Social Democracy or Social Reformism and Trade Unionism: Their Social Limitations and Methodology, Part One

This will be a two-part post, with the second part being a brief focus on the inadequate methodology of social democrats and trade unionists. The radical left need to take measures against such inadequate methodology. I demonstrate briefly their inadequate methodology by referring to John Dewey’s philosophy of human nature and contrast it with one implicit social-democratic view that limits consideration to the immediate human body without taking into consideration the wider context within which the human body operates and lives.

The first part focuses on a discussion I had on Facebook a few weeks ago about the issue of a law passed in Ohio, the United States, which prevents girls who are raped (sexually abused) from having an abortion. I am certainly opposed to such a law, but it is insufficient to simply condemn such a law. It is necessary to understand how such a law could be formulated in the first place if we are to prevent the emergence of such laws (and worse) in the future. Social democrats and trade unionists, however, often merely react with gut feelings that are inadequate to the task of opposing on a wider basis the roots of such laws (and policies related to such laws).

Below I paste a copy of the conservation on Facebook. It is instructive in how limited the view of social democracy or social reformism and trade unionism really is and how ineffective as a consequence their responses will be. It is also instructive how such limitations arise from a typical method that social democrats or reformists and trade unionists use.

To be sure, social democrats or reformists and trade unionists may prevent, on occasion, the formulation and passing of such laws, but since they never address the roots of such laws, they will inevitably be incapable of eradicating the conditions for such laws to arise in the first place.

Tina Faibish, who is the main discussant below, is president of local 552 of OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union).

Here is the discussion, including my reply. After my reply, there was–silence.

chicagotribune.com


The story of Should 11-year-old girls have to bear their rapists’ babies? Ohio says yes .An impregnated preteen girl in Massillon, Ohio, has drawn national attention to the state’s new, highly restrictive abortion laws.


15Tina Robin Faibish and 14 others
18 Comments
Kristen Bones Disgusting
Raymadawn Hamilton Hell no!!!!!!!
Liz Seaward Ash No they should not…this is disgusting
Natalie Ashlyne Brooke Michener Wtf these law makers have to go who the hell would do that to someone
Fred Harris Undoubtedly this is amoral [should be immoral]–but so too is having to work for an employer. And yet how many among the left really find working for an employer to be “disgusting?”
Tina Robin Faibish Fred Harris come on are you kidding me, you can not look at these two issues as if the level of unjust is similar or comparable because they are not!
Fred Harris Of course, social democrats simply ignore the day-to-day exploitation and oppression of billions of workers (this is so trivial) when compared to the issue of “11-year old girls having to bear their rapists’ babies.” This shows the extent to which the social-democratic left have been indoctrinated into accepting the employer-employee relation–which treats human beings as things.

So “moral”! Such phrases as “decent work,” and “$15 and Fairness” hide the immorality of being treated as things.

The social-democratic left want to present themselves as morally superior, and yet they ignore the persistent and day-to-day subordination of billions of workers to the power of employers.

By the way, I do have a daughter. And she has been treated unjustly in various ways–including being treated as a thing by employers. I neither ignore the other ways in which she has been treated unjustly–nor the way in which she has been treated unjustly as an employee. The social-democratic left, however, do not consider it unjust to have to work for an employer. Their trite phrases, such as “decent work” express their own biases.
Laura Betty Fred Harris really?
Fred Harris Really what?
Fred Harris I have a blog on the issue of the employer-employee relation and the bankruptcy of the social-democratic left–theabolitionary
Tina Robin Faibish Fred Harris this is your MO and why no one is listening. Your comparison is completely off topic, and undermines the legitimacy and outrage as it relates to this discussion. In other words, as valid as your point may be, this is not the appropriate place to reference a comparison that clearly does not exist!
Fred Harris Let us see. There was a topic on Hydro. Social democrats made many unrelated comments on that topic. But if I make a comment in a supposed unrelated topic, it is considered inappropriate.

As for no one listening to me–social democrats automatically do not listen to me–that is to be expected. But some people from India, China, the UK, the US, Canada have gone on my blog.

As for my “MO”: the MO [modus operandi—a typical way of approaching the world or of doing something] of social democrats is automatically to ignore the issue of the power of employers as a class.

As for the topic of being forced to have babies after being raped–of course this should be opposed. My daughter accused the man (Juan Ulises) who lived with her mother of raping her. He was charged, but the charges were dropped because it was his word against hers. She maintains his guilt to this day–and I believe her. Is this on topic?

But social democrats simply ignore the issue of the power of employers which occurs every day at work. They like to consider themselves morally superior as I said above.

To paraphrase the mathematician, philosopher of education and philosopher of science, Alfred North Whitehead: it is very difficult to engage critically with something that you constantly experience every day as normal.

Feel free to delete me from the Facebook account.
Nina Keogh Tina Robin Faibish yup.
Fred Harris From Tina Robin Faibish “come on are you kidding me, you can not look at these two issues as if the level of unjust is similar or comparable because they are not!”

Children grow up to be adults–and in our society, things to be used by employers. According to the moral social democrats, their concerns take priority over the day-to-day treatment of billions of workers.

Why are they not on the same level? Why focus on this particular occurrence in a particular state? That it is morally disgusting, I fully admit.

