Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two

This is a continuation of an earlier post on the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition.

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

Mr. Rosenfeld has the following counterargument:

How can a class society such as ours, wrought by contradictions, which often manifest themselves in the form of criminal activity, and in which working class and socialist political agency are virtually non-existent, manage without some kind of policing institution? Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose what he perceives to be left-wing extremism, fails to inquire whether his assumption that the police actually do engage mainly in activity that either prevents “murder and theft” or at least investigates it after the fact. I have already referred to a quite different view of the nature and function of the police (see , for example, Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

Mr. Rosenfeld removed himself from this blog in May 2020 (see the comments to the post Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three, and the above post was posted in August 2019, so there is no excuse for his ignoring what I wrote in the above post. I will quote, once again, from that post, in addition to providing a couple of further references. Mr. Rosenfeld has a responsibility to workers and to community members that he failed to fulfill.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 112-113:

Since, as we have seen, law-enforcement is merely an incidental and
derivative part of police work, and since, as Lustgarten has noted, the police
invariably under-enforce the law, the equation of policing with law enforcement
is clearly untenable.68 The police enforce the law because it falls within the scope of their larger duties of regulating order which, in an ideological loop of remarkable ingenuity, is then justified in terms of crime control and the need to ‘uphold the law’. In other words, law enforcement becomes part of police work to the same extent as anything else in which the exercise of force for the maintenance of order may have to be used, and only to that extent. Police practices are designed to conform to and prioritize not law, but order, as the judges and police have long known.69 Law-enforcement is therefore a means to an end rather than an end in itself, as witnessed by the fact that, for example, police often prefer to establish order without arrest. The assumption central to the rule of law that people should not take the law into ‘their own hands’ reminds us not only that the law is meant to be used and controlled by chosen hands, as Bauman puts it,70 but that police do in fact handle rather than enforce the law. The law is a resource for dealing with problems of disorder rather than a set of rules to be followed and enforced. The kind of police behaviour which offends the sensibilities of civil libertarians or which seems at odds
with the assumptions in the liberal democratic conception of the rule of law in fact turns out to be within the law and exercised according to the need to deal with things considered disorderly. The police follow rules, but these are police rules rather than legal rules. Thus when exercising discretion, the police are never quite using it to enforce the law, as one might be led to believe. Rather, officers decide what they want to do and then fit their legal powers around that decision. Hence the main ‘Act’ which police officers purport to enforce is the ‘Ways and Means Act’, a set of mythical powers which they use to mystify and confuse suspects, and the question of whether an officer should detain a suspect on legal grounds is displaced
by the question ‘which legal reason shall I use to justify detaining this person’. Exercised according to police criteria rather than specific legal criteria, the rules are rules for the abolition of disorder, exercised by the police and enabled by law.

“Murder and theft” form a minor part of what the police actually do. Mr. Rosenfeld’s own fears perhaps are expressed when he refers to “murder and theft.” Furthermore, given the number of murders in Canada per year is around one half the number of workers who die in Canada (with over 600,000 injuries a year)–and the police do little to address this problem–Mr. Rosenfeld’s ignoring of these facts likely expresses his own biases and fears.

Mr. Rosenfeld also ignores the fear that the police often instill among some sections of the working class–a fear that he simply ignores. How such fear can be overcome with his reforms he never says.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, page 113:

‘We fear the policeman’ then, as Slavoj Zizek comments, ‘insofar as he is
not just himself, a person like us, since his acts are the acts of power, that
is to say, insofar as he is experienced as the stand-in for the big Other, for
the social order.’73 And it is because the police officer is the stand-in for
social order that order is the central trope [something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular work] around which even the smallest
police act is conducted. As a number of ex-police officers have testified,
the police themselves are obsessed with order, being institutionalized to
achieve order at all times and in all contexts. Malcolm Young has commented
on how one folder containing a record of the Orders by a range of
senior officers reveals ‘how everything in this world had an ordained place
and could therefore be controlled, ordered, disciplined, checked, scrutinized’.
Likewise ex-police sergeant Simon Holdaway has pointed to the
way prisoners are treated as ‘visible evidence of disorder’. Needing to
detect and end disorder among citizens, the police cannot cope with ambiguity
in any way.74 In dealing with any particular situation a police officer
makes a decision about what, if anything, is out of order and then makes a
decision about how to overcome it. Because each individual officer is institutionalized to achieve order at all times the police institution must have
a strong sense of the order they are there to reproduce, reflected in the
activities they are taught to pursue, the techniques they use in pursuit, and
compounded by a unitary and absolutist view of human behaviour and
social organization.75

