It is supposed to be a fundamental principle of criminal law that a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the State (government). This is the ideology or the rhetoric (which much of the left have swallowed). The reality is otherwise. In reality, the administrative apparatus of various organizations of the government and semi-governmental organizations assume that you are guilty first and that you have to prove your innocence; otherwise, you suffer negative consequences.
An example is the requirements that the Ontario College of Teachers imposed on me in order for me to qualify as a teacher in the province of Ontario after I moved from the province of Manitoba. To qualify as a teacher in Ontario, you must gain the approval of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). The OCT website explains what this organization does:
investigate and hear concerns and complaints about members
accredit teacher education programs and courses.
All publically funded school teachers and administrators in Ontario must be certified by us and be members of the College.
The College is currently transitioning to a new governance model. A Transition Supervisory Officer (TSO) has been appointed to help the College with the changes. The TSO acts in place of Council during the transition period.
Once established, the new College Council, statutory and regulatory committees, will be established through a competency-based selection process. All committees will include an equal number of Ontario Certified Teachers and members of the public.
Our executive team includes the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer, the Deputy Registrar and four Directors overseeing:
Corporate and Council Services
Investigations and Hearings
Standards of Practice and Accreditation.
To qualify as a teacher in Ontario, among other things, you have to answer a questionnaire. On the questionnaire, there are questions concerning arrest–and since I was arrested by the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) (but never convicted), I was obliged to prove my innocence in various ways.
I sent, along with my explanation, a table that I had constructed concerning my experiences (and the experiences of my daughter, Francesca) with the child welfare organization Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS), located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The table that I constructed about events is a revised version (always subject to change as I gather further evidence). I will post the table gradually, in the section Publications and Writings on this blog.
I outlined in earlier posts in this series that I had to justify myself via a questionnaire on the Ontario College of Teachers website (see for example Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Real Assumption of Some Bureaucratic Tribunals, Part One). Below is a reply by the Ontario College of Teachers, specifying the conditions that I must satisfy in order to be granted a teaching certificate in Ontario–despite never having been convicted of any crime.
July 2, 2014. Application No. 653493
Fred Harris 3250 Keele Street Toronto, ON M3M 3C5
Dear Mr. Harris,
Re: Your Application for Certification and Membership
Thank you for your application to the Ontario College of Teachers. I note on your application that you answered yes to several questions within the Declaration portion of the application. I have reviewed the explanations that you provided on your application as well as the related documentation you submitted.
Please provide me with the following additional information:
Copies of reports from the Children’s Aid Society related to any investigation of you, as well as any reports from Anishinaable Child and Family Services related to you, especially the information from the agency’s worker, Daryl [should be Darrell] Shorting. I probably made this mistake in spelling.]
Copies of police reports from Ashern RCMP, regarding the charges you cited in your application. As you provided no information in your application re these charges and the criminal record check report received at the College is negative, please also provide me with court documents that arose from the charges indicating the disposition of the charges.
Please arrange to have sent, directly to my attention, letters of reference from at least three individuals who have known you for at least five years, yet are not related to you, who are aware of the charges and incidents declared on your application and can attest to your suitability to be licensed as a teacher. These individuals should be professionals such as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, spiritual leader or employer. Please ensure the letters are sent to me directly from the referees and that they indicate in the letter their awareness of the charges and incidents.
Please provide me with your written, signed authorization to discuss your file with a representative of the Human Resources department in the Lakeshore School Division, Manitoba, regarding your statement that you were not fired from the school division but placed under “intensive supervision.”
Please provide me with your written signed authorization to discuss your file with the principal who completed the clinical supervision.
Once I have received the additional information, I will review your file. More information may be required. Please contact me at 416-961-8800, ext. 398 if you have any questions.
Linda Zaks-Walker Director of Membership Services
There are a nunber of noteable things to observe about the above. Firstly, nformation from the Winnipeg Child and Family Services in general indicates definite bias–and yet this is what I had to provide (see the post A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of Public Welfare Services for a table of my dealings with the Winnipeg Child and Family Services).
Secondly, why would she request information from Darrell Shorting? Mr. Shorting evidently considered it appropriate to judge me beforehand as guilty without a trial (why else would he claim that he knew what I had done–choked my daughter and threw her to the ground?) Furthermore, why would she expect me to have any information from Mr. Shoring? I received no information from him other than his judgement and his threat that if I did not inform the principal that I was under investigation by the Ashinaable Child and Family Services, he would inform them. Finally, and ironically, as I wrote in another post:
(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.)
Thirdly, reference to the RCMP indicates that this institution, for bureaucratic organizations such as the Ontario College of Teachers, is beyond reproach. The “official” judgement of the RCMP is more important than anything I wrote or provided as evidence of the oppressive nature of its function.
Fourthly, the requirement that I had to have three references that attested to my suitability to teach assumes once again that I, a citizen, am less worthy than others because I was charged (but never convicted). The fact that the charges were dropped without any explanation is irrelevant for the Ontario College of Teachers. The RCMP proceeds to charge me, and then drops the charges several months later–and yet I still had to prove my “innocence.” This is the real world of “law,”, not the fantasy world of so-called socialists like Herman Rosenfeld, who talk of “transforming the police” without even inquiring into the real nature of the police and the courts.
Fifthly, letters of reference from “professionals” indicates another bias; workers who are less than “professionals” are implicitly considered unworthy of providing adequate, accurate and relevant information. Such arrogance and bias.
Sixthly, a possible letter of reference from an “employer” indicates another bias–to be an employer is to be elevated beyond reproach–as if the view of an employer were tantamount to a statement of the truth whereas the statement of, say, a custodian, were expected to be a lie.
After having jumped through the many hoops required, I was–finally–“allowed” to teach in Ontario. I simply did not bother to do so since working as a teacher for any particular employer necessarily involves oppression in one form or another–and even more so initially as a substitute teacher. I was able to do so since I was receiving disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society Disability Benefits program–something like a guaranteed basic income for those who are “disabled.”
In effect, despite never having been convicted and never having been fired, I had to prove in fact that I was “worthy” of being a teacher in Ontario.
The social-democratic left generally ignore such oppressive experiences. Its idealization of “public education” and “public ownership” simply neglects the oppressive nature of much public education and much public organizations. By doing so, it of course plays into the hands of the right.
Why do the social-democratic left ignore such oppressive experiences? Is there really any wonder why there is a disconnect between regular people and the social-democratic left? Is there really any wonder why some would vote for the right?
In a previous post, I looked in a general way at the shortcomings of Amnesty International (AI) as a “progressive organization”–one of the abstract slogans of the social-democratic or social-reformist left here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere).
In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire.
Mr. Black states the following:
SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?
Mr. Gindin’s response?
Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty[my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.
In this post, I will look at the specific shortcoming of AI in relation to the world of work in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. I will also look, briefly, at its shortcomings when it comes to the capitalist state in general and to police in particular.
The Focus of AI on Human Rights Leads to Silence Over Economic Coercion, Exploitation and Oppression of Workers on a Daily Basis
As I argued in the previous post, the human-rights movement emerged as a substitute for a socialist movement. In essence, the class power of employers is, implicitly or explicitly, assumed to be legitimate. AI therefore shifts our attention from the daily economic coercion characteristic of a society dominated by the class power of employers to more direct forms of coercion that involve work. Although such forms of coercion should hardly be ignored, the shift to an almost exclusive focus on more direct forms of coercion at work lead to a legitimation of the economic or indirect form of coercion characteristic of the more industrialized capitalist countries (and also of many less industrialized capitalist countries).
Quite a list. Let us, however, look at at point 13, “Living in dignity.”
The ideal company would provide “fair conditions of employment” (drawn from the “Living in Dignity” section). What “fair conditions of employment” would mean is not elaborated on at the website, but the AI document (2014) Human Rights for Human Dignity: A Primer on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does elaborate. From page 54:
The right to work and rights at work
The [United Nations] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has emphasized the interdependence of the provisions of the Covenant that safeguard the right to work, rights at work and the right to form and join a trade union, as well as to strike. The right to work remains less well understood than some of the other rights discussed here and is sometimes misinterpreted as the right to a job. The right to work entails access to employment without discrimination of any kind, to choose freely and not be forced into work, access to a system of protection against unfair dismissals, and a supportive structure that aids access to employment, including appropriate vocational education.105 The right to work covers both paid work and people working independently (referred to as livelihoods in certain contexts) and requires governments to extend protections to people working in the informal sectors of the economy.
Rights at work protect the right of everyone to just and favourable conditions of work, including to fair wages, equal pay for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, reasonable limitations on working hours, protections for workers during and after pregnancy, and equality of treatment in employment.
The idea of the right to work is thus taken from a document published by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The AI document referred to above says:
The right to work entails access to employment without discrimination of any kind
The implied emphasis here is on discrimination and not on the absolute right to access employment. Employers are not to discriminate in permitting access to work–they need to treat all workers equally regardless of race, gender and so forth. If there is a lack of discrimination, it is implied, then the employment relation is legitimate–subject to other conditions, such as not being coerced employment. From Karl Widerquist (2010), “The Physical Basis of Voluntary Trade,” in pages 83-103, Human Rights Review, Volume 11, page 87:
… coercion (or force) implies a deviation from “the normal course of events;” thus, the answer depends on what one considers the normal course of events to be.
What does AI consider to be “the normal course of events?”
The right to work entails … [the right] to choose freely and not be forced into work.
AI’s position assumes a normalized conception of what constitutes work that is freely chosen, and thereby judges what deviates from this normalized conception as a human rights abuse.
A lack of discrimination at work and not being coerced directly to work for an employer, however, is quite consistent with the indirect coercion of workers and their exploitation and oppression that characterizes the class power of employers–aka capitalism. AI is silent about economic coercion–the golden chain which obliges workers to work involuntarily.
Mr. Gindin, by referring to AI as a “progressive organization,” simply papers over the issue.
From Widerquiest, page 84:
In two senses, a market economy can be characterized as voluntary. First, people can choose with whom they trade subject to the limits of the property rights of the people involved. They can say yes or no to any one other than the participant. Second, people have the legal right to choose whether or not to trade at all. They have the legal right to say yes or no to trade with all other participants. We can call these the physical conditions of voluntary trade.
But, there is a crucial third sense in which trade is not voluntary for many people today. That is, they are effectively denied any legal means to survive without providing services to someone who controls property. If the law ignores the existence of human needs, it can nominally establish the legal conditions of voluntary trade while legally subverting the physical conditions necessary for voluntary trade. Many people enter the economic system owning nothing; finding that all the resources are owned by someone else, they see that someone will interfere with any effort they make to meet their own needs. Therefore, they are forced to provide services for property owners to obtain money to buy resources. It is the aspect of obtaining money that concerns the discussion here, not spending it. Although trade involves both buying and selling, it is the things we do to obtain money that involve providing services for others; spending money involves other people providing services for us. It is not particularly problematic that a person with government-created tokens called money has to hand them to other people to receive goods and services, but it is a problem for voluntary trade if a person without money has no legal means to survive unless she provides services for people who hold money. It is, of course, desirable that nonmarket interaction, such as marriage and friendship, is also voluntary; but, the primary concern here is trade, specifically the things people do to get money which, for most of us means the labor market.
This article builds on the work I have done to define and argue for the importance of freedom as effective control … which, in short, is freedom as the power to say no. More exactly, … freedom is the effective power to accept or refuse interaction with other willing people. I have argued that genuinely voluntary interaction requires that all people have … freedom and that … freedom requires an exit option—some way that a person can survive without being forced to provide services for, to take orders from, or to meet conditions set by any particular group of other people (Widerquist 2006a). … the conditions necessary to secure the power to say no are often ignored in law and in many discussion of economics and human rights, in ways that make one group of people subservient to another. A society that establishes nominal self-ownership but interferes with individuals’ attempts to preserve their effective control self-ownership secures the right to say no but denies the power to say no.
Of course, AI implicitly considers that workers who work for an employer without any explicit economic coercion are not forced to work. Mr. Gindin may not consciously agree with such a view, but by rubber-stamping the view that AI is a progressive organization, he in fact does agree to such a view.
Forcing workers to work for employers is not personal; such a situation forms part of the economic structure of a society dominated by a class of employers and is reinforced by the legal system. From Widerquist, page 88:
The question is why people enter the market in a position in which they must sell their labor to people who own property. For this, there is only one explanation: if propertyless individuals try to produce goods to meet their own needs without trade, someone who claims ownership of the natural resources they need to do so will interfere with them, thus, forcing them to work for people who own property. According to Robert Hale, if the law designates other people as owners of anything with which an individual might secure her own diet, those laws coerce her to offer whatever services she can to someone with property (Hale 1923, 471–473).
Contradictory Call for States to Enforce Human Rights
According to AI:
States have a responsibility to protect human rights.
Human rights as defined by AI can only be enforced by states. However, as AI recognizes in its 19-point list, states often abuse AI’s definition of human rights–such as torture or disappearances. States are supposed to enforce human rights–but states are, even in terms of AI’s own limited definition of human rights–some of the worst perpetrators of human rights. How are states then to enforce human rights with any consistency since they themselves can only enforce human rights?
The old question “Do not the educators themselves need to be educated?” applies here: Do not states themselves need to be regulated? Who is going to do that? AI simply does not address the problem.
Consider point 14 on “police violence.” According to AI:
The most important thing to remember is this: it is the utmost obligation of state authorities, including police, to respect and protect the right to life.
