May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: More Rhetoric from a Union Rep: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part Two: Do Corrections Officers Protect Us?

Introduction

In my previous post in this two-part series, I showed that J.P. Hornick, the relevatively new president of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) holds social-reformist or social-democratic views. I showed that she used the social-reformist and euphemistic phrases, such as “fair contract” and “good jobs”–which the management rights clause contradicts.

I thought it appropriate to post the second part of the series now because Ms. Hornick appears to be a militant union leader who defends the rights of workers. She does indeed defend the rights of workers–to bargain collectively–but not their right to be free of exploitation and oppression (see Solidarity with Union Members–and an Occasion for Discussing the Limitations of Collective Bargaining: The Ontario Ford Government’s Legislation to Force CUPE Education Workers to Abandon Their Strike).

Further evidence of her reformist views is her praise of the work of correction officers–whom she believes “keep us safe” in some fashion.

From https://opseu.org/news/honouring-our-corrections-members-this-week-and-every-week/153542/  , dated May 3, 2022:

Honouring our Corrections members this week – and every week

Corrections Division logo (keys crossed)

It’s Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week, and we feel privileged to lead a union that represents thousands of these dedicated professionals.

OPSEU/SEFPO members include correctional officers, probation and parole officers, Nurses and Social workers, recreation and administrative staff. They put their lives at risk every day to keep Ontarians safe.

We were honoured to attend the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance on Tuesday at the Ontario legislature, a tribute to Corrections workers who have died on the job. [my emphasis]

Our members care deeply about their communities, and it does not stop at the end of the workday.   OPSEU/SEFPO’s members created a Corrections Cares campaign recently, where they have raised money and collected food for community support groups.

OPSEU/SEFPO has for years warned of a crisis in the Corrections system. Understaffing and crumbling infrastructure have put the health and safety of both inmates and staff at risk.

In addition to the day-to-day challenges of working in Corrections, our members have had to contend with COVID-19. Some of our members have contracted COVID more than once during the pandemic.

Thanks to our union’s efforts, progress has been made, but so much more remains to be done. Most institutions continue to house far more inmates than they were ever designed to hold. The proportion of Correctional Officers to offender population continues to pose serious risks, leading to overwork, stress and burnout.  Probation and Parole are constantly having to juggle higher caseloads with inadequate staff.

As the Correctional Bargaining Unit is in the midst of negotiating a new collective agreement, we again demand that the government repeal Bill 124 [which “generally limits annual salary increases to one per cent for many parts of the public sector in the province” of Ontario]. Corrections is an inherently hazardous occupation. Working conditions are among the worst imaginable. If we wish to attract and retain correctional workers, they must be paid commensurately with the exceptional risks they take every single day on the job. [my emphasis] 

OPSEU/SEFPO will back its Corrections members at every step of the way with every possible professional and financial support. We are determined to ensure get the kind of contract that properly reflects their professionalism, integrity and contributions.

During Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week, OPSEU/SEFPO joins every Ontarian in thanking Corrections workers for their courageous and selfless work to keep us safe [my emphasis]

In solidarity,

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer

This evident defense of corrections officers (prison guards) is interesting. Why the emphasis on corrections officers and not, say, on nurses (another profession which OPSEU represents)?

Questionable Assumptions

False Assumption 1: Unions Have the Power to Force Employers to Act Safely

Perhaps Ms. Hornick could provide research that substantiates that corrections officers’ work is much more dangerous than most workplaces. It may be the case, but  suassumptions should be looked at in relation to the issue of the health and safety of workers (and of citizens, immigrants and migrant workers). Thus, she wrote a message (dated April 27, 2022) for the April 28 Canadian National Day of Mourning of those who have died or been injured at work (https://opseu.org/news/day-of-mourning-2022-opseu-sefpo-remembers-lives-lost/153063/):

Day of Mourning 2022: OPSEU/SEFPO remembers lives lost

April 27, 2022 – 11:33 am
Notice
Awareness Days, Health and safety
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Workplace health and safety is one of the fundamental reasons unions exist, so that every worker feels safe and protected while doing their jobs. On this Day of Mourning, we remember those who were killed on the job because of workplace incidents, and we also stand in solidarity with those who have been injured due to workplace hazards.

Day of Mourning is observed annually on April 28. This day also commemorates the United Nations’ World Day for Safety and Health at Work, marked to highlight the importance of accident and disease prevention at work and to foster strong Occupational Health and Safety workplace cultures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated workplace health and safety hazards in Ontario and around the world. It has increased the stress of our members working on the frontlines of the pandemic. They’ve faced increased risks and it has taken a mental and emotional toll.

OPSEU/SEFPO stands with our allies to honour those who were killed as well as those injured on the job. We must continue to work together to make sure Occupational Health and Safety legislation and workplace policies are strengthened and enforced. As safety risks increase, employers must work with us to ensure that the necessary protections keep pace.

We will continue to keep health and safety a top priority in every conversation with employers and the government, because all workers deserve to feel safe in their workplaces and return to their loved ones when the work day is done.

Find Day of Mourning events across Ontario that you can take part in.

In solidarity,

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President

Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer

This is typical union rhetoric. Should workers not ask whether “Occupational Health and Safety legislation and workplace policies” actually provide protection–aka safety? Unions undoubtedly have provided some protection from death, injury and disease, but their power to do so should not be exaggerated.

Let me quote a union rep in relation to health and safety as quoted from Steven Bittle’s doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster. The quote is in the context of legislation to make it a criminal offence for corporations to harm workers (ultimately diluted, of course). Page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

Ms. Hornick simply engages in union rhetoric and does not address the fact, as the union rep above admits, that workers–whether unionized or not–have limited say over their own health and safety.Working for an employer is often dangerous and leads to injury–and sometimes death.

