The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism

Introduction 

The recent wildcat strike by 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members, represented by the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU, who work in schools in Ontario, Canada, was stimulated by the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28, which not only legislated workers back to work, but also used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and Rights to Freedom to prevent any legal challenge–essentially stripping away collective-bargaining rights–including the right to strike.

The wildcat strike has resulted in two distinct political positions on what should have been done: push forward to aim for a general strike, or limit the movement to the aim of defeating the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28 and of obtaining a collective agreement.

The two distinct political positions are expresssed in the largely Canadian social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension, with Martin Schoots-McAlpine arguing for a general strike (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-general-strike-that-could-have-been) and Herman Rosenfeld aguing that a call for a general strike was premature and, he implies, ultra-leftist (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/a-first-post-pandemic-political-victoryhardly-a-general-strike-that-could-have-been ).

I will argue that Schoots-McAlpine’s political position, at least with respect to his advocacy of a general strike before the repeal of Bill 28, is the more reasonable radical position and that Rosenfeld’s position reflects a conservative radical’s political position–or rather a social-democratic or social-reformist political position.

I will not enter into detail into Schoots-McAlpine’s article since it is more important to address the inadequacies of Rosenfeld’s social-reformist position since that position has ultimately been practically realized.

The Conservative Radical’s Political Position

The Aim of the Movement Should Be Limited to the Repeal of Bill 28

Rosenfeld paints the restriction of the victory (and it was a victory in the negative sense of forcing the Conservative Doug Ford’s government to agree to abolish Bill 28) in a very positive light: 

A determined, organized and mobilized local union, the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), closed down most of the main school boards in a “political protest” which doubled as a contract strike. The Ford government withdrew its Bill 28, a constitutional attack and challenge at the OLRB, and was forced to go back to the bargaining table. CUPE maintained its right to strike if an agreement was not reached.

This was a big victory for CUPE, public sector workers, and the labour movement writ large, even though, like all such wins, it is temporary, conditional, and is only one moment in an ongoing class struggle which takes both economic and political forms. It was recognized as such by most working people, union members, officials, and critics from the left and socialists across the board.

Rosenfeld obviously considered it emintently realistic to aim only at the repeal of Bill 28: 

And, of course, the main issue was not to change the Ford government’s larger political agenda all in one go, but to defend the right of the CUPE local to bargain, build support amongst the larger working class for their demands and opposition to the government, and force Ford to back off. That was the initial step in this ongoing war and workers mobilized around it and won.

Rosenfeld’s Characterization of Schoots-McAlpine’s Position as Naive, Mechanistic, Abstract Ultra-leftism–and Inconsistent to Boot 

He then turns to what he considers the dark side (the Darth Vaderian side)–what he considers to be an ultra-leftist position. He characterizes this position in negative terms: 

Yet, in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise, this wasn’t good enough for Martin Schoots-McAlpine. For him, in his article published yesterday in Canadian Dimension (and there are other activists and comrades who clearly feel the same way), getting Ford to back down on this battle didn’t matter. The promise of a larger general strike—to be led by the dreaded labour bureaucrats he so roundly attacks—developing into a greater political movement (led by whom?) targeting many of the key elements of the capitalist agenda in the city and province was in the wind and was ended unilaterally, and wrongly, by calling off the CUPE strike and the movement towards a general strike.

And, further, even though this was to be led by the dreaded bureaucrats, Schoots-McAlpine writes, it seems that the working class, and the members of the union movement were chomping at the bit to build this movement. He writes, “for a brief moment we as workers in Ontario had an opportunity to really change the direction of this province for the better…workers across the province were willing to fight.”

Rosenfeld can hardly hide his contempt for any position that is more radical than his own. I have already pointed out in a previous post how he unjustifiably characterized a more radical position than his own as “sloppy thinking” and that his own views reflect “sloppy thinking” (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One)  Now he accues Schoots-McAlpine of engaging “in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise.” 

Rosenfeld further engages in character assassination with the title of one of his subsections: 

Delusions and wishes can’t substitute for materialist analysis of reality

Rosenfeld’s Justification For Limiting the Labour and Social Movements to Repealing Bill 28

How does Rosenfeld justify such a negative characterization? Apparently, by providing “a materialist analysis of reality.” What is this “materialist analysis?” Rosenfeld seems to argue under the above section title that workers and union leaders generally did not aim for anything more than the repeal of Bill 28; they were not prevented from pursuing a general strike since that was never really on the agenda. The following two sections are titled “Of leadership, bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers,” and “A word on general strikes.”

The section on union bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers seems to deny that the Rand formula of automatic dues deduction interfered with the relationship between union leaders and rank-and-file members. He also argues that although there has historically been a gap between union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file, leading to constraints on what the rank-and-file can do, this is not written in stone. Socialists in particular can challenge such constraints and this is what is needed. Rosenfeld admits that there is a tendency for union leaders to be co-opted, but he denies its inevitability. On the other hand, Schoots-McAlpine’s assumption that the rank-and-file are automatically militant is questionable. Workers have contradictory views since at a bare minimum they depend economically on their employer. If workers were so militant, they would have themselves called for a general strike: 

 If workers had this understanding already, they would be challenging the agreement for CUPE to go back to the bargaining table, pushing for a general strike, and calling for a political movement arguing for the demands that Schoots-McAlpine legitimately calls for on their own. But calling for general strike plans to go ahead anyway avoids the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it happen. Schoots-McAlpine leaves no place for it to happen.

Furthermore, as a counter-example to the characterization of union leaders as bureaucratic, he refers to, among others, J.P. Hornick, current leader of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU). Workers should definitely appreciate the militancy of Hornick, who supported a wildcat strike by section three (education workers) of OPSEU who themselves supported the striking CUPE members (see https://socialistaction.ca/our-initiatives/the-red-review/ for details), we should not fail to recognize the limiations of Hornick’s own views (see my criticisms of her views in 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 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?  ). Rosenfeld does not address such limitations and thus remains quite abstract. 

Let us add one more quote, from the section about delusions: 

Moments of struggle always provide openings to build and move forward, and for workers who are participating, to learn key lessons and develop deeper consciousness and understanding. But every struggle and every moment aren’t necessarily similar. As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them.

Let us stop here. We need, according to Rosenfeld, base our analysis on a materialist realiy and focus on the particularities (specifities) of the experience and potentials. However, Rosenfeld does not even go into the material reality of the peculiarity of Ford trying to use the notwithstanding clause to impose a unilateral contract (to call it a collective agreement would be an oxymoron). Nor does he enter into analysing the potential of this peculiar situation to build up a movement in a short period of time. It is in such circumstances that workers may well go beyond their representatives and even their union leaders.

The Unique or Peculiar Situation of an Attack on the Union Movement in General: A Materialist Analysis of the Situation 

Rosenfeld does not engage in the specific nature of the use of the notwithstanding clause as an impulse for union leaders, union rank-and-file and probably social movements to engage in protests, picket-line walking and rallies.  

In normal times, it would be inconsistent  to rely on the bureaucratic union leadership to lead a general strike. However, the Ford government’s  use of the notwithstanding clause to preempt a strik indicated  abnormal times. The bureuacratic union leadership might have felt forced to move towards in a general strike for two reasons. Firstly, they themselves identified with “free collective bargainng” as a principle, and that principle was being threatened. Secondly, they might have been subject to pressure from below. It would of course be necessary to determine if there was such pressure, but the willingness of many workers to engage in an illegal strike/political protest and be subject to $4000 fine a day, as well as the support of the strike by Unifor national, CUPE national and OPSEU, as well as the support of some parents, indicates a willingness to support a move towards a general strike. 

Indeed, in a press conference following the agreement by the Ford government that it would rescind Bill 28, Mark Hancock, president of CUPE National, had this to say when asked about what preparations had been made for a general strike: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

There is such a thing as the “logic of events.” The need for union bureaucrats to appear to represent the will of their members, especially in the context of such a public and political event as Ford’s open use of the cudgel of the notwithstanding clause might well have forced them to take measures that they would not normally take. Furthermore, their own evident belief in the sanctity of collective bargaining  might have reinforced this pressure to engage in more radical measures. 

