The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Six

The following issue deserves a separate post. As I have tried to stress throughout these posts, unions in Canada (and undoubtedly elsewhere) are inadequate organizations for representing the interests of the working class The issue illustrates how union reps limit the development of a critical approach to a society dominated by a class of employers.

I do not remember the exist order of the issue, nor do I remember exactly to whom I addressed my concerns–the executive, the members of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee or to those substitute teachers who had provided the Substitute Teachers’ Committee with their email address during the general meeting of substitute teachers.

There is a possibility that I would be willing to organize a workshop on employment and labour law, but I would like to see if there is much interest in the area. It would not enhance anyone’s particular skills to obtain employment, but it is my view that we need to educate each other about the limitations of what the WTA can do—both for substitute teachers and for teachers in general.

If you would be interested in attending a workshop on employment and labour law, please inform me of this so I can guage whether I should spend the time in selecting material and organizing the workshop.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association

In preparation for providing a workshop on labour/employment law, I drafted the following (the parentheses were for me in anticipation of organizing the workshop according to themes or categories):

Employment Law and Labour Law Together

  1. What do you think are the major differences between an employee and a contractor (a person with her or his own business)? General idea of an employee

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between employment and labour law? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think are some of the differences between a collective agreement and employment agreement? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Employment Law

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by employment law? Disadvantages? Employee: non-unionized

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Employee and Society

  1. Why are more and more workers becoming employees? General concept of employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Labour Law

  1. Between whom is the collective agreement an agreement? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who “owns” a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who generally grieves? Why? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is interest arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is grievance arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between a board of arbitration and a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Does a union or association have a duty towards its members? If so, what is it? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by labour law? Disadvantages?Labour law: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the powers of the labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What was the situation of collective bargaining before the Second World War? Labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What did employees do during the Second World War that initiated the legal acceptance of collective bargaining? History of collective bargaining, labour law:

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Where employees governed by collective bargaining have the right to strike, can they do so during the period in which a collective agreement exists? Limitations on collective bargaining regime here: labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. After the Second World War, what did many employers do in relation to collective bargaining? What was the response of many employees? History of collective bargaining: Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the certification process? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a bargaining unit? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Can employers refuse to bargain with a certified union or association? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What can a group of employees do if the employer consciously interferes in the process of communication between a union and workers when certification has not yet been voted on? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When bargaining, does the duty to bargain in good faith mean that both the employer and the Association have to come to an agreement? If not, what does the duty to bargain in good faith mean? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the remedies that the Labour Board provides for in case it finds the employer has breached the Labour Code? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Labour Law and Society

  1. What does the answer to question 7 tell you about the nature of the society in which we live? Relation of labour law to society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

General: Employee: Meaning

19. What does being an employee mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom? General: Employee, but Relation to Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties? General: Employee, but Relation to Legal Profession

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of Paul Weiler’s argument, in his book Reconcilable Differences, that collective bargaining evens the playing field, making the contracting parties relatively equal in power?Labour law and Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think happened to relations between employees as a result of the change from reliance on each other to force an employer to recognize them to reliance on the Labour Board? Social effects of labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Introduction

  1. How do employment law and labour law fit into the general legal framework in Canada? General relation between employment law, labour law and legal framework: Introduction???

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Think-Pair-Share

  1. What does “company time” mean to you? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

The last reference to “Think-Pair-Share” is a pedagogical technique, where the individual is given perhaps a minute to think about the issue alone, then shares her/his thoughts with someone else and, finally, answers are shared among the group.

Think-Pair-Share or Some Other Format

  1. What does being an employee mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does “company time” mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________­­­­­­­­­­­­____________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

I also created slides for the anticipated presentation–but there is no point if repeating what I wrote above in a different format (if indeed slides can be reproduced in this medium).

The following reply illustrates the typical limitations of union reps. I wrote it to substitute teachers (at least to those whose email I possessed) as well as to the members of the Substitute Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA):

Coming now to the point on providing a workshop on employment law and labour law, I was going to give the workshop myself, but I will not be doing so. I do feel that I need to explain why I will not.

I have been told, firstly, that I do not have the necessary skills required to provide a workshop on those topics. What do I know, for example, about labour law? I did, however, write two articles in the WTA newsletter via philosophical analysis. I am a philosopher. That is my expertise—a pragmatic philosopher, specifically. I do not need to know how to negotiate a collective agreement—and I do not know how to do so any more than I know how to operate on someone. I do need to know something about labour law and collective bargaining if I am to determine its meaning, but I need not be an expert on it—anymore than I need to be an expert on in order to determine the meaning of life–in order to determine the meaning of collective bargaining—and by extension labour law. If someone disagrees with my analysis of the meaning of labour law or anything else, the democratic thing to do would be to write a refutation of it in the newsletter. To tell me that I have insufficient background in labour law is like saying that I have insufficient background in determining the nature of life bI have taken a course on labour law, as well as attending a couple of conferences funded by the executive. Would these educational opportunities suffice to provide a workshop? Probably not. However, I have been pursuing a doctorate in the philosophy of education for a number of years—in particular pragmatic philosophy. That philosophy inquires into the meaning of relations. The workshop that I had made preliminary plans would include querying the nature of employment law and labour law via an inquiry into what being an employee means to those at the workshop.

I do believe that I am well qualified to provide such a workshop. There is a difference between expounding on how labour law and employment law work and what they mean. The two, of course, are related since the meaning of something cannot be determined without knowing something about the topic. However, I do not have to know as much about anatomy and physiology as a doctor does in order to talk about the meaning of life—a topic in my dissertation.

Since I was denied the opportunity to present labour laws to substitute teachers, I provided notice of a person approved to provide such a presentation, Henry Shyka, staff member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and assigned to represent the WTA:

Workshop on Labour Law: Topics required

Good morning everyone,

To give a workshop on labour law, it is necessary to have some input on what topics you would like covered.  There is no guarantee that specific topics would be covered, but topics of common concern to substitute teachers would be.

Henry Shyka, MTS [Manitoba Teachers’ Society] representative, would be giving the workshop.

Please send me topics that you might find of interest.

Fred Harris, Chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

 

 

A Robust or Ambitious Universal Basic Income: An Impossible Dream for Some Among the Social-democratic Left

Introduction

Simran Dhunna and David Bush have written an article that criticizes moves towards a universal basic income (see https://springmag.ca/against-the-market-we-can-do-better-than-basic-income).

In a previous post (The Strawman of a Minimal Universal Basic Income by the Social-democratic Left in Toronto), I pointed out how unethical and dishonest Dhunna and Bush were in their critique of a policy of universal basic income (UBI) since they, for the most part, assume that such a UBI would involve at best a minimum and definitely inadequate level of income for Canadian citizens. There is, however, one exception.

The International Labour Organization and the Principle of a Universal Basic Income (UBI)

There is one situation in which they acknowledge a possible more generous UBI–when they refer to the costs of such a program in relation to GDP analyzed by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Thus, they write:

If our demand consists of a UBI of $24,000 per year for Canadians aged 18 and over, we are looking at a front-loaded cost of $696 billion every year. This is roughly double the current national deficit (approximately $350 billion), or put another way, 40% of Canada’s GDP (for reference, the country’s overall health spending makes up 11.6% of our GDP). A UBI at a lower level of $1,000 per year for people aged 18 and over comes with a more modest $29 billion price tag — roughly 14 percent of the entire federal budget pre-pandemic. On the other hand, a targeted basic income through a negative income tax set at $21,810 (if you are earning below that amount, you would receive a cheque that boosts you to that level) would, according to one study, cost roughly $177 billion a year (the latest Basic Income Canada Network study puts the cost somewhere between $134 to $187 billion). 

In 2018, a study published by the International Labour Organization calculated the costs of a UBI in 130 countries that would raise everyone above the poverty line, and concluded it would on average cost between 20 to 30 percent of GDP. This is a staggering annual cost for one program that, in many countries, is near or even greater than all other government expenditures combined in many countries. 

Let us take a look at the 2018 International Labour Organization report (the ILO itself is a social-democratic organization and hence is itself a reformist organization that assumes the legitimacy of the employer-employee relation–but that only in passing). From Isabel Ortiz et al (2018)., Universal Basic Income Proposals in Light of ILO Standards: Key Issues and Global Costing, page 18:

A meaningful amount of UBI benefits is generally found to be fiscally infeasible (OECD, 2017a; Tanner, 2015; Van Parijs and Vanderborght, 2017). Thus, if governments were to consider the introduction of a UBI at adequate UBI benefit levels that could have a significant impact on the reduction of poverty and inequality, they would need to explore new financing sources.

Proposals include an increase in existing taxes, for example, income, inheritance, capital, corporate, or value added taxes, or the imposition of new taxes on natural resource revenues, financial transactions or robots (Reed and Lansley, 2016). Others have proposed the abolishment of existing tax-free allowances or the taxation of the UBI alongside other incomes to reduce the cost and make it more targeted to low income earners (see OECD, 2017a); such a tax claw back approach would have similar effects to a negative income tax model 13 – care should be taken with the diminished redistributive effect of some financing proposals.

Given that UBI is proposed to redress growing inequalities caused by corporate globalization and new forms of work, it should be redistributive. UBI should not be financed by regressive methods such as taxing households or depriving them from other social benefits, as this UBI policy would give to households with one hand what it would take away with the other.

The ILO discusses three possible scenarios. Page 22:

Scenario 1 assumes the introduction of a UBI set at the level of the poverty line. 

Here social assistance funds are generally replaced by UBI; social insurance schemes are slightly reduced as UBI compensates for a small percentage of this category. Private insurance schemes (for example, private pensions) remain the same. Employers’ contributions do not decrease in this scenario. The conclusion (page 23): 

… the main winners are the majority of citizens in a country. … the majority of the population – are the net winners, a reason why this UBI scenario would reduce inequality.

The second scenario (page 23)

sketches out the introduction of UBI in exchange for cuts in employers’ contributions to social security systems.

