Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism

Introduction

Perhaps it is me, but I am getting a sneaking suspicion that many who talk about being anti-capitalist are really referring to anti-neoliberalism. There is little if any talk about aiming to eliminate exploitation,  oppression and economic coercion or the creation of a socialist society (except in some vague, far-off future that has little relevance for their daily activity.

John Clarke’s Radical Social Democracy as a Case in Point 

John Clarke, a radical social-democratic reformist here in Toronto, is a case in point. We have already seen, in earlier posts, that Mr. Clarke’s aim is primarily an enhanced welfare capitalism and not the abolition of capitalism (see for example Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One). Despite Mr. Clarke’s references to economic exploitation and economic coercions and his rhetoric of anti-capitalism, Mr. Clarke ultimately assumes that these features of modern social relations are fixed and cannot be abolished–and this despite his apparent recent radical turn due to the pandemic, calling for a radical change in capitalism (see a brief reference in An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three).

Mr. Clarke tried to justify his critique of the proposal of a basic income by referring to the need to take into consideration the fact that economic coercion forms a vital part of a capitalist society–which indeed is the case. Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke failed to integrate this accurate observation with his proposal for an enhanced welfare state (and his belated call for the abolition of capitalist relations). In his daily activities, Mr. Clarke aims, practically, at reforming the class power of employers and not abolishing them; his aim is to abolish neoliberalism but not capitalism.

Mr. Clarke’s Recognition of the Double Movement in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers (A.K.A. Capitalism)–and His Lack of Aiming for the Abolition of Such a Double Movement 

The nature of capitalism is such that it tends always to erode any temporary peace made between capitalists and workers but also provokes a countermovement (hence the double movement), as Streeck points out in note 14 in his book (2009) . Re-Forming Capitalism Institutional Change in the German Political Economy. Streeck quotes Karl Polanyi (a Hungarian economic historian, anthropologist and sociologist), before expressing his own view:  page 270:

“For a century the dynamics of modern society was governed by a double movement: the market expanded continuously but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions. Vital though such a countermovement was for the protection of society, in the last analysis it was incompatible with the self-regulation of the market, and thus with the market system itself” (Polanyi 1957 [1944], 130). In 1944 Polanyi believed that the double movement had come to an end, in line with similar expectations famously held by Schumpeter and others about the secular
 demise of modern capitalism. With the benefit of hindsight, I disregard this prediction and assume that movement and countermovement have continued and will continue until further notice.

Mr. Clarke recognizes that a pure capitalist market system would pose a threat for the existence of a market for workers because it would undermine even the life of workers and would undermine the legitimacy of a society dominated by a class of employers, so it is necessary that the capitalist state provide some limits on it by providing income supports–by preference at a minimal level from the point of view of employers.The following is a more or less partial verbatim report of what Mr. Clarke stated in his YouTube (see Mr. Clarke’s YouTube presentation  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r40D6fU760s&t=4s).

But such a system of brutal exploitation can become problematic. Firstly, it can compromise, on a large scale, the health–and hence the job-readiness–of the workforce. Secondly, it can contribute to massive organized protests and even rebellions. Consequently, the capitalist state steps in to save the capitalists from themselves by ensuring a certain level of services; these services form the basis for income-support systems.

The general rule of income-support systems within a capitalist system is that they will provide as much as is necessary but also as little as possible. There are two opposite factors working in that regard. The first is the needs of capital: the need to maximize profitability and to remove barriers to exploitation. For the capitalist class, the need is to minimize expenditures for income-support systems. Indeed, if profitability becomes more difficult, there will be intensified pressure to increase exploitation and to minimize expenditures on income-support systems. The second is the needs of the working class and its level of organized power within capitalist society as well as how resistant are poor and unemployed people.

Historically, there has been a class struggle over the amount and form of income support, with the levels and forms not really intended by the authorities but needed to quell working-class tendencies towards rebellion. On the other hand, with changes in the capitalist system, the capitalist class, via the capitalist state, has pushed back and changed the forms and levels of income support over the centuries. The working class, both during the Great Depression but especially after the Second World War, in turn fought back by organizing the unemployed and workers into mass unions, with the result that income supports and standards of living increased substantially. Gains were really made because of working-class resistance.

As a result, there is a need for the capitalist class to engage in a counter-offensive since increased working-class living standards had reduced capitalist profits. This counter-offensive, begun in the 1970s, is known as neoliberalism. In order to increase exploitation, it became essential to gut income-support systems. The adequacy of programs was reduced, and eligibility for the reduced level of income supports became more difficulty in various areas: for single parents, for injured workers, for disabled people, among others.

Mr. Clarke thus recognizes this to and fro movement of capitalism. However, does he aim to end this to and fro movemnt? Not at all. Such an aim at best is to be realized in the vague future rather than being aimed at via policy prescriptions for the present.  

Thus, Mr. Clarke’s immediate aims are, as I pointed out in a previous post: 

There’s a need to fight for increases in the adequacy of healthcare. The pandemic has made that absolutely clear. We need pharmacare, dental care, a unviersal childcare program that is not an empty perennial liberal promise. We need post-secondary education to be free; we need free public transport systems. On all of these fronts, we need to take up a fight.

We do indeed need to engage in fights on all these fronts–but we also need to link up such fights with the need to abolish the class power of employers (see Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One); there is no evidence that Mr. Clarke sees improves wages, pharmacare, etc. as not only reforms but as also stepping stones to the abolition of the double movement.

If Mr. Clarke’s aims of achieving increases in wages, pharmacare, etc. were realized, some employers would, eventually, try to escape from such limitations as they did increasingly from the 1970s. The movement of seeking to enhance income support systems would, if not immediately then eventually, be met by a countermovement of employers seeking to avoid such restrictions. If they succeeded, then of course many workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants would seek to expand the income support system once again–and this process would have no end.

Aiming for a socialist society, without a class of employers, would seek to put an end to such class struggle–and not perpetuate it. Mr. Clarke’s position, by contrast, is the perpetuation of class struggle for eternity. It sounds radical, but it really is not; its aim is to achieve what cannot be achieved permanently–economic and social security in the context of economic coercion and the class power of employers.

Without any explicit aim for ending the power of the class of employers being used to organize present activities and critiques, this constant to and fro often leads to insecurity, turmoil and suffering among workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants. From Streeck, (2016), How Will Capitalism End: Essays on a Failing System:

The tensions and contradictions within the capitalist political-economic configuration make for an ever-present possibility of structural breakdown and social crisis. Economic and social stability under modern capitalism must be secured on a background of systemic restlessness4 produced by competition and expansion, a difficult balancing act with a constantly uncertain outcome. Its success is contingent on, among other things, the timely appearance of a new technological paradigm or the development of social needs and values complementing changing requirements of continued economic growth. For example, for the vast majority of its members, a capitalist society must manage to convert their ever-present fear of being cut out of the productive process, because of economic or technological restructuring, into acceptance of the highly unequal distribution of wealth
and power generated by the capitalist economy and a belief in the legitimacy of capitalism as a social order. For this, highly complicated and inevitably fragile institutional and ideological provisions are necessary. The same holds true for the conversion of insecure workers – kept insecure to make them obedient workers – into confident consumers happily discharging their consumerist social obligations even in the face of the fundamental uncertainty of labour markets and employment. In light of the inherent instability of modern societies founded upon and dynamically shaped by a capitalist economy, it is small wonder that theories of capitalism, from the time the concept was first used in the early 1800s in Germany and the mid-1800s in England, were always also theories of crisis. This holds not just for Marx and Engels but also for writers like Ricardo, Mill, Sombart, Keynes, Hilferding, Polanyi and Schumpeter, all of whom expected one way or other to see the end of capitalism during their lifetime.

Mr, Clarke’s political position, despite his rhetoric to the contrary of anti-capitalism this and anti-capitalism that, is not to end the power of the class of employers and the associated economic, social and political relations but their reform in order to leave behind, not class relations, but neoliberalism. Mr. Clarke recognizes that there is a “to and fro movement of capitalism” without taking it into consideration in formulating his anti-neoliberal but not anti-capitalist strategy.

Mr. Clarke’s Reformist Solution of an Enhanced Welfare State Fails to Abolish the Double Movement but Only Temporarily the Neoliberal Variety of Capitalism

Mr. Clarke’s solution of an enhanced welfare state is utopian in that such a solution has not and cannot address the fundamental features of a capitalist society. From George McCarthy (2018), Marx and Social Justice Ethics and Natural Law in the Critique of Political Economy, McCarthy, page 329:

Inquiring even further, Marx unearths the inherent logical flaw and historical tendency toward the overproduction and destruction of capital which makes the long-term prospects and continued viability of capitalist production highly questionable: rising organic composition of capital [rising value of machinery, raw materials, buildings, etc. relative to the amount of labour power employed], tendential falling rate of profit, intensification of labour exploitation, lengthening of the workday and expansion of labour time and constant capital (means of production), increased productivity of the machinery and technology of constant capital, growing disproportionality of capital development and rising surplus population, economic concentration and centralisation, growing disparity between capital accumulation and profit realisation, and, finally, functional stagnation and systems breakdown. Of course Marx … is aware that there is dialectic within the mode of production between logic and history, economic natural law and fundamental economic structures, and that these tendencies also encounter counteracting influences that may blunt for a time the necessary development of the logic of capital.

There is no indication in Mr. Clarke’s writings and presentations that he incorporates the aim of abolishing class relations characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers into either his theory or his practice.

Mr. Clarke, by failing to address directly the exploitative nature of capitalist society, and by failing to integrate into his critique his recognition of economic coercion, in effect pushes into the far off future (never really ever to be attained) the creation of a movement for the abolition of capitalist relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. This is exactly what the social-democratic movements in the past did–and Mr. Clarke fails to recognize that his own solution does the same thing. 

Walter Streeck, by contrast, implies that there is a difference between an anti-neoliberal approach to capitalism and an anti-capitalist approach. An anti-neoliberal approach seeks to “embed” the capitalist economy in a network of social security structures that protect workers and citizens from the viciousness of a mainly capitalist market system. From Streeck (2009), Re-Forming Capitalism, pages 234-235: 

The socialization of capitalism, as it were, and its social-democratic organization were made possible not least by the enormous task of reconstruction after the devastations of the Second World War. For roughly two decades, capitalist accumulation could proceed without the “creative destruction” on which it normally depends, given the massive destructive destruction afflicted on the core capitalist regions by the war. Busy rebuilding the world, capitalism was able for a time to respect the desire of the period for predictably increasing prosperity for all, combined with security and stability. As early as the mid-1960s, however, open-ended demands for political protection and redistribution encouraged by progressive de-commodification of labor markets—in the form, above all, of a political guarantee of full employment—resulted in rising inflation (Fellner et al. 1961) hiding profound distributional conflicts (Hirsch and Goldthorpe 1978) and a widening mismatch between popular expectations and what a capitalist economy was able and willing to deliver. Temporarily strengthened by the worker revolts of the late 1960s, social democracy in the subsequent decade undertook to push to its limits and beyond a policy that regarded capitalism as a shared resource, a common pasture for society as a whole to be administered by expert technicians elected on a promise to provide for eternally growing prosperity-insecurity.

Today, we know that the problem of mainstream social democracy in the 1970s, with its strong belief in the power of democratic legitimacy and the efficacy of the modern state as an instrument of social control, was that it mistook capitalism for a neutral apparatus for the joint production of shared prosperity. Indeed, it did not take long for technocratic fantasies of capitalism as a politically governable “economy” to turn out to have been just that. Capitalist firms and those that own and run them can only for so long be treated as patient cogs in a collectively serviceable machine. Then, their true nature must come to the fore again, revealing them to be the live predators that they are, for which politically imposed social obligations are nothing but bars of a cage bound to become too small for them and for their insatiable desire for the hunt. In fact, by the end-1970s at the latest, capitalism had become determined to break out of the social-democratic stable into which it had been pressed after the war, being no longer willing and able to make do with the sensible but small servings of profit allowed to them by their political masters. Safe as life may have been under social-democratic tutelage, it also was boring, calling forth increasingly resolute efforts by capital to liberate itself and start a new cycle of accumulation, by expanding beyond the narrow confines of the neo-traditionalism of a social-democratic economy dedicated to the supply of fixed social needs.

Against all expectations, capitalism in the 1980s and 1990s recaptured its dynamic and once again became an unwieldy stochastic source of unplanned social and institutional change. As we have seen in the German case, the new dynamism, which for a variety of reasons soon gained the support of the very states and governments that only a short time before had aspired to be capitalism’s keepers, gradually began to undo the Durkheimian institutions that had been set up to tie capitalist accumulation to the discharge of social obligations. Capitalism redux began to absorb the slack that had been tolerated by the protected production regimes of the postwar period; migrated to new markets outside national control, pushed by domestic constraints and pulled by foreign opportunities; and did its utmost to empty the modern village of the welfare state, in its relentless search for new land to be subsumed under capitalist relations of production. Thus capitalism returned even though it had never really been gone.

Although the pandemic may have created some conditions that, to a certain extent parallel the devastating effects of the Second World War (such as the need for governments to intervene in the capitalist economy to a much greater extent–I will leave such an analysis to those more competent)–there are undoubtedly many differences, such as the organizational capacities of the working class immediately after the War and their organizational capacities in the current situation. Furthermore, having emerged from the War, the working class had military skills that could have posed a threat to the capitalist state. 

To expect that the working class could obtain the concessions from the capitalists that organized workers achieved in the aftermath of the Second World War to a certain extent achieved without threatening the foundations of capitalist society in the current situation is itself utopian; the class of employers have been on the offensive for several decades, as Mr. Clarke himself recognizes. From a post on Facebook (May 10, 2021), Mr. Clarke wrote: 

Matgyggatgatco S10p onsanoontetr 8elg:31d hlAM  ·    I spent more than three decades involved in anti-poverty struggles. During that whole time, the agenda of neoliberal austerity kept intensifying. Poverty and homelessness increased in scale. Social cutbacks deepened and had an ever more dreadful impact.

Let us assume, however, that Mr. Clarke and his social-democratic supporters achieve what they set out to achieve–an enhanced welfare state through struggle; let us assume for the moment that Mr. Clark’s aim of obtaining improved wages (not decent wages), improved social housing, pharmacare, dental care and so forth is realized. Employers may well, for a time, be satisfied with such a situation, but eventually they will likely, perhaps in a disorganized and individual fashion, attempt to bypass regulations associated with the welfare state–as they did when neoliberalism was just emerging. Would the welfare state be capable of withstanding such a move? Or perhaps Mr. Clarke believes that social movements and a renewed union movement could prevent such a move? Did they before the emergence of neoliberalism? What makes Mr. Clarke believe that they could do so now? Even if they could for the moment, would there not always be a threat of undermining previous gains?

Firstly, such a strategy has already been tried–during the post-Second World War period. It ended in the reversion to a more capitalist economy via neoliberalism. Unions and the social-democratic left, instead of constantly challenging the legitimacy of the class power of employers, accepted it. Mr. Clarke’s solution creates its own problems and its own negation–the double movement referred to above.

Furthermore, Mr. Clarke’s strategy fails to even address the dangers of a movement that only aims at reforming the class power of employers rather than abolishing that power. The emergence of more extreme far-right movements are always a threat as various classes and fractions of classes experience the ups and downs of the double movement.

Why not aim, from the very beginning, for a socialist society and hence the elimination of both the class of employers and classes in general? Or is that somehow utopian? If so, perhaps Mr. Clarke and his social-democratic brothers and sisters can explain how it is utopian.