Modern police function to maintain workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants in a state of poverty–not in the sense of a level of consumption below a defined poverty line, but in terms of a state of dependence on having to work for a class of employers. Those who form the edges of this kind of poverty–who are almost teetering into indigence–are particular targets of the modern police since they represent a more likely direct threat to the premises of that state of poverty and dependence on employers.
Secondly, police hardly exist to “respect and protect the right to life.” If they did, then the police would protect workers’ lives at work–which is hardly what happens. As I wrote in another post:
Some representatives of employers surely did not know what was best for the capitalist economy–whether to shut down for as long as necessary until the number of deaths and infections were reduced, to leave parts of the economy (in addition to essential economic structures, such as food, hand sanitizer and mask production) functioning or to leave most of the economy dominated by a class of employers functioning. But “sacrificing ourselves for our employers” even in normal times is run of the mill. Why is it that there are, on average, over 1,000 deaths officially at work per year and more than 600,000 injuries in Canada (and many more deaths when unofficial deaths are included (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health).
That the police do protect life to a certain extent is true–but a half-truth. The other side is not only the lack of protection of life at work but the persistent threat of the use of the police as a weapon against workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.
AI recognizes that laws may make it legal for the state or government to threaten life; on the other hand, it relies on the state or government to protect workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers. This position is contradictory, but nowhere does AI address the contradiction.
Nor does Mr. Gindin. Indeed, his abstract slogan “progressive organization” hides the contradiction, sweeping it underneath an apparent purely positive characterization of AI as “progressive.” For anyone who has been subject to the exploitation and oppression of employers, on the one hand, and the power of the capitalist state (including the police) on the other, Mr. Gindin’s reference to AI being “a progressive organization” rings hollow.
Does not Mr. Gindin, like so many social-democrats, engage in abstract slogans by claiming that Oxfam is a progressive organization that somehow threatens capitalism?
The same critique applies to AI.
Does not Mr. Gindin, like so many social-democrats, engage in abstract slogans by claiming that Amnesty International is a progressive organization that somehow threatens capitalism? Or are organizations that do not threaten capitalism somehow progressive?
Are You Arrested? The Ambiguity of Being Detained by the Police
When a police officer stops a citizen, an immigrant or a migrant worker, it may be understandably unclear whether s/he is arrested or not and what s/he can do or not do if stopped by the police. From McBarnet, page 36:
Arrest-that is, the detention of a person against his will-may be legally carried out only in relation to a specified offence. Otherwise attendance at the police station is purely voluntary. This is the spirit of the Judges’ Rules. Barry Cox ( I975) points out succinctly the gap between this ideology and practice:
Detention for questioning is therefore in theory impossible; in practice ‘helping the police with their inquiries’ is a daily event. (p. I72)
How is this possible? Partly because of the simple fact that if such arrest is impossible in theory it is nonetheless perfectly possible in law. Although they are much referred to as a symbol of legality, the Judges’ Rules are not law, only principles for administrative guidance. Authoritative law on arrest is rather different.
If a person is not arrested when stopped by the police, what can the person do? Can s/he just leave (apart from some exceptions–as when the police require a person to take a breathalyzer test)? Not really. They, of course, can try to leave, but the legal interpretation of such an act is rather tricky. From McBarnet, page 36:
For example, the voluntary nature of helping the police with their inquiries has been interpreted in law, to say the least, very widely. Consider the Scottish case of Swankie v. Milne in I973 which defines the current situation. This was deemed not only not to be an illegal arrest but not to be an arrest at all. The judges accepted that the police had stopped the accused in his car, taken his keys away, waited with him and would have prevented him from leaving if he had tried to. However, they concluded that the accused had remained voluntarily and had not therefore been arrested.
Furthermore, what if the police try to stop the person? What right does the person have in this case? Referring to the above case, From McBarnet comments, pages 36-37:
What their judgement would have been if he had tried to leave is unclear. But it is also an arrestable offence according to the 1964 Police Act to obstruct the police in the execution of their duty, and this has been interpreted as ‘the doing of any act which makes it more
difficult for the police to carry out their duty’ (Rice v. Connolly, I 966). What precisely that means remains an open question. Although Lord Justice Parker in the same case refuted the idea that refusing to answer questions, even allied with a generally obstructive and
sarcastic attitude, was not obstructing a policeman in his duty. Justice James made a point of noting that:
I would not go so far as to say there may not be circumstances in which the manner of a person together with his silence could amount to an obstruction within the section; whether it does remains to be decided in any case that happens hereafter, not in
this case, in which it has not been argued. (Rice v. Connolly, Ig66)
It becomes rather difficult to see how someone can avoid being arrested if the police have a mind to arrest him.
Doing anything that indicates resistance to the police can easily be interpreted as resistance of arrest–and guilt. From McBarnet, page 37:
Furthermore, refusing to co-operate is not a far cry from resistance, which is, of
course, an arrestable offence; nor is resistance far from another offence, assault.
Indeed, in court, resisting arrest tends to be presented by prosecutors as indicative of guilt and therefore a justification of the arrest on the first charge anyway. ‘Only the guilty take advantage of civil rights’ is the line taken.
A person stopped by the police, on the other hand, who does not resist arrest may be accused of being guilty for that very reason. From McBarnet, pages 37-38:
On the other hand, with the nice skill lawyers have of always holding the winning trick, failing to resist is also suspicious. Witness Case 8.
The prosecutor was suggesting that the accused must have been guilty or he would not have allowed himself to have been seized (uncharged) by two men (the police were in plain clothes) without resisting:
Prosecutor: You didn’t do anything?
Accused: I couldn’t.
Prosecutor: You didn’t say ‘What are you doing?’
Accused: No, it was all too quick.
Prosecutor: And no explanation was given at all?
Prosecutor: When did you gather they were policemen?
Accused: I asked them-they said they were taking me to the station.
Prosecutor: But why assume they were policemen? There are railway stations.
The same applies to friends who do not assist the accused. From McBarnet, page 37:
In his summing up the prosecutor considered it doubly suspicious that the accused’s companion had not fought off the two policemen if his friend was being innocently seized:
Prosecutor: According to his story, his companion made no protest while the accused was dragged out by two unknown men. This is quite incredible. He is clearly guilty of this charge.
The flip side of this catch-22 situation–damned if you do and damned if you don’t–is you may be accused of resisting arrest if you do aid someone detained by the police. From McBarnet, page 38:
The companion in question might, however, have been relieved that he had not intervened if he had heard the accused’s mother’s account of her night in jail charged with breach of the peace when she went to protest, or if he had witnessed Case 13:
Policeman: One youth ran towards us saying ‘What are you taking him in for? It’s a fucking liberty. He’s done fuck all!’ He was cautioned and charged with breach of the peace.
What if there is no ground for arrest, the police arrest the person and the person resists? The person can be charged and convicted of assault. From McBarnet, page 38:
In any case, the prosecutor’s argument was only about the credibility of the accused not the legality of the arrest. Indeed, in cases of resistance or assault, even if the arrest was unfounded and illegal it is still, in English law, ‘open to the jury to convict of common assault’ (Halsbury, 1g6g, vol. 25, p. 364) and the charge sticks even if the resister did not know the person seizing him was a policeman. In short, the law itself does not encourage standing on one’s right to freedom from arbitrary arrest.
The Social-Democratic Left and Criminal Law
What would the social-democratic or reformist-left say about this? They would likely repeat what the social democrat Herman Rosenfeld stated:
Shouldn’t that institution [the police] be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?
Okay. How does Mr. Rosenfeld or other social democrats propose to do that? Frankly, I think that you should not hold your breath while waiting for a response. The article written by Mr. Rosenfeld from which this quote is drawn is dated May 4, 2020. I have searched on the Net to see if Mr. Rosenfeld has elaborated on this assertion since then; I have not been able to find anything at all written by him on the topic since his May 4 article.
This is just social-democratic rhetoric passing it off for something real; it is pretending to be something that it is not. It is fake social reform. Workers, citizen, immigrants and migrant workers hardly need such pretentious rhetoric. Mr. Rosenfeld has no real intention to lift a finger to formulate let alone implement a policy for police “reform.” I suspect that this applies to many other social-democratic or reformist arguments.
Indeed, when Mr. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I were giving a course on union organizing and socialism for airport workers at Toronto Pearson airport, I mentioned that we workers at a brewery in Calgary had engaged in sabotage of the machines in order to have one foremen fired (he was pressing us constantly to produce more), I had the impression that Mr. Rosenfeld was uncomfortable in my stating this fact; he was probably afraid of challenging the beliefs of the workers. I could of course be wrong, but Mr. Rosenfeld’s lack of elaboration of how the police are to be transformed and reformed provides further evidence of my suspicion that he actually holds social-reformist views and that his socialist views take second place; this conclusion probably applies to many so-called socialists.
Furthermore, the title of his article from which the above quote is drawn expresses a hostility to the view that what is needed is the abolition of the police and not its reform:
Reform and transform: Police abolitionism and sloppy thinking
Such hostility to a politics of abolition by calling it “sloppy thinking” without engaging in any further inquiry also points to a social-reformist or social-democratic point of view.
Perhaps social democrats or social reformers can provide counterarguments to the above. I welcome such counterarguments–but I suspect that they will not provide any counterarguments.
If there are no counterarguments by the social-democratic or social-reformist left, does that not point to the need to abolish the police and the associated court system that is linked to it? Would not a people’s court and armed citizens be much more in the interests of workers than a separate police force and courts that engage, systematically, in oppressive measures against those who challenge social order? After all, as Mark Neocleous argues, the essential function of the police (and the courts by implication)–is to maintain social order of a society dominated by a class of employers–and not to administer social justice (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism).
Workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers who are stopped by the police, even if they have not broken the law, could easily be arrested for refusing to comply with police officers’ instructions. On the other hand, complying with police officers’ instruction could also be used in a court of law against them. Such is the illogic of a system of justice within a society dominated by a class of employers.
You would not know it from the rhetoric of the social-democratic or social-reformist left, though. They provide little or no research to educate workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers on the real nature of the work of police officer and the real law as expressed in courts of law. Rather, they paper over the real nature of such social institutions with their empty phrases of transforming such institutions “into a more humane, limited and less autonomous” form.
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.
Christoph Henning’s words (2005) express the nature of some so-called leftist social organizations in Toronto, such as Social Housing Green Deal. From Philosophy after Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 77:
We will see that Marxian theory, whose import was already lost in the developments discussed above, not only continued to be given a new thematic framework, but also displayed a ‘changing function’. A mode of thinking that operates within complex and dynamic socio-economic structures of development was replaced by a simplified rationale of domination. In functional terms, this led to a transformation of theory. Theory went from being a critical companion of politics to being an instrument by which to ideologically affirm a political voluntarism that was practised in a largely unreflected manner.
Before the May 2 Social Housing Green Deal zoom meeting I had drafted a critical analysis of two motioned items that were on the agenda. The first motion I discussed in the second post. This post is about the other motion. I sent my critical comments to Ms. Jessup, moderator and administrator, for the group. The motion was to support the statement by the grassroots organization “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.”
The first motion, as I indicated in my previous post, was more or less rubber-stamped. I had the impression that Ms. Jessup wanted the motion by the Suppress the Virus Now Coalition also to be rubber-stamped. However, I, Ms. Jessup and another zoom member had to leave soon.
I managed to have the motion tabled until the next meeting. That meeting was postponed, however, until May 23. I will describe why I did not attend that meeting in the final post of this series.
Second Critique: The Motion to Support the Statement Made By Suppress the Virus Now Coalition
This is what I wrote:
There is a controversial claim in this statement.
“ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE.”
Acquiescence to avoidable sickness has been the rule, not the exception. This does not mean that there have not been struggles over health and safety in the workplace. There have been constant struggles, but currently the unionized sector of the labour movement has often rested content with rhetoric than dealing with the reality of just how unsafe working conditions were even before the pandemic.
Thus, in a recent nod to the number of injured and dead workers in Canada, the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC, an organization “committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ [Toronto Pearson Airport], TAWC posted the following on its Facebook page on April 28—the Canadian national day of mourning for workers killed on the job: “Photos of the GTAA Administration building of the flags lowered at half-mast as a mark of respect on this National day of mourning.”
My response: “It would be more relevant if all measures to eliminate processes and procedures that treat workers as means for the benefit of employers were instituted–in other words, the elimination of a society organized on the basis of the class power of employers. How many workers have been injured and died at Pearson because of the pursuit of profit?
Flying a flag at half-mast is hardly a symbol of respect if all measures to eliminate dangerous working conditions are not pursued. Have such dangerous working conditions been eliminated at Pearson?”
There were 2 likes and 0 comments.
I had another “debate” on TAWC over the issue of health and safety at Pearson earlier, but I will spare the reader any further references unless someone wants to read it.
Some Canadian statistics before the pandemic (from my blog):
“More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.”
Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hébert report a much higher figure in their article (Fall 2018), ““Work-Related Deaths in Canada,”, pages 159-187, in Labour/Le Travail, Volume 82, page 186:
“Relying on a range of data sources, and adopting a broad definition of what constitutes a work-related fatality, we generated a revised estimate of the number of annual work-related fatalities. Based on our analysis, we estimate that the number of annual work-related fatalities in Canada is at least ten to thirteen times higher than the approximately 900 to 1,000 annual average fatalities reported by the AWBC [The Canadian Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada]. This makes work-related fatalities one of the leading causes of death in this country.”
