The Leap Manifesto as a Social-Democratic Document: Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Rights and the Perpetuation of the Dominance of a Class of Employers

Written before the coronavirus pandemic, The Leap Manifesto: A Call for Canada
Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another, produced by various authors in 2015, ranging from scientist David Suzuki to the former head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Paul Moist, focuses on the need for the transition to a new kind of economy–a green economy. I will only address certain aspects of the Manifesto. If I should address further aspects in another post in the future, I will

It states:

We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has acknowledged shocking details about
the violence of Canada’s near past. Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And our record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate was:

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.

Direct and Indirect Violence in Modern Society

The violence perpetrated by the Canadian government on Aboriginal peoples certainly needs to be addressed. However, violence has taken many forms in Canada’s past, such as the direct or indirect violence of the creation of a market for workers, who need to sell themselves to employers. The continued existence of a market for workers in Canada expresses the continued existence of such violence.

Direct violence in a society characterized by a class of workers who must sell their capacity to work on a market via a labour contract (whether individually or collectively) is reserved for a special institution: the modern government or the modern state. From Geoffrey Kay and James Mott (1982 ), Political Order and the Law of Labour, page 83:

One crucial presupposition of modern contract, which it then reproduces, is that both parties arc deprived of the right to act violently in defence of their own interests, or even to pardon those who harm them. In a society of equivalents relating to each other through contract, politics is abstracted out of the relations of production, and order becomes the task of a specialised body — the state.

The modern state or government ensures that the contractual relations of the workers and employers are met and that the property of each is respected. Since workers acquire property, generally, in means of consumption (food, clothing, rental of apartments or houses, buying of condos or houses, cars or other means of transport, entertainment, books, balls and games for their children, and so forth), they generally lack means for their own continued existence (such as business computers, buildings, machine and so forth. It is the employers who own these and not the workers.

Since workers in such a society (and Canada is such a society) are means to the ends defined by employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and treating human beings as a means rather than their own ends (think of children and what most people say about treating children’s development as an end in itself–and then apply the same idea to adults) is a violent act, then employers’ treatment of workers as means is a continuously violent act, and the modern government or state protects such violence and indeed monopolizes the use of direct violence and thereby perpetuates the violence of employers.

Does the Manifesto have anything to say on this score? Following the above citation from The Leap Manifesto, it says:

These facts are all the more jarring because they depart so dramatically from our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship.

These may be the stated values, but Canadian reality has consistently contradicted such stated values. In general, such stated values are hypocritical. Consider human rights. Human rights in Canada are consistent with treating workers as things by employers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One). I will address the issue of “environmental stewardship” briefly in the following section.

Goals of The Leap Manifesto

What is the goal of The Leap Manifesto?

Canada is not this place today — but it could be. We could live in a country powered entirely by truly just renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

There are several points here:
1. truly just renewable energy
2. accessible public transit
3. jobs that systematically eliminate
a. racial inequality
b. gender inequality
4. Caring for the planet
5. Caring for one another
6. Higher wage jobs
7. Work fewer hours
8. Time to enjoy our loved ones
9. Time to flourish in our communities.

Some of these demands seem reasonable. Who would not want higher wage jobs?  (I will come back to this.) Who would not want to work fewer hours while having the time (and money) to enjoy our lives with family, friends and flourish within a community? Who among the left at least would not want the elimination of racial and gender inequality?

Environmental Degradation a Necessary Feature of a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers

This is contradictory list. Even on the assumption that racial and gender inequality could be eliminated, as I have already indicated, a caring planet and a capitalist economy are mutually exclusive (see  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). Of course, there is room for improving the current environmental situation through changes to more renewable resources, but the infinite nature of the capitalist economy contradicts any real solution to the problem of environmental degradation. From Ann Davis (2010), “Marx and the Mixed Economy: Money, Accumulation, and the Role of the State,” in Science and Society (pages 409-428), Volume 74, Number 3,  page 412:

Circulation, and the expansion of value, is an end in itself, and therefore without limit.

The idea of “environmental stewardship” within a capitalist society is an illusion.

How urgent is the need for addressing climate change and environmental degradation, according to the Manifesto?

We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.

This plea for rapid change, of course, will now be put on the back burner because of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis that will flow from it.

The Manifesto outlines the following timeline:

…we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land. Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream within reach. The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades: by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy.

Even on the assumption that Canada can shift to 100% clean energy by the year 2050, as the Manifesto claims, environmental degradation will continue since it will always be necessary to expand the economy infinitely. Climate change may be addressed (although, in addition to the problems associated with the coronavirus pandemic, there are powerful capitalist interests in the fossil-fuel industry), but not environmental degradation due to the nature of the capitalist economy. The Manifesto simply ignores this problem.

Unless the social relations that characterize an economy that moves towards infinity is addressed, caring for the planet is simply a will-o’-the-wisp.

Indigenous Rights and the Modern Government or the Modern State

The Leap claims:

So we need to leap.

This leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity. We can bolster this role, and reset our relationship, by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Moved by the treaties that form the legal basis of this country and bind us to share
the land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,”

Although, as Mark Franke (2007) argues, in “Self-determination Versus the Determination of Self: A Critical Reading of the Colonial Ethics Inherent to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” in Journal of Global Ethics, Volume 3, issue 3, pages 359-379, that the adoption of the Declaration undoubtedly aids in the recognition of indigenous grievances, he also argues that the definition of self permitted through the Declaration would limit indigenous peoples to definitions of self characteristic of liberal societies. Such enabling and constraining features are characteristic of many liberal capitalist states (Francesca Merlan (2009), “Indigeneity: Global and Local,” in the journal Current Anthropology, Volume 50, Number 3, pages 303-333). As Franke remarks (page 375):

The human rights discourse of the UN itself is based inmaking a division between, on the one hand, those peoples who are seen as peace-loving social units willing and capable of supporting a specific vision of human need and rights and willing and capable of supporting the state as the necessary mechanism through which these needs and rights may gain address and, on the other hand, those who are unwilling or incapable of either. The whole notion of self privileged in the UN’s vision of self-determination is predicated on its contrast to a class of groups who do not seek identity with the human self idealised within its ethic. As Farid Samir Benavides Vanegas contends, the globalisation of rights remains deeply trapped in a colonial outlook (Vanegas 2004). As a result, peoples in the world who seek to determine themselves in ways that do not accord with the UN vision of peace, security, and human rights are not even eligible for recognition as selves. They could not be seen to identify with the human self valorised within the UN project; they can be only different from the self.