Mr. Clarke’s Reformist Solution of an Enhanced Welfare State Fails to Address the Co-Optation of Radical Labour and Social Movements

Secondly, the Norwegian Marxist criminologist Thomas Mathiesen (1980) has this to say about the capacity of the present capitalist state to deal with radical leftist movements, Law, Society and Political Action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism, page 228 (what Mathiesen calls the “absorbent state” is a state that co-opts others):

The late capitalist social formation is, as we have seen, a distinctly absorbent social formation’. The question of contradiction therefore becomes especially difficult and especially important for revolutionary movements in this, our own social formation. The danger that the absorbent social ‘formation, through the process of defining in, will transform contradiction into accord, is especially great in this very absorbent social formation. The possibilities of yielding or deflecting are legion, and we have already given examples of how they become realities such as European social-democratic movements and eurocommunism. Maintaining contradiction, avoiding contradiction being transformed into accord, is the distinctive problem of the late capitalist social formation.

Frankly, it is naive to suppose that any movement whose aim is to challenge not just neoliberalism but capitalism must not deal with the capacity of the capitalist state to co-opt (absorb) such movements and transform contradiction into accord. Mr. Clarke does not even address this possibility.

I have shown the co-optation of part of the labour movement (especially the union movement) here in Canada, which often refers to “decent wages,” “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “fair wages” and the like (see for example Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)). Mr. Clarke does not address how we are to prevent such co-optation.

This failure itself contributed to the emergence of neoliberalism.

Mr. Clarke never really engages in any critical inquiry into how the union movement, by accepting collective bargaining as somehow fair, has contributed to defensive actions rather than offensive ones. The defensive status of the union movement was certainly a partial consequence of the acceptance of collective bargaining as fair. Part of the purpose of this blog has been to bring out such limitations of modern unions.

In addition, the union movement has also largely idealized public services, neglecting to engage critically with the often oppressive nature of such services (for an example, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). Mr. Clarke does not question the limitation of the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

Hence, Mr. Clarke’s own political position would likely feed into a neoliberal reaction since the “leftist” strategy would not directly and immediately begin to challenge the legitimacy of the existence of the class power of employers. Such reformist efforts, if cut off from efforts to abolish economic exploitation, economic coercion and economic oppression will likely be co-opted.

A proposed radical basic income, in conjunction with struggles on several fronts for improved and extended public services, could prevent such co-optation by maintaining an immediate or short-term contradiction or conflict between the interests of workers and employers (and not just a long-term contradiction or conflict of interests). Mr. Clarke’s strategy of an enhanced welfare state simply ignores the problem.

Conclusion

Mr. Clarke’s radicalism is a radicalism rooted in the continued existence of economic exploitation and economic coercion–despite appearances to the contrary. Mr. Clarke, although he recognizes the double movement characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers, proposes a solution (an enhanced welfare state) that fails to solve the problems that arise from the persistence of such a double movement. Furthermore, his solution of an enhanced welfare state does not come to grips with the problem of how to prevent radical labour and social movements from being co-opted.

It would be better to propose radical solutions that, while incorporating any reforms that we can achieve in the near future (such as greater benefits from the capitalist government), point to a different kind of society, a society where human dignity is real. An enhanced welfare state is hardly an expression of such a kind of society. 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020

Introduction

In two others posts 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) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of workers in several capitalist companies: Magna International, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), ScotiaBank (Bank of Nova Scotia), Bank of Montreal (BMO), Telus, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Suncor Energy, Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank),Rogers Communications Inc., the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and  Air Canada,  (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One).

I thought it might be useful to begin the comparison of rates of exploitation of the same capitalist employer for different years. Although this fails to capture the dynamic of capitalist relations of production and exchange (being two snapshots at different times), it may provide further insight into the nature of capitalist society.

The structure of the post is as follows:

  1. I outline the nature of the rate of exploitation
  2. I then provide “Conclusion first,”
    a. the 2020 rate of exploitation is indicated
    b. the 2020 rate of exploitation is compared with the 2019 rate and some possible explanations of the differences are provided
    c. a long quote of a discussion around tactics and strategies between Sam Gindin (former research director of the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) (now Unifor) and me relating to  union ideology.
    d. Further brief criticisms of Mr. Gindin’s political position
    e. Consideration of an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 in relation to Mr. Gindin’s views
  3. How I calculated the rate of exploitation (including adjustments) as well as a justification for interpreting the substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation in terms of “fixed costs.”
  4. The conclusions as stated in 2.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

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 hire 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, salaries and benefits).

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 and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: 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%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation is likely due to the treatment of workers as “fixed costs” as the pandemic forced employers to retain workers despite the relatively extra costs associated with it (partly offset by federal, provincial and municipal supports).

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Political Considerations

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic will likely call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

I will include a rather long quote from a previous post. It is a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me:

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matter And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -”

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

I guess workers’ explicit consciousness of their own exploitation and oppression and their discussion of such experiences is to arise only after the emergence of “larger structures to fight through.” It is, however, likely that such “larger structures” will simply mimic the “narrower” structures if both are not criticized. How is the CLC (the Canadian Labour Congress)  substantially different from union structures in terms of challenging the class power of employers? Or is Mr. Gindin referring to the larger structures, such as the class power of employers?

My own experience with union reps has been that they assume the necessity and legitimacy of the class power of employers–and do not do anything to raise the issue of the legitimacy of the class power of employers, the exploitation of workers and their oppression among their own members; their aim is to improve the working conditions without questioning at all such class power, exploitation and oppression. I have been a union member, a union rep (union steward and member of a collective-bargaining committee), a member of the executive of a union and a rep for an Equity and Social Justice Committee. I have seen up close the assumptions and limitations and unions–and have tried to address such limitations when and where I could.

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it. I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements

Let us look at an Integram Bargaining Report produced by Unifor Local 444 (Integram is a division of Magna International), dated November 8, 2020 (see  https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/uniforlocal444/pages/43/attachments/original/1604838387/Integram_Ratification_Bulletin.pdf?1604838387).

It contains such enlightening items as the following:

Our members are their most vital asset that sets the supplier bar in this industry and deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour and aids the company in retaining their highly skilled workforce. [my emphasis]

I find this language both typical of union reps–and disturbing. As I pointed out above, it is likely that Magna International treated the workers as a “fixed cost” in order to retain them during the worst moments of the pandemic. However, to read a union rep write that Magna workers are “an asset” surely is both disturbing and in need of criticism. Should any human being be considered and treated as an “asset?” Consider any member of your family. Would you want them to be treated as “an asset?”

That they are “assets” is real enough–to be exploited by Magna International (and all other private companies)–but should we not be criticizing this? Is Mr. Gindin in any specific way? Apparently not–since radicals are supposed to only criticize such views in “material cents.” Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide an example of this in his own concrete practice? I see no concrete examples of his recommendations–they are so vague.

Where is Mr. Gindin’s “humility?” Where is his “self-criticism?”

Let us continue with this Integram Bargaining Report:

deserves proper compensation through pay and benefits that award them for their labour

This is ideology frequently expressed by union reps. “Proper compensation” is a synonym for “fair wages” and, indirectly, a “fair contract.” The union rep clings to the appearance of workers selling their “labour” [labour is an activity that requires a material link between that labour and the means to be used–without those means, there is only a capacity for labour or labour-power. As Marx remarked, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, page 277:

When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not speak of labour, any more than we
speak of digestion when we speak of capacity for digestion. As is well known, the latter process requires something more than a good stomach.

Workers lack the conditions for the realization of their capacity for labour–just as many in the world lack the conditions for the use of their digestive tract–they lack food. The Unifor union rep., by identifying labour with the commodity which the worker sells, simply ignores the difference between a capacity and the conditions for its exercise–and such neglect of the conditions is hardly in the interests of workers.

How workers sell “labour” that is already linked to the means of production owned by (Magna) Integram (and hence under the control of Integram is a mystery. Furthermore, by identifying compensation with labour, the exploitation of workers by Magna Integram is excluded, and the internal or necessary relation between the wage and the profit of Magna Integram becomes broken.

Does Mr. Gindin criticize this approach so typical of union reps? Not at all. Rather, he criticizes those who engage in such criticism. For him, radicals are to indulge such beliefs. After all, it is only “discourse” and has no “autonomy.” This dismissal of ideological struggles is itself arrogant and lacks humility. Mr. Gindin somehow knows what workers need without even considering in any detail how union reps aid to legitimate the existing class power of employers by constantly using such language.

Where has Wayne Dealy provided any criticism of collective agreements (not the particular provisions of collective agreements) publicly? Sean Smith? Frankly, I find it astounding that such arrogance displayed by Mr. Gindin in his assumption that we are not to engage in criticism of union reps’ views is paraded as “humility” and “self-criticism.”

Let us listen to what Mr. Gindin called “Our Tracy” (McMaster, a union steward for Local 561 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU); who was also vice-president of the local union at one point):

Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none.

I have hardly denied that collective bargaining is better than none. I have belonged to several unions in my life, and I certainly would prefer to belong to a union when working for an employer than not belonging to one. However, I do not take seriously her claim that “Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect.” I see no evidence that Ms. McMaster takes such a view seriously. Where is the evidence that she has inquired into “the limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining? Rather, for Ms. McMaster, collective bargaining provides an imperfect but ultimately fair contract.

Perhaps Mr. Gindin can provide evidence to the contrary it. I doubt that he will–or can.

Mr. Gindin’s tactics are as follows: Let us try to convince such union reps of our views. Frankly, I think such an effort is, for the most part, a waste of time. Of course, there are exceptions, and it is necessary to use one’s judgement under specific circumstances and in relation to specific union reps. However, my judgement was and is that it Ms. McMaster would never be really convinced of the “limitations and imperfections” of collective bargaining.

Rather than indulging such union reps, it is in the interests of workers to criticize them and to expose their lack of a critical approach to collective bargaining.

Let us continue to look at this Bargaining Report:

Your bargaining committee achieved Pay Raises, Benefits Improvements, Lowering the new higher grid, Buy-out packages, and Signing Bonus. A healthy contract that reflects a greater worth in our Integram members.

Such achievements, of course, are in the interests of the workers. But why call it a “healthy contract?” Apparently, this is a synonym for a “fair contract”–and I have shown that Canadian unions persistently use such language to justify both the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements (see, for example,   Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). No collective agreement can express something legitimate–unless the necessary exploitation and oppression of workers by employers (including Magna Integram) is somehow legitimate.

In the Bargaining Report, there then follows a list of items that were obtained by the bargaining committee. Not one word of the “limited and imperfect” nature of the collective agreement or the collective-bargaining process. Not one word on the management rights clause, implicit or explicit in the collective agreement. Do not workers persistently experience the power of management in a variety of ways? Why the silence over such experiences? Does the collective agreement address such power? Or does it only address the limited areas defined by collective-bargaining legislation?

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, 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 has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

Now, the calculation:

In millions US dollars:

Sales $32,647
Costs and expenses $31,641

Cost of goods sold 28,207

Material $19,750
Direct labour 2,498
Overhead 5,959

Depreciation and amortization 1,366
Selling, general & administrative 1,587
Interest expense, net 86
Equity income (189)
Other expense, net 584
Income from operations before income taxes $1,006

[28,207+1,366+1,587+86+584=31,830; 31,830+1006=32,836; 32,836-189=32,647]

Adjustments

As I indicated in the 2019 post, a couple of adjustments are necessary.

Adjustment on Cost Side of Direct Labour and Corresponding Adjustment of Income  from Operations Before Taxes

I wrote in the 2019 post:

On page 37 [of the 2019 annual report], 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.

Now the 2020 “Pension and post-retirement benefits” is  (11).

This US $11 million should be added to “Cost and Expenses,” “Direct labour” and subtracted from “Income from operations before taxes.” Accordingly:

Temporarily Adjusted Costs and Expenses: $31,652
Temporary Adjusted Costs of Goods Sold: $28,218
Adjusted Direct Labour Costs: $2,509
Temporarily Adjusted income from operations before income taxes: $995

Adjustment of income from operations before income taxes due to interest expense, net

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the 2019 rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An 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. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

Accordingly, it is necessary to add $86 “Interest expense, net” to “Income from operations before income taxes” and subtract it from “Cost and expenses.”

(“Equity income” is already subtracted from costs since it is not really a cost at all but rather income.)

Adjusted Cost and Expenses $31,566
Adjusted Direct Labour $2,509
Adjusted income from operations before income taxes $1081

The Rate of Exploitation

So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.

I will first consider this rate in relation to the workers in 2020, and then compare this rate with the 2019 rate of exploitation.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Magna International works around an additional 26 minutes for free for Magna International. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular Magna International worker produces around $0.43 (43 cents) surplus value or profit for free.

The following provides information about the length of the working day:

  1. There are 3 shifts. 9 hours a shift.
  2. Typical 8 – 12 hours per shift.
  3. 8-12 hrs, 7 days a week, with very last minute overtime mandating, and i mean literally as your punching out theyll tell you that you have to stay for another 4+ hours. No work life balance and management could care less because theyre at home on the weekends. Better positions come with 100% more stress, more responsibilities that others pass off cause they dont want to do it, 1000s of strings attached and literally no way to avoid getting screwed by them. Constant harassment and belittling by management and engineers and if you report it, youre facing constant retaliation and impending termination. If your not part of the HR posse or the “good ol’ boys club”, youre nothing but a rug for them to walk across. So, if you value your sanity, health and family, this is not a place to work.
  4. I have been there for 3 years until i quit and half of the plant is doing either 10 or 12 hours 7 days a week
  5. Article 17 (page 51) of the collective agreement between Magna International and Unifor Local 2009AP: Employees normally work an eight-hour day, five days per week

Accordingly:

  1. In an 8-hour work day (480minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 336 minutes (5 hours  36 minutes) and works 144 minutes (2 hours 24 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  2. In an 9-hour work day (540minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 378 minutes (6  hours 18 minutes) and works 162 minutes (2 hours 42 minutes) for free for Magna International.
  3. In an 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 420 minutes (7  hours) and works 180 minutes (3 hours) for free for Magna International.
  4. In an 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 503 minutes (8  hours  23 minutes) and works 217 minutes (3 hours 37 minutes) for free for Magna International.

Comparison of the 2019 Rate of Exploitation with the 2020 Rate of Exploitation

2020: So, with the adjustments in place: s=1081; v=2,509. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=1081/2,509=43%.
2019: 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%.

The absolute decrease in s is substantial: 1,177, and the rate of decrease is 52% (1081-2,258)/2,258=-1,177/2,258).

By contrast, the absolute decrease in v is much less: 353, and the rate of decrease is (2509-2862)/=2509=-353/2862=12%.

Factors or Determinants of the Rate of Exploitation and Its Changes

Normally, when there is a change in the rate of exploitation, whether positive or negative, we should look at the general factors that govern the production of surplus value.  In general, there are three ways of changing the rate of exploitation:

  1. changing the real wage (the absolute amount and variety of commodities consumed by workers);
  2. changing the absolute amount of surplus value produced either by
    1. changing the length of the working day intensity of labour or
    2. changing the intensity of labour length of the working day
  3. changing (in fact, increasing) the relative amount of surplus value produced, generally through new technology, thereby decreasing the value of the commodities produced that form the real wage consumed by workers (with a fixed or constant working day and a constant amount of commodities consumed by workers, but with less labour time required to produce them, the amount of labour time required to reproduce the workers’ wages is reduced and more labour time constitutes surplus value).