Rosenfeld’s “materialist analysis of reality” simply ignores the “particularities” of the situation. But the particularities of a situation do not just involve facts–but potentialities. Rosenfeld also ignores the potentialties of the situation. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of the Situation

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Unifying Unions Across Canada

Furthermore, Rosenfeld’s statement: “As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them” is empty. The use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford opened up the potentiality for a national struggle and not just a provincial struggle. That is why Unifor national president spoke at the press conference as did the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. That is why even unions that supported Ford criticized him. The potential to unify unionized workers across the public and private sectors existed because of Ford’s imposition of the notwithstanding clause. 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Hancock used the term “unprecedented” to chaacterize the situation. Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), also used the same term: 

The Draconian legislation the Ford government passed to impose a collective agreement on CUPE and remove their Charter Rights to free and fair collective bargaining and to strike was an unprecedented attack on collective-bargaining rights the likes of which we have never seen in Canadian history. Rest assured, we, our members, my colleagues, people of Ontario, we will hold Premier Ford to his word to rescind Bill 28. We stand in stead-fast solidarity with you. You can count on us. You can count on ETFO. Solidarity.

Rosenfeld neglects to take into consideration the “unprecedented” threat to the Canadian union movement of Ford’s actions. He wants to restrict it to the issue of repealing Bill 28. Such radical conservatiism. Such conservative radicalism. Such naivety. Such mechanical thinking. Such abstract thinking. 

Of course, like Schoots-McAlpine, I would hardly interpret this rhetoric in a radical sense. Hancock and others, since they sell unions on the basis of the principle of free collective bargaining, rightly saw what Ford did as a threat to their own economic, political and ideological positions. They likely wanted to get back to the status quo as quickly as possible–trade-union cretinism similar to parliamentaty cretinism, which uses voting and social movements as means to pressure the government to obtain limited reforms independently of linking up such reforms with the aim of abolishing the class power of employers. 

This potentiality to unify union forces across Canada and not just in Ontario was there–and squandered. Rosenfeld agress with such a waste of potentiality. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Accelerating Worker Creativity, Organization and Class Consciousness  

Rosenfeld also underestimates the potentiality of workers for accelerating their creativiy and class consciousness in such situations. Indeed, Marx criticized those who failed to recognize the creativity of the working class. From Daniel Gaido (2021), “The First Workers’ Government in History: Karl Marx’s Addenda to Lissagaray’s History of the Commune of 1871,” in pages 1-64, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, page 42: 

In the extensive section inserted by Marx to criticise the leaders of the Paris Commune, he delved into the question of revolutionary leadership …,  pointing out how the enormous potential power of the working class had ‘always been squandered, diverted, annihilated … by a swarm of declaimers and sectarians … others who are only anxious to climb up the social ladder … [and] a bunch of blind hotheads…’

Marx insisted that ‘If a party needs wisdom, clarity, reason, leadership, it is the revolutionary party.’ [and by party marx did not necessarily mean a formal political party but a group of those who oppose the class power of employers].

Nowhere does Rosenfeld address this potentiality. Indeed, for him the concept of potentiality is limited to the conscious immediate aims of all participants indepdently of the peculiar situaiton of Ford’s invocation of the notwithstaning clause. . Why else does he not refer to the unprecedented situation of an elected official using the notwithstanding clause to break not only a particular union but trying to abolish the right to strike and the potential of that situation? He acknowledges that the right to strike was at issue, and so was the entire union movement not only in Ontario but throughout Canada (since any provincial government could then use the notwithstanding clause at any time to break a union). This fact was initated by the Ford government, and it threatened (had the potential) to unify different union movements thoughout Canada over the issue (and provide a focal point for community organizations to link their demands to that issue as well). 

The potentialities of the situation, however, should not lead us to the conclusion that workers will spontaneously come to the conclusion that we need to go beyond the collective-bargaining regime. This is where previous socialist criticisms of the limtiations of collective bargaining and collective agreements can play a role. Without such criticism, the extent to which workers will be willing to go beyond such a situation will likely be limited. The negative work required to undermine faith in the fairness of the collective-bargaining system needs to become more general if the potentialities of the system are to be realized in such a way that the workers go beyond such a situation. The danger of co-optation is ever present as a limitation to an expansion of the movement in a socialist direction of the abolition of the class power of employers. (For a short critique of the exaggeration of the implied spontaneous leap in class consciousness in such situations, see The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario). 

Overestimation of Rosenfeld’s Own Political Position and Actions

Rosenfeld’s implied claim that only if the workers defeated Bill 28–and then subsequently built on that short-term victory–is consistent with his gradualist approach. Only one step at a time–baby steps. The problem with that approach is that the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is most often forgotten in the process. 

Another problem is that it allows the represenatives of employers to figure out strategies that co-opt the movement (a danger that Roesnfeld simply ignores). I pointed Rosenfeld’s neglect of this in another post:

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms.

Rosenfeld’s strategy leads the left down the path to nowhere but reformism and to limits to class struggle that fail to realistically organize to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. 

Rosenfeld, by arguing that we must create 

the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it [a general strike] happen.

adopts a conservative stance. We must take baby steps, always being cautious, never assuming that certain situations may have the potential to accelerate class creativity, class organizing and class consciousness. 

The following is another piece of abstract and mechanical thinking (sloppy thinking–a term Rosenfeld used in another atticle to characterize another radical–see my criticism of his views on this in Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One): 

The education necessary to eventually organize more widespread, radical, and concerted actions still needs to be done within unions, locals, and communities in the education, health care, and other sectors. Is the author of this article willing to contribute to this, or would he prefer to sit on the sidelines and criticize the main protagonists?

This is hardly realistic. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I presented “educationals” to workers at the Toronto Pearson Airport in the mid 2010s (and, I will admit, they did more work on the course than I did–I never have liked speaking in public). However, at one point, we had to wait almost two years to provide one course. Such educationals hardly provide a dent in the armour of the class of employers. Something much more is needed–and the situation which developed was far more important for providing an educational context than such educationals. 

Let Rosenfeld provide an account of just how he has educated the workers about their exploitation and oppression. Let him enlighten us on just how effective he and his fellow radical conservatives or conservative radicals have educated the workers on their class situation. 

Frankly, his abstract and mechanical thinking leads to a situation of just talking and talking rather than taking bold steps that may indeed fail–but are better than just chattering about socialism without really advancing it at all. His approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. And hardly ever any real critical discussion.

Indeed, when we had three educationals at the airport, the first of them was without hand-picked trade union reps. The educational lost its focus (our curriculum) because the session turned into a series of long complaints about the employer and the union. None of us really had an idea about what to do with the situation. Finally,, I perceived that one of the workers attending had an exaggerated understanding of the power of collective bargaining and collective agreements and did at least manage to point that out. The following two educationals were with hand-picked trade union reps who were more “docile.” Thus, when these hand-picked union reps were presented with the situation at the brewery where I worked (I was not identified in the exercise personally), in which I refused to carry out an order by the foremen, most stated that the person should have grieved the issue and acquiesced–hardly a dignified response and also a response that would have prevented workers to engage in solidarity at the actual workplace–which is what happened. 

Conclusion

I will end here, for now. Rosenfeld obviously believes that limiting the illegal political protest/strike by CUPE education workers to the repeal of Bill 28 was justified under the circumstances. To that end, he engages in name calling by claiming that Schoots-McAlpine’s defense of a general strike expressed a naive, mechanistic and intellectualist point of view. In fact, such a defense is delusional for Rosenfeld. 

Despite his claim to engage in a matrialist analysis of reality, he fails to engage in an analysis of the unique or peculiar situation which not only workers but union leaders faced when Ford passed Bill 28. His materialist analysis is wanting. The same could be said of his lack of analysis of the potentialities of that situation. Bill 28 threatened unions across Canada, and it had the potential to create more permanent links between unions across Canada. In such a situation, workers’ own creativity, organizing capacity and class consciousness could have developed further–if the strike had not been called off on Monday, November 7. Finally, Rosenfeld greatly overestimates his own political postion and actions; his analysis and actions remain puny beside the rage, the actions, the unity and the solidarity of union members, parents and others when Ford passed Bill 28. 

One can only wonder who is delusional in such a situation. 

There are undoubtedly many other issues that have arisen that are relevant to Ford’s attempt to impose a preemptive contract on workers, with the help of the notwithstanding clause. I may or may not write further on this topic and, if I do, I may then convert this into the first part of a two-part series, or I may simply write another post about some related topics on the issue. Or I may just modify this post. 

 

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

The recent passing of legislation to force Ontario education workers to abandon a strike that they had not even yet started deserves to be opposed energetically. Ford, the Ontario premier, furthermore, justified the law practically by invoking the “notwithstanding” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights. This clause involves the following:

The notwithstanding clause — or Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability, through the passage of a law, to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term. Effectively, it allows governments to pass pieces of legislation notwithstanding their potential violations of Charter rights.

