I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).
The following is my inquiry and critique:
People’s Pandemic Shutdown
We Demand Everything
(Draft Action Outline)
Long Term Objective
Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.
Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.
Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.
Questions about “Long Term Objective”:
a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?
What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?
For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?
Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.
Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands
Long Term Care Homes
Disability support programs
Paid sick days
Equity Based Social Work
Questions for the “Strategy”:
Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?
Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?
“To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?
Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?
Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?
Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.
Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?
Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?
Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?
Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?
Workers’ Demands to Build Upon
Status for all workers
Paid sick days for all
Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
Livable wage for all
Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”
Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?
Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon
Cease all participation in illegal wars
Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel
Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:
Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?
Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.
Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)
Defunding of oppressive corporations
Defunding oppressive police and military
1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street
-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants
-Physically distant, masks
1:30PM Walk to Bay and College
-Occupy the intersection
-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands
Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:
Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘
Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?
The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.
I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.
I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:
The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.
This is a continuation of a previous post that illustrates how politically biased the capitalist government or state and its representatives (such as social-democratic social workers) are when it comes to determining real situations–especially when a person self-declares as a Marxist.
Just a recap: I filed a complaint with the Manitoba Institute of Registered Workers against a social worker who had written a court-ordered assessment concerning my wife at the time, myself and my daughter, Francesca Alexandra Romani (ne Harris). I am using the initials S.W. for the social worker. Mr. S.W., claimed that my claim that the mother of my daughter was using a belt and a wooden stick to physically abuse her, was “somewhat ridiculous.” Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about determining the truth of this claim (which is in fact true) than with my so-called indoctrination of my daughter in my “Marxist ideology.”
Since the civil trial in April 1999, my daughter complained of the following (as of February 18, 2000—it should be noted that the following does not include the many times Francesca told me that Francesca’s mother had hit her before Feburary 18, 2000): 1. Her mother was using a wooden stick on her buttocks; 2. Her mother used a belt to spank her on the same area; 3. Her mother grabbed Francesca and forced her into the apartment building; 4. Her mother had grabbed Francesca’s throat in the elevator and warned her not to tell me that her mother had hit her; 5. Her mother shoved Francesca to the floor on two separate occasions; 6. Her mother hit Francesca on the head with a book; 7. Her mother pulled Francesca’s hair; 8. Her mother scratched Francesca with a comb.
This contrasts with Mr. S.W.’s allegation, as noted in the last post, that ” Mr. Harris’ explanation for contacting the Agency [Winnipeg Child and Family Services] was somewhat ridiculous. He said that the child had made some vague indications that she may have been spanked.”
Mr. S.W. was much less concerned about the truthfulness of Mr. Harris’ claim (which is true) than with Mr. Harris’ Marxists ideas.
The Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers rejected my complaint, claiming that Mr. S.W. did not contravene the code of ethics of registered social workers in Manitoba.
I then filed a complaint against Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) with the Manitoba Ombudsman, and during their so-called inquiry, the WCFS threatened me in a letter with consulting their legal counsel and phoning the police on me. The Manitoba Ombudsman found the actions of the WCFS to be reasonable both before the letter and the letter itself:
Our office has investigated the concerns you raised and have concluded that the position taken by WCFS as outlined in their letters of January 13, 2003 and January 22, 2004 is not clearly wrong or unreasonable. Accordingly there is no recommendation that can be made on your behalf.
So far, the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers and the Manitoba Ombudsman proved themselves to be anything but institutions that reflected any kind of fairness or equitable treatment. Quite to the contrary. They either involved oppression in one form or another or justification of such oppression by vindicating an oppressive institution.
The social-democratic left rarely take this integrated nature of the oppressive powers linked to the capitalist government or state into account when formulating tactics and strategy. Indeed, many on the left even idealize such oppressive features by calling for, without qualification, the expansion of public services–as if such public services were not riveted with oppressive features.
Immediate Family Context, Or How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, the First But Not the Last Time
As I indicated in my last post in this series:
In my next post, I will fast forward to 2007-2008, when Francesca skipped school so much that she was obliged to repeat grade eight in 2008.
I started my Ph. D. in 2002 and received a scholarship for three years, from 2002 until 2005, which helped financially, gave me some time to work on my studies without having to work as much as a substitute teacher, and enabled me to register Francesca in extra curricular activities without going into further debt (I owed around $16,000 from student loans associated with attending a bachelor of education program between 1994 (when Francesca was born) and 1996).
After 2005, however, I had to increase my work as a substitute teacher and, despite this, I increased my debt (by 2008, I had a credit card debt of around $7,000 and about $20,000 in student debt).
In the 2006-2007 school year, Francesca attended Elmwood High School, an inner-city high school not too far from the house where she lived with her mother. I was concerned about the impact her experiences at that school would have on her–as well as the kind of friendships she was establishing. (I had substituted at the school only a few times; my experiences did not impress me. For example, I substituted in one class that could lock from the inside. I had a key to the room where I was substituting, but it was in my jacket in the classroom. One student got up and left for no reason, and I followed him outside. Some students locked me out of the classroom. I had to go to the office and have the vice-principal open the door. I can certainly understand why students would do what they did in the context of an oppressive classroom setting–but I did want my daughter to learn something as well.
For the school year 2007-2008, her mother agreed to have her attend River Heights School, a middle-years school where I had substituted as well. The teaching, as far as I could see, was more rigorous, and there were more opportunities for extra-curricular activities.
However, my need to earn a living and my work on my doctoral dissertation led me to fail Francesca by not ensuring that everything was working out well at the new school. Her uprooting from her friends, and my lack of monitoring her situation, led to her skipping school more and more (I assume–her mother had fully custody–but I could have been much more active in ensuring that she felt more at home in the school and, if not, at least tried to talk to her and support her in attending. Francesca, it is true, erased messages that I received from school concerning her attendance–but that is hardly an excuse for my lack of rigor in monitoring the situation.
Furthermore, I should have known that something was wrong. At one point, she stole coins from one of my drawers. At another point, I had dropped her off for her swimming lesson at the Pan Am Pool in Winnipeg, and I received a call; the police had been called. Francesca had been caught stealing money from a purse in one of the lockers. Francesca was not charged–I convinced the police that this would not happen again. There is a difference between personal theft, which is wrong and theft from large stores and from companies–I told Francesca I do not do that not because it is wrong but because it is not worth the consequences of possibly going to jail or at least a criminal record. On the other hand, Francesca’s own defense of herself in front of the police was impressive.
In any case, I failed Francesca by not monitoring her situation. Not for the last time.
As I wrote in my last post in this series:
By that time, not even her mother could control her. Nor could I. Francesca had been violent towards me since 1999, when her mother refused to let me see Francesca or let Francesca to see me for almost three months.
In 2008, I obtained a position as a permanent teacher in September 2008, in Ashern, Manitoba, a very small town about 160 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Francesca’s mother agreed to have Francesca live with me since her mother could no longer control her. I decided to home school Francesca while living in Ashern and teaching there. I enrolled Francesca in distance education courses in June 2008, and I gave her the courses. She then left with her cousin, Laura, for Kelowna, a city in the province of British Columbia. I expected Francesca at least to work a bit on the distance education courses during the summer of 2008. She never did. That was the beginning of our problems.
Since Francesca was going to be taught by me by means of home schooling and distance education, I set up a schedule for the various courses. For example, for the social studies course, I wrote the following:
Assumption: Two days of work before August 31 and every day working on social studies Studying every day working on social studies until finished.
With such a start date, it is necessary to finish about 4 pages of the distance education package per day. The 4 pages do not mean just 4 pages of reading. It means that whatever is assigned for the 4 pages must be read or done and understood. For example, on page 3 of Lesson 1 for Module 1, it is necessary to become familiar with the Table of Contents by doing the exercise.
Module 1 August 21=Lesson 1, page 4 August 26=page 8 August 31=Lesson 2, page 12 September 1=page 16 September 2=Page 20 September 3=Lesson 3, page 24 September 4=page 28 September 5=32 September 6=Lesson 4, page 36 September 7=Lesson 5, page 40 September 8=Lesson 6, page 44 September 9=Lesson 7. page 48 September 10=page 52 September 11=Lesson 8, page 56 September 12=Lesson 9, page 60 September 13=Lesson 10,page 64 September 14=page 66, Review for Test 1 September 15=Test, Module 1 September 16=Review test, Module 1
How I Failed Francesca, My Daughter, A Second Time
We started to argue shortly after we moved to Ashern. Francesca did not study as she needed to if she were going to finish grade 8. In retrospect, I should have either hired a tutor (if possible since Ashern only had a population of 1,400) or registered her in the school where I was going to teach. I was afraid, though, that if I registered her in the school where I taught, she and I would have further arguments that would spill over into my workplace and, I could lose my job. For those who abstractly consider this irrelevant, I will simply point out that economic security forms a vital component of why the working class has a tendency to fight for socialism (see Marc Mulholland (2009), “Marx, the Proletariat, and the ‘Will to Socialism’,” Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory,” pages 319-343, Volume 37, Number 3; and by the same author (2010) “‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline, Consideration” pages 375-417, Volume 38, Number 3.
The social-democratic left do not even talk about the conflict that members of the working class often face between their existence as members of a family and as members of the working class (wage workers, or workers who must subordinate their will to an employer) and how this contradiction ties into government actions. It is ironic because many movies and tv programs do just that–in a conservative manner, of course. How many reading this post have not watched a movie or tv program where the protagonists experience a conflict between the existence as family members, as members of the working class or as members of the state?
For example, Raju Das, in his book Marxist Class Theory for a Skeptical World, recognizes that family relations aid in identifying the class interests of family members. Thus, he writes (page 42):
A woman who is a school teacher and married to a working class man is not in the same class location as another woman school teacher married to a male ceo (1989d: 328). So the class location of husbands and wives should be treated as a function of both direct class location and their mediated location. Sometimes they can have a common class location and sometimes different.