However, social democrats–by this person’s own admission–do not find the fact that billions of workers worldwide are treated as things on a daily basis to be of the same moral consideration. But what of the children of today? Is that not their fate tomorrow unless we stop permitting any person to be treated as a thing at work?

Is it moral to ignore the future of children?

Is it moral for the top 20 largest private employers to obtain $59 in profit (approximately $59 000 per unemployed person in Canada)? What of the children who suffer because of this?

Etc.

What of the over 200,000 Guatemalans who were butchered during the civil war (including children) in order to defend a system of employers?

Etc.

Or the “morality” of talking about employers paying their “fair share” of the taxes–after they have exploited workers in order to obtain the profits in the first place.

Yup.
Liz Seaward Ash Fred Harris one thing has nothing to do with the other…you’re delusional..
Fred Harris Note the lack of argument here and the lack of establishment of connections–and the resort to insults.

The issue of not permitting female children who are raped to have an abortion has to do with “property rights”–and that definitely has to do with the employer-employee relation and capitalism in general.

The struggle of women (and children) to control their own bodies forms part of a larger struggle to control our lives.

To say that they have nothing to do with each other is absurd–and shows the narrowmindedness of the social-democratic left.

But that is to be expected–since the social-democratic left do not object to the general control of our bodies by employers but only particular forms. of it.

After all, do they not express such things as “decent work”–while simultaneously not criticizing the power of employers to control our lives at work in various ways. The social-democratic left like to “compartmentalize” our lives–separating out was is necessarily connected so that they can feel themselves morally–and intellectually–superior.

From the book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Do Not Talk About It) (Ellizabeth Anderson–a woman, who probably would be considered delusional by the social-democratic left), pages 37-39

Communist Dictatorships in Our Midst

Imagine a government that assigns almost everyone a superior
whom they must obey. Although superiors give most inferiors a
routine to follow, there is no rule of law. Orders may be arbitrary
and can change at any time, without prior notice or opportunity
to appeal. Superiors are unaccountable to those they order
around. They are neither elected nor removable by their inferiors.
Inferiors have no right to complain in court about how they
are being treated, except in a few narrowly defined cases. They
also have no right to be consulted about the orders they are given. There are multiple ranks in the society ruled by this government. The content of the orders people receive varies, depending on their rank. Higher- ranked individuals may be granted considerable freedom in deciding how to carry out their orders, and may issue some orders to some inferiors. The most highly ranked individual takes no orders but issues many. The lowest-ranked may have their bodily movements and speech minutely regulated for most of the day.

This government does not recognize a personal or private
sphere of autonomy free from sanction. It may prescribe a dress
code and forbid certain hairstyles. Everyone lives under surveillance, to ensure that they are complying with orders. Superiors may snoop into inferiors’ e- mail and record their phone conversations. Suspicionless searches of their bodies and personal effects may be routine. They can be ordered to submit to medical testing. The government may dictate the language spoken and forbid communication in any other language. It may forbid certain topics of discussion. People can be sanctioned for their consensual sexual activity or for their choice of spouse or life partner. They can be sanctioned for their political activity and
required to engage in political activity they do not agree with.
The economic system of the society run by this government
is communist. The government owns all the nonlabor means
of production in the society it governs. It organizes production
by means of central planning. The form of the government is
a dictatorship. In some cases, the dictator is appointed by an
oligarchy. In other cases, the dictator is self- appointed.
Although the control that this government exercises over
its members is pervasive, its sanctioning powers are limited. It
cannot execute or imprison anyone for violating orders. It can
demote people to lower ranks. The most common sanction is
exile. Individuals are also free to emigrate, although if they do,
there is usually no going back. Exile or emigration can have
severe collateral consequences. The vast majority have no realistic option but to try to immigrate to another communist
dictatorship, although there are many to choose from. A few
manage to escape into anarchic hinterlands, or set up their own
dictatorships.

This government mostly secures compliance with carrots.
Because it controls all the income in the society, it pays more to people who follow orders particularly well and promotes them
to higher rank. Because it controls communication, it also has
a propaganda apparatus that often persuades many to support
the regime. This need not amount to brainwashing. In many
cases, people willingly support the regime and comply with
its orders because they identify with and profit from it. Others
support the regime because, although they are subordinate to
some superior, they get to exercise dominion over inferiors. It
should not be surprising that support for the regime for these
reasons tends to increase, the more highly ranked a person is.
Would people subject to such a government be free? I expect
that most people in the United States would think not.
Yet most work under just such a government: it is the modern
workplace, as it exists for most establishments in the United
States. The dictator is the chief executive officer (CEO), superiors are managers, subordinates are workers. The oligarchy that appoints the CEO exists for publicly owned corporations: it is the board of directors. The punishment of exile is being fired. The economic system of the modern workplace is communist, because the government— that is, the establishment— owns all the assets,1 and the top of the establishment hierarchy designs the production plan, which subordinates execute. There are no internal markets in the modern workplace. Indeed, the boundary of the firm is defined as the point at which markets end and authoritarian centralized planning and direction begin. Most workers in the United States are governed by communist dictatorships in their work lives.

[End of quote]

If Ms. Anderson’s analysis is correct–why would it be surprising to limit the capacity of children (and their parents’) control over their bodies given the daily lack of control over the bodies of hundreds of millions of workers in the United States and billions worldwide (which the social democrats generally ignore)?