The context of the legislation is the following: 

The law involving the notwithstanding clause came after Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government could not reach an agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The union has been seeking wage increases for the education workers, and indicated it would strike on Friday if an agreement was not met.

In response, Premier Doug Ford’s government pre-emptively passed a law that banned a strike, and set fines for violating the ban of up to $4,000 per employee per day — which could amount to $220 million for all 55,000 workers — and up to $500,000 per day for the union.

CUPE has said it will fight the fines, and that its job actions will continue indefinitely.

The Progressive Conservative government included the notwithstanding clause in its legislation, saying it intends to use it to guard against constitutional challenges to its strike ban. Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce justified its use by citing the need to keep students in school following a disruptive two-and-a-half years of learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions.

Now, let me state explicitly that CUPE workers deserve unequivocal support for their actions of striking despite the legislation. I, for example, went to the picket-line rally on Friday, November 4, held at the Ontario legislative buildings in support of the strikers. The number of supporters was impressive; solidarity was both evident and necessary in the face of such reactionary laws. 

However, should not the radical left, while supporting unequivocally the striking workers, use the occasion to open up discussions about the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements? Solidarity, yes, absolutely, but critical solidarity–not rubber-stampting solidarity–as if workers have no right to engage in criticism of what is being defended. 

Thus, at the rally, J.P. Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU), had this to say (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPhQ_mo3h84&list=LL): 

Everyone from an equity-deserving group knows where this ends, and it’s not good for any of us. This is an attack on the very Constitution itself: our freedom of association, our freedom of expression. The reason that unions exist is to build worker power by allowing us to come together and bargain freely and fairly for better working conditions. Doug Ford might understand this, but he needs to know: When you punch down on a worker, you raise a movement.  

Yes, when a government tries to take away the limited power of the collective-bargaing process and the resulting collective agreement, we should indeed fight back. But we should not idealize this so-called free collective-bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. This is what Hornick does–as do many other trade-union leaders. As if the existence of a collective-bargaining process somehow magically transforms working for an employer into a free life. Collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement limit the power of employers–but that is all. Look at a management rights clause to see what power management still has. Should it have such power? Does such power express the freedom of workers? 

I will not repeat criticisms of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements–I have made such criticims of them in previous posts, including a relatively recent post criticiaing Hornick’s views (see 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). 

What is interesting is how the so-called radical left have merely called for support for the strikers without addressing critically the standard of “free collective bargaining.” Thus, the Socialist Project Steering Committee did not provide any criticial distancing concerning the adequacy of “free collective bargaining” in addressing workers’ continued exploitation and oppression by employers   (https://socialistproject.ca/2022/11/support-cupe-education-workers/).  It simply calls for support: 

They have received support from the Ontario Federation of Labour and a number of other unions, for a series of demonstrations, rallies and picketing. This is important and should be celebrated.

This though, is not enough. Successfully beating back Ford requires a response that must be built over time. Like the Ontario Days of Action in 1995 – a series of one day general strikes across the province, led by the OFL – there needs to be some form of wider strike action built over a relatively short period by other public and private sector unions. But this can’t happen by itself – it must be built.

How do we do this?

  • As individuals and socialists, first and foremost, engage in all forms of support for the CUPE strikers. Join the protests, pickets and demonstrations. Talk to family, friends, neighbours and organize their collective participation.
  • The provincial labour movement must create a collective strategy to build for and organize solidaristic strike actions, modelled on the one day general strikes of the Days of Action. But the infrastructure for this isn’t there yet. The union movement has to get itself into shape.
  • OFL affiliates, Unifor and other non-affiliated unions, led by education and healthcare unions should organize educational sessions for all of their locals, explaining why challenging Ford’s actions and plans are essential for our rights as workers, and why they need to engage in these actions. They should include training on how to talk with co-workers, neighbours, parents and family. During the Days of Action, many workers who supported Harris were won over to these actions by the educational work organized through the OFL and spearheaded by key affiliate unions.
  • Build similar educational campaigns in local communities of parents, students, healthcare workers, and families of patients and those in long term care facilities. Many parents are concerned about their kids’ education, but they are also aware of the cynical and cruel actions of the government. We have to win them over and engage them.

The labour and community networks need to come to the aid of the CUPE workers, and to keep the momentum going as it continues and what come after. This is not a battle that will end soon – regardless of what the government does in the next few days. Building against Ford and creating a fighting infrastructure of struggle and political understanding in the union movement, inspired by the CUPE fight will take longer, but it needs to happen.

The Socialist Project supports CUPE and all efforts to stand up to Ford and Lecce, and the economic interests behind them and the necessary and welcome campaigns to build further. •

Building towards solidarity is indeed needed–but to what end? “Free collective bargaining?” Or towards a socialist society–while also defending the freedom of workers to engage in collective bargaining? The Socialist Project Steering Committee does not even address the issue. Perhaps it believes that through such struggles, there will arise in the future a concern for challenging the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Such a future often never arrives since social reformists constantly push that issue to some vague future. When will the so-called left start questioning the sanctity of collective baragining and collective agreements (while simultaneously defending them as necessary defensive means in a prolonged struggle)? 

It is much better to unite the aim of creating a socialist society with the aim of defending the limited power that we do have while not idealizing that limited power and ascribing “freedom” to such limited power–and not wait for some distant future to count on the creation of a socialist society.

 

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class

A few days ago, on April 17, 2021, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), wrote the following(https://opseu.org/news/a-statement-from-opseu-sefpo-president-warren-smokey-thomas/120559/). The immediate background is that Doug Ford is the premier (head) of the Ontario government (Ontario is the province with the largest population in Canada). My comments are within the square brackets]:

Chaos is the last thing we need [The government waited to hospitals would fill up as predicted by models–and then reacted when they filled up. It permitted restaurants to open up outdoors and then ordered them close within a couple of weeks. It permits schools to remain open. It has resisted a movement to provide paid sick days for workers despite such a recommendation by the medical field. And so forth. Of course, all this is without mentioning the health cuts before the pandemic–by the same government). 

Cornwall.  Peterborough. Guelph. Ottawa. Niagara. Peel. Toronto. And now police forces right across the province are refusing to make use of the new powers authorized by the Ontario government yesterday. And with good reason; randomly stopping citizens and ticketing those who don’t comply won’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Ford government responded to the third wave of the pandemic by granting expanded powers to the police, including enabling them to question why a person is outside and to provide their home address. There was a backlash against the expansion of such powers, but to what extent Ford changed his mind due to citizen backlash or police backlash remains unclear. Even the police objected to granting them such powers–and responsibility; several police forces in the province indicated that they would not be actively enforcing the law.] These measures could lead to racialized, homeless and vulnerable communities already disproportionately impacted from this virus to now be living in fear and apprehension. What’s now labelled as the back of napkin efforts of a government furiously trying to stop the spread of the virus are leading to ineffective measures and chaos. And chaos is the last thing we need.

Ontarians don’t know who to trust on the issue of COVID-19. No matter where we look, there is conflicting information about masks, about safety, about vaccines. They are confused by the lockdowns, followed by the easing of restrictions, followed by more lockdowns. Businesses are mandated to close, then opened next month, then closed again the next week. The economy is teetering on the brink of the next announcement. And Ontarians are left feeling insecure and unsafe.

When the police refuse to follow the instructions of the government, we have the beginnings of civil unrest. [Mr. Thomas is evidently afraid of civil unrest. Civil unrest for him is something purely negative.] We are already seeing parents tearing down yellow tape to get into playgrounds and visiting elderly family members despite orders.  It’s been more than a year of announcements that don’t fully work and measures that only temporarily curb the pandemic or protect the public.

As the leader of Ontario’s public service union, I am most concerned with public safety. Thousands of OPSEU/SEFPO members have been in the front lines of this pandemic, risking life and limb for the protection and safety of all Ontarians. To protect them, and the rest of us, we need a return to public trust and measures that work.

I am also concerned with how politicized the issue has become. There is no easy answer to ending the pandemic. If there were, surely we would see evidence around the world, not just in a few select places. If we are to get through this, we are going to have to rely on a few things, starting with available vaccines into as many arms as possible, regardless of the name on the label. 

We are going to need capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skilled, trained human resources.

We need treatment options for early onset symptoms for high-risk individuals.

Education, not enforcement, will see us through.

And we need collaboration.

Accusing the Premier of being uncaring, callous and more concerned with finances than health is simply dishonest.

