The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bombardier, 2018, One of the Largest Private Employers in Quebec and in Toronto, Ontario: Or: How Unionized Jobs are Not Decent or Good

Introduction

In two others posts I presented a list of some of the largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada)  and Quebec (see  A Short List of the Largest Employers in Quebec According to the Number of Employees). 

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers in various companies for these two areas, including  Air Canada  (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada) and the Royal Bank of Canada (Banque Royale du Canada)  (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). 

Bombardier, the aircraft manufacturer, is also on both lists for Toronto and Quebec. I will calculate the rate of exploitation for this capitalist company not only for this reason. In the documentary Company Town, one worke Jennifer Akkermanr, who was going to lose her job at the General Motors (GM) plant in Oshawa when it was to close on December 18, 2019) indicated that she liked her job when working for GM but that she was going to work for Bombardier. I calculated, using fairly rough data, the rate of exploitation of GM workers in order to show that workers who claim that they enjoy their jobs at GM, in effect (even if they are unconscious of it) are claiming that they enjoy their exploitative jobs at GM. 

I thought it appropriate to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers to see to what extent the rates of exploitation of workers at GM and at Bombardier differed, if at all. 

I used data from 2018 rather than 2019 to calculate the rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers because, in 2019, there seemed to be no calculable rate of exploitation since in 2019 there was an actual profit loss. Unless there are specific reasons for including abnormal years, it is better to calculate the rate of exploitation using more normal data. Besides, any company that operates at a constant loss by failing to exploit workers will cease to exist after a certain period of time.

Of course, if the rate of exploitation is calculated for a number of years, then losses need to be included. I have not found any books or articles that deal with how to handle such losses in calculating the rate of exploitation for such a year. It is, in any case, probably better to include such years in a multi-year calculation of the rate of exploitation in order to gain a more accurate view of the rate of exploitation in the medium- and long-term. Perhaps some readers can provide suggestions on how to do so. 

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.

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. 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 unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “”fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One and  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for this rhetoric of the largest unions in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and  Unifor) , “fair wages” 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 workers’ 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? Do the left? 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 (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in 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?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

Comparison of the Rate of Exploitation of Bombardier Workers to the Rate of Exploitation of Other Workers

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. From the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). Higher rates of exploitation mean, among other things, that the need to work for a certain relative proportion of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers in order to produce the value of the workers’ consumer goods (means of consumption). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of
Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, 177-19  page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold. 

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 

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.

In the case of Bombardier, I have had some difficulty in reconciling numbers related to interest. I will show this below. 

But first, let us look at the general calculation: 

Surplus Value (Profit)

EBIT: Earnings before interest and taxes (or: Profitability: Revenues-Costs or Expenses) 
Revenues$ 16,236
Cost of sales 13,958
Gross margin 2,278 [16,236-13,958]
SG&A (Selling, General and Administrative Expenses) 1,156
R&D (Research and Development) 217
Share of income of joint ventures and associates (66)
Other expense (income)  (58)
EBIT before Special Items (Earnings before Interest and taxes) (2) 1,029 [2,278-1156-217+66+58=1029]
Special items 28
EBIT 1001 (1029-28=1001) 

Non-adjustment of EBT by Excluding Special Items from the Calculation

Clarification of the nature of the category “Special Items” in the Annual Report is as follows: 

Special items

Special items comprise items which do not reflect our core performance or where their separate presentation will assist users in understanding our results for the period. Such items include, among others, the impact of restructuring charges and significant impairment charges and reversals.

There exists several items in this category. To go over each item and decide whether it should be excluded or included (without further information) seems an exercise for those with accounting skills–I invite them to provide a rational for including any or all of the items; I exclude the category in its entirety from the calculation. 

Consequently, so far the EBIT is 1,001. Now, particular employers treat the need to pay interest as an expense–which it is from the point of view of the particular employer. Accordingly, there is an additional category: EBT, or Earnings Before Taxes: 

EBT (Earnings before taxes)
Interest
Financing expense 712
Financing income (106) [This is actual income received and hence is in parentheses since it is not really an expense but the opposite and must be subtracted from “Financing expense”.)
Net financing expense 606 (712-106=606)
EBT (Earnings before taxes) (EBIT (1001)-Net financing expense (606)) 395

Adjustments

I will treat, theoretically, the two categories “Financing expense” and “Financing income” separately, and only then will I make the necessary adjustements. 

Financing Expense

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). When they are expenses at the macro level of the class of employers and not just at the micro level of the particular employer, 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.

For example, interest is such a category. 

As I wrote in another post: 

As explained in another post, interest in many instances can be treated as part of the surplus value produced and therefore added to net income since, although from the point of view of the individual capitalist it is an expense, from the capitalist economy as a whole it is derived from the production of surplus value. 

