Guido Schulz (2012), “Marx’s Distinction between the Fetish Character of the Commodity and Fetishism,” in pages 25-45, Studies in Social & Political Thought, Volume 20, page 26: 

The fetish character of the commodity, which Marx also calls “mystic character”, originates in the “peculiar social character of the labour” that gives products their commodity form. Therefore, the fetish originates in production. Although production is ultimately social under capitalism, it is privately organized and carried out by atomised producers. Capitalist production thus entails a conflict between sociality and asociality. An objective mediation between the two extremes of sociality and asociality is established through the process of commodity exchange. The social relation between the producers is thereby established. Instead of consciously creating immediate links between the
producers, in place of “rationally regulating [production], bringing it under […] common
control“, the social link gets reified and externalized in commodities.

Abstract labour as labour that is not yet social assumes the form of a relation between commodities, things with physical and supersensible (social) qualities that regulate the participants in exchange rather than the participants regulating the process. From Guide Schulz, page 27: 

But value relations objectified in commodities do not only establish the socializing link between producers. From the viewpoint of the individual producer, these objectified value relations even gain autonomy and regulative social power. This non-imaginary regulative social power is twofold: “[R]elations based on the exchange-value of commodities (‘social relations of things’) come to control the distribution of labour-products and the distribution of the labourers themselves within the production process” (Carver 1975, p.51).

All human production is social in character in that, if we are to produce our lives and continue to live as a species, we must in one way or another work for each other in even a temporary social division of labour. This “working for each other,” however, in a situation where labour is not social as it is being performed, assumes the form of a relation between produced commodities, with the social nature of the labour expressed not in the immediate or material form in which it exists but in another use value (as I have already explained in an earlier post–see  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). If there are two commodities produced, say beer and a pair of pants, the social nature of beer production is not expressed in the beer but in the pair of pants. From Samezo Kuruma (2018), Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money How, Why, and Through What is a Commodity Money? page 144:

How, exactly, is the value of a commodity indicated? Given that a commodity cannot indicate its value on its own, it is indicated instead by another commodity with which it is in a relation of exchange. Yet in the case of that other commodity as well, its natural form is its use value (not value), and it does not, on its own, have a form of value in addition to its natural form. The natural form of that other commodity must therefore become the form of value. This is indeed what happens … he [Marx] traces the development of the
form itself, and in so doing thoroughly solves the riddle of money.

The pair of pants in this case is immediately exchangeable or convertible into the beer since it represents objectified social labour–objectified labour that is freely convertible into any useful form. Similarly, the  labour that produces the pair of pants represents general social labour, or labour that can assume many different forms. The pair of pants is immediately exchangeable with the beer (its “purchasing power”) despite the concrete labour that produces the pair of pants being separated off and being produced independently of the other commodities  because this particular labour represents general social labour. 

This power of immediate exchangeability, or its purchasing power, is derived from the negative way production is organized in a capitalist society; there is no unity of workers with each other as human beings who produce for each other. The unity arises through the emergence of a special commodity that functions as an external unifier of producers who are socially external to each other despite their material interdependence. 

It is through the development of this simple expression or form of value–the value of the beer being expressed in another use value, the pair of pants or what have you–that there arises the money form, as the final form where value achieves a uniform and general expression in just one commodity that then becomes money as the monopolizer of general exchangeability or purchasing power ultimately emerging from the nature of abstract labour and embodied in one particular use value (and hence one particular form of concrete labour). 

The property or characteristics of commodities as social products requires a form different from their immediate use value as the product of concrete labour. This form–ultimately the money form or money–then has the social characteristic of being immediately exchangeable or convertible into any particular commodity or use value.

This social power is transferred to commodities, but only potentially, not immediately since commodities cannot immediately express their value in their own use value. In turn, this social power becomes concentrated in one commodity–which becomes money.

Stanford, by ignoring completely the process by which money acquires the immediate power to purchase all other commodities, himself contributes to commodity fetishism since he fails to link the property of money of having immediate purchasing power with the lack of such power of commodities and, in turn, their lack being due to the peculiar social nature of the labour that produces the value of commodities. 

The Nature of Money Fetishism

The fetish character of commodities is a simpler form than the money form since the relations between producers is still expressed as a relation–although a relation between things. From Marx, Capital, Volume 1,  page 176: 

As the commodity-form is the most general and the most undeveloped form of bourgeois production, it makes its appearance at an early date, though not in the same predominant and therefore characteristic manner as nowadays. Hence its fetish character is still relatively easy to penetrate. But when we come to more concrete forms, even this appearance of simplicity vanishes. Where did the illusions of the Monetary System come from? The adherents of the Monetary System did not see gold and silver as representing money as a social relation of production, but in the form of natural objects with peculiar social properties.

Does Mr. Stanford enlighten workers on how money has the property of “purchasing power?” Not at all. He assumes such a property as given without explaining it. The money form, however, is a form that hides its own nature. From Marx, Capital, Volume 1, pages 168-169: 

It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual

Commodity fetishism, as a social relation between workers as exchangers that assumes the form of a relation between things, is converted into a money fetishism as money emerges as the unique power of a commodity to be converted immediately into any commodity form.  Money thereby assumes the form of a thing that has–“purchasing power”–by its very nature, apparently  independently of the nature of commodities and commodity production. Money fetishism is a development of commodity fetishism. From Desmond McNeill (2021), 
Fetishism and the Theory of Value: Reassessing Marx in the 21st Century, pages 61-2: 

There is a similar important passage later in the same volume [of Marx’s book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published in 1859]:

A social relation of production appears as something existing apart from
individual human beings, and the distinctive relations in which they enter
in the course of production in society appear as the specific properties of a
thing. … This perverted appearance manifests itself merely in a more striking
manner in money than it does in commodities. (Marx 1970: 49)

Here, Marx is making the point that money fetishism is a developed form of commodity fetishism.