I have come to know the Premier. I know he is distraught. I know he cares. I know he is working around the clock. The burden of leadership, whether he signed up for it or not, weighs heavy in life or death decisions. Armchair quarterbacking is far cozier.

Stop lobbing rhetorical bombs, end the name calling and hostility. Now is not the time for posturing along party lines that has been so front and centre.

We must come together now. [My daughter, Francsesca, calls the idea of “We’re all in this together”–bullshit.]

I am calling on the Premier to share the burden, widen the tent and bring all voices into a room where egos can be checked at the door for the good of Ontario. [We are, after all, all Ontarians if not Canadians. That despite the class power of employers in Ontario and Canada. That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ford is himself a capitalist employer.] Let’s hash it out; determine a course, develop a narrative everyone can trust and understand. And finally let’s implement it once and for all.

With nearly 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario today, it’s clear that the answers must come quickly. Real answers from leaders who care more about people than their own futures. [Yes, real leaders–not the pseudo-leader called Warren “Smokey” Thomas.]

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; OPSEUCommunications@opseu.org

The above expresses the ideology of “We’re all in it together.” This is the real nature of trade union leaders–not the rhetoric (bullshit) that they often express to their members.

I quoted Mr. Thomas in another post, this time dated November 27, 2018. In that quote, it is the rhetoric (bullshit) that is expressed. I invite the reader to contrast the two quotes. All bolded words in the text are my emphases:

Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in the Queen's Park media gallery.
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Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says Doug Ford has indeed made Ontario “open for business” … to trample all over workers and kill good jobs.

Shrugging his shoulders at GM’s callous plan to shutter a state-of-the-art Oshawa plant next year is yet another sign that Ford has no clue how to manage the province, Thomas said. He could care less that thousands of hard-working people will end up losing their jobs.

“This premier is in bed with business and this is how business behaves. Always putting profits ahead of people,” said Thomas. “Ford couldn’t organize a two-float parade, let alone run the province.  We need leadership that will stand up for working people.”

GM is a successful company that has already posted $6 billion in profits so far this year, Thomas noted.

“Ontario was there in 2009 when GM needed a multibillion-dollar lifeline from taxpayers. Now it’s turning its back on the people and Ford isn’t lifting a finger to stop it,” he said.

Contrast that with the premier’s red-faced fury a few months ago when he vowed to do whatever it took – including invoking the notwithstanding clause – to settle a score with Toronto city council, said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“This is the bully who threatened to suspend constitutional rights to slash city hall and get even with his critics,” he said. “But when GM tells him they’re going to close shop and throw thousands of people out of work, he just rolls over. What are his priorities?”

With the Conservative government in shambles over its disastrous decision to scrap the office of Ontario’s French-language Commissioner and abuse-of-power scandals breaking almost daily, it’s clear that Ford’s incompetence is dragging Ontario down.

“He can’t run a party, never mind the province,” Thomas said. “At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931

Which is the real Warren “Smokey” Thomas?

The Call for the Conversion of the GM Oshawa Plant to a Facility for the Production of Medical Equipment in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic

On April 19, 2020, on the Socialist Project website–Retool Oshawa GM Complex to Combat Covid19–there is a press conference by five individuals–Tony Leah (facilitator), Michael Hurley, Rebecca Keetch, Patty Coates and James Hutt–calling on the Canadian government (and the Ontario provincial government) to take over the GM Oshawa plant, which closed on December 19, 2019, in order to facilitate the production of medical equipment, including masks, ventilators, gloves and tests–all of which are in short supply due to the international competition for such equipment as well as the Trump government’s ban on exporting medical equipment into Canada.

Some of the following is taken verbatim from the five presenters without quotes in order to facilitate reading whereas some of it is paraphrased. After a description of what they say, I make some critical comments in relation to the call for public ownership and other issues.

Mr. Hurley, president of the Hospital Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), emphasizes the urgency of the need for medical equipment for front-line workers. Medical equipment is in short supply to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,  and such equipment is vital if front-line workers are not to succumb to the virus themselves, as many paramedics did in New York.

Ms. Keetch, a former autoworker at GM Oshawa, calls on the Canadian and provincial governments to convert the closed-down GM Oshawa assembly plant into a publicly-owned site in order to use it to produce much needed medical equipment. She points out that other countries and companies have converted car factories into plants for producing medical equipment: the Chinese capitalist company BYD producing masks and hand sanitizers; GM having its workers produce ventilators at its Kokomo Indiana plant; and Ford Canada having its workers produce face masks at its Windsor Ontario plant. She justifies taking over the plant on the basis of putting social need in general before the interest of profit and the particular health and safety needs of workers who have been declared essential, such as hospital workers and grocery workers. There already exists a skilled workforce available to produce the needed medical equipment–the workforce of the former GM plant and the workers of its former suppliers.

Ms. Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (representing 54 unions and a million workers) indicates her support for the initiative and points out how the Conservative government of Doug Ford had reduced the health-care budget before the pandemic. Health-care workers, patients and community members need vital medical equipment that are currently lacking. She also supports a proposal for workers having 21 paid sick days so that they can stay home if sick without financial hardship and free healthcare for all regardless of immigration status. Workers themselves are calling for such protective measures.

Mr. Hutt does climate and labour justice with the Leap. On the Leap website, it says:

Mission

The Leap’s mission is to advance a radically hopeful vision for how we can address climate change by building a more just world, while building movement power and popular support to transform it into a lived reality.

Since our launch, we’ve drawn heavily on the ideas and networks of our co-founders, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis.

Mr. Hutt notes that Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, called for manufacturing companies to retool to produce medical equipment, but it is not enough to rely on the goodwill of CEOs and manufacturers to produce what is needed at this time. There is a textile manufacturer, Novo Textile Co, based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, that has ordered machinery from China in order to produce masks, but it has not yet received the equipment. What we need now is fast production of medical equipment.

This shows that we need the government to play a strong role in ensuring that we increase production of medical equipment in order to meet the demand for medical supplies in Canada. This is where GM Oshawa can play a role. The auto assembly plant is one of the largest plants in North America, and yet 90 percent of its capacity is currently going to waste. Furthermore, there are available 5,000 workers who lost their jobs directly through the closing of the factory and 10,000 more workers who, indirectly, became unemployed.

The workers should be hired back in good, well-paying unionized jobs. After all, it is they who produce the value and services needed  by society.

What we need is a people’s bailout, which includes both workers and the environment, instead of a bailout of corporations and banks. The people’s bailout contains three components. Firstly, it responds to the immediate life-and-death needs of front-line workers and by all those whose lives have been turned inside out by the pandemic. Secondly, it helps to recover our lives, but in a new way, through government stimulus in creating a zero-carbon and full employment economy. Thirdly, it helps to reimagine our society. The economy must be transformed to ensure that safety and stability are the priorities for all and not just the 1%.

Nationalizing the plant, or converting it into public ownership, would create 13,000 unionized, well-paying jobs to produce the things that we need, initially in the first component or phase of producing medical equipment and, in the second phase, the production of electric vehicles for, for example, Canada Post, the single largest user of vehicles in Canada, and electric buses across Canada.

The third component or phase would involve the creation of a more just society for all, which entails public ownership of the plant, the provision of production facilities in Canada that would involve internal production of medical equipment throughout Canada.

Mr. Leah then points out that there is a petition that viewers of the Conference can sign, which will be sent to Premier Ford of Ontario and Prime Minister Trudeau (Petition–Order GM to Make Needed PPE).

There was then a question and answer session, with Valerie McDonald (? unsure if this is the name) asking the question of how quickly could the Oshawa plant fully employ the former workforce, whether directly or indirectly, and use the plant to capacity. Another question by Kate (I could not make out her last name) was who would paid for the retooling, the federal or provincial governments, and how much would it cost and how long it would take. Mr. Hurley pointed out that China set up factories within two weeks for the production of fiber masks. Given that the Canadian governments have adopted emergency powers, they could start producing almost immediately. As for the cost, currently Canada is paying almost three times the normal price for medical supplies on the open market; consequently, there would actually be considerable savings by shifting to local production. Ms. Leetch added that in the United States, in Warren, it took about two weeks to be converted and a total of a month for thousands of masks to be produced. She also points that, in relation to costs, it would be necessary for the government to provide aid for retooling. Ms. Coates adds that we need to think about the future beyond this pandemic: we need to have the capacity to produce ventilators and other medical equipment. As for the cost, the issue of cost has little to do with the issue since lives are priceless, and the cost of retooling to save lives not just now but also for the foreseeable future–since there will still be demand for personal protective equipment for some time to come even in the case of the current pandemic. We need a permanent solution to the problem and not a temporary one.

