Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Part Two: The Social-Democratic Left Share Some of We Day’s Assumptions

In a previous post, I outlined how We Day is a form of indoctrination and that schools form vehicles for such indoctrination. What is the social-democratic left’s position in relation to  this indoctrination and its incorporation into schools?

I already mentioned the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) decision not to promote We Day since some of the corporations that sponsor the event act in contradiction to some of We Day’s professed principles (perhaps, by way of example, Cadbury’s use of cocoa produced with child labour from Ghana). MTS writes:

MTS Bows Out of We Day

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society will no longer be involved in promoting or participating in We Day events.

Delegates to annual meeting agreed with a recommendation from the organization’s Equity and Social Justice Committee and provincial executive.

“The Manitoba Teachers’ Society model of social justice is not reflected in We Day,” the resolution said. “We Day doesn’t promote, support or include a model of social justice that the Society identifies as effective in advancing social change. We Day is more of a charity model that doesn’t address the roots for systemic inequity.”

We Day is a yearly concert and speaker series attended by tens of thousands of students in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In recent years it has attracted controversy because of the number of corporate sponsors involved in the events. Some of those sponsors have been accused of actions in other countries that run counter to the messages on which We Day is based.

The decision by delegates does not extend to the involvement of schools and students. In the past, both MTS staff and elected officials have promoted and been participants in We Day.

Would MTS, however, have decided to not support We Day if all the sponsors were consistent with the professed principles of the creators of We Charity, Craig and Marc Kielburger? It is difficult to say, but since they consider a charity model to be insufficient to address the problem of systemic inequity, they would presumably still oppose the model characteristic of We Day. When I searched for the meaning of “systemic inequity” on their website, the only hit that came up with that term was–the item on We Day. (Replacing “equity” by “equality” resulted in zero hits.) Hence, the reader of their site cannot determine why specifically they do not support We Day. This vagueness prevents a reader from determining whether MTS’s position is reasonable in diverse social contexts, such as systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic ignoring of the power of employers as a class, and so forth.

When I searched The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) website for “We Day,” I found zero hits. Nonetheless, I did find some hits when I searched using “Kielburger”–the surname of the founders of WE Charity and organizers of We Day held annually at many schools throughout Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Some of the material refers to Craig Kielburger as a model “hero,” as an example of a person who has made a difference, and a “high” recommendation of the book Take Action! A Guide to Active Citizenship by Marc and Craig Kielburger for activism advocacy.

For the many students who attend We Day, the vague reference to “systemic inequity” and the idealization of the Kielburgers as persons and as activists will probably confuse more than enlighten.

Lisa Howell, in an article written in 2015 “A parent & teacher’s reflections on “WE DAY”
how can a social movement feel so meaningless,” expresses her contradictory experience of expecting an inspirational day while attending We Day in Ottawa and experiencing a consumerist and anti-environmental day.

This contradiction between rhetoric and reality should not, however, surprise anyone who understands the nature of capitalist relations at work. In The Money Circuit of Capital, the end of the process of obtaining more money (the goal of private employers) results in more money in relation to the initial process but in itself it is merely a sum of money. To become capital, both the principal and some of the profit must be invested if the employer is to continue to function as an employer (since otherwise competition from other employers will result in being undercut and eventually going bankrupt). This whole process is infinite and can never be reached–it is a goal that can never be satisfied–the infinite process of the accumulation of capital.  How much money is enough? Never enough.

To state it differently: the birth of capital is simultaneously its death; consequently, the being of capital is a process that is only through it always reaching beyond itself.

In a finite world characteristic of the environment, capital is contradictory. There must be a contradiction between the environment and the nature of capitalist social relations. To resolve this problem requires surpassing this infinite process of capital accumulation. It requires a socialist society.

The Kielburgers, as seen in the first part of this two-part series of posts, do not question the legitimacy of this infinite process. They revel in it when they refer to “corporate and social responsibility.” The solutions which they offer, at best, a slight reduction in the impact that this accumulation process has on human beings, on human life and on the environment. Since they fail to question the legitimacy of the process of the process of capital accumulation, their solution actually diverts attention away from the pressing need to go beyond this accumulation process if the problems of child labour, poverty and environmental destruction are to be resolved.

The social-democratic left do seem to object to We Day on occasion. Thus, Molly McCracken, Manitoba director of the social-democratic Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote a short article published online at Rabble.ca (We Day Sidesteps the Real Issues of Child Poverty). She points out the bias of We Day of pandering to corporations, who get free publicity and appear to be socially responsible. The problem of child poverty, she points out, is not addressed in such a forum.

However, let us look at some of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ own attitude towards corporations. I did a search, using the terms “fair share taxes.” Several hits came up, with such titles (and dates) as:

  • Demanding a Fair Share (July 20, 2017)
  • Replacing MSP with fair taxes would mean savings for most BC families: economist (July 6, 2016)
  • Change in direction on tax policy needed to escape budget crunch, ensure high-income British Columbians and corporations pay fair share: study (January 29, 2013)
  • A decade of eroding tax fairness in BC (June 30, 2011)
  • Fair Shares (April 27, 2011)
  • Canada’s rich not contributing fair share in taxes: study (November 8, 2007)

The criticism of corporations is restricted to the level of taxes that they pay. Neoliberal governments have reduced corporate taxes and taxes on the rich unfairly whereas the rest of the Canadian population has to pay a disproportionate (and unfair) level of taxes relative to the corporations and the rich.

The implication is that if progressive taxes are re-instituted, then fairness will be realized. This is a social-democratic  point of view, of course. One of the strategies of he social-democratic point of view is to focus on distribution after it has been produced and to disregard the process by which it has been produced (and, when it does focus on the process of production, it neglects the issue of the whether workers are free or not by using such cliches as “good jobs,” “decent work,” “fair contracts” and the like).

This does not mean that the left should not criticize skewed tax policies–but why do they simultaneously do so by implying that a change in tax policies will somehow magically convert the social world into a fair world? If corporations were to pay their “fair share,” then they should have the right to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it and how to do it, should they not? Would child labour, poverty and environmental destruction end if corporations paid their “fair share.”

This idea of “fair share” forms another cliche that the social-democratic left use to hide the reality of the social dictatorship that prevails when working for an employer.

What does the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives mean by “fair share” of taxes? Presumably the following (from the above 2007 article):

The study finds the top 1 percent of families in 2005 paid a lower total tax rate than the bottom 10 percent of families.

“Canada’s tax system now fails a basic test of fairness,” says Marc Lee, senior economist with the CCPA’s B.C. office and author of the study. “Tax cuts have contributed to a slow and steady shift to a less progressive tax system in Canada.”

Paying a fair share of taxes would then mean that the bottom 10 percent of families would pay a lower tax rate than the top 1 percent of families. As long as this is the case, then We Day promoters would then be justified in having corporate sponsors for the event. Of course, some may object that some sponsors may still contradict the principles of We day, but assuming that no corporation exploited child labour (for example), would the social democrats then criticize We Day? Presumably not. They believe, implicitly, that there can be such a thing as corporate fairness and corporate responsibility–just like the Kielburgers. Social democrats and neoliberals share certain assumptions together.

The social-democratic left cannot deal with the contradictory nature of the society in which we live; their inadequate way of dealing with We Day illustrate their inadequate capacity for dealing with this contradictory society.  They either vaguely refer to “systemic inequity,” or they find their expectation and reality contradictory, or they imply that as long as corporations pay their “fair share” of taxes, then We Day should be supported.

Since the social-democratic left cannot deal adequately with the nature of We Day, it is necessary to go beyond their point of view–to a socialist point of view, where the intent is to overcome the infinite process of the accumulation of capital and its corresponding conflicts, struggles and contradictions.

What of the radical left? As far as I can tell, they are, at least in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) oblivious to We Day and the extent to which students in schools are bombarded with employer ideology through such events. The radical left here in Toronto does not even bother to engage in ideological struggle; it accepts such ideologically loaded phrases as “decent work,” “a fair contract,” “fair labour laws,” and so forth.

What is the social-democratic left like where you live? The radical left?

 

Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Or School Indoctrination, Part One

I thought it appropriate to post a couple of comments on WE in light of the WE scandal. Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, supported WE, and his wife personally participated in it–and his mother was paid by WE. However, rather than looking at the scandal, it is better to look at WE itself since, from my personal observations, school bureaucrats and many school employees, including teachers, accepted the hype from WE without any critical distancing or investigation of its nature.

