Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One

Mr. Gindin, in his article We Need to Say What Socialism Will Look Like argues the following:

The expectations of full or near-full abundance, added to perfect or near-perfect social consciousness, have a further consequence: they imply a dramatic waning, if not end, of substantive social conflicts and so do away with any need for an “external” state. This fading away of the state is, as well, rooted in how we understand the nature of states. If states are reduced to only being oppressive institutions, then the democratization of the state by definition brings the withering away of the state (a “fully democratic state” becomes an oxymoron). On the other hand, if the state is seen as a set of specialized institutions that not only mediate social differences and oversee judicial discipline but also superintend the replacement of the hegemony of class and competitive markets with the democratic planning of the economy, then the state will likely play an even greater role under socialism.

I will deal with Mr. Gindin’s inadequate conception of freedom and necessity in a socialist society in a later post that continues a description of what socialist society may look like. Here, I will begin a critique of Mr. Gindin’s idealization of the state when he implies that the nature of the state will expand under a socialist system.

Mr. Gindin, as his typical of his social-democratic point of view, vastly underestimates the importance and nature of the existing repressive nature of any government or state that presupposes the legitimacy of the power of a class of employers. He refers to “superintend the replacement of the hegemony of class and competitive markets” while simultaneously referring to the state as “overseeing judicial discipline.” What would “overseeing judicial discipline” mean in a socialist society? What would “judicial discipline” mean in a socialist society? No one will find an answer to these questions in his article since Mr. Gindin’s reference is simply vague.

Let us assume, however, that by “judicial discipline” Mr. Gindin means “the rule of law.” What does the “rule of law” mean? Many who refer to the rule of law believe that it prevents the government from infringing on the rights of citizens. This is a myth since the rule of law is just as vague as Mr. Gindin’s reference to “overseeing judicial discipline” or even “judicial discipline.”

What is the myth of the rule of law? It is the myth that citizens are somehow protected, by means of the law, from arbitrary actions by government officials of one form or another. The rule of law, rather, is a rule of order. This is the real function of police. The rule of law, for example, is supposed to limit the power of police–but does it?

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 112-113:

Since, as we have seen, law-enforcement is merely an incidental and
derivative part of police work, and since, as Lustgarten has noted, the police
invariably under-enforce the law, the equation of policing with law enforcement
is clearly untenable.68 The police enforce the law because it
falls within the scope of their larger duties of regulating order which, in
an ideological loop of remarkable ingenuity, is then justified in terms of
crime control and the need to ‘uphold the law’. In other words, law enforcement
becomes part of police work to the same extent as anything
else in which the exercise of force for the maintenance of order may have
to be used, and only to that extent. Police practices are designed to conform
to and prioritize not law, but order, as the judges and police have long
known.69 Law-enforcement is therefore a means to an end rather than an
end in itself, as witnessed by the fact that, for example, police often prefer
to establish order without arrest. The assumption central to the rule of law
that people should not take the law into ‘their own hands’ reminds us not
only that the law is meant to be used and controlled by chosen hands, as
Bauman puts it,70 but that police do in fact handle rather than enforce the
law. The law is a resource for dealing with problems of disorder rather than
a set of rules to be followed and enforced. The kind of police behaviour
which offends the sensibilities of civil libertarians or which seems at odds
with the assumptions in the liberal democratic conception of the rule of
law in fact turns out to be within the law and exercised according to the
need to deal with things considered disorderly. The police follow rules,
but these are police rules rather than legal rules. Thus when exercising discretion,
the police are never quite using it to enforce the law, as one might
be led to believe. Rather, officers decide what they want to do and then fit
their legal powers around that decision. Hence the main ‘Act’ which police
officers purport to enforce is the ‘Ways and Means Act’, a set of mythical
powers which they use to mystify and confuse suspects, and the question
of whether an officer should detain a suspect on legal grounds is displaced
by the question ‘which legal reason shall I use to justify detaining this person’.
Exercised according to police criteria rather than specific legal criteria,
the rules are rules for the abolition of disorder, exercised by the police and enabled by law.