As Ben Fine  and Alfredo Saad-Filho (2016) describe the factors with a view to increasing the rate of exploitation by employers in their book Marx’s Capital, pages 36-37:

Assume, now, that real wages remain unchanged. The rate of exploitation can be increased
in two ways….

First, e [the rate of exploitation[ can be increased through what Marx calls the production of absolute surplus value. On the basis of existing methods of production – that is, with commodity values remaining the same – the simplest way to do this is through the extension of the working day. …

There are other ways of producing absolute surplus value. For example, if work becomes more intense during a given working day, more labour will be performed in the same period, and absolute surplus value will be produced. The same result can be achieved through making work continuous, without breaks even for rest and refreshment. The production of absolute surplus value is often a by-product of technical change, because the
introduction of new machines, such as conveyors and, later, robots in the production line, also allows for the reorganisation of the labour process. This offers an excuse for the elimination of breaks or ‘pores’ in the working day that are sources of inefficiency for
the capitalists and, simultaneously, leads to increased control over the labour process (as well as greater labour intensity) and higher profitability, independently of the value changes brought about by the new machinery.

The desired pace of work could also be obtained through a crudely applied discipline. There may be constant supervision by middle management and penalties, even dismissal, or rewards for harder work (i.e. producing more value).

The above are general conditions for the determination of the rate of exploitation and its changes. The specific change observed in the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International are unlikely due to these general conditions. Rather, the decrease in the rate of exploitation in 2020 relative to 2019 is likely due to the specific economic conditions that accompanied the pandemic.

One Possible Explanation for the Substantial Decrease in the Rate of Exploitation

Part of the explanation for the  substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation was probably the treatment of workers at Magna International, in part, as “fixed costs.”

Initially, Magna International laid off many of “its” workers, but it also sought to retain them by paying them additional money beyond that flowing from the government initially through federal  unemployment insurance (although it may have also been a function of provisions in the collective agreement concerning layoffs).

Magna International did lay off around 2,000 workers in Ontario during the initial wave of COVID. From https://lfpress.com/business/local-business/magna-cuts-production-2000-local-staff-amid-fallout-from-covid-19:

Magna cuts production, 2,000 local staff amid fallout from COVID-19

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

Article content

Magna, one of the largest automotive employers in the London region, has laid off about 2,000 workers locally as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the manufacturing sector.

The Canadian auto parts giant has closed its two St. Thomas plants, Presstran and Formet, employing a combined 1,500 to 2,000, as well as Qualtech in London, which employs about 275.

“Both Formet and Presstran will be temporarily suspending operations today . . . Qualtech will also temporarily suspend its operations,” read a statement from Scott Worden of Magna’s corporate communications department.

“Magna is committed to both the health and financial well-being of our employees. We will be providing additional payments to employees beyond the minimums provided under the federal Employment Insurance program.”

The closings are not unexpected, and may not last long, as the Detroit Three automakers, Toyota and Honda have all closed plants for up to two weeks across North America as a result of the coronavirus.

Presstran is a stamping plant and Formet supplies several different parts to many automakers, including truck frames to GM plants in the U.S. Qualtech supplies seating systems.

“Magna continues to closely monitor developments related to coronavirus (COVID-19) with a focus on the health and safety of our employees and our operations. In addition, we are in daily communication with our customers, many of which have recently announced partial or full temporary production suspensions at plants in Europe and North America,” read an additional statement from Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications at Magna.

The automaker said it will continue to follow World Health Organization protocol on cleaning the workplace and limiting contact with between people.

“We continue to assess our operations on an individual basis and are beginning to temporarily suspend manufacturing operations at a number of our manufacturing divisions around the world . . . many of our facilities are expected to suspend operations with production status re-evaluated week to week,” said Fuerst.

Further evidence for treating Magna International workers as fixed costs comes from Annual Information Form, Magna International Inc., March 25, 2021, page A-17:

Despite inevitable temporary layoffs of employees in light of the suspension of production during the first half of 2020, we took a number of steps to minimize the impact felt by our employees, including: maintaining employee benefits coverages through the temporary layoff period; …

We also engaged emergency government support programs primarily for employees to maintain compensation levels and/or benefits for a certain period, where applicable. The countries in which Magna engaged such programs included Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and China. These programs allowed participating employees to remain on our payroll while inactive or furloughed due to mandatory stay at home orders, with Magna receiving full or partial reimbursement for such inactive labour.

The view that workers were treated more as fixed costs (probably out of fear that Magna International would lose such workers to other employers if they were not treated as fixed costs) is supported by the relatively limited decrease in v when compared to s.

Treating workers as “fixed costs” under the conditions of the pandemic is understandable since workers are not linked politically or legally to particular employers; they can work for another employer (if they can find another employer who will hire them). See Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and  Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left).

This treatment of workers as fixed costs (to retain them over the short term) and the resulting decrease in the rate of exploitation is consistent with abnormal conditions that capitalist employers generally try to avoid since, on the one hand, they own means of production (c) that fail to absorb surplus value and, hire relatively more workers (v) than can be exploited under given conditions. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 2, The Process of , page 111:

The point is simply that under all circumstances the part of the money that is spent on means of production – the means of production bought in M-mp [money used to purchase means of production, such as computers and other machines, raw material, buildings and other produced commodities necessary for labour to be performed] means of production – must be sufficient, i.e. must be reckoned up from the start and be provided in appropriate proportions. To put it another way, the means of production must be sufficient in mass to absorb the mass of labour which is to be turned into products through them. If sufficient means of production are not present, then the surplus lahour which the purchaser has at his disposal cannot be made use of; his right, to dispose of it will lead to nothing. If more means of production are available than disposable labour, then these remain unsaturated with labour, and are not transformed into products.

In effect, in terms of the pandemic, Magna International purchased too much labour power (the capacity to use the means of production and to produce value–a capacity sold by workers) and too many means of production. Not all of the labour power purchased could be exploited, and not all the means of production owned by Magna International could absorb labour and hence surplus labour and surplus value.

There may, of course, be other causes of the decrease in the rate of exploitation, such as problems pertaining to supply of inputs, but I will leave that issue aside.

It should be emphasized that the exploitation of workers pertains to the production of a surplus beyond the production of the value equivalent of their own costs of production. Even during the time the workers require to produce their wage, they are oppressed by employers since they are subject to the will of the employer (or her representatives) and to the control over their labour.

Conclusion

The rapid decrease in the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International with the onset of the pandemic is likely due to the temporary) overinvestment in the purchase of labour power relative to the inability of management to use the means of production to exploit the workers. This situation will likely now call for an opposite pressure to increase exploitation directly through intensification and an extension of the working day and changes in technology and organization of the production process. Pressures to increase tax breaks for such capitalist employers (and corresponding reduction in state expenditures for welfare measures) may also arise. Of course, some workers will not just lay down and accept such counter-pressures.

Why is it that workers have to put up with this situation? Should they not be organizing not only to resist exploitation and oppression and increased pressures related to those phenomena but also to abolish such pressures? Not according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left. Such organizational efforts, for them, are undoubtedly unrealistic. New structures are supposedly to arise without criticizing the old structures.

Thus, for social democrats like Sam Gindin (former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), challenging the ideology of “decent jobs or work,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” “fair deal,” “fair wages” and other abstract phrases (rhetoric) is relatively unimportant. New material structures more relevant to the lives and experiences of working people are somehow to arise without constantly challenging the existing social structures–and the corresponding ideology that justifies such structures.

Frankly, I doubt that such new material structures will arise without a persistent and constant challenging of the ideological rhetoric rampant among the left in general and unions in particular.

Where is there evidence that Mr. Gindin has contributed to the creation of material structures that question the fundamental economic, political and social structures characteristic of a society dominated by a class power of employers by indulging in the beliefs of union reps? Does the organization Green Jobs Oshawa, to which Mr. Gindin contributes, do so? Where is the evidence that it does?

What are Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrats like Herman Rosenfeld (who worked in the education department of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) doing to fight against the exploitation of workers and oppression of Magna workers? Mr. Rosenfeld wrote an article, criticizing the existence, practically, of a company union at Magna, CAW Local 88, comparing it to the independent union Unifor Local 2009 AP. The independent union is certainly preferable to a company union, but even an independent union at the local level of a particular employer in effect assumes the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class (see my criticism in the post    Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left).

The false nature of Mr. Gindin’s political position stands out when he claims the following:

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Is there evidence that Mr. Gindin criticizes his own views? Are union reps (and union members) really conscious of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the class power of employers as such? If so, what are they doing about it? I fail to see evidence of it.

I also fail to see evidence of Mr. Gindin engaging in self-criticism. He implicitly assumes that he knows what workers need–and that is not an explicit and real consciousness of their exploitation and oppression–with or without unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

:

.

For Mr. Gindin, though, to question the “language” used by union reps, as well as the omission of any criticism of the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements, expresses merely “moralizing.”

I will leave Mr. Gindin with his fake humility and his fake self-criticism. I will continue to engage in “discourse analysis”–that is to say, with a criticism and exposure of the limited nature of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements.

.

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

Law (the Legal System) and the Coercive Power of Employers as a Class

Introduction

It is interesting how little discussion arises over the nature of the legal system and how it contributes to the exploitation, oppression and economic coercion of billions of workers throughout the world. Unions rarely if ever discuss such issues–it is considered to be utopian at best–whereas unions dealing with the “real” problems that workers face every day. Representatives of unions really need to justify their lack of interest in, on the one hand, addressing such issues and, on the other hand, in failing to incorporate a critique of the legal system into trade-union education.

All Corporations as Criminals–Not Just Some, Or: Definition of the Problem

Below is a set of quotes, along with some commentary, from Professor Harry Glasbeek’s (2018) book Capitalism: A Crime Story. Glassbeek points out in various ways that the employment contract, whether individual or collective, involves coercion:

Every contract of employment, supposedly voluntarily entered into by workers, imposes a legally enforceable duty on workers to obey, a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care, a duty of good faith and loyalty. The worker is not to talk back, let alone rebel; the worker’s only goal is to serve her employer and its goals. This is deeply embedded in our supposedly liberal legal system. As Otto Kahn-Freund put it, the lawyer acknowledges that the hallmark of employment relationships is the element of subordination to which one party, the employee, is said to agree. Canada’s Task Force on Labour Relations baldly stated that a superior-inferior nexus is the distinguishing characteristic of the employment relationship.46 Even when workers can protect themselves better by having won the right to engage in collective bargaining (obviously a departure from the individual contract model), workers are required to obey all reasonable orders the employers issue. The notionally sovereign, autonomous workers are repeatedly and expressly told that the workplace is not a debating society. Coercion of individuals and appropriation of their product remain salient features of legally enforceable contracts of employment, even when laws are passed to alleviate the burdens imposed by its judicially developed doctrines.48

Force and taking—it is the norm. It is not hard to see this if law’s pretenses are unmasked. Take our illustrative mugger who threatens a person with force: the law is sanguine. He is a criminal. The employer who threatens a worker with wage loss if she insists on having clean lungs is treated, by means of a legal pretense, as merely negotiating terms and conditions of a contract (including those of safety at work) with another equally sovereign party. This is a momentous and absurd assumption. Yet, all occupational health and safety regulation begins with this premise, that is, with the initial thought that, whenever possible, safety at work should be left to bargaining between private (if unequal) actors. I will come back to this issue, but the implications are dire for workers. For the moment, I return to my claim that it is patently false to assert that workers enter voluntarily into contracts of employment. Workers have no choice about whether to sell their labour power [their capacity to work or to use the means of production, such as computers and other machines and tools]; if they are lucky they can choose among some purchasing capitalists. They must sell parts of themselves. That is their only freedom, a freedom that is best described as a freedom they are forced to exercise, an oxymoronic idea if there ever was one.

This coercive economic system and its indirectly coercive political and legal system can have deadly consequences, to which legislators have to pay lip service (as the Westray mining murders illustrate:

Legislators may have to overcome stiff opposition from the dominant class’s opinion moulders, but will act to still the palpable public unrest. They feel under pressure to reassure the non-capitalist public that politicians, policy-makers, and the law do truly care about life and the social values by which non-capitalists want, and expect, to live.

Canada’s Westray mining tragedy provides an easy illustration. Before the mine blew up, there had been fifty-two violations of mining safety regulations detected by the inspectorate, none of them leading to punishment. In the aftermath of the deaths of twenty-six workers (no employers or managers, of course), a public inquiry was established. The findings were that the operators had been incompetent at best and, at worst, heedless of human life. Note here that, while the violations of the regulations provided evidence for such findings, it was not the lack of obedience to the resultant orders for breaches of those
standards that got everyone angry. It was the business plan and the daily modus operandi of the mine owners that was seen as repellent, as worthy of criminalization. This was explicitly supported by the authoritative commission of inquiry. Its recommendation was that, if the law did not allow for criminal prosecution of corporations and of their senior operators for this kind of conduct, it should be reformed. After a lengthy battle (capitalists, their corporations, and their ideological defenders did not like this turn of events), legislation was enacted. It makes it possible to criminalize the omission to take action when it is reasonable for some senior officers to believe that it is likely that there will be a
failure to take adequate care (calibrated by regulations or general legal principles). This gradual realization that the usual exceptional legal treatment of capitalists and their corporations needs to be reined in from time to time is not jurisdictionally specific. Analogous legal reforms have been initiated in some Australian jurisdictions and a somewhat less sweeping statute was enacted in the U.K.

These recognitions that heedless risk-creation and risk-shifting, so natural, so routine to for-profit corporations, is potentially criminal in nature and might be so treated go against the grain, go against the starting premise that capitalism’s normal workings involve virtuous actors, using innocent substances and methods that may occasionally lead to unfortunate “accidents” and “spills.” The resistance mounted by capitalists and their corporations’ cheerleaders has been forceful and, thus far, has blunted the impact of the new criminal law reforms. In Canada, after ten years of operation, there has only been one prosecution in respect of fatalities at work per year, even though the number of fatalities has remained constant. The calculation is that there is a 0.1 per cent chance that a prosecution will be launched after a workplace death. That this was always going to be true can be gleaned from the fact that all these reforms took ages to put on the statute books (in Canada close to eleven years; the Australian Commonwealth statute took a similar twelve years to be given life), despite officialdom’s caterwauling about the tragic nature of the results that had led to them.

The powers-that-be continue to believe in their internalized make-believe view that it is not unethical, not criminal, for practising capitalists to undertake actions that they know, or should know, will lead to a certainty of death or other unacceptable outcomes. Thus, when confronted by policy-makers under pressure to confirm that we still live in a liberal democratic society and should punish capitalists as if they were ordinary folk, they ask everyone not to be romantic. Pragmatism is to rule. Principle is a luxury. The liberal spirit of law must be bent to allow capitalists and their corporations (and thereby all of us) to flourish. It is not a very convincing argument on which to base a legal system. At best, it is
amoral; it asks that we should be willing to suspend our ethical goals for the sake of expediency. In any event, this demand, based as it is on the notion that the suspension of our adherence to our shared values and norms is a practical response to real-world circumstances, is not backed by any sound evidence. What is certain, however, is that the tolerance for amorality, or worse, for ethical and moral failures, does nothing for the social cohesion that any society must have to flourish.