The police as the representative of “order” entails not only fear but a need for the expression of deference. From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 113-114:

So for example, failure to display deference to an officer significantly increases the probability of arrest, for it is understood as a failure to display deference to an officer’s demand for order. Any hostility directed to them is treated as an attack on their authority and power to order, and thus an attack on authority and order in general, mediated by a supposed hostility to the Law. Antagonistic behaviour is a symbolic rejection of their authoritative attempt to reconstitute order out of a disorderly situation; it is this which may result in more formal (i.e. legal) methods of
control. Regardless of the legal issues pertinent to the situation, the failure to display deference is therefore likely to make one an object of the law as an arrested person as a means of reproducing order.

I have already referred to my personal experience with a social worker who was connected to the legal system through providing a written document to the court (see, for example, A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part Three). Since I did not show deference to his authority, he retaliated by, among other things, lying in his document to the court.

Another critical theorist argues that the criminal justice system fails in its overt claim to protect citizens from what really threatens them, and in so failing it actually justifies its continued existence. From  Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton (2017), The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, page 31:

Ultimately, American criminal justice policy makes more sense if we look at the system as wanting to have high crime rates—there are groups for whom “crime pays” and for whom the system’s failure is a success.

This may seem paradoxical, but such is the nature of a social order characterized by the dominance of employers as a class and their corresponding economic, political and social structures and relations.

From pages 39-41:

Although many Americans are confused about whether crime rates are increasing or decreasing, the overall pattern since 1992 has been one of declining crime rates. This reduction in crime only constitutes a “success” for the criminal justice system to the extent that the system caused the decline. A review of criminal justice literature, however, shows that prisons and police played a quite limited role in the national crime decline. The drop in crime rates is better explained by non–criminal justice factors, such as the decline in use of crack, an improved economy in the 1990s and continued low inflation, and the removal of lead from gas and paint. In this section, we examine the factors linked to the declining crime rate to assess their importance. We’ll start with the criminal justice response.

;;;

POLICE Another popular theory is that police contributed substantially to the decline in crime rates. Bear in mind that we are not here talking about the effect of police arresting people and putting them in prison. (That was discussed in the previous section.) The claim to be evaluated now is that changes in the number of police or their strategies—such as policing crime “hot spots” and aggressive enforcement of gun-control laws—lowered crime rates. Strategies that temporarily suppress crime at a hot spot or that displace it into another area cannot be responsible for a long-term, geographically widespread crime decline.

The National Academy of Sciences panel on policing (quoted earlier) found weak or no evidence that standard policing or widespread variants contribute much to declining crime rates. John Conklin in his book Why Crime Rates Fell concurs that there is little evidence to support a general link between policing and crime
rates.86 A 2005 report by the General Accounting Office found that between 1993 and 2000, President Clinton’s COPS plan for 100,000 officers “amounted to about 5 percent of the overall decline.”87 The Brennan Center analysis of the crime decline suggests that the increasing number of police had a “downward
effect on crime in the 1990s, likely between 0 and 10 percent”—but the effect did not continue into the 2000s because the number of police leveled off and then declined.

It is true that there may be some evidence that the use of the police, combined with other strategies, may reduce crime. From Reiman, pages 41-42:

The National Academy of Sciences panel and more recent reviews of the literature note that policing hot spots can reduce crime when combined with a problem-solving approach that tries to change underlying conditions.89

However, there are others considerations here, from a political point of view. Firstly, who defines what actions are a crime? Mr. Rosenfeld does not even ask the question. He does not even consider the filtering process that eliminates the harmful actions of employers in various ways on our lives from consideration as a crime. Secondly, he does not factor into the account the general function of the police to maintain order–order characterized by the daily subordination, oppression and exploitation of millions of workers in Canada and billions in the world–in order to prevent “theft and murder.”

