Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health

In some previous posts, the title was “Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health.” I have changed the title since this post is not just directly about working for an employer.

As has been implied in the previous post on this topic, the shift to legislative measures to address health and safety concerns removed workers’ definition of problems of health and safety in relation to social causes and transformed the definition into a technical issue over health and safety.

This shift in turn involved a shift from concerns for legislation to concerns for administrative measures. This shift to administrative measures protects employers better by limiting democratic pressure by means of legislative processes. Of course, such legislative processes should not be idealized. They, too, are subject to pressures of various kinds, such as economic pressures, political (power) pressures and ideological pressures.

Legislative and Administrative Processes as Inadequate to Protect Workers

As a result, legislative measures to protect workers from dangers at work often end up being watered down–as I pointed out in another post:

However, peeling back the veneer of the federal government’s so-called crackdown on violent crime reveals a much different story. To start, it took more than ten years to introduce a new law in response to a single and violent mass killing in which twenty-six Canadians died. What is more, despite widespread political support, many politicians – particularly those with an affinity for law-and-order policies – cautioned against going too far in terms of holding offenders criminally responsible for their harmful acts (Bittle and Snider 2006).

The implicit attitude of many legislators and administrators–that deaths at work are simply unintended and inevitable facts of the world that cannot be changed–points to the inadequacy of legislative and administrative measures for protecting life and limb of workers. From Steven Bittle, doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster, pages 88-89:

… we argued that conservative conceptualizations of corporate crime dominated the process leading to the enactment of the Westray bill, thereby limiting the reform options that were given serious consideration. Three main arguments supported the analysis. First, legislators emphasized the importance of traditional legal language–particularly the doctrine of mens rea, or the legal need to establish the guilty mind of an individual – which downplayed alternative approaches to combating corporate criminal liability (also see Wells 1993: 1). Second, neo-liberal discourses helped ensure that the legislative framework conceptualized workplace safety as a shared responsibility amongst workers, managers and employers, despite the fact that few employees, namely those who carry out day-to-day production processes, have control over their working conditions (even though they bear the costs of unsafe working environments). Third, dominant conceptualizations of corporate capitalism, the idea that corporations are vital for the effective functioning of the Canadian economy, helped protect against the enactment of overly stringent legislation. Overall, given the convergence of various conservative discourses that dominated the reform process, we questioned the ability of the Westray bill to hold corporations to account for their harmful actions.

Why is it that the social-democratic left and unions do not discuss openly and thoroughly the issue of the systemic inadequacy of legislative and administrative efforts to protect workers? There is a definite need to enter into debate over such an issue, but there is an equally definite lack of discussion of such an issue. The current pandemic should have been an occasion to reassess the whole issue of the health and safety of workers–and indeed of the general population–in the context of a society dominated by a class of workers.

There has not been much real discussion about the need to overcome the power of the class of employers if we are to address adequately the health and safety of workers and the general population.

Indeed, the Trump’s administration’s efforts to downplay the tragedy of the pandemic has antecedents in the downplaying of the real cost of life, health and limb of workers and the general population in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Reported Statistics on Health and Safety Versus the Probable Real Situation of Workers and the General Population

In a previous post, I indicated that official statistics show that around 1,000 workers die at work yearly when compared to around 550 murders years (see The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers). Official statistics are, however, just that, official. They are produced through administrative processes that define what constitutes an “official death.” By contrast, there have been estimates that express a much larger number of deaths in Canada due to work-related incidents. Thus, Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hébert report a much higher figure in their article (Fall 2018), ““Work-Related Deaths in Canada,”, pages 159-187, in Labour/Le Travail, Volume 82, page 186:

Relying on a range of data sources, and adopting a broad definition of what constitutes a work-related fatality, we generated a revised estimate of the number of annual work-related fatalities. Based on our analysis, we estimate that the number of annual work-related fatalities in Canada is at least ten to thirteen times higher than the approximately 900 to 1,000 annual average fatalities reported by the AWBC [The Canadian Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada]. This makes work-related fatalities one of the leading causes of death in this country

Undoubtedly the 554 murders reported in Canada are also an underestimate–probably due to racist and sexist attitudes and organizations (the underreporting of, for example, murdered Aboriginal women). However, it is highly unlikely that the number of unreported murders even approaches half the number of estimated work-related deaths.

