Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like

My wife asked me what other kind of society could we live than the one we are living now. I suspect that most people have the same kind of question. It is difficult to imagine another kind of life than the life that we have experienced all our lives.

There are, of course, no magic answers. The answers will be experimental, with some failures and some successes, and not in ideal circumstances, of course.

However, some ideas can still be provided about some possible ways of living that provide an alternative vision–a vision so obviously lacking among the so-called left these days.

Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), provides a description of some aspects of a possible future kind of society. He borrows his model largely from David Schweichart’s model of economic democracy in After Capitalism (2002) (which I have not read). He adds three modifications of his own.

I will cut and paste short pieces from this work. He paints various aspects of a socialist society that need to be incorporated into a socialist society. There are undoubtedly other aspects, and his own account may have to be modified.

I will not pursue the topic week after week after week until the topic is exhausted since there are other topics which I consider relevant–above all a critique of the power of the class of employers, but also a critique of the social-reformist left and the so-called radical left that do not question the power of employers as a class.

From Smith’s book, page 303:

The model Schweickart defends has the following essential elements:

(i) Production and distribution are primarily undertaken within worker
collectives. Workers are not hired as wage-labourers by capital; they instead
join worker collectives as fellow members. There is a basic right to employment,
with state enterprises providing jobs for those unable to find positions in
collectives.

This condition is to initiate a reduction in economic coercion as an essential move towards an increase in economic and individual freedom.

There is, of course, a possible problem of increased inefficiency, but Smith addresses this issue in further democratic socialist measures.

 

Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia

In Ontario, Canada, there will be an election in three days. Ontario is the most populous province in Canada. Currently, the Liberals are in power, but even their leader admits that they will lose the election. The race is now between the Progressive Conservatives (an oxymoron, of course), headed by the populist Doug Ford, and the NDP (supported by many unions), headed by Andrea Horwath.

I will vote for the NDP, but I hardly believe that this party represents my interests. Such a party has no intention of opposing the power of employers as a class.

The fact is the NDP party and unions cannot address issues that I and many others face in our lives–in this case, the power of management to dictate to us at work. They remain silent over such issues, or they paper over such issues by high-sounding rhetoric that hides the reality.

Consider the rhetoric of John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in his open letter of January 30, 2018, wrote the following: “We need to fight for labour law reform including broader based bargaining so that precarious workers can have a vehicle in which to achieve dignity and economic justice.”

What does Mr. Cartwright mean by economic justice? Collective agreements? Since he does not explain what he means (a characteristic of rhetoric), we will assume that he means collective agreements between employers and unions.

Other social-reformist leftists express a different kind of rhetoric that centers around the non-unionized workforce. For example, the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage here, along with needed reforms of employment standards, was paired with the concept of “fairness.” David Bush, a contributor to the rankandfile website, explicitly considered such reforms to be fair.

Collective agreements, however, are probably better than the provisions of employment standards for workers in that they limit the power of management even more. Nonetheless, collective agreements are decidedly unfair in that they do not question the power of management to use workers as things for the benefit of the employer.

The NDP, Canadian unions, the social-reformist left in general and even the so-called radical left seem incapable of criticizing the adequacy of such collective agreements.

This blog will at least partly compensate for this silence.

The following management rights clause is more detailed than many. It illustrates the power of employers in relation to employees and how employees are, ultimately, things to be used (in this instance, for obtaining as much money as possible). It also illustrates the lack of democracy in the workplace.

Even if the management rights clause were not detailed, arbitrators have indicated that there is an implied management rights clause in collective agreements. Consequently, workers are expected to follow management’s orders or suffer the consequence of possible discipline and, ultimately, dismissal–economic blackmail.

This is what working for an employer involves–economic blackmail. The implicit situation is: if the worker does not like the working conditions and does not like being treated as a thing–there is the door. The worker is “free” to leave at any time. Of course, workers in general (as a class) lack the conditions for their own economic independence. Consequently, their freedom is an empty freedom. If they try to exert their freedom, how are they to live? If they are parents, how are they to feed, clothe and provide for the children? Such freedom is empty, and yet this empty freedom is nowhere addressed by the social-reformist left. At best, they look towards a renovated welfare state and not to democratic control over the economy.