Has there really been any social movement to address this carnage? Not that I am aware of. Resignation to sickness, injury and death at work (and outside work due to preventable diseases such as cancer) is part of parcel of Canadian culture (and many other national cultures). To then call it racist, etc seems to be an inadequate characterization of the situation of many workers in Canada. There may indeed be higher differentials of injury, disease and death among coloured workers, etc. (which requires more detailed data), but the general nature of the problem is not racist, etc but economic: workers, whatever their colour, gender, etc., are subject to the control of a class of workers, and there is no real and effective political organization that questions such control and aims to abolish the conditions that make it eminently reasonable (from an employer’s point of view) to engage in actions that injury, make sick or kill workers.
From Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):
“Perspectives on workplace injury
How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.
This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.”
The kind of social process called working for an employer (being an employee) that characterizes our working lives is a threat to our health in various ways, Logically, if we take seriously the claim that “ANY [PANDEMIC[ STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH,” should be opposed, then we should be fighting to create an organization and a movement that fights against a social organization dominated by a class of employers (and the associated economic, political and social structures) and for a socialist society that eliminates class relations—period. Otherwise, any other strategy simply “resigns itself to avoidable sickness and death”–regardless of the pandemic, and regardless of its differentiated impact on race, gender and so forth. In fact, what has happened during the pandemic merely highlights the continuity with past practice—and the acquiescence of those who have failed to oppose a society dominated by a class of employers.
Just as an aside. The list of demands: how effective are they really? Are there any priorities? Are there some that need to be implemented right away? Or are all on the same level? If on different levels, should they not have been organized in some fashion to reflect the level of priorities? And not only priorities but power to achieve each demand? What organizations and supports currently exist that are more relevant for achieving each specific demand? Or all all organizations and supports on the same level?
End of my commentary
The “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition” also wrote the following:
The Suppress The Virus Now Coalition is a network of community groups, labour groups, and individuals in Ontario. We have come together out of a shared concern about the Ontario provincial and Canadian federal governments’ approach to the COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic hit in March 2020. Now, as the second wave drags on, we demand that those governments stop prioritizing corporate profits over the health and well-being of our communities. We refuse to endorse any approach that accepts the needless death of elderly people and those living and working in long-term care; of disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised loved ones; of Indigenous Peoples in Ontario and across the country; of the Black, migrant, and racialized communities who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 infections in the GTA; of underhoused, precariously housed, and houseless neighbours; of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated community members; and of the health-care and other essential workers who are on the front lines.
ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE. IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE #COVIDzero CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED BY HEALTH-CARE WORKERS, WE DEMAND THAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS EXPLICITLY ADOPT THE HUMANE GOAL OF ELIMINATING COMMUNITY SPREAD OF COVID-19.
Policing, threats, and rhetoric that blames individuals for systemic failures and conditions outside of their control are neither effective nor ethical tactics to deal with this pandemic. Instead, we must turn to principles of solidarity and community care, and toward robust, expansive, and inclusive social supports so that we can all make it through this crisis. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but rather than returning to a “normal” where a select few lives are privileged over others, we must build the conditions for all to live and thrive. This rebuilding must centre the needs of those most impacted by the pandemic and by the ongoing violence of the Canadian state.
We call for a just, equitable #COVIDzero approach that includes (but is not limited to):
At least seven employer-paid sick days for all workers on a permanent basis, plus an additional 14 paid sick days during public health emergencies.
Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers, including respirator masks (e.g. N95s, FFP2s) for all workers in indoor workplaces until COVID community transmission ends, now that we know the virus can remain airborne indoors for hours.
The right of all workers to refuse work due to unsafe workplace conditions, and to be eligible for income supports like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) after such work refusals.
Expanded eligibility for pandemic-related state assistance such as the CRB, including for temporary migrant workers, undocumented people, gig economy workers, sex workers, and others.
An immediate ban on evictions; rent cancellation and forgiveness of arrears; a moratorium on encampment policing; and safe, accessible winter housing for unhoused people who want it.
An immediate end to the criminalization, racial profiling, and raids that harm migrant and non-migrant sex workers, including anti-trafficking initiatives and repressive bylaws affecting sex workers and workers in massage parlours.
Safe and accessible options for isolation when home isolation is not an option, and transparent communication about options that are already in existence.
Immediate investment to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, and offer COVID testing to students and education workers; and robust assistance for students, educators, caregivers, and families when school closures are necessary, like now.
Redistributing 50% of all police budgets toward resourcing social and health supports in Black, Indigenous, and people of colour communities.
An immediate end to deportations, and regularization and full immigration status now for all migrants, refugees, international students, workers (including temporary or seasonal migrants), and undocumented people in the country.
Immediate federal support and funding for clean water access, appropriate health care, and COVID supports for all Indigenous people on and off reserve, and the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty across the country, including heeding demands to immediately classify oil, mineral, and gas extraction as non-essential work, and to hit pause on extraction, exploration, and environmental assessment processes.
Immediate decarceration of people from provincial, federal, and immigration detention facilities, and simultaneous access to sanitation and protective equipment, harm reduction supplies, free communication resources, and appropriate and consensual post-incarceration support for all incarcerated people.
Permanently increasing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates to match CERB ($2,000/month).
Making temporary, uneven pandemic pay boosts permanent by raising the minimum wage for all.
Taking profit out of long-term care, replacing for-profit corporations with an entirely non-profit and public system. Enforcing national standards that ensure that long-term care workers – who are disproportionately racialized women – have a living wage, health and wellness benefits, and a safe and secure job, in order to provide high-quality care to residents.
Making public transit safe by halting fare inspection, investing in mask distribution, and putting more buses on high-traffic routes to allow for physical distancing.
Increasing research and supports dedicated to COVID “long-haulers,” people still suffering from the effects of the virus months after infection.
Greater involvement of community groups in public health decision-making, respecting communities’ knowledge about their own life circumstances, and more consistently inviting their representatives into decision-making processes led by researchers and civic officials.
As the pandemic puts our society’s racial and class divides on ruthless display, it is urgent that we all show up with our neighbours to demand a just, equitable pathway to #COVIDzero that leaves no one behind.
To add your name (individual and/or organization) to this statement, and/or to get involved with the coalition’s work, please complete this short form.
We are an Ontario-based group, but the need for a just, equitable #COVIDzero strategy transcends local boundaries. We invite collaboration with people struggling towards the same goal elsewhere. We also encourage groups outside Ontario to adopt and adapt this statement freely for your own purposes.
In Ontario, here are some ways you can plug into powerful community organizing and take action:
Follow, boost, and contribute to groups like the Encampment Support Network, People’s Defence Toronto, and Keep Your Rent Toronto that are fighting for housing justice.
Volunteer with and donate to Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, providing encampment support and working to mitigate the harms of the catastrophic overdose crisis.
Join the Migrant Rights Network to demand justice, safety, and #StatusForAll migrants.
Support the labour organizing of the Workers Action Centre and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to ensure that no one is left behind.
Take action with 15 & Fairness and the Decent Work and Health Network to demand paid sick days for all.
Learn more about the work of COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada, a large grassroots organization of COVID survivors experiencing debilitating effects months after infection, and sign the support group’s petition demanding recognition, research, and rehabilitation for Long COVID sufferers.
Get involved with the Toronto Prisoners Rights Project to fight for justice for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and take action to demand decarceration.
Demand better for residents and workers in long-term care, by following the work of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Unifor, and contributing to their calls to action.
Follow and boost Green Jobs Oshawa’s campaign for domestic PPE production, crucial long-term healthcare organizing by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and the campaign to #MakeReveraPublic.
Write to elected officials to express your support for the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs who are calling for a stop to resource extraction projects as COVID-19 outbreaks recur in B.C. work camps.
Protect public sector jobs and collective bargaining with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council by adding your voice to their Forward Together campaign.
Join TTC Riders to demand adequate funding for safe and physically distanced public transit options.
Call the Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services to demand increased social assistance rates.
Demand that the Ontario legislature adopt an intersectional gender equity approach to its pandemic response
My general criticism on this blog has been and will continue to be that the so-called radical left fail to connect up a general criticism of a society dominated by a class of employers–with the associated oppressive and exploitative economic, political and social structures–and particular issues. The organization Suppress the Virus Now Coalition failed to do just that.
The pandemic should have been an occasion to develop a movement against the systemic nature of capitalist society. There has really been no such movement–in part undoubtedly because grass-roots social movements fail to link the particular issues surrounding the pandemic with the general issue of the impossibility of maximizing the health of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.
My comments and criticisms were never addressed. My criticisms, in effect, were censored. I leave it to the reader to decide whether such censorship expresses the democratic nature of some (if not many) grassroots organizations–or if it expresses something else.
The last post of this series will include further comments and questions about “The People’s Pandemic Shutdown.”
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.
This is a continuation of a previous post. In a previous post, I criticized the first reviewer’s assessment of an article I had written on collective bargaining and the situation of teachers in Nova Scotia.
Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.
Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.
The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.”
My Abstract or Summary of My Article
This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.
Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey
The decision to reject the article as is, as well as the second review are given below along with my comments on the second review. I put the reviewer’s evaluation in quotation marks:
We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education, “A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and a fair contract”. Our decision is to: Decline submission.
Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.
All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.
I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on this project.
E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
Reviewer B’s Assessment and My Comments
“This manuscript makes a convincing argument that there is no such thing as a good contract because in a capitalist economy, some portion of workers’ labor will, inevitably, be appropriated by capitalists.”
That is hardly what is argued in my article. The author is probably thinking of Marx’s theory of surplus value, in a capitalist economy, where the value produced by workers is greater than the value that they receive—necessarily–if the capitalist economy is to continue to exist.
How this reviewer concludes that I make a “convincing argument” of the inadequacy of a contract due to “some portion of workers’ labor will inevitably be appropriated by capitalists” is beyond me. I explicitly wrote: ‘Of course, the purpose of the whole process is to obtain more money at the end of the process than at the beginning. The whole process would have no purpose if the money that the capitalist receives at the end of the process were the same quantity as at the beginning of the process; the capitalist system would not last very long. The continued existence of the capitalist system, then, requires that the money at the end of the process, generally, be greater than at the beginning. Where the surplus money comes from does not concern us in this essay, though.’
I did not want to discuss Marx’s theory of surplus value as such since that theory, though very important in understanding the dynamics of capitalist production, exchange and accumulation, is not the only basis for criticizing the employer-employee relation. Employees of the government (state workers) do not produce a surplus value—but they are still used as means for purposes foreign to them (see The Money Circuit of Capital). This is anti-democratic and in fact dictatorial. It treats human beings as mere things who have no or little say in the determination of the purposes of their action as employees.
The point of the presentation of the money circuit of capital is to show that human beings are means to purposes external to them in order to criticize such use in the first place. It is implicitly a criticism of such union attitudes as expressed by John Urkevich, union rep for the Association of Employees Supporting Education Services (AESES) (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994)–a public sector union. According to Mr. Urkevich: “After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.” See my criticism of such a view in ( Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994).
The reviewer obviously missed the point of presenting the money circuit of capital and imposed his/her own assumed view of Marxian theory onto the money circuit.
“That said, issues in the manuscript start with the title: labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject, and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself.”
True and false. It is a critique of Brian Forbes’ implicit model of collective bargaining—which is the typical model of union reps (whether explicit or implicit). A critique of such an implicit model is simultaneously a critique of the typical model. Apparently, it is too much to expect academics to understand this.
Consequently, the first clause “labor relations in Nova Scotia are a pretext for the text rather than its subject” is true, but the next clause “and the critique is not of an implicit model of collective bargaining but of collective bargaining itself” is false since the implicit model is Brian Forbes’ model, which provides an exemplar for collective bargaining itself. Variations in collective bargaining, such as Jane McAlevey’s model, although innovative in some respects, still fall within the limits of the same collective-bargaining model since her model idealizes collective agreements as well. Furthermore, her wholly inadequate solution to the problem of agency and social structure by identifying the two at the micro level of the plant level or the specific institution level leads her to idealize such contracts rather than criticizing them as completely inadequate expressions of the interests of workers (even if it is the best that can be achieved under given power relations).
“Although the title is a minor problem, it returns in the abstract., which opens with a critique of the Nova Scotia contract rather than what it is a case and then announces something like a review of McAlevey. At a minimum, a clearer sense of, and focus on, what the manuscript is about–the limits of even more democratic forms of collective bargaining, with much of the evidence from the author’s own experience- needs to be clear throughout.”
Let us take a look at my abstract. It reads:
‘This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.’
The structure of my proposed article is:
Introduction (not an explicit section with that title, but it is implied)
The Resistance of Teachers to the High-handed Methods of the McNeil Government and of the Provincial Executive
Jane McAlevey’s Alternative Approach to Collective Bargaining
The Limitations of McAlevey’s Approach to Collective Bargaining
Theoretical Considerations: Limited Standards of Fairness versus Human Standards of Fairness
I organized the presentation in an ascending order of forms of collective bargaining, from the least positive form of collective bargaining (the McNeil Government’s underhanded method of collective bargaining) to more adequate forms of collective bargaining (Brian Forbes’ implicit model, which is the typical model), to Jane McAlevey’s innovative model, in order to show, on the one hand, that there are indeed better and worse ways of engaging in collective bargaining from the point of view of the working class—but that collective bargaining even in the form of McAlevey’s model is wholly inadequate. The inadequacy of even McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining is broken up into practical limitations and theoretical considerations. The practical considerations involved a comparison of a collective agreement under which I worked as a brewery worker in the early 1980s with the idealized collective agreement that Ms. McAlevey negotiated. Her persistent reference to the collective agreement as a “good contract” is typical of social-reformist leftists, and this is the implicit target of the article. The idealization of unions and collective bargaining needs to be criticized, and this reviewer generally fails to understand that.
