The Rhetoric of Unions and Social Democrats or Social Reformers

I read the following on Facebook.

It is quite typical of social-democratic or reformist unions and social democrats or social reformers in general: The use of rhetoric to justify their activities without engaging in any form of discussion or debate. All bolded words or phrases are my emphases:

Support OPSEU Local 5119 ON STRIKE at LifeLabs!

 

After organizing to join OPSEU in 2020, 150 couriers and mailroom workers at LifeLabs have run into a brick wall trying to bargain a fair first contract. Why? Because the bosses at this billion-dollar-a-year private corporation refuse to negotiate decent wages and benefits for these workers, who earn an average of just $35,000 a year.

 

That’s why since March 14 Local 5119 members have been on strike to achieve fair working conditions and a living wage. And they need our help to get LifeLabs back to the table with a fair offer!

 

Showing Our Solidarity:
Two Ways You and Your Local Can Help!

 

1) Join the Strike Rally for a Living Wage
Thursday, March 24, 10 a.m.
LifeLabs Head Office, 100 International Blvd, Etobicoke
(West of Hwy 27, South of Dixon Road)
Bring your OPSEU flags & noisemakers!
Join, like & share the Event on Facebook
For info contact Local 5119 President Mahmood Alawneh, 647-333-5555, raneentrading@gmail.com

 

2) Donate to the Local 5119 Strike Fund
As a brand-new local, L5119 doesn’t have a reserve fund to support their members during the strike. So, OPSEU has put out a call to other locals to show our solidarity by donating to the Local 5119 strike fund.
For info and to donate, contact Local 5119 Treasurer Maria Calingaon at maria_calingaon@yahoo.ca
I certainly support such striking workers, but the rhetoric needs to be constantly criticized.  I replied: 
 
Fred Harris

 

What are “decent wages and benefits?” This phrase is simply rhetoric used by the social-democratic or social-reformist leftists without thinking about the meaning of the phrase. For example, does not working for an employer involve agreeing to be used by the employer for purposes or ends that the workers do not define? If so, what wage and benefit can convert this situation into “decent?”

 

The same could be said about the rhetorical phrase “fair working conditions.” To work for an employer in the public o private sector is inherently unfair, so why the rhetoric of “fair working conditions?” This is an uncritical and unthinking phrase bandied about by the social-democratic or social-reformist left without any thought or discussion about whether it is true or can be true in the context of a society dominated by the class power of employers.

 

The same could be said about a “fair offer.”

 

On my blog, I have already showed how the rhetoric of “fair contracts” or “fair collective agreements” is consistently expressed by the largest unions in Canada: CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE. They are ideologues for employers–not against them. To claim that any employment contract is somehow fair when workers are faced with the “management rights” is simple nonsense–and many workers know it (even if they do not want to admit it). That is one reason why unions are losing ground–because they cannot face up to the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining–and a realistic assessment of their limitations is a first step in achieving real fairness, not rhetorical fairness that contributes to the perpetuation of unfair working conditions–the unfair working conditions of having to work for an employer (not a particular employer) in the first place.
To which the sender and anyone else who read the post responded: Nothing. The silence of the social-democratic or reformist left concerning the meaning of “fair wages,” “decent work,” and similar rhetoric is deafening. Why do they insist on using such rhetoric? Are they bullshitting the workers? If not, why do they not elaborate on what they mean by fair first contract etc.? What makes it fair? What would an unfair contract involve? How does a fair contract exist when workers face management rights implicitly or explicitly (I have provided explicit management rights clauses from various collective agreements on this blog (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia .I eventually incorporated  them with into a post where I calculated the rate of exploitation. See for example 
 
In another post, I challenged the social-reformist left to justify their continual use of the rhetorical phrases that they use. See Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?
 
Are union reps bullshitting workers by using such phrases? If so, should their rhetoric not be challenged? 

Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) (The Second Largest Union in Canada)

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 have already provided a series of examples in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly, specifically the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) (the largest union in Canada) and Unifor (the largest union of workers who work for employers in the private sector) (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One and Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)).

I now proceed to provide evidence for the ideological role of The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), which was, in 2015, the second largest union in Canada, with 360,000 members.

  1. The following is dated December 15, 2011 https://ww.nupge.ca/content/opseu-developmental-service-workers-demand-fair-contract):

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) who work at Montage Support Services voted 100 per cent in favour of strike action if the employer refuses to offer a fair contract at the bargaining table [my emphasis].

The employer has proposed a large reduction to the payment of benefit premiums for full-time workers, unreasonable increases in probationary periods for new hires, language that would dismiss a worker for missing a single shift and increasing the length of time that discipline can be imposed. The Union is asking for pay equalization for its members who do equal amounts of work and only very small wage increases to offset the cost of living.