Another couple of questions were: The federal government had no problem purchasing a U.S. owned pipeline company, but now that such a company will be idled, why would the federal government not step in and purchase the plant from GM and retool it? A follow-up question is: Is the plant too large, and can it be adapted to produce medical equipment and other things [unclear if this is the exact question]. Another question is whether the machinery already exists in the plant or must it be imported?

Mr. Hurley indicated that neither the provincial Ontario government nor the federal government has responded in an urgent fashion to the pandemic by forcing employers to retool to produce medical equipment despite hundreds and even thousands of Canadians dying due to the pandemic. It is time that the Trudeau government institute wartime measures to force employers to retool in order to save lives by producing tests, ventilators and other medical equipment that are fundamental to the protection of workers.

Ms. Coates added that not only healthcare workers do not have sufficient protection but also grocery workers, bus drivers and municipal workers are still working and need to be protected during this pandemic.

Ms. Keetch points out that what they are demanding is that the government order production because that will then allocate resources that permit things to happen. As for the plant being too big: not really. We can use whatever space is necessary at the plant right now to address immediate needs. In relation to parallels between the federal government purchasing a pipeline company and purchasing the GM Oshawa plant, but the issue now is to prioritize what needs to be done, and the priority should be to protect Canadian citizens, and both money and the political will need to be found to do that. She does not know whether the machinery is on site, but she does know that Ontarians are experts in manufacturing and have been for decades.

For closing remarks, Ms. Keetch pointed out that the pandemic is an interdependent phenomena, with both the public coming into contact with workers and workers coming into contact with the public, so that both need to protect each other through the use of protective equipment. The use of present resources to meet this need is a common-sense approach.

Tony Leah stated that what happened in the United States in Kokomo and other places in the United States, when the government ordered production, shows that medical equipment can be relatively quickly produced, within a week or two, depending on the complexity of the equipment. He judges GM’s inaction to be shameful, especially since GM took $11 billion in Canadian bailout money during the last economic crisis.

As an emergency measure, it makes sense to convert the idle GM Oshawa plant into a plant where workers could produce much needed medical equipment. As a longer-term measure, it also makes sense to convert the idle plant into a permanent facility for the production of medical equipment in order to prevent any future shortage of medical supplies. Alternatively, once the pandemic has past, it could make sense to convert the plant  into an electric-vehicle factory as originally planned.

From the point of view of the workers who lost their jobs when GM Oshawa closed the plant, it also makes sense to try to be employed again; they could resume the same kind of life that they used to live rather than joining the unemployed.

I did sign the petition, but mainly because it makes sense to pressure the governments to convert the plant into a factory to deal with the pandemic crisis. Given the urgency of the situation, however, there could at least have been reference to seizing the plant by the workers. Seizing the plant could easily have been justified as necessary in order to save lives.

Such seizure, it seems, is probably impractical for a number of reasons. Firstly, the workers themselves have probably been demobilized (moved on to other jobs if they can find them), or they may have abandoned any hope of working at the plant again; others may have accepted a retirement package. Secondly, even if they seized the plant, financing for retooling seems to be beyond their collective means–hence, the need to rely on the government for funding.

However, at least the possibility of seizing the plant and the legitimacy of doing so should have been raised in order to highlight the discrepancy between the real needs of people, the lack of action by the governments and the class power of employers. After all, in normal times, the needs of those who cannot pay are neglected, and the needs of workers for safe working conditions are often neglected as well. Focusing exclusively on what is practical in the situation resulted in another lost opportunity to open up a conversation about the legitimacy of the current economic and political structures.Rather than using the situation as an opportunity to at least point out the legitimacy of seizing the plant–they focus exclusively what is immediately practical. Such “realism” is hardly in the best interests of the working class and of the community.

Mr. Hurley is the person who comes closest to showing such discrepancy, but he limits his criticism to the present governments of Ontario and Canada rather than to the limits of an economy characterized by a dictatorial structure and a modern state characterized, on the one hand, by merely formal equality between “citizens” that often assumes a repressive form (by the police and the courts, for example) and, on the other, a hierarchical dictatorship characteristic of the employer and employee relation within government or the modern state.

The presenters did not use the situation as an opportunity to link the particular–and urgent–problem of a society capable of producing needed medical equipment–to the general problem of a society that excludes not only the needs of people for various goods and services–but also the needs of workers to control their own working lives.

It is true that Mr. Hutt does refer to a third component of a people’s bailout–a reimagined society–but it is more like a social-democratic reimagining more than anything else–and it is utopian. To call for a society that is safe would require the elimination of the power of employers as a class. After all, workers are means for the benefit of employers, and as means their safety is always in jeopardy (for the necessary treatment of workers as means for the benefit of the class of employers, see The Money Circuit of Capital; for the issue of safety, see for example Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part One).

As for Mr. Hutt’s call for stability, that too would require the elimination of the power of the class of employers since investment decisions are made for the purpose of accumulating more profitable capital, and such an accumulation process often leads to crises in production and exchange (through overproduction and hence unemployment. Employers also introduce machinery into workplaces, reducing the demand for workers. Since workers are the basis for profit, though, the situation is again ripe for an economic crisis since the production of such a profit requires increasing the exploitation of workers who do work while keeping down their wages through increasing unemployment–overwork for those who work and little work for the unemployed.

Furthermore, given the repressive nature of the employers (see, for example, Employers as Dictators, Part One) and the government (see for example Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two), many peoples’ lives are hardly experienced as stable.  Mr. Hutt’s reference to stability rings hollow.

Does Mr. Hutt really believe in the elimination of a class of employers? The elimination of classes would be what is needed to live a safe and stable life within the limits of the natural world and the limits of our own created world, He nowhere says so. In fact, it is probable that Mr. Hutt believes in the reconstruction of a welfare state–capitalism with a human face. His reference to “good, well-paying unionized jobs” is what is probably the aim–“decent work,” “a fair contract,” and “free collective bargaining.” I have criticized these ideas in earlier posts, so readers can refer to them in order to see their limitations.

Mr. Hutt’s reference to a zero-carbon economy also fails to meet the problem of the infinite nature of the nature of the capitalist economy and the limited earth on which we live. Even if the capitalist economy moves to a zero-carbon economy (free of the use of fossil fuels), the infinite nature of capitalist accumulation would undoubtedly continue to rape the planet (see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One).

One final point to reinforce the previous post: nationalization and reliance on the modern government and state, typical of the social-democratic left, are hardly democratic. For real democracy and not just formal democracy to arise, it would be necessary to dismantle the repressive nature of the modern government or state. As George McCarthy (2018) remarks, in his book Marx and Social Justice Ethics and Natural Law in the Critique of Political Economy, page 279:

Following closely the military and political events surrounding the [Paris] Commune, Marx recognised very quickly that some of his earlier ideas about the socialist state contained in the Communist Manifesto (1848) were no longer relevant: ‘[T]he working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’.18 The state is not an independent and neutral political organisation capable of yielding power for one class and then another; it is not simply an issue of gaining control over the state and then implementing economic and social reforms. Rather, the republican state, utilising its political and legal apparatus, is an oppressive mechanism of social control preserving the class interests of the bourgeois economic system, and this, too, would also have to be restructured. Continuing arguments from On the Jewish Question (1843), Marx contends that the role of the French state was to maintain the economic and political power of the propertied class: ‘[T]he state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism’. Therefore, with this in mind, the Commune’s first actions were to dismantle the various component parts of the French state, including the army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and the judiciary. Thus an entirely new form of government would have to be constructed that conformed to the socialist ideals of human emancipation and political freedom.

To talk of “democratic public ownership” in the context of a sea of economic dictatorship both within and outside the modern government or state stimulates high expectations that are bound to be dashed in the real world.

The earlier call by Green Jobs Oshawa was to nationalize the plant and to produce electric vehicles may seem also to make sense, but I will address this issue in another post in reference to the Socialist Project’s pamphlet Take the Plant–Save the Planet: The Struggle for Community Control and Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa. 

Addendum:

The above post was posted at 1:00 a.m., Friday, April 24. In the afternoon, it was announced that the GM Oshawa plant would indeed be retooled to produce a million masks a month for essential workers (see GM Oshawa plant will now produce millions of masks following worker mobilization: CUPE Ontario). The federal Trudeau government and GM signed a letter of intent to that effect. The response from one of the unions that represent front-line hospital workers–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE):

 “We mobilized our community through a petition and public events and it goes to show that collective action works. This unprecedented victory is now an opportunity to push the Ford Conservatives to also retool private companies to produce what Ontarians need.”

