A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Ten

Introduction

This is a continuation of previous posts.

I went on sick leave in February 2012 after having been a French teacher for Lakeshore School Division in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, for three and a half years. (For details of my decision to go on sick leave, see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight  and  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine). 

In order to receive at first short-term disability benefits and then long-term disability benefits provided by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), if the issue is not purely physical, it is presumably necessary to be subject to psychiatric evaluation and then psychological “care” (provided the psychiatrist furnishes an assessment, I assume, that justifies not being able to work for an employer). To receive such benefits, the worker must “agree” to both the evaluation and the care. 

But what is the Manitoba Teachers’ Society? Its Facebook page indicates the following:

About

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society is the collective bargaining and professional development organization for all of Manitoba’s 15,000 public school teachers.
 
Additional information

Founded in 1919, the Society provides assistance to local associations in collective bargaining, offers professional development workshops and lobbies government on legislation that affects education, students and teachers.

As well, MTS provides a range of wellness services including the Disability Benefits Plan and Educator Assistance Program.

It also provides publication services for teacher organizations such as Special Area Groups and publishes the teachers’ newsletter, the annual handbook, annual report and an extensive range of brochures and other handbooks
 

MTS is thus not a union as such, but it is more like a union of unions; it provides services to specific teachers’ associaitons and, through them, to the members of the specific teachers’ association. 

In my last post in this series (A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine), I showed how I found that Ms. Morier, a psychiatrist, had oppressed me during her assessment of me–an assessment required by MTS. This time I will outline how I felt about how another psychologist, Alan Slusky, oppressed me; I was obliged by the protocols of the Disability Benefits Plan of MTS, to attend “psychological counselling.” Indirectly, then, MTS also oppressed me. 

The social-democratic or reformist left, in general, simply ignore the various forces and professions that reinforce the power of employers as a class and that lead to the oppression (and exploitation) of workers in various ways. It thereby often underestimates the difficulty of overcoming the power of the class of employers or overestimates its own reformist power. 

So far, in this series of posts, various professionals have been involved in oppression: 

  1. social workers
  2. Winnipeg Child and Family Services
  3. Manitoba Ombudsman
  4. Institute of Regiserted Social Workers of Manitoba
  5. Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
  6. the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
  7. A principal at a school
  8. A superintendent in a school division
  9. Probably the Minister of Education
  10. Probably the Minister of Justice
  11. Perhpas the New Democratic Premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger
  12. Manitoba Teachers’ Society Disability Benefits Plan
  13. A psychiatrist, Gisele Morier

Given all these professionals and institutions who, directly or indirectly reinforce the class power of employers, it is hardly surprising that the social-democratic or reformist left run around in circiles claiming to seek justice all the while failing to organize systematically and in a unified fashion to oppose such oppressive social structures and oppressive professionals. 

Let me add one more professional trade to the list: psychology. 

From a Helping Profession to an Oppressive Profession: The Real World of Psychology 

Initially, Mr. Slusky did help me. My heart was still racing every day, and he taught me, through breathing exercises, to reduce the intensity of my pounding heart. I could sleep better–although my heart still raced every day. There were limits to the efficacy of this technique.

I started to feel oppressed by Mr. Slusky, though, especially after I had been “assessed” by the psychiatrist, Ms. Morier, in November 2012 (see my critique of her assessment in the earlier post    A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine). Mr. Slusky attempted to justify Ms. Morier’s assessment, and such a persistent justification led me to feel oppressed. Mr. Slusky persistently used such “post-modernist” phrases after that time as “It is a question of interpretation,” or “It depends on your point of view.” Mr. Slusky persistently tried to convince me–without success–of the accuracy of Ms. Morier’s assessment.

Ironically, Mr. Slusky did not, however, consider everything, at a practical level, to be just “a question of interpretation.” Either in late July or in August 2012, before the psychiatric assessment by Ms. Morier, he had sent me a stapled bill for July and August, 2012 (I still have the bills) since MTS had not yet paid him. When it comes to money, apparently, it is not a question of interpretation–but that is what Marxists say too. What is sauce for the goose is not, apparently, sauce for the gander.