Accordingly, it is EBIT and not EBT that should form the basis for determining the surplus value produced since interest is derived from surplus value–although it is an expense from the point of view of the particular employer. 

Financing Income 

The category “Financing Income” is income that is a result of, among other things, investment in securities. Since, as I explained in the post on the rate of exploitation of General Motors workers,

Since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded.

Accordingly, the amount included in this category does indeed need to be subtracted from EBIT since it is surplus value arising from the exploitation of workers other than Bombardier workers. 

Temporary Adjusted Earnings Before Income Taxes 895 (1001-106)

Further adjustments of EBIT must await the calculation of variable capital, or the total cost of producing the commodity labour power, or the capacity of labour power.

Variable Capital

Presumably, the following data form part of the category “Cost of Sales.” 

EMPLOYEE BENEFIT COSTS
Wages, salaries and other employee benefits $ 4,919 
Retirement benefits 464 
Share-based expense 74
Restructuring, severance and other involuntary termination costs 46 
Total $ 5,503

To explain the nature of the category “Share-based expenses.” it is first necessary to indicate the word form of the acronyms PSU, RSU and DSU:

PSU Performance share unit
RSU Restricted share unit
DSU Deferred share unit

The annual report indicates the nature of these: 

SHARE-BASED PLANS

PSU, DSU and RSU plans
The Board of Directors of the Corporation approved a PSU and a RSU plan under which PSUs and RSUs may be granted to executives and other designated employees. The PSUs and the RSUs give recipients the right, upon vesting, to receive a certain number of the Corporation’s Class B Shares (subordinate voting). The RSUs also give certain recipients the right to receive a cash payment equal to the value of the RSUs. The Board of Directors of the Corporation has also approved a DSU plan under which DSUs may be granted to senior officers. The DSU plan is similar to the PSU plan, except that their exercise can only occur upon retirement or termination of employment. 

It seems clear that the money allocated to the category is limited to select employees–unlike some annual reports, where it was unclear whether regular workers had access to share-based programs or not (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). The reasoning for including some (if not all) of it as part of surplus value is that this compensation is not mainly for the coordination of the work of others but for the exploitation of others–it is pure surplus value. 

If it was unclear whether the category was limited to those who exploit other workers, I merely calculated 10 percent of the total as forming surplus value, leaving 90 percent to form part of variable capital. In the case of Bombardier, though, the total amount of 74 million seems to be earmarked exclusively for key employees who exploit other workers. 

Accordingly, it is necessary to subtract 74 from “Employee benefit costs” and add it to EBIT: 

Adjusted EBIT or Surplus Value (Profit) 969 (895+74)
Temporarily Adjusted Employee benefit costs (variable capital, v) 5,429 (5,503-74)

Further Adjustment of Variable Capital (Wages and Benefits)

There is a list of items in the category “Other expense (income).” One of the items needs to be shifted to be included in the calculation of variable capital:

“Severance and other involuntary termination costs (including changes in estimates)” 3.

Since the shift is within the general category of “Expenses,” it does not affect the calculation of surplus value and hence profit; the category “Cost of sales” would increase by 3, from 13,958 to 13,961, and the category “Other expense (income)  (58)” would decrease by 3, from (58) to 55, with the result that the EBIT would not change. 

However, it does affect the calculation of variable capital and hence the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation. We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value.

Final Calculation (Based on Adjustments) of Surplus Value, Variable Capital (Salaries or Wages and Benefits) and the Rate of Surplus Value 

The result of all of these adjustments is: 

Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT $969 million
Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs $5,432 billion

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to divide “Surplus value (s) or Adjusted EBIT” by “Variable capital (v) or Adjusted Employee benefit costs.” 

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=969/5,432=18%. 

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Bombardier works around an additional 11 minutes for free for Bombardier.

In an 8-hour (480 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 6 hours 47 minutes (407 minutes) and works 1 hour 13 minutes (73 minutes) for free for Bombardier. 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 unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8.67 hour or 8-hour 40 minutes (520 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 19minutes (79 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 9-hour (540 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 38 minutes (458 minutes) and works 1 hour 22 minutes (82 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In an 10-hour (600 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 8 hours 28 minutes (508 minutes) and works 1 hour 32 minutes (92  minutes) for free for Bombardier.

In a 10.67 -hour or 10-hour 40 minutes (640 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 9 hours 2 minutes (542 minutes) and works 1 hour 38 minutes (98  minutes) for free for Bombardier
In a 12-hour (720 minutes) work day, the worker produces her/his wage in 7 hours 21 minutes (610 minutes) and works 1 hour 50  minutes (110 minutes) for free for Bombardier.

