The Radical Left Underestimate the Ideological Power of Employers and Overestimate Their Own Ideological Struggle

Leftists frequently refer to themselves and others as the left. This is vague to the point of being useless. Often, what is meant by being left is being paying lip-service to being anti-capitalist–without in reality doing anything to oppose the power of the class of employers as such, either ideologically or in practice.

A good example is an article written by Tim Heffernan, Simon Schweitzer, and Bill Hopwood on July 8, 2020, in the social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension (COVID-19 and Mass Unemployment: the NDP and Beyond).   In that article, the writers make the following statement in relation to what kind of organizing efforts could be achieved in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada by the New Democratic Party (the social-democratic party in Canada):

Events like well-publicized video town halls, car caravans, or carefully marshalled physical protests/pickets would do a lot to shine a light on the shortcomings of the Liberal government and the capitalist system [my emphasis]. The NDP could be pushing now for public ownership of all long-term care homes, waiving of rent and mortgages during the pandemic, an end to evictions or foreclosures, and a universal public health system.

Trudeau may be popular, but he is also vulnerable, especially from the left. The NDP could start now building support for a jobs program to reconstruct the Canadian economy and society after the devastation of COVID-19 and a world economic depression. This program could combine tackling the climate crisis with providing jobs and building affordable homes–all vital for Canadians’ well-being. Restarting the economy will take major public investment–workers are short of money, and big business is continuing its refusal to invest just as before COVID-19.

There is almost a mystical quality about the claim that “the shortcomings of the capitalist system” will become evident by such short-term efforts. This overestimates vastly the efficacy of such efforts in driving home to working people and community members “the shortcomings of the capitalist system,” and vastly underestimates the staying power of the capitalist system despite such “shortcomings.”

This does not mean that there should be no efforts to address problems associated with the capitalist system or with specific problems that have emerged due to the pandemic in the context of a capitalist system characterized by the domination of a class of employers. However, let us not underestimate the tasks required to ensure that people do indeed believe that the capitalist system has shortcomings that require the elimination of the power of the class of employers and the economic, political and social structures and relations associated with that power.

The overestimation of what people actually believe can also be seen from the following:

An indication of the leftward shift in public attitudes is shown by the results of a recent survey conducted by Abacus Data in late May. Three-quarters of Canadians said they either strongly support (44 percent) or support (31 percent) a tax of one to two percent on the assets of Canada’s wealthiest to help pay for the country’s recovery. The survey also touched on the issue of government aid to corporations. Four-fifths of respondents (81 percent) said that companies receiving government assistance should be prohibited from using foreign tax havens or using the funds to pay for excessive executive salaries, to buy back shares, or hike dividends.

Belief in heavier taxation of the wealthy, or more strings attached to corporations that receive government assistance is hardly the same thing as a belief in the shortcomings of the capitalist system. Social democrats or leftist social reformers often talk of the need for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, for example (see   Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Part Two: The Social-Democratic Left Share Some of We Day’s Assumptions). The concept of corporations paying their fair share of taxes does not express opposition to the class power of employer.

At the provincial level, the writers refer to the British Columbia NDP (British Columbia is the most western province in Canada) and its lack of criticism of the failings of the capitalist system:

BC’s New Democrats have acted as a moderate and competent government, better than is the case in several provinces, but they have not shown a commitment to working people and have propped up capitalism rather than challenging it. The NDP is missing an opportunity to show to the rest of Canada a bold alternative to the present failing system.

The NDP, federally and provincially, do not aim to end capitalism. Has it ever really done so? It is a social-democratic or social reformist party; that is its nature. The NDP would have to be a very different kind of party to be able to offer “a bold alternative to the present failing system.” Furthermore, most working people and community members do not really believe that the capitalist system is a failing system. Where is there evidence to the contrary?

Let us listen to one of the writer’s own lack of taking seriously the need to engage in sustained ideological struggles in order to ensure that workers and community members really believe that capitalism is a failing system: Tim Heffernan is a member of Socialist Alternative, the same political party as Kshama Sawant, an elected representative to the Seattle City Council. I had a debate with Mr. Heffernan sometime ago:

Fred raises some interesting points. However, I think he’s confusing social-democratic/reformist demands with transitional demands. There’s a difference which I can elaborate on if needed but the practical contrast between them can be seen in Seattle itself where I would argue that Rosenblum encapsulated an honest and militant social democratic approach while Kshama Sawant & Socialist Alternative (also militant and honest) pushed the movement to its limits by raising the demand for 15/taxing the rich to the need for a socialist transformation of society. But I will concede that there are some in the US left who label SA as reformist too.

Also, we need to look at the concrete not the abstract. The “15 movement” in North America has seen different manifestations and the slogans/demands put forward have varied in time and place. So in Seattle in 2013-14, it was “15 Now”, in other parts of the US it became “15 and a union” and in Ontario it was ” 15 & Fairness”. Fred objects to the term “fairness” presumably because of its association with the old trade union demand of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Engels dealt with this demand back in 1881 where he recognized the usefulness of it in the early stages of developing class consciousness of the British working class, in the first half of the 19th Century, but saw it as an impediment at the time he was writing.

To today and “15 and Fairness”. I think the addition of “fairness” to the straight “15” demand was an excellent move. Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more

If the above be bullshit, so be it. I like to think that Engels, were he alive today, would have his criticisms of the limitations of 15 & Fairness but would be overwhelmingly positive about what it has achieved so far.

Tim

To which I responded:

Hello all,

Tim’s justification for “fairness” is that it is–somehow–a transitional demand. Let him elaborate on how it is in any way a “transitional” demand. I believe that that is simply bullshit.

He further argues the following:

“Fairness wasn’t understood as an airy fairy, feel good notion but came to be seen as shorthand for a series of extra and linked demands that could mobilise low paid and exploited workers:
– paid sick days
– equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time)
– the right to a union
– the fight against racism and discrimination
and more”

How does Tim draw such conclusions? It is a tautology (repetition of what is assumed to be true) to say that it is fair if “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), etc. is considered “fair.”

Why should these goals be tied to “fairness”? I had paid sick days at the brewery, I belonged to a union (there was, however, evident racism among some of the brewery workers and there was also a probationary six-month period before obtaining a full union-wage). Was that then a “fair” situation? I guess so–according to Tim’s logic. Why not then shut my mouth and not complain since I lived a “fair” life at the brewery? But, of course, I did not shut my mouth.

But does Tim believe that merely gaining “paid sick days, equal pay for equal work (full time vs part time), the right to a union, the fight against racism and discrimination and more” is fair? If he did, he would then presumably cease being a member of Socialist Alternative since he would have achieved his goals. However, he likely does not believe that it is fair. What he proposes, then, is to lie (bullshit) to workers by not revealing what he really believes as a “transitional” demand. He does not really believe that it is fair, but he believes that such rhetoric is a useful tool in developing a movement. Frankly, I believe that such a view is both dishonest and opportunistic. Workers deserve better–it is they who continue to be exploited despite “paid sick days,” etc. Receiving paid sick days is better than not receiving paid sick days, but all the demands obtained cannot constitute “fairness.” And yet workers who buy into the rhetoric (bullshit) of fairness may believe this fairy tale (it is, after all, a fairy tale presented by social democrats often enough, among others). Rather than enlightening the workers about their situation, such rhetoric serves to obscure it and to confuse workers–support for the Donald Trump’s of the world in the making.

Such low standards. Rather than calling into question the power of employers to direct their lives by control over the products of their own labour, it implicitly assumes the legitimacy of such power. Ask many of those who refer to the fight for $15 and Fairness–are they opposed in any way to the power of employers as a class? Not just verbally, but practically? Or do they believe that we need employers? That we need to have our work directed by them? That working for an employer is an inevitable part of daily life? That there is no alternative? That working for an employer is not really all that bad?

When working at the brewery, I took a course at the University of Calgary. The professor was interested in doing solidarity work for the Polish organization Solidarity at the time. I told him that I felt like I was being raped at the brewery. He looked at me with disgust–how could I equate being raped (sexually assaulted) with working for an employer? I find that radicals these days really do not seem to consider working for an employer to be all that bad. If they did, they probably would use the same logic as their opposition to sexual assault. Sexual assault in itself is bad, but there are, of course, different degrees of sexual assault. Those who sexually assault a person may do so more violently or less violently; in that sense, those who sexually assault a person less violently are “better” than those who are more violent. However, sexual assault is in itself bad, so any talk of “fairness” in sexually assaulting someone is absurd. Similarly, any talk of fairness in exploiting someone is absurd. But not for the “radical” left these days, it would seem.