As I pointed out above, social democrats or reformists like to compartmentalize their discussions–a trick that enables them to omit issues that provide a wider context for the more narrow issues. They adopt what could be called a mechanistic philosophy to human society by assuming that human problems can be pigeon-holed into discrete parts. They look at society as if each area is distinct from another part. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, however long ago argued that a hand, to be a hand, must be related to the human body. Social democrats, however, would like to have us believe that hands exists independently of the human body. They then accuse anyone who tries to widen the issue of illegitimately addressing issues that have nothing to do with these narrower issues. Indeed, note the reference to “delusional” by one of the social democrats. They glory in their own narrowmindedness and accuse all who fail to share in their narrowmindedness with delusions.

John Dewey, the philosopher of education, argued that acting intelligently, among other things, involves considering the wider context, or contextualizing the immediate situation that constitutes the immediate problem.

Social democrats or reformists generally refuse to consider the wider context of the class structure and class power of employers. They thereby propose, implicitly, that workers act unintelligently.

The fact that social democrats and radical leftists (such as Sam Gindin) fail to attack persistently the power of employers as a class entails the possibility of the rise of forces outside the workplace (such as the extreme right). After all, does not such right-wing politicians as Doug Ford (premier of Ontario) or Donald Trump glory in the dictatorship of employers? Do they not, like the social-democratic left, ignore such dictatorship? Do they not cover up such a dictatorship through rhetoric, like the social-democratic left?

One final point: Ms. Faibish posted the following on Facebook:

Workers at the Rainforest Cafe in Niagara Falls have been on strike for more than a month. What they’re fighting for proves the need for strong employment-standards legislation — and strong unions.

I made a comment by pointing out that it would have been helpful to give examples of locals that are strong unions. She did not provide any. Social democrats or reformists and trade unionists often use clichés without providing any support for such clichés. When someone questions their clichés, they then engage in–silence. This is not what the labour movement needs.

Rest assured that if you call into question the self-righteous left’s assumptions, they will engage in insults. That is to be expected. They refuse to face up to their own social limitations and the limitations of their own mechanistic methodology.

A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit

When belonging to a leftist organization called the Toronto Labour Committee (Ontario, Canada), I worked on, in a minor position, on some statistics related to financial campaign contributions for the Toronto elections. Not being satisfied with this, I proposed that we start trying to develop a class analysis of Toronto. I indicated, though, that I did not really know how to proceed in this. I sent this over the Toronto Labour Committee listserve, and the response was–silence.

The following attempts to fill in, however inadequately, that silence, but it is first addressed at the more macro level of Canada. If others can provide more detailed and sophisticated statistics and analysis (while still being comprehensible), I would much appreciate it.

I thought it would be useful to provide a list of some of the largest employers in Canada. The reason why I think such a list would be useful is that it provides at least a somewhat concrete picture of who really has power in society and the extent of that power. Since most social-reformist leftists ignore the power of employers and assume such power as a background which they can assume as constant, they then consider their reformist policies without calling into question such power.

I hope to expand this later. If readers have better statistics or statistics from other countries, feel free to comment. This should be a work in progress.

It is taken from the following: Largest Employers in Canada.

Obviously, there are different ways of considering what the largest employers are. At least four come to mind readily: according to profit, according to employment, according to total revenue (sales) and according to assets.

The following list of the 20 largest employers lists them according to (after-tax) profit for the year 2012. The profit is indicated in parentheses. The currency is Canadian.

Statistics relating profit to wages and salaries would be useful to obtain an approximate rate of exploitation (undoubtedly Marxian economists would find the procedure faulty, but if so, then they should provide their own correctives at a concrete level–unless they are only academics who are little concerned with bridging the gap between theory and the more empirical experiences of the working class).

1. The Royal Bank of Canada ($7 billion 442 million)
2. The Bank of Nova Scotia ($6 billion 466 million)
3. Toronto Dominion Bank ($6 billion 367 million)
4. The Bank of Montreal ($4 billion 115 million)
5. Imperial Oil ($3 billion 766 million)
6. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) ($3 billion 339 million)
7. Suncore Energy ($2  billion 783 million)
8. BCE ($2 billion 763 million)
9. Canadian National Railway ($2 billion 680 million)
10. Potash ($2 billion 79 million)
11.Thomson Reuters Corp. ($2 billion 70 million)
12. Husky Energy ($2 billion 22 million)
13. Great-West Life Co. ($1 billion 930 million)
14. Canadian Natural Resources ($1 billion 882 million)
15. First Quantum Minerals ($1 billion 772 million)
16. Goldcorp Inc. ($1 billion 749 million)
17. Manulife Financial ($1 billion 736 million)
18. Rogers Communications ($1 billion 730 million)
19. Sunlife Insurance ($1 billion 674 million)
20. Power Financial ($1 billion 626 million)

If you sum up the amount of profit for these 20 companies, you get $59 billion 991 million.