Here the conclusion is different: 

 The net losers would be the large majority of people in formal employment who would lose the
higher levels of protection of public social security systems, including low and the middle classes. … From the point of view of financing, the net winners would be corporations….

The third scenario (the scenario generally assumed by Dhunna and Bush) 

presents the most radical neoliberal proposal, the introduction of UBI with the complete abolition of public social insurance.

The conclusion is even more negative than that of the second scenario (page 24): 

In this scenario virtually everybody is a net loser; the poorest will not receive anymore social assistance at the poverty line level; the low and middle classes, before covered by a better social protection system, now they will lose their accumulated social protection benefits.

Unlike Dhunna and Bush, the general conclusion of the ILO is–it all depends on the specific scenario proposed whether UBI will reduce inequality (in income) and benefit more most citizens than currently (page 26):

As outlined earlier, some UBI proposals are in accordance with ILO Conventions and Recommendations, and others are not.

Some scenarios could function to reduce levels of income inequality: 

Indeed, UBI could be the most radical form of the income component of a national social protection floor, an important tool for the advancement of inclusive development and social justice. UBI on its own cannot be considered a panacea to existing and future income security and social protection challenges, but can potentially help to close coverage gaps and provide a basic level of income security.

As I argued in a previous post (A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist), there is no reason why we should not struggle simultaneously for a robust UBI and an expanded welfare state.

It should be noted, however, that Dhunna and Bush, despite their own distorted presentation of the ILO’s position on the UBI, implicitly use the ILO as a standard for their own social-democratic and reformist aims; why else do they reference the ILO study to justify their conclusions?

They do not, however, question the ILO standards. ILO, though, assumes the legitimacy of the continued existence of a market for workers and hence fails to consider how a struggle for achieving a universal basic income could constitute a means by which to initiate the undermining of a market for workers. Thus, the ILO states (page 29):

Effective labour market institutions are necessary to ensure decent work for all in a
rapidly changing environment.

Since “labour market institutions” involve working for an employer, and working for an employer involves being treated as a thing or means for obtaining more money (the private sector) or as a means for purposes over which workers have little say in their daily lives in the public sector (see The Money Circuit of Capital), the ILO does not consider a scenario where workers seek a UBI, in addition to other social insurance schemes, that threatens the existence of the market for workers or “labour market institutions.” The exclusion of such a scenario reflects the social-democratic nature of the ILO. 

The Public Service International (PSI) and the Principle of a Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Dhunna and Bush refer to a 2019 report by the Public Services Alliance:

In 2019, Public Service International (PSI) released a wide-ranging report assessing UBI pilots and experiments globally, as well as academic literature. The report concluded that, “making cash payments to individuals to increase their purchasing power in a free-market economy is not a viable route to solving problems caused or exacerbated by neoliberal market economics.”

That document contains, ironically, to the following principle (page 3):

At the heart of the critique of UBIs contained in this brief is the failure of the most basic principle of progressive tax and expenditure, which can be summarised as “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.

This interpretation of the principle is typical of the social-democratic view: it looks at the problem from the point of view of distribution and consumption of already produced commodities and not according to the process by which such commodities were produced (see A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Employers can exploit and oppress workers, and then, for social democrats, employers can be taxed and some of the revenue can be shifted to those who either cannot find employment with a particular employer or are incapable of working for a particular employer. It is more like a compensatory model than a model that permits people to control their own lives in the totality of their lives: production, distribution and income. 

Let us take a look at this document in more detail. Anna Coote and Edanur Yazici, the authors of this report, refer to the ILO report outlined above in relation to costs, implying that it would cost too much (pages 8-9). However, as has been shown, the ILO concludes that a more robust (though by no means sufficient) UBI could be viable even within a capitalist setting, depending on how it was financed.

On page 10, the authors conclude:

It is a lazy utopian remedy that fails to address issues of class, economic ownership and the productive capacity of the economy.

If a robust UBI begins to question the legitimacy of the market for workers and therefore the legitimacy of the class power of employers, it does indeed address the issues of “class, economic ownership and the productive capacity of the economy.” The authors, however, nowhere question the legitimacy of the class power of employers; they assume its continued existence. 

On pages 11-12, they make the following assertion:

UBI alone cannot build long-term economic self-sufficiency. Small injections of cash, even if regular and unconditional, will not be enough. People must also be able to control what happens to them, to have structures for shared decision-making and access to essential resources.

Since the nature of the kind of society in which we live is that workers and the unemployed are not ‘economically self-sufficient’–if they were, there would not be a market for workers (a so-called labour market). As for ‘people having to be able to control what happens to them,” working for an employer, whether in a unionized setting or not necessarily involves a loss of “control” over “what happens to them” (see for example The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part One or Employers as Dictators, Part One and , more generally, The Money Circuit of Capital ).

Although unions limit somewhat the power of employers and hence are to be supported as defensive organizations, they also often function as ideologues of employers by claiming to create conditions of fairness at work when that work is characterized by exploitation and oppression (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police). Management rights clauses in Canadian collective agreements, furthermore, explicitly express the lack of control of workers over their work and working conditions (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia), and even when such a clause does not exist in a collective agreement, it is implied. 

On page 12, Coote and Yazici write: 

If emancipation is the goal, not just ‘inclusion’ or reduction of poverty, UBI is not the answer. If cash payments become the preferred tool for social protection, there is a serious risk of crowding out efforts to build collaborative, sustainable services and infrastructure – and setting a pattern for future development that promotes commodification rather than emancipation.

What then is the answer if the aim is the abolition of the class power of employers and classes in general? How are we to question the power of employers without taking risks? Of course, employers could try to use UBI to dismantle public services–and to counter such a move would require organization and class struggle–as would the maintenance of public services. However, fighting for a robust universal basic income that breaks the link between needs and work does point towards a new kind of society–a society where access to expanded basic needs (since what is basic is itself variable as our capacity to produce our lives changes) do not require us to subordinate our lives to the power of any particular employer. 

The authors do not take seriously the goal of emancipation. If they did, they would at least mention the goal of abolishing the power of employers as a class. Indeed, they implicitly reject such a goal since they advocate for an enhanced welfare state or enhanced welfare capitalism–like Dhunna and Bush. From page 13 :

It is necessary and possible to raise funds to bring greater security, opportunity and power to all people, but the money needed to pay for an adequate UBI scheme would be better spent on reforming social protection systems, and building more and better quality public services.

There is little here that addresses challenging the class power of employers and the abolition of classes; it is a question of reforming capitalism in order “to bring greater security, opportunity and power to all people”–an impossible goal since the general nature of capitalism is to bring insecurity to many while providing security to a dwindling minority–by exploiting and oppressing workers, citizens and migrants. 

The priority for Coote and Yazici is to focus their energies on reforming the class power of employers, not abolishing it (page 13):

The campaign for UBI threatens to divert political energies – as well as funds – from more important causes.

It is necessary and possible to raise funds to bring greater security, opportunity and power to all people, but the money needed to pay for an adequate UBI scheme would be better spent on reforming social protection systems, and building more and better quality public services.

I guess that emancipation from the power of employers is not a very important cause–for social democrats. Indeed, it is likely that for for Dhunna and Bush, for the ILO, for Coote and Yazici and for Public Services International, the goal is not really socialism or the abolition of classes but a humanized form of capitalism, or enhanced welfare capitalism, or capitalism with a human face (see  A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist ). 

Paying Lip-Service to a Radical Position

There is a very slight recognition of more radical positions that support the idea of a UBI, such as the late David Graeber’s advocacy of such a proposal. They write (page 20): 

Contemporary political theorists such as David Graeber see UBI allowing people to escape from ‘bullshit jobs

They then have a brief section that refers to “radical transformation” (page 21): 

RADICAL TRANSFORMATION

For some of its progressive advocates, UBI is part of a vision of a new social settlement where poverty is eliminated, where everyone has a secure income, where unpaid work is valued on par with paid work, and where inequalities are history. For UK Green Party leaders Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas, it is an “exciting idea because it will help us form a clearer idea of what constitutes welfare, good work and human flourishing, and it would help us towards a more balanced economy which acknowledges what is truly ‘productive’ in its broader sense’”.11 UBI is rarely seen as the only lever to achieve these goals: it is usually envisaged as running alongside a range of progressive reforms as well as more and better public services.

The UK Green Party’s aim in adopting a UBI is not, however, to challenge the existence of the power of employers as a class but at best to restrict such power. Thus, on page 51 of the UK Green Party Manifesto (2019), we read:

Reviewing current employment law to close loopholes that allow employers in the gig economy (where workers are offered freelance work or short-term contracts only) to deny gig workers key rights. We will ensure that gig economy workers always receive at least the current minimum wage, and have job security, sick leave, holiday pay and pension provision.

On the same page, we read further: 

Requiring all employers, no matter their size, to legally recognise any union chosen by their workforce to represent them.

On page 52:

We will support employers to explore four day working weeks in their workplace, driving up productivity as well as boosting the wellbeing of staff.

There is no evidence in the UK Green Party’s manifesto that it propose using the UBI as a means by which to challenge the power of employers as a class; it, like the British Labour Party, seeks to reform the employer-employee relation and not overturn it. Hence, Coote’s and Yazici’s reference to the UK Green Party as radical is similar to some social democrats here in Toronto, who refer to social reforms that do not involve challenging the basic social relations characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers (such as a market for workers, or a “labour market.”) (see the seven-part series of critiques, beginning with What’s Left, Toronto? Part One).

Coote and Yazici’s extremely brief mention of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory fails to even address Graeber’s critique of the employer-employee relation as such. From that work:

The modern morality of “You’re on my time; I’m not paying you to lounge around” is very different. It is the indignity of a man who feels he’s being robbed. A worker’s time is not his own; it belongs to the person who bought it. Insofar as an employee is not working, she is stealing something for which the employer paid good money (or, anyway, has promised to pay good money for at the end of the week). By this moral logic, it’s not that idleness is dangerous. Idleness is theft.

