The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector

Introduction

Premier Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause to prevent a union legal challgenge to legislation forcing education workers back to work despite the workers not even going out on strike yet should give the left pause for thought. Is not Ford’s government part of the public sector? 

And yet the social-democratic or social reformsist left frequently idealize the public sector (as the good) (see for example  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Six: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part One  , or  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two  or    The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services      contrasting it with the bad (the private sector). 

Of course, the social-democratic left will deny that what they mean by the public sector includes the likes of Doug Ford. However, he was elected premier of Ontario despite their wishes, and he does form part of the public sector. What the reformist left want is, however, to elect “progressive” leaders and prevent the election of such right-wing leaders as Doug Ford. However, there will always exist the possibility of the emergence of such right-wing leaders as Ford in such a system since the power of employers remains intact. Furthermore, Ford’s power comes from the hierarchical nature of government and not just from the nature of Ford’s politics. 

The social-democratic left should be questioning the democratic nature of the public sector and not just Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. That it does not do so should give one food for thought. 

French History and Ford’s Use of the Notwithstaning Clause: A Lesson to be Learned

Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause (and his imposition of a maximum increase of one percent increase in wages in the public sector via Bill 124, legislated in 2019 and quashed just this week by an Ontario court, which Ford will apparently appeal) has parallels with French history in the nineteenth century. 

Napoleon had followed up the plebescite with a wave of arrests that left the French branch of
the IW A disoriented and leaderless. The entire twenty-year period of Bonapartist rule, Engels [Marx’s friend] lamented to Marx on August 8, has “produced enormous demoralization. One is hardly justified in reckoning on revolutionary heroism.

Engels in this instance was mistaken; he underestimated the creative capacity and potential of workers. Napoleon III entered into war between 1870 and 1871 with Prussia (a part of the North German Confederation in 1867).  Napoleon lost power to the provisional government, headed by Adolphe Thiers in 1870. Early in 1871 there was a French vote for peace–but not for right-wing reaction of the Thiers provisional government (which installed itself in Versailles, outside Paris due to the radical climate that then prevailed in the capital). .From Richard Hunt (1984), The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels. Volume 2.  Classical Marxism, 1850-1895, page 112: 

The overwhelming vote for peace [between Prussia and France]  in February 1871, then, had not
been a simple vote for restoration, a state of affairs which must have been appreciated at Versailles if one notes, as Marx was bound to, the zeal with which the Versaillese hermetically sealed off communication between Paris and the rest of France, immediately passed legislation which strangled self-government in all towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants, adopted a new law restricting freedom of the press, and enacted what Marx characterized as a “new-fangled, Draconic code of deportation” for political offenses. The National Assembly did not behave like a government confident of its own popular support, or one under which democracy would long survive.

Ford’s draconian measure of not only passing legislation that forced the workers back to work (even before they went out on strike) was intensified by a further draconian measure of invoking the notwithstanding clause. Draconian measures, though on a larger scale, were instituted by the provsional government in Versailles in 1871. The executive branch of the modern government will always be a threat to a democratic way of life because of its hierarchical and unelected nature. 

When the French army suffered complete defeat in March 1871, first the Parisian National Guard revolted (when Thiers’s government tried to strip Paris of its cannon, then those residing in Paris revolted, setting up a government independent of the provisional government. The Parisian government was called the Paris Commune. 

This government elected its administrative body and did not rely on a hierarchy of unelected civil servants or officials. Hunt, page 130: 

The ninety-odd councillors who formed the communal assembly- or the “Commune” in the narrow sense Marx employs here-did their administrative work through ten commissions (for finance, public works, justice, etc.) elected from among their own numbers and responsible to the whole assembly, just as each councillor was in turn responsible to to his popular electorate in the ward, by whom he could be recalled at any time. The intent was to make all administrative posts elective and responsible,
which would have the effect, as Marx elaborated in his First Draft, of “doing away with the state hierarchy altogether and replacing the haughteous masters of the people into always removable servants, a mockresponsibility by a real responsibility, as they act continuously under public supervision.”

The potentialities of some situations give rise to the calling into question of hierarchies and power structures that have dampened the creative power of workers. From Kristin Ross (2015), Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune:

In one of his earliest essays, Rancière suggests that the poetry written by workers like Pottier, stealing time in the late night hours their schedules allowed them, was not a means of revindication—neither the form nor the thematic content of the poetry were what mattered. “It is not through its descriptive
content nor its revindications that worker poetry becomes a social oeuvre, but rather through its pure act of existing.”17 The poetry illustrates neither the misery of the worker’s conditions nor the heroism of his struggle—what it says, rather, is aesthetic capacity, the transgression of the division that assigns to some manual work and to others the activity of thinking. It is the proof that one participates in another life. When Marx says that the greatest accomplishment of the Paris Commune was “its own working existence” he is saying much the same thing. More important than any laws the Communards were able to enact was simply the way in which their daily workings inverted entrenched hierarchies and divisions—first and foremost among these the division between manual and artistic or intellectual labor. The world is divided between those who can and those who cannot afford the luxury of playing with words or images. When that division is overcome, as it was under the Commune, or as it is conveyed in the phrase “communal luxury,” what matters more than any images conveyed, laws passed, or institutions founded are the capacities set in motion. You do not have to start at the beginning—you can start anywhere.

In facing the Ford government, with its unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause to impose directly the class power of employers on the workers, workers could, potentially, come to perceive the gross class power of the executive of the modern government or state and to understand that it could not be used to express their own class interests: 

The new sentence Marx felt obliged to add to the new preface to the Communist Manifesto he wrote in 1872—”the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for their own purpose”—indicates clearly the distance that the Commune made him take toward his earlier thoughts about state centralization.25 What he now understood was that under the Second Empire, the state’s formal independence from civil society, its growth as “a parasitic excrescence” grafted onto civil society, was itself the form through which the bourgeoisie ruled.26 Attacking the separation between the state and civil society was not one of communism’s remote objectives but was instead the
practical means for its attainment, the very medium for class struggle. The form of the Commune, in turn, was less a form than a set of dismantling acts, the critique-in-act of the bureaucratic state, a critique that, in Marx’s words, amounted to the state’s abolishment. The Communards had not decreed or proclaimed the abolishment of the state. Rather, they had set about, step by step, dismantling, in the short time they had, all of its bureaucratic underpinnings. An acting, not a parliamentary body, the Commune was both executive and legislative at once. The army was eliminated; all foreigners were admitted into the Commune; state functionaries were eliminated (certain of their tasks still existed, but they were performed by anyone—at a worker’s salary, and subject to immediate recall); priests were sent off to “the recesses of private life.”

The Social-Democratic Left’s Silence About Executive Power

The social-democratic or reformist do not even mention the issue of the undemocratic nature of the exeuctive power. Their focus is on Ford–as if Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause were not an expression of a deeper-lying problem of the undemocratic and hierarchical nature of the public sector. Of course, it was indeed necessary to criticize Ford’s undemocratic move, but there is no hint that the very structure of the executive power of government is undemocratic. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which supported a wildcat support strike of its own section of education workers in favour of the striking education workers, made the following press release  (https://www.baytoday.ca/local-news/opseu-workers-to-join-friday-strike-in-support-of-cupe-6049790): 

“Bill 28, which is a legislative attack on workers’ constitutional right to fair and free collective bargaining, was introduced on October 31 after CUPE gave its five days’ notice for job action, with the possible start of a strike on Friday, November 4.,” says an OPSEU news release. “Bill 28 preemptively prohibits these workers’ right to strike, imposes massive fines, imposes four-year long collective agreements, and invokes the notwithstanding clause to preclude any legal action against Ford’s unconstitutional and undemocratic attempt at strong-arming.

The issue of the undemocratic nature of the executive branch of the government is not questioned, though. In other words, OPSEU presents Ford’s actions as undemocratic–but not the general nature of the executive branch of modern government, with its hierarchy of power and appointed positions–much like the dictatorial hierarchy that exists in employer-dominated workplaces (see Employers as Dictators, Part One). 

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish Marxist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, developed some points that are relevant for the issue in relation to participation in the government (rather than the participation in elections or in parlaiment or congress). From Michael Brie and Jörn Schütrumpf (2021), Rosa Luxemburg
A Revolutionary Marxist at the Limits of Marxism, page 88: 

In the debate on socialist participation in government, Luxemburg established four decisive theses for her understanding of the state: (1) reforms within capitalism never transform the capitalist character of property relations so fundamentally as to bring forth elements and tendencies of a new order. Socialism cannot be ‘implemented’ as a gradual transformation, but rather must be done so by a state with an entirely socialist character. The seizure of state power by the working class is the actual goal, as this is the only way to overturn the economic order. (2) The bourgeois state is the most significant impediment to a socialist reorganisation of society. It forms the wall that must be battered down for a revolution to be initiated. (3) From the executive of a bourgeois state, only bourgeois politics can be pursued, whereas in the legislative branch, it is possible to attempt to implement social reforms while ‘simultaneously opposing the bourgeois government as a whole – something that is manifested,
among other places, in the rejection of the budget’ (Luxemburg 1979a, 485). (4) Struggling to protect bourgeois democracy and being prepared to undertake revolutionary violence go hand-in-hand.

The social-democratic or social-reformsit left, by contrast left fall all over themselves trying to elect “progressives” to government–and never question the necessarily anti-democratic nature of the exeuctive branch. 

Rather, they speak like Herman Rosenfeld, when he speaks of reforming the police: 

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

Compare this with what happened during the short period of the Paris Commune: police as a separate unit controlled by a central authority independently of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers was abolished and a new force was created, subject to power from below. From Marx, The Civil War in France, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 22,  page 331: 

The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, of acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes [my emphasis], and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the
Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the Administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The vested
interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of State disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves.b Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of
the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the State was laid into the hands of the Commune.

Indeed, if a general strike did in fact arise, the issue of the organization of the police and its anti-democratic nature might have arisen as well. After all, when a general strike arises, the issue of the responsibility for public safety arises. The separation of the police as a force to oppress workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers then might arise.

Since financing both the wages demanded by the striking workers and the issue of funding of extra staff separated the two sides, the an indication of an altnerative source of revenue by shifting resources from the police to schools could at least have been highlghted.

One of the issues that arose during Covid was the abolition or defunding of the police. This too could have been raised as an issue and another spoke that revolved around the hub of a general strike. 

Conclusion

The lack of criticizing of the undemocratic nature of the executive power of modern government by the social-democratic or reformist left should not come as a surprise to radicals. Like much else, the social-democratic or social-reformist left lacks any intention of criticizing its own cherished assumptions–such as the implicit view that we live in a democratic society. There is some democratic aspects, to be sure, such as elections, but they are hardly matched by the dictatorial structures and processes characteristic of both the executive branch of modern government and the power of employers at work. 

The idealization of the public sector by the social-democratic or social-reformist left must be criticized at every turn. The public sector is hardly the embodiment of democracy. 

The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism

Introduction 

The recent wildcat strike by 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members, represented by the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU, who work in schools in Ontario, Canada, was stimulated by the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28, which not only legislated workers back to work, but also used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and Rights to Freedom to prevent any legal challenge–essentially stripping away collective-bargaining rights–including the right to strike.

The wildcat strike has resulted in two distinct political positions on what should have been done: push forward to aim for a general strike, or limit the movement to the aim of defeating the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28 and of obtaining a collective agreement.

The two distinct political positions are expresssed in the largely Canadian social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension, with Martin Schoots-McAlpine arguing for a general strike (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-general-strike-that-could-have-been) and Herman Rosenfeld aguing that a call for a general strike was premature and, he implies, ultra-leftist (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/a-first-post-pandemic-political-victoryhardly-a-general-strike-that-could-have-been ).

I will argue that Schoots-McAlpine’s political position, at least with respect to his advocacy of a general strike before the repeal of Bill 28, is the more reasonable radical position and that Rosenfeld’s position reflects a conservative radical’s political position–or rather a social-democratic or social-reformist political position.

I will not enter into detail into Schoots-McAlpine’s article since it is more important to address the inadequacies of Rosenfeld’s social-reformist position since that position has ultimately been practically realized.

The Conservative Radical’s Political Position

The Aim of the Movement Should Be Limited to the Repeal of Bill 28

Rosenfeld paints the restriction of the victory (and it was a victory in the negative sense of forcing the Conservative Doug Ford’s government to agree to abolish Bill 28) in a very positive light: 

A determined, organized and mobilized local union, the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), closed down most of the main school boards in a “political protest” which doubled as a contract strike. The Ford government withdrew its Bill 28, a constitutional attack and challenge at the OLRB, and was forced to go back to the bargaining table. CUPE maintained its right to strike if an agreement was not reached.

This was a big victory for CUPE, public sector workers, and the labour movement writ large, even though, like all such wins, it is temporary, conditional, and is only one moment in an ongoing class struggle which takes both economic and political forms. It was recognized as such by most working people, union members, officials, and critics from the left and socialists across the board.

Rosenfeld obviously considered it emintently realistic to aim only at the repeal of Bill 28: 

And, of course, the main issue was not to change the Ford government’s larger political agenda all in one go, but to defend the right of the CUPE local to bargain, build support amongst the larger working class for their demands and opposition to the government, and force Ford to back off. That was the initial step in this ongoing war and workers mobilized around it and won.

Rosenfeld’s Characterization of Schoots-McAlpine’s Position as Naive, Mechanistic, Abstract Ultra-leftism–and Inconsistent to Boot 

He then turns to what he considers the dark side (the Darth Vaderian side)–what he considers to be an ultra-leftist position. He characterizes this position in negative terms: 

Yet, in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise, this wasn’t good enough for Martin Schoots-McAlpine. For him, in his article published yesterday in Canadian Dimension (and there are other activists and comrades who clearly feel the same way), getting Ford to back down on this battle didn’t matter. The promise of a larger general strike—to be led by the dreaded labour bureaucrats he so roundly attacks—developing into a greater political movement (led by whom?) targeting many of the key elements of the capitalist agenda in the city and province was in the wind and was ended unilaterally, and wrongly, by calling off the CUPE strike and the movement towards a general strike.

And, further, even though this was to be led by the dreaded bureaucrats, Schoots-McAlpine writes, it seems that the working class, and the members of the union movement were chomping at the bit to build this movement. He writes, “for a brief moment we as workers in Ontario had an opportunity to really change the direction of this province for the better…workers across the province were willing to fight.”

Rosenfeld can hardly hide his contempt for any position that is more radical than his own. I have already pointed out in a previous post how he unjustifiably characterized a more radical position than his own as “sloppy thinking” and that his own views reflect “sloppy thinking” (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One)  Now he accues Schoots-McAlpine of engaging “in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise.” 

Rosenfeld further engages in character assassination with the title of one of his subsections: 

Delusions and wishes can’t substitute for materialist analysis of reality

Rosenfeld’s Justification For Limiting the Labour and Social Movements to Repealing Bill 28

How does Rosenfeld justify such a negative characterization? Apparently, by providing “a materialist analysis of reality.” What is this “materialist analysis?” Rosenfeld seems to argue under the above section title that workers and union leaders generally did not aim for anything more than the repeal of Bill 28; they were not prevented from pursuing a general strike since that was never really on the agenda. The following two sections are titled “Of leadership, bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers,” and “A word on general strikes.”