How is the work of corrections officers any different in this respect? Let Ms. Hornick provide concrete statistics to substantiate her assumption that corrections officers are subject to “the exceptional risks they take every single day on the job.” I doubt that she has looked at any such statistics. She assumes, without question, that correcions officers’ lives are more subject to risks” (why else use the adjective “exceptional”)? Such is the nature of the rhetoric of leaders of unions these days.

Interlude: The Prison System and the Property System in Which We Live

Let us look at the prison system, briefly. Obviously there is some truth in the function of prisons as protective; there are people who are violent and would probably do harm to others if they were not controlled in some way (Trump comes to mind). However, to appreciate the nature of prisons, it is necessary to link them up to the kind of society in which we live.

Most people in Canada and in many other countries need to work for an employer in order to obtain money. Some people–like me–do not want to work for an employer since, among other reasons, they find having to do so to be in effect a denial of our freedom to choose; in effect, having to work for an employer is a dictatorship (see for example Employers as Dictators, Part One). Being treated as a means for other person’s ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital) is hardly an expression of freedom; rather, it is an expression of a dicatorship.

For some of those people who find working for an employer to be disgusting, it would seem preferable to seek alternative means of obtaining money and hence an alternative means to live. Many legitimate alternative means to live have been gradually eliminated, leaving the need to engage in the exchange process with an employer as the primary means by which to obtain the means to live.

Exchange involves mutual recognition of the right of the other to own the property that is offered for exchange. In other words, it excludes direct coercion to obtain what one needs. You must have something to offer the other party that that party to the exchange relation wants  if you are to obtain what the other party owns.

Here is where the police, law, the courts, prisons and of course corrections officers enter the picture. In general, a system of general exchange has two forms of law to deal with breaches of exchange: civil law and criminal law.

Civil law deals with any breach of the exchange relation (or contract), and it usually applies to breaches between individual parties to a contract. A typical example these days is the credit card. Let us say that you use the credit card to purchase food at a grocery store. By using the credit card, you have implicitly agreed to pay the company that issued the credit card money after a certain time. If you fail to do so, the company can take you to civil court, and if proven, the court can force you to pay the company (unless you declare bankruptcy–which is another issue). You, legally, freely entered into an implicit contract with the company, and by breaching the contract, the civil court is forcing you to hold up your end of the bargain. The issue is a particular breach of contract between you and the company; you have not breached the general structure of exchange relations and the principles on which they are based.

Criminal law and criminal courts and crimes, on the other hand, deal generally with breaches of the general structure and the principles of exchange, which includes but is not limited to the employer-employee relation. This general structure and principles of exchange constitute the basic conditions for the class power of employers, the economic dependence of workers on employers and economic coercion since it is in and through exchange that workers are exploited and oppressed. (Undoubtedly, the distinction between civil law and criminal law is more complicated than this, but this initial distinction is useful for outlining the essential functions of police and corrections officers as defenders of exploitative and oppressive relations.)

The criminal system thus protects a property system that results in the exploitation and oppression of workers. That some people may become violent in such a system in order to achieve their ends, of course, then involves a demand, not only by employers but also by workers, of some form of protection from such violence. However, since the violence perpetrated by the class structure (such as the killing and injury of workers on the job) is not generally addressed by such a system, the police, the courts, the prison system–and correction officers– do not effectiely protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers from the dangers they face in such a society.

Prisons do not protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers from such violence. Do they, however, protect us from violent criminals?

Let us first look at the issue of whether prisons protect us from the dangers characteristic of a society dominated by a property system that protects the property of a class of employers.

False Assumption 2: The Legal System Protects Us Against the Dangers That We Face in Our Lives

Ms. Hornick’s rhetoric of corrections officers ‘keeping us safe” flies in the face of the real dangers that we face–real dangers that arise from a system driven by the class power of employers which, ultimately, is for the pursuit of profit. From Harry Glasbeek (2018), Capitalism: A Crime Story:

Law’s different definition of risk in non-capitalist
spheres

Welfare in terms of what people need to be safe and healthy plays no special role, certainly not a central role, in the normal practices of capitalism. If the central goal of production was not profit but the satisfaction of needs rather than wants, that is, if it was to meet people’s essential necessities rather than their desires (inbred or stimulated), the business plan of producers (even if still private) would be quite different. Some of the principal needs to be satisfied by the productive activity would
be the health and safety of the workers, of their communities, and of their physical and cultural environments. The balance between risk-creation and outcome would be totally different than it is under capitalism. There would still be injuries and harms, but they would be different both in kind and
number: the rate and kinds of “accidents” and “spills” would be totally different

Workplace and environmental injuries, diseases and deaths are linked to the class power of employers and the pursuit of profit, but they are not considered “violent crimes.” From Glasbeek:

She [Lisa Heinzerling, a writer on ethics and environmental law] notes the extent of some of the actual harms caused by ethical inattention and records that unchecked, uncalculated, but
checkable and calculable, impacts of for-profit activities, such as mining, mean that “fine particulates in the ambient air kill tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone … 26% increase in premature deaths are attributed to fine-particulate air pollution … [and that] widely used chemicals such as vinyl chloride pose risks of lethal cancers and other diseases … greenhouse gases [also have grave impacts on health and welfare].”86

There are many similar data that strongly suggest that not taking precautions when there is a practically foreseeable certainty that harm will ensue inflicts a lot of injuries and environmental and other ills on society. Take, for instance, a summary compiled by David Whyte of the U.K. reports on the incidence of health and safety harms. His overview led him to conclude that

managements are responsible—and are legally liable—for the majority of deaths caused by working … we can say with little doubt that the minority of deaths caused by working can be regarded purely as “misfortunes” or “accidents” which were not avoidable … the majority of deaths at work do not result from “out of control” or haphazard circumstances, but are the result of decisions or non-decisions that could … be traced to the authors of those decisions. [emphases added by Glasbeek]

The infliction of potentially foreseeable deaths and harms short of death by routinely exercised inattention,87 by failures to act as the ethics and morality espoused by an idealized liberal society dictate, is commonplace in capitalism.