As Georgios Daremas (2018) says, “The Social Constitution of Commodity Fetishism, Money Fetishism and Capital Fetishism,” in pages 219-249, Judith Dellheim Frieder Wolf, Editors, The Unfinished System of Karl Marx Critically Reading Capital as a Challenge for our Times  page 226: 

An inversion has taken place: money—instead of being seen as a reflector of a commodity’s value (as the universal equivalent or representative, as the passive agent of reflection)—is perceived as the active agent positing the value of the commodities. From a logical point
of view, the basis of money fetishism is the collapse of a relationship of reflection/representation to that of an identity. The inner connection of the commodity’s value represented by the money form is reduced to a social feature inherent in money per se that appears to hold an external, contingent connection to the multiplicity of commodities bestowing value upon them.

Stanford, by assuming the purchasing power of money without explaining it, reinforces the fetishism of money. This is hardly in the interest of workers. 

Probably in a follow-up post, I will in future elaborate on the further development of commodity fetishism and money fetishism as capital fetishism (I have already hinted at such a fetishism in referring several times to the domination of workers’ lives by their own actions and by the products of their labour). 

Conclusion

The way in which the labour process is organized in a society characterized by a class of employers involves the relations between workers assuming the absurd form of a relation between things leads to the mystery of why a particular commodity–money–has the magical ability to purchase all other commodities whereas they, on the contrary, lack such power. 

Commodity fetishism is easier to understand than money fetishism since it relates more directly to the production process and involves the expression of value in a not-yet fixed form. With money fetishism, on the other hand, money seems to have purchasing power capacity immediately, independently of the organizational structure of labour. Stanford, by simply accepting the purchasing power of money without linking it to that structure, contributes to hiding the real nature of money and the real nature of commodities as alienated forms of human social labour. 

It is instructive of how dominant social democracy and social reformism are here in Toronto (and undoubtedly in many other capitalist cities) is the lack of any criticism of Stanford’s definition of money. 

I will conclude this post in anticipation of a possible future post on capital fetishism by quoting from Thomas Hodgskin’s book (1825), Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital: 
Or the Unproductiveness of Capital proved with Reference to the Present Combinations amongst Journeymen, pages 71-73: 

Betwixt him who produces food and him who produces clothing, betwixt him who makes instruments and him who uses them, in steps the capitalist, who neither makes nor uses them, and appropriates to himself the produce of both. With as niggard [stingy] a hand as
possible he transfers to each a part of the produce of the other, keeping to himself the large share. Gradually and successively has he insinuated himself betwixt them, expanding in bulk as he has been nourished by their increasingly productive labours, and separating them so widely from each other that neither can see whence that supply is drawn which each receives through the capitalist. While he despoils both, so completely does he exclude
one from the view of the other that both believe they are indebted him for subsistence. He is the middleman of all labourers … Not only do they appropriate the produce of the labourer; but they have succeeded in persuading him that they are his benefactors and employers. At least such are the doctrines of political economy; and capitalist may well be pleased with a science which both justifies their claims and holds them up to our admiration, as the great means of civilising and improving the world.

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of workers in several capitalist companies: Magna International, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia), Bank of Montreal (BMO), Telus, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Suncor Energy, Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank),Rogers Communications Inc., the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and  Air Canada,  (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One).

I thought it might be useful to begin the comparison of rates of exploitation of the same capitalist employer for different years. Although this fails to capture the dynamic of capitalist relations of production and exchange (being two snapshots at different times), it may provide further insight into the nature of capitalist society.

The structure of the post is as follows:

  1. I outline the nature of the rate of exploitation
  2. I then provide “Conclusion first,”
    a. the 2020 rate of exploitation is indicated
    b. the 2020 rate of exploitation is compared with the 2019 rate and some possible explanations of the differences are provided
    c. a long quote of a discussion around tactics and strategies between Sam Gindin (former research director of the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor) and me relating to  union ideology.
    d. Further brief criticisms of Mr. Gindin’s political position
    e. Consideration of an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 in relation to Mr. Gindin’s views
  3. How I calculated the rate of exploitation (including adjustments) as well as a justification for interpreting the substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation in terms of “fixed costs.”
  4. The conclusions as stated in 2.

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.

The Rate of Exploitation

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%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

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%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

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).

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Political Considerations

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic will likely call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

I will include a rather long quote from a previous post. It is a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me:

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matter And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -”

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

I guess workers’ explicit consciousness of their own exploitation and oppression and their discussion of such experiences is to arise only after the emergence of “larger structures to fight through.” It is, however, likely that such “larger structures” will simply mimic the “narrower” structures if both are not criticized. How is the CLC (the Canadian Labour Congress)  substantially different from union structures in terms of challenging the class power of employers? Or is Mr. Gindin referring to the larger structures, such as the class power of employers?

My own experience with union reps has been that they assume the necessity and legitimacy of the class power of employers–and do not do anything to raise the issue of the legitimacy of the class power of employers, the exploitation of workers and their oppression among their own members; their aim is to improve the working conditions without questioning at all such class power, exploitation and oppression. I have been a union member, a union rep (union steward and member of a collective-bargaining committee), a member of the executive of a union and a rep for an Equity and Social Justice Committee. I have seen up close the assumptions and limitations and unions–and have tried to address such limitations when and where I could.