The authors provide the following table to substantiate their claims (slightly modified to accommodate the formatting of this post), page 169:

Work-related cause of deathEstimated fatalitiesEstimated fatalities
Injury fatalitiesOccupational-disease fatalities
AWCB’s average from 2014–16 (see note a below)332
Commuting/Driving to and from work466
Non-reporting/reporting errors20
Non-working victims90 (see note b below)
Work-related suicides400–789
Other cancers5,959–8,939
copd (see note c below)2,062
Estimated injury total972
Estimated disease total8,906–12,275
ESTIMATED TOTAL: 9,878–13,246

Note a: The AWCB’s statistics include only deaths from a traumatic incident or “accident.” We exclude occupational diseases and cancers to avoid duplication with our revised numbers concerning these fatalities.
Note b: This figure is based on TSB (Transportation Safety Board of Canada) information and is thus a conservative estimate. There are a significant number of unknown cases that could also be included in this category.
Note c: copd (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) refers to progressive and incurable lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma.

Given the threat to their health of many workers and citizens, there should be persistent discussions of how legislation (and administration procedures) fail to protect workers–systematically, and not accidentally–in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Accidents there will always be–but it is necessary to create a society that minimizes the probability of such accidents. Where is the movement or organization that is consciously aiming to abolish this carnage?

Is there fear among the social-democratic left and union reps to do so? What else would explain such silence over an issue that is of vital concern for workers? Union reps and the social-democratic left may complain about such facts and try to reduce the number of deaths, but unless the root cause of such deaths–the lack of control by workers and citizens over their own lives–is addressed, all complaints and proposed solutions will be measures that may reduce but not eliminate unnecessary deaths.

I have quoted this before, but it is often appropriate when addressing the inadequacies of social-democratic deficiencies. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital (page 91):

Perseus wore a magic cap so that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over our own eyes and ears so as to deny that there are any monsters.

The Monster Pandemic

The monster called the COVID-19 pandemic still exists, but there is little direct questioning of the kind of society that permits millions to die–while the stock market rises.

For example, it is implied that there is a crisis in Ontario health care, especially in long-term care homes, due to the Covid pandemic in a post on the Socialist Project’s website on January 8 (see The title of the post is “COVID-19 Crisis Situation In Ontario: Deadliest Day of the Pandemic,” produced by the Ontario Health Coalition. It is divided into four sections: a short introduction, a section titled “Hospitals,” another titled “Long-Term Care,” and a final section titled “Stronger Public Health Measures Needed Now.”

The introduction points out that January 7, 2021 constituted the highest number of deaths in Ontario (a province in Canada) since the pandemic became official. It argues that stronger measures are required and greater supports are required for the most vulnerable. In other words, it outlines some of the problems and offers some solutions.

The sections on hospitals and long-term care outline the dire situation of hospitals and long-term care homes–such as hospitals filled to capacity, morgues in some cities full, a dramatic rise in the number of deaths in long-term care homes.

The final section outlines some immediate solutions:

  1. “stronger safety and infection control measures in open businesses, full public reporting of outbreaks, more effective and coherent shutdowns.”
  2. “individuals whose employment has been or will be impacted need full support for income and housing, and local businesses need full supports to survive the pandemic.”
  3. “Our government can do a much better job of providing coordination and supports for these protections.” Including:
  • “Stronger, more coherent public health measures, including a fast ramp up of testing, contact tracing and quarantine capacity in public health and labs must be undertaken now so that the province can get the spread of the virus under control.
  • There must be fewer contacts among people to reduce community and workplace transmission and stronger public health measures across the board, including shutdowns and stronger safety measures in open businesses, must be undertaken.
  • The crisis in staffing capacity in long-term care must be addressed without any further delay.
  • The vaccine roll-out needs to be coherent, competent and much faster.
  • Community care, which is taking more of the burden of COVID-19 cases as hospitals are full, must be provided with clear directives to ensure staff have proper PPE including N95 masks.”

