The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Four

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers.

I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience.

Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee.

I and others on the Substitute Teachers’ Committee created a survey for substitute teachers and used the results of such a survey to criticize the policy of the WTA of permitting only permanent teachers the right to apply for permanent positions (substitute teachers paid association dues and consisted of usually 700-900 paying members of around 4000 members, but they did not have the right to apply for permanent positions).

 

For October 2007 newsletter

In the last letter to the editor, it was pointed out that education unites the end (as an ideal) with the means, and the means with the end (as actual result). The question that needs to be posed is what the implications for such a view of the nature of education are. Human beings are, by nature, more concerned with the ends as final result than with the means required to reach the end. This assertion has its basis in the biological nature of humans as living beings. Unlike inanimate beings, all living beings, as living beings, require to maintain their existence through action on the environment. Their own nature is to seek to maintain themselves as living beings through such action. The end of their action is the maintenance of life, and in that sense human nature, as a part of the living process, is no different.

If human beings naturally focus more on ends than means, then the education process must shift children’s focus to the means required to achieve ends as well as providing conditions for children to learn how to coordinate the ends and means in conjugate relation with each other. The education process should begin with the ends of children, but should end with the children being capable of coordinating ends and means in an increasingly broader and more profound manner. The question that must be asked

In elementary schools, does the learning process begin with the ends of children and gradually shift focus to the means necessary to achieve specific ends? Is the curriculum designed to achieve the harmony between, on the one hand, the nature of children as beings who focus mainly on the ends of activities and the requirements of the subject matter, which are primarily means?

In secondary schools, with a greater focus on specialized studies, have the curriculum designers consciously incorporated into the structure of the curriculum provisions for enabling children, for a time, to consider consciously and willingly the study of specialized studies as ends in themselves? Do children, subsequently, learn to coordinate the learning of the specialized studies (which are refined forms of the experiences of human beings and constitute more generalized means for the achievement of diverse ends) with their own ends?

Can teachers, who are responsible for pedagogical execution, engage in education effectively if the curriculum structure prevents a shift from ends to means and then to their coordination? In other words, are pedagogical methods (such as differentiated instruction) sufficiently powerful to compensate for a curriculum structure that fails to address the necessary connection between means and ends?

Fred Harris, substitute teacher

The following appeared in the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association newsletter to explain how the survey of the substitute teachers was constructed:

Draft Results of Survey Held at General Meeting of Substitute Teachers, October 11 General Meeting and Survey

On October 11 a general meeting of substitute teachers was held to elect representatives to the Council. At the time of elections, there were 33 eligible voters, including myself.

At the meeting, the substitute teachers present were asked to fill out a survey proposed by the Substitute Teachers Committee and approved by the executive; 91 percent of those who could vote did fill out the survey—an excellent response rate.

Structure of the Survey

The survey was divided into four sections, with the fourth section asking whether the substitute teacher is retired or not. I therefore will present the general results in two ways: percentages in terms of those substitute teachers who are not retired for the first three sections and percentages in terms of those who are retired for the final section. I will begin with substitute teachers who are not retired.

First Section of Survey: How Long Substitutes Have Been Substituting

The first section refers to the period of time for substitute teaching. Forty-six percent of substitute teachers are short-term (0-3 years); 19 percent are mid-term (4-9 years); and 35 percent are long-term substitute teachers (10+ years).

This last statistic should give us pause for thought. Substitute teaching may have become a career for one-third of substitute teachers.

It may be said that these statistics are skewed. They undoubtedly are. To overcome such bias, it would be necessary to have a list of all substitute teachers in the WTA, either to survey them all or to survey substitute teachers on a random basis.

Second Section: Priorities of Substitute Teachers and Possible Problems

The second section of the survey looks at possible areas of concern to substitute teachers, and each has a rating of 1 for least important and 10 for most important. In this report, I will focus only on what the substitute teachers considered to be the three most important concerns, with the distribution as follows:

The number one concern of substitute teachers is the lack of a right to apply for posted positions, followed by salary and benefits.

Given that the lack of a right to apply for posted positions is the number one concern of substitute teachers, and given that the policy of the WTA is to uphold the Division’s policy of prohibiting substitute teachers and term teachers from being considered for permanent hire on the grounds that permitting substitute teachers access to job postings would decrease mobility among permanent contract teachers, then there is a potential conflict between the interests of substitute teachers and permanent contract teachers within the WTA. Some may say that such a view that recognizes a possible conflict of interest between two different sets of members is divisive. However, as the philosopher of education, John Dewey, pointed out, it is necessary to make explicit conflicts if we are to solve them. Human beings in this society are commodities, things to be bought and sold. There is competition among workers in such a situation. To the extent that there are a limited number of permanent contract positions relative to the supply of teachers, then there will be competition, and that competition may lead to conflict among workers, unless there is a mechanism that regulates and reduces that competition in some fashion.

If substitute teachers want to have access to job postings, and the WTA policy is to exclude them from such access, is there not a conflict? If there is a conflict, what is to be done about it?