The section on union bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers seems to deny that the Rand formula of automatic dues deduction interfered with the relationship between union leaders and rank-and-file members. He also argues that although there has historically been a gap between union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file, leading to constraints on what the rank-and-file can do, this is not written in stone. Socialists in particular can challenge such constraints and this is what is needed. Rosenfeld admits that there is a tendency for union leaders to be co-opted, but he denies its inevitability. On the other hand, Schoots-McAlpine’s assumption that the rank-and-file are automatically militant is questionable. Workers have contradictory views since at a bare minimum they depend economically on their employer. If workers were so militant, they would have themselves called for a general strike: 

 If workers had this understanding already, they would be challenging the agreement for CUPE to go back to the bargaining table, pushing for a general strike, and calling for a political movement arguing for the demands that Schoots-McAlpine legitimately calls for on their own. But calling for general strike plans to go ahead anyway avoids the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it happen. Schoots-McAlpine leaves no place for it to happen.

Furthermore, as a counter-example to the characterization of union leaders as bureaucratic, he refers to, among others, J.P. Hornick, current leader of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU). Workers should definitely appreciate the militancy of Hornick, who supported a wildcat strike by section three (education workers) of OPSEU who themselves supported the striking CUPE members (see https://socialistaction.ca/our-initiatives/the-red-review/ for details), we should not fail to recognize the limiations of Hornick’s own views (see my criticisms of her views in May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract  and May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: More Rhetoric from a Union Rep: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part Two: Do Corrections Officers Protect Us?  ). Rosenfeld does not address such limitations and thus remains quite abstract. 

Let us add one more quote, from the section about delusions: 

Moments of struggle always provide openings to build and move forward, and for workers who are participating, to learn key lessons and develop deeper consciousness and understanding. But every struggle and every moment aren’t necessarily similar. As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them.

Let us stop here. We need, according to Rosenfeld, base our analysis on a materialist realiy and focus on the particularities (specifities) of the experience and potentials. However, Rosenfeld does not even go into the material reality of the peculiarity of Ford trying to use the notwithstanding clause to impose a unilateral contract (to call it a collective agreement would be an oxymoron). Nor does he enter into analysing the potential of this peculiar situation to build up a movement in a short period of time. It is in such circumstances that workers may well go beyond their representatives and even their union leaders.

The Unique or Peculiar Situation of an Attack on the Union Movement in General: A Materialist Analysis of the Situation 

Rosenfeld does not engage in the specific nature of the use of the notwithstanding clause as an impulse for union leaders, union rank-and-file and probably social movements to engage in protests, picket-line walking and rallies.  

In normal times, it would be inconsistent  to rely on the bureaucratic union leadership to lead a general strike. However, the Ford government’s  use of the notwithstanding clause to preempt a strik indicated  abnormal times. The bureuacratic union leadership might have felt forced to move towards in a general strike for two reasons. Firstly, they themselves identified with “free collective bargainng” as a principle, and that principle was being threatened. Secondly, they might have been subject to pressure from below. It would of course be necessary to determine if there was such pressure, but the willingness of many workers to engage in an illegal strike/political protest and be subject to $4000 fine a day, as well as the support of the strike by Unifor national, CUPE national and OPSEU, as well as the support of some parents, indicates a willingness to support a move towards a general strike. 

Indeed, in a press conference following the agreement by the Ford government that it would rescind Bill 28, Mark Hancock, president of CUPE National, had this to say when asked about what preparations had been made for a general strike: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

There is such a thing as the “logic of events.” The need for union bureaucrats to appear to represent the will of their members, especially in the context of such a public and political event as Ford’s open use of the cudgel of the notwithstanding clause might well have forced them to take measures that they would not normally take. Furthermore, their own evident belief in the sanctity of collective bargaining  might have reinforced this pressure to engage in more radical measures. 

Rosenfeld’s “materialist analysis of reality” simply ignores the “particularities” of the situation. But the particularities of a situation do not just involve facts–but potentialities. Rosenfeld also ignores the potentialties of the situation. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of the Situation

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Unifying Unions Across Canada

Furthermore, Rosenfeld’s statement: “As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them” is empty. The use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford opened up the potentiality for a national struggle and not just a provincial struggle. That is why Unifor national president spoke at the press conference as did the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. That is why even unions that supported Ford criticized him. The potential to unify unionized workers across the public and private sectors existed because of Ford’s imposition of the notwithstanding clause. 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Hancock used the term “unprecedented” to chaacterize the situation. Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), also used the same term: 

The Draconian legislation the Ford government passed to impose a collective agreement on CUPE and remove their Charter Rights to free and fair collective bargaining and to strike was an unprecedented attack on collective-bargaining rights the likes of which we have never seen in Canadian history. Rest assured, we, our members, my colleagues, people of Ontario, we will hold Premier Ford to his word to rescind Bill 28. We stand in stead-fast solidarity with you. You can count on us. You can count on ETFO. Solidarity.

Rosenfeld neglects to take into consideration the “unprecedented” threat to the Canadian union movement of Ford’s actions. He wants to restrict it to the issue of repealing Bill 28. Such radical conservatiism. Such conservative radicalism. Such naivety. Such mechanical thinking. Such abstract thinking. 

Of course, like Schoots-McAlpine, I would hardly interpret this rhetoric in a radical sense. Hancock and others, since they sell unions on the basis of the principle of free collective bargaining, rightly saw what Ford did as a threat to their own economic, political and ideological positions. They likely wanted to get back to the status quo as quickly as possible–trade-union cretinism similar to parliamentaty cretinism, which uses voting and social movements as means to pressure the government to obtain limited reforms independently of linking up such reforms with the aim of abolishing the class power of employers. 

This potentiality to unify union forces across Canada and not just in Ontario was there–and squandered. Rosenfeld agress with such a waste of potentiality. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Accelerating Worker Creativity, Organization and Class Consciousness  

Rosenfeld also underestimates the potentiality of workers for accelerating their creativiy and class consciousness in such situations. Indeed, Marx criticized those who failed to recognize the creativity of the working class. From Daniel Gaido (2021), “The First Workers’ Government in History: Karl Marx’s Addenda to Lissagaray’s History of the Commune of 1871,” in pages 1-64, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, page 42: 

In the extensive section inserted by Marx to criticise the leaders of the Paris Commune, he delved into the question of revolutionary leadership …,  pointing out how the enormous potential power of the working class had ‘always been squandered, diverted, annihilated … by a swarm of declaimers and sectarians … others who are only anxious to climb up the social ladder … [and] a bunch of blind hotheads…’

Marx insisted that ‘If a party needs wisdom, clarity, reason, leadership, it is the revolutionary party.’ [and by party marx did not necessarily mean a formal political party but a group of those who oppose the class power of employers].

Nowhere does Rosenfeld address this potentiality. Indeed, for him the concept of potentiality is limited to the conscious immediate aims of all participants indepdently of the peculiar situaiton of Ford’s invocation of the notwithstaning clause. . Why else does he not refer to the unprecedented situation of an elected official using the notwithstanding clause to break not only a particular union but trying to abolish the right to strike and the potential of that situation? He acknowledges that the right to strike was at issue, and so was the entire union movement not only in Ontario but throughout Canada (since any provincial government could then use the notwithstanding clause at any time to break a union). This fact was initated by the Ford government, and it threatened (had the potential) to unify different union movements thoughout Canada over the issue (and provide a focal point for community organizations to link their demands to that issue as well). 

The potentialities of the situation, however, should not lead us to the conclusion that workers will spontaneously come to the conclusion that we need to go beyond the collective-bargaining regime. This is where previous socialist criticisms of the limtiations of collective bargaining and collective agreements can play a role. Without such criticism, the extent to which workers will be willing to go beyond such a situation will likely be limited. The negative work required to undermine faith in the fairness of the collective-bargaining system needs to become more general if the potentialities of the system are to be realized in such a way that the workers go beyond such a situation. The danger of co-optation is ever present as a limitation to an expansion of the movement in a socialist direction of the abolition of the class power of employers. (For a short critique of the exaggeration of the implied spontaneous leap in class consciousness in such situations, see The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario). 

Overestimation of Rosenfeld’s Own Political Position and Actions

Rosenfeld’s implied claim that only if the workers defeated Bill 28–and then subsequently built on that short-term victory–is consistent with his gradualist approach. Only one step at a time–baby steps. The problem with that approach is that the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is most often forgotten in the process. 

Another problem is that it allows the represenatives of employers to figure out strategies that co-opt the movement (a danger that Roesnfeld simply ignores). I pointed Rosenfeld’s neglect of this in another post:

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

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

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

Rosenfeld’s strategy leads the left down the path to nowhere but reformism and to limits to class struggle that fail to realistically organize to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. 

Rosenfeld, by arguing that we must create 

the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it [a general strike] happen.

adopts a conservative stance. We must take baby steps, always being cautious, never assuming that certain situations may have the potential to accelerate class creativity, class organizing and class consciousness. 

The following is another piece of abstract and mechanical thinking (sloppy thinking–a term Rosenfeld used in another atticle to characterize another radical–see my criticism of his views on this in Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One): 

The education necessary to eventually organize more widespread, radical, and concerted actions still needs to be done within unions, locals, and communities in the education, health care, and other sectors. Is the author of this article willing to contribute to this, or would he prefer to sit on the sidelines and criticize the main protagonists?

This is hardly realistic. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I presented “educationals” to workers at the Toronto Pearson Airport in the mid 2010s (and, I will admit, they did more work on the course than I did–I never have liked speaking in public). However, at one point, we had to wait almost two years to provide one course. Such educationals hardly provide a dent in the armour of the class of employers. Something much more is needed–and the situation which developed was far more important for providing an educational context than such educationals. 

Let Rosenfeld provide an account of just how he has educated the workers about their exploitation and oppression. Let him enlighten us on just how effective he and his fellow radical conservatives or conservative radicals have educated the workers on their class situation. 

Frankly, his abstract and mechanical thinking leads to a situation of just talking and talking rather than taking bold steps that may indeed fail–but are better than just chattering about socialism without really advancing it at all. His approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. And hardly ever any real critical discussion.

Indeed, when we had three educationals at the airport, the first of them was without hand-picked trade union reps. The educational lost its focus (our curriculum) because the session turned into a series of long complaints about the employer and the union. None of us really had an idea about what to do with the situation. Finally,, I perceived that one of the workers attending had an exaggerated understanding of the power of collective bargaining and collective agreements and did at least manage to point that out. The following two educationals were with hand-picked trade union reps who were more “docile.” Thus, when these hand-picked union reps were presented with the situation at the brewery where I worked (I was not identified in the exercise personally), in which I refused to carry out an order by the foremen, most stated that the person should have grieved the issue and acquiesced–hardly a dignified response and also a response that would have prevented workers to engage in solidarity at the actual workplace–which is what happened. 

Conclusion

I will end here, for now. Rosenfeld obviously believes that limiting the illegal political protest/strike by CUPE education workers to the repeal of Bill 28 was justified under the circumstances. To that end, he engages in name calling by claiming that Schoots-McAlpine’s defense of a general strike expressed a naive, mechanistic and intellectualist point of view. In fact, such a defense is delusional for Rosenfeld. 

Despite his claim to engage in a matrialist analysis of reality, he fails to engage in an analysis of the unique or peculiar situation which not only workers but union leaders faced when Ford passed Bill 28. His materialist analysis is wanting. The same could be said of his lack of analysis of the potentialities of that situation. Bill 28 threatened unions across Canada, and it had the potential to create more permanent links between unions across Canada. In such a situation, workers’ own creativity, organizing capacity and class consciousness could have developed further–if the strike had not been called off on Monday, November 7. Finally, Rosenfeld greatly overestimates his own political postion and actions; his analysis and actions remain puny beside the rage, the actions, the unity and the solidarity of union members, parents and others when Ford passed Bill 28. 

One can only wonder who is delusional in such a situation. 

There are undoubtedly many other issues that have arisen that are relevant to Ford’s attempt to impose a preemptive contract on workers, with the help of the notwithstanding clause. I may or may not write further on this topic and, if I do, I may then convert this into the first part of a two-part series, or I may simply write another post about some related topics on the issue. Or I may just modify this post. 

The Real World of the Rule of Law: Courts as Oppressive Organizations, Part Four: To Resist or Not to Resist the Police

Are You Arrested? The Ambiguity of Being Detained by the Police

When a police officer stops a citizen, an immigrant or a migrant worker, it may be understandably unclear whether s/he is arrested or not and what s/he can do or not do if stopped by the police. From McBarnet, page 36:

Arrest-that is, the detention of a person against his will-may be legally carried out only in relation to a specified offence. Otherwise attendance at the police station is purely voluntary. This is the spirit of the Judges’ Rules. Barry Cox ( I975) points out succinctly the gap between this ideology and practice:

Detention for questioning is therefore in theory impossible; in practice ‘helping the police with their inquiries’ is a daily event. (p. I72)

How is this possible? Partly because of the simple fact that if such arrest is impossible in theory it is nonetheless perfectly possible in law. Although they are much referred to as a symbol of legality, the Judges’ Rules are not law, only principles for administrative guidance. Authoritative law on arrest is rather different.

If a person is not arrested when stopped by the police, what can the person do? Can s/he just leave (apart from some exceptions–as when the police require a person to take a breathalyzer test)? Not really. They, of course, can try to leave, but the legal interpretation of such an act is rather tricky. From McBarnet, page 36:

For example, the voluntary nature of helping the police with their inquiries has been interpreted in law, to say the least, very widely. Consider the Scottish case of Swankie v. Milne in I973 which defines the current situation. This was deemed not only not to be an illegal arrest but not to be an arrest at all. The judges accepted that the police had stopped the accused in his car, taken his keys away, waited with him and would have prevented him from leaving if he had tried to. However, they concluded that the accused had remained voluntarily and had not therefore been arrested.

Furthermore, what if the police try to stop the person? What right does the person have in this case? Referring to the above case, From McBarnet comments, pages 36-37:

What their judgement would have been if he had tried to leave is unclear. But it is also an arrestable offence according to the 1964 Police Act to obstruct the police in the execution of their duty, and this has been interpreted as ‘the doing of any act which makes it more
difficult for the police to carry out their duty’ (Rice v. Connolly, I 966). What precisely that means remains an open question. Although Lord Justice Parker in the same case refuted the idea that refusing to answer questions, even allied with a generally obstructive and
sarcastic attitude, was not obstructing a policeman in his duty. Justice James made a point of noting that:

I would not go so far as to say there may not be circumstances in which the manner of a person together with his silence could amount to an obstruction within the section; whether it does remains to be decided in any case that happens hereafter, not in
this case, in which it has not been argued. (Rice v. Connolly, Ig66)

It becomes rather difficult to see how someone can avoid being arrested if the police have a mind to arrest him.

Doing anything that indicates resistance to the police can easily be interpreted as resistance of arrest–and guilt. From McBarnet, page 37:

Furthermore, refusing to co-operate is not a far cry from resistance, which is, of
course, an arrestable offence; nor is resistance far from another offence, assault.

Indeed, in court, resisting arrest tends to be presented by prosecutors as indicative of guilt and therefore a justification of the arrest on the first charge anyway. ‘Only the guilty take advantage of civil rights’ is the line taken.

A person stopped by the police, on the other hand, who does not resist arrest may be accused of being guilty for that very reason. From McBarnet, pages 37-38:

On the other hand, with the nice skill lawyers have of always holding the winning trick, failing to resist is also suspicious. Witness Case 8.