Some Proposed Solutions to the Criminal Nature of Corporations–and the Probable Resistance of Social Democrats to Such Solutions

Academics, like Professor Glasbeek, who are critical of the legal system and are aware of its class biases sometimes naively believe that those who claim to be opposed to capitalism are in fact opposed to it. For example,  Professor Glasbeek argues the following:

It would be politically useful to shift the nature of the debate. It should become a debate about whether corporate capitalism actually delivers the good it promises and that this permits it to justify asking society to bear the occasional “malfunctioning” of the system. If this can be done, anti-capitalist activists might find themselves on a more favourable terrain of struggle. Pro–corporate capitalism advocates will have to show that the material wealth capitalists and their corporations produce outweighs the dysfunctionalities generated by their ceaseless drive for more. The uneven distribution of wealth and power, the many physical and psychic injuries inflicted by the chase for profits, the rending of the values and norms by which people other than capitalists believe they should live, all can be listed and elaborated to offset the satisfaction we are supposed to evince because, in the aggregate, monetary wealth is growing ever so nicely. Making this a focus of the attack on capitalists and their corporations can reveal that their reliance on the argument that “the most wickedest of men [doing] the wickedest of things” is a proper means to deliver the “bounty” of economic growth that we supposedly need and crave is inane, perhaps even insane. An argument that their calculation of wealth does not speak of a kind of wealth that meets the aspirations of human beings who want to live in a more altruistic, more compassionate, more ecologically nurturing society can be put on the agenda.

I fail to see how such an agenda is really being promoted here in Toronto by the so-called progressive left. The progressive left talk about “fair contracts,” “good jobs,” and the like. Indeed, it is interesting how social democrats, ultimately, idealize law and the legal system. Thus, trade unionists here in Toronto, such as Tracy McMaster (union steward, organizer, former vice president, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) local 561 and Wayne Dealy (executive director, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3902), who refer to a fair contract, indirectly idealize the legal system. They assume that there can be such a thing as a fair contract (including, of course, a collective agreement). The legal system, however, is not only “imperfect” (to use one of Ms. McMaster’s euphemistic terms) but riveted with biases against workers and the working class.

What are Wayne Dealys, Tracy McMasters of the world  doing to enlighten workers about the unfairness of contracts and the unfairness of a society characterized by the power of a class of employers? Or are they more concerned with idealizing collective agreements and minimizing the imperfections in collective agreements and the legal system of which collective agreements form a part?

What would the Dealy’s and McMaster’s say, not rhetorically but practically, about Professor Glasbeek’s following assertion:

This led to legislative interventions to “even up” the bargaining game. We now allow some unionization; we now provide some legislated standards if workers cannot win socially acceptable terms by their own free and voluntary dealmaking. The scope and kind of these protections wax and wane as political and economic fortunes change. When wins are recorded, they are significant worker friendly add-ons to what unmodified employer favouring law offers. But because they are add-ons, many of the legislative gains made by the working class are impermanent. The essentially coercive nature of employment remains intact. Still, the fact that there have been many reforms, that is, many interferences with free contract-making, may suggest to some that the continued significance of the ideological and instrumental impacts of the individual contract of
employment is overstated in the argument presented here. To many observers, the contention that workers are making autonomous choices when entering employment contracts holds up because, in the advanced economies where Anglo-American laws rule, many of us (after 180 or so years of fierce struggles) have some protections against the legalized right of employers to use their wealth as a bludgeon. It is fair to say that the modernized employment relationship looks more benign than it did, but this may only mean that its coercive nature is more insidious, less easily seen. This may make matters
worse….

The fact is that law maintains the basis for a deeply unequal relationship between employers and workers, even when this is sugar-coated by contingent gains made by the working class.

Social reformists and social democrats not only would likely ignore Professor Glasbeek’s analysis of the problem, but they would likely reject out of hand his proposed solutions. For instance, consider Professor Glasbeek’s following proposal:

The characterization of corporations as sovereign individuals with their own agendas is not defensible and should be confronted constantly. Conceptually and materially, they are collectives endowed with disproportionate economic and political powers that benefit the contributors of capital to their coffers. Corporations are instruments designed to satisfy capitalists’ drive for more. Their misbehaviours should be attributed to capitalism as a system and capitalists as people. Anti-capitalist activists and critics should not permit themselves to be distracted by legal proposals to reform corporations or by engaging with movements designed to persuade corporations to be more socially responsible. If, as argued here, capitalism is criminal in nature, it follows that, when they flout ethical and moral norms embedded in law or violate legally mandated standards, corporations are doing what comes naturally to red-blooded human capitalists and what they want their corporations to do. Given the frailty of the legal reasoning that bestows legal personality on an artificial being and that limits fiscal liability and removes legal responsibility from those who hide behind the novel legal person, anti-capitalist activists and critics would do well to argue for the abolition of corporations and hold their controllers’ feet to the fire. An extended and cogent argument to this effect has been made by Steve Tombs and David Whyte in their recent work, The Corporate Criminal.

Conclusion

I know of no social-democratic leftist individual in Toronto who seriously is working towards the abolition of corporations. They consider such talk to be absurd–in practice, although in theory they may pay lip-service to it. They certainly do not teach the decidedly opposite interests of workers and employers. Quite to the contrary. They often paper over such opposition by the use of such phrases as “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” “decent jobs” and the like.

I invite social reformists or social democrats to engage seriously in creating a movement for the abolition of corporations, in Toronto and elsewhere. Relying ultimately on the legal system to defend us is bound to end up in limited gains and the continued coercion, exploitation and oppression of millions upon millions of workers.

Of course, given my own experiences with social reformers or social democrats, I suspect that they will continue to ignore the systemic real experiences of class oppression, class exploitation and class coercion. In such circumstances, they need to be criticized constantly.

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto

Introduction

In two others posts 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) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. I also calculated the rate of exploitation for Air Canada workers and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) workers. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

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 hire 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, salaries and benefits).

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 and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

Adjusted Net Income: 5587.3=s
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7=v

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=5587.3/5611.7=100% (after rounding).

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at BCE works around an additional hour for free for BCE. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular BCE worker produces around $1 surplus value or profit for free. 

In terms of varying lengths of the working day: 

  1. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 225 minutes (3 hours  45 minutes) and works 225 minutes (3 hours 45 minutes) for free for BCE.
  2. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes), the worker producer her/his wage in 240 minutes (4 hours) and works 240 minutes (4 hours) for free for BCE.
  3. In a 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker producers her/his wage in 300 minutes (5 hours) and works 300 minutes (5 hours) for free for BCE.
  4. In a 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 360 minutes (6 hours) and works 360 minutes (6 hours) for free for BCE.

Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
BETWEEN
UNIFOR
AND
BELL CANADA

CRAFT AND SERVICES EMPLOYEES
EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 23, 2017 

ARTICLE 8 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

8.01 The Company has the exclusive right and power to manage its operations in all respects and in accordance with its commitments and responsibilities to the public, to conduct its business efficiently and to direct the working forces and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, it has the exclusive right and power to hire, promote, transfer, demote or lay-off employees, and to suspend, dismiss or otherwise discipline employees.

8.02 The Company agrees that any exercise of these rights and powers shall not contravene the provisions of this Agreement.

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” All other such platitudes? 

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, 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 has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

Now, the calculation: 

In millions of Canadian dollars:

Page 113:

Operating revenues 23,964

Costs
Operating costs 13,858
Severance, acquisition and other costs 114
Depreciation 3,496
Amortization 902
Finance costs
Interest expense 1,132
Interest on post-employment benefit obligations 63
Other expense 13
Total costs: 19,578

Net income: 4386 [23,964-19,578=4386] [the 3253 is after taxes; if you add taxes, you get 4386 as well]

Operating costs need to be broken down further since costs for maintaining workers as wage workers form one of the two considerations for the calculation of the rate of exploitation.

Labour costs
Wages, salaries and related taxes and benefits 4,303
Post-employment benefit plans service cost (net of capitalized amounts) 247
Other labour costs 1,005
Less:
Capitalized labour 1,032
Total labour costs: 4,523

Adjustments

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Adjustment of Total Labour Costs

Capitalized Labour

It is necessary to consider the category “Capitalized labour” since it is not treated as a labour cost by BCE whereas here it will be so treated. Capitalized labour involves the following:

CAPITALIZED LABOR means all direct costs of labor that can be identified or associated with and are properly allocable to the construction, modification, or installation of specific items of capital assets and, as such, can thereby be written down over time via a depreciation or amortization schedule as capitalized. 

I have chosen to treat capitalized labour as part of labour costs since it is current labour that is involved in the operations of BCE; the work performed by workers in installing and assembling machinery includes surplus value.

Temporarily Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5555

Severance, acquisition and other costs

It is necessary to make adjustments for this category since part of the money expended relates to costs destined to be received by workers. To take this into account, it is necessary to break the category down further.

Severance 63
Acquisition and other 51
Total severance, acquisition and other costs 114

I assume that “Acquisition and other” are non-labour expenses.
In a note, it states:

Severance costs consist of charges related to involuntary and voluntary employee terminations. In 2018, severance costs include a 4% reduction in management workforce across BCE.

Given that the severance package for management is likely to be much higher than for regular employees, the 4 percent reduction in the management workforce likely results in a higher percentage of severance pay to that 4 percent. It is impossible to determine with precision how much higher. I will assume 10 percent. The reason for taking into consideration such a difference is that the severance for management is likely to be a function of its exploitation of other workers and not its own exploitation.

Ten percent of 63 is 6.3; therefore, this 6.3 needs to be added to net income and subtracted from 63.
Temporarily adjusted Net income: 4392.3

This shift from considering part of severance pay from a cost to a part of net income also changes the total costs by reducing it by 6.3. Therefore:

Temporarily adjusted Total Costs: 19,571.7

The remaining severance is 56.7. This needs to be added to the category “Post-employment benefit plans service cost” since it forms part of the income of workers and costs for BCE. Accordingly:
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7

Adjustment of Finance Costs

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An 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. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

As for the category “Interest on post-employment benefit obligations,” from the point of view of BCE, it is an expense or cost because, presumably, BCE had to borrow money (and pay interest) to meet its financial obligations to its retired workers; this interest comes from the surplus value produced by the workers and is therefore included as part of profit.

Accordingly, both “Interest expense” and “Interest on post-employment benefit obligations” are deducted from “Total costs” and added to “Net income,” and “Total costs” are therefore also adjusted.

Operating revenues 23,964
Adjusted Total Costs: 19,571.7- 1,132 – 63=18,376.7
Adjusted Net Income: 5587.3=s
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7=v

The Rate of Exploitation

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=5587.3/5611.7=100% (after rounding).

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at BCE works around an additional hour for free for BCE. Alternatively, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular BCE worker produces around $1 surplus value or profit for free. 

The length of the working day at BCE, like most places, varies. Here are a sample of working days from the Internet:

I worked, on average, twelve hours a day.
I worked about 8 hours a day on the average.
10 hours per and about 50 hours weekly and was paid for only 37.5 weekly.

The collective agreement between Bell Canada and Unifor Atlantic CommunicationLocals (Unifor ACL) states: 

(c) Employees whose standard hours of work are eighty (80) hours in a scheduling period, will normally work either ten (10) scheduled tours of eight (8) hours. Employees whose standard hours of work are seventy-five (75) hours in a scheduling period, will normally work ten (10) scheduled tours of seven and one-half (7.5) hours. …

(d) Tours can be scheduled for a maximum of ten (10) hours with mutual agreement between the employee and their direct supervisor.

(e) Longer tours, to a maximum of twelve (12) hours per tour, may be scheduled with the mutual agreement of the employee(s), their direct supervisor, Labour Relations and the Council. Such special
arrangements must be committed to in writing and signed by the parties prior to implementing. These arrangements can be cancelled by any party with eight (8) weeks notice.

Since Bell workers are exploited 100 percent, the calculation of the number of hours they work to produce the equivalent value of their wage and the number of hours they work for free for Bell is relatively easy.

  1. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 225 minutes (3 hours  45 minutes) and works 225 minutes (3 hours 45 minutes) for free for BCE.
  2. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes), the worker producer her/his wage in 240 minutes (4 hours) and works 240 minutes (4 hours) for free for BCE.
  3. In a 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker producers her/his wage in 300 minutes (5 hours) and works 300 minutes (5 hours) for free for BCE.
  4. In a 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 360 minutes (6 hours) and works 360 minutes (6 hours) for free for BCE.


The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Bank of Montreal (BMO), One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada

Introduction

In two others posts 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) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto as well as the rate of exploitation of workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) (see ???).

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 hire 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, salaries and benefits).

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.

The lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level by has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value of Bank of Montreal workers is s/v; therefore, s/v is 7,533/8,162=92 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $0.92 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Bank of Montreal worker works 55 minutes for free for the Bank of Montreal.

It also means the following:

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps.

In millions of Canadian dollars:

Page 18:

Summary Income Statement
Income
Net interest income $12,888
Non-interest revenue $12,595
Revenue $25,483 [add the first two]
Insurance claims, commissions and changes in policy benefit liabilities (CCPB) $2,709
Revenue, net of CCPB $22,774 [subtract $25 483 by $2 709]

Expenses
Provision for (recovery of) credit losses on impaired loans $751
Provision for (recovery of) credit losses on performing loans $121
Total provision for credit losses $872 [add the last two]
Non-interest expense $14,630
Total expenses $15,502

Net income $7272 ($22,774-$15,502)

Adjustments

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

In the annual report, the category of “Non-interest expense” is subtracted from total revenue, to yield the category “Net income.” However, to calculate the rate of exploitation according to the principles of Marxian economics, it is necessary to make certain adjustments. To that end, we need to look in more detail at the category “Non-interest expense.”

Non-Interest Expense
(Canadian $ in millions)
Employee compensation
Salaries $4,762
Performance-based compensation $2,610
Employee benefits $1,051
Total employee compensation 8,423
Premises and equipment 2,988
Other 2,665
Amortization of intangible assets 554
Total non-interest expense 14,630

As in other posts on the rate of exploitation in Canadian banks, the category “Performance-based compensation” causes some problems, which requires adjustments. It appears that most employees receive some kind of bonus based on performance. One site indicates the following:

BMO – Bank of Montreal pays an average of C$4,459 in annual employee bonuses. Bonus pay at BMO – Bank of Montreal ranges from C$993 to C$9,500 annually among employees who report receiving a bonus. Employees with the title Branch Manager, Banking earn the highest bonuses with an average annual bonus of C$9,500. Employees with the title Customer Service Representative (CSR) earn the lowest bonuses with an average annual bonus of C$993.

On the other hand, according to the Bank of Montreal Proxy Circular, all executives receive short-term incentives based on performance, senior executives receive mid-term incentives based on performance, and senior vice-presidents and above receive long-term incentives based on performance.

As I argued in my post about the rate of exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce workers:

However, the gap between executive pay and the pay of regular employees has widened over the years, so it is reasonable to infer that the category “Performance-based compensation” is divided into two parts: one part is a function of the number of hours worked by regular employees as well as the intensity of that work; the other is based on the extent to which bank managers and senior executives are successful in exploiting those regular employees. …

it is probably reasonable to assume that a minimum of 10 percent of the “Performance-based compensation” comes from the exploitation of senior bank executives of regular workers.
It would be necessary to have more detailed information to determine whether more or less of the money obtained in this category were distributed between regular bank workers and management executives. If regular bank workers received more, then the rate of exploitation would be less than the rate calculated below. If management executives received more, then the rate of exploitation would be more than the rate calculated below.