We Day is an event promoted in many schools in the more developed capitalist world, organized by We Charity. It is supposed to be an effort to energize students in such countries to change the world and to make it a better place through performing acts of social justice.

The website for We day has the following to say (We Day Website):

WE Day is the manifestation of the WE movement: an unparalleled celebration of young people and educators who have made a difference. Held in over 15 cities across the United States, Canada, the UK and the Caribbean, the event series features an inspiring line-up of world-renowned speakers, award-winning performers and real-world stories of change. You can’t buy a ticket —you have to earn your way. All it takes is one local and one global action through WE Schools.

Wow. Does this not sound encouraging?

There is further information about We Day for Toronto in September, 2019:

 Click here to apply for media accreditation to attend WE Day 
 WE Day Toronto is free to thousands of students and teachers thanks to partners led by National Co-Title Sponsors RBC and TELUS 

TORONTOSept. 12, 2019 /CNW/ – Today, WE Day, the greatest celebration of social good, announces the initial dynamic lineup set to hit the stage at WE Day Toronto taking place at Scotiabank Arena on September 19, 2019. Held in 15 cities across North America, the U.K. and the Caribbean, WE Day Toronto will unite 20,000 extraordinary students and teachers who have made a difference in their local and global communities. Together they will enjoy a day of unforgettable performances and motivational speeches with WE Charity co-founders Craig Kielburger and Marc KielburgerEmilio EstevezRupi KaurSarah McLachlanNoah SchnappDavid SuzukiTegan and Sara and more to be announced in the coming days.

“We can achieve so much more together than we can alone and knowing that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves is a great feeling,” said singer-songwriter, Sarah McLachlan. “Every student and teacher at WE Day is making a difference on their own, but when they come together under one roof, you can feel the massive impact of their collective efforts. I’m proud to be a part of such a powerful movement of change.”

More than a one-day event, WE Day is connected to the free, year-long service learning program WE Schools. Designed to enhance a school or community’s existing social initiatives or spark new ones, WE Schools provides teachers with educational resources and action campaigns to encourage students to further their curricular learning and develop life skills to succeed beyond the classroom. In the 2018/2019 school year, over 6,920 schools and youth groups along with 8,125 educators across Ontario improved the world through WE Schools, creating socially innovative solutions to some of today’s most pressing issues. Through WE Schools students and teachers volunteered over 1.7 million hours creating an estimated social impact value of more than $45 million in support of global and local causes including hunger, poverty, bullying, well-being, access to education and access to clean water in communities around the globe.

“The youth at WE Day are at the forefront of change. They are committed to tackling some of the largest issues the world has ever faced; including bullying, climate change, and mental well-being, to name a few,” said WE Charity co-founder, Craig Kielburger. “WE Day demonstrates how important it is to empower our youth to be leaders of change by providing them with the tools and resources they need to chase their dreams—both in the classroom and out in their communities. We are honoured to celebrate the efforts of the next generation and we can’t wait to once again commemorate their incredible achievements at WE Day Toronto.”

The initial list of WE Day Toronto speakers, presenters and performers in alphabetical orderannounced to date, include:

  • Appearances by: Nav Bhatia, Celebrity Marauders, Jessi CruickshankMaddy DimakosTyrone EdwardsEmilio EstevezMohammed FaizyJordan FisherSarain FoxConnor FrantaReina FosterJacob Grosberg, Jade’s Hip Hop Academy, Theland KicknoswayCraig KielburgerMarc KielburgerAiden LeePenny OleksiakJames OrbinskiJenna Ortega, Dr. Pamela Palmater, Marissa Papaconstatinou, David Patchell-Evans, Regent Park School of Music, Navia RobinsonNoah SchnappWali ShahDavid SuzukiMaddison ToryAlia YoussefSpencer WestChloe Wilde

  • PerformersScott HelmanRupi KaurSarah McLachlan, SonReal, Tegan and Sara

WE Day is free of charge to teachers and students across Canada thanks to the generous support of partners led by National Co-Title Sponsors RBC and TELUS. This means students can’t buy a ticket to WE Day Toronto— educators and youth from across the province earn their way by taking action on one local and one global issue of their choice.

WE Day magic continues beyond the day through WE Day Connect, a free 60-minute interactive online event taking place on October 8, 2019.

WE Day is supported in Toronto by Co-Chairs Kris Depencier, Regional President, Greater Toronto, & Vice President, Personal Lending and Client Strategies, RBC; Sarah Davis, President, Loblaws Companies Limited; and Jon Levy, Chief Executive Officer, Mastermind Toys. WE Day is supported nationally by Co-Chairs, Darren Entwistle, President & Chief Executive Officer, TELUS; Jennifer Tory, Chief Administrative Officer, RBC; Chief Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations; Mark Dervishian, Chief Operating Officer, Ardene; Nelly Furtado, Canadian Singer/Songwriter; Jeffrey Latimer, President, Jeffrey Latimer Entertainment; Elio Luongo, Chief Executive Officer, KPMG Canada; The Honourable David C. Onley, Former Lieutenant Governor of OntarioBill Thomas, Chairman Elect, KPMG International & Chair, KPMG’s Americas Region, KPMG; James Villeneuve, Former Consul General of Canada to Los Angeles; and Andrew Williams, Chief Executive Officer, DHL Express Canada. WE Day is supported globally by Co-Chairs David Aisenstat, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer & President, Keg Restaurants Ltd.; Hartley Richardson, President & Chief Executive Officer, James Richardson & Sons Ltd.; Dave I. McKay, President & Chief Executive Officer, RBC; and Craig Burkinshaw, Co-Founder, Audley Travel.

School districts or divisions support We Day in various ways. For example, the Toronto District School Board (the largest school board in Canada), has the following on its website on Social Justice:

Social Justice

The TDSB is strongly committed to principles of fairness, equity and human rights. We believe we all have a shared responsibility to contribute to positive social change both locally and globally. Learning about and engaging in social justice issues (such as equity, diversity, abuse against women, poverty reduction and environmentalism) empowers everyone as 21st century global citizens.

The goal of our Social Justice Action Plan that every school will participate and report on one local action and one global action each as part of school plans.

Ways to get involved:

We Day

Unfortunately, We Day is really school rhetoric that fails to address the real issues facing students, employees and many others throughout the world. It is a controlled movement to indoctrinate students into believing that they really change the world through micro changes in the present social system.

Fortunately, some teachers’ organizations, such as the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) (in 2017) have seen through some of the rhetoric (though the inclusion of the last sentence weakens the criticism):

MTS Bows Out of We Day

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society will no longer be involved in promoting or participating in We Day events.

Delegates to annual meeting agreed with a recommendation from the organization’s Equity and Social Justice Committee and provincial executive.

“The Manitoba Teachers’ Society model of social justice is not reflected in We Day,” the resolution said. “We Day doesn’t promote, support or include a model of social justice that the Society identifies as effective in advancing social change. We Day is more of a charity model that doesn’t address the roots for systemic inequity.”

We Day is a yearly concert and speaker series attended by tens of thousands of students in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In recent years it has attracted controversy because of the number of corporate sponsors involved in the events. Some of those sponsors have been accused of actions in other countries that run counter to the messages on which We Day is based.

The decision by delegates does not extend to the involvement of schools and students. In the past, both MTS staff and elected officials have promoted and been participants in We Day.

The rhetoric of We Day can be seen in various ways. Consider the following statement by Craig Kielburger, one of the founders of We Day:

The urgent need for more stable funding eventually led to the creation of Me to We, a for-profit social enterprise that sells ethically produced goods and services, and funnels half its earnings to Free the Children.

What is “ethically produced goods?” In the book written by Craig Kielburger, entitled Free the Children, there are many references to child labour and opposition to it–and child labour usually takes the form of being an employee of some sort or other (including domestic servants)–but no opposition to the employment of adults. Opposition to children being employed by employers does not therefore go hand in hand with opposition to adults being employed by employers. Why the double standard? Why is it ethically unjust to employ children but ethically just to employ adults? Why is it ethically just to use adults as means for employers’ ends and ethically unjust to use children for the same end? (See The Money Circuit of Capital). Mr. Kielburger has no answer to this question since it does not even come up in his book. This silence reflects the typical silent indoctrination characteristic of schools concerning the power of employers to dictate to employees what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how fast to do it, and how much to produce (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). For educators, such a lack of critical distancing from the social world is anything but educative.

