This is the continuation of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.
Christoph Henning’s words (2005) express the nature of some so-called leftist social organizations in Toronto, such as Social Housing Green Deal. From Philosophy after Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 77:
We will see that Marxian theory, whose import was already lost in the developments discussed above, not only continued to be given a new thematic framework, but also displayed a ‘changing function’. A mode of thinking that operates within complex and dynamic socio-economic structures of development was replaced by a simplified rationale of domination. In functional terms, this led to a transformation of theory. Theory went from being a critical companion of politics to being an instrument by which to ideologically affirm a political voluntarism that was practised in a largely unreflected manner.
Before the May 2 Social Housing Green Deal zoom meeting I had drafted a critical analysis of two motioned items that were on the agenda. The first motion I discussed in the second post. This post is about the other motion. I sent my critical comments to Ms. Jessup, moderator and administrator, for the group. The motion was to support the statement by the grassroots organization “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.”
The first motion, as I indicated in my previous post, was more or less rubber-stamped. I had the impression that Ms. Jessup wanted the motion by the Suppress the Virus Now Coalition also to be rubber-stamped. However, I, Ms. Jessup and another zoom member had to leave soon.
I managed to have the motion tabled until the next meeting. That meeting was postponed, however, until May 23. I will describe why I did not attend that meeting in the final post of this series.
Second Critique: The Motion to Support the Statement Made By Suppress the Virus Now Coalition
This is what I wrote:
There is a controversial claim in this statement.
“ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE.”
Acquiescence to avoidable sickness has been the rule, not the exception. This does not mean that there have not been struggles over health and safety in the workplace. There have been constant struggles, but currently the unionized sector of the labour movement has often rested content with rhetoric than dealing with the reality of just how unsafe working conditions were even before the pandemic.
Thus, in a recent nod to the number of injured and dead workers in Canada, the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC, an organization “committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ [Toronto Pearson Airport], TAWC posted the following on its Facebook page on April 28—the Canadian national day of mourning for workers killed on the job: “Photos of the GTAA Administration building of the flags lowered at half-mast as a mark of respect on this National day of mourning.”
My response: “It would be more relevant if all measures to eliminate processes and procedures that treat workers as means for the benefit of employers were instituted–in other words, the elimination of a society organized on the basis of the class power of employers. How many workers have been injured and died at Pearson because of the pursuit of profit?
Flying a flag at half-mast is hardly a symbol of respect if all measures to eliminate dangerous working conditions are not pursued. Have such dangerous working conditions been eliminated at Pearson?”
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I had another “debate” on TAWC over the issue of health and safety at Pearson earlier, but I will spare the reader any further references unless someone wants to read it.
Some Canadian statistics before the pandemic (from my blog):
“More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.”
Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hébert report a much higher figure in their article (Fall 2018), ““Work-Related Deaths in Canada,”, pages 159-187, in Labour/Le Travail, Volume 82, page 186:
“Relying on a range of data sources, and adopting a broad definition of what constitutes a work-related fatality, we generated a revised estimate of the number of annual work-related fatalities. Based on our analysis, we estimate that the number of annual work-related fatalities in Canada is at least ten to thirteen times higher than the approximately 900 to 1,000 annual average fatalities reported by the AWBC [The Canadian Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada]. This makes work-related fatalities one of the leading causes of death in this country.”
Has there really been any social movement to address this carnage? Not that I am aware of. Resignation to sickness, injury and death at work (and outside work due to preventable diseases such as cancer) is part of parcel of Canadian culture (and many other national cultures). To then call it racist, etc seems to be an inadequate characterization of the situation of many workers in Canada. There may indeed be higher differentials of injury, disease and death among coloured workers, etc. (which requires more detailed data), but the general nature of the problem is not racist, etc but economic: workers, whatever their colour, gender, etc., are subject to the control of a class of workers, and there is no real and effective political organization that questions such control and aims to abolish the conditions that make it eminently reasonable (from an employer’s point of view) to engage in actions that injury, make sick or kill workers.
From Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):
“Perspectives on workplace injury
How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.
This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.”
