Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Two

Introduction

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

Abstract

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.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca

Reviewer B’s Assessment and My Comments

Reviewer B:

“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

Practical Considerations

Theoretical Considerations: Limited Standards of Fairness versus Human Standards of Fairness

Conclusion

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.

As for the reference to the police–I hardly idealize the police (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

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.

Conclusion

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.

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police

Introduction

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?
 
Anna

Here is how I responded on February 18, 2021:

Hello Anna,
 
  1. 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.
  2. The question, perhaps, is meant to ensure that right-wing people do not attend.
  3. To answer the question properly would involve much personal information and history, and I am uninclined to share that at this time.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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. 
  10. 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. 
  11. I self-identify as a Marxist.

    Fred Harris

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?
 
Anna

I responded on the same day as follows:

Hello Anna,
 
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.
 
Fred

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.
 
Anna
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: 
 
Hello Anna,
 
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).
 
Feel free to use part or all of it–or not.
 
Fred
What I sent Anna was a large part of the post on alternatives to policing (see  Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives). 
 
Ms. Jessup’s response was: 
 
Wow, what a great read.
 
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:
Hello Anna,
 
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.
 
Fred

Ms. Jessup’s response on March 11, 2021:

Thank you!

On April 3, 2021, I sent the following, along with the documents:

Hello Ana,
 
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.
 
Fred
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!
The second document is from my blog:  Employers as Dictators, Part One.
 
On April 6, 2021, Ms. Jessup added: 
 
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:
 
Hello Anna,
 
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.” 
 
Hello Anna,
 
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.
 
Fred
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

Introduction

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.

Thirdly, and something that was not emphasized in references to the incident, it is sheriff’s who have the legal right to evict a tenant (with the assistance of police if the sheriff believes there will be trouble), and they need not inform the tenant when they are coming, as the website Steps to Justice: Your Guide to Law In Ontario points out (https://stepstojustice.ca/questions/housing-law/what-happens-if-theres-eviction-order-and-i-dont-move):

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 homeownerseconomic livelihoods predicated increasingly on continual housing price growth (Davis 2010). Home equity extraction made up 10 percent of householdsincome 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, 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. 

Academic Narrow-mindedness, or the Idealization of Collective Bargaining: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part One

It has been slightly more than three years since I started this blog. I thought it appropriate to begin a series of posts on what, partly, inspired me to start this blog. 

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.”

Abstract

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 first review are given below along with my comments on the first 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.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca
——————————————————
Reviewer A:

“The author identifies his/her aim as using the  Nova Scotia teachers’ strike “in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context.” The author disputes the assumption that workers under capitalism can use collective bargaining (hereafter CB) to create human workplaces, using Jane McAlevey’s book with a new paradigm for collective bargaining as an example of why even reformed CB will not succeed in transcending what are  CB’s inherent limitations as a strategy for creating a humane workplace.

I think this submission could be a useful addition to research and thinking about the limitations of  CB in altering teachers’ work, however for it to be so it requires significant revision.

 • The Nova Scotia strike becomes lost in the paper’s analysis. If the author wants to retain this focus, the critique of McAlevey’s book should be applied to the Nova Scotia strike.”

This reviewer at least appears to capture my intent—although s/he subsequently fails to show such understanding. I do indeed aim at showing the limitations of collective bargaining even in the improved form of Jane McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining.

However, given this focus, the Nova Scotia strike and Brian Forbes’ implicit contrast of what “good collective bargaining” should be when compared to what transpired during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike (Brian Forbes’ implicit attitude is an example of what the typical trade-union leaders’ attitude is towards collective bargaining), serve as an exemplar of the implicit attitude of union representatives towards collective bargaining as a process and product (the collective agreement). In other words, I use the case of the NTSU and Brian Forbes’ implicit use of the run-of-the bill bargaining process (and the resulting run-of-the-mill collective agreement) as a representative of what is typical among union representatives in their practical dealings with workers, managers and employers: As John Dewey argued, in his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 436-437):