To produce what Ontario needs: What does that mean? They are probably  referring to the production of needed medical equipment:

“The Ford Conservatives need to learn from this example and order the private sector to ramp up production of these supplies – or retool factories if necessary,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, highlighting feeder plants and other manufacturing facilities across the province. “They’ve had no problem unilaterally issuing orders that override the freely-negotiated collective agreements of front-line workers. They now need to use their power to order the immediate production of PPE for everyone who needs it.”

The use of the abandoned GM Oshawa plant for the production of medical equipment is indeed a victory–this is vital if frontline workers are to be protected from the coronavirus.

It should be noted, though, that this victory is probably a short-term victory. The urgent need for masks for frontline workers, as I pointed out above, could have been used to justify at least theoretically the seizure of the GM Oshawa plant by the workers who used to work there. Since the call for using the GM Oshawa plant and the retooling needed are separated from any reference to the legitimate right of the workers to seize the plant, when the need for the production of masks no longer exists, the plant will probably revert to its former status as an abandoned capitalist factory. The workers will have a difficult time justifying the continued maintenance of production at the plant given their short-term victory. Indeed, given that the form of the announcement is a letter of intent between the federal government and GM, shifting production to masks, in the eyes of many, will probably be viewed as a result of actions by government and employer rather than by workers and unions.

Another problem is that it is unclear who will be rehired to produce the masks, and how many will be rehired.

The urgency of the need for medical equipment is short-term–but it should have been used for long-term gains. Instead, an opportunity for shifting public opinion towards the legitimization of the seizure of workplaces by workers has been squandered.

The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left on the Standards They Use in Relation to Health and Safety

I had a debate on the Facebook page of the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC), an organization designed to facilitate communication and common actions among unions at the Toronto International Pearson Airport. The issue was health and safety and workers’ compensation. In Canada, most workers who work for an employer are covered by workers’ compensation–a fund derived from premiums that employers pay, based on the rate and extent of accidents in the particular industry as well as the accident record of particular employers. Being covered by workers’ compensation means that, if an injury (or disease) is work related, then the worker has the right to be compensated.

The following conversation occurred on October 18, 2019, first with an anonymous member of TAWC and then with the TAWC member Mike Corrado (who is also the general chairperson of the central region of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW):

Premier Ford [of Ontario,Canada] says he cares about safety, but after the 5th temp agency worker death at Fiera Foods Company, he still refuses to take action. Legislation already exists to stop companies from treating temp workers’ lives as disposable. Tell FordNationto implement this law, now! VISIT: www.15andFairness.org

Fred Harris Are there any statistics about now many non-temporary agency workers have died since 1999? Or even during Doug Ford’s term as premier? Is one death one too many in that situation? If so, what is being done about it? Why the focus exclusively on temporary workers? Certainly, that issue should be addressed–but what about those who supposedly have :”good jobs” (unionized, for example)? Do they not still die needlessly in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers?

Tawc Yyz Thats far too many questions to realistically answer on this post.

Fred Harris Let us assume that this is the case. There are six questions in the above post. Take any question and answer it. Or perhaps one question per week? Or per month? Every two months?

Should not at least one question be answered now? If not, why not?

Take any of the six questions and answer it. Or is one quetion “too much” to realistically answer on this post?”

I remember when I worked at one of those so-called “decent jobs” that much of the social-democratic left talk about. One night, a few days after the brewery was “inspected” (mysteriously the brewery was advised of the inspection beforehand so that the machinery, etc. could be cleaned), a worker lost a couple of fingers when his glove got caught in a chain on the conveyor belt. Not long afterwards, we started to produce beer again.

I guess non-temporary workers have it so good that the issue of whether workers will ever be safe under working conditions controlled in large part by employers should not be brought up? That the general issue of the unsafe working conditions in various forms should not be brought up? Or is that too many questions to answer in a post? If so, then feel free to answer it on my blog.

That temporary workers are more subject to the possibility of unsafe working conditions than regular working conditions is probably true (I worked as a substitute teacher–a temporary worker–though not for a temp agency) for a number of years. That did not prevent me from questioning the more general question.

Mike Corrado The brewery workers were fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB whereas temp workers aren’t afforded with the same rights!

Open Letter to Premier Ford
October 8, 2019

RE: Urgent action required after fifth temp worker death at Fiera Foods

Dear Premier Doug Ford,

As you know, on Wednesday, September 25, Enrico Miranda, a father of two, was killed on the job. As you also know, Mr. Miranda is the fifth temporary agency worker who has died on the job at Fiera Foods or an affiliated company.

Shockingly, it has been almost two weeks since his death and yet we have heard nothing from you. You have chosen to remain silent, despite having the power to implement legislation that could have prevented this tragedy.

Mr. Ford, this is the second worker killed at Fiera Foods under your watch.

Had you implemented Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act – legislation which has already passed, but simply needs your signature – Mr. Miranda might still be alive today.

That’s why we are writing to you to demand that you immediately enact this existing law that will make companies using temp agencies financially responsible under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act for workplace deaths and injuries.

Laws like this will make companies like Fiera Foods think twice before putting temp workers into harm’s way.

There’s no more time to waste, and we need you to take action to make sure this is the last temp agency worker death.

Implement Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act – right now!

We expect to hear from you right away, and certainly no later than Friday, October 11.

Ontarians deserve to know whether their premier will stand up for workers – or whether he will remain silent and continue allowing companies to treat their workers’ lives as disposable.

Fred Harris Yes, the brewery workers were “fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB”–and is this compensation for the man who lost his two fingers?

Furthermore, substitute teachers (at least in Manitoba) are not covered by workers compensation.

In addition, the answer that “being fully covered under workers’ compensation” (or not) skirts the question of whether workers, whether covered or not, can ever be safe under conditions that are dominated by a class of employers.

Why shift the issue to being “fully covered under worker’s compensation or WSIB” or not to the issue of whether human safety is really possible under conditions dominated by a class of employers?

Of course, this does not mean that workers who are not covered by worker’s compensation should not struggle to obtain coverage (and others should support such struggle). However, the standard is itself ‘workers who are covered by worker’s compensation or WSIB”–an inadequate standard,.

Let us assume that all workers who work for employers are covered by worker’s compensation. On such a view, then workers would be safe? If not, why not? How many workers have suffered injury at the airport in the last five years? Two years? One year? Do they qualify for worker’s compensation?

Finally, legislation can prevent some injuries and deaths–but hardly all injuries and deaths under existing conditions of domination of the economy by a class of employers and the social structures that go along with that domination. Human beings are things to be used by employers–like machines. Given that situation, there are bound to be injuries and deaths. Or why is it that there around 1000 deaths at work a year in Canada and over 600,000 injuries?

No further response was forthcoming. Was my question about whether being covered by workers’ compensation was an adequate standard out of line? Do not workers deserve an answer to the question? Why the silence?

To be fair to Mike Corrado, at least he broke the silence typical of much of the social-democratic left. Unfortunately, he chose to then revert back to the silence so typical of the social-democratic left when it comes to the power of employers as a class.

Furthermore, Mr. Corrado’s position with respect to the power of employers as a class shines through on the same Facebook page just prior to the Canadian federal elections held on October 21, 2019:

Election Day is Monday. Family values, workers rights, healthcare, pharmacare, the economy, privatization, electoral reform, the environment and the wealthy paying their fair share are at stake and so is my child’s future!

I too am for workers’ rights, healhcare, pharmacare, etc. But what does Mr. Corrado mean by “the wealthy paying their fare share?” This is a social-democratic slogan or cliche. What does it mean? There is no elaboration about what it means. The slogan implies that the wealthy should continue to be wealthy–but only that they should “pay their fair share.” As long as they pay “their fair share,” they can continue to treat workers as things at work. They can continue to make decisions about what to produce, how to produce, when to produce and where to produce. They can continue to dictate to workers (subject to the collective agreement). They can continue to make decisions concerning how much of their wealth will be reinvested and how much will be personally consumed (determining thereby the rate of accumulation and the level of economy growth and the quality of that growth).

Just as the social-democratic left are silent concerning the adequacy of the standard of workers’ compensation, so too they are silent concerning the legitimacy of the existence of a class of persons who make decisions that affect, directly and indirectly, the lives of millions of workers.