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

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] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it. I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements

Let us look at an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 (see  https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/uniforlocal444/pages/43/attachments/original/1604838387/Integram_Ratification_Bulletin.pdf?1604838387).

It contains such enlightening items as the following:

Our members are their most vital asset that sets the supplier bar in this industry and deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour and aids the company in retaining their highly skilled workforce. [my emphasis]

I find this language both typical of union reps–and disturbing. As I pointed out above, it is likely that Magna International treated the workers as a “fixed cost” in order to retain them during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, to read a union rep write that Magna workers are “an asset” surely is both disturbing and in need of criticism. Should any human being be considered and treated as an “asset?” Consider any member of your family. Would you want them to be treated as “an asset?”

That they are “assets” is real enough–to be exploited by Magna International (and all other private companies)–but should we not be criticizing this? Is Mr. Gindin in any specific way? Apparently not–since radicals are supposed to only criticize such views in “material cents.” Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide an example of this in his own concrete practice? I see no concrete examples of his recommendations–they are so vague.

Where is Mr. Gindin’s “humility?” Where is his “self-criticism?”

Let us continue with this Integram Bargaining Report:

deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour

This is ideology frequently expressed by union reps. “Proper compensation” is a synonym for “fair wages” and, indirectly, a “fair contract.” The union rep clings to the appearance of workers selling their “labour” [labour is an activity that requires a material link between that labour and the means to be used–without those means, there is only a capacity for labour or labour-power. As Marx remarked, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, page 277:

When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not speak of labour, any more than we
speak of digestion when we speak of capacity for digestion. As is well known, the latter process requires something more than a good stomach.

Workers lack the conditions for the realization of their capacity for labour–just as many in the world lack the conditions for the use of their digestive tract–they lack food. The Unifor union rep., by identifying labour with the commodity which the worker sells, simply ignores the difference between a capacity and the conditions for its exercise–and such neglect of the conditions is hardly in the interests of workers.

How workers sell “labour” that is already linked to the means of production owned by (Magna) Integram (and hence under the control of Integram is a mystery. Furthermore, by identifying compensation with labour, the exploitation of workers by Magna Integram is excluded, and the internal or necessary relation between the wage and the profit of Magna Integram becomes broken.

Does Mr. Gindin criticize this approach so typical of union reps? Not at all. Rather, he criticizes those who engage in such criticism. For him, radicals are to indulge such beliefs. After all, it is only “discourse” and has no “autonomy.” This dismissal of ideological struggles is itself arrogant and lacks humility. Mr. Gindin somehow knows what workers need without even considering in any detail how union reps aid to legitimate the existing class power of employers by constantly using such language.

Where has Wayne Dealy provided any criticism of collective agreements (not the particular provisions of collective agreements) publicly? Sean Smith? Frankly, I find it astounding that such arrogance displayed by Mr. Gindin in his assumption that we are not to engage in criticism of union reps’ views is paraded as “humility” and “self-criticism.”

Let us listen to what Mr. Gindin called “Our Tracy” (McMaster, a union steward for Local 561 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); who was also vice-president of the local union at one point):

Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none.

I have hardly denied that collective bargaining is better than none. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and I certainly would prefer to belong to a union when working for an employer than not belonging to one. However, I do not take seriously her claim that “Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect.” I see no evidence that Ms. McMaster takes such a view seriously. Where is the evidence that she has inquired into “the limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining? Rather, for Ms. McMaster, collective bargaining provides an imperfect but ultimately fair contract.

Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide evidence to the contrary it. I doubt that he will–or can.

Mr. Gindin’s tactics are as follows: Let us try to convince such union reps of our views. Frankly, I think such an effort is, for the most part, a waste of time. Of course, there are exceptions, and it is necessary to use one’s judgement under specific circumstances and in relation to specific union reps. However, my judgement was and is that it Ms. McMaster would never be really convinced of the “limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining.

Rather than indulging such union reps, it is in the interests of workers to criticize them and to expose their lack of a critical approach to collective bargaining.

Let us continue to look at this Bargaining Report:

Your bargaining committee achieved Pay Raises, Benefits Improvements, Lowering the new higher grid, Buy-out packages, and Signing Bonus. A healthy contract that reflects a greater worth in our Integram members.

Such achievements, of course, are in the interests of the workers. But why call it a “healthy contract?” Apparently, this is a synonym for a “fair contract”–and I have shown that Canadian unions persistently use such language to justify both the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements (see, for example,   Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). No collective agreement can express something legitimate–unless the necessary exploitation and oppression of workers by employers (including Magna Integram) is somehow legitimate.

In the Bargaining Report, there then follows a list of items that were obtained by the bargaining committee. Not one word of the “limited and imperfect” nature of the collective agreement or the collective-bargaining process. Not one word on the management rights clause, implicit or explicit in the collective agreement. Do not workers persistently experience the power of management in a variety of ways? Why the silence over such experiences? Does the collective agreement address such power? Or does it only address the limited areas defined by collective-bargaining legislation?

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

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.

Now, the calculation:

In millions US dollars:

Sales $32,647
Costs and expenses $31,641

Cost of goods sold 28,207

Material $19,750
Direct labour 2,498
Overhead 5,959

Depreciation and amortization 1,366
Selling, general & administrative 1,587
Interest expense, net 86
Equity income (189)
Other expense, net 584
Income from operations before income taxes $1,006

[28,207+1,366+1,587+86+584=31,830; 31,830+1006=32,836; 32,836-189=32,647]

Adjustments

As I indicated in the 2019 post, a couple of adjustments are necessary.

