I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).
The following is my inquiry and critique:
People’s Pandemic Shutdown
We Demand Everything
(Draft Action Outline)
Long Term Objective
Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.
Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.
Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.
Questions about “Long Term Objective”:
a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?
What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?
For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?
Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.
Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands
Long Term Care Homes
Disability support programs
Paid sick days
Equity Based Social Work
Questions for the “Strategy”:
Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?
Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?
“To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?
Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?
Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?
Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.
Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?
Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?
Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?
Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?
Workers’ Demands to Build Upon
Status for all workers
Paid sick days for all
Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
Livable wage for all
Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”
Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?
Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon
Cease all participation in illegal wars
Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel
Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:
Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?
Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.
Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)
Defunding of oppressive corporations
Defunding oppressive police and military
1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street
-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants
-Physically distant, masks
1:30PM Walk to Bay and College
-Occupy the intersection
-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands
Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:
Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘
Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?
The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.
I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.
I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:
The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.
Recently, I experienced a less oppressive form of “service” by the Ontario Ministry of Health–but an oppressive form of service nonetheless. Having turned 65 on December 30, 2021, I retired. Earlier, I had been receiving disability benefits from Manitoba Teachers’ Society and the Canadian Pension Plan (I will be outlining, in future posts my experiences with that). I applied for assistance under the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program.
The following post has as its justification the Marxist strategy of the politics of exposure (making visible) the hidden oppression structures, strategies, tactics and acts characteristic of capitalist society (see Thomas Mathiesen, The Politics of Abolition (1974)and Law, Society and Political Action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism (1980)).
In an earlier post, I provided a table of a series of oppressive measures that I have experienced as the Marxist father of my daughter, Francesca, ranging from false allegations of sexual abuse by Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) to the persistent physical abuse of Francesca by her mother–and the subsequent threat by the WCFS in January 2004–to have me arrested for allegedly making false accusations of physical abuse (which were, in fact, all true) (see A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of Public Welfare Services). I sent that table to Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, to the Ministry of Justice and to the Ministry of Education, among others.
To be eligible for the program, it is required, apparently, that married couples must both file an income tax return. If they do not both fill out an income tax return, file it and have it processed, they will not be eligible. I initially refused to fill out my wife’s tax return. As anyone who has filed an income-tax return knows, even the simplest income tax return takes probably at least an hour to fill out (if not more)–for non-professionals, at least.
I had not known of such a rule that both spouses must file a tax return when I filed my 2020 income tax. My wife, who is now 54 on January 27, 2022) has had zero income since she came to Canada in 2018 (she is a landed immigrant). I declared that on my income tax return every time for the years 1918-1920.
On the basis of my declaration of zero income, we received the maximum refundable tax credits (such as the GST tax credit). The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) then, for the tax year 2020, claimed that I owed money since my wife had to file her own income tax return. I argued that this made no sense since I had already indicated that my wife had zero income. The CRA backed off, and it recognized that I did not owe any money.
On the other hand, the bureaucratic worker who attended me on the phone from the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program used the argument that I was not obliged to fill out the tax return; she implied that I was free to not do so. Of course, just as a worker in a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers is free to not work for any particular employer (and suffer economic consequences for not doing so), so I am free to not fill out my wife’s income tax return (and suffer economic consequences for not doing so).
I was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer in 2009 (60% chance of dying in the next five years–never occurred), rectal cancer in December 2015 (chemoradiation, without any further cancer being visible) and metastatic liver cancer in April 2017 (surgery on May 30, 2017, without any further cancer being visible). Given my experiences with cancer, I am well aware of the possible limited time I have to live (although I may live a long life–but not likely). I do not like to waste my time on unnecessary activities.
By the way, I encourage others to write about their oppressive experiences at the hands of “public services” on this blog. Surely my oppressive experiences with “public services” are not unique.
Below is a verbatim reproduction of the letter. I will make comments afterwards:
3000110 – Discrepen
This is to inform you that we have reviewed your application for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program; however, we cannot process your application at this time for the following reason(s):
Your last name on the account does not match the Canadian Revenue Agency records. [It was spelled Hairis–my last name is Harris.]
Information received from the Canadian Revenue Agency indicates that you and/or your spouse or common-law partner have not filed your most recent income tax return.
Applicants and if applicable, their spouse or common-law partner are required to have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN) and have filed taxes for the most recent tax year in order to be assessed.
If you or, if applicable, your spouse or common-law partner did not file an income tax return in the most recent tax year, or do not have a valid SIN, you must complete an Application through Guarantor Form.
Your Guarantor is required to review and verify your completed application and sign section 2 in order to be considered for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program.
To print an Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program – Application Through Guarantor Form Visit ontario.ca/forms Enter 5126E in the Quick Search for Forms field
Your Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program Identification number is 000113933. Please quote this number when contacting or corresponding with the ministry.
Please contact us at 416-916-0204 or toll-free at 1-833-207-4435. In some cases, this information can be provided over the phone.
If we do not receive a response within 30 business days, your application for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program will not be processed.
To find out more about the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program, please contact the Program toll-free at 1-833-207-4435 (TTY toll-free at 1-800-855-0511) or visit ontario.ca/SeniorsDental
Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program
Of course, if a substantial basic income were in place, then I would use the money to obtain dental services without having to accept the bureaucratic, illogical rule of couples having to both file tax returns despite one of the spouses having zero income. Having “free” dental services provided by the government or state hardly ensures that there is a lack of oppression. Certainly, dental services provided across the board (like health care now is for most parts of the body) may involve less oppression than this particular form of oppression–but even health care can easily become oppressive–with differentiated sections of the working class (such as whether you receive hospital care via a private bed, a semi-private bed or being placed in a hospital room with several other sick patients)
Economic coercion can assume many forms; one form is for governments to force citizens to conform to illogical, bureaucratic rules.
It is interesting that social democrats express themselves in different ways. Thus, Professor Noonan, a professor at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada), who teaches Marxism, among other courses, presents what he considers one of the major issues at stake in the struggle of the left against the right in his “post (really a series of posts) “Thinkings 10” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=4662):
… a small minority class owns and controls the natural resources that everyone needs to survive. Because they control that which everyone needs to survive, they force the rest of us to sell our ability to labour in exchange for a wage. Labour is exploited to produce social wealth, most of which is appropriated by the class whose ownership and control over natural resources grounds their social power.
Isn’t this just the picture that Marx paints? Yes, it is,
No, it is not. To present the ground of the capitalist class as control over natural resources requires justification. Nowhere does Professor Noonan provide such a justification–apart from his unsubstantiated reference to Marx.
Such a presentation of the nature of capitalism misses the specificity of the nature of capital and hence of capitalism.
Control over land (the monopolization of land or natural resources) is certainly a condition for modern society to arise, but this condition–“control over natural resources”–hardly “grounds their [the capitalist class’s] social power.”
What is different about modern exploitation is that workers are mainly exploited through control over their own products and the processes which produce those products by a minority–and not just control over “natural resources.” Workers themselves, through the objective relations between the commodities they produce, produce their own exploitation. It is the direct control over these produced commodities that constitutes the ground of the social power of the class of employers; control over natural resources is mediated through such control rather than vice versa.
Let us look at what Marx wrote on the topic, especially in the notebooks known as the Grunrdrisse (Outlines), found in volumes 28 and 29 of the collected works of Marx and Engels (Marx’s best friend and political collaborator). The following has to do with an interpretation of Marx’s theory, so there will be some quotations in order to refute Professor Noonan’s social-democratic reference to Marx.
Control Over Natural Resources Is Insufficient to Characterize the Nature of Capital(ism)
Ownership of Natural Resources (Landed Property) Characteristic of Non-capitalist Societies
Marx drafted (but did not publish) an introduction to what he planned to be his critique of political economy in August and September 1857. He wrote From volume 28(pages 43-44):
… nothing seems more natural than to begin with rent, with landed property, since it is bound up with the earth, the source of all production and all life, and with agriculture, the first form of production in all more or less established societies. But nothing would be more erroneous. In every form of society there is a particular [branch of] production which determines the position and importance of all the others, and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine those in all other branches. It is the general light tingeing all other colours and modifying them in their specific quality; it is a special ether determining the specific gravity of everything found in it. For example, pastoral peoples (peoples living exclusively on hunting or fishing are beyond the point from which real development begins). A certain type of agriculture occurs among them, sporadically, and this determines landed property. It is common property and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, depending on the degree to which these peoples maintain their traditions, e.g. communal property among the Slavs. Among peoples with settled agriculture—this settling is already a great advance—where agriculture predominates, as in antiquity and the feudal period, even industry, its organisation and the forms of property corresponding thereto, have more or less the character of landed property. Industry is either completely dependent on it, as with the ancient Romans, or, as in the Middle Ages, it copies in the town and in its conditions the organisation of the countryside. In the Middle Ages even capital—unless it was purely money capital—capital as traditional tools, etc., has this character of landed property. The reverse is the case in bourgeois society. Agriculture to an increasing extent becomes merely a branch of industry and is completely dominated by capital. The same applies to rent. In all forms in which landed property rules supreme, the nature relationship still predominates; in the forms in which capital rules supreme, the social, historically evolved element predominates. Rent cannot be understood without capital, but capital can be understood without rent. Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion and must be analysed before landed property. After each has been considered separately, their interconnection must be examined.
The issue can be approached from a variety of angles. One angle is how to divide human history into stages or periods. Of course, there are various ways of dividing human history, and some ways are more appropriate (depending on the purpose) than others. Marx at one point divided human history into three stages. From Dan Swain (2019), None so Fit to Break the Chains: Marx’s Ethics of Self-Emancipation, pages 31-32:
In one passage in the Grundrisse Marx schematically divides history into three kinds of social forms:
Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage. The second stage creates the conditions for the third.
The third stage is conceived as merely the ‘subordination’ of – the exertion of control over – the conditions that exist in the second. This claim is no less necessary for being historically specific, however. So long as we want to maintain the huge advanced developments of capitalism – and we do want most of them – we cannot take a step back to small scale handcrafts. Thus the only option available to us, says Marx, is economic democracy.
Or again, as poin Paresh Chattopadhyay (2018) points out, Socialism and Commodity Production: Essay in Marx Revival, pages 239-240:
Thus in his 1865 lecture (in English) to the workers, Marx speaks of three ‘historical processes’ of the relation between what he calls the ‘Man of Labour and the Means of Labour’ – first, their ‘Original Union’, then their ‘Separation’ through the ‘Decomposition of the Original Union’, third, the ‘restoration of the original union in a new historical form’ through a ‘fundamental revolution in the mode of production’. Earlier we referred to a passage from Marx’s 1861–3 manuscript where Marx, in the same way, speaks of the ‘Original unity between the labourer and the conditions of production’, as in family agriculture and ‘natural communism’, separation between them under capital and the ‘restoration of the original unity by means of a working class revolution’ (along with the rest of society).
A Condition for the Existence of Capitalism Is the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress or Dominate Workers
Economic democracy, however, as a solution to the problems thrown up by capitalist development, must address the fact that both oppression and exploitation of the working class arises through the production of the conditions for their own oppression and exploitation and not just “control over natural resources” by the ruling class. It is control over produced resources, not natural resources, that forms an essential element of capitalism.
From Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 28, pages 381-382:
Labour capacity has appropriated only the subjective conditions of necessary labour—the means of subsistence for productive labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour capacity separated from the conditions of its realisation—and it has posited these conditions themselves as objects, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification. It emerges from the process not only no richer but actually poorer than it entered into it. For not only has it created the conditions of necessary labour as conditions belonging to capital; but the valorisation [the impetus for producing surplus value] inherent in it as a potentiality, the value-creating potentiality, now also exists as surplus value, surplus product, in a word, as capital, as domination over living labour capacity, as value endowed with its own power and will confronting it in its abstract, object-less, purely subjective poverty. Not only has it produced alien wealth and its own poverty, but also the relationship of this wealth as self-sufficient wealth to itself as poverty, which this wealth consumes to draw new life and spirit to itself and to valorise itself anew.
All this arose from the act of exchange in which the worker exchanged his living labour capacity for an amount of objectified labour, except that this objectified labour, these conditions for his being which are external to him, and the independent externality (to him) of these physical conditions, now appear as posited by himself, as his own product, as his own self-objectification as well as the objectification of himself as a power independent of himself, indeed dominating him, dominating him as a result of his own actions.
All the moments of surplus capital are the product of alien labour—alien surplus labour converted into capital: means of subsistence for necessary labour; the objective conditions— material and instrument—so that necessary labour can reproduce the value exchanged for it in means of subsistence; finally, the necessary amount of material and instrument so that new surplus labour can realise itself in them or new surplus value can be created.
It no longer seems here, as it still did in the first consideration of the production process, as if capital, for its part, brought with it some sort of value from circulation. The objective conditions of labour now appear as labour’s product—both in so far as they are value in general, and as use values for production. But if capital thus appears as the product of labour, the product of labour for its part appears as capital—no longer as mere product nor exchangeable commodity, but as capital; objectified labour as dominion, command over living labour. It likewise appears as the product of labour that its product appears as alien property, as a mode of existence independently confronting living labour … that the product of labour, objectified labour, is endowed with a soul of its own by living labour itself and establishes itself as an alien power confronting its creator.
Capitalism as the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress and Exploit Workers
The separation of workers from their conditions of producing their own lives (conditions of life), even if produced by them, does not however, yet constitute capital(ism). It is, rather, the structured process of forcing workers to expend more labour than the labour required to produce the conditions for their own lives, relative to From volume 28, pages 396-397:
Capital and therefore wage labour are not, then, constituted simply by an exchange of objectified labour for living labour—which from this viewpoint appear as two different determinations, as use values in different form; the one as determination in objective form, the other in subjective form. They are constituted by the exchange of objectified labour as value, as self-sufficient value, for living labour as its use value, as use value not for a certain specific use or consumption, but as use value for value.
Hiring someone to mow the lawn does not make me a capitalist nor a member of the class of employers. This hiring process becomes a class relation in the first instance because the process involves a movement that involves a drive to increase more value through control over produced commodities which are then used to exploit workers further (see The Money Circuit of Capital).