2. Dated September 6, 2012: The following is taken from https://nupge.ca/content/campaign-launched-support-women-working-elizabeth-fry-toronto-negotiate-contract

Toronto (06 Sept. 2012) – Workers at Elizabeth Fry Toronto have been without a contract since March 31, 2011. The employer is insisting on concessions that will cut benefits and job security for casual and contract workers.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), the union which represents the workers, is encouraging the concerned public to contact Elizabeth Fry Toronto’s executive director Michelle Coombs with the message, “stand up for women at Elizabeth Fry Toronto!”

These workers have been trying to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract for over 15 months. [my emphasis]

3. Dates 2014 (https://nupge.ca/content/mgeu-members-uwsa-heading-conciliation-amid-concessionary-bargaining):

MGEU members at UWSA heading to conciliation amid concessionary bargaining

MGEU/NUPGE members hope conciliation will help achieve a fair and reasonable settlement.

Winnipeg (14 April 2014) — Members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU/NUPGE) who work at the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association have requested the help of a conciliation officer to reach a new contract.

UWSA looking for major concessions in bargaining

Members began negotiations with UWSA Inc. on February 12, 2014. However, it was immediately clear from the employer’s proposals that they were intent on attacking the rights of workers covered by the collective agreement.

Among the many proposed cuts to benefits and changes inn contract language, the UWSA is seeking to remove maternity leave top-up, respite days, and bereavement leave travel time. At the same time, they want to increase hours of work and reduce sick leave and vacation benefits. The employer’s representatives have defined this process as “normalizing” or “resetting” the current contract. MGEU/NUPGE negotiators say it represents the elimination of years of hard work and fair negotiation by severely weakening the rights of members covered by this agreement. [my emphasis]

Looking to conciliation for assistance in reaching a fair deal

In response, the MGEU/NUPGE bargaining committee presented a package to the employer on April 9, identifying what members felt was a fair deal [my emphasis]. The employer rejected the deal that same day and asked if the union members would be willing to submit a joint request for conciliation. MGEU/NUPGE representatives agreed and both parties made separate applications to the Minister of Labour and Immigration to appoint a conciliation officer to help reach a new collective agreement.

The date for conciliation has been tentatively set for April 24.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

NUPGE Components

4. Dated October 13, 2015 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/gawronsky-delivers-%E2%80%9Cstill-without-contract%E2%80%9D-petitions-provincial-ministers). The following attributes to members the desire for a fair collective agreement. It is of course possible that members do attribute fairness to a collective agreement–but it is possible that they may not. Union leaders may simply ascribe–falsely–their own beliefs to the beliefs of the members. Furthermore, even if most members did believe that a collective agreement was fair, did they discuss the issue thoroughly in order to have an informed judgement? Did they discuss whether it was fair to work for employers in general? Did they discuss why workers have to work for employers? If not, should there not be such discussion before claiming that union members want a fair contract? 

Gawronsky delivers “Still Without a Contract” petitions to provincial ministers

“MGEU members have been very frustrated by the government’s ongoing foot dragging in negotiations.” — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President

Michelle Gawronsky (centre) presents Greg Dewar, Minister of Finance, and Kerri Irvin-Ross, Minister responsible for the Civil Service, with the MGEU’s “Still Without a Contract” petition signatures.

Winnipeg (13 Oct. 2015) — This past summer the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU/NUPGE) turned up the heat on the provincial government to get a fair deal for thousands of its members who have been without a contract for more than a year — and, in some cases, more than two years. [my emphasis]

Members want a fair and reasonable offer

“MGEU members have been very frustrated by the government’s ongoing foot dragging in negotiations. It’s been an issue at our largest table (Civil Service), as well as at many other bargaining tables,” says MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky.

“Members are tired of it. They want to see some action; they want to see a fair and reasonable offer.” [my emphasis]

Strong support for online petition

In response, the MGEU developed an online petition this summer, collecting 5,787 signatures in support.

On October 9, 2015, Gawronsky and MGEU 1st Vice-President Wayne Chacun, delivered those petition signatures to Greg Dewar, Minister of Finance, and Kerri Irvin-Ross, Minister responsible for the Civil Service (both pictured above), as well as to Erna Braun, Minister of Labour and Immigration, and Drew Caldwell, Minister of Municipal Government.

“The government has said they’re willing to return to the Civil Service bargaining table. But returning to the table, and returning to the table with a fair and reasonable offer, are two very different things and it’s our job to make sure that message is sent loud and clear.”