Let us listen to the founders of We Day and Me to We, in their book Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, page 128:

Today, employees want more than a paycheck—they’re looking for meaning. Many successful companies are empowering their employees to reach out to others and supporting their efforts in a host of different ways. Direct Energy bases its charitable giving on the number of volunteer hours put in by its employees. Xerox allows social service sabbaticals. Wells Fargo gives personal growth leaves. LensCrafters empowers its employees with challenging service projects all over the world. The list goes on. From Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to Paul Newman’s salad dressings to the Body Shop, businesses and social entrepreneurs are hearing the call of Me to We and are revolutionizing business practices in a colossal way.

This lack of critical distancing from the power of employers as a class is characteristic of these founders of such a hyped-up employer ideology:

Increasingly, companies are finding that corporate social responsibility has rewards that extend beyond employee morale. In recent studies, socially responsible and community-oriented companies have been shown to do better than their competitors. In 2001, Business Ethics Best Citizen companies did significantly better than the remaining companies in the S&P 500. The ranking was based on eight statistical criteria, including total return, sales growth, and profit growth over one-year and three-year periods, as well as net profit margins and return on equity.10

In other words, indoctrination via the concept of “corporate and social responsibility” leads to greater net profits. It pays for employers to link to the ideology of corporate social responsibility–an ideology that the founders of We Day and Me to We obviously promote.

“Ethically produced goods” includes, then, using adult workers as a means to obtain more and more money. This is indoctrination–not education.

Me to We also promotes “ethics” via consumer choices. On the Me to We website, we read (Welcome Me to We):

ME to WE is an innovative social enterprise that provides products that make an impact, empowering people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices.

One way in which indoctrination occurs is through shifting the focus from defining social problems and their solution in relation production to solutions relating to consumption. As David Jefferess writes, in his article, “The “Me to We” social enterprise: Global education as lifestyle brand,” page 18:

“Me to We” “transforms consumers into world changers, one transaction at a time” (Me to We 2011a); it promotes a way of being good in the world as a consumer identity: “Every trip, t-shirt, song, book, speech, thought and choice adds up to a fun, dynamic lifestyle that’s part of the worldwide movement of we,” (Me to We, 2011b).

We Day and its associated organizations (WE Charity, for example) also set up a dichotomy between the First World children and adolescents and those who live in the so-called Third World. First-World children and adolescents are supposed to be the fortunate ones who are to tend the hands of their fortunate lives to the unfortunate lives of children and adolescents in the Third World. As Jefferess writes (page 20):

Kielburger characterizes Canadians as “some of the luckiest people in the world” (2009). As global citizens, he asserts, Canadians need to “recognize what we have to share in this world” (2009): “As we learn to feel gratitude and act on our good feelings through reaching out to others, we begin to live the “Me to We” philosophy” (Kielburger & Kielburger 2006, p. 146). The solution to the problem of poverty is presented in terms of benevolent obligation: What can we, the fortunate, do to help the unfortunate?

For Kielburger and company, we Canadians are not exploited and oppressed by employers and the associated power structures (such as the police and the courts). We are not dictated to by employers at work; we are not treated as things while we are working. Students are not treated as “learning machines,” with grades (marks) as a weapon in keeping students in line–as well as the administrative structure of schools (the bureaucracy) and the Department of Education.

This exclusion of Canadians (and Americans,  British, French, German, Italian, Japanese and so forth) from the exploited and oppressed is characteristic of a particular kind of nationalism.

To be sure, workers, children and adolescents are relatively better off (with some exceptions, such as many indigenous children and adolescents) than their counterparts in the so-called Third World, but the We Day ideology ignores the forces in the more industrialized capitalist countries that have prevented the so-called Third World countries from resolving their social problems.

Thus, in from 1944 to 1954, in Guatemala (a country just south of Mexico), there were political, social and economic changes that were abolished when the CIA-supported military overthrew the elected president of Guatemala–Jacobo Arbenz. Land that was distributed to over 100,000 Guatemalan families for cultivation were taken back and returned to the powerful and rich land owners. Under such conditions, is there any wonder that many Guatemalan children remain poor, and child labour is common? (See Thomas Offit, Conquistadores de la Calle: Child Street Labor in Guatemala City).

Furthermore, many Guatemalans’ experiences of torture, disappearance, assassination and genocide since the installation of the 1954 military dictatorship also illustrate how the “fortunate” capitalists in the industrialized countries (especially the United States, but also other countries, such as Canada, which fail to oppose the foreign policy of the United States) have contributed to the continued exploitation and oppression of children, adolescents and adults in the so-called Third World.

In addition, it was the United States government that trained many of the Guatemalan military responsible for torture and other atrocities by training them in counterinsurgency techniques. The Guatemalan military  became an efficient killing machine (the extent to which the Guatemalan was organized into an effective killing machine is described, for example, in Guatemala: Nunca Mas).

We Day and its supporting organizations, far from educating youth on the realities of the world in which we live, hides such a reality. Problems that cannot be solved by the methods of its advocates are simply not addressed. The pseudo-solutions which it proposes reflects a world dominated by a class of employers.

The popularity of We Day among Canadian school administrators and school teachers and employees expresses the lack of critical thinking characteristic of such administrators, teachers and employees.

In a future post, I will address how the Left has addressed We Day and its supporting organizations.

 

 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One

In another post, I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada). One of those employers is Magna International Inc., a multinational corporation whose workers produce automobile supplies for inputs into car manufacturing.

This is a first attempt at calculating the rate of exploitation of one of the largest private employers in Toronto, Magna . It is undoubtedly imperfect in many ways, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level by has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

I am going to begin with a conclusion, and then explain what it means and how it is calculated so that the reader understands where I am headed in the calculations:

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 47 minutes for free for Magna International. In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 4.5 hours, and the remaining 3.5 hours works for free for Magna. In a 10-hour work day (both work days seem possible at Magna International—see https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Magna-International-Inc/faq/how-are-the-working-hours-at-magna-international-inc?quid=1at7gf6rrak7i9ff)–the worker produces her/his wage in about 5.6 hours and the remaining 4.4 hours works for free for Magna International.

But: What is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages and salaries).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more local level. I begin with one company and invite others to provide criticisms or suggestions for improvement.

I have used some of the ideas from Thomas Ittelson (2019), A Visual Guide to Financial Statements: Overview for Non-Financial Managers and Investors, and Antonios Patidis (2016), “A Micro-Approach for Testing Marx’s LTRPF:Evidence from Greece, 2000 and 2009,” Review of Political Economy. Patidis “utilises data taken directly from company reports and accounts” in order to determine whether the rate of profit falls in the major corporations in Greece. My purpose, however, is not, initially at least, in determining whether the rate of profit has fallen but rather what the rate of exploitation is in diverse companies in Toronto.

I also asked Michael Roberts how to calculate the rate of exploitation; he graciously sent me a couple of articles (one of which I read). After that, I sent him the above, and he commented that it looked good.

Again, the following undoubtedly contains many limitations, but I will leave that for further discussion, should the issue arise.

The income statement is broken into the following categories for 2019 (in millions of US dollars): (pages 5, 36):

Sales $39,431
Costs and Expenses $37,208

Cost of goods sold $34,022

Material $24,585

Direct labour $2,815

Overhead $6,622

Depreciation and amortization $1,345

Selling, general and administrative $1,697

Interest expense, net $82

Other expense, net $240

Equity income ($178) [If you add up all the numbers–34,022; 1,345; … 82, then you get 37,286; if you subtract 178 from that, you get 37,208–the same amount as “Costs and expenses.” That is why the 178 is in parentheses–it is necessary to subtract it from expenses since it is really income. 

Income from operations before taxes: $2,223 (profit or surplus value) 

A couple of adjustments are probably necessary. On page 37, there is a reference to pension benefits. I assume that this category belongs to “direct labour” since it forms part of the deferred wages of workers that is paid in the current year (but then again, it is unclear whether the category of direct labour includes this, but since it is subtracted from net income, this leads me to believe that it is not included in that category). This should be added to direct labour. Hence, direct labour would be: 2,815+47=2,862, “Costs and expenses” would be $37, 255 “Costs of goods sold”would be $34,069, and “Income from operations before taxes” should be adjusted downward accordingly.

A second adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest; despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. Hence, it should be added to “Income from operations before taxes.” Adjusting “Income from operations before taxes,” we have 2,223-47+82=2,258.