I have used the lengths of the working day as 8, 8.67, 9, 10, 10.67 and 12  because the length of the working day varies. According to different sources:

Working hours are 8:00am – 4:40pm

12hr shifts

The hours that I worked were from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Friday Saturday & Sunday and possibly coming in 2 hours early on Saturday & Sunday and or possibly staying late Friday thru Sunday depending whether or not we had a customer who had to leave early or late in the evening.

8-9 hours per day.

8 to 10 hours a day

I worked eight hours a day

The 2019-2022 collective agreement between Bombardier and Unifor Local 62 states:

ARTICLE 14 WORK SCHEDULES

14.01 The Employer determines the use of the different work schedules provided in article 14.08 according to the operational needs.

14.02 Unless otherwise stipulated in this Agreement, the normal work week is forty (40) hours.

14.03 The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-A and 1-B) is of forty (40) hours distributed on five (5) consecutive days of eight (8) hours from Monday to Friday

The work week for employees on the first (1st) shift (schedule 1-C and D) is of forty (40) hours distributed over four (4) consecutive days of ten (10) hours from Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday

… 

14.05 The work week for employees on the third (3rd) shift (schedule 3) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on four (4) consecutive nights of nine (9) hours from Monday night to Friday morning, paid as forty (40) hours.

… 

14.06 The work week for employees on the weekend day shift (schedule 4-A et 4-B) is of thirty-six (36) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive days of twelve (12) hours, as follows: Saturday, Sunday and Friday Saturday, Sunday and Monday, paid for forty-two (42) hours.

… 

14.07 The work week for employees on the weekend night shift (schedule 5) if of thirty-two (32) hours, distributed on three (3) consecutive evenings as follows: twelve (12) hours on Saturday and Sunday, and eight (8) hours on Friday [32 hours divided by 3=10.67 hours or 10 hours 40 minutes]. The employees are paid for forty (40) hours including the night premium.

Political Considerations and Conclusion 

Again, the rate of exploitation measures the extent to which workers work for free, producing all the surplus value and hence all the profit for employers. However, even during the time when they work to produce their own wage, they are hardly free. They are subject to the power and dictates of their employer during that time as well. 

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 (2019-2022) BETWEEN Bombardier Inc. hereinafter referred to as “the Employer” AND Unifor

ARTICLE 3 MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

3.01 No provision of the Collective Agreement shall be interpreted as limiting the Employer in any way in the exercise of its management functions. These functions are performed in a manner consistent with all the provisions of this Agreement. It is the function of the Employer to administer and manage the company and lead the workforce. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, its rights and functions include:

a) The responsibility for the management, operation, extension and curtailment of business and operations; the authority to direct, transfer, promote, demote, discipline and discharge employees for proper cause; the right to organize and supervise the work to be performed by the employees, to direct them in the course of their work, to maintain discipline, order and efficiency, to determine the products to be manufactured and their design, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing and operating, the type and location of machines and tools to be used, to determine production standards and the type and quality of materials to be used in manufacturing. Notwithstanding the above, these rights and functions do not prevent any employee who considers himself to have been unfairly treated to lodge a grievance in accordance with the provisions stated in 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?” A “decent job?” A “good job?” All other such platitudes? 

The collective agreement fosters the illusion that the workers are paid for the whole working day. Workers may indeed receive more wages under certain circumstances, but that means that the cost of production of their capacity for working for an employer increases (perhaps due to an accelerated use of their labour power). This consideration, however, is irrelevant here since the total wages, salaries and benefits is what matters, and any increase in v due to such considerations are included in the data.

Comparison of Rates of Exploitation 

The rate of exploitation of Bombardier workers is quite low relative to other workers (see the comparison of the rate of exploitaiton of various sets of workers in The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Although there are other factors or determinants in establishing whether a private-sector employer is viable or not, a relatively low rate of exploitation is certainly one possible indication of its possible bankruptcy; there is little wonder that in 2019 Bombardier faced a loss of profit. Its efforts to restructure itself as a consequence undoubtedly involved possible attempts to increase the rate of exploitation. Perhaps a comparison of the 2018 rate and the 2022 or 2023 rate of exploitation would be appropriate at some point to see if such restructuring is reflected in an increased rate of exploitation. 

In relation to the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers, Bombardier workers are exploited less since the rate of exploitation of GM workers is 40 percent. Does that mean that Bombardier workers experience substantially more freedom than GM workers? Hardly. Higher rates of exploitation mean that the need to work for a certain length of the working day is relatively unnecessary when compared to another set of workers from the point of view of the continued existence of the workers at a certain standard of living (it does not mean that the standard of living that they receive is adequate). 

A low rate of exploitation means that the particular employer may be threatened with bankruptcy–and hence the workers may be threatened with unemployment. From Nick Potts (2009), “Trying to Help Rescue Value for Everyone,” in pages 177-199, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 37, Issue Number 2, page 192: 

Clearly if exploitation were to drop too low a crisis of profitability would occur.