Why the silence? Why are not workers constantly talking about these issues?

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two

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 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier post,  over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

The first talk is by Dan Karasik, an activist in the movement for the fight for $15. He claims that the goal now is to hold on to the gains that have been made through the passing of Bill 148 (reform of employment law, which introduced a number of employment laws beneficial to unorganized workers and increased the minimum wage to $14 an hour as of January 1, 2018 and was scheduled to increase as of January 1, 2019). In the short term, such a goal is of course realistic; organized opposition to the class of employers will not occur overnight.

However, Dan likely overestimates, like much of the social-reformist left, the immediate potentiality for radicalizing sections of the working class in terms of the immediate conditions prior to an election. He claims that a radicalization of working-class politics can occur because of the elections. Alternatively, his definition of radical politics is social-reformist and is radical only in relation to Doug Ford’s immediate political position. Both likely share similar positions concerning the necessity of the class of employers (see my earlier post about a social reformist who claims that the fight for $15 is indeed fair, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Dan argues that Doug Ford is a populist who was elected the premier of Ontario, Canada, in June 2018 in part to represent “the people,” with a substantial part of the people, according to Dan, expecting Doug Ford to maintain the provisions set out in Bill 148. With the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calling on the Ontario government to completely repeal the Bill, the mood among the social-reformist left has shifted from being celebratory to a mood characterized by a mood characterized by increasing jitters Nevertheless, there is now a space for radicalization since the fight for $15 and what Dan still calls “fairness” potentially has done is to open up a struggle amongst racialized and gendered sections of the working class since minimum wage jobs in Toronto are predominantly filled by racialized and gendered members of the working class–should Ford ultimately decide to follow the recommendations of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Although there may indeed may be some space for organizing along these lines, Dan at no time indicated what he meant by radical politics. Somehow the false promise of Doug Ford to represent “the people” is to magically transform racialized and gendered working-class members into radicals.

Dan never gets around to indicating what he means by “radical politics,” let alone “radical working-class politics.” Since he never does question pairing the term “Fight for $15” with the term “fairness,” his radical politics probably is defined entirely within the limits of the social-reformist left’s definition of radical politics–social reforms that in no way question the power of employers as a class. The questioning of such power is implicitly “off the agenda.”  See several of my posts for criticisms of the positions of politics of the social-reformist left.

Dan briefly referred to the situation of capital and labour in Toronto–without stating anything further. What is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? When I was a member of the Toronto Labour Committee (with Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray practically being the leaders), I proposed  a class analysis of Toronto (but indicated that I did not really know how to go about doing that–although I was willing to learn–I was involved in another project in gathering data pertaining to the ruling class analysis in Toronto, but it could not really be considered directly related to the ruling class, but perhaps to the class of self-employed and small to middle-sized employers–but that would have required more refined tools than those used). The response was–silence.

So, what is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? You would not be able to tell at all from anything Dan had to say. (Perhaps someone can refer me to recent articles and books on the subject? I would definitely appreciate it.)

In general, Dan’s talk refers to a radical politics, but it really contains very little in the way of specifying what that may mean. The audience is left to “fill in” what that may mean. Since the moderator already filled in part of it by referring to “decent work,” (see an earlier post), it is highly probable that Dan’s radical politics really means more of the same social-reformist politics that has been circulating since the employer class went on the offensive in the 1970s. In essence, this radicalism wants to return to a renewed welfare state, with social housing, enhanced unemployment benefits, improved welfare benefits, reductions in austerity, reformed employment laws and so forth. Such a politics, however, has no intention, though, of questioning the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers. That is not on the agenda.

It certainly was not mentioned by Dan at all. Such is the radical space left untouched in the first talk in the series.

What’s left, Toronto? So far, social-reformism and the acceptance of the power of employers as a class.

 

An Example of the Inadequacy of the Canadian Left, or How the Canadian Left Contributes to the Emergence of the Canadian Right

On Facebook, a social-reformist leftist posted the fact that the Ontario Conservative government, headed by the right-wing millionaire Doug Ford, had eliminated the position of Ontario Child Advocate Office, integrating it with the Ombudsman’s Office.  The person had attached the comment “Shameful”. A subsequent comment objected to the fact that the man who filled the position of Child Advocate, Irwin Elman, found out that his position had been eliminated through the media rather than directly through his employer.

I had a discussion with some social-reformist left on Facebook concerning this. I first posted the following:

Although such an institution may be useful in some cases, the social-reformist left fail to provide any critical distance and question whether such institutions are adequate to their alleged purpose. In other words, the left tend to react to the closing down of downsizing of any institution with a knee-jerk reaction of “let us save this institution” without inquiring while assuming that such institutions do not need to be criticized or changed. In other words, the left often lacks critical distance. When schools were to be closed, what did the left do? “Let us save the schools”–as if schools all of a sudden were ideal institutions.

Another, more personal example. In Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada], when my daughter told me that her mother had slapped her in the face so hard that her tooth was bleeding in Winnipeg, I went to the Children’s Advocate to complain about it, The Children’s Advocate, claimed that there had been indication of physical abuse–but the only institution that could really do something about it was–the Winnipeg Child and Family Services.

The last time that I had complained to the Winnipeg Child and Family Services about physical abuse by her mother was a complaint that her mother had kicked my daughter in the back, The response by Winnipeg Child and Family Services was, initially, that there were no marks. The second response was a letter in January, 2004, indicating that they would no longer investigate my complaints and that they may even consult their lawyer and the Winnipeg Police for allegedly making false accusations (which several years later they indirectly admitted were true).

The Children’s Advocate did nothing about my allegation of my daughter’s slapping Francesca (my daughter) in the face, and it was the Winnipeg Child and Family Services which inquired into the slapping–about three months later, with no consequences as far as I could see.

This does not mean that Ford should not be criticized; but the left’s typical uncritical stance concerning such institutions needs to be pointed out and criticized. The left’s lack of criticism of criticism of social institutions can be seen in other areas–such as work, where they thoughtlessly use such terms as “decent work,” “fair wages,” “economic justice,” and “fairness.”

A subsequent comment was made by Willy Noiles, the president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) (the same person who objected to the indirect way of informing Irwin Elman that he had lost his position) to the effect that I had read too much into his comment and that he would agree to such a criticism of the Ontario Child Advocate (and presumably other such institutions) if a third party, upon inquiry, found the institution negligent of its duties. (The president deleted his comment subsequently since it is no longer there; consequently, I cannot provide his answer verbatim.)

My response was as follows:

I hardly read into this person’s comments anything except silence concerning the efficacy of such an institution in relation to advocating for children. This person failed to mention anything about such efficacy in the original post.

As for “third party” investigation–which third party? I filed a complaint against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Ombudsman’s Office. Their judgement: the Winnipeg Child and Family Services had committed no breach of its duties, etc. As for the Children’s Advocate–it lacked the power of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services and did nothing, practically, to save my daughter from further abuse.

So, this person, instead of focusing on adequacy of such institutions (including “third parties”), complains about how the employee was treated.

This person’s criticism of the way the government operated is certainly valid–but he leaves out so much that should be included but rarely is by the left–the adequacy of the institutions themselves.

As for employer’s indicating that the Children’s advocate, Irwin Elman was to lose his job through the media–undoubtedly this should be criticized.

But what of the thousands of other people who silently are crushed by their employer or who are afraid of complaining about the power of their employer? Does this person complain about that, which undoubtedly an NDP government [the NDP is a social-reformist political party] would fail to address since it assumes that the power of employers is sacrosanct?

What is the position of this person on the power of employers in general? Why complain about the abuse of a particular employer only? Why not complain about the abuse of employers as a class? Or use this particular abuse as an example of such abuse?

Instead of criticizing only Ford and his government, why not criticize the accepted assumption by the left and the right of the legitimacy of employers in general?

Another person then commented that she supported Ford’s decision to close the Ontario Child’s Advocate since, according to her, it has done little to advocate for children. She claimed that there were other similar programs set up that were politically motivated but that they have not even “come remotely close to addressing their mandate.” She accused the former Ontario Liberal government of Kathleen Wynn of creating many such useless institutions due to political patronage. She therefore supported “Ford needs to drain the swamp of these types of ‘institutions’ because they are nothing but institutional welfare for academics in most cases.”

She then claimed that she is “not of any political stripe…in fact I deplore ‘politics’, but I support anyone who is willing to clean up the mess we are all paying for.”