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

5. Dated August 18, 2017   (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/nsgeu-members-sherbrooke-village-rally-fair-contract-0):  

NSGEU members at Sherbrooke Village rally for fair contract

“They are proud to be part of the fabric of the local community and the nearby counties. It’s time their hard work and dedication to their jobs be acknowledged with a fair collective agreement.” — Jason MacLean, NSGEU President [my emphasis]

Halifax (18 Aug. 2017) — The people who help bring Sherbrooke Village to life for residents and visitors to come, learn, and explore the history of this community held an information picket at the entrance gate to Sherbrooke Village on August 17. 

Sherbrooke Restoration Commission hasn’t addressed members concerns at bargaining table

 As members of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE), they wanted to raise awareness of their fight for a fair contract with their employer.

“Our members provide a one-of-a-kind, authentic historical experience for visitors to the area with their historical knowledge and skills,” says Jason MacLean, NSGEU President. “They are proud to be part of the fabric of the local community and the nearby counties. It’s time their hard work and dedication to their jobs be acknowledged with a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The 73 members work in administration, historical interpretation, costumes, crafts, marketing and promotions, trades, security, and maintenance, and many other occupations at the Village.

The Sherbrooke Restoration Commission, the employer, put forward a final offer at the bargaining table on July 20 without addressing many of the members’ concerns.

The NSGEU/NUPGE filed for conciliation and both sides met with a Conciliation Officer on August 16. 

6. Dated November 2, 2017 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/new-brunswick-union-supports-introduction-first-contract-arbitration): 

New Brunswick Union supports introduction of first contract arbitration

We applaud government for coming forward with these changes. We believe this is a reasonable approach, one that will help both employers and workers alike.” — Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President

Fredericton (02 Nov. 2017) — The New Brunswick Union (NBU/NUPGE) is pleased to see that the provincial government has committed to bringing changes to the Industrial Relations Act to usher in first contract arbitration.

First contract arbitration will no longer allow management to prolong negotiations

In New Brunswick, arbitrations are not available to unions seeking a first contract if a deal cannot be reached with management.

First contract negotiations are often prolonged, so having the legal ability to use an independent third party to help resolve outstanding issues will help both the employer and union negotiate a fair first contract in a timely manner. [my emphasis]

The NBU/NUPGE has been pushing for this change for quite some time. During its most recent biennial convention, delegates voted unanimously in favour of a resolution for the union to advocate legislation on first contract arbitration.

The change would bring New Brunswick in line with the rest of the country, with the exception of Prince Edward Island.

“We applaud government for coming forward with these changes,” said Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President. “We believe this is a reasonable approach, one that will help both employers and workers alike.”

7. This is taken from a June 11, 2018 post (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/workers-vote-strike-gateway-okanagan-casinos-bcgeu): 

Workers vote to strike at Gateway Okanagan Casinos: BCGEU

An astounding 93.1 per cent vote in favour of strike action.

Vancouver (11 June 2018) — Over 675 members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) working at Gateway Casinos in the Okanagan voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action against their employer.

In a vote held from June 4 to 6, over 88 per cent of Gateway staff in casinos in Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton and Vernon came out and voted 93.1 per cent in favour of taking strike action.

“Gateway workers in the Okanagan are sending a clear message to their employer: they will not settle for less than the fair wages, benefits and respect they deserve,” says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President. [my emphasis]

Gateway Casino refuses to offer comparable wages

Negotiations for a new collective agreement broke off in May after the employer refused to offer wages and benefits that are industry standard at comparable casinos.

Smith says the employer’s offer is unacceptable. “The wages Gateway are offering won’t even keep ahead of the planned minimum wage increases.”

“These workers are the heart of their casinos. Gateway is a successful company in a highly profitable industry — they can afford to pay their workers what they are worth.”

Workers just want a fair contract

Strike preparations are now underway, and workers are set to walk off the job unless they receive a new proposal from the employer. 

“Gateway Casino workers in the Okanagan are ready to do whatever it takes to get a fair contract with their employer — including strike, if necessary,” says Smith. [my emphasis]

Gateway’s Okanagan staff have been trying to negotiate a new collective agreement since the last one expired in September 2017. 

8. Like an earlier reference, the following claims that the members are seeking a fair agreement–a debatable claim. Dated August 2, 2018 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/strike-mandate-given-sgeus-public-servicegovernment-employment-negotiating-committee): 

Strike mandate given to SGEU’s Public Service/Government Employment Negotiating Committee

Upon returning to the bargaining table, the government was unwilling to negotiate. It was their unwillingness that brought about the need for a strike vote.

Regina (02 Aug. 2018) —  Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU/NUPGE) members of the Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) bargaining unit have given their Negotiating Committee a strike mandate. The vote was conducted across the province throughout July.

SGEU/NUPGE public service members looking for fair agreement

“This mandate sends a strong, clear message to government that our members are serious about achieving a fair and reasonable collective agreement that protects their rights and improves their wages and benefits,” said Barry Nowoselsky, Chair of the PS/GE Negotiating Committee. [my emphasis]

“A mandate from the members to strike does not mean there will be immediate job action. The negotiating committee is willing to return to the bargaining table as long as the employer is willing to negotiate,” he added.