To get an idea of the meaning of this amount of profit, we can do several calculations:

  1. Divide this amount by the total population of Canada: 37, 177, 886 (estimated, March 10, 2019, but for calculating convenience let us say 40,000,000): That is $1500 extra per year more for every person in Canada.
  2. Divide this amount by the total employed in February 2019: 18 million 991 thousand workers (for convenience, 19 million): An extra $3157 per year for every employed worker.
  3. The redistribution of all profits according to the whole population or to those who are employed would probably not have a great impact on many individuals and families; of course, a more refined analysis, with incomes lower than the average being affected relatively more than others with incomes greater than the average.
  4. This can be seen if we divide this amount by the total unemployed in the last three months of 2018: 1 million 30 thousand (for convenience, 1 million): That is $59,991 per year more for every unemployed Canadian.
  5. If we combine #3 and #4, and divide by the sum of the two (unemployed, 1 million, + employed, 19 million, or 20 million in total): $3000 per year extra for every unemployed or employed worker. Again, as an average, the redistribution would not have a major impact if spread out equally among all employed and unemployed workers. Its impact would be all the greater the more the redistribution would be limited to those who are unemployed or to those with limited incomes.However, this does not mean that such redistribution of profits would merely involve propping up the level of income of unemployed and those with limited incomes. As I have argued in several other posts on the nature of socialism, a substantial portion of profits would be allocated to an investment fund that would be distributed nationally, regionally and locally to various communities. Some profits might be allocated initially to provide for those who are unable to work, but with the elimination of a market for workers and the abolition of a class of employers, workers would increasingly not need to resort to such supplementary funds.
  6. It should be remembered that the above statistics are limited only to the 20 largest private companies. There are many other companies with profits, and if all those profits were included in the calculation, the impact on total income would likely be much larger and more significant than it is here indicated.

The position of the social-reformist left, of course, is for some kind of redistribution of such profits–but not to the complete redistribution of such profits. For them, there is such a thing as “fair share of the profits” via changed tax policies.

For example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) published a work by Toby Sanger entitled Fair Shares: How Banks, Brokers and the Financial Industry Can Pay Fairer Taxes (page 23) (The title itself shows confusion since something that is fairer need not be fair):

As other Canadians are paying for the costs of the financial crisis, Canada’s under-taxed financial industry should also be required to pay its fair share.

Again, at the provincial level, in Ontario on the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) website (https://www.ontariondp.ca/platform)-a social-reformist political party linked to unions).

Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share

At the federal level, the NDP, in its pamphlet POLICY OF THE New Democratic Party of Canada  EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 2018, page 3 reads:

Ensuring that large profitable corporations pay a fair share of taxes.

According to the money circuit of capital, though, there is no such thing as a fair share since it is inherently unfair to treat human beings as means for obtaining more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

What do you think of the profits of such companies? What is the source of such profits? What should be done with them? Should workers control them? Communities at various geographical levels?

Is there such a thing as a fair share under existing economic conditions of a class of employers controlling our selves.

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

The title is a variation of one of the subsections in chapter two of Jeremy Reiman’s The Rich Get Richer … and the Poor Get Prison.

In a couple of earlier posts, I pointed out that working for an employer involves needless deaths and injuries (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law). I have decided to start writing a series of posts on the issue of health and safety in the workplace since it is a key issue for workers.

Consider the following on the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” website (Fight for $15):

We NEED fair labour laws to save lives

On Tuesday, October 23, the Doug Ford government introduced Bill 47. This legislation seeks to impose a real dollar cut in the minimum wage and eliminate most of our new workplace rights, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, and more. If passed, this outrageous legislation will force millions into poverty, while putting workers’ health and safety at risk.

The introduction of Bill 47 by the conservative Ford government in Ontario, Canada (and the repeal of Bill 148, which introduced an increase in the minimum wage and a number of needed reforms of employment law) is presented as preventing the institution of “workers’ health and safety.” If Bill 148 had not been repealed and if Bill 47 were not passed (it was), then “workers’ health and safety” would not be “at risk.”  This is the unconscious or implicit assumption and message of the author of the article on that website. It is also the stated or unstated assumption of the social-reformist left.

The social-reformist left must absolutize the reforms which they seek. By absolutize, I mean that they must claim that there is somehow a fair situation that results if what they seek is realized. It is not, for them, a question of something fairer be realized but rather something that is fair.

The article mentions the community and union opposition that emerged against Bill 147, as well it should.

A little further down in the article, the recent death of a temporary worker at Fiera Foods is mentioned, and a vigil is called for. The vigil is to be lauded, and the article emphasizes that this is the fourth temporary worker killed working for the same food-processing plant.

However, the following is then claimed:

We know this heartbreaking death is not an isolated event…. It is what happens – and what will happen in the future – if workers are treated as disposable and if the laws meant to protect us are weakened, or not enforced at all.

Labour laws, like collective agreements, can certainly contribute to the improvement of workers’ lives, but can labour laws really prevent workers from being “treated as disposable?” It is the very nature of a society dominated by a class of employers that workers are disposable; to think otherwise is to not understand the basic nature of such a society (see   The Money Circuit of Capital)  for a characterization of workers as means or things for ends defined by employers).

The article then provides some probable consequences of instituting Bill 47, but it fails to consider whether, even if Bill 47 were withdrawn (it was not, and it passed), whether this would be sufficient to protect workers in an economy structured on the basis of the control of billions of workers throughout the world by a class of employers:

Let’s be clear about the serious implications of Bill 47:

  • When the government says freeze the minimum wage for 33 months, it means a real dollar cut in earnings for the lowest-paid workers in the province. After that wage cut, the minimum wage would only be adjusted in accordance with the previous year’s price increases (Consumer Price Index). It could be 2025 by the time the minimum wage reaches $15, and by then, a $15 wage will, once again, fall below the poverty line. This government wants to reimpose poverty on millions of workers in this province.

