Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)

In the previous post in this series, I quoted several references by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to “fair contracts,” “fair treatment,” and similar expressions (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One). This is a continuation of the series.

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

The following series of quotes are from various webpages of Unifor–the largest private-sector union in Canada. They show how Unifor refers to such rhetoric as

1. Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:

Paramedics and supporters in Sault Ste. Marie demonstrated in front of City Hall on January 8, calling for a new collective agreement for EMS workers represented by Local 1359. 

The demonstration was organized to remind city councillors that paramedics need a fair deal, which takes into account issues such as: lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and benefits between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD.

The group, made up of paramedics, nurses, retired health care workers, union members, family and supporters, marched into the council chambers after the rally with signs and Unifor flags. 
“Our employer is not negotiating fairly. City representatives continually talk about the debt and nothing else,” said Mary Casola, Local 1359 unit chair and paramedic of 28 years. “They offered workers a measly wage increase of 10 cents an hour, per year. That’s 0.25 per cent. But as our sign says – ‘10 cents is non-sense.’”


  1. Of course, the issues of “lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD” are immediate issues that are important to unionized (and non-unionized) workers and need to be addressed. They should not be just shoved aside and “revolution” declared. On the other hand, while addressing these issues, the possibility or impossibility of actually achieving a “fair deal” should be discussed; in my experiences as a union member, it never is. Unions thereby become ideological institutions, in part, for the class of employers–even if they are unaware of it.





    In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, some employers have become even more exploitative and vicious than normal. However, unions that legitimately focus on resisting such employers have no right that somehow, if they resist such employers successfully, there will be such a thing as “a fair and equitable contract.”
    Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:
  2. From https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/health-care-workers-hold-rally-demand-a-fair-collective-agreement:

December 8, 2020

WINDSOR – Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions by holding a rally outside of Fairfield Park long term care home to demand a fair and equitable collective.

“The employers’ approach of viewing our members as zeroes instead of heroes is insulting and disrespectful,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “To think at a time where these health care heroes are risking their lives to care for others, their employer turns around and puts forward a laundry list of concessions and says this is what you’re worth. This employer should be ashamed. Let’s get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement, free of concessions.

Last week a rally was held outside of Broulliette Manor, urging the employer to return to the bargaining table and withdraw its long list of concessions.

“I have negotiated many contracts in my day, but I have never seen an employer so blatantly disrespectful,” said Chris Taylor, Unifor National Staff Representative. “The pandemic has forced long term care workers across the country to do more with less and here we have an employer that’s asking these COVID heroes to take on all the new protocols and get nothing in return.  Our members will not be made to feel worthless and we will continue to ramp up our actions until they receive the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Contract negotiations opened with Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor on October 27, 2020. The union proposed modest changes to the collective agreement that were immediately rejected by the employer’s legal representatives. The employer’s representatives presented the union with more than six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.

The union is steadfast in its resolve to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.
To arrange in person, phone or FaceTime interviews or for more information please contact Unifor Communications Representative Hamid Osman at hamid.osman@unifor.org or 647-448-2823 (cell).

Again, it is certainly necessary to have a union that fights against “six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.” The union should be praised for doing so.

On the other hand, it should be criticized for making such statements as: “Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions … to demand a fair and equitable collective [agreement]”

As shown in the last post, unions persistently claim that, through collective bargaining and a collective agreement, there can arise somehow (by magic?) “a fair and equitable collective agreement.” There can be no such thing as long as there exists a market for workers, where human beings are treated as things and as means for purposes over which they have little control. To claim otherwise is to bullshit workers–and workers deserve much better than this.

Or perhaps union representatives can explain how collective bargaining and collective agreements can express “a fair and equitable collective agreement?” If they truly believe that it does, why do they not explain how it does so in the context of the power of both a particular employer and the power of the class of employers. (For a critical analysis of a lame attempt to minimize the power of management over workers by a representative in a unionized setting , see the post 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. Also see the much more honest assessment of the real limited powers of unions in relation to employers, see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers)

The union should also be criticized for claiming “to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.” Obviously, the agreement should address the needs of the workers at these facilities, but “the needs of the members working” for an employer go far beyond the capacity of a collective agreement to address them.

3. Dated August 31, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-members-detroit-3-give-bargaining-committees-strong-strike-mandate:

TORONTO—Unifor members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors have authorized their bargaining committees to take strike action, if necessary, to secure fair contract settlements.

4. Dated January 7, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/locked-out-workers-escalate-fight-a-fair-deal-co-op-refinery:

REGINA – Hundreds of members of Unifor Local 594 and their supporters rallied at noon today to show the Co-op Refinery that, on day 34 of the lockout, their resolve has never been stronger.

“Co-op will not bust our union by using profits only made possible by your hard work. We are going to hold them to their pension promises. Our union will intensify our campaign to achieve a fair collective agreement for our members,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer.

Payne told locked out Local 594 members that locals across Canada will mobilize and send members to Regina as the union ramps up the fight for a fair deal.

“While refinery workers walked picket lines 24-7 in the frigid cold, their greedy employer posted revenues of $9.2 billion last year,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator and Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President. “For Co-op to attack workers with lies and misinformation while claiming to respect workers is just shameful.”

During the rally, secondary pickets were also underway at Co-op retailers in Western Canada as the union announced an escalation of the boycott campaign against Co-op. The union’s Boycott TV commercial has been seen by millions of Canadians, including during Saturday’s Gold Medal World Juniors Hockey game.

“Co-op must return to the bargaining table with a deal that does not include gutting half the value of our pensions as was promised in the last round of bargaining,” said Kevin Bittman, President of Unifor Local 594. “We just want to get back to doing the jobs we love.”

The event was streamed live on Unifor’s Facebook Page. Photos from the rally will also be available on Facebook. Facts about the dispute can be found at http://unifor594.com.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

5. Dated May 15, 2019: at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-energy-workers-sign-historic-pattern-deal:

May 15, 2019

MONTREAL— Unifor has achieved a new tentative agreement that establishes the pattern for 8,500 members of the National Energy Program.

“The energy and chemical sector continues to be an important economic driver in Canada. By working together, our members have used their collective power to make much-deserved significant gains,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Energy and chemical jobs continue to be good jobs in communities right across the country.”

The tentative agreement covers Unifor members working in the sector across Canada. Suncor was selected by Unifor as the chosen employer to set the pattern that will be rolled out to the remaining employers after ratification.

During this round of bargaining Unifor and Suncor bargained both local and national issues concurrently during one week, ensuring that no one union local was left behind.

“Make no mistake: energy companies provide good jobs across this country and are critical to Canada’s economy,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor’s Quebec Director. “Unifor members are instrumental in the success of energy and chemical companies and have earned a fair contract.” [my emphasis]

6. A campaign promoted by Unifor also claimed that, if realized, it would make the situation fair (https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/help-change-ontarios-labour-law-make-it-fair), dated July 13, 2016:

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

Today in Ontario, more than 1.7 million workers are earning at or around minimum wage and many Ontarians are trapped working precarious part-time, temporary, contract and subcontracted jobs, without a union.  

The Government of Ontario has initiated its “Changing Workplace Review” to examine the out-dated Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. In order to seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the provincial review, the OFL [the Ontario Federation of Labour] has launched the “Make It Fair” campaign [my emphasis] to push for employment reform. 

As part of this campaign, the OFL and unions across Ontario have launched a survey on precarious work – an issue that is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ for Ontario’s seven million workers.  The goal of the survey is to speak to union members about their experiences and the experiences of their families with precarious work. Lend your voice – participate in the survey here:

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

 “Inequality and precarious work are on the rise across our growing province, but collectively each of us has the power to change the law and help Ontario workers out of poverty,” said OFL President Chris Buckley.

Unionized workers have a long history of incredible gains at the bargaining table, including the 40-hour work week, maternity/parental benefits and unemployment insurance, which have become the law of the land.  

“There is an urgent need for new laws as workers, particularly young workers, increasingly find themselves in part-time or contract positions with low pay, few benefits and unpredictable schedules,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier. “Our goal is to ensure that the voices of union members are heard in the changes that will come.”

Upon finishing the survey, participants will also have a chance to enter to win a $200 gift card for either Loblaws or Metro grocery stores.  

Unifor is a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents approximately 1 million working people across Ontario.

7. Dated November 15, 2017 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/picket-highlights-need-first-contract-youth-workers:

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

Members of Unifor Local 333 working at Kennedy Youth Services organized an information picket on November 14 to highlight their struggles to reach a fair first collective agreement and increase pressure on their employer.

Prior to bargaining the employer  repeatedly refused to follow the Employment Standards Act around overtime, meal breaks, statutory holidays and vacation pay.  Kennedy Youth Services has also failed to provide a safe work environment, with workers regularly getting injured on the job. On top of the current workplace issues, the employer is pushing to introduce a 10-year wage progression from $17 an hour to $18.75 and has made any wage increase contingent on centre funding. The bargaining committee has said firmly enough is enough and will continue to push for fairness and a safer workplace.

“We need more safety measures at work. Arms are getting broken, staff members are being beaten and nothing is done about it – it’s not right,” said Amber Simpson, bargaining committee member. “Frequently, there are untrained temporary staff people who are brought in and this puts everyone in greater danger.”

The 42 developmental service workers are employed at two residential homes, providing care and support to vulnerable youth and adults with developmental disabilities. The workers joined Unifor in February and negotiations started in late October. After two days, the employer broke away from conciliation and requested a no-board report, which opens the door to locking out the workers.

“These workers joined the union because they want to improve their working lives in areas of fair wages and work schedules, and want the employer to be sensitive to the effect their work has on their health and well-being both physically and mentally,” said Kelly-Anne Orr, national representative.

Orr said that the employer did not come to the table to negotiate a fair agreement and seems to have no interest in acknowledging even basic rights as required by the law.

8. Dated January 30, 2021 at https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/iiroc-trading-halt-nee-db-180300576.html

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

OTTAWA, ONJan. 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor has reached a tentative contract with VIA Rail, in negotiations covering more than 2,000 rail workers.

VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)
VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)

“My congratulations go to members and the bargaining committees who adapted to bargaining online through the pandemic, and remained committed to reaching a fair deal for all members [my emphasis] while VIA Rail faces truly unprecedented challenges,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We must highlight all the work done by our members to ensure safe, clean standards on board trains and also, to ensure that the trains are in impeccable condition for the safety of this critical transit infrastructure. In the current difficult circumstances, this collective agreement secures good unionized jobs in the sector for years to come.”

The agreement covers Unifor National Council 4000 and Unifor Local 100 members, who work as maintenance workers, on-board service personnel, chefs, sales agents and customer service staff at VIA Rail.

“Unifor members in rail have made incredible contributions to the industry, and advancements in workers rights and labour laws have been made possible with thanks to them. Our members are greatly affected by the pandemic, and Unifor has put all the necessary resources to support them and counter the attempts at concessions made by the employer,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor Quebec Director.

The new 2-year contract replaced the collective agreement that expired on December 31, 2019. Contract talks began in October 2019 and were conducted in recent months remotely, with the assistance of mediators assigned by the federal government.