Mr. Das is primarily concerned with indicating the primacy of class position or location (relative to, for example, being a member of a family); this is important, but from a practical point of view of how to organize the working class into a class capable of overcoming those class recognitions, we need to acknowledge and take into account the relationships that retard class consciousness or accelerate it.
Being a member of a family can do both. On the one hand, being a member of a family can make workers more militant as they struggle to maintain and improve their family life. On the other hand, it can also make workers more conservative when being a family member results in acceptance of subordination of the worker’s will to the power of the employer. For example, I remember one worker in the capitalist brewery where I worked (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada), who explicitly stated that his family was more important than his job. Of course, what a person says and what a person does need not coincide, but to ignore the importance of the family to members of the working class, organizationally, is bound to be fraught with problems.
Or it can result in contradictory tendencies since workers can be pulled in opposite directions simultaneously. Blindness on the part of academic Marxists to these issues indicate the extent to which Marxism as theory has become divorced from Marxism as practice.
In any case, I made the wrong decision by trying to homeschool Francesca on my own. We generally worked on her studies together after supper; before supper I prepared lessons and marked other students’ work. I worked late at night and on the weekend on my doctoral dissertation (which I finished in 2009, the following year).
Our arguments became more and more heated as it became evident that Francesca was falling further and further behind. I was becoming the person and father that I did not want to become–an oppressive father by pressuring Francesca to keep to the schedule. I had to revise the schedule several times, but it was always in need of revision.
One time, when we were arguing over her studies, Francesca, who was in the kitchen, picked up a pot lid and threw it at me like a frisbee. The lid nearly hit my face; she could have easily hurt me. I walked up to her and put her in a headlock, forced her to the ground, and obliged her to state that she would not throw anything further at me. She promised not to do so.
I do not to this day regret doing this; Francesca was out of control and could have easily thrown a knife at me.
Another time, we were arguing about her studies, and she punched me in the face. I pinned her arms in order to prevent her from hitting me again. I do not regret doing that either.
There was another time, however, which I do regret. We usually studied on the futon in the living room (where I slept). Francesca obviously felt tense when we were studying, and when she did not understand something, she would dig her elbows into my side.
One day, I was sitting on the futon, with Francesca on the right. We were studying, and I was drinking some tea. She began to dig her elbow into my right side, and it hurt. I responded spontaneously, and the tea went flying from my hands. Unfortunately, some of the tea hit Francesca’s face. She started to cry. Fortunately, the tea was not hot enough to burn her–but it could have been.
Yes, I stand condemned for hurting my daughter. The mitigating circumstance is that, unknown at the time, I had invasive bladder cancer, and the cancer had blocked my right kidney (it no longer functions). That is why I was having pain on my right side, and that is why it hurt when Francesca dug her elbow into my right side.
I had had drops of blood in my urine on and off for some time (usually at the end of urination). I had gone to the doctor’s office when I lived in Winnipeg, but he discouraged me from getting a scan because of the expense–it was a time of cutbacks, and he also discouraged me from having a cystoscopy (he said it was not a pleasant procedure–which it is not. But having cancer is also not pleasant). He thought it was a urinary infection and prescribed some antibiotics. The blood went away, but it returned when I was living in Ashern with Francesca–but it was much worse than before.
I started to urinate blood–my urine was red rather than yellow. After the incident with the tea, I showed Francesca this by showing her the toilet, which was filled with blood. This had no effect in her increasingly violent behaviour towards me or in the advance of her studies.
I went to see the doctor in Ashern, and he at first recommended antibiotics, if I remember correctly. Eventually he recommended a CT scan.
Francesca also started to communicate with her mother; undoubtedly, she was complaining about me and our relationship. She wanted to return to live with her mother.
I felt that I could not handle Francesca anymore, and since she was indifferent to my health, I also responded inappropriately by indicating that I never wanted to see her again. I failed Francesca again.
In early January, I took Francesca back to her mother’s place. Within a couple of weeks, though, Francesca and her mother fought again to the point that Francesca started living with her cousin, Laura, who already had children and was foster parenting. I did not communicate with Francesca, though–I was still hurting from her apparent indifference to the deterioration of my health.
The Experiences of a Sick Worker
In the meantime, I tried to hide my sickness from my employer, Lakeshore School Division, until I obtained my permanent position as a teacher, by cleaning up red spots that splashed on the men’s bathroom floor.
In January or February, I believe, the Ashern doctor informed me that the CT scan indicated that I had a tumor, but that I should not worry–in most cases tumors are benign.
In March, 2009, I was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer. I waited for about two weeks before I communicated with Francesca.
I had surgery, but my urologist indicated that the tumor was too big to remove entirely through surgery without removing the whole bladder. He recommended chemotherapy followed by radiation.
In the meantime, Laura, Francesca’s cousin, was married to Sean, whose mother started to tutor Francesca. I also paid for an independent tutor for Francesca. She did finish grade 8.
In June 2009, the chemotherapy oncologist had his intern inform me that I had a 60 percent chance of dying in the next five years since the cancer had penetrated the muscle; I told Francesca this. He recommended the removal of the bladder. My urologist, who was also a professor at the University of Manitoba, informed me that surgery was the typical treatment for bladder cancer in North America whereas in Europe doctors usually tried chemotherapy followed by radiation to see if the tumor could be eliminated. I chose chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy worked during the summer of 2009. There was no visible cancer after the nine weeks of chemotherapy.
Francesca, in the meantime, started to attend St. James Collegiate in grade 9 and continued to live with Laura.
My urologist still recommended radiation treatment, but for some reason it took a long time before I saw the radiologist. After some time, the radiologist informed me that she refused to perform the radiation treatment because she claimed that my intestines and my bladder were too close together. She did indicate, however, that there was a procedure for placing a mesh inside me in order to shift the intestines out of the way in order to receive radiation treatment.
I reluctantly agreed to the surgery. The surgery was scheduled on April 19, 2010. Before that, on March 10, I believe, I received a letter from the doctor who was to perform surgery. I had to provide the letter to my employer in order to obtain time off.
Francesca and I were not getting along at the time. She was becoming more religious and refused to hear anything about the theory of evolution or my Marxist ideas.
Francesca’s Apprehension by the Winnipeg Child and Family Services: Oppression by a Welfare Service
On March 10, the day that I received the letter from the surgeon, I went to Tim Horton’s across from St. James Collegiate. I was going to tell Francesca about the surgery, show her the letter and also give her a book on evolution. She was, however, if I remember correctly, with another friend. She was taking the bus to return, I assumed, to Laura’s place. I decided that I would make a copy of the letter and put the book and the letter in the mailbox at Laura’s place.
I made a photocopy of the letter at Shopper’s Drug Store along the way, and then was going to go to Laura’s place by cutting across from Portage Avenue, ironically between the Manitoba Teachers’ Society building (McMaster House), on the one hand, and the building where the MTS Disability Plan office was located (as well as the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association-see illustrations below).
I took this route because Francesca was living on Nightingale Rd, where Laura, her cousin, lived; this was a shortcut that Francesca had showed me (see map below).
However, as I was turning to enter the shortcut, I saw Francesca walking towards this shortcut; she had obviously taken the bus, had gotten off and was going to take the short cut. I drove a little further on, parked the car, got out and gave her a photocopy of the doctor’s letter and the book on evolution.
I left to return to Ashern, Manitoba, 166 kilometers north of Winnipeg (where I worked as a French teacher); that evening, however, I received a phone call from the Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) indicating that Francesca had been apprehended by the WCFS and that I was forbidden from seeing her–on pain of being arrested. It was claimed that I had cornered Francesca and that she was afraid of me. It was also claimed that I had choked Francesca some tima ago, thrown her to the ground and that on another occasion I had pinned her arms.
I fought against this oppression for the next month. The WCFS sought custody from both parents, and I attended a meeting with a judge and the lawyer for the WCFS. The lawyer tried to insult me by asking whether I had ever been “psychologically assessed,” to which I responded by asking him the same question. I indicated to the judge how Francesca had been physically abused in various ways. The judge indicated that if the issue went to court and he were judge and the WCFS lost, then he would have no choice but to grant custody either to me or to the mother. Given Francesca’s and my present rocky relationship, I could not fathom our getting along together. Furthermore, now that it was probably that Francesca had played some part in the false accusations of choking her and throwing her to the ground, I felt that I could not trust her.
Of course, I did not feel that Francesca’s mother should have custody given the history of physical abuse.
I went to court one final time, indicating that I would abandon custody–but without prejudice.
The whole experience was very stressful.
On April 19, I had surgery in Winnipeg at the Health Sciences Center, but I had a lung infection and stayed in the hospital for 16 days. Francesca visited me once, and when I tried to talk to her about the claim that I had choked her and threw her to the ground by reminding her that I had put her in a headlock and forced her to the ground until she agreed not to throw anything else at me, she claimed that the choking and throwing her to the ground was a different occasion. Since there was no other occasion, my suspicion that she played some role in her apprehension by the WCFS was confirmed.
Expression of My Opposition to the NDP, a Social-Democratic Government
Once I left the hospital around May 5, 2010, I stayed with a friend in Winnipeg for a couple of months. Since I knew that I had not choked Francesca nor threw her to the ground, her apprehension by an organization that was instrumental in contributing to her physical abuse and her violence towards me angered me, to say the least. I began to send emails to the New Democratic Party (NDP, the social democratic party in Canada); the NDP were in power in the province of Manitoba. In one email, I titled it “J’accuse”–a take on the following (from Wikipedia):
I sent, among other things, a table that contained some of Francesca’s and my experiences with the WCFS (I will be posting a modified version of this table (the updated version is more inclusive) on this blog, much of which I have included in this series of posts. I also sent the material to the Manitoba Minister of Justice and to the Manitoba Minister of Education. I also began to send the material to government institutions outside the province of Manitoba.