The prosecutor was suggesting that the accused must have been guilty or he would not have allowed himself to have been seized (uncharged) by two men (the police were in plain clothes) without resisting:

Prosecutor: You didn’t do anything?
Accused: I couldn’t.
Prosecutor: You didn’t say ‘What are you doing?’
Accused: No, it was all too quick.
Prosecutor: And no explanation was given at all?
Accused: No
Prosecutor: When did you gather they were policemen?
Accused: I asked them-they said they were taking me to the station.
Prosecutor: But why assume they were policemen? There are railway stations.

The same applies to friends who do not assist the accused. From McBarnet, page 37:

In his summing up the prosecutor considered it doubly suspicious that the accused’s companion had not fought off the two policemen if his friend was being innocently seized:

Prosecutor: According to his story, his companion made no protest while the accused was dragged out by two unknown men. This is quite incredible. He is clearly guilty of this charge.

The flip side of this catch-22 situation–damned if you do and damned if you don’t–is you may be accused of resisting arrest if you do aid someone detained by the police. From McBarnet, page 38:

The companion in question might, however, have been relieved that he had not intervened if he had heard the accused’s mother’s account of her night in jail charged with breach of the peace when she went to protest, or if he had witnessed Case 13:

Policeman: One youth ran towards us saying ‘What are you taking him in for? It’s a fucking liberty. He’s done fuck all!’ He was cautioned and charged with breach of the peace.

What if there is no ground for arrest, the police arrest the person and the person resists? The person can be charged and convicted of assault. From McBarnet, page 38:

In any case, the prosecutor’s argument was only about the credibility of the accused not the legality of the arrest. Indeed, in cases of resistance or assault, even if the arrest was unfounded and illegal it is still, in English law, ‘open to the jury to convict of common assault’ (Halsbury, 1g6g, vol. 25, p. 364) and the charge sticks even if the resister did not know the person seizing him was a policeman. In short, the law itself does not encourage standing on one’s right to freedom from arbitrary arrest.

The Social-Democratic Left and Criminal Law

What would the social-democratic or reformist-left say about this? They would likely repeat what the social democrat Herman Rosenfeld stated:

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

Okay. How does Mr. Rosenfeld or other social democrats propose to do that? Frankly, I think that you should not hold your breath while waiting for a response. The article written by Mr. Rosenfeld from which this quote is drawn is dated May 4, 2020. I have searched on the Net to see if Mr. Rosenfeld has elaborated on this assertion since then; I have not been able to find anything at all written by him on the topic since his May 4 article.

This is just social-democratic rhetoric passing it off for something real; it is pretending to be something that it is not. It is fake social reform. Workers, citizen, immigrants and migrant workers hardly need such pretentious rhetoric. Mr. Rosenfeld has no real intention to lift a finger to formulate let alone implement a policy for police “reform.” I suspect that this applies to many other social-democratic or reformist arguments.

Indeed, when Mr. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I were giving a course on union organizing and socialism for airport workers at Toronto Pearson airport, I mentioned that we workers at a brewery in Calgary had engaged in sabotage of the machines in order to have one foremen fired (he was pressing us constantly to produce more), I had the impression that Mr. Rosenfeld was uncomfortable in my stating this fact; he was probably afraid of challenging the beliefs of the workers. I could of course be wrong, but Mr. Rosenfeld’s lack of elaboration of how the police are to be transformed and reformed provides further evidence of my suspicion that he actually holds social-reformist views and that his socialist views take second place; this conclusion probably applies to many so-called socialists.

Furthermore, the title of his article from which the above quote is drawn expresses a hostility to the view that what is needed is the abolition of the police and not its reform:

Reform and transform: Police abolitionism and sloppy thinking

Such hostility to a politics of abolition by calling it “sloppy thinking” without engaging in any further inquiry also points to a social-reformist or social-democratic point of view.

Perhaps social democrats or social reformers can provide counterarguments to the above. I welcome such counterarguments–but I suspect that they will not provide any counterarguments.

If there are no counterarguments by the social-democratic or social-reformist left, does that not point to the need to abolish the police and the associated court system that is linked to it? Would not a people’s court and armed citizens be much more in the interests of workers than a separate police force and courts that engage, systematically, in oppressive measures against those who challenge social order? After all, as Mark Neocleous argues, the essential function of the police (and the courts by implication)–is to maintain social order of a society dominated by a class of employers–and not to administer social justice (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism).

Conclusion

Workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers who are stopped by the police, even if they have not broken the law, could easily be arrested for refusing to comply with police officers’ instructions. On the other hand, complying with police officers’ instruction could also be used in a court of law against them. Such is the illogic of a system of justice within a society dominated by a class of employers.

You would not know it from the rhetoric of the social-democratic or social-reformist left, though. They provide little or no research to educate workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers on the real nature of the work of police officer and the real law as expressed in courts of law. Rather, they paper over the real nature of such social institutions with their empty phrases of transforming such institutions “into a more humane, limited and less autonomous” form.

Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats

Introduction

In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. 

Mr. Black states the following: 

SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?

Mr. Gindin’s response? 

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan [my emphases].

This concept of “progressive organizations”–without qualifications or analysis–sounds very much like “an abstract slogan.” Calling such organizations progressive without further ado fails to address the possible limitations of such organizations. It also sounds very much like the use of the term “radical” used by Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrat, Hermand Rosenfeld, who has used the term “radical” in a merely social-reformist or social-democratic sense (see my series of posts on the topic, such as What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two). 

Let us first look at Oxfam. In a relatively recent publication (September 2020, titled Power, Profits and the Pandemic: From Corporate Extraction for the Few to an Economy that Works for All) (available for download at https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/power-profits-and-pandemic ), Oxfam criticizes, in various ways, how the pandemic has increased inequalities throughout the world. 

Rather than focusing on its critique (which centres mainly on differences in income, excluding consideration of the distribution of wealth that is used to produce both means of production (machinery (including computers), plant or buildings, raw materials, auxiliary materials) and means of consumption (bread, meat, coffee, tea, milk, refrigerators, fans, cars and so forth), let us look at some of its recommendations. 

The recommendations look very much like a social-democratic or social-reformist wish list. In essence, they seek to roll back the clock to the time after the Second-World War–without the conditions that then prevailed (such as a working class that was not only more organized but had experience in fighting a war and a substantial part of the capital owned by employers  being destroyed (thereby reducing the constant part of capital as well as obsolete technology and raising the rate of profit). 

Capitalism with a Humane Face: The End of Neoliberalism

Decent Work

Oxfam on Decent Work

What Oxfam seeks is the elimination of neoliberalism–but not the class power of employers. This is typical of modern-day social democrats. Thus, we read (pages 40-41): 

People: putting people at the center of business

Companies should redesign their business models to center on the wellbeing of people in their operations, supply chains and broader society – and be incentivized to do so. This will require investing in decent jobs, addressing human rights risks and supporting efforts for universal social protection.

It then outlines what it means by “decent jobs” (page 41): 

Decent work
• Governments must require, and companies should pay living wages, provide safe and healthy working conditions, and work with trade unions to increase the negotiating power of workers.
• Governments must require and companies should provide paid leave and ensure women have equal opportunities for advancement.
• Companies should eliminate commercial and trading practices that place undue levels of risk and pressure to cut costs on suppliers.
• Companies should exercise preferential sourcing from suppliers that guarantee a living wage and are unionized.

If there is a market for workers, how can there be such a thing as “decent jobs?” This is the “abstract slogan” of social democrats everywhere. The class power of employers and the general nature of such a society ensures that jobs and the human beings that perform them will be used as means for the pursuit of more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital). (For a critique of the concept of “decent jobs” or “decent work,” see Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?).

Mr. Gindin’s Social-Democratic View on Decent Work

Mr. Gindin nowhere engages in a critique of this abstract slogan. On the contrary. When I tried to bring up the issue, here is what Mr. Gindin had to say on the subject (November 24, 2017): 

Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.  Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve. ‘Decent jobs’ or a ‘good contract’ are a way of expressing defensive gains when radical gains are not even on the table and we – those on this exchange – don’t have the capacity tooter [to offer?] them any kind of alternative jobs. So criticizing them for this hardly seems an effective way to move them to your view – which is not to say you shouldn’t raise it but that you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t suddenly act on your point. Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not Dealy Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves.

The reference to Dealy is to Wayne Dealy, the  executive director for Local 3902 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), called me a “condescending prick” for criticizing another union rep (Tracy McMaster), who claimed that all that striking brewery workers wanted was “fair wages” and “decent jobs.”

Mr. Gindin fails to see how the concept of “decent work” or “decent jobs” has been used by social-democratic organizations as a means of avoiding engaging in debate about whether working for any employer can be considered “decent.” Such a phrase is an “abstract slogan” that unions persistently use without teaching their members just how limited collective bargaining and collective agreements are. Oxfam uses the same abstract slogan as unions. 

Such a debate has to do, among other things, with the standards we use to judge activities as appropriate to our natural characteristics as living human beings, to our historical characteristics as living human beings who socially produce our own lives on the basis of already produced means of production inherited from the  past and to our current situation as living human beings who have created a world of machines (including computers) that we need to produce our lives but that we do not control.

It should not, however, come as a surprise that Mr. Gindin would defend the use of the ideological expression “decent work.” He himself has used such an expression in the past. From  “Rethinking Unions, Registering Socialism,” in pages 26-51, Socialist Register 2013, pages 39-40: 

1. From bargaining to jobs

‘The last 30 years have changed us’, the CEO of Gallup recently noted by way of introducing what he described as one of the firm’s most consistent polling results: ‘The primary will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that’. The implication for unions could not be more profound since unions have traditionally been structured around the conditions and price of workers’ labour power, not whether they have a job in the first place. This inability to address their members’ top priority is a problem in itself and, because of the related insecurity, also undermines the
union capacity to deliver on what they are allegedly structured to do – defend and improve wages, benefits and working conditions. There can be no union renewal without addressing access to decent jobs [my emphasis]. Unions had previously avoided this contradiction by looking to growth and Keynesian stimulus to provide the jobs while the union concerned itself with negotiating labour’s price. Though fiscal stimulus does have currency at this particular moment – even many economists, mainstream commentators and corporate heads have come to see that fixing the banks is not enough to restore growth and save capitalism from itself – Keynesianism is dead and buried as a long-term strategy for addressing worker job security. Capital has made it abundantly clear that its strategies for growth now rest on worker discipline, containing inflation and increasing international competitiveness – all of which militate against worker job and social security. There has been growth in recent decades but, driven by the restoration of profits and weakening of unions, it has brought ever greater inequality while not delivering the levels of private investment that can bring anything close to full employment, never mind well-paying secure jobs.45

Note 45 at the end of the above quote provides further detail about what Mr. Gindin means by “decent jobs” (page 51): 

Even at relatively low unemployment rates, decent jobs are no longer necessarily provided – in 2004, the unemployment rate was down to 4 per cent but workers were no less insecure because restructuring was so intense (the positions were opening up were either inferior or not accessible to workers newly unemployed). The reserve army is no longer just the unemployed but also includes the precarious and low-paid in a context of accelerated restructuring. See Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury, 2011; and John Evans and Euan Gibb, ‘Moving from Precarious Employment to Decent Work’, Discussion Paper 13, Global Union Research Network, Geneva, 2009.

A decent job, then, is a job that is relatively secure. The working class certainly considers job security to be an essential need. However, the level of job security possible within a society dominated by a class of employers is a question of degree; no job–and hence no level of working-class income–is secure from the shifting sands of the accumulation process of capital. Job insecurity has been and is a common feature of working-class experience. For example, I worked at a capitalist brewery until 1983 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (when I quit.). Eleven years later, in 1994, the employer (Molson) closed the brewery. 

Gindin’s implied view that job security is somehow really possible in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers seemed to be possible in the years following the Second World War (when massive amounts of constant capital–machinery, buildings, raw material, auxiliary material–were destroyed and millions of workers were killed), but the years since the late 1960s has shown that this security has been increasingly a will-o-the-wisp for many workers. To seek job security in such a context is purely reformist–and idealist. Job security will likely be secured if a massive war erupts (with the possible extinction of the human species)–or a socialist society is secured. 

To speak of job security independently of the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is social-democratic rhetoric–an abstract slogan. 

Mr. Gindin’s reference to Oxfam as a progressive organization thus expresses his own lack of critical engagement with social-democratic or social-reformist rhetoric. It reflects a lack of self-criticism. Mr. Gindin fails to criticize his own views about decent jobs or decent work. As I said in a previous post ( The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020): 

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism.

Oxfam on Collective Bargaining

This ideological reference by Oxfam to decent work is coupled with a call for collective bargaining and, implicitly collective agreements, without ever engaging in an analysis of the limits of such bargaining in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures. From page 43: 

Collective bargaining
•Governments must support and companies should respect collective bargaining rights and engage with independent trade unions.
•Governments must support and companies should enable women workers to raise their voices safely and effectively in company operations and supply chains.
•Companies should create robust grievance mechanism for employees and workers across their supply chains.

I have criticized the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements in a number of posts (see, for example  Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract? or Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One ). 

Oxfam on Corporations as Needing to Pay Their “Fair Share of Taxes”

Further evidence that Oxfam is a social-democratic or social-reformist organization that does not aim to challenge the general class power of employers is its recommendation that corporations “pay their fair share of taxes”–another abstract slogan. From Oxfam’s 2020 publication, page 42: 

Governments should ensure large multinational companies pay their fair share of taxes [my emphasis] where economic activity takes place, including through a corporate global minimum tax, applied at a country-by-country level.

The concept of corporations “paying their fair share of taxes” is an abstract slogan. What does it mean? If all corporations exploit the workers they employ, how is it possible for them to pay any taxes that are “fair?” There is the implicit assumption that the profit of corporations is somehow “fair”–but that corporations are not paying a portion of that as taxes that would constitute a fair share. In other words, it is implied that it is fair to exploit and oppress workers–provided that the corporations “pay their fair share of taxes.” 

Oxfam’s Unrealistic Recommendation of Putting People First in the Context of the Class Power of Employers

Just as Oxfam fails to question the abstract slogan of corporations paying their fair share of taxes, it also fails to question the abstract slogan of putting people before profits. Oxfam recommends the following as well:

People: putting people at the center of business
Companies should redesign their business models to center on the wellbeing of people in their operations, supply chains and broader society – and be incentivized to do so. 

People are indeed at the “center” of the operations of businesses: they are means for obtaining more and more profit (see The Money Circuit of Capital). As I wrote in my post on Socialist Action: 

If we take a look at the money circuit of capital (The Money Circuit of Capital), we can see that workers are used as mere means for obtaining more profit (or, in the case of the government, for purposes undefined by workers). For Mr. Thomason, as long as the Irvings pay “their fair share of taxes”–they can continue to exploit workers. Such is the logic of the social-democratic left. How do these social democrats represent the general interests of workers (the class interests of workers)? 

In an article written by Craig Berry and Clive Gabay (2009), Transnational political action and ’global civil society’ in practice: the case of Oxfam, they argue that Oxfam does not oppose globalization nor transnational (or multinational) corporations (TNCs or MNCs), but rather seeks to use them and the consequences that flow from them to “humanize” the world: 

The general argument seems to be that both market forces and technological change have contributed to the development of globalization. The principal implication of globalization, however, is the birth of a global economy operating beyond the confines of nation-states. Crucially, moreover, this is generally a positive development. Even criticism of transnational corporations (TNCs), the apparent targets of the anti-globalization movement, is muted:

Technological change has made globalization possible. Transnational companies have made it happen. Through their investment, production and marketing activities, TNCs bring the world’s economies and people more closely together’ (Oxfam International 2002: 14).