On the assumption of 10 percent, though, this means that 10 percent of the total of “Performance-based compensation, ” is reduced by 10 percent.

Adjusted Results

This 10 percent reduction in Performance-based compensation results in a reduction in total employee compensation” by $261,000,000 and an increase in net income by the same amount. This adjustment yields the following accounts:

Adjusted net income $7,533 (this represents surplus value or s)
Adjusted total employee compensation $8,162 (this represents variable capital or v)

The Rate of Exploitation of Bank of Montreal Workers

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value of Bank of Montreal workers is s/v; therefore, s/v is 7,533/8,162=92 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $0.92 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Bank of Montreal worker works 55 minutes for free for the Bank of Montreal.

According to a few people who have worked at the Bank of Montreal, the length of the working day is the following (it is unclear whether lunch is included and unpaid or not]:

  • Eight thirty to four thirty [8-hour working day]
  • Working hours are steady. 8:45-5:15 everyday Monday to Friday [8.5-hour working day]
  • The bank has a 7.5 hours work day and is a 9am – 5pm environment. However, the bank has flexibility to accommodate your commuting schedule. [8-hour working day]
  • At that time i think they were M-W 10-3, T&F 10-8 and Sat. 10-4 [average of 410 minutes, or 6 hours 50 minutes, or 6.8 hours]
  • The Hours of what I work is 8:00am to 4:30pm [8.5 hours]
  • 9 hours, sometimes up to 12, but hours can be cut any time
  • 9.5 but paid for 7.5 often losing breaks due to lose of break time as others underperformed and I had to pick up the slack… regularly.
  • 7.5 hours per day
  • The hours were fixed at 8 hours a day. However, working days were flexible along with more shifts.

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes rather than hours.

  1. For a 6.8-hour working day (410 minutes), BMO workers spend 214 minutes (3 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 196 minutes (3 hours 16 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  2. For a 7.5-hour working day (450 minutes), BMO workers spend 234 minutes (3 hours 54 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 216 minutes (3 hours 36 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  3. For an 8-hour working day (480 minutes), BMO workers spend 250 minutes (4 hours 10 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 230 minutes (3 hours 50 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  4. For an 8.5- hour working day (510 minutes), BMO workers spend 266 minutes (4 hours 26 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 244 minutes (4 hours 4 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  5. For a 9-hour working day (540 minutes), BMO workers spend 281 minutes (4 hours 41 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 259 minutes (4 hours 19 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  6. For a 9.5-hour working day (570 minutes), BMO workers spend 297 minutes (4 hours 57 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 273 minutes (4 hours 33 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.
  7. For a 12-hour working day (720 minutes), BMO workers spend 375 minutes (6 hours 15 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 345 minutes (5 hours 45 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for BMO.

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, bank workers, as well as sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as Bank of Montreal to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

Bank of Montreal workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.

Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One

Introduction

There are some people among the social-democratic left whom I can respect more than others. John Clarke, former leader of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), is one of them. Here is what one reads on Wikipedia about him:

John Clarke is an anti-poverty activist who lives in TorontoOntarioCanada. As of 2019, he was teaching at York University.

Activism

A native of Britain, he moved to Toronto, Ontario and became an organizer there.[1] He was a leading figure of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) group until he retired from it in January 2019.[2] The Globe and Mail reported in the year 2000 that Clarke’s “guerrilla activism has pitted him against police countless times during the past decade.”[3]

Clarke was arrested with three other activists and charged with inciting a riot for his role in an OCAP protest at Queen’s park in June 2000. Clarke appealed his restrictive bail conditions in August 2000.[3] In 2003, a judge stayed the charges and Clarke walked free.[4]

The Sudbury Star described Clarke in 2016 as “a 25-year veteran of activism.”[1] In 2019, he announced an online fundraiser asking people to contribute $25,000 for his retirement.[5]

Teaching

In 2019, Clarke took on the post of Packer Visitor in Social Justice in the faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. The position is for two years.[2]

References

  1. Jump up to:ab Keenan Kusan, Workers being held down, activist says in SudburySudbury Star (March 26, 2016).
  2. Jump up to:ab Levy, Sue-Ann (26 November 2019). “Poverty warrior teaching Activism 101 at York University”Toronto Sun. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  3. Jump up to:ab Margaret Philp, Activist to fight bail termsGlobe & Mail (August 10, 2000).
  4. ^ Clarke, John (28 October 2003). “RIOT CHARGES AGAINST OCAP ORGANIZER STAYED BY TRIAL JUDGE – Statement by John Clarke, OCAP Organizer”OCAP. Archived from the original on 1 June 2005. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  5. ^ Levy, Sue-Ann (28 January 2019). “Poverty activist John Clarke wants help funding retirement”Toronto Sun. Retrieved 21 March 2020.

Although I can admire not only Mr. Clarke’s activist stance but his willingness to engage in civil disobedience despite the possible consequences for himself, his writings persistently fall short of a socialist stance. This limitation is evident in his aims (which are, generally, solutions to specific problems). 

The Aim or Goal of His Intervention 

What is the aim or goal of his intervention? What is he seeking to achieve?

On Mr. Clarke’s blog, on June 15, 2021, he has written a post titled “A Basic Income in Waiting?” (https://johnclarkeblog.com/node/65). 

Surprisingly, Mr. Clarke’s goals are very similar if not identical to those of  Simran Dhunna and David Bush’s views.  He writes:

During the pandemic, struggles have broken out across the world, from Minneapolis to New Delhi to East Jerusalem. As the global health crisis subsides, there will be a strong determination to fight for something better. As we challenge, not just the ‘economic scarring’ left by the pandemic, but the impact of decades of austerity, we shouldn’t settle for a commodified form of social provision that makes its peace with the neoliberal order. We need to fight employers to win decent wages and to take to the streets to demand massively expanded social housing, greatly improved public healthcare, free public transit, universal child care and much else beside.

His reference to “much else beside” is in reference to an article written by Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush (if you click on the the “else beside,” you will be taken to their article). The “much else beside” probably refers to the following list (the social-democratic or reformist left frequently have a grocery list of demands that rarely if ever are realized in practice since they lack the power to realize them):

  1. free dental care
  2. strengthening and regularizing the new changes to EI (employment insurance–which I still call unemployment insurance)
  3. raising social assistance rates
  4. status for all (meaning presumably that immigrants and “illegal” migrants would have the same legal rights as Canadian citizens)
  5. paid sick days
  6. improving tenants’ rights
  7. universal public services.

Of course, I support such efforts, but such efforts hardly make a socialist society since they are likely compatible with some form of capitalism and not with its abolition and with the abolition of all classes; they seek to humanize capitalism and not abolish it. Those who advocate such policies are anti-neoliberal but not necessarily anti-capitalist. To be anti-capitalist, such policies would have to be linked to other policies that push beyond what is acceptable to a capitalist society–such as a radical or robust basic income–which Mr. Clarke opposes. 

I have criticized Dhunna and Bush’s article in several posts on this blog (see for example A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is SocialistThe Strawman of a Minimal Universal Basic Income by the Social-democratic Left in Toronto or  A Robust or Ambitious Universal Basic Income: An Impossible Dream for Some Among the Social-democratic Left), and Mr. Clarke’s uncritical reference to it is indicative of Mr. Clarke’s lack of critical distancing from his social-democratic compatriots; his rubber stamping of other social democrats’ position is quite typical of social democrats in general, it would seem (see Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Two: Critique of the Standard of Canadians and Landed Immigrants Working for an Employer). 

The way in which Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush refer to articles written by others on the subject of basic income, for instance, gives the impression that the authors of some of the articles to which they refer find basic income to be impractical–whereas it is often the case that it is only certain forms of basic income that such authors find impractical; other forms they find feasible–but Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush (and Mr Clarke) neglect to acknowledge this. By referring to the article Dhunna and Bush wrote without further ado, Mr. Clarke in effect rubber stamps uncritically their own distortion of the views of others. This is hardly what the working class needs today. Mr. Clarke, despite his apparent anti-capitalist rhetoric, is anti-neoliberal but not anti-capitalist. 

Let us, however, see what Mr. Clarke himself actually proposes as an alternative–what his aims are.  The following is almost a verbatim report of the third section of Mr. Clarke’s presentation on YouTube, presented on June 21, 2021, titled Basic Income Is a Neoliberal Trap  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r40D6fU760s&t=4s):

Alternative Directions

The alternative is to rejuvenate our unions and fight for decent wages, to fight to increase minimum wages, to fight for workers’ rights–rather than extend the cash benefits and extend the reach of the marketplace. It is far better to put considerable effort into the struggle for public services.

Now, Mr. Clarke fully acknowledges that there are income-support programs that are vital and needed, and we cannot let these supports become a kind of poor cousin. We need unemployment insurance that provides adequate coverage and secure coverage. We need the disgusting attack on injured workers that has taken place to be reversed and decent benefits be provided. We need a fight to ensure that disability benefits are adequate and meet people’s needs and that they are secure. We need to challenge the intrusion and moral policing that goes on within these systems.

But to extend the cash benefit widely out into the workforce is a huge mistake. And we could do so much better. Rather than try to get what in practice would be a meager cash benefit, it would be so much better to struggle to challenge the commodification of housing, the neoliberal city, the blighting of urban space with this agenda of greed by fighting for a massive extension of social housing. So that’s a benefit that goes to working-class people and does not go into the pocket of landlords. There’s a need to fight for increases in the adequacy of healthcare. The pandemic has made that absolutely clear. We need pharmacare, dental care, a unviersal childcare program that is not an empty perennial liberal promise. We need post-secondary education to be free; we need free public transport systems. On all of these fronts, we need to take up a fight.

But people will say: We have suffered defeats. We cannot win these things. Mr. Clarke argues that the left has for a very long time forced on the defensive. The class struggle has not gone in our favour for a considerable period of time. But there is no alternative but to rebuild and to fight back and to win what we can. And to challenge this society but to fight for a different society. That’s absolutely indispensable. There in fact is not some social policy ruse that can just put things right.

Basic income is not going to solve the problem. Our lack of strength, our lack of ability to fight in the way we need to fight is the problem we have to address. We need to build that movement now more than ever. In this situation of global crisis we need more than ever to fight back, and we can do so much better in focusing our struggles than to fight for the commodification of social provision and basic income.

There is little difference between Dhunna and Bush’s call for a refurbished welfare state and Mr. Clarke’s vision of a “different society.” The society he envisions is an improved version of the welfare state established after the Second World War; it is hardly a vision of a society without classes, without exploitation and without oppression. 

I will, however, restrict my criticism of Mr. Clarke’s position in this post to his reference to decent wages–and will continue with my criticism of Mr. Clarke’s views on economic coercion–the first part of his presentation in the YouTube video in another post by referring to his apparent acknowledgement that economic coercion forms an essential element of a capitalist society–all the while ignoring the significance of that for formulating policies to counter such economic coercion.  

Decent Wages and Exploitation 

Mr. Clarke does not subject the concept of decent wages to any critical scrutiny. Ironically, Mr. Clarke often refers to exploitation as an essential aspect of a society dominated by a class of employers (and I agree with him on this view), as a basis for criticizing the impracticality of a proposal for universal basic income (see his Youtube presentation)–which I will address in relation to basic income in another post), but he isolates the concept of “decent wages” from any consideration of exploitation. 

The concept of “decent wages” in effect justifies the exploitation of workers and their continued economic coercion. That does not mean, of course, that I would criticize workers for seeking to increase their wages–increasing the standard of living does have the potentiality of improving the quality of life for those who work for employers, and I also have sought to increase my wages or salary to improve my quality of life. However, seeking to increase wages does not make the wages “decent”–given exploitation. 

By referring to “decent wages,” Mr. Clarke, despite his references to exploitation, implicitly uses the standard of working for an employer as a standard for determining what is decent work. This limitation of the left has been noted by others. Kathleen Millar (2017) has argued just that in her critique of the isolation of a set of individuals as the “precariat”. From “Toward a critical Politics of Precarity,” Sociology Compass, Volume 11,  pages 6-7: 

At the same time, translating the concept of precarity to different parts of the world has also meant recognizing that precarity is originary to capitalism. The very condition of having to depend on a wage to sustain one’s life is what makes a worker precarious—not just the specific structures of this or that job (Barchiesi, 2012a; Denning, 2010). From this perspective, precarity is capitalism’s norm, not its exception, and is shared by all workers whether employed or unemployed. We usually think of the worker with a stable, full‐time job as the model of capitalist labor—against which the numerous unemployed, informal, or wageless workers (largely in the global South) are compared. But the latter
reveal the latent precarity of all workers who must sell their labor‐power for a living. This means that the precarity of labor, far from being the exception in capitalism, is the necessary condition for the creation of capital.

To see insecurity at the heart of wage labor (rather than a condition of its absence) is to complicate the current denunciatory discourse of precarity. Critiques of precarity—whether explicitly or as another element of what Thorkelson (2016) describes as its political unconscious—uphold full‐time, wage‐labor employment as an ideal. One problem with this politics of precarity is that it ignores how wage labor can itself be an experience of insecurity, degradation, exploitation, and abuse. For example, Franco Barchiesi (2011) makes this argument through his study of wage labor as a technique of governance in both colonial and postcolonial South Africa. He shows how colonial administrators emphasized the “dignity of work” as a way to use wage labor to discipline African populations seen as “uncivilized” and “unruly.” Many African workers refused waged employment, instead opting for various forms of
subsistence labor or self‐employment that, while insecure, allowed them to avoid the discipline and indignity experienced when working in factories and mines. In this historical context, Barchiesi argues, “precarious employment was not a condition of disadvantage but enabled opposition to the labor‐centered citizenship of Western modernity” (15). Barchiesi goes on to show how today, the continued emphasis on “decent jobs” and “job creation” in postapartheid South Africa fuels the precariousness of workers by continuing to link social citizenship to full‐time wage labor at
the same time that stable employment is increasingly scarce (see also Barchiesi, 2012b). The emphasis on decent jobs also reinforces forms of masculinity, nationalism, and inequality that a social order structured around wage labor produced. In short, the demand for decent jobs, as a solution to precarity, generates a conservative politics attached to the valorization of wage labor. It also precludes the “political potentials of precarity” (Barchiesi, 2012b, 248) or what I have described elsewhere as the possibility that forms of work beyond wage labor might open up other ways of fashioning work and life (Millar, 2014).

This brings me back to the question that began this article: what are we holding onto through the ubiquitous, denunciatory discourse of precarity? One answer to this question is certainly wage labor. Or more precisely, many critiques of precarity remain attached to what Kathi Weeks (2011) has described as the taken‐for‐granted valorization of waged work as an economic necessity, social duty, and moral practice. This attachment to waged work is part of a broader response to precarity that has reaffirmed normative modes of life. For example, Lauren Berlant (2011) argues that conditions of precarity have led to deepened aspirations for and reinvestments in the normative good life—a
stable job, middle‐class home, guaranteed rewards for hard work, and the promise of upward mobility. These forms of attachment, she suggests, paradoxically become obstacles to fulfilling the very desires that are wrapped up with the aspiration for a good life. This produces what Berlant calls a “relation of cruel optimism” (170).