Mr. Slusky had tried the usual psychological pablum called “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT) or mindfulness, which has as one of its roots the book by David Burns (1999): Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. In fact, I had started attending voluntarily counselling sessions under the MTS Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) while still working as a teacher, and Degen Gene, an EAP  counsellor, used the same approach.

This approach seems to be standard for many psychologists, without any concern for the underlying power structures and relations that give rise to stress when working for an employer.

As I indicated, the breathing exercises suggested by Mr. Slusky did help–but within limits. 

Ultimately, Mr. Slusky attempted to change my “approach” to people by getting me to be more “flexible”–a code word for not criticizing bourgeois ideology as expressed by various individuals in various areas of life.

Below, I quote Mr. Slusky’s “initial progress report,” dated September 24, 2012:

Please accept this as an initial progress report on my psychotherapy contacts with Mr. Harris. Since your referral of Mr. Harris to me, I have met with him on the following occasions: April 27, May 18, June 1, 14 & 28, Jluy 27, and August 16 & 24, 2012. Over the course of these 8 meetings Mr. Harris has attended for all of his sessions punctually and has presented in an open fashion. For the most part Mr. Harris presents in a farily serious, stoic manner, displaying little range in effect. No evidence of psychomotor agitation is demonstrated by Mr. Harris and despite his ongoing complaints of “a pounding heart” he displays no overt signs of anxiety. Mr. Harris has on occasion come to session with his computer, occasionally working in the waiting room, prior to our sessions. Mr. Harris has also brought research with him which speaks to his political and philosophical beliefs and their impact on his philosophy of education. I have thanked Mr. Harris for providing me with copies of this information, and at times this has formed the basis for some of our discussions. Mr. Harris’ attention and concentration over the course of our meetings has been good, his speech has been articulate and fluent, and at no time has he evaded or refused to answer any of my questions.

As you are aware Mr. Harris was referred to me for cognitive behavioural therapy to address his ongoing difficulties with anxiety. In this regard I have provided Mr. Harris with instruction in diaphragmatic breathing, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness meditation. The latter of these strategies has been presented to Mr. Harris both through psycho-education in session as well as through (at his request) copies of peer reviewed primary journal articles which speak to the efficacy of this approach in managing anxieties and preventing relapses of depression. I have never before had a client ask me for peer reviewed journal articles which speak to the efficacy of the treatments offered to them and while one certainly does admire Mr. Harris’ efforts to be a “wise consumer,” this is also in keeping with his critical approach to concepts and information delivered to him. I will speak more on this below, and the impact I believe that this style is having on Mr. Harris’ recovery. Mr. Harris has indicates that he has practiced the aforementioned strategies but found them to be only of limited value. The relaxation audio CD provided to him was described as helpful however and I commended Mr. Harris for his efforts in persisting with this approach. While this behavioural technique has been of assistance, Mr. Harris does acknowledge that “focusing on my heart doesn’t help.” As such, approaches to assisting Mr. Harris need to be more than behavioural, leading us to a discussion of the cognitive work that we have done together.

With respect to cognition, Mr. Harris is certainly a bright and articulate individual. In conversation he is able to reference articles and works that he has read many years prior, and weave them into cogent and coherent arguments for his positions on various issues. The concern that I have is the degree to which Mr. Harris adopts this “critical” or argumentative approach in his discussions. On the one hand one admires an individual who is true to their principles and beliefs. On the other hand when those beliefs and principles are misunderstood by others and create defensive attitudes on their part, a different approach/style may then be called for, to effectively communicate one’s beliefs and needs. It is my opinion that it is most likely in this realm that Mr. Harris struggles. Likely as a result of early experiences in his life as well as his considerable education, Mr. Harris has developed some very well thought out positions on issues of social policy and education. It is my understanding that both in the past and currently, Mr. Harris takes the initiative to inform others of his beliefs. While Mr. Harris may be engaging in criticism from an academic/intellectual perspective, others I suspect interpret this as argumentative and resistant behaviour, and it is here I believe that Mr. Harris has struggled with respect to his success in “getting along” in a variety of different situations.