So, with the adjustments in place: s=2,258; v=2,862. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2,258/2,862=79%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 47 minutes for free for Magna International. In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 4.5 hours, and the remaining 3.5 hours works for free for Magna. In a 10-hour work day (both work days seem possible at Magna International—see https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Magna-International-Inc/faq/how-are-the-working-hours-at-magna-international-inc?quid=1at7gf6rrak7i9ff)–the worker produces her/his wage in about 5.6 hours and the remaining 4.4 hours works for free for Magna International.

This is not, however, the end of the story. Christopher Arthur, in his book The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital,  argues that there are two kinds of exploitation, one that occurs during the production of the wage by the workers (since they are subject to control by employers during that time), and the other kind of exploitation outlined above, where workers work for free for the employer. This issue, however, will be addressed in a follow-up post.

 

 

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.

 

 

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Seven

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (also posted on YouTube) (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier posts, over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

This post is the last post in the series since it looks at the last talk by David Kidd, introduced by Herman Rosenfeld as a community worker, trade-union activist and as a political activist. Mr. Kidd was supposed to talk about some of the challenges and options the left have.

Mr. Kidd opened by claiming that he was going to provide a Twitter version of some of the left-activist projects in Toronto since he had limited time. It was indeed a Twitter version–and the weakest “analysis” of all the talks.

Mr. Kidd first outlines how, in the 1970s, he took a stance between either the choice of liberal or Tory (conservative) at the municipal, provincial or federal level (Canadian politics is usually analyzed at one or more of these three levels). Mr. Kidd acted negatively by tearing down any Conservative signs since he aimed to ensure, where he immediately lived, that it was a Tory-free zone.

He then refers back to the 1950s and 1960s. The Toronto Labour Council was instrumental in obtaining a public transit system and a public education system. In the 1950s, it campaigned against the racist discrimination of blacks and other people of colour to gain access to restaurants and other places as well as against the anti-Semitic and racist policies of exclusion to recreational facilities.

The 1970s and the 1980s were a period of struggle of massive community mobilizations and organizations for, for example,tenants’ rights and against gentrification. Women’s groups emerged to fight for their rights. This period also saw opposition to the far right and to fascist movements. A movement against carding also was initiated as was a movement for police accountability. The fight for gay and lesbian rights started to develop despite violent attacks against gays and lesbians.

Fights against business-oriented initiatives, such as the attempt to bring the Olympics to Toronto, were defeated in 1996 as organizations for the rights of the homeless fought back. The left gained a victory in this instance.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the public-sector unions and environmental groups fight back against privatization. This period saw the fight against the amalgamation of the city and the emergence of such leftist organizations as Black Lives Matter, No One Is Illegal and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Mr. Kidd then tries to explain the shift towards a right-wing populism because of two economic crises in Toronto and the increase in homelessness. Deindustrialization has led to a decrease in decent paying jobs. The emergence of a substantial working-class poor has led to their blaming others and to a shift towards right populism. The municipal left also failed to offer solutions to problems they were facing.

Municipal activism is rooted in the communities in the city, but so too is the fight for democracy. The fight for democracy is like the fight against oppression. Both involve a daily fight and should not be conceived as something that you win and then is finished.

What is necessary is to renew the left’s analysis and its strategic sense of how to build working-class power.

Mr. Kidd then refers to Doug Ford’s elections and the need to build community councils again. In particular, it is necessary to build parent councils once again that, in the past, had some decision-making power at the school-board level.

Ultimately, the left cannot count just on the elected officials at City Hall but need to build local community organizations that will fight for people’s needs.

Mr. Kidd then claims that, as socialists, the left need to build programmatic unity on where it needs to go. The fight against the Conservative Harris Ontario government in the past was purely negative–to stop Harris. Consequently, welfare rights 20 years later are still at the same level. Subsequent governments did not raise them nor did they undo some of the attacks on welfare rights instituted by the Harris government. The same logic applies to subsequent governments after Ford loses power, Mr. Kidd implies–unless the left does something different.

What Mr. Kidd means by “programmatic” is what the audience has heard from other presenters, who have shown what is necessary in order to talk to people about where to go. The free transit movement and Stefan Kipfer’s presentation on housing are examples of what needs to be done (descriptions of these are found in my previous posts on this topic–as are criticisms of them). The left cannot count on the market to achieve its goals. It needs public land banking, expropriation, public housing, co-ops and nationalized affordable housing. It needs to maintain free public education and healthcare. The left needs to protect and expand public assets in Toronto.

Finally, what is needed is a Municipal Human Rights Code since discrimination is still the daily experience of queer, racialized and elder members of Toronto. What is needed is a city that is for all its citizens and not just taxpayers.

Mr. Kidd’s description of various struggles sounds very radical–but it really is a rehash of social-democratic demands of an expanded public sector, supplemented by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that are linked to community organization. Mr. Kidd’s socialism is really welfare capitalism. Not once does Mr. Kidd question the power of employers as a class.

Mr. Kidd mentions necessary community organizations required to fight for what he calls socialism, such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), and yet as I showed in a previous post, OCAP, although it recognizes economic coercion via the power of employers as a class with one hand, ignores it subsequently when dealing with social proposals and solutions with the other hand (see “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)

Mr. Kidd, like much of the social-democratic left, idealizes the public sector. What is needed, for them, is the expansion of the public sector. The social-democratic left, however, rarely inquire into the adequacy of the public sector to express either the interests of public sector workers or the interests of workers in general. They assume that the existing relations will prevail and that all that will change is the quantitative weight of the public sector relative to the private sector.

Mr. Kidd, like many of the social-democratic left, do not bother to consider the adequacy, for example, of the current educational system in terms of quality. What they propose is an expansion of services under present conditions rather than a radical restructuring of education in relation, for instance, to work.

Rather than repeat what I have written elsewhere, I refer the interested reader to links to some of my publications and writings as found on my home page. I am adding another link that is directly more relevant to educational issues: A Deweyan Review of the the Chicago Teachers’ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools (2012).

Although Mr. Kidd’s proposals may help people in one way or another, they also can be co-opted and integrated into the capitalist economic and political structures. Each proposal he has made has nothing specifically socialist about it. Such proposals are socialist only if they are linked to a more radical program of eliminating both the power of employers as a class and the social, economic and political structures associated with that power.

The same could be said of Mr. Kidd’s reference to the need for a Municipal Human Rights Code. Although this and other such measures may help workers and citizens in particular situations, such measures fail to address the issue of the power of employers as a class. None of the references made by Mr. Kidd have any link to questioning the power of employers as a class. They are reformist measures as such. Furthermore, in a post that I will send in the distant future, I will point out the inadequate nature of “human rights” personally, when I filed a human rights complaint for political discrimination (something which Mr. Kidd fails to mention–typical of the social-democratic left).

Mr. Kidd did indeed provide a twitter version of the struggles in which he has been involved. Such struggles are reformist through and through. This should surprise no one. Mr. Kidd has been a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) organizer and executive member of local 79. He evidently prides himself on his activism–but there is no indication whatsoever that Mr. Kidd has ever intended, through his activities, in contributing to the creation of a new kind of society without classes in general and without employers in particular. His reference to “decent paying jobs” tips his hand.

There is no indication that Mr. Kidd has ever intended to contribute to the radical restructuring of social, economic and political institutions in such a way that human beings finally control their own life process rather than having their lives controlled by objectified social, economic and political structures which they create but do not control. His aim is to achieve “decent paying jobs” supplemented by a welfare state–hardly anything “radical.” Mr. Kidd, like much of the social-democratic left, want to turn back the clock to the 1950s and 1960s, when workers obtained increased wage gains and expanded their benefits–but he forgets that the economic times have changed and that the capitalist economy is not the same as it was then. Moreover, even during the 1950s and 1960s, workers were treated as things–something about which Mr. Kidd is silent. As long as workers receive “decent paying jobs” while being treated as things, Mr. Kidd will be content. Such is the implicit view of those who refer to “decent paying jobs.”

In general, then, the series of talks which claim to be radical fall far short of being radical. They are all in one way or another reformist and have no intention of questioning the class structure of modern society. Even the most radical of them–presented by Michelle Lee of No One Is Illegal–fails to live up to its own potentiality.

This series of talks should have been named: What’s Left, Toronto? Social-Reformist Alternatives for the City Election.