Fred

Engels, Marx’s best friend and political ally, criticized the opportunist sacrifice of the long-term interests of workers for possibly short-term gains–and this is what the so-called radical left do often enough (and Mr. Heffernan’s defense of linking the fight for improved wages and working conditions with “fairness” . Quoted from From Christoph Henning (2014), Philosophy After Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 37, note 86:

This forgetting of the great, the principal considerations for the momentary interests of the day, this struggling and striving for the success of the moment regardless of later consequences, this sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present, may be “honestly” meant, but it is and remains opportunism, and “honest” opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all!

Let us now discuss Mr. Heffernan’s acceptance of the slogan “Fairness” alongside the fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, on the one hand, and the reference to shedding light on the “shortcomings of the capitalist system” on the other. Surely one of the shortcomings of the capitalist system is its unfairness. Having millions of workers working every day for an unelected manager or managers (as representatives of employers) is unfair. Losing your job through no fault of your own (because management decides it is best for the company or department) is unfair. Being treated as a means for the benefit of employers is unfair (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

There is an apparent clash here between the acceptance of the slogan “$15 and Fairness”  and the apparent claim that it is necessary to shed light “on the shortcomings of the capitalist system.” This contradiction is, however, merely apparent. Mr. Heffernan does not take seriously the need to engage, systematically and persistently, in pointing out “the shortcomings of the capitalist system.”

Or does he? He claims that the slogan “Fight for $15 and Fairness” is a transitional demand. Does he have evidence that it indeed has served to change the aims of workers from fighting for reforms within a system characterized by a class of employers to an aim of fighting to abolish their class power? I am still waiting for Mr. Heffernan to provide such evidence.

In fact, it is very difficult to shed light “on the shortcomings of the capitalist system” in such a way that working people and community members will take seriously such shortcomings and act upon such a belief. Frequently, what happens is that one aspect of the capitalist system is criticized whereas the system as such is simply assumed to be unchangeable. This is in fact the assumption of the slogan “Fight for $15 and Fairness.”

Mr.Heffernan’s evident acceptance of the ideology of “Fight for $15 Fairness and Fairness” goes hand in hand with substantial underestimation of the need for and difficulty of sustained ideological criticism of the “shortcomings of the capitalist system.”

Imagine a substantial number of of Canadian believing that the capitalist system has such short comings that they are willing to organize and struggle to overcome such a system. In other words, they would have to have similar aims. How far are we from achieving such common aims among millions of workers and community members? The distance between where we are and where we need to be is great, and Mr. Heffernan’s acceptance of the slogan “Fight for $15 and Fairness” does nothing to bridge the gap; to the contrary, it contributes to the maintenance of such a gap. References to shedding light on “the shortcomings of the capitalist system” ring hollow.

Mr. Heffernan, like many other self-styled radical leftists, does not really aim to shed light on “the shortcomings of the capitalist system.” If they did, they would persistently engage in exposing such shortcomings. Furthermore, they would distinguish shortcomings that arise from shortcomings of the capitalist system as such and shortcomings that arise from a specific form of capitalism. Shortcomings arising from capitalism as such cannot be reformed whereas shortcomings arising from a specific form of capitalism can be reformed without changing the basic nature of capitalism. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two, but we need to make an effort at distinguishing them so that we can distinguish between actions that question the very foundation of the class power of employers and actions which that class power can co-opt.

We need to realize that aiming for a socialist society will require much ideological struggle in order to clarify our aims and to move, collectively, towards the common aim of abolishing the class power of employers and its associated economic, political and social structures.

There is no such movement here in Toronto. It needs to be created. I suspect the creation of such a movement is also required in many parts of the world since it is mainly social democrats who dominate the left these days–despite their radical-sounding phrases.

The Real World of the Rule of Law: Courts as Oppressive Organizations, Part One

Introduction 

The following series of posts are meant to complement the series of posts on the issue of reforming versus abolishing the police (see for example Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One or Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism).

The following is mainly a series of quotes from the book by Doreen McBarnet (1983) Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice as well as short commentaries related to the quotes. I use her book as a way of exposing the real nature of the rule of law and the role of courts in both hiding the real nature and enforcing the real nature of the rule of law.

A note on the limitations of the following: Ms. McBarnet draws on English and Scottish law; the situation here in Canada may be somewhat different. If anyone knows of sources relevant for determining the real operationalization of the rule of law in Canada, please provide them in the comments section.

The social-democratic left here in Toronto have little to say about the role of courts in general in oppressing members of the working class, citizens, immigrants and migrants. There are of course particular criticisms of court decisions, but there is no critique of the systemic oppression of the courts.

Alternatively, some social democrats imply that the court system somehow embodies the “rule of law,” which is something positive. Thus, the social democrat Bruce Campbell (Adjunct Professor York University, Department of Environmental Sciences (and former Executive Director (1994-2015) of the social-democratic organization Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA)), in July 2008, published the article “A Denial of Fundamental Justice: Conservatives’ no-fly list violates rights, rule of law” in the CCPA journal The Monitor:

Since September 11, 2001, both Liberal and Conservative governments have introduced a vast array of measures that they claim are needed to combat terrorism. Some are enacted through laws such as the Public Safety Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Many others have come into being through bilateral agreements with the United States, such as the Smart Border Declaration and Action Plan, and the Safe Third Country Agreement.

These measures, which dramatically expand state power at the expense of our deeply held rights and freedoms and the rule of law [my emphasis], were not needed to deal with a genuine security threat. They were introduced mainly in response to U.S. government intimidation to bring Canadian security measures into line with draconian U.S. practices, and from Canadian business wanting to “do what it takes” to keep trade flowing across the border. (This harmonization process continues under the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership.)

Components of the Rule of Law

Ms. McBarnet’s book gives the lie to the idea that there is such a thing as the “rule of law” in the sense of the application of laws in a consistent and fair manner. Of what does the rule of law supposedly consist? Page 2: 

The conviction process in the legal sense poses a problem for explanation because it raises a strange paradox. All the rhetoric of justice we are so familiar with presents a picture of a system of criminal justice bending over backwards to favour the defendant rather than the prosecution. Every accused has the right to a fair trial. He is innocent till proved guilty; it is the prosecutor who must prove his case. What is more, the accused has a right to silence, he is not a compellable witness and he need not incriminate himself, so that the prosecutor has to be able to prove his case without the cooperation of the accused

Wow. These are an impressive list of legal rights–if they exist. Did Mr. Campbell inquire into whether in fact they do exist, or did he assume that they existed? 

The Paradoxes of the Rule of Law

Those who refer to the rule of law without further ado have some explaining to do since the rule of law ends up resulting in some interesting effects that seem to contradict its positive nature. Page 2:

The accused need prove nothing, but can choose if he wishes to establish a defence case to counter that of the prosecution with the less stringent requirement not of ‘proof’ but merely of raising a reasonable doubt, and he may use legal expertise to do that. 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?

The social-democratic left, like Bruce Campbell, remain silent about this fact of the real rule of law. Why is that? Perhaps because they cling to the rhetoric of the rule of law and hence to its ideology rather than to its real nature? 

The social-democratic or social-reformist left, by clinging to such an ideology, contribute to the perpetuation of the oppressive nature of law. 

Let us continue. Page 2: 

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 obvious answer is that mainly the guilty pass through the criminal justice system and therefore are indeed found guilty because they are guilty. Page 2: 

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.

However, being judged guilty of a crime is not a self-evident fact. What activities are defined as crimes and the procedures and the processes for determining whether an activity constitutes a crime are not self-evident; they form part of a social process of defining an activity as a crime. Page 3:

But this is where we come to the process of conviction in its other, subjective, sense. Given the ambiguities and uncertainties that dog real-life incidents, how are clear-cut facts of the case and strong cases produced? How do judges and juries come to be persuaded beyond reasonable doubt by one case or another? Evidence, the facts of the case, strong and weak cases are not simply self-evident absolutes; they are the end-product of a process which organises and selects the available ‘facts’ and constructs cases for and in the courtroom. Behind the facts of the case that convince judges or juries to an unambiguous verdict lies a process of construction and a structure of proof that need to be probed and analysed.

… What exactly are the procedures of criminal justice that are so readily assumed to protect the accused? For though they are constantly referred to in theory and in practice they are remarkably little investigated.