On a positive note, Mr. Harris and I recently discussed the impact of his style on his comfort level in his volunteer position at the Social Planning Council. Mr. Harris again had some very strong beliefs about the research being undertaken by this organization and in session he and I have worked hard to reframe his participation there, such that he is able to tolerate the differences between his opinions and the approach that this organization is taking in its research and work. Mr. Harris has shown some growth here, principally in his approach to the organization’s Executive Director, adopting a “softer” style in expressing his beliefs to her. Whereas in the past I suspect that Mr. Harris would have led quite strongly on this, he has I believe, gained some appreciation for the need for balance in the ways in which he expresses his opinions. In part as well I suspect that the requirement for him to continue in a volunteer position has provided further impetus for his willingness to be flexible here. Whatever the case may be, Mr. Harris has here demonstrated an ability to be flexible in his approach/style and I am encouraged by this. [my emphases]

In addition to anxiety, Mr. Harris does at times present with significant anger. This is nowhere more evident than when he discusses his situation with his ex-wife and daughter, and both the allegations made against him in the past, as well as his daughter’s current situation and their relationship. Mr. Harris indicates quite clearly that it is only because of his daughter that he is remaining in Manitoba, indicating that he does not feel like he “fits in” here, expressing a strong desire to move to Toronto where there are others who are more “like minded.” As such, on many fronts, Mr. Harris I believe is experiencing of being pulled in several directions, and this too is likely contributing to his subjective sense of anxiety.

As Mr. Harris has reported that the strategies provided to him to date have not been as helpful as he had hoped, he has begun now to express a willingness to entertain medication as an adjunctive treatment. For my part I fully support Mr. Harris’ thoughts in this regard. Not only will the appropriate medication provide Mr. Harris with a more immediate reduction in his anxiety symptoms, it is my hope that this will come a “loosening” or “softening” in Mr. Harris’ thinking and willingness to be slightly more circumspect in his expression of his political beliefs [my emphasis]. I have no doubt that Mr. Harris can be an excellent teacher, as he is quite intelligent. It is his “emotional intelligence” (i.e., his ability to appreciate the impact of his actions on others) that I believe is more problematic and I am hopeful that with appropriate medication and ongoing psychotherapy, Mr. Harris can come to a fuller appreciation of this, and demonstrate additional flexibility, above and beyond that already noted.

It is also my understanding that you are contemplating a referral to a psychiatrist to assess Mr. Harris’ readiness to return to teaching. I would respectfully recommend that this assessment also incorporate an evaluation of Mr. Harris’ readiness to accept medication treatment, and recommendations for same. Without this additional therapeutic aide I believe that Mr. Harris will considerably struggle in becoming ready to return to gainful employment as a teacher [my emphasis].

Thank you for your support in my work with Mr. Harris to date. I trust the above is of assistance to you. In the interests of therapeutic openness and transparency, I will be providing Mr. Harris with a copy of this report. Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions or concerns regarding my work with this claimant to date.

Sincerely,

Alan Slusky, Ph. D., C. Psych.’
Registered Psychologist

Mr. Slusky, indirectly, points out that his frequent repetition of the phrase “its a question of interpretation” is an ideological cloak for his own reformist views . He wrote above:

I suspect that the requirement for him to continue in a volunteer position has provided further impetus for his willingness to be flexible here. 

Indeed, the requirement that I volunteer in order to continue to receive disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society was economic coercion [a phrase that John Clarke, a radical social democrat here in Toronto has used on a couple of occasions while ignoring its economic, political and social implications). Had I not “agreed” to “volunteer,” I could have been cut off from disability benefits. Mr. Slusky’s reference to ‘flexibility” in effect admits that economic coercion involves forcing a person to alter their will in order to receive money required to live. 

Mr. Slusky did not even recognize that my “flexibility” was involuntary–that I was “flexible” because i was obliged to be so in order to continue to receive disability benefits. This lack of consideration of the factual economic coercion that obliged me to “volunteer” in the first place and to be “flexible” in the second place is characteristic of all social reformers and social democrats. 

Like Mr. Clarke, though, he simply ignored the social, political, emotional and psychological implications of such economic coercion. 

I felt so oppressed by Dr. Slusky that it formed one of the reasons for my decision to leave Winnipeg in favour of Toronto, Ontario (it was not, however, the only reason). I dreaded going to his sessions. To have to attend such sessions from a person who tried to justify the Gisele Morier’s abuse when she was evaluating me (as well as her biased assessment) was oppressive, and my heart would race because of such oppression. 