Return to Teaching Before My Arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)–and Revelations
I returned to Ashern in the summer of 2010 to prepare for teaching. The surgery had failed–the radiation oncologist still refused to perform radiation because, she argued, my intestines were still too close to the bladder.
On October 6, 2010, Darrell Shorting, of the Anishinaabe Child and Family Services, called me at school. It was recess time (Ashern Central School, where I worked, was a grade 5-12 school). He stated that he knew what I had done, namely, choked Francesca and threw her to the ground. Mr. Shorting obliged me to inform the principal at the time (Mr. Chartrand) that I was under investigation.
I was put on administrative leave for perhaps one week. The staff, I believe, were told that it was medical, so I felt obliged to leave Ashern early every day early.
I had a subsequent meeting with Randy Chartrand, the principal, and Janet Martell, the superintendent. I categorically denied having choked Francesca and throwing her to the ground.
Lakeshore School Division decided to have me placed in the clinical supervision model for the year; my performance as a teacher was evaluated by Randy Chartrand, the principal at the time. I passed the assessment.
During the 2010-2011 school year, a few curious experiences arose with the RCMP. It was my habit to go, every Saturday at 12: 15, to a coffee and bakery shop called “Just My Kind of Bakery,” about a block and a half from where I lived. (see photo below). I read the Saturday Winnipeg Free Press there. I could have easily walked to the bakery, but I also often worked on either preparing lessons or marking student work after having read the paper and needed . I also generally bought groceries afterwards. It was more convenient to take the car with the newspaper and school work.
One time, I left the house where I lived at around 12:15 on Saturday, as usual, on a fall day, and I saw two RCMP cars enter the alleyway behind the row of buildings that included Just My Kind of Bakery. They went to the end of the alley, turned right and then turned right again–going towards Just My Kind of Bakery. I did not make anything of it–until I arrived at Just My Kind of Bakery. I took the shortest route to the bakery, but to park at Just My Kind of Bakery, I had to cross the yellow line. When I got out, the RCMP officers from the two cars approached me, and one of them stated that what I had done was illegal–I had crossed the yellow line. When I asked how I was supposed to get to Just My Kind of Bakery, he stated that I could approach the bakery from the other side in order not to have to cross the yellow line (the same route that they had taken–although they did not say that). Of course, apart from this instance, I had never seen the RCMP ever enforce this “law” during the three-and-half years that I lived there.
Sometime afterwards, I believe, I moved to the window seat in Just My Kind of Bakery because I wanted to be able to identify my accuser, Darrell Shorting. I suppose the workers there felt “threatened”–but my purpose was a typical claimed right of an accused–to confront one’s accuser. I had been charged and condemned for physically abusing Francesca without a trial; I wanted to know who was it who was accusing me (apart from the fascist organizations called Child and Family Services, whether in Winnipeg or in Ashern).
Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Relation of Just My Kind of Bakery (Indicated by Fork and Knife) and Ashern Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
Another time, I was going to the school when it was dark to obtain something from the school in preparation for lessons; I saw an RCMP car nearby.
I forget exactly when, but Francesca contacted me, and we began to see each other. It must have been in 2011, before April 4. By coincidence we went to see a movie called “The Dilemma,” with Vince Vaughan as actor, among others. The dilemma was whether Vaughn, who saw his business partner and friend, should tell him that he had seen his wife kissing another man. My dilemma was whether I should confront Francesca with the false allegation of choking her and throwing her to the ground. After the movie, I dropped her off, and I decided to talk to her about it. We talked on the phone, and I indicated that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground. She said that it did not matter since she forgave me. I insisted, however, that I had done no such thing. If I remember correctly, she hung up. When I tried calling back then and other times, there was no answer.
It was around the same time, or perhaps a little earlier, that Francesca was temporarily living with the parents of the husband of Laura since one of the teenagers who lived under Laura’s care had apparently tried to commit suicide, and there was blood in the house. I went to see Francesca there, and she told me for the first time that she had been sexually abused by Juan Ulises, the common-law husband, when she was a child. Given that she still claimed that I had choked her and threw her to the ground, I did not believer her at the time. Now I do. I attributed her earlier violence towards me to her mother’s physical abuse. However, even after she admitted that I had not choked her nor threw her to the ground, she insisted that Juan Ulises had sexually abused her. Her extreme violence towards me can be ascribed both to the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, the lack of action by the WCFS, the Progressive Conservative government and the NDP social-democratic government (elected in 1999)–and her sexual abuse by Juan Ulises.
My Arrest and Harassment by the RCMP
Just before the spring break, I noticed that two RCMP cars were parked outside the house where I lived and had flashed their lights.
After spring break, on Sunday evening, there was someone stamping outside the house–and when I looked outside, there were a couple of flashes of light from one of the RCMP cars. I heard a knock on the door, got dressed and opened the door. There were two RCMP officers at the door. They indicated that I was under the arrest. When I asked what charge, they asked whether I wanted others to hear about the charges or whether it would be better to hear about them inside. I “invited” them inside. They informed me that I was charged with three counts of assault of Francesca. I asked them what the charges were. Two of the three were the same allegations as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services–choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground. The third allegation was new–assaulting Francesca by throwing tea at her. The RCMP officer also indicated that I was not to approach Francesca and not to leave the province; otherwise, I would be put in jail. I was fingerprinted at a later date.
On the following Saturday (April 9, 2011), for the first time ever, several RCMP officers (some in street clothes) sat opposite me at “Just My Kind of Bakery” in Ashern, probably to intimidate me and to ensure that I was no longer looking out the window to see who Darrell Shorting was. One of the officers, not in uniform, was the father of one of my former French students at the secondary level. On April 16, 2011, several RCMP officers once again do the same thing, including the father once again–this time in uniform.
(As an aside, it may be that Darrell Shorting is the same person who complained about how children in First Nations communities should be kept in their own communities rather than shipped to Winnipeg under the “protection” of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cfs-is-new-residential-school-system-says-former-cfs-investigator-1.2788730 ). If so, then Mr. Shorting saw fit to falsely accuse me of choking Francesca and throwing her to the ground and contributing to Francesca’s legal separation from me. Mr. Darrell, Shorting, as the article shows, was a former CFS abuse investigator for Aninshinaabe CFS.)
An Oppressive Working and Living Atmosphere
I returned to school next morning to teach. Curiously, one of the parents of a student I was teaching wanted to attend my class. I “agreed” to this.
Subsequently, at a teacher’s meeting, in May 2011 I believe, Neil MacNeil attended. He was a former teacher at Ashern Central School who had taught their for around 30 years. He was a principal in another school in another town within the same school division, but he was going to become the new principal at Ashern Central School during the 2011-2012 school year. At the meeting, he stated that he wished he could teach French since the French program was going downhill–which in itself I found inappropriate and humiliating since it was I who taught French.
Later that month, I was informed that I would no longer be teaching French at the high-school level (grades 9-12)–but I would still be teaching French in grades 6-8 (another teacher would teach French at the grade 5 level). Jennifer Bjorg, the daughter of the former French teacher whom I replaced once she retired (Darlene Hanlon), would be teaching basic French at the high-school level.
I enjoyed much more teaching French at the high-school level. It was optional for students, and most students wanted to be there and learn French. Since I did not like teaching basic French in the earlier years–especially since it was obligatory although many students did not really want to learn it–the stripping of my seniors French class resulted in an oppressive atmosphere for me.
Near the end of August, when I went outside, I found that one of the windows of my car had been smashed. The rock was still in the car. I went to the RCMP station a few blocks away to report it. The RCMP officer said that they could do nothing and that fingerprints could not be obtained from a rock. Nothing was done about it. There was no inquiry into the vandalism at all–further proof against the idealized version of the police by the “Marxist” Herman Rosenfeld (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).
The oppressive atmosphere where I worked and lived increased substantially when I was assigned the position of a glorified teaching assistant by having to supervise one special needs student instead of teaching the seniors French classes in September, 2011. It was humiliating, and my heart started to pound excessively in September 2011. Furthermore, I was placed on clinical supervision once again–with Neil MacNeil as principal, not Randy Chartrand.
I started to have problems sleeping at night due to the pounding heart. I started to take sleeping pills–which did not reduce the pounding heart, but they at least permitted me to distance the pounding heart sufficiently to sleep. I also started to drink a maximum of a cup of red wine every day (a measuring cup since I knew what alcohol could do to a person–my father had been an alcoholic and died when he was 50). (In fact, I started to drink red wine twice a week because my former supervisor for my master’s degree and Ph. D. Rosa Bruno-Jofre, who had cancer around the same time as I did, recommended a book “Foods That Fight Cancer.” In that book, the author recommended drinking red wine since it had a concentrated chemical not as easily metabolised if a person ate only red grapes. Drinking red wine every day, though, was due to the oppressive situation).
The whole situation was oppressive. Ashern is a very small town–around 1,400 people. I never stated to anyone that I had been arrested, but the three charges were to be addressed when a judge was to hear the charges. I did not attend personally (I hired a criminal lawyer “at a reduced rate” because I was a member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society–Josh Weinstein It cost me around $3,000). Obviously many people knew about the arrest. I could not rest neither at work nor at home.
I also started having problems teaching French with some of the students. I always had classroom management problems in the grades 7 and 8 levels, and they intensified as the year proceeded. I also experienced the oppression of the principal hovering around the classrooms where I taught, looking in whenever he wanted.
Of course, the threat of being jailed if I tried to communicate with Francesca was also oppressive.
In October, I believe, I started to see Gene Degen, a counsellor for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at the Manitoba Teachers Society building–the very building where I allegedly cornered Francesca and frightened her. I also inquired about going on sick leave.