As for my personal experiences—I intersperse them throughout the article as occasion and relevance arises. The underhanded way in which the McNeil Nova Scotia (located in Canada) government tried to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process was similar to Winnipeg’s (Manitoba, Canada) mayor Susan Thompson attempt to subvert the traditional collective-bargaining process. My reference to Paul Moist, one time head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees union outside workers in Winnipeg (and, eventually, the national head of that union—one of the largest unions in Canada) d his use of the cliché “A contract is a contract” is meant to highlight how union reps assume that the basis for relations between humans must be in the form of a contract.
It never ceases to amaze me how little thought is given by academics (and others) about the legitimacy of the employer-employee relation. I have found, personally, that unions are necessary but by no means sufficient for expressing my own interests. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and all of them have assumed the legitimacy of that relation in one way or another. That academics fail, theoretically or practically (or both) to seek to go beyond such relations by creating all kinds of subterfuges should no longer be surprising, however. Most lack any burning desire to have exploitation really stop. They may pay lip-service to the abolition of exploitation, but their own practices (and often their own writings) belie such lip-service.
Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to write for so-called peer-reviewed journals and started this blog? Often, for an article to be accepted it is necessary to alter substantially the content of an article to accord with the demands of the academic reviewers. There is no point in trying to please such reviewers—to do so is not in the interests of the working class. Quite to the contrary. Reviewers are unlikely to be concerned with such interests and thus to fail to understand the point of an article that addresses such needs. It is in the interests of the working class to oppose being used as means for the employers’ ends, but unions have no intention of pursuing such opposition. The limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements express the limitations of unions in relation to the working class, but it is highly unlikely that academic reviewers will understand that.
“The manuscript does a nice job analyzing elements of McAlevey’s argument and acknowledging the benefits of a more empowered rank and file, but at crucial junctures the manuscript was not persuasive. The author makes a brief and, in my view, inadequate case for the essential similarity of private and public sector workers. After rightly acknowledges that capitalism sets limits on the contract because pay has to be less than the value of what is produced,”
Again, this is an imposition of the reviewer’s reading on what I wrote. I specifically wrote the following:
‘If we ignore the exchange process, we have the following: M1 … P … M2. Here, it is clearly seen that the production process is a means for obtaining more money. Since workers are part of the production process, they too are means for obtaining more money—even if they are organized collectively and act militantly. Being used as a means so that others can obtain more money is not an expression of a just and moral society, where human beings are agents of their own social structures and relations. Rather, it expresses a society that treats human beings as things to be used for the benefit of others obtaining more money.’
The issue is the context of criticizing McAlevey’s claim that the relation between agency and structure is solved when the whole set of workers is organized—structure then melds into agency and agency into structure. The money circuit of capital shows that this is a wholly inadequate solution to the problem; agency must address the macro level if the workers are going to become agents of their own lives. The issue of whether the “pay has to be less than the value of what is produced” is not addressed at all. More money (M2) than M1 is characteristic of capitalist relations, but then so too is the use of workers as means to obtaining more money. The issue of exploitation is a related but separate issue. If, for example, M1 and M2 were the same, workers would still be used as means—but in this instance the employer would have no incentive to do so.
“the author then treats teachers as deserving unlimited resources.”
What nonsense. This reading illustrates once again the limited nature of academic reviews. Where did I imply that ‘teachers deserve’ “unlimited resources?”
“A much more developed theory and analysis of schooling in of the capitalist state is needed.”
I agree with this assertion. Two points can serve as a response. Firstly, peer-reviewed journals limit necessarily the extent to which authors can elaborate on certain points through a limitation on the number of words that an author can compose. In the case of the journal Critical Education,the limit: “Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.” To enter directly into the question of the “theory and analysis of schooling in the capitalist state” when the issue is the limitations of collective bargaining would be impossible.
Peer reviewers can thus use the impossibility of addressing all relevant issues as an excuse for criticizing what would be needed in a more well-rounded and fuller discussion.
Secondly, it is obvious that Marx’s theory of capital is the beginning of such an analysis and requires elaboration in relation to the specifically capitalist state. I mention taxes in relation to the capitalist state and imply that a further analysis of the capitalist state would benefit from a consideration of taxes. Jack Barbalet refers to the relevance of taxes, the state debt and finance capital for Marx’s theory of the capitalist state in his Marx’s Construction of Social Theory as does Ingo Stützle in Staatsverschuldung als Kategorie der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Eine Forschungsnotiz. However, I definitely do not have the theoretical background as yet (if ever) to discuss adequately the nature of the capitalist state and its relation to schooling.
Such work, as Hegel once pointed out, requires time, as a new theory or principle needs to be worked out in detail.
In any case, although it is true that, for a fully developed criticism of the capitalist state and schooling, it would be necessary to delve into and analyse the capitalist state and its relation to schooling, for the purposes of the essay, such a demand is absurd given the imposed limitations of the journal itself.
“Moreover, the focus on class size (rather than, say, wages) suggests that teachers’ self-interest will inevitably align with children’s or public interest.”
This is absurd. I chose class size to illustrate—the limitations and inadequacy of collective bargaining in relation to the working conditions of teachers. Here is what I wrote:
‘In relation to teachers as employees, the purpose of a teacher’s work, just like the work of nurses and other public-sector workers, is not defined by those teachers. Teachers certainly can choose how they teach in many ways (pedagogy has come a long way), but there are many areas in their work that can be addressed only to a limited extent, if at all, at the level of collective bargaining. For example, the issue of class size can be and has been addressed at the level of collective bargaining. Can the results of collective bargaining over this issue adequately address the needs of increasingly diversified student populations?
It is useful to compare a fairly homogenous student population–the students in the Dewey School in Chicago between 1896 and 1904—with this situation. After three years of functioning, as an experimental school, the School had 125 students, with fifteen full-time staff and 16 assistants (the assistants’ hours varied from half an hour to three hours a day (Camp & Mayhew, 1936/1966). If we take the average number of hours of these assistants, based on the minimum and maximum number of hours they worked per day, they worked an average 1.75 hours per day (.5+3)/2=1.75). If we assume a work day of 5.25 hours per day, then roughly there were five full-time equivalent assistants per day. Consequently, there were 21 adults working with 125 students—an average of about six children per adult; class size was definitely limited. Has any collective agreement in Canada for public teachers come close to such a class size?
Rather than addressing the need to reduce class size to a level required to address adequately the needs of individual students, teachers are expected to differentiate instruction. Of course, trying to address the needs of 20 or 30 children or adolescents based on differentiated instruction increases the workload of teachers. If class size decreases to a limited extent due to collective bargaining, often enough, the workload increases in other areas in order to compensate for such a reduced class size.’
I compared the typical class size of teachers in public schools with the class size in the Dewey School, where the class size in relation to the number of adults was substantially lower. I pointed out that collective bargaining over class size has not been able to limit the class size to the extent found in the Dewey School. I imply that children’s learning needs require a relatively high adult-to-pupil ratio, but collective bargaining has never been able to address this issue adequately. That teachers are interested in class size and yet cannot address adequately that working condition within the confines of collective bargaining provides an illustration of the limitations of collective bargaining.
By the way, the reviewer’s concept of “public interest” is pure abstraction—as if there were some independent public interest that can be identified independently of class relations.
“In this, the manuscript treats kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made.”
This is not only absurd, but it is insulting. How do I treat kids “more or less like the hops in the beer the author made?” Where do I do this? I guess it is treating “kids more or less like the hops in the beer the author made” to imply that collective bargaining cannot address adequately a reduced class size—and that is one of the conditions that children require to learn adequately—not just “differentiated instruction.”
I did not bring the salaries or wages of teachers into the picture because I wanted to illustrate the limitations of collective bargaining. Teachers’ salaries are relatively high absolutely when compared to the salaries or wages of lower-level workers (I was earning, gross, around $85,000 a year), but what would have to at least be factored in is the number of hours that teachers actually work and not the number of hours they officially work. From my own experience, I know that teachers work much longer than the official number of hours. I used to get to school around 7:15 in the morning (classes started at 9:00). My lunch hour had students in the classroom while I ate. I often stayed until 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon and worked at home afterwards. The higher salaries reflect in part, the longer working day of teachers. Undoubtedly other factors may also partially explain the relatively higher salary of teachers , but the focus on salary would detract from the limitations of collective bargaining in relation to the working lives of teachers as teacher-employees.
“Or to put it slightly differently, one would not, I think, say that the police controlling all conditions of their work in the colonized communities of the poor is self-evidently good. Teachers have often been among those advocating corporal punishment in schools and the removal of difficult children. Why does teachers’ control of their work equate with the greater good?”
Note how the reviewer now shifts to an isolationist or micro position in order to argue against worker control (including teacher control) of their work. My assumption was that in a socialist society worker control would extend across the public and private sectors; such a situation would prevent teachers from being used as mere means for purposes foreign to their own lives. Motivations for engaging in teaching would likely change, and advocacy for corporal punishment would likely diminish substantially. If the children in schools were adequately cared for, so-called “difficult children” would be diminished.
The reviewer tries to engage in moral superiority. Obviously, this reviewer claims to disagree with corporal punishment—in schools. What does the reviewer do in relation to the corporal punishment characterized by parents? S/he fails to mention this at all and the role courts have played in perpetuating the physical abuse of children (see my own personal experience in, for example, the following post A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One) as well as the summary of some of the physical abuse experienced by my daughter by her mother in the second part under the same name–part two). S/he also fails to address the impact on the behaviour of adults towards children of a kind of society where there is a market for workers—and that includes teachers. S/he also fails to address the imposition of a modern curriculum at the elementary level that focuses on symbolic learning (reading and writing) at the expense of children’s active interest in the world around them (including social life). My reference to Dewey was hardly accidental; Dewey criticized severely the lack of consideration of the specificity of children and their existence as living beings in schools. The Dewey School was meant to address many of these inadequacies by focusing on the production and reproduction of the common needs of human beings from a geographical and historical angle—and the accompanying intellectual development that that entails.
The reviewer’s implied concern for children may or may not be true, but to try to impose her/his own agenda without any real basis further weakens the objectivity of her/his own review.
If work were organized democratically, the work would also change. The concept of “difficult children” might well vanish.
Of course, under existing conditions, some teachers do advocate for corporal punishment and want to have difficult children removed from their class. And? The reviewer is trying to argue from a position where teachers lack control over their own working lives in general in conjunction with all other workers.
I hardly idealize the current social situation in the proposed article, nor do I idealize teachers. Quite to the contrary. In other articles that I have written, I have implied that teachers largely accept the curriculum as specified by departments of education and fail to criticize the content and structure of the curriculum (see some of my articles in the Publications and Writings link). Furthermore, having been the chair of the Equity and Social Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers Association, I tried to widen the issue to include the employer-employee relation as such (among other issues). I tried to generate discussion among the other chairs of Equity and Social Justice Committees, but the only response was an insult, where one chair called my views asinine since, according to him, I was claiming that teachers did not address social-justice issues in the classroom. Of course, I was trying to have the teachers redefine what was meant by social justice—a redefinition that would involve the wider issue of the kind of society in which we live and work. Other than that response, the chairs remained silent over what I wrote. I am well aware of the limitations of teachers’ points of view.
“One could answer this question in a number of ways; one way or another, it is a question that needs addressing. If they had the freedom to do so, teachers, the author seems to suggest, would reject their role as part of the ideological state apparatus. Why?”
Why would I want to address this issue in this article? Are there not many issues in the world that need to be addressed? I was not addressing the issue of “teachers” only since the freedom of control over our working lives is hardly limited to teachers, and the limitations of collective bargaining and the collective agreement are hardly limited to teacher unions.
“Similarly, the relationship of teachers’ workplace concerns to those of the working class as a whole.”
I was trying to address this issue indirectly by showing the inadequacy of collective bargaining in general. My reference to class-size and the inadequate way in which collective-bargaining addresses the issue points in this direction—but the reviewer, rather than recognizing this, accuses me of idealizing teachers. Such is the nature of reviewing and an underhanded way of rejecting articles that contradict the point of view of the reviewer,
“The author makes many points which seem to me valid: no doubt unions generally do not educate members and collective bargaining has its limits. I am not suggesting different conclusions in the essay. Rather, the stances the author takes need more development.”
My view is that, on the one hand, many of the the reviewer”s criticisms are invalid and, on the other, when her/his views are valid, s/he is asking for the impossible—to deal adequately with everything brought up would go far beyond the limits specified by the journal Critical Education. According to the journal: ‘Critical Education typically reviews manuscripts that are between 4,000 and 8,000 words in length.’
“On p. 14 the analysis of different pay scales was a bit confusing.”
Perhaps, but without further elaboration, it is impossible to determine why the reviewer believes that.
When a writer submits an article for possible publication, it is to be expected that revision will likely be necessary. There is, however, a difference between the need for revision and the requirement that the writer submit to the point of view and experiences of the reviewer.