“I wish to thank our members for their support throughout the bargaining process. This is a good contract that will ensure fairness for members,” said Dave Kissack, President of Unifor’s Council 4000.

Zoltan Czippel, President of Local 100 echoed the message, adding that, “This deal represents the end of a long negotiation where the bargaining team put member’s priorities front and centre. I’m proud to recommend adoption.”

Details of the deal will only be released following ratification by members. Votes will be conducted in the coming weeks.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

 

9. Dated October 20, 2019 at https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-saskcrowns-853371456.html:

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

REGINA, Oct. 20, 2019 /CNW/ – Unifor bargaining committees have signed tentative agreements with SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskWater, DirectWest, and SecureTek, ending a 17-day strike by nearly 5,000 workers across the province.

“Solidarity and the support from Unifor members at all six Crowns along with those who joined our picket lines from across the province were key to achieving this agreement,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “I want to thank Ian Davidson, President, Unifor Local 649, Dave Kuntz, President, Unifor Local 1-S, Penny Matheson, President, Unifor Local 2-S and Doug Lang, President, Unifor Local 820 for showing tremendous resolve and leadership to stand together and fight back against the regressive Moe government mandate to achieve a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The details of the tentative agreements will be released following the ratification votes, which will be held this month.

Unifor members have been escalating strike action after the employers rejected the union’s offer to go to binding arbitration. On Saturday the Poplar River power plant in Coronach was behind reinforced picket lines that only granted access to essential services staff. Unifor members also picketed SaskTel dealers across the province asking customers to support locked out workers and take their business elsewhere.

“Unifor members proved that they are vital to their communities and the Saskatchewan economy,” said Chris MacDonald, Assistant to the National President.

“This was an historic and yet complicated round of bargaining and the bargaining committees will be recommending members ratify the tentative agreement reached today,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President.

The members want to thank the public, and other unions and Unifor members across the country who showed support on picket lines in more than 80 locations.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

10. Dated July1, 2019 at http://unifor1996-o.ca/unifor-demands-fair-restructuring-agreements-for-auto-parts-workers-impacted-by-gm-oshawa/:

Unifor demands fair restructuring agreements for auto parts workers impacted by GM Oshawa

ips_media_release_photo

TORONTO Unifor is reinforcing its demand for fair agreements [my emphasis] for workers negatively impacted by the discontinuation of vehicle production at General Motors Oshawa as the union enters discussions with multiple auto parts and service provider companies.

“As Unifor warned, thousands of additional independent parts and suppliers (IPS) workers are now facing job loss as a direct result of the assembly line closure at GM Oshawa,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The workers deserve respect and support as operations are restructured or wound down. Unifor is determined to secure agreements that address important issues such as transition to retirement opportunities, financial support, and adjustment support.”

Vehicle manufacturing at Oshawa GM will start to wind down in late September and cease completely in December 2019. This will cause the closure of several independent parts suppliers. An estimated 1,700 Unifor members are facing job loss due to closure or restructuring.

“In every one of these workplaces, severance is a key issue. Workers facing job loss need a financial bridge as they transition. That is why we are demanding that all of these companies step up and provide enhanced severance for affected workers,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222.

The majority of the job losses will occur at CEVA Logistics, Syncreon Supplier Park, Inteva, Oakley, Auto Warehousing, Marek Hospitality, Securitas, Robinson Solutions, Robinson Building Services and Lear Whitby.

On Sunday June 23, Lear Whitby workers, members of Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa, met with Local and National Union leadership to discuss concerns over pension eligibility, severance, and health care benefits.

“This is devastating to workers at companies like Lear Whitby where the vast majority of the workers are in their mid-fifties and have at least 30 years of service. The closure creates a massive problem as it currently prevents many of these members from reaching retirement eligibility under the pension plan. This issue highlights why we fought so hard to try to convince GM to keep building vehicles in Oshawa,” said Dias. “On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Oakley and CEVA where our members are younger and need access to adjustment centre funding as they try to transition to new employment.”

The union is actively engaged in negotiations with all involved employers as it calls on the companies to provide the necessary support for workers in all age groups.

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? 

Another Ideological Call for a Fair Contract–By CUPE 3902

I received the following in an email (https://weareuoft.com/e-action/):

Thanks for helping the members of CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] 3902, Unit 1, win a fair deal at the table! Our proposals are progressive and necessary to ensure good working conditions for our members and their students. Fill out the form below to send an email to UofT’s administration asking them to fairly consider our proposals! [my emphasis]

I have already commented a number of times about this cliché of a “fair deal,” “fair contract,” and so forth (see, for example, Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One, or The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left).

The persistent use of this cliché by union reps to defend their actions indicates the contradictory (and limited) nature of unions. On the one hand, unions function to limit the power of a particular employer; on the other hand, they also function to justify the continued existence of a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police).

By the way, I did send the email that CUPE 3902 wanted people to send to university management; it is necessary to support particular unions in their fight against particular employers–all the while criticizing the limitations of their rhetoric and actions.

Striking Brewery Workers and a Fair Deal or Contract (Collective Agreement): The Impossible Dream

I thought it might be useful to paste a short conservation I had on Facebook concerning locked-out brewery workers:

February 26 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

 

Thank you to everyone who has shown support for us during this lockout.
As essential workers, we were pretty shocked to be put out on the street since bargaining was progressing. Your solidarity is very important to us and will help us get back to the table with Molson Coors to negotiate a fair deal[my emphasis] for all of our members.

 

Keep the solidarity coming!

 

What is a fair deal? How can any collective agreement express a fair deal when workers (including brewery workers) are used as things for other people’s benefits?

 

 

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Author
Fred Harris

 i hear you, a fair deal would be a planned economy and a transition to socialism, but workers need means to keep from pauperization between revolutionary upsurges. I would also tend to think worker associations would still be relevant in a communist society to advocate for specific industries and sectors. But you are definitely hitting on something.

The issue is not that workers need to construct organizations of defense against the rapacious and oppressive power of employers; of course they need to do so. The issue is: Why is it that the reps in such defensive organizations time after time then turn around and claim that defensive measures (such as a collective agreement) are then idealized by claiming that all workers want is a fair contract.
On my blog recently, I posted a collection of quotes from CUPE reps that claimed that collective agreements were fair. I will, in the future, find and post similar claims by the next largest union–Unifor.

 

Socialists need to constantly criticize such idealization of collective agreements since fairness cannot be achieved in such terms.; it is an illusion.

 

Collective agreements are, certainly, in general better than no collective agreement–but fairness is not one of their characteristics.

 

Unless of course the implicit or explicit management clause is also fair–which requires workers to follow orders and transfer some of their decision-making power to the employer and reps of the employer. I have also provided on my blog many examples of management clauses that specify the general power of management in relation to work and workers.

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

I will provide a series of examples from various unions in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly.

1. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

  1. On February 20, 2020, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) published the following on its website (https://cupe.ca/union-offers-better-contingency-plan-city-toronto-negotiate-fair-contract).

Following the City of Toronto’s announcement on contingency plans for a possible labour disruption, CUPE 416 offered their own plan, one that respects all parties: negotiate a fair contract and avoid a labour dispute.

Nowhere does the webpage indicate what is meant by ‘fair contract.” The complaint against the City of Toronto as employer in relation to collective bargaining seems to have to do with the implied bad faith in bargaining–hence the reference to ‘respects all parties.” It is implied that the City of Toronto’s bargaining team does not respect the other party–the negotiating team and, by implication, the city of Toronto’s unionized workers. If only the city’s negotiating team would engage in real negotiations rather than aiming for a labour dispute from the beginning, then a fair contract could arise, it is implied:

“How does the City Manager stand up there and say the City respects its workers and looks out for the best interests of residents when they have been driving these talks toward a deadline and a dispute from the beginning?” said Eddie Mariconda, president of CUPE 416.

It is never questioned how treating human beings as costs could indicate an unfair situation as such:

 “They say that they want a contract that is affordable and sustainable. 416 members are already affordable and sustainable, and we deliver great services too.

City of Toronto workers are affordable–their costs are “reasonable.” How treating workers as costs is reasonable is never explained–it is assumed. Treating workers as costs reduces human beings to mere means to ends defined by others (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

It should be noted that CUPE is the largest Canadian union (from https://cupe.ca/cupe-largest-union-canada-and-we-keep-growing):

Canada’s largest labour union keeps on growing as today we announce our membership has reached 680,000 workers nationwide.

2. In the Collective Bargaining section of the CUPE website (https://cupe.ca/collective-bargaining) , we read:

Negotiating strong contracts for our members is what we do best. The solidarity of our members is the heart of our bargaining power, and makes gains possible. Together, we’ve built strong communities and achieved better wages, benefits, pensions and fair treatment, for workers.

It is implied that it is possible to be treated fairly despite the existence of the employer-employee relation. If, however, the employer-employee relation is inherently unfair, then CUPE’s reference to fair treatment (by means of, probably, collective bargaining and collective agreements) in effect justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of workers. After all, if workers are indeed fairly treated by means of collective bargaining, collective agreements and the existence of unions, then there is no need to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. Furthermore, workers who work in unionized environments who still consider their treatment by the employer to be unfair–despite such treatment not breaching the collective agreement–would logically be subject to criticism by union reps or at least indifference.

3. On CUPE Local 79, it reads http://cupelocal79.org/bargaining/ (of course, this link may no longer exist once a collective agreement has been signed):

CUPE Local 79 is entering into negotiations with the City of Toronto in late 2019 as the four collective agreements expire on December 31, 2019. Our union is seeking a fair deal for City of Toronto employees who work hard every day to take care of Toronto.

4. Another webpage (https://cupe.on.ca/marchingforfairness/ ) has the following (no date):

We are asking the March of Dimes to support us in the work that we do by negotiating a fair contract that respects the residents of March of Dimes Independent Living and the support workers who empower them to live independent lives. Help us by sending a message to the March of Dimes to ask them to negotiate a fair contract of support service attendants.

5. Dated November 16, 2020, the following post implies that unionized workers not only desire fair treatment but actually obtained it by means of collective bargaining and the collective agreement (https://cupe.ca/new-collective-agreement-garda-employees):

New collective agreement for Garda employees

This Monday, the Syndicat des employé.e.s du transport de valeurs et des salles de comptage de Garda (SNCF-SCFP 3812) signed a new six-year collective agreement, which calls for wage increases of 14% for the period between 2018 to 2024.

“The union achieved the objectives it wanted, particularly with respect to salaries and full retroactivity for all employees and major adjustments to schedules and statutory holidays. We have adjusted to the health crisis and have held virtual general meetings, including a vote. The agreement achieved 73.5% support, reflective of the excellent work done by the bargaining committee,” declared Jocelyn Tremblay, a CUPE union representative and trustee of SNCF-SCFP 3812.

In addition to maintaining and even improving their purchasing power, the union is particularly proud of regaining several things they had negotiated after rejecting an initial tentative agreement in April 2019. The employees subsequently voted more than 83% in favour of resorting to pressure tactics up to and including an unlimited general strike.