If it is the case, then, that any indigenous peoples wish to engage in processes of self-determination that questions the validity of the state as the fundamental organising
principle for their lives and the lives of all other peoples on earth, on the basis of the Declaration, there is no room for them to be recognised as groups deserving of the rights set out in the document or as groups that may be recognised as selves in the world. Under the basis of this document and the ethic of self that propels it, indigenous peoples have no opportunity to be identified as peoples with genuine moral claims on the states and international organisations of this world, if they choose to express their interests in ways outside of the modern political vision of self, which is itself a product of colonialism.

The Manifesto assumes the legitimacy of the modern state or government, and such an acceptance often goes hand in hand with acceptance of the continued existence of a class of employers. (For a critique of the nature of the modern government or state, see for example, The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two, or  Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

The Leap’s Assumption of the Continued Existence of a Class of Employers

In addition to ignoring the direct and indirect violence of modern class society, the necessary degradation of the environment in a capitalist context, and the necessary limitations imposed on Aboriginal self-determination, the Leap Manifesto fails to criticize the essential nature of the economy in which we live. It states, as noted above:

Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours….

Higher wages–rather than the abolition of a system based on wages, with the class of employers abolished in the process–this is one of the goals of the Manifesto.

It may seem that the Manifesto goes further. It says:

As an alternative to the profit-gouging of private companies and the remote
bureaucracy of some centralized state ones, we can create innovative ownership
structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities.

However, in another part of the Manifesto, it states:

We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local
economies, regulate corporations [my emphasis] and stop damaging extractive projects.

Companies can only be regulated if they exist–and presumably such companies will still involve a class of employers. There is simply no direct expression of the need to eliminate the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures.

It may also appear that the Manifesto, by proposing a universal basic income, is advocating the abolition of classes:

Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currentlyunpaid, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. Pioneered in Manitoba in the 1970’s, this sturdy safety net could help ensure that no one is forced to take work that threatens their children’s tomorrow, just to feed those children today.

I too have advocated for a universal basic income (see, for example,  A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform). However, it is not to be part of a “sturdy safety net” but to breach a hole in the need for working for an employer in general–a threat to the power of employers as a class; such a breach would require widespread class struggle–something which the Leap Manifesto simply ignores. Economic coercion is necessary in a capitalist society–as John Clarke, a former activist in the organization Ontario Coalition Against Poverty admitted (see  “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP). 

The document is a hodge-podge of proposals, some of which may be attained within a system dominated by a class of employers (such as higher wages, self-determination by Aborginal peoples as defined by nation states and even, perhaps, “clean energy” (although that is debatable). Other proposals cannot be realized within the modern class system–abolition of the direct violence of the modern state and the indirect violence of the dictatorship of employers; environmental degradation; and the definition of self-determination that goes beyond the limits of the modern state.

The proposal of a basic income could be accommodated within the capitalist system, or it could be more radical, threatening the existence of a market for workers. Since the Manifesto nowhere explicitly opposes the class power of employers, it is likely that it proposes some form of basic income that is consistent with the continued existence of a market for workers, where workers are hired and fired by employers.

Another piece of evidence that the proposal of basic income is likely consistent with the continued existence of a market for workers is who signed it: Paul Moist. As I pointed out above, he was former national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); he retired in 2015–the same year as the publication of the Manifesto.

I met, I believe, Mr. Moist in 1996, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The issue of “fair collective bargaining” had come up. Susan Thompson, who was mayor of Calgary at the time, wanted to break the collective agreement between the city and CUPE local 500; she  tried to have Gary Filmon (premier of Manitoba, Canada) support her attempt to breach the collective agreement. Paul Moist, at the time head of CUPE local 500 outside workers in Winnipeg, called out the slogan “A contract is a contract,” in opposition to Susan Thompson’s underhanded attempt; it was a wise tactical move on Moist‘s part since people supported him in what they perceived was an unfair act by Susan Thompson.. At the time, I belonged to a leftist group called New Directions. Mr. Moist came to one of the meetings, and I asked him whether he considered the slogan to be a tactical move or whether he believed in it. His response was that the foundation of our society is contracts; he evidently believed in the slogan.

Furthermore, Mr. Moist is a supporter of the New Democratic Party–a social-democratic party whose aim is to reform capitalist society, making it more of a welfare state than the current neoliberal model.

All in all, then, the Leap Manifesto falls far short of any real call for change. Its “leap’ is indeed a leap–at a frog’s pace rather than at a human pace. It is a social-democratic or social-reformist document.

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

Introduction

This is a continuation of the previous post (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)). In that post, I criticized some of the radical left for one-sidedly implying that workers only work for the class of employers; such a view is true, but it excludes the other truth, namely, that workers also work for a particular employer and indeed experience that fact immediately. Working for a particular employer is what workers are conscious of–and not that they work for the class of employers.

On the other hand, the social-reformist or social-democratic left often commit the opposite error of practically ignoring union representatives’ assumption that the relationship of workers to a particular employer by means of collective bargaining, a collective agreement, labour legislation and local union democracy, can express something fair. Such a view ignores the fact that, although workers at any particular time work for a particular employer–yet when considering, on the one hand, the whole working class, they do work for a class of employers and, on the other, when considering the whole life of an individual worker.