I have had several articles published (see Publications and Writings section of this blog). I have had to revise each submission, and I have learned to accept this as a normal part of the publication of articles. However, I found the criticisms of the reviewers to go far beyond what the role of reviewers should be. As a consequence, I started this blog as a way of expressing my own point of view–without censorship.
Writing articles in peer-reviewed journals are inadequate for expressing issues of concern to the working class.
I will be posting, in the future, a final post concerning Reviewer C’s review of my submbitted article.
From around February 20 until May 23, 2021 I belonged to an organization in Toronto called Social Housing Green Deal. The organization came to my attention when one of my friends on Facebook invited me to join.
The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.
The following outlines how I actually started participating in the organization and how such participation led to the practical censorship of my views through both actual censorship and the possible manipulation of protocols used for general meetings.
My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.
I wish I were wrong, but given their collapse of strategy into tactics and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto. I doubt it.
I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization:
J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.
It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas. I will elaborate on this assertion in a future post.
Joining the Group
To join the group, it was necessary to answer why you wanted to join. Anna Jessup is the moderator and administrator. Ms. Jessup asked the following question on February 17, 2021:
Hi Frederick. Before I add you to our group tell me a bit about yourself. What made you want to join?
Here is how I responded on February 18, 2021:
We have met before–at ETTO, I believe, and at Black Creek Community Farm, where, unfortunately, a list of things to be done were itemized but, as far as I know, nothing came of it.
The question, perhaps, is meant to ensure that right-wing people do not attend.
To answer the question properly would involve much personal information and history, and I am uninclined to share that at this time.
I could, as well, ask what the purpose of the group is; I am somewhat reluctant to get involved in organizations that are purely reformist in nature.
To be more specific: Why do I want to “participate?” Because the police are a central feature of a society dominated by a class of employers. They are central to the reproduction of a social order that treats human beings as things to be used by employers.
I have a blog (the abolitonary.ca–although I do not think it is accessible only via that URL, but you made try if interested.) I have posted five posts with the title “Reform versus the Abolition of Police,” and I argue for the abolition of police.
I will be posting a sixth post on Friday concerning the relation between police and unions (not police unions), where I use an article that tries to show that unions function to protect workers by limiting their exploitation (defensive mechanism) but simultaneously function as ideological organizations to integrate workers into the class system of employers.
James Wilt, in Canadian Dimension, argued for the abolition of police whereas Herman Rosenfeld argued for their “transformation.” I criticize severely Mr. Rosenfeld’s view, arguing that his claim that Mr. Wilt engages in sloppy thinking in fact applies to him.
I will be drafting a critique of Harry Kopyto’s critique of Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the police can somehow be reformed–and then concedes way too much by claiming that Mr. Rosenfeld is however correct to argue for “reforms” “in the meantime.” This is a social-democratic trick of putting off forever the aim of abolishing the police. Of course, the police cannot be abolished all at once, but the aim of such abolition should always be present–and accepting reforms for the moment when there is insufficient power but always pressing for the abolition of the police.
My purpose of “participating” in the zoom conference is really to listen–nothing more, for now (perhaps I can learn some things). I have experienced insults from “the left” here in Toronto–“condescending prick” from Wayne Dealy, executive director of CUPE 3902, and “insane” from Errol Young, of JFAAP. I am undoubtedly considered by some among the left as “sectarian”–but they do not seem to want to engage in any kind of debate on my blog concerning issues that I have raised.
I self-identify as a Marxist.
Ms. Jessup responded as follows, on February 20, 2021:
Yes Fred, I remember you. I respect your Marxist analysis and certainly wish to apply such an analysis to on-the-ground work.
One complication I ran into with our previous work, was that your posts ignited more discussion than I had the time or resources to moderate.
Are you willing to avoid debate on this google group, and simply use it as a way to receive information about upcoming meetings and events?
I responded on the same day as follows:
I was going to participate at least to a minimum degree at first, but given the email, I will not even do that. I will limit myself to listening and taking notes.
Being Drawn into Participation
The same day I received the following message:
The link to the meeting will come to you by email a few minutes before 3PM today.
Hope to see you all there.
The important point in the above message is that the zoom “link to the meeting will come to you by email before 3PM.” This is relevant for what happened on May 23, 2021.
On February 21, 2021, I wrote the following:
I am copying below part of a post from my blog that may be relevant to the discussion yesterday–namely, the creation of protective teams, which I believe is a better approach than relying on pressuring council members to vote for defunding the police (until there is sufficient power on the ground).
I will post it if that’s alright. I’ll cut out the criticism of Herman as I don’t want to make my friends defensive.
I will post it on our Facebook group.
Very glad I read this. Thank you.
Ms. Jessup then sent a quest to have what I wrote put up on the organization’s website–which it was.
Being drawn into the organization, I started sending recommendations for reading, and in the process expressed some of my own views. On March 10, 2021, for example, I sent the following:
Attached is another open text document file, this time relating the police to the emergence and maintenance of capitalism. It is, as I indicate in the text, a series of short comments followed by many quotes from the book by Mark Neocleous (2000), The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power. I will be posting this in the future on my blog. Again, feel free to do anything you want with part or all of it or anything at all.
Ms. Jessup’s response on March 11, 2021:
On April 3, 2021, I sent the following, along with the documents:
I am attaching two items. The first is a document recommended by SURJ [Showing Up for Racial Justice] that I received recently, “Building the World We Want: A Roadmap to Police Free Futures,” assembled by Robyn Maynard, graphics by Sahra Soudi. In the document, there is much about defunding the police (much less about its abolition), and very little about the kind of society that the police protect. It is my view that unless the two are connected, it is highly unlikely that the police will be defunded/abolished on a permanent basis since, as I tried to show in the quotes from the book by Mark Neocleus (The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power) and my short comments, the emergence of the modern police and the emergence of a society dominated by a class of employers went hand in hand.
Hence, the second document is from my blog, quoting from Elizabeth Anderson’s book on the nature of employment relationship: what, in effect, the police protect, is a dictatorship.
Feel free to edit it any way you want.
Ms. Jessup, on April 5, 2021, responded (edited to omit personal information that I should respect):
Thank you so much. I’ll need time before I can get to it … But it is very nice to get an email about something positive!
Good reading. Thank you. I have added the Maynard piece to our group’s resource folder.
Out of curiosity, in your piece, which I enjoyed, why did you characterize totalitarian aspects of our society as communist rather than simply as totalitarian?
To which I responded on the same day:
To answer your question concerning communist vs. totalitarian: It was not I but Elizabeth Anderson who made a parallel between the dictatorship at work and a communist dictatorship.
I believe it was an astute tactic on her part. Many Americans undoubtedly still equate the former Soviet dictatorship with communism. To make a parallel with this former dictatorship may shock many Americans (and undoubtedly many Canadians and Europeans), but it also resonates with their experiences at work. It may thereby create an opening–by creating a contradiction in the readers’ point of view–for discussing the issue of just how democratic the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, England, etc. are. Such discussions are sadly lacking in the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.
On my blog, I have systematically tried to exhibit the dictatorial nature of employers even in unionized settings via the implicit or explicit management rights that employers have. I have also tried to expose how unions not only fail to address the dictatorial power of employers but serve, through their rhetoric of “fair contracts” and the like, as ideologues of employers. For example, I searched for the expression “fair contract,” “fair deal,” and similar expressions on the Net for CUPE–the largest union in Canada. I quoted 10 different CUPE sources using such ideological rhetoric.
I will be posting, in the future, a similar post on the second largest union in Canada, this time in the private sector, Unifor.
On April 6, 2021, I received an email indicating that we would have a zoom meeting the following day (April 7), with a zoom link (so that we could video conference). It was to be at 7:30 p.m. rather than the usual 3:00 p.m.:
At that meeting, the eviction of a father with his children was discussed, with twenty-three police cars showing up in Toronto. I suggested that we need to try to connect this incident with larger issues (the micro with the macro). Ms. Jessup suggested that I do that. I stated that I would do that if someone else would jointly work on it since I lacked the specific details. There was silence.
As a consequence, I decided to draft something on my own that would connect up the micro with the macro, starting with the micro and linking it up with wider and wider issues. I did some research to familiarize myself with some writings on the subject of housing as well as to gain a more concrete understanding of the specific incident.
As a result, I wrote to Ms. Jessup, on April 15, 2021, I sent the following to her, with the subject heading “Write up: A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It.”
Attached is a draft on some thoughts about the relationship between left-wing activism and the situation of the working class and what can be done about it–by linking short-term problems with long-term goals.
If you or anyone else has any criticisms or suggestions, feel free to make them. I am all ears.
The draft follows. It is quite long (13 pages in draft form). The last part I copied from the page from this blog The Money Circuit of Capital, so I will omit that part.
A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It
I have been accused, among union circles, of being condescending. However, if by condescending is meant questioning actions that do not lead to goals that I believe are worth pursuing, then I admit to be condescending.
Some may consider the following to be academic. However, I have had some experience with activism. For example, in the early 1980s, when I worked at a brewery in Calgary, I refused an order by supervisors and justified my refusal by stating that I had nothing but contempt for capitalists and their representatives. I was sent home on two consecutive nights. When the union president and the bottling manager met to discuss the issue, the bottling manager stated: “Do you know what that Marxist son of a bitch said?” We workers won this particular battle—the order was cancelled. That, of course, did not mean that we had won the war.
I would appreciate criticisms and suggestions for improvement in what follows, both in terms of accuracy and in terms of arguments.
Immediate Incident as an Occasion for Grassroots Activism
On Good Friday, April 2, 2021, 23 police cruisers showed up at 33 Gabian Way, which is a 19-story building owned by Vila Gaspar Corte Real Inc., or Villa Gaspar Corte Real Non-Profit Housing Inc. (there is some inconsistency in spelling the company).
The building is a combination of rental and social housing, built in 1993. There are 248 residential units. Apparently, the building is linked to Project Esperance, which is a non-profit registered charity. It services 111 units of from one- to three-bedroom units. Rents are geared to income.
According to the police, there were so many police present in order to remove a large number of protesters. The facts speak otherwise.
There were indeed protesters; they were protesting the eviction of Alex, a father of a one-year old and a six-year child. Alex had made arrangements with the landlord to pay rent arrears by March 29. Alex had managed to obtain the money to pay the rent, but a sheriff’s officer showed up to evict him on April 2, without warning. He left the apartment with his two children, but he returned to obtain his possessions. The police showed up and forced their way into the apartment.
The police denied that they were there to enforce the eviction—but if that were the case, why did they force their way into the apartment? Furthermore, one police officer claimed that the police had a court order for eviction and that they were there to evict Alex.
Due to the resistance of neighbours and supporters, Alex was not evicted.
This incident has several aspects to it. Firstly, immediate organized resistance to those with power and wealth can be effective in the short-term. Secondly, when there are supporters for those who are to be evicted, it is likely that the police will show up—in force.
“After the Landlord and Tenant Board makes an order to evict a tenant, a court official called the Sheriff is in charge of enforcing or carrying out the order.
If you have not moved out by the date the eviction order says you must move, the Sheriff can make you leave and let your landlord change the locks.
Only the Sheriff is allowed to physically evict you
The law does not let your landlord, a private bailiff, or a security guard physically evict you or lock you out. Only the Sheriff can do this. The police can’t evict you either but the Sheriff can ask the police for help if the Sheriff thinks there might be violence.
You can get evicted at any time of year
Many tenants believe that the law does not allow evictions in the winter. That is not true. The Sheriff can enforce eviction orders at any time of year.
The Sheriff does not have to tell you when they are coming to evict you
If you have an eviction order against you, the Sheriff could come to change your locks on any weekday after the date the Board ordered you to move out.”
The issue of the power of sheriffs to evict links up to the more general issue of the modern property system and the aims of those who engage in resistance to evictions (and other forms of resistance involving law-enforcement officers).
Fourthly: What was the aim of the supporters and neighbours? To prevent the eviction, evidently. It worked. It is a short-term victory, however. There will be other evictions, and other evictions, and other evictions. This issue can be looked at from a number of angles.
Strategy and Tactics
The left here in Toronto and elsewhere frequently collapse strategy and tactics, in effect advocating only tactics. This leads nowhere except the perpetuation of the problems and the constant need to resist and to struggle—without any realistic hope of resolving the conditions which constantly generate the problem. This does not mean that reforms should be thrown out of the window. It does mean, however, that activism that stays at the level of tactics will never address the more profound causes of the immediate problems. Robert Knox (2012) addresses this problem in his article titled “Strategy and Tactics.” in pages 193-229, The Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Volume 21, writes, p. 205:
“only tactical interventions occur, which are then branded as strategic interventions, foreclosing the possibility of an actual strategic intervention.”
What is the difference between strategic interventions and tactical interventions? The difference has been specified in terms of war as follows (pages 197-198):
“Carl von Clausewitz, one of the most influential exponents of modern military theory, defined strategy as:
[T]he use of the engagement to attain the object of the war … It must therefore give an aim to the whole military action. Its aim must be in accord with the object of the war. In other words, strategy develops the plan of the war, and to the aforesaid aim links the series of acts which are to lead to it; that is, it plans the separate campaigns and arranges the engagements to be fought in each of them.
Strategy is – in essence – how it is that one would fight and win a war: connecting the various individual battles together so as to achieve this broader objective. In contradistinction to this is tactics, which is concerned with smaller and shorter term matters. Tactics are concerned with how to win the individual battles and engagements of which the war is composed.