Third Section: Economic Importance of Substitute Teaching for Substitutes

The third and last section refers to the extent to which substitute teaching is economically important to the substitute teachers. Fifty percent of them rely primarily on substitute teaching within the Division for their economic livelihood. Sixty-five percent of the substitute teachers primarily rely on substitute teaching, term teaching or a combination of the two within the WSD. In other words, about two-thirds mainly rely economically on employment with WSD.

Fourth Section: Retired Teachers as Substitute Teachers

For retired teachers, there is no pattern for sections one and three, perhaps due to the very small sample size. For section two, their top priority is benefits, followed by the lack of a right to apply for positions (with the qualification that 50 percent of the retired substitute teachers indicated their solidarity with non-retired substitute teachers and not for themselves).

In addition, I drafted the substitute teachers’ concerns to the Council (a monthly meeting of school representatives and the executive of the WTA):

Draft Report of Fred Harris, Chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee, to Council, October 16 [2007]

On October 11, last Thursday, a general meeting of substitute teachers was held to elect representatives to this Council. At the time of elections, there were 33 eligible voters, including myself. Dave provided an overview of how Council works before the elections. Two people were elected to Council, Linda Kirkwood and Fred Standil. After the elections, Dave addressed some of the possible concerns that I had raised, and Henry followed by some of my other concerns. The question period that followed was very lively, especially around the issue of why the Division has implemented a policy of forcing substitute teachers to provide a reason why they are refusing jobs and stopping the computer system from calling them after three or four refusals.

At the meeting, the substitute teachers present were asked to fill out a survey proposed by the Substitute Teachers Committee and approved by the executive; 91 percent of those who could vote did fill out the survey.

I will divide my report of the survey in two: firstly, I will provide an overview of the results of the survey using descriptive statistics, not inferential statistics. Inferential statistics might be useful, but the sample size may be too small. Secondly, I will comment on the number of substitute teachers who attended.

The survey was divided into four sections, with the fourth section asking whether the substitute teacher is retired or not. I therefore will present the general results in two ways: those substitute teachers who are not retired and those who are retired. I will begin with substitute teachers who are not retired.

The first section refers to the period of time for substitute teaching. The percentage of non-retired substitute teachers who have substituted without a permanent contract for 0 to 3 years is 43 percent, for 4-6 years, 17 percent, for 7-9 years, 3 percent, for 10-12 years, 17 percent and 13 years or more, 17 percent. We can streamline this a bit by providing three categories: 43 percent of substitute teachers are short-term (0-3 years); 20 percent are mid-term (4-9 years); and 34 percent are long-term substitute teachers (10+ years).

This last statistic should give us pause for thought. Substitute teaching may have become a career for one-third of substitute teachers.

It may be said that these statistics are skewed. They undoubtedly are. To overcome such bias, it would be necessary to have a list of all substitute teachers in the WTA, either to survey them all or to survey substitute teachers on a random basis, with a smaller sample size than the total number of substitute teachers but with a larger sample size than the 30 responses that we obtained.

The second section of the survey looks at possible areas of concern to substitute teachers, and each has a rating of 1 for least important and 10 for most important. In this report, I will focus only on what the substitute teachers considered to be the most important concerns in five cases, with the distribution as follows:

The number one concern of substitute teachers is the lack of a right to apply for posted positions, followed by salary and benefits, and two further priorities: firstly, cancellation of a position when arriving at school and, secondly, the extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour.

Given that the lack of a right to apply for posted positions is the number one concern of substitute teachers, and given that the policy of the WTA is to uphold the Division’s policy of prohibiting substitute teachers and term teachers from being considered for permanent hire on the grounds that permitting substitute teachers access to job postings would decrease mobility among permanent contract teachers, then there is a potential conflict between the interests of substitute teachers and permanent contract teachers within the WTA. Some may say that such a view that recognizes a possible conflict of interest between two different sets of members is divisive. However, as the philosopher of education, John Dewey, pointed out, it is necessary to make explicit conflicts if we are to solve them. Human beings in this society are commodities, things to be bought and sold. There is competition among workers in such a situation. To the extent that there are a limited number of permanent contract positions relative to the supply of teachers, then there will be competition, and that competition may lead to conflict among workers, unless there is a mechanism that regulates and reduces that competition in some fashion.

If substitute teachers want to have access to job postings, and the WTA policy is to exclude them from such access, is there not a conflict? If there is a conflict, what is to be done about it?

The third and last section, which refers to the extent to which substitute teaching is economically important to the substitute teachers, presented a few problems. My intent was to have the substitute teachers check off one, and only one, choice. Six of the replies contain more than one check mark. Rather than excluding them, I have attempted to categorize them into only one of the categories, according to my interpretation of the intent of their answer.

Sixty-five percent of the substitute teachers primarily rely on substitute teaching, term teaching or a combination of the two within the WSD. In other words, about two-thirds mainly rely economically on employment with WSD. Furthermore, fifty percent of them rely primarily on substitute teaching for their economic livelihood.