  • When the government says it wants to cut paid sick days, it is saying it has no problem forcing workers to work while they are sick or injured. It is saying they have no problem with parents having to send their sick child to school where they might spread illness to other children and education workers. It says this government has a complete disregard for the health and well-being of the people who keep this province functioning.

  • When the government says it wants to re-impose a requirement for Doctors’ notes, it is saying it has no problem forcing sick workers into hospital waiting rooms and risk spreading disease to others. It has no problem clogging up our health care system for visits that the Ontario Medical Association has said are unnecessary, wasteful, and costly. It says this government has no problem imposing red tape on workers and health providers.

  • When this government reduces penalties for employers who openly disregard the law – as Bill 47 seeks to do – this government is telling Ontario’s most unscrupulous employers that it is open season on the most vulnerable workers in this province. Especially those who work in temp agencies.

It is good to expose the extreme business-oriented position of the Conservative government, and the article is to be lauded for that. However, the following undermines this by implying that fair labour laws can somehow be achieved in the context of the present structure of the economy:

We need your help to deliver a message to Premier Doug Ford and his government: Fair labour laws, save lives. Bill 47 has not been passed, and it needs to be withdrawn immediately. Our elected officials must ensure our safety and well-being on the job, not jeopardize it.

Labour laws may increase the workers’ power by limiting further the power of employers as a class, but unless the labour law somehow challenges the principle of the power of employers as a class, it cannot be the sole basis for protecting workers from being used as disposable means for the benefit of employers. Workers should fight for labour laws that can serve as means to protect them from some of the ravages of employer-dominated establishments, but they should also organize initially at the local level on the shop floor as a fighting force that can oppose the power of management to treat them  as things to be used for goals not of their own making. Furthermore, they should realize that no labour law and no local level organization can protect them from the ravages of an economy in which they are economically dependent on employers; labour laws and local organizations can only reduce the likelihood of injury and accident but not eliminate it. The very nature of their economic dependence and their treatment as things includes the very real possibility of workplace injury and accident.

Should we not take seriously the following (from Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.

Should any leftist claim that any possible reform in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers is fair? We certainly need to fight for reforms, but why bullshit the workers by calling such reforms fair? They are fairer or less fair, to be sure. To have labour laws that enable workers to protect themselves more is better than no labour laws or less effective labour laws. But how does this translate into fairness?

Why does the social-reformist left find it necessary to claim that such reforms express “decent work,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “fairness,” or “economic justice”?

What do you think?

Socialism, Part Four: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

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

(iii) Worker collectives produce public goods, inputs into the production process, or final consumption goods. Funds for the first are directly allocated to collectives by the relevant planning agencies (see below). The latter two categories of products are offered for sale in producer and consumer markets. In Schweickart’s view, attempts to centrally plan all inputs and outputs in a top-down fashion are simply not feasible, at least not in a complex and dynamic economy. But it does not follow that capitalist market societies are the only acceptable forms of economic organisation. It is possible to imagine a feasible and normatively attractive society combining markets with the socialisation of the means of production, that is, a society making use of producer and consumer markets after abolishing both capital markets and
labour markets.

In addition to the elimination of a market for workers and management of work enterprises being accountable to work councils and community councils, capital markets in the sense of an investment process owned by a minority would no longer exist. There would, nonetheless, be markets that produced means of production and markets that produced consumption goods. For example, at the brewery where I worked, the workers who produced the soaker or the filler that the brewery workers used would be subject to competition from other workers who produce soakers or fillers. Workers in the brewery would be subject to competition from workers in other breweries.

Unfortunately, Smith does not elaborate much on what he means by the abolition of capital markets. His reference to David Schweickart’s work Against Capitalism, however, gives a clue to what he means. Schweikart has the following to say (page 172):

First, we issue a decree abolishing all enterprise obligations to pay interest or stock dividends to private individuals or private institutions.

This decree will need no enforcement, since enterprises are not going to insist on paying what they are no longer legally obligated to pay.

But Schweickart sees a flaw in the abolition of all capital markets, at least immediately (page 173):

6.3.2 Once More, This Time with Feeling (for the Stockholders)

Too Simple? Of course. The above is not meant to be a realistic scenario. Above all, it fails to take into account the fact that millions of ordinary citizens (not only capitalists) have resources tied up in the financial markets. People with savings accounts or holdings in stocks and bonds have been counting on their dividend and interest checks. (Nearly half of all American households have direct or indirect holdings in the stock market, mostly in pension plans.) Eliminating all dividend and interest income-which is what Radical Quick does-will not strike these fellow citizens as a welcome reform. Let us run through our story again, this time complicating it to take into account their legitimate concerns.

Schweickart, realistically, recognizes that workers have investments in capital markets and hence are in some ways tied to such markets. His solution is to imagine a situation where at least the key corporations, due to the circumstances of a crisis, would be subject to elimination from capital markets (pages 173-174):

Let me first set the stage a little more fully than I did with Radical Quick. Let us suppose that a genuine counterproject to capitalism has developed, and that, gradually gaining in strength, it has been able to elect a leftist government that has put most of the reforms outlined earlier in this chapter on the table and has secured the passage of some of them. Suppose investors decide they’ve had enough and begin cashing in their stock holdings. A stock-market crash ensues. In reaction, the citizenry decide that they too have had enough-and give their leftist government an even stronger mandate to take full responsibility for an economy now tumbling into crisis.