The kind of social process called working for an employer (being an employee) that characterizes our working lives is a threat to our health in various ways, Logically, if we take seriously the claim that “ANY [PANDEMIC[ STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH,” should be opposed, then we should be fighting to create an organization and a movement that fights against a social organization dominated by a class of employers (and the associated economic, political and social structures) and for a socialist society that eliminates class relations—period. Otherwise, any other strategy simply “resigns itself to avoidable sickness and death”–regardless of the pandemic, and regardless of its differentiated impact on race, gender and so forth. In fact, what has happened during the pandemic merely highlights the continuity with past practice—and the acquiescence of those who have failed to oppose a society dominated by a class of employers.
Just as an aside. The list of demands: how effective are they really? Are there any priorities? Are there some that need to be implemented right away? Or are all on the same level? If on different levels, should they not have been organized in some fashion to reflect the level of priorities? And not only priorities but power to achieve each demand? What organizations and supports currently exist that are more relevant for achieving each specific demand? Or all all organizations and supports on the same level?
End of my commentary
The “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition” also wrote the following:
The Suppress The Virus Now Coalition is a network of community groups, labour groups, and individuals in Ontario. We have come together out of a shared concern about the Ontario provincial and Canadian federal governments’ approach to the COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic hit in March 2020. Now, as the second wave drags on, we demand that those governments stop prioritizing corporate profits over the health and well-being of our communities. We refuse to endorse any approach that accepts the needless death of elderly people and those living and working in long-term care; of disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised loved ones; of Indigenous Peoples in Ontario and across the country; of the Black, migrant, and racialized communities who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 infections in the GTA; of underhoused, precariously housed, and houseless neighbours; of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated community members; and of the health-care and other essential workers who are on the front lines.
ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE. IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE #COVIDzero CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED BY HEALTH-CARE WORKERS, WE DEMAND THAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS EXPLICITLY ADOPT THE HUMANE GOAL OF ELIMINATING COMMUNITY SPREAD OF COVID-19.
Policing, threats, and rhetoric that blames individuals for systemic failures and conditions outside of their control are neither effective nor ethical tactics to deal with this pandemic. Instead, we must turn to principles of solidarity and community care, and toward robust, expansive, and inclusive social supports so that we can all make it through this crisis. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but rather than returning to a “normal” where a select few lives are privileged over others, we must build the conditions for all to live and thrive. This rebuilding must centre the needs of those most impacted by the pandemic and by the ongoing violence of the Canadian state.
We call for a just, equitable #COVIDzero approach that includes (but is not limited to):
At least seven employer-paid sick days for all workers on a permanent basis, plus an additional 14 paid sick days during public health emergencies.
Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers, including respirator masks (e.g. N95s, FFP2s) for all workers in indoor workplaces until COVID community transmission ends, now that we know the virus can remain airborne indoors for hours.
The right of all workers to refuse work due to unsafe workplace conditions, and to be eligible for income supports like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) after such work refusals.
Expanded eligibility for pandemic-related state assistance such as the CRB, including for temporary migrant workers, undocumented people, gig economy workers, sex workers, and others.
An immediate ban on evictions; rent cancellation and forgiveness of arrears; a moratorium on encampment policing; and safe, accessible winter housing for unhoused people who want it.
An immediate end to the criminalization, racial profiling, and raids that harm migrant and non-migrant sex workers, including anti-trafficking initiatives and repressive bylaws affecting sex workers and workers in massage parlours.
Safe and accessible options for isolation when home isolation is not an option, and transparent communication about options that are already in existence.
Immediate investment to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, and offer COVID testing to students and education workers; and robust assistance for students, educators, caregivers, and families when school closures are necessary, like now.
Redistributing 50% of all police budgets toward resourcing social and health supports in Black, Indigenous, and people of colour communities.
An immediate end to deportations, and regularization and full immigration status now for all migrants, refugees, international students, workers (including temporary or seasonal migrants), and undocumented people in the country.
Immediate federal support and funding for clean water access, appropriate health care, and COVID supports for all Indigenous people on and off reserve, and the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty across the country, including heeding demands to immediately classify oil, mineral, and gas extraction as non-essential work, and to hit pause on extraction, exploration, and environmental assessment processes.