I responded:

The left should take a long look at the above post by [this woman]. The left, by not taking a critical stance on many issues and institutions (they assume that certain institutions, such as schools, the Children’s Advocate, the employer-employee relationship in general, labour laws, collective agreements or employment laws) are somehow the embodiment of fairness, justice and decency.

It is the right that then captures the sympathy of certain individuals by eliminating or reducing funding to certain institutions. Such individuals then falsely generalize to believing that “Ford needs to drain the swamp of these types of institutions.” Ford becomes popular because the left fails to criticize certain institutions that deserve criticism–and then individuals turn to the right by overgeneralizing–as if Ford were sympathetic to the creation of a humanistic world rather than pandering after the interests of employers.

The left is just as responsible as the right for “Ford nation.” In addition to failing to criticize social institutions, it also shares with Ford the belief that employers as a class are somehow necessary. Why else would they talk about “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” decent work,” “economic justice” and “fairness?”

The woman then reiterated that she was not for any political party and was neither left-wing or right-wing. She even claimed that she opposed multinational corporations. However, she then reiterated that she would support a government that opposed “a bureaucracy where the head makes over a quarter million dollars annually, plus, plus, plus. We are paying horrific prices for these political ‘gifts’.”

My reply:

The problem with this approach is that we are forced to take sides in the real world. I oppose Ford because of what he represents–the interests of employers. His elimination of the Children’s Advocate has little to do with benefiting children and probably more to do with his agenda of streamlining government so that employers have to pay less. All this talk of saving “taxpayers’ money” is itself a cloak for the benefit of employers.

To be opposed to multinational corporations would entail being opposed to Ford on many fronts–why then focus on “supporting Ford” on a particular issue since the general issue is what Ford represents–employers as a class?

Ford is a parasite–he is an employer and a millionaire. How did he obtain his money if not by exploiting workers? Why not criticize this form of parasitism–which is the central parasitism of our times–rather than a particular parasite? Or why not criticize Ford as exemplary of such central parasitism?

Or where do the profits of employers come from except from the exploitation of workers (employees)?

The woman did not comment after this, but one man indicated that Ford was even worse because “inherited his company from his father, then shut down most Ontario operations and moved to the US.”

Another woman made a final comment: “And even one of those operations in the US was run into the ground killing jobs.”

One of the lessons of this discussion is, as I indicated in my post to Facebook, the left often reacts in  knee-jerk way to the actions of the right in relation to specific social institutions in such a way that they alienate others who consider those social institutions to be a waste. The left in effect act as conservatives of past institutions that may well deserve to be restructured or eliminated in order to address problems internal to such institutions.

A second lesson is that the left do not see that there is mixed in the beliefs of supporters of the right critical aspects that may form a way in which to undermine such support (such as the woman’s belief in eliminating parasites and her opposition to multinational companies).

A third lesson is that the left, by assuming that employers are necessary, form an implicit alliance with the right despite the apparent opposition to them. The issues between the social-reformist left and the right stem mainly from the issue of the extent to which the state will be a welfare state or not–a social-democratic state versus a neoliberal state. The left, however, like the right, assume that employers as a class are here to stay. The issue for it is never in questioning the legitimacy of employers but whether a society dominated by a class of employers can accommodate a welfare state.

By not engaging in a critique of the power of employers as a class, the left miss an opportunity for connecting with those who support some of the actions of the right. Has not the right restructured the state? Has not sections of the working class supported such restructuring in part because of the lack of criticism by the left of a society dominated by a class of employers? The left will at best propose welfare reforms, but since it shares with the right the belief in the sanctity of the employer-employee relation and the limits that imposes on state restructuring and reform, it will likely produce a backlash in the form of support for right-wing policies by sections of the working class.

Should not the left engage in self-criticism? Should it not begin to criticism its own rhetoric of “decent work,” fair wages,” “economic justice,” “fairness,” and “fair labour laws.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right

In an earlier post (Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two), I argued that the social-reformist leftist activist Mr. Bush used Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value for conservative (reformist purposes). This post will expand on this view by pointing out, in a more theoretical way, how Mr. Bush, undoubtedly like many of his social-reformist comrades, share assumptions with their apparent enemies, the right, such as the conservatives.

Mr. Bush referred to Marx’s theory of surplus value and assumed that this was the primary feature of Marx’s theory. Undoubtedly it is an important aspect of Marx’s theory, but Mr. Bush, by referring to the “messy business of material reality,” including “costs,” crassly assumes that costs are somehow a fixed standard that leftists are somehow not to question. The “messy business of material reality” is assumed, in other words, to be a fixed fact rather than a fluid reality created by human beings and therefore subject to change by them.

Mr. Bush assumes, like Doug Ford and other conservatives, that things (including human beings), have “costs” (the “messy business of material reality)–without inquiring into the nature of those costs or why such things have such costs in the first place.

Let us, however, refer to Marx (and not to the shared assumptions of Mr. Bush and Doug Ford). From Capital, Volume 1, pages 173-175,

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

The first point is that value and its magnitude (which is related to price, money and “cost”) is an expression of a kind of society in which “process of production has mastery over man [and woman], instead of the opposite.”

The second point is that Marx relates his labour theory of value in order to reveal the social and alienated nature of the labour involved in the development of money and in “costing” things. From Capital, Volume 1, pages 168-169:

Consequently, it was solely the analysis of the prices of commodities which led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and solely the common expression of all commodities in money which led to the establishment of their character as values. It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly.

Other authors agree that Marx’s concern is not just with a theory of surplus value but with a theory of surplus value. Thus, John Weeks, in his work Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis (New York: Routledge, page 19):

Value acts as a regulator of price once the entire product, all inputs, are monetized; until this occurs, the product is not a commodity in its entirety and all the concrete labor time expended on it need not be replaced by money. This occurs only with the development of capitalist production. It is important not to become entangled in semantics. “Value” regulates price under capitalist relations and can be used as a tool of analysis only in capitalist society.

Value regulates cost or the price of what is produced because both the items used to produce something have a price and what is produced with those commodities generally have a price (public services on the produced side excepted). Cost is not some neutral fact in a capitalist society but in an integral aspect that characterizes the very nature of the kind of society in which we live: a capitalist society (modified by public services but not altered fundamentally).

Marx’s theory of value, which Mr. Bush completely ignores, is designed to capture that essential aspect. This is one of the reasons why, before he analyzed capital, he analyzed commodities and money.

Mr. Bush, like Mr. Proudhon, a nineteenth century leftist socialist reformist before him, simply assumes that costs are natural. He refers to these costs as the “messy business of material reality”–as if material reality were somehow by nature characterized by prices and costs. Doug Ford undoubtedly shares the same belief.

In other words, Mr. Bush, a self-avowed social-reformist leftist, shares similar beliefs as Doug Ford about the nature of society despite apparent opposing ideologies. The same could be said of many trade unionists. Do they not believe that costs are natural? That the “messy business of material reality” must necessarily include costs and prices? A social world without costs and prices would be impossible for them.

How can such a shared belief not but fail to have limits in practice? Already Mr. Bush has equated fighting for a $15 minimum wage and other employment law reforms with “fairness.”

What does the radical left do in Toronto (and probably elsewhere)? It is afraid to criticize Mr. Bush’s ideology. After all, Mr. Bush is–doing something. He is “progressive.” Such progress, however, will lead to a backlash since its limits are limits shared by him and Doug Ford. Mr Bush will not seek to go beyond the limits of the power of employers. He will become an apologist for employers, ultimately, since he considers costs and prices to be inevitable–like Doug Ford does. He will, in practice, engage in tactics and strategies that will limit the capacity of workers to free themselves from the power of employers as a class once and for all. He has already begun the process ideologically by claiming that $15 an hour as a minimum wage is somehow fair.

The radical left, then, would do better by criticizing Mr. Bush’s position (and the position of trade unionists similar to that of Mr. Bush). Otherwise, it forms part of the problem rather than part of the solution. By not criticizing such positions as that of Mr. Bush, by remaining silent, it panders after the elite and fails to address the needs of the working class, unionized or non-unionized. Those needs involve exposing the produced conditions of their oppression and exploitation and the proposal of an alternative vision of a society without such oppression and exploitation–which only they can produce.

In other words, the radical left, by failing to develop an independent position and merging with the amorphous “progressive left” (aka, the social-reformist left), has aligned itself with a clique of elitist activists within the labour movement rather than with the working class as a whole.

By doing so, the radical left indirectly aligns itself with the right–such as Doug Ford, since Mr. Bush and Doug Ford share certain assumptions.

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.