Adjustment on Cost Side of Direct Labour and Corresponding Adjustment of Income  from Operations Before Taxes

I wrote in the 2019 post:

On page 37 [of the 2019 annual report], there is a reference to pension benefits. I assume that this category belongs to “direct labour” since it forms part of the deferred wages of workers that is paid in the current year (but then again, it is unclear whether the category of direct labour includes this, but since it is subtracted from net income, this leads me to believe that it is not included in that category). This should be added to direct labour. Hence, direct labour would be: 2,815+47=2,862, “Costs and expenses” would be $37, 255 “Costs of goods sold”would be $34,069, and “Income from operations before taxes” should be adjusted downward accordingly.

Now the 2020 “Pension and post-retirement benefits” is  (11).

This US $11 million should be added to “Cost and Expenses,” “Direct labour” and subtracted from “Income from operations before taxes.” Accordingly:

Temporarily Adjusted Costs and Expenses: $31,652
Temporary Adjusted Costs of Goods Sold: $28,218
Adjusted Direct Labour Costs: $2,509
Temporarily Adjusted income from operations before income taxes: $995

Adjustment of income from operations before income taxes due to interest expense, net

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the 2019 rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest: despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

Accordingly, it is necessary to add $86 “Interest expense, net” to “Income from operations before income taxes” and subtract it from “Cost and expenses.”

(“Equity income” is already subtracted from costs since it is not really a cost at all but rather income.)

Adjusted Cost and Expenses $31,566
Adjusted Direct Labour $2,509
Adjusted income from operations before income taxes $1081

The Rate of Exploitation

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%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

The following provides information about the length of the working day:

  1. There are 3 shifts. 9 hours a shift.
  2. Typical 8 – 12 hours per shift.
  3. 8-12 hrs, 7 days a week, with very last minute overtime mandating, and i mean literally as your punching out theyll tell you that you have to stay for another 4+ hours. No work life balance and management could care less because theyre at home on the weekends. Better positions come with 100% more stress, more responsibilities that others pass off cause they dont want to do it, 1000s of strings attached and literally no way to avoid getting screwed by them. Constant harassment and belittling by management and engineers and if you report it, youre facing constant retaliation and impending termination. If your not part of the HR posse or the “good ol’ boys club”, youre nothing but a rug for them to walk across. So, if you value your sanity, health and family, this is not a place to work.
  4. I have been there for 3 years until i quit and half of the plant is doing either 10 or 12 hours 7 days a week
  5. Article 17 (page 51) of the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009AP: Employees normally work an eight-hour day, five days per week

Accordingly:

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

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%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

Factors or Determinants of the Rate of Exploitation and Its Changes

Normally, when there is a change in the rate of exploitation, whether positive or negative, we should look at the general factors that govern the production of surplus value.  In general, there are three ways of changing the rate of exploitation:

  1. changing the real wage (the absolute amount and variety of commodities consumed by workers);
  2. changing the absolute amount of surplus value produced either by
    1. changing the length of the working day intensity of labour or
    2. changing the intensity of labour length of the working day
  3. changing (in fact, increasing) the relative amount of surplus value produced, generally through new technology, thereby decreasing the value of the commodities produced that form the real wage consumed by workers (with a fixed or constant working day and a constant amount of commodities consumed by workers, but with less labour time required to produce them, the amount of labour time required to reproduce the workers’ wages is reduced and more labour time constitutes surplus value).

As Ben Fine  and Alfredo Saad-Filho (2016) describe the factors with a view to increasing the rate of exploitation by employers in their book Marx’s Capital, pages 36-37:

Assume, now, that real wages remain unchanged. The rate of exploitation can be increased
in two ways….

First, e [the rate of exploitation[ can be increased through what Marx calls the production of absolute surplus value. On the basis of existing methods of production – that is, with commodity values remaining the same – the simplest way to do this is through the extension of the working day. …

There are other ways of producing absolute surplus value. For example, if work becomes more intense during a given working day, more labour will be performed in the same period, and absolute surplus value will be produced. The same result can be achieved through making work continuous, without breaks even for rest and refreshment. The production of absolute surplus value is often a by-product of technical change, because the
introduction of new machines, such as conveyors and, later, robots in the production line, also allows for the reorganisation of the labour process. This offers an excuse for the elimination of breaks or ‘pores’ in the working day that are sources of inefficiency for
the capitalists and, simultaneously, leads to increased control over the labour process (as well as greater labour intensity) and higher profitability, independently of the value changes brought about by the new machinery.

The desired pace of work could also be obtained through a crudely applied discipline. There may be constant supervision by middle management and penalties, even dismissal, or rewards for harder work (i.e. producing more value).

The above are general conditions for the determination of the rate of exploitation and its changes. The specific change observed in the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International are unlikely due to these general conditions. Rather, the decrease in the rate of exploitation in 2020 relative to 2019 is likely due to the specific economic conditions that accompanied the pandemic.

One Possible Explanation for the Substantial Decrease in the Rate of Exploitation

Part of the explanation for the  substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation was probably the treatment of workers at Magna International, in part, as “fixed costs.”

Initially, Magna International laid off many of “its” workers, but it also sought to retain them by paying them additional money beyond that flowing from the government initially through federal  unemployment insurance (although it may have also been a function of provisions in the collective agreement concerning layoffs).

Magna International did lay off around 2,000 workers in Ontario during the initial wave of COVID. From https://lfpress.com/business/local-business/magna-cuts-production-2000-local-staff-amid-fallout-from-covid-19:

Magna cuts production, 2,000 local staff amid fallout from COVID-19

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

Article content

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

The Canadian auto parts giant has closed its two St. Thomas plants, Presstran and Formet, employing a combined 1,500 to 2,000, as well as Qualtech in London, which employs about 275.