“This mobilization on the part of employees enabled us to be heard at the bargaining table. These people showed management that they wanted a fair agreement in line with the efforts made on a daily basis for the company,” added CUPE union representative Marcin Kazmierczak.

SNCF-SCFP 3812 represents slightly more than 1000 members.

6. On June 30, 2020, we read, from the National President’s Report (https://cupe.ca/national-presidents-report-june-2020):

The only sector presently bargaining with government is the health care sector. At that table, the government’s opening proposals included eliminating any retroactivity for wages beyond the April 1, 2020 effective date. This was rejected and CUPE will continue to fight for a fair collective agreement [my emphasis] and a strong pension plan.

7. On August 21, 2020, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/solidarity-with-port-of-montreal-longshore-workers-cupe-ontario-salutes-the-announcement-of-a-truce/):

CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members salute the announcement of a truce agreed to today between striking longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, members of CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). Both parties announced during a joint press conference that they believe they can come to a negotiated collective agreement during the truce which will end on March 20, 2021.

On August 10th, the 1,125 longshore workers began strike action to defend their collective agreement after the employer, MEA, unilaterally changed working conditions.

The workers’ previous collective agreement expired on December 31, 2018 and, instead of negotiating a fair agreement [my emphasis], the employer had been attacking workers’ rights, threatening the use of replacement workers, and diverting ships to other ports, including those outside of Canada.

The MEA spent months attacking workers’ rights in the courts, making the case that all members of CUPE Local 375, working at the Port of Montreal, should not have the right to strike. But the longshore workers fought back, and the Canada Industrial Relations Board upheld their existing strike rights. This was an important victory, not only for longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, but for all working people in Canada.

Since the beginning of the strike, CUPE Local 375 members have offered to unload and move all cargo linked to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure community safety. Despite this, the employer has tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to threaten the use of replacement workers, otherwise known as scabs. This week, when it looked like the employer was going to enact the threat, the Local mobilized with other unions for mass solidarity picket which caused the employer to back down.

CUPE Ontario will act in steadfast solidarity with CUPE Local 375 until the parties reach a fair collective agreement that treats the Port of Montreal longshore workers with the respect they deserve. The members of CUPE Ontario will continue offering support and resources to defend Local 375 members’ rights and protect working conditions.

Fred Hahn, President

Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer

It may seem inappropriate to criticize those who defend workers from attacks of employers. Attacks from particular employers or a group of employers do indeed need to be criticized, and to that extent Fred Hahn’s and Candace Resnick’s critique of the Maritime Employers Association should be praised. On the other hand, the reference to “fair agreement” needs to be criticized. 

8. On November 4, 2019, we read (http://cupe1764.ca/help-brampton-caledon-community-living-workers-get-a-fair-contract/): 

Help Brampton-Caledon Community Living workers get a fair contract

We are the members of CUPE 966. We work hard every day to provide the quality care at Brampton-Caledon Community Living (BCCL). It can be difficult work, but we do it because we care about the individuals we support, and we love to make a difference for them and their families.

BCCL is attempting to make our jobs even more difficult by keeping workers in precarious, part-time positions. We just want to negotiate a fair contract that respects our physically demanding work and protects the services we provide. We believe that no worker should see their working conditions reduced. We do not want a strike, but we are being pushed that way.

Help us continue to provide quality care to the individuals we support by telling BCCL to negotiate a fair contract now! [my emphasis]

It may seem even more inappropriate to criticize those workers who are experiencing an attack by an employer. However, where does their idea of a “fair contract” come from? Have they been indoctrinated by CUPE (and other unions)? Do they really consider it possible to obtain a fair contract? Even if they do, what is their view of management rights? 

9. On another CUPE webpage, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/somethingspecial/):

10. We read, on December 2, 2015 (https://cupe2544.ca/with-deadline-looming-warden-woods-needs-to-get-serious-about-negotiating-a-fair-contract/): 

With deadline looming, Warden Woods needs to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair contract

With a strike deadline of December 13 rapidly approaching, the union representing workers at Warden Woods Community Centre urged management to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair collective agreement. [my emphasis]

“For more than a year, our members have been trying to negotiate a fair first contract [my emphasis] with Warden Woods, but I am extremely concerned that management needs to get serious about finishing the job,” said Barbara Garcia, President of Local 5218 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 5218).

“The community depends on, and expects, the vital services our members provide. We’re committed to this community, but Warden Woods’ management needs to demonstrate their commitment to getting the job done.

CUPE 5218 has been in negotiations with Warden Woods for over a year. While some progress towards securing a first contract has taken place, several items remain outstanding. Additionally, staff have not had a wage increase in eight years.

The countdown to a lockout or strike began when Warden Woods’ management declared an impasse last month.

“We are prepared to bargain for as long as it takes to secure a fair contract, but the employer’s actions have set us on a fast track to a work stoppage, unless they get serious about finishing the job of negotiating with us,” said Garcia.

“We have been extremely reasonable in offering good faith solutions we believe are fair to our members [my emphasis], protect vital public services the community depends on, and ensure the long-term viability of Warden Woods,” she added.

Warden Woods is a multi-service community agency based in Scarborough providing supports to seniors, youth and children. The 44 members of CUPE 5218 provide a wide range of programming and services at the main office, several satellite locations, and in people’s homes.

For more information, please contact:

Barbara Garcia
CUPE 5218 President
416-725-4437

Kevin Wilson
CUPE Communications
416-821-6641

The use of the term “fair” in “fair contract,” “fair treatment,” and “fair deal” is not accidental. The implication is that the goal of collective bargaining must not just to achieve a contract or collective agreement–but a fair contract or agreement. The goal of reaching a collective agreement is qualified constantly by the adjective “fair.” The natural question would be: In what way is it fair? What is meant by a “fair contract,” etc.?

Nowhere does CUPE explain what it means by a fair collective agreement or how it is possible given the power of employers as a class. Why is that? Why is it that the union often qualifies the contract or collective agreement as “fair?” Is it by accident, or is it a means to “sell” the collective agreement to its members?

Would it be more in the interests of workers to point out that the collective agreement is unfair–but it is the best that can be obtained under the circumstances (the power structure that currently exists)? Or would it be better to merely express the rhetoric of fair contracts, etc. without discussing what is meant by that?

Which is a reformist tactic? A tactic in the best interests of workers?

Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part One

The following is a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.

One of Mr. Gindin’s key criticisms of both GM and the union that represented the workers at Oshawa is that GM promised jobs if the union would make concessions. The union made concessions–and GM reneged on the deal and eliminated the jobs. The union did not adequately respond to the repeated down scaling of the workforce but only succeeded in “managing” the down scaling.

Mr. Gindin then argues that an adequate union response requires thinking beyond GM since GM cannot solve this problem. Being militant in bargaining may get you some things, but jobs are not something that bargaining can guarantee. Retaining jobs involves a larger issue and is political. Ultimately, you are arguing on the company’s terms since it holds the trump card of maintaining the facilities open or closing shop.

Let us stop there. There is an implicit critique of the whole union model that has existed in Canada since 1944, when the federal government obliged employers to recognize unions of workers’ choice. If collective  bargaining cannot guarantee jobs, then should not Mr. Gindin criticize the union rhetoric of “fair contracts,”  “economic justice,” and “fairness” (all stock-in-trade phrases of the left here in Toronto)? And yet when the opportunity arose of criticizing the pairing of a struggle for $15 an hour minimum wage (and needed employment law reforms) with the concept of “fairness,” Mr. Gindin remained silent. Why is that? Mr. Gindin claimed that we should be humble, and yet is it not the height of arrogance on his part to presume that such pairing is unimportant? I found the equation of $15 an hour minimum wage with the concept of “fairness” to be politically conservative, and Mr. Gindin’s silence over the matter to be an example of the repeated pandering after popular opinion rather than a needed ideological struggle over what is indeed fair and not fair in our society.

How does Mr. Gindin suppose people operate? If they personally find that something is fair, and no one even addresses the issue, they eventually become cynical and reduce their activities to self-interest. Why bother, they ask themselves? Nothing will change. After all, the so-called progressives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, think that if I work for a minimum wage of $15, have a few extra rights at work, then everything is fine–it is fair. And yet I have to drag myself out of bed to go to work that is largely determined by others. I have to accept the daily abuse experienced at work if not directly and personally by having a supervisor criticize me but indirectly and impersonally by having my work procedures, work load and so forth determined beforehand by others.  I then have to struggle to return home either by standing in packed subway cars and buses or driving  a car during rush hour to get home and find some kind of relaxation by either partying or watching TV. The rhetoric of fairness feeds into the development of a cynical attitude since most people that the lives they lead in various ways is not fair. To bullshit them by using such words and various phrases does them a great disservice.

What of workers covered by collective agreements? Mr. Gindin is silent on this score. It is not just a question of the impotence of unions to stop employers from closing shop, but he only refers to the impossibility of collective bargaining addressing the issue of jobs. Collective bargaining, however, more generally cannot address the issue of jobs because collective bargaining presupposes the legitimacy of management rights. Why does Mr. Gindin not explicitly criticize the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements in general? Is this not necessary if we are to overcome the limitations of the union movement? But if criticizing the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements is necessary in order to free us of the illusion of the fairness of unionized work environments, and if freeing ourselves of such an illusion is a necessary condition for fighting for a socialist society, then a socialist would engage in such criticism.

If, however, doing what is necessary to achieve a socialist society is to abandon our illusions concerning what is fair, and Mr. Gindin refuses to do what is necessary, is he not engaging in unrealistic actions? If questioning the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements forms a necessary component of a socialist movement, and Mr. Gindin refuses to engage in such criticism, then how effective will Mr. Gindin’s actions be in the long run?

Where is the humbleness in Mr. Gindin’s actions?

The second point is that we have to deal with the larger issue of economic reconstructing because the present system is not working for the benefit of working people. Workers are no longer getting security or decent wages. The larger issue is how do you deal with economic reconstructing generally and not just GM.

Yes, there is a larger issue, but economic reconstruction is not the only thing that is involved. Mr. Gindin talks a lot about class, but surely a socialist society would involve the abolition of a class society–a radical qualitative change in our lives.  Mr. Gindin, being a “realist,” ignores this dimension of the problem. Economic reconstruction has existed in the past; capitalist emerged through economic (and political and social) reconstruction. However, in a socialist society, the reconstruction would involve the abolition of classes–and Mr. Gindin ignores the radical qualitative change in such reconstruction.

The third point is that radical demands that go beyond GM must be able to connect to the larger community and gain its support by addressing some of its needs. Mr.Gindin then asserts that the obvious issue that connects the two is the environment.

It is hardly obvious to me. As I argued in another post (The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One), the focus on climate change is presently a fad (Bill Resnick refers to climate change often enough, outlining a possible apocalyptic life). Not that environmental problems are unreal; however, if people are unmotivated to face the power of employers as a class despite the daily experience of oppression and exploitation, why does Mr. Gindin think the issue of environmental problems will somehow motivate them and have lasting power?