Dependent Local Unions Versus Unions That Are Independent of a Particular Employer

This can be seen in reference to Herman Rosenfeld, a self-declared Marxist here in Toronto and former worker in the automobile industry.  For example, he justly criticizes a clause in the collective agreement between Magna International and the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor), but he one-sidedly idealizes CAW Local 88 and fails to analyze critically either the collective-bargaining process or the resulting collective agreement. 

Mr. Rosenfeld rightly criticized the Canadian Framework of Fairness Agreement when it first came out (see Magna Is Not CAMI):

This “Framework of Fairness” is based on Stronach’s time-tested system of anti-union structures. Rooted in the human relations practises developed in the 1920s to keep industrial unionism out of mass workplaces, Magna’s paternalistic system attempts to build-in loyalty and dependence on management. It also seeks to individualize worker concerns and issues. All of this is institutionalized in the CAW-Magna framework. [CAW was the Canadian Auto Workers union; it is now Unifor.] 

As has also been pointed out, any real effort to create an independent union presence and structure is stymied by the time frame involved in the deal and the commitments embedded in it: it would take about 10 years to organize the various plants in increments of 3 or 4 per year. If the CAW tries to subvert the process at any time, Magna could end the entire project. Besides, the agreement itself commits the union NOT to subvert the process and build an independent union structure.

Needless to say, the collective shop-floor struggles that built Local 88, culminated in the successful 1992 strike and paved the way for the strong union local they are today are not possible at Magna. Workplace struggle would be policed there (according to commitments made in the framework), rather than led by the union.

I will assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s comparison of (at the time) CAW Local 2009 AP and CAW Local 88’s union are accurate. In other words, I will not dispute the accuracy of Mr. Rosenfeld’s comparison of the two locals (and their collective agreements).

To understand why Mr. Rosenfeld opposes the “CAW-Magna framework,” I searched for the most recent collective agreement between Magna International and any union on the Web. Unfortunately, the most recent one I found was the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009 AP that has already expired:

NATIONAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT
BETWEEN:
MAGNA INTERNATIONAL INC.
– AND –
UNIFOR, and its Local 2009 AP

The collective agreement lasted four years:

This agreement shall remain in effect for a four-year period, from the date of ratification, November 7, 2013 until November 6, 2017 at 11:59 p.m.

The most recent collective agreement would, of course, have been preferable.

The 2007 Canadian Framework of Fairness Agreement is incorporated into the collective agreement. Some of this Framework is reproduced below to get a flavour of its nature:

A. Background and Principles

1. Introduction

Canada’s automotive assembly and parts industry is our country’s most important high-technology, value-added, export industry and employs thousands of people directly and indirectly. It makes a crucial contribution to family incomes, productivity growth, and foreign trade performance. Because of the high productivity of the industry and because of the strong linkages between assemblers, parts producers, and the thousands of companies which supply them (with everything from components to materials to services), every new job in an assembly or parts facility ultimately generates several additional jobs for Canadians. Automotive manufacturing is one of Canada’s only industrial “success stories,” and has made a crucial contribution to diversifying our economy away from an exclusive reliance on the production and export of natural resources and energy. For all of these reasons, the auto industry holds an immense economic and social importance to Canada.

Within this context, Magna and the CAW are motivated by the shared goal of not only preserving but expanding Canada’s automotive sector through high-performance work practices; investments in both capital and human resources; effective and just labour relations; world-class quality, productivity, and reliability; developing and renewing top-quality skilled trades; and continuing to support and enhance social and environmental sustainability.

As each stakeholder – companies, unions, employees, communities and government – shares in the benefits of a successful and prosperous automotive industry, each stakeholder must also contribute, in a meaningful way, to ensuring that continuing success.

This responsibility requires that all parties seek new and innovative ways to deal with the industry’s challenges, working cooperatively to achieve these goals. To this end, Magna and the CAW are committing with this Framework of Fairness Agreement (the “FFA”) to develop a new, innovative, flexible, and efficient model of labour relations. This model will combine the best features of union representation, with Magna’s established culture of workplace democracy and fair treatment (as embodied in the Magna Employee’s Charter). The model incorporates aspects of existing North American and European labour relations practices, yet will also reflect a uniquely Canadian attempt to combine industrial and financial success with principles of fairness and social responsibility.

Given the exploitative nature of the relations between workers for Magna and Magna as their employer (see  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), references to “fairness” and “social responsibility” ring hollow.

Mr. Rosenfeld, from the point of view of the interests of workers, is thus right to criticize such a clause in a collective agreement. 

By contrast, according to Mr. Rosenfeld, Local 88, unlike Local 2009 AP, developed as an independent union that emphasized the opposition between the workers which it represented and

CAMI [GM assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada) included an elected workplace committee of union representatives, a democratic structure independent of management, to defend workers’ interests. The CAW as a whole maintained a commitment to an independent union presence in the workplace, expressing a different ideology and set of interests than that of the employer. The CAW national representative who serviced the CAMI union was an experienced working class fighter, who helped to mentor the new union reps. (That was only made possible by the existence of the elected body of union representatives, independent of management and beholden only to the members who elected them).

That was reinforced by a CAW Statement on Work Reorganization that asserted:

As we mobilize against regressive taxation, the weakening of unemployment insurance or plant closure legislation, we are reminding our members that the “team” they are on is not the same as their employer, and the ‘adversary’ is not other workers but those who are on the other side of these issues. Similarly, as we take on other collective bargaining issues – like opposing profit-sharing, or demanding indexed pensions or insisting on some movement towards reduced worktime, the message that the needs of working people are quite different from those of management is constantly articulated.

Such a union–and a corresponding collective agreement that reflects such a union–is certainly much more preferable to the union established at Magna–and its corresponding collective agreement:

As has also been pointed out, any real effort to create an independent union presence and structure is stymied by the time frame involved in the deal and the commitments embedded in it: it would take about 10 years to organize the various plants in increments of 3 or 4 per year. If the CAW tries to subvert the process at any time, Magna could end the entire project. Besides, the agreement itself commits the union NOT to subvert the process and build an independent union structure.