Mr. Gindin’s reference to “judicial discipline” assumes that the judiciary will continue to exist as a separate institution–like now. He presumably also assumes that police will never be abolished since he eternalizes “scarcity” (as noted above, I will criticize this view in another article). With scarcity, there will be necessary some external force to ensure that people who do not follow the (mythological) law will be properly “motivated” to follow not the law but the order of scarcity. Socialism in such a situation will resemble the capitalist order in various ways.

The social implication of the rule of law or “judicial discipline” can also be seen in terms of the effects on how people would feel in Mr. Gindin’s “realistic socialism”–fear. From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, page 113:

‘We fear the policeman’ then, as Slavoj Zizek comments, ‘insofar as he is
not just himself, a person like us, since his acts are the acts of power, that
is to say, insofar as he is experienced as the stand-in for the big Other, for
the social order.’73 And it is because the police officer is the stand-in for
social order that order is the central trope around which even the smallest
police act is conducted. As a number of ex-police officers have testified,
the police themselves are obsessed with order, being institutionalized to
achieve order at all times and in all contexts. Malcolm Young has commented
on how one folder containing a record of the Orders by a range of
senior officers reveals ‘how everything in this world had an ordained place
and could therefore be controlled, ordered, disciplined, checked, scrutinized’.
Likewise ex-police sergeant Simon Holdaway has pointed to the
way prisoners are treated as ‘visible evidence of disorder’. Needing to
detect and end disorder among citizens, the police cannot cope with ambiguity
in any way.74 In dealing with any particular situation a police officer
makes a decision about what, if anything, is out of order and then makes a
decision about how to overcome it. Because each individual officer is institutionalized to achieve order at all times the police institution must have
a strong sense of the order they are there to reproduce, reflected in the
activities they are taught to pursue, the techniques they use in pursuit, and
compounded by a unitary and absolutist view of human behaviour and
social organization.75

The police as the representative of “order” entails not only fear but a need for the expression of deference. From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 113-114:

So for example, failure to display deference to an
officer significantly increases the probability of arrest, for it is understood
as a failure to display deference to an officer’s demand for order. Any hostility
directed to them is treated as an attack on their authority and power
to order, and thus an attack on authority and order in general, mediated by
a supposed hostility to the Law. Antagonistic behaviour is a symbolic rejection
of their authoritative attempt to reconstitute order out of a disorderly
situation; it is this which may result in more formal (i.e. legal) methods of
control.76 Regardless of the legal issues pertinent to the situation, the failure to display deference is therefore likely to make one an object of the law as
an arrested person as a means of reproducing order.

Mr. Gindin’s world of scarcity probably looks a lot like the capitalist world order.

This view is consistent with Mr. Gindin’s conservative attitude–he could not even criticize the conservative pairing of a movement for increasing the minimum wage to $15 and for instituting needed employment law reforms with the idea of “fairness.” He even claimed that the justification by some trade unionists here in Toronto who used the term “decent work” were using it in a purely defensive manner–which is nonsense.

Indeed, the term “decent work” is linked to the repressive nature of the capitalist government or state since those who perform “decent work” in a society dominated by a class of employers can thereby pat themselves on the back while they look down on those who lack “decent work.” From Richard Ericson, Reproducting Order: A Study of Police Patrol Work, page 204:

The police can easily justify additional resources, including the latest in
protective headgear, because they have a solid populist constituency among
the ‘hard hats’ of ‘decent working people.’ These people have a great stake in
the status quo because they have invested their very lives in it. In relation to
them, the politics of ‘lawandorder’ is part of ‘the politics of resentment.’
According to people who analyse this politics (e.g. Friedenberg, 1975,1980,
1980a; Gaylin et al, 1978) these individuals are apparently frustrated by the
imprisonment of conformity within the status quo. Conformity yields
payouts which they judge to be meager; the payouts are assessed relatively
and thus prove insatiable. These people take out their frustrations against
those contained in the criminal prisons, and against all others who do things,
however vaguely defined, which suggest that they are gaining pleasure outside
conventional channels. For these conventionals, it is better to seek the
painful channels of convention and to avoid pleasures. For this reason, they
support the construction of an elaborate apparatus aimed at ensuring that
those who seek to experience disreputable pleasures and to avoid pain will
eventually, and often repeatedly, suffer pain that more than cancels out their
pleasures. Moreover, it seems that people are willing to support the construction
of this apparatus at all costs.