Let us look at the concept of “environment” for a moment. The philosopher John Dewey analyzed the nature of the environment, and it is not something which is somehow “external” to living beings (from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 33-34):

There is, of course, a natural world that exists independently of the organism, but this world is environment only as it enters directly and indirectly into life-functions. The organism is itself a part of the larger natural world and exists as organism only in active connections with its environment.

The natural world is an environment only in relation to the life process. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, pages 12-13:

In brief, the environment consists of those conditions that promote or hinder, stimulate or inhibit, the characteristic activities of a living being. Water is the environment of a fish because it is necessary to the fish’s activities—to its life. The north pole is a significant element in the environment of an arctic explorer, whether he succeeds in reaching it or not, because it defines his activities, makes them what they distinctively are. Just because life signifies not bare passive existence (supposing there is such a thing), but a way of acting environment or medium signifies what enters into this activity as a sustaining or frustrating condition.

The environment is not something external to workers but forms the conditions within which they live both biologically and socially. Some environmental conditions are distant, others close at hand physically. Such an environment in the case of human beings is also social since we are a species that depend on each other (grounded in the relatively long period before an infant can become a productive member of the world).

What are the environmental conditions that will most likely and immediately grip the interests of workers and community members? The priority should be developing opposition to the power of employers as a class, and community issues should be linked to that issue–such as housing, health, education, social services, the police and the oppressive forms in which such community services are provided. and, yes, the environment in a wider sense, but only in conjunction with the other issues. The view that the “environment” is something independent of us is nonsense. The environment as an isolated area of our lives will  unlikely have lasting power to engage workers and community members interests; it must be linked to these more immediate interests if it is to have lasting power rather than be just a fad.

He then summarizes these three points: the left must address the problem of the corporations not solving our problems, of how to deal with economic (and political) restructuring) and how to address the first two in relation to problems associated with the environment. Unions must thus become something other than what they have been since they have lost focus and direction under the sway of globalization and neoliberalism. Mr. Gindin, however, refers to the private-sector unions and leaves open the question of the nature and efficacy of public-sector unions.

I have already addressed the issues above-except Mr. Gindin’s backhanded idealization of public services and public-sector unions. This should come as no surprise. Mr. Gindin’s conception of socialism involves an expansion of public services via nationalization–as if the current form of public services did not require thorough reconstruction due to their oppressive nature. See my brief criticism The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant  and a more in-depth criticism of nationalization (and, indirectly, the idealization of public services) in the post The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two; see also The Money Circuit of Capital ).

Mr. Gindin then outlines his alternative plan. We should take over the GM plant, put it under public ownership and converting the plant and having the now unemployed workers use their diverse skills in the assembly facilities, the paint shop, the stamp shop and coordinating it with components plants in the surrounding area.

Such a plan needs to be linked to the environment for at least two reasons. In the first place, Mr. Gindin implies, the problem of the environment is urgent and needs to be addressed now. In the second place, the planned alternative facility should not face the constraints placed on it by competition from other capitalists in China and other parts of the world.

The appeal to the urgency of problems associated with the “environment” reminds me of some Marxists’ appeal to the urgency of transitioning to socialism because of the inevitable breakdown of capitalism. This hype about the urgency of environmental problems is unlikely to grip the interests of most workers and community members; they have more pressing immediate problems, like getting to work on time, enduring their work life without suffering too much humiliation, finding some meaning in their work life, going home and not suffering further problems.

It does make sense to seek areas of  production where competition is limited in order to prevent competition from leading to cuts in wages, benefits and deteriorating working conditions.

To kill two birds with one stone, it is necessary to engage in planning, and this planning requires not only the state becoming engaged in the process but in a more aggressive state that improves environmental standards by obliging people to move away from an economy based on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the state could also function as consumer by purchasing electrical vehicles. In addition, the state could use some of what it purchases for the expansion of public transport, thereby reducing the use of private vehicles and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. Mr. Gindin calls the state planning to this end democratic planning. Democratic planning is impossible if key economic decisions are made by private companies.

I am dealing with Mr. Gindin’s inadequate treatment of socialism in other posts (see,  for example, Socialism, Part Nine: Market Socialism as an Initially Necessary but Inadequate Social Model). In relation to democratic planning, though, I will add that the idea that the total planning of society is to arise through the state was not an idea proposed by Marx: the state may own the means of production in the sense of preventing private individuals from denying workers to collectively use them, but the control over those means of production would be in the hand of workers themselves and not the state. From Rob Bryer, Accounting for History in Marx’s Capital: The Missing Link, page 277:

The section rejects the dominant interpretation that he advocated central planning. Marx’s mature concept of socialism abolishes markets for capital and labor power, but the section argues it requires competitive markets for products and services, cooperative enterprises, and accounting to hold enterprise management accountable to workers, and workers accountable to society.

(Bryer’s view of socialism has its own limitations in that he sees that Marx distinguished a socialist society that emerges from capitalism and a society that maintains itself on its own basis, but he then eternalizes markets.)

Mr. Gindin is an advocate of central planning, as is evident from the following:

Environmental change involves radical change since it involves change throughout society–including both production and consumption. We need to begin to create the capacity to convert to an environmentally friendly economy in every community by creating from research centers (peopled by young engineers) that inquire into what capacities, skills and equipment we currently have and what we are going to need to make the transition to an environmentally friendly economy. At the same time, the state needs to restructure the economy through, for example, raising environmental standards that require such environmentally friendly restructuring.

Mr. Gindin then contends that for this to work, several components must work together: planning, decentralisation and calling into question the private power of employers.

He then returns to the issue of environmental problems and the large-scale nature of the problem and the urgency of the problem. The problem cannot be addressed through the fragmented market nor can it be addressed through general phrases about the environmental crisis; if we stay at that level, workers will simply ignore the issue since they lack control over their lives and cannot address the issue when it is posed in general terms.

He then argues that since planning is required, it is necessary to control what you are planning. This involves changing property relations at work, which requires real struggle with workers to oppose the closing of plants not just in Oshawa but in many other communities.

Mr. Gindin admits that for now there is no base for such an approach; it would be necessary to organize for such an end. He also points out that the modern state is a capitalist state, which manages discontent by controlling and managing labour; the capitalist state has not developed planning capacities. What is required is a transformation of the capitalist state so that the state can plan democratically.

He argues that the capitalist market is failing in various ways in meeting our needs, from security to equality, environment and a rich personal life. Business is very vulnerable in these areas since it does not really meet these needs.

We need to develop the capacities of the working class to represent these needs, and it will not be easy. The working class must be reconstructed into a social force with the confidence to address these needs.

Mr. Gindin then claims that, during the Second World War, planning did indeed occur within the state, but the planning was performed mainly by businessmen becoming state officials. With the end of the war, they exited the state because they did not want the state to become autonomous. To be sure, the state has developed the capacity for planning in various departments, but it has not developed the capacity to engage in overall planning at the national level during normal periods (not exceptional periods, like wartime). Furthermore, the state does not know how to plan democratically. It is necessary to transform the state, and that will not be easy.

There are several problems with the above. Firstly, the reference to “decentralisation” is left hanging in the air. Where does decentralisation come into play in Mr. Gindin’s view of the nature of socialism. It remains a mystery. Secondly, it is not only necessary to call in question the private power of employers but the public power of state employers over employees. Thirdly, he talks about how workers need to oppose the closing of factories in various communities. Since the police protect the right of employers to close factories, Mr. Gindin should have indicated some kind of strategy about how to deal with the violent means used to protect the closing of factories and workplaces. Fourthly, even if he did propose such a strategy, it would probably involve workers having to jeopardize, if not their lives, at least their livelihood as the capitalist state through the courts fined them or threw them in jail. Would Mr. Gindin engage in such needed opposition personally? Fifthly, Mr. Gindin merely repeats the well-worn idea that central planning is socialist. This is hardly so. A common plan need not be a central plan formulated by some separate entity called the state. From Bryer, page 283:

Second, while Marx often wrote, for example in Volume 1 of Capital, that socialism would function according to a “definite social plan” (1976a, 171), there are two meanings of the word “plan” we need to keep separate. The dominant interpretation is that by “plan” Marx meant, “A table or programme indicating the relations of some set of objects,” “a detailed formulation of a plan of action,” in his case a production and consumption program or plan of action for society.3 The chapter, however, argues he meant a “scheme,” “of arrangement” or “of action,” a “Method, way of proceeding,” “a method for achieving an end,’ a way of organizing society. As Jossa (2005, 11) puts it, “while Marx and Engels certainly conceived of the plan as an antidote to the anarchical nature of the capitalistic market, they were thinking of a plan for abolishing the production of commodities and so not based on the law of value,” a scheme or way of organizing society for abolishing value.

Marx’s way of organizing socialist society, his concept of its relations of production, the chapter argues, is not the supervision or action controls implied by the central planning interpretation, but results control by workers.

Mr. Gindin’s reference to the state (which is not to wither away according to Mr. Gindin but is to expand) and implied central planning, on the one hand, and a democratic state, on the other, contradict each other. Marx, by contrast, was more consistent:

For Lavoie (1985) the ‘procedure’ or ‘process’ must be central planning. However, Marx and Engels consistently argued for a democratically elected and accountable workers’ state, for control by workers, which is what they meant by their occasional uses of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ not ‘dictatorship of the Party’ or their leaders (Draper 1986). Against Lassalle’s fetishism of the state, the theoretical side of his pervasive authoritarianism” (Draper 1986, 304), as Marx put it, “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it” (1989, 94), that is, in making the state fully accountable to workers. To provide the economic basis for democracy on Day 1 of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ to transcend capitalism’s profit and loss system of accounting control that Marx had explained in Capital (Bryer 2017), it implements a system of cooperative enterprise and social accounts, not central planning, a conclusion that Engels accepted, and Lenin eventually drew (see Bryer 2019a).

It is workers who will have to learn how to coordinate their own work and not the state as a separate entity. That such a learning process may take years or decades does not mean that the principle should be abandoned since coordination by workers (and communities) must begin from the beginning. With the elimination of capital markets and a market for workers, worker cooperatives (and community organizations) could emerge and serve as the learning organizations for such planning. From Bryer, page 277:

Fourth, the chapter analyses Marx’s criticisms of the draft Programme of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). …  He re-emphasized his long-standing vision of socialism based on a universal system of worker cooperatives that, transcending capitalist accounting control, must be accountable to workers and society for the production of value on Day 1.

Planning can emerge inductively through a federation of cooperatives, as Bryer argues (page 276):

To make this change the proletarian state takes all means of production into its hands, thereby abolishing the capital market, and abolishes the market for labor power, replacing ‘free’ wage workers with free social agents by replacing joint stock companies with a universal system of worker cooperatives, accountable to their worker-shareholders and to society.

It is through this “inductive” process rather than the “deductive” (top-down) process of planning that workers and the community will at last begin to control their own life process–and not through some form of central plan divorced from the workers and the community. Mr. Gindin may claim that he agrees with this, but his argument implies the divorce of the planning process from those who experience the consequences of this process–hence, his claim, in another writing, that the state is not to wither away but to expand.