“Both Formet and Presstran will be temporarily suspending operations today . . . Qualtech will also temporarily suspend its operations,” read a statement from Scott Worden of Magna’s corporate communications department.

“Magna is committed to both the health and financial well-being of our employees. We will be providing additional payments to employees beyond the minimums provided under the federal Employment Insurance program.”

The closings are not unexpected, and may not last long, as the Detroit Three automakers, Toyota and Honda have all closed plants for up to two weeks across North America as a result of the coronavirus.

Presstran is a stamping plant and Formet supplies several different parts to many automakers, including truck frames to GM plants in the U.S. Qualtech supplies seating systems.

“Magna continues to closely monitor developments related to coronavirus (COVID-19) with a focus on the health and safety of our employees and our operations. In addition, we are in daily communication with our customers, many of which have recently announced partial or full temporary production suspensions at plants in Europe and North America,” read an additional statement from Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications at Magna.

The automaker said it will continue to follow World Health Organization protocol on cleaning the workplace and limiting contact with between people.

“We continue to assess our operations on an individual basis and are beginning to temporarily suspend manufacturing operations at a number of our manufacturing divisions around the world . . . many of our facilities are expected to suspend operations with production status re-evaluated week to week,” said Fuerst.

Further evidence for treating Magna International workers as fixed costs comes from Annual Information Form, Magna International Inc., March 25, 2021, page A-17:

Despite inevitable temporary layoffs of employees in light of the suspension of production during the first half of 2020, we took a number of steps to minimize the impact felt by our employees, including: maintaining employee benefits coverages through the temporary layoff period; …

We also engaged emergency government support programs primarily for employees to maintain compensation levels and/or benefits for a certain period, where applicable. The countries in which Magna engaged such programs included Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and China. These programs allowed participating employees to remain on our payroll while inactive or furloughed due to mandatory stay at home orders, with Magna receiving full or partial reimbursement for such inactive labour.

The view that workers were treated more as fixed costs (probably out of fear that Magna International would lose such workers to other employers if they were not treated as fixed costs) is supported by the relatively limited decrease in v when compared to s.

Treating workers as “fixed costs” under the conditions of the pandemic is understandable since workers are not linked politically or legally to particular employers; they can work for another employer (if they can find another employer who will hire them). 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).

This treatment of workers as fixed costs (to retain them over the short term) and the resulting decrease in the rate of exploitation is consistent with abnormal conditions that capitalist employers generally try to avoid since, on the one hand, they own means of production (c) that fail to absorb surplus value and, hire relatively more workers (v) than can be exploited under given conditions. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 2, The Process of , page 111:

The point is simply that under all circumstances the part of the money that is spent on means of production – the means of production bought in M-mp [money used to purchase means of production, such as computers and other machines, raw material, buildings and other produced commodities necessary for labour to be performed] means of production – must be sufficient, i.e. must be reckoned up from the start and be provided in appropriate proportions. To put it another way, the means of production must be sufficient in mass to absorb the mass of labour which is to be turned into products through them. If sufficient means of production are not present, then the surplus lahour which the purchaser has at his disposal cannot be made use of; his right, to dispose of it will lead to nothing. If more means of production are available than disposable labour, then these remain unsaturated with labour, and are not transformed into products.

In effect, in terms of the pandemic, Magna International purchased too much labour power (the capacity to use the means of production and to produce value–a capacity sold by workers) and too many means of production. Not all of the labour power purchased could be exploited, and not all the means of production owned by Magna International could absorb labour and hence surplus labour and surplus value.

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Conclusion

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic is likely due to the temporary) overinvestment in the purchase of labour power relative to the inability of management to use the means of production to exploit the workers. This situation will likely now call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

Where is there evidence that Mr. Gindin has contributed to the creation of material structures that question the fundamental economic, political and social structures characteristic of a society dominated by a class power of employers by indulging in the beliefs of union reps? Does the organization Green Jobs Oshawa, to which Mr. Gindin contributes, do so? Where is the evidence that it does?

What are Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld (who worked in the education department of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) doing to fight against the exploitation of workers and oppression of Magna workers? Mr. Rosenfeld wrote an article, criticizing the existence, practically, of a company union at Magna, CAW Local 88, comparing it to the independent union Unifor Local 2009 AP. The independent union is certainly preferable to a company union, but even an independent union at the local level of a particular employer in effect assumes the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class (see my criticism in the post    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).

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

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] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it.

I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

:

.

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Seven: The National Day of Mourning in Canada and the Social Causes of Injury, Disease and Death

On April 28 is the National Day of Mourning  in Canada to commemorate those workers who have suffered disease, injury or death at work. However, unions rarely if ever raise the issue of how effective such a day of mourning is for addressing the health and safety problems that  workers experience. Why do more or less 1,000 workers die every year at work and around 600,000 experience injuries or disease (Bob Barneston (2010), The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada).

For example, I listened to the “Welcome to the Toronto & York Region Labour Council’s Day of Mourning ceremonies” for 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl-7e8Ta-H8&list=LL&index=14). In none of the presentations do the presenters attribute problems of health and safety to the structural situation of the persistent need to accumulate capital at the expense of workers’ health and safety.

One of the ways in which the health and safety of workers who work for an employer has been jeopardized is the administrative shift in the capitalist government’s definition of the causes of dangers to health and safety. Government or state representatives defined health and safety problems in purely technical terms, ignoring the social causes of dangers to the health and safety of workers.

