Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Seven: The National Day of Mourning in Canada and the Social Causes of Injury, Disease and Death

On April 28 is the National Day of Mourning  in Canada to commemorate those workers who have suffered disease, injury or death at work. However, unions rarely if ever raise the issue of how effective such a day of mourning is for addressing the health and safety problems that  workers experience. Why do more or less 1,000 workers die every year at work and around 600,000 experience injuries or disease (Bob Barneston (2010), The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada).

For example, I listened to the “Welcome to the Toronto & York Region Labour Council’s Day of Mourning ceremonies” for 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl-7e8Ta-H8&list=LL&index=14). In none of the presentations do the presenters attribute problems of health and safety to the structural situation of the persistent need to accumulate capital at the expense of workers’ health and safety.

One of the ways in which the health and safety of workers who work for an employer has been jeopardized is the administrative shift in the capitalist government’s definition of the causes of dangers to health and safety. Government or state representatives defined health and safety problems in purely technical terms, ignoring the social causes of dangers to the health and safety of workers.

From Tom Dwyer (1991), Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 26:

Conflict over the weakness of safety laws proceeded [in England], especially from the 1870s when workers were able to achieve greater parliamentary representation. Through an examination of the content of regulations, we can see that workers’ social demands were largely ignored as, increasingly, solutions to problems emerged in important political compromises that were channeled technically. … The vision that the state lent to the prevention of accidents was overwhelmingly based on the development of technical criteria, while social criteria were, with some notable exceptions, given little attention.

The shift from defining health and safety dangers from social causes to technical causes led to the increasingly bureaucratic or administrative definition and treatment of the problem; this in turn contributed to the fragmentation of workers’ organization and struggle of the workers in relation to the social power of the class of employers.

From Tom Dwyer, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, page 27:

The attention of unions was increasingly channeled away from the worksite and toward legislative change to be conquered through the efforts of members of Parliament sympathetic to the workers’ cause. The power of the bureaucracy grew as industrial problems became increasingly subject to political control through their transformation into administrative questions.

This view of the shift towards governmental administration of problems and away from class organization and class struggle is consistent with the view of a more general shift towards a capitalist government that administers laws–public administration.

From Mark Neocleous (1996), Administering Civil Society: Towards a Theory of State Power, pages 106-107:

In fact, the theoretical ‘problem’ over the relationship between struggle and
structure only arises by separating them and thus being faced with the necessity of syncretically syncretic • \sincretic=characterized or brought about by a combination of different forms of belief or practice] drawing them together again, or at least positing a causal relationship. But, as Werner Bonefeld [a Marxist theoretician] writes, structures are a mode of class antagonism and thus both the result and premise of class struggle. This is true of the capitalist state generally and specific institutional developments of that state. For the other moment of the making of the English working class was the (re)making of the modern state. Far from being supine [which means: failing to act or protest as a result of moral weakness or laziness], in the process of struggle the working class forced the emergence of new state structures – of political administration- and through these a reordering, far more fundamental than that forced by the bourgeoisie in its struggle, of the relation between state and civil society [capitalist society apart from the government or state]. The British state, faced with struggling classes, pre-empted revolutionary change by subsuming class struggle under the state through the development of administrative structures and mechanisms. The development of the state can be traced to the incorporation of working-class struggle into its very structures, as increasing elements of civil society found themselves structured, restructured and submerged. With typical flexibility and a seemingly endless ability to adapt itself, the British state responded by creating a space within itself for this purpose. Thus, although the working class was constituted by the state, the state itself was constituted through class struggle. The working class was both constituted by and constitutive of the structures of political administration and state power. (To put this another way: we need a conception of the working class not only as subjected, but also as subject.) The only way to incorporate the English working class was for the state to be altered accordingly, new (administrative) forms emerging which could then be used against the working class. Political administration, then, acts as the fulcrum around which both the working class and the modern state were ordered. Just as humans ‘by their own toil keep in existence a reality which enslaves them in ever greater degree’, so the working class in its struggles produce the real structures which then enslave it. Poulantzas [a Marxist political theoretician] rightly claims that ‘struggles are inscribed in the institutional materiality of the state, even though they are not concluded in it; it is a materiality that carries the traces of these muted and multiform struggles.’

This insight can be strengthened and tightened by positing political administration as a specific form of working class struggle, by following Adorno [a Marxist critical theorist] in arguing that administration acts as a process of subsumption, a mechanism for ordering and covering over. ‘Administration’ has feudal origins referring to the management of the estates of the dead; hence ‘the administration of wills’.67 I am arguing that we think of political administration as state management of the struggles of the working class. By subsuming struggle, political administration is ‘working-class power post festum [after the fact]; working-class political victories captured and formalized at their moment of triumph.’68 In these administrative structures the state appropriates and nullifies the struggle of the working class; as such they are the fossilized remnants of class struggle; they are the subsumption [meaning: of including under another, usually something more general] of struggle – working-class struggle abolished and preserved. Born of the struggle of the working class these structures are then left with the task of administering that same class, a task performed in relation to both collective organizations of the working class and its decomposed elements known as ‘citizens’. It is therefore through the very process of struggle that the working class, and not its ‘aristocratic’ elements, now most definitely of civil society, also finds its struggles incorporated into the state, transformed into administrative structures and turned against it. Thus in its struggle to become a class of civil society, the class discovers itself also to be a class of the state.

The administration of the health and safety of workers by the capitalist government or state channeled workers’ struggles in this area into a redefinition of the nature of the causes of health and safety issues, away from social causes–such as the very nature of the power of the class of employers and how they, directly or indirectly, use workers for purposes over which workers have no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital) and which is inherently connected to the possibility of disease, injury and death.

If the capitalist government is adept or skillful at channeling worker discontent into new administrative forms, then issues must be addressed in such a way that the capitalist government cannot accommodate them (see, for instance, my argument for a generous universal basic income that erodes the market for the hiring and firing of workers, A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform).

In relation to health and safety issues, strong workers’ organizations at the local level (not just unions and union reps), coupled with increasing links between workers’ organizations across industries, would be a necessary step in preparing workers to resist forms of class struggle that include legislative changes that define problems as non-social and, correspondingly, shift solutions to the redefined problems by means of administrative means.