Mr. Rosenfeld’s focus on “murder and theft” expresses more his biases rather than any real analysis of the situation which members of the working class face vis-a-vis the real dangers of working for an employer, on the one hand, and the nature and functions of the police, on the other.

As for theft, let me provide a personal anecdote. In 1996, I believe, I was doing my practicum for my bachelor of education degree with the French university in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the College universitaire de Saint-Boniface. They lent me a fairly expensive video camera (with  tripod) so that I could have someone film my classroom practice. At the time, I was living in the north end in Winnipeg, on Machray Street near St. John’s High School, an inner city school. The north end is relatively poor in terms of income level. My daughter at the time was around one-year old. I had her carriage and other things in the trunk and the video camera and tripod in the back seat.

I woke up early to prepare for the day. I went out to the car–and the window was broken and the video camera and tripod were gone. I phoned the police–and all they asked me was what the serial number was. They did not even bother sending a police person for further details. No one came. No one investigated further. Is this a good example of how the police deal with “personal theft?” If so, Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to “theft” as justification for the non-abolition of the police sounds more like an expression of his own social-democratic biases rather than an analysis of the real nature of the police in a society dominated by a class of employers.

Another author provides further proof of the real nature of the police and not Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic fantasy. From Alex Vitale (2017), The End of Policing: 

The police exist to keep us safe, or so we are told by mainstream media and popular culture. TV shows exaggerate the amount of serious crime and the nature of what most police officers actually do all day. Crime control is a small part of policing, and it always has been.

Felony arrests of any kind are a rarity for uniformed officers, with most making no more than one a year. When a patrol officer actually apprehends a violent criminal in the act, it is a major moment in their career. The bulk of police officers work in patrol. They take reports, engage in random patrol, address parking and driving violations and noise complaints, issue tickets, and make misdemeanor arrests for drinking in public, possession of small amounts of drugs, or the vague “disorderly conduct.” Officers I’ve shadowed on patrol describe their days as “99 percent boredom and 1percent sheer terror”—and even that 1 percent is a bit of an exaggeration for most officers.

Even detectives (who make up only about 15 percent of police forces) spend most of their time taking reports of crimes that they will never solve —and in many cases will never even investigate. There is no possible way for police to investigate every reported crime. Even homicide investigations can be brought to a quick conclusion if no clear suspect is identified within two days, as the television reality show The First 48 emphasizes. Burglaries and larcenies are even less likely to be investigated thoroughly, or at all. Most crimes that are investigated are not solved

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose really radical proposals (such as the abolition of the police), merely asserts the liberal view of the nature of the police. It is certainly possible that many members of the working-class believe the same thing, but a Marxist has an obligation to question such an ideology. Mr. Rosenfeld, though, not only indulges such beliefs but reinforces them.

He may reply that he had pointed out in his article that

I will start with a disclaimer: I am no expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations. I am a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist, who has lived and worked in Toronto for the past 44 years, and have been organizing, doing education and writing for and about working class politics and public transit.

I too am not an “expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations.” However, as a Marxist, I have an obligation to at least do some research on topics before I write about them. Besides, so-called “experts” often ignore issues that are relevant to the working class.

Mr. Rosenfeld is retired, so there is no justification for his lack of engagement in at least preliminary research concerning the abolition of the police. However, there is no evidence that Mr. Rosenfeld did any research concerning the nature and function of the police. He merely expressed his unwarranted bias. Mr. Rosenfeld, perhaps, watches too many Netflix crime movies or programs.

As a result, he panders to the prejudices of the working class rather than criticizing their views and enlightening them about the real nature of policing. This should surprise no one. The social-democratic left, in general, pander to the prejudices of the working class in various ways (by, for example, not criticizing such cliches as “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” “The Fight for $15 and Fairness,” “decent work” and the like.