Alternatively, we could see the denunciation of precarity through the lens of “left melancholy.” Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s use of this term, Wendy Brown (1999) reflects on the ways leftist politics remains mournfully committed to ideals, categories, and movements that have been lost, preventing the possibility of radical change in the here and now.4 To cling to the ideal of full employment and decent jobs, rather than to question waged work as a social and economic requirement, could certainly be an example of left melancholy. But Brown is less interested in specifying the objects of attachment than in showing how the very state of melancholia replaces a political commitment to disruption with an unacknowledged pernicious traditionalism. In other words, perhaps it matters less what one is holding onto, just that one is holding on. Or as Dorothy Day (1952) insisted in her decades‐old article on precarity, “The thing to do is not to hold on to anything.”

Mr. Clarke, like so many social-democratic or social-reformist leftists, implicitly clings to working for an employer as the standard for his own goals. 

This implicit standard is kept separate from Mr. Clarke’s rhetorical references to exploitation, which serve to hide his social-democratic or social-reformist political position. 

Let me make a categorical statement: There is no such thing as a decent wage. To work for an employer is in itself degrading, exploitative and oppressive. The concept of a decent wage serves to hide this exploitative situation (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Mr. Clarke, apparently, only aims at refurbishing the welfare state rather than abolishing exploitation. Like Mr. Bush’s own references to exploitation, Mr. Clarke uses the concept as a rhetorical flourish (in his case, to criticize a radical policy of basic income) while conveniently “forgetting” the concept when it comes to the issue of whether wages can ever be decent.

Thus, on Mr. Clarke’s blog, on March 7, 2021, in a post titled http://WHEN YOUR ENEMY’S ENEMY IS NOT A FRIEND we read: 

  In a world based on exploitation and oppression, resistance is ever present. … 

 The US and its junior partners compete with their major rivals and pose a terrible threat to the poor and oppressed countries they seek to dominate and exploit. However, we can’t forget that those countries are themselves class divided societies and that not all the exploitation and oppression that their populations face comes out of Washington. Domestic capitalists are also the enemy and the governments of those countries, even where they clash with US objectives, still represent the interests of these home grown exploiters. [my emphases]

Despite his reference to exploitation, Mr. Clarke conveniently forgets the concept when it comes to referring to a “decent wage.” Nowhere does Mr. Clarke justify his view that there is such a thing as a decent wage. There are undoubtedly better wages and worse wages, but how any wage is decent is something that Mr. Clarke merely assumes rather than demonstrates.

The reference to “decent wages” is a social-democratic trick to hide the fact that there is no such thing as “decent wages” in a society dominated by a class of employers. How can any wage be decent when it involves at a minimum economic coercion and oppression of workers by treating them as things or means for purposes not defined by them (see The Money Circuit of Capital  and  Employers as Dictators, Part One)  but by a minority and, in addition, exploitation that involves producing a surplus (see for example  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One )?

Furthermore, in the case of workers in the private sector, in the case of both oppression and exploitation, the results of the previous labour of workers is used to further oppress and exploit the workers by means of previous acts of oppression and exploitation–an intensified form of oppression and exploitation (something Mr. Clarke entirely ignores). Mr. Clarke simply ignores this additional feature of exploitation and oppression.

Mr. Clarke thus uses the concept of exploitation for social-democratic purposes–an anti-neoliberal purpose and not an anti-capitalist purpose. Advocating for decent wages while using the word “exploitation” is contradictory–but exploitation is really just a word for Mr. Clarke. Alternatively, Mr. Clarke believes that workers are exploited–but that such exploitation cannot be abolished. He certainly never advocates the abolition of exploitation, and his aim of achieving decent wages simply ignores the issue. 

What I wrote in another post relation to Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush’s political position applies as much to Mr. Clarke:

Dhunna and Bush’s first aim–to “meaningfully improve the material realities of working class and oppressed people”–sounds both practical and radical. It is actually conservative since its focus is entirely on distributional struggles rather than struggles over control of working conditions at both the micro and macro levels. Indeed, since this is their primary goal, they practically define a socialist society as an enhanced welfare state–capitalism with a more human face.

By focusing on distributional struggles, they imply, without ever saying it, that wider struggles to control working conditions are impractical and utopian. They, the realists, know what “bread and butter issues” are relevant for the working class, and such “bread and butter issues” are purely distributional struggles. Such a stance is conservative–its aim is not to end class rule, but to perpetuate it–though in a more humanized form than at present.

Wages, Exploitation and the Accumulation of Capital 

This  becomes even more evident when we consider, not only the immediate exchange between workers and employers and the subsequent exploitation but also the antecedent processes of exploitation. When we consider the process of exploitation and oppression of workers as a process, the immediate exchange between workers and employers (whether through collective or individual bargaining) is actually the use of surplus value (symbolized by “s” produced by workers in earlier rounds of exploitation to further exploit them. I referred to this process in my critique of Dhunna and Bush’s conservative use of Marx’s theory of exploitation. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, pages 727-730:

Let us now return to our example. It is the old story: Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob and so on. The original capital of £10,000 brings in a surplus-value of £2,000, which is capitalized. The new capital of £2,000 brings in a surplus-value of £400, and this too is capitalized, transformed into a second additional capital, which in its turn produces a further surplus-value of £80. And the process continues in this way.

We leave out of account here the portion of the surplus-value consumed by the capitalist. We are also not interested, for the moment, in whether the additional capital is joined on to the original capital, or separated from it so that it can valorize itself independently. Nor are we concerned whether the same capitalist employs it who originally accumulated it, or whether he hands it over to others. All we must remember is this: by the side of the newly formed capital, the original capital continues to reproduce itself and to produce surplus-value, and this is true of all accumulated capital in relation to the additional capital engendered by it.

The original capital was formed by the advance of £10,000. Where did its owner get it from? ‘From his own labour and that of his forefathers’, is the unanimous answer of the spokesmen of political economy. And, in fact, their assumption appears to be the only one consonant with the laws of commodity production.

But it is quite otherwise with regard to the additional capital of £2,000. We know perfectly well how that originated. There is not one single atom of its value that does not owe its existence to unpaid labour. The means of production with which the additional labour-power is incorporated, as well as the necessaries with which the workers are sustained, are nothing but component parts of the surplus product, parts of the tribute annually exacted from the working class by the capitalist class. Even if the latter uses a portion of that tribute to purchase the additional labour-power at its full price, so that equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, the whole thing still remains the age-old activity of the conqueror, who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has stolen from them.

If the additional capital employs the person who produced it, this producer must not only continue to valorize the value of the original capital, but must buy back the fruits of his previous labour with more labour than they cost. If we view this as a transaction between the capitalist class and the working class, it makes no difference that additional workers are employed by means of the unpaid labour of the previously employed workers. The capitalist may even convert the additional capital into a machine that throws the producers of that capital out of work, and replaces them with a few children. In every case, the working class creates by the surplus labour of one year the capital destined to employ additional labour in the following year.5 And this is what is called creating capital out of capital.

The accumulation of the first additional capital of £2,000 presupposes that a value of £10,000 exists, advanced by the capitalist, and belonging to him by virtue of his ‘original labour’. The second additional capital of £400 presupposes, on the contrary, only the prior accumulation of the £2,000, of which the £400 is the capitalized surplus-value. The ownership of past unpaid labour is thenceforth the sole condition for the appropriation of living unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more the capitalist has accumulated, the more is he able to accumulate.

The surplus-value that makes up additional capital no. 1 is the result of the purchase of labour-power with part of the original capital, a purchase which conformed to the laws of commodity exchange and which, from a legal standpoint, presupposes nothing beyond the worker’s power to dispose freely of his own capacities, and the money-owner’s or commodity-owner’s power to dispose freely of the values that belong to him; equally, additional capital no. 2 is merely the result of additional capital no. 1, and is therefore a consequence of the relations described above; hence each individual transaction continues to conform to the laws of commodity exchange, with the capitalist always buying labour power and the worker always selling it at what we shall assume is its real value. It is quite evident from this that the laws of appropriation or of private property, laws based on the production and circulation of commodities, become changed into their direct opposite through their own internal and inexorable dialectic. The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, is now turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange, since, firstly, the capital which is exchanged for labour-power is itself merely a portion of the product of the labour of others which has been appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, the worker, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange between capitalist and worker becomes a mere semblance belonging only to the process of circulation, it becomes a mere form, which is alien to the content of the transaction itself, and merely mystifies it. The constant sale and purchase of labour power is the form; the content is the constant appropriation by the capitalist, without equivalent, of a portion of the labour of others which has already been objectified, and his repeated exchange of this labour for a greater quantity of the living labour of others.

The immediate exchange between workers and employers is an exchange of equivalents, so that workers receive the value of their cost of production. However, when considering the larger context of previous production, then the immediate exchange between employer and workers is a semblance . The employer uses a part of the surplus produced by the workers in a previous round as means of production (machines, raw material, buildings, etc.) and another part (socially as money and physically as means of consumption, such as food, clothing, shelter) to further employ them (in addition to the initial investment). 

If this is the case, how can anyone who believes in the existence of class exploitation refer to wages as decent wages? There is no such thing. Wages used to control the working class and to exploit them in the present, when conceived in the continuous process of production and exchange, are derived from surplus value produced in antecedent rounds of production so that the wage they receive today is the result of past exploitation and oppression.

The present domination of workers at work by employers is a consequence of past accumulation of surplus value and its investment in the further exploitation of workers.  How anyone who is anti-capitalist could refer to wages as “decent” is beyond me–unless they are really only anti-neoliberal (a particular form of capitalism but not capitalism as such) and not anti-capitalist, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. 

Again, the issues of exploitation and the accumulation of capital need to be linked together when determining whether there is such a thing as a decent wage. The following couple of long quotes by  Teinosuke Otani (2018) points to this need –a need that Mr. Clarke ignores by referring to decent wages as a primary aim without even engaging into inquiry into the nature of capitalist relations of production and exchange.

The first long quote has to do with what is called simple reproduction, where the private employer exploits workers by obliging them to work for more time than they themselves cost to produce, thereby enabling the private employer or capitalist to appropriate and then consume the entire surplus value (profit) produced. Since the entire surplus value (profit) is consumed, each year the same level of investment arises–simple reproduction. 

From  Teinosuke Otani (2018),  A Guide to Marxian Political Economy: What Kind of a Social System Is Capitalism?, pages 218-224 ( emphases in the original):   

8.4 Capital as the Materialisation of Unpaid Labour of Others

Under simple reproduction, it is assumed that the capitalist consumes the entirety of the surplus-value appropriated from the worker year after year. Now let’s assume that during a period of 5 years, a capital value of 1000 brings the capitalist a surplus-value of 200 every year and that the capitalist consumes this entire amount. At the end of the 5 years, he still has the 1000 in capital value that he possessed at the outset, but over the 5 years, he has appropriated 1000 in surplus-value from the worker and consumed this 1000 in value.

The capitalist would likely say: «It is precisely because I initially possessed 1000 in value, as the fruit of my own labour, that I was able to appropriate and consume 200 in value every year. The 1000 in value that I advance each year—no matter how many years this is repeated—is the initial value created by my labour».

The situation appears quite different, however, if we carefully observe the process as repeated reproduction.

Let’s take our capitalist at his word here and assume that the 1000 in value he started off with was appropriated through his own labour, so that it is the materialisation of his own labour.

During the 5-year period, the capitalist consumes a sum of value equal to the value he initially possessed. Yet after the 5 years, he is still in possession of a sum of value equal to what he started off with. Why? What is clear is that it is precisely because the capitalist has received the 1000 in surplus value for free that he can still have 1000 in value despite having consumed that amount. The 1000 that he holds after 5 years is thus the result of the 1000 in surplus-value appropriated during the 5 years, merely representing the total sum of 1000 in surplus-value obtained for free. This point can be well understood if we consider what would happen to the capitalist, who consumes 200 in value every year, if he did not appropriate any surplus-value during those years. In such a case, even if he had 1000 the first year, he would have no alternative but to consume 200 every year, reducing by that amount the sum of money that could be advanced as capital. After 5 years, the sum would reach zero and he would cease to be a capitalist. The fact that he is able to still exist as a capitalist at the end of 5 years, with 1000 in capital, is clearly the outcome of appropriating 200 surplus-value every year over the course of that period.

The capitalist in our example has appropriated the materialisation of 1000 in value from another person’s labour during a 5-year period. Since the capitalist is still in possession of 1000 in value after 5 years, having lived by consuming 200 per year, his 1000 is nothing but the materialisation of the labour of others. Even if the capital value the capitalist initially possessed was the materialisation of his own labour, the capital value he is now in possession of after 5 years is the materialisation of the worker’s surplus-value, which is to say, thematerialisation of the labour of others. Starting from the sixth year, the capitalist appropriates further surplus-value that is the materialisation of others’ labour by means of capital value that is also purely the materialisation of the labour of others. 

8.5 Reproduction of Capital-ownership Through Appropriating the Labour
of Others

At first glance, the capital relation, which is the relation of production between capitalists and workers, seems to continue to exist, as is, year after year. In particular, it seems that the pivot of this continuity is the capitalist’s continued possession of capital, which he owned from the outset. In fact, however, as noted in the previous section, the capital relation is not an inorganic entity like a cornerstone, which cannot collapse once put in place unless some outside force is applied, but rather is maintained by being constantly reproduced and formed through the labour of labouring individuals within the production process. This is similar to how the human body is maintained by the infinite number of cells that compose it being replaced every day by newly created ones.

… 

Now let’s imagine that a person with no money borrows 1000 in value from someone (assuming that the loan is free of interest) and makes it function as capital for a 5-year period, during which he appropriates 200 in surplus-value every year and that after 5 years he repays the 1000. Once the loan had been repaid, he would return to his penniless state and cease to be a capitalist. In this case, the fact that he was able to exist as a capitalist for 5 years was not because he held on to 1000 in value during the 5 years. Indeed, if the 1000 had not functioned as capital, he would have consumed the 1000 during the 5 years, leaving him with nothing but the debt for that amount. The reason the capitalist is instead able to still have 1000, and was able to consume 200 in value every year, is that during those 5 years, he made the 1000 in value function as capital and was thus able to appropriate 200 in surplus-value from workers each year. It is precisely because of appropriating this unpaid labour that the capitalist is able to exist as a capitalist for a period of 5 years.

Even if, during the 5-year period, he had been able to live without consuming the 200 of surplus-value or had somehow been able to procure a separate consumption fund to last the 5 years, so that even after repaying the 1000 by the end of that period he would have a total of 1000 in value appropriated from workers, it would still be clear that this value is the mass of surplus-value appropriated from the workers.

In short, the capital value owned by the capitalist must sooner or later, through the progression of reproduction, be transformed into the materialisation of the appropriated labour of others, so that the ownership of capital value by the capitalist (even if initially the result of his own labour) is transformed into the outcome of the appropriation of others’ labour, i.e. transformed into the outcome of exploitation carried out in the production process.

In simple reproduction, it is assumed that the original investment came from the labour of the purchaser of the labour power of workers and of the means of production (machinery (such as computers), buildings, raw material, and other such products), but on the basis of that assumption the preservation of the same initial investment arises through the constant exploitation of workers.

In simple reproduction the preservation of the original value of the investment year after year, therefore, is due to the continued exploitation of workers year after year. Can the wages the workers receive then be considered in any way decent under such circumstances? Let Mr. Clarke and other social democrats explain this. 