To achieve this, would it not be necessary to abandon all talk of “fair compensation,” “fair wages,” “fair contract,” “Fair labour laws save lives,” “decent work,” and so forth? Such phrases paper over the real and persistent threat of disease, injury and death that workers face.  Opposition to such phrases, of course, is hardly sufficient. Is not opposition to such cliches necessary, though, if workers are going to initiate a movement dedicated to addressing the social causes of their own sufferings.

Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.

According to Bill Resnick, part two is an exploration of the potentialities for stimulating the working class from its lethargic state of passivity, cynicism and individual self-defense in order to inspire people to recognize their powers and capacities and thereby a socialist society.

Mr. Resnick then claims that climate change will oblige us to think how the economy is working.

Moving on to Mr. Gindin’s views, Mr. Gindin claims that it will be the environment that will be the key issue in relation to inequality. The rich are satisfied with the status quo of environmental conditions since they do not have to suffer the consequences from its deterioration.

Mr. Gindin then refers to the situation in Oshawa. He points out that, despite workers losing their jobs anyway, any suggestion of a serious alternative still meets with resistance since they have experienced thirty or forty years of lowering their expectations of what is possible. Their response to a left alternative is that it is a great idea, but it will never happen because they do not see their unions fighting for it nor do they see that larger social force fighting for it.

We should pause here. When have most unions, even during the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, generally fought for a larger vision of socialism? Most unions accepted the justice of collective bargaining and of collective agreements. Mr. Gindin implies that before the onset of neoliberalism 30 or 40 years ago, unions did have a larger social vision. That is a myth.

Indeed, red-baiting and the expulsion of communists from the Canadian labour movement forms part of the history of unions in Canada–a fact which Mr. Gindin conveniently ignores (see Irving Abella, The Canadian Labour Movement, 1902-1960). Social democracy won out within unions over any radical vision of society.

Why does Mr. Gindin ignore such facts? It is likely that Mr. Gindin indulges his supporters rather than taking the necessary step to criticize them. He probably panders after union support rather than criticizing the limitations of unions–including the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements.

He fails to criticize the responsibility of unions for, historically, partially contributing to the suppression of an alternative vision.

By the way, Mr. Gindin’s reference to the environment as being the key to inequality lacks any historical and factual basis. Where is there evidence that it is the environment that forms the center around which people are willing to fight against those in power and attempt to defeat them? It is the daily grind of working and living in a society dominated by a class of employers that will form the key issue–a social relation, and not the “environment” in the abstract sense of “nature” or environmental conditions in a general sense.  Mr. Gindin, as I indicated in my earlier post, wants to jump on the bandwagon of environmentalism in general and the climate crisis in particular in order to prop up his appeal. I doubt that he will be successful.

Mr. Gindin then argues that we need to develop structures through which people can fight so that they can gain a clear vision of the forces that support them and the forces that oppose them as well as understanding the importance of collective action for realizing workers’ aims. That is why political parties are important because they form a space for strategizing about what needs to be done. We must take organizing seriously.

Mr. Gindin then reiterates how impressed he is about what the environmental movement has done. However, he points out the limitations of that movement, that criticizes corporate power or the 1% but does not seriously propose taking power away from them. It is insufficient to merely lobby against them. If we are going to have [democratic] planning, we cannot have corporations making the investment decisions.

Mr. Gindin is certainly correct to point out the limitations of the environmental movement–but he should be consistent and point out the limitations of unions as unions in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. He does not. He avoids alienating his social-democratic supporters. Is that what is needed at present?

Furthermore, he refers to the importance of organization–but is organization by itself going to lead to the questioning of corporate power? Ms. McAlevey does not question such power. Social democrats do not question such power. Both engage in organizing of one sort or another. It is not, then, organizing in general that is the issue but what kind of organizing–on what basis? Organizing from the start needs to question corporate power–and that includes questioning the legitimacy of their power to manage workers as such. We may need to make compromises along the way, as embodied in a collective agreement, but let us not bullshit the workers by calling such agreements or contracts “fair,” “just” and other such euphemisms.

To be consistent, Mr. Gindin should question the limitations of unions and union organizers in relation to collective bargaining and collective agreements. Why does he not do so?

Mr. Gindin claims that struggles are fundamental and that they develop the capacity to recognize the limits of being militant. They develop democratic capacities that prevent them from accepting authority.

Workers certainly do learn the limitations of being militant (they get fired, for example), but such a lesson hardly need translate into learning the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.  Workers may blame unions for the limitations of militancy–unless the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements are pointed out, on the one hand, and an alternative vision of what may be is outlined, on the other.

Although struggles are certainly necessary, are they sufficient to enable workers to come to the conclusion that the authority of the class of employers should be questioned? What is more likely is that such struggles will lead to criticisms of particular aspects of such power but not that power as such. Mr. Gindin vastly underestimates the ideological hold this kind of society has on workers and how it is vital to engage in constant ideological struggle if we are to develop democratically to the point where we can consciously and organizationally take corporate power away.

We need to take state power, but not just that. We need to take state power and transform that power so that we can develop our democratic capacity so that there is, on the one hand, a check on what the state does and, on the other, that people are actually participating in state power. This requires developing the technical capacity of ordinary workers to make appropriate decisions that affect their lives and not just having scientists come into government to make decisions for us.

We certainly do need to take state power–and transform it. However, if we are to do this consciously from the start, then we need to question the present state structures in their various dimensions. For example, we need to question the current educational structures, with their emphasis on assigning marks or grades to students, their separation of curriculum into academic (intellectual) and non-academic (vocational, which allegedly has more to do with the body), and so forth. When I belonged to the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly GTWA (which morphed into the Toronto Labour Committee), of which Mr. Gindin was practically the head, Mr. Jackson Potter was invited to discuss how the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) organized and led a successful strike. I eventually wrote up a critique of one of the CTU’s documents (see my article “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers‘ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog). The response of the GTWA to my critique was–silence.

Education, of course, is just one area that needs to be restructured through the abolition of its repressive features. The courts, police and the legal system need to be radically transformed as well (as I argued in another post and about which Mr Gindin was silent (see   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). Health is of course another area which needs to be radically restructured and its repressive features abolished (see various posts on the health and safety of workers on this blog).

Mr. Resnick then mentions Lucas Aerospace, which closed; in response,  and workers came up with a plan to change things by focusing on products needed by the community. Workers built a powerful movement both inside and outside the union.

Mr. Gindin points out that Lucas ended in defeat. Nevertheless, what is inspiring in the case of Lucas and in Oshawa is the focus on producing not for profit but for social need, which stimulates the imagination and leads to diverse creative ideas. The problem is that you need the power to implement them.