Both the social-democratic left and the right, despite their many differences, share the assumption that the rule of law provides many safeguards for protecting the rights of the accused. Page 5: 

Throughout the debate of the 1970s both those advocating law geared more to crime control, like Sir Robert Mark, or his successor as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir David McNee, and those advocating more effective civil rights, like the National Council for Civil Liberties [NCCL], tend to assume that the law does incorporate safeguards for the accused. Hence from one perspective the police are too hamstrung by the law to do their job and the guilty go free; from the other, the law does not work because the police abuse it to secure convictions. So NCCL writers note: 

All policemen are under the same pressure; bend the rules to deliver the goods in the form of convictions. . . . It is the abuse of police powers in these circumstances-arrest, search and questioning that has created the most intractable police/civil liberty problem in recent years. (Cox, 1975, p. 164. [Ms. McBarnet’s emphasis].

For both the the social-democratic left and the right, the problem is not the rules of law themselves but the abuse of those who are supposed to uphold them. Pages 4-5:

The assumption has been in effect that the law incorporates rights for the accused, and the problem has been simply to ask why and how the police and courts subvert, negate or abuse them.

The Rule of Law as Rhetoric Versus the Rule of Law as Reality

The issue is not this or that particular abuse of the law by judges (courts) and the police; it is obvious that that happens. The issue is whether law as it is operationalized is itself an abuse.

Social democrats and the right both operate at the level of the rhetoric of the rule of law–and not at the level of real law, which is the operationalization or the putting into practice of law on a daily basis. Page 6:

But does the law incorporate due process, safeguards for the accused, civil rights? The vague notion of ‘due process’ or ‘the law in the books’ in fact collapses two quite distinct aspects of law into one: the general principles around which the law is discussed-the rhetoric of justice-and the actual procedures and rules by which justice or legality are operationalised. The rhetoric used when justice is discussed resounds with high-sounding principles but does the law incorporate the rhetoric? This cannot simply be assumed; the law itself, not just the people who operate it, must be put under the microscope for analysis.

It is necessary to inquire into whether the legal system actually does what it claims to do: to protect the rights of citizens (if not immigrants and migrants) from abuse. Page 8:

To question whether the law incorporates its own rhetoric is to ask whether deviation from standards of justice and legality are not merely the product of informalities and unintended consequences at the level of petty officials, but institutionalised in the formal law of the state. This has implications for how the state rules. One of the essential justifications of the democratic state is precisely that it is based on legality, that the relationship between the state and the individuals of civil society is one governed not by the arbitrary exercise of power but by power exercised within the constraints of law. The criminal justice process is the most explicit coercive apparatus of the state and the idea that police and courts can interfere with the liberties of citizens only under known law and by means of due process of law is thus a crucial element in the ideology of the democratic state. To question whether the law in fact incorporates the rhetoric of justice is to question the ideological foundations of the state. It is to raise the possibility of contradictions within dominant ideology and questions about the mechanics of its management. It is to raise questions about what the whole idea of the rule of law means and how it operates.

The above quotes are taken from chapter one of Ms. McBarnet’s book. Chapter two of her book is titled “Convincing the Court: The Structure of Legal Proof.” She has this introductory thing to say about the rhetoric (not the reality) of legal proof:

The core of the liberal democratic concept of criminal justice is that a person is innocent until proved guilty. Justice does not rule out punishment; on the contrary it deals in ‘just deserts’. What the ideology of justice is opposed to is arbitrary punishment. The important criterion in dealing out ‘just deserts’ is that the recipient should have been proved guilty.

… 

The trial is where that process of proof is not only carried out but put on public display-where justice has not only to be done, but be seen to be done. The plausibility of the trial as a process of proving the accused guilty is one criterion by which the ideology of justice stands or falls.

One of the issues is what judges understand by “reasonable doubt.” In cases where there is a jury, it is still the judge who decides what constitutes sufficiency of proof; it is the jury (if there is one) that decides whether what is offered as proof is credible or not. In other words, if the jury finds certain events are indeed facts (are credible), the number of credible facts  will determine whether the accused is considered guilty or not (and the number of pieces of credible facts is determined by the judge). Page 13: 

So the courts have drawn a line at what will do as proof. Prosecutors do not have to prove everything a jury might want to know, they only have to produce a sufficiency of evidence. Juries have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt-but they cannot choose the issues that they have to be convinced about: sufficiency and credibility are distinguished in law. The law defines how much evidence constitutes ‘sufficient’ to prove a case and it is the judge’s role to decide that this standard has been met. The jury’s role is to decide whether they believe it. But the legal demands involved in ‘sufficiency’ are often rather lower than one might expect. Indeed from judges’ summing-up addresses it seems clear they recognise they have to persuade juries-whose only knowledge of the law is after all the rhetoric-that enough evidence is not as much as they might think.

Ms. McBarnet then provides evidence from real court cases of how judges impose their own view of what constitute sufficient evidence to convict (to find the accused guilty as charged). Pages 13-14: 

In Case 103 where the accused was charged with theft but the goods were still alongside the car they had been stolen from, the judge took pains to point out this was not mere attempt but legally constituted theft:

But note this, ladies and gentlemen, [then he picked up and read from a legal text] it is sufficient to complete the crime of theft if the thing be removed for the shortest time and [loudly] but a small distance … and he continued for two minutes with the details.

The same applies in another case:

In Case 91 the judge addressed the jury:

You might expect you would need an eye-witness for proof, but that is not necessary in cases of theft. There are facts and circumstances from which theft can be inferred without eye witnesses. Here the Crown can infer theft according to the doctrine of recent possession …

Again, in another case: 

In Case 93, where one of the charges was breach of the peace, the judge (the same one as in Case 103) again read from a law book on the definition of the offence (having prefaced the law with the comment that this was a common but fundamental offence, ‘because without the peace there is no order, and if there is no order there is certainly no civilisation as we have been brought up to know it’):

Breach of the peace is behaviour which “might reasonably be expected to lead to lieges being upset”. Note that “might be”. There is no need to lead evidence that anyone was upset.

He continued on the question of evidence for the second charge of assault with an ornamental sword:

It was perhaps revealing that the accused’s idea of assault was an idea held by many-hitting a person. That is not the law. An assault in law [and out comes the book again] is an intentional attack on the person of another whether it injures him or not. To aim a blow at a victim is an assault though the blow never lands, to set a dog on someone, to make a gesture of violence are all assaults. Disabuse yourself of the idea that there’s got to be blood, got to be bruises. To aim a blow, a fist, a boot [pause] a sword,
[pause] is assault.

The reality of what constitutes “reasonable doubt” and the rhetoric of the prosecutor having to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” gives the lie to those who claim that we merely need to transform the legal system, such as the social democrat Herman Rosenfeld, here in Toronto. Let us see what he writes:

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

(For a criticism of his defense of the idea of “transforming” the police into “a more humane, limited and less autonomous institution,’ see, among others, the post Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). 

Although Mr. Rosenfeld refers to the police, his logic applies as well to the courts. Perhaps Mr. Rosenfeld and other social democrats will provide us with a description of how they propose to reform the courts in such a manner that judges do not influence how “reasonable doubt” is defined. 

My prediction is that they will neither provide any such description nor, for that matter, will they actually attempt to “transform the courts (and police) into “a more humane, limited and less autonomous institution.” I have not seen any articles written by Mr. Rosenfeld that indicates that he has initiated any attempt to “transform the police (and courts] into a more humane,, limited and less autonomous institution.”

This should not surprise those who read this blog. Social democrats often. on the one hand, accept the rhetoric (ideology) expressed by various social institutions and, on the other, do not lift a finger to really change those institutions in any fundamental way.

I will continue quoting from McBarnet’s book and providing comments in the next post in this series. 

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police

I read an article on unions and the police that I thought would be useful for readers: George Rigakos & Aysegul Ergul (2011), “Policing the Industrial Reserve Army: An International Study,” in Crime, Law & Social Change, Volume 56, Number 4. (see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227052617_Policing_the_industrial_reserve_army_An_international_study). I came across the article while researching the function of the police in a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers. The article explains, indirectly, why social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld have a hostile attitude towards more radical political positions (see earlier posts in this series for a criticism of Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic position on the issue of the abolition of the police).

In the article, the authors argue that there is empirical evidence (factual data used as evidence for a hypothesis or theory) among many countries that shows that unions, at the micro level, function to limit exploitation of workers but, at the macro level, they may well function to limit the radical nature of the working class. This is consistent with some of my own experiences with and observations of unions–as well as the social-democratic left.