By referring to the monopoly over “natural resources,” rather than over produced commodities by the workers themselves, Professor Noonan can then ignore the specificity of the nature of capital(ism). His own brand of social reformism can then be snuck in. He writes:
… but when we paint the problems of the world in ideological terms of “capitalism” versus “socialism” we get stuck immediately in an absolute opposition between political camps. Instead of arguing with opponents we shout at them. The other side does not listen but shouts back before both sides get tired and revert to preaching to the converted.
Getting underneath the political labels will probably not solve that problem. However, it does remove one rhetorical barrier to argument. If we can stop thinking in simplistic terms: capitalism=bad and socialism=good, then we can confront one another on the terrain that really matters: life-requirements and how best to distribute them.
The implication is that we should drop the opposition between capitalism and socialism–and focus on the issue of “life requirements and how best to distribute them.” Since “life requirements” applies to all societies (all human societies involve necessary conditions for human life to continue)–the specific nature of capitalism is lost.
It is not just a question of how “best to distribute life requirements.”–but of the form or structure or arrangement of the process that is involved in maintaining human life in a capitalist society. The very form, structure or organization of capitalist society is such that what is produced is used against workers–as a weapon against them to obtain surplus value in the private sector and to oppress workers in both the private and public sectors. Life requirements, being produced by workers, are used against workers in a capitalist society.
Marx would therefore disagree with Professor Noonan’s specification of the problem; it is not just “control over natural resources” that needs to be discussed and critiqued, but the separation, alienation and domination of workers’ own labour and life through its own labour and products. From Volume 28, pages 390-391:
The recognition of the products as its own, and its awareness that its separation from the conditions of its realisation is improper and imposed by force, is an enormous consciousness, and is itself the product of the mode of production based on capital, and just as much the KNELL TO ITS DOOM as the consciousness of the slave that he cannot be the property of another, his consciousness of being a person, reduced slavery to an artificial lingering existence, and made it impossible for it to continue to provide the basis of production.
By ignoring the specificity of capitalist relations, Professor Noonan then simplistically argues that merely referring to “life’s requirements” and “how best to distribute to them” form a necessary and sufficient condition for the realisation of a society in which there are no classes and no exploitation and oppression. He then claims that, by focusing on “life-requirements and how best to distribute them,”
individuals are freed to live the lives the want to live.
This is wishful thinking. Rather than engage in wishful thinking, Professor Noonan would do better to engage in a systematic critique of social democrats and their philosophies–for the domination of social democrats among “the left” is itself a problem.
Professor Noonan recognizes that it is a problem–but he does not address how to solve the problem:
Progressive taxation, the Green New Deal, reparations, public health care, and GBIs [guaranteed basic incomes] can be institutionalised in ways that do not fundamentally transform the structure of ownership and control over life-resources. They can all be sold as in effect ways to bolster consumer demand by putting more money in the pockets of ordinary Americans. If the ruling class is assured that it will get its money back in the end, they can be convinced to go along with the reforms (as they were, despite vociferous opposition, in the 1930’s by the original New Deal). In Canada and the United Kingdom, social democratic parties came up with the ideas for programs like public health insurance, but it was generally ruling class parties that implemented them.
Professor Noonan offers no solution to the problem of cooptation of the labour movement and social movements. Indeed, he naively assume that by referring to life’s needs that we will be able to advance by debating the issues–rather than seeing that it is necessary to engage in struggle and critique to debate relevant issues in the first place. He writes:
While the media (mostly the right-wing media) wastes time hyperventilating about small groups of naive Antifa agitators (it would not surprise me if their ranks were thoroughly infiltrated by the cops they want to abolish) much more important debates about serious institutional changes are underway in the United States. These debates will not get anywhere without patient, organized mass mobilisation and political argument. Some of these debates are about public institutions that have long been parts of countries with effective social democratic parties (public health care, for example). Some are specific to the history of the United States (the debate around reparations for slavery). Along with ambitious plans like the Green New Deal, discussions about a renewed commitment to progressive taxation, and perhaps even Guaranteed Basic Income projects, these debates move public scrutiny beneath the level of slogans and stories to what really counts: an understanding of who controls what and why.
It would seem that Professor Noonan and I do, however, agree on the following: he implies that we should aim for a kind of society in which collective control over our conditions of life are to achieved:
The ruling class is good at playing the long game, and so must the Left be. It has to think of public institutions not in terms of income support that bolsters consumer demand for the sake of revitalising capitalism, but as first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.
However, the real Professor Noonan shows the true implications of his emphasis on the “control of life resources”–and his lack of understanding of the nature of capitalism–in a more recent post on the subject of collective bargaining. Compare the quote immediately above with the following (from the post titled “Social Democracy Meets Capitalist Reality” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=5008):
Political persistence eventually changed the law, unions were formed, and over the next century succeeded not only in raising real wages (a feat that most classical political economists regarded as structurally impossible) but also helped democratize the work place, by giving the collective of workers some say in the organization of production (via collective bargaining).
As for the claim that collective bargaining “democratizes the work place,” Professor Noonan undoubtedly works in privileged conditions relative to other workers and generalizes from his much superior control over his working conditions compared to most other workers (even when unionized). As I wrote in another post (What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five):
Collective agreements, however, as this blog constantly stresses, are holding agreements that continue to express exploitation and oppression. A few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have decent jobs, but even that situation has eroded over time. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.
This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Gutemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from Apolitical Intellectuals):
One day the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the simplest of our people.
They will be asked what they did when their nation died out slowly, like a sweet fire small and alone.
No one will ask them about their dress, their long siestas after lunch, no one will want to know about their sterile combats with “the idea of the nothing” no one will care about their higher financial learning.
They won’t be questioned on Greek mythology, or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them begins to die the coward’s death.
They’ll be asked nothing about their absurd justifications, born in the shadow of the total lie.
On that day the simple men will come.
Those who had no place in the books and poems of the apolitical intellectuals, but daily delivered their bread and milk, their tortillas and eggs, those who drove their cars, who cared for their dogs and gardens and worked for them, and they’ll ask:
“What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life burned out of them?”
Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country, you will not be able to answer.
A vulture of silence will eat your gut.
Your own misery will pick at your soul.
And you will be mute in your shame.
Collective agreements do not exist in a vacuum but form part of interrelated social relations; to exclude such relations when considering the nature and legitimacy of collective agreements is to empty collective agreements of the background conditions which give them meaning in the first place.
Collective agreements by no means help to “democratize the work place.” They certainly are not “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.” Professor Noonan seems to be aware of this and yet idealizes collective agreements by claiming that they somehow “democratize the work place.” If however capitalist society is characterized by the use of commodities produced by workers to oppress and exploit them, then collective agreements (except for a small minority of workers–such as tenured professors) merely limit the power of employers to oppress and exploit workers–but do not by any means form even the first step in the democratization of the work place.
What are these “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life?” Professor Noonan fails to specify what they are. Why is that?
I will leave Professor Noonan with his “democratized work place.” Undoubtedly he enjoys a fair amount of control over his work; he is a tenured professor at the University of Windsor. What of the support workers at the University of Windsor? Do they?
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: 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—it should be noted that the following does not include the many times Francesca told me that Francesca’s mother had hit her before Feburary 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.
The Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers rejected my complaint, claiming that Mr. S.W. did not contravene the code of ethics of registered social workers in Manitoba.
I then filed a complaint against Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) with the Manitoba Ombudsman, and during their so-called inquiry, the WCFS threatened me in a letter with consulting their legal counsel and phoning the police on me. The Manitoba Ombudsman found the actions of the WCFS to be reasonable both before the letter and the letter itself:
Our office has investigated the concerns you raised and have concluded that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable. Accordingly there is no recommendation that can be made on your behalf.
So far, the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers and the Manitoba Ombudsman proved themselves to be anything but institutions that reflected any kind of fairness or equitable treatment. Quite to the contrary. They either involved oppression in one form or another or justification of such oppression by vindicating an oppressive institution.
The social-democratic left rarely take this integrated nature of the oppressive powers linked to the capitalist government or state into account when formulating tactics and strategy. Indeed, many on the left even idealize such oppressive features by calling for, without qualification, the expansion of public services–as if such public services were not riveted with oppressive features.
Immediate Family Context, Or How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, the First But Not the Last Time
As I indicated in my last post in this series:
In my next post, I will fast forward to 2007-2008, when Francesca skipped school so much that she was obliged to repeat grade eight in 2008.
I started my Ph. D. in 2002 and received a scholarship for three years, from 2002 until 2005, which helped financially, gave me some time to work on my studies without having to work as much as a substitute teacher, and enabled me to register Francesca in extra curricular activities without going into further debt (I owed around $16,000 from student loans associated with attending a bachelor of education program between 1994 (when Francesca was born) and 1996).
After 2005, however, I had to increase my work as a substitute teacher and, despite this, I increased my debt (by 2008, I had a credit card debt of around $7,000 and about $20,000 in student debt).
In the 2006-2007 school year, Francesca attended Elmwood High School, an inner-city high school not too far from the house where she lived with her mother. I was concerned about the impact her experiences at that school would have on her–as well as the kind of friendships she was establishing. (I had substituted at the school only a few times; my experiences did not impress me. For example, I substituted in one class that could lock from the inside. I had a key to the room where I was substituting, but it was in my jacket in the classroom. One student got up and left for no reason, and I followed him outside. Some students locked me out of the classroom. I had to go to the office and have the vice-principal open the door. I can certainly understand why students would do what they did in the context of an oppressive classroom setting–but I did want my daughter to learn something as well.
For the school year 2007-2008, her mother agreed to have her attend River Heights School, a middle-years school where I had substituted as well. The teaching, as far as I could see, was more rigorous, and there were more opportunities for extra-curricular activities.
However, my need to earn a living and my work on my doctoral dissertation led me to fail Francesca by not ensuring that everything was working out well at the new school. Her uprooting from her friends, and my lack of monitoring her situation, led to her skipping school more and more (I assume–her mother had fully custody–but I could have been much more active in ensuring that she felt more at home in the school and, if not, at least tried to talk to her and support her in attending. Francesca, it is true, erased messages that I received from school concerning her attendance–but that is hardly an excuse for my lack of rigor in monitoring the situation.
Furthermore, I should have known that something was wrong. At one point, she stole coins from one of my drawers. At another point, I had dropped her off for her swimming lesson at the Pan Am Pool in Winnipeg, and I received a call; the police had been called. Francesca had been caught stealing money from a purse in one of the lockers. Francesca was not charged–I convinced the police that this would not happen again. There is a difference between personal theft, which is wrong and theft from large stores and from companies–I told Francesca I do not do that not because it is wrong but because it is not worth the consequences of possibly going to jail or at least a criminal record. On the other hand, Francesca’s own defense of herself in front of the police was impressive.
In any case, I failed Francesca by not monitoring her situation. Not for the last time.
As I wrote in my last post in this series:
By that time, not even her mother could control her. Nor could I. Francesca had been violent towards me since 1999, when her mother refused to let me see Francesca or let Francesca to see me for almost three months.
In 2008, I obtained a position as a permanent teacher in September 2008, in Ashern, Manitoba, a very small town about 160 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Francesca’s mother agreed to have Francesca live with me since her mother could no longer control her. I decided to home school Francesca while living in Ashern and teaching there. I enrolled Francesca in distance education courses in June 2008, and I gave her the courses. She then left with her cousin, Laura, for Kelowna, a city in the province of British Columbia. I expected Francesca at least to work a bit on the distance education courses during the summer of 2008. She never did. That was the beginning of our problems.
Since Francesca was going to be taught by me by means of home schooling and distance education, I set up a schedule for the various courses. For example, for the social studies course, I wrote the following:
Assumption: Two days of work before August 31 and every day working on social studies Studying every day working on social studies until finished.
With such a start date, it is necessary to finish about 4 pages of the distance education package per day. The 4 pages do not mean just 4 pages of reading. It means that whatever is assigned for the 4 pages must be read or done and understood. For example, on page 3 of Lesson 1 for Module 1, it is necessary to become familiar with the Table of Contents by doing the exercise.
Module 1 August 21=Lesson 1, page 4 August 26=page 8 August 31=Lesson 2, page 12 September 1=page 16 September 2=Page 20 September 3=Lesson 3, page 24 September 4=page 28 September 5=32 September 6=Lesson 4, page 36 September 7=Lesson 5, page 40 September 8=Lesson 6, page 44 September 9=Lesson 7. page 48 September 10=page 52 September 11=Lesson 8, page 56 September 12=Lesson 9, page 60 September 13=Lesson 10,page 64 September 14=page 66, Review for Test 1 September 15=Test, Module 1 September 16=Review test, Module 1
How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, A Second Time
We started to argue shortly after we moved to Ashern. Francesca did not study as she needed to if she were going to finish grade 8. In retrospect, I should have either hired a tutor (if possible since Ashern only had a population of 1,400) or registered her in the school where I was going to teach. I was afraid, though, that if I registered her in the school where I taught, she and I would have further arguments that would spill over into my workplace and, I could lose my job. For those who abstractly consider this irrelevant, I will simply point out that economic security forms a vital component of why the working class has a tendency to fight for socialism (see Marc Mulholland (2009), “Marx, the Proletariat, and the ‘Will to Socialism’,” Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory,” pages 319-343, Volume 37, Number 3; and by the same author (2010) “‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline, Consideration” pages 375-417, Volume 38, Number 3.
The social-democratic left do not even talk about the conflict that members of the working class often face between their existence as members of a family and as members of the working class (wage workers, or workers who must subordinate their will to an employer) and how this contradiction ties into government actions. It is ironic because many movies and tv programs do just that–in a conservative manner, of course. How many reading this post have not watched a movie or tv program where the protagonists experience a conflict between the existence as family members, as members of the working class or as members of the state?
For example, Raju Das, in his book Marxist Class Theory for a Skeptical World, recognizes that family relations aid in identifying the class interests of family members. Thus, he writes (page 42):
A woman who is a school teacher and married to a working class man is not in the same class location as another woman school teacher married to a male ceo (1989d: 328). So the class location of husbands and wives should be treated as a function of both direct class location and their mediated location. Sometimes they can have a common class location and sometimes different.