If we wish to translate this metaphor into more general terms, we might say that strategy concerns the manner in which we achieve and eventually fulfil our long term aims or objectives, whereas tactics concerns the methods through which we achieve our shorter term aims or objectives. The obvious conclusion here, and one that will be important to bear in mind throughout this article, is that when we talk of ‘pragmatism’ or ‘effectiveness’ it need not be referring to only the immediate situation. As will be explored more fully below, any tactical intervention will also have strategic consequences. This means that when thinking about effectiveness, it is necessary to understand the inherent relation between strategy and tactics. In so doing, the distinction allows us to consider how effective particular (seemingly ‘short term’) interventions might be in the longer term.”
If evictions are going to be stopped permanently, then immediate forms of resistance and immediate actions need to be linked to that goal—not just to incidents of crisis as they arise.
Nothing Fails Like Success
This is a take on the title of chapter one of Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton (2017), in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice; that title is “Nothing Succeeds Like Failure.” They argue that the police and prisons fail to reduce crime rates and, in their failure, perpetuate their own need or existence. Page 45:
“Failure is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Here lies the key to understanding our failing criminal justices ystem: The failure of policies and institutions can serve vested interests and thus amount to success for them!
If we look at the system as “wanting” to reduce crime, it is an abysmal failure that we cannot understand. If we look at it as not wanting to reduce crime, it’s a howling success, and all we need to understand is why the goal of the criminal justice system is to fail to reduce crime. If we can understand this, then the system’s “failure,” as well as its obstinate refusal to implement the policies that could remedy that “failure,” becomes perfectly understandable. In other words, we can make more sense out of criminal justice policy by assuming that its goal is to maintain crime than by assuming that its goal is to reduce crime!”
Leftist activism, similarly, but from the opposite end, by succeeding in short-term tactics, perpetuates its own constant need to engage in activism—activism for activism’s sake. It may make those who engage in such activism feel useful, but it fails to address the need to incorporate a strategic approach into activism. If activism succeeded in eliminating the need for activism, it would eliminate itself. This is one reason why strategy is collapsed into tactics—it permanently perpetuates the need for activism. Its short-term successes guarantee the continued need to engage in—short-term tactics.
The Bad Infinite
We can give this problem a philosophical turn. G.W.F. Hegel, a German philosopher, criticized the theoretical equivalent of this view in the following terms of the “bad infinite”–an infinite that never reaches an end (from The Encyclopaedia Logic, page 150:
“A limit is set, it is exceeded, then there is another limit, and so on without end. So we have nothing here but a superficial alternation, which stays forever within the sphere of the finite. If we suppose that we can liberate ourselves from the finite by stepping out into that infinitude, this is in fact only a liberation through flight. And the person who flees is not yet free, for in fleeing, he is still determined by the very thing from which he is fleeing. So if people then add that the infinite cannot be attained, what they say is quite correct….”
The bad infinite never reaches any end since it presupposes the general context that generates the particular or specific problems will continue to exist. To go beyond the bad infinite requires questioning that context—and hence developing a strategy designed to specify the problem at the general level while simultaneously addressing more immediate problems in such a way that successes feed into the resolution of the problem at the more general level.
Housing and Capitalism
Houses and housing form a central aspect of capitalist society. This has been noticed since the World Economic Crisis of 2007-2008. Wolfgang Streeck (2016), in his book How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System, argues that there have been four crises of democratic capitalism since the last world war:
“With the crash of privatized Keynesianism in 2008, the crisis of postwar democratic capitalism entered its fourth and latest stage, after the successive eras of inflation, public deficits and private indebtedness (Figure 2.5). With the global financial system poised to disintegrate, nation states sought to restore economic confidence by socializing the bad loans licensed in compensation for fiscal consolidation. Together with the fiscal expansion necessary to prevent a breakdown of the ‘real economy’, this resulted in a dramatic new increase in public deficits and public debt – a development that, it may be noted, was not at all due to frivolous overspending by opportunistic politicians or misconceived public institutions….”
Monetary instability (inflation), unemployment, public deficit spending and indebtedness followed by a shift to private indebtedness and deregulation of credit (and austerity measures) led to a bubble in housing prices and to speculative credit extended to those unlikely to be able to pay for mortgages once interest rates rose or they became unemployed. Of course, the crash of 2007-2008 increased public debt several fold and the pandemic has done the same.
Housing, Capitalism and the Police
Brendan Beck and Adam Goldstein (2017), in their article “Governing Through Police? Housing Market Reliance, Welfare Retrenchment, and Police Budgeting in an Era of Declining Crime, argue somewhat differently from Reiman and Leighton—though both arguments may complement each other.
They note, like Reiman and Leighton do, that crime rates have generally declined since the 1990s. On the other hand, police budgets have generally blossomed. They explain this general increase in municipal police budgets because of the increased centrality of real estate in the city economy. Page 1183:
“One key puzzle is why penal state growth continued unabated long after crime levels peaked in the early 1990s. We focus on local policing and consider the relationship between growing city-level law enforcement expenditures and two shifts: first, the move toward an economy increasingly organized around residential real estate; and second, city-level welfare retrenchment. We argue that increasing economic reliance on housing price appreciation during the late 1990s and the 2000s heightened demand for expanded law enforcement even as actual risks of crime victimization fell. At the same time, cities increasingly addressed social problems through criminal justice—rather than social service—capacities.”
As homes became a vehicle for workers to not only live but also to obtain some security with rising house prices, their interests in maintaining the price of the house increased. This interest has spilled over into support for policing efforts (however ineffective) that contribute to the maintenance of the prices of housing and land. This spillover, in turn, has racist implications since concentrations of coloured and minorities are perceived by homeowners as threats to property prices—but there is counterevidence that in the case of the Latino population there is no such perceived threat. Page 1186:
“Thus, the threat theory hypothesizes that investment in police forces (per capita force size and/or expenditure) will be positively associated with racial minorities’ share of the local population, net of crime rates. Studies have consistently found support for this hypothesis (e.g., Carmichael and Kent 2014; Jacobs and Carmichael 2001; Kent and Jacobs 2005; McCarty, Ren, and Zhao 2012; Sever 2003; Vargas and McHarris 2017). In fact, the percentage of black residents typically appears as one of the single most significant predictors in models of city police strength. However, recent studies find no evidence of a similar positive association between the percentage of Latino residents and police strength, neither cross-sectionally nor longitudinally (Holmes et al. 2008; Zhao, Ren, and Lovrich 2010).”
On the other hand, it is necessary also to consider competition between workers in working for an employer:
“Two different studies, King and Wheelock (2007) and Stults and Baumer (2007), use geocoded survey data to probe the mechanisms underlying racial threat effects. Both found that the observed association between the percent of black residents and police size is driven substantially by whites’ perceived economicthreats in the labor market and in social service provision. Racial threat is driven to a lesser extent by whites’ fears of crime victimization (Stults and Baumer 2007).”
However, their study seems to use the threat of falling residential prices as a proxy or for economic threat. Page 1187:
“In examining the use of police as a means of governing housing markets, we also consider how the ethno-racial makeup of cities might have interacted with shifting forms of economic threat. As we elaborate below, as urban economies came to be based more and more around real estate, perceived economic threats (and the racialized fears on which they draw) increasingly took the form of concerns about protecting housing prices. Previous research, using the Gini coefficient to measure economic threat, finds a positive effect on police department size (Carmichael and Kent 2014). We use measures of more specific economic threats: those around housing.”
They mention other factors that influence the growth of police budgets, such as the structure of municipal politics (the degree to which it is subject to partisan politics), whether it is a mayoral election year and the previous year’s budget.
The Financialization of the Housing Market
Beck and Goldstein argue that, as crime rates declined in the 1990s, there was a simultaneous financialization of the housing industry. This compensated, at least in part, for the stagnation in wages and salaries. Page 1188:
“Between 1992 and 2005, the median home price doubled and the amount of outstanding mortgage debt tripled (Census Bureau 2012; Federal Reserve Board 2016). Wages were stagnant during this time, but the proliferation of home equity loan instruments allowed homeowners to utilize their houses as income streams, making homeowners’ economic livelihoods predicated increasingly on continual housing price growth (Davis 2010). Home equity extraction made up 10 percent of households’ income nationally and as much as 15 percent in places like California and Florida (Greenspan and Kennedy 2007; Irwin 2006). Home value was important for homeowners and for regional economies.”
Homeowners, especially in the present, where heightened prices for homes takes up some of the slack for limited wage and salary increases, tend to support the police more than renters:
“Given linkages in popular narratives between crime rates and residential property values, we suspect that part of the explanation for continual expansion of policing can be found in the increasingly central role of housing markets in the economy, and politicians’ responsiveness to homeowners’ concerns about protecting property prices. As Simon has theorized, “the more a person’s future economic security depends on the value of his or her home, rather than earning capacity, the more we might expect this person to focus on factors like crime that could damage the value of the home” (2010, 195). Past research has shown that homeowners are more satisfied with and supportive of police than are renters (Reisig and Parks 2000; Schuck, Rosenbaum, and Hawkins 2008).
The shift from homes being a place primarily to live in and have a private life to a form of equity involves not just support for measures to reduce crime but other measures to ensure that the “public area” of the surrounding neighbourhood be protected from potential threats of disorder and not just crime:
Economists have long documented the negative effects of reported crime levels on housing prices, and this effect was especially pronounced during the 1990s (Hellman and Naroff 1979; Pope and Pope 2012; Schwartz, Susin, and Voicu 2003). The deleterious impact of crime on property values represents a salient social fact within the residential real estate field, one that is ubiquitously repeated in popular media and on real estate websites. Indeed, the reorientation toward real estate heightened the importance of guarding against not only crime, but also disorder, lifestyle nuisances, loitering, and anything else that might threaten property values. The salience of such economic fears may help explain the fact that the same exact majority of GSS respondents (57 percent) supported spending more public money on law enforcement in 2006 as they did in 1990, when crime rates were 50 percent higher.3 Even safe-feeling homeowners might have supported expanded policing to protect home values.”
It was no longer actual crime (however defined by the status quo) but the threat or possibility of disorder and crime that became a concern. Pages 1188-1189:
“…policing strategies that had police respond to perceived disorder, the expanded role for police went hand in hand with an expansion in the justificatory logics and motives to rationalize continued growth. For instance, a 2010 Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services report aimed at the law enforcement community argues that police agencies should reconceptualize their role and refocus their energies on combating fear of crime (rather than crime) because—among other things—it undermines residential property values (Cordner 2010).
At the same time, as governments retrenched on welfare services, the police were called upon to address problems normally handled by such services. The expansion of police services and the retrenchment of welfare services, however, should not lead the left to idealize welfare services. Welfare services have been oppressive in various ways such as supervising personal lives to ensuring that those who receive assistance are the “deserving poor.”
Furthermore, as the incident at 33 Gabian Way demonstrates, public housing can be quite oppressive. Evictions can occur in just as brutal fashion as in private housing. The left should not idealize the public sector—which they often do.
Housing, Police and the Working Class
The use of houses as equity among the working class has led to a split within the class in terms of immediate material interests. From Michael Berry, Housing Provision and Class Relations under Capitalism: Some Implications of Recent Marxist Class Analysis, in pages 109-121, Housing Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 115-116:
Income differences are, as has been argued, also internalised within classes. In the case of the working class, for example, higher paid workers in primary jobs are doubly advantaged; they enjoy both higher and more secure wages and a higher probability of: (a) gaining access to owner-occupation; and (b) securing high capital gains from domestic property ownership. Conversely, workers in the secondary job market and those relegated to the reserve army of unemployed are more likely to be denied access to home ownership, or, if allowed access, concentrated in housing submarkets where property values remain relatively stable. Tenancy therefore evolves as a residual tenure category in a dual sense; not only can land supporting rental housing often be converted to more profitable non-residential uses, it evolves as ‘housing of last resort’ for less privileged sections of the working and nonworking population whose low incomes place strict limits on the rental returns to landlords, both factors leading to a degree of underprovision and homelessness.
In summary, working class disunity, associated with unequal access to and benefits from home ownership, and its political expression through various forms of struggle, is part of a wider system of inequality and exploitation. Both forms of advantage to higher paid workers privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers. depend on their being able to maintain their privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers.
Bad Infinity Again, or the Labour of Sisyphus—Unless We Begin to Link Strategy and Tactics
The upshot of all this is that unless activists begin to linking the immediate issues to larger issues, it is highly likely that they will achieve only fleeting success. The split in the working class means that there will be substantial resistance by a substantial section of the population to efforts to defund the police or to abolish it unless measures are taken to address the wider concerns and issues.
How to Link Strategy and Tactics
How can this be done? One possibility is to divide those who do have relatively secure positions, with relatively well-paid jobs (frequently the unionized sector) into two or three age groups as well as dividing each group into homeowners and those who do not own homes (condos, townshomes, houses, life leases or other forms of home ownership).
Those who are nearing retirement are unlikely to want to threaten their own security, both in terms of their pensions and in terms of their home ownership (for the importance of security for identifying working-class consciousness, see Marc Mulholland (2010), ‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline Consideration. Pages 375-417, In Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 38, Issue 3—although I believe he fails to include other aspects that motivate workers, such as the fight for their freedom and justice). Older workers also do not also have a whole life ahead of them to work for an employer. It is likely that only if their livelihood were threatened in some way (such as redefining the age of retirement) would they be prone to engage in serious battles with the aim of changing the economic and political structure. Older unionized workers would more likely support the police and less likely support a movement for defunding the police or in abolishing the police (empirical studies are needed here. Are there any?)