Let us first look at their arguments and evidence for their view that unions limit the radical nature of the working class (page 330):

After the Second World War, the dominant form of trade unionism recognized the primacy of the liberal democratic state and accepted the capitalist organization of production and private property. The revolutionary Marxist claims of overthrowing the state through the destruction of the capitalist mode of production were replaced by efforts to generate a dialogue and social pact among labour, capital and the state [158]. To put it differently, the goal of trade-unions to mobilize working class power for revolutionary purposes was abandoned in exchange for the legal recognition of collective bargaining and thus the state of trade-unions became crystallized as that of political actors representing an organized interest group within liberal democracy. The internalization of the attitude of “peaceful accommodation with capitalist interests” caused a deradicalization and depoliticization of the trade union movement [158]. The effects of a paradigm shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism, therefore, have deeply cut into both trade-union membership and political activism.

In the context of the accumulation process of capital (the reinvestment of the surplus produced by workers), some workers are thrown out of work (the unemployed, or what Marxian economists call the reserve army of labour), others are insecure in their work and some are more secure.

The end of the social pact among “labour, capital and the state [government]”–at least from the point of view of capital, and increasingly of the state or government–has left workers with less protection from the onslaught of the vicious nature of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations. There has been an increase in inequality in terms of income and wealth in the neoliberal era of privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization (page 342):

The income gap between people living in the top fifth of the richest countries and those living in the bottom fifth was 30:1 in 1960, 60:1 in 1990, and 74:1 in 1997. In 2005, the Human Development Report stated “the world’s richest 500 individuals have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.” In the same year the 2.5 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, that lived on less than two dollars a day accounted for 5% of global income while the richest 10%, almost all of whom lived in high income countries, accounted for 54% of global income [163]. According the World Institute for Economic Research [31], the richest two per cent of adults in the world owned
more than half of global household wealth while the poorer 50% of the world’s adults owned barely 1% of global wealth.

The increase in inequality in the neoliberal era has led to increased insecurity. You would think that with increased insecurity and inequality, there would be a need for more police, both private and public. However, what is interesting is how the presence of unions has generally not led to increases in the level of policing. Ironically, Mr. Rosenfeld, in his criticism of the idea of the abolition of the police, refers to the concept of “legitimation”:

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).

Yes, the working class can modify or reform certain economic, political and social institutions through their strength. However, Mr. Rosenfeld does not look at the opposite process: how this modification leads to the modification of the demands of the working class, blunting their power to oppose the class of employers as an independent class.

This limitation of the potential power of the working class can be seen in the lack of the need for increased policing despite increased levels of insecurity–because most unions now serve at the macro level to legitimate the continued existence of the class of employers (page 354):

Union membership was unrelated to policing employment, whether public, private or
combined for all countries. But when post-USSR states were removed from the sample a
statistically significant inverse relationship between private security or total policing employment and unionization appeared. … This finding provides empirical evidence for the claim that unions may actually provide a surrogate policing function for capital in western nations. That is, a stronger union presence lessens the necessity for more policing. This is particularly evident among northern European (and Ghent countries [Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden) where the average unionization rate is 25.6%, the highest by far among all regions, but the average total policing rate is 453.4, the lowest among all regions.

The reason for excluding the former USSR countries is because in those countries there is indeed a positive relationship with high unionization and high levels of public policing–undoubtedly because of the centralized policing function of the former USSR-countries (page 354):

In former USSR countries, on the other hand, a high unionization rate (12.5%) coincides with more policing, particularly public policing (620.6) as the massive post-totalitarian apparatus has been largely maintained in the form of new protection rackets.

Should workers then not form or join unions? This is hardly what is being argued. It is vital for workers to protect themselves–but of course this protective function should be such that it does not legitimate the power of employers as a class. Furthermore, unions that rely on the organizational strength of their members rather than mainly on the power of the government or the state to enforce the protective function are superior.

At the macro level, modern unions often function to legitimate the class of employers, thereby serving a legitimating function for that class. At the micro level, however, they do serve as organizations of resistance (provided that they are indeed independent organizations at the micro level) (page 355):

What labour militancy does seem to provide, however, is a reduction in the rate of exploitation as measured by the extraction of surplus-value. Thus, surplus-value is inversely correlated to strikes and lock-outs)even when post-USSR states are omitted. There is no direct relationship, however, between policing employment and strikes and lock-outs. This suggests that while strikes and lock-outs may not directly threaten capitalist relations as measured by the necessity to employ more police and security, such work interruptions do have a statistically significant impact in reducing rates of exploitation. As Marxian political economy would indicate, the data also suggest unions are adept at checking exploitation by pushing for more favourable wage and hourly conditions but this does not translate into any direct threat to the established order of security as indicated by more policing.

In other words, unions are contradictory. On the one hand, they function to legitimate the power of the class of employers (even if that is not their intention), but simultaneously they function to limit the exploitation of workers.

Another way in which the legitimating function of unions can be seen is when mass movements that clash with the police arise. Unions often are aloof from such movements, or even engage in conservative attacks on such movements. For example, in France (page 358):

The 2006 youth protests occurred throughout the country as an opposition to the new labour law (First Employment Contract) whose goal was to reduce high youth unemployment through giving more flexibility to employers. In other words, the bill was to make it easier for employers to fire young workers without any compensation. Consequently, the youth responded to this bill by demonstrating on the streets, occupying universities, and blocking university activities including strikes. The insistence of youth in their opposition to the First Employment Contract eventually brought them support from unions. But why did the trade-unions not resist such a bill in the first place? How would the unions have acted had the youth not challenged the First Employment Contract? The unions’ (overly) cautious attitude in responding to issues concerning the labour market and the vested rights of workers is one of the most overt examples of their “policing” role in society. Perhaps the low employment and unionization rates among Parisien youth made them unrestrained by union membership, necessitating massive police intervention. …

It should come as no surprise by now that France and Greece have among the highest rates of total policing employment in Europe.

What should the radical left do? It depends, of course, in part on “where they are at.” They may be unemployed, retired or working (in unionized jobs, professional jobs, insecure jobs and so forth). What can generally be said is that the class issue, or the macro issue, needs to be addressed wherever possible. At the same time, it is of course necessary to engage in tasks that protect the immediate interests of workers.

What they should not do, though, is engage in legitimizing acts and rhetoric for the class of employers–which is what they also often do, in which case they need to be criticized.

Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism)

While doing some research for a post on this blog, I became aware of how many Marxists claim that workers really work for the capitalist class or the class of employers rather than a particular employer. I asked my wife, who worked in Guatemala as a saleswoman, whether she thought that she worked for a particular employer or for the class of employers. She replied that she worked for a particular employer.

Although this is true in one way, it is also false in another way (I will elaborate on this below). Nonetheless, from the point of view of the experience of workers, they generally conceive of the relation between their working lives and their employer as a particular relation and not as a class relation. Marxists often ignore this concrete experience of workers and, as a consequence, limit their capacity to communicate with workers and to organize them.

First, I would like to provide quotes from several radical socialist sources to show that they often ignore the concrete experience of workers in relation to employers. All words in boldface are my emphasis.

From Alexander Berkman (2003), What is Anarchism, page 11:

Are you not compelled to work for an employer? Your need compels you, just as the highwayman’s gun. You must live, and so must your wife and children. You can’t work for yourself; under the capitalist industrial system you must work for an employer. The factories, machinery, and tools belong to the employing cl ass, so you must hire yourself out to that class in order to work and live. Whatever you work at, whoever your employer may be, it always comes to the same: you must work for him. You can’t help yourself You are compelled.

In this way the whole working class is compelled to work for the capitalist class. In this manner the workers are compelled to give up all the wealth they produce. The employers keep that wealth as their profit, while the worker gets only a wage, just enough to live on, so he can go on producing more wealth for his employer. Is that not cheating, robbery?

Again: From Socialist Party of America, National Platform, Adopted by the Thirty-Sixth National Convention, University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, July 18-23, 1983, page 1:

Under capitalism, society is divided into two principal classes–the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class consists of the wealthy few who own the means of production and distribution. The working class consists of the vast majority who own no productive property and who must in order to live, seek to work for the capitalist class, or for the present government it controls.

Another example is from Great Britain (from the website Socialist Party of Great Britain):

Today, a world working class is forced to work for a wage or salary, and confronts a world capitalist class who live off unearned incomes from rent, interest and profit.