Mr. Das is primarily concerned with indicating the primacy of class position or location (relative to, for example, being a member of a family); this is important, but from a practical point of view of how to organize the working class into a class capable of overcoming those class recognitions, we need to acknowledge and take into account the relationships that retard class consciousness or accelerate it.
Being a member of a family can do both. On the one hand, being a member of a family can make workers more militant as they struggle to maintain and improve their family life. On the other hand, it can also make workers more conservative when being a family member results in acceptance of subordination of the worker’s will to the power of the employer. For example, I remember one worker in the capitalist brewery where I worked (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada), who explicitly stated that his family was more important than his job. Of course, what a person says and what a person does need not coincide, but to ignore the importance of the family to members of the working class, organizationally, is bound to be fraught with problems.
Or it can result in contradictory tendencies since workers can be pulled in opposite directions simultaneously. Blindness on the part of academic Marxists to these issues indicate the extent to which Marxism as theory has become divorced from Marxism as practice.
In any case, I made the wrong decision by trying to homeschool Francesca on my own. We generally worked on her studies together after supper; before supper I prepared lessons and marked other students’ work. I worked late at night and on the weekend on my doctoral dissertation (which I finished in 2009, the following year).
Our arguments became more and more heated as it became evident that Francesca was falling further and further behind. I was becoming the person and father that I did not want to become–an oppressive father by pressuring Francesca to keep to the schedule. I had to revise the schedule several times, but it was always in need of revision.
One time, when we were arguing over her studies, Francesca, who was in the kitchen, picked up a pot lid and threw it at me like a frisbee. The lid nearly hit my face; she could have easily hurt me. I walked up to her and put her in a headlock, forced her to the ground, and obliged her to state that she would not throw anything further at me. She promised not to do so.
I do not to this day regret doing this; Francesca was out of control and could have easily thrown a knife at me.
Another time, we were arguing about her studies, and she punched me in the face. I pinned her arms in order to prevent her from hitting me again. I do not regret doing that either.
There was another time, however, which I do regret. We usually studied on the futon in the living room (where I slept). Francesca obviously felt tense when we were studying, and when she did not understand something, she would dig her elbows into my side.
One day, I was sitting on the futon, with Francesca on the right. We were studying, and I was drinking some tea. She began to dig her elbow into my right side, and it hurt. I responded spontaneously, and the tea went flying from my hands. Unfortunately, some of the tea hit Francesca’s face. She started to cry. Fortunately, the tea was not hot enough to burn her–but it could have been.
Yes, I stand condemned for hurting my daughter. The mitigating circumstance is that, unknown at the time, I had invasive bladder cancer, and the cancer had blocked my right kidney (it no longer functions). That is why I was having pain on my right side, and that is why it hurt when Francesca dug her elbow into my right side.
I had had drops of blood in my urine on and off for some time (usually at the end of urination). I had gone to the doctor’s office when I lived in Winnipeg, but he discouraged me from getting a scan because of the expense–it was a time of cutbacks, and he also discouraged me from having a cystoscopy (he said it was not a pleasant procedure–which it is not. But having cancer is also not pleasant). He thought it was a urinary infection and prescribed some antibiotics. The blood went away, but it returned when I was living in Ashern with Francesca–but it was much worse than before.
I started to urinate blood–my urine was red rather than yellow. After the incident with the tea, I showed Francesca this by showing her the toilet, which was filled with blood. This had no effect in her increasingly violent behaviour towards me or in the advance of her studies.
I went to see the doctor in Ashern, and he at first recommended antibiotics, if I remember correctly. Eventually he recommended a CT scan.
Francesca also started to communicate with her mother; undoubtedly, she was complaining about me and our relationship. She wanted to return to live with her mother.
I felt that I could not handle Francesca anymore, and since she was indifferent to my health, I also responded inappropriately by indicating that I never wanted to see her again. I failed Francesca again.
In early January, I took Francesca back to her mother’s place. Within a couple of weeks, though, Francesca and her mother fought again to the point that Francesca started living with her cousin, Laura, who already had children and was foster parenting. I did not communicate with Francesca, though–I was still hurting from her apparent indifference to the deterioration of my health.
The Experiences of a Sick Worker
In the meantime, I tried to hide my sickness from my employer, Lakeshore School Division, until I obtained my permanent position as a teacher, by cleaning up red spots that splashed on the men’s bathroom floor.
In January or February, I believe, the Ashern doctor informed me that the CT scan indicated that I had a tumor, but that I should not worry–in most cases tumors are benign.
In March, 2009, I was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer. I waited for about two weeks before I communicated with Francesca.
I had surgery, but my urologist indicated that the tumor was too big to remove entirely through surgery without removing the whole bladder. He recommended chemotherapy followed by radiation.
In the meantime, Laura, Francesca’s cousin, was married to Sean, whose mother started to tutor Francesca. I also paid for an independent tutor for Francesca. She did finish grade 8.
In June 2009, the chemotherapy oncologist had his intern inform me that I had a 60 percent chance of dying in the next five years since the cancer had penetrated the muscle; I told Francesca this. He recommended the removal of the bladder. My urologist, who was also a professor at the University of Manitoba, informed me that surgery was the typical treatment for bladder cancer in North America whereas in Europe doctors usually tried chemotherapy followed by radiation to see if the tumor could be eliminated. I chose chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy worked during the summer of 2009. There was no visible cancer after the nine weeks of chemotherapy.
Francesca, in the meantime, started to attend St. James Collegiate in grade 9 and continued to live with Laura.
My urologist still recommended radiation treatment, but for some reason it took a long time before I saw the radiologist. After some time, the radiologist informed me that she refused to perform the radiation treatment because she claimed that my intestines and my bladder were too close together. She did indicate, however, that there was a procedure for placing a mesh inside me in order to shift the intestines out of the way in order to receive radiation treatment.
I reluctantly agreed to the surgery. The surgery was scheduled on April 19, 2010. Before that, on March 10, I believe, I received a letter from the doctor who was to perform surgery. I had to provide the letter to my employer in order to obtain time off.
Francesca and I were not getting along at the time. She was becoming more religious and refused to hear anything about the theory of evolution or my Marxist ideas.
Francesca’s Apprehension by the Winnipeg Child and Family Services: Oppression by a Welfare Service
On March 10, the day that I received the letter from the surgeon, I went to Tim Horton’s across from St. James Collegiate. I was going to tell Francesca about the surgery, show her the letter and also give her a book on evolution. She was, however, if I remember correctly, with another friend. She was taking the bus to return, I assumed, to Laura’s place. I decided that I would make a copy of the letter and put the book and the letter in the mailbox at Laura’s place.
I made a photocopy of the letter at Shopper’s Drug Store along the way, and then was going to go to Laura’s place by cutting across from Portage Avenue, ironically between the Manitoba Teachers’ Society building (McMaster House), on the one hand, and the building where the MTS Disability Plan office was located (as well as the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association-see illustrations below).
I took this route because Francesca was living on Nightingale Rd, where Laura, her cousin, lived; this was a shortcut that Francesca had showed me (see map below).
However, as I was turning to enter the shortcut, I saw Francesca walking towards this shortcut; she had obviously taken the bus, had gotten off and was going to take the short cut. I drove a little further on, parked the car, got out and gave her a photocopy of the doctor’s letter and the book on evolution.
I left to return to Ashern, Manitoba, 166 kilometers north of Winnipeg (where I worked as a French teacher); that evening, however, I received a phone call from the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) indicating that Francesca had been apprehended by the WCFS and that I was forbidden from seeing her–on pain of being arrested. It was claimed that I had cornered Francesca and that she was afraid of me. It was also claimed that I had choked Francesca some tima ago, thrown her to the ground and that on another occasion I had pinned her arms.
I fought against this oppression for the next month. The WCFS sought custody from both parents, and I attended a meeting with a judge and the lawyer for the WCFS. The lawyer tried to insult me by asking whether I had ever been “psychologically assessed,” to which I responded by asking him the same question. I indicated to the judge how Francesca had been physically abused in various ways. The judge indicated that if the issue went to court and he were judge and the WCFS lost, then he would have no choice but to grant custody either to me or to the mother. Given Francesca’s and my present rocky relationship, I could not fathom our getting along together. Furthermore, now that it was probably that Francesca had played some part in the false accusations of choking her and throwing her to the ground, I felt that I could not trust her.
Of course, I did not feel that Francesca’s mother should have custody given the history of physical abuse.
I went to court one final time, indicating that I would abandon custody–but without prejudice.
The whole experience was very stressful.
On April 19, I had surgery in Winnipeg at the Health Sciences Center, but I had a lung infection and stayed in the hospital for 16 days. Francesca visited me once, and when I tried to talk to her about the claim that I had choked her and threw her to the ground by reminding her that I had put her in a headlock and forced her to the ground until she agreed not to throw anything else at me, she claimed that the choking and throwing her to the ground was a different occasion. Since there was no other occasion, my suspicion that she played some role in her apprehension by the WCFS was confirmed.
Expression of My Opposition to the NDP, a Social-Democratic Government
Once I left the hospital around May 5, 2010, I stayed with a friend in Winnipeg for a couple of months. Since I knew that I had not choked Francesca nor threw her to the ground, her apprehension by an organization that was instrumental in contributing to her physical abuse and her violence towards me angered me, to say the least. I began to send emails to the New Democratic Party (NDP, the social democratic party in Canada); the NDP were in power in the province of Manitoba. In one email, I titled it “J’accuse”–a take on the following (from Wikipedia):
I sent, among other things, a table that contained some of Francesca’s and my experiences with the WCFS (I will be posting a modified version of this table (the updated version is more inclusive) on this blog, much of which I have included in this series of posts. I also sent the material to the Manitoba Minister of Justice and to the Manitoba Minister of Education. I also began to send the material to government institutions outside the province of Manitoba.
Return to Teaching Before My Arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)–and Revelations
I returned to Ashern in the summer of 2010 to prepare for teaching. The surgery had failed–the radiation oncologist still refused to perform radiation because, she argued, my intestines were still too close to the bladder.
On October 6, 2010, Darrell Shorting, of the Anishinaabe Child and Family Services, called me at school. It was recess time (Ashern Central School, where I worked, was a grade 5-12 school). He stated that he knew what I had done, namely, choked Francesca and threw her to the ground. Mr. Shorting obliged me to inform the principal at the time (Mr. Chartrand) that I was under investigation.
I was put on administrative leave for perhaps one week. The staff, I believe, were told that it was medical, so I felt obliged to leave Ashern early every day early.
I had a subsequent meeting with Randy Chartrand, the principal, and Janet Martell, the superintendent. I categorically denied having choked Francesca and throwing her to the ground.
Lakeshore School Division decided to have me placed in the clinical supervision model for the year; my performance as a teacher was evaluated by Randy Chartrand, the principal at the time. I passed the assessment.
During the 2010-2011 school year, a few curious experiences arose with the RCMP. It was my habit to go, every Saturday at 12: 15, to a coffee and bakery shop called “Just My Kind of Bakery,” about a block and a half from where I lived. (see photo below). I read the Saturday Winnipeg Free Press there. I could have easily walked to the bakery, but I also often worked on either preparing lessons or marking student work after having read the paper and needed . I also generally bought groceries afterwards. It was more convenient to take the car with the newspaper and school work.
One time, I left the house where I lived at around 12:15 on Saturday, as usual, on a fall day, and I saw two RCMP cars enter the alleyway behind the row of buildings that included Just My Kind of Bakery. They went to the end of the alley, turned right and then turned right again–going towards Just My Kind of Bakery. I did not make anything of it–until I arrived at Just My Kind of Bakery. I took the shortest route to the bakery, but to park at Just My Kind of Bakery, I had to cross the yellow line. When I got out, the RCMP officers from the two cars approached me, and one of them stated that what I had done was illegal–I had crossed the yellow line. When I asked how I was supposed to get to Just My Kind of Bakery, he stated that I could approach the bakery from the other side in order not to have to cross the yellow line (the same route that they had taken–although they did not say that). Of course, apart from this instance, I had never seen the RCMP ever enforce this “law” during the three-and-half years that I lived there.
Sometime afterwards, I believe, I moved to the window seat in Just My Kind of Bakery because I wanted to be able to identify my accuser, Darrell Shorting. I suppose the workers there felt “threatened”–but my purpose was a typical claimed right of an accused–to confront one’s accuser. I had been charged and condemned for physically abusing Francesca without a trial; I wanted to know who was it who was accusing me (apart from the fascist organizations called Child and Family Services, whether in Winnipeg or in Ashern).
Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Relation of Just My Kind of Bakery (Indicated by Fork and Knife) and Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Another time, I was going to the school when it was dark to obtain something from the school in preparation for lessons; I saw an RCMP car nearby.
I forget exactly when, but Francesca contacted me, and we began to see each other. It must have been in 2011, before April 4. By coincidence we went to see a movie called “The Dilemma,” with Vince Vaughan as actor, among others. The dilemma was whether Vaughn, who saw his business partner and friend, should tell him that he had seen his wife kissing another man. My dilemma was whether I should confront Francesca with the false allegation of choking her and throwing her to the ground. After the movie, I dropped her off, and I decided to talk to her about it. We talked on the phone, and I indicated that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground. She said that it did not matter since she forgave me. I insisted, however, that I had done no such thing. If I remember correctly, she hung up. When I tried calling back then and other times, there was no answer.
It was around the same time, or perhaps a little earlier, that Francesca was temporarily living with the parents of the husband of Laura since one of the teenagers who lived under Laura’s care had apparently tried to commit suicide, and there was blood in the house. I went to see Francesca there, and she told me for the first time that she had been sexually abused by Juan Ulises, the common-law husband, when she was a child. Given that she still claimed that I had choked her and threw her to the ground, I did not believer her at the time. Now I do. I attributed her earlier violence towards me to her mother’s physical abuse. However, even after she admitted that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground, she insisted that Juan Ulises had sexually abused her. Her extreme violence towards me can be ascribed both to the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, the lack of action by the WCFS, the Progressive Conservative government and the NDP social-democratic government (elected in 1999)–and her sexual abuse by Juan Ulises.