We arrive again at the conclusion that “induction” is a name for the complex of methods by which a given case is determined to be representative, a function that is expressed in its being a specimen or sample case.’ The problem of inductive inquiry, and the precautions that have to be observed in conducting it, all have to do with ascertaining that the given case is representative, or is a sample or specimen. There is no doubt that some cases, several or many, have to be examined in the course of inquiry: this is necessarily involved in the function of comparison-contrast within inquiry. But the validity of the inferred conclusion does not depend upon their number. On the contrary, the survey and operational comparison of several cases is strictiy instrumental to determination of what actually takes place in anyone case. The moment anyone case is determined to be such that it is an exemplary representative, the problem in hand is solved. It is customary to infer from examples and illustrations; from what Peirce calls diagrams or “icons.” That course has been frequently followed in the course of previous discussions. But it should be clear without argument that the entire value of such a mode of inference depends upon whether or not the case is genuinely exemplary and illustrative.

I used the NSTU [Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union] strike and Brian Forbes’ attitude towards an obvious breach in collective-bargaining protocol as an exemplar or representative  of the limitations of traditional collective bargaining.

I used Jane McAlevey’s book as an illustration (exemplar) of a changed collective-bargaining practice that, though it breaks new ground in some areas of collective bargaining, nonetheless shares many of the assumptions of the traditional collective-bargaining model. Ms. McAlevey persistently refers to the contract that she negotiated as a “good contract.”

In addition, when Ms. McAlevey presented her model in Toronto, I specifically pointed out that I had tried to expose the limitations of the collective-bargaining process by indicating what we had demanded and what we had obtained. Her response was that she did not know whether that was such a good idea. That is the point—her model, like the traditional collective-bargaining model, does not enable workers to see the limitations of the model. Ultimately, despite the innovations in her model, Ms. McAlevey idealizes collective bargaining in a modified form—her own model. The point is not to idealize it but to expose its inadequacies.

“• The language is often polemical in a way that undercuts the author’s credibility as a passionate and also objective analyst. Describing an action as “underhanded” isn’t useful or necessary. Present instead empirical evidence.  One way this can be done is to identify who besides the author understood the action as “underhanded”? Others present? Leaflets? This becomes the source of the description.”

The suggestion of providing further evidence is useful in order to bolster the argument. However, to claim that polemics undercuts credibility is an academic point of view. The audience to whom I aim are workers—not academics. What would be an “objective” analysis in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers?

“• Often the article is not clear in its focus. Is this a critique of the limitations of CB or of the limitations of trade unionism under capitalism?”

It is both; they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are tied together during this time. Some trade unions may not engage in the rhetoric of fair contracts and so forth, but where are they? Certainly in Canada the trade-union leaders idealize both the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement. See two previous posts that illustrate the rhetoric of fair contracts by the two largest unions in Canada (  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One  and ???     ). 

“If it’s the former, what would unions do to protect workers’ rights if they didn’t negotiate contracts in a capitalist society?  What might workers’ struggles look like?”

It is not a question of not negotiating contracts; it is a question of not idealizing such contracts and bullshitting workers by claiming that such contracts are somehow “fair” or that they somehow are “livable”–a typically apologist point of view of management and union alike.

“A provocative example of this is how teachers and school employees in West Virginia who do
not have the right to bargain collectively or the right to strike have closed down the schools in the entire state for a week, outside of the union’s control or leadership.”

This is beside the point. The strike was a wildcat strike; wildcat strikes have occurred in other contexts. Such strikes have not aimed at challenging the inadequacy of collective bargaining in principle but the inadequacy in particular circumstances. They may or may not challenge such inadequacy—but the point is to do just that.

In addition, did the West Virginia strike actually challenge the idealization of collective bargaining? It could have the potential to do so—but whether such potential was realized would require evidence that the potential was realized in practice.

Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it can be concluded that since collective bargaining is illegal in West Virginia, the strike did not challenge the principle of collective bargaining. It was an effort to achieve results without collective bargaining by going on an illegal strike. Workers have gone on illegal (wildcat) strikes before (even when collective bargaining is legal) without challenging the inadequacy of collective-bargaining in principle. Such strikes do indeed challenge the inadequacy of particular collective agreements (and the concomitant collective-bargaining process), but they often do not often do so explicitly and need not be a general criticism of the collective-bargaining process or a general criticism of collective agreements. That is what is needed now.

[For an analysis of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, see the post The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement).

“• I think the piece will be more focused without the author’s anecdotes about his/her work experiences as a teacher and union representative.”

In other words, forget about a worker’s own experiences “as a teacher” (that is to say, as a worker of a particular kind) “and union representative” (that is to say, as a radical union representative who questioned the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it and how to do it)). Linked to the claim that the polemical style lacks objectivity, the idea that a radical worker’s personal experiences should be excluded is meant to “academize” the writing—making it more conform to the typical form and content of academic writing.

Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to have any further writings published by means of formal academic journals?

“But if these are included, they should be more closely tied to analysis about the Nova Scotia strike.”

The Nova Scotia strike is an occasion for illustrating the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the inadequacy of present unions—and my experiences as a teacher (and as an employee) and as a radical union representative were also to be illustrative of this. The focus is hardly the Nova Scotia strike; the issues are much wider.

“• The author briefly discusses education, teachers’ work and CB. If this material is retained, it should make note of some of the considerable research on teachers’ work.”

Teachers are employees; the specificity of their work as teachers is irrelevant in relation to the issue of their existence as employees and their relationship to the typical process of collective bargaining and to the collective agreement (although the specific nature of their work may have an impact in other circumstances). To discuss that specificity would detract from the focus on the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the collective agreement.

“I suggest this manuscript be taken through a significant revision, moderating its language, supporting its claims with evidence,  to do what it states is its focus: A critical examination of the limits of CB in the strike in Nova Scotia.”

The academic contradicts her/himself. S/he accurately characterizes, initially, the manuscript as using the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike as a means of criticizing collective bargaining. Now, s/he claims that I claim that my focus is a critical examination of collective bargaining in the strike in Nova Scotia. They are not the same thing by any means. S/he aims to narrow my aim, but such narrowness is exactly what I am criticizing.

“The questions it is addressing seem to me  “What was needed to improve teachers’ working conditions?” “How did ideology about the role of unions in capitalism and within that, the importance of CB, affect the outcome?”  The latter question will involve application of Jane McAlevey’s book.”

Again, it is the reviewer who is confused—s/he at first accurately characterizes my intent in the article and then inaccurately characterizes it.

“If the author wants to discuss a framework for labor that transcends CB, I suggest looking at Stanley Aronowitz’s “The death and life of American labor: Toward a new workers’ movement.” Although it focuses on US labor its arguments seem quite relevant to the Canadian context. “The future of our schools,” by Lois Weiner might also be useful as it discusses the limitations of CB.”

I subsequently looked at Aronowitz’s book and included a reference to it in this blog (see The Educational Needs of the Labour Movement: A Radical Imagination). Aronowitz does provide an interesting point of view that is consistent with this blog. Thus, Aronowitz argues that we need to have a new labour movement with a social vision of the good life. However, my emphasis in the article that I sent was on the implicit inadequacy of the collective-bargaining model that Brian Forbes implicitly uses to criticize what happened during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike. A new social vision requires a break, at least in Canada, with the typical idealization of the collective-bargaining process and the idealization of the collective agreement.

Although there were a few useful suggestions in the above review, in general the reviewer failed to adequately capture how I carried out of my intent to expose the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Along with the comments of the other reviewers, I decided that it was a waste of time to attempt to have my views formally published in academic journals. Starting a blog would carry out more effectively my intent.

A future post will look, critically, at the second reviewer’s assessment.

Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One

In at least two posts, I will explore the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition. Conveniently, there are a couple of articles that address the issue.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition:

Unlike what many liberals claim, police cannot be reformed with better training, oversight, or diversity. Nor can police violence be eliminated by following the victim-blaming advice from (mostly) white social media users like “improved parenting” or “better decision-making.” Both of these supposed solutions reflect deeply naive and ahistorical understandings of what it is that police do—and how police actively harm communities, especially those of Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities.

The left’s response to the police killings of Eishia Hudson and Jason Collins must be to recommit to the only just solution: abolishing the police and reallocating the massive resources currently committed to policing to measures that actually keep our communities safe, like housing, harm reduction, strong public services, non-carceral crisis response, food security, income supports, returning land to Indigenous peoples by acknowledging existing sovereignty, and a whole lot more. At the root of this demand is resistance to the call for a “better balance” of policing and social services. On the contrary, policing must be dispensed with entirely.

Mr. Rosenfeld argues against abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld, however, not only argues against abolition; he finds the idea of the abolition of the police absurd–as his subtitle says. Indeed, Mr. Rosenfeld’s subtitle: “Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking,” reflects the hostility that I faced here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when I questioned the ideology of “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” and “decent work” expressed by some trade unionists and social democrats.

I will try to show, in at least two posts if not more, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that the proposal of the abolition of the police is not absurd and that the proposal of the reform of the police as the rational solution–is absurd.

But let us first listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

Having heard some of the younger activists with whom I work in the free transit movement muse about getting rid of the police force, I often found that most were not really serious about it as an immediate demand but were expressing their vision of how we might do things differently in an imagined future [my emphasis]. There are other activists, many of whom are passionate defenders of the rights of the homeless, the poorest and those most targeted by the system and its repressive apparatus, who argue that police budgets need to be radically trimmed in order to pay for the kinds of social programs and services that could contribute to addressing some of the most glaring forms of inequality and injustice. Few of them seriously demand the complete elimination of policing, but some do.

The issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition has become a focal point of controversy  since the murder of George Floyd has now come to light. Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic casual dismissal of the abolition of police has been challenged practically as millions protested against the police throughout the world. Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the proposal that the abolition of the police involves sloppy thinking has been practically refuted as some who protested did propose abolishing the police.

Indeed, even before the mass protests against the murder of George Floyd, there have arisen movements for the abolition of the police in the light of systemic racism among the police. Why does Mr. Rosenfeld not refer to such movements?

For example, Meghan McDowell and Luis Fernandez published an article in 2018 about the movement for police abolition, titled “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” in the journal Criminal Criminology: 

In July of 2016, the popular Fox News program “Kelly File,” hosted by conservative T.V. personality Megan Kelly, held a town hall style forum to discuss race and law enforcement. The forum brought together what Fox News considers a diverse cross-section of the U.S. public: former FBI agents, retired NYPD officers, conservative Black pastors, community organizers, and “regular” Americans whose views spanned the ideological spectrum. The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement, uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte in the past year, and Micah Johnson’s targeted assassination of five Dallas police officers earlier in July, not only formed the backdrop for the conversation, but also set the conditions of possibility for such a conversation to air on a mainstream media outlet in the first place.

At one point the conversation turned toward an indictment of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) movement. Many forum attendees began to condemn BLM, reiterating racial tropes [a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression] about Black-on-Black crime and “personal responsibility.” In a clip that has now gone viral, Jessica Disu, a Chicago-based community organizer and artist, tried to reframe the conversation: “Here’s a solution,” Disu interjected with conviction, “we need to abolish the police.” The Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper, described the ensuing reactions  to Disu’s comment:

“Abolish the police?” came [host Megan] Kelly’s incredulous response, as a clamor of boos and protests rose from the forum. “Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu pushed on, undeterred by the yelling. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice. Can we all agree that a loss of a life is tragic?” [Disu] asked the forum, attempting to explain her vision. “Who’s gonna protect the community if we abolish the police?” Kelly asked, a this-must-be-a-joke smile spreading across her face. “The police in this country began as a slave patrol,” Disu managed to squeeze in before being engulfed by the noise.