This one-sided emphasis on the capitalist class also can be seen in the following 1904 report by James Moroney, Report of the Australian Socialist League to the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam:

The Working Class, in order to secure food, clothing, shelter and fuel, must sell their labor-power to the owning Capitalist Class — that is to say, they must work for the Capitalist Class [my emphasis]. The Working Class do all the useful work of Society, they are the producers of all the wealth of the world, while the Capitalist Class are the exploiters who live on the wealth produced by the Working Class.

To be sure, there is recognition that the workers do work for a particular employer. From James O. Moroney (1904), the Australian Socialist League. Report of the Australian Socialist League to the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam:

In most of the Australian States the railways, and in some the tramways, are owned and managed by the government on strictly commercial principles. In other directions the State has extended its functions and employs labor direct. But the worker remains in Australia, whether employed by the State government or the individual private employer, and exploited wage slave, as is his exploited fellow wage slave in other countries.

These two views are often not integrated in a coherent manner. Workers do both. The reality of working for a particular employer in the private sector hits home when the private employer closes shop for whatever reason–as the workers working for GM in Oshawa, Ontario, relatively recently experienced; around 2,500 direct workers were out of work due to the shutting down of the GM auto plant in Oshawa in December, 2019.

Workers who work in the public sector may also experience severance from their particular employer as government departments are down-scaled or reorganized. They do not just work for “the government,” but in a particular field, department or political division.

This experience of working for a particular employer needs to be recognized when radicals write and give speeches. Marx recognized that the form in which workers work for the class of employers, which constitutes their immediately lived experience,  needs to be taken into account. From the notebooks Marx drafted in 1857-1858 called the Grundrisse (Outlines), in the Collected Works of Marx and Engels (Marx’s best friend and comrade), Volume 28, pages 392-393):

To start with, the first presupposition is the transcendence of the relation of slavery or serfdom. Living labour capacity belongs to itself and disposes by means of exchange over the application of its own energy. The two sides confront each other as persons. Formally, their relation is that of equal and free exchangers. That this form is mere appearance, and deceptive appearance at that, appears, as far as the juridical relationship is concerned, as an external matter. What the free worker sells is always only a particular, specific measure of the application of his energy. Above every specific application of energy stands labour capacity as a totality. The worker sells the specific application of his energy to a specific capitalist, whom he confronts independently as a single individual. Clearly, this is not his [real] relationship to the existence of capital as capital, i.e. to the class of capitalists. Nevertheless, as far as the individual, real person is concerned, a wide field of choice, caprice and therefore of formal freedom is left to him. In the relation of slavery, he belongs to the individual, specific owner, and is his labouring machine. As the totality of the application of his energy, as labour capacity, he is a thing belonging to another, and hence does not relate as a subject to the specific application of his energy, or to the living act of labour. In the relation of serfdom, he appears as an integral element of landed property itself; he is an appurtenance of the soil, just like draught-cattle. In the relation of slavery, the worker is nothing but a living labouring machine, which therefore has a value for others, or rather is a value. Labour capacity in its totality appears to the free worker as his own property, one of his own moments, over which he as subject exercises control, and which he maintains by selling it. [my emphasis] 

John Sitton draws out the effect of the immediate experience of working for a particular employer on individual members of the working class. From John Sitton, editor, (2010), Marx Today Selected Works and Recent Debates,  pages 19-20:

Since the wage-laborer must sell his or her labor to someone in the class of employers, Marx often states that this “freedom” is an illusion. “The Roman slave was held by chains; the wage-laborer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is maintained by a constant change in the person of the individual employer, and by the legal fiction of a contract.” But Marx himself admits that this “appearance” of individual freedom is reinforced by the fact that the worker, unlike the slave, is also an autonomous consumer. “It is the worker himself who converts the money into whatever use-values he desires; it is he who buys commodities as he wishes and, as the owner of money, as the buyer of goods, he stands in precisely the same relationship to the sellers of goods as any other buyer. Of course, the conditions of his existence—and the limited amount of money he can earn—compel him to make his purchases from a fairly restricted selection of goods. But some variation is possible as we can see from the fact that newspapers, for example, form part of the essential purchases of the urban English worker. He can save or hoard a little. Or else he can squander his money on drink. But even so he acts as a free agent; he must pay his own way; he is responsible to himself for the way he spends his wages.” Given this reality, Marx did not anticipate how class identity could be effaced by the status of consumer. The status of independent— although severely constrained—owner of the commodity labor-power, and of owner of money who can spend it as he or she pleases, makes it easy to see how in people’s minds class differences come to be considered as merely differences in income.

This “appearance” of freedom is bolstered in an additional way. As Marx acknowledges, although class situation greatly reduces the range, there are some differences in individual wages depending on skill. For a worker, there is therefore “an incentive to develop his own labor-power” so as to increase his or her wages. “[T]here is scope for variation (within narrow limits) to allow for the worker’s individuality, so that partly as between different trades, partly in the same one, we find that wages vary depending on the diligence, skill or strength of the worker, and to some extent on his actual personal achievement. Thus the size of his wage packet appears to vary in keeping with the results of his own work and its individual quality. . . . Certain though it be that the mass of work must be performed by more or less unskilled labor, so that the vast majority of wages are determined by the value of simple labor-power, it nevertheless remains open to individuals to raise themselves to higher spheres by exhibiting a particular talent or energy.” Marx is not explicit, but, combined with the possibility of changing one’s employer, this opens up the prospect of some, although small, measure of social mobility. Marx is correct that this does not abolish the essential nature of wage-labor as oppression. However, Marx greatly underappreciated the effects that even these limited opportunities have on an individual’s perception of life under capitalism and the sense of belonging to a class.

The possibility of advancing one’s economic situation by developing one’s individual talents or simply through greater “diligence” encourages many members of the working class to believe that one can “make it” through hard work. It is no surprise that many people believe that an individual’s prospects are not determined by class structure but by individual virtues or the lack thereof. These facts of working class existence, raised by Marx himself, make the class analysis of capitalism, whatever its broader theoretical cogency, less convincing to great numbers.

In the Manifesto, Marx asks, “Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?” What Marx failed to understand is that freedom to choose employers, the equal autonomy of consumers, the limited but real possibilities for individual and generational advancement, and the limited but real political possibilities of democratically managing the economy are the lived experiences of individuals under capitalism. These shape how people today perceive their lives and how they perceive the legitimacy of the existing order. For the Marxian tradition to find a larger audience, it must be able to connect its broad theory of capitalism as a class-structured society with the actual experiences of individuals in capitalist society, rather than dismissing those freedoms as illusory. Workers do not experience them as illusory, and this makes it plausible for them to blame their economic situation on themselves, rather than on a class structure.

It is not only Marx who underestimated the importance of the lived experiences of individuals under capitalism. The radical left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) fail to take into account the importance of the often ideological nature of that experience and how it must be subject to criticism when any opportunity arises. The radical left here do not engage in any systematic recognition of the limited nature of the lived experiences of workers and the need to engage in criticism of such experience in order to connect up systematically the lived experiences of workers critically with the class structure. Often they call for revolution–without considering the need to engage systematically and in the long-term with the lived experiences of workers.

Alternatively, they indulge the beliefs of the workers (fearing to criticize them), practically becoming social democrats or social reformers, thereby failing to develop the critical capacity of workers and community members. Either way the lived experiences are not transformed but remain as they were before.

Indeed, social democrats and social reformers often limit themselves to focusing on the immediate exchange between workers and employers–as I pointed out in another post (see  Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two). The social-democratic or social-reformist left often pay lip service to class relations and workers working for the class of employers, but they then commit the opposite mistake to those among the radical left who one-sidedly focus on working for the class of employers.

I will address the issue of the one-sided error of focusing mainly on individual employers or group of employers while not really addressing the issue of working for the class of employers in the next post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Eight: Class Harmony

This is an  elaboration of a critique of an academic leftist (aka academic historical materialist), the philosopher Jeff Noonan.

Professor Noonan’s neglect of the relatively privileged status of university professors in relation to other workers leads him to assert the following (from Thinkings 4Collected Interventions, Readings, Evocations, 2014-2015, page 13):

Whether or not it was ever practiced in reality, the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire. Unlike for profit businesses, universities do not have owners whose goal is to maximise profits. Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true, then it should follow that all the groups who together make up the university ought to cooperate (not without respectful disagreement) in the determination of the budgets, policies, rules, and goals that guide the institution’s mission. The best ideas emerge through deliberative and democratic argument—no one group knows best just because of the position they occupy in the hierarchy.