I will leave these radicals to their own delusions. I hope that by exposing the limitations of such views, others will abandon such delusions and see more clearly what needs to be done.

 

A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When belonging to a leftist organization called the Toronto Labour Committee (Ontario, Canada), I worked on, in a minor position, on some statistics related to financial campaign contributions for the Toronto elections. Not being satisfied with this, I proposed that we start trying to develop a class analysis of Toronto. I indicated, though, that I did not really know how to proceed in this. I sent this over the Toronto Labour Committee listserve, and the response was–silence.

The following attempts to fill in, however inadequately, that silence.  If others can provide more detailed and sophisticated statistics and analysis (while still being comprehensible), I would much appreciate it.

In an earlier post, I provided a list of some of the largest employers in Canada, according to profit. The following is a short list of the largest employers in Toronto (where I currently live), according to employment. The reason why I think such a list would be useful is that it provides at least a somewhat concrete picture of who really has power in society and the extent of that power. Since most social-reformist leftists ignore the power of employers and assume such power as a background which they can assume as constant, they then consider their reformist policies without calling into question such power.

I hope to expand this later. If readers have better statistics or statistics from other countries or cities, feel free to comment. This should be a work in progress.

It is taken from the following, for February 2018:

Largest Enployers in Toronto According to Employment Level

It should be pointed out that these statistics are probably for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) rather than the City of Toronto as such since the website states “This list estimates the number of residents from Toronto and surrounding area that each company employs. These numbers exclude international employees.” Furthermore, the method of collecting the data is vague (“Based on some research conducted on the number of available LinkedIn profiles, here is a list of the top 20 largest employers in Toronto as of February 2018.”) Consequently, the statistics should not be taken too literally. Nevertheless, they may give an idea of the relative order of the larger employers in relation to the level of employment.

Obviously, there are different ways of considering what the largest employers are. At least four come to mind readily: according to profit, according to employment, according to total revenue (sales) and according to assets.

The following list of the 20 largest employers lists in Toronto according to level of employment.

1. CIBC = 15,000
2. Scotiabank = 14,400
3. Magna International = 11,500
4. Rogers = 10,000
5. Bank of Montreal = 9,000
6. Bell Canada = 7,900
7. TD Bank = 6,100
8. Toronto School Board District = 5,500
9. Deloitte = 4,000
10. Hudson’s Bay Company = 4,100
11. Telus = 4, 000
12. Air Canada = 3,100
13. Toronto Transit Commission = 2,500
14. Bombardier Inc. = 2,030
15. Royal Bank of Canada = 1, 700
16. EY = 1,700
17. CGI = 1,700
18. Maple Leaf Foods = 1,300
19. PwC = 1,300
20. The Coca Cola Company = 1, 100

The total number of workers is: 107,930 workers.

In Toronto (not the Greater Toronto Area), the number of employees in 2017 was 1, 518,560. The population in Toronto in 2016 was  2,731,571; the population in the GTA was 6,417,526 in 2016. If we divide the GTA population by Toronto’s population, we have 6,417,526/2,731,571=2.34939. If we multiply this number by the number of workers in Toronto, we should have a rough estimate of the number of workers in the GTA: 2.34939×1,518,560=3, 567, 690 workers in the GTA.

If the number of workers of the 20 largest employers is divided by the number of workers in the GTA, then those workers represent only 3% of the number of workers in the GTA.

In terms of employment, the 20 largest employers in the GTA do not represent a great percentage of total employment. Nonetheless, it is likely that they do represent a substantial political force via their control over key industries (financing and communications in particular) and their influence through such organizations as the Toronto Board of Trade. On the other hand, at least in terms of employment, it is unlikely these large employers (defined as those with 500 or more employees) that constitute the bulk of employment in Toronto but rather medium (100-500 employees) and especially small employers (1-99 employees) since, in Canada, it is small businesses that employee most workers:  “As of 2017, small businesses employed 8.29 million individuals in Canada, or 69.7 percent of the total private labour force. By comparison, medium-sized businesses employed 2.37 million individuals (19.9 percent of the private labour force) and large businesses employed 1.23 million individuals (10.4 percent of the private labour force)” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 3).

On the other hand, the value of output in Canada according to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is, relatively, much larger for large employers than for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since the number of large employers is much smaller than the number of SMEs: “In 2014, the contribution of small businesses to gross domestic product generated by the private sector was 41.5 percent, the contribution of medium-sized businesses was 11.0 percent and the contribution of large businesses was 47.5 percent.” (Key Small Business Statistics, January 2019, page 4).

If we subtract the number of public-sector workers from the above Toronto list, we have 107,930-(5500+2500=8000)=99,930 private-sector workers, or 99,930. Dividing this by the number of workers in the GTA would result in only 2.8 percent of the working population. If, however, we consider that 10.4 percent of the private labour force is found in Canada but 47.5 percent of the GDP is produced by this labour force in Canada, then we can calculate 47.5/10.4=4.5673 times the GDP is produced by employees working for large-scale employers. We can then times this amount by 2.8 percent (4.5673×2.8)=12.79 percent. The 18 private largest employers in Toronto probably exert around 12.79 percent in terms of economic power in Toronto. Despite the limited level of employment power and the limited number of employers, the level of economic power is substantial. It would be interesting to see if this economic power is translated in various ways into political power.

(If anyone has any alternative ways of estimating economic power, I would like to know. Undoubtedly, the above is imperfect, but I fail to see anyone on the so-called left referring to major employers in Toronto having any economic and political power. There is of course the usual “capitalist this” and “capitalist that,” but very few concrete details.)

Of course, this is a very rough estimate. Furthermore, more useful statistics would include the value of the means of production and, for the 18 private companies, profits as well. In addition, there is no distinction made between part-time and full-time employees.

If we compare the 20 largest Canadian employers according to profit to the list of the largest Toronto employers, there are several on both lists: all five major banks and Rogers Communication.

 

The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left

I had two recent conversations with social democrats on two different (though undoubtedly related topics).

The first conversation is a representative of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4400 (education workers). The Local’s website indicates the following:

Toronto Education Workers/Local 4400 is made up of approximately 12,000 Education Workers who primarily work within the Toronto District School Board; Childcare Workers from various Childcare Centres and Caretakers from Viamonde French Board.

Representing over 400 Job Classifications, and over 1,000 Worksites.

They were set to go out on strike in the context of major budget cuts for school funding due to retrenchment by the Conservative provincial Ontario government of Doug Ford.

Duane Kennedy, Unit D Steward Co-Ordinator for Local 4400, made the following comment on a Facebook page:

Duane Kennedy Too bad they couldn’t get it right , we will strike not for new bargining dates it will be for a fair contract

I am unsure what he was referring to in relation to “new bargaining dates.” It may be to the title of a video and an accompanying textual explanation that is related to a video link on the Facebook page:

CUPE says strike next week if no dates scheduled

The union that represents school support staff says they will walk off the job next week if the province doesn’t agree to more talks

I asked the following:

Fred Harris What is a fair contract? Collective agreements limit the power of employers to dictate to workers, but they do not eliminate the power of management to dictate to workers what to do.

I guess it is fair for employers to treat workers as things?

The response was–silence. Why is that? Was my question out of line? Was it inappropriate? Did it express, as CUPE Local 3902 executive director Wayne Dealy indicated when I brought up the issue of whether working in a capitalist brewery constituted “decent work,” , the rantings of a “condescending prick?”

Or is it perhaps that union reps use the phrase “fair contract” without facing up to the fact that management has the power to dictate to workers in various ways whether there is a collective agreement or not?

Let us consider a couple of collective agreements between CUPE Local 4400 and the Toronto District School Board.

COLLECTIVE
AGREEMENT
Between
Toronto District School Board
And
Local 4400,
Canadian Union of
Public Employees
UNIT C
September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2019

Page 66 of this collective agreement has the following clause:

ARTICLE D – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
D.1 The Union recognizes that it is the right of the Employer to exercise the
generally recognized regular and customary functions of management and
to direct its working forces. The Employer agrees not to exercise these
functions in a manner inconsistent with the provisions of the Collective
Agreement.

As I have indicated in other posts, the management rights clause gives management (as representative of the employer) far-ranging powers to direct workers as it sees fit. The collective agreement limits that power but in no way calls that power into question.