I suppose Mr. Rosenfeld would also consider Disu’s view of the need  for abolishing the police to be “sloppy thinking” and “absurd.” Mr. Rosenfeld shares the same view–and attitude-towards the abolishing of the police as do those who defend the status quo. Not a very good beginning for a person who considers himself to be “a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist.”

McDoowell and Fernandez continue:

In her call for police abolition, on Fox News no less, Disu challenged the hegemonic idea that the police are an inevitable fixture in society, and moreover, that the police are analogous to community safety. Disu’s presence on a national mainstream talk show illustrates that crises are also opportunities (Gilmore 2007). The uprisings, and corresponding organizing that expanded alongside or formed as a result of the rebellions, enabled Disu, and others, to publicly challenge law enforcement’s right to exist. That is, activist and movement organizers had already been pushing toward police abolition, but the difference is that this time there was an audience more willing to accept the challenge. In this article, we examine abolitionist claims aimed at law enforcement institutions in the aftermath of Ferguson and other subsequent rebellions. [In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by the policeman Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014].

Mr. Rosenfeld’s evidently lacks a  concern with researching the issue in at least a preliminary manner.

McDowell and Fernandez note that the movement towards the abolition of the police gained ground after the Ferguson murder:

Under the headline “the problem”, the anonymous collective For a World Without the Police (2016) argues, “The police force was created to repress the growing numbers of poor people that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism, while on plantations and in agricultural colonies, [the police] formed in response to the threat of slave revolt.” Their analysis outlines the core functions of policing under racial capitalism [my emphasis]: protect the property of the capitalist class; maintain stable conditions for capital accumulation; and defend against any threats to these unequal conditions of rule (For a World Without Police 2016; see also Williams 2015; Whitehouse 2014). [see the website For a World Without Police].

The police undoubtedly has other functions, but its core function is to maintain the power of employers as a class so that they can continue to use human beings as means for obtaining more and more money (see  The Money Circuit of Capital).

The abolitionist movement against the police, as McDowell and Fernandez indicate,  involves the slogan “disband, disempower and disarm the police”:

The call for police abolition gained national traction soon after the 2014 Ferguson rebellion and is encapsulated by the slogan: “disband, disempower, and disarm the police!”8 This is more than a slogan however. The over-arching strategy is to eliminate the institution of policing, while disarmament and disempowerment are two inter-related tactics used to achieve this goal (Vitale 2017).

The recent call for defunding the police, therefore, can express a reformist position or an abolitionist position. The reformist position does not aim to “disband” the police but rather only to decrease funding for the police and, often, increase funding for social programs. The following question posed by Mr. Rosenfeld expresses this reformist view:

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

The abolitionist stance, by contrast, sees defunding (disempowering and disarming) as means to the end of abolishing the police institution altogether–along with a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers. Social reformers like Mr. Rosenfeld, on the other hand, at best see disempowering and disarming as ends in themselves–while preserving the existence of the police as a repressive institution and hence preserving its core function.

Historically, the abolitionist movement has a long history that was not restricted to the abolition of the police. The idea of abolition includes the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States and elsewhere, the abolition of child labour, the abolition of prisons and the abolition of capitalism.

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

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

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

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 [my emphasis] 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). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.”’

I will address in another post Mr. Rosenfeld’s trivialization of the brutality and terrorism of the American government in other countries (“instances” makes it look like American murder and terrorism is an isolated event).

Let us limit ourselves to the question of the relevance of Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to the need for the capitalist state to legitimate the rule of  employers over the daily working lives at work. He separates the diffusion and co-optation of alternative political and social movements from the need for “legitimating capitalism.” However, one of the major ways of “legitimating capitalism” is through diffusing and co-opting alternative political and social movements.