 

From

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
Between
COLD LOGIC CORPORATION
And
UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION, LOCAL NO. 247
Chartered by the United Food and Commercial
Workers International Union, CLC
TERM OF AGREEMENT
October 17, 2010 to January 31, 2021

pages 3-4:

ARTICLE 4 – MANAGEMENTS RIGHTS
4.01 Except as specifically limited by the express provisions of this Agreement, the Company retains exclusive right to exercise all management rights or functions.
These shall include:

a) The right to formulate, enforce, revise and administer rules, policies and procedures covering the operations including but not limited to attendance, discipline and safety.

b) The right to discipline or discharge for just cause.

c) The right to select the products to be handled, choose customers, determine the methods and scheduling of shipping, receiving and warehousing, determine the type of equipment or vehicle used and the sequence of operating processes within the facility, determine the size and character of inventory and to introduce different shipping, receiving and warehousing methods. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the Union agrees that the Company has the right to study or introduce new or improved production methods or facilities

d) The right to establish work schedules, to determine the number of employees necessary to operate any department, or classification of the Company, to determine management organization for each department, to hire, layoff, suspend, promote, transfer and demote, to assign work on a temporary and permanent basis, to establish or revise reasonable performance and quality standards.

4.02 It is agreed that listing of the foregoing management rights shall not be deemed to exclude other rights of management not specifically listed.

You will unlikely be able to find anything by the social-reformist left that addresses the issue of why management has such dictatorial power over workers on a daily basis.

Why the silence?

Perhaps, as Jack Nicholson said in the movie A Few Good Men–“You can’t handle the truth!”

The NDP and its social-reformist followers cannot handle the truth. Why otherwise the silence?

 

A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) argues against any kind of Basic Income (Basic Income in the Neoliberal Age ). I have argued against their opposition on their own terms in two previous posts.

Others, too, argue for a radical basic income as a proposal that breaks the “economic coercion” required by the class of employers and its representatives by breaking the link between need and entrance into the job market.

I remember reading somewhere (I cannot remember the author or title) of a proposal for a basic income of 45 000 euros a year. Of course, such a proposal could not be realized within the job market of capitalism. That, however, is just the point. Aiming for a goal that cannot be realized in terms of “economic coercion” prescribed by the job market would question the need for such economic coercion. It would also promote discussion about the need for the creation of alternative economic relations and processes. Of course, the exact level of basic income proposed would be open for debate, with variations according to needs, but the principle of making demands that the capitalist job market cannot satisfy permits a policy for organizing and for going beyond a society characterized by the power of a class of employers.

A radical basic income, therefore, needs to become part of the process of questioning the economic coercive power of employers as a class and the associated economic, social and political structures that support such economic blackmail. It is not, in itself, the goal but part of the means for creating a world free from such economic blackmail.

That it is impossible to realize a basic income that threatens the job market within the social relations characterized by a society dominated by a class of employers is hardly a reason to abandon a demand for such a basic income; it is, rather, a reason for making this and other proposals that begin to question economic coercion.

Several writers have argued for basic income, not as a cure-all, but as a means of addressing that economic coercion. For example, Tony Smith, in his book Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism: Marx and Normative Social Theory in the Twenty-First Century (Leiden: Brill, 2017, page 346:

It is not the mere presence of markets that establishes the alien power of
capital. What makes capitalist market societies so different from pre-capitalist
societies with markets is the society-wide compulsion to place the accumulation
of surplus value above all other ends. The democratising of decisions regarding
the levels and priorities of new investments, combined with full employment
and basic income guarantees that are not feasible in capitalism, removes the
compulsion.

The alternative is to delude yourself by using such rhetoric as “economic justice,” “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “good contracts,” a “fair wage” and “fairness” (as much of the social-reformist left does in Toronto). This is what the social-reformist left has done and continues to do. Should not those who claim to be radical break with such reformist ideology and begin the long road towards the construction of a society worthy of human beings.

Unless of course human beings deserve to be “economically coerced.” That is the hidden assumption of the social-reformist left.

The social-reformist left (and much of the radical left, at least in Toronto) certainly fails to question such economic coercion. It seeks reforms entirely in terms of economic coercion and economic blackmail. Is that rational?

The social-reformist left, however, do not see it that way since they assume that it is possible to achieve economic justice, decent work, fair wages and fairness in a society dominated by a class of employers.

Should not the social-reformist left listen to OCAP’s very realistic description of the nature of social world in which we live in their pamphlet mentioned above: “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (page 6)? Should they not take that fact seriously? Given that fact, should they not aim to abolish such a situation by advocating measures that question the need for such coercion? Or should the so-called radical left at least start to openly criticize the absurd rhetoric of “decent wages,” “fairness,” a “good contract,” and a “fair contract?” Unless the racial left are really social reformists and do not, in practice, question the economic coercion that characterizes the job market.