A union that can oppose its particular employer is certainly much more preferable to one that cannot–and hence Local 88 and its structure serves much more the immediate interests of the workers than union represented by workers at Magna International:

Needless to say, the collective shop-floor struggles that built Local 88, culminated in the successful 1992 strike and paved the way for the strong union local they are today are not possible at Magna. Workplace struggle would be policed there (according to commitments made in the framework), rather than led by the union.

The CAW President of Local 88 at the time, Cathy Austin, wrote a letter to the editor, dated  of the Toronto Star (a major newspaper in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), saying similar things: 

The first collective agreement at CAMI was negotiated before production started. It offered the barest of guidelines of how ideas such as team concept were actually to be worked out in practice in a unionized environment. The agreement represented a tactical compromise. On the one hand, the contract departed from standard agreements in the auto industry. It committed the union to the principals of the Japanese Production System including team concept, substantial management flexibility and kaizen (continuous improvement). Additionally, the union agreed to an economic package on wages and benefits that fell below the industry norm. However, despite these tactical compromises the first contract contained provisions for important union principals such as union security, recognition of union elected and independent workplace representatives, union committee persons and a true grievance procedure.

Our local wasted little time in establishing an independent presence in the plant. Over time the union began to demand changes and workers fought back. By contesting CAMI policy and practice, the members increasingly came to see the local as an independent force that championed the cause of workers’ dignity and rights.

Fighting to Make Gains Against the Class of Employers? 

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, then makes some assertions without explaining what he means:

Another major difference from CAMI is the larger role of the CAW. In the CAMI era, the union was clearly committed to challenging the ideology of partnership and competitiveness, fighting to make gains against employers and defending workplace rights as well as wages and benefits and embarking upon ambitious political projects that questioned the logic of competitiveness and globalization [my emphasis].

What does it mean to fight “to make gains against employers?” Since he did not elaborate, I searched further to see what he might mean. I found the following written by Mr. Rosenfeld, from Labour Notes, July 31, 2005, titled Reflections on the Birth of the Canadian Auto Workers  :

This July marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Auto Workers. The CAW was created out of a split from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers, at the beginning of a difficult era that is still with us.

The CAW split with the UAW over a series of fundamental differences. The CAW’s leaders believed that unions—and the workers they represent—have interests that are independent and different from those of their employers; that the role of a union is to fight for workers’ interests—not to sell the agenda of employers; that the competitiveness of employers is a constraint on unions and workers, not something that unions should see as their goal.

The CAW’s birth marked a major shift in the Canadian labor movement. The split was seen both as a statement that Canadian workers can build their own union movement free of U.S. tutelage and as a bold challenge to the employer offensive that sought to change the very nature of unionism.

CONFLICT OVER CONCESSIONS

In the early 1980s, U.S. auto companies and the UAW agreed to radically change the role of unions. Accepting the Big Three’s argument that U.S. automakers’ success against offshore competitors could only be assured by worker concessions—like replacing wage increases with lump-sums and profit sharing—UAW leaders saw their role as selling this perspective to their members.

It began in 1979, with Chrysler on the verge of bankruptcy. Both the UAW and its Canadian leadership agreed to temporary concessions. But when the U.S. Congress demanded more concessions as the price of further aid, the Canadians balked.

In subsequent negotiations, as Chrysler’s outlook improved, the Canadian UAW demanded and won back the concessions in the face of opposition from UAW leadership.

When GM and Ford followed suit, calling on the union to re-open their collective agreements in 1982 bargaining, the UAW leadership accepted. But they had to organize a campaign to “sell” concessions to their own members, and quash or marginalize any opposition.

In fact, when GM and the UAW first tested the waters amongst GM workers in the United States, the workers rejected concessions. Traditions of resistance remained in the union and it took years of effort by the leadership to try and root it out.

Again, unions that are independent of particular employers, that oppose concession bargaining, that have a democratic structure, have the ability and willingness to strike, fight for more general rights (such as easier access to unemployment insurance, improved federal pensions and similar reforms) are certainly preferable to more conservative unions.

Independent Local Unions Need Not Oppose the Class of Employers

Nonetheless, there is a qualitative difference between such unions and efforts to go beyond the class power of employers. Mr. Rosenfeld does not address this issue at all; alternatively, he implies, without evidence, that unions that aim for certain general rights (outlined in the previous paragraph) somehow fight against the class of employers consciously as a class of employers.

Independent unions at the level of the particular company or firm need not  be independent at the level of classes.

Actually, it is Ms. Austin’s letter to the editor which expresses in a compact manner, both what is right and what is wrong with Mr. Rosenfeld’s position. She specifies three aspects that are characteristic of what her and Mr. Rosenfeld would probably call progressive unions:

There are three fundamental differences between our ‘foot in the door’ collective agreement at CAMI in 1988 and the current Magna deal; first a democratically elected independent union representation directly elected by and accountable to the membership, secondly a grievance procedure, third the right to strike (which we did for 5 long weeks in 1992). The differences between the proposed Magna deal and CAMI are monumental in the lives of workers. At the October 28th membership meeting the members of Local 88 unanimously endorsed a resolution opposed to this flawed agreement. The workers at Magna need and deserve the royal blue colour of the CAW not the yellow of a company union. •


A union democratically elected by its membership may be independent of the influence of the particular employer, but the union itself, within the collective bargaining regime set up since 1944 in Canada (during the Second World War) hardly makes unions independent of the class power of employers. They operate on the basis of laws that establish their legitimacy and limits of action. Such laws and limits influence what unions do and how they act.