This is hardly in their own immediate or short-term interests since they, in general need to work for an employer if they are to continue to live at a certain standard of living, This is a dilemma which private-sector workers and unions face (and, indirectly, public-sector workers and their unions) since attempts to change working conditions (such as the level of intensity or the length of the working day)  and pay may well have negative effects on the rate of exploitaiton and the rate of profit, leading to bankruptcy. Workers cannot resolve such dilemmas without challenging the class power of employers–and unions cannot either, despite all the chatter of “fair contracts,” “decent wages,” “good jobs,” “decent work,” and other such cliches. 

On the other hand, a high rate of exploitation does not mean that workers’s immediate interests are somehow met. In addition to having a greater proportion of labour or work going to the employer relative to the worker, the higher rate of exploitation may imply greater unemployment for workers since the issue of how this high rate of exploitation is achieved arises. If it arises due to massive increases in investment in constant capital relative to variable capital (and thereby increased in the productivity of labour), it may well occur that workers may become unemployed as the proportion of relative investment in c crowds out investment in v. 

Nonetheless, in the short term, a higher rate of exploitation in a particular company may initially result in somewhat stable employment as the company may be able to compete more effectively against other capitalist companies. To that extent, Jennifer Akkerman’s reference to ‘loving her job’ may contain a grain of truth–short-term employment stability. 

Alternatively, if the higher rate of exploitation occurs more or less throughout the economy, the workers who produce consumer goods (such as cars and trucks, as do GM workers), may find themselves unemployed as the commodities they produce remain unsold.

From Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts, “The Long Roots of the Present Crisis: Keynesians, Austerians, and Marx’s Law,” in World in Crisis: A Global Analysis of Marx’s Law of Profitability. Edited by Carchedit and Roberts: 

The question is whether an increase in the rate of profit due to a sufficiently high rate of exploitation is a step toward recovery.

A recovery presupposes the rise in the new value generated within the context of a rising ARP [average rate of profit]. A pro-capital distribution of value within the context of a falling ARP can revive the ARP, but this does not denote a recovery. This higher profitability hides the decreasing production of value and surplus value—that is, it hides the deterioration of the economy.

A more detailed way to approach this is is by considering the two basic sectors of the economy. Sector 1 produces means of production [Bombardier primarily belongs to this sector since it produces jets] , and sector 2 produces means of consumption [GM primarly produces in this sector–although a smaller proporition of vehicle production undoubtedly serves as means of production as well]. If one or both sectors innovate, usually the OCC rises and the ARP falls. All sectors realize tendentially the same, but lower, rate of profit. The capitalists might react to the lower ARP by lowering the level of wages, that is, by increasing the rate of exploitation across the board. This upsets the initial tendential equalization of the profit rates. But this equalization presupposes full realization [full sale of the commodities produced], which is impossible if stopping or reversing the fall in the ARP is to be achieved by raising the rate of exploitation.

Suppose wages are reduced by the same percentage, Δ symbol for a change in something], both in sector 1 and in sector 2, represented by the equation –Δv1 = –Δv2 [the percentage change decrease in variable capital is the same in both sectors 1 and 2]. Then, sector 1 gains Δs1 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δs1 [sic–which means that the quoter quotes exactly as written despite a possible error in the original: this should be the negative percentage change in v1]) [the percentage change increase in surplus value in sector 1 . Sector 2 on the one hand gains Δs2 (corresponding to the fall in wages, –Δv2) but on the other loses –(Δs1 + Δs2), the loss due to the unsold means of consumption to the workers both of sector 1 and of sector 2 [sector 2 loses because the levels of v1 and v2 have decreased with the result that they cannot purchase means of consumption equal to their loss]. On balance, sector 2 loses –Δs1, which is sector 1’s gain. Means of consumption for a value of Δs1 are unsold. This is overproduction in sector 2.

The ARP is unchanged (what is lost by one sector is gained by the other), but the two rates of profit differ: that in sector 1 has risen by Δs1, while that in sector 2 has fallen by the same quantity. The greater the fall in wages, the greater the fall of profitability in sector 2. This spells crisis in sector 2. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises. But this is not a sign of recovery in that sector. Sector 1’s rate of profit rises not because more value and surplus value is produced in it, but because surplus value is appropriated from sector 2 within the context of a hidden fall in the ARP. Wage cuts can, at most, postpone the crisis.