My Arrest and Harassment by the RCMP
Just before the spring break, I noticed that two RCMP cars were parked outside the house where I lived and had flashed their lights.
After spring break, on Sunday evening, there was someone stamping outside the house–and when I looked outside, there were a couple of flashes of light from one of the RCMP cars. I heard a knock on the door, got dressed and opened the door. There were two RCMP officers at the door. They indicated that I was under the arrest. When I asked what charge, they asked whether I wanted others to hear about the charges or whether it would be better to hear about them inside. I “invited” them inside. They informed me that I was charged with three counts of assault of Francesca. I asked them what the charges were. Two of the three were the same allegations as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services–choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground. The third allegation was new–assaulting Francesca by throwing tea at her. The RCMP officer also indicated that I was not to approach Francesca and not to leave the province; otherwise, I would be put in jail. I was fingerprinted at a later date.
On the following Saturday (April 9, 2011), for the first time ever, several RCMP officers (some in street clothes) sat opposite me at “Just My Kind of Bakery” in Ashern, probably to intimidate me and to ensure that I was no longer looking out the window to see who Darrell Shorting was. One of the officers, not in uniform, was the father of one of my former French students at the secondary level. On April 16, 2011, several RCMP officers once again do the same thing, including the father once again–this time in uniform.
(As an aside, it may be that Darrell Shorting is the same person who complained about how children in First Nations communities should be kept in their own communities rather than shipped to Winnipeg under the “protection” of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-is-new-residential-school-system-says-former-cfs-investigator-1.2788730 ). If so, then Mr. Shorting saw fit to falsely accuse me of choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground and contributing to Francesca’s legal separation from me. Mr. Darrell, Shorting, as the article shows, was a former CFS abuse investigator for Aninshinaabe CFS.)
An Oppressive Working and Living Atmosphere
I returned to school next morning to teach. Curiously, one of the parents of a student I was teaching wanted to attend my class. I “agreed” to this.
Subsequently, at a teacher’s meeting, in May 2011 I believe, Neil MacNeil attended. He was a former teacher at Ashern Central School who had taught their for around 30 years. He was a principal in another school in another town within the same school division, but he was going to become the new principal at Ashern Central School during the 2011-2012 school year. At the meeting, he stated that he wished he could teach French since the French program was going downhill–which in itself I found inappropriate and humiliating since it was I who taught French.
Later that month, I was informed that I would no longer be teaching French at the high-school level (grades 9-12)–but I would still be teaching French in grades 6-8 (another teacher would teach French at the grade 5 level). Jennifer Bjorg, the daughter of the former French teacher whom I replaced once she retired (Darlene Hanlon), would be teaching basic French at the high-school level.
I enjoyed much more teaching French at the high-school level. It was optional for students, and most students wanted to be there and learn French. Since I did not like teaching basic French in the earlier years–especially since it was obligatory although many students did not really want to learn it–the stripping of my seniors French class resulted in an oppressive atmosphere for me.
Near the end of August, when I went outside, I found that one of the windows of my car had been smashed. The rock was still in the car. I went to the RCMP station a few blocks away to report it. The RCMP officer said that they could do nothing and that fingerprints could not be obtained from a rock. Nothing was done about it. There was no inquiry into the vandalism at all–further proof against the idealized version of the police by the “Marxist” Herman Rosenfeld (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).
The oppressive atmosphere where I worked and lived increased substantially when I was assigned the position of a glorified teaching assistant by having to supervise one special needs student instead of teaching the seniors French classes in September, 2011. It was humiliating, and my heart started to pound excessively in September 2011. Furthermore, I was placed on clinical supervision once again–with Neil MacNeil as principal, not Randy Chartrand.
I started to have problems sleeping at night due to the pounding heart. I started to take sleeping pills–which did not reduce the pounding heart, but they at least permitted me to distance the pounding heart sufficiently to sleep. I also started to drink a maximum of a cup of red wine every day (a measuring cup since I knew what alcohol could do to a person–my father had been an alcoholic and died when he was 50). (In fact, I started to drink red wine twice a week because my former supervisor for my master’s degree and Ph. D. Rosa Bruno-Jofre, who had cancer around the same time as I did, recommended a book “Foods That Fight Cancer.” In that book, the author recommended drinking red wine since it had a concentrated chemical not as easily metabolised if a person ate only red grapes. Drinking red wine every day, though, was due to the oppressive situation).
The whole situation was oppressive. Ashern is a very small town–around 1,400 people. I never stated to anyone that I had been arrested, but the three charges were to be addressed when a judge was to hear the charges. I did not attend personally (I hired a criminal lawyer “at a reduced rate” because I was a member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society–Josh Weinstein It cost me around $3,000). Obviously many people knew about the arrest. I could not rest neither at work nor at home.
I also started having problems teaching French with some of the students. I always had classroom management problems in the grades 7 and 8 levels, and they intensified as the year proceeded. I also experienced the oppression of the principal hovering around the classrooms where I taught, looking in whenever he wanted.
Of course, the threat of being jailed if I tried to communicate with Francesca was also oppressive.
In October, I believe, I started to see Gene Degen, a counsellor for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at the Manitoba Teachers Society building–the very building where I allegedly cornered Francesca and frightened her. I also inquired about going on sick leave.
The extent of the feeling of oppression can be seen from a series of communication between Adele Field Burton, case manager for the Disability Benefits Plan of MTS and me:
— On Wed, 11/2/11, AdelleFieldBurton<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <email@example.com> Subject: Apology To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 8:44 AM
I am sorry if I have offended you or misunderstood what you were trying to say. It was not my intention.
You are entitled to apply for benefits if you are medically unable to work.
I am here to help if needed.
AdelleFieldBurton, BA BSW CCRC
Disability Benefits Plan of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
I find the contents of your email interesting–in its naivety.
Fact 1: I went to see a brand new doctor since my previous doctor had left Ashern (a typical phenomenon in rural areas, so I am told).
Fact 2: I only indicated that I was under extreme stress; I did not elaborate.
Fact 3: The doctor listened to my heart.
Fact 4: I had an EKG.
Fact 5: He prescribed to me a drug and told me to look up on the Net its effects.
Fact 6: I looked up on the Net the drug and discovered that it was addictive.
Fact 7: I purchased the pills–with the intention of taking them for the purpose of addressing my immediate concerns–my stress as expressed in my increasingly intensified heart.
Fact 8: It was the pharmacist who informed me (not the doctor) that the pills would likely have no effect for the period of the prescription; it would be necessary to take the pills for probably six weeks to notice any effect.
Fact 9: I have been taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to try to sleep; although they do not alter the pounding heart, they do allow me to exist in a state of semi-sleep, with the feeling (though not the fact) of a pounding heart to be less intense;
Fact 10: You presumed that I refused to take the pills based on my Marxist beliefs;
Fact 11: My immediate concern is my constant pounding heart and a solution to that–not in 6 weeks henceforth.
Fact 12: Neither the doctor nor you seem to recognize what stress involves and what the person under stress needs.
Opinion: I do not appreciate your “aside” etc. You apparently have little understanding of the situation.
As an “aside,” on November 15, I have a cystoscopy. On Novemeber 17 I will have a CT scan. Anyone who knows anything about those who have experienced cancer can infer that at least some will be nervous about such procedures because of the possible outcome of a a negative diagnosis. Indeed, I had a conversation yesterday with my advisor for my Ph. D. about this since she had colon cancer at the same time as I had invasive bladder cancer.
Furthermore, on November 16 is the court date. Couple that with the clinical supervision and the humiliation of being shifted to “teaching” one student for 8 weeks and for being denied the right to teach senior-high French this year (despite having taught it for three years in a row), my stress level is quite comprehensible.
I will address my problems and my needs without your help. Should I need assistance, I shall contact another person from MTS.
Rest assured that I have no intention of ever contacting you again.
Dr. Fred Harris, Marxist
— On Mon, 10/31/11, AdelleFieldBurton<email@example.com> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: RE: Stress Leave To: “Fred Harris” <email@example.com> Cc: “Roland Stankevicius” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “AdelleFieldBurton” <email@example.com> Received: Monday, October 31, 2011, 5:15 AM
I am sorry to hear that things are feeling worse for you.
I guess there are a couple of things for clarification.
Although you are certainly under stress, this is not a diagnosis, it is a cause. In order to take time off work for medical reasons you need to have a note from a medical doctor that states you are unable to work for “medical reasons” (that includes psychological). If your doctor is prescribing an anti-depressant then likely feels you are exhibiting signs of depression. I do have clients who chose not to take medication as a first line of treatment, preferring to use talk therapy first. My approach to that is – Unless there is a past history of mental health problems where medication has been useful, I think it is reasonable to try counselling first but if after 6 months, the depression (etc.) is not improving, then medication becomes a part of “appropriate care and treatment”.
So I guess the first thing is to see if your doctor will support your going off work for medical reasons. If he does, then I can refer you to a psychologist – I would try to chose one who I think might fit for you.
If your doctor does not support medical leave and you still feel that is necessary, I can refer you to a psychiatrist who would just provide a medical opinion on whether you could work and provide treatment recommendations. It would mean one, two-hour visit. I would be clear with him about your concerns with psychiatry and I believe that your concerns would not be well-founded. There is really no other way to confirm your medical status if your doctor does not agree with time off.
As an aside, it sounds like you may be choosing what you consider to be the “lesser of two evils”, so I still wonder about your ability to participate fully in sessions with the psychologist. In any case, I would rely on the psychologist’s assessment of whether that was taking place. I wish there was some way we could help without impacting your philosophical beliefs but I am not sure what that would look like. The plan document is very clear about appropriate care and treatment.
In November 2011, the charges of assaulting Francesca were dropped–with no explanation at all.
I was to begin teaching an English class and a math class in November 2011, which I did–as well as the grades 6-8 French.
Neil MacNeil, the principal, submitted his clinical supervision report in December, 2011, evaluating my teaching during November and December 2011. I responded with around a 42-page critique, but I submitted it to Roland Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary), for comment. He recommended reducing it in certain places (and eliminating all evidently emotional language), so the final response was around 32 pages. Mr. Stankevicius indicated at the time that the clinical supervision report reflected badly–on Mr. MacNeil:
— On Mon, 12/19/11, RolandStankevicius<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:From: RolandStankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Response to Clinical Evaluation To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:32 AM
I have tried to play the role of editor here. Cut down on the length, improve tone. The strikeouts should be deleted in my opinion and the yellow highlights added.
You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened. I hope you agree with my suggestions. Please call me over lunch to discuss.
Best to get this put away. You have made your points here. NM does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).
(I will be publishing, in several parts, my reply to Mr. MacNeil’s assessment sometime on this blog.)
However, Janet Martell, the superintendent and Mr. MacNeil had other plans. Mr. MacNeil, Ms. Martell, Leanne Peters, assistant superintendent, had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and me on February 13. Mr. Martell mentioned my cancer and my arrest–without Mr. Stankevicius responding at all to this. I was to be put on “intensive clinical supervision”–which meant that I would be put under her supervision–all supposedly to provide supports for my teaching. However, Mr. Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary) indicated that it was a prelude to my being fired. The starting date was to be February 14, 2012 (see letter below):
Fred Harris Box 473 Ashern, MB R0C 0E0
February 14, 2012
Dear Mr. Harris:
Intensive Guided Supervision
This correspondence is further to our meeting on February 13th, 2012. Also in attendance at the meeting was Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School, Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer, and Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division. During this meeting, we discussed the need to move you from a clinical model of supervision to the Intensive Guided model as per Lakeshore’s Regulations and Procedures.
This change in supervision is necessary as your competency in providing a quality education to our students has been brought into question and your teaching is deemed unsatisfactory by myself, as determined in consultation with Neil MacNeil. We clarified the procedures and reviewed, in general terms, the elements and expectations of good teaching and professional responsibility. We discussed the opportunity you would have to assist in determining supports required to meet the expectations. The timelines, in a broad sense, would run from today’s date until the end of April 2012. At the conclusion of the timeline, I will convene a meeting of all participants to determine the outcome of the Intensive Guided Supervision. Possible outcomes are as follows:
Recognition that the plan to achieve satisfactory teaching was successfully completed, or
A recommendation to the Board of Trustees for termination of your contract.
A second meeting has been scheduledfor Friday, February 17th at 9:30 a.m. at Ashern Central School to develop a plan for Intensive Guided Supervision. The plan will include:
a clear description of the areas requiring improvement,
a clear description of the expected changes in those areas requiring improvement,
a description of resources available within and outside the division to assist the teacher to improve teaching performance,
the timeline for satisfactory improvement to occur,
the meeting dates to review progress, and
an outline of the evaluation process and timelines which shall be followed, including expected dates of reports, both interim and final.
At this meeting, you will have the opportunity not only for input into the process, but to request clarification of any component of the supervision model, which will ensure you are in complete understanding of the Division’s expectations. If you are successful in meeting these expectations and demonstrate your desire and ability to continue to do so, no further changes in your performance will be necessary.
I am optimistic that regardless of what has happened in the past, progress can be made to the benefit of all concerned.
CC: Personnel file
Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School
Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division
Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and a lawyer for MTS at the MTS building (McMaster House):
Marni Sharples <email@example.com>
Wed., Feb. 15, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Coordinator, Teacher Welfare
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
191 Harcourt Street
Winnipeg, MB R3J 3H2
‘ (204)837-4666 Ext. 239 or 1-800-262-8803
6 (204) 831-3077 or 1-866-799-5784
—–Original Message—– From: Fred Harris [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: February-15-12 12:36 PM To: Marni Sharples Subject: Re: Meeting – Thursday, February 16th
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and David Shrom, a lawyer (probably a labour lawyer–he has since been on an arbitration board). Mr. Shrom informed me that the issue was grievable, meaning that the issue could be grieved on the basis of collective agreement provisions (but he did not specify, if I remember correctly, which provisions could be used to justify the grievance). However, he (or Mr. Stankevicius) indicated that, despite being grievable, I would still have to undergo intensive clinical supervision while the grievance was in process. Since I had no further desire to work for Lakeshore School Division (or for that matter any other employer), I decided not to pursue the grievance and made a deal to agree to resign if I was “allowed” to work one day in March to qualify for short-term disability until I qualified for long-term disability;
Bureaucratic Rules for Going on Short- and Long-term Disability
Fred Harris <email@example.com>
Sat., Feb. 18, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.