This is important to underline because the idea that one person’s time can belong to someone else is actually quite peculiar. Most human societies that have ever existed would never have conceived of such a thing. As the great classicist Moses Finley pointed out: if an ancient Greek or Roman saw a potter, he could imagine buying his pots. He could also imagine buying the potter—slavery was a familiar institution in the ancient world. But he would have simply been baffled by the notion that he might buy the potter’s time. As Finley observes, any such notion would have to involve two conceptual leaps which even the most sophisticated Roman legal theorists found difficult: First, to think of the potter’s capacity to work, his “labor-power,” as a thing that was distinct from the potter himself, and second, to devise some way to pour that capacity out, as it were, into uniform temporal containers—hours, days, work shifts—that could then be purchased, using cash.17 To the average Athenian or Roman, such ideas would have likely seemed weird, exotic, even mystical. How could you buy time? Time is an abstraction!18 The closest he would have likely been able to come would be the idea of renting the potter as a slave for a certain limited time period —a day, for instance—during which time the potter would, like any slave, be obliged to do whatever his master ordered. But for this very reason, he would probably find it impossible to locate a potter willing to enter into such an arrangement. To be a slave, to be forced to surrender one’s free will and become the mere instrument of another, even temporarily, was considered the most degrading thing that could possibly befall a human being.19

As a result, the overwhelming majority of examples of wage labor that we do encounter in the ancient world are of people who are already slaves: a slave potter might indeed arrange with his master to work in a ceramics factory, sending half the wages to his master and keeping the rest for himself.20 Slaves might occasionally do free contract work as well—say, working as porters at the docks. Free men and women would not. And this remained true until fairly recently: wage labor, when it did occur in the Middle Ages, was typical of commercial port cities such as Venice, or Malacca, or Zanzibar, where it was carried out almost entirely by unfree labor.21

So how did we get to the situation we see today, where it’s considered perfectly natural for free citizens of democratic countries to rent themselves out in this way, or for a boss to become indignant if employees are not working every moment of “his” time?

Like Dhunna and Bush, Coote and Yazici do not question how we got to that situation today, nor do they question what can be done about abolishing such a situation and having workers control their own lives again. What both assume is that–the employer-employee relation is eternal and must always be regulated–but not abolished.

Their reference to class struggle, by contrast, does not have as its aim the abolition of the class power of employers and with it the working class as a class and therefore the abolition of all classes; their aim, rather, is to perpetuate class struggle–a never ending process that perpetuates a more humanized but still nevertheless capitalist society.

Their critique of UBI is, then, motivated by their implicit assumption that a socialist society is not really achievable. They do not say that, but they imply it. Alternatively, they define socialism as merely capitalism with an enhanced welfare state and protective measures. Thus, it is interesting to note that Dhunna and Bush refer to labour laws without criticizing their adequacy (whereas they do criticize the inadequacy of a minimalist UBI–almost the only form of UBI they recognize):

We stand to lose much more than we have to gain under a basic income regime doled out by the ruling class. Our energy and money is better spent waging struggle directly to strengthen labour laws and access to unionization for all, to build more power at the point of production — the source of worker power. 

Labour laws that protect workers or extend certain rights certainly should be supported and struggled for, but they are defensive in nature, not offensive. What of labour laws that protect managerial rights? (See for example Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation of Workers a Fair Contract?). Can labour laws defend the interests of workers to oppose the very existence of the class of employers? Can labour laws eliminate the exploitation of workers? (For an example of the calculation of the rate of exploitation of workers, see The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of Rogers Communications Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto).   Can they eliminate the oppression of workers? (For discussion of the oppression of workers both during the general time when they work for employers, see Employers as Dictators, Part One and The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation). 

Conclusion

This is the last post that critically looks at the specific article written by Dhunna and Bush. In the series, I have shown that the writers assume that only a minimum basic income is what is possible under existing conditions–an incorrect assumption. Furthermore, I have also shown that they often distort the references that they use by claiming that their references show that a basic income is unfeasible–when in fact their references show that only certain kinds of basic income are unfeasible whereas other kinds are feasible. 

Ultimately, Dhunna and Bush aim for an enhanced welfare state–with regulation of employers rather than the abolition of employers–and the related economic, social and political structures. 

Their criticism of universal basic income is invalid.

I will take up in future posts further criticisms of a social democrat who defend welfare reforms while simultaneously opposing basic income. Specifically, my future target will be the radical social democrat here in Toronto, John Clarke. 

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Five

Introduction

Before I obtained a so-called permanent teaching position (I will explain in a much later post why I use the word “so-called”), I worked for a number of years as a substitute teacher (with short periods of term teaching positions). I became an executive member of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA) (in the province of Manitoba, Canada), representing substitute teachers.

I used this situation as an opportunity to criticize the limitations of the educational experience.

Of course, representatives should not limit themselves to such criticism but rather perform their representative function in order to enhance the democratic nature of the union or association to which they belong. To that end, I referred to issues and clauses in the collective agreement that were relevant to substitute teachers as well as to the Substitute Teachers’ Committee.

Limitations of Collective Bargaining

A Philosophical (Critical) Commentary on the Labour Law Review, November 14-15, 2007

On November 14 and 15 I attended the 13th Annual Review of Labour Law. The structure of the presentation made the Review more lively than otherwise: a rotating set of two different lawyers presented each section, one representing the employees’ side and the other representing the employers’ side. The Review specifically related to law connected to workplaces governed by collective agreements as opposed to general employment law.

The Review was divided into six sections: accommodation of employees, especially with regard to disabilities according to human rights legislation; discipline in relation to the disabled employee; arbitrators’ responses to harassment at the workplace; updates to Manitoba Labour Board decisions; updates to arbitration board decisions; and trends in Manitoba labour relations.

The bottom line of issues centering on accommodations of those with disabilities is that the employer must reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities on a continuous basis up to the point of undue hardship for the employer.

Discipline of employees with disabilities covered mainly those with addictions of one form or another. The issue here is to what extent the conduct leading to discipline is attributable to the addiction and to what extent it is attributable to the employee’s own control.

The third section on harassment in the workplace described the broadening of the definition of harassment from harassment based on stereotypical categories specified in the legislation to harassment based on persona characteristics, or in more colloquial terms, harassment characteristic of bullying.

The fourth section provided an overview of relatively recent Manitoba Labour Board decisions. An interesting case was between United Steelworkers of America and Buhler Manufacturing. The Labour Board found that the employer was obliged to provide to the union contact information (telephone numbers and home addresses) of all members in the bargaining unit, and the list was to be updated every six months.

An interesting case in the fifth section was between the Province and the Manitoba Government Employees’ Union. The Province put certain employees on an attendance management program. The arbitrator found that the medical information requested by the employer was far in excess of what was reasonable under the circumstances. Another interesting element of this case was the inclusion in the collective agreement of the clause that the employee may or shall be requested to provide a medical certificate or statutory declaration of having been sick.

The final section considered some possible trends in labour relations, such as the duty to accommodate disabled employees, increasing privacy rights of the individual versus the right of the employer for relevant information to run the business (drug testing and surveillance of employees).

One comment made by a union lawyer while discussing the issue of accommodation of disabled employees in the first section should leave teachers with food for thought. He indicated that it is a little known fact that the employer has the right to grieve. In all arbitration cases presented during the two days, however, there was no case in which the employer grieved. The main reason why employers rarely grieve was not addressed. The main reason why employers rarely grieve is that they do not need to do so; they possess the economic power to implement their goals independently of the grievance process. What the collective agreement does, via labour law, is to limit the economic power of employers to do what they want with the employees. The collective agreement is a defensive mechanism, not an offensive mechanism.

Some may make the counterargument that collective bargaining has permitted the extension of certain rights, such as maternity leave. On this view, collective bargaining, consequently, can become an offensive weapon by gradually extending employees’ rights in various directions. Such a conclusion would be valid if employers were passive and the world were static. However, as teachers in this Division have experienced, employers make many unilateral decisions, such as CAP, the online report card system and the requirement that substitute teachers provide reasons for refusing jobs. Employers use their economic power to achieve their goals, and they rarely need to grieve to achieve them.

If this is the case, and the employer-employees relation, as I argued in the last article, involves subordination to the will of the employer, then the economic power not only of the Division as employer but all employers needs to be discussed thoroughly and on an ongoing basis.

For instance, does the economic power of employers result in employees fearing to express their opinions because they fear retaliation by the employer? If so, what does that tell us about the kind of society in which we live? Do we want our children to grow up in the same fearful relations, if they exist? What are the implications of living in fear for the formation of character? Since education, ultimately, is the formation of human character, how does the employer-employees relation work itself out in the formation of human character? In other words, does the employer-employee relation work for or against the educational process?

These questions, even indirectly, were not addressed at the Labour Law Review. Both union lawyers and employer lawyers, from opposite sides to be sure, shared the same premise: the employer-employees relation is legitimate. The differences between the two sides had to do with whether the collective agreement had been breached by the employer. The shared premise of the legitimacy of the employer-employees relation prevented them from questioning their own logic. Should we not be discussing this premise as teachers and as employees?

Fred Harris, executive member

Engaging in Concrete Administrative Issues in a Union

In the WTA newsletter, I also provided concrete information relevant to substitute teachers for members of the Substitute Teachers Committee (and, perhaps, for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember whether I submitted the information to the WTA):

Good afternoon, everyone.