Our new government declares a bank holiday, pending reorganization (as Roosevelt did following his election in 1932). All publicly traded corporations are declared to be worker-controlled. Note: This control extends only to corporations, not to small businesses or even to privately held capitalist firms. It is decided that it will be sufficient  to redefine property rights only in those firms for which ownership has already been largely separated from management. (With the “commanding heights” of the economy now democratized, most other firms can be expected to come under increased pressure from their own workers, over time, to follow suit.)

The exact way in which capital markets would be reduced and eventually abolished would vary across time and place, depending on circumstances.

As I have emphasized throughout this blog, though, it is much less likely that workers will be receptive to a call for the elimination of capital markets and markets for workers unless they find the situation to be unfair. The ideology of the social-reformist left consistently makes reference to fairness within the limits of the employer-employee relation. We need to break with such ideology if we are to initiate such a process without having to respond erratically when a crisis hits.

Or are there alternatives? What do you think?

 

Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

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

In the following, Michael Perelman contrasts what many people experience in their lives: their own contrast between an activity which they enjoy doing and their experience working for an employer, which they often enough find to be draining.

From Michael Perelman, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011),

Just What Is Work?

To understand the potential for transforming the economy, consider a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, upstanding citizens of the United States would never subject themselves to the life of a farm worker for poverty wages.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During the time they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Gardeners are producing for themselves rather than for someone else who will benefit from their work.

As the psychologist John Neulinger says: “Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to.”43 We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers pass virtually unnoticed. In our society, farm work is never “respectable” work; well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farm workers.
Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand. …

As suggested earlier, the key to the Procrustean trap is not the threat of physical force but rather the inability to imagine anything outside of the constrained present circumstances. The willingness to take seriously Margaret Thatcher’s preposterous claim—“There is no alternative”—perfectly sums up this state of mind.

A writer for Bloomberg.com reminisced about Thatcher’s Procrustean destructive success:

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.
Stick to the plan long enough and the people who are good at making money acquire huge sums and, along with them, power. In time, they become the culture’s dominant voice. And they love you for it.46

Thatcher’s scheme actually worked. Her acolytes were so convinced that the mere utterance of Thatcher’s acronym TINA seemed sufficient to cut off any debate with skeptics.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left in Toronto certainly has reinforced the TINA principle. The so-called radical left, by keeping silent out of fear of becoming isolated, themselves becomes part of the social-democratic left. They, like the social-reformist left, provide no real alternative vision to the oppressive and exploitative nature of work characteristic of the power of employers as a class.

In fact, through their silence and their lack of criticism, they contribute to the perpetuation of class rule. They are, practically, social reformists who will never go beyond the existing class system despite their rhetoric of class struggle and struggle from below.

 

 

Ontario Election of Conservatives: Will the Social-Reformist Left Learn?

Now that the “Progessive” Conservatives have won a clear majority of seats in the provincial legislature, should not the social-reformist left reflect on the extent to which they are responsible for this disaster?

The social-reformist left does not question the legitimacy of the class of employers to exist; it assumes that they will continue to exist and that all that is necessary is to struggle to institute reforms of the power of employers in order to arrive at a fair economy.

David Bush, an organizer, writer for Rank-and-File.ca and a doctoral student, for instance, has the following to say just before the election, under the caption “Clear Class Choices”:

The choice is between Ford and his folksie factory owner rhetoric of “for the little guy” or an NDP that, while flawed, is still seen as representing the interests of workers. The former will assuredly be a boon for bosses and blow for workers, while the latter will raise expectations of workers across the province.

Over the next three days the political fight for ideas in the workplace, on the streets, at the kitchen table will set-up the struggle for the next four years. With the class choices at the ballot box clearer than they have been in a long-time, the stakes for Ontario’s workers are sky high. •

The argument that the NDP, “while flawed is still seen as representing the interests of workers” is typical of the social-reformist left.

I voted for the NDP this election–mainly because their election would at least permit a more organized and effective struggle against the class of employers.

To say that the NDP is flawed and is seen as representing the interests of workers–flawed in what way? Seen by whom? That the NDP is seen by many unionists as representing the interests of workers is probably true–but unionists hardly represent the class interests of workers unless they oppose the power of employers as a class. Where is there evidence that they do so?

For example, John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in his open letter of January 30, 2018 (An open letter to our movement) , 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.”

Does Mr. Cartwright mean by “economic justice” the abolition of the power of employers as a class? Or does he mean the signing of a collective agreement, which still involves the subordination of workers to the power of employers and their treatment as things? I suspect that Mr. Cartwright equates economic justice with collective agreements. In other words, the representation of the interests of workers for social reformists involves belonging to a union but not opposing the power of employers as a class.

And the NDP represents, in part, unions.

The NDP does not represent the interests of workers as a class. However, by implying that it does, the social-reformist left fail to capture the anger of workers (among others) over their lack of control over their own lives.