I received a doctor’s note yesterday for two weeks. I will fax that to the Division office. I also explained to the doctor the situation in relation to std [short-term disability], and he stated that he had no problem with signing another doctor’s note afterwards.
What are other conditions for std? Seeing a doctor regularly? Other conditions attached? What is the level of benefits?
I understand that I will have to work at least one day in March. In what would that consist? And where? I am unconcerned about the other teachers knowing about the situation–they undoubtedly will be curious. However, I have no desire to see Neil.
I do have some questions. Is std to be a bridging gap for ltd [long-term disability]? However, I skimmed through the ltd plan, and a condition for ltd is that the teacher still be employed. If the idea is to negotiate a deal and terminate, then I would not qualify for ltd. So I am unsure of this.
I also am wondering about prospects for future employment in other divisions. I would probably start out as a substitute teacher, but then again I do now know how difficult it is to be on the substitute teachers’ list in various divisions. Any ideas?
I also, as you know, plan on going to Toronto. Whether this year or next I am unsure. What probable impact, if any, would this have on working in Toronto, at least initially, as a substitute teacher?
— On Fri, 2/17/12, Roland Stankevicius <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Roland Stankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: FW: Lakeshore short term disability insurance (std) To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Friday, February 17, 2012, 12:24 PM
Hi Fred, I heard your voicemail message. I am in the office call if you are available.
Further to the previous email.
The note for next week can be “on sick leave for an indefinite period while under doctor’s care and will be reassessed on 28th February.”
The matter is that you need to be ‘not on sick leave’ for at least a day (at work) on or after March 1st. It is a bit complicated but basically you will be transitioning from one medical leave to the other and therefore will need a second medical note after March 1st.
My email to a doctor involved specifying what was required to satisfy the short-term provisions of the disability program:
From: Fred Harris <email@example.com>
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 02:09:46 p.m. EDT
Hello Doctor Faltas,
I am a patient of yours who saw the psychiatrist, Dr.Morier.
Lakeshore School Division requires a doctor‘s note, with two parts to it.
The first part should indicate that I was capable of working on March 23 (whether formulated as alternative work or simply as work is your decision).
The second part then should indicate that I was not capable of working as of March 26. The MTS representative (union representative) suggested that the wording should indicate that I am incapble of performing full-time teaching duties due to general stress and anxiety (this last wording, he suggested, should also be used for the Wawanesa form when you fill it out after having received the Dr. Morier’s report). Of course, it is up to you how you formulate the note.
The note can be addressed as To Lakeshore School Division
The note can be sent to the following address:
Lakeshore School Division
If you have questions of the Division, you can phone the Division at 739-2101 and ask for Janet Martell (superintendent).
If you have any questions for me, my cell number in Winnipeg is: 951-2764.
Thank you, Dr. Faltas.
Political Lessons to Be Learned
When we look at all these experiences, it can be seen that the government and its representatives in many ways functions to oppress workers and citizens. The left seem oblivious to this aspect of the regular person’s experiences. Indeed, the left’s frequent reference to the solution of “expanded public services,” for many sounds like a call for an expanded system of oppression. Is there really any wonder why workers and citizens have moved to the right in many instances? The left, of course, absolves itself of any responsibility for this turn. It chastises the lower levels of the working class for, for instance, voting for the likes of Trump, while it fails to look critically at its own contribution to the continued oppression of workers and citizens.
It should be noted that, in some ways, I was a lucky person. I was to receive short-term and then long-term disability. A friend of mine who worked in a private school ended up in the psychiatric ward after suffering constant criticisms from administration and relatively well-off parents. He received no financial help whatsoever.
Of course, my luck is relative; I would have preferred, of course, not to have had to experience such “luck” in the first place.
In another post in this series, I will outline the oppression that I experienced while on short- and long-term disability.
In my previous post, I endeavoured to show that Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” by calling for an expansion of public services as a solution is inadequate because they fail to consider the oppressive nature of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. Specifically, I looked at how educational services are oppressive by imposing grades or marks on students and by imposing a curriculum that often has little meaning for students.
In this post, I look at how welfare services are oppressive.
Oppressive Welfare Services
Public services include welfare services in various forms, such as child welfare, social assistance (called welfare when I was young) and unemployment insurance (now euphemistically called “employment insurance” in Canada). Related to educational services in some ways since children are often involved, do welfare services provide “”publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure?” Is there democracy within the provision of welfare services? Or is “publicly operated infrastructure” an oppressive infrastructure?
From Don Lash (2017), “When the Welfare People Come”: Race and Class in the Child Protection System:
This theory is generally applicable to child welfare workers. Workers, whether investigators, caseworkers, or lawyers, operate with some discretion in forming judgments, albeit with layers of management oversight and final say on decisions, and even greater discretion over the way in which a client is treated. Their work also has an enormous potential impact on their clients. Finally, they are accountable to managers for datadriven outcomes, to judges, to the pressures of media attention, and to countless other “stakeholders” with more influence than the parents and families with whom they work. Because of the pressure of caseloads and paperwork requirements, they are also prone to routinization and simplification to manage the work and meet management expectations. Conscientiousness, empathy, and even professional ethics may not always be trumped by the dynamics of street-level bureaucracy, but there will always be a tension that is seldom resolved solely in the interests of the client.
Two child welfare workers who worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) describe the position of DCFS social workers. They are nominally given professional discretion to be exercised in the best interest of the children and families to whom they are assigned, but operate under constant pressure to act in the best interest of the department. In a memoir about their work experiences, they wrote:
If CSWs [Certified Social Workers] could speak frankly without fear of retribution, many of these well-meaning workers who should place the welfare of their case children and/or families above all else do not feel able to do so. If they felt free to speak the truth, they would say that they are being made to do whatever they’re told without question or hesitation, and if they do otherwise, they would find themselves under threat of discipline. They are fully aware that to resist certain morally questionable directives may mean putting any hopes of advancement or even their entire careers in jeopardy. They realize that in demonstrating reluctance to go along with these directives, they may even run the risk of facing trumped-up charges on grounds of insubordination.
This does not sound very democratic, either from the point of view of the workers or those who receive their services. Why are Dhunna and Bush silent about the oppressive nature of the welfare state? In a society dominated by a class of employers, where civil servants are wage workers, is there not bound to be a conflict between the needs of those who receive the services and those who perform them? After all, civil servants in modern capitalist society are wage workers, and there exists a hierarchy of managers to which front-line workers are subordinate. Dhunna and Bush, however, simply ignore this fact, idealizing instead the modern state’s provision of services.
But the above quote is from a situation in the United States. What of more social-democratic states?
In Sweden, work-for-welfare was introduced in the 1990s. From Katarina Thorén (2008), “Activation Policy in Action” A Street-Level Study of Social Assistance in the Swedish Welfare State, page 5:
…municipal activation policies were introduced in the 1990s in the municipal social services organizations. The Swedish form of activation policies target unemployed social assistance recipients and require them to participate in local activation measures in return for financial support.
Of course, Dunnah and Bush would probably argue that they oppose such work-for-welfare programs. However, since they fail to engage in any way with the fact that there is a market for workers–employed by a class of employers–their opposition is more rhetoric than reality. Why would they oppose such programs? As long as there is a market for workers, there is bound to be a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “non-deserving poor.” And the deserving poor are those who are willing to work–for an employer. Since Dunnah and Bush do not address the class relation at all in any direct fashion, any criticism they offer against work-for-welfare will only be partial and limited; to be effective, it is necessary to criticize the employer-employee relation as such.
But let us turn to the Swedish case. Do Swedish welfare services, which are “publicly owned infrastructure,” provide “publicly operated infrastructure” in a humane manner?
In the Swedish case, there was a division of labour between social workers and “activation staff,” or the front-line workers who directly related to welfare “clients.” The activation staff tried to use this division in order to hide the oppressive nature of their own activities. Pages 130-132:
But activation staff, for their part, admitted that they wanted to be viewed as “nice” and not part of the mandatory requirement process in order to keep a friendly atmosphere at the activation programs. From a street-level bureaucracy perspective, the activation staff had an incentive, therefore, to conceal the coercive elements of the activation requirements.
Local Organizational Arrangements and Bureaucratic Responsibilities
In part to limit the tensions with frustrated clients, there was an organizational divide of the formal responsibilities of social workers and activation workers. Clients were told that the social workers were responsible for all formal decisions and activation workers, whom they saw on a daily basis, would merely execute the activation requirements and related services. At the first information meeting, clients were informed through a power point presentation that:
“WHY ARE YOU HERE? (Statement in Power Point presentation) … You should not feel that you are forced to go here … participation here is a resource for those how are looking for jobs and receive social assistance … the goal is to be self-sufficient and to say “goodbye” to your social worker … (Commentary from job coach)
JOBBCENTRUM IS AN OFFER! (Statement in Power Point presentation) … It’s not the staff at Jobbcentrum that decides that you are required to be here, it’s the Stockholm Municipality that has decided that and it’s your social worker that is taking care of all formal decisions. (Commentary from job coach)”
Thus, activation workers presented the activation requirement as an offer and concealed, rather successfully, the mandatory feature of the activation process, which, from a street-level bureaucracy perspective, was important for the activation staff. Clients were thereby encouraged to see activation workers as somehow removed from the formal decision-making. Clients were frequently referred to the social workers whenever they had questions regarding requirements, entitlements, and administration practices, although the activation staff was well informed about the local policy rules. But the right to social assistance was based on the clients’ performance at the activation program. Most clients could see that their first point of inquiry, negotiation, and tension would be with the activation worker who monitored their performance and attitude on a daily basis. The claim of an organizational divide displaced this overt power held by activation workers, and tried to keep activation workers appearing neutral in an unequal bureaucratic relationship, and this may have only added to client frustrations and tensions within the program. Especially, when they found out that the activation staff reported their program performance to the social workers on a regular basis.
In one case, a client, whose social assistance had been withdrawn after her job coach had reported her as “inactive”, was very upset and told me the following:
“The social worker told me that the job coach had called her to say that I wasn’t active enough at Jobbcentrum and that he was disap-spoke with my job coach and he said that I was going good … why did he do so, he’s “my” job coach and supposed to support me….”
When it became apparent that the job coach had, in fact, reported her performance and thereby becoming a real factor in the decision-making process, the client felt she was not taken seriously and that they “gone behind her back”.
Thus, the organizational arrangement to separate the “exercise of public authority” between the social workers and the activation workers was mainly symbolic since the activation requirement indirectly determined the right to social assistance and activation staff reported clients’ activation performance to the social workers. Similar administrative arrangements have been demonstrated elsewhere. Carstens (1998) claims that there is an underlying conflict between clients’ interest and organizations’ interest within the activation policy context and masked issues that demonstrate the asymmetric relationships in the activation policy process in Denmark.
Welfare services are anything but democratic–for both those who provide the services and for those who receive them.
The sectarian social-democratic left, of course, will claim that the oppressive nature of state work–for state workers and for citizens who receive those services–is due mainly to the neoliberal policies that currently exist. However, since neoliberalism–privatization of state services, deregulation of financial services, etc.–is only one form of the class power of employers, how any particular form of capitalist government or state can solve the problem of the tension or contradiction between state as both an employer of workers, on the one hand, and defender and supporter of a market for workers for the class of employers, on the other, is beyond me.
Of course, there are a range of possible policies that are better or worse by treating both social workers and those who use their services more or less humanely, but these are modifications around a basic point: As long as there exists a class of employers–both private and public–and a market for workers, there will always be a tension between the needs of those who provide services and those who receive them.
Perhaps the social-democratic left can provide an outline of how “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure” can achieve this without calling into question the class power of employers
Frankly, I doubt that they can. Hence their silence about the issue.
What has been the main purpose of welfare services? There are undoubtedly many purposes, but one of the main purposes has been to reduce the aspirations of workers–as David Graeber (2015) points out in the German case, The Utopia of Rules On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, pages 154-155 :
Even though Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the great mastermind behind the creation of the German state, allowed his parliament only limited powers, he was confounded by the rapid rise of workers’ parties, and continually worried by the prospect of a Socialist majority, or a possible Paris Commune-style uprising in his new united Germany. His reaction to Socialist electoral success from 1878 was twofold: on · the one hand, to ban the Socialist party, trade unions, and leftist newspapers; on the other, when this proved ineffective (Socialist candidates continued to run, and win, as independents) , to create a top-down alternative to the free schools, workers’ associations, friendly societies, libraries, theaters, and the larger process of building socialism from below. This took the form of a program of social insurance (for unemployment, health and disability, etc.), free education, pensions, and so forth-much of it watered-down versions of policies that had been part of the Socialist platform, but in every case, carefully purged of any democratic, participatory elements. In private, at least, he was utterly candid about describing these efforts as a “bribe,” an effort to buy out working-class loyalties to his conservative nationalist project. [note 117, incorrectly numbered 116]. When left-wing regimes did later take power, the template had already been established, and almost invariably, they took the same top-down approach, incorporating locally organized clinics, libraries, mutual banking initiatives, workers’ education centers, and the like into the administrative structure of the state.