This limitation can be seen, for example, in how union representatives view collective agreements and how they justify them. On the Unifor Local 88 website, for instance, there is a history section, with the following (my emphasis):

1992-Strike

The 1992 Collective Agreement was a struggle to achieve. These set of negotiations were very tough. Both the Union and the Company had many differences that could not be settled. As a result the membership of CAW Local 88 endured a five week strike against CAMI Automotive. The membership grew up very quickly and was determined to negotiate a fair and respectful collective agreement. Shortly after the October 1992 Thanksgiving weekend a collective agreement was voted upon and ratified by the membership.

How can any collective agreement express “a fair and respectful agreement?” Since workers are exploited at work (see, for example, The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One)  how can any union “negotiate a fair and respectful collective agreement?” Unions, by persistently referring to the negotiating process and the resulting collective agreement as somehow fair, are not independent of the class of employers.  They become ideologues of  the class of employers objectively even if they are unconscious of doing so.

Therefore, Ms. Austin’s three criteria for an effective union (and Mr. Rosenfeld’s likely agreement with such criteria)–an independent and democratically structured union, a grievance procedure and the right to strike–by no means necessarily make unions independent of the class of employers (although may well make the union independent of the particular employer they face during negotiations).

Either Mr. Rosenfeld, like many unionists and leftists, simply ignores the issue of the class power of employers and the need to consciously aim for the abolition of the power of such a class, or he falsely assumes that unions that fight for general rights of workers somehow also aim to abolish the class power of employers. 

The Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of Local 88, Barry Smith, also expresses the limitations of the union point of view. Admittedly, the following quote is in the context of consultation by the Ontario government of employment-law reform, but there is no evidence that what he wrote was merely a tactical move:

“Changing Workplaces Review”
London Consultation
July 8, 2015

Dan Borthwick, President
Colleen Wake, Chairperson Union In Politics Committee
Barry Smith, Chairperson Organizing Committee
Ingersoll, Ontario
July 8, 2015

I believe that if those hard won protections were afforded to all, through improvements in the language of both these Acts, employers would have a stronger, more dedicated workforce that would improve the situation for all parties. It wasn’t until September 17/2013 after completing contract negotiations that the S.W.E.s [Supplement Workforce Employees] got the advantages we needed. Thanks to strong contract language, we got vacation, better benefits, a pension plan and almost equal treatment as any long term employee at CAMI and gained Full Time status.

I truly believe that if it wasn’t for Unifor and General Motors coming to a fair agreement at the Bargaining Table, I would still be a S.W.E. and having to worry on a daily basis about how I will be supporting my family next week. [my emphasis]

Indeed, a document by Unifor, submitted on September 2015, to the Ontario Changing Workplaces Consultation, was itself titled Building Balance, Fairness, and Opportunity in Ontario’s Labour Market. This document in its very title expresses the ideology that somehow the labour market can be fair–whereas the existence of a labour market is itself an expression of the unfair situation in which workers who work for an employer find themselves (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

This document, furthermore, implies that workers who work for employers cannot, somehow, be exploited–as if employment law (governing non-unionized workers), labour law (governing unionized workers) and collective bargaining legislation and collective-bargaining structures, along with unions, can somehow eliminate exploitation and oppression at work. From page 6 (my emphasis):

Yet the institutional bulwarks which are essential for working people to attain better outcomes from the labour market (such as ambitious and actively-enforced employment standards, strong and widespread collective bargaining structures, and even a positive common-sense understanding of fair practice in the world of work) have become less capable of moderating these trends, instead of being strengthened to meet these challenges. The result is a labour market marked by pervasive inequality, underemployment, and all too often hopelessness. [my emphasis]

What is this “positive common-sense understanding of fair practice in the world of work?” I guess I lack this “positive common-sense understanding of fair practice.” On page 104, they ask:

The Changing Workplaces Review must address a fundamental challenge for the future of labour market policy: what measures can effectively provide Ontario workers the dignity, security, and fair treatment they deserve, while maintaining the efficiency and success of Ontario’s economy?

An honest answer to that question–given the context of an economy structured according to the demands of a class of employers–is that only measures that aim to eliminate the power of the class of employers can achieve those twin goals. The dishonest answer is that the twin goals can both be achieved within the structure of the employer-employee relation.

Mr. Rosenfeld is therefore right when he affirms that unions, such as the original CAW Local 88. as a union that was independent of its particular employer, are much better than the union that represented Magna workers.

However, both sets of workers were exploited and oppressed locally at work due to their class situation, and their unions were not independent of the class of employers even in the case of the original CAW Local 88–unless Mr. Rosenfeld can show evidence to the contrary by showing that the local not only tried to become independent from its particular employer but from the class of employers (by, for instance, showing the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement–and even then such a situation is only the beginning of a process towards becoming independent of the class of employers through the elimination of all classes). I doubt that he can. This is where Mr. Rosenfeld is wrong–a union independent of a particular employer does not mean that such a union is independent of the class of employers.

Finally, let us look at the collective agreement between CAMI Automotive and CAW Local 88. I could not find the 1992-1995 collective agreement (which would have been the most relevant since there is reference to the 1992 strike above), but I did find the collective agreement for 1995-1998, which has the following:

3. MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

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

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

The Union recognizes the right of CAMI to formulate, revise and publish Personnel policies, which shall be administered in a fair, impartial and consistent manner to all members of the bargaining unit [bold in the original–although I am uncertain if that was intentional.]

Of course, unions may be forced to include such clauses in the collective agreement. If, however, they were really independent of the class of employers, they would question the legitimacy of such a clause openly to their members and promote discussion of the clause whenever they could. Does Mr. Rosenfeld have any evidence that CAW Local 88 did that? If not, his idea that CAW Local 88 was an independent union, though true in relation to its particular employer, was false in relation to the class of employers.

I predict that Mr. Rosenfeld will not provide any evidence to show that CAW Local 88 was an independent union at the level of the class of employers. 

Social democrats like Mr. Rosenfeld do the opposite of what some Marxists and radical leftists do: social democrats correctly emphasize the need for unions do be independent of the particular employer, but they neglect how unions, at the level class, are not independent of employers.