Worldwide, the actual harm characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers undoubtedly remains one of the hidden facts which Ms. Hornick simply ignores. From Glasbeek:

Unlike fighters or hockey or football players, who all run a very similar risk of being the injured party as a result of the violence of their interaction, this is markedly not the case when the risks to workers,
consumers, communities, and the environment are created by capitalists and their corporations. Among the two million deaths, 270 million injuries, and 160 million occupational related diseases inflicted per annum worldwide, a miniscule number are suffered by employers. Of the millions of people adversely affected by pollution arising from profit-maximizing activities, the overwhelming majority are not profit-maximizers. Rather, they are people who cannot live on top of the hills, away from the prevailing winds, in wooded lands, or more pointedly, they are people who live in the
economically impoverished parts of the globe; they are non-capitalists and, among them, the poorest are likely to suffer the most.97 In capitalism, the risk of harm does not constitute an equal opportunity terrain. The riskcreators are not the risk-takers. In capitalism everything is upside-down. The point being belaboured is that, even when regulated capitalists search for profits within the boundaries set by regulations, their conduct is criminal in nature as they are allowed to continue to inflict harms on non-consenting individuals. Capitalism’s legitimacy should always be in issue.

What is the situation in Canada? As I pointed out in another post:

More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.

Murders are the focus of the social media and the criminal legal system. Inquiries into murders do occur, and some are very thorough. On the other hand, inquiries into the extent to which the pursuit of profit played a major role in the death of employees (or the extent to which the undemocratic nature of work of public-sector employers) are lacking. There is an implicit assumption that such deaths are acceptable and the cost of living in the modern world. Should not those concerned with social justice query such an assumption? Is there much discussion concerning the facts? Or is there silence over such facts?

But Hornick does not call into question capitalism’s legitimacy. Rather, through her rhetoric, clichés or abstract slogans of “fair contracts” (see my previous post in this series, May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract)  and corrections officers ‘keeping us safe,” she herself contributes to the legitimacy of capitalism. And this from a so-called radical union leader.

False Assumption 3: Prisons Provide Major Protection for Workers, Citizens, Immigrants and Migrant Workers From Violent Crimes

Let us now look at the other question: Whether prisons protect us from violent crimes?

Not much, if at all.

I will use several quotations with brief commentaries by me from Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton’s book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice (2017) to show what I mean.

From Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton’s book, pages 40-41:

The Brennan Center concluded that during the 1990s, incarceration had no effect (zero percent) on violent crime and reduced property crime by six percent; from 2000 to 2013, incarceration had no effect (zero percent) on violent crime and reduced property crime by 0.2 percent.79

The models from seven high-quality studies, when updated with new data for subsequent years, showed that between 2000 and 2013 incarceration caused between a four percent decline to a one percent increase in violent crime. This is consistent with the findings of the National Academy of Sciences panel on incarceration, which found that “mandatory minimum sentence and three-strike laws have little or no effect on crime rates,” and with respect to the effect of the overall increase in incarceration, “the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.”80 This distinguished panel of criminologists noted further: “The evidence reviewed in this report reveals that the costs of today’s unprecedented rate of incarceration, particularly the long prison sentences imposed under recent sentencing laws, outweigh the observable benefits.”

The imprisonment binge had only a modest effect on crime rates because American jurisdictions have   always been highly likely to imprison violent offenders, so the increase in incarceration swept up more people with less significant criminal propensities. Incarcerating people who are less dangerous means there is less of
an impact on public safety. Indeed, a substantial number of those admitted to prison were people who had their parole revoked for technical reasons, not because they were charged with or convicted of a new crime.

False (Hidden) Assumption 4: Prisons Protect Us Without Discrimination

Correction officers do not just protect us from those who have committed violent crimes; They disproportionately “protect” us from poor male indigenous youth. Although the following claim would have to be modified by referring to other characteristics–such as being Aboriginal–it probably applies for the most part to the situation in Canada. From Reiman and Leighton, pages 82-83:

This was the Typical Criminal in 1974, but little has changed since. Let us look more closely at the face in today’s criminal justice mirror, and we shall see much the same Typical Criminal.

The person is, first of all, a he. Of 8.8 million persons arrested for crimes in 2014, 73 percent were males. Of persons arrested for violent crimes, 80 percent were men. Second, he is young. More than one-third (36 percent) of men arrested for all crimes were under the age of 25, and the same is true of violent crimes (37 percent). Third, he is predominantly urban.19 Fourth, he is disproportionately black: In 2014, with blacks representing 13 percent of the nation’s population, they made up 38 percent of violent crime arrests and 28 percent of all crime arrests.20 Finally, he is poor. Almost one-third (29 percent) of 2002 jail inmates were unemployed (without full- or part-time work) prior to being arrested, an unemployment rate considerably higher than that of adults in the general population.21 A 2004 study, updated to include inflation through 2014, found that the pre-arrest income of incarcerated males was 41 percent less than comparably aged nonincarcerated men. As the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice reported in 1967, “The offender at the end of the road in prison is likely to be a member of the lowest social and economic groups in the country.”