Oxfam therefore merely identifies TNCs as the carriers of the inexorable force of technological development, the logical outcome of which is increased trade. In general, there appears to be no appetite within Oxfam to challenge what they deem the process of
globalization. Two local organizers argued:

The challenge is to make globalization, which is unavoidable in some ways and in some ways very, very desirable, work for people. I think in some ways it has been shown not to work, but in others there have been some very positive outcomes of globalization.

If we take the best aspects of globalization, the best results of globalization… if we can use the forces of globalization to create a baseline around the world so that everyone has a choice, everyone has access to a doctor, a school, these real baseline Millennium
Development Goals-type aspirations, I do think globalization can deliver.

It seems the problem with globalization for Oxfam is that it is not working for enough
people. It is its goal of rectifying this situation that gives Oxfam its identity as a
‘development’ organisation. Yet we see this strange paradox whereby globalization is said to require better management, yet it is deemed in itself positive: Oxfam separates current
governance arrangements, orchestrated by nation-states, from the economic process.

Qualified Support for Oxfam–After Engaging in its Critique

What might a more appropriate leftist political position be in relation to Oxfam? Its limitations need to be pointed out (some of which were specified above). On the other hand, once these limitations have been identified and described, it can certainly be acknowledged that Oxfam has done some good work in certain areas. Its research into the increasing inequality could be used to good advantage, for example, as could its statistics on how profits during Covid evidently were more important for corporations than the interests of their workers–and how government subsidies to corporations did not change corporation’s behaviour. 

Furthermore, its opposition to violence against girls and women is also commendable–see my own efforts in relation to my daughter in such posts as  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services

Nonetheless, for those who oppose the class power of employers, these efforts and this research need to be linked to a critique of the implied standard used by Oxfam and so many other so-called progressive organizations or “material structures”: the standard of a humanized capitalism. 

Conclusions

Mr. Gindin’s claim that

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself

rings hollow. Oxfam challenges a particular version of capitalism (neoliberalism) but not the nature of capitalism as such. Oxfam seeks to reform capitalism–not abolish it. Oxfam is like Mr. Gindin’s right-hand man, Herman Rosenfeld, who argues the same in regard to the police:  

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

If we substitute “neoliberal capitalism” for “the police”, we have Oxfam’s views. Decent work under the rule of employers, collective bargaining with the power of employers modified but not eliminated, corporations paying their fair share of taxes while exploiting and oppressing workers and putting people at the center–of exploitation and oppression–this is the contradiction of Oxfam. Mr. Gindin, however, claims the opposite–that “Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself.” Oxfam aims to modify the profit priorities of employers but not eliminate their power. 

Mr. Gindin implied that it was necessary to create “material structures” first rather than engage in criticizing the ideology of trade-unions (see my critique Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)). Oxfam certainly has a material structure. Is Oxfam the embodiment of Mr. Gindin’s ideas (since it is “a progressive organization”)? Or is there need to question the implicit assumption by Oxfam that the exploitation and oppression of workers is legitimate? If so, why would Mr. Gindin call it a “progressive organization?” 

Does not Mr. Gindin, like so many social-democrats, engage in abstract slogans by claiming that Oxfam is a progressive organization that somehow threatens capitalism? 

In effect, the social-democratic left often engage in rubber stamping other so-called progressive organizations without engaging in any inquiry into their nature and limitations (see for example another example of rubber stamping by the grassroots organization Social Housing Green Deal here in Toronto  Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Two: Critique of the Standard of Canadians and Landed Immigrants Working for an Employer). Indeed, I get the impression that there is lots of rubber stamping among the social-democratic left. 

In a related post, I may take a look in a general way at whether Amnesty International (AI) is a “progressive organization,” and in a follow-up post may look in more detail at AI’s silence  concerning economic coercion, exploitation and oppression, on the one hand, and its contradictory treatment of the capitalist government or state and its limited critique of that institution on the other. 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of workers in several capitalist companies: Magna International, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia), Bank of Montreal (BMO), Telus, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Suncor Energy, Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank),Rogers Communications Inc., the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and  Air Canada,  (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One).

I thought it might be useful to begin the comparison of rates of exploitation of the same capitalist employer for different years. Although this fails to capture the dynamic of capitalist relations of production and exchange (being two snapshots at different times), it may provide further insight into the nature of capitalist society.

The structure of the post is as follows:

  1. I outline the nature of the rate of exploitation
  2. I then provide “Conclusion first,”
    a. the 2020 rate of exploitation is indicated
    b. the 2020 rate of exploitation is compared with the 2019 rate and some possible explanations of the differences are provided
    c. a long quote of a discussion around tactics and strategies between Sam Gindin (former research director of the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor) and me relating to  union ideology.
    d. Further brief criticisms of Mr. Gindin’s political position
    e. Consideration of an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 in relation to Mr. Gindin’s views
  3. How I calculated the rate of exploitation (including adjustments) as well as a justification for interpreting the substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation in terms of “fixed costs.”
  4. The conclusions as stated in 2.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation is likely due to the treatment of workers as “fixed costs” as the pandemic forced employers to retain workers despite the relatively extra costs associated with it (partly offset by federal, provincial and municipal supports).

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Political Considerations

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic will likely call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

I will include a rather long quote from a previous post. It is a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me:

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matter And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -”

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

I guess workers’ explicit consciousness of their own exploitation and oppression and their discussion of such experiences is to arise only after the emergence of “larger structures to fight through.” It is, however, likely that such “larger structures” will simply mimic the “narrower” structures if both are not criticized. How is the CLC (the Canadian Labour Congress)  substantially different from union structures in terms of challenging the class power of employers? Or is Mr. Gindin referring to the larger structures, such as the class power of employers?

My own experience with union reps has been that they assume the necessity and legitimacy of the class power of employers–and do not do anything to raise the issue of the legitimacy of the class power of employers, the exploitation of workers and their oppression among their own members; their aim is to improve the working conditions without questioning at all such class power, exploitation and oppression. I have been a union member, a union rep (union steward and member of a collective-bargaining committee), a member of the executive of a union and a rep for an Equity and Social Justice Committee. I have seen up close the assumptions and limitations and unions–and have tried to address such limitations when and where I could.

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it. I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements

Let us look at an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 (see  https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/uniforlocal444/pages/43/attachments/original/1604838387/Integram_Ratification_Bulletin.pdf?1604838387).

It contains such enlightening items as the following:

Our members are their most vital asset that sets the supplier bar in this industry and deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour and aids the company in retaining their highly skilled workforce. [my emphasis]

I find this language both typical of union reps–and disturbing. As I pointed out above, it is likely that Magna International treated the workers as a “fixed cost” in order to retain them during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, to read a union rep write that Magna workers are “an asset” surely is both disturbing and in need of criticism. Should any human being be considered and treated as an “asset?” Consider any member of your family. Would you want them to be treated as “an asset?”

That they are “assets” is real enough–to be exploited by Magna International (and all other private companies)–but should we not be criticizing this? Is Mr. Gindin in any specific way? Apparently not–since radicals are supposed to only criticize such views in “material cents.” Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide an example of this in his own concrete practice? I see no concrete examples of his recommendations–they are so vague.

Where is Mr. Gindin’s “humility?” Where is his “self-criticism?”

Let us continue with this Integram Bargaining Report:

deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour

This is ideology frequently expressed by union reps. “Proper compensation” is a synonym for “fair wages” and, indirectly, a “fair contract.” The union rep clings to the appearance of workers selling their “labour” [labour is an activity that requires a material link between that labour and the means to be used–without those means, there is only a capacity for labour or labour-power. As Marx remarked, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, page 277:

When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not speak of labour, any more than we
speak of digestion when we speak of capacity for digestion. As is well known, the latter process requires something more than a good stomach.

Workers lack the conditions for the realization of their capacity for labour–just as many in the world lack the conditions for the use of their digestive tract–they lack food. The Unifor union rep., by identifying labour with the commodity which the worker sells, simply ignores the difference between a capacity and the conditions for its exercise–and such neglect of the conditions is hardly in the interests of workers.

How workers sell “labour” that is already linked to the means of production owned by (Magna) Integram (and hence under the control of Integram is a mystery. Furthermore, by identifying compensation with labour, the exploitation of workers by Magna Integram is excluded, and the internal or necessary relation between the wage and the profit of Magna Integram becomes broken.

Does Mr. Gindin criticize this approach so typical of union reps? Not at all. Rather, he criticizes those who engage in such criticism. For him, radicals are to indulge such beliefs. After all, it is only “discourse” and has no “autonomy.” This dismissal of ideological struggles is itself arrogant and lacks humility. Mr. Gindin somehow knows what workers need without even considering in any detail how union reps aid to legitimate the existing class power of employers by constantly using such language.

Where has Wayne Dealy provided any criticism of collective agreements (not the particular provisions of collective agreements) publicly? Sean Smith? Frankly, I find it astounding that such arrogance displayed by Mr. Gindin in his assumption that we are not to engage in criticism of union reps’ views is paraded as “humility” and “self-criticism.”

Let us listen to what Mr. Gindin called “Our Tracy” (McMaster, a union steward for Local 561 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); who was also vice-president of the local union at one point):

Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none.

I have hardly denied that collective bargaining is better than none. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and I certainly would prefer to belong to a union when working for an employer than not belonging to one. However, I do not take seriously her claim that “Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect.” I see no evidence that Ms. McMaster takes such a view seriously. Where is the evidence that she has inquired into “the limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining? Rather, for Ms. McMaster, collective bargaining provides an imperfect but ultimately fair contract.

Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide evidence to the contrary it. I doubt that he will–or can.

Mr. Gindin’s tactics are as follows: Let us try to convince such union reps of our views. Frankly, I think such an effort is, for the most part, a waste of time. Of course, there are exceptions, and it is necessary to use one’s judgement under specific circumstances and in relation to specific union reps. However, my judgement was and is that it Ms. McMaster would never be really convinced of the “limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining.

Rather than indulging such union reps, it is in the interests of workers to criticize them and to expose their lack of a critical approach to collective bargaining.

Let us continue to look at this Bargaining Report:

Your bargaining committee achieved Pay Raises, Benefits Improvements, Lowering the new higher grid, Buy-out packages, and Signing Bonus. A healthy contract that reflects a greater worth in our Integram members.

Such achievements, of course, are in the interests of the workers. But why call it a “healthy contract?” Apparently, this is a synonym for a “fair contract”–and I have shown that Canadian unions persistently use such language to justify both the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements (see, for example,   Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). No collective agreement can express something legitimate–unless the necessary exploitation and oppression of workers by employers (including Magna Integram) is somehow legitimate.

In the Bargaining Report, there then follows a list of items that were obtained by the bargaining committee. Not one word of the “limited and imperfect” nature of the collective agreement or the collective-bargaining process. Not one word on the management rights clause, implicit or explicit in the collective agreement. Do not workers persistently experience the power of management in a variety of ways? Why the silence over such experiences? Does the collective agreement address such power? Or does it only address the limited areas defined by collective-bargaining legislation?

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

Now, the calculation:

In millions US dollars:

Sales $32,647
Costs and expenses $31,641

Cost of goods sold 28,207

Material $19,750
Direct labour 2,498
Overhead 5,959

Depreciation and amortization 1,366
Selling, general & administrative 1,587
Interest expense, net 86
Equity income (189)
Other expense, net 584
Income from operations before income taxes $1,006

[28,207+1,366+1,587+86+584=31,830; 31,830+1006=32,836; 32,836-189=32,647]

Adjustments

As I indicated in the 2019 post, a couple of adjustments are necessary.

Adjustment on Cost Side of Direct Labour and Corresponding Adjustment of Income  from Operations Before Taxes

I wrote in the 2019 post:

On page 37 [of the 2019 annual report], there is a reference to pension benefits. I assume that this category belongs to “direct labour” since it forms part of the deferred wages of workers that is paid in the current year (but then again, it is unclear whether the category of direct labour includes this, but since it is subtracted from net income, this leads me to believe that it is not included in that category). This should be added to direct labour. Hence, direct labour would be: 2,815+47=2,862, “Costs and expenses” would be $37, 255 “Costs of goods sold”would be $34,069, and “Income from operations before taxes” should be adjusted downward accordingly.

Now the 2020 “Pension and post-retirement benefits” is  (11).

This US $11 million should be added to “Cost and Expenses,” “Direct labour” and subtracted from “Income from operations before taxes.” Accordingly:

Temporarily Adjusted Costs and Expenses: $31,652
Temporary Adjusted Costs of Goods Sold: $28,218
Adjusted Direct Labour Costs: $2,509
Temporarily Adjusted income from operations before income taxes: $995

Adjustment of income from operations before income taxes due to interest expense, net

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the 2019 rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest: despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

Accordingly, it is necessary to add $86 “Interest expense, net” to “Income from operations before income taxes” and subtract it from “Cost and expenses.”

(“Equity income” is already subtracted from costs since it is not really a cost at all but rather income.)

Adjusted Cost and Expenses $31,566
Adjusted Direct Labour $2,509
Adjusted income from operations before income taxes $1081

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

The following provides information about the length of the working day:

  1. There are 3 shifts. 9 hours a shift.
  2. Typical 8 – 12 hours per shift.
  3. 8-12 hrs, 7 days a week, with very last minute overtime mandating, and i mean literally as your punching out theyll tell you that you have to stay for another 4+ hours. No work life balance and management could care less because theyre at home on the weekends. Better positions come with 100% more stress, more responsibilities that others pass off cause they dont want to do it, 1000s of strings attached and literally no way to avoid getting screwed by them. Constant harassment and belittling by management and engineers and if you report it, youre facing constant retaliation and impending termination. If your not part of the HR posse or the “good ol’ boys club”, youre nothing but a rug for them to walk across. So, if you value your sanity, health and family, this is not a place to work.
  4. I have been there for 3 years until i quit and half of the plant is doing either 10 or 12 hours 7 days a week
  5. Article 17 (page 51) of the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009AP: Employees normally work an eight-hour day, five days per week

Accordingly:

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

Factors or Determinants of the Rate of Exploitation and Its Changes

Normally, when there is a change in the rate of exploitation, whether positive or negative, we should look at the general factors that govern the production of surplus value.  In general, there are three ways of changing the rate of exploitation:

  1. changing the real wage (the absolute amount and variety of commodities consumed by workers);
  2. changing the absolute amount of surplus value produced either by
    1. changing the length of the working day intensity of labour or
    2. changing the intensity of labour length of the working day
  3. changing (in fact, increasing) the relative amount of surplus value produced, generally through new technology, thereby decreasing the value of the commodities produced that form the real wage consumed by workers (with a fixed or constant working day and a constant amount of commodities consumed by workers, but with less labour time required to produce them, the amount of labour time required to reproduce the workers’ wages is reduced and more labour time constitutes surplus value).

As Ben Fine  and Alfredo Saad-Filho (2016) describe the factors with a view to increasing the rate of exploitation by employers in their book Marx’s Capital, pages 36-37:

Assume, now, that real wages remain unchanged. The rate of exploitation can be increased
in two ways….