(I have some doubts about the theoretical accuracy of the above quote. The assumption of equal percentage increases in s and equal percentage decreases in v seems to assume a 100 percent rate of exploitation; if, however, the rate of exploitation is, say, 400 percent, s:v=4:1, so if s is 100, v is 25. If s increases in percentage terms by 25% to 125, a decrease in percentage terms of v by 25 percent is 6.25 (25 percent of 25 is 6.25). I will leave the issue to those who are better equipped in mathematics to determine its accuracy. Perhaps others can enlighten us by providing critical commentary.)

It is ironic that it may be in the workers’ short-term interests to want a high rate of exploitation in order to achieve some form of employment stability; that this may clash with their long-term interests does not change the situation. The dilemma of not being exploited at all and being unemployed, of being highly exploited with some employment stabiity and being little exploited (but still oppressed) with the threat of unemployment hanging over workers’ heads hardly makes for a “good job” or “fair contracts.” 

Conclusion

It is time to challenge unions that persistently present, unconsciously if not concsiously, claims that they can somehow achieve any fair settlement, whether wages or working conditions, and whether through legislation or through collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement. Thus, should not leftists persistently criticize such views as the following (

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-bombardier-aviation-851709617.html):

TORONTOJuly 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor Local 112 and 673 have reached a tentative agreement with Bombardier Aviation. “I would like to congratulate the Local 112 and 673 bargaining teams for their hard work and dedication throughout these negotiations,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Reaching a settlement with Bombardier brings us one step closer to resolving the labour dispute at Downsview. Our union can now focus all of its efforts on reaching an agreement with De Havilland.”

The three-year agreements cover approximately 1,500 union members employed by Bombardier Aviation at the Downsview plant.

“We could not have reached a fair settlement that addresses the union’s key priorities at Bombardier without the support and solidarity of our members throughout the bargaining process and on the picket lines,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. [my emphasis]

Have you ever read any justification by union reps for such terms as a “fair settlement,” “fair contract,” “fair collective agreement,” ‘fair wages,” and so forth? If not, why not? 

Should not union reps be obliged to answer such questions? 


Company Town: A Critical Review of a Documentary on the Closing of the Oshawa Plant by General Motors (GM), Part One: Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222

Introduction

The documentary (https://gem.cbc.ca/media/cbc-docs-pov/s04e05?cmp=sch-company%20town)  presents the situation in Oshawa, Ontario, where General Motors (GM) decided to close its plant. GM had operated in Oshawa for  around a century. On November 16, 2018, GM announced that it was closing the plant, throwing around 2,500 direct workers out of work and affecting thousands more indirectly (through the elimination of demand for parts as well as the multiplier effect the closing would have on the demand for workers in Oshawa locally and Ontario regionally). The factory closed on December 18, 2019. 

Colin James was president of Local 222 of Unifor, the union that represented the workers at GM; Unifor is the largest Canadian union of workers in the private sector. 

Before the shutdown, we read such things as the following: 

  1. From  https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-lands-gm-truck-program-in-auto-parts-sector-621777743.html, dated May 9, 2017: 

Unifor Lands GM Truck Program in Auto Parts Sector


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Unifor 

May 09, 2017, 14:18 ET

… 

“The new contract addresses needs for the workers, the company and the community. This demonstrates the power of the union to secure a future for good jobs in Canada,” said President of Local 222 Colin James.

2. From   https://www.hrreporter.com/focus-areas/labour-relations/unifor-delivers-strike-mandate-to-lear-corporation-in-ajax-ont/296101, dated April 24, 2018: 

“Unifor is seeking to eliminate the current pay disparity in the seat-manufacturing sector,” said Colin James, Unifor local president. “It’s our hope that a strike can be avoided, but the clock is running out for the employer to come to the table with a fair offer.” [my emphasis] 

3. After the announcement by GM that it was closing the Oshawa plant, we read the following (from https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/more-200-unifor-activists-storm-canadian-auto-show  , dated February 17, 2019 ): 

More than 200 Unifor activists storm Canadian Auto Show

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TORONTO – Visitors to the Canadian Auto Show in Toronto this weekend were greeted by Unifor members and encouraged to join Unifor’s campaign to boycott GM vehicles made in Mexico.

More than 200 workers and retirees from the Oshawa Assembly Plant, and feeder plants Lear, Inteva and other Unifor units showed up at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Saturday wearing #SaveOshawaGM t-shirts.

“I am so proud of these fearless activists who will stop at nothing in the fight to convince GM it is not too late to reverse its plans for the Oshawa plant,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

“Sell here? Build here!” chanted the group of Unifor workers and retirees, as they raised awareness in the middle of GM’s display. “We will not give up and we will not be intimidated by GM or anyone else.

That is why we held a mini rally right where GM would take notice, in the heart of the auto show,” said Colin James, President, Local 222.

Activists also handed out leaflets that explain how to support the union’s efforts to stop the closure of the Oshawa Assembly plant and save 24 thousand good Canadian jobs. [my emphasis]

Canadian consumers are urged to pledge to boycott all GM vehicles made in Mexico but signing up at SaveOshawaGM.