Given the emergency situation, certainly the identification of such immediate problems and proposed solutions to such problems is warranted. They are necessary and urgent. We need, as the post does, guidelines about what needs to be done immediately to address the inadequate responses by the Doug Ford government to the crisis in health care in the context of the pandemic.

However, this short-term could at least have been linked to both the specification of the longer-term problems that led to the pandemic and to longer-term goals that address the problem of overcoming economic, political and social structures that treat human beings as expendable costs in the production and exchange of commodities or as costs in long-term home care.

Some of the longer-term conditions for the emergence of Covid-19 are outlined by Mike Davis in his work (2020) The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism:

But this time around there was little mystery about the identity of the microbe—SARS-CoV-2 was sequenced almost overnight in January—or the steps necessary to fight it. Since the discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 and the recognition that it had jumped from apes to humans, science has been on high alert against the appearance of deadly new diseases with pandemic potential that have crossed over from wild fauna. This new age of plagues, like previous pandemic epochs, is directly the result of economic globalization. … Today, as was the case when I wrote Monster fifteen years ago, multinational capital has been the driver of disease evolution through the burning or logging out of tropical forests, the proliferation of factory farming, the explosive growth of slums and concomitantly of “informal employment,” and the failure of the pharmaceutical industry to find profit in mass producing lifeline antivirals, new-generation antibiotics, and universal vaccines.

Forest destruction, whether by multinationals or desperate subsistence farmers, eliminates the barrier between human populations and the reclusive wild viruses endemic to birds, bats, and mammals. Factory farms and giant feedlots act as huge incubators of novel viruses while appalling sanitary conditions in slums produce populations that are both densely packed and immune compromised. The inability of global capitalism to create jobs in the so-called “developing world” means that a billion or more subsistence workers (the “informal proletariat”) lack an employer link to healthcare or the income to purchase treatment from the private sector, leaving them dependent upon collapsing public hospitals systems, if they even exist. Permanent bio-protection against new plagues, accordingly, would require more than vaccines. It would need the suppression of these
“structures of disease emergence” through revolutionary reforms in agriculture and urban living that no large capitalist or state-capitalist country would ever willingly undertake.

Does the Ontario Health Coalition look at not only the immediate threat and its solutions but also the wider social context? The indirect criticism of neoliberal cuts in health care are implied: “The crisis in staffing capacity in long-term care must be addressed without any further delay.” The longer-term problems associated with the kind of society that is dominated by a class of employers is shuffled off into outer space, where it will be addressed who knows when or how.

Surely, the issue of health and safety in a society dominated by a class of employers should be a center-point for discussion and what can be done about it. Short-term problems and appropriate measures to be taken do indeed need to be discussed, but this pandemic is no longer something a few weeks or months old. We are now in 2021. Why are not the longer-term problems associated with an economic, political and social structure that has not only fostered conditions for the emergence of deadly viruses and their spread not discussed? Why are there not deep discussions about possible solutions to this large-scale problem?

The Ontario Health Coalition, in its article, instead of providing such a discussion and a vision of how we can prevent this situation from ever happening again, mainly focuses on immediate problems. These are indeed necessary–but they are hardly sufficient.