Immediate decarceration of people from provincial, federal, and immigration detention facilities, and simultaneous access to sanitation and protective equipment, harm reduction supplies, free communication resources, and appropriate and consensual post-incarceration support for all incarcerated people.
Permanently increasing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates to match CERB ($2,000/month).
Making temporary, uneven pandemic pay boosts permanent by raising the minimum wage for all.
Taking profit out of long-term care, replacing for-profit corporations with an entirely non-profit and public system. Enforcing national standards that ensure that long-term care workers – who are disproportionately racialized women – have a living wage, health and wellness benefits, and a safe and secure job, in order to provide high-quality care to residents.
Making public transit safe by halting fare inspection, investing in mask distribution, and putting more buses on high-traffic routes to allow for physical distancing.
Increasing research and supports dedicated to COVID “long-haulers,” people still suffering from the effects of the virus months after infection.
Greater involvement of community groups in public health decision-making, respecting communities’ knowledge about their own life circumstances, and more consistently inviting their representatives into decision-making processes led by researchers and civic officials.
As the pandemic puts our society’s racial and class divides on ruthless display, it is urgent that we all show up with our neighbours to demand a just, equitable pathway to #COVIDzero that leaves no one behind.
To add your name (individual and/or organization) to this statement, and/or to get involved with the coalition’s work, please complete this short form.
We are an Ontario-based group, but the need for a just, equitable #COVIDzero strategy transcends local boundaries. We invite collaboration with people struggling towards the same goal elsewhere. We also encourage groups outside Ontario to adopt and adapt this statement freely for your own purposes.
In Ontario, here are some ways you can plug into powerful community organizing and take action:
Follow, boost, and contribute to groups like the Encampment Support Network, People’s Defence Toronto, and Keep Your Rent Toronto that are fighting for housing justice.
Volunteer with and donate to Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, providing encampment support and working to mitigate the harms of the catastrophic overdose crisis.
Join the Migrant Rights Network to demand justice, safety, and #StatusForAll migrants.
Support the labour organizing of the Workers Action Centre and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to ensure that no one is left behind.
Take action with 15 & Fairness and the Decent Work and Health Network to demand paid sick days for all.
Learn more about the work of COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada, a large grassroots organization of COVID survivors experiencing debilitating effects months after infection, and sign the support group’s petition demanding recognition, research, and rehabilitation for Long COVID sufferers.
Get involved with the Toronto Prisoners Rights Project to fight for justice for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and take action to demand decarceration.
Demand better for residents and workers in long-term care, by following the work of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Unifor, and contributing to their calls to action.
Follow and boost Green Jobs Oshawa’s campaign for domestic PPE production, crucial long-term healthcare organizing by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and the campaign to #MakeReveraPublic.
Write to elected officials to express your support for the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs who are calling for a stop to resource extraction projects as COVID-19 outbreaks recur in B.C. work camps.
Protect public sector jobs and collective bargaining with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council by adding your voice to their Forward Together campaign.
Join TTC Riders to demand adequate funding for safe and physically distanced public transit options.
Call the Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services to demand increased social assistance rates.
Demand that the Ontario legislature adopt an intersectional gender equity approach to its pandemic response
My general criticism on this blog has been and will continue to be that the so-called radical left fail to connect up a general criticism of a society dominated by a class of employers–with the associated oppressive and exploitative economic, political and social structures–and particular issues. The organization Suppress the Virus Now Coalition failed to do just that.
The pandemic should have been an occasion to develop a movement against the systemic nature of capitalist society. There has really been no such movement–in part undoubtedly because grass-roots social movements fail to link the particular issues surrounding the pandemic with the general issue of the impossibility of maximizing the health of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.
My comments and criticisms were never addressed. My criticisms, in effect, were censored. I leave it to the reader to decide whether such censorship expresses the democratic nature of some (if not many) grassroots organizations–or if it expresses something else.
The last post of this series will include further comments and questions about “The People’s Pandemic Shutdown.”