I am glad that I left Winnipeg–despite leaving behind my daughter, Francesca; I would have likely had a heart-attack if I did not leave. 

I still had to attend sessions with a psychologist in Toronto, but at least I was free from Mr. Slusky’s oppressive practice and attempt to justify the abusive evaluation made by Ms. Morier. 

For further information about Mr. Slusky, see     or https://mps1.wildapricot.org/Sys/PublicProfile/25307229/1789964  or    https://www.jewishpostandnews.ca/local/1074-for-dr-alan-slusky-building-relationships-is-an-essential-part-of-psychology-practice

A follow-up post will continue with a description of my experiences with a psychologist here in Toronto. 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Eight: The Mind-Body Problem

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions. In fact, I could have placed this (and other posts in this series) under the title that I have used for another series of posts, “The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity.” For further understanding of the stressful context in which I provided the summaries, see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

The relevance of the issue has to do with division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour. Typically in schools, there is an emphasis on “academic learning”–which means purely intellectual pursuits at the expense of the use of the body as an essential aspect of the learning process. To ignore such issues is to ignore a cleavage in our society that needs to be repaired through the creation of a socialist society that eliminates such a division of labour.

I must emphasize that such work is necessary despite the possible negative repercussions by management. If we are afraid to question management and employers in our own workplace, how can we expect others to challenger their particular employer? How can we expect to unite to challenge the class of employers generally if we fail to challenge our own particular employer?

It is much easier to criticize other employers than one’s own–just as it is easier to criticize other nations than one’s own.

Such criticism is also necessary since the class power of employers is supported in various ways, including ideological means. To fail to challenge the power of the class of employers in diverse domains makes it all the more difficult to challenge them at the economic and political level. This is a typical weakness of social-democratic or reformist approaches to challenging the class power of employers. They idealize one or more domains (such as the public sector or education or law) without engaging in inquiry into the real nature of these domains (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).

Good morning, everyone,

I sent the attached article last night to the ESJ Ning. If anybody has any suggestions for improvement (in terms of content or in terms of attempting to communicate with the ESJ chairs), I would appreciate it.

I prefaced it with the following:

The author (Eric Bredo) of the following article, “Evolution, Psychology and the Reflex Arc Concept,” argues that John Dewey’s 1896 article, which criticized the reflex arc concept of psychology, formed an initial ground for Dewey’s critique of modern school systems. Dewey incorporated Darwin ’s theory of evolution in his psychological theory and in his educational theory.

The reflex arc of psychology incorporated the difference and link between sensory nerves and motor nerves, on the one hand, and the spinal cord and the brain on the other. Psychologists interpreted the link in purely mechanical terms (one following the other in time). They interpreted the response of human beings as merely a mechanical following on a predetermined stimulus. Ideas mechanically emerged and were then mechanically transformed into responses as the spinal cord and the brain created images, which then led, mechanically, to responses through the motor nerves. The spinal cord and the brain served as mechanical mediators between the senses and the motor response.

Dewey criticized this theoretical psychological model because living beings do not act in exactly the same manner as inanimate nature; although living beings are always physical-chemical beings, they have additional properties that modify the behavioural attributes of the physical-chemical world. Dewey used the illustration of a child who reaches for a bright candle. The child is not stimulated by the bright candle to reach the bright candle, nor is the stimulated with another, independent stimulus when she is burnt. Rather, the child is actively involved in determining the nature of the stimulus through the act, in the first instance, of looking (through the use of head muscles and eye muscles). The child’s use of motor muscles and nerves leads to a sensation of seeing the bright candle so that motor action mediates the sensation (or the supposed stimulus). The stimulus is not therefore “given” passively but actively is achieved through the child’s own act. The achieved stimulus, through the act of looking then guides another, interrelated act of reaching for the candle (if it is within reach and, if not, in the act of walking towards the candle). The act of looking guides (limits) the act of reaching, and the act of reaching guides (limits) the act of looking. Each act is functional with respect to the other act within the total act.

