Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Care: Socialist versus Capitalist Nationalization

Since the coronavirus and health care are undoubtedly on the minds of many people throughout the world, I thought it appropriate to do a bit of research on socialist health care versus present capitalist health-care systems.

Health care even in a nationalized context can easily be an expression of oppression and exploitation. The idealization of nationalization often goes hand in hand with an argument  that we need to extend public services in health and education (as Sam Gindin has argued). However, nationalized health care can easily become an oppressive experience for workers (as well as patients). From Barbara Briggs (1984), “Abolishing a Medical Hierarchy: The Struggle for Socialist Primary Health Care,” pages 83-88, in the journal Critical Social Policy, volume 4, issue #12, page 87:

GPs AND SOCIALISM

Socialists have traditionally argued for state control of key areas of the economy and of the provision of welfare services such as health and education. Socialist health workers have argued for general practitioners to become salaried employees of the Area Health Authorities, along with the ’ancillary workers’, instead of continuing to enjoy the independent self-employed status that they insisted on to protect their status when the NHS [National Health Service of the United Kingdom] was set up.

But the NHS, the largest employer in the country, has shared with nationalised industries the failure to demonstrate any evidence of ’belonging to the people’: because of the backing of the state it has proved a ruthless and powerful employer, keeping the wages of unskilled and many skilled workers also at uniquely low levels; time and again, union members seeking improvements in pay and amelioration of very poor working conditions have been defeated. Nor has the NHS shown any kind of effective accountability to its users. Public spending constraints have hit the NHS not only by causing a decline in working conditions and in the services provided, but also by imposing even more centralised planning priorities based on the need to save money whatever the cost.

This situation likely characterizes the Canadian public health-care system as well.

A word about the Canadian health-care system. One inadequate view on the Canadian health-care system is the social-democratic or social-reformist perspective, which certainly exists in Canada. One definitely inadequate view considers the Canadian health-care system to be socialist (Mary E. Wiktorowicz, pages 264-262, “Health Care Systems in Evolution,” in Staying Alive:  Critical Perspectives on Health,
Illness, and Health Care (2006), page 243):

In many ways, national health insurance symbolizes the great divide between:
liberalism and socialism; the free market and the planned economy (see Box 10.1).

Nationalized health care in no way represents the great divide between liberalism and socialism. An apparently critical form of the analysis of health care–but in reality a variant form of social democracy or social reformism–looks at the inequality in access to health care, according to level of income. Thus, in the edited work Health Promotion in Canada: Critical Perspectives (2007), Denis Raphael, in his article (pages 106-122) “Addressing Health Inequalities in Canada: Little Attention, Inadequate Action, Limited Success,” refers to levels of income as the major social determinant of the level of health. Since income inequalities in Canada are increasing, it follows that health inequalities are also increasing. However, this view defines a social determinant purely in terms of level of income–a typical social-democratic or social reformist method (I will deal with this issue in another post). As Glenn Rikowski (2001) points out (“After the Manuscript Breaks Off: Thoughts on Marx, Social Class and Education”, though, level of income is used instead of social class, or rather level of income is often used as a substitute by the social-democratic left:

… we witness the virtual abandonment of the notion of the working class…. Most people who analyse social class today do no such thing; rather, they have social inequality and stratification in view.

This use of the level of income to evaluate access to adequate health care is useful to a certain extent, but if it is the prime definition of class and inequality, it is far from adequate. It ignores entirely the source of income and exaggerates differences within the working class rather than a shared economic and social situation of being employees (or unemployed or temporary employees) and subject to a hierarchy of power at work (of course, managers are also subject to control from above, but in general it can be safe to assume that they form part of the middle class if not subordinate members of the ruling class).

The situation of the British NHS is typical of what happens when so-called socialist principles are realized in a capitalist context. Two socialist principles in particular fall by the wayside. From Bob Brecher (1997), (pages 217-225), “What Would a Socialist Health Service Look Like?,” in the journal Health Care Analysis,  volume 5, issue #3, page 219:

These principles are: (a) that there by a reasonable degree of equity in respect of outcome concerning the distribution of basic resources, and (b) that people treat each other as ends and not merely as means. The first may perhaps be understood as a political and economic dimension of socialism, while the second constitutes a moral and social element.