You do indeed need the power to implement them. The illusion that workers have much power through collective bargaining and collective agreements needs to be constantly criticized so that they can begin to organize to challenge the power of employers as a class and not just particular employers. In other words, it requires ideological struggle and not just “organizational” struggle. How workers are to build power when they have faith in the collective-bargaining system and collective agreements is not something Mr. Gindin addresses. Why is that? Why does he ignore such a central issue when it comes to talking about unionized workplaces?

Mr. Gindin then points out that people do rebel, but the problem is how to sustain that rebellion.

That is indeed a problem, but failing to criticize one of the keystones of modern unions–collective bargaining and collective agreements–surely impedes a sustained effort at rebellion. Faith in the collective-bargaining process is bound to lead to cynicism since the cards are stacked against workers from the beginning because of the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in the collective agreement–and yet workers are fed the ideology that collective agreements are “fair,” “just” and so forth.

Mr. Gindin next claims that people can see that capitalism is not the ultimate end of history since it does not address their needs nor the needs of the environment.

This gives way too much trust in people’s rhetorical criticism of capitalism but their real acceptance of it–as he himself earlier implied. People lack a vision of a better world and accept, reluctantly at times, the so-called inevitability of capitalism in practice. Social democrats may refer to capitalism this and capitalism that, but they do not really seek to overthrow the power of employers.

Mr. Resnick then refers to racial, gender and sexual orientation as divisions that will be overcome in the social movement. Mr. Gindin does not specifically address these issues but claims that when people work together, they begin to form common dreams as they realize they have common problems.

Is there evidence that workers in the closed GM plant at Oshawa now are opposed to the power of employers as a class? After all, surely some of the workers for GM at Oshawa have come together and discussed some of their common problems. Yet earlier Mr. Gindin pointed out that there is much cynicism among such workers. It is not only insufficient for workers to get together and to discuss common problems–since there is such a thing as their immediate common problem–which centers around a particular employer, and the common problem of having to work for an employer as such (any employer)–a problem that is rarely if ever discussed.

Furthermore, Mr. Gindin’s view is not only naive, but there is evidence that contradicts it. As a member of the Toronto Labour Committee, and in good faith, I tried to bring up the issue, in the context of striking brewery workers, of whether their work constituted “decent work” and whether the wages that they sought should be called “fair wages.” I was met with insults by one trade unionist. Mr. Gindin, in addition, claimed that the reference to “decent work” was a purely defensive move. That is nonsense; it is ideology, and should have been criticized. People did not work together over the issue of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements; the issue was simply buried through insults and the rhetoric of “defense.”

There is a continuation of the theme that organization is the key–it is insufficient to become aware or that capitalism is bad.

Mr. Gindin fails to see the need to combine a specific kind of organization with ideological struggle. To be sure, without organization workers cannot gain power, but workers will unlikely gain power without engaging in organization and ideological struggle simultaneously. Mr. Gindin minimizes the importance of ideological struggle and exaggerates the importance of mere changes in organizational struggles (such as Ms. McAlevey’s innovations in organizing). Both are required simultaneously, and that means engaging in an ideological battle with the traditional left. Mr. Gindin, however, indulges the social-democratic left and panders to them by avoiding an ideological struggle. Any organization that emerges as a consequence will unlikely be more than an organization that accepts the power of employers as a class.

For Mr. Gindin, what has been defeated is the socialist idea.

That idea was long ago defeated–few workers in Canada adhered to it even in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, Mr. Gindin now implies that ideological struggle is indeed vital–but he implied just above that it was not that important–that organization was vital. Or is he now arguing that both organizational and ideological struggle are vital? If so, why does he not explicitly engage in ideological struggle with his social-democratic supporters?

The following does indeed imply that it is vital to unify organizational and ideological struggle:

We have to organize to end capitalism.

Good. To do so, however, requires meeting objective conditions–and one of those conditions is criticizing those within the labour movement who idealize organizing efforts that merely lead to collective bargaining and collective agreements (such as Tracy McMaster, union steward, organizer, former vice president, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), “our Tracy,” as Mr. Gindin once called her). Mr. Gindin, by not criticizing Ms. McMaster’s reference to “decent work” and “fair wages” fails to meet such objective conditions for the ending of capitalism.

However, Mr. Gindin then makes the following claim:

People see through the system.

Do they really? I doubt it. This view vastly underestimates the ideological hold that the power of employers in its various facets has on workers and the repressive character of various institutions–from work institutions to state institutions People do not see through the system. If they did, they would not pair the struggle for a minimum wage of $15 (and needed reforms in employment law) with the concept of “fairness” so nonchalantly. They would not call collective agreements fair, nor would they imply that there is a relatively equal power between organized (unionized) workers and employers.

Mr. Gindin once again minimizes the ideological struggle.

The issue of a worsening environment through global warming then comes up. Mr. Gindin argues once again that access to the environment will be one of the great inequalities of our times–access to the environment.

As I argued in the previous post, Mr. Gindin’s concept of the environment is faulty. The environment of human beings has included the use of land and tools for millenia. That access has been denied with the emergence of classes and some form of private property (and communal property can be private property relative to another communal property). Access to the environment has always been a class issue–even before capitalism.

An environmental crisis may lead to authoritarian structures arising rather than democratic ones. One of the problems is that people do not see structures through which they can work, commit and have confidence that such issues will be addressed–and this includes unions and political parties. People know that something is wrong, but they lack the confidence of getting at it. That is why fighting through unions is so important; you learn on a daily basis that collectively you can effect things: you can affect your workplace, you can affect your foremen, you can have different kinds of relationships to your workmates.

It keeps coming down to whether people do not know enough or whether people do not see the structures through which they can fight through and win. Mr. Gindin believes it is the lack of structures which forms the problem, not whether people do not know enough,

Mr. Gindin’s criticisms of unions is welcome–but too general and vague to be much help. He should elaborate on why unions are not the structures through which people can “work, commit and have confidence” that their problems will be addressed adequately. Why such a vague characterization of the inadequacy of unions and union structures? What is it about union structures that prevents workers from having the confidence and the commitment to work though them to achieve their goals?