At the executive meeting, I asked for clarification concerning whether substitute teachers, if injured, had any insurance. The answer is: no. Teachers, according to law, are excluded from receiving Workers’ Compensation, and this is a non-negotiable item (only employers pay into Workers’ Compensation). However, private insurance of some type would be possible, but none now exists. So, if you get injured on the job as a substitute teacher—you can always sue the Division. Other than that, you are responsible for your own disability or injury.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

Furthermore, I provided information in the WTA newsletter about the new substitute-calling system (SmartFinder):

Substitute Teacher Access to Listed Jobs

SmartFinder Express has now been programmed to permit substitute teachers to access jobs available, either online or by telephone. In either case, key in your employee number and pin number. Next, for the computer system, click on Available Jobs, and then specify the range of dates and click on Submit. For the telephone system, press number 2.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

I also wrote about some relevant information (and problems) for substitute teachers with the SmartFinder system:

Elements of the Current SmartFinder Express System for Substitute Teachers

The current SmartFinder Express system has several features (or lack of features) about which substitute teachers should be aware:

  1. Should a substitute teacher refuse four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  2. Should a substitute teacher not answer four consecutive phone calls, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  3. Should a substitute teacher hang up three consecutive times, she or he will not be called again for that day.
  4. In some instances, the SmartFinder system has called substitute teachers for the same day when they have already been booked for that day. Since the system still requires substitute teachers to provide reasons, they may be penalized for refusing jobs that they should not have received in the first place.
  5. When a substitute teacher tries to find available jobs to accept, there are rarely any such jobs. However, in some other divisions (such as St. James-Assiniboia), substitute teachers can go online and accept posted jobs for substitute teachers.

Informing Substitute Teachers of Clauses in the Collective Agreement Especially Relevant for Them

Furthermore, I wrote the following to the members of the Substitute Committee (and perhaps drafted one for the WTA newsletter–I do not remember):

Good afternoon, everyone.

As indicated in the minutes, I am sending everyone a copy of the clause about professional development in the collective agreement:

16.03 (f) Professional Development

A substitute teacher who has worked for the Division for at least fifty (50) teaching days in the previous school year shall be entitled to request in writing to the Director of Human Resources, or designate, to attend one professional development day in the next school year. Attendance, if approved, shall be considered as time worked under Article 16.03, Substitute Teachers.

A substitute teacher not meeting the above eligibility requirements may request to attend scheduled professional development days. Such attendance, if approved, shall be on a without pay basis.

Approval in either instance shall be at the sole discretion of the Division.

Fred

Advocating as Representative of a Subsection of the Union Membership to the Negotiating Committee 

In addition to these initiatives, I wanted to present recommending to the negotiating committee possible clauses of relevance to the substitute teachers in relation to a salary cap for substitute teachers (which did not apply to permanent teachers) :

Justification for Recommending that the Negotiating Committee Consider the Proposal for Removing the Clause in the Collective Agreement

Firstly, to justify the maintenance of the clause in the collective agreement, 16.03 (c) (iii) “No substitute shall receive a salary rate higher than the maximum salary rate provided under the Basic Salary Schedule for a Class IV teacher,” it has been pointed out that the substitute teachers in Winnipeg School Division No. 1 are the highest paid substitute teachers in Winnipeg. However, if the teachers in the WTA were also the highest paid teachers in Winnipeg, would it be justifiable to limit their salaries to the maximum level of class IV until they have worked 20 days or more? Of course, if there were such a cap, it would not matter to permanent contract teachers since they would automatically reach the 20 days. That is not the case for substitute teachers. On principle, though, is the fact that substitute teachers are the highest paid sufficient grounds for justifying the maintenance of such a clause?

Secondly, it has been said that there are few substitute teachers who would experience the effects of such a clause. There is no data to substantiate such a conclusion. The survey did not contain a question pertaining to level of qualifications (it should have done so). Without such data, the number and percentage of substitute teachers who would fall under such a clause is indeterminate. However, about one third of substitute teachers have substituted for at least 10 years. I know of at least three others who have substituted as long as I have who have their Masters’ degree.

Thirdly, even on the assumption that there are few substitute teachers who fall under the clause, should the same principle then apply to salary scale according to qualification and experience in any given year? For example, if there were no teachers with nine years experience and class 7 qualifications in a particular year, should we then agree to capping those with so many years experience and so much education since there are few or no members in the set in any particular year? We should also remember that even if in any given year there might be few members in such a set, situations evolve, and there might be more members in the set in some years than in others.

Fourthly, the issue is not just one of a few substitute teachers. The collective agreement embodies the recognition of the principle that differentiation of the qualities of teachers results in differential treatment. For example, differential experience and differential educational qualifications results in differential pay scales despite all teachers being members of the WTA. Since those substitute teachers who have worked for a number of years probably, though not necessarily, worked for the Division for a number of years, this clause contradicts the Associations’ principle of differential pay according to years of experience and level of qualifications. To be consistent with the Associations’ principles, should not the Negotiating Committee try to remove the clause from the collective agreement?

I provided a table of possible differences if the cap on the salary of substitute teachers was eliminated:

The maximum salary rate for class IV is $67, 522 according to the salary grid. The calculations are based on the yearly rate divided by 200 working days to give the rate per day. The ground base for any change in pay is $67, 522/200, or 337.61 a day. The two variables are the length of service (level of experience) and the level of qualifications:

Class 5, level 8, Yearly rate=69,948; daily rate=$338.30

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1691.50 2.45
6 2025.66 2029.80 4.24
7 2363.27 2368.10 4.83
8 2700.88 2706.40 5.52
9 3038.49 3044.70 6.21
10 3376.10 3383.00 6.90
11 3713.71 3721.30 7.59
12 4051.32 4059.60 8.28
13 4388.93 4379.90 9.03
14 4726.54 4736.20 9.66
15 5064.15 5074.50 10.35
16 5401.76 5412.80 11.04
17 5739.37 5751.10 11.73
18 6076.98 6089.40 12.42
19 6414.59 6427.70 13.11

Class 5, level 9, Yearly rate=$71,358, daily rate=$356.79

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1783.95 95.90
6 2025.66 2140.74 115.08
7 2363.27 2497.53 134.26
8 2700.88 2854.32 153.44
9 3038.49 3211.11 172.62
10 3376.10 3567.90 191.80
11 3713.71 3924.69 210.98
12 4051.32 4281.48 230.16
13 4388.93 4638.27 249.34
14 4726.54 4995.06 268.52
15 5064.15 5351.85 287.70
16 5401.76 5708.64 306.88
17 5739.37 6065.43 326.06
18 6076.98 6422.22 345.24
19 6414.59 6779.01 364.42

Class 6, level 7, Yearly rate=$69,713, daily rate=$345.87

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1729.35 41.30
6 2025.66 2075.22 49.56
7 2363.27 2421.09 57.82
8 2700.88 2766.96 66.08
9 3038.49 3112.83 74.34
10 3376.10 3458.70 82.60
11 3713.71 3804.57 90.86
12 4051.32 4150.44 99.12
13 4388.93 4496.31 107.38
14 4726.54 4842.18 115.64
15 5064.15 5188.05 123.90
16 5401.76 5533.92 132.16
17 5739.37 5879.79 140.42
18 6076.98 6225.66 148.68
19 6414.59 6571.53 156.94

Class 6, level 8, Yearly rate=$72,152, daily rate=$360.76

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1803.80 115.75
6 2025.66 2164.56 138.90
7 2363.27 2525.32 162.05
8 2700.88 2886.08 185.20
9 3038.49 3246.84 208.35
10 3376.10 3607.60 231.50
11 3713.71 3968.36 254.65
12 4051.32 4329.12 277.80
13 4388.93 4689.88 300.95
14 4726.54 5050.64 324.10
15 5064.15 5411.40 347.25
16 5401.76 5772.16 370.40
17 5739.37 6132.92 393.55
18 6076.98 6493.68 416.70
19 6414.59 6854.44 439.85

Class 6, level 9, Yearly rate=$75,691, daily rate=$378.46

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1892.30 204.25
6 2025.66 2270.76 245.10
7 2363.27 2649.22 285.95
8 2700.88 3027.68 326.80
9 3038.49 3406.14 367.65
10 3376.10 3784.60 408.50
11 3713.71 4163.06 449.35
12 4051.32 4541.52 490.20
13 4388.93 4919.98 531.05
14 4726.54 5298.44 571.90
15 5064.15 5676.90 612.75
16 5401.76 6055.36 653.60
17 5739.37 6433.82 694.52
18 6076.98 6812.28 735.30
19 6414.59 7199.74 785.15

Class 7, level 6, Yearly rate=$69,948; daily rate=$349.74

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1748.70 60.65
6 2025.66 2098.44 72.78
7 2363.27 2448.18 84.91
8 2700.88 2797.92 97.04
9 3038.49 3147.66 109.17
10 3376.10 3497.40 121.30
11 3713.71 3847.14 133.43
12 4051.32 4196.88 145.56
13 4388.93 4546.62 157.69
14 4726.54 4896.36 169.82
15 5064.15 5246.10 181.95
16 5401.76 5595.84 194.08
17 5739.37 5945.58 206.21
18 6076.98 6295.32 218.34
19 6414.59 6645.06 230.47

Class 7, level 7, Yearly rate=$73,072, daily rate=$365.36

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1826.80 138.75
6 2025.66 2192.16 166.50
7 2363.27 2557.52 194.25
8 2700.88 2922.88 222.00
9 3038.49 3288.24 249.75
10 3376.10 3653.60 277.50
11 3713.71 4018.96 305.25
12 4051.32 4384.32 333.00
13 4388.93 4749.68 360.75
14 4726.54 5115.04 388.50
15 5064.15 5480.40 416.25
16 5401.76 5845.76 444.00
17 5739.37 6211.12 471.75
18 6076.98 6576.48 499.50
19 6414.59 6941.84 527.50

Class 7, level 8, Yearly rate=$76,204, daily rate=$381.02

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1905.10 217.05
6 2025.66 2286.12 260.46
7 2363.27 2667.14 303.87
8 2700.88 3048.16 347.28
9 3038.49 3429.18 390.69
10 3376.10 3810.20 434.10
11 3713.71 4191.22 477.51
12 4051.32 4572.24 520.92
13 4388.93 4953.26 564.33
14 4726.54 5334.28 607.74
15 5064.15 5715.30 651.15
16 5401.76 6096.32 694.56
17 5739.37 6477.34 737.97
18 6076.98 6858.36 781.38
19 6414.59 7239.38 824.79

Class 7, level 9, Yearly rate=$79,760, daily rate=$398.80

Days worked Current Situation: Gross Removal of Cap on salary grid Difference
5 1688.05 1994.00 305.95
6 2025.66 2392.80 367.14
7 2363.27 2791.60 428.33
8 2700.88 3190.40 489.52
9 3038.49 3589.20 550.71
10 3376.10 3988.00 611.90
11 3713.71 4386.80 673.09
12 4051.32 4785.60 734.28
13 4388.93 5184.40 795.47
14 4726.54 5583.20 856.66
15 5064.15 5982.00 917.85
16 5401.76 6380.80 979.04
17 5739.37 6779.60 1040.23
18 6076.98 7178.40 1101.42
19 6414.59 7577.20 1162.61

Radicals need to be active on many fronts, including the nitty-gritty of providing concrete information to the members on relevant laws and clauses in the collective agreement and being an advocate for members in various ways.