The first principle considers that social equity is itself a good in itself or an end at which we should aim. The second principle considers that people deserve to be treated as people in all circumstances and not just outside work or as “consumers.” This second principle, of course, can never be realized in a capitalist society since human beings are necessarily treated as things or objects to be used as means by a class of employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Health care would be just that: health care–not health service. From Brecher, page 221:

‘Service’ implies server and served; consultant and client; provider and consumer. But none of these describes the sort of relationship between carer and person carefd for that the two principles outlined suggest. To take the example of the NHS again: despite the intentions of its founders, it was the connotations of service–by turn beneficently providing for patients and ‘servicing’ them as though they were objects–which helped provide amply justified dissatisfactions with the resultant shortcomings of the NHS treatment: and these have been used to undermine its founding principles. The combination of professional paternalism, especially in respect of senior doctors; an inability or unwillingness to treat people rather than their symptoms; and an attitude of ‘servicing’ and being ‘serviced’ all helped alienate people from what was supposed to be ‘our’ NHS, enabling successive conservative governments to turn what was at its inception at least a ‘social’ health service into an expliictly anti-socialist one. … these are not accidents of the British context: such terms and the attitudes and mores they describe are inimical to a socialist structure, based as that must be on considerations of equity and respect.

It is important to emphasize, as Brecher points out, that the assumption that nationalization is somehow socialist without further ado itself contributes to the Conservative backlash and the emergence of neoliberalism. By indulging the social-democratic or social-reformist left, with their talk of “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “fair share of taxes,” “$15 Minimum Wage and Fairness,” and the like, the so-called radicals have in reality contributed to the neoliberal backlash. What is needed is not indulgence of such talk, but continuous critique of such talk. What is needed is a critical attitude towards the so-called “left” and its associated idealized institutions.

What is needed is critical and hence democratic analysis and discussion of health-care systems. What is absolutely unnecessary is the defense of flaws in various social systems. If we are going to create a socialist society worthy of human beings, we need to be honest about the inadequacies of current social structures and systems.

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Two: Ethical Inquiry in the Context of Dying and Death

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to copy critical articles, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The author of the following article, “Clinical Pragmatism in Bioethics: A Pastoral Approach,” uses Dewey’s model of pragmatism to address ethical issues related to his work as a pastor in different situations often involving death and health care. Bioethical pragmatism, as he calls it, must determine whether an ethical situation exists, whether further data is required before making a decision, whether there may be a conflict of values and interests and to whom one owes a duty. Although the context of the article is health care, the pastor’s use of pragmatism is relevant to the school system.

The pastor points out that Dewey’s pragmatism requires inquiry as a basic part of the process of deliberation in situations characteristic of conflicting elements that involve ethical decisions. He argues that in the situations he describes, the issue is less one of making a moral decision and an immoral decision and more one of making a less immoral decision and a more immoral decision.

He argues that inquiry forms a necessary part of the process in order to arrive at the best possible decision under the specific circumstances of the case (determination of context by means of inquiry is essential). He emphasizes that the inductive approach forms an essential part of the process rather than a merely deductive approach.

One of the limitations of the article is the lack of questioning of some of the elements listed as forming the context. He mentions financial aspects as forming part of the context for health care. How that plays out in reality in the context of a class society would require inquiry. The author provides no evidence of engaging in inquiry about the impact of the financial context on health-care outcomes or consequences. Undoubtedly, financial aspects do enter into decision-making processes of health care. Does that mean that the financial aspects are considered as just part of the facts that need to be elicited through inquiry but are not questioned? Does inquiry involve questioning the premises of, for example, the financial aspects?

Equity and social justice issues in schools evidently deal with ethical issues. However, how many who are interested in equity and social justice issues engage in clinical pragmatism?

Fred