Consider another collective agreement for the same local:

COLLECTIVE
AGREEMENT
Between
Toronto District School Board
And
Local 4400,
Canadian Union of
Public Employees
UNIT D
September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2019

Page 66 of this collective agreement has the following clause (identical to the other collective agreement):

ARTICLE D – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
D.1 The Union recognizes that it is the right of the Employer to exercise the
generally recognized regular and customary functions of management and
to direct its working forces. The Employer agrees not to exercise these
functions in a manner inconsistent with the provisions of the Collective
Agreement.

How are these collective agreements (collective contracts) fair contracts? Why did not the CUPE union rep not respond to my question? My hypothesis is that–he could not. The term is a cliche for union reps, used to justify their activity of limiting their criticism of an employer to–an employer. They do not question the power of employers to direct workers in general but only wish to limit that power.

For a collective agreement to be fair, it would be necessary to show that managerial power to direct work forces as it sees fit (subject to the collective agreement) is fair. Where is there such a justification?

Where is there a fair contract? Can union reps provide examples of such a contract among regular workers? I would like to see such an example so that I know what they are talking about. Would you not like to see some examples so that we have a target that we can aim at?

This idea of a fair contract is, frankly, bullshit. It does not deal with–and cannot deal with–the daily lives of workers in unionized environments. Workers are subject, in various ways, to restrictions on their lives. How is that fair? The power of managers to dictate what to do, when to do it, how to do it and how much to produce (legally although certainly not always factually) leads to various kinds of injustices–up to and including the injury and death of workers.

Another “conversation” I had (really, a monologue–such is democracy these days) was about a 57-year old man, Enrico Miranda, who was killed in a capitalist factory (Fiera Foods) here in Toronto. He had been working for a temporary-worker agency for about ten years, five of which were for the industrial bakery Fiera Foods, located in As Mr. Miranda cleaned a machine, he was crushed by it and died.

A community organization called the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP), located in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Toronto (one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto), organized a rally (along with some union members) to protest the fifth killing of temporary workers at the capitalist factory in the past 20 years. (The factory is located about six kilometers from Jane Street and Finch Avenue, in North York, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.) Seventy percent of its workforce consists of temporary workers. Many are hired through temporary agencies.

In Ontario, when temporary workers are injured on the job and are employed by temporary agencies, the premiums of employers who hire workers from temporary agencies and who pay into workers’ compensation are unaffected since they are not considered to be the employer but rather the temporary agency. It is, in effect, a way of avoiding to pay higher premiums in the case of injuries to workers.

On their Facebook page, JFAAP posted:

Posted @withrepost • @mayworkstoronto Another temp worker death at Fiera Foods. The 5th worker killed while on the factory floor of this company. Up to 70% of this company’s workers are temp workers, twice as likely to be injured on the job as full employees. Fiera has had more than 150 health and safety violations. When Enrico Miranda was killed last week, Fiera Foods did not even stop production. Under Canada’s Criminal Code, Fiera Foods should be held criminally responsible. ‘Kill a worker, go to jail.’ #canlab #fierafoods #onpoli
Funeral fund to support the family: https://www.gofundme.com/f/funeral-help-for-tay @ Fiera Foods

I made the following comment:

Fred Harris “Kill a worker, go to jail”: a fitting slogan, but how is it going to be achieved? It would require much more power than at present among communities and the working class. How, for example, to prevent the whittling down of legislation to make corporations criminally responsible for deaths (see Stephen Bittle’s work on the whittling down of such legislation after the Westray mine deaths).

The response was–silence. It is all very good to make demands that are needed by people, but unless we can find a way of actually realizing such demands, they are mere wishes. The social-democratic left often resort to such wishful thinking rather than facing up to the power required to realize certain demands. That power is–class power, not just “community power” (although the two could go hand in hand).

In another post, JFAAP posted:

No photo description available.

My comment: Fred Harris Fiera certainly should be criticized, but are all these “accidents” due to the use of temporary workers? Could they not be the result of a combination of the use of such temporary workers and the more general fact that workers are things to be used by employers? By the fact that workers are “costs” (with a price) for employers?

Or are the approximately 1,000 deaths at work in Canada mainly due to the use of temporary agencies?

Also, can labour laws ever really protect workers in the context of a society driven by the pursuit of profit?

The response was–silence.

JFAAP’s response reminds me of all those movies and television programs (including Netflix, of course), where there is one or a few “bad cops,” and yet the police in general are treated as good. Fiera Foods certainly is worse as an employer in terms of health and safety than many other employers–but what of all the other employers whose health and safety records are better? Why not criticize them? Why let them off the hook on a daily basis?

This attitude of criticizing a particular employer and not employers as a class (just like the criticism of a particular cop rather than the police as such) can be called “the bad apple syndrome.”

It is much easier to criticize particular employers than it is to criticize employers as a class.

Or are my concerns just the concerns of an “insane” person (as Errol Young, a member of JFAAP, once called me)? Or are my concerns a reflection of the fact that I am a  “condescending prick” (as a representative of CUPE Local 3902, Wayne Dealy, once called me)?

Or is it that both union reps and reps from community organizations refuse to face up to the limited effectiveness of their concepts of justice and fairness? That they refuse to consider the class power of employers and how that situation in general is unfair?

What do you think?

 

Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?

Tracy McMaster is a union steward for Local 561 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); she was also vice-president of the local union at one point. However, she prides herself most on her activity of organizing part-time college workers (she works at a college as a library technician). . On March 25, 2019, in a short video (Stewards Assembly 2019), she refers to the need to organize part-time college workers (where she works). She also refers to “a full-time decent unionized job.” This implies that as long as it is full-time and unionized, the job is decent.

Of course, organizing part-time workers so that they obtain increased wages or salary and better benefits (or receive benefits in the first place since many part-time workers do not receive benefits at all) is something to be praised. However, the standard of evaluation for what constitutes a decent job is whether there is a collective agreement that protects a certain level of wages and working conditions.

Such a standard is never questioned. Ms. McMaster never questions that standard throughout the video. Indeed, right after the quoted reference “full-time decent unionized jobs,” she ends with the rhetorical question: Right? Exactly. She believes that a full-time, unionized jobs are by definition decent. To question such a view does not form part of her union activity.

She argues that part-time workers were working under “unjust, awful condition…takes away the dignity of everybody’s job.” Since employers (presumably, or perhaps also students and others–she leaves it unspecified what she means by “people treating others with disrespect”) treat part-time workers with little respect, then full-time unionized workers find that others do not treat them with respect.

She points out that she received solidarity from both the local union presidents in 24 different colleges as well as various labour councils throughout Ontario and especially the labour council in Toronto.

She then claims that it was “an amazing, amazing accomplishment” that the part-time workers “just last week have their first collective agreement.” She is “so proud” that she “was involved in this project.”

Of course, she should feel that she, along with others, has accomplished something. The question is: Is it enough? She herself claims that the job of the labour movement is to find workers who need a union and to organize them. The standard or definition of what constitutes decent work is, then: organized workers who belong to a union.

When I questioned this definition when Ms. McMaster called for solidarity for striking brewery workers here in Toronto because all the striking workers wanted were “decent jobs” and “fair wages,” , the “labour movement” reacted to my questioning with hostility (For example, Wayne Dealy, executive director for Local 3902 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), called me a “condescending prick.”)

Let us take a look at the collective agreement–“an amazing, amazing accomplishment” according to Tracy McMaster.

The memorandum of agreement contains typical clauses in a collective agreement: union representation, rights of union representatives, within limits, to take time off for union business (with compensation in some cases); work hours and scheduling, wages, rate of increase of wages and when that will take affect, period of paying the wages, shift premium, reimbursement of tuition and maintenance of salary if time off is required for courses approved by the employer, kilometrage allowance, developmental leave for furthering academic or technical skills that will enhance their work for the College, holidays, vacations, personal leave without pay, bereavement leave, jury/witness duty, citizenship leave, pregnancy leave, parental leave, health and safety (provision of clothing, work stations, safety devices, environmental conditions, seniority and its loss, layoff and recall, waiver of rights/severance, job postings/promotions, excluded positions, complaints/grievances, duration (until January 31, 2021).

This set of clauses is certainly likely better than wages and working conditions for part-time workers in many industries. As a consequence, as I have indicated in various posts, unions are much more preferable than non-unionized settings for many workers (although wages and working conditions for other industries should also be compared to gain a more accurate picture of workers’ situations in various non-unionized and unionized settings. Fear of unionization by some employers may motivate them to enhance wages and working conditions in non-unionized industries.)