The extent of the feeling of oppression can be seen from a series of communication between Adele Field Burton, case manager for the Disability Benefits Plan of MTS and me:
— On Wed, 11/2/11, AdelleFieldBurton<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <email@example.com> Subject: Apology To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 8:44 AM
I am sorry if I have offended you or misunderstood what you were trying to say. It was not my intention.
You are entitled to apply for benefits if you are medically unable to work.
I am here to help if needed.
AdelleFieldBurton, BA BSW CCRC
Disability Benefits Plan of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
I find the contents of your email interesting–in its naivety.
Fact 1: I went to see a brand new doctor since my previous doctor had left Ashern (a typical phenomenon in rural areas, so I am told).
Fact 2: I only indicated that I was under extreme stress; I did not elaborate.
Fact 3: The doctor listened to my heart.
Fact 4: I had an EKG.
Fact 5: He prescribed to me a drug and told me to look up on the Net its effects.
Fact 6: I looked up on the Net the drug and discovered that it was addictive.
Fact 7: I purchased the pills–with the intention of taking them for the purpose of addressing my immediate concerns–my stress as expressed in my increasingly intensified heart.
Fact 8: It was the pharmacist who informed me (not the doctor) that the pills would likely have no effect for the period of the prescription; it would be necessary to take the pills for probably six weeks to notice any effect.
Fact 9: I have been taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to try to sleep; although they do not alter the pounding heart, they do allow me to exist in a state of semi-sleep, with the feeling (though not the fact) of a pounding heart to be less intense;
Fact 10: You presumed that I refused to take the pills based on my Marxist beliefs;
Fact 11: My immediate concern is my constant pounding heart and a solution to that–not in 6 weeks henceforth.
Fact 12: Neither the doctor nor you seem to recognize what stress involves and what the person under stress needs.
Opinion: I do not appreciate your “aside” etc. You apparently have little understanding of the situation.
As an “aside,” on November 15, I have a cystoscopy. On Novemeber 17 I will have a CT scan. Anyone who knows anything about those who have experienced cancer can infer that at least some will be nervous about such procedures because of the possible outcome of a a negative diagnosis. Indeed, I had a conversation yesterday with my advisor for my Ph. D. about this since she had colon cancer at the same time as I had invasive bladder cancer.
Furthermore, on November 16 is the court date. Couple that with the clinical supervision and the humiliation of being shifted to “teaching” one student for 8 weeks and for being denied the right to teach senior-high French this year (despite having taught it for three years in a row), my stress level is quite comprehensible.
I will address my problems and my needs without your help. Should I need assistance, I shall contact another person from MTS.
Rest assured that I have no intention of ever contacting you again.
Dr. Fred Harris, Marxist
— On Mon, 10/31/11, AdelleFieldBurton<email@example.com> wrote:
From: AdelleFieldBurton <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: RE: Stress Leave To: “Fred Harris” <email@example.com> Cc: “Roland Stankevicius” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “AdelleFieldBurton” <email@example.com> Received: Monday, October 31, 2011, 5:15 AM
I am sorry to hear that things are feeling worse for you.
I guess there are a couple of things for clarification.
Although you are certainly under stress, this is not a diagnosis, it is a cause. In order to take time off work for medical reasons you need to have a note from a medical doctor that states you are unable to work for “medical reasons” (that includes psychological). If your doctor is prescribing an anti-depressant then likely feels you are exhibiting signs of depression. I do have clients who chose not to take medication as a first line of treatment, preferring to use talk therapy first. My approach to that is – Unless there is a past history of mental health problems where medication has been useful, I think it is reasonable to try counselling first but if after 6 months, the depression (etc.) is not improving, then medication becomes a part of “appropriate care and treatment”.
So I guess the first thing is to see if your doctor will support your going off work for medical reasons. If he does, then I can refer you to a psychologist – I would try to chose one who I think might fit for you.
If your doctor does not support medical leave and you still feel that is necessary, I can refer you to a psychiatrist who would just provide a medical opinion on whether you could work and provide treatment recommendations. It would mean one, two-hour visit. I would be clear with him about your concerns with psychiatry and I believe that your concerns would not be well-founded. There is really no other way to confirm your medical status if your doctor does not agree with time off.
As an aside, it sounds like you may be choosing what you consider to be the “lesser of two evils”, so I still wonder about your ability to participate fully in sessions with the psychologist. In any case, I would rely on the psychologist’s assessment of whether that was taking place. I wish there was some way we could help without impacting your philosophical beliefs but I am not sure what that would look like. The plan document is very clear about appropriate care and treatment.
In November 2011, the charges of assaulting Francesca were dropped–with no explanation at all.
I was to begin teaching an English class and a math class in November 2011, which I did–as well as the grades 6-8 French.
Neil MacNeil, the principal, submitted his clinical supervision report in December, 2011, evaluating my teaching during November and December 2011. I responded with around a 42-page critique, but I submitted it to Roland Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary), for comment. He recommended reducing it in certain places (and eliminating all evidently emotional language), so the final response was around 32 pages. Mr. Stankevicius indicated at the time that the clinical supervision report reflected badly–on Mr. MacNeil:
— On Mon, 12/19/11, RolandStankevicius<firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:From: RolandStankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Response to Clinical Evaluation To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:32 AM
I have tried to play the role of editor here. Cut down on the length, improve tone. The strikeouts should be deleted in my opinion and the yellow highlights added.
You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened. I hope you agree with my suggestions. Please call me over lunch to discuss.
Best to get this put away. You have made your points here. NM does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).
(I will be publishing, in several parts, my reply to Mr. MacNeil’s assessment sometime on this blog.)
However, Janet Martell, the superintendent and Mr. MacNeil had other plans. Mr. MacNeil, Ms. Martell, Leanne Peters, assistant superintendent, had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and me on February 13. Mr. Martell mentioned my cancer and my arrest–without Mr. Stankevicius responding at all to this. I was to be put on “intensive clinical supervision”–which meant that I would be put under her supervision–all supposedly to provide supports for my teaching. However, Mr. Stankevicius, a staff officer at the time with Manitoba Teachers Society (and later General Secretary) indicated that it was a prelude to my being fired. The starting date was to be February 14, 2012 (see letter below):
Fred Harris Box 473 Ashern, MB R0C 0E0
February 14, 2012
Dear Mr. Harris:
Intensive Guided Supervision
This correspondence is further to our meeting on February 13th, 2012. Also in attendance at the meeting was Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School, Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer, and Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division. During this meeting, we discussed the need to move you from a clinical model of supervision to the Intensive Guided model as per Lakeshore’s Regulations and Procedures.
This change in supervision is necessary as your competency in providing a quality education to our students has been brought into question and your teaching is deemed unsatisfactory by myself, as determined in consultation with Neil MacNeil. We clarified the procedures and reviewed, in general terms, the elements and expectations of good teaching and professional responsibility. We discussed the opportunity you would have to assist in determining supports required to meet the expectations. The timelines, in a broad sense, would run from today’s date until the end of April 2012. At the conclusion of the timeline, I will convene a meeting of all participants to determine the outcome of the Intensive Guided Supervision. Possible outcomes are as follows:
Recognition that the plan to achieve satisfactory teaching was successfully completed, or
A recommendation to the Board of Trustees for termination of your contract.
A second meeting has been scheduledfor Friday, February 17th at 9:30 a.m. at Ashern Central School to develop a plan for Intensive Guided Supervision. The plan will include:
a clear description of the areas requiring improvement,
a clear description of the expected changes in those areas requiring improvement,
a description of resources available within and outside the division to assist the teacher to improve teaching performance,
the timeline for satisfactory improvement to occur,
the meeting dates to review progress, and
an outline of the evaluation process and timelines which shall be followed, including expected dates of reports, both interim and final.
At this meeting, you will have the opportunity not only for input into the process, but to request clarification of any component of the supervision model, which will ensure you are in complete understanding of the Division’s expectations. If you are successful in meeting these expectations and demonstrate your desire and ability to continue to do so, no further changes in your performance will be necessary.
I am optimistic that regardless of what has happened in the past, progress can be made to the benefit of all concerned.
CC: Personnel file
Neil MacNeil, Principal, Ashern Central School
Leanne Peters, Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division
Roland Stankevicius, MTS Staff Officer
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and a lawyer for MTS at the MTS building (McMaster House):
Marni Sharples <email@example.com>
Wed., Feb. 15, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Coordinator, Teacher Welfare
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society
191 Harcourt Street
Winnipeg, MB R3J 3H2
‘ (204)837-4666 Ext. 239 or 1-800-262-8803
6 (204) 831-3077 or 1-866-799-5784
—–Original Message—– From: Fred Harris [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: February-15-12 12:36 PM To: Marni Sharples Subject: Re: Meeting – Thursday, February 16th
On February 16, 2012, I had a meeting with Mr. Stankevicius and David Shrom, a lawyer (probably a labour lawyer–he has since been on an arbitration board). Mr. Shrom informed me that the issue was grievable, meaning that the issue could be grieved on the basis of collective agreement provisions (but he did not specify, if I remember correctly, which provisions could be used to justify the grievance). However, he (or Mr. Stankevicius) indicated that, despite being grievable, I would still have to undergo intensive clinical supervision while the grievance was in process. Since I had no further desire to work for Lakeshore School Division (or for that matter any other employer), I decided not to pursue the grievance and made a deal to agree to resign if I was “allowed” to work one day in March to qualify for short-term disability until I qualified for long-term disability;
Bureaucratic Rules for Going on Short- and Long-term Disability
Fred Harris <email@example.com>
Sat., Feb. 18, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.
I received a doctor’s note yesterday for two weeks. I will fax that to the Division office. I also explained to the doctor the situation in relation to std [short-term disability], and he stated that he had no problem with signing another doctor’s note afterwards.
What are other conditions for std? Seeing a doctor regularly? Other conditions attached? What is the level of benefits?