Of course, it depends on their own specific situation as well. I, for example, no longer work for a specific employer. Consequently, my critical activism needs to take a different form.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces

Professor Noonan, an academic leftist, argues that the Nemak return to work provides lessons for the left. Indeed, it does–but unfortunately he fails to draw further lessons from the situation.

He says the following:

As regards work, the structural dependence on paid employment is what makes people working class. This structural dependence is what, above all, democratic socialism would overcome. However, it cannot be ended overnight, but until it is ended workers’ short term struggles are always in danger of becoming victims of wars of attrition. The capitalists, with the law typically on their side, can wait workers out or bleed their resources dry (Unifor was facing fines of 25 000 dollars a day and individual officers 1000 dollars per day). Overcoming the dependence requires long term struggle, but dependence means that your ability to survive without the work you are refusing to do is time-sensitive in the extreme.

Given the claim that the capitalists have “the law typically on their side,” should not the conclusion be drawn that the law as such should be criticized? That reference to “fair contracts” and “decent work” which trade union representatives often express, should be criticized? Professor Noonan remains silent about this. Why is that?

Should not union training include, systematically, the bias of law in relation to workers’ interests? Does it? Should that lack of inclusion of a critique of the bias of law be itself criticized?

He further writes:

There are three general sorts of changes. On the one hand, there are concessions which are made in order to return the situation to normal. This sort of concessions appears to be all that Nemak has offered. At the other extreme, there are revolutionary changes which would create completely new social institutions. It is easy to find abstract arguments that contend that no major social contradiction can be resolved without revolutionary changes. It is much more difficult to find concrete arguments that are powerful enough to actually mobilise revolutionary forces. The key problem here is that no one can say with any certainty how a new society would work (beyond general assurances that it would solve everything because it would be the opposite of this society).

Professor Noonan then dismisses both possibilities:

If concessions do not address the problem and a progressive revolution is not in the offing in the foreseeable future, [my emphasis]  hope must be invested in a third possibility: smaller scale structural changes that create space and time for for deeper and wider changes in an unfolding process of transformative social change. How is that to happen if workers cannot survive outside of paid employment (or its social benefit equivalent) for long enough to survive for the long-term? The answer is to struggle for changes to the nature of employment. The Nemak crisis, and the analogous crisis in Oshawa offer opportunities for just these sorts of demands.

The reference to “progressive revolution” is dismissed because it is not possible in the foreseeable future. What does that mean? That substantial changes in class relations will arise in the short-term is undoubtedly unlikely. However, Professor Noonan performs a sleight of hand by shifting the future to some far off horizon. This is the method of social reformers of various persuasions–they shift radical change to the distant future rather than seeing than any radical change will always have to begin in the present. Carl Weathers, in his role as Apollo Creed, told Rocky in the movie Rocky III: “There is no tomorrow.” All progress will always have to begin in the present–but as John Dewey, the educational philosopher and logician pointed out, the present is a moving present.

It may appear that Professor Noonan does indeed include the future in the present by struggling “for changes to the nature of employment.” Let us look at what Professor Noonan has to say on this score.

He says:

GM Workers in Oshawa are being subjected to the same loss of their factory as Nemak workers in Windsor. Like Nemak workers, the GM workers did not meekly accept the GM decision, but instead fought back. They have won a concession (which is nevertheless a victory and another good lesson): the company will consider using a small fraction of the space and workforce to produce parts. But there are other ideas which, while bold, are not impossible within existing institutions. However, if they were realised [my emphasis]  they would point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism. At the same time, since they are realizable here and now they do not depend upon a “revolutionary break” for which the required social and political forces do not exist.

In response to the Oshawa closing, Sam Gindin urged the CAW leadership to go beyond negotiations to work on the transformation of the plant into a publicly owned and worker-controlled facility for the production of electric vehicles. Markets would be initially guaranteed by government contract. Financing and start up costs would also require government support that is impossible to imagine with a capitalist party in power, but not impossible to imagine with a worker friendly government (an NDP radicalised by the threat of a election drubbing?) Instead of treating capitalism as a fixed and final reality that workers must either accept today or overthrow tomorrow, it works in the spaces created by democratic institutions and norms to find means of inserting an anti-capitalist principle and practice into the heart of the system. It shows that there are real alternatives to survival and creative activity than capitalist labour markets that can be realised right now, creating the time we need to fundamentally transform society by expanding non-capitalist employment spaces. Short term dependence on paid capitalist employment is reduced by people putting themselves to work in a non-capitalist firm. The system is not transformed, but a living alternative is created that serves as a real, not text book example, that another world is possible.

It is certainly necessary to propose ideas that “point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism.” Are there not, however, conditions for such ideas to be realizable in practice?

In the crisis situation in Oshawa, it may be that workers are more prone to accept solutions that point beyond existing social conditions. However, in a crisis situation, without prior preparation, it may well be that workers will grab at solutions that protect their own immediate interests at the expense of longer-term interests. It may also be that workers’ interests can more easily be divided so that the employer can take advantage of such splits. To counter such possibilities, it is necessary to prepare workers beforehand.

Thus, has their been adequate criticism of the structure of authority at the Oshawa plant? Has there been discussions about democratic control at work? Or have the workers there been constantly indoctrinated with the view that their work is “decent work?” That the collective agreement was a “fair contract?” That they received “fair wages?” That the power of an employer to close a workplace is “fair?” As I argued in another post, was there a critique of collective bargaining beforehand in order to prepare workers for going beyond the collective agreement? Or was there silence over the legitimacy of collective agreements? If so, would that not lead to confusion among many workers? If so, does such confusion not tell against the formulation of any consistent policy towards the large number of workers who will lose their jobs at the GM Oshawa plant?

Another relevant point here is how Professor Noonan speaks of “creating spaces”: the space was not created by the workers but by the employer (the decision to close the Oshawa plant). The workers reacted to this decision. It would have been much more intelligent to criticize the union ideology systematically beforehand rather than feeding into the union ideology of “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Did Mr. Gindin engage in such criticism? Or was he afraid to do so out of fear of alienating union representatives?

Furthermore, Professor Noonan relies on another sleight-of-hand by slipping in the fantasy that the New Democratic Party (NDP) would somehow magically turn into “a worker friendly government (an NDP radicalised by the threat of a election drubbing.” Like Professor Noonan’s logic in relation to the so-called harmonious interests of workers at the University of Windsor where he works and the management of that university, he assumes what he must prove: How the NDP can be converted into a “worker friendly government” under conditions of an economy dominated by a class of employers. The NDP and union representatives may think they are “worker friendly,” but they also share the same beliefs as their center and right-wing counterparts: the legitimacy of the employer-employee relation. The NDP may indeed enable workers to organize more easily and institute certain social reforms that may benefit workers more when compared to other political parties, but that does not make them “worker friendly.” They are more “worker friendly” than the other major political parties, but that is all. This does not magically convert them into a “worker friendly” political party. (Nonetheless, I am seriously thinking of voting for the NDP in the upcoming federal election on October 21, 2019 since their policies–such as a definite 360 hours of working for an employer required in order to be eligible for unemployment insurance as opposed to the current 720 for regular workers and 910 hours for beginning workers–are more specific than the vague guaranteed livable income, for example, proposed by the Green Party. Such vagueness can be transformed into minimal changes in income.)

Finally, it is typical of the academic left (and Sam Gindin falls in that category for, despite not being an academic technically, he shares many of their beliefs) that they avoid “creating spaces” in their own immediate environment. What, for example, did Mr. Gindin do to “create spaces” during his long stint as research director for the Canadian Auto Workers union? Did he try to create spaces that could “point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism?”

What of Professor Noonan? Does he try to create spaces that could “point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism” where he works? Might that not threaten his own livelihood?

Middle-class academics who are sympathetic to workers’ situation could provide welcome skills (such as research skills) to workers. However, they often lack the passion and emotions involved in real struggles for power: as Aaron Schutz, in his book Social Class, Social Action,  and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy points out:

But then, as Alinsky repeatedly pointed out, middle-class people were
pretty comfortable already. It did not really matter that much to them,
in concrete ways, whether anyone actually listened or not as long as they
had their say—in academic publications, for example. Their children were
unlikely to suffer much as a result. Near the end of his life, however, Alinsky
turned to efforts to organize the middle class, increasingly convinced that
those on the bottom needed allies from the middle if they were ever to generate
enough power to foster the change they needed and that the middle
class would also benefit if they learned to organize.

Middle-class leftists in Toronto and surrounding areas, as far as I can see, not only do not engage in some of the preparatory work necessary to enable workers for struggles that “would point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism,” but go out of their way to oppose such preparatory work.