Granted that, should we still not ask whether such jobs are decent?

How does the above change the general power of employers to treat workers as things that do not participate in the formulation of the goals of the organization to which they belong? Thus, the management rights clause states, in “Memorandum of Settlement:
The College Employer Council for the College of Applied Arts and Technology and Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of the College Support Staff Part-Time”:

5 MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS

Union Acknowledgements

The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive function of the Colleges to:
•maintain order, discipline and efficiency;
•hire, discharge, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, lay off, recall and suspend or otherwise discipline employees subject to the right to lodge a grievance as provided for in this Agreement;
•generally to manage the College and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, courses, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and positions required from time to time, the number and location of campuses and facilities, services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

The Colleges agree that these functions will be exercised in a manner consistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

Ms. McMaster does not even bother to explore whether her characterization of inclusion of such part-time workers under the rule of managerial power–despite the existence of a collective agreement–actually expresses something decent. She ignores completely the management-rights clause and idealizes the collective agreement. This is typical of the social-democratic, reformist left.

Despite Ms. McMaster’s rhetoric to the contrary, the collective agreement cannot be characterized as amazing–unless you have a low standard of what amazing means. Part-time workers now have some protection from arbitrary treatment by employers (subject to a grievance process) and some control over their working lives. However, the collective agreement only limits management rights–like all collective agreements. It does not prevent workers at the various colleges from being used, day after day, for purposes over which they have no control (see The Money Circuit of Capital). To call this “dignity” is rhetoric. It is undignified and humiliating. All workers deserve to control their lives collectively–and that does not mean by limiting such control via management rights.

There is, of course, little point in trying to convince Ms. McMaster and other trade unionists of their lack of critical distance from collective agreements and collective bargaining. They wholeheartedly identify with the process and consider any questioning of such a process and its results to be tantamount to insanity.

It is better to practice the politics of exposure–showing the limitations of their own point of view and the limitations of what their own standards of evaluation for justice and fairness (in the video, Ms. McMaster wears a t-shirt with the inscription “We Stand For Fairness!”). Behind her, there is a poster with what appears to be the inscription “The Future Needs Good Jobs.”

The future certainly does not good jobs–but jobs controlled by workers and their community–without employers.

The future of good jobs for the social-democratic left, however, is just more of the same–collective agreements and the daily grind of working under the dictatorship of employers, limiting their power but not struggling to abolish it.

What if a worker works in a unionized setting but does not find that the work reflects being a decent job? For unionists, the worker should try to change working conditions through the next round of bargaining. However, if the worker finds working for any employer to be objectionable, unionists having nothing to say–except “Suck it up.” Or, alternatively, they will express the rhetoric of “decent work” and so forth and ignore the reality of managerial power and how degrading it is for a majority of workers to be dictated by a minority of representatives of employers.

Ms. McMaster, like her social-democratic colleagues, have a lot to answer for when they idealize collective agreements. They ultimately justify the dictatorship of employers over workers despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

It is, of course, ultimately up to workers themselves whether they wish to organize for purposes of remaining within the limits of the power of the class of employers or whether they wish to organize for going beyond that power. The attempt to go beyond that power is both much more difficult and much more risky. On the other hand, given the emergence of right-wing movements and political parties, it is also risky organizing only to limit the power of employers.

To sum up: Evidently, it it has been argued that the answer to the question whether collective agreements convert working for employers into decent work depends on the level of your standard for deciding what decent work is. The level of many unionists is the collective agreement itself. I have argued, in this and other posts, that level is wholly inadequate. Workers deserve a much higher standard, but to achieve such a standard requires going beyond limitations to employer power and to the power of their representatives via management; it requires questioning any agreement between employers and workers as embodying decent work.

We deserve much better than just collective agreements. We deserve to control our own lives collectively.

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Four

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (also posted on YouTube) (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier post, over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

Taraneh Zarin is a graduate student at the University of Toronto and active in the Free Transit Toronto movement. She spoke about the primary aim of that movement as the abolition of fares for public transit. The abolition of fares would permit the racialized poor the same access to mobility as those wealthier inhabitants of Toronto. Ms. Zarin argues that this is unfair.

It would also limit climate change by reducing the carbon imprint and would reduce the experience of gridlock which characterizes Toronto (like many other capitalist cities). It would, on th one hand, eliminate the need for transit fare officers, who often harass the poor by obliging them to show proof of payment (and, if found guilty, are fined $200); on the other, it would eliminate the need for expensive fare systems (such as the recent switch to the Presto card system, which has now cost $1 billion).

If free public transit were available, there would undoubtedly be a surge in ridership. Indeed, Mayor John Tory’s decision to eliminate fares for children under 12 years old led to the doubling of ridership, from 11 million to 22 million in 2016. Hence, if free public transit were available to all, we could expect an even larger increase in ridership. Hence, it would be necessary to expand public transit infrastructure.

Ms. Zarin justifies her call for free public transit because it is unfair for some with more money to have greater power to be mobile than others.

What must be asked is: How is the call for free public transit a reform that may lead to challenging the class power of employers? The answer is: It is unlikely to lead to a challenge to the class power of employers by itself. It is a reform that is consistent with the power of employers (although the extent to which it is consistent is probably dependent on the specific circumstances of each city/region/country).

For example, as Ms. Zarin points out, free public transit exists in Tallinn, Estonia and that it is being extended to the whole country. This move has certainly not challenged the power of employers in Estonia. One analysis of Estonia characterizes it thus (M. Feldman(2017). Crisis and opportunity: varieties of capitalism and
varieties of crisis responses in Estonia and Slovenia. European Journal of
Industrial Relations, 23(1), page 7):

Estonia has been characterised as a liberal market economy with decentralized market institutions (Feldmann, 2013b) and a very limited role for social dialogue or wage bargaining (which tends to occur mostly at the firm level). Estonia has also consistently had one of the most open economies, and its state has been described as pursuing a neoliberal version of capitalism with a small welfare state (Bohle and Greskovits, 2012).

In relation to industrial relations and the market for workers, the same author comments (page 8):

Estonia has decentralised industrial relations, incl. the lowest unionisation rate amongst the new member states and relatively low collective bargaining coverage. As in most of Central and Eastern Europe, the company level is the primary bargaining level in Estonia, with the transport and energy sectors being the most successful examples of social dialogue and collective agreements at the sectoral level (Espenberg and Vahaste, 2012: 32-3). In addition, there have also been a few social pacts at the national level, usually when the Social Democrats (until 2004 known as the Moderates) have been part of the government (Vare and Taliga, 2002).

As can be seen, free public transit as a policy need not conflict with the class power of employers.

One of the reasons why Estonia has been able to implement free public transit is the heavy subsidies that this sector already received before the implementation of the policy–something which Ms. Zarin fails to mention (from Estonia Will Roll Out Free Public Transit Nationwide):

Why is Estonia going so big on free transit now? At its root, this is a form of fiscal redistribution.

That’s because Estonia’s public transit already gets extremely generous subsidies. The state-owned railway operator Elron, for example, will get a €31 million boost from taxpayers next year. The rural bus routes due to go free, meanwhile, are already subsidized to up to 80 percent of cost as it is. Making them entirely fare-less should only cost around €12.9 million ($15.2 million) more—not a vast amount for even a small country such as Estonia.

Getting rid of ticket sales and inspections, meanwhile, will eliminate some overhead—and also cut down on delays. I couldn’t turn up any figures on the actual cost of charging for Estonian bus travel, but on larger, more complex networks such as New York’s MTA, it can reach 6 percent of all budget. When only 20 percent of the bus network’s costs are being recouped from fares, it’s easy to see how maintaining a ticket sale and inspection system can come to seem like a burden worth shedding.

As Ms. Zarin admits, the largest part of the operating budget for the TTC comes from fares, so the implementation of free public transit in Toronto would likely encounter much more resistance from the municipal and provincial governments. This implies that such a reform has more potential for challenging the power of employers than is the case in Tallinn, but in itself it is unlikely to constitute a major challenge since other cities and capitalist countries besides Tallinn and Estonia are either contemplating implementing free public transit or have already done so.

Dunkirk, France (population around 200,000), introduced free public transit, several cities throughout the world have also done so, and some European cities are contemplating it (from ‘I leave the car at home’: how free buses are revolutionising one French city):

Free urban transport is spreading. In his research Wojciech Keblowski, an expert on urban research at Brussels Free University, says that in 2017 there were 99 fare-free public transport networks around the world: 57 in Europe, 27 in North America, 11 in South America, 3 in China and one in Australia. Many are smaller than Dunkirk and offer free transit limited to certain times, routes and people.