First, e [the rate of exploitation[ can be increased through what Marx calls the production of absolute surplus value. On the basis of existing methods of production – that is, with commodity values remaining the same – the simplest way to do this is through the extension of the working day. …

There are other ways of producing absolute surplus value. For example, if work becomes more intense during a given working day, more labour will be performed in the same period, and absolute surplus value will be produced. The same result can be achieved through making work continuous, without breaks even for rest and refreshment. The production of absolute surplus value is often a by-product of technical change, because the
introduction of new machines, such as conveyors and, later, robots in the production line, also allows for the reorganisation of the labour process. This offers an excuse for the elimination of breaks or ‘pores’ in the working day that are sources of inefficiency for
the capitalists and, simultaneously, leads to increased control over the labour process (as well as greater labour intensity) and higher profitability, independently of the value changes brought about by the new machinery.

The desired pace of work could also be obtained through a crudely applied discipline. There may be constant supervision by middle management and penalties, even dismissal, or rewards for harder work (i.e. producing more value).

The above are general conditions for the determination of the rate of exploitation and its changes. The specific change observed in the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International are unlikely due to these general conditions. Rather, the decrease in the rate of exploitation in 2020 relative to 2019 is likely due to the specific economic conditions that accompanied the pandemic.

One Possible Explanation for the Substantial Decrease in the Rate of Exploitation

Part of the explanation for the  substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation was probably the treatment of workers at Magna International, in part, as “fixed costs.”

Initially, Magna International laid off many of “its” workers, but it also sought to retain them by paying them additional money beyond that flowing from the government initially through federal  unemployment insurance (although it may have also been a function of provisions in the collective agreement concerning layoffs).

Magna International did lay off around 2,000 workers in Ontario during the initial wave of COVID. From https://lfpress.com/business/local-business/magna-cuts-production-2000-local-staff-amid-fallout-from-covid-19:

Magna cuts production, 2,000 local staff amid fallout from COVID-19

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

Article content

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

The Canadian auto parts giant has closed its two St. Thomas plants, Presstran and Formet, employing a combined 1,500 to 2,000, as well as Qualtech in London, which employs about 275.

“Both Formet and Presstran will be temporarily suspending operations today . . . Qualtech will also temporarily suspend its operations,” read a statement from Scott Worden of Magna’s corporate communications department.

“Magna is committed to both the health and financial well-being of our employees. We will be providing additional payments to employees beyond the minimums provided under the federal Employment Insurance program.”

The closings are not unexpected, and may not last long, as the Detroit Three automakers, Toyota and Honda have all closed plants for up to two weeks across North America as a result of the coronavirus.

Presstran is a stamping plant and Formet supplies several different parts to many automakers, including truck frames to GM plants in the U.S. Qualtech supplies seating systems.

“Magna continues to closely monitor developments related to coronavirus (COVID-19) with a focus on the health and safety of our employees and our operations. In addition, we are in daily communication with our customers, many of which have recently announced partial or full temporary production suspensions at plants in Europe and North America,” read an additional statement from Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications at Magna.

The automaker said it will continue to follow World Health Organization protocol on cleaning the workplace and limiting contact with between people.

“We continue to assess our operations on an individual basis and are beginning to temporarily suspend manufacturing operations at a number of our manufacturing divisions around the world . . . many of our facilities are expected to suspend operations with production status re-evaluated week to week,” said Fuerst.

Further evidence for treating Magna International workers as fixed costs comes from Annual Information Form, Magna International Inc., March 25, 2021, page A-17:

Despite inevitable temporary layoffs of employees in light of the suspension of production during the first half of 2020, we took a number of steps to minimize the impact felt by our employees, including: maintaining employee benefits coverages through the temporary layoff period; …

We also engaged emergency government support programs primarily for employees to maintain compensation levels and/or benefits for a certain period, where applicable. The countries in which Magna engaged such programs included Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and China. These programs allowed participating employees to remain on our payroll while inactive or furloughed due to mandatory stay at home orders, with Magna receiving full or partial reimbursement for such inactive labour.

The view that workers were treated more as fixed costs (probably out of fear that Magna International would lose such workers to other employers if they were not treated as fixed costs) is supported by the relatively limited decrease in v when compared to s.

Treating workers as “fixed costs” under the conditions of the pandemic is understandable since workers are not linked politically or legally to particular employers; they can work for another employer (if they can find another employer who will hire them). See Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and  Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left).

This treatment of workers as fixed costs (to retain them over the short term) and the resulting decrease in the rate of exploitation is consistent with abnormal conditions that capitalist employers generally try to avoid since, on the one hand, they own means of production (c) that fail to absorb surplus value and, hire relatively more workers (v) than can be exploited under given conditions. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 2, The Process of , page 111:

The point is simply that under all circumstances the part of the money that is spent on means of production – the means of production bought in M-mp [money used to purchase means of production, such as computers and other machines, raw material, buildings and other produced commodities necessary for labour to be performed] means of production – must be sufficient, i.e. must be reckoned up from the start and be provided in appropriate proportions. To put it another way, the means of production must be sufficient in mass to absorb the mass of labour which is to be turned into products through them. If sufficient means of production are not present, then the surplus lahour which the purchaser has at his disposal cannot be made use of; his right, to dispose of it will lead to nothing. If more means of production are available than disposable labour, then these remain unsaturated with labour, and are not transformed into products.

In effect, in terms of the pandemic, Magna International purchased too much labour power (the capacity to use the means of production and to produce value–a capacity sold by workers) and too many means of production. Not all of the labour power purchased could be exploited, and not all the means of production owned by Magna International could absorb labour and hence surplus labour and surplus value.

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Conclusion

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic is likely due to the temporary) overinvestment in the purchase of labour power relative to the inability of management to use the means of production to exploit the workers. This situation will likely now call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

Where is there evidence that Mr. Gindin has contributed to the creation of material structures that question the fundamental economic, political and social structures characteristic of a society dominated by a class power of employers by indulging in the beliefs of union reps? Does the organization Green Jobs Oshawa, to which Mr. Gindin contributes, do so? Where is the evidence that it does?

What are Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld (who worked in the education department of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) doing to fight against the exploitation of workers and oppression of Magna workers? Mr. Rosenfeld wrote an article, criticizing the existence, practically, of a company union at Magna, CAW Local 88, comparing it to the independent union Unifor Local 2009 AP. The independent union is certainly preferable to a company union, but even an independent union at the local level of a particular employer in effect assumes the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class (see my criticism in the post    Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left).

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it.

I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

:

.

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

.

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Seven: Giving to Abolitionists with One Hand While Taking Back with the Other and Giving to Social Democrats

In his article published in the social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension on May 28, 2020, “Can We Ever Truly Transform or Democratize the Police? Measures Are Needed to Restrain and Neutralize Police Brutality to Whatever Extent Possible,” Harry Kopyto, ( https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/can-we-truly-transform-or-democratize-the-police) seems to agree much more with James Wilt in the debate between Mr. Wilt and Herman Rosenfeld in the same journal (see my posts, such as Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). He argues, in effect, that it is, in practice, impossible to reform the police:

Rosenfeld is correct in promoting legislative and other changes similar to the ones identified above in response to the litany of police violence described by Wilt, but he is wrong in sowing illusions that these measures will change the fundamental nature of the police and “transform” them.

On the other hand, he claims that both Mr. Wilt and Mr. Rosenfeld have something to learn from each other: 

In my view, based on a career working as a criminal lawyer and a legal advocate against police abuse for 47 years before retirement, they should both learn to listen to each other because they both have something insightful to say.

I deny that Mr. Rosenfeld has much to teach us about how we are to address the problem of the police in relation to the working class. Mr. Kopyto concedes too much to Mr. Rosenfeld. Indeed, Mr. Kopyto falls into the same position, ultimately, as Mr. Rosenfeld, when answering the question: What is to be done? 

For example, Mr. Kopyto concludes his article with the following (despite showing the oppressive nature of the police historically): 

On the other hand, Wilt is right to point out that as enforcers of capitalist laws, police forces are inherently violent instruments of class oppression and must be abolished along with the capitalist system they serve. However, in the meantime, until that happens, measures are needed to restrain and neutralize police brutality to whatever extent may be possible [my emphasis].

This is a defensive position. Of course, we need to restrict the powers of the police at every opportunity (but this contradicts Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that we need the police because they protect workers from the theft of their property and from murder–see my critique. Mr. Kopyto does not mention Mr. Roesenfeld’s defense of the police in terms of these two functions).

In martial arts, if you can attack and defend at the same time, all the better. From Alan Gibson (2000), Why Wing Chun Works, pages 39-40 (Wing Chun is a form of Chinese kung fu): 

Simultaneous attack and defence.

Simultaneous attack and defence does not only mean doing one thing with one hand, (defending) and something different with the other (attacking). In Wing Chun this happens most of the time. Simultaneous attack and defence also refers to one hand serving two purposes at once.

Defensive measures may, on occasion, be necessary under special circumstances, but it is much more preferable to engage in simultaneous attack and defence in order to win a battle. To engage in purely defensive actions constantly often leads to defeat or at least to a weakening of one’s actions–as has indeed occurred with the rise of neoliberalism and the weak, defensive response of unions in many parts of the world. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, with his reformist suggestion of “transforming and reforming the police,” puts off forever the need to take back the protection of our lives from threats to it from others–and that means the major threat that employers mean to working-class lives (something which Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider) (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

But let us return to Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime.” This “in the meantime” provides an opening to the social-democratic left to put off forever the abolition of the police. Their position, practically, is to perpetuate the existence of the police. They do not aim to abolish the police as a separate institution until some vague, distant future (Mr. Rosenfeld mentioned 100 years in his article–but it could well have been 1,000 years or 10,000 years–100 years is an arbitrary number chosen by Mr. Rosenfeld in order to postpone aiming to begin the process of abolition today). 

I will repeat (and quote) what I wrote in other posts about the difference between the abolitionist stance, which argues that it is necessary to incorporate the goal of abolishing the police in the present if that goal is to be realized. 

In a previous post (see How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left) , I wrote: 

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed.

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime” provides an opening for social democrats to separate the future from the present and put off aiming for socialism in the present.

Let me repeat from still another post what a real or good aim means (not the pseudo-aim of social democrats who claim they are aiming for socialism). From Democracy and Education (2004):

The aim must always represent a freeing of activities. The term end in view is suggestive, for it puts before the mind the termination or conclusion of some process. The only way in which we can define an activity is by putting before ourselves the objects in which it terminates—as one’s aim in shooting is the target. But we must remember that the object is only a mark or sign by which the mind specifies the activity one desires to carry out. Strictly speaking, not the target but hitting the target is the end in view; one takes aim by means of the target, but also by the sight on the gun. The different objects which are thought of are means of directing the activity. Thus one aims at, say, a rabbit; what he wants is to shoot straight; a certain kind of activity. Or, if it is the rabbit he wants, it is not rabbit apart from his activity, but as a factor in activity; he wants to eat the rabbit, or to show it as evidence of his marksmanship—he wants to do something with it. The doing with the thing, not the thing in isolation, is his end. The object is but a phase of the active end,—continuing the activity successfully. This is what is meant by the phrase, used above, “freeing activity”

By contrast, the idea of “in the meantime” that is purely defensive involves an external aim or a pseudo-aim or not really even an aim since it fails to link up the present with the future and the future with the present:

In contrast with fulfilling some process in order that activity may go on, stands the static character of an end which is imposed from without the activity. It is always conceived of as fixed; it is something to be attained and possessed. When one has such a notion, activity is a mere unavoidable means to something else; it is not significant or important on its own account. As compared with the end it is but a necessary evil; something which must be gone through before one can reach the object which is alone worth while. In other words, the external idea of the aim leads to a separation of means from end, while an end which grows up within an activity as plan for its direction is always both ends and means, the distinction being only one of convenience. Every means is a temporary end until we have attained it. Every end becomes a means of carrying activity further as soon as it is achieved. We call it
end when it marks off the future direction of the activity in which we are engaged; means when it marks off the present direction.

Mr. Kopyto certainly does not intend to be a reformist, but his “in the meantime” leads directly and practically to such conclusions. His insights, such as the following, then can be dismissed by the social-democratic left:

The police, in Canada and elsewhere, were created to protect property rights and enforce repressive laws that were created and interpreted in the interests of the status quo. Even decades before it became the norm for police to break up demonstrations or target minorities, they were used to enforce criminal conspiracy charges against trade union “combines”. Police forces are not neutral or reformable—they are quasi-militarized with all emphasis on a culture of obedience and none on training to be able to exercise independent and critical judgment. Hence, sexism, racism, xenophobia and a “we-they” mentality run rampant in these institutions of repression. In many cases, as we know, police have been used to deny democratic rights and attack or restrict labour actions.

Why is it not possible to engage in defensive measures while simultaneously engaging in actions that serve to protect workers and other community members? I have already provided some examples of such efforts in the past (see Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives)? 

There has been a call for defunding the police and using some of the funds to hire mental health workers, social workers and others to investigate violent crimes and to deal with gender- and race-based violence, civil services to engage in traffic services, the enforcement of bylaws and minor offences, and a specialized unit for immediate intervention in violent crimes, with such a unit having all other present functions performed by police allocated to other kinds of people as outlined above, and therefore with a much reduced budget and area for intervening in citizens’ lives (see https://defundthepolice.org/alternatives-to-police-services/). 

Furthermore, why not use some funds to create protective organizations for workers and others outside work? For hiring or training workers in health and safety inspections since workers often face many more dangers from working for an employer than threats at being murdered (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

Such abolitionist initiatives need to be sought in the present and not in some distant future. From Ray Acheson,  (page 25): 

The imperative of now

Abolition is inevitably a long-term, ongoing project of change. But abolition is not just
about the future: it needs to start now.

In this moment that we are currently experiencing, this moment of profound shifts in
thinking and in action happening across the United States and around the world, it
is important to recognise that we are already doing abolitionist work. Throughout the
COVID-19 pandemic and during the recent protests, we have built and enriched mutual
aid networks—models of community support learned from, among others, Indigenous,
Black, and queer communities. People from all walks of life are coming together to care
for each other physically and emotionally. Many of these acts of solidarity and support are
being documented through independent media like Unicorn Riot; many of them will never
be recorded. But it is happening, and it shows what more we can do.

Mr. Kopyto may not have intended to argue that the police should be perpetuated, but his use of the phrase “in the meantime,” coupled with merely defensive measures that regulate the police in effect defend the perpetuation of the police. 

Socialists need to aim for abolition by bringing such an aim into the present–into actions and engagements that institute policies that link the present to the future aim, and the future aim to present actions and engagements. 

That is our task at the present as socialists. 

A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Six: The Stick and the Carrot Tactic

This is a continuation of a previous post that illustrates how politically biased the capitalist government or state and its representatives (such as social-democratic social workers) are when it comes to determining real situations–especially when a person self-declares as a Marxist.

Just a recap of part of the last post: I filed a complaint with the Manitoba Institute of Registered Workers against a social worker who had written a court-ordered assessment concerning my wife at the time, myself and my daughter, Francesca Alexandra Romani (ne Harris). I am using the initials S.W. for the social worker. Mr. S.W., claimed that my claim that the mother of my daughter was using a belt and a wooden stick to physically abuse her, was “somewhat ridiculous.” Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about determining the truth of this claim (which is in fact true) than with my so-called indoctrination of my daughter in my “Marxist ideology.”