From Tom Dwyer (1991), Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 26:

Conflict over the weakness of safety laws proceeded [in England], especially from the 1870s when workers were able to achieve greater parliamentary representation. Through an examination of the content of regulations, we can see that workers’ social demands were largely ignored as, increasingly, solutions to problems emerged in important political compromises that were channeled technically. … The vision that the state lent to the prevention of accidents was overwhelmingly based on the development of technical criteria, while social criteria were, with some notable exceptions, given little attention.

The shift from defining health and safety dangers from social causes to technical causes led to the increasingly bureaucratic or administrative definition and treatment of the problem; this in turn contributed to the fragmentation of workers’ organization and struggle of the workers in relation to the social power of the class of employers.

From Tom Dwyer, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 27:

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

This view of the shift towards governmental administration of problems and away from class organization and class struggle is consistent with the view of a more general shift towards a capitalist government that administers laws–public administration.

From Mark Neocleous (1996), Administering Civil Society: Towards a Theory of State Power, pages 106-107:

In fact, the theoretical ‘problem’ over the relationship between struggle and
structure only arises by separating them and thus being faced with the necessity of syncretically syncretic • \sincretic=characterized or brought about by a combination of different forms of belief or practice] drawing them together again, or at least positing a causal relationship. But, as Werner Bonefeld [a Marxist theoretician] writes, structures are a mode of class antagonism and thus both the result and premise of class struggle. This is true of the capitalist state generally and specific institutional developments of that state. For the other moment of the making of the English working class was the (re)making of the modern state. Far from being supine [which means: failing to act or protest as a result of moral weakness or laziness], in the process of struggle the working class forced the emergence of new state structures – of political administration- and through these a reordering, far more fundamental than that forced by the bourgeoisie in its struggle, of the relation between state and civil society [capitalist society apart from the government or state]. The British state, faced with struggling classes, pre-empted revolutionary change by subsuming class struggle under the state through the development of administrative structures and mechanisms. The development of the state can be traced to the incorporation of working-class struggle into its very structures, as increasing elements of civil society found themselves structured, restructured and submerged. With typical flexibility and a seemingly endless ability to adapt itself, the British state responded by creating a space within itself for this purpose. Thus, although the working class was constituted by the state, the state itself was constituted through class struggle. The working class was both constituted by and constitutive of the structures of political administration and state power. (To put this another way: we need a conception of the working class not only as subjected, but also as subject.) The only way to incorporate the English working class was for the state to be altered accordingly, new (administrative) forms emerging which could then be used against the working class. Political administration, then, acts as the fulcrum around which both the working class and the modern state were ordered. Just as humans ‘by their own toil keep in existence a reality which enslaves them in ever greater degree’, so the working class in its struggles produce the real structures which then enslave it. Poulantzas [a Marxist political theoretician] rightly claims that ‘struggles are inscribed in the institutional materiality of the state, even though they are not concluded in it; it is a materiality that carries the traces of these muted and multiform struggles.’

This insight can be strengthened and tightened by positing political administration as a specific form of working class struggle, by following Adorno [a Marxist critical theorist] in arguing that administration acts as a process of subsumption, a mechanism for ordering and covering over. ‘Administration’ has feudal origins referring to the management of the estates of the dead; hence ‘the administration of wills’.67 I am arguing that we think of political administration as state management of the struggles of the working class. By subsuming struggle, political administration is ‘working-class power post festum [after the fact]; working-class political victories captured and formalized at their moment of triumph.’68 In these administrative structures the state appropriates and nullifies the struggle of the working class; as such they are the fossilized remnants of class struggle; they are the subsumption [meaning: of including under another, usually something more general] of struggle – working-class struggle abolished and preserved. Born of the struggle of the working class these structures are then left with the task of administering that same class, a task performed in relation to both collective organizations of the working class and its decomposed elements known as ‘citizens’. It is therefore through the very process of struggle that the working class, and not its ‘aristocratic’ elements, now most definitely of civil society, also finds its struggles incorporated into the state, transformed into administrative structures and turned against it. Thus in its struggle to become a class of civil society, the class discovers itself also to be a class of the state.

The administration of the health and safety of workers by the capitalist government or state channeled workers’ struggles in this area into a redefinition of the nature of the causes of health and safety issues, away from social causes–such as the very nature of the power of the class of employers and how they, directly or indirectly, use workers for purposes over which workers have no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital) and which is inherently connected to the possibility of disease, injury and death.

If the capitalist government is adept or skillful at channeling worker discontent into new administrative forms, then issues must be addressed in such a way that the capitalist government cannot accommodate them (see, for instance, my argument for a generous universal basic income that erodes the market for the hiring and firing of workers, A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform).

In relation to health and safety issues, strong workers’ organizations at the local level (not just unions and union reps), coupled with increasing links between workers’ organizations across industries, would be a necessary step in preparing workers to resist forms of class struggle that include legislative changes that define problems as non-social and, correspondingly, shift solutions to the redefined problems by means of administrative means.

To achieve this, would it not be necessary to abandon all talk of “fair compensation,” “fair wages,” “fair contract,” “Fair labour laws save lives,” “decent work,” and so forth? Such phrases paper over the real and persistent threat of disease, injury and death that workers face.  Opposition to such phrases, of course, is hardly sufficient. Is not opposition to such cliches necessary, though, if workers are going to initiate a movement dedicated to addressing the social causes of their own sufferings.

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

The Rhetoric of Unions and Social Democrats or Social Reformers

I read the following on Facebook.

It is quite typical of social-democratic or reformist unions and social democrats or social reformers in general: The use of rhetoric to justify their activities without engaging in any form of discussion or debate. All bolded words or phrases are my emphases:

Support OPSEU Local 5119 ON STRIKE at LifeLabs!