This is the Typical Criminal feared by most law-abiding Americans. Poor, young, urban,
(disproportionately) black males make up the core of the enemy forces in the crime war. They are seen as a menace, threatening the lives, limbs, and possessions of the law-abiding members of society, necessitating recourse to the ultimate weapons of force and detention in our common defense. This picture is widely shared.

In Canada (from  https://pressprogress.ca/canadas-prairie-provinces-are-failing-to-address-systemic-racism-in-the-criminal-justice-system-experts-say/#:~:text=Manitoba%20and%20Saskatchewan%20also%20have,Manitoba%20and%2076%25%20in%20Saskatchewan.), dated July 14, 2021:

Yet the number of Indigenous people incarcerated in federal prisons has been steadily rising — Indigenous people currently make up 30% of federal inmates despite making up only 5% of the general population in Canada

The class bias of the legal system against the lower layers of the working class  can also be seen in the length of sentences of those who obtain less income or who are unemployed. From Reiman and Leighton, pages 140-141:

Research on adult offenders consistently finds economic discrimination. D’Alessio and Stolzenberg’s study of a random sample of 2,760 Florida offenders found that poor offenders received longer sentences for violent crimes, such as manslaughter, and for morals offenses, such as narcotics possession.100 A study of individuals convicted of drunk driving found that increased education (an indicator of higher economic status) “increase[d] the rate of movement from case filing to probation and decrease[d] the rate of movement to prison.”101

Chiricos and Bales found that, for individuals guilty of similar offenses and with similar prior records,
unemployed defendants were more than twice as likely as their employed counterparts to be incarcerated if found guilty.102 McCarthy noted a similar link between unemployment and greater likelihood of incarceration.103 In his study of 28,315 Southern felony defendants, Champion also found that offenders who could afford private counsel had a greater likelihood of probation and received shorter sentences when incarceration was imposed.104 A study of the effects of implementing Minnesota’s determinate sentencing program shows that socioeconomic bias is “more subtle, but no less real” than before the new program.105

Tillman and Pontell examined the sentences received by individuals convicted of Medicaid-provider fraud in California. Because such offenders normally have no prior arrests and are charged with grand theft, their sentences were compared with the sentences of other offenders convicted of grand theft who also had no prior records. While 37.7 percent of the Medicaid defrauders were sentenced to some jail or prison time, 79.2 percent of the others convicted of grand theft were sentenced to jail or prison. This was so even though the median dollar loss due to the Medicaid frauds was $13,000, more than 10 times the median loss due to the other grand thefts ($1,149). The authors point out that most of the Medicaid defrauders were health professionals, while most of the others convicted of grand theft had low-level jobs or were unemployed. They conclude that “differences in the sentences imposed on the two samples are indeed the result of the different social statuses of their members.”106

Data on racial discrimination in sentencing tell the same story of the treatment of those who cannot afford  the going price of justice. A study of 9,690 males who entered Florida prisons in 1992 and 1993, and who were legally eligible for stricter sentencing under the habitual offender statute, shows that for similar prior records and seriousness of crime, race had a “significant and substantial” effect: Black defendants were particularly disadvantaged “for drug offenses and for property crimes.”107 Based on a total of 40 recent studies of both federal and state data, Spohn concludes that “Black and Hispanic offenders—particularly those who are young, male, or unemployed—are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison; they also may receive longer sentences than similarly situated white offenders.”108 The National Academy of Sciences panel on incarceration finds that the racial “disparities are enormous,” not only with incarceration but also capital punishment and life sentences.

Ms. Hornick’s acceptance of the rhetoric that corrections officers mainly “keep us safe” hides the reality of an oppressive racist and classist legal system.

Indeed, as already pointed out above, Hornick plays into the stereotypical view of corrections officers as ‘keeping us safe,” since the real threats that we typically face in the real world are swept under the rug. From Reiman & Leighton,  pages 90-91:

This last point is important. It indicates that we have a mental image not only of the Typical Criminal but also of the Typical Crime. If the Typical Criminal is a young, lower-class male, the Typical Crime is one-on-one harm—where “harm” means physical injury, loss of something valuable, or both. Certainly this is the Typical Crime portrayed on any random sample of police or private-eye shows on television.

Moreover, the media portray violent crime way out of proportion to its occurrence in the real world. One in-depth study of local and cable news found that 30 percent of all stories on news programs were about crime, and half of those were about murder.33 In contrast, murder makes up about 14,000 of the 9.4 million crimes reported to the police.34 Further, popular police TV programs do not show the policing of consumer fraud, environmental pollution, financial crimes, or unsafe workplaces. When Law & Order detectives track down a well-heeled criminal, it is for a one-on-one harm, usually murder.

Notice, then, that TV crime shows focus on the crimes typically committed by poor people, but they do not present these as only committed by poor people. Rather than contradict the Pyrrhic defeat theory, this combination confirms it in a powerful way. The result of this combination is that TV crime shows broadcast a double-edged message: (1) that the one-on-one crimes of the poor are the typical crimes that rich and poor criminals alike commit—thus, they are not caused uniquely by the pressures of poverty; and (2) that the criminal justice system pursues both rich and poor criminals—thus, when the criminal justice system happens mainly to pounce on the poor in real life, it is not from any class bias. By overrepresenting violent, one-on-one crimes, television confirms the commonsense view that these are the crimes that threaten us. Since, in the real world those crimes are disproportionately committed by poor people, the image that it is the poor who pose the greatest danger to law-abiding Americans is projected for all to see.

