Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class

A few days ago, on April 17, 2021, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), wrote the following(https://opseu.org/news/a-statement-from-opseu-sefpo-president-warren-smokey-thomas/120559/). The immediate background is that Doug Ford is the premier (head) of the Ontario government (Ontario is the province with the largest population in Canada). My comments are within the square brackets]:

Chaos is the last thing we need [The government waited to hospitals would fill up as predicted by models–and then reacted when they filled up. It permitted restaurants to open up outdoors and then ordered them close within a couple of weeks. It permits schools to remain open. It has resisted a movement to provide paid sick days for workers despite such a recommendation by the medical field. And so forth. Of course, all this is without mentioning the health cuts before the pandemic–by the same government). 

Cornwall.  Peterborough. Guelph. Ottawa. Niagara. Peel. Toronto. And now police forces right across the province are refusing to make use of the new powers authorized by the Ontario government yesterday. And with good reason; randomly stopping citizens and ticketing those who don’t comply won’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Ford government responded to the third wave of the pandemic by granting expanded powers to the police, including enabling them to question why a person is outside and to provide their home address. There was a backlash against the expansion of such powers, but to what extent Ford changed his mind due to citizen backlash or police backlash remains unclear. Even the police objected to granting them such powers–and responsibility; several police forces in the province indicated that they would not be actively enforcing the law.] These measures could lead to racialized, homeless and vulnerable communities already disproportionately impacted from this virus to now be living in fear and apprehension. What’s now labelled as the back of napkin efforts of a government furiously trying to stop the spread of the virus are leading to ineffective measures and chaos. And chaos is the last thing we need.

Ontarians don’t know who to trust on the issue of COVID-19. No matter where we look, there is conflicting information about masks, about safety, about vaccines. They are confused by the lockdowns, followed by the easing of restrictions, followed by more lockdowns. Businesses are mandated to close, then opened next month, then closed again the next week. The economy is teetering on the brink of the next announcement. And Ontarians are left feeling insecure and unsafe.

When the police refuse to follow the instructions of the government, we have the beginnings of civil unrest. [Mr. Thomas is evidently afraid of civil unrest. Civil unrest for him is something purely negative.] We are already seeing parents tearing down yellow tape to get into playgrounds and visiting elderly family members despite orders.  It’s been more than a year of announcements that don’t fully work and measures that only temporarily curb the pandemic or protect the public.

As the leader of Ontario’s public service union, I am most concerned with public safety. Thousands of OPSEU/SEFPO members have been in the front lines of this pandemic, risking life and limb for the protection and safety of all Ontarians. To protect them, and the rest of us, we need a return to public trust and measures that work.

I am also concerned with how politicized the issue has become. There is no easy answer to ending the pandemic. If there were, surely we would see evidence around the world, not just in a few select places. If we are to get through this, we are going to have to rely on a few things, starting with available vaccines into as many arms as possible, regardless of the name on the label. 

We are going to need capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skilled, trained human resources.

We need treatment options for early onset symptoms for high-risk individuals.

Education, not enforcement, will see us through.

And we need collaboration.

Accusing the Premier of being uncaring, callous and more concerned with finances than health is simply dishonest.

I have come to know the Premier. I know he is distraught. I know he cares. I know he is working around the clock. The burden of leadership, whether he signed up for it or not, weighs heavy in life or death decisions. Armchair quarterbacking is far cozier.

Stop lobbing rhetorical bombs, end the name calling and hostility. Now is not the time for posturing along party lines that has been so front and centre.

We must come together now. [My daughter, Francsesca, calls the idea of “We’re all in this together”–bullshit.]

I am calling on the Premier to share the burden, widen the tent and bring all voices into a room where egos can be checked at the door for the good of Ontario. [We are, after all, all Ontarians if not Canadians. That despite the class power of employers in Ontario and Canada. That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ford is himself a capitalist employer.] Let’s hash it out; determine a course, develop a narrative everyone can trust and understand. And finally let’s implement it once and for all.

With nearly 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario today, it’s clear that the answers must come quickly. Real answers from leaders who care more about people than their own futures. [Yes, real leaders–not the pseudo-leader called Warren “Smokey” Thomas.]

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; OPSEUCommunications@opseu.org

The above expresses the ideology of “We’re all in it together.” This is the real nature of trade union leaders–not the rhetoric (bullshit) that they often express to their members.

I quoted Mr. Thomas in another post, this time dated November 27, 2018. In that quote, it is the rhetoric (bullshit) that is expressed. I invite the reader to contrast the two quotes. All bolded words in the text are my emphases:

Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in the Queen's Park media gallery.
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Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says Doug Ford has indeed made Ontario “open for business” … to trample all over workers and kill good jobs.

Shrugging his shoulders at GM’s callous plan to shutter a state-of-the-art Oshawa plant next year is yet another sign that Ford has no clue how to manage the province, Thomas said. He could care less that thousands of hard-working people will end up losing their jobs.

“This premier is in bed with business and this is how business behaves. Always putting profits ahead of people,” said Thomas. “Ford couldn’t organize a two-float parade, let alone run the province.  We need leadership that will stand up for working people.”

GM is a successful company that has already posted $6 billion in profits so far this year, Thomas noted.

“Ontario was there in 2009 when GM needed a multibillion-dollar lifeline from taxpayers. Now it’s turning its back on the people and Ford isn’t lifting a finger to stop it,” he said.

Contrast that with the premier’s red-faced fury a few months ago when he vowed to do whatever it took – including invoking the notwithstanding clause – to settle a score with Toronto city council, said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“This is the bully who threatened to suspend constitutional rights to slash city hall and get even with his critics,” he said. “But when GM tells him they’re going to close shop and throw thousands of people out of work, he just rolls over. What are his priorities?”

With the Conservative government in shambles over its disastrous decision to scrap the office of Ontario’s French-language Commissioner and abuse-of-power scandals breaking almost daily, it’s clear that Ford’s incompetence is dragging Ontario down.

“He can’t run a party, never mind the province,” Thomas said. “At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931

Which is the real Warren “Smokey” Thomas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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