I understand that I will have to work at least one day in March. In what would that consist? And where? I am unconcerned about the other teachers knowing about the situation–they undoubtedly will be curious. However, I have no desire to see Neil.
I do have some questions. Is std to be a bridging gap for ltd [long-term disability]? However, I skimmed through the ltd plan, and a condition for ltd is that the teacher still be employed. If the idea is to negotiate a deal and terminate, then I would not qualify for ltd. So I am unsure of this.
I also am wondering about prospects for future employment in other divisions. I would probably start out as a substitute teacher, but then again I do now know how difficult it is to be on the substitute teachers’ list in various divisions. Any ideas?
I also, as you know, plan on going to Toronto. Whether this year or next I am unsure. What probable impact, if any, would this have on working in Toronto, at least initially, as a substitute teacher?
— On Fri, 2/17/12, Roland Stankevicius <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Roland Stankevicius <email@example.com> Subject: FW: Lakeshore short term disability insurance (std) To: “Fred Harris” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Received: Friday, February 17, 2012, 12:24 PM
Hi Fred, I heard your voicemail message. I am in the office call if you are available.
Further to the previous email.
The note for next week can be “on sick leave for an indefinite period while under doctor’s care and will be reassessed on 28th February.”
The matter is that you need to be ‘not on sick leave’ for at least a day (at work) on or after March 1st. It is a bit complicated but basically you will be transitioning from one medical leave to the other and therefore will need a second medical note after March 1st.
My email to a doctor involved specifying what was required to satisfy the short-term provisions of the disability program:
From: Fred Harris <email@example.com>
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 02:09:46 p.m. EDT
Hello Doctor Faltas,
I am a patient of yours who saw the psychiatrist, Dr.Morier.
Lakeshore School Division requires a doctor‘s note, with two parts to it.
The first part should indicate that I was capable of working on March 23 (whether formulated as alternative work or simply as work is your decision).
The second part then should indicate that I was not capable of working as of March 26. The MTS representative (union representative) suggested that the wording should indicate that I am incapble of performing full-time teaching duties due to general stress and anxiety (this last wording, he suggested, should also be used for the Wawanesa form when you fill it out after having received the Dr. Morier’s report). Of course, it is up to you how you formulate the note.
The note can be addressed as To Lakeshore School Division
The note can be sent to the following address:
Lakeshore School Division
If you have questions of the Division, you can phone the Division at 739-2101 and ask for Janet Martell (superintendent).
If you have any questions for me, my cell number in Winnipeg is: 951-2764.
Thank you, Dr. Faltas.
Political Lessons to Be Learned
When we look at all these experiences, it can be seen that the government and its representatives in many ways functions to oppress workers and citizens. The left seem oblivious to this aspect of the regular person’s experiences. Indeed, the left’s frequent reference to the solution of “expanded public services,” for many sounds like a call for an expanded system of oppression. Is there really any wonder why workers and citizens have moved to the right in many instances? The left, of course, absolves itself of any responsibility for this turn. It chastises the lower levels of the working class for, for instance, voting for the likes of Trump, while it fails to look critically at its own contribution to the continued oppression of workers and citizens.
It should be noted that, in some ways, I was a lucky person. I was to receive short-term and then long-term disability. A friend of mine who worked in a private school ended up in the psychiatric ward after suffering constant criticisms from administration and relatively well-off parents. He received no financial help whatsoever.
Of course, my luck is relative; I would have preferred, of course, not to have had to experience such “luck” in the first place.
In another post in this series, I will outline the oppression that I experienced while on short- and long-term disability.
In my previous post, I endeavoured to show that Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” by calling for an expansion of public services as a solution is inadequate because they fail to consider the oppressive nature of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. Specifically, I looked at how educational services are oppressive by imposing grades or marks on students and by imposing a curriculum that often has little meaning for students.
In this post, I look at how welfare services are oppressive.
Oppressive Welfare Services
Public services include welfare services in various forms, such as child welfare, social assistance (called welfare when I was young) and unemployment insurance (now euphemistically called “employment insurance” in Canada). Related to educational services in some ways since children are often involved, do welfare services provide “”publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure?” Is there democracy within the provision of welfare services? Or is “publicly operated infrastructure” an oppressive infrastructure?
From Don Lash (2017), “When the Welfare People Come”: Race and Class in the Child Protection System:
This theory is generally applicable to child welfare workers. Workers, whether investigators, caseworkers, or lawyers, operate with some discretion in forming judgments, albeit with layers of management oversight and final say on decisions, and even greater discretion over the way in which a client is treated. Their work also has an enormous potential impact on their clients. Finally, they are accountable to managers for datadriven outcomes, to judges, to the pressures of media attention, and to countless other “stakeholders” with more influence than the parents and families with whom they work. Because of the pressure of caseloads and paperwork requirements, they are also prone to routinization and simplification to manage the work and meet management expectations. Conscientiousness, empathy, and even professional ethics may not always be trumped by the dynamics of street-level bureaucracy, but there will always be a tension that is seldom resolved solely in the interests of the client.
Two child welfare workers who worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) describe the position of DCFS social workers. They are nominally given professional discretion to be exercised in the best interest of the children and families to whom they are assigned, but operate under constant pressure to act in the best interest of the department. In a memoir about their work experiences, they wrote:
If CSWs [Certified Social Workers] could speak frankly without fear of retribution, many of these well-meaning workers who should place the welfare of their case children and/or families above all else do not feel able to do so. If they felt free to speak the truth, they would say that they are being made to do whatever they’re told without question or hesitation, and if they do otherwise, they would find themselves under threat of discipline. They are fully aware that to resist certain morally questionable directives may mean putting any hopes of advancement or even their entire careers in jeopardy. They realize that in demonstrating reluctance to go along with these directives, they may even run the risk of facing trumped-up charges on grounds of insubordination.
This does not sound very democratic, either from the point of view of the workers or those who receive their services. Why are Dhunna and Bush silent about the oppressive nature of the welfare state? In a society dominated by a class of employers, where civil servants are wage workers, is there not bound to be a conflict between the needs of those who receive the services and those who perform them? After all, civil servants in modern capitalist society are wage workers, and there exists a hierarchy of managers to which front-line workers are subordinate. Dhunna and Bush, however, simply ignore this fact, idealizing instead the modern state’s provision of services.
But the above quote is from a situation in the United States. What of more social-democratic states?
In Sweden, work-for-welfare was introduced in the 1990s. From Katarina Thorén (2008), “Activation Policy in Action” A Street-Level Study of Social Assistance in the Swedish Welfare State, page 5:
…municipal activation policies were introduced in the 1990s in the municipal social services organizations. The Swedish form of activation policies target unemployed social assistance recipients and require them to participate in local activation measures in return for financial support.
Of course, Dunnah and Bush would probably argue that they oppose such work-for-welfare programs. However, since they fail to engage in any way with the fact that there is a market for workers–employed by a class of employers–their opposition is more rhetoric than reality. Why would they oppose such programs? As long as there is a market for workers, there is bound to be a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “non-deserving poor.” And the deserving poor are those who are willing to work–for an employer. Since Dunnah and Bush do not address the class relation at all in any direct fashion, any criticism they offer against work-for-welfare will only be partial and limited; to be effective, it is necessary to criticize the employer-employee relation as such.
But let us turn to the Swedish case. Do Swedish welfare services, which are “publicly owned infrastructure,” provide “publicly operated infrastructure” in a humane manner?
In the Swedish case, there was a division of labour between social workers and “activation staff,” or the front-line workers who directly related to welfare “clients.” The activation staff tried to use this division in order to hide the oppressive nature of their own activities. Pages 130-132:
But activation staff, for their part, admitted that they wanted to be viewed as “nice” and not part of the mandatory requirement process in order to keep a friendly atmosphere at the activation programs. From a street-level bureaucracy perspective, the activation staff had an incentive, therefore, to conceal the coercive elements of the activation requirements.
Local Organizational Arrangements and Bureaucratic Responsibilities
In part to limit the tensions with frustrated clients, there was an organizational divide of the formal responsibilities of social workers and activation workers. Clients were told that the social workers were responsible for all formal decisions and activation workers, whom they saw on a daily basis, would merely execute the activation requirements and related services. At the first information meeting, clients were informed through a power point presentation that:
“WHY ARE YOU HERE? (Statement in Power Point presentation) … You should not feel that you are forced to go here … participation here is a resource for those how are looking for jobs and receive social assistance … the goal is to be self-sufficient and to say “goodbye” to your social worker … (Commentary from job coach)
JOBBCENTRUM IS AN OFFER! (Statement in Power Point presentation) … It’s not the staff at Jobbcentrum that decides that you are required to be here, it’s the Stockholm Municipality that has decided that and it’s your social worker that is taking care of all formal decisions. (Commentary from job coach)”
Thus, activation workers presented the activation requirement as an offer and concealed, rather successfully, the mandatory feature of the activation process, which, from a street-level bureaucracy perspective, was important for the activation staff. Clients were thereby encouraged to see activation workers as somehow removed from the formal decision-making. Clients were frequently referred to the social workers whenever they had questions regarding requirements, entitlements, and administration practices, although the activation staff was well informed about the local policy rules. But the right to social assistance was based on the clients’ performance at the activation program. Most clients could see that their first point of inquiry, negotiation, and tension would be with the activation worker who monitored their performance and attitude on a daily basis. The claim of an organizational divide displaced this overt power held by activation workers, and tried to keep activation workers appearing neutral in an unequal bureaucratic relationship, and this may have only added to client frustrations and tensions within the program. Especially, when they found out that the activation staff reported their program performance to the social workers on a regular basis.
In one case, a client, whose social assistance had been withdrawn after her job coach had reported her as “inactive”, was very upset and told me the following:
“The social worker told me that the job coach had called her to say that I wasn’t active enough at Jobbcentrum and that he was disap-spoke with my job coach and he said that I was going good … why did he do so, he’s “my” job coach and supposed to support me….”