It is important to identify this model of the Typical Crime because it functions like a set of blinders. It
keeps us from calling an industrial “disaster” a massacre even if 14 men were killed and even if someone is responsible for the unsafe conditions in which they worked and died. One study of newspaper reporting of a food-processing plant fire, in which 25 workers were killed and criminal charges were ultimately brought, concludes that “the newspapers showed little consciousness that corporate violence might be seen as a crime.”35 More recently, the Washington Post reported that the Peanut Corporation of America “knowingly shipped out contaminated peanut butter 12 times in the past two years.” The company’s salmonella-tainted peanuts were linked to 9 deaths and over 700 cases of illness, many requiring hospitalization.36 Media covered the recall of more than four thousand peanut-based products but made no mention of “mass murder” or even “crime,” although federal law makes it a felony to intentionally place adulterated food into commerce. A press conference, at which the victims called for criminal charges, received no attention from mainstream media.37 This is due to our fixation on the model of the Typical Crime. This particular piece of mental furniture so blocks our view that it keeps us from using the criminal justice system to protect ourselves from the greatest
threats to our bodies and possessions.

What keeps an industrial “disaster” from being a mass murder in our eyes is that it is not a one-on-one
harm where the desire of someone (or someones) is to harm someone (or someones) else. An attack by a gang on one or more persons or an attack by one individual on several still fits the one-on-one harm model of interpersonal violence. Once he selects his victim, the rapist, the mugger, or the murderer all want that person to suffer. A executive, on the other hand, does not want his employees to be harmed. He would truly prefer that there be no accident and no injured or dead workers. What he does want is something legitimate. It is what he has been hired to get: maximum profits at minimum costs. If he cuts corners to save a buck, he is just doing his job. If ten men die because he cut corners on safety, we may think him crude or callous but not a murderer. He is, at most, responsible for indirect harm not one-on-one harm. For this, he may even be criminally indictable for violating safety regulations but not for murder. The men are dead as an unwanted consequence of his (perhaps overzealous or under-cautious) pursuit of a legitimate goal. So, unlike the Typical Criminal, he has not committed the Typical Crime and therefore should not be a target of the criminal justice system—or so we generally believe. As a result, men are dead who might be alive now if cutting corners of the kind that leads to loss of life, whether specifically aimed at or not, were treated as murder.

This is our point. Because we accept the belief—encouraged by our politicians’ statements about crime and by the media’s portrayal of crime—that the model for crime is one person specifically and directly trying to harm another, we accept a legal system that leaves us unprotected against much greater dangers to our lives and well-being than those threatened by the Typical Criminal.

This focus on “individual crime” as opposed to the actions of institutions that harm us diverts us from focusing on those institutions and the economic, political and social structures that support them. From Reiman and Leighton pages 177-178:

Any criminal justice system like ours conveys a subtle yet powerful message in support of established
institutions. It does this for two interconnected reasons. First, it concentrates on individual wrongdoers. This means that it diverts our attention away from our institutions, away from consideration of whether our institutions themselves are wrong or unjust or indeed “criminal.”

Second, the criminal law is put forth as the minimum neutral ground rules for any social living. We are taught that no society can exist without rules against theft and violence, and thus the criminal law seems to be politically neutral: the minimum requirements for any society, the minimum obligations that any individual owes his or her fellows to make social life of any decent sort possible. Because the criminal law protects the established institutions (the prevailing economic arrangements are protected by laws against theft, and so on), attacks on those established institutions become equivalent to violations of the minimum requirements for any social life at all. In effect, the criminal law enshrines the established institutions as equivalent to the minimum requirements for any decent social existence—and it brands the individual who attacks those institutions as one who has declared war on all organized society and who must, therefore, be met with the weapons of war. Let us look more closely at this process.

What is the effect of focusing on individual guilt? Not only does this divert our attention from the possible evils in our institutions, but it also puts forth half the problem of justice as if it were the whole problem. To focus on individual guilt is to ask whether the individual citizen has fulfilled his or her obligations to his or her fellow citizens. It is to look away from the issue of whether the fellow citizens have fulfilled their obligations to him or her. To look only at individual responsibility is to look away from social responsibility. Writing about her stint as a “story analyst” for a prime-time TV “real crime” show based on videotapes of actual police busts, Debra Seagal describes the way focus on individual criminals deflects attention away from the social context of crime and how television reproduces this effect in millions of homes daily:

By the time our 9 million viewers flip on their tubes, we’ve reduced fifty or sixty hours of mundane and compromising video into short, action-packed segments of tantalizing, crack-filled, dope-dealing, junkiebusting cop culture. How easily we downplay the pathos of the suspect; how cleverly we breeze past the complexities that cast doubt on the very system that has produced the criminal activity in the first place

Seagal’s description illustrates as well how a television program that shows nothing but videos of actual events can distort reality by selecting and recombining pieces of real events.

A study of 69 TV crime dramas finds that fictional presentations of homicide focus on individual
motivations and ignore social conditions: “Television crime dramas portray these events as specific
psychological episodes in the characters’ lives and little, if any, effort is made to connect them to basic social institutions or the nature of society within which they occur.”15 (Criminology, too, focuses on why individuals break the law, and the study of neighborhoods, cities, and larger regions is “the road not taken.”16)

To look only at individual criminality is to close one’s eyes to social injustice and to close one’s ears to the question of whether our social institutions have exploited or violated the individual. Criminologists James Unnever and Shaun Gabbidon in their important book A Theory of African American Offending link black criminality with a “long history of public dishonor and ritualized humiliation”—including by the criminal justice system—due to racism.17 As a result, African Americans are less likely to have respect for the law and weaker bonds with conventional institutions. Focusing only on individual responsibility obscures the contribution of racism to African American criminality.