One last point. The Ontario Health Coalition is just that, a coalition. The interests of the working class do indeed require entering into coalitions, but first workers need to create their own independent position so that their interests are not absorbed into high-sounding phrases that lead nowhere. For example, this is what we find on the Ontario Health Coalition website in its section on “About Us” (

Our primary goal is to protect and improve our public health care system. We work to honour and strengthen the principles of the Canada Health Act. We are led by our shared commitment to core values of equality, democracy, social inclusion and social justice; and by the five principles of the Act: universality; comprehensiveness; portability; accessibility and public administration. We are a non-profit, non-partisan public interest activist coalition and network.

What is meant by “equality, democracy and social justice?” Can such goals ever be achieved in a society dominated by a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers? How is that possible, given that workers are means to be used by employers and costs to the employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital)? Is it possible where workers are dictated to by management as the representative of employers in various ways (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia and, more generally, Employers as Dictators, Part One)?

We do not need rhetoric. We need an accurate assessment of what threatens us in the world and what we can do about it.

Or do we deserve less than this?


Social Democracy or Social Reformism and Trade Unionism: Their Social Limitations and Methodology, Part Two

In my last post, I referred to the self-righteous attitude of many of the social-democratic left, who consider anyone who tries to broaden the discussion to include wider considerations to be “delusional.” Their methodology, I argued, can be considered mechanistic since they try to isolate incidents from the wider social context and treat them as independent of those wider contexts. In fact, they revel in such isolation, taking pride in their narrow-minded attitude, and self-righteously opposing any who try to broaden the discussion.

For example, as noted in my earlier post, Tina Faibish, president of local 552 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), made the following commentary:

From Tina Robin Faibish “come on are you kidding me, you can not look at these two issues as if the level of unjust is similar or comparable because they are not!”

Note the self-righteous attitude of such a reply. How dare I take into consideration anything else! This is her attitude.

Her social-democratic friend then pipes in, when I try to broaden the discussion:

Liz Seaward Ash Fred Harris one thing has nothing to do with the other…you’re delusional..

Not only is this a self-righteous attitude, but it is a hostile attitude. Calling someone delusional is meant to be an insult, of course.

Let us leave these attitudes to one side, though (although anyone who wants to broaden the discussion these days should expect hostile and self-righteous attitudes from the social democratic left). Let us turn to the issue of methodology by referring to John Dewey’s philosophy of human nature. This philosophy considers human life to encompass physical, biological and social aspects that involve a process. This view of human life as an inclusive process has many implications for social analysis, but I will restrict it to the issue of abortion and the human body.

Dewey considers life in general in the following terms (from Experience and Nature, pages 277-278:

Every “mind” that we are
empirically acquainted with is found in connection with
some organized body. Every such body exists in a
natural medium to which it sustains some adaptive connection:
plants to air, water, sun, and animals to these
things and also to plants. Without such connections,
animals die; the “purest” mind would not continue with out them. An animal can live only as long as it draws
nutriment from its medium, finds there means of defence
and ejects into it waste and superfluous products of its
own making. Since no particular organism lasts forever,
life in general goes on only as an organism reproduces
itself; and the only place where it can reproduce itself is in
the environment. In all higher forms reproduction is
sexual ; that is, it involves the meeting of two forms. The
medium is thus one which contains similar and conjunctive
forms. At every point and stage, accordingly, a
living organism and its life processes involve a world or
nature temporally and spatially “external” to itself but
“internal” to its functions.

The only excuse for reciting such commonplaces is that
traditional theories have separated life from nature, mind
from organic life, and thereby created mysteries.

The idea that life (or the life process) involves something that is physically external to the body but is functionally internal can be easily understood if we try to hold our breath. We need elements from the air–which are physically external to our body–and this need is functionally internal to the continued existence of the body. If you extend this idea to all your needs, whether physical or social, then you can see that your life process extends far beyond your immediate physical body.

What has this to do with abortion and the issue that Ms. Faibish raised concerned the law in Ohio about preventing 11-year-old girls from having an abortion if they are raped? If control over the life process involves control over the immediate human body but does not end there but rather extends to the environmental conditions that are physically external but functionally internal, then control over the body is a necessary but insufficient condition for control over our own human life processes.