Again, Mr. Gindin underestimates the importance of ideological struggle within the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

The labour movement, despite having been kicked around for the last 30 or 40 years, has not concluded that we need to unite in class terms. Certainly, engaging in resistance is vital, but what have we learned from such resistance? To push harder for our own particular agenda, or have we learned that we need a class perspective to address our problems? That we need to recognize that gender, race and wage inequalities must be overcome so that we can function as a class? That does not happen automatically and has not happened automatically. That class perspective has to be built. Otherwise, workers are only individual, fragmented workers with particular identities separate from each other. We need to make ourselves a collective force–a class; it does not happen spontaneously. The potential for workers to make themselves a class has increased, but the potential will not be actualized automatically.

There are various openings or potentialities for politicization, but we should not exaggerate this by arguing that we are well on the way to winning. People are willing to fight, but then the question is: How do we actually organize ourselves to win. We are not very far along in that road.

That road is socialism, which allows the best aspects of humanity to develop.

Certainly, divisions within the working class need to be recognized and overcome in order to form a class. A class perspective needs to be fought for in various fronts. Unfortunately, Mr. Gindin does not see that such a class perspective requires a confrontation with the ideology of the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements. There will be no spontaneous overcoming of the organizational limitations of unions (including the ones proposed by Ms. McAlevey in her various books) unless the legitimacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements is called into question. This does not mean that unions would not engage in collective bargaining or not have collective agreements voted on; rather, the limitations of collective bargaining and the corresponding limitations of collective agreements would be explicitly recognized via a class perspective, which permits recognition of the need for temporary truces because of a relative lack of power.

My prediction is that Mr. Gindin’s efforts in Oshawa will be in vain since he underestimates greatly the need for ideological struggle in general and the struggle in particular for union members to recognize the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements not just rhetorically or by way of lip service but rather practically by ceasing every opportunity to demonstrate their limitations and the need for an organization that addresses such limitations–a socialist organization.

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two

In a previous post, I pointed out how Professor Noonan idealized the nation state. This post will expand on this view by showing that Professor Noonan’s proposal to nationalize  the economy by means of the modern state does the same thing–idealizes the modern state.

Professor Noonan makes the following claim:

The alternative is to use this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state– under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest– to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs. Nationalization can prefigure democratic socialization, and democratic socialization can re-focus economic life on collective work to provide each and all that which we really need, and freeing our time for the– real-life, multidimensional– experiences, actions, and interactions that make life worth fighting for, protecting, and living.

The call for nationalization of industry by means of the modern state has been typical of many leftists for at least a century and a half. Marx, before, during and a couple of years after the 1848 revolutions, called for the centralization or the appropriation of the conditions of life (factories and other productive facilities, banks, utilities and so forth) by the modern state. Ironically, Professor Noonan, who considers that his view is superior to the Leninist view of the modern state, follows in Leninist footsteps. From Paul Thomas (1994), Alien Politics: Marxist State Theory Retrieved (New York: Routledge), pages ix-x:

Since the 1960s, fierce but turgid [pretentious or windy or laboured or strained] have raged among scholars about Marxist state theory. Participants in these debates were in some respects bitterly opposed. Yet they tended, by and large, to agree on one basic assumption: that the state, or the state as Marx thought of it, is class determined or shaped by the play of class forces outside its boundaries. Disagreements duly proceeded about what this ruling class theory means. (It might mean, for instance, that the state is the instrument of the capitalist class, or that it is an agency structurally tied to ruling class interests or imperatives.) But the theory, in the main, was itself accepted–accepted, in my view, rather too readily and uncritically.

But what did its acceptance involve? It involved, in practice, the often impatient conflation or running-together of understandings of the state that are, in principle, separable: that of the state as being class-determined, and that of the state as an “object,” an instrument, a “finished thing” that is capable of being “seized” and turned to good account once it is seized by the right hands. Theorists–among them Marx himself, for a while, as well as Lenin–can be seen to be given to such impatience under the impress of revolutionary urgency.

But by now, such impatience can be seen to have invited dangerous illusions about what can be accomplished by seizing the state. Seizure of the state can be seen, for that matter, as a dangerous illusion in its own right.

The modern state, as a separate institution, is itself characteristic of the nature of a society dominated by a class of employers and is hardly something external to it. From Thomas, page x:

Because common action and democratic potential find no place in civil society, these are alienated and represented away from its orbit.  Common action and collective concern, which in civil society are subsumed beneath self-assertion and the play of competing self-interests, are fused and concentrated at the level of the state, which arrogates them to itself.

The modern state is similar in some respects to modern money. Modern money emerges as a monopolizer by being the only social object that is immediately exchangeable. The modern state is a monopolizer of the so-called public sphere by being the only social object that immediately constitutes political subjects (citizens). From Geoffrey Kay and James Mott (1982), Political Order and the Law of Labour, page 6:

The political nature of money is evident in its appearance —it always bears the head of the prince, or some other emblem of state. On the side of subjectivity the same applies: just as money is immediately exchangeable as a universal object whose credentials do not have to be chocked, so every individual is accepted at face value as a persona bona fide. Money is accepted because it is a universal objcct on account of its being political: the individual is universally recognised because he is a political subject – a citizen.

Just as money is a production relation despite being external to the production process, so too is the modern state a production relation despite being external to the production process.

The call for nationalization and state centralization independently of working-class consciousness of its own general interests may be merely the expression of the immediate interests of workers under specific circumstances without leading anywhere except the absorption of such nationalization into the folds of the capitalist system itself; in other words, such nationalization may be co-opted by the modern state and by certain sections of the class of employers.

Isabelle Garo (2000), Marx: Une Critique de la Philosophie  argues that Marx did oppose, at least later in life, state centralization as a socialist measure (I give my rather freely translated version, followed by the original French. If anyone has a better translation, feel free to make a comment), pages 233-234:

Marx insists on the fact that the Commune [the Paris Commune, an organization that arose in 1871 in the face of, on the one hand, the defeat of France by Prussia during the Prussian-French war and, on the other, the attempt by the French class of employers to take away the arms held by the National Guard in Paris] aims in the first place the emancipation of work. It is the established unity between political tasks and economic organization, “the political form finally found that permitted the realization of the economic emancipation of work.” From this point of view, the idea of a separated political instance is indeed an illusion that masks the functional subordination of the State to the mode of production to its criteria and to its needs. The overthrow of this logic is not the temporary reuse of the State, followed by its suppression: as functional representation, it [the State] concentrates in itself the nature and contradictions of the economic and social formation in general. The withering away of the State is a radical redefinition of politics, its reappropriation by the associated producers as an instance of democratic decision-making and rationalization of a production that cannot possess in itself its own ends. Said in another way, the valorization of value [the increase of money for the sake of the increase of money by way of using human beings and their conditions of life as means to that end–see The Money Circuit of Capital)  and its absurd spiral must cede place to the redefinition of social and individual activity. Political representation, modified in its definition, is turned upside down in its function: far from being a means for dispossession that makes universal suffrage the right to designate who are to be our  “masters,” is the occasion of a specifically political action precisely because it concerns local tasks of organization.