Since the civil trial in April 1999, my daughter complained of the following  (as of February 18, 2000): 1. Her mother was using a wooden stick on her buttocks; 2. Her mother used a belt to spank her on the same area; 3. Her mother grabbed Francesca and forced her into the apartment building; 4. Her mother had grabbed Francesca’s throat in the elevator and warned her not to tell me that her mother had hit her; 5. Her mother shoved Francesca to the floor on two separate occasions; 6. Her mother hit Francesca on the head with a book; 7. Her mother pulled Francesca’s hair; 8. Her mother scratched Francesca with a comb.

This contrasts with Mr. S.W.’s allegation, as noted in the last post, that ” Mr. Harris’ explanation for contacting the Agency [Winnipeg Child and Family Services] was somewhat ridiculous. He said that the child had made some vague indications that she may have been spanked.”

Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about the truthfulness of Mr. Harris’ claim (which is true) than with Mr. Harris’ Marxists ideas.

This is the last part of the series in relation to my complaint against the social worker who wrote the court-ordered assessment–but not the end of the series since the saga continued afterwards in other forms.

Mr. S.W. characterized my accusations of physical abuse (and various other accusations) as ridiculous–and false. It could therefore be concluded that not only were my accusations false but also not genuine. How did he characterize the following accusations made by Ms. Harris?

In April, 1996, during a mediation meeting between Mr. Harris and Ms. Harris, Ms. Harris (falsely) accused Mr. Harris of sexually abusing Francesca; apparently, Winnipeg Child and Family Services obliged Ms. Harris to accuse Mr. Harris of this. In November, 1997, again through Winnipeg Child and Family Services, Ms. Harris accused (falsely) Mr. Harris of sexually abusing Francesca.

In 1998, Mr. Harris obtained telephone access rights (in addition, Francesca could sleep over once a week, on the weekend). Ms. Harris, on June 8, 1998, had her lawyer send a letter to Mr. Harris’ lawyer, “explaining” why she refused telephone access–because Mr. Harris had sexually abused Francesca once again.

She refused telephone access–but not physical access. A rather curious fact–but Mr. S.W. omitted the June 8, 1998 letter in his list of documents used. Mr. Harris showed Mr. S.W. Judge Diamond’s order indicating that he had the right to have telephone access every Wednesday.

Note that Mr. S.W.  first interviewed Mr. Harris on August 4, 1998. Ms. Harris had not complied with the court order for over two months. Mr. Harris informed Mr. S.W. of this. Is there any mention of this in his assessment? Why the suppression of relevant evidence? Did he query Ms. Harris? Coupled with the letter dated June 8, surely, Mr. S.W., if he had been unbiased, should have inquired further. A parent who does not deny physical access but denies telephone access–how genuine could an accusation of sexual abuse be? Any rational person would have suspected that Ms. Harris’ accusation of sexual abuse was not genuine. What was Mr. S.W’s interpretation of the situation?

From pages 20-21 of Mr. S.W’s court-ordered assessment:

Her [Ms. Harris’] concerns about the possible sexual abuse of her daughter appeared to be genuine. She was able, however, to accept this writer’s opinion that there did not appear to be any evidence of sexual misconduct on the part of Mr. Harris. Ms. Harris was very reasonable when discussing this writer’s opinion on custody, and she was obviously trying to act in the best interests of Francesca. She indicated that she simply wanted the legal issues with Mr. Harris settled so that she can get on with her life.

So, my accusations of physical abuse, according to Mr. S.W., were “ridiculous” and obviously not genuine; they were both false and not genuine. On the other hand, according to Mr. S.W., Ms. Harris’ accusation of sexual abuse (with the help of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services in two instances) was genuine but false.

Here is the carrot to get me to accept the assessment. Despite all the lies and distortions contained in the assessment, the accusation of sexual abuse would be put to rest–and I would gain greater access to see Francesca (and I would be able to take Francesca to Calgary to see her grandmother).

Unfortunately for Mr. S.W., Ms. Harris’ subsequent actions provided further evidence of the biased nature of his assessment. When I read the assessment, I could not believe the number of lies, distortions and omissions contained in the document. Instead of containing an objective inquiry, it expressed the political bias of Mr. S.W. I was faced with either accepting these lies, distortions and omissions, or never seeing Francesca again. I called my lawyer to see if I could have another assessment. He replied that no social worker would contradict what Mr. S.W. wrote. I subsequently called Ms. Harris, indicating that I would never see Francesca again.

However, I did not last very long since I loved Francesca. I called my lawyer, indicating to him what I had said to Ms. Harris. He stated that I should call her back, indicating that I had not abandoned my access rights. I did so. I subsequently went to Ms. Harris’ townhouse to pick up Francesca for her overnight stay over. Ms. Harris refused me access. I went to the police, but since I did not have the court order, they did nothing.

The following week, I had the court order, but Ms. Harris still refused, apparently indicating that the reason why she refused access was because I was a Marxist (so I was told by the police. She probably showed them the assessment by Mr. S.W.). I spent around three hours in the back of the police car while the police tried to gain access. They failed. Ms. Harris was arrested, I believe, for failing to comply with the court order, but there was no further action. She refused access for around three months, until February, 1999, when a judge found her guilty of contempt of court. I then gained access to see Francesca again.

Mr. S.W.’s suppression of the document accusing me of sexual abuse is in itself evidence of Mr. S.W’s bias. If we take into account his claim that Ms. Harris’s accusation was genuine though false, his bias becomes even more evident.  His further claim that Ms. Harris wanted to only resolve the legal issues and put them behind her and that she was obviously looking out for the best interests of Francesca is further evidence of his bias. Ms. Harris’ subsequent refusal to provide Mr. Harris with access to Francesca provides even further evidence of the biased nature of the court-ordered assessment.

Given that the refusal of access by Ms. Harris contradicted so blatantly the court-ordered assessment written by Mr. S.W., my lawyer was able to set up a meeting with Mr. S.W. and myself. we were to have another observation of Francesca with me after I had gained access in February. Of course, I knew by then that I had to avoid any political education. I even shook his hand at the end of our meeting (I had to fake it since I felt extreme disdain at deferring to his “authority.”)

The subsequent observation went well, according to him.

However, I was afraid that it would not go well. When Francesca finally saw me again (before the second assessment), she was evidently angry and asked me why I did not want to see her. She also started punching me and acting violently. I did not connect up Francesca’s violent behaviour and what she told me later on because I did not, at the time, believe her (I will explain in another post why I did not initially believe her).

Fortunately, she did not act like that when Mr. S.W. observed our interactions.

Mr. S.W.’s characterization of Ms. Harris as being”very reasonable when discussing this writer’s opinion on custody, and she was obviously trying to act in the best interests of Francesca. She indicated that she simply wanted the legal issues with Mr. Harris settled so that she can get on with her life” was in shambles not only because of Ms. Harris’ refusal to permit access but also because she now insisted that there be a civil trial and that she wanted reduced and supervised access.

The civil trial, held in April 1999 (on the insistence of Francesca’s mother, who now used Mr. S.W.’s initial assessment as a weapon to justify refusing me access and proceeding to civil trial) displayed further just how bias and inaccurate the assessment was.

I was the first to testify under oath. I saw Francesca that night. Ms. Harris testified the following day. She testified, under oath, that I had sexually abused Francesca the day before–the day that I testified. I allegedly had Francesca masturbate me (a fourth false accusation of sexual abuse).

Even Judge Diamond had to recognize that Ms. Harris was lying. She indicated to Ms. Harris’ lawyer that she was lucky that she still would have custody of Francesca.

Mr. S.W.’s assessment of the situation was in shambles–and yet his initial assessment formed part of the “evidence” used to justify Ms. Harris’ continued custody of Francesca. I gained greater access–provided that I took an anger management course (not Ms. Harris) and could take Francesca to Calgary so that she could see her grandmother and that her grandmother could “see” her (my mother was legally blind at the time).

The issue of the physical abuse of Francesca was buried by this political bigot.

Let us now listen to a “radical” leftist here in Toronto, Herman Rosenfeld, about the law in a society dominated by a class of employers:

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

Apart from the extremely vague nature of this paragraph, its reference to the need for “legitimating capitalism” does not even recognize that part of the nature of legitimating capitalism is, firstly, hiding the real nature of the “liberal democratic state and institutions.” Yes, I obtained some of my goals–preventing Francesca’s mother from ever falsely accusing me of sexually abusing Francesca ever again, gaining greater access to see Francesca and having the right for Francesca and her grandmother to see each other.

But at what cost? Francesca’s mother continued to abuse her physically–and the assessment was used to justify doing nothing about it. The façade of “justice” being done was maintained. Many of the “left”(such as Mr. Rosenfeld)  here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) persistently idealize the capitalist government or state. The oppressive nature of the capitalist government is subsequently captured by the right, who at least recognize that people often experience the government as oppressive.

Mr. Rosenfeld and similar leftists, however, present such oppression as “instances” rather than as a regular part of the situation of those have dealings with the government.

The Manitoba Registered Institute of Social Workers “inquired” into the situation (the complaint was double spaced and amounted to around 100 pages, with supporting documentation).

They interviewed me, and their questions centered around whether Mr. S.W. had raised his voice towards me or showed any signs of physical threats. The issue of the systematic abuse and bias contained in the court-ordered assessment was never discussed. The Institute rejected my complaint–without any justification other than indicating that Mr. S.W. did not contravene the Institute’s ethical principles.

Such are the ethics of social-democratic social workers and their institutions.

This post ends direct references to my complaint about the court-ordered assessment to the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers. However, after having been convinced of the farcical nature of the legal system and farcical nature of the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers and their ethical principles, I proceeded to file a complaint against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Ombudsman’s office.

Let us see what this office did–or did not do.

How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left

The above title is a take on a scene in the movie Enter the Dragon, where Bruce Lee says: “My style is the art of fighting without fighting.” See the end of this post for a description. 

This is a more colloquial or informal way of expressing my point about the need to include the goal or the aim in present actions if we are going to go beyond a society characterized by a class of employers (capitalism) and live a socialist life (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). It does so by briefly looking at what I mean and then looking at a concrete example of this by a self-declared socialist feminist, Sue Ferguson (or what she calls a social-reproduction feminist).

To start with a conclusion: aiming for a socialist society is just that–incorporating the goal, consciously, of overcoming the class power of employers, including the economic, political and social relations and structures connected to that power and the creation of a society free of class relations and relations of oppression.

Social democrats and reformers (including self-proclaimed Marxists who practically do the same thing), on the other hand, believe (even if they are not conscious of this belief) that it is possible to achieve a socialist society without aiming for it.

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed. 

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education, saw the distinction clearly in relation to schools. Most of those reading this post merely have to reflect on their own experiences in schools and how schools have often severed their interest in the present and forced an external future upon them. As Dewey noted, in chapter five of one of his two major works in the philosophy of education, Democracy and Education (2004), pages 58-59):

Chapter 5

Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline

Education as Preparation

We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth. This conception contrasts sharply with other ideas which have influenced practice. By making the contrast explicit, the meaning of the conception will be brought more clearly to light. The first contrast is with the idea that education is a process of preparation or getting ready. What is to be prepared for is, of course, the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. Children are not regarded as social members in full and regular standing. They are looked upon as candidates; they are placed on the waiting list. The conception is only carried a little farther when the life of adults is considered as not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for “another life”. The idea is but another form of the notion of the negative and privative character of growth already criticized; hence we shall not repeat the criticisms, but pass on to the evil consequences which flow from putting education on this basis.

In the first place, it involves loss of impetus. Motive power is not utilized. Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact not to be evaded, but it is an excellence. The future just as future lacks urgency and body. To get ready for something, one knows not what nor why, is to throw away the leverage that exists, and to seek for motive power in a vague chance. Under such circumstances, there is, in the second place, a premium put on shilly-shallying and procrastination. The future prepared for is a long way off; plenty of time will intervene before it becomes a present. Why be in a hurry about getting ready for it?

We have already seen this severance of the future struggle for socialism and the present struggle for socialism by Herman Rosenfeld, a self-styled Marxist who refers vaguely to socialism a hundred years from now (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three and, more generally, Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). The focus on reforms above all else and the denigration of the need for incorporating an explicit aim in the present of abolishing the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations will at best lead to capitalism with a human face–and not its abolition. 

There are two typical tendencies that express this attitude of severing the present from the future and the future from the present. Treating reforms as if they were, in themselves, somehow leading to a socialist society is a typical trick among the left; they treat the future (socialist society) as already present rather than the present being in need of radical reconstruction. The second tendency denigrates the need for aiming explicitly or consciously at radical transformation of class, economic, political and social structure in the present (which in effect is a revolution–although I believe that politically it is a waste of time to call for revolution–as the sectarian radical left frequently do

The treatment of the present as if it were already the future via current experiences and reforms is reflected by Sue Ferguson, a self-proclaimed socialist, who claims the following  (Women and Work: An Interview with Sue Ferguson):

As I argue in Women and Work, social reproduction feminism provides a strategic focus and direction that avoids the contradictions of equality feminism. Because, in this view, oppression is built into the very ways we reproduce ourselves, overcoming oppression requires reorganizing the processes and institutions of life-making. This cannot happen in boardrooms or by electing more women into state office. It can happen only when people are encouraged to mobilize with others to resist the priorities of the current social reproduction regime, and learn together how to reorganize and take collective, responsible control of the resources of life-making. And in a small way, this is what education worker strikes do: they assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs [my emphasis]. 

Do “education worker strikes” really “assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs?” Perhaps they do–“in a small way”–but that is not the same as aiming for “expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources” at more than a local level. That teachers who go out on strike may well aim to improve their working lives and the lives of their students is not in question. The issue is whether the aim of such actions is of the same nature as aiming for a socialist society. I deny that such is the case in most cases since there is no explicit aim to overcome a society characterized by the class of employers; improvements in working lives and lives of children does not necessarily involve aiming for a socialist society.

By claiming “in a small way,” that education workers somehow, is the same as the “democratizing our life-making powers and resources” is a social-democratic trick. It equates reformist changes at the local level with radical changes in  social structures and relations.

This social-democratic trick is reiterated in her book (she goes by Susan in the book), Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, pages 135-136:

That is, strikes do not have to be exercises in revolutionary commons to model alternative ways of organizing life-making. The potential to unleash creative energies and ideas about how to build a better world and engender social bonds to counter the alienation and isolation of capitalist subjectivity is inherent in the very act of organizing with others to improve control over the conditions of work and life. Perhaps the most vivid recent example of this come from the 2018 wave of education worker strikes to hit the United States. Eric Blanc’s interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma strike movements lead him to conclude that strikers were “profoundly transformed” [my emphasis] by their participation. They connected in new ways with co-workers they had barely known and had little in common with culturally and ideologically; they strategized, waved placards, shared meals, chanted, sang, and camped out on the state legislative grounds together; they jointly endured moments of disappointment, debate and defeat, and even bigger moments of celebration. And they connected in new ways with the communities they worked in as passersby honked and waved in support, as strangers identifying them by their distinctive red T-shirts approached them in grocery stores to thank them for their job action, and as students and parents stood on their lines and rallied in support. In the words of Arizona teacher Noah Karvelis, interviewed by Blanc:

Since the strike, there’s a definite sense of solidarity that wasn’t there before. When you go into school and see all of your coworkers in red, it’s like they’re saying, “I’m with you, I got you.” It’s hard to even sum up that feeling. You used to go in to school, do your thing, and go home. Now if there’s a struggle, we go do something about it because we’re in it together. It’s not just that there are a lot more personal friendships—we saw that we had power.