Justice is a two-way street—but criminal justice is a one-way street. Individuals owe obligations to their fellow citizens because their fellow citizens owe obligations to them. Criminal justice focuses on the first and looks away from the second. Thus, by focusing on individual responsibility for crime, the criminal justice system effectively acquits the existing social order of any charge of injustice!

This is an extremely important bit of ideological alchemy. It stems from the fact that the same act can be criminal or not, unjust or just, depending on the circumstances in which it takes place. Killing someone is ordinarily a crime, but if it is in self-defense or to stop a deadly crime, it is not. Taking property by force is usually a crime, but if the taking is retrieving what has been stolen, then no crime has been committed. Robin Hood’s thefts from the rich to give to the poor are seen as heroic and just even though the legal system run by the rich declared him a criminal. Further, acts of violence are ordinarily crimes, but if the violence is provoked by the threat of violence or by oppressive conditions, then, like the Boston Tea Party,18 what might ordinarily be called criminal (even terrorist) is celebrated as just.

This means that when we call an act a crime, we are also making an implicit judgment about the conditions in response to which it takes place. When we call an act a crime, we are saying that the conditions in which it occurs are not themselves criminal or deadly or oppressive or so unjust as to make an extreme response reasonable or justified or noncriminal. This means that when the system holds an individual responsible for a crime, it implicitly conveys the message that the social conditions in which the crime occurred are not responsible for the crime, that they are not so unjust as to make a violent response to them excusable.

Although we definitely need to take into account the social context within which society has been or not been responsible towards the individuals who commit crimes, we should also take into account that characterizing them as pure victims is one sided. To be a pure victim of society takes away the capacity and responsibility of individuals to make decisions towards their own social situation and towards others. Thomas Mathiesen (1980) calls the view that those who suffer from societal oppression and exploitation the symptom theory. The opposite theory, which attributes responsibility purely to individual activity, he calls action theory. From  Law, Society and Political Action Towards a Strategy under Late Capitalism, pages 243-244:

… it is also true that the ‘action theory’ which Hollie presents (the expression is mine, as a counterpart to ‘symptom theory’), leads, if that theory remains alone, to a one-sided reform-oriented policy out of touch with the fundamental conditions which necessitate the use of drugs for an increasing number of
people. While Hollie is right in emphasizing that the symptom theory alone is politically pacifying, the action theory alone is obstructive to the political perspective. The action theory is necessary for the mobilization to struggle, the symptom theory (or a refinement of the symptom theory) is necessary for the understanding of the forces one struggles against; neither of the theories is sufficient in itself; both are necessary because both contain elements which together comprise a total truth. Again the combination is implemented this way: the information which a given political action provides about the system which the action opposes is captured and made into common knowledge through continual discussion, so that a continually larger number become more and more alert to the deeper
premises of the system.

Both the victimization of individuals by the class system and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions are required–as are discussions of how individual actions against the class system affect that system.

Mathiesen’s distinction between symptom theory and action theory is useful since it addresses the problem of whether social structures completely determine our actions, or whether individuals can be agents of their own actions and change their social circumstances or conditions:

From Mathiesen, page 246:

The insurmountability of the structural barriers presupposes (i.e. has as a necessary and sufficient condition) precisely the political demoralization and passivity which follows from the perspective of
domination if it reigns alone. In other words, the insurmountability of the structural barriers presupposes a phenomenology, on the part of the suppressed with potential power, which emphasizes the futility of opposition. This phenomenology is itself generated by the domination perspective, if it prevails alone. The compelling imperatives of domination, the insurmountable boundaries of the structure, are, on the contrary, in principle able to be abolished if the main condition for domination—the political passivity, the phenomenology of futility—is abolished in those who are suppressed and also have potential power. In society a series of consciousness-producing agencies are established, the function of which is precisely to maintain the ‘domination perspective’ as a single perspective among the suppressed. Thus the surmountability of domination, which exists in principle, is prevented from being materialized.

This does not mean, if we return to the economic level of the mode of production, that the individual capitalist may act very differently from normal if he wishes to survive. Neither does it mean that the individual worker may act very differently if he wishes to survive. For both, individually, the structural barriers constitute insurmouhtable boundaries for action: the capitalist must accumulate
in order to survive; the worker must sell his labour in order to survive. It does tnean, however, that the workers collectively may break the barriers of the structure. In principle and in the end the workers can, if they stand entirely united and ict in unison—nationally and internationally— with one stroke abolish the earlier insurmountable and structural barriers.

It should be sufficient from the above that Hornick deals with rhetoric, cliches or abstract slogans by claiming that correction officers “keep us safe.”

Not only does Hornick, by claiming that corrections officers “keep us safe,” assume that those who are in prison are the real threat to our lives, but she assumes that she (like her fellow former trade-union bureaucrat, Herman Rosenfeld, who refers to the police protecting us from murder and theft  (see Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two),there is some homeogenous “we” (direct object form “us” in her “keep us safe”) that are being kept safe by corrections officers (and others, like the police).This is another myth and cliché. From Reiman and Leighton, page 173:

Households with annual income below the poverty level were victims of violent crimes at a rate nearly twice that for high-income households. Indeed, as Table 4.1 shows, rates of victimization by all categories of “common” crime are substantially higher for the poorest segment of the population and drop dramatically as we ascend the economic ladder.

The difference in the rates of property-crime victimization between rich and poor understates the difference in the harms that result. The poor are far less likely than the affluent to have insurance against theft, and because they have little to start with, what they lose to theft takes a much deeper bite out of their ability to meet their basic needs. Needless to add, the various noncriminal harms documented in Chapter 2 (occupational hazards, pollution, poverty, and so on) also fall more harshly on workers and those at the bottom of society than on those at the top.