Marx insiste sur le fait que la Commune vise en premier lieu l’émancipation du travail. Elle est l’unité instaurée entre tâches politiques et organisation économique,
« la forme politique enfin trouvée qui permettait de réaliser l’émancipation économique du travail79». De ce point de vue, l’idée d’une instance politique séparée est bien une illusion qui masque la subordination fonctionnelle de l’État au mode de production à ses critères et à ses urgences. Le renversement de cette logique n’est pas la réutilisation momentanée de l’État, suivie de sa suppression: en tant que représentation fonctionnelle, il concentre en lui la nature et les contradictions de la formation économique et sociale dans son ensemble. Le dépérissement de l’État est une redéfinition radicale de la politique, sa réappropriation par les producteurs associés comme instance de décision démocratique et de rationalisation d’une production qui ne saurait posséder en elle même ses propres finalités. Autrement dit, la valorisation de la valeur et sa spirale absurde doivent céder la place à la redéfinition de l’activité sociale et individuelle. La représentation politique, modifiée dans sa définition, est retournée dans sa fonction : loin d’être le moyen d’une
dépossession qui fait du suffrage universel le droit de désigner ses «maîtres3», elle est l’occasion d’une action spécifiquement politique, précisément parce qu’elle
concerne des tâches locales d’organisation.

This does not mean that there would be merely local cooperatives; there could be a federation of cooperatives that united not just economic functions but political functions, under the rule of the producers and the local communities and, at the same time, connected to each other in a cooperative national structure initially (see  the description of a possible scenario in the series Socialism, for example,  Socialism, Part Six: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers). Universal suffrage would be preserved and control of the executive (state personnel, election of the judicature and other changes in the nature of the state would be required. From Richard Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels: Classical Marxism, 1850-1895, volume 2, page 133:

By way of contrast Marx emphasized that “nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture.”18 Not only were judges to be elected but, most of all, administrators at all levels. Marx had always made executive power his prime concern and set forth its radical democratization as the foremost political objective of any popular movement. Thus in the First Draft he declared that the Communards had adapted universal suffrage “to its real purposes” when they used it to choose “their own functionaries of administration and initiation.”19 Such functionaries and indeed all the elected public servants of the Commune would also work under much closer control by their electors, because of the additional safeguards encountered but infrequently in bourgeois democracies–…the right of recall, and open executive proceedings with subsequently published transcripts. Marx had no patience with any institutional devices, checks, or balances whose purpose was to curtail popular influence; he favored a maximum of mass participation in and control over all branches of government. “Freedom,” he would write four years later, perhaps thinking of the Paris Commune, “consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it, and today, too, the forms of state are more or less free to the extent that they restrict the ‘freedom of the state.”’20 Just as bourgeois democracy could be judged much freer, by this yardstick, than Bonapartist despotism, so the Commune could be judged much freer than bourgeois democracy.

Professor Noonan’s implicit assumption that nationalization is somehow socialist definitely needs to be criticized. From Hunt, volume 2, pages 226-227:

Marx made it clear that such leisure included at least the following: (1) time to be idle (rest, etc.); (2) time for artistic endeavor; and (3) time for scientific pursuits. Most science was done in leisure time during Marx’s day, including the social “science” he did himself. A continuing development of scientific knowledge would have obvious return benefits in rationalizing the processes of production. The growth of leisure time in general would produce a more knowledgeable and versatile work force: “Free time- which is both idle time and time for higher activity- has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. ” 34 Marx’s last commentary on these matters is to be found in the Critique of the Gotha Program, written in 1875, a decade after the third volume of Capital. Here we find the striking passage which confirms that the radical vision of The German Ideology remained consistent in Marx’s mind to the end-under communism work will be attractive (“life’s prime want”), and the division of labor will be totally overcome:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

For Marx and Engels, then, communism was never equated simply with nationalization of the means of production. From beginning to end, their writings stress the transcendence of the division of labor as integral to the classless society. It was not some queer, extraneous, or easily discardable part of their system of ideas. It was the division of labor, after all, that first created private property- not vice versa- along with social classes, the state, the antagonism between the sexes, alienated labor, and the separation of town and country. If the dividing of labor was original sin, its Aufhebung [its elimination and the simultaneous nurturing of the positive aspects that have emerged on its basis–such as increased productivity of labour] alone would mark the redemption of mankind. Nationalization of the means of production, in and of itself, overcomes none of the aforementioned evils, but only enhances the power of the state, making it a single giant monopoly corporation. Later generations of Marx’s followers, Communists and social democrats alike, increasingly misunderstood, trivialized, or simply forgot this aspect of the masters’ teaching, surrounded as they were by a world in which occupational specialization gained ground every day in every sphere, quite regardless whether the local economic system was communist, socialist, or capitalist. The relentless dividing of labor tasks seemed as inevitable as death and taxes. Only quite recently have some radicals begun to reconsider this whole issue seriously.

If we inquire where Marx got the idea of transcending the division of labor, at one level it appears to be his reinterpretation of the general liberal call for “the free development of the individual personality,” especially in its specifically German incarnation as the ideal of Bildung [education in the widest sense]– maximum cultivation of the talents of the individual, especially the “higher” faculties and sensibilities, into a well-proportioned whole. Marx reinterpreted this ideal first by reminding the liberals that the free development of the individual personality does not occur on a desert island: “Only within the community has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community.” But mainly he democratized the liberal ideal which had always tacitly presupposed the existence of “lower orders” to look after the “lower” needs of each free personality. By transcending the division of labor in society at large, “the genuine and free development
of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase. ” In the renowned words of the Manifesto, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. ” 38 Of course the Bildung ideal itself was based on Renaissance models and above all on the Greek ideal of personal well-roundedness, suggesting once again the extent of Marx’s underlying debt to the values of classical antiquity [ancient Greece and Rome].