 

After organizing to join OPSEU in 2020, 150 couriers and mailroom workers at LifeLabs have run into a brick wall trying to bargain a fair first contract. Why? Because the bosses at this billion-dollar-a-year private corporation refuse to negotiate decent wages and benefits for these workers, who earn an average of just $35,000 a year.

 

That’s why since March 14 Local 5119 members have been on strike to achieve fair working conditions and a living wage. And they need our help to get LifeLabs back to the table with a fair offer!

 

Showing Our Solidarity:
Two Ways You and Your Local Can Help!

 

1) Join the Strike Rally for a Living Wage
Thursday, March 24, 10 a.m.
LifeLabs Head Office, 100 International Blvd, Etobicoke
(West of Hwy 27, South of Dixon Road)
Bring your OPSEU flags & noisemakers!
Join, like & share the Event on Facebook
For info contact Local 5119 President Mahmood Alawneh, 647-333-5555, raneentrading@gmail.com

 

2) Donate to the Local 5119 Strike Fund
As a brand-new local, L5119 doesn’t have a reserve fund to support their members during the strike. So, OPSEU has put out a call to other locals to show our solidarity by donating to the Local 5119 strike fund.
For info and to donate, contact Local 5119 Treasurer Maria Calingaon at maria_calingaon@yahoo.ca
I certainly support such striking workers, but the rhetoric needs to be constantly criticized.  I replied: 
 
Fred Harris

 

What are “decent wages and benefits?” This phrase is simply rhetoric used by the social-democratic or social-reformist leftists without thinking about the meaning of the phrase. For example, does not working for an employer involve agreeing to be used by the employer for purposes or ends that the workers do not define? If so, what wage and benefit can convert this situation into “decent?”

 

The same could be said about the rhetorical phrase “fair working conditions.” To work for an employer in the public o private sector is inherently unfair, so why the rhetoric of “fair working conditions?” This is an uncritical and unthinking phrase bandied about by the social-democratic or social-reformist left without any thought or discussion about whether it is true or can be true in the context of a society dominated by the class power of employers.

 

The same could be said about a “fair offer.”

 

On my blog, I have already showed how the rhetoric of “fair contracts” or “fair collective agreements” is consistently expressed by the largest unions in Canada: CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE. They are ideologues for employers–not against them. To claim that any employment contract is somehow fair when workers are faced with the “management rights” is simple nonsense–and many workers know it (even if they do not want to admit it). That is one reason why unions are losing ground–because they cannot face up to the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining–and a realistic assessment of their limitations is a first step in achieving real fairness, not rhetorical fairness that contributes to the perpetuation of unfair working conditions–the unfair working conditions of having to work for an employer (not a particular employer) in the first place.
To which the sender and anyone else who read the post responded: Nothing. The silence of the social-democratic or reformist left concerning the meaning of “fair wages,” “decent work,” and similar rhetoric is deafening. Why do they insist on using such rhetoric? Are they bullshitting the workers? If not, why do they not elaborate on what they mean by fair first contract etc.? What makes it fair? What would an unfair contract involve? How does a fair contract exist when workers face management rights implicitly or explicitly (I have provided explicit management rights clauses from various collective agreements on this blog (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia .I eventually incorporated  them with into a post where I calculated the rate of exploitation. See for example 
 
In another post, I challenged the social-reformist left to justify their continual use of the rhetorical phrases that they use. See Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?
 
Are union reps bullshitting workers by using such phrases? If so, should their rhetoric not be challenged? 

Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Two

Introduction

In a previous post (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), I questioned Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as purchasing power, as well as his implied reduction of Marx’s critical dual or twofold theory of commodities to a labour theory of value. I showed that Mr. Stanford fails to explain why money has a monopoly power of immediate purchasability.

In a subsequent post, I also showed how Stanford’s inadequate theory of money leads him to assume a “real economy” that is somehow independent of the process of producing value (and surplus value) and consequently his false conclusion that there is not a trade-off between the economy and the health of workers (in the context of the pandemic, but this trade-off applies generally in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers). (See 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). 

In this post, I will further develop the importance of the nature of money as “purchasing power,” in particular how this power (and the lack of such power at the level of commodities) involves or entails a process that escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.  

The Expression of the Dual Nature of the Commodity Requires a Double Movement of Sale and Purchase 

I will assume the reader has read the first post on money and therefore is familiar with the dual nature of both the labour that produces commodities and the dual nature of commodities.

The real expression of the dual nature of commodities is expressed in a dual movement, from commodities (represented by C) exchanged for money (represented by M), which is the realization of the value of the commodity, and the opposite movement of the conversion of M into C, which is the realization of the use value, not of the original commodity, but of use values for the original owner of the commodity. The whole movement is thus: C-M, and M-C, or C-M-C, where the dash represents an exchange.

From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1:Capital, pages 199-200:

Let us now accompany the owner of some commodity, say our old friend the linen weaver, to the scene of action, the market. His commodity, 20 yards of linen, has a definite price, £2. He exchanges it for the £2, and then, being a man of the old school, he parts for the £2 in return for a family Bible of the same price. The linen, for him a mere commodity, a bearer of value, is alienated in exchange for gold, which is the shape of the linen’s value, then it is taken out of this shape and alienated again in exchange for another commodity, the Bible, which is destined to enter the weaver’s house as an object of utility and there to satisfy his family’s need for edification. The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through two metamorphoses of opposite yet mutually complementary character – the conversion of the commodity into money, and the re-conversion of the money into a commodity. The two moments of this metamorphosis are at once distinct transactions by the weaver- selling, or the exchange of the commodity for money, and buying, or the exchange of the money for a commodity – and the unity of the two acts: selling in
order to buy.