Before the announcement by GM of the plant closing in Oshawa, Mr. Gindin met with some workers from the plant. I did not accompany Mr. Gindin to Oshawa , but his preliminary account of a meeting between him (and, I believer, Herman Rosenfeld) and some workers at Oshawa did not go very well; it might have been a problem of logistics or some other problem, but I doubt that there was any real discussion of the limits of the present arrangement of employers controlling the conditions of life (the factory) of the workers in Oshawa (and elsewhere). Mr. Gindin, out of fear of alienating workers, probably did not bring up the systemic issue of the power of the class of employers and how that power plays itself out in various domains.

Furthermore, Professor Noonan fails to justify his assumption that worker cooperatives somehow magically provide “a living alternative is created that serves as a real, not text book example, that another world is possible.” Cooperatives have existed in the past and exist in the present, but to argue that they somehow automatically provide a living example of an alternative is quite debatable. How does Professor Noonan justify his assumption? He does not.

Even if the GM Oshawa plant were nationalized and turned into a worker cooperative, there is no basis for assuming that there would be a magical transformation that would point towards a society within a different logic from the logic of capitalism.

Mondragon, a large set of cooperatives in the Basque region in Spain, may inspire some to seek alternatives–but then again it may not. This requires research. One author certainly questions whether Mondragon provides “a living alternative.” Sharyn Kashmir, in her book The Myth of Mondragon: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town, provides a different assessment of cooperatives. For example, she quotes a worker at Mondragon (page 122):

Begofia was in her late twenties and had been a member of one of the
Fagor co-ops since she was eighteen years old. She had always worked on the
assembly line. Over dinner, she told me that she felt exploited at work, “just
like any worker in any firm . ”

“What about the fact that you share ownership of the firm ?” I asked.
“It means nothing to me” she replied. Begofia also said she felt “apathetic
” about the governance of the cooperative. “I only go to the annual meetings
of the General Assembly because it’s required. Everybody goes because
they have to. If we didn’t have to, we wouldn’t go.” What she resented more
than anything was being told that she was participating in managing the cooperative
and that “it is your firm .”

As Begofia spoke, I began to hear the words “participate,” “cooperate,”
and “your firm” in a new way ; listening to her, they sounded imposing.
Had I gotten the sense that Begofia was alone in her feelings, I would not have
taken her complaints so seriously. However, she continually spoke for her fellow
workers, implying that her experiences of alienation and feeling manipulated
by cooperativist ideology were common . Furthermore, most of those at
dinner had lived their entire lives among cooperators and did not seem surprised
by what she said. To the contrary, they offered anecdotal evidence of instances
of workers’ apathy and frustration that they had heard from friends
and relatives.

This does not mean that there should be no struggle to nationalize the Oshawa plant and to convert it into a worker cooperative. However, such a struggle should explicitly try to link a critique of the power of employers as a class to this particular situation–and to the inadequate solution of nationalization and worker cooperatives in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Worker cooperatives in themselves, as long as they are unconnected to a larger critical movement to supersede the power of a class of employers, will unlikely “point beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism.”

As Minsun Ji points out (‘With or without class: Resolving Marx’s Janus-faced interpretation of worker-owned cooperatives,” Capital & Class, 2019,  page 3):

Among the conditions or factors that might shape the potential of a worker cooperative movement in any given time, the most important for Marx is the manifestation and political mobilization of class consciousness (or the lack thereof ) among cooperative practitioners. In the end, Marx did not so much focus on promoting a certain type of labor organization as being most conducive to transformation (e.g. worker cooperatives or labor unions). Rather, he focused more on the importance of class consciousness within labor organizing, and on the development of radicalized class consciousness among workers, whether through the expansion of labor unions, worker cooperatives, or any other institution of worker empowerment.

In order to become a significant and sustainable challenge to capitalist systems, Marx believed that cooperatives had to grow beyond their small scale and reach capacity to change the mode of production at the national level. To reach this kind of national scale, truly transformational cooperatives would have to become politically natured, and to foster the radical ‘class-consciousness’ of worker members. It is the presence or lack of this focus on developing and mobilizing class consciousness, not the nature of the labor institution itself (i.e. cooperative or union), that Marx believed to most powerfully shape the radical or degenerative tendencies of local forms of labor activism.

Since Mr. Gindin refuses to engage directly with the issue of the power of employers as a class (such as, for example, questioning union rhetoric about “decent jobs,” “fair contracts,” and the like), I predict, as I did before, that the Oshawa plant will not be nationalized and converted into a worker cooperative. Mr. Gindin and company have not done the necessary work to prepare workers to engage in a struggle that seeks to go beyond the class structure.

Even if the Oshawa plant does become worker-owned, it is unlikely to form a space that points “beyond existing institutions towards new models of public ownership and workers’ control incompatible with the logic of capitalism.”

In other words, and contrary to Professor Noonan, for such a strategy to work, it is necessary to start now (and not in some distance future) by querying the class structure. Professor Noonan continually seeks to fly away from the need to question the legitimacy of the class structure from the beginning. Why is that? Perhaps because of his own class situation?

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

The title is a variation of one of the subsections in chapter two of Jeremy Reiman’s The Rich Get Richer … and the Poor Get Prison.

In a couple of earlier posts, I pointed out that working for an employer involves needless deaths and injuries (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law). I have decided to start writing a series of posts on the issue of health and safety in the workplace since it is a key issue for workers.

Consider the following on the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” website (Fight for $15):

We NEED fair labour laws to save lives

On Tuesday, October 23, the Doug Ford government introduced Bill 47. This legislation seeks to impose a real dollar cut in the minimum wage and eliminate most of our new workplace rights, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, and more. If passed, this outrageous legislation will force millions into poverty, while putting workers’ health and safety at risk.

The introduction of Bill 47 by the conservative Ford government in Ontario, Canada (and the repeal of Bill 148, which introduced an increase in the minimum wage and a number of needed reforms of employment law) is presented as preventing the institution of “workers’ health and safety.” If Bill 148 had not been repealed and if Bill 47 were not passed (it was), then “workers’ health and safety” would not be “at risk.”  This is the unconscious or implicit assumption and message of the author of the article on that website. It is also the stated or unstated assumption of the social-reformist left.

The social-reformist left must absolutize the reforms which they seek. By absolutize, I mean that they must claim that there is somehow a fair situation that results if what they seek is realized. It is not, for them, a question of something fairer be realized but rather something that is fair.

The article mentions the community and union opposition that emerged against Bill 147, as well it should.

A little further down in the article, the recent death of a temporary worker at Fiera Foods is mentioned, and a vigil is called for. The vigil is to be lauded, and the article emphasizes that this is the fourth temporary worker killed working for the same food-processing plant.

However, the following is then claimed:

We know this heartbreaking death is not an isolated event…. It is what happens – and what will happen in the future – if workers are treated as disposable and if the laws meant to protect us are weakened, or not enforced at all.

Labour laws, like collective agreements, can certainly contribute to the improvement of workers’ lives, but can labour laws really prevent workers from being “treated as disposable?” It is the very nature of a society dominated by a class of employers that workers are disposable; to think otherwise is to not understand the basic nature of such a society (see   The Money Circuit of Capital)  for a characterization of workers as means or things for ends defined by employers).

The article then provides some probable consequences of instituting Bill 47, but it fails to consider whether, even if Bill 47 were withdrawn (it was not, and it passed), whether this would be sufficient to protect workers in an economy structured on the basis of the control of billions of workers throughout the world by a class of employers:

Let’s be clear about the serious implications of Bill 47:

  • When the government says freeze the minimum wage for 33 months, it means a real dollar cut in earnings for the lowest-paid workers in the province. After that wage cut, the minimum wage would only be adjusted in accordance with the previous year’s price increases (Consumer Price Index). It could be 2025 by the time the minimum wage reaches $15, and by then, a $15 wage will, once again, fall below the poverty line. This government wants to reimpose poverty on millions of workers in this province.

  • When the government says it wants to cut paid sick days, it is saying it has no problem forcing workers to work while they are sick or injured. It is saying they have no problem with parents having to send their sick child to school where they might spread illness to other children and education workers. It says this government has a complete disregard for the health and well-being of the people who keep this province functioning.

  • When the government says it wants to re-impose a requirement for Doctors’ notes, it is saying it has no problem forcing sick workers into hospital waiting rooms and risk spreading disease to others. It has no problem clogging up our health care system for visits that the Ontario Medical Association has said are unnecessary, wasteful, and costly. It says this government has no problem imposing red tape on workers and health providers.

  • When this government reduces penalties for employers who openly disregard the law – as Bill 47 seeks to do – this government is telling Ontario’s most unscrupulous employers that it is open season on the most vulnerable workers in this province. Especially those who work in temp agencies.

It is good to expose the extreme business-oriented position of the Conservative government, and the article is to be lauded for that. However, the following undermines this by implying that fair labour laws can somehow be achieved in the context of the present structure of the economy:

We need your help to deliver a message to Premier Doug Ford and his government: Fair labour laws, save lives. Bill 47 has not been passed, and it needs to be withdrawn immediately. Our elected officials must ensure our safety and well-being on the job, not jeopardize it.

Labour laws may increase the workers’ power by limiting further the power of employers as a class, but unless the labour law somehow challenges the principle of the power of employers as a class, it cannot be the sole basis for protecting workers from being used as disposable means for the benefit of employers. Workers should fight for labour laws that can serve as means to protect them from some of the ravages of employer-dominated establishments, but they should also organize initially at the local level on the shop floor as a fighting force that can oppose the power of management to treat them  as things to be used for goals not of their own making. Furthermore, they should realize that no labour law and no local level organization can protect them from the ravages of an economy in which they are economically dependent on employers; labour laws and local organizations can only reduce the likelihood of injury and accident but not eliminate it. The very nature of their economic dependence and their treatment as things includes the very real possibility of workplace injury and accident.

Should we not take seriously the following (from Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.

Should any leftist claim that any possible reform in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers is fair? We certainly need to fight for reforms, but why bullshit the workers by calling such reforms fair? They are fairer or less fair, to be sure. To have labour laws that enable workers to protect themselves more is better than no labour laws or less effective labour laws. But how does this translate into fairness?