From John Dewey, Experience and Nature, page 295:

Those who talk most of
the organism, physiologists and psychologists, are often
just those who display least sense of the intimate, delicate
and subtle interdependence of all organic structures and
processes with one another. The world seems mad in
pre-occupation with what is specific, particular, disconnected
in medicine, politics, science, industry, education.
In terms of a conscious control of inclusive wholes,
search for those links which occupy key positions and
which effect critical connections is indispensable. But
recovery of sanity depends upon seeing and using these
specifiable things as links functionally significant in
a process. To see the organism in nature, the nervous
system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system,
the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which
haunt philosophy. And when thus seen they will be seen
to be in, not as marbles are in a box but as events are
in history, in a moving, growing never finished process.

The radical left needs to analyze the connections of the world in terms of something that is physically external but functionally internal. With such knowledge, it needs to criticize persistently the social-democratic left, who in general isolate now one aspect of what is functionally internal, now another aspect.

Such an approach is necessary if we are to both oppose those in power and those who ultimately propose to reform the world without radical restructuring of our lives. Along the way, we can of course expect to receive insults and be oppressed in various ways. That should be expected–but it should not deter us from doing what is necessary to oppose the power of employers as a class and to create a society worthy of our own nature as human beings.

But what does the radical left do in Toronto? Pander after the reformist left’s narrow point of view, refusing to challenge such views at every turn. They are like those who believe that the human life process goes beyond the human body but refuse to criticize those (the social democrats) who believe the human life process does not include the interconnected workplaces in the first instance in a particular country and, ultimately, throughout the world.

The radical left talk a lot about democracy these days, but democracy does not entail tolerance to mistaken ideas. It is the duty of the radical left, among other things, to show that the ideas that social democrats hold are mistaken by challenging them. Why does it not do so?

What do you think?

Employers as Dictators, Part One

I find it fascinating how the social-democratic or reformist left fall all over themselves, insisting that they are fighting for fairness and justice–and yet neglect the persistent injustice of having to work for an employer. (The same could be said of many who consider themselves radicals these days).

Elizabeth Anderson, in her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It) questions the assumption of the social-democratic or reformist left by pointing out how the power of employers resembles the power of communist dictators (pages 37-39):

Communist Dictatorships in Our Midst

Imagine a government that assigns almost everyone a superior whom they must obey. Although superiors give most inferiors a routine to follow, there is no rule of law. Orders may be arbitrary and can change at any time, without prior notice or opportunity to appeal. Superiors are unaccountable to those they order
around. They are neither elected nor removable by their inferiors. Inferiors have no right to complain in court about how they are being treated, except in a few narrowly defined cases. They also have no right to be consulted about the orders they are given.

There are multiple ranks in the society ruled by this government. The content of the orders people receive varies, depending on their rank. Higher- ranked individuals may be granted considerable freedom in deciding how to carry out their orders, and may issue some orders to some inferiors. The most highly ranked individual takes no orders but issues many. The lowest-ranked may have their bodily movements and speech minutely regulated for most of the day.

This government does not recognize a personal or private sphere of autonomy free from sanction. It may prescribe a dress code and forbid certain hairstyles. Everyone lives under surveillance, to ensure that they are complying with orders. Superiors may snoop into inferiors’ e- mail and record their phone conversations.
Suspicionless searches of their bodies and personal effects may be routine. They can be ordered to submit to medical testing. The government may dictate the language spoken and forbid communication in any other language. It may forbid certain topics of discussion. People can be sanctioned for their consensual sexual activity or for their choice of spouse or life partner. They can be sanctioned for their political activity and required to engage in political activity they do not agree with.

The economic system of the society run by this government is communist. The government owns all the nonlabor means of production in the society it governs. It organizes production by means of central planning. The form of the government is a dictatorship. In some cases, the dictator is appointed by an oligarchy. In other cases, the dictator is self- appointed.