Two points are relevant here. Firstly, the purpose of welfare services need not be to enhance workers’ control over their own lives but to limit their capacity of seeking to go beyond the class system of employers. Graeber argues that Bismarck consciously sought to institute welfare services in order to bribe the working class. From Graeber (2015), page 252, note 117:
As he [Otto von Bismarck] put it to an American visitor at the time: “My idea was to bribe the working classes, or shall I say, to win them over, to regard the state as a social institution existing for their sake and interested in their welfare” (cited in William Thomas Stead, On the Eve: A Handbook for the General Election [London: Review of Reviews Publishing, 1892], p. 62). The quote is useful to bear in mind since I find that the general point-that the welfare state was largely created to pay off the working class for fear of their becoming revolutionaries- tends to be met with skepticism, and demands for proof that this was the self-conscious intention of the ruling class. But here we have the very first such effort described by its founder quite explicitly as such.
It would be unfair to Dhunna and Bush to argue that they seek to bribe the working class since they seek to force the provision of welfare services through power emanating from below, of course. However, given that the ruling class has used the provision of welfare services as a means of blunting the demands of workers, it would be necessary to seek means by which to prevent welfare measures from actually blunting workers’ demands. They fail to provide any such means in their article; indeed, they seem to believe that the provision of welfare services by the capitalist state is somehow in itself socialist. They also fail to consider whether the demand for a robust universal basic income could be just such a means from below that could question the power of employers as a class.
Secondly, the form in which welfare services are provided is top-down–a hierarchy of employees, with little democratic structure within the provision of welfare services. Dhunna and Bush are also silent over this issue.
Oppressive Administration of Welfare Services Results in Fragmentation or Division of Interests of the Public
Dhunna and Bush do not address the issue of the administration of the decommodified programs and how such administration creates various “subpublics” that divide people from one another through bureaucratic means. From Michael Kratke (1989), “Does Social Security Create a New Class? On the Restructuring of Social Inequality by Welfare State Arrangements,” in Political Regulation in the “Great Crisis,” pages 285-315, edited by Werner Vath, pages 305-307:
At this point the fragmentation thesis enters. It says that the institutional fragmentation of the social security system, the coexistence of different systems of social insurance and social assistance, and, last not least, the administrative practice of classifying and sub-classifying client groups altogether lead to just as many cleavages among welfare state clients. Take for example the Dutch social security system once again. Its clients are officially put into a whole string of subsystems and categorized accordingly as AOWers, WAOers, WWers, WWVers, RWWers, IOAWers, ZWers, WBPers, ABWers, AWWers and so on. No doubt, European social politics have been and still are obsessed with such classifications of client groups as they were in vogue for centuries. Such classifications of inactives are part and parcel of any social security system which is built upon the principle of specific and conditional rights to specific benefits. Only under & regime of an unconditional and universal grant for all citizens such [classifications would be unnecessary. …
All these classifications bear moral overtones and are burdened with notions of “decency” and “respectability”. In moral terms, social security classes are certainly divided in an upper, a middle and an underclass retired people occupying the ranks of the most respectable upper clas$»j| the sick, the handicapped and the disabled occupying the less respected] but still deserving middle class, and the (long-term and young) unemployed filling the ranks of the least respected, more or less “undeservinging” underclass. (School)children, students, apprentices should be ranked some kind of a “upper middle class”, as they are doing some useful work preparing themselves to become part of the working population in the future. Members of the upper and especially the middle class can define themselves in terms of a special profession of trade–the profession trade they once belonged to or they will belong to in the near future And they have links with the groups of the working population they belonged to or will belong to–apprentices and students much stronger ones than the retired and disabled. But the latter still know to which group they will belong and try to stay in touch with their former colleagues, their trade unions and their clubs and associations. Maintaining some kind of a professional group identity certainly works as a means to keep the less deserving welfare state clients, the people on the dole and the mass of wretches living on social assistance at some social distance at least. Pensioners of various kinds–the largest group of welfare state clients– thus keep in touch with official politics, too; they are still included to some degree in professional organizations trade unions in the first place which they expect to represent their interests.
The administration of public services through a bureaucracy also often involves complicity, where pretense of a meritocratic system of assignment of people within a hierarchy is based mainly on merit and not on other criteria–such as nepotism. From Graeber (2015), pages 26-27:
Such institutions [bureaucracies] always create a culture of complicity. It’s not just that some people get to break the rules-it’s that loyalty to the 0rganization is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening. And insofar as bureaucratic logic is extended to the society as a whole, all of us start playing along.
This point is worth expanding on. W hat I am saying is that we are not just looking at a double standard, but a particular kind of double standard typical of bureaucratic systems everywhere. All bureaucracies are to a certain degree utopian, in the sense that they propose an abstract ideal that real human beings can never live up to. Take the initial point about credentialism. Sociologists since Weber always note that it is one of the defining features of any bureaucracy that those who staff it are selected by formal, impersonal criteria-most often, some kind of written test. (That is, bureaucrats are not, say, elected like politicians, but neither should they get the job just because they are someone’s cousin.) In theory they are meritocracies. In fact everyone knows the system is compromised in a thousand different ways … Many of the staff are in fact there just because they are someone’s cousin, and everybody knows it. The first criterion of loyalty to the organization becomes complicity. Career advancement is not based on merit, and not even based necessarily on being someone’s cousin; above all, it’s based on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, even though everyone knows this not to be true. Or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when, in fact, they are often deployed as a means for entirely arbitrary personal power.
Nor do Dunnah and Bush address how their proposals will enable people to control their own lives when the power of employers as a class is not addressed directly. From Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster (July 2010), “The Dialectic of Social and Ecological Metabolism: Marx, Meszaros, and the Absolute Limits of Capital,” Socialism and Democracy, pages 124-138, Volume 24, Number 2, page 129:
The ecological and social challenges that confront us are often minimized as the logic of capital goes unquestioned and various reforms are put forward (such as improving energy efficiency via market incentives) under the assumption that the system can be tamed to accommodate human needs and environmental concerns. Such positions fail to acknowledge that the structural determinations of capital will inevitably grind onwards, threatening to undermine the conditions of life, unless systematic change is pursued to eradicate the capital relation entirely.
Possibility of Recommodification of Public Services
Since Dunnah and Bush fail to address the power of employers at work (see the previous post), their proposal for an enhanced welfare state would always be subject to the threat of the conversion of public services into private services provided by capitalist employers. Their approach lacks any realistic assessment of how decommodification of these services (the conversion of services into universally free and accessible) can be realized as a viable permanent solution to the problems which people face since Dhunna and Bush do not aim at dismantling the labour market, abolishing the power of the class of employers and hence the existence of classes.
Decommodification will always be threatened by recommodification (as it has been during the neoliberal era of privatization and deregulation) unless the power of employers as a class is broken for good–and they fail even to address this issue. From Chris Wright (2014), Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, pages 147-148:
With respect to the very long run, Marx was always right that capitalism is not sustainable. There are many reasons for this, including the contradiction between a system that requires infinite growth and a natural environment that is finite, but the reason most relevant to Marxism is that ultimately capital can never stop accumulating power at the expense of every other force in society. It is insatiable; its [competition-driven] lust for ever more profit and power condemns it to a life of Faustian discontent. It can never rest. Any accommodations, therefore, between the wage-earning class and capital—such accommodations as the welfare state and the legitimization of collective bargaining—are bound to be temporary. Sooner or later capital’s aggressiveness will overpower contrary trends and consume everything, like a societal black hole (to change the metaphor). Everything is sucked into the vortex, including social welfare, the nation state, even nature itself. The logic is that nothing will remain but The Corporation [in the plural], and government protections of the people will be dismantled because such protections are not in the interest of capital. This absurd, totalitarian logic can never reach its theoretical culmination, but it will, it must, proceed far enough, eventually, that an apocalyptic struggle between the masses and capital ensues. A relatively mild version of this happened once before, in the 1930s and ’40s, and a compromise [in the West]—the mature welfare state—was the result. But then, as I said, capital repudiated the compromise (or is doing so as I write these words), and the old trends Marx diagnosed returned with a vengeance, and so humanity could look forward, this time, to a final reckoning. A final settling of accounts will occur in the coming century or two.
Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” through an expansion of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers is more rhetoric than reality since they fail to inquire into the nature of those public services. Welfare services are often oppressive, undemocratic and divisive. Furthermore, as long as the class power of employers is not explicitly challenged, the expansion of welfare services will always be threatened with a reduction of such services.
So far in this series, I have shown that two of the three aims implied in Dhunna’s and Bush’s article–““meaningfully improve the material realities of working-class and oppressed people” and “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure“–are hardly solutions to the problems which regular workers, citizens and community members face these days.
I will pursue a different tactic in future posts that criticize Dhunnah’s and Bush’s article. Specifically, I will show how they almost always illegitimately assume a minimal basic income, distort the nature of the references they use to justify their claims and fail to take into consideration proposals that involve a robust universal basic income the aim of which is to challenge the legitimacy of a market for workers.
In the previous post in this series, I argued against considering the expansion of free public services as socialist and for supporting the struggle for such free public services while simultaneously criticizing the limitations of such a struggle. The expansion of free public services in no way is the same as the beginning of a socialist society.
In this post, I expand on the limitations of the view that free public services amount to a socialist society by looking at the provision of such free public services from the side of the people who receive or use such services.
General Considerations: An Illegitimate Assumption
Dhunna and Bush make the following claim about their aims:
But those committed to principled class struggle should strive for the decommodification of public services. Compared with universal basic income, universal basic services cost less, meaningfully improve the material realities of working class and oppressed people, and affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure. That’s our bread and butter.
They assume what they must prove: that there is an identity between “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure.” What does “publicly operated infrastructure” mean? It must mean–operated by the government or state. They imply that the shift from private to public ownership somehow entails democratic control over “publicly owned infrastructure.” Publicly owned infrastructure is supposed to magically become operated–by the public–or operated democratically? They provide no evidence that the mere shift of services provided by the private sector to the public sector or the government somehow involves democratic control over the government.
In my previous post in this series, I acknowledged the positive side of state services that do not involve the user in having to pay personally or directly for such services in; in Canada, the classic example is free and universal basic health care. I have had cancer twice now (invasive bladder cancer diagnosed in 2009 and rectal cancer, diagnosed in 2015 (with metastatic liver cancer diagnosed in 2017). I certainly appreciate the fact that I did not, personally and directly, have to pay for health services connected to both the diagnosis and the removal and elimination of the cancer through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
The social-democratic left, however, do not focus on the negative side of such services to any great extent; alternatively, when they acknowledge it, they usually refer to the cliche of working “in and against the state.” The fact is that they mainly work within the state and pay lip service to working against the state.
Dhunna and Bush do not even acknowledge how their reforms will involve both positive and negative aspects–contradictions. Such services often simultaneously enable and alienate those who receive their services. From Adrian Little (1998), Post-Industrial Socialism: Towards a New Politics of Welfare, page 38:
As such it [the welfare state] cannot necessarily be regarded as an egalitarian institution because, as Baker suggests, ‘the present welfare state is a compromise which serves many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control.’ In short, Baker argues that ‘the welfare state is designed for an unequal society’ (Baker 1987:10).
An enhanced welfare state is certainly preferable to a welfare state stripped of protections–but it is still a welfare state that presupposes that workers are to work for a class of employers–and that those who receive services from the welfare state are to be controlled to a greater or less extent in one way or another. Dhunna’s and Bush’s neglect of the issue of control over work and their focus on free public services ignore the negative side of public welfare in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated general economic, political and social structures.
As Primož Krašovec argues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=25&v=T6HIhwVmgh4&feature=emb_title), the left’s idealization of the public sector–as if it were a haven of democracy–hardly provides an accurate picture of the nature of public sector work. Although the Canadian public sector is more heavily unionized than the private sector, to assume that higher unionization means democracy and control over our lives is just that–an assumption that requires justification.
Mr. Krasovec asks why some people–other than the rich–support neoliberal policies. His answer is that such neoliberal policies do address–unlike the social-democratic policies–some concerns of the ordinary worker about the public sector–such as the bureaucratic, neo-feudalist status of the state in the public education system. Both students and workers do not like these rigid hierarchical structures. Neoliberal policies may indeed be misleading about the efficacy of market policies in destroying these hierarchies if they are introduced into the public sector, but they nevertheless touch a real concern of workers and students.
This applies not only to public education but also to state administration in other public services. We cannot pretend that long lines at the doctor’s office do not happen, or that superficial treatment does not occur, or that bureaucratic incompetence does not arise–because people experience them every day in their dealings with these institutions. To fail to recognize these experiences and not to take them into account when formulating policy is to feed into the neoliberal backlash.
This idealization of the public sector will unlikely convince many who have experienced the negative aspect of public services since it does not correspond to their own experiences.
I mentioned above that I have been diagnosed with cancer twice (and diagnosed with metastatic cancer once). Given free public health care, as I said, I certainly appreciate the free treatment that I received. However, when we look at the wider context, the treatment also has negative aspects. As I argued in another post: (see Class Harmonies in Health Care? The Social-Democratic Way):
Today, though, many social determinants are largely ignored in favour of focusing on caring for those already sick. Consider breast cancer. It arises in many instances from environmental conditions, and yet most money is allocated to caring for those already inflicted with the disease rather than with preventing it from arising in the first place. From Faye Linda Wachs (2007), (pages 929-931), “Review. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. By Samantha King,” in Gender & Society, volume 21, number 6 (December), pages 930-931:
Recent studies reveal that simply removing known carcinogens from products and our environment could prevent thousands of cases annually (Brody et al. 2007). However, funding for such research is limited, while the monies for identifying and curing existing cases is the focus of most efforts. Indeed, many of the companies that fund survivorship continue to use known car cinogens in their products. King points to the fact that despite increased awareness, rates of breast cancer have increased from 1 in 22 in the 1940s to 1 in 7 in 2004. Even if one considers women’s increasing longevity, this still indicates an increase in the prevalence of breast cancer. Moreover, structural factors that affect risk and survivorship, such as socioeconomic status, remain woefully understudied.
Other experiences with the bureaucracy also tends to alienate the public from the public sector. Humiliation of the unemployed by office workers occurs, for example, and to not acknowledge such facts as a problem is to feed into the neoliberal ideology. So too does invasive surveillance of mothers by state bureaucrats. So too does humiliation of residents in public housing.