The social-reformist left is itself partially responsible for the electoral fiasco in Ontario. It does not question the power of employers as a class, but only wants to humanize that power–an impossible task. It opposes, not the power of employers as a class, but neoliberalism. It wants to return to the “golden age” of the welfare state.

David  Bush, for instance, has indicated on Facebook that the fight for a $15 minimum wage and various necessary changes in employment standards are fair. This view is hardly in the interests of the working class as a whole. Such changes are better than no changes, but they are short-term gains. By claiming that they are fair, the social-reformist left sacrifice the long-term interests of workers to control their own working lives by eliminating the power of employers as a class for short-term gains.

The social-reformist left often claims to be anti-capitalist whereas in fact it is anti-neoliberal. It is not opposed to the power of employers as a class but only to the neoliberal brand of such power.

If the NDP had won the election in Ontario with a clear majority, would it have opposed the power of employers as a class? Of course not.

The social-reformist left: Will it learn that by not explicitly opposing the power of employers as a class it contributes to its own defeat? That by not explicitly opposing the power of employers as a class, it comes to share the same beliefs as its own supposed enemies? The “Progressive” Conservatives certainly believe in the sanctity of the power of employers. But so too do the reformist left.

Will the social-reformist left learn to begin to challenge the power of employers as a class? Or will it continue to share the same beliefs as its supposed enemies, the “Progressive” Conservatives?

 

Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance

In the pamphlet published on the Socialist Project website, Basic Income in the Neoliberal Age (Toronto, 2017), the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) implies that only a social-reformist vision–maintaining the welfare-state–is a viable option; it implicitly assumes that going beyond it is not viable. Its argument combines both a realistic assessment of the impossibility of an adequate universal basic income for all as long as the power of the class of employers exists, and an implied conservative call for maintaining the existing welfare state rather than going  beyond it.

It–correctly–argues that we should be very skeptical of proposals for basic income originating from liberals and conservatives (and, it should be added, the social-reformist left). Those who believe in an economic system characterized by a class of employers are hardly going to break the link between having to work for an employer and receiving an income. Indeed, as OCAP argues, the current benefits that the government does offer would probably be substantially reduced or eliminated and replaced by a basic income that was even more inadequate than current welfare and other social assistance rates.

However, the skepticism about implementing a basic income scheme that is acceptable to the class of employers is illegitimately extended to skepticism about its viability for a movement that seeks to go beyond a society dominated by the power of the class of employers. They write,

page 6:

These kinds of left advocates are easily able to show how providing a
universal adequate payment, while maintaining other elements of social
provision, would weaken or even eliminate the basis for exploitation of the
working class under capitalism. However, where they uniformly fail is in
the not unimportant area of showing how this is all possible. Capitalism
needs economic coercion for its job market to function and decades of
neoliberal austerity have intensified that coercion considerably. With
trade unions weakened and powerful social movements conspicuous by
their absence, it is doubtful that a major social reform, such as the
proponents of progressive and transformative BI advance, is likely.

At least this paragraph realistically argues that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function.” Let us stop at this sentence. If capitalism indeed requires economic coercion if the job market is to function, then should not OCAP be advocating for the abolition of such coercion?  That such a process requires a movement with substantial organizational power goes without saying, and that will take time, energy and much organizing and debating. Of course, this requires a desire to orient social movements towards abolishing the power to coerce, but OCAP is silent about what to do about this coercion that many experience on a daily basis at work (which, of course, spills into situations outside the workplace). Should not OCAP address what it itself admits is characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers?

OCAP excludes any discussion at all in the document about what is to be done about economic coercion (aka economic blackmail). Its critique of basic income presumes that economic coercion is the order of the day–that there is no alternative–except to maintain the current welfare system, flawed though it may be.

OCAP uses the fact of the weakness of trade unions as a reason for opposing the principle of basic income. Surely one of the reasons why trade unions have become weaker is because they have failed to question the coercive power of employers as a class. For example, John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in his open letter of January 30, 2018 ( An open letter to our movement) , 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.”

If, however, economic coercion or economic blackmail is required in the kind of society in which we live, how is it possible to “achieve dignity and economic justice”? If such rhetoric has contributed to the current situation, then should not its criticism form part of the solution? Does OCAP take a stand by taking seriously its own assertion that economic coercion is a necessary feature of the power of employers as a class by criticizing union representatives who talk of economic justice under such dictatorial circumstances?

Throughout the whole document, there is nothing that links this requirement of capitalism–needing “economic coercion for its job market to function”–to the need for a movement that goes beyond such economic coercion.

Ultimately, as noted above, this document is a social-reformist document–a document that has no better solution to “economic coercion” than implicitly proposing that we return to the so-called golden age of capitalism, where employers had accepted, within limits, the need for a mor generous welfare state. OCAP does not explicitly state this, but it implies it.

Would it not be possible to propose a basic income that cannot be satisfied within a structure defined by economic coercion or economic blackmail? The document does not even refer to such a possibility.

Logically, if OCAP takes seriously the view that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function,” should it not redefine the nature of poverty? Should not the definition of poverty include taking into account this economic coercion? Does OCAP do so?

In another post, I will refer to an author who does indeed take seriously OCAP’s view that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” and proposes a redefinition of poverty. In that post or another post I will also refer to a proposal for a radical basic income as part of a movement for a different kind of economic, social and political life–a life not characterized by economic, social and political coercion.