Such solidarity did not magically appear. It had to be built. The strikers were divided by all the usual social cleavages. Not all teachers were in the union and most were white. They differed in political allegiance, religious affiliation, and income (in West Virginia bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, custodians, and other support staff walked out as well). Moreover, as social reproductive workers in the public sector, the walkout risked creating a wedge between themselves and the community they served. Rather than deny these divisions, organizers and strikers consciously addressed them—figuring out imaginative ways of addressing needs and drawing people in: bilingual signs and chants, GoFundMe sites to help lower-income strikers make ends meet, soliciting food donations, and delivering care packages for families who otherwise rely on school lunches. As Kate Doyle Griffiths observes, strikers temporarily and partially reorganized the relations of social reproductive labour “on the basis of workers control for the benefit of the wider working class” while also fostering solidarity with community members. And although strikers did not generally politicize around racial issues, Blanc notes, they were self-consciously inclusive and won the support of the majority black and brown student base and their families through their calls for increased school funding and (in Arizona) opposition to cuts to Medicaid and services for those with disabilities.37 These are not-so-small and incredibly important examples of how strikers organize new ways of life-making, ways that defy the alienating, individualizing experiences of everyday life under capitalism.

Of course, such struggles and organizing should be supported, and they do indeed form a possible bridge between the conscious aim of struggling in the present for a socialist society and the creation of such a future society. However, let us not idealize them. They are not necessarily expressions of a conscious aim to overcome the class power of employers. As I have shown elsewhere (see for example The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement  and   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One), such movements do not necessarily involve such an aim. By equating such struggles with the conscious aim to overcome such class power, social democrats in effect claim that we should not struggle to aim for such a goal in the present by, among other things, criticizing the limitations of the aims of such strikes and movements.

To not question whether there has indeed been “profound transformations” is to be blind to the force of habit in working-class and community behaviour. Not just decades but centuries of indoctrination, of exploitation, subordination and oppression are not going to magically be transformed through such efforts. To overcome such situations will take years if not decades of internal struggle in order for a conscious movement aiming to overcome the class power of employers to arise in the present and not vanish because of superficial adherence to “social justice” and similar general terms. The present leftist movement must aim for a socialist society in diverse domains and integrate such domains in as coherent a fashion as possible.

The other tendency of splitting the present from the future and the future from the present by denigrating the need for radical transformation of economic, political and social structures. frequently by casting the term “revolution” in a purely negative light. As I noted above, I do agree that using the term “revolution” is a waste of time politically; workers and community members will likely look upon such talk as akin to religion. Nonetheless, their attitude of avoiding the term “revolution” often leads to reformism by being unable to offer anything other than reform and more reform–as if many reforms will not be absorbed by the capitalist economic, political and social structure. The class power of employers and the capitalist state have many resources to engage in reformist politics if there is sufficient organization and power to threaten the power of the class of employers.

I have referred to Jeffrey Noonan’s opposition to “revolution”–but he has little to offer but more reforms within the present class structure (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Another example is the article written by Richard Sandbrook and posted on the Toronto-based Socialist Project website (Racism, Class Solidarity and Systemic Change). Here is what he claims:

Non-Reformist Reformism

But what strategy would horizontal unity serve? Any viable strategy would be gradualist. Compromises would need to be made to build a majority coalition in a (quasi)democratic process. But gradualism does not signify mere reformism or cosmetic changes. The widespread disaffection and the challenge posed by invigorated populist-nativists demand genuine structural changes. Policies to de-commodify labour, money, health care, knowledge, and education; to democratize the economy by promoting cooperative production; and to deepen political democracy must be pressed at the local, national and, eventually, global level. But there would not be a “big bang”, in which society is irrevocably transformed; instead, we would have non-reformist reformism.

The problem with the above view is that Mr. Sandbrook does not discuss how such reformism in the present can be prevented from leading–as it so often has in the past–to incorporation into the class structure and to the continued control of our lives by a class of employers. I seriously now question the real intent of those who claim that they aim for a socialist society and yet not only accept compromises that need to be accepted because of the present limited power but freeze such compromises into an ideology of the left (such as the terms “fair contract,” “fair or free collective bargaining,” “fair wages,” “decent work,” or the pairing of the term “Fairness” with the movement for the fight of a minimum wage of $15.

Mr. Sandbrook appears to see the need for avoiding both reformism characteristic of the social-democratic left and the sectarianism of the radical left:

If this is the only viable and morally justifiable path, the progressive movements would need to steer clear of two pitfalls that have ensnared earlier experiments: Third-Wayism and revolutionism. The first represents compromise to the point of co-optation, leading to renewed hegemony; the second, an unwillingness to compromise in order to preserve the ideal, leading to irrelevance.

Avoiding Two Pitfalls

The Third Way, as it developed in the early 1990s, reflected the attitude “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” …

The lesson is clear. Reformism that, in the longer term, reinforces the hegemony of neoliberalism and plutocracy is self-defeating. When times get hard, voters dessert “socialist” parties that lack an alternative vision.

The opposite pitfall is a purist approach that, positing a narrow choice between capitalism and socialism (or “barbarism or socialism”), refuses to compromise with the former. In the academy, this approach is often associated with a scholasticism that is strong on abstract theorization but weak in developing concepts with any popular appeal. The purists are also prone to an irritating smugness, as though moral superiority is more important than winning power.

Starkly casting the alternatives as binary is problematical for two reasons. It strikes many people as unrealistic. How, for example, do we totally transform society and economy to replace markets with participatory planning at all levels? And secondly, it essentializes capitalism. The latter comes in a myriad of forms. If its essence is private ownership and free labour, there are many degrees.

Capitalisms are not all the same. The Anglo-American model differs from the Scandinavian model, which differs from Chinese authoritarian state capitalism. The Keynesian accord introduced what many have called the golden age of capitalism, which neoliberalism ended. A gradualist program of decommodification, democratization, and equal freedom is a voyage that begins within capitalism; however, we may not even be aware of the precise point at which we traverse the boundary.

There are indeed variations in the kind of capitalism, and some forms are definitely preferable to other forms. This hardly addresses the issue of how any “gradualist” approach is going to maintain the aim of eliminating the general class power of employers over our lives in the present without being co-opted. (The Scandinavian model is, in any case, itself in retreat because of general changes in capitalist class structures and the idealization of such models in the past and present). Mr. Sandbrook does not address what workers and community members who live in any form of capitalism (as depicted in The Money Circuit of Capital, for example), are supposed to do to overcome the general nature of capital. Or is the general nature of capital somehow just or fair?

Decommodification, for example. of health services, does not mean that those who fight for such decommodication or those who implement it or those who use such decommodified services aim to achieve a socialist society. (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). Decommodification or the conversion from gaining access to commodities (including services) by means of purchase and sale to direct access or use without the mediation of purchase and sale may or may not express the aim of achieving a socialist society.

My experiences in Toronto and elsewhere is that we need to aim consciously and persistently in the present for radical changes in various domains (with the focus on the work relations dominated by a class of employers). We indeed will have to make compromises because we lack the necessary power to do otherwise–but that also should form part of our own consciousness–and not the acceptance of such compromises through such social-democratic phrases as “decent work” or “fair contracts.” To achieve such deep-seated consciousness and aim will require years if not decades of internal struggle within working-class communities and workplaces.

We need to use the aim for a future socialist society in the present to realize such a future society while all the time modifying specific goals within that general aim based on current conditions and circumstances.

As I indicated at the beginning, the title of this post is a take on a statement made by Bruce Lee in the movie Enter the Dragon. The following is a description of the scene by Brian Freer: 

There is a scene in the 1973 kung fu classic “Enter the Dragon” where a man (Peter Archer, who plays Parsons] walks around a boat bullying passengers. When the man accosts Bruce Lee by throwing air strikes near his face, Lee unflinchingly looks at him and replies, “don’t waste yourself.”

“What’s your style?” the bullying man asks.

“The art of fighting without fighting,” says Lee.

“Show me some of it.”

Lee tries to walk off, but the bullying man insists he show him what the “art of fighting without fighting” looks like. Since the boat was crowded, Lee suggests that they take a dingy to a nearby beach for more space. As the bully boards the dingy, Lee releases slack from the rope, watching the dingy with the bully inside drift away. Lee then releases the rope to the bully’s onetime victims who laugh heartily as the dingy takes on water from the crashing waves.

Although this isn’t the most exhilarating fight scene in “Enter the Dragon,” it is clearly the most complete victory in the film. Lee uses wit to overcome his opponent without ever raising his fists. He is without fear and clear of mind. The bullying man wanted to fight so badly that he was willing to ride a dingy to a remote island to do so.

Freer then philosophizes: 

There are many reasons to fight. It’s deep within our nature. And yes, sometimes we have no choice. Ideologues tell us the world is a scary place. They attempt to influence our interpretation of the world to reinforce our fears. And fear is the real bully in the boat. You see, Bruce Lee’s character mastered his fear. He liberated his mind from it. Fear is a tarp that covers our understanding. It stifles our self-control. You have to look it right in the eye, because when you must finally resort to violence, you’ve clearly run out of ideas.

I take something different from the scene. Firstly, Lee did not directly engage in a fight with the bully at the time, but enabled those who were bullied to hold the power to let go of the rope attached to the dinghy. 

Freer fails to ask, however, the following obvious question: What happened to Lee and the bully once they landed? Would not the bully try to fight Lee? The art of fighting without fighting might have been a short-term tactic, but the goal of avoiding a fight might not have been achieved. The fight might have occurred on the island where they landed. The aim of avoiding a fight was put off to a not-so-distant future. The aim was perhaps to, avoid a fight under existing conditions of riding the boat.

Freer simply ignores this aspect. Lee would undoubtedly have known that there would exist the possibility of a fight in the near-future. Or perhaps Lee would  hope that, having arrived on the island, the rules of the tournament would convince Parsons to not engage in a fight?  We could speculate forever, of course.

In the case of the social-democratic left, the art of aiming for socialism without aiming for it, ignore the need to aim explicitly for a socialist society–a society without classes. The social-democratic or social-reformist left do not aim to achieve a classless society but rather a humanized capitalist society. Their view, explicitly or explicitly, is that aiming for such a society is idealist or utopian at present (and will, practically, forever, be the case). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left

Introduction

This is a continuation of the previous post (see Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism)). In that post, I criticized some of the radical left for one-sidedly implying that workers only work for the class of employers; such a view is true, but it excludes the other truth, namely, that workers also work for a particular employer and indeed experience that fact immediately. Working for a particular employer is what workers are conscious of–and not that they work for the class of employers.

On the other hand, the social-reformist or social-democratic left often commit the opposite error of practically ignoring union representatives’ assumption that the relationship of workers to a particular employer by means of collective bargaining, a collective agreement, labour legislation and local union democracy, can express something fair. Such a view ignores the fact that, although workers at any particular time work for a particular employer–yet when considering, on the one hand, the whole working class, they do work for a class of employers and, on the other, when considering the whole life of an individual worker.

Dependent Local Unions Versus Unions That Are Independent of a Particular Employer

This can be seen in reference to Herman Rosenfeld, a self-declared Marxist here in Toronto and former worker in the automobile industry.  For example, he justly criticizes a clause in the collective agreement between Magna International and the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor), but he one-sidedly idealizes CAW Local 88 and fails to analyze critically either the collective-bargaining process or the resulting collective agreement. 

Mr. Rosenfeld rightly criticized the Canadian Framework of Fairness Agreement when it first came out (see Magna Is Not CAMI):

This “Framework of Fairness” is based on Stronach’s time-tested system of anti-union structures. Rooted in the human relations practises developed in the 1920s to keep industrial unionism out of mass workplaces, Magna’s paternalistic system attempts to build-in loyalty and dependence on management. It also seeks to individualize worker concerns and issues. All of this is institutionalized in the CAW-Magna framework. [CAW was the Canadian Auto Workers union; it is now Unifor.] 

As has also been pointed out, any real effort to create an independent union presence and structure is stymied by the time frame involved in the deal and the commitments embedded in it: it would take about 10 years to organize the various plants in increments of 3 or 4 per year. If the CAW tries to subvert the process at any time, Magna could end the entire project. Besides, the agreement itself commits the union NOT to subvert the process and build an independent union structure.

Needless to say, the collective shop-floor struggles that built Local 88, culminated in the successful 1992 strike and paved the way for the strong union local they are today are not possible at Magna. Workplace struggle would be policed there (according to commitments made in the framework), rather than led by the union.

I will assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s comparison of (at the time) CAW Local 2009 AP and CAW Local 88’s union are accurate. In other words, I will not dispute the accuracy of Mr. Rosenfeld’s comparison of the two locals (and their collective agreements).

To understand why Mr. Rosenfeld opposes the “CAW-Magna framework,” I searched for the most recent collective agreement between Magna International and any union on the Web. Unfortunately, the most recent one I found was the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009 AP that has already expired:

NATIONAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT
BETWEEN:
MAGNA INTERNATIONAL INC.
– AND –
UNIFOR, and its Local 2009 AP

The collective agreement lasted four years:

This agreement shall remain in effect for a four-year period, from the date of ratification, November 7, 2013 until November 6, 2017 at 11:59 p.m.

The most recent collective agreement would, of course, have been preferable.

The 2007 Canadian Framework of Fairness Agreement is incorporated into the collective agreement. Some of this Framework is reproduced below to get a flavour of its nature:

A. Background and Principles

1. Introduction

Canada’s automotive assembly and parts industry is our country’s most important high-technology, value-added, export industry and employs thousands of people directly and indirectly. It makes a crucial contribution to family incomes, productivity growth, and foreign trade performance. Because of the high productivity of the industry and because of the strong linkages between assemblers, parts producers, and the thousands of companies which supply them (with everything from components to materials to services), every new job in an assembly or parts facility ultimately generates several additional jobs for Canadians. Automotive manufacturing is one of Canada’s only industrial “success stories,” and has made a crucial contribution to diversifying our economy away from an exclusive reliance on the production and export of natural resources and energy. For all of these reasons, the auto industry holds an immense economic and social importance to Canada.

Within this context, Magna and the CAW are motivated by the shared goal of not only preserving but expanding Canada’s automotive sector through high-performance work practices; investments in both capital and human resources; effective and just labour relations; world-class quality, productivity, and reliability; developing and renewing top-quality skilled trades; and continuing to support and enhance social and environmental sustainability.

As each stakeholder – companies, unions, employees, communities and government – shares in the benefits of a successful and prosperous automotive industry, each stakeholder must also contribute, in a meaningful way, to ensuring that continuing success.

This responsibility requires that all parties seek new and innovative ways to deal with the industry’s challenges, working cooperatively to achieve these goals. To this end, Magna and the CAW are committing with this Framework of Fairness Agreement (the “FFA”) to develop a new, innovative, flexible, and efficient model of labour relations. This model will combine the best features of union representation, with Magna’s established culture of workplace democracy and fair treatment (as embodied in the Magna Employee’s Charter). The model incorporates aspects of existing North American and European labour relations practices, yet will also reflect a uniquely Canadian attempt to combine industrial and financial success with principles of fairness and social responsibility.

Given the exploitative nature of the relations between workers for Magna and Magna as their employer (see  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), references to “fairness” and “social responsibility” ring hollow.

Mr. Rosenfeld, from the point of view of the interests of workers, is thus right to criticize such a clause in a collective agreement. 