For retired teachers, there is no pattern for sections one and three, perhaps due to the very small sample size. For section two, their top priority is benefits, followed by the lack of a right to apply for positions (with the qualification that 50 percent of the retired substitute teachers indicated their solidarity with non-retired substitute teachers and not for themselves) and, finally, the extent to which there is a lack of information, clarity or support concerning disciplinary procedures within schools for disruptive student behaviour

Turning now to the number of substitute teachers who attended the meeting, as I said, there were 33 eligible voters, but this number is about five percent of the substitute teachers on the substitute list in the Division.

One undoubted factor in limiting the number of substitute teachers who attended was a lack of a list of substitute teachers. Last year, however, at about this time, about 80 substitute teachers attended the general meeting. A drop of about 100 percent in the attendance of substitute teachers cannot be explained by a lack of a list of substitute teachers since there was no list available to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee last year either. Furthermore, in other organizations—such as unions—where there exists a current list of all members, attendance at union meetings frequently is only 10 percent of the number of members.

It may be said that the substitute teachers—or other union members—freely chose to not attend. They individually chose to not attend. Ultimately, it is an individual decision, for it is not an abstraction called an organization or society that decides, but a group of individuals.

I use the word “ultimately,” however. It is individuals who decide, but their decision ought to be made on the basis of an informed understanding of their situation.

My hypothesis of why many substitute teachers would not attend even if they knew about the gen4eral meeting is that they see little point in it: it does not, from their point of view, contribute to their control over their own lives. They lack hope in changing their lives.

Let me explain by way of illustration. I am writing my doctoral dissertation on a comparison of John Dewey’s philosophy of education and Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education. Freire was a Brazilian educator of adults, and he wrote, among works, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and A Pedagogy of Hope. In those works, he noted how adults would blame themselves for their poverty, including the literal starvation to death of their children, rather than the extreme concentration of the ownership of land, machinery, buildings and so forth among around two percent of the population.

Freire too argues that, ultimately, it is individuals who decide, but decisions that exclude a consideration of the social and economic context within which the individuals live are not free decisions. The educational task, for Freire, is to have people understand their own social situation so that they can make informed decisions. In other words, education is to develop their own capacities to be self-determining human beings.

Relating this now to a lack of turnout among substitute teachers, it is a defeatist attitude to use the lack of participation by adults in an organization as an excuse to do nothing about such a lack of participation. The reality is indeed that there is a lack of participation by substitute teachers in this organization. But present reality has two sides to it: the actualization of the potentialities of the past, and the potentialities of the present which may actualized in the future. To restrict reality to merely the actualization of past potentialities limits what human beings can do and limits the educational task. To expand reality to include the potentialities of the present opens up what Freire called the untested feasibility, or a pedagogy of hope.

If the reality which we experience does not accord with what we would like, then we need to look at the potentialities of that reality to see whether we can change reality by actualizing other potentialities and by eliminating those aspects of reality which cause us problems.

I suspect—and it is only an hypothesis—but an hypothesis based on my conversations with a number of substitute teachers and others over the years—that one of the main—though by no means the only—reasons why substitute teachers and others do not participate is their lack of hope for any real change to occur as a result of their participation. They see no point in it. They have lost hope of gaining control over their own lives.

To change that situation, as a start, I would strongly urge all Council representatives here present to ensure that substitute teachers have access, on a monthly basis, to the WTA newsletter as far as possible, whether via mailbox, posting on the bulletin board in the staff lounge or by some other method. It is my understanding that an extra copy of the newsletter is provided to each Council representative, so what I am requesting is feasible. Admittedly, this is a small step, but any change requires initial steps. The newsletter could become a more important means by which to enlist the participation of substitute teachers—and indeed permanent contract teachers—in this Association.

Apparently, there was some controversy whether the above report was going to be censored or not (I did not remember this when I searched for my work as the chair of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee of the WTA):

There may be several aspects of the article to which the Public Relations Committee and this executive find objectionable. I will try to address what I think might raise concerns.

I will justify the article in my own way and not on conventional grounds. I would like to hear others’ grounds for objecting to the article.

At the general meeting of substitute teachers, on October 11, what I heard gave me the distinct impression that the WTA supports the WSD policy of excluding substitute teachers from the right to apply for the blue sheets because such exclusion enables permanent contract teachers to have greater mobility within the Division. If that impression is mistaken, then of course my references to such support need to be deleted, starting with “Given…” and ending with “about it.”

If, however, it is the position that the WTA supports the WSD policy, then I will defend my inclusion of the two paragraphs stated above. Before going on, then, it is necessary to ask whether my impression that the WTA supports the WSD policy of limiting those who can apply for the blue sheets to permanent contract teachers is valid. Is it?

Firstly, the issue is one of the importance of conflict. According to Dewey’s philosophy of education, indirectly found in his book (Experience and Nature),1 the life process is, by its very nature, conflictive.