Some Marxists and other radicals, on the other hand, neglect the importance of the independence of unions from particular employers by referring merely to workers working for the class of employers–as I tried to show in my previous post). 

A Little Theory

To round off this post, I will refer to a book by a German author that may not appear to have much relevance to the issue of the independence of the working class, but nevertheless does address the issue indirectly (theoretically). 

The quote is a very rough translation from the German of Maxi Berger (2012), Labour, Self-consciousness and Self-determination in Hegel: Towards the Interdependence of Theory and Praxis, page 23 (I include the German after the quote for those who read German):

In order to be able to understand that the individual cannot escape from economic coercion, it is crucial to emphasize the total social character of the capitalist mode of production. This total social character is manifest in social organization, that is to say, that the legal foundations and administrative institutions as well as the organization of the economic sphere as a whole are appropriate in the sense of accumulation for the sake of accumulation–not however in the sense of a reasonable organization of human life. As a result of this the action of the members is placed under constraint: Whoever wants to obtain his means of life, whoever therefore who wants to live, must accommodate themselves to the conditions of commodity and labour markets, not the opposite.

(Um verstehen zu können, daß sich Einzelne den ökonomischen Zwängen nicht entziehen
können, ist es entscheidend, den gesamtgesellschaftlichen Charakter der kapitalistischen
Produktionsweise zu betonen. Dieser gesamtgesellschaftliche Charakter ist in der
gesellschaftlichen Organisation manifest. D. h. daß die juristischen Grundlagen und verwalterischen
Institutionen ebenso wie die Organisation der ökonomischen Sphäre insgesamt
zweckmäßig im Sinne der Akkumulation um der Akkumulation willen sind – nicht
aber im Sinne einer vernünftigen Organisation menschlichen Lebens. Dadurch wird das
Handeln der Mitglieder unter Sachzwang gestellt: Wer sich seine Lebensmittel beschaffen
will, wer also leben will, muß sich den Bedingungen des Waren- und Arbeitsmarktes anpassen,
nicht umgekehrt.)

Unions and the social-reformist or social-democratic left that fail to take into account the fact that the freedom of the worker to shift from one employer to another does not prevent economic coercion need to be criticized. Independent unions at the level of a particular employer go hand in hand with such economic coercion.

Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.

According to Bill Resnick, part two is an exploration of the potentialities for stimulating the working class from its lethargic state of passivity, cynicism and individual self-defense in order to inspire people to recognize their powers and capacities and thereby a socialist society.

Mr. Resnick then claims that climate change will oblige us to think how the economy is working.

Moving on to Mr. Gindin’s views, Mr. Gindin claims that it will be the environment that will be the key issue in relation to inequality. The rich are satisfied with the status quo of environmental conditions since they do not have to suffer the consequences from its deterioration.

Mr. Gindin then refers to the situation in Oshawa. He points out that, despite workers losing their jobs anyway, any suggestion of a serious alternative still meets with resistance since they have experienced thirty or forty years of lowering their expectations of what is possible. Their response to a left alternative is that it is a great idea, but it will never happen because they do not see their unions fighting for it nor do they see that larger social force fighting for it.

We should pause here. When have most unions, even during the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, generally fought for a larger vision of socialism? Most unions accepted the justice of collective bargaining and of collective agreements. Mr. Gindin implies that before the onset of neoliberalism 30 or 40 years ago, unions did have a larger social vision. That is a myth.

Indeed, red-baiting and the expulsion of communists from the Canadian labour movement forms part of the history of unions in Canada–a fact which Mr. Gindin conveniently ignores (see Irving Abella, The Canadian Labour Movement, 1902-1960). Social democracy won out within unions over any radical vision of society.

Why does Mr. Gindin ignore such facts? It is likely that Mr. Gindin indulges his supporters rather than taking the necessary step to criticize them. He probably panders after union support rather than criticizing the limitations of unions–including the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements.

He fails to criticize the responsibility of unions for, historically, partially contributing to the suppression of an alternative vision.

By the way, Mr. Gindin’s reference to the environment as being the key to inequality lacks any historical and factual basis. Where is there evidence that it is the environment that forms the center around which people are willing to fight against those in power and attempt to defeat them? It is the daily grind of working and living in a society dominated by a class of employers that will form the key issue–a social relation, and not the “environment” in the abstract sense of “nature” or environmental conditions in a general sense.  Mr. Gindin, as I indicated in my earlier post, wants to jump on the bandwagon of environmentalism in general and the climate crisis in particular in order to prop up his appeal. I doubt that he will be successful.

Mr. Gindin then argues that we need to develop structures through which people can fight so that they can gain a clear vision of the forces that support them and the forces that oppose them as well as understanding the importance of collective action for realizing workers’ aims. That is why political parties are important because they form a space for strategizing about what needs to be done. We must take organizing seriously.

Mr. Gindin then reiterates how impressed he is about what the environmental movement has done. However, he points out the limitations of that movement, that criticizes corporate power or the 1% but does not seriously propose taking power away from them. It is insufficient to merely lobby against them. If we are going to have [democratic] planning, we cannot have corporations making the investment decisions.

Mr. Gindin is certainly correct to point out the limitations of the environmental movement–but he should be consistent and point out the limitations of unions as unions in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. He does not. He avoids alienating his social-democratic supporters. Is that what is needed at present?

Furthermore, he refers to the importance of organization–but is organization by itself going to lead to the questioning of corporate power? Ms. McAlevey does not question such power. Social democrats do not question such power. Both engage in organizing of one sort or another. It is not, then, organizing in general that is the issue but what kind of organizing–on what basis? Organizing from the start needs to question corporate power–and that includes questioning the legitimacy of their power to manage workers as such. We may need to make compromises along the way, as embodied in a collective agreement, but let us not bullshit the workers by calling such agreements or contracts “fair,” “just” and other such euphemisms.

To be consistent, Mr. Gindin should question the limitations of unions and union organizers in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. Why does he not do so?

