What’s Left, Toronto? Part Seven

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (also posted on YouTube) (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier posts, over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

This post is the last post in the series since it looks at the last talk by David Kidd, introduced by Herman Rosenfeld as a community worker, trade-union activist and as a political activist. Mr. Kidd was supposed to talk about some of the challenges and options the left have.

Mr. Kidd opened by claiming that he was going to provide a Twitter version of some of the left-activist projects in Toronto since he had limited time. It was indeed a Twitter version–and the weakest “analysis” of all the talks.

Mr. Kidd first outlines how, in the 1970s, he took a stance between either the choice of liberal or Tory (conservative) at the municipal, provincial or federal level (Canadian politics is usually analyzed at one or more of these three levels). Mr. Kidd acted negatively by tearing down any Conservative signs since he aimed to ensure, where he immediately lived, that it was a Tory-free zone.

He then refers back to the 1950s and 1960s. The Toronto Labour Council was instrumental in obtaining a public transit system and a public education system. In the 1950s, it campaigned against the racist discrimination of blacks and other people of colour to gain access to restaurants and other places as well as against the anti-Semitic and racist policies of exclusion to recreational facilities.

The 1970s and the 1980s were a period of struggle of massive community mobilizations and organizations for, for example,tenants’ rights and against gentrification. Women’s groups emerged to fight for their rights. This period also saw opposition to the far right and to fascist movements. A movement against carding also was initiated as was a movement for police accountability. The fight for gay and lesbian rights started to develop despite violent attacks against gays and lesbians.

Fights against business-oriented initiatives, such as the attempt to bring the Olympics to Toronto, were defeated in 1996 as organizations for the rights of the homeless fought back. The left gained a victory in this instance.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the public-sector unions and environmental groups fight back against privatization. This period saw the fight against the amalgamation of the city and the emergence of such leftist organizations as Black Lives Matter, No One Is Illegal and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Mr. Kidd then tries to explain the shift towards a right-wing populism because of two economic crises in Toronto and the increase in homelessness. Deindustrialization has led to a decrease in decent paying jobs. The emergence of a substantial working-class poor has led to their blaming others and to a shift towards right populism. The municipal left also failed to offer solutions to problems they were facing.

Municipal activism is rooted in the communities in the city, but so too is the fight for democracy. The fight for democracy is like the fight against oppression. Both involve a daily fight and should not be conceived as something that you win and then is finished.

What is necessary is to renew the left’s analysis and its strategic sense of how to build working-class power.

Mr. Kidd then refers to Doug Ford’s elections and the need to build community councils again. In particular, it is necessary to build parent councils once again that, in the past, had some decision-making power at the school-board level.

Ultimately, the left cannot count just on the elected officials at City Hall but need to build local community organizations that will fight for people’s needs.

Mr. Kidd then claims that, as socialists, the left need to build programmatic unity on where it needs to go. The fight against the Conservative Harris Ontario government in the past was purely negative–to stop Harris. Consequently, welfare rights 20 years later are still at the same level. Subsequent governments did not raise them nor did they undo some of the attacks on welfare rights instituted by the Harris government. The same logic applies to subsequent governments after Ford loses power, Mr. Kidd implies–unless the left does something different.

What Mr. Kidd means by “programmatic” is what the audience has heard from other presenters, who have shown what is necessary in order to talk to people about where to go. The free transit movement and Stefan Kipfer’s presentation on housing are examples of what needs to be done (descriptions of these are found in my previous posts on this topic–as are criticisms of them). The left cannot count on the market to achieve its goals. It needs public land banking, expropriation, public housing, co-ops and nationalized affordable housing. It needs to maintain free public education and healthcare. The left needs to protect and expand public assets in Toronto.

Finally, what is needed is a Municipal Human Rights Code since discrimination is still the daily experience of queer, racialized and elder members of Toronto. What is needed is a city that is for all its citizens and not just taxpayers.

Mr. Kidd’s description of various struggles sounds very radical–but it really is a rehash of social-democratic demands of an expanded public sector, supplemented by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that are linked to community organization. Mr. Kidd’s socialism is really welfare capitalism. Not once does Mr. Kidd question the power of employers as a class.

Mr. Kidd mentions necessary community organizations required to fight for what he calls socialism, such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), and yet as I showed in a previous post, OCAP, although it recognizes economic coercion via the power of employers as a class with one hand, ignores it subsequently when dealing with social proposals and solutions with the other hand (see “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)

Mr. Kidd, like much of the social-democratic left, idealizes the public sector. What is needed, for them, is the expansion of the public sector. The social-democratic left, however, rarely inquire into the adequacy of the public sector to express either the interests of public sector workers or the interests of workers in general. They assume that the existing relations will prevail and that all that will change is the quantitative weight of the public sector relative to the private sector.

Mr. Kidd, like many of the social-democratic left, do not bother to consider the adequacy, for example, of the current educational system in terms of quality. What they propose is an expansion of services under present conditions rather than a radical restructuring of education in relation, for instance, to work.

Rather than repeat what I have written elsewhere, I refer the interested reader to links to some of my publications and writings as found on my home page. I am adding another link that is directly more relevant to educational issues: A Deweyan Review of the the Chicago Teachers’ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools (2012).

Although Mr. Kidd’s proposals may help people in one way or another, they also can be co-opted and integrated into the capitalist economic and political structures. Each proposal he has made has nothing specifically socialist about it. Such proposals are socialist only if they are linked to a more radical program of eliminating both the power of employers as a class and the social, economic and political structures associated with that power.