This does not mean that there may be no role for parliamentary institutions in some form. Universal suffrage and some form of central national institution would probably be necessary, and nationalization of key industries may make some sense–but in order for universal suffrage to be an expression of working-class democracy, the working-class itself would have to engage, consciously, in opposing the class of employers. From Hunt, volume 2, page 70:

In 1852 Marx wrote of universal suffrage, as Engels had done so often before, as the very touchstone of proletarian victory in Britain:

Universal Suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class [my emphasis], and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired laborers. The carrying of Universal Suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honored with that name on the Continent. Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class.

It is possible that a dual movement of the working class, becoming conscious of itself as a class, could institute nationalization of key industries while simultaneously engaging in the restructuring of the modern state to link political and economic change that expresses its own interests.

Such a situation, though, requires that the working-class becomes conscious of itself as a class. Professor Noonan provides no evidence that this is the case. In fact, part of the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate in many ways that this is not the case–ranging from the silent indoctrination that working-class students receive for at least 12 years in schools (see, for example,  A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees) to the claim by the social-democratic left that there is such a thing, within an economic, political and social system characterized by the class of employers, as “fairness, a “fair share” or “fair contract” for workers (see, for example, The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process.

What is ironic in Professor Noonan’s position is that he accuses some leftists of being Leninists, which he implies is out-of-date. I had a debate–if you can call it that–some time ago. In his reply, he stated:

“I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

Professor Noonan, as a self-proclaimed member of the social-reformist or social-democratic left, has more in common with the Leninist view of the modern state than he realizes. (I leave it open whether Lenin in theory advocated a centralized socialist state. Thomas argues that he did whereas Kay and Mott seem more sympathetic to his views of the modern state.)

Instead of preparing the working-class for real control over its own lives by criticizing the inadequacies of the modern state, Professor Noonan engages in utopian fantasies about the magical world of nationalization.

The immediate question is what can workers and their representatives do to prevent the capitalist state from obliging them to return to work for employers when it is still unsafe to do so. The next question is, once the coronavirus pandemic recedes, what can be done to prevent a rush by the class of employers and the modern state or modern government–a purely political state that arises with the ripping of the conditions of life of workers from the control of the workers themselves–from foisting payment of the crisis on the backs of workers, the unemployed, immigrants and the disabled. These diverse groups of civil society, if they are to resist this and to win more than just temporary gains, need to begin to organize for the overthrow of the alienated, exploitative, oppressive and coercive state or government, along with the alienated, exploitative, oppressive and coercive class of employers–a movement which Professor Noonan considers to be outdated. After all, the magic words “democratic” and “nationalization” take the place of real democracy, with a class conscious working-class explicitly fighting to end the alien power of the modern state and the alien power of the class of employers.

The claim that the nation state can “override capitalist market forces” fetishizes the nation state by treating the nation state as somehow external to those market forces. But how does the nation state override market forces? By, force? The nation state as a focal point of political power is hardly independent of capitalist market forces. Just as money  is money only because commodities do not have the capacity of being exchangeable in their immediate form, so the nation state has the power that it does because citizens do not have the capacity to represent their own interests except in an alienated form, via the alienated state, a state that is representative in an atomized fashion that dissolves class relations into the homogenous situation of being a “citizen.”

Professor Noonan makes the further following claim:

As powerful as capital is, it has proven no match for the virus, on the one hand, and state power, on the other. The danger, of course, is that the state is currently acting under emergency powers, but will revert to its standard function of enframing and protecting capital, if we let it. The alternative is to use this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state– under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest– to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs.

Professor Noonan’s analysis is rather vague. Firstly, Professor Noonan does not specify how “capital … has proven no match for state power.” Perhaps he means closing borders to non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Such a situation, however, has existed for a long time, and control of “foreigners” became more systematic with the emergence of passports (which did not exist in any systematic way for some time despite the existence of the capitalist state and a class of employers)–and such a move is hardly independent of the power of capital or of employers; passports are a means of control over workers throughout the world (see an earlier post What’s Left, Toronto? Part Six).

to achieve their goals (in the case of private corporations, profit, and in the case of government organizations, their mission statement and the overall operations of government). If employees start dying on mass, the interests of employers are jeopardized. Professor Noonan simply ignores this basic fact of “capitalism.”

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Six: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part One

Professor Noonan, a self-declared historical materialist and teacher of Marxism, continues to argue a political position that ignores the reality of capitalist society. In his post Back to the Magic Mountain, he argues the following:

No one should fetishize the nation state, but it remains the dominant form of political society and, when it chooses to, it can marshal the power to override capitalist market forces. The dependence of human life on market forces has been suspended in large parts of the world during this crisis. The state has effectively taken over the direction of economic activity and positioned itself as the guarantor of people’s income. We have been re-acquainted with a truth that capitalism works hard to suppress: our lives depend upon collective labour and nature, not market forces. This truth has to become the basis for post-pandemic reconstruction.

Professor Noonan’s opening part of the first sentence, “No one should fetishize the nation state,” is supposed to prevent any criticism of what follows. Professor Noonan, he implies, does not fetishize the nation-state.” The use of the conjunction “but” then is used to do just that.

In a Canadian context, Professor Noonan, in his statement: “The dependence of human life on market forces has been suspended in large parts of the world during this crisis. The state has effectively taken over the direction of economic activity and positioned itself as the guarantor of people’s income,” can refer to the provisions for workers to receive $500 a week for up to sixteen weeks through the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a federal program. From workers’ point of view, such economic relief is of course welcome–if they qualify (they must have worked a certain number of hours, for example–although some of the gaps are being addressed).

Professor Noonan forgets that workers are means to employers’ ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Consider things that you own, use and need. Do you take care for them in some way? They are means to the end of your goals, but you do care about preserving their existence in order to achieve your goals. Professor Noonan idealizes (and fetishizes) the modern state. The Canadian federal government, like other governments, instituted income policies because the workers could not temporarily work for employers–and because they lack their own independent means by which to produce and hence to live.