Why does the social-reformist left find it necessary to claim that such reforms express “decent work,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “fairness,” or “economic justice”?

What do you think?

The Limitations of the Social-Reformist Left

Introduction

I used to belong to a leftist organization in Toronto. I started, slowly, to realize that it really has little to do with challenging the power of employers as a class despite the rhetoric concerning class issues being a priority. This view was confirmed when a movement for the reform of employment standards developed in Ontario in general and in Toronto in particular, and the Ontario Liberal government (Canada is divided into provinces, with Ontario as one of the provinces) agreed to such reforms.

The reform of employment standards was certainly needed, and the reforms are indeed useful to the working class. Among the reforms was included an increase in minimum wages to $15 an hour (in two phases). However, the problem is not the reforms but the pairing of these reforms with “fairness.” T-shirts with the slogan “Fight for $15 and Fairness” were produced, and rallies were announced with the same slogan. I found such a pairing objectionable, to say the least.

The Social-Reformist Left

This is a “selling point” typical of the social-reformist left. They try to get others to agree to the reforms that they propose by claiming that it is fair or just in some way; this is also often the tactic of union negotiating teams (as will be seen in another post).

Logically, the social-reformist left would never dare to pair a law that reduced the number of times a husband could hit his wife legally from 25 times a year to 10 times a year with the concept of fairness. Of course, receiving 10 hits a year is, in general, better than receiving 25 hits a year (all other circumstances being the same, such as the force of the hit, the hit not resulting in death and so forth). But they would object to the very idea of calling even the 10 hits a year fair.

Logically, though, the social-reformist  left do dare to pair $15 an hour (and other labour law reforms) with the concept of fairness. They “forget” that workers still are treated as means for purposes over which they have little or no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital)

This forgetfulness is actually agreement with the continued existence of the power of employers as a class.

Indeed, David Bush, a labour and community organizer (and doctoral student) in Toronto specifically claimed that the reforms were fair. They are certainly fairer, but to claim that they are fair assumes that the relationship between the class of employers and the class of workers is fair. The social-reformist left rely on the acceptance of the fairness of the employer-employee relation in order to justify its own position. The money circuit of capital shows that such a relationship is decidedly unfair. (I will address Mr. Bush’s reformist ideology in another post).

The social-reformist left, therefore, conveniently forget about the class relation between employers and employees as the background for any reform movement, and then boldly claims that the Fight for $15 is fair. They have no intention of challenging the power of employers as a class.

The social-reformist left may, of course, try to argue that there is a large difference between arguing that a reduction from 25 hits to 10 hits is fair to arguing that an increase in the minimum wages to $15 is fair. A reduction in the number of hits is negative whereas the increase in the minimum wage is positive. If, however, we look at the logic of both, they are the same. Both narrow the focus to what has been gained. In the case of a reduction in the number of hits, the focus is exclusively on the number of hits, without taking into consideration the remaining hits. In the case of an increase in the minimum wage (and other labour law reforms), consideration of the remaining power of employers–a power that is abusive in itself–is simply ignored. How otherwise could the social-reformist left then call the increase in the minimum wage fair (rather than fairer)?

Both logics exclude consideration of the wider context, and both present certain changes exclusively in a positive light (a favourite tactic of the social-reformist left). In another post, it will be pointed out that acting intelligently requires taking into consideration the context; if we do not, we likely will act unintelligently. The social-reformist left, ultimately, propose that we act unintelligently.

The Radical Left

The organization to which I belonged found the pairing of $15 and fairness to be irrelevant. There was no objection to such a linking of the reform movement and the issue of fairness. I found this lack of criticism to be appalling and, as a consequence, withdrew from the organization.

The silence of the so-called radical left in Toronto (and undoubtedly in other cities and countries) over such issues shows just how dominate the social-reformist point of view has become at a practical level. Such a view assumes TINA: there is no alternative.

We need to start discussing how to challenge the power of employers as a class. The so-called radical left, however, creates all sorts of excuses for not adopting a class point of view and for putting off any discussion about such issues. Reform is all that is on the agenda for them–like the social-reformist left.

The radical left in Toronto, by remaining silent over the issue, practically are on the same level as the social-reformist left. By remaining silent, they foster the continued illusion that the existence of the class of employers and the class of employees are somehow natural and eternal. This illusion needs to be constantly criticized.

By remaining silent, the radical left in Toronto fosters actions that are unintelligent. By remaining silent, the radical left contributes to the continued oppression and exploitation of the billions of workers who experience the daily grind of being treated as things at work.

Some among the radical left, of course, will justify such silence in many ways. Some may say that it is necessary to create structures (such as TAWC–the Toronto Airport Workers Council) that cut across unions. Somehow, by magic, such structures are going to address the power of employers as a class–in the far distant future. Such a vague future is a fairy tale. The radical left, in practice, do nothing different from the social-reformist left.

I attended one TAWC meeting; I did not hear any conversation that related to the power of employers as a class. It was more like an extended union meeting than anything else.

Others may claim that we need to engage in a “war of position” (based on the Italian Marxist Gramsci). Practically, this “war of position” turns out to be no different than the social-reformist left’s position. Why else was there silence over the issue of the fairness of $15 an hour? Or is such silence an expression of a “war of position”?

Ultimately, the radical left in Toronto lost an opportunity for bringing up the class issue–and that is what is needed in these trying times of ours–and not more social-reformist rhetoric.

Les Limitations du Gauche Reformiste Social

Introduction

J'appartenais à une organisation de gauche à Toronto. J'ai commencé, lentement, à rendre compte que cela n'avait vraiment rien à voir avec la remise en cause du pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe, bien que la rhétorique concernant les problèmes de classe soit une priorité. Ce point de vue a été confirmé lorsqu'un mouvement pour la réforme des normes d'emploi s'est développé en Ontario en général et à Toronto en particulier; le gouvernement libéral de l'Ontario (le Canada est divisé en provinces, l'Ontario étant l'une des provinces) a accepté de telles réformes.

La réforme des normes d'emploi était certainement nécessaire, et les réformes sont en effet utiles à la classe ouvrière. Parmi les réformes figurait une augmentation du salaire minimum à 15 $ l'heure (en deux phases). Cependant, le problème n'est pas les réformes mais l'associaiton de ces réformes avec « l'équité ». On a produit des t-shirts avec le slogan « Fight for $15 and Fairness » ("Lutte pour 15 $ l'heure), et on a annoncé des rassemblements avec le même slogan. J'ai trouvé une telle association répréhensible, c'est le moins qu'on puisse dire.
C'est un « argument de vente » typique de la gauche social-réformiste. Ils essaient d'amener les autres à accepter les réformes qu'ils proposent en prétendant que c'est juste ou juste d'une certaine manière ; c'est aussi souvent la tactique des équipes de négociation syndicales (comme on le verra dans un autre billet de blog).

Logiquement, la gauche social-réformiste n'aurait jamais osé associer une loi qui réduirait le nombre de fois qu'un mari pourrait frapper légalement sa femme de 25 fois par an à 10 fois par an avec le concept d'équité. Bien sûr, recevoir 10 coups par an est, en général, mieux que de recevoir 25 coups par an (toutes les autres circonstances étant les mêmes, comme la force du coup, le coup n'entraînant pas la mort, etc.). Mais ils s'opposeraient à l'idée même d'appeler juste les 10 coups par an.

Logiquement, cependant, la gauche social-réformiste ose associer 15 $ l'heure (et d'autres réformes du droit du travail) au concept d'équité. Ils "oublient" que les travailleurs sont toujours traités comme des moyens à des fins sur lesquelles ils n'ont que peu ou pas de contrôle (voir Le circuit monétaire du capital)

Cet oubli est en fait d'accord avec l'existence continue du pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe.
En effet, David Bush, un organisateur syndical et communautaire (et étudiant au doctorat) à Toronto a spécifiquement affirmé que les réformes étaient justes. Ils sont certainement plus justes, mais prétendre qu'ils sont justes suppose que la relation entre la classe des employeurs et la classe des travailleurs est juste. La gauche social-réformiste s'appuie sur l'acceptation de l'équité de la relation employeur-employé pour justifier sa propre position. Le circuit monétaire du capital montre qu'une telle relation est décidément injuste. (J'aborderai l'idéologie réformiste de M. Bush dans un autre billet).

La gauche social-réformiste oublie donc commodément la relation de classe entre employeurs et employés comme arrière-plan de tout mouvement de réforme, puis prétend hardiment que la lutte pour 15 $ est juste. Ils n'ont pas l'intention de remettre en cause le pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe.

La gauche social-réformiste peut, bien sûr, essayer de faire valoir qu'il y a une grande différence entre soutenir qu'une réduction de 25 coups à 10 coups est juste et affirmer qu'une augmentation du salaire minimum à 15 $ est juste. Une réduction du nombre de hits est négative alors que l'augmentation du salaire minimum est positive. Si, cependant, nous regardons la logique des deux, ils sont les mêmes. Les deux se concentrent sur ce qui a été gagné. Dans le cas d'une réduction du nombre de hits, l'accent est mis exclusivement sur le nombre de hits, sans prendre en considération les hits restants. Dans le cas d'une augmentation du salaire minimum (et d'autres réformes du droit du travail), la considération du pouvoir restant des employeurs - un pouvoir en soi abusif - est tout simplement ignorée. Sinon, comment la gauche social-réformiste pourrait-elle alors qualifier l'augmentation du salaire minimum de juste (plutôt que de plus juste) ?

Les deux logiques excluent la considération du contexte plus large, et toutes deux présentent certains changements sous un jour exclusivement positif (une tactique favorite de la gauche social-réformiste). Dans un autre billet, on soulignera qu'agir intelligemment nécessite de prendre en considération le contexte ; si nous ne le faisons pas, nous agirons probablement de manière inintelligente. La gauche social-réformiste, en fin de compte, propose que nous agissions de manière inintelligente.