By contrast, according to Mr. Rosenfeld, Local 88, unlike Local 2009 AP, developed as an independent union that emphasized the opposition between the workers which it represented and

CAMI [GM assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada) included an elected workplace committee of union representatives, a democratic structure independent of management, to defend workers’ interests. The CAW as a whole maintained a commitment to an independent union presence in the workplace, expressing a different ideology and set of interests than that of the employer. The CAW national representative who serviced the CAMI union was an experienced working class fighter, who helped to mentor the new union reps. (That was only made possible by the existence of the elected body of union representatives, independent of management and beholden only to the members who elected them).

That was reinforced by a CAW Statement on Work Reorganization that asserted:

As we mobilize against regressive taxation, the weakening of unemployment insurance or plant closure legislation, we are reminding our members that the “team” they are on is not the same as their employer, and the ‘adversary’ is not other workers but those who are on the other side of these issues. Similarly, as we take on other collective bargaining issues – like opposing profit-sharing, or demanding indexed pensions or insisting on some movement towards reduced worktime, the message that the needs of working people are quite different from those of management is constantly articulated.

Such a union–and a corresponding collective agreement that reflects such a union–is certainly much more preferable to the union established at Magna–and its corresponding collective agreement:

As has also been pointed out, any real effort to create an independent union presence and structure is stymied by the time frame involved in the deal and the commitments embedded in it: it would take about 10 years to organize the various plants in increments of 3 or 4 per year. If the CAW tries to subvert the process at any time, Magna could end the entire project. Besides, the agreement itself commits the union NOT to subvert the process and build an independent union structure.

A union that can oppose its particular employer is certainly much more preferable to one that cannot–and hence Local 88 and its structure serves much more the immediate interests of the workers than union represented by workers at Magna International:

Needless to say, the collective shop-floor struggles that built Local 88, culminated in the successful 1992 strike and paved the way for the strong union local they are today are not possible at Magna. Workplace struggle would be policed there (according to commitments made in the framework), rather than led by the union.

The CAW President of Local 88 at the time, Cathy Austin, wrote a letter to the editor, dated  of the Toronto Star (a major newspaper in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), saying similar things: 

The first collective agreement at CAMI was negotiated before production started. It offered the barest of guidelines of how ideas such as team concept were actually to be worked out in practice in a unionized environment. The agreement represented a tactical compromise. On the one hand, the contract departed from standard agreements in the auto industry. It committed the union to the principals of the Japanese Production System including team concept, substantial management flexibility and kaizen (continuous improvement). Additionally, the union agreed to an economic package on wages and benefits that fell below the industry norm. However, despite these tactical compromises the first contract contained provisions for important union principals such as union security, recognition of union elected and independent workplace representatives, union committee persons and a true grievance procedure.

Our local wasted little time in establishing an independent presence in the plant. Over time the union began to demand changes and workers fought back. By contesting CAMI policy and practice, the members increasingly came to see the local as an independent force that championed the cause of workers’ dignity and rights.

Fighting to Make Gains Against the Class of Employers? 

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, then makes some assertions without explaining what he means:

Another major difference from CAMI is the larger role of the CAW. In the CAMI era, the union was clearly committed to challenging the ideology of partnership and competitiveness, fighting to make gains against employers and defending workplace rights as well as wages and benefits and embarking upon ambitious political projects that questioned the logic of competitiveness and globalization [my emphasis].

What does it mean to fight “to make gains against employers?” Since he did not elaborate, I searched further to see what he might mean. I found the following written by Mr. Rosenfeld, from Labour Notes, July 31, 2005, titled Reflections on the Birth of the Canadian Auto Workers  :

This July marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Auto Workers. The CAW was created out of a split from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers, at the beginning of a difficult era that is still with us.

The CAW split with the UAW over a series of fundamental differences. The CAW’s leaders believed that unions—and the workers they represent—have interests that are independent and different from those of their employers; that the role of a union is to fight for workers’ interests—not to sell the agenda of employers; that the competitiveness of employers is a constraint on unions and workers, not something that unions should see as their goal.

The CAW’s birth marked a major shift in the Canadian labor movement. The split was seen both as a statement that Canadian workers can build their own union movement free of U.S. tutelage and as a bold challenge to the employer offensive that sought to change the very nature of unionism.

CONFLICT OVER CONCESSIONS

In the early 1980s, U.S. auto companies and the UAW agreed to radically change the role of unions. Accepting the Big Three’s argument that U.S. automakers’ success against offshore competitors could only be assured by worker concessions—like replacing wage increases with lump-sums and profit sharing—UAW leaders saw their role as selling this perspective to their members.

It began in 1979, with Chrysler on the verge of bankruptcy. Both the UAW and its Canadian leadership agreed to temporary concessions. But when the U.S. Congress demanded more concessions as the price of further aid, the Canadians balked.

In subsequent negotiations, as Chrysler’s outlook improved, the Canadian UAW demanded and won back the concessions in the face of opposition from UAW leadership.

When GM and Ford followed suit, calling on the union to re-open their collective agreements in 1982 bargaining, the UAW leadership accepted. But they had to organize a campaign to “sell” concessions to their own members, and quash or marginalize any opposition.

In fact, when GM and the UAW first tested the waters amongst GM workers in the United States, the workers rejected concessions. Traditions of resistance remained in the union and it took years of effort by the leadership to try and root it out.

Again, unions that are independent of particular employers, that oppose concession bargaining, that have a democratic structure, have the ability and willingness to strike, fight for more general rights (such as easier access to unemployment insurance, improved federal pensions and similar reforms) are certainly preferable to more conservative unions.

Independent Local Unions Need Not Oppose the Class of Employers

Nonetheless, there is a qualitative difference between such unions and efforts to go beyond the class power of employers. Mr. Rosenfeld does not address this issue at all; alternatively, he implies, without evidence, that unions that aim for certain general rights (outlined in the previous paragraph) somehow fight against the class of employers consciously as a class of employers.

Independent unions at the level of the particular company or firm need not  be independent at the level of classes.

Actually, it is Ms. Austin’s letter to the editor which expresses in a compact manner, both what is right and what is wrong with Mr. Rosenfeld’s position. She specifies three aspects that are characteristic of what her and Mr. Rosenfeld would probably call progressive unions:

There are three fundamental differences between our ‘foot in the door’ collective agreement at CAMI in 1988 and the current Magna deal; first a democratically elected independent union representation directly elected by and accountable to the membership, secondly a grievance procedure, third the right to strike (which we did for 5 long weeks in 1992). The differences between the proposed Magna deal and CAMI are monumental in the lives of workers. At the October 28th membership meeting the members of Local 88 unanimously endorsed a resolution opposed to this flawed agreement. The workers at Magna need and deserve the royal blue colour of the CAW not the yellow of a company union. •


A union democratically elected by its membership may be independent of the influence of the particular employer, but the union itself, within the collective bargaining regime set up since 1944 in Canada (during the Second World War) hardly makes unions independent of the class power of employers. They operate on the basis of laws that establish their legitimacy and limits of action. Such laws and limits influence what unions do and how they act.

This limitation can be seen, for example, in how union representatives view collective agreements and how they justify them. On the Unifor Local 88 website, for instance, there is a history section, with the following (my emphasis):

1992-Strike

The 1992 Collective Agreement was a struggle to achieve. These set of negotiations were very tough. Both the Union and the Company had many differences that could not be settled. As a result the membership of CAW Local 88 endured a five week strike against CAMI Automotive. The membership grew up very quickly and was determined to negotiate a fair and respectful collective agreement. Shortly after the October 1992 Thanksgiving weekend a collective agreement was voted upon and ratified by the membership.

How can any collective agreement express “a fair and respectful agreement?” Since workers are exploited at work (see, for example, The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One)  how can any union “negotiate a fair and respectful collective agreement?” Unions, by persistently referring to the negotiating process and the resulting collective agreement as somehow fair, are not independent of the class of employers.  They become ideologues of  the class of employers objectively even if they are unconscious of doing so.

Therefore, Ms. Austin’s three criteria for an effective union (and Mr. Rosenfeld’s likely agreement with such criteria)–an independent and democratically structured union, a grievance procedure and the right to strike–by no means necessarily make unions independent of the class of employers (although may well make the union independent of the particular employer they face during negotiations).

Either Mr. Rosenfeld, like many unionists and leftists, simply ignores the issue of the class power of employers and the need to consciously aim for the abolition of the power of such a class, or he falsely assumes that unions that fight for general rights of workers somehow also aim to abolish the class power of employers. 

The Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of Local 88, Barry Smith, also expresses the limitations of the union point of view. Admittedly, the following quote is in the context of consultation by the Ontario government of employment-law reform, but there is no evidence that what he wrote was merely a tactical move:

“Changing Workplaces Review”
London Consultation
July 8, 2015

Dan Borthwick, President
Colleen Wake, Chairperson Union In Politics Committee
Barry Smith, Chairperson Organizing Committee
Ingersoll, Ontario
July 8, 2015

I believe that if those hard won protections were afforded to all, through improvements in the language of both these Acts, employers would have a stronger, more dedicated workforce that would improve the situation for all parties. It wasn’t until September 17/2013 after completing contract negotiations that the S.W.E.s [Supplement Workforce Employees] got the advantages we needed. Thanks to strong contract language, we got vacation, better benefits, a pension plan and almost equal treatment as any long term employee at CAMI and gained Full Time status.

I truly believe that if it wasn’t for Unifor and General Motors coming to a fair agreement at the Bargaining Table, I would still be a S.W.E. and having to worry on a daily basis about how I will be supporting my family next week. [my emphasis]

Indeed, a document by Unifor, submitted on September 2015, to the Ontario Changing Workplaces Consultation, was itself titled Building Balance, Fairness, and Opportunity in Ontario’s Labour Market. This document in its very title expresses the ideology that somehow the labour market can be fair–whereas the existence of a labour market is itself an expression of the unfair situation in which workers who work for an employer find themselves (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

This document, furthermore, implies that workers who work for employers cannot, somehow, be exploited–as if employment law (governing non-unionized workers), labour law (governing unionized workers) and collective bargaining legislation and collective-bargaining structures, along with unions, can somehow eliminate exploitation and oppression at work. From page 6 (my emphasis):

Yet the institutional bulwarks which are essential for working people to attain better outcomes from the labour market (such as ambitious and actively-enforced employment standards, strong and widespread collective bargaining structures, and even a positive common-sense understanding of fair practice in the world of work) have become less capable of moderating these trends, instead of being strengthened to meet these challenges. The result is a labour market marked by pervasive inequality, underemployment, and all too often hopelessness. [my emphasis]

What is this “positive common-sense understanding of fair practice in the world of work?” I guess I lack this “positive common-sense understanding of fair practice.” On page 104, they ask:

The Changing Workplaces Review must address a fundamental challenge for the future of labour market policy: what measures can effectively provide Ontario workers the dignity, security, and fair treatment they deserve, while maintaining the efficiency and success of Ontario’s economy?

An honest answer to that question–given the context of an economy structured according to the demands of a class of employers–is that only measures that aim to eliminate the power of the class of employers can achieve those twin goals. The dishonest answer is that the twin goals can both be achieved within the structure of the employer-employee relation.

Mr. Rosenfeld is therefore right when he affirms that unions, such as the original CAW Local 88. as a union that was independent of its particular employer, are much better than the union that represented Magna workers.

However, both sets of workers were exploited and oppressed locally at work due to their class situation, and their unions were not independent of the class of employers even in the case of the original CAW Local 88–unless Mr. Rosenfeld can show evidence to the contrary by showing that the local not only tried to become independent from its particular employer but from the class of employers (by, for instance, showing the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement–and even then such a situation is only the beginning of a process towards becoming independent of the class of employers through the elimination of all classes). I doubt that he can. This is where Mr. Rosenfeld is wrong–a union independent of a particular employer does not mean that such a union is independent of the class of employers.

Finally, let us look at the collective agreement between CAMI Automotive and CAW Local 88. I could not find the 1992-1995 collective agreement (which would have been the most relevant since there is reference to the 1992 strike above), but I did find the collective agreement for 1995-1998, which has the following:

3. MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

The Union recognizes the right of CAMI to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off employees and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to
the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of CAMI to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plant, and to determine the location of its plant, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that CAMI has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this agreement.

The Union recognizes the right of CAMI to formulate, revise and publish Personnel policies, which shall be administered in a fair, impartial and consistent manner to all members of the bargaining unit [bold in the original–although I am uncertain if that was intentional.]

Of course, unions may be forced to include such clauses in the collective agreement. If, however, they were really independent of the class of employers, they would question the legitimacy of such a clause openly to their members and promote discussion of the clause whenever they could. Does Mr. Rosenfeld have any evidence that CAW Local 88 did that? If not, his idea that CAW Local 88 was an independent union, though true in relation to its particular employer, was false in relation to the class of employers.

I predict that Mr. Rosenfeld will not provide any evidence to show that CAW Local 88 was an independent union at the level of the class of employers. 

Social democrats like Mr. Rosenfeld do the opposite of what some Marxists and radical leftists do: social democrats correctly emphasize the need for unions do be independent of the particular employer, but they neglect how unions, at the level class, are not independent of employers.

Some Marxists and other radicals, on the other hand, neglect the importance of the independence of unions from particular employers by referring merely to workers working for the class of employers–as I tried to show in my previous post). 

A Little Theory

To round off this post, I will refer to a book by a German author that may not appear to have much relevance to the issue of the independence of the working class, but nevertheless does address the issue indirectly (theoretically). 

The quote is a very rough translation from the German of Maxi Berger (2012), Labour, Self-consciousness and Self-determination in Hegel: Towards the Interdependence of Theory and Praxis, page 23 (I include the German after the quote for those who read German):

In order to be able to understand that the individual cannot escape from economic coercion, it is crucial to emphasize the total social character of the capitalist mode of production. This total social character is manifest in social organization, that is to say, that the legal foundations and administrative institutions as well as the organization of the economic sphere as a whole are appropriate in the sense of accumulation for the sake of accumulation–not however in the sense of a reasonable organization of human life. As a result of this the action of the members is placed under constraint: Whoever wants to obtain his means of life, whoever therefore who wants to live, must accommodate themselves to the conditions of commodity and labour markets, not the opposite.

(Um verstehen zu können, daß sich Einzelne den ökonomischen Zwängen nicht entziehen
können, ist es entscheidend, den gesamtgesellschaftlichen Charakter der kapitalistischen
Produktionsweise zu betonen. Dieser gesamtgesellschaftliche Charakter ist in der
gesellschaftlichen Organisation manifest. D. h. daß die juristischen Grundlagen und verwalterischen
Institutionen ebenso wie die Organisation der ökonomischen Sphäre insgesamt
zweckmäßig im Sinne der Akkumulation um der Akkumulation willen sind – nicht
aber im Sinne einer vernünftigen Organisation menschlichen Lebens. Dadurch wird das
Handeln der Mitglieder unter Sachzwang gestellt: Wer sich seine Lebensmittel beschaffen
will, wer also leben will, muß sich den Bedingungen des Waren- und Arbeitsmarktes anpassen,
nicht umgekehrt.)

Unions and the social-reformist or social-democratic left that fail to take into account the fact that the freedom of the worker to shift from one employer to another does not prevent economic coercion need to be criticized. Independent unions at the level of a particular employer go hand in hand with such economic coercion.