This view is ideology in the worst sense of the term. It is an appeal to what ought to be in some utopian world (“the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire”)–that can never be in the given context, and then assuming that the utopia is somehow possible in such a context (“the principle of collegial self-governance is the goal to which universities should aspire“). In a society dominated by employers–including public-sector employers like universities, it is highly unlikely that such workers as “lab technicians, students and support workers” have the same goal–“the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense.” Such a view may apply in a socialist organization, but to assume such a situation in universities, which function in a capitalist context, is bound to lead to inadequate policies and theories.

The illogical nature of the assertion is called asserting as a fact what you are supposed to prove; more technically, it is called begging the question. Professor Noonan assumes that all the workers at universities have the same goal. This view can be criticized on a number of grounds.

The collectivity called the university, in a capitalist setting, involves the purchase of workers on a market for workers. The workers do not collectively and consciously get together to decide to form an organization called the university; rather, it is the employer who sets up a formal organization called a university and then hires workers as employees for a certain period of time. These workers “belong” to the university as a formal collectivity but, since they do not freely unite to form the university, this organization is something imposed on them as a force that is external to them. In other words, the unity which is supposed to be the university is a formal unity that is not self-organization of that which is organized or unified (the workers); the unity is imposed from without or in an external and therefore unfree manner.

The self-organization of workers and the formal organization of workers into a unity makes all the difference in the world in the quality of lives of the workers. In self-organization, the workers express themselves in their unity as something which they have made and to which they have freely subordinated themselves as a power that is their power. In formal organization, workers are brought together as a unity by an external force (in this case, through a formal organization that owns money); their own unity is not their unity but the unity of the employer. The workers then find that the unity is oppressive in various ways.

Consider support workers. I worked twice at a university library, once doing my practicum to obtain a library and information technology diploma (from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) between 1988 and 1990) at the University of Calgary main library, in the cataloguing department. One worker remarked, when I noted that the work was very hierarchical (something which academic Marxists seem to overlook in their own workplace often enough–at least on a practical level when they acknowledge, in the books they have published, the work of librarians, who necessarily oppress workers lower in the hierarchy, but fail to acknowledge the support workers), that she would prefer having a benevolent dictator than a mean one (implying that she had a benevolent dictator).

Again, at the University of Manitoba, where I worked on a temporary library project for Dafoe Library, one of the library assistants, Juliette (a feisty Philippine woman) talked to me explicitly how her supervisor, a white German woman, had explicitly indicated that she did not want to have any more Asians filling the higher ranks of library assistants (library assistant 4, if I remember correctly). Juliette complained to the Human Rights Commission, which apparently found that such library 4 positions were indeed being filled illegitimately by non-Asians.

Although Juliette was protected in some ways from being fired because of the finding that there was discrimination in the assignment of library assistant 4 positions, she also told me that one time she found feces thrown onto her car. Another time she found that someone had somehow opened her car doors and slashed some of the interior. Another time she was driving her car home from work when she found that she had a flat tire. When she had it towed to a garage, the mechanic remarked that it looked like someone had slashed her tires (perhaps with a knife).

Consider another situation at the University of Manitoba. The racism evident in Dafoe Library of the University of Manitoba led someone to post a petition for an Ombudsman’s office on racism at the University in the library staff lounge. I showed Juliette this, and she circulated the petition to library workers in circulation and in the cataloguing department. Only a handful of workers signed the petition (including Juliette and me), not because there was no racism in those departments but, according to Juliette, but because the workers were afraid to sign it out of fear of the possible repercussions from management–and fear is characteristic of many work sites among the lower levels of the hierarchy (whether public or private).

Of course, academics at the University of Manitoba knew nothing about this situation; despite their research skills, they are often blind to events that immediately surround them.

Professor Noonan evidently looks at the world in terms of class harmony–at least in his own environment. Such a world is not filled with degradation and oppression in order that he engage in his activity. Such a world can-without opposing his and all other employers–realize a world where all who work can freely pursue the same goal.

Where you work: Do you feel free? Do you participate equally in the decisions of the place where you work? Can you engage in one activity or another freely (say, be a cataloguer in the morning and tenured professor in the afternoon and a musician in the evening? Or are you oppressed at work in various ways? Are the decisions made at work not subject to your will at all? Do you find yourself restricted to engagement in one particular activity if you are going to live at all because you need the money to live?


Returning to Professor Noonan’s idealism: quoting part of his illogical statement:

Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true,

Of course, the assumption that this is true in the context of a capitalist society is illogical and, coming from a supposed progressive philosopher professor illustrates the limitations of such academics (and social democracy in general).

Compare this limitation with Professor Noonan’s arrogant claim:

The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

Apparently, Professor Noonan’s updated “historical materialism” for “new times” involves ignoring completely the nature of wage labour–even when it does not involve directly working for a profit. His assumption that all workers at a university somehow magically share the same goal compares poorly with the following by Marx. The quote applies just as much to university workers (less so for university professors with tenure, undoubtedly) as to a capitalist factory (from Capital, volume 1, pages 449-450):

The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function arising from the nature of the social labour process, and peculiar to that process, but it is at the same time a function of the exploitation of a social labour process, and is consequently conditioned by the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the raw material of bis exploitation. Similarly, as the means of production extend, the necessity increases for some effective control over the proper application of them, because they confront the wage-labourer as the property of another. … Moreover, the co-operation of wage-labourers is entirely brought about by the capital that employs them. Their unification into one single productive body, and the establishment of a connection between their individual functions, lies outside their competence. These things are not their own act, but the act of the capital that brings them together and maintains them in that situation. Hence the interconnection between their various labours confronts them, in the realm of ideas, as a plan drawn up by the capitalist, and, in practice, as his authority, as the powerful will of a being outside them, who subjects their activity to his purpose.

Professor Noonan may counterargue that the university is not a capitalist. True. However, this fact does not prevent the above description from being applicable to the situation of most workers at universities. Universities, from subordinate workers’ point of view, are impersonal employers, and as impersonal employers they constitute an external unity for workers that is imposed on them from without. Such an external unity assumes the form of despotism (some employers being better or worse, admittedly, but nevertheless all being forms or kinds of despotism.)

Professor Noonan’s position is similar to John Dewey’s position: assuming cooperation is somehow superior to class conflict and class struggle. As I wrote in my masters’ thesis (Towards a Critical Materialist Pedagogy: Marx and Dewey, page 121):

Philosophy, or the method of intelligence or democratic inquiry, according to
Dewey, was to contribute to the resolution of conflicts through problerm-solving, just as in the natural sciences. Like Marx, Dewey posited that reason or philosophy (a means) was to be used to try to contribute to the resolution of social conflicts (achieve an acceptable end goal or end in view) (Brodsky, 1988). Problems would be openly breached and defined, and common solutions to the specific problems sought (Colapietro, 1988). However, this method is applicable only when the distribution of power is relatively equal and when relations of domination do not arise. When the distribution of power is skewed, as in a capitalist society, conflict can be resolved through reason only if those in power deign to listen. Moreover, those in structural positions of power will often see no need to change since the situation corresponds to their interests. They will deny that the
situation is problematic and refuse to engage in debate and negotiation (Brosio, 1994a).

What constitutes a problem will be more easily defined by those who control the
working environment–the employers and managers. Similarly, solutions sought will tend to be in accord with problems defined by employers and managers rather than in terms defined by those who concretely use the means of production.

It is also typical of social democrats like the German social democrat Eduard Bernstein, who assumed as a fact what needed to be achieved politically: the control by workers of their own working lives. From Christoph Henning (2014), Philosophy After Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 36:

In making these points [about the social nature of “joint-stock companies, cartels, monopolies and cooperatives”], Marx meant to encourage socialists to engage in political activity. Bernstein turns the political conclusion on its head by turning an anticipation of the future into a fully realised fact. In his work, actual political transformation is replaced by theoretical transformation. In Bernstein’s considerations, class antagonism, which rests on property relations, is simply elided [slurred over] – and with it, the capitalist character of ‘society’. …he [Bernstein] blurs the boundaries between theory and reality, turning a theoretical possibility into a reality by abstracting from the problems associated with it. 

It is typical of social democrats and social reformers that they idealize the public sector–as if working for a non-profit institution is somehow freer for workers. Professor Noonan, by making the assumption that the goal of a university is one unified goal–does the same and serves, objectively, as an ideologue of public-sector employers.

Such is the nature of one form of “historical materialism” for “new times,” it is really just a rehashed form of social democracy that cannot even deal with the real world of regular workers in the workplace where these academic Marxists or academic historical materialists work.

Furthermore, as I argued in an earlier post ( What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five):

A few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have decent jobs, but even that situation has eroded over time. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Gutemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.