I will continue in another post with critical commentary on the second part of the interview of Mr. Gindin. I suspect, though, that it will probably contain the similar arguments as above.

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

Injuries, disease and death are the common experiences of many Canadian workers–and undoubtedly workers in all countries dominated by the power of a class of employers. This is so since, on the one hand, profit is the driving force of human life in such societies (see  The Money Circuit of Capital for an explanation of this). On the other hand, workers in such a society are themselves costs, on the same level as the machinery, buildings, computers, raw material and other objects they use to produce commodities. The pandemic has shown this, unfortunately, to be the case, especially in the United States, as workers have been sacrifice in order to open up an economy dominated by a class of employers. 

Even apart from the pandemic, the fact that human beings are both living beings and self-conscious living beings is used by the class of employers in order to obtain as much profit as possible in the shortest possible time. To do so involves a reduction in the costs of production by reducing the number of workers or by reducing the costs of the means of production. By intensifying work through the reduction of the number of workers to the bare minimum, employers produce conditions that can easily result in injury, disease or death. By focusing on cutting costs to the maximum by, for example, not purchasing necessary safety equipment, employers also produce conditions that can easily result in injury, disease or death.

This situation is not generally recognized by capitalist governments or states. The sacrifice of workers for the benefit of the class of employers is often hidden–with the implicit or explicit collusion of the capitalist government or state. Thus, Bob Barnetson points out, in The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 173:

The purpose of this book was to examine how Canadian governments prevent and compensate workplace injury, who benefits from this approach, and how they benefit. The first four chapters suggest that governments do a poor job of preventing injury. The use of ineffective regulation appears to represent intentionally prioritizing profitability over safety. And the state has contained the ability of workers to resist this agenda by shaping the discourse around injury and the operation of these systems. Examining injury compensation reveals how seemingly neutral aspects of claims adjudication and management financially advantage employers and limit the ability of workers to resist unsafe work.

Together, this analysis suggests that the prevention and compensation of workplace injuries are not solely technical or legal undertakings, but intensely political ones that entail serious consequences — most often for workers. This conclusion is quite upsetting. But the facts are difficult to dispute. Whatever the drawbacks of Canadian injury statistics, they demonstrate that hundreds of thousands of workers are injured each year on the job. This raises two fundamental questions. First, why are so many seriously injured every year? And, second, why don’t governments do something about it?

Unions, of course, do seek to protect workers from the more vicious forms of health and safety violations. However, although the intentions of union reps may be praiseworthy, should we not wonder why they fail to question the basic source of injuries, disease and death in workplaces in modern society: the existence of a class of employers that uses human beings as means for purposes not defined by those who work?

All radicals should ask union reps the same questions: “First, why are so many seriously injured every year? And, second, why don’t governments do something about it?” They should also ask them: Why do union reps use such clichés as “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” “fairness,” “fair labour laws save lives” when the situation workers face, whether unionized or non-unionized, is indecent, unfair and unjust–a situation that leads to so many injuries, diseases and deaths?

 

 

A Critical Look at The Socialist Project’s Pamphlet on Green Jobs Oshawa

The Socialist Project, “based in Toronto [Ontario, Canada] … works to generate and promote Left activism education and organizing. Our membership includes activists, students, workers educators and others interested in Socialist politics in Canada,” recently published (February 2020) a pamphlet titled Take the Plant–Save the Planet: The Struggle for Community Control and Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa

The pamphlet has an introduction and the mission statement of Green Jobs Oshawa. It refers to the closing of most of the GM auto assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, in December 2019.

The rest consists of various articles written by seven authors. The first article, “Unifor Settlement with GM– Footprint or Toe Tag?,” is by Tony Leah, “a retired autoworker and founding member of Green Jobs Oshawa.” The second and third articles, titled respectively, “GM Oshawa: Lowered Expectations Unexplored Opportunities,” and “The GM Strike and the Historical Convergence of Possibilities,” are by Sam Gindin, “who served from 1974 to 2000 as research director of the Canadian Auto Workers (Unifor’s predecessor), now an adjunct professor at York University. The fourth article, titled “Bringing SNC-Lavalin to Mind During an Uninspiring Federal Election,” is by Leo Panitch, Professor Emeritus,  Canada Research Chair, York University. The fifth article, titled “Take It Over: The Struggle for Green Production in Oshawa,” is by  Linda McQuaig,  ” journalist, columnist, non-fiction author and social critic.” The sixth article, titled “Green Jobs Oshawa and a Just Transition,” is by Rebecca Keetch, who “was a GM worker and is an activist with Green Jobs Oshawa.” The seventh article, titled “Why GM’s Oshawa Assembly Line Shutdown is a Black Eye for Unifor’s Jerry Dias,” is by Jennifer Wells, “a former columnist and feature writer for the [Toronto] Star’s Business section.” An appendix, titled “Feasibility Study for the Green Conversion of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth: Summary Overview,” is by
Russ Christianson, “started working with small businesses and co-operatives and now travels across Canada working as a consultant who’s a business start-up specialist.”

I am not going to review the entire pamphlet. I addressed some of Mr. Gindin’s views in a previous post (see The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant).

The Introduction provides the framework for the pamphlet (pages 4-5):

Toward an Alternative

A small group of rank and file Oshawa workers and retirees understood that far more was needed; both logic and history suggested that appealing to GM to rethink their cold calculations was naive. They joined with other community allies, including the Durham Labour Council and supporters from the Toronto-based Socialist Project, to establish ‘Green Jobs Oshawa’. Its mandate was to explore and organize around other possibilities for the Oshawa facility.

Before looking at the proposed solution, the extent of the problem needs to be specified. Mr. Gindin’s first article does this:

The Oshawa facility currently supports 5,700 – 6,000 jobs: GM directly employs 2,200 hourly workers and some 500 salaried workers, with other companies employing over 3,000 to supply components (some working right inside the Oshawa facility). The new proposal means cutting this total by upwards of 5,300 jobs.

The loss of jobs for many families undoubtedly will be devastating for many within the community. The alternative proposed is outlined below (page 5):

Green Jobs Oshawa called on the federal government – or the municipal government with substantial financial and technical support from the feds – to take over the land and equipment idled by GM. The Oshawa facility could then be converted to assembling fleets of electric vehicles. The sale of these vehicles was to depend not on market competition, but a social plan based on direct government purchases of the products the government had invested in. The fleet vehicles involved would range from electric post office vans (as recommended earlier by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) to hydroelectric vans, newly designed school buses, ambulances and police cars. With that base, the plant could also produce electric cars for individual consumers and, depending on how much space remained available, add other environmentally related products.

The message was that jobs, the environment, and the industrial capacities for conversion and restructuring are inseparable. From that perspective, saving Oshawa was not an end point but a beginning and an example to build on.

The proposed takeover of the plant, however, is linked to reliance on governments, without really addressing how much organized power would be required to force governments realistically to provide support for such a proposal. On the one hand, without such organized power, it is mere wishful thinking. This is implicit in the silences of even so-called progressive forces over the proposal (from Mr. Panitch’s article, page 34):

This is of course par for the course. The $3-billion left unpaid by General Motors from the $12-billion public bailout provided to it a decade ago could have covered all the costs entailed in implementing the Oshawa worker-environmental alliance plan to save the GM plant by taking it into public ownership and converting it into producing battery electric powered vehicles for Canada Post and other public fleets. That not even Unifor, let alone the NDP or the Green Party, has championed this plan only goes to show how bereft of big ideas are the foremost institutions that pass for the left in Canada today.

To demand that the municipal or federal (or, for that matter, provincial) governments take over the plant when even the so-called left did not rally behind the idea expresses an over-reliance on governments that is often expressed in the document. For example, Ms. McQuaig argues the following (page 36):

Of course, Gindin’s idea for producing public utility vehicles would require co-operation from the federal and provincial governments, and it is hard to imagine such co-operation from our current political leaders.

If it is unrealistic to expect co-operation from “current political leaders,” then such co-operation would require force–organized power by worker and community members. No such force exists–as those who wrote the introduction implied (page 5):

Frustration and Persistence

Green Jobs Oshawa developed a website, distributed leaflets to workers, held educationals and public forums in Oshawa and Toronto, organized petitions, commissioned a widely respected professional feasibility study (see appendix) confirming its case, received sympathetic attention in the press and gave numerous media interviews. Yet the committee couldn’t generate the necessary level of support, starting with the workers themselves.

If the level of support for the proposal of Green Jobs Oshawa could not even generate major support from those most directly affected by the shutdown, why would anyone think that the governments, which support the class power of employers, would support their plan?

An alternative that undoubtedly was discussed by some at the factory and within Green Jobs Oshawa is not even mentioned: the workers taking over the factory and starting to produce without GM. That alternative may not have been realistic either under the circumstances, but at least it should have been discussed in the pamphlet. It is nowhere to be found.

Funding for retooling and the production of electric vehicles would require a substantial investment, and that is perhaps the reason why the mere take-over of the plant may not have been realistic. On the other hand, a takeover of the plant could have had a different purpose–to outline how unfair this particular situation was, how unfair the situation of GM not repaying

The $3-billion left unpaid by General Motors from the $12-billion public bailout provided to it a decade ago could have covered all the costs entailed in implementing the Oshawa worker-environmental alliance plan to save the GM plant by taking it into public ownership and converting it into producing battery electric powered vehicles for Canada Post and other public fleets. (Mr. Panitch, page 34),

and how unfair in general it is for employers to have the power to make decisions independently of those who are most directly affected by them. When people find a situation unfair, they are sometimes willing to go to extreme lengths to address the situation. As Barrington Moore remarks, in his Injustice   page 510, says:

Anger at the failure of authority to live up to its obligations, to keep its word and faith with the subjects, can be among the most potent of human emotions and topple thrones.

However, for such a tactic to have gained a foothold, it would have been necessary to have done the necessary preparatory work–negative work, if you like, by engaging workers in conversation and discussion over the fairness of various aspects of their lives, both in the workplace and outside the workplace. Indeed, Mr. Gindin, in a different context, recognizes the need for longer-term preparation: a tiered workplace, where some workers doing the same jobs received a lower wage and lower benefits despite belonging to the same union–Unifor (page 25):

The tiered structure GM was able to put in place in 2007 saved the corporation billions, and to boot, provided the company with a divided and weaker workforce. Only a union crusade, not a luke-warm demand among miscellaneous other demands, could have forced GM to give this up. It would, for example, have meant starting at least a year or two in advance to prepare the members for a war with the company, solidly win over the broad public in spite of a prolonged strike, and isolate General Motors. The absence of such preparations didn’t just make it harder to eventually win; it sent the message to the company that the union wasn’t all that serious in putting an end to tiered wages and would be satisfied with some face-saving tinkering. Which is what the workers in fact ended up with.