Nowhere do Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush acknowledge relations of domination and subordination in the public sector. Such experiences also alienate the public from the public sector. Mr. Krasnovic, by contrast, argues that it is necessary for the left to engage in a critique of the public sector in order to acknowledge the real problems that real people experience in relation to state institutions and state inequalities. It is necessary for the left to acknowledge these problems if they are to address neoliberalism and how it feeds off of the daily experiences of people in relation to the state.
Nowhere do the writers really address the nature of the problem of “the market.” despite the title of their article. On the assumption, though, that they oppose in fact the exploitation and oppression of workers in the private sector (a big assumption since many social democrats merely pay lip service to opposing exploitation and oppression since they really have no intention of aiming for the beginning of a movement towards the abolition in the present but rather push such a goal to the vague future–see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three–as Mr. Krasovec points out, it is hypocritical to criticize exploitation and oppression of private sector workers while not doing so in the public sector. Mr. Krasovec, like me, does not believe that any just society can arise as long as the capitalist state exists.
General Oppressive Structures and Relations in Public Services
Dhunna’s proposal for expanded public services would be different from present-day life, but not that different–as John Baker (1987) notes in his Arguing for Equality, pages 9-10:
Equality and the welfare state
For nearly a century, equality has been linked with the idea of the ‘welfare state’: income support for the elderly, unemployed and disabled; publicly provided education for all, with a trend in the direction of comprehensive, mixed-ability schooling; a free, comprehensive health service, at least for the worst off; public housing for people on low incomes; and a variety of social services for people with special needs. Would an egalitarian society mean more of the same? Since the welfare state does stand for more equality than ‘free market’ alternatives offered by its opponents, there are certainly good reasons for supporting and defending it. But there are two major reasons why an egalitarian society might turn out to be very different.
First of all is the issue of democratic control. The present welfare state is a compromise which suits many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control. In some areas, particularly in housing, users and providers of public services are starting to cooperate in making the system more democratic, but there’s a long way to go. Too much of the system still runs on the belief that the bureaucrats know best and that consumers should be grateful for whatever they’re given.
The second reason is that the welfare state is designed for an unequal society. Many of its policies and problems would be transformed by more equality. For instance, there’s a lot of argument in education over how to promote equality of opportunity in an unequal society. There are bitter conflicts over the use of limited funds, with parents fighting over the means to protect their children’s futures. Schooling is seen as a major cause of achievement in adult life, and since all children are in competition for advancement there is no limit to the demand for educational resources. Even a good school could be better, making a crucial difference to children’s educational success. No wonder there are disputes over private schooling, mixed-ability classes, examination systems, busing! In an egalitarian society, there would still be disagreements over the best ways to ensure that every person had the opportunity to develop their ability in a satisfying and fulfilling way and over how to use our resources — disagreements that it would be impossible to sort out now. But there wouldn’t be conflict over access to privilege; the penalty for ‘failure’ wouldn’t be poverty; there wouldn’t be a contrast between inner city ghettos and middle class suburbs.
Undoubtedly the welfare state provides some of the materials for the social institutions of an egalitarian society, as well as a great deal of experience in providing for people’s needs. But it would be wrong to imagine that an equal society would just be a bigger welfare state. It would be in many ways a different society altogether.
Or, as Wolfgang Streeck (2016) argues, the building of protective layers over top of the capitalist economy seeks a different form or variety of capitalism–and not its dismantling. From How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System:
Fred Block’s notion of an ‘always embedded’ capitalism subject to a ‘primacy of politics’ radiates an optimism that conspicuously resembles what European social democrats have for a long time made themselves believe: that socialism, as defined above, could be had, preserved and surreptitiously expanded on top of a capitalist economy-cum-society, by serving its inexorably growing functional need for collective governance. Looking back at the past four decades, however, we see a sustained process of institutional transformation, slow but irresistible and driven, not by democratic politics but by the dynamic logic of capitalist development, that has effectively destroyed most if not all of the political safeguards whose establishment had been the very condition for capitalism being allowed to return after the disasters of the first half of the twentieth century. That logic, and the reorganization – or disorganization – of social life that it dictated, culminates today in the dual crisis of the global financial as well as the national democratic state system. Decades of ‘reform’ aimed at meeting the ever more aggressive demands of capitalist markets have only exacerbated the capitalist wear and tear on the social fabric, often with the connivance of blackmailed states and governments, including social-democratic ones. Is this experience really compatible with a theory that considers ‘market society’ to be at the disposition of politics? Or does it not rather speak for attributing to capitalism as a social action system a life, a logic, a power and a dynamism of its own, on which social-democratic post-war politics as usual has more and more lost its grip? If one comes to conclude, as I have, that it is the latter that is the more realistic perspective, is it then still responsible to invest one’s time and energy in developing responsible ideas as to how responsible governments may repair ‘the system’ or turn one variety of capitalism’ into another? Or would it not be much more constructive to be less constructive – to cease looking for better varieties of capitalism and instead begin seriously to think about alternatives to it?
This post does try to focus on some of the negative sides of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.
The school system, of which the university is a part, is simply not considered. For example, are not grades (marks) an oppressive feature of the modern school system (including universities)? Do they not function to sort the “intelligent” from the “less intelligent?” Of course, assessment of some kind must occur, but all assessment could be in the form of feedback for improvement (formative assessment) and not in any form of quantitative assessment. As I wrote in an article (see in my Publications and Writings section, “Dewey and Assessment: Opposition to the Modern School System):
A few years ago, I was the chair of the local Equity and Social Justice Committee of a teacher’s association. I sent off articles and some of my thoughts to the Equity and Social Justice Ning (a kind of blog) of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. At a school where I worked in Manitoba, I also placed the same articles and my own thoughts in binders in the staff lounge for the staff to read. At one point, I argued that there was a conflict between grades and teacher feedback (usually in the form of written or verbal comments) that is supposed to improve teaching and learning. My own experience in receiving both teacher feedback and grades was such that I almost always looked at the grade first and only then (if at all) looked at the teacher’s comments afterward. I doubt that my experience is unique.
At a meeting with Janet Martell, the superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, and the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, Ms. Martell stated that she considered my argument about the contradiction of grades and teacher feedback via formative assessment to be faulty and would address it later during the meeting. She never did.
Grades, or what in educational circles is called summative assessment, is characterized by the following. From Shujon Mazumder (2020). “Critical Education: Increasing Student Achievement through Formative Assessments.” The Organizational Improvement Plan at Western University, 149. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/oip/149, pages 10-11:
According to Frey (2014), the defining characteristics of summative assessments include: • Assessing student learning at the end of a period of instruction. • Is typically very formal with defined test-taking rules and scoring procedures. • Its main purpose is to determine grades. (p. 91) Summative assessments view students as receptacles of information, and learning is measured by how well they can restate facts and knowledge given to them by their teachers.
The typical summative procedure of grading proceeds as follows page 11):
Table 1 Traditional Sequence of Activities in Student Assessment Cycle
1. Students are given instructions and advice about how to approach the assessment. 2. Students may undertake developmental, formative assessment to gain some feedback on their progress in this area of learning, before submitting their formally assessed (that is, summative) work. 3. Students prepare for their summative assessment, either individually or in collaboration with peers (where the latter is permitted and required). 4. Students undertake the assessment (e.g. write the essay; complete\the group project; give the presentation; sit the exam). 5. Students submit the assessment to the assessors, who are already experts in the field. 6. Students await feedback on the assessment. 7. Feedback and/or marks are made available. 8. Students may or may not access the feedback on their work. Students may or may not assimilate the feedback and actively use it to inform future approaches to learning and assessment.
How many reading this post have experienced the oppressive nature of grades–which is counterproductive to real learning? How many can identify with the following comments on the experience of grading in schools (dated February 11, 2018):
Reading The Case Against Grades brought up a TON of emotions for me this week. Some of the emotions this pieced evoked from me were anger, frustration rage and even a bit of embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed for my present self, but embarrassed for my younger self, the me 10-15 years ago who wasn’t among her high-achieving peers in the classroom. I went to school in a county, on a particular side of the county where high grade marks and straight A’s were an expectation of almost everyone. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t one of those students. I excelled in my elective classes like music/choir classes, home economics/teen living and sociology but could never seem to master’s subjects like physics, geometry and chemistry. It was embarrassing to receive my test scores and they sometimes were significantly lower than my peers.
In The Case Against Grades, Kohn mentions that several of the effects of grading are that grades tend to diminish what students are learning, grades create a preference for the easiest possible task and that grades tend to reduce the quality of students thinking. All of these statements resonate with me on a personal level. … Essentially, students are not taught to think at all. Grades are a way of inhibiting students learning. If students do not receive good grades, they are thought of as less than adequate and labeled as “problem” children when, in fact, many of those labels could not be further from the truth.
The oppressive nature of grades is similar in many ways to what I referred to in an earlier post about external or bad aims (which are oppressive) (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). Internal or good aims link our goals to what we are doing now and the means available to us by organizing present activities and means; they link the future with the present and the present with the future in a logical and coherent manner. External or bad aims, by contrast, involve a disconnect between means and ends. In the case of grades, the goal is to obtain the highest grade possible, and there is no intrinsic connection between that goal and the organization of present activities and means as internally related to each other. Such an external aim as obtaining the highest grades often leads to focusing on satisfying the teacher rather than the specific nature of problems–and hence diminishes the power of children and adolescents to address the problems that arise in the process of living.
Alfred Kohn (see link above) has this to say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to grades:
Motivation: While it’s true that many students, after a few years of traditional schooling, could be described as motivated by grades, what counts is the nature of their motivation. Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake (Kohn 1999a). Many assessment specialists talk about motivation as though it were a single entity — and their recommended practices just put a finer gloss on a system of rewards and punishments that leads students to chase marks and become less interested in the learning itself. If nourishing their desire to learn is a primary goal for us, then grading is problematic by its very nature.
I mentioned above another form of assessment–formative assessment. This form of assessment is supposed to provide feedback to students without quantifying it–it is more qualitative and narrative. However, as Alfred Kohn notes, when it is linked to summative assessment, it performs a subordinate role and thus is still linked to an oppressive practice. From Kohn (see the link above):
It’s not enough to add narrative reports. “When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade” (Wilson, 2009, p. 60). Teachers report that students, for their part, often just turn to the grade and ignore the comment, but “when there’s only a comment, they read it,” says high school English teacher Jim Drier. Moreover, research suggests that the harmful impact of grades on creativity is no less (and possibly even more) potent when a narrative accompanies them. Narratives are helpful only in the absence of grades (Butler, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011).
Unsurprisingly, given the title of this blog, it would be better to aim for the abolition of grades in order to facilitate internal or intrinsic learning and to abolish the oppressive nature of grades and external or extrinsic learning. What is needed is only formative assessment or narrative (and personal interviews and personal forms of assessment).
For those who are parents, it should be obvious that you never quantify your assessment of your child’s or adolescent’s performance; you provide verbal feedback mostly in order to guide the child or adolescent.
The Oppressive Curriculum, or the Oppressive Program of Studies
In addition to the oppressive nature of grades for some students, there is the question of the adequacy of current curriculum structure and content to address the learning needs of children and adolescents. As I argued in another post (see Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure), most educational research assumes that the current educational system is the standard, with only variations (reforms) around this standard conceivable (similar to the social-democratic or reformist left).
The imposition of grades as external motivators then permits the creation of a curriculum that involves the learning of many irrelevant things that have little to do with addressing present problems and interests. This in turn leads to the weighing down of the mind by unused and irrelevant facts, leading to the dulling of interest and the wonder of children in the world around them. From Katherine Mayhew and Anna Edwards (1936), The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896-1903, pages 21-22:
“He must learn by experience” is an old adage too little heeded by modern methods of schooling. Too often these methods take for granted that there is a short cut to learning, and that knowledge apart from its use has meaning for the developing mind. The memorizing of such knowledge has come to be a large part of present-day education, with the result that great masses of young lives have been denied the thrill of experimental living, of finding the way for themselves, of discovery, of invention, of creation. The fine aspiring tendril of childhood’s native curiosity, like the waving tip of a growing vine, seeks the how and why of doing its intellectual food. It is early stunted in many children. The strong urge to investigate, present in every individual, is often crushed by the memorizing of great masses of information useless to him, or the learning of skills that he is told may be useful to him in the far-away future, the sometime, and the somewhere. Only those in whom the urge to know will not be denied break away into new trails by virtue of individual and experimental effort, and when directed in the use of the scientific method, climb to the highest peaks of living; the majority travel a wide made-easy way of schooling into a dead level of mediocrity.
Are not most schools public? If so, then they must fall under Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealized view of public services: schools, as public institutions, “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.” Quite to the contrary. Public schools ‘affirm the oppressive power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.’ Merely because citizens do not pay for such services does not mean that oppression does not form part of such services–as long as there is a class of employers, along with the associated economic, political and social structures of such power.
Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealization of public services is typical of the social-democratic left. As I noted above, Mr. Sam Gindin, former research director of the former Canadian Auto Workers union (now Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada) merely views a socialist society as an expansion of public services rather than the abolition of oppressive structures in such services. He has this to say about public services in a socialist society:
As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs [my emphasis].
There is little recognition of how “the public sector” can be oppressive. Referring to social services, such as “education” as if schools and the school system were identical to non-oppressive services leads not only to the perpetuation of oppressive conditions but also to members of the working class becoming right-wing since such left-wing rhetoric fails to capture and express their experiences in this world. The social-democratic left, by idealizing the public sector, contribute to the right-wing backlash that has been raging for more than four decades.
Dhunnah’s and Bush’s solution–expanded public services in the form of free education that do not involve the purchase of such services–does not solve the problem of an oppressive situation. Their critique of the principle of universal basic income, therefore, loses some of its legitimacy.
In future posts, I may refer to the other side of the coin in education–not from the side of children and adolescents but from the side of those who work in schools, including teachers and custodians. Or perhaps health services (although I have already referred to some problems with the health sector (see Health Care: Socialist versus Capitalist Nationalization)–and therefore may not. Since most readers of this blog have provided little feedback or discussion, I will write on topics as I see fit–unless there is more feedback and discussion.