When it became apparent that the job coach had, in fact, reported her performance and thereby becoming a real factor in the decision-making process, the client felt she was not taken seriously and that they “gone behind her back”.
Thus, the organizational arrangement to separate the “exercise of public authority” between the social workers and the activation workers was mainly symbolic since the activation requirement indirectly determined the right to social assistance and activation staff reported clients’ activation performance to the social workers. Similar administrative arrangements have been demonstrated elsewhere. Carstens (1998) claims that there is an underlying conflict between clients’ interest and organizations’ interest within the activation policy context and masked issues that demonstrate the asymmetric relationships in the activation policy process in Denmark.
Welfare services are anything but democratic–for both those who provide the services and for those who receive them.
The sectarian social-democratic left, of course, will claim that the oppressive nature of state work–for state workers and for citizens who receive those services–is due mainly to the neoliberal policies that currently exist. However, since neoliberalism–privatization of state services, deregulation of financial services, etc.–is only one form of the class power of employers, how any particular form of capitalist government or state can solve the problem of the tension or contradiction between state as both an employer of workers, on the one hand, and defender and supporter of a market for workers for the class of employers, on the other, is beyond me.
Of course, there are a range of possible policies that are better or worse by treating both social workers and those who use their services more or less humanely, but these are modifications around a basic point: As long as there exists a class of employers–both private and public–and a market for workers, there will always be a tension between the needs of those who provide services and those who receive them.
Perhaps the social-democratic left can provide an outline of how “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure” can achieve this without calling into question the class power of employers
Frankly, I doubt that they can. Hence their silence about the issue.
What has been the main purpose of welfare services? There are undoubtedly many purposes, but one of the main purposes has been to reduce the aspirations of workers–as David Graeber (2015) points out in the German case, The Utopia of Rules On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, pages 154-155 :
Even though Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the great mastermind behind the creation of the German state, allowed his parliament only limited powers, he was confounded by the rapid rise of workers’ parties, and continually worried by the prospect of a Socialist majority, or a possible Paris Commune-style uprising in his new united Germany. His reaction to Socialist electoral success from 1878 was twofold: on · the one hand, to ban the Socialist party, trade unions, and leftist newspapers; on the other, when this proved ineffective (Socialist candidates continued to run, and win, as independents) , to create a top-down alternative to the free schools, workers’ associations, friendly societies, libraries, theaters, and the larger process of building socialism from below. This took the form of a program of social insurance (for unemployment, health and disability, etc.), free education, pensions, and so forth-much of it watered-down versions of policies that had been part of the Socialist platform, but in every case, carefully purged of any democratic, participatory elements. In private, at least, he was utterly candid about describing these efforts as a “bribe,” an effort to buy out working-class loyalties to his conservative nationalist project. [note 117, incorrectly numbered 116]. When left-wing regimes did later take power, the template had already been established, and almost invariably, they took the same top-down approach, incorporating locally organized clinics, libraries, mutual banking initiatives, workers’ education centers, and the like into the administrative structure of the state.
Two points are relevant here. Firstly, the purpose of welfare services need not be to enhance workers’ control over their own lives but to limit their capacity of seeking to go beyond the class system of employers. Graeber argues that Bismarck consciously sought to institute welfare services in order to bribe the working class. From Graeber (2015), page 252, note 117:
As he [Otto von Bismarck] put it to an American visitor at the time: “My idea was to bribe the working classes, or shall I say, to win them over, to regard the state as a social institution existing for their sake and interested in their welfare” (cited in William Thomas Stead, On the Eve: A Handbook for the General Election [London: Review of Reviews Publishing, 1892], p. 62). The quote is useful to bear in mind since I find that the general point-that the welfare state was largely created to pay off the working class for fear of their becoming revolutionaries- tends to be met with skepticism, and demands for proof that this was the self-conscious intention of the ruling class. But here we have the very first such effort described by its founder quite explicitly as such.
It would be unfair to Dhunna and Bush to argue that they seek to bribe the working class since they seek to force the provision of welfare services through power emanating from below, of course. However, given that the ruling class has used the provision of welfare services as a means of blunting the demands of workers, it would be necessary to seek means by which to prevent welfare measures from actually blunting workers’ demands. They fail to provide any such means in their article; indeed, they seem to believe that the provision of welfare services by the capitalist state is somehow in itself socialist. They also fail to consider whether the demand for a robust universal basic income could be just such a means from below that could question the power of employers as a class.
Secondly, the form in which welfare services are provided is top-down–a hierarchy of employees, with little democratic structure within the provision of welfare services. Dhunna and Bush are also silent over this issue.
Oppressive Administration of Welfare Services Results in Fragmentation or Division of Interests of the Public
Dhunna and Bush do not address the issue of the administration of the decommodified programs and how such administration creates various “subpublics” that divide people from one another through bureaucratic means. From Michael Kratke (1989), “Does Social Security Create a New Class? On the Restructuring of Social Inequality by Welfare State Arrangements,” in Political Regulation in the “Great Crisis,” pages 285-315, edited by Werner Vath, pages 305-307:
At this point the fragmentation thesis enters. It says that the institutional fragmentation of the social security system, the coexistence of different systems of social insurance and social assistance, and, last not least, the administrative practice of classifying and sub-classifying client groups altogether lead to just as many cleavages among welfare state clients. Take for example the Dutch social security system once again. Its clients are officially put into a whole string of subsystems and categorized accordingly as AOWers, WAOers, WWers, WWVers, RWWers, IOAWers, ZWers, WBPers, ABWers, AWWers and so on. No doubt, European social politics have been and still are obsessed with such classifications of client groups as they were in vogue for centuries. Such classifications of inactives are part and parcel of any social security system which is built upon the principle of specific and conditional rights to specific benefits. Only under & regime of an unconditional and universal grant for all citizens such [classifications would be unnecessary. …
All these classifications bear moral overtones and are burdened with notions of “decency” and “respectability”. In moral terms, social security classes are certainly divided in an upper, a middle and an underclass retired people occupying the ranks of the most respectable upper clas$»j| the sick, the handicapped and the disabled occupying the less respected] but still deserving middle class, and the (long-term and young) unemployed filling the ranks of the least respected, more or less “undeservinging” underclass. (School)children, students, apprentices should be ranked some kind of a “upper middle class”, as they are doing some useful work preparing themselves to become part of the working population in the future. Members of the upper and especially the middle class can define themselves in terms of a special profession of trade–the profession trade they once belonged to or they will belong to in the near future And they have links with the groups of the working population they belonged to or will belong to–apprentices and students much stronger ones than the retired and disabled. But the latter still know to which group they will belong and try to stay in touch with their former colleagues, their trade unions and their clubs and associations. Maintaining some kind of a professional group identity certainly works as a means to keep the less deserving welfare state clients, the people on the dole and the mass of wretches living on social assistance at some social distance at least. Pensioners of various kinds–the largest group of welfare state clients– thus keep in touch with official politics, too; they are still included to some degree in professional organizations trade unions in the first place which they expect to represent their interests.
The administration of public services through a bureaucracy also often involves complicity, where pretense of a meritocratic system of assignment of people within a hierarchy is based mainly on merit and not on other criteria–such as nepotism. From Graeber (2015), pages 26-27:
Such institutions [bureaucracies] always create a culture of complicity. It’s not just that some people get to break the rules-it’s that loyalty to the 0rganization is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening. And insofar as bureaucratic logic is extended to the society as a whole, all of us start playing along.
This point is worth expanding on. W hat I am saying is that we are not just looking at a double standard, but a particular kind of double standard typical of bureaucratic systems everywhere. All bureaucracies are to a certain degree utopian, in the sense that they propose an abstract ideal that real human beings can never live up to. Take the initial point about credentialism. Sociologists since Weber always note that it is one of the defining features of any bureaucracy that those who staff it are selected by formal, impersonal criteria-most often, some kind of written test. (That is, bureaucrats are not, say, elected like politicians, but neither should they get the job just because they are someone’s cousin.) In theory they are meritocracies. In fact everyone knows the system is compromised in a thousand different ways … Many of the staff are in fact there just because they are someone’s cousin, and everybody knows it. The first criterion of loyalty to the organization becomes complicity. Career advancement is not based on merit, and not even based necessarily on being someone’s cousin; above all, it’s based on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, even though everyone knows this not to be true. Or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when, in fact, they are often deployed as a means for entirely arbitrary personal power.
Nor do Dunnah and Bush address how their proposals will enable people to control their own lives when the power of employers as a class is not addressed directly. From Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster (July 2010), “The Dialectic of Social and Ecological Metabolism: Marx, Meszaros, and the Absolute Limits of Capital,” Socialism and Democracy, pages 124-138, Volume 24, Number 2, page 129:
The ecological and social challenges that confront us are often minimized as the logic of capital goes unquestioned and various reforms are put forward (such as improving energy efficiency via market incentives) under the assumption that the system can be tamed to accommodate human needs and environmental concerns. Such positions fail to acknowledge that the structural determinations of capital will inevitably grind onwards, threatening to undermine the conditions of life, unless systematic change is pursued to eradicate the capital relation entirely.
Possibility of Recommodification of Public Services
Since Dunnah and Bush fail to address the power of employers at work (see the previous post), their proposal for an enhanced welfare state would always be subject to the threat of the conversion of public services into private services provided by capitalist employers. Their approach lacks any realistic assessment of how decommodification of these services (the conversion of services into universally free and accessible) can be realized as a viable permanent solution to the problems which people face since Dhunna and Bush do not aim at dismantling the labour market, abolishing the power of the class of employers and hence the existence of classes.