In February this year, Germany announced it was planning to trial free public transport in five cities – including the former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. In June this was downgraded to a slashing of public transport fares to persuade people to ditch cars.

The largest in the world is in Changning , in China’s Hunan province, where free transit has been in operation since 2008. Passenger numbers reportedly jumped by 60% on the day it was introduced.

A study into free public transport by online journal Metropolitics found an increase in mobility among older and younger people, and an increased sense of freedom

It cannot be said, then, that this proposal of free public transit is radical since it does not generally question the power of employers as a class.

Should such a policy be supported by the radical left? Yes–but with the necessary condition that any attempt to claim that this is somehow radical or revolutionary should be criticized. Life may be enhanced through free public transit immediately for the poorer sections of the working class and, in the medium to long term, environmental conditions may improve.

A further aspect should be considered–about which Ms. Zarin was silent. What about the Estonian bus drivers? Even with free public transit, bus drivers are still used as means–as things–to ends over which they have very limited say (for a general view, see in general The Money Circuit of Capital). Furthermore, strikes have occurred in Estonia by bus drivers due to relatively low wages when compared to workers in Helsinki) (see Bus drivers to hold warning strike in 3 Estonian regions  and Helsinki and Tallinn compete over bus drivers). Ms. Zarin completely neglects to look at working conditions in Estonia in general and the working conditions of bus drivers in Estonia in particular.

Should the reformist left present this policy as somehow “fair” or “just,” then it should be criticized. Just as free public healthcare can make life more livable for the working class (as it does in Canada), so too can free public transit. That would not change the general tenor of life in Canada–unless a movement towards free public transit were linked to a movement towards challenging the power of employers as a class.

So far in this series, there has really been no discussion of radical politics. Up to now, all discussion and proposals fail to challenge the power of employers as a class–a typical social-reformist left tactic of presenting what is not in fact radical as something essentially radical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Three

In two earlier posts, I looked at the introduction and first talk of several leftist activists on September 19, 2018 in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, about what was to be done politically (presented just a little over a month before city elections on October 22). The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election)  on October 7, 2018 (15 days before city elections).

The second talk was made by Stefan Kipfer, professor of environmental studies at York University. Professor Kipfer talked mainly about the housing issue in Toronto. He indicated that housing has two senses, one narrow and one wider. The wider sense has to do with how people appropriate space and make life livable for themselves within that space. The narrow sense has to do with the provision of housing (its production and distribution presumably). He points out that any solution to housing problems has to be wider than the narrow sense and needs to take into the labour market, for example.

Unfortunately, he then restricts his reference to solutions to two models that address problems in the narrower sense. Both the right and the left agree that there is a housing problem, but they differ in their solutions. The first, right-wing model is the private-market model of housing, or the supply-side model, which requires the market to dictate housing production and distribution. Social regulation is to be minimized. Such a view is characteristic of the Board of Trade of Toronto, and the two mainstream mayoralty candidates John Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat.

The left-wing solution is purely negative–it does not rely on the private market model for solving housing problems. Diverse solutions have this negative quality about them. otherwise, they differ somewhat in their approach. For example, there is a housing struggle over the expansion of shelter space, led by OCAP, and there are struggles over establishing coop housing. Despite the differences, they all suggest an expansion of social, non-profit housing, coop housing or at the least the maintenance of existing housing infrastructure.

The exclusion of such vital issues as the labour market from explicit consideration mars the presentation. Indeed, it distorts the definition of the problem and its solution. Thus, Professor Kipfer argues that housing is not like the production of pies or bicycles since it permits capitalist developers, banks and insurance companies an increasing flow of rent payments. Now, there is certainly a sense in which an increasing flow of rent payments (rather than a steady flow of rental payments) makes the production of housing different from the production of pies and bicycles in a capitalist society; professor Kipfer implies that there is a monopoly in production that permits such an increasing flow of rental payments. Presumably the supply of housing is constantly less than the demand so that the prices of housing do not correspond to their value over the middle term since there is an artificial restriction of the supply due to the monopoly in land. That is, presumably, why housing in Toronto is becoming more and more unaffordable.

Although the production of housing may differ from the production of pies and bicycles in a capitalist system of production and exchange due to the monopoly of land (ultimately a non-produced part of the world), there is also the commonality of the principal purpose of land use, the production of pies and bicycles in such an economy: obtaining more money than initially invested (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Construction of housing is just as much dictated by the logic of capital as the production of pies and bicycles. As Ira Katznelson wrote (Marxism and the City. Oxford: Clarendon Press, page 227):

As capitalism entered the industrial epoch, the concept of the land-rent gradient that pointed toward the highest economic use by introducing a profit motive into land use and housing was already established. With the explos:on in the demand for land for factories as well as for working-class housing, this market logic accelerated the processes oi segregation of both uses and social classes.

Since Kipfer does not elaborate at all on how solutions would differ if the wider context were considered, it is difficult to determine whether his proposed solutions within a wider context would be any different from the social-reformist left. Given his emphasis on how housing is supposedly substantially different from the production of pies and bicycles and given his reference to the nationalization of land (but not the overthrow of the owners of the factories where workers produce pies and bicycles, replacing it with democratic control), his preferences may lie in aligning himself with the social reformist left.

Indeed, the nationalization of land has been proposed by such socialists as Henry George–but not the seizure of the produced means or conditions of production. Similarly, as Meghnad Desai notes (Marxian Economic Theory, 1974, pages 40-41):

A few years before Bohm-Bawerk’s criticism (which had to wait until all the three volumes of Capital were published), Philip Wicksteed in a celebrated debate with Bemard Shaw had demonstrated that relative prices were in fact explained by relative scarcities and therefore by the ratio of marginal utilities which they yielded to a consumer. Wicksteed’s demonstration did not deal in detail with Marx’s theory but showed that an explanation based on Jevons’ theory of utility was a superior logical explanation. If prices are explained by relative scarcity rather than by labour content, then the notion of surplus value ceases to have rational foundation. Profits become a legitimate income as a reward for relative scarcity of capital. (Bernard Shaw was to admit the force of this argument and later in his life concentrated on the Ricardian notion of land rent as unearned surplus. To this day land nationalisation and appropriation of profits in real estate have been a part of the Labour Party’s economic philosophy. Profits in industrial activities are regarded as legitimate).

It is certainly illegitimate to single out housing and rent as somehow substantially different from profits, and yet Kipfer seems to imply this. There may indeed barriers to realizing an equal rate of profit in housing construction due to the monopoly of land, thereby restricting competition and increasing housing prices accordingly (without countermeasures, such as the production of social housing and coops). Even if there were no such barriers, though, the situation cannot by any means be characterized as fair for the workers in the construction industry since they are still treated as things or objects, mere means for employers to obtain more and more money. Reducing housing prices through increased social supply in no way questions the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class.

Nothing in Professor Kipfer’s presentation suggests a “radical alternative.” His proposals for social housing and nationalization of the land do not question the principle of capitalist production and exchange–the use of the produced means of production and consumption to exploit workers on an ever-increasing scale through the accumulation of capital. It is a social-democratic presentation and in no way addresses the class power of the employers as a class.

By the way, although I never produced pies for an employer, I did work in a capitalist bakery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, producing bread for Safeway Inc. (an American supermarket chain). I lasted about a week since the pace of work and the heat were brutal.

One final point: professor Kipfer does not address the possible conflict of interests between sections of the Toronto working class who possess some form of housing and benefit from rising housing prices and those who do not. I learned about this discrepancy fairly recently. In 2014, I bought a relatively inexpensive condo not too far from Jane and Finch in North York (Toronto) for $86,000 Canadian. A few months ago, a real estate agent came to the building, seeking to buy a condominium for someone. Curious as to how much my condominium would be worth, I had him come to estimate its price. He informed me that it would be worth between $200 000 and $227 000. In a little over four years, the price had more than doubled.

Given this situation for some members of the working class in Toronto, support for housing policies that would limit the rise of prices and expand social housing may be lackluster. Some members of the working class may even oppose such policies.

In any case, so far the moderator’s introduction to the series and the first and second talks do not express any radical policies–unless you define radical as limiting your policies to those that are consistent with the power of employers as a class. This series is looking less and less radical.