When we consider the real accumulation of capital, where part of the surplus value (profit) produced for free by workers and appropriated by private employers (capitalists) for no equivalent is not consumed but ploughed back into further investments, not only is the original value of original capital preserved through the continued exploitation of workers but the relation between the original capital invested and the new capital invested due to the exploitation of workers increasingly becomes smaller and smaller relatively as the accumulation of capital and the continuous exploitation of workers proceed. From Otani, pages 228-234:  

Our assumption here again will be that a capitalist has advanced 1000 in value and then appropriates 200 in surplus-value, all of which is subsequently advanced as additional capital.

Where does the capitalist get this 1000 in capital? The capitalists and the economists who defend their interests respond in unison that this capital was the fruit of the capitalists’ own labour or that of their forbearers. But we have already seen that, even seen from the perspective of simple reproduction, all capital is transformed into a mass of unpaid labour of others through the recurrence of reproduction and that capital-ownership is also reproduced through the appropriation of unpaid labour. But, for now, let us accept the capitalist’s view of the situation.

… commodity holders in the sphere of commodity exchange recognise each other as private owners, but in so doing, they do not concern themselves with how the other person came to possess his commodity. Instead, they can only assume that this other person obtained it through his own labour. This socially accepted assumption that a private owner’s property title stems from own labour is the property laws of commodity production.

When the capitalist initially appears on the market with 1000 and purchases means of production and labour-power at their value, those involved in the commodity and labour markets do not care how he came into possession of the 1000 in value, provided he is the proper owner of that sum. Those involved in the transaction all assume with regard to each other that commodities and money were obtained through their own labour, with each quite content to declare: «I worked to save up this 1000» or «It was obtained through my parents’ hard work». And it seems that this is the only assumption that could be made, according to the property laws of commodity production.

The situation is completely different, however, in the case of the 200 that the capitalist seeks to advance as additional capital. We are perfectly familiar with the process that generates this sum of value, knowing that it was originally surplus-value. This means that the 200 in its entirety is the objectification [materialisation] of the unpaid labour of others. The additional means of production and additional labour power purchased with this sum are nothing more than a new form taken by this value qua [as] objectification of unpaid labour.

Viewed as a transaction between the capitalist class and working class, we have a situation where the working class, through its surplus-labour in the current year, creates the new capital that becomes the additional means of production and additional labour-power the following year.

Now let us assume that the 200 is advanced in the second year as additional capital and yields 40 in surplus-value [the same rate of profit as the initial investment of 1000 with a surplus value of 200: 200/1000=40/200=1/5=20 percent]. Since the original capital also generates 200 in surplus-value in the second year, by the third year, there is 440 (in addition to the 1000) that can be advanced as capital [First year: 200s from the initial exploitation of workers+ second year, an additional 200s  from the 1000 again invested and used to exploit the workers +the 40s produced in the second year by the workers and used for further investment in the third year=440]. Not only is 400 unmistakably the objectification of unpaid labour, 40 is the objectification of unpaid labour appropriated through the additional capital, which itself is the objectification of unpaid labour. If this process of accumulating all the surplus-value is repeated for the subsequent 4 years, by the end of that period the capitalist will have—in addition to his original capital of 1000, which we could call the «parent»—the surplus-value appropriated through the parent capital during the 4 years… Together this forms an «offspring» of 1074. So if the capitalist advances the aggregate capital in the fifth year, there will be 2074 of capital («parent» and «offspring») in operation that year. [The capitalist is assumed to exploit workers to the extent of 20 percent per unit. At the end of the first year, 1000×1.2=1,200; this is invested in the second year, and at the end of the second year, 1,200×1.2=1,440; this is invested at the beginning of the third year, and at the end of the third year, 1,440×1.2=1,728; this is invested at the beginning of the fourth year, and at the end of the fourth year, 1,728×1.2=2074, which again can be invested at the beginning of the fifth year…]. 

Even if we assume that the capitalist possessed the 1000 of the 2074 to begin with, he certainly cannot claim that the remaining 1074 in value was created through his own labour. As long as it is recognised that the 200 in surplus-value appropriated every year from the 1000 in capital is the objectification
of surplus-labour, then this 1074 in value is, from top to bottom, the surplus-value transformed back into capital and thus the objectification of labour of others. … In other words, we are dealing with a mass of surplus-labour appropriated through a mass of surplus-labour.

The more the reproduction of capital is repeated, the smaller the original capital advanced, until it becomes an infinitesimal amount. The surplus-value transformed back into capital, whether it is made to function as capital in the hands of the person who accumulated it or in the hands of someone else, comes to represent the overwhelming part of the capital that currently exists.

The capitalist every year buys the means of production and labour-power on the commodity market and labour market in accordance with the property laws of commodity production in order to repeatedly carry out production. The result of this is that the capitalist appropriates unpaid living
labour on an increasingly large scale by making the unpaid surplus-labour of others function as capital. Marx refers to the capitalist’s appropriation of unpaid labour in this manner as the laws of capitalist appropriation.

In the market, which is the surface layer of capitalist production, the property law of commodity production operates. But if we consider the production of capital that underlies this in terms of social reproduction, it becomes clear that the law of capitalist appropriation is in operation. Where the capital relation exists, the law of capitalist appropriation is the necessary consequence of the property laws of commodity production. Marx expresses this reality by referring to the inversion of the property laws of commodity production in the laws of capitalist appropriation.

The surplus-value qua ]as] objectification of the surplus-labour of another person, which the capitalist appropriates in the production process, is turned into capital; and the ownership of this capital value is thus the result of the appropriation of surplus-value in the production process. The capitalist’s
appropriation of surplus-value in the production process precedes, and brings about, his ownership of capital. Here it is precisely the production of surplus-value by the labouring individuals first. Rather, it is precisely the behaviour of the labouring individuals within the production process that is always generating the ownership of the means of production by the capitalist within the production process that generates capital ownership.

At first glance, there seemed to be a vicious circle with regard to capitalist ownership of the means of production by the capitalist and his appropriation of surplus-value, wherein the latter is only possible through the former, but the latter always generates the former. However, within this relation,
the active determining moment that continues capitalist production as such is the constant reproduction of products within the production process by the labouring individuals and the constant production of surplus-value. Labouring individuals are the active subject of continual production,
regardless of the form of society, but under capitalist production, we have a situation where labouring individuals completely separated from the conditions of labour come into contact with the means of production in the production process as things belonging to others, which means that the resulting
surplus-labour always belongs to others as well, and through this there is the continual reproduction of capital and wage-labour and the relation between them. Thus, in terms of the
capitalist ownership of the means of production, and the capitalists’ appropriation of surplus-value, it cannot be said that the former is the immovable premise or even that it is a vicious circle where it cannot be said which of the two comes first. Rather, it is precisely the behaviour of the labouring individuals within the production process that is always generating the ownership of the means of production by the capitalist.

When conceived as a continuous process of exploitation and accumulation of capital, the idea of “decent wages” sounds and is hollow. The idea of “decent wages” completely ignores the whole process of exploitation founded on previous exploitation. Mr. Clarke, practically, by referring to “decent wages,” converts his references to exploitation into mere words, emptied of content. 

What is necessary is to criticize the claims of capitalist society’s own ideologues. From Elena Lange (2021),  Value without Fetish: Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, page 33: 

… Marx was less interested in contrasting the capitalist mode of production with the utopias of socialism, but in contrasting the bourgeois mode of production with its own claims.

Mr. Clarke, despite his nod towards Marx’s theory of exploitation, seems to have little interest in critiquing the claims of the ideologues of employers when he refers to decent wages. 

The Parallel of Decent Work and Decent Wages: The Case of the Social-Democratic International Labour Organization (ILO) 

Mr. Clarke has more in common with the social-democratic rhetoric of the International Labour Organization (ILO) than with any Marxian critique of capitalist society. The ILO talks about “decent work” and the like, and it claims that labour should not be treated as a commodity–but workers need to treat themselves necessarily as commodities, and euphemisms about “decent wages” and “decent work” serve to hide that fact. From Gerry Rodgers, Eddy Lee, Lee Swepston and Jasmien Van Daele (2009),  The International Labour Organization and the Quest for Social Justice, 1919–2009, page 7: 

Key passages from these documents are reproduced in Appendix II. Together, they identify the principles, issues and means of governance that lie at the heart of the ILO ’s work.

Five basic principles can be distinguished in these texts.

  • Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless it is based on social justice, grounded in freedom, dignity, economic security and equal opportunity.
  • Labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity or an article of commerce.
  • There should be freedom of association, for both workers and employers, along with freedom of expression, and the right to collective bargaining.
  • These principles are fully applicable to all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex.
  • Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere, and must be addressed through both national and international action.

These moral and political principles guide the action of the ILO , and provide the cognitive framework for its work – the spectacles through which the ILO sees the world. The first of these, that peace must be based on social justice, has been considered above. It lays out the overriding reason for the existence of the Organization. The second provides the fundamental principle guiding its action. It expresses the dignity of labour and the recognition of its value, in contrast to the Marxian notion that, under capitalism, labour becomes a commodity. In the ILO ’s vision, all forms of work can, if they are adequately regulated and organized, be a source of personal well-being and social integration. Of course, labour is bought and sold, but market mechanisms are subordinate to higher goals. The original 1919 Constitution states that “labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity”. By the time of the Declaration of Philadelphia, the same idea is expressed more strongly: “Labour is not a commodity.”

Labour in Marxian economics is certainly not a commodity, but labour power is–the capacity to work or to use means of production to produce a product. The ILO simply denies that it labour (power) should be a commodity–all the while denying the reality that it is in fact a commodity and must be a commodity if capitalist society is to emerge and to continue to exist. (Of course, unfree forms of labour (so that workers cannot freely choose a particular employer) can exist side by side with free labour–but the existence of free labour power as a commodity is still necessary. It may not be very pleasant to think about the social implications of the necessary existence of labour power as a commodity, but it is necessary to do in order to enable the working class to formulate policies that will more likely enable them to control their own lives by abolishing all class relations. 

Just as the ILO places a veil over the eyes of workers by arguing that labour (power) should not be a commodity–whereas it is necessarily a commodity in a society dominated by a class of employers, with the associated economic, social and political structures–so too do Mr. Clarke’s references to decent wages place a veil over our eyes by implicitly denying that workers are necessarily and continuously exploited. 

I would like to know what Mr. Clarke means by decent wages. Are the wages received by the unionized workers for Magna International, Air Canada, Rogers Communication, Suncor Energy or Telus decent wages? (see various posts that attempt to calculate the rate of exploitation for these unionized workers). If so, how does Mr. Clarke square such a view with the fact of exploitation? If not, then the concept of decent wages has no relevance for workers other than as an ideological cloak for their continued exploitation.

Or are the wages that I received as a brewery worker in the early 1980s decent wages? For example, at the brewery where I worked in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in the collective agreement between the Brewery Employers Industrial Relations Association (BEIRA) (for Carling O’Keefe) and the Western Union of Brewery, Beverage, Winery and Distillery Workers, Local 287, dated April 1, 1980 to March 31, 1983, bottling operators received a base wage of $13.20 on April 1, 1982. Sick pay was 12 days per year, a guaranteed wage plan, life insurance up to $20,000, a long-term disability plan, paid basic Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan, hospital expenses to a maximum, major medical expenses (with a yearly deductible of $10 for an individual and $20 for a family)), a dental plan, etc. In fact, many of the benefits specified by Mr. Clarke in his reference to Dhunna and Bush’s article (“much else beside”) are included in the collective agreement. ,

(I ended up operating a machine, at first part of the soaker from the end where the cleaned bottles come out of the soaker as well as the EBI (electric bottle inspector), and then when there was technological change, just the EBI unit (and maintaining the line going into the filler free of glass).

Did I receive a decent wage? What of the surplus value that had been used in previous rounds of accumulation that were used to further exploit us? Should not these facts be  taken into account when judging whether there is anything like a decent wage? Apparently not. 

Conclusion

Mr. Clarke refers to exploitation and capitalism often enough, but he then conveniently forgets about it when he refers to “decent wages.” Mr. Clarke is anti-neoliberal but not really anti-capitalist–despite the rhetoric to the contrary. A real anti-capitalist perspective would never refer to any wage as decent–or for that matter any work that involves working for an employer as decent work. 

In a follow-up post, I will critically analyze Mr. Clarke’s references to “economic coercion.” I may or may not integrate such  an analysis with a critique of Mr. Clarke’s criticisms of a basic income. 

 

The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada

Introduction

In two others posts 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) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto as well as the rate of exploitation of workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) (see The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto and in Canada ), among others.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

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 hire 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, salaries and benefits).

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.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value of RBC workers is s/v; therefore, s/v is 16,903/13,611=124 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $1.24 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of CIBC bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Royal Bank of Canada worker works 74 minutes (or 1 hour 14 minutes) for free for RBC.

It also means the following:

  1. For a 5.75- hour working day (345 minutes), RBC workers spend 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 191 minutes (3 hours 11 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for CIBC.
  2. For a six-hour working day, follow the same procedures as above, but replace 345 by 360: result: in a 6-hour working day, RBC workers spend 161 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 199 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  3. 7-hour working day: 420 minutes:i n a 7-hour working day, RBC workers spend 188 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 232 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  4. 7.5-hour working day: 450 minutes: in a 7,5-hour working day, RBC workers spend 201 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  5. 8-hour working day: 480 minutes: in an 8-hour working day, RBC workers spend 214 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  6. 10-hour working day: 600 minutes: in a 10-hour working day, RBC workers spend 268 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.

As in the post for the determination of the rate of exploitation of workers at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, I have the same questions for social democrats.

Royal Bank workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract,” “decent wages,” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, 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.

In millions of Canadian dollars:

Total revenue $ 46,002
Provision for credit losses (PCL) 1,864
Insurance policyholder benefits, claims and acquisition expense (PBCAE) 4,085
Non-interest expense 24,139 [add the first three: 1,864+4,085+24,139=30,088; subtract this from 46,002 gives you 15,914)
Income before income taxes 15,914

Provision for credit losses is explained in Investopedia (James Chen (2019) as:

The provision for credit losses (PCL) is an estimation of potential losses that a company might experience due to credit risk. The provision for credit losses is treated as an expense on the company’s financial statements. They are expected losses from delinquent and bad debt or other credit that is likely to default or become unrecoverable. If, for example, the company calculates that accounts over 90 days past due have a recovery rate of 40%, it will make a provision for credit losses based on 40% of the balance of these accounts.

It is an expense in the sense that loans and other financial services may lead to defaults, or it may be due to the decreased value of collateral for such loans and it is an estimate of the loss of revenue due to defaults. It is therefore subtracted from total (or gross) revenue.

RBC issues insurance in various areas, and the category of “PBCAE” reflects expenses associated with fulfilling its obligations in paying out for insurance policies. It too is subtracted from total revenue.

In the annual report, the category of “Non-interest expenses” is subtracted from total revenue, to yield the category “Income before income taxes.” However, to calculate the rate of exploitation according to the principles of Marxian economics, it is necessary to make certain adjustments. To that end, we need to look in more detail at the category “Non-interest expense.”

Non-interest expense (before adjustments)

(Millions of Canadian dollars)
Human resources $ 14,600
Salaries $ 6,600
Variable compensation 5,706
Benefits and retention compensation 1,876
Share-based compensation 418
Equipment 1,777
Occupancy 1,635
Communications 1,090
Professional fees 1,305
Amortization of other intangibles 1,197
Other 2,535
Total non-interest expense $ 24,139

Adjustments

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Adjustment issues are related to the category “Human resources.” The category “Variable compensation” is difficult to determine. Should it be categorized as part of salaries or as part of surplus value? Without more information, it is impossible to tell how much is received due to exploitation of regular bank workers and how much is due to being exploited by management. It can, however, be assumed that some of the compensation is due to the exploitation ow regular bank workers. For example, in the proxy circular of the RBC, it is stated (page 52):

A significant portion of variable compensation (at least 70% for the CEO, at least 65% for members of group executive and at least 40% for other material risk takers) is deferred with a vesting period of three or four years, consistent with our compensation principles and relevant regulatory guidelines.