Mr. Gindin, far from providing a critique of the modern social order, panders to such an order and reinforces the proclivity of Canadians to call for more order (a stronger police presence and a stronger police state). From Richard Ericson, Reproducting Order: A Study of Police Patrol Work, page 204:

This mythology is so dominant that even when a major crisis
erupts, and the media help to reveal systematic structural flaws in control
agencies, public support for the police remains strong. This is clearly evident
in the continuing revelations about the wide net of illegal practices cast by the
RCMP (see Mann and Lee, 1979). In spite of repeated revelations about illegal
practices against legitimate political groups, illegal opening of the mail, illegal
trespasses and thefts in private premises, and the manufacturing of news
stories to serve its own interests, the RCMP still maintains its popularity in
public opinion polls (ibid). Indeed, some politicians have responded to this
exposure by calling for legislation to legalize previously illegal practices and
for a reassertion of authority within the administrative structure of the RCMP.
As Friedenberg (1980, 1980a) points out, this type of response is typical
of the Canadian reaction to any crisis in authority: ‘The solution for the
failure of authority is more authority …

Mr. Gindin’s view of the future “expansion of the state” simply ignores the repressive nature of the modern state and claims that it merely needs to be transformed. What he means by “transformation” seems, however, to be more of the same–repression, fear, deference. After all, with scarcity, property rights must be protected to ensure that workers are motivated to engage in work (rather than pilfering from others).

Such is the real nature of socialism for Mr. Gindin.

In a future post, I will, unlike Mr. Gindin, continue a critical analysis of the police, the law and the government or state that protects class order–the class order of employers above all.

Of course, workers also call the police in order to protect themselves from each other–to deny that would be naive. That workers experience the police as oppressive does not prevent them from relying on the police to protect what limited rights they do have on occasion–but the extent to which the police and the courts protect workers’ rights should not be exaggerated. Nor should it prevent us from seeing the major function of the police to protect the existing order–and use the law as a means to that end. The primary issue for the police is order–and to seek justifications for maintaining or reestablishing order–including using the law to justify their actions after the fact.

 

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three

The attitude of much of the left in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere in Canada and the world) is that working for an employer is not all that bad. Why else would the left not object to references to “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth by union reps, or the coupling of some needed labour-law reforms and an increase in the minimum wage in Ontario with the concept of “fairness”? (All these terms are used by the social-democratic left in Toronto.) This attitude of treating working for an employer as really not that bad is something they share with their bourgeois counterparts.

Personal crime is considered to be real crime–but corporate crime is not really treated as something as bad or worse than personal crime. This can be seen when comparing the attitude of Canadian federal legislation towards personal crime and the attitude of that government and other participants when formulating legislation that was supposed to protect workers from acts deemed criminal in nature by corporations following the Westray mine explosion. The first quotation relates to the government’s attitude towards personal crime. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 2:

Consistent with the cultural obsession over crime control, in the fall of 2003, the
Canadian government introduced stringent new anti-violence legislation aimed at some of Canada’s worst offenders – those with a well documented track record of reckless behaviour and responsibility for multiple and egregious acts of violence. The legislation had all-party support (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 367), signalling a consensus for the need to better protect Canadians from violent crime. The government characterized its legislative initiative as a significant step towards ensuring that offenders are held criminally responsible for their harmful
behaviour (Department of Justice Canada 2003). Legal observers suggested that it represented a fundamental change, perhaps even a revolution, in assigning criminal liability (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 368). News items cautioned would-be criminals that they were in for a wake-up call once the new law took effect (Mann 2004: 29). It thus appeared that if violent crime was the problem, then harsh new penalties were the solution.