Mathiesen saw this danger to which Mr. Rosenfeld is blind. He calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. Page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, fails to distinguish between reforms that form part of a movement to abolish a social institution and specific social relations and reforms that emerge as co-opted and that do not lead to questioning the oppressive and exploitative social institutions and social relations characteristic of the society in which we live.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld accuses Mr. Wilt of advocating immediate revolution–as if that is the only alternative:

Is he saying that reforms do not matter and that short of an immediate social revolution, nothing can change?

Abolitionists will take any reform that improves the lives of working-class communities–but there is a condition attached to such a view. Reforms that limit the capacities of workers and community members to think and act critically to oppressive and exploitative social relations and social institutions, without any positive change, are regressive. But most reforms can be simultaneously defended and criticized if some aspects are positive, while other aspects are regressive., such as the movement for a $15 minimum wage, which in Canada is coupled with the concept of fairness. Let us indeed fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour (and other reforms associated with the movement, such as paid sick leave), but we should never link such a movement with the idea that there is “fairness: in receiving the minimum wage and other needed reforms. Coupling the fight for a minimum wage of $15 with “fairness” freezes the movement–rather than indicating that the achievement of the $15 minimum wage is a temporary resting place (given the balance of class power) that is inherently unfair since the wage system is itself inherently unfair and needs to be abolished. No “minimum wage” that involves the need for workers to work for employers is fair–and the idea of coupling the fight for the $15 minimum wage with the idea of “fairness” must be criticized constantly if any gained reforms are to go beyond contributing to the maintenance of the power of the class of employers.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld did not raise any objection to the pairing of a fight for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour with the term “fairness.” I have raised that issue often enough on this blog, and Mr. Rosenfeld had ample opportunity to criticize my position–but he chose not to do so. Why is that? I certainly support an increase in the minimum wage and other “reforms,” but they should never limit the capacities of workers and community members in their critical questioning of the system characterized by the class of employers.

Mr. Rosenfeld creates a straw person when he asks whether there should be reform or immediate revolution. Calling for abolition does not mean immediate revolution: it means making explicit the need to aim for abolition of an oppressive or exploitative institution from the very beginning. If we do not have the power–for now–to abolish a repressive or exploitative situation, that does not mean that we should not aim to do so  when we have more power. It also does not mean that we should reject all reforms out of hand merely because we cannot, for the moment, abolish the repressive or exploitative institution or social structure.

A further, personal example. I worked as a bilingual library technician at the District Resource Center for School District No. 57 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada,from 1990-1992 (before I moved to Winnipeg). We had a collective agreement between support staff and the district that was coming up for negotiations. I volunteered to be part of the negotiating team because I wanted to learn about the process first hand (I was also the union steward for the board office). We bargained in the usual way, with a small group of union negotiators engaging in demands in the context of meetings with the negotiating team of the employer.

When our bargaining team was ready to present the results of negotiations to the members, I volunteered to draft the list of demands that we had made in a two-column set of papers, with an x beside the demands that we did not get and a check beside the ones that we did get. The union business manager was obliged to read this out during a public ratification meeting (she, however, noted that my presentation was very negative). When she sent out the ballots for voting to those who were not able to attend (School District No. 57 is a large school district geographically), she only sent out the demands that we obtained. The agreement was ratified.

The point is that I wanted to demonstrate the limitations of collective bargaining (and the corresponding collective agreement) while not rejecting any changes in the collective agreement. Furthermore, the demonstration of the limitation of reforms–or the politics of exposure as Mathiesen calls it–forms an essential element of the politics of abolition. From The Politics of Abolition Revisited, page 143:

Here lies the significance of the exposing or unmasking policy which the
above-mentioned sequence of events illustrates. Let me repeat: By unmasking
the ideology and the myths with which the penal system disguises itself – for
example through political work of the kind described here – a necessary basis
for the abolition of unnecessary and dangerous systems of control is created. The
example illustrates the struggle involved in such a work of exposure. The system
continually tries to adopt new disguises. We must continually try to unveil them.