The issue of fairness is hardly a minor issue. Workers will unlikely engage in sustained efforts and sacrifices unless they find their situation and that of others to be unfair in some fashion or other. There is no evidence, though, that Mr. Gindin and other radicals engaged in such necessary negative work.

Returning to the issue of the government, the pamphlet, in addition to unrealistically relying on governments rather than on organizing the anger of those who have been treated unfairly in various ways in a society dominated by a class of employers, idealizes public ownership. For instance, Ms. McQuaig in particular idealizes public ownership (nationalization) (page 36):

In fact, as we’ve seen, Canadian public enterprise has an impressive history and has made its mark in fields that are at least as complicated as vehicle manufacturing. The creation of a public hydroelectric power system in Ontario – and later in other provinces – was a stunning achievement that served as a model for US president Franklin D. Roosevelt when he created highly successful public power systems, including the New York Power Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Administration, and the Bonneville Power Administration. There was also Connaught Labs, the publicly owned Canadian drug company, which made remarkable contributions to the development of breakthrough vaccines and treatments for a wide range of deadly diseases. And the publicly owned CNR exhibited innovative business skills in creating a viable national rail network out of five bankrupt railway lines and in establishing, during the pioneering days of radio, a cross-country string of radio stations, which became the basis of the nationwide CBC broadcasting network.

Public ownership which undoubtedly has the potential advantage of providing services based on need, not on the amount of money you personally have (such as medicare here in Canada). However, working in a public corporation should not be idealized; workers are still things to be used by employers, whether public or private (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Nationalization in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers, by autonomous economic structures (money, finance, commerce and production) and an alienated political structure is hardly radical (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two).

This idealization of public ownership is intensified when it is coupled with the war efforts of governments (page 37):

And, as we’ve seen, some of Canada’s most impressive public enterprises were created during the Second World War, when twenty-eight Crown corporations contributed enormously to Canada’s war effort, manufacturing airplanes, weapons, and communications equipment. Crown corporation Victory Aircraft provided the foundation for the postwar Canadian subsidiary that developed the Avro Arrow, a state-of the-art military fighter plane (discontinued by the Diefenbaker government for political, not technological, reasons). And Crown corporation Research Enterprises, teaming up during the war with Ottawa’s National Research Council, produced highly innovative optical and communications equipment, including radar devices, binoculars, and radio sets – equipment with countless applications that could have been successfully developed for the postwar market if our political leaders hadn’t succumbed to the notion that government shouldn’t be involved in
producing such things.

In the first place, the creation of public ownership under war conditions is hardly comparable to the situation which the GM Oshawa workers faced; during the Second World War, workers were much more organized–and armed, and many other capitalist states were willing to use direct physical force to achieve their goals at the expense of other capitalist states.

In the second place, as already indicated, Ms. McQuaig does not even ask what kind of lives those who worked in such Crown corporations lived. Their working conditions may have been better than in the privatized sector (though that requires research and should not be assumed), but better working conditions do not change the fact that workers are still things to be used by such corporations any more than the existence of a collective agreement does. Thus, Ms. McQuaig does not even address this issue.

This idealization of public ownership or nationalization continues in Ms. Keech’s article, page 41:

In November 2018, GM announced the closure of the Oshawa Assembly Plant. Workers in the community faced the crushing reality that their livelihood was being stolen. At a time of record profits, in the billions of dollars, GM showed a complete disregard for thousands of workers and their communities.

Out of this devastation Green Jobs Oshawa was born. Green Jobs Oshawa is a coalition of workers, environmentalists, academics, and community members. We recognized, in the midst of a climate crisis requiring immediate action and a community facing massive job loss and disruption, the need for a bold idea: bring the plant under democratic control through government ownership and build battery electric vehicles or other products that meet community need instead of corporate greed.

Ms. Keetch would need to elaborate on how her claim that “the plant would be under democratic control through government ownership” is possible given that the government is formally democratic but in practice is often anti-democratic (externally, through the use of police and, internally, through a hierarchic and undemocratic structure of an employer-employees relation). She does not do so.

She further idealizes the current political structure by having workers rely on it to transform the capitalist economy, which necessarily expands beyond any limits (see The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One), to a society free of a conflict between the nature of capitalist relations and the natural world in which we live (page 42):

Not only do we need to move away from fossil fuels and wasteful consumption – from harm and devastation – but we must build healthy, resilient communities while creating a strong sustainable economy.

We must demand massive government investment in green energy, green technology, and electrification. The government must take action, such as the immediate electrification of government fleet vehicles and public transportation. This must include public ownership of key manufacturing and resource sectors.

The environmental movement and the labour movement must demand this transformation include just transitions for workers and communities.

Unlike the other articles, Jennifer Wells’ article takes aim at Jerry Dias’ leadership. Jerry Dias is the president of Unifor, which represented the workers in the 2016 round of bargaining. She criticizes Dias for caving in on, for example, defined benefit pensions for new hires, thereby effectively creating a two-tiered workforce–a concession that Dias considered necessary in order to save jobs. Such jobs, however, were obviously not safe since most have been lost.

Although Dias’ sacrifice of one set of workers in concession bargaining should be criticized, as Ms. Wells does, she never asks whether collective bargaining has its own limits when it comes to representing the interests of workers. Her criticism remains well within the limits of faith in the collective-bargaining process itself to produce a “fair contract.”

Mr. Christianson’s appendix provides a feasibility study for the green conversion of the plant. I will only note the following. Under the heading of “Democratic Public Ownership,” he has the following (page 53):

…we consider democratic, public ownership to include governments, auto workers and community members. The legal structure of the organization can take many forms, including a crown corporation. In any case, the organization will need to
use a board matrix to ensure representation from government, auto workers, community members, people with the experience and skills required for the business, and a diverse mix of people (gender and ethnicity).

How democratic such an organization can be should have been outlined by, for example, giving other examples, where modern government provides the funding. In the general context of a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers, it is unlikely that it would be very democratic. At least at Mondragon, in Spain, the funding is not primarily from government–and yet it is debatable just how democratic Mondragon really is (see  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Real democracy requires much more than the rhetorical phrase “democratic public ownership.”

Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One

In at least two posts, I will explore the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition. Conveniently, there are a couple of articles that address the issue.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition:

Unlike what many liberals claim, police cannot be reformed with better training, oversight, or diversity. Nor can police violence be eliminated by following the victim-blaming advice from (mostly) white social media users like “improved parenting” or “better decision-making.” Both of these supposed solutions reflect deeply naive and ahistorical understandings of what it is that police do—and how police actively harm communities, especially those of Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities.

The left’s response to the police killings of Eishia Hudson and Jason Collins must be to recommit to the only just solution: abolishing the police and reallocating the massive resources currently committed to policing to measures that actually keep our communities safe, like housing, harm reduction, strong public services, non-carceral crisis response, food security, income supports, returning land to Indigenous peoples by acknowledging existing sovereignty, and a whole lot more. At the root of this demand is resistance to the call for a “better balance” of policing and social services. On the contrary, policing must be dispensed with entirely.

Mr. Rosenfeld argues against abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld, however, not only argues against abolition; he finds the idea of the abolition of the police absurd–as his subtitle says. Indeed, Mr. Rosenfeld’s subtitle: “Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking,” reflects the hostility that I faced here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when I questioned the ideology of “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” and “decent work” expressed by some trade unionists and social democrats.

I will try to show, in at least two posts if not more, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that the proposal of the abolition of the police is not absurd and that the proposal of the reform of the police as the rational solution–is absurd.

But let us first listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

Having heard some of the younger activists with whom I work in the free transit movement muse about getting rid of the police force, I often found that most were not really serious about it as an immediate demand but were expressing their vision of how we might do things differently in an imagined future [my emphasis]. There are other activists, many of whom are passionate defenders of the rights of the homeless, the poorest and those most targeted by the system and its repressive apparatus, who argue that police budgets need to be radically trimmed in order to pay for the kinds of social programs and services that could contribute to addressing some of the most glaring forms of inequality and injustice. Few of them seriously demand the complete elimination of policing, but some do.

The issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition has become a focal point of controversy  since the murder of George Floyd has now come to light. Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic casual dismissal of the abolition of police has been challenged practically as millions protested against the police throughout the world. Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the proposal that the abolition of the police involves sloppy thinking has been practically refuted as some who protested did propose abolishing the police.

Indeed, even before the mass protests against the murder of George Floyd, there have arisen movements for the abolition of the police in the light of systemic racism among the police. Why does Mr. Rosenfeld not refer to such movements?

For example, Meghan McDowell and Luis Fernandez published an article in 2018 about the movement for police abolition, titled “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” in the journal Criminal Criminology: 

In July of 2016, the popular Fox News program “Kelly File,” hosted by conservative T.V. personality Megan Kelly, held a town hall style forum to discuss race and law enforcement. The forum brought together what Fox News considers a diverse cross-section of the U.S. public: former FBI agents, retired NYPD officers, conservative Black pastors, community organizers, and “regular” Americans whose views spanned the ideological spectrum. The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement, uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte in the past year, and Micah Johnson’s targeted assassination of five Dallas police officers earlier in July, not only formed the backdrop for the conversation, but also set the conditions of possibility for such
a conversation to air on a mainstream media outlet in the first place.

At one point the conversation turned toward an indictment of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) movement. Many forum attendees began to condemn BLM, reiterating racial tropes [a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression] about Black-on-Black crime and “personal responsibility.” In a clip that has now gone viral, Jessica Disu, a Chicago-based community organizer and artist, tried to reframe the conversation: “Here’s a solution,” Disu interjected with conviction, “we need to abolish the police.” The Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper, described the ensuing reactions  to Disu’s comment:

“Abolish the police?” came [host Megan] Kelly’s incredulous response, as a clamor of boos and protests rose from the forum. “Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu pushed on, undeterred by the yelling. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice. Can we all agree that a loss of a life is tragic?” [Disu] asked the forum, attempting to explain her vision. “Who’s gonna protect the community if we abolish the police?” Kelly asked, a this-must-be-a-joke smile spreading across her face. “The police in this country began as a slave patrol,” Disu managed to squeeze in before being engulfed by the noise.

I suppose Mr. Rosenfeld would also consider Disu’s view of the need  for abolishing the police to be “sloppy thinking” and “absurd.” Mr. Rosenfeld shares the same view–and attitude-towards the abolishing of the police as do those who defend the status quo. Not a very good beginning for a person who considers himself to be “a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist.”

McDoowell and Fernandez continue:

In her call for police abolition, on Fox News no less, Disu challenged the hegemonic idea that the police are an inevitable fixture in society, and moreover, that the police are analogous to community safety. Disu’s presence on a national mainstream talk show illustrates that crises are also opportunities (Gilmore 2007). The uprisings, and corresponding organizing that expanded alongside or formed as a result of the rebellions, enabled Disu, and others, to publicly challenge law enforcement’s right to exist. That is, activist and movement organizers had already been pushing toward police abolition, but the difference is that this time there was an audience more willing to accept the challenge. In this article, we examine abolitionist claims aimed at law enforcement institutions in the aftermath of Ferguson and other subsequent rebellions. [In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by the policeman Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014].