The end result of the transaction, from the point of view of the weaver, is that instead of being in possession of the linen, he now has the Bible; instead of his original commodity, he now possesses another of the same value but of different utility. He procures his other means of subsistence and of production in a similar way. For the weaver, the whole process accomplishes nothing more than the exchange of the product of his labour for the product of someone else’s, nothing more than an exchange of products.

The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through the following changes of form:

Commodity-Money-Commodity
C-M-C

As far as concerns its material content, the movement is C-C, the exchange of one commodity for another, the metabolic interaction of social labour, in whose result the process itself becomes extinguished.

The Escape of the Whole Process of Simple Circulation from the Control of the Participants with the Emergence of Money 

In the external measure of the value of commodities via money as measure, there is, indeed, all commodities on one side and money on the other side, but in the actual exchange of commodities with money (money as a means of purchase or as a means of circulation) this is not the case; on the contrary, there is necessarily a separation in space and time between the act of sale (realization of the value of the commodity in money) and the realization of money in various use values (purchase).

The unity of value and use value, hidden in the commodity, is expressed as mutually exclusive and external forms of sale and purchase so that crisis becomes a possibility as the gap between the realization of the value of a commodity and the realization of use values of an equivalent value becomes intensified. The whole process is what Marx calls simple circulation, and this process escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.

To make the following a little easier to follow, we can consider the following: 

  1. The owner of linen wants to sell the linen in order to buy a Bible.
  2. The owner of money who buys the linen obtained the money by selling wheat. 
  3. The owner of the Bible sells the Bible to the former linen owner in order to buy brandy (but the brandy does not directly figure in the total metamorphosis or total exchange of the linen for the Bible since we end with the Bible owner possessing money and the linen owner possessing the Bible.
  4. At the beginning of the total exchange process, the linen owners owns the linen (a use value for others) but does not want it.
  5. At the end of the total exchange process, the former linen owner now owns a use value useful to her (and the linen also is useful for the farmer, the former owner of wheat). 
  6. The money stops circulating for the moment at the end of the process with the former owner of the Bible aiming to purchase some brandy (but not yet doing so). 

Pages 207- 209: 

The circulation of commodities differs from the direct exchange of products not only in form, but in its essence. We have only to consider the course of events. The weaver has undoubtedly exchanged his linen for a Bible, his own commodity for someone else’s. But this phenomenon is only true for him. The Biblepusher, who prefers a warming drink to cold sheets, had no intention of exchanging linen for his Bible; the weaver did not know that wheat had been exchanged for his linen. B’s commodity replaces that of A, but A and B do not mutually exchange their commodities. It may in fact happen that A and B buy from each other, but a particular relationship of this kind is by no means the necessary result of the general conditions of the circulation of commodities. We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of the human agents. Only because the farmer has sold his wheat is the weaver able to sell his linen, only because the weaver has sold his linen is our rash and intemperate friend able to sell his Bible, and only because the latter already has the water of everlasting life is the distiller able to sell his eau-de-vie. And so it goes on.

The process of circulation, therefore, unlike the direct exchange of products, does not disappear from view once the use-values have changed places and changed hands. The money does not vanish when it finally drops out of the series of metamorphoses undergone by a commodity. It always leaves behind a precipitate at a point in the arena of circulation vacated by the commodities. In the complete metamorphosis of the linen, for example, linen-money-Bible, the linen first falls out of circulation, and money steps into its place. Then the Bible falls out of circulation, and again money takes its place. When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person.  Circulation sweats money from every pore.

Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present in this case between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sale and purchase. To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to say also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing – a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity,
between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things*; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction.

A Limitation of Stanford’s Definition of Money as Purchasing Power: A Lack of Control Over the Total Social Process of Exchange

Stanford, by not linking the purchasing power of money to the dual oppositional nature of labour and commodities characteristic of a capitalist society, fails to address the loss of control over the total process of exchange by the participants in exchange. This loss of control is linked to what Marx called commodity fetishism, where things produced by workers gain independent power over the producers. 

The issue of commodity fetishism will, however, be addressed in another post in this series. Commodity fetishism is both a process of the exchange process becoming independent of the participants in that process and the resulting independence not only appearing to be attributes of things rather than social attributes originating from the producers themselves but actually being social attributes. The issue also has to do with the further development of commodity fetishism in the forms of money fetishism and  capital fetishism, where the process increasingly takes on an independent form that not only escapes the control of workers but increasingly controls their lives. The internal opposition between abstract labour and concrete labour then becomes a nightmare for workers as their own working lives are used against them to exploit and oppress them.

This commodity fetishism  is a process of the products of social labour coming to dominate the producers rather than vice versa. This appears to be and in some senses is independent of the workers.

Hence, Stanford, by failing to link his definition of money to a dual theory of labour and commodities, fails, in other words, to understand the essential relation between the nature of money as purchasing power and the domination, oppression and exploitation of workers on the basis of their own social labour becoming independent of them in exchange and ultimately controlling them at work. 

Conclusion

Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as “purchasing power” is inadequate because it fails to deal with the dual nature of labour and the dual nature of commodities, and this dual nature generally involves a temporal and spatial split between the realization of the value of the commodity and the realization of the use value of the commodity (in the form of many use values). This split leads, in the first instance, to the creation of an exchange process that escapes the control of the participants in that process; it also leads to the possibility of an economic crisis.

Ultimately, it leads to a production process that not only escapes the control of the participants in exchange but also of the producers, leading to their domination and exploitation. That may be  shown in further posts, however.