Some middle-aged workers, on the other hand, may still have to pay off their mortgage and still have to subordinate their will to the power of an employer for some time; others, of course, may approach older unionized workers in having a secure life. Some middle-aged workers may thus be more prone to oppose the police whereas others may be more prone to support them. It all depends on their life circumstances.
Younger unionized workers may have inherited housing from their parents, so they may be more prone to support the police. On the other hand, they more likely have a lifetime of having to work for an employer (although some may aspire to owning their own businesses, of course). These workers may be more susceptible to opposing police funding and the existence of the police because of their life situation.
To combat some of the unionized workers’ tendency to support the police, it would be necessary to show them the nature of their situation for the foreseeable future and to criticize alternative views that present their lives as somehow being fair. On the one hand, it would be necessary to show that their life working for an employer in hopes of owning a home entails a substantial part of their lives being used as means for employers’ ends over which they have little control. On the other hand, it would be necessary to criticize union rhetoric that presents collective bargaining and collective agreements as somehow fair.
To provide such criticisms, it is necessary to show that workers are used as means for other person’s ends. To that end, I reproduce the page on my blog on the money circuit of capital (it is fairly detailed, but it is necessary in order to oppose the rosy picture presented by union and business rhetoric about the future life of workers—especially younger workers) (if anyone has alternative means for exposing the limitations of union rhetoric, feel free to criticize this writing, including what follows, or if they can simplify it in any way).
Conclusion: Using All Opportunities for Criticizing the Treatment of Human Beings as Means for Other People’s Ends
If a movement for defunding the police is to gain ground, it is necessary to use every opportunity that arises to criticize the economic and political structure in the wider sense and not just engage in activist actions at the micro level. The micro (where tactical decisions must be made) and the macro (where strategic decisions must be made) need to be linked constantly. How to do that is the central question.
In the movement for a fight for $15, for example, for whatever reason, the fight in Canada (not in the United States) has been paired with the concept of “fairness.” This provides the more radical left with an opportunity to challenge such rhetoric.
The same could be same with union rhetoric. For example, I compiled a list of 10 statements by CUPE on the fairness of collective agreements, put them up on my blog and queried how collective agreements, which limit the power of employers (and hence are, generally, better than no collective agreements) are somehow fair.
I would like to hear from others on how to link strategy and tactics together in the case of defunding the police and abolishing the police. Alternatively, I would be interested in reading arguments that short-term tactics can solve long-term problems.
The Silence of the Social-Democratic Left
On April 18, 2021, I received an email indicating another meeting was to take place on April 24 at 3:00 p.m. However, on April 24 the meeting was postponed until the following week. I received an email on April 29, which contained a zoom link for the Sunday, May 2 meeting.
I was already feeling frustrated by any lack of response to what I considered to be a request by Ms. Jessup as administrator and monitor of the organization for a linking of micro and macro issues. Ms. Jessup’s silence–and the possible lack of circulation of the draft that I had written to other members of the previous zoom meetings–seemed to indicate that my draft work may have been censored. I had agreed at the beginning of joining this organization not to participate in its meetings, and then I was invited to participate, which I did by drafting something that tried to link up issues on the ground with more general issues–only to be met with–silence and possible censorship.
I wanted to place the issue on the agenda (it was not on the agenda), but I also wanted to avoid clashing with Ms. Jessup, so I did not say anything about it at the May 2 meeting. However, I did draft something else that was more immediately relevant to the meeting: On the agenda, there were two motions for support of statements made by other organizations; I made some comments on these statements. One was a statement made by an organization in Toronto called Justice for Immigrant Workers (J4MW). I sent it to Ms. Jessup on May 1, 2021.
Ms. Jessup’s reply:
Great. Looking forward to seeing you Sunday
I also sent her some comments on another motion for support of the statement made by “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.”
Since this post is already quite long, I will post the two drafts in future posts and conclude this series by including my final writing to this group, on the People’s Pandemic Shutdown.
I will merely repeat what I wrote near the beginning of this post: The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.
My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.
I wish I were wrong–even partial defunding of the police would improve our lives, but given the dogmatism of the social-democratic left and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto.
I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization:
J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.
It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas.
I read an article on unions and the police that I thought would be useful for readers: George Rigakos & Aysegul Ergul (2011), “Policing the Industrial Reserve Army: An International Study,” in Crime, Law & Social Change, Volume 56, Number 4. (see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227052617_Policing_the_industrial_reserve_army_An_international_study). I came across the article while researching the function of the police in a society characterized by the domination of a class of employers. The article explains, indirectly, why social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld have a hostile attitude towards more radical political positions (see earlier posts in this series for a criticism of Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic position on the issue of the abolition of the police).
In the article, the authors argue that there is empirical evidence (factual data used as evidence for a hypothesis or theory) among many countries that shows that unions, at the micro level, function to limit exploitation of workers but, at the macro level, they may well function to limit the radical nature of the working class. This is consistent with some of my own experiences with and observations of unions–as well as the social-democratic left.
Let us first look at their arguments and evidence for their view that unions limit the radical nature of the working class (page 330):
After the Second World War, the dominant form of trade unionism recognized the primacy of the liberal democratic state and accepted the capitalist organization of production and private property. The revolutionary Marxist claims of overthrowing the state through the destruction of the capitalist mode of production were replaced by efforts to generate a dialogue and social pact among labour, capital and the state . To put it differently, the goal of trade-unions to mobilize working class power for revolutionary purposes was abandoned in exchange for the legal recognition of collective bargaining and thus the state of trade-unions became crystallized as that of political actors representing an organized interest group within liberal democracy. The internalization of the attitude of “peaceful accommodation with capitalist interests” caused a deradicalization and depoliticization of the trade union movement . The effects of a paradigm shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism, therefore, have deeply cut into both trade-union membership and political activism.
In the context of the accumulation process of capital (the reinvestment of the surplus produced by workers), some workers are thrown out of work (the unemployed, or what Marxian economists call the reserve army of labour), others are insecure in their work and some are more secure.
The end of the social pact among “labour, capital and the state [government]”–at least from the point of view of capital, and increasingly of the state or government–has left workers with less protection from the onslaught of the vicious nature of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations. There has been an increase in inequality in terms of income and wealth in the neoliberal era of privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization (page 342):
The income gap between people living in the top fifth of the richest countries and those living in the bottom fifth was 30:1 in 1960, 60:1 in 1990, and 74:1 in 1997. In 2005, the Human Development Report stated “the world’s richest 500 individuals have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.” In the same year the 2.5 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, that lived on less than two dollars a day accounted for 5% of global income while the richest 10%, almost all of whom lived in high income countries, accounted for 54% of global income . According the World Institute for Economic Research , the richest two per cent of adults in the world owned more than half of global household wealth while the poorer 50% of the world’s adults owned barely 1% of global wealth.
The increase in inequality in the neoliberal era has led to increased insecurity. You would think that with increased insecurity and inequality, there would be a need for more police, both private and public. However, what is interesting is how the presence of unions has generally not led to increases in the level of policing. Ironically, Mr. Rosenfeld, in his criticism of the idea of the abolition of the police, refers to the concept of “legitimation”:
In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism. The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter).
Yes, the working class can modify or reform certain economic, political and social institutions through their strength. However, Mr. Rosenfeld does not look at the opposite process: how this modification leads to the modification of the demands of the working class, blunting their power to oppose the class of employers as an independent class.
This limitation of the potential power of the working class can be seen in the lack of the need for increased policing despite increased levels of insecurity–because most unions now serve at the macro level to legitimate the continued existence of the class of employers (page 354):
Union membership was unrelated to policing employment, whether public, private or combined for all countries. But when post-USSR states were removed from the sample a statistically significant inverse relationship between private security or total policing employment and unionization appeared. … This finding provides empirical evidence for the claim that unions may actually provide a surrogate policing function for capital in western nations. That is, a stronger union presence lessens the necessity for more policing. This is particularly evident among northern European (and Ghent countries [Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden) where the average unionization rate is 25.6%, the highest by far among all regions, but the average total policing rate is 453.4, the lowest among all regions.
The reason for excluding the former USSR countries is because in those countries there is indeed a positive relationship with high unionization and high levels of public policing–undoubtedly because of the centralized policing function of the former USSR-countries (page 354):
In former USSR countries, on the other hand, a high unionization rate (12.5%) coincides with more policing, particularly public policing (620.6) as the massive post-totalitarian apparatus has been largely maintained in the form of new protection rackets.
Should workers then not form or join unions? This is hardly what is being argued. It is vital for workers to protect themselves–but of course this protective function should be such that it does not legitimate the power of employers as a class. Furthermore, unions that rely on the organizational strength of their members rather than mainly on the power of the government or the state to enforce the protective function are superior.
At the macro level, modern unions often function to legitimate the class of employers, thereby serving a legitimating function for that class. At the micro level, however, they do serve as organizations of resistance (provided that they are indeed independent organizations at the micro level) (page 355):
What labour militancy does seem to provide, however, is a reduction in the rate of exploitation as measured by the extraction of surplus-value. Thus, surplus-value is inversely correlated to strikes and lock-outs)even when post-USSR states are omitted. There is no direct relationship, however, between policing employment and strikes and lock-outs. This suggests that while strikes and lock-outs may not directly threaten capitalist relations as measured by the necessity to employ more police and security, such work interruptions do have a statistically significant impact in reducing rates of exploitation. As Marxian political economy would indicate, the data also suggest unions are adept at checking exploitation by pushing for more favourable wage and hourly conditions but this does not translate into any direct threat to the established order of security as indicated by more policing.
In other words, unions are contradictory. On the one hand, they function to legitimate the power of the class of employers (even if that is not their intention), but simultaneously they function to limit the exploitation of workers.
Another way in which the legitimating function of unions can be seen is when mass movements that clash with the police arise. Unions often are aloof from such movements, or even engage in conservative attacks on such movements. For example, in France (page 358):
The 2006 youth protests occurred throughout the country as an opposition to the new labour law (First Employment Contract) whose goal was to reduce high youth unemployment through giving more flexibility to employers. In other words, the bill was to make it easier for employers to fire young workers without any compensation. Consequently, the youth responded to this bill by demonstrating on the streets, occupying universities, and blocking university activities including strikes. The insistence of youth in their opposition to the First Employment Contract eventually brought them support from unions. But why did the trade-unions not resist such a bill in the first place? How would the unions have acted had the youth not challenged the First Employment Contract? The unions’ (overly) cautious attitude in responding to issues concerning the labour market and the vested rights of workers is one of the most overt examples of their “policing” role in society. Perhaps the low employment and unionization rates among Parisien youth made them unrestrained by union membership, necessitating massive police intervention. …
It should come as no surprise by now that France and Greece have among the highest rates of total policing employment in Europe.
What should the radical left do? It depends, of course, in part on “where they are at.” They may be unemployed, retired or working (in unionized jobs, professional jobs, insecure jobs and so forth). What can generally be said is that the class issue, or the macro issue, needs to be addressed wherever possible. At the same time, it is of course necessary to engage in tasks that protect the immediate interests of workers.
What they should not do, though, is engage in legitimizing acts and rhetoric for the class of employers–which is what they also often do, in which case they need to be criticized.
The following is a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.
One of Mr. Gindin’s key criticisms of both GM and the union that represented the workers at Oshawa is that GM promised jobs if the union would make concessions. The union made concessions–and GM reneged on the deal and eliminated the jobs. The union did not adequately respond to the repeated down scaling of the workforce but only succeeded in “managing” the down scaling.
Mr. Gindin then argues that an adequate union response requires thinking beyond GM since GM cannot solve this problem. Being militant in bargaining may get you some things, but jobs are not something that bargaining can guarantee. Retaining jobs involves a larger issue and is political. Ultimately, you are arguing on the company’s terms since it holds the trump card of maintaining the facilities open or closing shop.
Let us stop there. There is an implicit critique of the whole union model that has existed in Canada since 1944, when the federal government obliged employers to recognize unions of workers’ choice. If collective bargaining cannot guarantee jobs, then should not Mr. Gindin criticize the union rhetoric of “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and “fairness” (all stock-in-trade phrases of the left here in Toronto)? And yet when the opportunity arose of criticizing the pairing of a struggle for $15 an hour minimum wage (and needed employment law reforms) with the concept of “fairness,” Mr. Gindin remained silent. Why is that? Mr. Gindin claimed that we should be humble, and yet is it not the height of arrogance on his part to presume that such pairing is unimportant? I found the equation of $15 an hour minimum wage with the concept of “fairness” to be politically conservative, and Mr. Gindin’s silence over the matter to be an example of the repeated pandering after popular opinion rather than a needed ideological struggle over what is indeed fair and not fair in our society.
How does Mr. Gindin suppose people operate? If they personally find that something is fair, and no one even addresses the issue, they eventually become cynical and reduce their activities to self-interest. Why bother, they ask themselves? Nothing will change. After all, the so-called progressives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, think that if I work for a minimum wage of $15, have a few extra rights at work, then everything is fine–it is fair. And yet I have to drag myself out of bed to go to work that is largely determined by others. I have to accept the daily abuse experienced at work if not directly and personally by having a supervisor criticize me but indirectly and impersonally by having my work procedures, work load and so forth determined beforehand by others. I then have to struggle to return home either by standing in packed subway cars and buses or driving a car during rush hour to get home and find some kind of relaxation by either partying or watching TV. The rhetoric of fairness feeds into the development of a cynical attitude since most people that the lives they lead in various ways is not fair. To bullshit them by using such words and various phrases does them a great disservice.