Employers need employees in one way or another if they are going to continue to be employers. The modern state intervenes in the capitalist market, if necessary, because that market needs the continued existence of workers as employees. The dependence of employers on employees can be seen from the following issue that arose in the 1860s in England in relation to the possible emigration of skilled English workers (from Karl Marx, Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 35, Capital:

The reproduction of the working class carries with it the accumulation of skill, that is handed down from one generation to another.1′ To what extent the capitalist reckons the existence of such a skilled class among the factors of production that belong to him by right, and to what extent he actually regards it as the reality of his variable capital, is seen so soon as a crisis threatens him with its loss. In consequence of the civil war in the United States and of the accompanying cotton famine, the majority of the cotton operatives in Lancashire were, as is well known, thrown out of work. 471 Both from the working class itself, and from other ranks of society, there arose a cry for State aid, or for voluntary national subscriptions, in order to enable the “superfluous” hands to emigrate to the colonies or to the United States. Thereupon, The Times published on the 24th March, 1863 [p. 12, col. 2-4], a letter from Edmund Potter, a former president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. This letter was rightly called in the House of Commons, the manufacturers’ manifesto.2′ We cull here a few characteristic passages, in which the proprietary rights of capital over labour power are unblushingly asserted.

“He” (the man out of work) “may be told the supply of cotton workers is too large … and … must … in fact be reduced by a third, perhaps, and that then there will be a healthy demand for the remaining two-thirds…. Public opinion … urges emigration….The master cannot willingly see his labour supply being removed; he may think, and perhaps justly, that it is both wrong and unsound…. But if the public funds are to be devoted to assist emigration, he has a right to be heard, and perhaps to protest.”

… He [Mr. Potter] then continues:

“Some time …, one, two, or three years, it may be, will produce the quantity…. The question I would put then is this — Is the trade worth retaining? Is it worth while to keep the machinery (he means the living labour machines) in order, and is it not the greatest folly to think of parting with that? I think it is. I allow that the workers are not a property, not the property of Lancashire and the masters; but they arc the strength of both; they are the mental and trained power which cannot be replaced for a generation; the mere machinery which they work might much of it be beneficially replaced, nay improved, in a twelvemonth.’: Encourage or allow (!) the working power to emigrate, and what of the capitalist?”a “…Take away the cream of the workers, and fixed capital will depreciate in a great degree, and the floating will not subject itself to a struggle with the short supply of inferior labour…. We are told the workers wish it” (emigration). “Very natural it is that they should do so…. Reduce, compress the cotton trade by taking away its working power and reducing their wages expenditure, say one-fifth, or five millions, and what then would happen to the class above, the small shopkeepers; and what of the rents, the cottage rents…. Trace out the effects upwards to the small farmer, the better householder, and … the landowner, and say if there could be any suggestion more suicidal to all classes of the country than by enfeebling a nation by exporting the best of its manufacturing population, and destroying the value of some of its most productive capital and enrichment…. I advise a loan (of five or six millions sterling), … extending it may be over two or three years, administered by special commissioners added to the Boards of Guardians in the cotton districts, under special legislative regulations, enforcing some occupation or labour, as a means of keeping up at least the moral standard of the recipients of the loan … can anything be worse for landowners
or masters than parting with the best of the workers, and demoralising and disappointing the rest by an extended depletive emigration, a depletion of capital and value in an entire province?”

Potter, the chosen mouthpiece of the manufacturers, distinguishes two sorts of “machinery”, each of which belongs to the capitalist, and of which one stands in his factory, the other at night time and on Sundays is housed outside the factory, in cottages. The one is inanimate, the other living. The inanimate machinery not only wears out and depreciates from day to day, but a great part of it becomes so quickly
superannuated, by constant technical progress, that it can be replaced with advantage by new machinery after a few months. The living machinery, on the contrary, gets better the longer it lasts, and in proportion as the skill, handed from one generation to another, accumulates.

…the factory operatives are part of the movable fittings of a factory. Their emigration was prevented.1; They were locked up in that “moral workhouse”, the
cotton districts, and they form, as before, “the strength” of the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire.

With millions of workers being sent home in order to prevent damage to human beings as employees–a necessary part of the process of capitalist production and exchange as well as governmental processes– the government’s intervention in being “the guarantor of people’s income” looks much less positive. The government or state (here the distinction is not important) is not the benevolent, neutral institution that Professor Noonan makes it out to be. It is providing income as a stop-gap measure until the capitalist and governmental processes can once again operate normally.

Indeed, Professor Noonan implies as much when he writes:

The danger, of course, is that the state is currently acting under emergency powers, but will revert to its standard function of enframing and protecting capital, if we let it.

Professor Noonan sees the provision of income by the state that is supposedly independent of market forces as something positive–but as we have already seen, the preservation of workers independent of the market in the sense that they can obtain money without having to work for an employer–is only a temporary measure that in no way is in opposition to the interests of the class of employers.

As the pandemic recedes in intensity, at least two issues will arise concerning the opposition of the working class to the nation-state. Firstly, there will be increased intensification of calls for workers to go back to work for employers despite the health risks. After all, around 1000 workers die and 600,000 workers are injured every year in Canada; health and safety are not a priority for the Canadian state.

Secondly, the issue of who will pay for the temporary income of workers and the subsidies for employers during the pandemic will arise. Although calls for cutbacks in health care will undoubtedly be more difficult to justify, cuts in other areas (such as education) will probably intensify.

Without a movement that expressly or consciously opposes the treatment of workers as things to be used by employers, the temporary measure taken by the Canadian (and other capitalist) government(s) is just that–a temporary measure. There will likely be opposition from the labour movement and from communities to the treatment of such measures as temporary, but since the labour movement and communities, for the most part, share Professor Noonan’s view that the state can somehow overcome its own nature as a capitalist state, the tasks required for converting such temporary measures into permanent measures cannot be addressed.

Professor Noonan refers to “we.” But who is this “we?” The “we” is a figment of his social-democratic imagination. In order for there to be a “we,” there would have had to have been much prior preparation. Has Professor Noonan engaged in such preparation? Not at all. He has engaged in the idealization of the collective-bargaining process and promoted class harmony (see earlier posts, such as  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Five: Middle-Class Delusions).

Surely an essential part of the process of our preparing for a society where we all have our biological, social, intellectual, emotional and aesthetic needs met is a negative process–a process of coming to understand that the present social relations inside and outside work are in opposition to our interests and nature and that we therefore need to organize to change the situation by abolishing all class relations and relations of oppression.

However, my experience here in Toronto has been that most of the so-called left simply do not want to deal with the issue and attack those who do, such as calling them “a condescending prick,” ridiculing them and so forth. Alternatively, they ignore the issue by remaining silent over the issue. For example, John Clarke and other so-called radicals here in Toronto opposed calling for a basic income; I called for a radical basic income in opposition to Mr. Clarke’s rejection of any consideration of a basic income (see Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance). It has been largely ignored by the left here in Toronto; there has been no real discussion or movement for establishing a radical basic income here in Toronto.