Decommodification will always be threatened by recommodification (as it has been during the neoliberal era of privatization and deregulation) unless the power of employers as a class is broken for good–and they fail even to address this issue. From Chris Wright (2014), Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, pages 147-148:
With respect to the very long run, Marx was always right that capitalism is not sustainable. There are many reasons for this, including the contradiction between a system that requires infinite growth and a natural environment that is finite, but the reason most relevant to Marxism is that ultimately capital can never stop accumulating power at the expense of every other force in society. It is insatiable; its [competition-driven] lust for ever more profit and power condemns it to a life of Faustian discontent. It can never rest. Any accommodations, therefore, between the wage-earning class and capital—such accommodations as the welfare state and the legitimization of collective bargaining—are bound to be temporary. Sooner or later capital’s aggressiveness will overpower contrary trends and consume everything, like a societal black hole (to change the metaphor). Everything is sucked into the vortex, including social welfare, the nation state, even nature itself. The logic is that nothing will remain but The Corporation [in the plural], and government protections of the people will be dismantled because such protections are not in the interest of capital. This absurd, totalitarian logic can never reach its theoretical culmination, but it will, it must, proceed far enough, eventually, that an apocalyptic struggle between the masses and capital ensues. A relatively mild version of this happened once before, in the 1930s and ’40s, and a compromise [in the West]—the mature welfare state—was the result. But then, as I said, capital repudiated the compromise (or is doing so as I write these words), and the old trends Marx diagnosed returned with a vengeance, and so humanity could look forward, this time, to a final reckoning. A final settling of accounts will occur in the coming century or two.
Dhunna’s and Bush’s aim of “affirm[ing] the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure” through an expansion of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers is more rhetoric than reality since they fail to inquire into the nature of those public services. Welfare services are often oppressive, undemocratic and divisive. Furthermore, as long as the class power of employers is not explicitly challenged, the expansion of welfare services will always be threatened with a reduction of such services.
So far in this series, I have shown that two of the three aims implied in Dhunna’s and Bush’s article–““meaningfully improve the material realities of working-class and oppressed people” and “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure“–are hardly solutions to the problems which regular workers, citizens and community members face these days.
I will pursue a different tactic in future posts that criticize Dhunnah’s and Bush’s article. Specifically, I will show how they almost always illegitimately assume a minimal basic income, distort the nature of the references they use to justify their claims and fail to take into consideration proposals that involve a robust universal basic income the aim of which is to challenge the legitimacy of a market for workers.
In a couple of posts, I criticized John Clarke’s opposition to a particular form of basic income. Mr. Clarke is a former leader of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Mr. Clarke continues to oppose any alternative universal basic income scheme (see ‘Pandemic Basic Income’ Gets It Wrong). He has ignored my criticisms, of course. As I pointed out in one of the posts, his opposition then turns into a social-democratic or social-reformist criticism; he ignores entirely his own observation that capitalist society necessary involves economic coercion, which forces workers to work for employers. At the time, he offered no alternative solution–other than an implicit return to the welfare state of the earlier post-war era. In his new post, he does offer an apparent solution. Before looking at his proposed solution, let us briefly look at his analysis of the problem of universal basic income.
Rather predictably, this situation has led to a bit of an upsurge in calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI). To the liberal and left thinkers who promote this idea, it naturally makes particular sense to put it into effect at a time such as this. Of course, the last thing I want to oppose is the idea of emergency payments to those without adequate income, as COVID-19 impacts our communities. However, the ‘pandemic basic income’ solution of simply distributing state payments to everyone ($1,000 a month has been suggested) puts into exceptionally clear focus the basic problem with UBI. In more normal times, the scheme represents an ill considered effort, as I’ve argued elsewhere, ‘…to make its peace with (the) neoliberal order and accept a commodified form of social provision.’ It doesn’t challenge low wage precarious work or the degrading and privatizing of the social infrastructure but asks only for a basic payment, paid out of general revenues, and it is taken on faith that the adequacy of this can somehow be assured.
Mr. Clarke still remains riveted to proposals for a basic income that remain well within limits acceptable to employers. However, what if a movement for a minimum basic income of $3000 per month per household member (or even more) emerged? Why limit such a movement to $1000 a month? A universal income that threatens the existence of the supply of workers on the market would not only “challenge low-wage precarious work” but would challenge in many instances the very employer-employee economic structure. Mr. Clarke simply implies through his silence that such a movement is not feasible.
What is his alternative proposal, or his alternative solution?
A fight for no bailouts without public ownership is the only approach that makes any sense if the current period is not to become the greatest free ride for the rich in history and a prelude to austerity on an unprecedented scale.
Mr. Clarke’s reference to a move towards “austerity on an unprecedented scale” is likely true if experience from the 2008 economic crisis is to be our guide. However, the idea that bailouts tied only to “public ownership” is a sufficient solution to the problems that workers and communities face. This reference to “public ownership” or nationalization is a staple of the social-democratic left. How does public ownership solve the problem of a society out of control by those who work and live in it?
Public ownership certainly addresses some of the concerns of workers and communities–specifically, the need for certain services without having to pay money for them. However, as long as the general process of producing our lives is out of our control, public ownership is bound to result in distorted and inadequate satisfaction of our needs.
This call for public ownership as a solution to the problems that we currently face is also proposed by other social democrats. For example, a social-democratic organization–Rankandfile.ca (“Canadian Labour News and Analysis from a Critical Perspective”) Emily Leedham refers to Tony Leah (ex-worker at GM Oshawa), who calls for public ownership of the plant:
While many workers are encouraged by GM’s decision, Leah says Green Jobs Oshawa will continue to push for public ownership of the plant.
“If it’s under public ownership, then it can be the basis for expanding and becoming an important manufacturing centre that provides a security of supplies for future crises,” he explains.“That can’t happen if it’s left up to a corporation that’s always driven by maximizing their own profit.”
In one sense, public ownership can overcome some of the problems associated with the limitations of private capitalist employers: production need not directly be produced for profit. However, if it is not produced for profit, what of its inputs? Public ownership exists alongside private corporations in a world market, which is the main driver of our lives
Neither Mr. Clarke nor Mr. Leah discusses at all the limitations of public ownership. They do not discuss the nature of the modern state and how it, magically, is to enable us to control our own lives. Should we not be discussing the adequacy of the modern state and public ownership or nationalization to enable us to control our own lives rather than assuming that it satisfies our needs?
When we look at the modern government or state, we see a political organization designed to ensure the continued maintenance of a society characterized by classes, specifically, on the one hand, the class that owns and controls the means for us to produce our lives–buildings, factories, computers, raw materials and so forth–the class of employers–and, on the other, those who work for them, the class of workers. Of course, in the real world it is more complicated, but such complications should not blind us to the basic class structure.
Werner Bonefeld (2014) in his Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy: On Subversion and Negative Reason, points out how the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel characterized both modern “civil society” or a society characterized by an antagonism of individuals and modern classes, and it was this specific antagonism that required the modern political form (pages 166-167):
Hegel conceived of bourgeois society as antagonistic in character. It was because of its antagonistic character that it required a political form. He develops the necessity of the state from the innate character of bourgeois society. … He then argues that the division of labour crystallizes ‘into systems, to one or another of which individuals are assigned – in other words, into class divisions’.
These divisions are antagonistic in character as the development of bourgeois society leads to its polarization into antagonistic class relations. According to Hegel, the polarization of society into two opposing classes is an innate necessity of bourgeois society. It belongs to its constituted dynamic. As he sees it, bourgeois society ‘results in the dependence and distress of the class tied to [work]’. Dependence and distress are also entailed in the ‘inability to feel and enjoy the broader freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of civil society’. Moreover, the expanded reproduction of bourgeois society results ‘in the creation of a rabble of paupers’ and the ‘concentration of disproportionate wealth in a few hands’. What to do ‘when the masses begin to decline into poverty’ and start to rebel? He rejects redistribution of wealth as this ‘would violate the principle of civil society’. He also rejects what today is called a policy of full-employment as contrary to its logic. Rather than solving the problem, it would intensify it. Thus, ‘despite an excess in wealth, civil society is not rich enough, i.e. its own resources are insufficient to check excessive poverty and the creation of a penurious rabble’. There is no economic answer to the polarization of society. Economy does not provide order, nor does it curb the ‘rabble’. In fact, ‘the inner dialectic of civil society . . . drives it . . . to push beyond its own limits’. How to keep the class antagonism within the limits of its bourgeois form? For Hegel, there is only a political answer. He saw the state as the political force of bourgeois society and charged it with containing the class antagonism.
The modern form of government, or the modern form of state, emerges simultaneously with the emergence of the class of employers and the class of employees or workers. To treat this modern political institution or modern political form as somehow capable of realizing our class interests as workers seems far fetched–and yet this is what the social-democratic left do when they call for public ownership or nationalization without further ado.
Note how the call for public ownership or nationalization is often not linked to the critique of the general class relation between employers and employees. It is seen as a solution to specific problems–a stop-gap measure needed to address specific problems that workers face. In such a situation, there is no challenge to the general power of employers.
What of the more general call for the nationalization of industry, means of communication and the like? This often has reactionary overtones since there is then an alliance between workers and employers within one country against workers and employers in other countries (Bonefeld, page 151):
The notion, then, of a ‘national economy’ makes little sense; it is a regressive concept that lends itself, at best, to ideas of national developmental methods associated with the theory and practice of economic nationalism or, at worst, and as Chapter 9 sets out, to the reactionary ideas and practices of nationalism that in reaction to world-market disturbances assert the regressive equality of the imagined national community as the rallying cry against the external enemy within. Of course, protectionism remains a very powerful device to protect a ‘national economy’. However, the national economy is neither independent from the world market nor does it merely exist in relation to the world market. Rather, the national economy subsists in and through the world market. Protectionism, then, amounts to a ‘measure of defence within free trade’.
The more general view that somehow public ownership leads to control over our lives and thus to freedom simply ignores the nature of the modern state.