Mr. Rosenfeld’s evidently lacks a  concern with researching the issue in at least a preliminary manner.

McDowell and Fernandez note that the movement towards the abolition of the police gained ground after the Ferguson murder:

Under the headline “the problem”, the anonymous collective For a World Without the Police (2016) argues, “The police force was created to repress the growing numbers of poor people that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism,
while on plantations and in agricultural colonies, [the police] formed in response
to the threat of slave revolt.” Their analysis outlines the core functions of policing under racial capitalism [my emphasis]: protect the property of the capitalist class; maintain stable conditions for capital accumulation; and defend against any threats to these unequal conditions of rule (For a World Without Police 2016; see also Williams 2015; Whitehouse 2014). [see the website For a World Without Police].

The police undoubtedly has other functions, but its core function is to maintain the power of employers as a class so that they can continue to use human beings as means for obtaining more and more money (see  The Money Circuit of Capital).

The abolitionist movement against the police, as McDowell and Fernandez indicate,  involves the slogan “disband, disempower and disarm the police”:

The call for police abolition gained national traction soon after the 2014 Ferguson rebellion and is encapsulated by the slogan: “disband, disempower, and disarm the police!”8 This is more than a slogan however. The over-arching strategy is to eliminate the institution of policing, while disarmament and disempowerment are two inter-related tactics used to achieve this goal (Vitale 2017).

The recent call for defunding the police, therefore, can express a reformist position or an abolitionist position. The reformist position does not aim to “disband” the police but rather only to decrease funding for the police and, often, increase funding for social programs. The following question posed by Mr. Rosenfeld expresses this reformist view:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

The abolitionist stance, by contrast, sees defunding (disempowering and disarming) as means to the end of abolishing the police institution altogether–along with a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers. Social reformers like Mr. Rosenfeld, on the other hand, at best see disempowering and disarming as ends in themselves–while preserving the existence of the police as a repressive institution and hence preserving its core function.

Historically, the abolitionist movement has a long history that was not restricted to the abolition of the police. The idea of abolition includes the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States and elsewhere, the abolition of child labour, the abolition of prisons and the abolition of capitalism.

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. This minimization of the danger of co-optation can be seen from the following:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism [my emphasis] The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.”’

I will address in another post Mr. Rosenfeld’s trivialization of the brutality and terrorism of the American government in other countries (“instances” makes it look like American murder and terrorism is an isolated event).

Let us limit ourselves to the question of the relevance of Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to the need for the capitalist state to legitimate the rule of  employers over the daily working lives at work. He separates the diffusion and co-optation of alternative political and social movements from the need for “legitimating capitalism.” However, one of the major ways of “legitimating capitalism” is through diffusing and co-opting alternative political and social movements.

Mathiesen saw this danger to which Mr. Rosenfeld is blind. He calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. Page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, fails to distinguish between reforms that form part of a movement to abolish a social institution and specific social relations and reforms that emerge as co-opted and that do not lead to questioning the oppressive and exploitative social institutions and social relations characteristic of the society in which we live.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld accuses Mr. Wilt of advocating immediate revolution–as if that is the only alternative:

Is he saying that reforms do not matter and that short of an immediate social revolution, nothing can change?

Abolitionists will take any reform that improves the lives of working-class communities–but there is a condition attached to such a view. Reforms that limit the capacities of workers and community members to think and act critically to oppressive and exploitative social relations and social institutions, without any positive change, are regressive. But most reforms can be simultaneously defended and criticized if some aspects are positive, while other aspects are regressive., such as the movement for a $15 minimum wage, which in Canada is coupled with the concept of fairness. Let us indeed fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour (and other reforms associated with the movement, such as paid sick leave), but we should never link such a movement with the idea that there is “fairness: in receiving the minimum wage and other needed reforms. Coupling the fight for a minimum wage of $15 with “fairness” freezes the movement–rather than indicating that the achievement of the $15 minimum wage is a temporary resting place (given the balance of class power) that is inherently unfair since the wage system is itself inherently unfair and needs to be abolished. No “minimum wage” that involves the need for workers to work for employers is fair–and the idea of coupling the fight for the $15 minimum wage with the idea of “fairness” must be criticized constantly if any gained reforms are to go beyond contributing to the maintenance of the power of the class of employers.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld did not raise any objection to the pairing of a fight for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour with the term “fairness.” I have raised that issue often enough on this blog, and Mr. Rosenfeld had ample opportunity to criticize my position–but he chose not to do so. Why is that? I certainly support an increase in the minimum wage and other “reforms,” but they should never limit the capacities of workers and community members in their critical questioning of the system characterized by the class of employers.

Mr. Rosenfeld creates a straw person when he asks whether there should be reform or immediate revolution. Calling for abolition does not mean immediate revolution: it means making explicit the need to aim for abolition of an oppressive or exploitative institution from the very beginning. If we do not have the power–for now–to abolish a repressive or exploitative situation, that does not mean that we should not aim to do so  when we have more power. It also does not mean that we should reject all reforms out of hand merely because we cannot, for the moment, abolish the repressive or exploitative institution or social structure.

A further, personal example. I worked as a bilingual library technician at the District Resource Center for School District No. 57 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada,from 1990-1992 (before I moved to Winnipeg). We had a collective agreement between support staff and the district that was coming up for negotiations. I volunteered to be part of the negotiating team because I wanted to learn about the process first hand (I was also the union steward for the board office). We bargained in the usual way, with a small group of union negotiators engaging in demands in the context of meetings with the negotiating team of the employer.

When our bargaining team was ready to present the results of negotiations to the members, I volunteered to draft the list of demands that we had made in a two-column set of papers, with an x beside the demands that we did not get and a check beside the ones that we did get. The union business manager was obliged to read this out during a public ratification meeting (she, however, noted that my presentation was very negative). When she sent out the ballots for voting to those who were not able to attend (School District No. 57 is a large school district geographically), she only sent out the demands that we obtained. The agreement was ratified.

The point is that I wanted to demonstrate the limitations of collective bargaining (and the corresponding collective agreement) while not rejecting any changes in the collective agreement. Furthermore, the demonstration of the limitation of reforms–or the politics of exposure as Mathiesen calls it–forms an essential element of the politics of abolition. From The Politics of Abolition Revisited, page 143:

Here lies the significance of the exposing or unmasking policy which the
above-mentioned sequence of events illustrates. Let me repeat: By unmasking
the ideology and the myths with which the penal system disguises itself – for
example through political work of the kind described here – a necessary basis
for the abolition of unnecessary and dangerous systems of control is created. The
example illustrates the struggle involved in such a work of exposure. The system
continually tries to adopt new disguises. We must continually try to unveil them.

Given the predominance of social democrats or social reformers–among the left here in Toronto–my prediction is that, unfortunately, the movement for the abolition of the police will be overshadowed by the movement for merely defunding the police. This will, in turn, result in further watering down of such a movement to a form acceptable to economic and political conditions dominated by the class of employers.

However, at least we can expose the limitations of the political position of the social-democratic left or the social-reformist left so that, when further murders by the police arise, we can point out the limitations of their political position and prepare the way for a more adequate politics–a politics of abolition.

I will continue the issue of reform versus abolition of the police in another, later post.

 

 

 

 

 

The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant

The following is a critique of an article written by Sam Gindin before the coronavirus pandemic emerged. It is relevant to the current situation because of the current call for public ownership as a solution to the problems that we face.

Mr. Gindin published an article on February 3, 2020, titled Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa. Here Mr. Gindin attempts to criticize, on the one hand, what happened at GM Oshawa (elimination of around 2200 direct jobs when GM closed the auto plant), and on the other to suggest what should be done to prevent such a situation to arise in the future. However, his own social-democratic position, with its implicit assumption of not challenging the power of the class of employers, shines through in the article.

Mr. Gindin claims that GM’s decision to close, among other plants, the GM Oshawa plant left the recently elected Conservative government of Doug Ford “red-faced”:

The response of the federal government, which had used the preservation of jobs to justify giving GM billions in public funds during the financial crisis, was a tepid ‘disappointment’. The provincial government, which had been plastering the province with the slogan ‘Ontario is open for business’ was left red-faced when, as its billboards were going up, GM announced the closing of one of the largest workplaces in the province.

Where is there evidence that the Ford government was embarrassed at all? The idea of “open for business” includes the idea that, in the competitive struggle for survival, corporations will sometimes close down. The obverse side of “open for business” is–“closed for business.” Corporations are free to decide to open and close doors as they see fit–such is the nature of neoliberalism. Or is that not so?

Mr. Gindin then criticizes Ms. Dias, head of Unifor (which represented the workers at GM Oshawa):

Nor did the autoworkers’ union, Unifor, escape its own share of discomfort. Less than two years earlier, its leadership had negotiated lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them. This betrayal of union solidarity was sold to the members as a victory because of its promised retention of jobs. When the closure exposed the job ‘guarantees’ as a sham, the national president reacted with predictable bluster and launched a public relations campaign to shame the corporation into reversing its decision.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Dias would have preferred for the plant not to close. To prevent such an action, Mr. Dias negotiated a collective agreement that involved “lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them.” Mr. Gindin objects to such a negotiated agreement on the basis of “union solidarity.” The principle of union solidarity, it would seem, involves attempting to have all union members who are doing the same job to be treated in the same way. (Note that Mr. Gindin does not refer to “labour solidarity” or “worker solidarity” but “union solidarity.” Mr. Gindin is a friend of–unions. As I argued in another post, he is too close to unions to adequately criticize them. But that just as an aside).

Mr. Gindin then refers to how this “betrayal to union solidarity was sold to the members of a victory because of its promised retention of jobs.” It is of course possible to criticize Mr. Dias and others for sacrificing some workers in exchange for an impossibly guaranteed retention of jobs. However, Mr. Gindin does not explicitly question the power of employers to make decisions that involve closing down plants. Such power forms part of management rights and is often embodied in a management rights clause, implicitly if not explicitly. Why does Mr. Gindin not criticize this fundamental right?

And why does he not criticize the attempt by many unions to “sell” negotiated collective agreements on the basis of “fairness,” “decent work” and so forth? He certainly criticizes Mr. Dias’ attempt to “sell” the betrayal to union solidarity” in relation to the creation of a two-tiered collective agreement–but he nowhere criticizes the implicit or explicit acceptance of unions and negotiating committees to the legitimacy of collective agreements. Union reps often “sell” negotiated collective agreements that need to be ratified to their members by referring to them as “fair contracts”

“We have been trying to negotiate a fair contract for seven months,” said James Nugent, the bargaining team’s chief spokesperson [for CUPE Local 3902, or the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902]. “We’ve been fighting for better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our members. Last night, our members sent us back to the bargaining table to keep fighting for those things, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Union reps often try to “sell” this ideology of “fair contracts” to their members. Why does not Mr. Gindin criticize this ideology and not just the ideology of two-tiered contracts? What happens if a collective agreement does not have a two-tiered provision? Does that then make it a “fair contract?” Mr. Gindin is silent over the issue–as are union reps. Why this silence?