Mr. Rosenfeld claims that we live in a liberal democracy and not in a fascist society. Since he does not elaborate on what he means by these terms, I will assume that by “liberal democracy” he means that in Canada we live by the “rule of law”:

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

Of course, “bourgeois democratic institutions” need to legitimate their rule, and the level of legitimization required relates, in part, to the level of “relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized indigenous peoples.” Any abolitionist can agree with this. And? Is Mr. Rosenfeld, though, implying that, since the capitalist state attempts to legitimate the rule of the class of employers that the general and essential function of the police to maintain class order is somehow unimportant? That the iron fist does not support the legitimating function of the capitalist state? Furthermore, the legitimating function of the capitalist state hides the real nature of the lives of the working class, does it not? (See the series of posts on this blog about the silence of the history curricula in various provinces in Canada concerning the nature and origin of the class of employers in Canada.. See, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, is little concerned with the legitimization function of the capitalist state in its negative aspect; his real concern is with the positive aspects of that function, such as civil liberties. By all means, let us appreciate and fight for these limited rights that we do have that protect us from the iron fist of the police–but let us not idealize them. They modify but do not negate the primary function of the police–to maintain the order of a society characterized by the dominance of the class of employers and the associated economic, social and political structures and relations.

Furthermore, Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider the importance of the capacity of the capitalist government or state for combining  the iron fist (the stick) and the carrot (reforms) in many, many different ways; this capacity to combine the two is one thing that gives the government or state dominated by employers its power and makes it very difficult to overcome. I already pointed out the following in another post:

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, page 2:

The whole flavour of the rhetoric of justice is summed up in the idea that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be wrongly convicted. Why then the paradox that the vast majority of cases processed through a criminal justice system so geared to favouring the accused results in a finding of guilt?

For they do. According to the criminal statistics for 1978, conviction rates were as follows: 8o per cent of Scottish cases involving crimes, 95 per cent of Scottish cases involving offences, 84 per cent of English Crown Court cases, 93 per cent of indictable cases, 95 per cent of non-indictable cases, in the English magistrates’
courts. Some samples show even higher rates-a 98.5 per cent conviction rate for magistrates’ courts in Sheffield (Bottoms and McClean, 1976). Conviction depends in court on the plea or the verdict. If the accused pleads guilty to the charge against him, conviction follows as a matter of routine. If he pleads not guilty, a contested trial follows. According to Bottoms and McClean, 72 ·5 per cent of those contesting the case in magistrates’ courts, 55 per cent of those choosing jury trials, and 71 per cent of those allocated to the higher courts were convicted on some or all counts (pp. 106, 209). In the rhetoric of justice everyone is entitled to a fair trial; yet most defendants plead guilty. In the rhetoric of justice any reasonable doubt should result in acquittal; yet for the clear majority of cases the court is convinced beyond reasonable doubt, despite all the rhetorical hamstrings on police and prosecution, that the accused is guilty. Why?

One answer might be quite simply that the defendants are guilty; the case against them is too strong to be plausibly disputed; the facts speak for themselves. Sir Robert Mark has suggested indeed that the very limitations placed on police and prosecution bringing a case to court make it highly probable that only the indisputably guilty come through the process at all….

Mr. Rosenfeld probably has been indoctrinated into the ideology of law, which presents courts as areas where legal due process is dominant–whereas the opposite is the case.

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, Page 153:

Legal policy has established two tiers of justice. One, the higher courts, is for public consumption, the arena where the ideology of justice is put on display. The other, the lower courts, deliberately structured in defiance of the ideology of justice, is concerned less with subtle ideological messages than with direct control. The latter is closeted from the public eye by the ideology of triviality, so the higher courts alone feed into the public image of what the law does and how it operates. But the higher courts deal with only 2 per cent of the cases that pass through the criminal courts. Almost all criminal law is acted out in the lower courts without traditional due
process. But of course what happens in the lower courts is not only trivial, it is not really law. So the position is turned on its head. The 98 per cent becomes the exception to the rule of ‘real law’ and the working of the law comes to be typified not by its routine nature, but by its atypical, indeed exceptional, High Court form. Between them the ideologies of triviality and legal irrelevance accomplish the remarkable feats of defining 98 per cent of court cases not only as exceptions to the rule of due process, but also as of no public interest whatsoever. The traditional ideology of justice can thus survive the contradiction that the summary courts blatantly ignore it every day-and that they were set up precisely for that purpose.