More photos are available here on Unifor Canada’s Facebook Album.

For more information, please contact Unifor Director of Communications Natalie Clancy at Natalie.Clancy@unifor.org or 416-707-5794 (cell).

 

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Although Mr. James does not explicitly express the view that the Oshawa jobs are “good jobs,” it is probable that he accepts such a view–given the context and the other statements that he has made. 

4. From  https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/unifor-members-take-action-gm-headquarters-oshawa , dated  January 23, 2019  : 

“The solidarity shown today proves once again, Unifor members are united in our resistance to corporate greed,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222. [my emphasis] “This union is a family. We are fiercely united in our support of one another, and of the Oshawa auto community.”

The idea of resistance to “corporate greed” sounds very radical. However, is it not in the very nature of GM, like any other private employer, to pursue–more money? Is not  The Money Circuit of Capital  an accurate description of the general purpose and movement of investment by employers? Is not capitalist greed inherent in the nature  of present society? 

What Mr. James seems to object to is not this normal greed but the apparently abnormal greed that involves the closing down of the Oshawa plant. Otherwise, why would he not have complained about “corporate greed” earlier? He apparently does not object to normal corporate greed, but only corporate greed that leads to the shutting down of factories. Indeed, in the documentary, Mr. James stated that when he found out about the closing by watching CP24, he was stunned.

To be fair to Mr. James, he might have meant that it was the way he found out that stunned him. If, however, he meant that he was stunned because of the actual closing of the factory, then it would seem that he failed to understand the nature of capitalist operations–despite being a union representative for workers who work for a capitalist organization. Closure of operations occur all the time if they are not considered sufficiently profitable. (I quit the brewery in Calgary, where I worked, in 1983. It closed down in 1994, and it remains closed to this day.) 

5. From  https://www.unifor.org/news/all-news/auto-parts-workers-hold-solidarity-rally-and-picnic-oshawa  , dated August 15, 2019: 

Auto parts workers hold solidarity rally and picnic in Oshawa

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On August 10, hundreds of members of Unifor Locals 222, 444, and 1090 as well as members of the general public, gathered at Memorial Park in Oshawa for a rally and picnic in solidarity with independent auto parts supplier workers facing plant closures and ongoing negotiations of restructuring agreements.

The family-friendly event featured live music, entertainment, and a public address from Unifor Local 222 President Colin James, Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi, Oshawa Member of Provincial Parliament Jennifer French, and Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley.

“This rally brought together Unifor members, elected officials, and the public in solidarity with the 1,700 women and men who deserve fair and just severance [my emphasis] for their years of hard work and sacrifice,” said Colin James, Unifor Local 222 President. “All of us need to come together and stay strong as we use every tool available to us to get the best possible deal for auto parts supplier workers.”

We of course should not criticize any effort to obtain “the best possible deal for auto parts supplier workers”–or for other workers, for that matter. In the case of job loss, the situation can be devastating for many workers.

However, what is “fair and just severance?” Why does GM have the right to separate GM workers from the use of the factory? Is not the right of GM to do that unfair? If so, how can Mr. James talk of “fair and just severance?” Is this not to take the right of GM to make the decision to stop production (based on the criterion of profitability) as “fair and just?” Why not question this right and criticize its fairness? 

But this is just what unions fail to do. They assume that the employer-employee relation is somehow “fair and just,” and that contracts or “deals” can somehow make everything all right. Tell that to the thousands of workers, some of whom probably lost their jobs for almost two years (GM announced on November 4, 2020 that it would be reopening the plant, but the first Silverado truck rolled off the line on November 10, 2021). 

I will deal with Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor national, in another post. 

Conclusion

Employers generally have the right to shut down plants (or offices) whenever and wherever they want. You rarely–ever?–here union reps criticize this general right. Rather, they, like Colin James, only express criticism when the potentiality to close down becomes put into effect. In the meantime, they talk of “good jobs,” “fair contracts,” “decent wages” and such like rhetoric that hides on the one hand the power of employers to make decisions unilaterally–like dictators– and, on the other hand, the fact that workers are used as means for goals external to their own purposes. 

What do you think? Do you think unions in their daily operations represent the general interests of workers? Or should unions be criticized for accepting too much of the economic, political and social system? 

 

The Rate of Exploitation of General Motors Workers

I thought it would be politically relevant to try to estimate the rate of exploitation of General Motors (GM) workers for 2019 (since annual reports starting in 2020 would distort the picture because of the pandemic). I say politically relevant because of the closure of the GM Oshawa plant on December 18, 2019 and the subsequent making of the document Company Town, which dealt with the coming closure, the attitude of Jerry Dias, president of Unifor (the union that represents the workers at Oshawa) and the consequences of the closing of the factory.