Agreement expired in 2016

The collective agreement covering approximately 12,000 workers, including social workers, wildfire fighters, highways workers, lab technicians, administrative professionals, agrologists, corrections officers, and many others, expired September 30, 2016.

Bargaining for a new contract for government employees began in October 2016. In February 2018, members were asked to vote on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). The tentative deal was rejected in April. Upon returning to the bargaining table, the government was unwilling to negotiate. It was their unwillingness that brought about the need for a strike vote.

“Hopefully, with this mandate, government will now return to the bargaining table ready to show they value the work performed by people who live and work right here in our province,” Nowoselsky said.

9. The following is dated September 14, 2018:   (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/new-contract-nbu-college-instructors): 

New contract for NBU College Instructors

“Negotiations are successful when both sides come to the table with mutual respect and a willingness to work together.” — Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President

Bathurst (14 Sept. 2018) — Instructors in the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick system, represented by the New Brunswick Union (NBU/NUPGE), officially signed a new contract on September 7, 2018, during a ceremony in Bathurst. Instructors with CCNB educate and prepare students for careers in a variety of areas. Instructors are located on 5 different campuses across the province.

The newly signed collective agreement is for 5 years and 3 months covering the time period of May 1, 2015, through July 31, 2020. The terms and conditions of the contract came into effect upon signing. Membership had voted in favour of the deal on May 22, 2018.

A fair deal for both sides

“Negotiations are successful when both sides come to the table with mutual respect and a willingness to work together,” said NBU President Susie Proulx-Daigle. “That was the case during this round of bargaining, and I’m pleased we’ve come away with a fair deal for both sides.” [my emphasis]

10. The following is dated October 18, 2019 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/nsgeu-calls-mcneil-govt-respect-collective-bargaining).  Of course, the McNeil government’s heavy-handed tactics should be criticized (I l already indicated that in one of my articles that in the ??? section of this blog–but not by claiming that the process of collective bargaining represents something fair or that the resulting  collective agreement in any way expresses something fair. 

NSGEU calls on McNeil govt. to respect collective bargaining

“By continuing to meddle with this long-standing practice, the McNeil government threatens to throw the already-overwhelmed legal system into chaos.” — Jason MacLean, NSGEU President

Ottawa (18 Oct. 2019) — The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) is deeply disappointed to see the McNeil government once again employing heavy-handed tactics to skew the collective bargaining process in their own favour.

On Wednesday, October 16, Finance Minister Karen Casey introduced essential services legislation that takes away Crown attorneys’ right to arbitration and replaces it with the “right to strike.” The NSGEU/NUPGE argues that this harms workers and the services they deliver.

All workers have the right to collective bargaining

The NSGEU/NUPGE does not represent Crown attorneys. But, it unequivocally support the rights of all workers to bargain free from government interference that will unfairly tilt the process in favour of either the employer or employee.

“Collective bargaining is a deliberate process that is designed to yield a fair and balanced outcome,” said NSGEU President Jason MacLean. “By continuing to meddle with this long-standing practice, the McNeil government threatens to throw the already-overwhelmed legal system into chaos.” [My emphases]

Legislation could have ripple effect on other public sector workers

Furthermore, this only serves to put all other unions representing public sector workers on notice that this government is still squarely opposed to bargaining in good faith, setting a negative tone for all upcoming contract negotiations.

“We’ve seen government make similar arguments about many other important public sector workers in this province: health care and home care workers, and doctors,” MacLean said. “These continued attacks have negatively impacted recruitment and have pushed health care into crisis, leaving important public services in peril.”

The NSGEU/NUPGE is calling on this government to withdraw the legislation it has tabled to interfere with the Crown attorneys’ bargaining process, and to begin to bargain in good faith. It is only when the government begins to respect the process that we can achieve labour peace.

Political Implications

Unions evidently use the rhetoric of fair contracts, fair agreements and the like to justify their limited approach to the issues facing workers. This attempt to justify their own implicit acceptance of the power of the class of employers needs to be constantly criticized by being brought out into the open and discussed. 

However, the social-democrat or social-reformist left often see no point in such open and direct criticism–despite claims to the contrary. 

I will conclude this post with a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me: 

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matters). And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -“

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

The bottom line is that many who consider themselves radical socialists here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere)  indulge working-class organizations, such as unions. They are, ultimately, afraid to alienate social-democratic or reformist organizations. Consequently, they themselves, objectively, function as social democrats or social reformers and fail to engage workers in the necessary delegitimisation process of the class power of employers. 

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: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

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.”