The so-called stimulus of the bright light from the candle itself depends on the context of the child seeking to find out what the nature of the bright candle is by reaching for it. To reach for it, she must first orient herself and her body parts so as to get a clearer view of the source of the brightness (clarification is required through the act of looking). She then further clarifies the nature of the object through the act of reaching, which is mediated through the persistent act of looking. Without such a mediation, the act of reaching may well lead to overshooting or undershooting her grasp and thereby lead to a failure to act according to her intended goal of reaching for the bright candle.

The stimulus of the bright candle is thus a product (and not something “given” or antecedent to the act of looking). The stimulus is constituted in part through the act of looking; the child is just as much implicated in the construction of the stimulus as is the existence of the bright candle in the child’s environment.

The assumption that the response of reaching for the bright candle is independent of the act of looking is typical of a mechanical view of the situation. The act of reaching, however, is not just a physical act but an act impregnated with intent: it is reaching for the bright candle. It is a purposive act. To be successful, the act of looking must mediate the act of reaching. The act of looking, though initial in time in relation to the total act of touching the bright candle and hence in that sense the stimulus, must function to control the act of reaching so that the response is not a response to the stimulus but a response into the stimulus. The act of reaching mediates in turn, the act of looking; the act of looking is limited by the act of reaching (the child just cannot look anywhere). Just as life is a process which is mediated by implicit goals that limit actions (the goal of the reproduction of life, for example), so too is an act, with limiting actions that mutually define the total act. Each sub-act must be linked to and mediate the other sub-acts, and the total act (the ultimate goal) must mediate each sub-act from the beginning.

Once the goal of reaching the candle has resulted in a burn and the withdrawal of the hand by the child, the act of looking may then mean the sensation of burning under certain circumstances. The act of looking is modified in meaning because of the earlier experience of looking and reaching for the bright candle—if the child learns to connect her acts to the consequences (doing and undergoing). One aspect of learning is, then, to connect up one’s acts with the consequences of those acts.

The act of looking is mediated by spatio-temporal movements (such as the act of reaching); we learn to observe not just with our eyes but with our previous experiences that incorporate other acts (such as spatio-temporal movements through locomotion). The act of looking is adapted to (modified by) the act of moving. Similarly, when we move, we learn to mediate our locomotive acts (adapt, control or limit them) through our sense acts.

If a similar situation presents itself, but the nature of the object is unclear, then inquiry is needed to determine the nature of the object before acting intelligently. The nature of the stimulus needs to be reconstructed so that an appropriate response can be forthcoming. It is here that the emergence of consciousness is relevant; consciousness emerges when there is an ambiguous situation, giving the child the time necessary to inhibit action and reflect on and explore the situation.

The nature of the object needs to be clarified, not absolutely, but in relation to the earlier experience of the child. The child does not know what to do because of the ambiguity of the object. Once the object is clarified, then the child can act in a unified manner again intelligently. To act without clarifying the nature of the object would be unintelligent.

Inquiry (and exploration), then, forms an essential condition for all learning. Furthermore, inquiry involves an evolving relationship between the child and her environment. Both the child and the environment undergo reconstruction or evolution, with the child learning, in part, through her own actions (self-determination).

Since both the child and her environment undergo induced change through the initiation of the child’s own actions, by changing her environment she may (if she connects her actions to the consequences of her actions) change her own capacities (habits or structures that have a function in the environment). Learning then can be considered self-change through action on the environment in such a way that new connections, both “subjective” (structural habits internal to the individual) and “objective” (structural conditions in the environment). The terms “subjective” and “objective” are in quotation marks because, in reality, the life process always involves the living being and its environment.

Schools typically waver between treating the child (the living being) as primary and the environment as secondary, or the environment as primary (as in outcome-based education) and the child as secondary. The life process, however, is a continuous process that can only be separated into subjective and objective aspects for specific purposes as, for example, when the relationship breaks down.

In real learning, it is the situation and not one side or the other of the life process that is changed since the situation requires inquiry and change (which involves both aspects of the life process—although not necessarily in equal measure, depending on the situation). The rhythm of life requires varying focal points as the situation develops: the drama of life.

Human life, however, generally involves others as part of the environment so that the immediate environment for most individuals is social (and even when it is not, it is mediately, through language—a social product—as well as the production for the conditions of life, such as food, clothing and shelter).