What is Hornick’s situation? Would she face the same probability of experiencing a crime, violent or non-violent, when compared with the lower levels of the working class? As a professor at the School of Labour, in 1921, she received $116,957.02 + $74.25 in benefits, for a total of $117,031.27 (https://www.sunshineliststats.com/Salary/jphornick/2021/9/?employer=georgebrowncollegeofappliedartsandtechnology&f=1).  Hornick is much less likely to experience crime, however defined, than the lower echelons of the working class. Her reference to the work of corrections officers who “keep US safe,” hides how the legal system is both bias against the lower layers of the working class and their personal actions when compared to the impersonal but violent actions of employers and against the greater likelihood of being incarcerated.

False (Hidden) Assumption 5: Implicit Connection Between the So-Called Exceptional Risks Taken by Corrections Officers and the Risks Taken by Police Officers

When we look at the OPSEU webpage for the event “Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance”  ( https://opseu.org/event/2022-corrections-ceremony-of-remembrance/#:~:text=The%202022%20Corrections%20Ceremony%20of,Park%20Cres%20E%2C%20Toronto%20ON.), we read the following:

2022 Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance

Corrections Bargaining Unit logo
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

The 2022 Corrections Ceremony of Remembrance, which honours Correctional workers who died in the line of duty, takes place May 3 at 12 noon at Queen’s Park.

The ceremony takes place beside the Ontario Police Memorial Park, at  23 Queen’s Park Cres E, Toronto ON.  Queen’s Park Circle. It is just to the east of the legislative buildings.

It is instructive to note that the place of the memorial for corrections officers who have died at work is “beside the Ontario Police Memorial Park.” This is hardly a coincidence. The memorial for murdered correction officers is obviously meant to be closely tied to murdered police officers. Toronto Police Service

We read the following (http://Ontario Police Memorial – Toronto, Ontario, Canada):

Ontario Police Memorial – Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Ontario Police Memorial

Preserving the memory of fallen officers

The Ontario Police Memorial is dedicated to all of the brave police officers in Ontario’s history who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The memorial is made up of a bronze statue of a male and female officer standing atop a large granite pedestal. The names of fallen officers are carved into a granite wall – the Wall of Honour – that stands on each side of the pedestal.

The words, “Heroes in Life, Not Death,” are carved on the memorial. This is to recognize that police officers risk their lives, every day, to protect people and neighbourhoods, and deserve the respect and gratitude of the citizens they serve [my emphasis]. The Ontario Police Memorial is in a small park at the corner of Queen’s Park Crescent and Grosvenor Street in Toronto.

Given the intent of making a close tie between murdered correction officers at work and murdered police officers at work, and given that the main function of the police is to maintain social order in an exploitative and oppressive society dominated by a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism), it is highly likely that the main function of correction officers is also to maintain social order in an exploitative and oppressive society–and not “to protect people and neighbourhoods,” After all, there is an obviously close connection between the power of the  police to arrest and the prison system.

Conclusion

Ms. Hornick’s political tendency is towards social reformism at best. She makes a number of false assumptions (more or less open) concerning the work of corrections officers and unions. Unions do not, generally, have the power to enforce health and safety on the job. The legal system does not protect us agains the major dangers that we face in our lives. Prisons do not provide us with protection against violent crimes. Prisons do not protect us from discriminatory practices against the lower-sections of the working class and Aboriginal and Afro-American peoples. Corrections officers no more than police protect us from many of the dangers that we face but rather protect a system that involves systemic exploitation and oppression.

My prediction is that Ms. Hornick, as leader of OPSEU, will be more militant than the former president Mr. Warren “Smokey” Thomas, but she will still be a typical union bureaucrat. Her belief in the collective-bargaining system as a system that produces “fair contracts” is typical of most Canadian union reps. Furthermore, her belief that corrections officers really “keep us safe,” although it contains a grain of truth, hides the reality of many unsafe environments for Canadian workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three

The attitude of much of the left in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere in Canada and the world) is that working for an employer is not all that bad. Why else would the left not object to references to “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth by union reps, or the coupling of some needed labour-law reforms and an increase in the minimum wage in Ontario with the concept of “fairness”? (All these terms are used by the social-democratic left in Toronto.) This attitude of treating working for an employer as really not that bad is something they share with their bourgeois counterparts.

Personal crime is considered to be real crime–but corporate crime is not really treated as something as bad or worse than personal crime. This can be seen when comparing the attitude of Canadian federal legislation towards personal crime and the attitude of that government and other participants when formulating legislation that was supposed to protect workers from acts deemed criminal in nature by corporations following the Westray mine explosion. The first quotation relates to the government’s attitude towards personal crime. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 2:

Consistent with the cultural obsession over crime control, in the fall of 2003, the Canadian government introduced stringent new anti-violence legislation aimed at some of Canada’s worst offenders – those with a well documented track record of reckless behaviour and responsibility for multiple and egregious acts of violence. The legislation had all-party support (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 367), signalling a consensus for the need to better protect Canadians from violent crime. The government characterized its legislative initiative as a significant step towards ensuring that offenders are held criminally responsible for their harmful behaviour (Department of Justice Canada 2003). Legal observers suggested that it represented a fundamental change, perhaps even a revolution, in assigning criminal liability (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 368). News items cautioned would-be criminals that they were in for a wake-up call once the new law took effect (Mann 2004: 29). It thus appeared that if violent crime was the problem, then harsh new penalties were the solution.