The real world of courts (and the police) needs more than “transformation”–it needs abolition since they function at the level of real law and not at the level of the rhetoric of justice. From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, pages 154-155:

The rhetoric of justice requires incriminating evidence as the basis for arrest and search; the law allows arrest and search in order to establish it. Justice requires that no-one need incriminate himself; the law refuses to control the production of confessions and allows silence as a factor in proving guilt. justice requires equality; the law discriminates against the homeless, the jobless, the disreputable. Justice requires each case be judged on its own facts; the law makes previous convictions grounds for defining behaviour as an offence and evidence against the accused. Justice places the burden of proof on the prosecutor; the law qualifies the standard and method of proof required and offers the prosecutor opportunities for making a
case which the accused is denied. Justice proclaims the right to trial by one’s peers; the legal system ensures that 91 per cent of all defendants plead guilty, and of the rest most are tried without a jury.

If, then, the process of conviction is easier than the rhetoric of justice would have us expect-and easier still the lower the status of the defendant-it is hardly surprising. A wide range of prosecution evidence can be legally produced and presented, despite the rhetoric of a system geared overwhelmingly to safeguards for the accused, precisely because legal structure, legal procedure, legal rulings, not legal rhetoric, govern the legitimate practice of criminal justice, and there is quite simply a distinct gap between the substance and the ideology of the law.

This conclusion has two direct and immediate implications. First it places the contemporary policy debate over law and order in a new light. The police demand for more powers, for the removal of the hamstrings of the right to silence, the limitations on arrest and search-and indeed the civil liberties camp’s agitated response that the legal checks of British justice must be upheld-begin to appear rather odd. Both sides of the debate are framed in terms of the ideology of civil rights, not in terms of the realities of legal procedure and case law which, as I hope this analysis has amply shown, have all too often already given the police and prosecution the very powers they are demanding. The law does not need reform to
remove hamstrings on the police: they exist largely in the unrealised rhetoric.

Second, more theoretically, this analysis has implications for the explanation of law-enforcement and its outcomes. A whole range of excellent sociological studies has pointed out situational, informal, non-legal factors in police-citizen encounters and courtroom interaction to explain who is arrested or convicted, and to explain why the system so often seems in practice to be weighted against the accused. Their answer lies essentially in the complex nature of social interaction and motivation; in the fact that people do not merely administer the law but act upon and alter it as they do so. This study offers a supplementary perspective, making the law rather than the activities of its administrators problematic. The conclusion is quite different. Given the formal procedures and rules of the law and the structure of arrest, investigation, plea and trial, one could not–even if human beings acted entirely as legal automatons–expect the outcomes to be other than they are. If the practice of criminal justice does not live up to its rhetoric one should not look only to the interactions and negotiations of those who put the law into practice but to the law itself. One should not look just to how the rhetoric of justice is subverted intentionally or otherwise by policemen bending the rules, by lawyers negotiating adversariness out of existence, by out-of-touch judges or biased magistrates: one must also look at how it is subverted in the law. Police and court officials need not abuse the law to subvert the principles of justice; they need only use it. Deviation from the rhetoric of legality and justice is institutionalised in the law itself.

Mr. Rosenfeld implies that we need the police. He asks:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Note the assumption that the courts and the police are somehow very effective in protecting personal property and preventing murder.

Racism exists in our society, and it certainly can serve the short-term interests of some sections of the working class by reducing or eliminating competition from other workers. Should we aim at transforming racism “by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous” social institution? Or should we aim at abolishing it?

In any case, some members of the working class do steal the personal property from other members of the working class–and they should not (although there are undoubtedly many mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration here). And some do murder some members of the working class–and they should not. Do these facts legitimate the continued existence of the police as a social institution designed by its very nature to maintain the order of oppression and exploitation characteristic of the domination of employers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One)?

The police, whether armed or not, have the legal right to use force–they have a monopoly of this force. Mr. Rosenfeld assumes that the call for abolishing such a monopoly is absurd. That, however, is what a socialist society would involve–a return of the power of doing things to people in their own hands. A movement to achieve this can arise in the present and not in some distant future.