 

The Limitations of the Social-Reformist Left

Introduction

I used to belong to a leftist organization in Toronto. I started, slowly, to realize that it really has little to do with challenging the power of employers as a class despite the rhetoric concerning class issues being a priority. This view was confirmed when a movement for the reform of employment standards developed in Ontario in general and in Toronto in particular, and the Ontario Liberal government (Canada is divided into provinces, with Ontario as one of the provinces) agreed to such reforms.

The reform of employment standards was certainly needed, and the reforms are indeed useful to the working class. Among the reforms was included an increase in minimum wages to $15 an hour (in two phases). However, the problem is not the reforms but the pairing of these reforms with “fairness.” T-shirts with the slogan “Fight for $15 and Fairness” were produced, and rallies were announced with the same slogan. I found such a pairing objectionable, to say the least.

The Social-Reformist Left

This is a “selling point” typical of the social-reformist left. They try to get others to agree to the reforms that they propose by claiming that it is fair or just in some way; this is also often the tactic of union negotiating teams (as will be seen in another post).

Logically, the social-reformist left would never dare to pair a law that reduced the number of times a husband could hit his wife legally from 25 times a year to 10 times a year with the concept of fairness. Of course, receiving 10 hits a year is, in general, better than receiving 25 hits a year (all other circumstances being the same, such as the force of the hit, the hit not resulting in death and so forth). But they would object to the very idea of calling even the 10 hits a year fair.

Logically, though, the social-reformist  left do dare to pair $15 an hour (and other labour law reforms) with the concept of fairness. They “forget” that workers still are treated as means for purposes over which they have little or no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital)

This forgetfulness is actually agreement with the continued existence of the power of employers as a class.

Indeed, David Bush, a labour and community organizer (and doctoral student) in Toronto specifically claimed that the reforms were fair. They are certainly fairer, but to claim that they are fair assumes that the relationship between the class of employers and the class of workers is fair. The social-reformist left rely on the acceptance of the fairness of the employer-employee relation in order to justify its own position. The money circuit of capital shows that such a relationship is decidedly unfair. (I will address Mr. Bush’s reformist ideology in another post).

The social-reformist left, therefore, conveniently forget about the class relation between employers and employees as the background for any reform movement, and then boldly claims that the Fight for $15 is fair. They have no intention of challenging the power of employers as a class.

The social-reformist left may, of course, try to argue that there is a large difference between arguing that a reduction from 25 hits to 10 hits is fair to arguing that an increase in the minimum wages to $15 is fair. A reduction in the number of hits is negative whereas the increase in the minimum wage is positive. If, however, we look at the logic of both, they are the same. Both narrow the focus to what has been gained. In the case of a reduction in the number of hits, the focus is exclusively on the number of hits, without taking into consideration the remaining hits. In the case of an increase in the minimum wage (and other labour law reforms), consideration of the remaining power of employers–a power that is abusive in itself–is simply ignored. How otherwise could the social-reformist left then call the increase in the minimum wage fair (rather than fairer)?

Both logics exclude consideration of the wider context, and both present certain changes exclusively in a positive light (a favourite tactic of the social-reformist left). In another post, it will be pointed out that acting intelligently requires taking into consideration the context; if we do not, we likely will act unintelligently. The social-reformist left, ultimately, propose that we act unintelligently.

The Radical Left

The organization to which I belonged found the pairing of $15 and fairness to be irrelevant. There was no objection to such a linking of the reform movement and the issue of fairness. I found this lack of criticism to be appalling and, as a consequence, withdrew from the organization.

The silence of the so-called radical left in Toronto (and undoubtedly in other cities and countries) over such issues shows just how dominate the social-reformist point of view has become at a practical level. Such a view assumes TINA: there is no alternative.

We need to start discussing how to challenge the power of employers as a class. The so-called radical left, however, creates all sorts of excuses for not adopting a class point of view and for putting off any discussion about such issues. Reform is all that is on the agenda for them–like the social-reformist left.

The radical left in Toronto, by remaining silent over the issue, practically are on the same level as the social-reformist left. By remaining silent, they foster the continued illusion that the existence of the class of employers and the class of employees are somehow natural and eternal. This illusion needs to be constantly criticized.

By remaining silent, the radical left in Toronto fosters actions that are unintelligent. By remaining silent, the radical left contributes to the continued oppression and exploitation of the billions of workers who experience the daily grind of being treated as things at work.

Some among the radical left, of course, will justify such silence in many ways. Some may say that it is necessary to create structures (such as TAWC–the Toronto Airport Workers Council) that cut across unions. Somehow, by magic, such structures are going to address the power of employers as a class–in the far distant future. Such a vague future is a fairy tale. The radical left, in practice, do nothing different from the social-reformist left.

I attended one TAWC meeting; I did not hear any conversation that related to the power of employers as a class. It was more like an extended union meeting than anything else.

Others may claim that we need to engage in a “war of position” (based on the Italian Marxist Gramsci). Practically, this “war of position” turns out to be no different than the social-reformist left’s position. Why else was there silence over the issue of the fairness of $15 an hour? Or is such silence an expression of a “war of position”?

Ultimately, the radical left in Toronto lost an opportunity for bringing up the class issue–and that is what is needed in these trying times of ours–and not more social-reformist rhetoric.