Conflict involves the rhythm of being in balance with the world and falling out of balance (a rhythm which forms a basis for music and various forms of art, incidentally: Art as Experience. The great works of art include various contrasting and clashing elements that are organized to form a harmony or unified structure]. The life process involves dependence on something external to the live being but something which it requires or needs. The live being satisfies its needs, and is in harmony with its environment. But satisfaction is always only temporary because either the living being uses up what it needs or the environmental conditions change. There is then conflict between the living being and its environment.

In the case of human beings, what is unique is that they, unlike non-human animals, can share experiences, or engage in a unified action towards a common end. To share such experiences, they must be able to express their views, which may indeed and indeed probably does involve conflicting views since different individuals have different experiences in life.

Variation of views, and hence conflicting views, should not only be permitted but is necessary if progress is to occur.

This conflict, in the case of humans, enables them to grow or to learn through the incorporation of conflicting elements in a larger whole. Education, then, is a process of learning how to deal with conflicting situations and how to create a wider situation that incorporates the conflicting elements in that larger whole.

If we hide conflicts, we will not be able to grow nor educate ourselves, both as living beings and as human beings.

The form in which the growth or education of human beings best occurs is through the democratic form. That form is a means by which human beings can develop and grow.

This view borrows from the Darwinian theory of evolution, about which Dewey wrote extensively.

Or perhaps reference to the idea that human beings are commodities, things to be bought or sold is inappropriate. Empirically, it can be shown that human beings are indeed commodities in many countries, including Canada. I had my daughter take a picture of the following on a sign just a block from the Museum of Manitoba: “Need Workers? We will deliver them.” Admittedly, this is an extreme example of treating human beings as commodities, but it is only an extreme of a common-day occurrence in our lives: the purchase of human beings on the market for workers.

In Canada, that market began to form around 1826, when the British government ended land grants, obliging Irish immigrants in what was then Upper Canada to sell their skills (or lack of skills) to others to construct the canals. (I have a book in my office, I believe, that refers to that fact). In the United States, a market for workers began to form rapidly near the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century when the push toward the West ended with no more free land.

The case of Guatemala is instructive in this regard. Before 1954, the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz distributed the unused land of the United Fruit Company to about 500,000 Guatemalan families. The CIA helped overthrow his government and install a military dictatorship. The best land was returned to the wealthy landowners, and the Guatemalan peasants had to eek out a living on small land plots in the unfertile lands of the mountainous regions. Having insufficient land to maintain their families, they had to migrate to the coastal plantations of the wealthy landowners to produce bananas, coffee, beef and other export commodities. In the 1970s, however, the Guatemalan peasants, who were largely Aboriginals, began to organize against the wealthy landowners. They objected to being treated as commodities and wanted sufficient land to maintain their families. The Guatemalan military, with the help of the American government, responded by systematically terrorizing and killing tens of thousands of Guatemalans and creating more than a million internal and external refugees.

This situation is interesting since it indicates that when human beings do object to being treated as commodities, the government will often be used to ensure that the market for workers will be maintained.

Once that market is created, of course, as it is in Canada, then the economic dependence of workers on the employers will generally suffice to maintain that relation without resort to physical violence.

It may be objected, however, that even if there is a market for workers, human beings freely enter into contractual relations with employers. However, at the end of the Second World War, about half the working population still were not employees. Many owned farms or had their own business. Today only 10 to 20 percent of those who work are not employees. Did anyone freely choose to become employees? Or did it just work out that way in the development of the economy?

Now, as I indicated in an article that was published by this Association, employees are extensions of the will of the employer—they are means to the ends defined by the employers. You may not agree with that proposition, but why not then respond to it in the newsletter by providing an alternative hypothesis?

Coming now to the issue of substitute teachers, Joan once said that she was tired of hearing that substitute teachers are badly treated or something to that effect. She indicated that we are all members of the same organization. That is true. As members of the same organization, we should be treated in the same way. However, that does not mean that substitute teachers should necessarily all have the same rights as permanent contract teachers. A basic principle of political philosophy is that all should be treated the same unless there are differential conditions for treating some differently from others. And there are differential conditions, at least in the case of substitute teachers who are relatively new. Would it be fair, for instance, that permanent contract teachers, who by definition generally expect to work for the same employer for years, be reduced to the same rights as a beginning substitute teacher? Attachment to a particular employer for an increasing length of time forms the basis for privileging permanent teachers over substitute teachers, just as the principle of seniority does in unions.

However, as substitute teachers are engaged in employment with the same employer for an increasing length of time, the grounds for differential treatment become less and less valid.

Of course, the reported statistics do indicate that there is a substantial percentage of substitute teachers who have been employed by the Division for a number of years. Their exclusion from any consideration of whether they can apply for positions is less valid than the exclusion of shorter term substitute teachers. Of course, the exact cut off line is not easy to define, but the issue is first of all whether all substitute teachers should be banned from applying for positions. Perhaps there are counterarguments which justify such exclusion, and I would like to hear such arguments.