They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.


No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.


They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.


They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.


On that day
the simple men will come.


Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:


“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”


Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.


A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.


Your own misery
will pick at your soul.


And you will be mute in your shame.

Collective agreements do not exist in a vacuum but form part of interrelated social relations; to exclude such relations when considering the nature and legitimacy of collective agreements is to empty collective agreements of the background conditions which give them meaning in the first place.

If we add various categories of workers who work at a university, then this poem is really applicable to many academic leftists. They may pay lip-service to being sympathetic to the exploitation and oppression of workers in other industries, but when it comes to doing anything practical in fighting against the oppression of workers characteristic of their own employer, they take flight to an ideal hypothetical world:


Instead, all members of the institution– faculty, librarians, learning specialists, lab technicians, students, support workers, and administration have the same goal—the advance of human knowledge and creativity in the widest and most comprehensive sense. If that claim is true

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward an Alternative

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

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

But let us proceed:

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

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

Let us continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frustration and Persistence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process

Relatively recently,  Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), wrote an article praising collective bargaining:

Collective bargaining is good for everyone

December 23, 2019

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in the Globe and Mail.  

The holidays aren’t solely about gift-giving and spreading good cheer. Many workers find themselves having to walk a picket line around this time of year.

Everywhere you look these days, teachers, public transit workers, railway and refinery workers seem to be involved in some kind of job action as contracts expire and end-of-year negotiations fail.

It can be frustrating for those affected and may even seem unfair that workers disadvantage the public in pursuit of better working conditions and better wages.

But make no mistake, collective bargaining is a fundamental right that helps ensure workers are getting their fair share. This is especially true when we consistently see certain governments, shareholders and corporate CEOs squeezing workers in order to improve their own bottom lines. “Without the right to pursue workplace goals collectively, workers may be left essentially powerless in dealing with their employer or influencing their employment conditions,” reads a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling upholding the right of RCMP officers to unionize.

Unsurprising that some employers, private interest groups and opinion shapers insist on back-to-work legislation whenever a group of workers flexes collective muscle. But the reality is that work stoppages are a rarity—with almost all collective agreements in Canada reached and renewed without a strike or lockout.

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended. Workers leverage their collective strength in order to influence the terms and conditions of their employment. Their efforts to stand up for themselves will often have a ripple effect, improving conditions for non-unionized workers in related industries as well as for the people they serve. When teachers oppose larger class sizes and rail engineers insist on safety improvements, the public directly benefits, too.

The significantly low unemployment rate is also contributing to renewed confidence among workers. More discouraged workers and those overcoming barriers to employment have been able to find work. The number of underemployed workers, like part-timers who prefer but can’t find full-time hours, have ebbed.

This is long overdue. For a decade, young people have been graduating into a high unemployment job market with limited prospects. Women and newcomers to Canada have struggled with a shortage of decent jobs.  While joblessness remains far too high in oil-producing provinces and the Atlantic region (in Alberta, it hovers at a shocking 20% for males under the age of 25), there are gains elsewhere. In Ontario, Quebec and BC, the improving job market has allowed wages to tick up – finally. Since mid-year, wage growth has begun to pick up, averaging over 4%.

During the last ten years of sluggish growth, high unemployment and weak wage gains, typical workers in Canada have seen very little improvement in their wages, adjusted for inflation. Flat earnings are partly responsible for the fact that debt as a share of household disposable income has doubled in the past 25 years. Furthermore, fewer workers even belong to a union at all which often translates in lower earnings and fewer benefits and little recourse to improve matters. Compounded with the rise of the gig economy and with more companies outsourcing work, it’s that much harder for workers to unionize as we are seeing at corporations like IBM and Amazon.

In the meantime, Canada’s top corporate CEOs were paid nearly 200 times what the average worker made in 2017. In 2018, quarterly operating profits reached a post-recession high. Workers have spent the ‘recovery’ simply fighting to hold onto what they have.

It’s not just unions that welcome a stronger labour market and decent wage gains. The Bank of Canada also thinks it’s a good idea. Because inflation remains well under control, it has hesitated to raise interest rates. That’s a good strategy because it helps reduce inequality and strengthens the ability of households to cope with debt, food and shelter costs.

We must all recognize that even when work stoppages do happen, they are simply evidence that the collective bargaining process is working. Despite occasional work-to-rule and walk-outs, this is actually a very good thing because it ensures workers still have a say – as they should.

To be sure, it is generally preferable for workers and their representatives to participate in collective bargaining in order to obtain a collective agreement, but the idealization of the process and the resulting collective agreement, as well as the exaggeration of the fairness of the process and the resulting collective agreement, simply ignores the reality of the power of employers and their representatives (management).

In the article, Mr. Yussuff implies that, through the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement, workers can obtain their “fair share.” Mr. Yussuff provides no evidence of this. A fair share is presented only in terms of shaping the collective working conditions and wages of workers but not in actually controlling those collective working conditions by those who actually do the work–economic democracy or socialism (see the series of posts on what socialism would like on this blog). Mr. Yussuff ignores the implicit or explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see numerous examples of explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements on this blog, for example, Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario).

There is obviously a pattern that often shows up in social-democratic rhetoric–how marvelous collective bargaining and collective agreements are (see my criticism of Jane McAlevey’s idealization of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement on this blog) as well as my review of her book in the Publications and Writings Section of this blog) .

It is interesting that Mr. Yussuff also tries to “sell” collective bargaining and collective agreements by implying that the proper functioning of collective bargaining and collective agreements results in fewer strikes:

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended.

At least Ms. McAlevey considers strike activity to often be necessary to back up the collective bargaining process whereas Mr. Yussuff’s more conservative stance considers strikes to be a last-ditch effort to be avoided if at all possible. On the other hand, both her and Mr. Yussuff consider the collective-bargaining process to be somehow capable of realizing fairness at the workplace. How this is in fact the case no trade unionist has ever explained to me in the face of the power of the class of employers.

Mr. Yussuff’s idea that workers should have a say minimizes the need for workers to have the say in their work lives–in conjunction with local communities–and not “a say”–as if they were condemned forever as a junior “partner” in the capitalist corporation.

The conservatism of the Canadian labour movement is astounding–but the left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) remain silent about such conservatism–since they share the same assumption of the legitimacy of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements.

 

Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post. It is a response to Mr. Sam Gindin’s article, We Need to Say What Socialism Will Look Like , where he argues that under socialism the government or state will not “wither away” but will expand as public services expand. Mr. Gindin’s conception of the expansion of public services is, however, largely quantitative and has little to do with fundamental qualitative changes in public services.

The issue has to do with the idea of a “transitional socialist society.” Mr. Gindin assumes that such a society will come into existence through the expansion of public services that already exist. Compare his assumption with the following (from Rob Bryer, Accounting for History in Marx’s Capital: The Missing Link, pages 279-280):

…he [Andrew Kliman] makes a helpful suggestion: “except to say that I have increasingly come to suspect that the very idea of ‘transitional society’ is incoherent, and seems to stand in the way of thinking things through clearly” (Kliman 2004, 11). Rather than opting out, or making a transition from capitalism to socialism, Kliman
(2004, 12) argues “what requires explanation is the essential character of the change, which is not gradual quantitative decrease, but [quoting Hegel’s Science of Logic] the ‘abstract transition of an existence into a negation of the existence,’” Kliman (2004, 14) therefore suggests, “Capitalism . . . cannot ‘become’ a new society; it cannot gradually cease-to-be as the new society comes-to-be. Is it not the case, then, that revolutionary transformation can only be comprehended as absolute liberation that begins the day after the revolution, rather than as gradual transition?”

A transitional mode of production is incoherent, but history shows pre-capitalist transitional societies in which different modes co-existed, where class conflict was driving change in which one became dominant. Changes in the dominance of pre-capitalist modes—slavery over primitive communism, feudalism over free peasants, and capitalism over feudalism— were transitions. In his early work, Marx used the idea of transitional societies, changing from one ‘mode of commercial intercourse’ to another to explain history and, particularly in The Communist Manifesto, argued for a transition to socialism. However, from Grundrisse onward he argued that the
change to socialism was unique because, rather than an unconscious change in dominance from one form of exploitation to another, socialism results from consciously changing the social relations of production, and creating the necessary superstructure, to abolish it. Socialism becomes possible only if all (or the vast majority) of workers understand Marx’s theories of value and history and, when they do, they ‘inevitably’ change society’s social relations of production on Day 1 to abolish all exploitation.