More concretely, in educational terms, learning must involve the participation of the student in her education, but the environmental conditions must involve the setting of situations that involve the need for inquiry. Inquiry also requires the use of the body, and the use of the body can be intelligent or unintelligent. Learning is not some academic exercise (although the modern school system treats it that way). Intelligence is really an adverb—to act intelligently, which in turn reflects back on the individual as a characteristic of the individual—the intelligent person (an adjective). Thought and intelligence are not abstract characteristics of individuals but active ways of acting in the world. It may be necessary to step back and reflect (distancing oneself from the environment)—but only in order to act more intelligently in the world.

The contempt for bodily activity characteristic of the modern school system is in essence contempt for real intelligence. The typical split of “mind” and “body” that has typified philosophical disputes since Plato, with the bias towards the abstract, the academic and the spiritual and against the concrete, the practical and the instrumental, is really against real inquiry and elitist—and against real education.

Bodily habits, provided that they enable students to expand and deepen their connections to their environment instead of restricting it, express the developmental process of education. Habits form the stable means by which consciousness, with its focus on foreground, becomes part of the habitual bodily actions that stabilize our recurrent relations to the environment and thus form the basis for generalization (not just “concepts” characteristic of elitist views of education). The development of the consistent habit to engage in inquiry is the ultimate goal of education—education as growth.

Fred

A Private Employer’s “Humanism” in Sweden: The Dream of Social Democrats Everywhere

As I pointed out in my critique of Jane McAlevey’s reference to Sweden’s so-called ‘leveling of the playing field for children’s opportunity for success from birth onward,” (see   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), social democrats tend to idealize the Scandinavian countries. I began to more directly debunk this social-democratic myth in the post  A Short List of the Largest Swedish Employers by the Number of Employees, Profits and the Profits per Worker ).

Let us look at the behaviour of one private employer in Sweden, which supposedly instituted humanistic methods for helping workers to become more healthy: the private employer Scania, a multinational capitalist manufacturing firm (from page 140, Christian Maravelias, Torkild Thanem, Mikael Holmqvist. “March Meets Marx: The Politics of Exploitation and Exploration in the Management of Life and Labour”. Published online: 2012; pages 129-159):

Scania is an internationally leading manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and coaches, and industrial and marine engines. It operates in some 100 countries with approximately 34,000 employees [in another source, it says 45,235].. Scania was founded in the late nineteenth century and has built and delivered more than 1,500,000 trucks, buses and engines.

Scania is well known both for its products and for its stable and long-term strategic focus. It has grown organically, primarily through internal financing, and it has remained in the same product category for more than 80 years. This conservatism has been successful, yielding annual profits for more than seven consecutive decades and helped avoid regular lay-offs since the 1940s. Today Scania is regarded a stable and attractive employer known for combining continuous improvement in production with safe and professionally stimulating working conditions.

Workers in Scania were subject to a scientific management system, with a top-down management style. As a consequence, (page 145):

the previous system was associated with high levels of personnel turnover (30%) and illness absenteeism (25%),

To deal with this problem, the union pressured for the development of a lean production model in the style of Toyota (pages 145-146):

the union was able to exercise considerable bargaining power, almost forcing the firm to accept a version of lean production that was aligned with principles of health and well-being.

However, Scanian management turned the situation to its advantage by coopting the process of a move towards  so-called health and wellness:

Like many lean production initiatives, Scania’s turn to this kind of system in the 1990s implied an emphasis on self-managing teams, continuous improvement and individual responsibility (see, e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler, Goldoftas, & Levine, 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge, Turnbull, & Wilkinson, 1992). Despite an emerging concern with well-being, the most apparent aspect of this related to the objective dimension of exploiting labour. As new tasks and responsibilities were added to all factory jobs, Scania was able to extract more value from the salary they paid workers. Making workers take individual responsibility for constantly improving the production process intensified work, as it meant that they had to do more for the same salary: in addition to take responsibility for executing predefined tasks, workers in self-managing teams were expected to set goals and find ways of reaching these goals.

This meant that each team member had dual roles: both as an operator and as a reflective practitioner. As operators, team members carried out more or less pre-defined tasks according to standard operating procedures. As reflective practitioners, they stepped out of these same processes and observed them from a distance to identify opportunities for improvement.