A further consideration is the issue of formal democracy versus living democracy, or democracy through formal rules, policies and procedures and democracy as a way of life. Dewey provided two criteria for distinguishing between formal and living democracy in his masterpiece Democracy and Education: “How numerous and varied are the interests which are consciously shared? How full and free is the interplay with other forms of association?” The first criterion indicates that there should be many interests which tie the lives of individuals together and not just one. It also means that there are varied interests which, despite being varied, are integrated into the organization. It is difficult to see how consciously shared interests can occur if apparently conflicting interests cannot even be recognized. The basic condition for the harmony of conflicting interests to arise is recognition that a problem in fact exists. Indeed, Dewey, in his masterful Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, argues exactly that: that recognition that a problem exists is the first step in resolving the problem.

Without such recognition, no adequate solutions can arise. It is also hard to see how the second criterion can be fulfilled if we restrict the identification and solution to problems to standing committees, the executive and even to the Council. These are organizational bodies that are formal means to the end of living democracy, which is the active participation of all members, as far as possible, in this organization. Indeed, Dewey’s Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, implicitly contains a criticism of formal democracy by criticizing formal logic, which assumes that logical rules, procedures and policies emerge independently of the process of inquiry. Similarly, he criticizes formal democracy, which merely emphasizes procedural rules without recognizing that such rules are means to an end and not ends in themselves. Furthermore, such rules are rules of a process and not independent of that process. They emerge as regulative conditions of the process so that the process can function smoothly. Such rules and the organizational forms that emerge to enforce them do not have—or should not have—any substantive independence. They are functions of a process and not substitutes for it.

1 It is an excellent but difficult book.

Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part Two

In an earlier post, I questioned the Socialist Project’s characterization of the problem that workers in Oshawa face (Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part One).   I also, implicitly, questioned their proposed solutions.  In this post, I will question their proposed solutions explicitly.

The Committee then proposes some things to be done to resolve the problem:

What’s needed are efforts to provide challenging education programs about the potential for workers to demand that the facilities in which they work produce environmentally responsible products, publicly owned, and not dependent on the whims of the fickle and brutally competitive consumer private vehicle market. Without a leadership that points the way forward and questions the hyper-competitive private marketplace workers remain dependent on corporate employers and look to them to provide for their future.

The demand for educational programs ought to shift workers’ consciousness to production that: 1. changes what is produced (environmentally unfriendly private vehicles vs. environmentally friendly vehicles); 2. and for what purpose (competitive and, implicitly, for profit rather than for need).

This demand is unlikely to have much immediate impact at Oshawa. To have an impact it would have been necessary to develop educational programs that call into question various aspects of the capitalist economy, both at the micro level of the plant and at the macro level of the structure of production and exchange. Has such an educational program been developed? Judging from my own experience in an educational program developed by Herman Rosenfeld, Jordan House and me and presented mainly to airport workers at Toronto Pearson airport, such an educational program has had severe limitations placed on it.

Firstly, we did not have many opportunities to provide educational course for such workers. In fact, after we presented three times, we did not present again for around two years.

Secondly, of those three times, only once did we present a critical macro approach, with three sections on the capitalist class, the working class and the capitalist state. The other two times, these sections were eliminated. Herman and Jordan did present to the airport afterwards–probably without the critical macro aspect.

Thus, to have an impact, there would have had to exist many educational opportunities for the workers, and the content of the courses would have had to include a critical approach at both the micro and macro level. Since there has not been such opportunities, a call for such a modified educational program at this stage is wishful thinking. It is highly unlikely to occur.

This leads into the last part of the article. The Committee demands the following:

Political Struggle, Community Control

The Socialist Project supports serious efforts by the union and the membership to organize collective actions that challenge GM’s decision and calls for new products to be allocated to Oshawa.

We also call for the union to build a movement inside Local 222, the surrounding community and across the union movement and the Canadian working class, to:

  • Pressure governments to ensure the survival of the productive facilities in Oshawa by taking ownership, after a community seizure of the plant. Productive facilities, like what remains of GM Oshawa were paid for by the community need to be owned and further developed by the community. The federal government didn’t hesitate to take ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, and there is an historical precedent for the conversion of auto production during World War II to needed war materials.

  • Along with the workers and their surrounding communities, come up with a plan to produce needed mass transit equipment and other environmentally and socially necessary products. It would require and could lead to new capacities for research, development, production and distribution, that could create jobs, help stem the tide of climate change and foster the growth of a challenge to neoliberal capitalism.

  • Investment can be provided by a publicly owned municipal, provincial or federal development bank. More could be provided by taxing the assets of banks or other private investment institutions. •

It is of course necessary to try to address the immediate decision of GM to close the plant. A call for community seizure of the plant may be immediately needed to prevent GM from carrying out its plans. However, this is mixed up with the call for the federal government to take over ownership. Why would there not be a call for ownership to be located at the community level after the seizure? Why this shift to ownership by the federal government? Would it not be more democratic if the community owned the plant and workers made decisions within a framework provided by the community? Would not a community board of directors, with representatives from various community organizations being the ultimate owner, be more democratic than ownership by the federal government? (Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account) argues for such community ownership and organization, with workers having the right of use of the facilities owned by the community.)