What of workers covered by collective agreements? Mr. Gindin is silent on this score. It is not just a question of the impotence of unions to stop employers from closing shop, but he only refers to the impossibility of collective bargaining addressing the issue of jobs. Collective bargaining, however, more generally cannot address the issue of jobs because collective bargaining presupposes the legitimacy of management rights. Why does Mr. Gindin not explicitly criticize the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements in general? Is this not necessary if we are to overcome the limitations of the union movement? But if criticizing the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements is necessary in order to free us of the illusion of the fairness of unionized work environments, and if freeing ourselves of such an illusion is a necessary condition for fighting for a socialist society, then a socialist would engage in such criticism.
If, however, doing what is necessary to achieve a socialist society is to abandon our illusions concerning what is fair, and Mr. Gindin refuses to do what is necessary, is he not engaging in unrealistic actions? If questioning the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements forms a necessary component of a socialist movement, and Mr. Gindin refuses to engage in such criticism, then how effective will Mr. Gindin’s actions be in the long run?
Where is the humbleness in Mr. Gindin’s actions?
The second point is that we have to deal with the larger issue of economic reconstructing because the present system is not working for the benefit of working people. Workers are no longer getting security or decent wages. The larger issue is how do you deal with economic reconstructing generally and not just GM.
Yes, there is a larger issue, but economic reconstruction is not the only thing that is involved. Mr. Gindin talks a lot about class, but surely a socialist society would involve the abolition of a class society–a radical qualitative change in our lives. Mr. Gindin, being a “realist,” ignores this dimension of the problem. Economic reconstruction has existed in the past; capitalist emerged through economic (and political and social) reconstruction. However, in a socialist society, the reconstruction would involve the abolition of classes–and Mr. Gindin ignores the radical qualitative change in such reconstruction.
The third point is that radical demands that go beyond GM must be able to connect to the larger community and gain its support by addressing some of its needs. Mr.Gindin then asserts that the obvious issue that connects the two is the environment.
It is hardly obvious to me. As I argued in another post (The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One), the focus on climate change is presently a fad (Bill Resnick refers to climate change often enough, outlining a possible apocalyptic life). Not that environmental problems are unreal; however, if people are unmotivated to face the power of employers as a class despite the daily experience of oppression and exploitation, why does Mr. Gindin think the issue of environmental problems will somehow motivate them and have lasting power?
Let us look at the concept of “environment” for a moment. The philosopher John Dewey analyzed the nature of the environment, and it is not something which is somehow “external” to living beings (from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 33-34):
There is, of course, a natural world that exists independently of the organism, but this world is environment only as it enters directly and indirectly into life-functions. The organism is itself a part of the larger natural world and exists as organism only in active connections with its environment.
The natural world is an environment only in relation to the life process. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, pages 12-13:
In brief, the environment consists of those conditions that promote or hinder, stimulate or inhibit, the characteristic activities of a living being. Water is the environment of a fish because it is necessary to the fish’s activities—to its life. The north pole is a significant element in the environment of an arctic explorer, whether he succeeds in reaching it or not, because it defines his activities, makes them what they distinctively are. Just because life signifies not bare passive existence (supposing there is such a thing), but a way of acting environment or medium signifies what enters into this activity as a sustaining or frustrating condition.
The environment is not something external to workers but forms the conditions within which they live both biologically and socially. Some environmental conditions are distant, others close at hand physically. Such an environment in the case of human beings is also social since we are a species that depend on each other (grounded in the relatively long period before an infant can become a productive member of the world).
What are the environmental conditions that will most likely and immediately grip the interests of workers and community members? The priority should be developing opposition to the power of employers as a class, and community issues should be linked to that issue–such as housing, health, education, social services, the police and the oppressive forms in which such community services are provided. and, yes, the environment in a wider sense, but only in conjunction with the other issues. The view that the “environment” is something independent of us is nonsense. The environment as an isolated area of our lives will unlikely have lasting power to engage workers and community members interests; it must be linked to these more immediate interests if it is to have lasting power rather than be just a fad.
He then summarizes these three points: the left must address the problem of the corporations not solving our problems, of how to deal with economic (and political) restructuring) and how to address the first two in relation to problems associated with the environment. Unions must thus become something other than what they have been since they have lost focus and direction under the sway of globalization and neoliberalism. Mr. Gindin, however, refers to the private-sector unions and leaves open the question of the nature and efficacy of public-sector unions.
Mr. Gindin then outlines his alternative plan. We should take over the GM plant, put it under public ownership and converting the plant and having the now unemployed workers use their diverse skills in the assembly facilities, the paint shop, the stamp shop and coordinating it with components plants in the surrounding area.
Such a plan needs to be linked to the environment for at least two reasons. In the first place, Mr. Gindin implies, the problem of the environment is urgent and needs to be addressed now. In the second place, the planned alternative facility should not face the constraints placed on it by competition from other capitalists in China and other parts of the world.
The appeal to the urgency of problems associated with the “environment” reminds me of some Marxists’ appeal to the urgency of transitioning to socialism because of the inevitable breakdown of capitalism. This hype about the urgency of environmental problems is unlikely to grip the interests of most workers and community members; they have more pressing immediate problems, like getting to work on time, enduring their work life without suffering too much humiliation, finding some meaning in their work life, going home and not suffering further problems.
It does make sense to seek areas of production where competition is limited in order to prevent competition from leading to cuts in wages, benefits and deteriorating working conditions.
To kill two birds with one stone, it is necessary to engage in planning, and this planning requires not only the state becoming engaged in the process but in a more aggressive state that improves environmental standards by obliging people to move away from an economy based on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the state could also function as consumer by purchasing electrical vehicles. In addition, the state could use some of what it purchases for the expansion of public transport, thereby reducing the use of private vehicles and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. Mr. Gindin calls the state planning to this end democratic planning. Democratic planning is impossible if key economic decisions are made by private companies.
I am dealing with Mr. Gindin’s inadequate treatment of socialism in other posts (see, for example, Socialism, Part Nine: Market Socialism as an Initially Necessary but Inadequate Social Model). In relation to democratic planning, though, I will add that the idea that the total planning of society is to arise through the state was not an idea proposed by Marx: the state may own the means of production in the sense of preventing private individuals from denying workers to collectively use them, but the control over those means of production would be in the hand of workers themselves and not the state. From Rob Bryer, Accounting for History in Marx’s Capital: The Missing Link, page 277:
The section rejects the dominant interpretation that he advocated central planning. Marx’s mature concept of socialism abolishes markets for capital and labor power, but the section argues it requires competitive markets for products and services, cooperative enterprises, and accounting to hold enterprise management accountable to workers, and workers accountable to society.
(Bryer’s view of socialism has its own limitations in that he sees that Marx distinguished a socialist society that emerges from capitalism and a society that maintains itself on its own basis, but he then eternalizes markets.)
Mr. Gindin is an advocate of central planning, as is evident from the following:
Environmental change involves radical change since it involves change throughout society–including both production and consumption. We need to begin to create the capacity to convert to an environmentally friendly economy in every community by creating from research centers (peopled by young engineers) that inquire into what capacities, skills and equipment we currently have and what we are going to need to make the transition to an environmentally friendly economy. At the same time, the state needs to restructure the economy through, for example, raising environmental standards that require such environmentally friendly restructuring.
Mr. Gindin then contends that for this to work, several components must work together: planning, decentralisation and calling into question the private power of employers.
He then returns to the issue of environmental problems and the large-scale nature of the problem and the urgency of the problem. The problem cannot be addressed through the fragmented market nor can it be addressed through general phrases about the environmental crisis; if we stay at that level, workers will simply ignore the issue since they lack control over their lives and cannot address the issue when it is posed in general terms.
He then argues that since planning is required, it is necessary to control what you are planning. This involves changing property relations at work, which requires real struggle with workers to oppose the closing of plants not just in Oshawa but in many other communities.
Mr. Gindin admits that for now there is no base for such an approach; it would be necessary to organize for such an end. He also points out that the modern state is a capitalist state, which manages discontent by controlling and managing labour; the capitalist state has not developed planning capacities. What is required is a transformation of the capitalist state so that the state can plan democratically.
He argues that the capitalist market is failing in various ways in meeting our needs, from security to equality, environment and a rich personal life. Business is very vulnerable in these areas since it does not really meet these needs.
We need to develop the capacities of the working class to represent these needs, and it will not be easy. The working class must be reconstructed into a social force with the confidence to address these needs.
Mr. Gindin then claims that, during the Second World War, planning did indeed occur within the state, but the planning was performed mainly by businessmen becoming state officials. With the end of the war, they exited the state because they did not want the state to become autonomous. To be sure, the state has developed the capacity for planning in various departments, but it has not developed the capacity to engage in overall planning at the national level during normal periods (not exceptional periods, like wartime). Furthermore, the state does not know how to plan democratically. It is necessary to transform the state, and that will not be easy.
There are several problems with the above. Firstly, the reference to “decentralisation” is left hanging in the air. Where does decentralisation come into play in Mr. Gindin’s view of the nature of socialism. It remains a mystery. Secondly, it is not only necessary to call in question the private power of employers but the public power of state employers over employees. Thirdly, he talks about how workers need to oppose the closing of factories in various communities. Since the police protect the right of employers to close factories, Mr. Gindin should have indicated some kind of strategy about how to deal with the violent means used to protect the closing of factories and workplaces. Fourthly, even if he did propose such a strategy, it would probably involve workers having to jeopardize, if not their lives, at least their livelihood as the capitalist state through the courts fined them or threw them in jail. Would Mr. Gindin engage in such needed opposition personally? Fifthly, Mr. Gindin merely repeats the well-worn idea that central planning is socialist. This is hardly so. A common plan need not be a central plan formulated by some separate entity called the state. From Bryer, page 283:
Second, while Marx often wrote, for example in Volume 1 of Capital, that socialism would function according to a “definite social plan” (1976a, 171), there are two meanings of the word “plan” we need to keep separate. The dominant interpretation is that by “plan” Marx meant, “A table or programme indicating the relations of some set of objects,” “a detailed formulation of a plan of action,” in his case a production and consumption program or plan of action for society.3 The chapter, however, argues he meant a “scheme,” “of arrangement” or “of action,” a “Method, way of proceeding,” “a method for achieving an end,’ a way of organizing society. As Jossa (2005, 11) puts it, “while Marx and Engels certainly conceived of the plan as an antidote to the anarchical nature of the capitalistic market, they were thinking of a plan for abolishing the production of commodities and so not based on the law of value,” a scheme or way of organizing society for abolishing value.
Marx’s way of organizing socialist society, his concept of its relations of production, the chapter argues, is not the supervision or action controls implied by the central planning interpretation, but results control by workers.
Mr. Gindin’s reference to the state (which is not to wither away according to Mr. Gindin but is to expand) and implied central planning, on the one hand, and a democratic state, on the other, contradict each other. Marx, by contrast, was more consistent:
For Lavoie (1985) the ‘procedure’ or ‘process’ must be central planning. However, Marx and Engels consistently argued for a democratically elected and accountable workers’ state, for control by workers, which is what they meant by their occasional uses of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ not ‘dictatorship of the Party’ or their leaders (Draper 1986). Against Lassalle’s fetishism of the state, the theoretical side of his pervasive authoritarianism” (Draper 1986, 304), as Marx put it, “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it” (1989, 94), that is, in making the state fully accountable to workers. To provide the economic basis for democracy on Day 1 of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ to transcend capitalism’s profit and loss system of accounting control that Marx had explained in Capital (Bryer 2017), it implements a system of cooperative enterprise and social accounts, not central planning, a conclusion that Engels accepted, and Lenin eventually drew (see Bryer 2019a).
It is workers who will have to learn how to coordinate their own work and not the state as a separate entity. That such a learning process may take years or decades does not mean that the principle should be abandoned since coordination by workers (and communities) must begin from the beginning. With the elimination of capital markets and a market for workers, worker cooperatives (and community organizations) could emerge and serve as the learning organizations for such planning. From Bryer, page 277:
Fourth, the chapter analyses Marx’s criticisms of the draft Programme of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). … He re-emphasized his long-standing vision of socialism based on a universal system of worker cooperatives that, transcending capitalist accounting control, must be accountable to workers and society for the production of value on Day 1.
Planning can emerge inductively through a federation of cooperatives, as Bryer argues (page 276):
To make this change the proletarian state takes all means of production into its hands, thereby abolishing the capital market, and abolishes the market for labor power, replacing ‘free’ wage workers with free social agents by replacing joint stock companies with a universal system of worker cooperatives, accountable to their worker-shareholders and to society.
It is through this “inductive” process rather than the “deductive” (top-down) process of planning that workers and the community will at last begin to control their own life process–and not through some form of central plan divorced from the workers and the community. Mr. Gindin may claim that he agrees with this, but his argument implies the divorce of the planning process from those who experience the consequences of this process–hence, his claim, in another writing, that the state is not to wither away but to expand.
I will continue in another post with critical commentary on the second part of the interview of Mr. Gindin. I suspect, though, that it will probably contain the similar arguments as above.