However, I will definitely address in another post the criticisms of basic income that Dhunna and Bush offer–such as they are.
The following provides a few statistics about the number of employees, the profit produced by the Swedish workers and the profit produced per worker of the largest employers in Sweden–often one of the idealized countries of the social-democratic left, where free public services are more extensive than in many other developed capitalist countries.
Please note that the specific employers, the order of employers and the statistics may be different from those indicated below since the website is occasionally updated. Between the time I started to work on this post and its posting, some of the employers had changed and so too had the numbers; I had to add some employers’ names and delete others as well as recalculate everything,
I will start with conclusions first and then proceed to the statistics and calculations on which the conclusions are based.
Some explanations are in order since some of the companies seem to be repeated.
From Wikipedia: “The heavy truck and construction equipment conglomerate AB Volvo and Volvo Cars have been independent companies since AB Volvo sold Volvo Cars to the Ford Motor Company in 1999.”
According to Prospectus Scania (1999): “The principal subsidiary of Scania AB is Scania CV AB. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Scania AB and comprises all Scania operations outside Latin America.” Hence, it would seem that for the purposes of the statistics Scania CV AB and Scania AB are identical. That is why I included 21 companies–they ar
A further measure is according to profit on the same webpage: I modify it somewhat to make it more meaningful for Canadian workers.
The Largest Employers in Sweden According to the Amount of Profit
Net profit (×1000) SEK (SEK is the Swedish Krona or unit of money, around $0.14 Canadian, $0.11 US, $0.10 Euro-, 0.08 pounds, -so roughly divide by 7, 9, 10, or 12.5, respectively, to get a Canadian, US, Euro or pound equivalent),
Net profit, billions of Canadian dollars (dividing net profit in kronas by 7 and x 1000)
If we combine the two tables and add some readily available data from the website that is not indicated in the two tables above–that is to say, look at companies where information is readily available both for the number of employees and for the net profit (some of the companies lack data for both the number of employees and the amount of net profit)–we can get an idea of the extent of exploitation in terms of the amount of profit generated per worker for each company as well the average amount of net profit produced (or appropriated) per worker.
I address some objections to this calculation after the tables. I calculated the Canadian equivalent (far right).
The Largest Employers According to Profit Produced or Appropriated Per Worker in Sweden
Net profit (×1000) SEK
Number of employees
Net Profit per worker SEK
Net Profit per worker (in Canadian dollars) (dividing net profit in Kronas by 7)
Some Marxists will claim that this is unscientific since many factors are excluded from consideration(such as the difference between values and prices of production, a difference that I addressed, in a preliminary way, in my comment to the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada. Given the large difference in profit per worker in the first and twentieth company, divergences may be great, but without further data (the level of investment in means of production, raw materials, auxiliary materials and the like), any further refinement is impossible.
Objections to the limited nature of the data are valid.
However, my answer to its limited nature is; it is better to estimate profit per worker than not provide anything. If more accurate calculations are then provided later on, all the better. But in the meantime, at least we have an idea of the extent of exploitation of workers. Calculation of the rate of exploitation, which involves profit divided by wage, of course, would require data on wages in these companies. More accurate statistics and more refined analyses would be most welcome.
It is obvious here that this exploitation time to which I refer comprises the whole of the working day, not just the so-called ‘surplus labour time’. It is not the case in reality that the workers first supply themselves and then check into the factory to work the extra. On the contrary, the accounting of necessary and surplus labour time is the outcome of the struggle at the point of production over exploitation; and the unremitting pressure of capital’s representatives on the workforce is present the whole day from the first minute. Since capital ‘takes charge’ of production, the ‘pumping out’ of surplus labour cannot be distinguished on the ground from the pumping out of labour generally because during the whole working day its use value is exploited. So there is a conceptual distinction hidden here, between exploitation in this sense, and the sense in which exploitation is identified with only the extension of the working day beyond its necessary part.
I would be inclined to reverse Marx’s emphasis when he said: ‘Capital is not only command over labour, as Adam Smith thought. It is essentially command over unpaid labour.’48 Instead I would write: ‘Capital is not only command over unpaid labour, as Karl Marx thought. It is essentially command over labour, i.e. of the entire working day.’ (Of course Marx knew perfectly well that it is only because capital acquires ‘command over labour’ that this ‘coercive relation . . . compels the working class to do more work than would be required by the narrow circle of its own needs’.)
… My view allows for a ‘traditional’ measure of exploitation if we distinguish
two kinds of exploitation. Exploitation in production is in effect not dissimilar
to alienation in that it involves the subjection of workers to alien purposes;
it goes on throughout the day. Exploitation in distribution arises from
the discrepancy between the new wealth created and the return to those
exploited in production.
Arthur has a point: too often those who refers to Marx’s theory of exploitation emphasize surplus production and surplus value while neglecting to note how workers experience the situation: they do not produce their wage first independently of the employer or her/his representatives (forewomen/men, supervisors and managers) and then produce a surplus. The time that they spend producing their wage or salary is subject to the power and will of the employer–and not just the surplus labour and surplus time that the workers provide for free. This fact is too often neglected.
Nonetheless, there is a good reason for distinguishing the time that workers require to produce their own wage or salary an the surplus time that they devote free of charge to employers: this has to do with the accumulation of capital.
Essentially, the question needs to be asked: Where does the investment funds come from that Magna International (or any other capitalist employer) uses to purchase c (constant capital, or the machines, raw material, desks, buildings, etc.) and v (the variable capital, or the labour power or capacity that workers sell to the employer)? From the surplus produced by workers in former years and, eventually, an “original investment” that does not come from the exploitation of workers by capitalist employers. (How this “original investment” arose is an historical question which Marx addressed in part 8 of Capital, volume 1: “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation.).
I quoted from Marx in the earlier post:
From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, pages 727-728:
Let us now return to our example. It is the old story: Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob and so on. The original capital of £10,000 brings in a surplus-value of £2,000, which is capitalized. The new capital of £2,000 brings in a surplus-value of £400, and this too is capitalized, transformed into a second additional capital, which in its turn produces a further surplus-value of £80. And the process continues in this way.
We leave out of account here the portion of the surplus-value consumed by the capitalist. We are also not interested, for the moment, in whether the additional capital is joined on to the original capital, or separated from it so that it can valorize itself independently. Nor are we concerned whether the same capitalist employs it who originally accumulated it, or whether he hands it over to others. All we must remember is this: by the side of the newly formed capital, the original capital continues to reproduce itself and to produce surplus-value, and this is true of all accumulated capital in relation to the additional capital engendered by it. The original capital was formed by the advance of £10,000. Where did its owner get it from? ‘From his own labour and that of his forefathers’, is the unanimous answer of the spokesmen of political economy.4 And, in fact, their assumption appears to be the only one consonant with the laws of commodity production. But it is quite otherwise with regard to the additional capital of £2,000. We know perfectly well how that originated. There is not one single atom of its value that does not owe its existence to unpaid labour. The means of production with which the additional labour-power is incorporated, as well as the necessaries with which the workers are sustained, are nothing but component parts of the surplus product, parts of the tribute annually exacted from the working class by the capitalist class. Even if the latter uses a portion of that tribute to purchase the additional labour-power at its full price, so that equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, the whole thing still remains the age-old activity of the conqueror, who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has stolen from them.
If the additional capital employs the person who produced it, this producer must not only continue to valorize the value of the original capital, but must buy back the fruits of his previous labour with more labour than they cost. If we view this as a transaction between the capitalist class and the working class, it makes no difference that additional workers are employed by means of the unpaid labour of the previously employed workers. The capitalist may even convert the additional capital into a machine that throws the producers of that capital out of work, and replaces them with a few children. In every case, the working class creates by the surplus labour of one year the capital destined to employ additional labour in the following year.5 And this is what is called creating capital out of capital.
The accumulation of the first additional capital of £2,000 presupposes that a value of £10,000 exists, advanced by the capitalist, and belonging to him by virtue of his ‘original labour’. The second additional capital of £400 presupposes, on the contrary,
only the prior accumulation of the £2,000, of which the £400 is the capitalized surplus-value. The ownership of past unpaid labour is thenceforth the sole condition for the appropriation ofliving unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more the capitalist has accumulated, the more is he able to accumulate. The surplus-value that makes up additional capital no. 1 is the result of the purchase of labour-power with part of the original capital, a purchase which conformed to the laws of commodity exchange and which, from a legal standpoint, presupposes nothing
beyond the worker’s power to dispose freely of his own capacities, and the money-owner’s or commodity-owner’s power to dispose freely of the values that belong to him; equally, additional capital no. 2 is merely the result of additional capital no. 1, and is therefore a consequence of the relations described above; hence each individual transaction continues to conform to the laws of commodity exchange, with the capitalist always buying labour power and the worker always selling it at what we shall assume is its real value. It is quite evident from this that the laws of appropriation or of private property, laws based on the production and circulation of commodities, become changed into their direct opposite through their own internal and inexorable dialectic. The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, is now turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange, since, firstly, the capital which is exchanged for
labour-power is itself merely a portion of the product of the labour of others which has been appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, the worker, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange between capitalist and worker becomes a mere semblance belonging only to the process of circulation, it becomes a mere form, which is alien to the content of the transaction itself, and merely mystifies it. The constant sale and purchase of labour power is the form; the content is the constant appropriation by the capitalist, without equivalent, of a portion of the labour of others which has already been objectified, and his repeated exchange of this labour for a greater quantity of the living labour of others.
The immediate exchange between workers and employers is an exchange of equivalents, so that workers receive the value of their cost of production. However, when considering the larger context of previous production, then the immediate exchange between employer and workers is a semblance or appearance. The employer uses a part of the surplus produced by the workers in a previous round as means of production (machines, raw material, buildings, etc.) and another part (socially as money and physically as means of consumption, such as food, clothing, shelter) to further employ them (in addition to the initial investment).
As “costs,” the workers’ previous products are used against them to further exploit them.
Of course, the workers’ previous products are not only used to further exploit them but to further control their lives even when they are producing the equivalent value of their own wage. In other words, when we consider the accumulation process, the power of capital–produced by workers–has increased and is used to intensify the weight of the control of their past labour over their present lives.
That is why we need to distinguish the concept of exploitation as the production of surplus value from the concept of oppression, which is what occurs during the control of workers during the time they reproduce their own wage–that is to say, during the time in which workers produce an equivalent in value for their own wage.
Although Arthur recognizes that, when considering accumulation of capital in time, the wage that is paid in the present year is influenced by the previous rounds of the accumulation of surplus value, he does not consider the importance of this situation for the changing level of power that private employers (capitalists) have over workers. It is not just a question of the workers lacking power of controlling their work during the time that they reproduce the value of their wage; it is also the degree to which employers have the past power produced by workers at their disposal in the present (via the production of previous rounds of surplus value and their investment).
To call both parts of the oppression experienced in capitalist society “exploitation” would confuse the issue of the increasing power of capitalists or private employers over worker by means of the increasing power of past investment over the present lives of workers.
In the case of Magna International, the rate of exploitation, as noted in the previous post on this topic, is 79%. That means that in an 8-hour work day, Magna workers produce their wage in 4.5 hours, and they work for free for 3.5 hours. However, in addition to working for free for 3.5 hours for Magna International, and being subject to the control of the supervisors and managers, they are also subject to such control during the 4.5 hours that they produce their own wage.
The social-democratic left have little to say about either the exploitation of such workers or about the control of workers not only during this time but also during the time when they produce their wage. If Magna workers belong to an independent union (one that can engage in collective bargaining independently of the particular employer), then for the social-democratic left, such workers have decent work and have “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” and other such expressions.
My position has always been that both the exploitation of workers and the time when workers produce the value of their own wage, since they are both subject to the power of employers, involve treating human beings as things to be used for inhuman purposes (see The Money Circuit of Capital) need to criticized and abolished. Given the social-democratic rhetoric of fairness and decent work, is there really any wonder that I was insulted by them in Toronto?
What do you think of workers at Magna International being exploited? What do you think of the time during which they produce the value of their wage? What do you think about whether the power of employers to exploit such workers and to control their lives during that time and during the time they produce their wage? Is either justified? What of the increasing power of the accumulated capital–and therefore the collective power of employers–over the present life of workers?
This is the first of a long series of posts of summaries of articles, mainly on education.
As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).
As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions:
The author of the following article “Intelligence, Knowledge, and the Hand/Brain Divide,” (Mike Rose) argues that, despite some advances in curriculum in the past century, the academic/vocational divide in the curriculum—and among students—still prevails in the modern school system. This problem is wider than the school system, however. It expresses the bias towards defining intelligence as equivalent to academic excellence rather than a way of acting that occurs in daily life and which is expressed in blue-collar and service work, such as waitressing.
The author shows how vocational education in schools, originally, had to become isolated if it were to survive and not be dominated by those who defined good schools exclusively in terms of academic subjects. However, this isolation led to streaming of children of working-class parents, parents of colour and immigrant parents into vocational education and the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of such children as unintelligent and, at the same time, the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of students in the academic stream as exclusively intelligent.
This treatment of students who enter the vocational stream as unintelligent has often been incorporated into vocational programs as cognitive requirements have been diluted. Similarly, students in the vocational stream, although they often express contempt for the academic stream, themselves internalize the academic definition of intelligence and consider themselves to be unintelligent.
The author notes that, at least in the United States, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990, coupled with the complementary School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, proposed the integration of academic and vocational subjects. The author notes how one school linked a course on chemistry with a course on graphic arts, and others have effectively linked vocational and academic courses in terms of an occupational theme—the latter reminiscent of Dewey’s use of occupational themes to integrate the curriculum in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School as it was officially named).
However, the author also points out that, in general, these two Acts have really only resulted in the external addition of a few academic requirements rather than any real efforts at integration and parity of the academic and the vocational.
The modern school system, therefore, is still class-based and racist more often than not—hardly conducive to a democratic social order.
Should those concerned with equity and social justice issues be concerned about this situation?