The federal government may be needed to prevent GM from taking away the physical assets and accounts of the plant; it may also be needed in various ways to support the community. However, since the federal government is unlikely to be democratic in structure if it owned the plant. Workers would still be treated as things since the federal government would be the employer. Undoubtedly, given the macro environment of a capitalist economy dominated by employers, community organization would also tend in that direction. However, there would be less of tendency in that direction than would be the case if the federal government owned the plant.

In relation to the second point–a plan for democratically producing environmentally-friendly output, the emphasis seems to be more on the kind of output rather than the kinds of relations between human beings at work. Admittedly, creating environmentally-friendly vehicles does express a positive relation between individuals, but this relation would be between the set of workers producing the environmentally-friendly objects and other workers and institutions who buy the vehicles.

What should have been included is a characterization of the preferred internal relations between workers–democratic–and how such a form could at least have been begun (although hardly achieved since the Oshawa plant would exist in a sea of capitalist relations of production and exchange).

The two bulleted points, with the suggested modifications, will however very unlikely be realized; GM will in all likelihood be closed down, with the Oshawa workers and community experiencing the immediate brunt of the shut down. What would have been required was persistent preparation of both the community and the workers (of course, not exclusionary since Oshawa workers can also be inhabitants of Oshawa) for a democratic takeover of the plant through a criticism of the employer-employee relation as such. Given the lack of such criticism, workers are likely unprepared ideologically and psychologically  (in terms of their attitude towards what needs to be done and what goals to pursue) for a democratic break with the structure of capitalist production and exchange.

An example of the inadequate preparation of workers: I heard Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, give a speech at a rally in support of striking airport workers in 2017. He used several times the term “decent job” and “decent work”–by which he meant a job subject to a collective agreement. The social-reformist and radical left did not question him anymore than they questioned Tracy McMaster, president of Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), who also referred to “decent work” and “fair wages.”  They are afraid to alienate union reps and heads, but it is difficult to see how such alienation can be prevented given the acceptance of the power of employers as a class by such reps and heads of unions

Coming to the final point of the article is also wishful thinking. To create a developmental bank would require a fighting organization–a set of unions that are designed to engage in systematic attacks at the municipal, provincial and federal levels against the power of employers as a class and not the rhetorical flashes of engaging in struggles (see Chris Buckley’s letter to Premier Doug Ford, Letter From OFL President Chris Buckley to Premier Doug Ford Regarding GM Oshawa). The recent indication by Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, and Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), that they are going to fight Ford’s agenda, will unlikely be sufficient to change the situation in Oshawa   (OPSEU and Unifor Join Forces Against Doug Ford); both accept the premise that collective agreements express a relation of fairness or justice. Expanding alliances across the public and private sector may or may not constitute structural change within unions. If such alliances are merely extensions of the existing union structures, it is unlikely to be an effective fighting force since such structures are not designed to question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class; they assume the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class and seek only to limit such power–a necessary part of working-class struggle, but hardly sufficient. To become fighting organizations (with purposes that go beyond the limits of the power of employers as a class) and not merely defensive organizations, they need to question the legitimacy of collective agreements while still engaging in collective bargaining as a necessary evil.

We can see this on the OPSEU website for example. The title of one article is  Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs ; as noted in the first part of the post (see the link to that post above), the logic of this is that before GM announced its decision to close the plant, GM jobs were “good jobs,” but after the announcement, what were they? Bad jobs? The right of employers to close down may be fought on a particular basis, but generally employers as a class have the right to close businesses based on business criteria (generally, profitability in the private sector and public efficiency and political expediency in the public sector). This applies to jobs such as the jobs at GM. To call any job controlled by employers as good, therefore, is contradictory; jobs apparently are both good (when they are not eliminated) and bad (if they can be eliminated).

The article on the OPSEU website has Warren (“Smokey”) Thomas specifically claiming the following: ““At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.” In addition to calling such jobs good (and, by implication bad when they can be eliminated)–in addition to this contradiction–Smokey’s argument ignores how workers at Oshawa are used as means for the benefit of obtaining more and more money by GM (see the  The Money Circuit of Capital, which calls into question any characterization of working for employers as good or decent since workers are necessarily things or means for ends not defined by them but by a class of employers).

We can get an idea of Jerry Dias’ views on “good jobs” from the following article on the Unifor website, entitled   Unifor to hold national ‘Good Jobs Summit’.  Mr. Dias states the following:

“We need elected officials to help chart a path towards a good jobs future,” Dias wrote. “We need to start raising expectations that we can win jobs that pay fair wages, are safe and stable. And we want all workers in Canada to join in.”

Working for an employer, who generally has the legal right to close a factory, a department and so forth without democratic control by those effected by the decision, is somehow still a “good job.” It somehow results in fair wages (whereas wages, in the private sector, result from previous surpluses produced by workers and therefore are used to further exploit workers. See my post Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two , criticizing David Bush’s one-sided analysis of capitalist relations of production and exchange).