The same could be said of Mr. Kidd’s reference to the need for a Municipal Human Rights Code. Although this and other such measures may help workers and citizens in particular situations, such measures fail to address the issue of the power of employers as a class. None of the references made by Mr. Kidd have any link to questioning the power of employers as a class. They are reformist measures as such. Furthermore, in a post that I will send in the distant future, I will point out the inadequate nature of “human rights” personally, when I filed a human rights complaint for political discrimination (something which Mr. Kidd fails to mention–typical of the social-democratic left).

Mr. Kidd did indeed provide a twitter version of the struggles in which he has been involved. Such struggles are reformist through and through. This should surprise no one. Mr. Kidd has been a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) organizer and executive member of local 79. He evidently prides himself on his activism–but there is no indication whatsoever that Mr. Kidd has ever intended, through his activities, in contributing to the creation of a new kind of society without classes in general and without employers in particular. His reference to “decent paying jobs” tips his hand.

There is no indication that Mr. Kidd has ever intended to contribute to the radical restructuring of social, economic and political institutions in such a way that human beings finally control their own life process rather than having their lives controlled by objectified social, economic and political structures which they create but do not control. His aim is to achieve “decent paying jobs” supplemented by a welfare state–hardly anything “radical.” Mr. Kidd, like much of the social-democratic left, want to turn back the clock to the 1950s and 1960s, when workers obtained increased wage gains and expanded their benefits–but he forgets that the economic times have changed and that the capitalist economy is not the same as it was then. Moreover, even during the 1950s and 1960s, workers were treated as things–something about which Mr. Kidd is silent. As long as workers receive “decent paying jobs” while being treated as things, Mr. Kidd will be content. Such is the implicit view of those who refer to “decent paying jobs.”

In general, then, the series of talks which claim to be radical fall far short of being radical. They are all in one way or another reformist and have no intention of questioning the class structure of modern society. Even the most radical of them–presented by Michelle Lee of No One Is Illegal–fails to live up to its own potentiality.

This series of talks should have been named: What’s Left, Toronto? Social-Reformist Alternatives for the City Election.

I will leave these radicals to their own delusions. I hope that by exposing the limitations of such views, others will abandon such delusions and see more clearly what needs to be done.

 

The Contradictions of Unions: Reformist and Radical Assessments

Steven Tufts, in an article first published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, on The Star website, and republished on the Socialist Project website on September 25 (Pension Plans Should Not Invest in Companies That Harm Working People), tries to show that, despite unions consciously disassociating themselves from investments that harm workers, their own pension fund managers may pursue policies that contradict such conscious disassociation.

(As an aside, Professor Tufts is a representative of the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC).

He writes:

For example, Caesar’s Entertainment partnered with Oxford Properties, the real-estate investment arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). Community groups lead by No Casino Toronto did successfully mobilize against these proposals, which divided council at the time. Members of CUPE Local 79 also deputed against the proposals as front-line city workers would have had to deal with the negative social and economic impacts of gambling.

At the same time, fund managers at OMERS, the pension fund of Local 79 members, deputed on the economic virtues of casino development. Here we see the contradictions of pension fund investments that negatively impact the very workers making contributions.

However, Professor Tufts does not question how unions can escape this situation. Pension funds generally have to invest money in some capitalist companies, and those companies are expected to obtain a profit. If this is the case, then there is a typical social-reformist strategy of opposing particular kinds of investments or particular kinds of employers while implicitly accepting the need for capitalist investments in general or the need for a set of employers.

In other words, does not any investment “harm workers?” Professor Tuft remains silent on how workers can escape this contradiction. Of course, there are degrees of harm of workers by employers, with some employers definitely treating workers worse than other employers. However, do not all employers harm workers by necessarily treating them as things to be used to obtain more money (private sector) or by excluding them from the right to determine the purpose of their work (public sector)? (See The Money Circuit of Capital).

Professor Tuft further states:

All workers deserve pensions, but pension funds for some built on tax cuts and privatization schemes are neither just nor sustainable over the long term. Unions continue to shield themselves against efforts to politicize pension investments, but this has a cost.

This criticism aims at the neoliberal model of “tax cuts and privatization schemes.” What if the pension schemes did not rely on such tax cuts and privatization schemes? What happens if they relied on merely–exploiting other workers in a non-neoliberal way (as they did before the emergence of neoliberalism)? Would that eliminate the contradiction between workers’ interests as workers and their interests as future retirees? I fail to see how it would.

Indeed, Professor Tuft states:

It is time for union leaders to confront pension plans that seek to transform our cities in ways that harm working people.

Surely, all pension plans, whether private or public, are riveted with the basic contradiction of being funded by workers while being used to exploit and oppress other workers. This contradiction cannot be abolished without abolishing the situation where a class of employers exploits and oppresses a class of workers called employees.

If this basic contradiction is acknowledged, then variations in levels of harm to working people can then be assessed. However, as it stands, Professor Tufts’ article implies that there can be “pension plans that seek to transform our cities in ways that” do not harm working people. Such a view is typical of reformist policies that fail to address the harm necessarily caused to workers because of the existence of a class of employers and the accompanying economic and political structure.

By not acknowledging the general harm that all employers pose for working people, Professor Tuft does not acknowledge the need to create organizations that oppose the class power of employers as such.

Obviously, some employers are better than others. However, the social-democratic left never get around to criticizing employers as such. They remind me of movies and television programs. Often, particular police officers or particular companies are presented as bad–but not the police function as such or employers as such.

Despite Professor Tuft’s evident desire to go beyond the limitations of union principles, he evidently operates within them implicitly since he assumes that workers’ pension plans can somehow magically overcome the contradiction of exploiting and oppressing workers by not following the neoliberal model–as if the capitalist relations of exploitation and oppression did not exist before the emergence of neoliberalism.

Should we not go beyond the limits of neoliberalism and challenge the economic and political power of the class of employers?