As reported through previous studies of lean production (e.g. Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992; Parker & Slaughter, 1990), the enhanced exploitation of labour and consequent work intensification was deeply related to speed, posing production speed in a tight relationship to production error.

The shift from strictly hierarchical managerial structures to more horizontal managerial structures (with, of course, the hierarchical managerial structure still prevailing “in the last instance”) led to the employer engaging in the exploration of new organizational structures to exploit its working force, a feature characteristic of capitalist firms as they are subject to the dual constraint of the need to exploit their working force while being subject to competitive rivalry from other capitalists (page 132):

The basic problem facing firms subject to increasing competitive pressures is to balance exploitation, which is incremental and may facilitate short-term competitiveness, with exploration, which is radical and might enable long-term competitiveness. The reason for this balancing act is that exploitative pursuits tend to undermine explorative pursuits.

This exploration of new ways of exploiting labour led to a focus on managing the health of workers (page 140):

To deal with problems of high costs and accident levels as well as high levels of production error, illness absenteeism and employee turnover, Scania decided to implement a lean production system inspired by the justin- time and total quality management principles of Toyotaism. This was later combined with investments in health promotion, and it is the emphasis on health in particular which makes this case distinct from previous studies of lean production.

The exploration of control over the health of the workers led, on the one hand, to attempts to control their subjectivity (their “mind set” or their “attitude”) (page 142):

Having the right job skills was only seen to constitute one part of this. Perhaps more reminiscent of previous research on service work (e.g. Callaghan & Thompson, 2002), high performance was just as much about having the right mind-set, that is having the motivation to be an active, committed and ambitious employee. It was acknowledged by managers and workers that this was not an easy task, because a partly new type of employee was required for the lean production system to work properly. Since working the production line was hard work, workers needed to be in
good shape. But since this also involved efforts to enhance output and quality, it required a particular person who was motivated and committed to change and improvement.

On the other hand, the attempt to control the subjectivity of the worker also led to attempts to control life after work through what programs that seemed to benefit workers (pages 142-143):

This approach blurred the boundaries between work and life. In the words of one team leader, ‘being active and motivated is not a capacity you can switch on and off, [y] it comes down to who you are and how you live your life’. Hence, workers were expected to go far in adapting to the system. But if Scania was to live up to its goal of being a ‘responsible and caring employer’ as well as a lean firm, this obliged them to make far-reaching adaptations, which go beyond what has been reported in previous studies (e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler et al., 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992). The mutual responsibilities of employees and employer were expressed through two company programmes known as the Employeeship and the 24 Hour Employee. These programmes were also pinnacles in the firm’s integration of lean production and health promotion, involving anything from safe machinery to helping employees lose weight.

These programs were not just window dressing; workers were conceived as resources in a similar fashion to the machines and buildings that Scania owned; workers were expected to take care of themselves outside work and inside work in order to increase the productivity of the company, and if they did not productivity would suffer (page 143):

Scania’s objective exploration of labour, which was aimed to enhance productivity, improve quality and increase profits, required them to re-socialise workers by subjectively exploring their lives, bodies and personalities and what potential they offered in terms of being exploited as labour. This was expressed in rather explicit expectations and norms concerning employee lifestyle. To be physically, mentally and technologically equipped to handle their work, one nurse emphasised that workers were expected to keep themselves in a ‘healthy workable condition’ and
show competence in ‘health-related things such as physical fitness [and] mental strength’.

Although there was no formal right for Scania to control the workers’ lives outside work, on a practical level the two programs did lead to pressure to conform to the requirements of Scania to exploit the workers (page 144):

Of course, Scania had no formal right to interfere with what workers did in their spare time, but when a worker’s private life started to impact
negatively on their work, the firm was able to intervene in the opposite
direction, subordinating life to labour. As argued by one line manager:

If one of my employees doesn’t get enough sleep because he plays poker all night, it is his own business – as long as it doesn’t affect his ability to work. But if it  does  […] – and most likely it will – it is not just his business but my business as  well.

Workers were somewhat ambivalent about how they experienced this. In the words of an IT specialist:

a couple of years ago I went through a divorce. I started drinking a little bit too            much and somehow my boss found out about this. At first, he didn’t say  anything,  but after some time he did, and he also explained that he had spoken to a counsellor at the Health Office who he wanted me to contact. I did, and the therapy helped. But it was somewhat creepy to see how my family problems  were turned into a work problem.