Mr. Gindin then has a section that outlines an alternative:

Toward an Alternative

A small group of rank and file Oshawa workers and retirees understood that far more was needed; both logic and history suggested that appealing to GM to rethink their cold calculations was naïve. They joined with other community allies, including the Durham Labour Council and supporters from the Toronto-based Socialist Project, to establish Green Jobs Oshawa. Its mandate was to explore and organize around other possibilities for the Oshawa facility.

A problem already arises. I am ignorant of the specific nature of the Durham Labour Council, but the Toronto and York Region Labour Council does not call into question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class; rather, it presupposes such legitimacy (John CartWright, president of the Council, refers to “economic justice”–implicitly referring to collective agreements. See my post  Ontario Looks Right–With Some Help From the “Left” ). I have criticized  as well some of the views expressed by the Steering Committee of the Socialist Project (see The Socialist Project’s Critique of Doug Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy Falls Short).

But let us proceed:

Four perspectives drove their ambitious proposal. First, GM was the problem, not the solution.

Yes, GM is a problem and not the solution–but it is not just GM that is the problem but the power of employers as a class, of which GM is only one example. Defining the problem only in terms of a particular employer is a typical social-democratic trick of focusing on one “bad” employer rather than the class of employers. Already, looking at alternatives seems limited.

Let us continue:

Second, expecting to compete in the market with China, Mexico or plants in the American south was no answer. It would only reproduce past pressures on wages and working conditions, past insecurities and past failures. Third, any alternative would need to introduce a product with special social significance. And fourth, the issue was not just jobs but retaining Canada’s manufacturing capacities.

Seeking an alternative product that would prevent competition with other workers in the same kind of market is certainly to be preferred. As for “a product with special social significance,” this issue is connected to the following:

The Oshawa facility could then be converted to assembling fleets of electric vehicles. The sale of these vehicles was to depend not on market competition, but a social plan based on direct government purchases of the products the government had invested in. The fleet vehicles involved would range from electric post office vans (as recommended earlier by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) to hydro-electric vans, newly designed school buses, ambulances and police cars. With that base, the plant could also produce electric cars for individual consumers and, depending on how much space remained available, add other environmentally-related products.

The government would provide the bulk of demand for the output, with individual consumers making up any needed demand so that the Oshawa facility could be fully utilized (GM had identified under-utilization of the capacity of the plant as a major reason for its closing).

The government as the major consumer would also be the major owner:

In line with this outlook, Green Jobs Oshawa called on the federal government – or the municipal government with substantial financial and technical support from the feds – to take over the land and equipment idled by GM.

The government would then become both the employer and the major consumer. This solution may certainly have retained the jobs–but would not have changed the use of workers as things by government. Merely because the government is the employer does not prevent workers from being exploited and oppressed (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Why did Green Jobs Oshawa not call on the government to take over the plant while concentrating decision-making power over the plant with the workers who worked there? Why did it not call into question the power of employers to make decisions at all that can affect the lives of many workers and the community–investment decisions? Why not use the GM shut down as an example of the dictatorial power of employers? Why this focus on the government as the saviour rather than the workers and the community?

Green Jobs Oshawa, rather, tried to evade this central issue:

The message was that jobs, the environment, and the industrial capacities for conversion and restructuring are inseparable. From that perspective, saving Oshawa was not an end point but a beginning and an example to build on.

Jobs, the environment and the industrial capacities for conversion are not just inseparable. To adequately address them, it is necessary to address the power of employers as a class, the infinite movement of capital (see  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One) and the social and political structures that go with them.

The next section of the article is titled “Frustration and Persistence.” Mr. Gindin outlines what he believes is the cause of workers’ skepticism concerning such an alternative:

Frustration and Persistence

Green Jobs Oshawa developed a website, distributed leaflets to workers, held educationals and public forums in Oshawa and Toronto, organized petitions, commissioned a widely respected professional feasibility study confirming its case, received sympathetic attention in the press and gave numerous media interviews. Yet the committee couldn’t generate the necessary level of support, starting with the workers themselves.

The workers in Oshawa were frustrated and angry, but anger doesn’t necessarily translate into activism. Having experienced the steady drip-drip decline of the Oshawa complex, having recently suffered demoralizing defeats after defeats in bargaining, and now seeing the final end of vehicle assembly in the city, workers had shifted to survival mode. In that state of mind, most workers, it seemed, had simply stopped even thinking about possibilities. Nor was it unusual for workers to guard against hope creeping into their consciousness; risking the pain of once more seeing hopes dashed made even hope something to willfully avoid.

Though workers contacted by Green Jobs Oshawa generally considered the proposals on conversion as sensible, this was trumped by their skepticism of ‘sensible’ driving economic and political decisions. Critical here was the role of the union. As frustrated as workers were with the union, they still looked to its structures and resources for leadership, especially given the radical nature of the alternative proposed. But with both the national and local leadership not interested in and even hostile to an alternative, it was no surprise that workers were lukewarm to committing to a fight for a long-shot alternative.

Important here, as well, were the limits of the environmental movement. Environmentalists have most impressively raised public awareness of the looming environmental catastrophe. Yet they have been far less successful in getting the mass of working people on side. Two inter-related problems stand out. First, the promise of a ‘just transition’ is well-meaning but unconvincing to workers; workers rightly ask how such a commitment could be met in a society driven by competition and private profits. Second, with the environmental movement generally absent from workers struggles, developing ‘awareness’ could only go so far.

Workers have been indoctrinated from school to accept the power of employers to make decisions over their lives (as I show in a series of posts on indoctrination in schools via the silence of the Canadian history curriculum over the historical emergence of employers and employees. See, for example,  Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Or School Indoctrination, Part One). Various organizations and activities reinforce such indoctrination (union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” social organizations that deal with oppressing people in various ways (child and family services, social assistance, collection agencies, courts and the like). To counteract such indoctrination, it would be necessary to engage systematically in a critique of such indoctrination–but Mr. Gindin does not believe that such a systematic and engaged critique is necessary (otherwise, he would have engaged in such criticism when the opportunity presented itself in relation to pairing the fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour with the idea of “fairness”).

The skeptical attitude of workers in relation to their own capacities for controlling their lives in the face of multiple forms of indoctrination and oppression is understandable, but Mr. Gindin ignores such indoctrination and oppression in practice.

The final section is called “Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On.” Mr. Gindin states what he thinks has and has not been accomplished in the Green Jobs Oshawa” campaign and what should be done:

Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On

Measured by its ability to keep the Oshawa facility humming, Green Jobs Oshawa was not successful; today, no more vehicles are being assembled in Oshawa. But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment – brings a more encouraging conclusion.

Though the Oshawa facility is now quiet, the battle to revive it, with all its noise and productive bustle, continues. The facility still has waiting assembly lines, a body shop, a paint shop, and 10 million square feet of space. In Oshawa and nearby, there is no shortage of workers anxious to apply their too often underestimated skills, suppliers with flexible tooling capacities, and young engineers leaving university anxious to apply their knowledge to developing socially useful products. Green Jobs Oshawa continues to send out material and speak at events, making connections and spreading the urgent discussion of possibilities.

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further. A significant step would be to lobby for a National Conversion Agency with the authority and financial and technical resources to intervene when plant closures occur or seem imminent.

Provincial federations of labour could focus on the environmental particularities of their own regions as, for example, the Alberta Federation of Labour has started to do in addressing how the inevitable transition away from oil could be economically and socially managed. This could include lobbying to establish local tech-enviro centers populated by the hundreds of young engineers mentioned above. Alongside coming up with possibilities for local conversion and development, they could contribute to spreading understanding to the community of what we face and what needs to be done.

For private sector workers, the crucial fact is that environmental pressures will require transforming everything about how we live, work, travel, and use our leisure time. Such a massive and unprecedented undertaking (the conversions entering and exiting World War II come closest) can, if done right, mean not a loss of jobs but a shortage of workers trying to meet society’s ‘regular’ needs and the demands of environmental reconstruction.

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights. And addressing how to implement such policies, requires bringing the mass of workers on side to both the environmental necessities and to the overcoming of capitalism. This can only begin with actively supporting the defensive struggles of workers with the goal of linking them, as Green Jobs Oshawa has tried to do, to those larger issues of conversion and democratic planning in the shaping of the world to come.

In short, the issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class, and the labour movement must escape what, for it, has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation. •

Mr. Gindin follows the British Labour Party, in its Manifesto, by jumping on the bandwagon of environmentalism–rather than focusing on criticizing the power of employers as a class (which would involve criticizing union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” “fair collective bargaining,” and the like) , first, and then linking that issue to environmental issues (see my post  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). Mr. Gindin only near the end of this section does Mr. Gindin address this issue:

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights.

But earlier, Mr. Gindin claims the following is the key issue:

But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment

The deindustrialization of the advanced capitalist countries–is that really more important than another issue that has been “largely ignored”–the power of employers as a class? Which should the left focus on? And if we focus on the power of employers as a class, should we not criticize the ideology of many unions, which often try to sell the results of collective bargaining as a “fair contract?”

Frankly, Mr. Gindin’s approach fails to see the need for a rigorous and persistent struggle against those who justify collective agreements with such phrases. The same applies to other social movements who refer to “fairness” and the like. We need to use every opportunity to oppose such indoctrination.

Mr.Gindin, however, argues only for the positive side in the following:

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

To set up committees that are more than paper committees, it would be necessary to deal with the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements while recognizing that collective agreements do provide some real protection for workers. If workers merely set up committees without engaging seriously in debate over the pros and cons of collective bargaining and collective agreements, then such committees will likely be isolated from the needs and interests of workers.

It is interesting that Mr. Gindin engages in abstract moralizing when referring to what the Canadian Labour Congress (an organization of affiliated unions that represent over three million Canadian workers) ‘ought or should do’:

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further.

Another inadequacy of Mr. Gindin’s approach can also be seen from the above quote. Hegel, a German philosopher, saw through such empty phrases as “ought to” or “should” long ago (from the Encyclopedia Logic, page 30):

… the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

This does not mean that we should not engage in wishing for what ought to be, but that what ought to be should be grounded in what is the case. What is the nature of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)? Is it realistic to believe that the CLC would ‘support and coordinate’ such initiatives? See my criticism of the position of the president of the CLC, Hassan Yussuff, in The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process.  Would it not be better to engage in criticism of the CLC–what it is, how it operates and so forth?

There are other problems with this last section. Reference to “democratic planning” clashes with the call for the government (a capitalist government) to operate as employer. How is there democratic planning when the government is the employer? This is to idealize the government and the public sector. This idealization also is expressed in the following:

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

This uncritical reference to the “public sector”–as if working for the government were somehow not subject to exploitation and oppression–is typical of social democrats. So too is Mr. Gindin’s one-sided reference to challenging “corporate property rights” without challenging the power of the state as a capitalist state, on the one hand, and as an employer, on the other. Again, see the money circuit of capital link above for a critique of this view.