The guidelines used are based on the Financial Stability Board standards (FSB standards). On page 3 of FSB Principles for Sound Compensation Practices: Implementation Standards (2009), it is stated:

Subdued or negative financial performance of the firm should generally lead to a considerable contraction of the firm’s total variable compensation, taking into account both current compensation and reductions in payouts of amounts previously earned…

Accordingly, as in the case of another Canadian bank (CIBC), I have decided to allocate 10 percent of such variable compensation to surplus value or profit and the rest to wages and benefits.

Of course, I may be wrong. Variable compensation for bank workers could be directly tied to the number of hours worked (just as the level of income varies for workers who work by the piece is tied to the number of hours worked and to the intensity of the work). However, counterarguments (and, perhaps, further data) would have to be provided to justify including it as part of “Human resources.”

On the other hand, the category “Benefits and Retention Compensation” is probably, for the most part, costs for employing bank workers and therefore should be included in calculating variable capital. Benefits include such items as

medical; prescription drug; dental; life and accident insurance; and short-term and long-term
income protection. Employees also have access to a number of health and wellness initiatives including our Employee Care program, which provides 24 hour a day access to information and confidential consultation on a wide range of work/life issues.

The category “Share-based compensation” is limited “to certain key employees and to our non-employee directors.” These are probably not “salaries” as payment for working at RBC but form part of compensation for exploiting the rest of the workers at RBC. Unlike the “Performance-based compensation” category in the case of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), this category seems independent of work-based compensation. Hence, I include “Share-based compensation” as part of surplus value (s).

Treating share-based compensation purely as surplus value increases the total “Income before income taxes” results in a greater level of adjustment than was the case for the calculations for CIBC and TD Bank workers, but it perhaps reflects a more accurate calculation of surplus value obtained since it involves a somewhat more detailed categorization of the distribution of compensation.

I accept the other categories without adjustments (unless someone can provide reasons for adjusting them).

Ten percent of the amount in the category “Variable compensation”(ten percent of 5,706=571)) and “Share-based compensation” (418) are added to the revenue category “Income before income taxes,” (15,914) to yield the following accounts:

Adjusted Results

Income before income taxes (surplus value or s): 16,903

Human resources (total variable capital, or total v) $ 13, 611
Salaries $ 6,600
Variable compensation 5, 135
Benefits and retention compensation 1,876

The Rate of Exploitation of RBC Workers

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value is s/v; therefore, s/v is 16,903/13,611=124 percent.

This means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular bank worker results in $1.24 cn surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of CIBC bank workers). Alternatively, for every hour worked, a Royal Bank of Canada worker works 74 minutes (or 1 hour 14 minutes) for free for RBC.

To translate this into the number of hours RBC workers work free for RBC and how many hours they would have produced an equivalent value to their own cost of production (if they worked in a sector that produced value rather than just transferred it), to it would be necessary to know the length of time that they work per day, or the length of the working day. Unfortunately, I was unable to find that information. Consequently, I used the information I found on the length of the working day for the workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

According to a few people who have worked at CIBC, the length of the working day is:

8 hours a day

Work hours are manageable and flexible. The company is accommodating with every schedule.

They vary – just like it does anywhere.

8 hours in a day, 1 hour for break and lunch.

8-10 hours

I work 7.5 hours each day.

6 – 5.75 hours a day, 4 days a week. for the last 1.5 years

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes rather than hours.

  1. For a 5.75- hour working day (345 minutes), RBC workers spend 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 191 minutes (3 hours 11 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  2. For a six-hour working day, follow the same procedures as above, but replace 345 by 360: result: in a 6-hour working day, RBC workers spend 161 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 199 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  3. 7-hour working day: 420 minutes: in a 7-hour working day, RBC workers spend 188 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 232 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  4. 7.5-hour working day: 450 minutes: in a 7,5-hour working day, RBC workers spend 201 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  5. 8-hour working day: 480 minutes: in an 8-hour working day, RBC workers spend 214 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.
  6. 10-hour working day: 600 minutes: in a 10-hour working day, RBC workers spend 268 minutes to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes in obtaining a surplus value or profit for RBC.

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, bank workers, as well as sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as CIBC to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

As in the post for the determination of the rate of exploitation of workers at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, I have the same questions for social democrats.

RBC workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract,” “decent wages” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.



The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank), One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada

Introduction

In two others posts 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) and the twenty largest employers in Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. I also calculated the rate of exploitation of workers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) (see ???).

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 hire 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, salaries and benefits).

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 and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them.

We have the following:

Adjusted income before income taxes=s= $13,570
Adjusted total salaries and employee benefits=v=$10,997

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value of Toronto Dominion Bank workers is =s/v=13,570/10,997=123 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that is equivalent to her/his wage, a worker at TD Bank works around an additional 74 minutes for free for TD Bank. Alternatively, this means that, in terms of money, $1 of wage or salary of a regular TD Bank worker results in $1.23 surplus value or profit for free (calculated on the basis of the procedure outlined in the post on the rate of exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce bank workers).

It also means the following (I use minutes as well as hours):

  1. For a 6.5 hour working day (390 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 174 minutes (2 hours 54 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 216 minutes (3 hours 36 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  2. For a 7.5 hour working day (450 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 201 minutes (3 hours 21 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes (4 hours 9 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  3. For an 8-hour working day (480 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 214 minutes (3 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes (4 hours 26 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  4. For an 8.5 hour working day (510 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 228 minutes (3 hours 48 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 282 minutes (4 hours 42 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  5. For a 9-hour working day (540 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 241 minutes (4 hours 1 minute) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 299 minutes (4 hours 59 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  6. For a 10-hour working day (600 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 268 minutes (4 hours 28 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes (5 hours 32 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  7. For a 17-hour working day (1020 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 455 minutes (7 hours 35 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 565 minutes (9 hours 25 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.

TD Bank workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The annual report has both statistics on revenue and expenses, but there are also reported statistics in the annual report modified by an adjustment that is specific to the Toronto Dominion Bank; the adjustment in the annual report is not a standard adjustment. I have omitted any reference to such an adjustment since it would probably make the posts on the rate of exploitation in other posts less comparable.

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps.

In millions of Canadian dollars:

page 15:

(millions of Canadian dollars, except where noted) 2019
Results of operations
Total revenues $ 41,065
Provision for credit losses $3,029
Insurance claims and related expenses $2,787
Non-interest expenses $22,020
Income before income taxes and equity in net income of an investment in TD Ameritrade $13,229

Page 23:

NON-INTEREST EXPENSES

Salaries and employee benefits
Salaries $ 6,879
Incentive compensation 2,724
Pension and other employee benefits 1,641
Total salaries and employee benefits 11,244

Occupancy
Rent 944
Depreciation and impairment losses 405
Other 486
Total occupancy 1,835

Equipment
Rent 245
Depreciation and impairment losses 200
Other 720
Total equipment 1,165

Amortization of other intangibles 800
Marketing and business development 769
Restructuring charges 175
Brokerage-related fees 336
Professional and advisory services 1,322
Other expenses 4,374 }

Total expenses $ 22,020

Adjustments

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Before entering into the issue of adjustments according to Marxian theory, however, it is necessary to address one of the categories that I did not include in the above calculation. It is a reference to Income before income taxes and equity in net income of an investment in TD Ameritrade,” which is equal to the $13.229 billion reported above. The inclusion of the term “equity” seems to refer to assets, but the following led me to believe that it was referring to net income rather than to assets as such (https://seekingalpha.com/news/3507506-td-bank-expects-230m-net-income-from-td-ameritrade-in-q4):

TD Bank expects ~$230M net income from TD Ameritrade in Q4

TD Bank Group (NYSE:TDexpects TD Ameritrade’s fiscal Q4 net earnings to translate to ~C$301M (~US$230M) reported equity in net income of an investment in fiscal Q4.

I therefore leave the category “Income before income taxes and equity in net income of an investment in TD Ameritrade” as is, except that I shorten it now to just “Income before income taxes.”

In the annual report, the category of “Non-interest expense” is subtracted from total revenue, to yield the category “Income before income taxes.” However, to calculate the rate of exploitation according to the principles of Marxian economics, it is necessary to make certain adjustments. To that end, we need to look in more detail at the category “Non-interest expense.”

In the category “Salary and employee benefits,” there is the subcategory “Incentive compensation.” A one-page TD document indicates what this involves for all employees:

TD’s Approach to Compensation

TD provides employees with a comprehensive total rewards package that includes a combination of base salary, incentive compensation, benefits, and retirement and savings plan

Further, for executives:

Executive Compensation

We have a balanced approach to executive compensation that is intended to attract, retain and motivate high-performing executives to create sustainable value for shareholders over the long term. … This compensation is tied to the bank’s share price and promotes decision-making that is in
the best long-term interests of the bank and its stakeholders.

There is thus additional compensation called incentive compensation, but the issue is whether such additional compensation is a result of workers being exploited or exploiting workers.

As I wrote in the post on the exploitation of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) workers:

Most employees, whether executive or not, seem to be eligible to some support of bonus as a function of performance. However, the gap between executive pay and the pay of regular employees has widened over the years, so it is reasonable to infer that the category “Performance-based compensation” is divided into two parts: one part is a function of the number of hours worked by regular employees as well as the intensity of that work; the other is based on the extent to which bank managers and senior executives are successful in exploiting those regular employees.

Without further information, it is impossible to determine the proportion that is derived from exploiting bank workers and being exploited. I will assume, as I did in the case of the CIBC, that 10 percent of the “Incentive compensation” originates from the exploitation of TD bank workers. This 10 percent is equal to $247 million and must be subtracted from the subcategory “Total salaries and employee benefits” and added to the category “Income before income taxes.”

Another expense category is also relevant for making adjustments–the category “Rent.” The rent of buildings, like the rent of equipment, is an expense both at the level of the firm and at the level of the economy as a whole. However, in the case of occupancy, rent also includes the capitalized value of land, and this capitalized value of land is derived from surplus value (see Jorden Sandemose (2018), Class and Property in Marx’s Economic Thought: Exploring the Basis for Capitalism). Again, without further information, it is impossible to tell or determine the proportion that is paid for the rental of buildings and the rental of land. I will assume that 10 percent of rent is due to the exclusive ownership of land (a non-produced means of production). This 10 percent is equal to $94 million and must be subtracted from the subcategory and added to the category “Income before income taxes.”

Adding $94 million to $247 million gives $341 million.

“Income before income tax” must thus be increased by $341 million, and “Total salaries and employee benefits” must be decreased by $247 million.

This gives us the following:

Adjusted Results

Adjusted income before income taxes $13,570
Adjusted total salaries and employee benefits $10,997

The Rate of Exploitation of TD Bank Workers

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Income before income taxes” to “Total salaries and employee benefits.” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=13,570; v=10,997. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=13,570/10,997=123 percent.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at TD Bank works around an additional 74 minutes for free for TD Bank.

According to a few people who have worked at TD Bank, the length of the working day is:

I worked 7.5 hrs each day, some overtime is required. but not so often.

I normally am scheduled to work 8 1/2 hours a day Monday to Thursday. On fridays i am scheduled for 6 1/2.

It depends on the activity but can vary from 10 hours to 17+ hours

8 hours a day

Nine hours

I will calculate the division of the working day from the shortest to the longest in the above quotes accordingly. I use minutes rather than hours.

  1. For a 6.5 hour working day (390 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 174 minutes (2 hours 54 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 216 minutes (3 hours 36 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  2. For a 7.5 hour working day (450 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 201 minutes (3 hours 21 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 249 minutes (4 hours 9 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  3. For an 8-hour working day (480 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 214 minutes (3 hours 34 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 266 minutes (4 hours 26 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  4. For an 8.5 hour working day (510 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 228 minutes (3 hours 48 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 282 minutes (4 hours 42 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  5. For a 9-hour working day (540minutes), TD Bank workers spend 241 minutes (4 hours 1 minute) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 299 minutes (4 hours 59 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  6. For a 10-hour working day (600 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 268 minutes (4 hours 28 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 332 minutes (5 hours 32 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.
  7. For a 17-hour working day (1020 minutes), TD Bank workers spend 455 minutes (7 hours 35 minutes) to obtain their wage for the day, and they spend 565 minutes (9 hours 25 minutes) in obtaining a surplus value or profit for TD Bank.

It should be noted that I have used the verb “obtain” rather than “produce.” In Marxian economics, bank workers, as well as sales workers do not produce surplus value but rather transfer the surplus value already produced. This does not mean that these workers are not exploited capitalistically; they are used impersonally by the employer to obtain surplus value and a profit. Furthermore, things produced by others are used by employers such as TD Bank to control their working lives in order to obtain surplus value or profit.

TD Bank workers do not belong to a union. Would their becoming unionized turn their situation into one where they had a “fair contract” and “decent work?” I think not. Unions can limit exploitation and can control some aspects of their working lives, but in principle workers are things to be used by employers even with unions. This does not mean that a non-unionized environment is the same as a unionized environment. With unions that are independent of particular employers, that is to say, are real unions, there is an opportunity for workers to develop organizations of resistance against the power of particular employers.

The ideology of unions–that somehow they can produce a “fair contract” and “decent work”–needs, though, to be constantly criticized. Workers deserve better than the acceptance of such ideology by the left.

Striking Brewery Workers and a Fair Deal or Contract (Collective Agreement): The Impossible Dream

I thought it might be useful to paste a short conservation I had on Facebook concerning locked-out brewery workers:

February 26 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

 

Thank you to everyone who has shown support for us during this lockout.
As essential workers, we were pretty shocked to be put out on the street since bargaining was progressing. Your solidarity is very important to us and will help us get back to the table with Molson Coors to negotiate a fair deal[my emphasis] for all of our members.

 

Keep the solidarity coming!

 

What is a fair deal? How can any collective agreement express a fair deal when workers (including brewery workers) are used as things for other people’s benefits?

 

 

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Author
Fred Harris

 i hear you, a fair deal would be a planned economy and a transition to socialism, but workers need means to keep from pauperization between revolutionary upsurges. I would also tend to think worker associations would still be relevant in a communist society to advocate for specific industries and sectors. But you are definitely hitting on something.

The issue is not that workers need to construct organizations of defense against the rapacious and oppressive power of employers; of course they need to do so. The issue is: Why is it that the reps in such defensive organizations time after time then turn around and claim that defensive measures (such as a collective agreement) are then idealized by claiming that all workers want is a fair contract.
On my blog recently, I posted a collection of quotes from CUPE reps that claimed that collective agreements were fair. I will, in the future, find and post similar claims by the next largest union–Unifor.

 

Socialists need to constantly criticize such idealization of collective agreements since fairness cannot be achieved in such terms.; it is an illusion.

 

Collective agreements are, certainly, in general better than no collective agreement–but fairness is not one of their characteristics.

 

Unless of course the implicit or explicit management clause is also fair–which requires workers to follow orders and transfer some of their decision-making power to the employer and reps of the employer. I have also provided on my blog many examples of management clauses that specify the general power of management in relation to work and workers.