The proposed legislation for corporate crime expressed a different attitude in various ways, such as the time elapsed between the Westray mine explosion (May 9, 1992) and the proposal for legislation for corporate crime, or the attitude of participants in the legislative process concerning the seriousness of the crime. From Little, page 2:

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). Also curious was that both the media and general public expressed little interest in the new law, hardly the status quo for issues of violent crime. Moreover, since its enactment, there have been only two charges laid; a particularly worrisome trend given that recent research reveals an increase in the forms of violence that the legislation was intended to address (Sharpe and Hardt 2006). In fact, it would
appear that the most significant development associated with the new legislation is the emergence of a crime (un)control industry, one in which lawyers offer for-fee courses that potential offenders can take to learn about the new law and the steps they must follow to avoid criminal responsibility (for example, see Gonzalez 2005; Guthrie 2004).

The focus on violent personal crime that leads to injury or death and the absence of such focus on corporate crime that leads to injury or death is tantamount to a form of silent indoctrination. Such silent indoctrination parallels the silent indoctrination of school history curricula, which do not permit students to come to understand how and why employers (and employees) arose (see previous posts on this silent indoctrination in schools).

This focus on violent personal crime, of course, forms the regular diet of many television programs. Similarly, the silence concerning violent corporate crimes (if indeed they are considered crimes at all) also forms the regular diet of most television programs and documentaries.

Should there not be constant discussion concerning this silent indoctrination within the labour movement? Is there? If not, why not? Or is the macro problem of around one thousand workers dying every year at work and hundreds of thousands of injuries (and diseases) not a problem that is to be immediately addressed but only “in the long run?” For those who die or who are injured, there is no “long run” since the problem which they face is immediate and due to ignoring the macro problem in the past.

Where is the left that is bringing out these issues? Or is the left busy formulating platitudes, such as “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth? ]

Does not the left have an attitude that working for an employer is really not all that bad? Do they not share the same attitude as the politicians, who did not want to go too far in the legislation? Or those on the left who talk of “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth while all the while assuming that decent work, fairness and economic justice can somehow be realized while the class power of employers still exists.

What do you think?

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.2
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.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Two

I thought it appropriate to post on the issue of safety and health in relation to working for an employer at this time since, in Canada, April 28 is the National Day of Mourning, or Workers’ Mourning Day, for workers killed, injured or suffering illnesses due to workplace hazards.

Why do unions and the social-reformist left often speak in terms of “fairness,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth in the light of persistent deaths and injuries on the job? They do so in order to justify their own practices–which generally do not question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class. By limiting their reference to fairness and justice to social relations within the present class system, they serve as ideologues or representatives of employers (even if they do not intend to do so).

Part of the purpose of this blog is to undermine the typical ways of thinking about social problems among the social-democratic or reformist left and among radicals. It is highly unlikely that any major social changes will arise without a frontal attack on the ways of thinking of many workers (including trade unionists). Tom Dwyer points out the importance of this task (Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, pages 97-98:)

The effect whereby notions of truth and justice are undermined is of great importance for sociology, anthropology, and, as we shall see in highly complex industries, for cognitive psychology. This effect potentially modifies cultural systems, contributes to the destruction of one set of visions of truth and justice and their replacement through the building up of another

Of course, notions of truth and justice are not just undermined and others arise through ideological means. Struggles against those in power play an important part, but the explicit critique of old, upper-class expressions of truth and justice and their replacement by new, working-class expressions of truth and justice are important in unifying the direction of diverse movements consciously and in modifying the direction of each separate struggle accordingly.