However, GM annual reports (like many annual reports based in the United States), provide insufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation. For example, there are no data on wages and salaries paid out (although there are for benefits).

Nonetheless, I searched for substitutes for the data. Undoubtedly, such calculations will be even more imperfect than the rates of exploitation I calculated for various large employers in Canada. It will undoubtedly only include bare statistics, without much refinement and with few adjustments. Still, such estimates may provide a ballpark figure of the extent of exploitation.

I invite others to criticize the data used and the manner of determining the rate of exploitation–by providing more accurate data and a more accurate manner of determining the rate of exploitation.

Where possible, I provide the website addresses where I found the information if the information is not drawn from the Annual Report.

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 (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 now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers.

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.597 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. 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 unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of 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).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consults” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants” and the lack of such power by unionized workers.

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement
•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly a level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

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. (in millions of U.S. dollars)

Total net sales and revenue  137,237

Total costs and expenses 131,756

Operating income 5,481 [137,237-131,756=5481]

Adjustments of Surplus Value (Profit)

It is necessary to make some adjustments to this since the annual report also refers to the following additional categories:

Automotive interest expense 782
Interest income and other non-operating income, net  1,469
Equity income (Note 8) 1,268

Starting with the category “Automotive interest expense,” it is necessary to make an adjustment.  It is necessary to add 782 (Automotive interest expense) to “Operating income” since (as I explained in another post):

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.

Accordingly:

Temporarily adjusted income before taxes 5,481+782=6,263

Moving to the next category, “Interest income and other non-operating income, net,” since the idea of calculating the rate of exploitation of particular employers is to determine the extent to which the particular employer exploits its workers, income derived from the exploitation of workers other than its workers should be excluded. I did not think this through or consider this when I calculated the rate of exploitation of some other employers (such as Air Canada); I may or may not recalculate the rate of exploitation of such employers in the future–that depends on how much time I have to dedicate to writing other posts and engaging in my own research as well as my own personal commitments to my daughter and wife.

In the particular case of General Motors, I will exclude such income from the calculation since the income is derived from workers other than the workers of GM.

The last category, “Equity income,” seems to reflect net surplus value after expenses are subtracted from revenue. Note 8 elaborates:

Note 8. Equity in Net Assets of Nonconsolidated Affiliates

Nonconsolidated affiliates are entities in which we maintain an equity ownership interest and for which we use the equity method of accounting due to our ability to exert significant influence over decisions relating to their operating and fmancial affairs. Revenue and expenses of our joint ventures are not consolidated into our financial statements; rather, our proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture is reflected as Equity income.

Since “Equity income” reflects the “proportionate share of the earnings of each joint venture,” it constitutes the net result of GM exploiting workers in joint ventures. Accordingly, it is necessary to make an adjustment. It is necessary to add 1,268 to Income before income taxes. The final adjustment is:

Adjusted income before taxes 7,531

Wages and Salaries (v)

Although there are statistics in the annual report for employee benefits, there are no statistics in it for wages or salaries.

I failed to find any direct information of total salaries, wages and benefits on the Net. The best that I could do was to find data about the total number of employees and then try to find data on the average wage/salary as well as average benefits and multiply the sum of the average wage/salary and benefits by the total number of employees.
To improve such calculations, I invite Sam Gindin, former research director to the Canadian Auto Workers (now Unifor) or Jim Stanford, former economist for the same union, to provide more accurate data (perhaps insider data?).
In 2019, there were 164,000 employees:
Employees At December 31, 2019 we employed approximately 95,000 (58%) hourly employees and approximately 69,000(42%) salaried employees.
This is consistent with the following:
This number, as I argued above, needs to be multiplied by the average cost of a GM worker, including benefits.  According to some, the average cost to use a GM worker in 2019 was about $63 US an hour. From   https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/trending/Fic7Dwvvxuh14hs9rmjwJw2, dated January 15, 2020:
GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be … $63 in 2019.
I assume that this includes benefits. This amount is less than the amount estimated in 2006 (or perhaps 2009–it is unclear). From
Average Hourly Compensation 2006 (US Wages and Benefits)
Last updated on: 1/21/2009 6:47:00 AM PST
“The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word ‘compensation.’ It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda;s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.

The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.”

As to be expected, the estimated $63 an hour ($US) is certainly much higher than the estimated hourly wage of American auto workers. From Automotive Industry Labour Market Analysis: Wage Report (Canadian Skills Training and Employment Coalition, Prism Economics and Analysis, and the Automotive Policy Research Centre, October 2019), page 30:
Research done by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) found that nominal wages for U.S. workers in the auto manufacturing sector increased by just over 6% from $28.49 in 2002 to $30.20 in 2018 but real wages fell by 23.5% (as cited in Haglund, 2019).