Mr. Rosenfeld denies this:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

I wonder how it would be possible to “transform and democratize” racism? Mr. Rosenfeld seems more of a defender of the police than a critic.

In any case, what kinds of alternatives to the police might arise in the present? A further post will explore this issue.

Another post will address the issue of the way in which we conceive the future and its relation to the present. Mr. Rosenfeld gives away his own social-democratic bias by referring to “what a future socialist and decolonized society might look in 100 years and strive in that direction.” The end is shifted into a distant future as something to be aimed for–in 100 years. This issue has philosophical or more general implications–and political implications as well.

 

 

 

Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let us first listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McDoowell and Fernandez continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms. This minimization of the danger of co-optation can be seen from the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Worker Resistance Against Management, Part Two

This is a continuation of a series of posts on worker resistance. The following was written by Herman Rosenfeld. Since it formed part of a course that he, Jordan House and I presented for workers at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, I am including the preliminary instructions and the subsequent questions so that others can modify and make use of it in similar courses.

Activity Sheet 3: Learning from Collective Resistance Experiences

This is a small group activity.
Read the story and answer the questions below together.
Be prepared to describe the collective struggle to the whole class, and report your answers.
You have 25 minutes to complete this exercise. [This exercise, initially, was combined with resistance against management at the brewery, so we permitted them 25 minutes for both.]

Clapping for Lisa Raitt

When CAW (Canada Auto Workers union] Air-Canada reservation and air ticket agents briefly went on strike over a series of contract concessions demanded by management, the Conservative government [of Stephen Harper, prime minister at the federal or Canada-wide level], though Labour Minister Lisa Raitt quickly introduced a law to legislate them back to work. (It would have been the 5th time in 5 years that the Harper government had taken away workers’ right to strike.) An agreement was reached between the union and Air Canada.

The workers who handle baggage, members of the IAM (International Association of Machinists) rejected the tentative agreement bargained by their leadership and demanded that they go back to the table and bargain improvements.

After the rejection, the workers started forming “Action Committees” to prepare co-workers to organize rallies at the airport, to pressure the employer to bargain seriously. The IAM workers had previously supported the actions of Reservation and Flight Attendants, who had protested the elimination of their right to strike.

A key action was to write a letter to the company president, complaining about endless demands for concessions and the culture of entitlement for the top executives.

Some quotes from the letter:

“It smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order to be led by Executives that continually demand we make sacrifices for the “viability” of the Company and then watch those same Executives pocket millions in bonuses and receive raises in pay and pension benefits in excess of 70% in a year.

A day doesn’t go by without us hearing about how we are the problem and how management is trying to find ways to replace us with “low cost” workers from senior Executives whoa are never replaceable and must be highly compensated in order to maintain their loyalty to the Company.

Over the past decade we have agreed to take wave after wave of concessions and have watched this goodwill allow Senior management to make hundreds of millions in payments of “special distributions” to their corporate backers or in golden parachutes to departing millionaire Executives.

It is time to lead by example. It’s time to end this culture of senior executives viewing us workers as a cost in which to be squeezed for more bonuses at the top.

This will require a major change in culture including management not using their friends in Ottawa to threaten our unions into concessionary agreements, ending the disastrous habit of unilaterally imposing policies on us (lie the unilateral changes to travel charges) and ending the out of control greed at the top.

The workers planned to present the letter to the president at the private management celebration of the 75th anniversary of Air Canada’s founding. They stormed into the meeting and, after a scuffle with the police, agreed to select 2 representatives to deliver the latter. Rovinescu, the company president, received the letter, but was not happy about it.

Shortly after this incident, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, landed at Pearson Airport for a meeting. As she exited the plane, the worker who recognized her, started a slow, rhythmic clapping, as a kind of spontaneous protest against the attack on their collective bargaining rights, followed her through the terminal, as the crowd of clapping workers grew Raitt, who fancied herself as a kind of “friend of the workers” was angry, and called on the police to,” “arrest these animals!”

The police took no action, but Air Canada security guards sent 5 or 6 of the protesters home, in an action that usually signifies a discharge.

The word of the firings went viral. All of the IAM workers at Pearson stopped work and stayed out all night, demanding that the fired workers be reinstated, and that collective bargaining begin again. All 30 of the workers who went on the wildcat were promptly fired.