The idea that jobs within a capitalist society are somehow safe also is questionable, as a number of posts have tried to make clear (Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of EmployersUnions and Safety on Jobs Controlled by EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law).

As for stable jobs: Where does Mr. Dias question management rights clauses in collective agreements, which implicitly or explicitly express the right of employers to reduce the number of positions or close factories or departments? That unions can and have limited such a right is certainly preferable to letting management have carte blanche, but limitations on that right hardly involve stability–as the Oshawa workers have experienced first hand. In any case, in a system characterized by capitalist accumulation, where a minority make decisions about what to invest, where to invest, when to invest and so forth, stability is possible for awhile but subject to constant disruption as investors seek new profits and new means to accumulation across the globe. Stability was possible after the Second World War, for instance, for some time because of the substantial destruction of means of production during the Second World War, the opening up of new areas for investment, the expansion of demand for workers and relative increases in wages. Given that a global war is hardly in the workers’ best interests, it is likely that more and more workers will be subject to increasingly precarious jobs until a global slump much wider and deeper than the one in 2007-2008 reduces the value of many means of production, leading to a vast upsurge in unemployment–in either case hardly a stable future.

So, the alliance of a public-sector union and a private-sector union is unlikely to provide the basis for the realization of the third point in the Socialist Project’s Steering Committee: neither the emergence of a development bank at the municipal, provincial or federal level, nor taxing the banks and other investment institutions is likely to be realized in the near future. (It is to be wondered why taxing is limited only to investment institutions and excludes taxing corporations involved in production. But that only in passing.)

The article fails to address the issue of preparing workers to develop a working-class attitude that would be conducive to engage in action that reflects an understanding of their class interests. It may or may not be too late to engage the workers at the Oshawa plant with such an approach, but such an approach should have been started long ago in order to address democratically the power of this particular employer to exert its class right to determine what to do with the means of production.

As it stands, there will probably be knee-jerk reactions to an immediate crisis–which is a typical response of an approach that fails to take into account the class nature of working for an employer but rather assumes that there are such things, within the confines of the employer-employee relation, as “good or decent jobs,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “economic justice” (given collective agreements), “fairness,” “Fair Labour Laws Make Work Safe” and other such half-truths and platitudes. Perhaps the workers in Oshawa will learn the hard way this lesson, but it is more likely to do so if a critical working-class organization exists which questions such half-truths and platitudes and enables workers to understand their own experiences in a wider social context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Socialist Project’s Critique of Doug Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy Falls Short

The Socialist Project has rightly condemned Doug Ford (the new Premier of Ontario, Canada) for his unilateral reduction of the number of Toronto city councilors (in the midst of Toronto elections, no less–indeed, an autocratic act) (see Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy in Toronto).

Despite their criticism of Ford’s autocratic manner, they should also look at the so-called left’s own anti-democratic practices.

Being ignorant of who exactly are the members of the Socialist Project, I will limit my commentary to the probable membership of Sam Gindin in that organization.

I belonged to an organization called the Toronto Labour Committee until last November, when I resigned over what I perceived as a lack of discussion over what I considered to be vital issues relevant to regular members of the working class (not union representatives). My view is that the Toronto Labour Committee was too closely tied to the union movement and had compromised itself in several ways democratically. It is probable that the Socialist Project does the same.

I will not go into the details of how it compromised itself (of course, if Sam or other members of the Toronto Labour Committee raise the issue–then, of course, I will then pursue the issue in further detail).

I will simply point out one issue that illustrates the limited nature of the Socialist Project’s call for democracy in the case of Ford, which should also be directed at the so-called left.

From the Socialist Project’s post:

Democracy is not about “economic efficiency.” It is about providing for free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.

Is there any evidence that there is such “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions” within the Toronto Labour Committee? For example, I tried to raise the issue of health and safety and how systemic such problems were in the context of a capitalist economy (referring to the work by Bob Barnetston The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, where he pointed out that over 1000 workers died a year on the job and over 630,000 are injured. There was silence.

Subsequently, when a representative of a local labour council called for support of some striking brewery workers here in Toronto, she justified her call for such support on the basis of referring to what the workers supposedly want–good jobs and a fair deal.

I had worked in a brewery for around four years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I questioned this reference to a good (or decent) work and a fair contract. I did not try to attack the representative personally. I tried to address the issues.

I also pointed out that the striking workers did deserve our support–that it was a question of solidarity.

Wayne Dealy, who is a representative of a local Toronto union here, then intervened, stating the following:

Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?

I expressed a point of view that was different–and was roundly insulted on a listserve.

I replied:

It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.

Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed, the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.

Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker

I was too hopeful. No one from the listserve–including Sam Gindin–addressed the real issues of whether there is such a thing as good jobs or a fair contract.

Wayne Dealy replied:

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside
me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you
suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.

Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you
deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us
in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy
et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are
obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things;
fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.

On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my
consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all
along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of
employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.

And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen
ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.

Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is
extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so
selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be
shared with all us sinners.