There can, therefore, according to the mature Marx, be no transition to socialism, no ‘transitional society,’ part capitalist, part socialist, but only a once for all, immediate and comprehensive, qualitative change in the social relations of production.

Although history will undoubtedly be much messier than this “once and for all, immediate and comprehensive, qualitative change,” the basic idea of a vastly different kind of society emerging from capitalism than the emergence of capitalism from earlier kinds of society is something which Mr. Gindin ignores. The need for a conscious and organized effort to eliminate classes needs to be explicitly put on the agenda from the beginning in order to make a qualitative change in our lives.

Mr. Gindin does speak of the “transformation” of the capitalist state into a socialist democratic state, but his complete neglect of the repressive aspects of the government and his insistence that “scarcity” and “external motivation” will necessarily characterize socialism means that such a transformation will continue to possess repressive features.

Many members of the working class (especially the precarious members of the working class in Canada since many unionized members of the working class no longer engage in illegal strikes), however, experience the capitalist government or state as repressive. Mr. Gindin simply ignores this feature of working-class experience when he refers to the “transformation” of the capitalist state. The need to abolish a separate police power was formulated long ago, when the Paris Commune emerged in 1871 in France.

Let us continue with the issue of the repressive power of legal system. Last time, we looked at the police. Let us now look briefly at the criminal courts. An accused is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty–so says the rhetoric (rhetoric characterizes much of a society dominated by a class of employers). Is this really the case, though?

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.3 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. Gindin 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. Gindin’s implicit contention that the “withering away of the state” is utopian expresses his own middle-class experiences and bias. He probably has not experienced the repressive nature of the police and the court system. He vastly underestimates the importance of that repressive apparatus and implicitly idealizes the current state system.

To what extent, for example, is the modern welfare state not only the provision of needed public services but also oppressive? Mr. Gindin has nothing to say on this score. Yet if we consider how social workers are linked to the police and to the courts, then we can see that the modern welfare state is itself often repressive and needs not just transformation but substantial reconstruction as the repressive apparatus of a hierarchy of managers is abolished and work is democratized. What of faculties of education and schools? Would they not need substantial reconstruction as their repressive aspects are abolished in conjunction with the repressive apparatus of employers? And so forth.

For those oppressed by the police, criminal court systems and various social agencies, there is a need for the abolition of such structures and the “withering away” of such structures as workers and the community finally develop processes that enable them to control their own life process.

Mr. Gindin’s article, then, ultimately serves as a reminder of just how distant “real socialists” (actually, social-democratic reformers) are from the daily experiences of billions of workers and community members.

Mr. Gindin’s “realistic” socialism, then, fails to address either the nature of modern capitalist society or the qualitatively different kind of society which would characterize a socialism without a repressive government apparatus.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Two: Collective Bargaining and the Interests of the Working Class

Professor Jeff Noonan, as contained in a reference to his work in a previous post( The Poverty of Academic Marxism, Part One), claimed that historical materialism must evolve. This seems to imply that his form of historical materialism, under present conditions, is superior to the historical materialism proposed by Marx.

Professor Noonan claims the following (from Thinkings 4Collected Interventions, Readings, Evocations, 2014-2015, page 8:

A glaring example of the dangers of striking occurred in February of 2012, when workers in London, Ontario were taught a brutal object lesson in the reality of global capitalism. Then Canadian Auto Workers on strike against the locomotive maker Electro-motive were given an impossible choice. The company (a subsidiary of Caterpillar) demanded that the union agree to cut their existing wages in half, or face the closure of the plant. Seeing that what was at stake was not just their plant, but the future of the union movement in the Ontario manufacturing sector, these workers heroically sacrificed themselves, went on strike, and watched their livelihood move to Muncie, Indiana. Had they not stood up to the brutish tactics of Electro-motive, every manufacturer in the country would have been encouraged to make the same demands. What boss wouldn’t want to cut her or his workers’ wages in half? While the jobs were lost, the massive public outcry against legalized extortion preserved the possibility of meaningful collective bargaining in other plants, at least for the time being.

What does “meaningful collective bargaining” mean for Professor Noonan? It is difficult to know since he does not explicitly provide an answer, but the following may what he means (page 12):

v) The University will cease collecting union dues from members and forwarding those dues to WUFA (Article 4:01 and 4:02).”

Now, on one level, these changes are not alarming, for they are changes that would occur in the case of a lockout. What is most disconcerting is that they were unexpectedly thrown into the room when it appeared that both sides were making progress by negotiating and not threatening. Both teams bargained past the lockout deadline and had scheduled meetings for the next day. The assumption amongst members– naïve, as it turned out– was that both sides had found common ground and were splitting the differences that get split for the sake of reaching an agreement with which everyone can live.

Meaningful bargaining is where the parties engage in negotiations in order to achieve a common ground “for the sake of reaching an agreement with which everyone can live.”

Now, in typical collective bargaining, any member of a negotiating team knows that all items on the table will not be achieved. There will be items that are considered more important. The relative strength of the parties to the negotiations in the particular conditions will affect what can be realistically be achieved in the short term (and this includes the possible resources used in lockouts and strikes).

But why refer to the idea of an “agreement with which everyone can live?” Does Mr. Noonan mean by that an attitude by workers that, given the balance of class forces, this is the best that can be achieved, but otherwise it is not something that “everyone can live with”–but have to do so for the time being? That is to say, that the collective agreement is something that does not express fairness but rather expresses the weakness of workers collectively until such time as they no longer need to negotiate agreements that entail their subordination to the power of employers (and managers as their representatives)? Do the various management rights clauses that have so far been posted on this blog express “an agreement with which everyone can live?” Or do they express the asymmetrical power relations between unionized workers and the class power of employers?

What would Professor Noonan say to a worker who works under the collective agreement at the university where he works (see Management Rights, Part Five: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario) if that worker did not find not only the particular collective agreement unfair but all collective agreements unfair since they presuppose the subordination of the will of workers to the power of an employer (and his or her representatives)?

There is a world of difference between understanding that a collective agreement may be the best that can be hoped for under existing conditions of class power and the view that a collective agreement is something that people can live with. In the first case, there is a smoldering presence of a feeling of unfairness, which can surface when conditions change. In the second case, there is a feeling of fairness, and workers who breach a collective agreement can legitimately be reprimanded. Professor Noonan’s failure to specify any difference between the two probably expresses his own working conditions, which are undoubtedly superior to most workers who are employees.

Imagine a situation where a group of thugs decide to set up a process of collective bargaining between themselves and people whom they have sexually abused. Representatives of the sexually abused engage in negotiations with representatives of the thugs. Under given circumstances, the thugs have much more power than those who are sexually abused. If they come to an agreement over the extent of sexual abuse (with both parties bargaining in good faith), would professor Noonan call the resulting agreement an agreement “with which everyone can agree with?”

Yes, workers are not sexually abused, but as employees they are used as things for purposes over which they lack control (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Why should anyone who is an employee feel that they can live with such an agreement except for the recognition that they have to do so, given the necessarily unequal power relations between them and the class of employers?

Despite Professor Noonan’s radical rhetoric, his hidden assumption is that working for an employer is not really all that bad. How else could he refer to an agreement “with which everyone can agree with?”

In the movie Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee is fighting against several people, and he runs into a chamber where the walls suddenly close on all sides. He cannot escape, realistically. He sits down and accepts the situation–not because it is fair but, presumably, because he lacks the power to oppose the situation. This is what the collective-bargaining process should express and not such social-reformist rhetoric as accepting a contract “with which everyone can agree.”

Professor Noonan reminds seems to forget–or perhaps he never learned–the lesson of Bob Dylan’s song, Like a Rolling Stone. In that song, Dylan sings the following:

You never turned around to see the frowns
on the jugglers and the clowns
when they all did tricks for you.

Although I can never be sure, the hidden resentment that people feel in the face of those in power is probably well expressed in the expression of a Guatemalan (perhaps a peasant) sitting on a roadside when the military was there. (See at around 2:30, Guatemala–Pete Sears) Guatemalan peasants had to live with the extreme oppression characteristic of Guatemala in the later 1970s and especially in the early 1980s, but they need not “learn to live with it.”

Professor Noonan may argue that he merely needed to qualify his reference to collective agreements “with which everyone can agree,” as I have done above, but since he failed to qualify such an assertion, it can be inferred that Professor Noonan does not really come to grips with the daily oppression and the daily grind that most workers face at his own workplace, let alone in the wider city of Windsor and, indeed, in the province of Ontario, in Canada and in the world.