The morning shift workers refused to work. All workers in Vancouver, Montreal and in airports across Canada downed their tools as well. It made the national news.

The company and the union began talks, and agreed to send the issue of the wildcat to an arbitrator (one often used by Air Canada and its unions, but one not known for his friendliness to union and worker issues).

After heated debate, the workers decided to stay out until the workers were reinstated. The striking workers spent a lot of time talking with members of the other unions at the airport, building solidarity with their actions and issues. When the fired workers were reinstated (although further discipline was planned), the wildcat was ended. Bargaining on the contract began soon afterwards.

A few months later, after the contract was signed, Air Canada fired a number of activist workers using their private E-mail comments, as “incriminating” evidence against them.

Questions

  1. What were some of the plans and decisions that made this action successful?
  2. What were some of the limits of this action–and things that might hold the union back from moving forward after this action? How might these limits be addressed?
  3. What lessons can be learned from this experience for your own workplace, union and efforts to build the power of workers there?

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier post,  over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

The first talk is by Dan Karasik, an activist in the movement for the fight for $15. He claims that the goal now is to hold on to the gains that have been made through the passing of Bill 148 (reform of employment law, which introduced a number of employment laws beneficial to unorganized workers and increased the minimum wage to $14 an hour as of January 1, 2018 and was scheduled to increase as of January 1, 2019). In the short term, such a goal is of course realistic; organized opposition to the class of employers will not occur overnight.

However, Dan likely overestimates, like much of the social-reformist left, the immediate potentiality for radicalizing sections of the working class in terms of the immediate conditions prior to an election. He claims that a radicalization of working-class politics can occur because of the elections. Alternatively, his definition of radical politics is social-reformist and is radical only in relation to Doug Ford’s immediate political position. Both likely share similar positions concerning the necessity of the class of employers (see my earlier post about a social reformist who claims that the fight for $15 is indeed fair, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Dan argues that Doug Ford is a populist who was elected the premier of Ontario, Canada, in June 2018 in part to represent “the people,” with a substantial part of the people, according to Dan, expecting Doug Ford to maintain the provisions set out in Bill 148. With the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calling on the Ontario government to completely repeal the Bill, the mood among the social-reformist left has shifted from being celebratory to a mood characterized by a mood characterized by increasing jitters Nevertheless, there is now a space for radicalization since the fight for $15 and what Dan still calls “fairness” potentially has done is to open up a struggle amongst racialized and gendered sections of the working class since minimum wage jobs in Toronto are predominantly filled by racialized and gendered members of the working class–should Ford ultimately decide to follow the recommendations of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Although there may indeed may be some space for organizing along these lines, Dan at no time indicated what he meant by radical politics. Somehow the false promise of Doug Ford to represent “the people” is to magically transform racialized and gendered working-class members into radicals.

Dan never gets around to indicating what he means by “radical politics,” let alone “radical working-class politics.” Since he never does question pairing the term “Fight for $15” with the term “fairness,” his radical politics probably is defined entirely within the limits of the social-reformist left’s definition of radical politics–social reforms that in no way question the power of employers as a class. The questioning of such power is implicitly “off the agenda.”  See several of my posts for criticisms of the positions of politics of the social-reformist left.

Dan briefly referred to the situation of capital and labour in Toronto–without stating anything further. What is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? When I was a member of the Toronto Labour Committee (with Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray practically being the leaders), I proposed  a class analysis of Toronto (but indicated that I did not really know how to go about doing that–although I was willing to learn–I was involved in another project in gathering data pertaining to the ruling class analysis in Toronto, but it could not really be considered directly related to the ruling class, but perhaps to the class of self-employed and small to middle-sized employers–but that would have required more refined tools than those used). The response was–silence.

So, what is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? You would not be able to tell at all from anything Dan had to say. (Perhaps someone can refer me to recent articles and books on the subject? I would definitely appreciate it.)