Although the control that this government exercises over its members is pervasive, its sanctioning powers are limited. It cannot execute or imprison anyone for violating orders. It can demote people to lower ranks. The most common sanction is exile. Individuals are also free to emigrate, although if they do, there is usually no going back. Exile or emigration can have severe collateral consequences. The vast majority have no realistic option but to try to immigrate to another communist dictatorship, although there are many to choose from. A few manage to escape into anarchic hinterlands, or set up their own dictatorships.

This government mostly secures compliance with carrots. Because it controls all the income in the society, it pays more to people who follow orders particularly well and promotes them to higher rank. Because it controls communication, it also has a propaganda apparatus that often persuades many to support
the regime. This need not amount to brainwashing. In many cases, people willingly support the regime and comply with its orders because they identify with and profit from it. Others support the regime because, although they are subordinate to some superior, they get to exercise dominion over inferiors. It
should not be surprising that support for the regime for these reasons tends to increase, the more highly ranked a person is.

Would people subject to such a government be free? I expect that most people in the United States would think not. Yet most work under just such a government: it is the modern workplace, as it exists for most establishments in the United States. The dictator is the chief executive officer (CEO), superiors are managers, subordinates are workers. The oligarchy that appoints the CEO exists for publicly owned corporations: it is the board of directors. The punishment of exile is being fired. The economic system of the modern workplace is communist, because the government— that is, the establishment— owns all the assets,1 and the top of the establishment hierarchy designs the production plan, which subordinates execute. There are no
internal markets in the modern workplace. Indeed, the boundary of the firm is defined as the point at which markets end and authoritarian centralized planning and direction begin.

Most workers in the United States are governed by communist dictatorships in their work lives.


This parallel of the power of communist (or fascist) dictators and the power of employers to dictate to workers is simply neglected by social-democratic reformers. They ignore the issue altogether, minimize it or, when some try to bring up the issue, engage in insults. Their own conception of what is fair is so limited that they have little to say about the daily experiences of billions of workers worldwide.

They remind me of something which Karl Marx wrote long ago. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital (page 91):

Perseus wore a magic cap so that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over our own eyes and ears so as to deny that there are any monsters.

The social-democratic left seek to hide the reality of our own lives from us–lives characterized by dictatorship in various ways (with some freedoms, to be sure, such as limited freedom of speech–depending on where you are located on this planet and your status within that locality).

Let us listen to the social-democratic left for a moment as they characterize modern social relations and “draw the magic cap down over our eyes so as to deny that there are any monsters”. As I wrote in another post:

As already mentioned, the left does not generally criticize management rights as such. Quite to the contrary. It uses rhetoric and euphemisms, such as “decent work,” “fair wages,” (Tracy McMaster), “a fair contract” (Wayne Dealy). It fails to criticize the pairing of the Fight for $15 with the concept of “fairness,” implying that fairness can be achieved within the employer-employee relation. It fails to criticize the rhetoric of “Fair Labour Laws Save Lives.” It fails to criticize the rhetoric of “economic justice” (John Cartwright).

At the Toronto Pearson airport (the largest in Canada, with between 40,000 and 50,000 employees), at the May Day rally, there was a banner being carried by some with the message: ‘Airport Workers Fighting for Decent Work.’ The banner also had the following: ‘$15/Fairness YYZ’ (YYZ is the airport code for Toronto Pearson International airport). If working for an employer is essentially working for a dictator, then the demand for decent work and fairness under such conditions is illogical. It is certainly necessary to fight for better working conditions and increases in wages and salaries, but better working conditions and an increased salary do not change the fundamentally dictatorial nature of employer power. To think otherwise–and the slogans express such thought–is to engage in delusions–which is hardly what the labour movement requires.

Organizations need to arise that express openly the reality of our lives so that we can begin to address the problems associated with that reality.