Professor Noonan’s reference to “if we let them” is, therefore, utopian thinking. My prediction is that at best there will be some pressure from the organized social-democratic left for the maintenance of some kind of improvements in the welfare state, but that is all. Of course, there will be counter-pressure by the government or state and the class of employers to such improvements.

Professor Noonan’s further utopian social-democratic thinking can be seen in the following:

The alternative is to use this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state– under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest– to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs.

I certainly share the goal of having “the productive basis of society…serving life-needs,” , but Professor Noonan has not shown how he or other members of the so-called progressive left have engaged in the preparatory work necessary to take advantage of a crisis.

Professor Noonan’s reference to using

“this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state–under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest–to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs”

follows in the footsteps of another post by Professor Noonan, a post that assumes the present existence of certain social relations that are required if other social relations are to arise. In the previous post already referred to above, I pointed out how contradictory Professor Noonan’s theoretical position is with respect to the interests of most workers at universities; Professor Noonan assumed that there was already democracy at universities and thereby assumed what in fact needs to be accomplished.

The same logic applies here. If we already have democratic control of forces “acting in our shared life-interest,” then we already have “control over the productive basis of society” and have already “reoriented production to serve life-needs.” The reconstruction of the economy is democratic control. We need to reconstruct the political and the economic simultaneously and not the so-called political seizure of power occurring before and then democratic control of the economy somehow following afterwards.

Professor Noonan’s call for nationalization by the present state ignores this problem altogether by assuming that nationalization by the modern state will somehow magically lead to control over our own life process and life needs:

 Nationalization can pre-figure democratic socialization, and democratic socialization can re-focus economic life on collective work to provide each and all that which we really need, and freeing our time for the– real-life, multidimensional– experiences, actions, and interactions that make life worth fighting for, protecting, and living.

The call for nationalization as a prelude to socialism is typical of social democrats; they idealize and fetishize the modern state–contrary to Professor Noonan’s disclaimer–and thereby short-circuit what needs to be done–expose the anti-democratic and alienated nature of the modern state–a nature that has its parallel in the modern economy dominated by a class of employers or what some call civil society (see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

This issue, however, is somewhat complicated and will be dealt with in the next post. Professor Noonan’s position, ironically, is similar in some ways to the Leninist view of the modern state–a view that Professor Noonan supposedly finds unsatisfactory.

 

 

Working for Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Five

In Dwyer’s book, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error, in a passage quoted below, he argues that so-called accidents at work are socially caused but, historically, have been defined otherwise–as technical problems, for example, or as a result of individual mistakes.

In the passage below, he notes that health and safety issues should be identified and resolved according to need, with the priority being on the most destructive threats to health and safety. However due to the drive towards maximum profit at the expense of workers as mere things to be used to that end (see The Money Circuit of Capital), such a priority is often shelved in favour of solutions that agree with the interests of employers and those in political power.

From Tom Dwyer, Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error. New York: Springer Science+Business Media, pages. 26-27:

Accident Prevention as Political Rationality

One might suppose that problems should be attacked according to
need: accidents provoked by different technically defined causes kill and
injure at dissimilar rates, and from a socially rational viewpoint the most
destructive of these should be the first to be treated. It appears, how ever, that accidents were singled out for treatment on the basis of rational
criteria developed within the economic and political spheres. In
the former case [the economic sphere] the commercial availability and viability of the products of scientific and technical development appears to be an important factor. In the latter [the political sphere], prevention appears to be primarily concerned with those accidents identified as having important political consequences–disasters constitute a prime example.65 In other words, it appears that early safety legislation was formulated neither as a function of needs
ascertained through a form of social rationality nor as a function of a
perception that accidents result from the operation of social forces within
the workplace. Reference to the social world is precluded in developing
criteria of need and strategies of prevention.

Unions often address the issue of health and safety through shifting focus from the worksite itself to legislative measures. From Dwyer, page 27: 

The attention of unions was increasingly channeled away from the
worksite and toward legislative change to be conquered through the
efforts of members of Parliament sympathetic to the workers’ cause. The
power of the bureaucracy grew as industrial problems became increasingly
subject to political control through their transformation into
administrative questions.

Legislature measures may indeed address some health and safety concerns, but as just indicated, by shifting focus away from the worksite, legislative measures often transform the question to an administrative level. This shift is consistent with the shift in the nature of the capitalist state from legislative measures to administrative measures (see Mark Neocleous, Administering Civil Society: Towards a Theory of State Power).

Legislative measures are thus insufficient for addressing health and safety issues since they are transformed into a form of administrating workplace relations that are less directly subject to the control of workers. 

What is needed, at least in part,  is what Jane McCalevey, in her book No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age argues calls deep organizing at the worksite itself. Worker organization and solidarity at the worksite is required. Organized worker opposition at the worksite needs to be developed as a culture. Supplementary tactics (such as those suggested by the International Workers of the World (IWW) should also be integrated; a march on the boss, for instance, where a group of workers face the immediate supervisor with an issue that concerns them, provides workers with a collective means that solidifies their workplace power.

However, this view definitely needs to be linked to a general critique of the power of employers as a class–which is what McCalevey does not do. She argues, incorrectly, if workers are organized at the workplace level, that organization or structure is the same as worker agency, or the idea that workers’ nature as persons is taken into account. However, the peculiar nature of capitalist relations is that what is produced by workers is used by the class of employers is used as a means to exploit, to oppress and to use workers for the purposes of the employers. The class issue cannot be resolved at the level of the workplace since the class issue is much, much wider than any worksite.

The attempt to shift to a legislative focus at least expresses the impossibility of resolving the exploitation, oppression and use of workers by employers solely at the level of the workplace.

What is needed to address health and workplace issues, then, is deep organizing at the workplace with a general critique and movement against the power of employers as a class. In this way, the real health and safety needs of workers can more adequately be addressed.

Should not the issue of the health and safety of workers be a priority? Is it? Can it be when a class of employers exist? Can it be when human beings are treated as means for the benefit of employers?

Should not union members call to account their union reps concerning the impossibility of adequately protecting workers in the face of the power of employers?

Should not workers begin to organize to end that power in order to make health and safety a priority at work?