The proposed legislation for corporate crime expressed a different attitude in various ways, such as the time elapsed between the Westray mine explosion (May 9, 1992) and the proposal for legislation for corporate crime, or the attitude of participants in the legislative process concerning the seriousness of the crime. From Little, page 2:

However, peeling back the veneer of the federal government’s so-called crackdown on violent crime reveals a much different story. To start, it took more than ten years to introduce a new law in response to a single and violent mass killing in which twenty-six Canadians died. What is more, despite widespread political support, many politicians – particularly those with an affinity for law-and-order policies – cautioned against going too far in terms of holding offenders criminally responsible for their harmful acts (Bittle and Snider 2006). Also curious was that both the media and general public expressed little interest in the new law, hardly the status quo for issues of violent crime. Moreover, since its enactment, there have been only two charges laid; a particularly worrisome trend given that recent research reveals an increase in the forms of violence that the legislation was intended to address (Sharpe and Hardt 2006). In fact, it would appear that the most significant development associated with the new legislation is the emergence of a crime (un)control industry, one in which lawyers offer for-fee courses that potential offenders can take to learn about the new law and the steps they must follow to avoid criminal responsibility (for example, see Gonzalez 2005; Guthrie 2004).

The focus on violent personal crime that leads to injury or death and the absence of such focus on corporate crime that leads to injury or death is tantamount to a form of silent indoctrination. Such silent indoctrination parallels the silent indoctrination of school history curricula, which do not permit students to come to understand how and why employers (and employees) arose (see previous posts on this silent indoctrination in schools).

This focus on violent personal crime, of course, forms the regular diet of many television programs. Similarly, the silence concerning violent corporate crimes (if indeed they are considered crimes at all) also forms the regular diet of most television programs and documentaries.

Should there not be constant discussion concerning this silent indoctrination within the labour movement? Is there? If not, why not? Or is the macro problem of around one thousand workers dying every year at work and hundreds of thousands of injuries (and diseases) not a problem that is to be immediately addressed but only “in the long run?” For those who die or who are injured, there is no “long run” since the problem which they face is immediate and due to ignoring the macro problem in the past.

Where is the left that is bringing out these issues? Or is the left busy formulating platitudes, such as “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth? ]

Does not the left have an attitude that working for an employer is really not all that bad? Do they not share the same attitude as the politicians, who did not want to go too far in the legislation? Or those on the left who talk of “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth while all the while assuming that decent work, fairness and economic justice can somehow be realized while the class power of employers still exists.

What do you think?

Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers

In the context of the process of passing legislation related to the Westray mining disaster (ultimately diluted to satisfy the interests of employers), a union representative explicitly expressed the reality that workers face when they work for employers. The problem with this explicit admission of the power of employers is that it does not play any real role in the education of the working class. Compare what is said below with union rhetoric about “decent jobs” or a “fair wage.” From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster, doctoral dissertation, page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

“…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

One of the distinguishing features of human beings is our capacity to choose–our capacity to be free, to make decisions. The union representative openly admits that in the context of businesses, it is management that mainly decides and that all that a collective agreement does is restrict the authority of management to decide. Regulation and legislation, in a few cases, also limit that authority. Other than that, management has dictatorial powers at work. In other words, workers are treated as things at work–as objects to be used; they are thing-like objects, without the power to participate equally in decisions that affect their lives.

And the social-reformist left repeatedly refer to “decent jobs” and “fairness.” Even the so-called radical left (see the previous post, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right) engage in such rhetoric. How being treated as things can be magically converted into decent jobs and fair wages is beyond me. The religious nature of this rhetoric (most frequently expressed by trade unionists) is obvious by the lack of any critical discussion concerning whether it reflects the experience of the millions (and indeed billions) of workers worldwide.

What do you think of the above honest statement of the reality or situation of even the more privileged section of the working class (for, generally, unionized workers are more privileged) when compared to the rhetoric of “decent work” and “fair wages” or “fairness” as expressed by the social-reformist left (and even the radical left)?

Should we not start discussing these issues openly and honestly? Are we? If we are not, why are we not doing so?

Getting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law

Steven Bittle, in his doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster (Kingston, Ontario: Queen’s University argues the following (from page ii):

Overall, the dissertation suggests that the assumptions that animated Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation and the meanings inscribed in its provisions throw serious doubt on its ability to hold corporations legally accountable for their harmful, anti-social acts. There is little reason to believe that the Westray bill will produce a crackdown on safety crimes, or seriously challenge corporations to address workplace injuries and death. While it will hold some corporations and corporate actors accountable – and thus far it has been the smallest and weakest – the primary causes of workplace injury and death (e.g., the tension between profit maximization and the costs of safety and the relative worth of workers/employees versus owners and investors) will continue.

The typical presentation of what is dangerous in our society is–crime. You merely have to look at the different tv shows (or Netflix shows) that have as their theme murder (one person or serial) compared to the number of shows that show how serious corporate actions lead to death and injury.

However, this focus on individual crime and violence goes hand in hand with a lack of focus on social crime and social violence–the violence of a class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class.

This lack of focus on the violence of the class of employers and the violence of the social structure is reflected in the social democratic left’s general attitude towards “accidents” at work. Undoubtedly, at particular work sites, and with particular union representatives, there is a sustained effort to reduce the possibility of injury and death. However, such efforts are inadequate because they do not address the systemic impact of the pursuit of profit on shifting the burden of danger towards workers (and, it should be said, consumers).

If the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular took seriously the violence perpetrated by the class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class, would they not begin a movement for the abolition of the class of employers and the social structure that supports that class? Is there any such movement in Canada? Perhaps there is, but I am unaware of such a movement.

In a previous post, it was pointed out that about double the number of workers die each year on the job when compared to the number of murders in Canada (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers) . Should this fact not be a constant topic of discussion for workers, for citizens, for permanent residents and for non-status immigrants?

What do you think of the health and safety of workers who work for an employer? Should it be a topic for constant discussion?