La Gauche Radicale

L'organisation à laquelle j'appartenais a trouvé que l'associaiton de 15 $ l'heure et l'équité n'était pas pertinent. Il n'y avait aucune objection à un tel lien entre le mouvement de réforme et la question de l'équité. J'ai trouvé ce manque de critique épouvantable et, par conséquent, je me suis retiré de l'organisation.

Le silence de la soi-disant gauche radicale à Toronto (et sans doute dans d'autres villes et pays) sur de telles questions montre à quel point le point de vue social-réformiste est devenu dominant au niveau pratique. Une telle vue suppose TINA : il n'y a pas d'alternative.

Nous devons commencer à discuter de la façon de défier le pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe. La soi-disant gauche radicale, cependant, crée toutes sortes d'excuses pour ne pas adopter un point de vue de classe et pour repousser toute discussion sur ces questions. La réforme est tout ce qui est à l'ordre du jour pour eux, comme la gauche social-réformiste.

La gauche radicale de Toronto, en gardant le silence sur ces questions, se situe pratiquement au même niveau que la gauche social-réformiste. En restant silencieux, ils entretiennent l'illusion persistante que l'existence de la classe des employeurs et de la classe des employés est en quelque sorte naturelle et éternelle. Cette illusion doit être constamment critiquée.

En gardant le silence, la gauche radicale à Toronto favorise des actions inintelligentes. En gardant le silence, la gauche radicale contribue à la poursuite de l'oppression et de l'exploitation des milliards de travailleurs qui subissent le quotidien d'être traités comme des choses au travail.

Certains parmi la gauche radicale, bien sûr, justifieront un tel silence de plusieurs manières. Certains diront qu'il est nécessaire de créer des structures (comme le TAWC – le Toronto Airport Workers Council) qui transcendent les syndicats. D'une manière ou d'une autre, par magie, de telles structures vont aborder au pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe - dans un avenir lointain. Un avenir aussi vague est un conte de fées. La gauche radicale, en pratique, ne fait rien de différent de la gauche social-réformiste.

J'ai assisté à une réunion du TAWC ; Je n'ai entendu aucune conversation concernant le pouvoir des employeurs en tant que classe. C'était plus comme une réunion syndicale prolongée qu'autre chose.

D'autres peuvent prétendre que nous devons nous lancer dans une « guerre de position » (basée sur les idées marxistes italiennes de Gramsci). Pratiquement, cette « guerre de position » s'avère n'être pas différente de la position de la gauche social-réformiste. Sinon, pourquoi y a-t-il eu un silence sur la question de l'équité de 15 $ l'heure? Ou un tel silence est-il l'expression d'une « guerre de position » ?

En fin de compte, la gauche radicale de Toronto a perdu une occasion d'aborder la question des classes - et c'est ce dont nous avons besoin en ces temps difficiles qui sont les nôtres - et non plus de rhétorique social-réformiste.

Las Limitaciones de la Izquierda Reformista Social

Introduccion

Solía ​​pertenecer a una organización de izquierda en Toronto. Comencé, lentamente, a darme cuenta de que realmente tiene poco que ver con desafiar el poder de los empleadores como clase a pesar de que la retórica sobre los problemas de clase es una prioridad. Esta opinión se confirmó cuando se desarrolló un movimiento para la reforma de las normas laborales en Ontario en general y en Toronto en particular, y el gobierno liberal de Ontario (Canadá está dividido en provincias, siendo Ontario una de las provincias) aceptó tales reformas.
La reforma de las normas laborales era ciertamente necesaria, y las reformas son de hecho útiles para la clase trabajadora. Entre las reformas se incluyó un aumento del salario mínimo a $ 15 la hora (en dos fases). Sin embargo, el problema no son las reformas, sino la combinación de estas reformas con la "equidad". Se produjeron camisetas con el lema "Lucha por $ 15 y la justicia" y se anunciaron mítines con el mismo lema. Encontré esa combinación objetable, por decir lo menos.

La Ala Izquierda Reformista Social

Este es un "argumento de venta" típico de la izquierda reformista social. Intentan que otros estén de acuerdo con las reformas que proponen alegando que es justa o justa de alguna manera; Esta es también a menudo la táctica de los equipos negociadores sindicales (como se verá en otro artículo).
Lógicamente, la izquierda social-reformista nunca se atrevería a emparejar una ley que redujera la cantidad de veces que un esposo podía golpear legalmente a su esposa de 25 veces al año a 10 veces al año con el concepto de equidad. Por supuesto, recibir 10 golpes al año es, en general, mejor que recibir 25 golpes al año (todas las demás circunstancias son las mismas, como la fuerza del golpe, el golpe que no resultó en la muerte, etc.). Pero se opondrían a la idea misma de considerar justos incluso los 10 hits al año.

Sin embargo, lógicamente, la izquierda reformista social se atreve a emparejar $ 15 la hora (y otras reformas de la legislación laboral) con el concepto de equidad. Ellos "olvidan" que los trabajadores todavía son tratados como medios para propósitos sobre los cuales tienen poco o ningún control (ver El circuito monetario del capital).
Este olvido en realidad está de acuerdo con la existencia continuada del poder de los empleadores como clase.

De hecho, David Bush, un organizador laboral y comunitario (y estudiante de doctorado) en Toronto afirmó específicamente que las reformas fueron justas. Ciertamente son más justas, pero afirmar que son justas supone que la relación entre la clase de empleadores y la clase de trabajadores es justa. La izquierda reformista social se basa en la aceptación de la equidad de la relación empleador-empleado para justificar su propia posición. El circuito monetario del capital muestra que tal relación es decididamente injusta. (Abordaré la ideología reformista del Sr. Bush en otro artículo).

La izquierda social-reformista, por lo tanto, se olvida convenientemente de la relación de clase entre empleadores y empleados como trasfondo para cualquier movimiento de reforma, y ​​luego afirma audazmente que la Lucha por $ 15 es justa. No tienen la intención de desafiar el poder de los empleadores como clase.
La izquierda reformista social puede, por supuesto, intentar argumentar que hay una gran diferencia entre argumentar que una reducción de 25 a 10 golpes es justa y argumentar que un aumento en el salario mínimo a $ 15 es justo. Una reducción en el número de aciertos es negativa mientras que el aumento del salario mínimo es positivo. Sin embargo, si miramos la lógica de ambos, son lo mismo. Ambos limitan el enfoque a lo que se ha ganado. En el caso de una reducción en el número de aciertos, la atención se centra exclusivamente en el número de aciertos, sin tener en cuenta los aciertos restantes. En el caso de un aumento del salario mínimo (y otras reformas de la legislación laboral), la consideración del poder restante de los empleadores, un poder que es abusivo en sí mismo, simplemente se ignora. ¿De qué otra manera podría la izquierda reformista social calificar de justo (en lugar de más justo) el aumento del salario mínimo?

Ambas lógicas excluyen la consideración del contexto más amplio, y ambas presentan ciertos cambios exclusivamente de manera positiva (una táctica favorita de la izquierda social-reformista). En otro post se señalará que actuar con inteligencia requiere tener en cuenta el contexto; si no lo hacemos, es probable que actuemos de forma poco inteligente. La izquierda social-reformista, en última instancia, propone que actuemos sin inteligencia.

La Izquierda Radical

La organización a la que pertenecía consideró que la combinación de $ 15 y la equidad eran irrelevantes. No hubo objeciones a tal vinculación entre el movimiento de reforma y la cuestión de la equidad. Encontré esta falta de críticas espantosa y, como consecuencia, me retiré de la organización.

El silencio de la llamada izquierda radical en Toronto (y sin duda en otras ciudades y países) sobre estos temas muestra cuán dominante se ha vuelto el punto de vista social-reformista a nivel práctico. Tal punto de vista asume TINA: no hay alternativa.

Necesitamos comenzar a discutir cómo desafiar el poder de los empleadores como clase. La llamada izquierda radical, sin embargo, crea todo tipo de excusas para no adoptar un punto de vista de clase y para posponer cualquier discusión sobre estos temas. La reforma es todo lo que está en la agenda para ellos, como la izquierda social-reformista.

La izquierda radical en Toronto, al guardar silencio sobre el tema, prácticamente está al mismo nivel que la izquierda social-reformista. Al permanecer en silencio, fomentan la ilusión continua de que la existencia de la clase de empleadores y la clase de empleados son de alguna manera natural y eterna. Esta ilusión necesita ser criticada constantemente.

Al permanecer en silencio, la izquierda radical en Toronto fomenta acciones que no son inteligentes. Al permanecer en silencio, la izquierda radical contribuye a la continua opresión y explotación de los miles de millones de trabajadores que experimentan la rutina diaria de ser tratados como cosas en el trabajo.

Algunos entre la izquierda radical, por supuesto, justificarán tal silencio de muchas maneras. Algunos pueden decir que es necesario crear estructuras (como TAWC, el Consejo de Trabajadores del Aeropuerto de Toronto) que atraviesen los sindicatos. De alguna manera, por arte de magia, tales estructuras abordarán el poder de los empleadores como clase, en un futuro lejano. Un futuro tan vago es un cuento de hadas. La izquierda radical, en la práctica, no hace nada diferente a la izquierda social-reformista.

Asistí a una reunión del TAWC; No escuché ninguna conversación relacionada con el poder de los empleadores como clase. Fue más como una reunión sindical ampliada que cualquier otra cosa.

Otros pueden afirmar que necesitamos participar en una "guerra de posiciones" (basada en el marxista italiano Gramsci). Prácticamente, esta "guerra de posiciones" resulta no ser diferente a la posición de la izquierda social-reformista. ¿Por qué más hubo silencio sobre el tema de la equidad de $ 15 la hora? ¿O tal silencio es expresión de una "guerra de posiciones"?

En última instancia, la izquierda radical de Toronto perdió la oportunidad de sacar a relucir el problema de clase, y eso es lo que se necesita en estos tiempos difíciles, y no más retórica social-reformista.