Mr. Clarke’s solution to the problem of the current crisis idealizes the modern state. A call for a radical basic income, on other hand, pushes beyond the existing society by challenging on the one hand the power of the class of employers over the class of workers. As workers become more independent of the class of employers, they will be required to change the nature of the modern state since the latter is, by its very nature, designed to ensure their continued real subordination to the power of employers while making it appear that workers freely subordinate themselves to that power (Bonefled, pages 176-177):
Liberalism therefore does not demand ‘weakness from the state, but only freedom for economic development under state protection’.58 In this sense, the state of the free economy does not really govern over society. Rather, it governs through the individuals. There is no freedom without the order of freedom, and order is not only a matter of law. It is also a matter of morality. The order of freedom entails surveillance as a means of freedom. The premise of government is that economic ‘security is only to be had at a price of constant watchfulness and adaptability and the preparedness of each individual to live courageously and put up with life’s insecurities’. There really is only one freedom, and that is the freedom of the self-responsible economic agents who adjust to the price signals with the will of and for enterprise, the one buying labour power with the expectation of making a profit, the other selling labour power as the dispossessed producer of surplus value, seeking to make ends meet. That is, poverty is neither unfreedom nor is it primarily material in character.60 Rather, poverty expresses a moral form of deprivation that is characterized by a poverty of aspiration, requiring state action to transform the sellers of labour power from quarrelsome proletarians into citizens of private property. As such a citizen the worker personifies labour power, which she takes to the market to trade for a wage. She appears thus as an entrepreneur of labour power, always ready to compete for a contract of employment. She thus perceives poverty as an incentive to do better, sees unemployment as an opportunity for employment, prices herself into jobs willingly and on her own initiative and takes her life into her own hands, gets on with things, lives courageously and puts up with life’s insecurities and risks. For the neoliberals, unemployed workers are fundamentally entrepreneurs of labour power in transit, ‘floating’ from one form of employment to another. However, the sociological condition of the worker is based on ‘the transformation of labour power into a commodity, which results from the separation of the worker from the means of production’. There is thus a ‘natural tendency towards proletarianisation’, and government is therefore required to counteract this tendency, time and time again, to secure the order of freedom. Government over society is government in and through society to ensure ‘the will’ for enterprise and labour market competition, integrating the free labourer into the capitalist relations of ‘coined freedom’ as a willing employer of labour power.
By labour power is meant what the worker sells to the employer. Labour power is what workers sell to employers, not their labour. Labour is what workers do when they work, and it is already controlled by employers when workers work.
Proletarianization here means the formation of workers into organized opposition to the class of employers (in other contexts it has a different meaning). The modern state not only attempts to monopolize the physical forms of violence (police, courts, prisons, military) but also attempts to forge the hearts and minds of workers so that they accept their situation as “entrepreneurs” or vendors of their labour power. In other words, it indoctrinates workers and their children into accepting their unfree status as somehow free.
Mr. Clarke’s assumption that public ownership, then, is a solution to the current crisis is conservative. It does not really address the class nature of modern society nor the class nature of the modern state.
Such is the nature of the social-democratic or social-reformist left.
The following may not seem appropriate since it is supposed to be a political blog. However, the personal is sometimes political, and the political is sometimes personal. Political lessons can sometimes, therefore, be drawn from personal experiences. It will also serve as an antidote against the illusions of the social-democratic left, who isolate the various forms of injustices and treat them as independent of each other–a typical methodological trick by the social-democratic left.
Indeed, when I was still a teacher at a school, one union rep implied that certain experiences that I outlined had more to do with purely domestic conflicts. Such an isolation of family relations forms part of the typical methodology of social democracy.
For that reason, I am also including a published essay on Dewey’s conception of language and the human life process on my blog, in the section Publications and Writings. It undoubtedly is limited in many ways and may indeed contain errors, but the idea that the human life process as integrating many elements and hence as comprehensive is relevant for understanding the world.
I will copy, little by little, be, a complaint that I filed against a social worker, Mr. S.W., of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. There was a court-ordered assessment to be performed concerning the relationship between the parents and Francesca Alexandra Harris, their daughter, in the summer of 1998.
I am not including the name of the social worker since it is possible that he would try to take me to court; despite the documentation that I possess against a report he wrote, it is quite possible that a judge would side with him due to joint political bigotry. I am replacing his name with Mr. S.W. (appropriate given the social-reformist nature of most social workers as well as how the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers handled the complaint). The complaint has to do with my daughter, Francesca Alexandra Romani (ne Harris).
I will first provide the first couple of pages of the complaint, which stimulated me to write the complaint, in order to provide the context of what follows. I then may not follow the order of the complaint since I may want to bring out earlier the more directly political aspect of my experience.
The political hostility expressed in the assessment is similar to what I have experienced by many social-democratic leftists here in Toronto. This did surprise me at the time, but it no longer does. I have been called a “condescending prick” (by Wayne Dealy, union rep for local 3902 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–one of the largest unions in Canada. I have been called delusional on Facebook by one of the Facebook friends of another local union rep, Tina Faibish (president of local 552 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). I was also called insane by Errol Young (a member of the anti-poverty organization Jane and Finch Association Against Poverty) (JFAAP). I have also experienced a condescending attitude towards my criticisms among the left here.
For those who do attempt to engage in criticism of the power of employers as a class, you can expect such hostility. That hostility may even extend to your family, even if it is indirect and subtle.
From the complaint (February 18, 2000):
This is a belated complaint against Mr. S.W., registered social worker. It has been more than a year since the initial court-ordered assessment (document 1) done by Mr. S.W. was completed and provided the court and counsel for Mr. Harris and, Mr. Harris presumes, his ex-wife, Ms. Harris.
What prompts Mr. Harris now to make the complaint is the following: in July of this year his daughter, Francesca Alexandra Harris, complained to him that her mother was using a wooden thing (“paleta” in Spanish) to her on the buttocks. She also complained that her mother used a belt to spank her on the same area.
Mr. Harris confronted Ms. Harris with the allegation when he dropped her of on a Sunday in July. Ms. Harris threatened to call the police (she and Mr. Harris have mutual non-molestation orders against each other). Mr. Harris told his daughter that he would call Child and Family Services and that hopefully someone would put a stop to such forms of punishment. Ms. Harris grabbed his daughter and practically forced her into the apartment block.
The next day Mr. Harris called Child and Family Services; they told Mr. Harris that they would contact Ms. Harris. The following two weeks (Mr. Harris sees his daughter every Wednesday and every alternate weekend) he picked up his daughter on Saturday as usual. His daughter, on Sunday, told him that her mother had grabbed her throat in the elevator the day that Mr. Harris had confronted her mother; the latter told her daughter never to tell Mr. Harris that she had hit her. Ms. Harris’ daughter said that she had cried and that her throat had hurt her.
Mr. Harris informed Child and Family Services once again. In the meantime, when Mr. Harris was talking to his daughter after this, Francesca asked him if he wanted to talk to Ulises (Ulises is Ms. Harris’ boyfriend). Francesca later told Mr. Harris that her mother had shoved her to the floor and told her never to ask that question again. Moreover, his daughter also informed him that her mother had hit her on the head with a book.
Eventually, a social worker, Arla Inglis, interviewed Mr. Harris’ daughter in September at her school. As Mr. Harris understands it, there was no “official” physical abuse in the sense that there were no physical marks. However, there was some apparently verbal confirmation of Mr. Harris’ allegations by Francesca. What exactly Francesca said Mr. Harris does not know, but he did speak to Mr. Orobko, Ms. Inglis’ supervisor, and he led Mr. Harris to understand that although there had been no physical abuse in terms of leaving marks there was nevertheless inappropriate discipline, and Francesca’s mother was advised to desist from punishing Mr. Harris’ daughter in an inappropriate manner.
Since that time, Francesca has told Mr. Harris that her mother had pulled her hair for having dropped some eggs. The weekend of October 9 and 10, when Francesca stayed with Mr. Harris, she told Mr. Harris that her mother once again used a “paleta” (a wooden thing) as well as a belt. On November 6, Francesca told her father that her mother had intentionally scratched her with a comb. There were a few scratch marks just above Francesca’s knee (nothing serious, but the issue was the intent to harm using an implement). Mr. Harris took Francesca to the doctor to verify this after having called Child and Family Services once again because Jacki Davidson, with whom Mr. Harris had been in contact before, in a rather hostile fashion told him that he would have to have physical proof of the allegation. (Arla Inglis more graciously later on told Mr. Harris that he should have taken Francesca to the Child Protection Centre.)
These incidents have led Mr. Harris to open up the question of S.W.’s assessment. Mr. Harris mentioned to Child and Family Services that he had gone to trial, that there had been an assessment, and that Mr. Harris had a copy of the assessment and of the judge’s decision. When requested to provide both, Mr. Harris found himself in the awkward position of not willing to provide the assessment while still wanting to provide the judge’s decision. The reasons will become clear as this complaint proceeds. The social worker accused Mr. Harris, justifiably from her point of view, of wanting to provide a one-sided view of the matter by suppressing relevant documents. Mr. Harris had nothing with which to rebut her objections.
Mr. Harris has spent months compiling this complaint. He finds Mr. S.W’s assessment to be a result of political bigotry because Mr. Harris is a Marxist. Mr. S.W. has done both Mr. Harris and Francesca Harris a disservice. It should be clear that ty the end of this complaint that not only did Mr. S.W let his political prejudices sway his judgement against Mr. Harris but also against Francesca. Francesca is now suffering as a consequence of political persecution perpetrated by Mr. S.W.. She is a victim of his own anti-Marxist proclivities.
The order of the criticism will not be according to Mr. S.W.’s presentation. It has been difficult to provide a complaint because of the large number of lies, distortions, inaccuracies and suppression of relevant facts. The organization will be somewhat logical, but there are many issues that are interrelated.