Mr. Gindin claims that struggles are fundamental and that they develop the capacity to recognize the limits of being militant. They develop democratic capacities that prevent them from accepting authority.

Workers certainly do learn the limitations of being militant (they get fired, for example), but such a lesson hardly need translate into learning the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.  Workers may blame unions for the limitations of militancy–unless the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements are pointed out, on the one hand, and an alternative vision of what may be is outlined, on the other.

Although struggles are certainly necessary, are they sufficient to enable workers to come to the conclusion that the authority of the class of employers should be questioned? What is more likely is that such struggles will lead to criticisms of particular aspects of such power but not that power as such. Mr. Gindin vastly underestimates the ideological hold this kind of society has on workers and how it is vital to engage in constant ideological struggle if we are to develop democratically to the point where we can consciously and organizationally take corporate power away.

We need to take state power, but not just that. We need to take state power and transform that power so that we can develop our democratic capacity so that there is, on the one hand, a check on what the state does and, on the other, that people are actually participating in state power. This requires developing the technical capacity of ordinary workers to make appropriate decisions that affect their lives and not just having scientists come into government to make decisions for us.

We certainly do need to take state power–and transform it. However, if we are to do this consciously from the start, then we need to question the present state structures in their various dimensions. For example, we need to question the current educational structures, with their emphasis on assigning marks or grades to students, their separation of curriculum into academic (intellectual) and non-academic (vocational, which allegedly has more to do with the body), and so forth. When I belonged to the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly GTWA (which morphed into the Toronto Labour Committee), of which Mr. Gindin was practically the head, Mr. Jackson Potter was invited to discuss how the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) organized and led a successful strike. I eventually wrote up a critique of one of the CTU’s documents (see my article “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers‘ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog). The response of the GTWA to my critique was–silence.

Education, of course, is just one area that needs to be restructured through the abolition of its repressive features. The courts, police and the legal system need to be radically transformed as well (as I argued in another post and about which Mr Gindin was silent (see   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). Health is of course another area which needs to be radically restructured and its repressive features abolished (see various posts on the health and safety of workers on this blog).

Mr. Resnick then mentions Lucas Aerospace, which closed; in response,  and workers came up with a plan to change things by focusing on products needed by the community. Workers built a powerful movement both inside and outside the union.

Mr. Gindin points out that Lucas ended in defeat. Nevertheless, what is inspiring in the case of Lucas and in Oshawa is the focus on producing not for profit but for social need, which stimulates the imagination and leads to diverse creative ideas. The problem is that you need the power to implement them.

You do indeed need the power to implement them. The illusion that workers have much power through collective bargaining and collective agreements needs to be constantly criticized so that they can begin to organize to challenge the power of employers as a class and not just particular employers. In other words, it requires ideological struggle and not just “organizational” struggle. How workers are to build power when they have faith in the collective-bargaining system and collective agreements is not something Mr. Gindin addresses. Why is that? Why does he ignore such a central issue when it comes to talking about unionized workplaces?

Mr. Gindin then points out that people do rebel, but the problem is how to sustain that rebellion.

That is indeed a problem, but failing to criticize one of the keystones of modern unions–collective bargaining and collective agreements–surely impedes a sustained effort at rebellion. Faith in the collective-bargaining process is bound to lead to cynicism since the cards are stacked against workers from the beginning because of the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in the collective agreement–and yet workers are fed the ideology that collective agreements are “fair,” “just” and so forth.

Mr. Gindin next claims that people can see that capitalism is not the ultimate end of history since it does not address their needs nor the needs of the environment.

This gives way too much trust in people’s rhetorical criticism of capitalism but their real acceptance of it–as he himself earlier implied. People lack a vision of a better world and accept, reluctantly at times, the so-called inevitability of capitalism in practice. Social democrats may refer to capitalism this and capitalism that, but they do not really seek to overthrow the power of employers.

Mr. Resnick then refers to racial, gender and sexual orientation as divisions that will be overcome in the social movement. Mr. Gindin does not specifically address these issues but claims that when people work together, they begin to form common dreams as they realize they have common problems.

Is there evidence that workers in the closed GM plant at Oshawa now are opposed to the power of employers as a class? After all, surely some of the workers for GM at Oshawa have come together and discussed some of their common problems. Yet earlier Mr. Gindin pointed out that there is much cynicism among such workers. It is not only insufficient for workers to get together and to discuss common problems–since there is such a thing as their immediate common problem–which centers around a particular employer, and the common problem of having to work for an employer as such (any employer)–a problem that is rarely if ever discussed.

Furthermore, Mr. Gindin’s view is not only naive, but there is evidence that contradicts it. As a member of the Toronto Labour Committee, and in good faith, I tried to bring up the issue, in the context of striking brewery workers, of whether their work constituted “decent work” and whether the wages that they sought should be called “fair wages.” I was met with insults by one trade unionist. Mr. Gindin, in addition, claimed that the reference to “decent work” was a purely defensive move. That is nonsense; it is ideology, and should have been criticized. People did not work together over the issue of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements; the issue was simply buried through insults and the rhetoric of “defense.”

There is a continuation of the theme that organization is the key–it is insufficient to become aware or that capitalism is bad.

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

For Mr. Gindin, what has been defeated is the socialist idea.

That idea was long ago defeated–few workers in Canada adhered to it even in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, Mr. Gindin now implies that ideological struggle is indeed vital–but he implied just above that it was not that important–that organization was vital. Or is he now arguing that both organizational and ideological struggle are vital? If so, why does he not explicitly engage in ideological struggle with his social-democratic supporters?

The following does indeed imply that it is vital to unify organizational and ideological struggle:

We have to organize to end capitalism.

Good. To do so, however, requires meeting objective conditions–and one of those conditions is criticizing those within the labour movement who idealize organizing efforts that merely lead to collective bargaining and collective agreements (such as Tracy McMaster, union steward, organizer, former vice president, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), “our Tracy,” as Mr. Gindin once called her). Mr. Gindin, by not criticizing Ms. McMaster’s reference to “decent work” and “fair wages” fails to meet such objective conditions for the ending of capitalism.