In general, Dan’s talk refers to a radical politics, but it really contains very little in the way of specifying what that may mean. The audience is left to “fill in” what that may mean. Since the moderator already filled in part of it by referring to “decent work,” (see an earlier post), it is highly probable that Dan’s radical politics really means more of the same social-reformist politics that has been circulating since the employer class went on the offensive in the 1970s. In essence, this radicalism wants to return to a renewed welfare state, with social housing, enhanced unemployment benefits, improved welfare benefits, reductions in austerity, reformed employment laws and so forth. Such a politics, however, has no intention, though, of questioning the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers. That is not on the agenda.

It certainly was not mentioned by Dan at all. Such is the radical space left untouched in the first talk in the series.

What’s left, Toronto? So far, social-reformism and the acceptance of the power of employers as a class.

 

What’s Left, Toronto? Part One

On September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto. It was posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election) Over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

Before looking at the diverse talks, though, I will reiterate in this post a point that I have already addressed in some other posts since the moderator of the talks, Herman Rosenfeld, brought the issue up again. He mentions “decent, secure jobs with decent pay.” Why any self-declared socialist feels compelled to declare, at this stage of capitalism, to pair the term “decent” with “jobs” and “decent” with “pay” other than fear of alienating his social-reformist allies or due to opportunism is beyond me.

Working for an employer by human beings is indecent–period. The justification for such a view is given in   The Money Circuit of Capital.  The same could be said of pay. Human beings are used as things when working for employers–whether they receive high or low pay, and whether they have a secure or precarious job.

Of course, it would be better to have secure jobs than precarious jobs, and it would of course be better to receive more pay than less pay. To deny that would be foolish. But to use such terms as “decent” is itself absurd when there is a claim to be “radical.” This is not radical–it is social reformism–and nothing more. The implication is that somehow the good life can be achieved within the limits of a society characterized by domination by a class of employers.

For instance, it is likely that the radical left has remained silent while Pam Frache, an organizer for the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto who has been involved in the fight for the $15 minimum wage and other reforms of employment law, has recently stated the following in reaction to Doug Ford’s legislative attack on Bill 148, which provides for various employment law reforms, including the proposed minimum wage of $15 an hour as of January 1, 2019 in Ontario, a province in Canada:

“The law is the law, and as it stands, nearly 2 million workers are scheduled to get a raise in 11 weeks,” says Pam Frache, Coordinator of Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign. “Every single day we encounter people who tell us they voted for Premier Ford because they thought his promise to be ‘for the people’ meant standing up to corporate elites, like Galen Weston and Rocco Rossi. Repealing Bill 148 now would be a slap in the face of many workers who voted for Premier Ford,” she added.

The law is the law? Really? Does that mean that the working class is supposed to respect the law? Does that mean that Pam Frache proposes that all workers subject to collective agreements follow orders according to management rights (see  Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia,   Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, OntarioManagement (Employer) Rights, Part Three: Public Sector Collective Agreement, ManitobaManagement Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario) and agree to being treated as things to be used? That they should respect the law?

There are ways of defending workers’ power through law without defending law as such. For example, it could have been said that Bill 148 limits the power of employers to exploit and oppress workers and permits workers some increased freedom and should therefore be defended not because it is law as such but because precisely of what it permits. To claim that “The law is the law” ties workers to employers’ power and is hardly in the interest of the working class since the legal system is geared towards the power of employers as a class. The same reasoning could be used to defend signing a collective agreement (but union reps sometimes idealize union agreements by referring, as did Pam Frache, to the sanctity of the law: “The law is the law,” after all–as if human beings are supposed to exist for the laws and laws are not supposed to exist for human beings.)

The radical left had the opportunity to question Pam Frache’s ideology at a forum on $15 and “Fairness.” She was a member of the audience and had her hand raised and was acknowledged by the chair of the forum, Sean Smith. Pam spoke for perhaps 10 minutes. I raised my hand perhaps four time to ask a question about pairing the fight for $15 with the term “fairness”–and was not acknowledged. However, Herman was present in the audience  (as was Sam Gindin), and he did not raise the issue.

Already, one wonders what is indeed left in Toronto when the moderator introduces such reformist rhetoric into his introduction. On the eve of the Toronto elections, the Toronto “left” are already proving themselves to be afraid to question social-reformist rhetoric.

Next month, I will look at one of the talks in the series.