This worker’s life, then, was subjectively re-socialised and explored to fit the new organisation of production which Scania was objectively exploring in the interest of more intensely exploiting labour.

The far-reaching nature of the employer–employee contract, their shared responsibilities and the blurring of the objective exploration of labour contra the subjective exploration of life was further reflected in the 24 Hour Employee programme. More specifically, this involved a mutual sense of caring, where the programme aimed to show how much the firm cares for its employees, on and off the job, by helping them live healthier. However, this programme also emphasised how workers were expected to take care of themselves during and after working hours. Workers did not necessarily view this contract as consensual, and some workers called it ‘a give-and-take thing’. While Scania promised a safe work environment and helped workers take care of themselves, the firm was seen to expect ‘an awful lot’ in return – that workers ‘live in accordance with its standards’.

Lean production did result in some workers feeling stressed out, but rather than attributing the problem to lean production itself (and the nature of the capitalist firm as capitalist firm), the problem is identified as an individual problem (a similar approach is the current psychological fad called “mindfulness”–a variant of the ancient Stoical philosophy of disregarding the real objective social constraints on our lives); used by management, this led to manipulation (pages 148-149): 

Through a therapeutic and reflective approach, the Health School sought to help workers gain better self-knowledge, set limits and prioritise. Again, this was anchored in an emphasis on individual responsibility, where participants had to accept responsibility for their own life and work. This was important since many participants initially tended to associate stress with outside factors, such as their job being too demanding or managers expecting too much. Hence, the therapeutic process was embedded in a somewhat contested terrain where therapists and participants tried to allocate responsibility and blame in opposite directions. Although therapists sometimes relaxed the responsibilities and performance targets for individual workers in the short term, there was never any doubt that participants were required to adapt to the system should they continue to work for the firm. Indeed, therapy made most participants accept individual responsibility for adapting to the system, who thereby ended up subjectively participating in their own exploitation (cp. e.g. Burawoy, 1979; Delbridge, 1995; Thompson, 1989).

The first step in the therapeutic process was to establish a trustful atmosphere where participants were ready to accept and commit to ‘the fact’ that they have a problem with stress. The second step involved mapping out the daily routines of individual participants and their colleagues. Participants were then taught how to become more aware and reflective about their own behaviour and attitudes, and taught to think in more strategic terms about all parts of their lives. While the integration of lean production and health promotion blurred the work–life boundary, this particular task encouraged participants to make distinctions between work, self and private life, and to define goals for all three areas. According to one health coach, this mindset was pursued in the spirit of helping participants gain control over their lives and ‘feel that their lives were the result of their own conscious and informed choices’ rather than forces beyond their control.

Failing to cope, then, was seen as an outcome of limited self-management skills. Incidentally, life became just a bit more like work. Although this might be seen as an example of skill expansion, we would argue that this chimes less with Adler’s (2007) upgrading thesis than with Thompson’s (2007) argument that multi-skilling does not necessarily lead to up-skilling. Here, the subjective exploration of life did not unequivocally make work more varied, diverse and interesting; it also involved a division, simplification and management of life to make it more appropriate for work.

It should be evident now that working for Scania is a double-edged sword since workers’ health, which involves the whole life of workers and not just the working part of their lives, is used as a means for enhancing the company’s bottom line. Ultimately, Scania follows the same process of subordinating workers’ lives to the pursuit of  more money on an ever increasing scale (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

The idealization of the Scandinavian countries by Ms. McAlevey and other social democrats thus does not stand up to scrutiny. Even on the assumption that children have equal opportunity at birth (as Ms. McAlevey claims–without further evidence), when they grow up many become employees–and as employees, they are used by employers as things for obtaining more and more money.

Working lives may in some ways be better in Sweden but in many ways they also may be worse under the social-democratic approach that co-opts workers’ own subjectivity.

This case also illustrates the importance of ideological struggle since employers have many resources to co-opt workers into their own schemes. Organizational struggle in itself is insufficient; it is necessary to engage in a simultaneous struggle both organizationally and ideologically.