However, Mr. Gindin then makes the following claim:

People see through the system.

Do they really? I doubt it. This view vastly underestimates the ideological hold that the power of employers in its various facets has on workers and the repressive character of various institutions–from work institutions to state institutions People do not see through the system. If they did, they would not pair the struggle for a minimum wage of $15 (and needed reforms in employment law) with the concept of “fairness” so nonchalantly. They would not call collective agreements fair, nor would they imply that there is a relatively equal power between organized (unionized) workers and employers.

Mr. Gindin once again minimizes the ideological struggle.

The issue of a worsening environment through global warming then comes up. Mr. Gindin argues once again that access to the environment will be one of the great inequalities of our times–access to the environment.

As I argued in the previous post, Mr. Gindin’s concept of the environment is faulty. The environment of human beings has included the use of land and tools for millenia. That access has been denied with the emergence of classes and some form of private property (and communal property can be private property relative to another communal property). Access to the environment has always been a class issue–even before capitalism.

An environmental crisis may lead to authoritarian structures arising rather than democratic ones. One of the problems is that people do not see structures through which they can work, commit and have confidence that such issues will be addressed–and this includes unions and political parties. People know that something is wrong, but they lack the confidence of getting at it. That is why fighting through unions is so important; you learn on a daily basis that collectively you can effect things: you can affect your workplace, you can affect your foremen, you can have different kinds of relationships to your workmates.

It keeps coming down to whether people do not know enough or whether people do not see the structures through which they can fight through and win. Mr. Gindin believes it is the lack of structures which forms the problem, not whether people do not know enough,

Mr. Gindin’s criticisms of unions is welcome–but too general and vague to be much help. He should elaborate on why unions are not the structures through which people can “work, commit and have confidence” that their problems will be addressed adequately. Why such a vague characterization of the inadequacy of unions and union structures? What is it about union structures that prevents workers from having the confidence and the commitment to work though them to achieve their goals?

Again, Mr. Gindin underestimates the importance of ideological struggle within the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

The labour movement, despite having been kicked around for the last 30 or 40 years, has not concluded that we need to unite in class terms. Certainly, engaging in resistance is vital, but what have we learned from such resistance? To push harder for our own particular agenda, or have we learned that we need a class perspective to address our problems? That we need to recognize that gender, race and wage inequalities must be overcome so that we can function as a class? That does not happen automatically and has not happened automatically. That class perspective has to be built. Otherwise, workers are only individual, fragmented workers with particular identities separate from each other. We need to make ourselves a collective force–a class; it does not happen spontaneously. The potential for workers to make themselves a class has increased, but the potential will not be actualized automatically.

There are various openings or potentialities for politicization, but we should not exaggerate this by arguing that we are well on the way to winning. People are willing to fight, but then the question is: How do we actually organize ourselves to win. We are not very far along in that road.

That road is socialism, which allows the best aspects of humanity to develop.

Certainly, divisions within the working class need to be recognized and overcome in order to form a class. A class perspective needs to be fought for in various fronts. Unfortunately, Mr. Gindin does not see that such a class perspective requires a confrontation with the ideology of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements. There will be no spontaneous overcoming of the organizational limitations of unions (including the ones proposed by Ms. McAlevey in her various books) unless the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements is called into question. This does not mean that unions would not engage in collective bargaining or not have collective agreements voted on; rather, the limitations of collective bargaining and the corresponding limitations of collective agreements would be explicitly recognized via a class perspective, which permits recognition of the need for temporary truces because of a relative lack of power.

My prediction is that Mr. Gindin’s efforts in Oshawa will be in vain since he underestimates greatly the need for ideological struggle in general and the struggle in particular for union members to recognize the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements not just rhetorically or by way of lip service but rather practically by ceasing every opportunity to demonstrate their limitations and the need for an organization that addresses such limitations–a socialist organization.

Fixed Social Dogmas and the Special Language of the Social-Reformist Left

Michael Perleman refers to the Procrustean dogma that characterizes much of the discussion about the social world in which we currently live. What better characterization of the social-democratic rhetoric of “fairness,” “decent work,” a “fair wage,” “economic justice” and “social justice?”

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

CHAPTER TEN
Where Do We Go from Here?

The Procrustean Language

Presently, two conflicting trends are colliding. On the one hand, those in control are successfully accumulating more power, solidifying the hold of Procrusteanism. On the other hand, the application of these new powers is producing dismal results, except for the most privileged sectors of society. Once people come to recognize the growing gap between economic performance and the potential productivity of society, the destructive nature of Procrusteanism will, hopefully, become self-evident.

Even so, the ideology of the status quo is so thoroughly ingrained that little progress—or even little hope of progress—appears on the horizon. We can only hope that Frederic Jameson was wrong when he observed that within contemporary society “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” One precondition of moving in a progressive direction is to carefully reframe the imagery of the economy. The problem is that the Procrustean world has created a special language, one that intentionally clouds the harsh reality in which people find themselves, in effect, making the handcuffs invisible and questions of class unthinkable.

The key concepts of this rhetorical façade are freedom and equality.

The special language of the social-reformist left include such key concepts as “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” “fairness,” “decent work,” “a contract you can live with,” “social justice” and “economic justice.” The social-reformist left never get around to discussing what that actually means in the context of a society dominated by employers–they simply assume that what they call “fair,” “decent work,” “a contract you can live,” “economic justice” and other such rhetorical expressions is what is fair, decent, livable and economically just without any further discussion.

Anyone who calls into question their rhetoric is then often  treated as a pariah, insulted or ostracized. Such is the anti-democratic nature of the social-reformist left. Is there really any wonder why the right has gained ground when the so-called left seek to hide the real problems which workers face as members of a class?