Wayne.

p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a
condescending prick

Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science

 
University of Toronto

From there the issue got sidetracked, and the issue of whether there can be decent jobs or a fair contract in the context of a class of employers vanished (I take some responsibility–although only some responsibility for this–I got sidetracked rather than focusing on these two issues, which is what I should have done all along).

I doubt that there has been any real

free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.

The class issue has been buried by political rhetoric, insults and excuses. Sam Gindin, for example, used the excuse that the reference to “decent work” was a purely “defensive” move. Has there been any “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions” about the appropriateness of using such a term as “decent work” or a “fair contract”? I doubt it.

So-called socialists in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) should look internally to see whether they really are practicing “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions.” That would indeed be welcome.

As Alan R.H. Baker (Geography and History: Bridging the Divide) wrote, page 213:

I subscribe to consensual historical geography. Of course, any
consensus in history can be sought, and sometimes achieved, only by debate. This
brings me to my third principle of historical geography: debate is central to the
practice of historical geography. Rethinking and revising current, orthodox interpretations should be the norm in historical geography: it should be conventional to be radical. Current ideas and assertions must be, and must expect to be, revised as new evidence comes to light, as new techniques of analysis become available, as new problems deserving attention are identified, and as new ideas and theories are brought into play. Debate, both about substantive issues and about research methodologies, lies at the heart of historical geography as it does also of history (Fig. 6.3). Within historical geography, as within history, there should be an unrelenting criticism of all orthodoxies and conventional wisdoms, as well as an
unremitting awareness of discourses in cognate disciplines.

Do the so-called socialists really engage in debate with a view of achieving some kind of consensus? Will trade-union leaders abandon their views if it is shown that they are mistaken? If they do not, what will socialists do? Or are socialists so afraid of upsetting their trade-union connections (Sam Gindin once indicated that he did not want to become isolated) that they would practically desist from engaging in “free and open debate and discussion between competing points of view in order to make decisions?”

Sam Gindin claimed that we are supposed to be humble. Why? Why should regular workers be humble? They are oppressed and exploited every day. Why should they be humble in the face of union leaders who talk of fair contracts and good jobs? They should be angry at such talk–not humble. They deserve a far better life than what they now experience as things to be used by employers.

A final question: Is there free and open debate and open discussion between competing points of view” among regular workers about management rights, whether unionized or non-unionized? Frankly, I doubt it. If there is evidence to the contrary, I hope others would correct my error.

 

Intelligent Activity According to John Dewey: Its Political Implications for the Left

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education of the twentieth century, has this to say about intelligent activity. From Democracy and Education. Pennsylvania State University, 2001,

page 108:

 

The net conclusion is that acting with an aim is all one
with acting intelligently. To foresee a terminus of an act
is to have a basis upon which to observe, to select, and
to order objects and our own capacities. To do these things
means to have a mind—for mind is precisely intentional
purposeful activity controlled by perception of facts and
their relationships to one another. To have a mind to do
a thing is to foresee a future possibility; it is to have a
plan for its accomplishment; it is to note the means which
make the plan capable of execution and the obstructions
in the way,—or, if it is really a mind to do the thing and
not a vague aspiration—it is to have a plan which takes
account of resources and difficulties. Mind is capacity to
refer present conditions to future results, and future consequences
to present conditions. And these traits are just
what is meant by having an aim or a purpose. A man is
stupid or blind or unintelligent—lacking in mind—just
in the degree in which in any activity he does not know
what he is about, namely, the probable consequences of
his acts. A man is imperfectly intelligent when he contents
himself with looser guesses about the outcome than
is needful, just taking a chance with his luck, or when he
forms plans apart from study of the actual conditions,
including his own capacities. Such relative absence of
mind means to make our feelings the measure of what is
to happen. To be intelligent we must “stop, look, listen”
in making the plan of an activity.

We indeed, should “stop, look, listen”–but is that being done? Is not the context for most Canadians a context, directly or indirectly, characterized by the dominance of a class of employers?  That context, ultimately, is one dominated by the goal of obtaining more and more money–at the expense of the workers (and the environment). See (The Money Circuit of Capital).

Is there much discussion about this context? What is the consequence, for workers, of not questioning this context of the power of employers as a class? Exploitation? Oppression? Injury? Death? Is this acting intelligently?

Without taking into account the capitalist context, it is highly unlikely that workers will be able to act intelligently. Is there constant discussion about that context? Or is such discussion suppressed? Without a consideration of present social conditions, how can anyone act intelligently?

The lack of such discussion among most workers shows the extent to which those who call for “practice” and believe that they are eminently practical are eminently impractical; they neglect one of the fundamental conditions for practical intelligence: taking into account the social context when acting. To neglect the social context when acting is to act unintelligently.

What exactly is the aim of those who engage in “practice” among the left? Is there any real discussion about the aims? Or is there simply a rush to engage in one “practice” after another without really engaging in any attempt to unify in a consistent fashion the various actions? If so, is that acting intelligently? Or is it acting unintelligently?