The idealization of unions by the left, on the other hand, play into the hands of employers since union representatives and rank-and-file members often diverge over key concerns related to, for example, safety and health issues (from Dwyer,  pages 78-79):

Studies from the United States illustrate this last point: the union movement perceives safety in a manner different to workers. A survey by the Upjohn Institute found that unionized automobile and steel workers placed job health and safety issues at the top of their priorities. This was corroborated by a national survey which found that in “the labor standards areas . . . most important to workers were those relating principally to the general area of health and safety.”121 In the Upjohn study, union leaders and top management “both thought money rather than working conditions deserved the most attention, an almost exact reversal of the blue collar attitudes.”122 In other words, these are clear
signs that the union movement integrates an uneasy tension between political demands, which are perceived, built, and responded to by its leadership, and social demands from its base.

It is high time the radical left begin to openly criticize the persistent ideological conceptions of truth and justice characteristic of trade union reps. If they do not, they form part of the problem rather than a solution to the social problems characteristic of capitalism and the domination of our lives by the class of employers.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part One

The title is a variation of one of the subsections in chapter two of Jeremy Reiman’s The Rich Get Richer … and the Poor Get Prison.

In a couple of earlier posts, I pointed out that working for an employer involves needless deaths and injuries (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law). I have decided to start writing a series of posts on the issue of health and safety in the workplace since it is a key issue for workers.

Consider the following on the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” website (Fight for $15):

We NEED fair labour laws to save lives

On Tuesday, October 23, the Doug Ford government introduced Bill 47. This legislation seeks to impose a real dollar cut in the minimum wage and eliminate most of our new workplace rights, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, and more. If passed, this outrageous legislation will force millions into poverty, while putting workers’ health and safety at risk.

The introduction of Bill 47 by the conservative Ford government in Ontario, Canada (and the repeal of Bill 148, which introduced an increase in the minimum wage and a number of needed reforms of employment law) is presented as preventing the institution of “workers’ health and safety.” If Bill 148 had not been repealed and if Bill 47 were not passed (it was), then “workers’ health and safety” would not be “at risk.”  This is the unconscious or implicit assumption and message of the author of the article on that website. It is also the stated or unstated assumption of the social-reformist left.

The social-reformist left must absolutize the reforms which they seek. By absolutize, I mean that they must claim that there is somehow a fair situation that results if what they seek is realized. It is not, for them, a question of something fairer be realized but rather something that is fair.

The article mentions the community and union opposition that emerged against Bill 147, as well it should.

A little further down in the article, the recent death of a temporary worker at Fiera Foods is mentioned, and a vigil is called for. The vigil is to be lauded, and the article emphasizes that this is the fourth temporary worker killed working for the same food-processing plant.

However, the following is then claimed:

We know this heartbreaking death is not an isolated event…. It is what happens – and what will happen in the future – if workers are treated as disposable and if the laws meant to protect us are weakened, or not enforced at all.

Labour laws, like collective agreements, can certainly contribute to the improvement of workers’ lives, but can labour laws really prevent workers from being “treated as disposable?” It is the very nature of a society dominated by a class of employers that workers are disposable; to think otherwise is to not understand the basic nature of such a society (see   The Money Circuit of Capital)  for a characterization of workers as means or things for ends defined by employers).

The article then provides some probable consequences of instituting Bill 47, but it fails to consider whether, even if Bill 47 were withdrawn (it was not, and it passed), whether this would be sufficient to protect workers in an economy structured on the basis of the control of billions of workers throughout the world by a class of employers:

Let’s be clear about the serious implications of Bill 47:

  • When the government says freeze the minimum wage for 33 months, it means a real dollar cut in earnings for the lowest-paid workers in the province. After that wage cut, the minimum wage would only be adjusted in accordance with the previous year’s price increases (Consumer Price Index). It could be 2025 by the time the minimum wage reaches $15, and by then, a $15 wage will, once again, fall below the poverty line. This government wants to reimpose poverty on millions of workers in this province.