Given the predominance of social democrats or social reformers–among the left here in Toronto–my prediction is that, unfortunately, the movement for the abolition of the police will be overshadowed by the movement for merely defunding the police. This will, in turn, result in further watering down of such a movement to a form acceptable to economic and political conditions dominated by the class of employers.

However, at least we can expose the limitations of the political position of the social-democratic left or the social-reformist left so that, when further murders by the police arise, we can point out the limitations of their political position and prepare the way for a more adequate politics–a politics of abolition.

I will continue the issue of reform versus abolition of the police in another, later post.

A Kindred Soul: Exposing the Irrationality and Absurdity of an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers

As the social-reformist left plan to engage in a rally tomorrow in order to defend the increase of the minimum wage to $14, to defend needed reform of employment standards and other needed reforms, they engage in a contradictory process. On the one hand, they seek to defend needed reforms–and they should be defended. On the other hand, they do not go far enough by any means. They share assumptions with the Fordist right that the present society is, ultimately, rational. This they do in practice even if they claim otherwise.

As for the so-called radical left, they seem intent on jumping on the bandwagon and following the social-reformist left; they are afraid to engage in criticism of a predominantly reformist community and union movement.

Michael Perleman, on the other hand, points to a need to expose the inherent irrationality of the present society and the impossibility of reforming such irrationality.

Michael Perelman, in his book The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011), expresses the need to expose the nature of capitalist relations and their irrational, absurd and harmful nature.  This is part of the purpose of this blog.

From the introduction:

This book is intended as one among many blows that will ultimately crack the prevailing dogma that prevents the development of an economy that can nurture and tap in to people’s potential. It does not describe how this kind of economy will work. Developing the details of the future organization is far more challenging than helping to make way for the transition; however, awareness of the current wasted potential must precede the transformation of the present system of social relations.

Michelangelo’s wonderfully evocative, half-finished sculptures, known as The Slaves, made a deep impression on me when I saw them in Florence forty years ago. These works do not display the uniform delicacy and detail of his David or the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, but the very incompleteness of these four massive statues, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius, is a major source of strength. The Awakening Slave depicts a powerful body, seemingly waking, while still encased in stone. The effect of the Bearded Slave, struggling to free himself from his marble boulder, which had once completely engulfed him, is even more dramatic.

Everybody irritated by a boss’s foolish command or a corporation’s ridiculous bureaucratic demands has taken a first step toward an awakening. These annoyances are symptomatic of a much larger problem associated with an outdated system of command and control at the workplace. Once that realization kicks in, you can sense your inner Bearded Slave. I like to think that many economists are also like the Bearded Slave, deep down struggling to emerge from the self-censorship that engulfs the discipline. [I think he is too hopeful; economists have a vested interest in justifying the present economic system dominated by a class of employers.]

Capitalist society also has something in common with the Bearded Slave, except that what covers its inner potential is man-made. It is capitalist control that encrusts society with unsightly layers of waste and inefficiency. This book includes many such examples. Hammering away at this crud might make the system more productive, but more often than not the waste and inefficiency serve a purpose—to maintain the existing system of control.

With enough blows, the irrationality of this system will be exposed. An irresistible vision of a humane system with rich social relations—something more beautiful than Michelangelo’s statues—will first come into view and then replace capitalism.

Unlike Perleman, the radical left in Toronto seem bent on pursuing a tactic of silence at all costs. For example, its silence over whether it is legitimate to pair the idea of fairness, on the one hand, to an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and needed reforms of employment law on the other, expresses a lack of any real movement towards the abolition of the power of employers as a class. The radical left does not even take itself seriously anymore. It, like the social-reformist left, in practice agrees with the TINA principle: there is no alternative to capitalism–not in practice.

Of course, the radical left will probably delude itself into believing that it is contributing to “building capacities”–as if a greater quantity of the same social reformism will somehow challenge the shared assumptions of the right and the social-reformist left.

It will be interesting to see what the radical left (and the social-reformist left) will have accomplished this time next year since they refuse to criticize the basic principles of modern society–a society dominated by a class of employers.