  • When the government says it wants to cut paid sick days, it is saying it has no problem forcing workers to work while they are sick or injured. It is saying they have no problem with parents having to send their sick child to school where they might spread illness to other children and education workers. It says this government has a complete disregard for the health and well-being of the people who keep this province functioning.

  • When the government says it wants to re-impose a requirement for Doctors’ notes, it is saying it has no problem forcing sick workers into hospital waiting rooms and risk spreading disease to others. It has no problem clogging up our health care system for visits that the Ontario Medical Association has said are unnecessary, wasteful, and costly. It says this government has no problem imposing red tape on workers and health providers.

  • When this government reduces penalties for employers who openly disregard the law – as Bill 47 seeks to do – this government is telling Ontario’s most unscrupulous employers that it is open season on the most vulnerable workers in this province. Especially those who work in temp agencies.

It is good to expose the extreme business-oriented position of the Conservative government, and the article is to be lauded for that. However, the following undermines this by implying that fair labour laws can somehow be achieved in the context of the present structure of the economy:

We need your help to deliver a message to Premier Doug Ford and his government: Fair labour laws, save lives. Bill 47 has not been passed, and it needs to be withdrawn immediately. Our elected officials must ensure our safety and well-being on the job, not jeopardize it.

Labour laws may increase the workers’ power by limiting further the power of employers as a class, but unless the labour law somehow challenges the principle of the power of employers as a class, it cannot be the sole basis for protecting workers from being used as disposable means for the benefit of employers. Workers should fight for labour laws that can serve as means to protect them from some of the ravages of employer-dominated establishments, but they should also organize initially at the local level on the shop floor as a fighting force that can oppose the power of management to treat them  as things to be used for goals not of their own making. Furthermore, they should realize that no labour law and no local level organization can protect them from the ravages of an economy in which they are economically dependent on employers; labour laws and local organizations can only reduce the likelihood of injury and accident but not eliminate it. The very nature of their economic dependence and their treatment as things includes the very real possibility of workplace injury and accident.

Should we not take seriously the following (from Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.

Should any leftist claim that any possible reform in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers is fair? We certainly need to fight for reforms, but why bullshit the workers by calling such reforms fair? They are fairer or less fair, to be sure. To have labour laws that enable workers to protect themselves more is better than no labour laws or less effective labour laws. But how does this translate into fairness?

Why does the social-reformist left find it necessary to claim that such reforms express “decent work,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “fairness,” or “economic justice”?

What do you think?

Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers

In the context of the process of passing legislation related to the Westray mining disaster (ultimately diluted to satisfy the interests of employers), a union representative explicitly expressed the reality that workers face when they work for employers. The problem with this explicit admission of the power of employers is that it does not play any real role in the education of the working class. Compare what is said below with union rhetoric about “decent jobs” or a “fair wage.” From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

“…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

One of the distinguishing features of human beings is our capacity to choose–our capacity to be free, to make decisions. The union representative openly admits that in the context of businesses, it is management that mainly decides and that all that a collective agreement does is restrict the authority of management to decide. Regulation and legislation, in a few cases, also limit that authority. Other than that, management has dictatorial powers at work. In other words, workers are treated as things at work–as objects to be used; they are thing-like objects, without the power to participate equally in decisions that affect their lives.

And the social-reformist left repeatedly refer to “decent jobs” and “fairness.” Even the so-called radical left (see the previous post, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right) engage in such rhetoric. How being treated as things can be magically converted into decent jobs and fair wages is beyond me. The religious nature of this rhetoric (most frequently expressed by trade unionists) is obvious by the lack of any critical discussion concerning whether it reflects the experience of the millions (and indeed billions) of workers worldwide.

What do you think of the above honest statement of the reality or situation of even the more privileged section of the working class (for, generally, unionized workers are more privileged) when compared to the rhetoric of “decent work” and “fair wages” or “fairness” as expressed by the social-reformist left (and even the radical left)?

Should we not start discussing these issues openly and honestly? Are we? If we are not, why are we not doing so?

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.