Think tank says UAW deals increased automakers’ labor costs

New contracts between the United Auto Workers union and Detroit’s three automakers substantially increased the cost gap between Detroit and foreign automakers with U.S. factories

ByThe Associated Press
January 15, 2020, 3:40 PM

Total labor costs include wages, health care, pensions and other expenses.

Center Vice President Kristin Dziczek calculated that GM’s labor costs would rise from $63 per hour before the new contract to $71.

GM’s average hourly labor costs are estimated to be $71 in 2023, up 12.7% from $63 in 2019 and up 29.1% from $55 in 2015, Dziczek said during a Jan. 15 webcast. Ford’s hourly labor costs would be $69 in 2023, up 13.1% from $61 in 2019 and up 21.1% from $57 in 2015. Fiat Chrysler’s costs would go up to $66 in 2023, up 20% from $55 in 2019 and up 40.4% from $47 in 2015.
Given the above, $63 an hour seems to be the average cost of a GM employee whereever s/he works. There will be no adjustments for this category despite the above calculated reduction of 173.5 from “Tranformation activities” due to some of that category involving separation benefits received by workers since, presumably, the $63 an hour includes such separation benefits.

Jim Stanford’s Disagreement with the Estimate of $63 an Hour Cost of Variable Capital V)

However, Jim Stanford would dispute such an hourly cost since he disputes the hourly cost of $75 (see How Much do Autoworkers REALLY Make? Surprise: It’s NOT $75 Per Hour!  http://unifor584retirees.ca/caw_retirees/pdf/hourly_labour_costs_09.pdf). He argues that workers receive between $43 and $44 hour.
Before I delve into this issue, let me preface it with the purpose of calculating the rate of exploitation. It is supposed to determine the proportion of hours worked that produce the value of the wage received by the workers in relation to the hours worked for no compensation and thus free for the employer. The wage is a composite of the actual wage rate and benefits and cannot be limited to the given wage rate.
Generally, the rate of exploitation is a class phenomenon, and the value of labour power or variable capital (v) and surplus value as its components are also class phenomenon. As Ben Fine states, in relation to the value of labour power, pages 104-105:
… for Marx the value of labour power is the consequence of an exchange between capital and labour, confronting each other as the two major economic classes. It is not simply the wage earned on the labour-market by one individual as opposed to another. …
the value of labour power is a more complex concept than the wage rate or earnings
of the typical worker.
Some of the costs of variable capital for employers are class costs, or the costs to the class of employers and apply across the board to all employers (or at least to a section of employers in a particular industry). Workers may not individually receive them, but some workers do; which workers depends on various conditions, such as the level of unemployment, the age of the workers, their health and so on. They need to be included in the value of labour power or variable capital even if no specific set of workers receive them as a benefit since they are costs for the employer being an employer of any set of workers whatsoever.
Stanford, however, excludes several categories which is included in the above $63 an hour–a category called “All-in Active Hourly Labour Cost.” The subcategories of this category and the corresponding amounts are: 
Overtime and shift premiums $3
Cost per hour worked of paid time off $8-9
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime $1-3
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Statutory taxes $3-4
Overtime and shfit premiums
Stanford excludes this subcategory from his calculation on the basis of the following:
Occasionally companies will require their workers to stay overtime, beyond normal working hours. Overtime is worked ins response to surges in consumer demand, to make up for production problems or bottlenecks, or in some cases because employers have decided it’s cheaper to work its existing staff extra hours than to hire new workers. In every case, it is the employer’s choice when overtime is worked.
Workers required to work overtime are paid a wage premium (usually 50%) for those hours. To a large extent (depending on the specific hours involved), overtime pay is mandated by labour law (although a labour contract can require overtime to be paid in some circumstances when it is not legally required).

In addition, in the auto industry and other manufacturing settings, it is standard practice to pay a shift premium for workers who staff evening and night shifts. (In CAW-represented auto plants, there is a 5% premium paid for evening shifts, and a 10% premium for overnight shifts, to reflect the added stress on family life of those working hours.)

Is the overtime premium part of one’s “hourly wage”? Few Canadians would conceive it that way – although those working overtime certainly appreciate the extra money. And remember: overtime is
something that occurs because employers desire it. 
According to Statistics Canada, in 2007 (most recent data), auto assembly workers in Canada worked an average of about 3.5 hours of overtime per week. This increased total average wage payments (weighted across all hours worked in the year) by around $2. Shift premiums added, on average, about another dollar per hour.
This argument is unconvincing. Overtime is supposed to not constitute compensation, he implies,  because it is not voluntary. Being voluntary or involuntary has nothing directly to do with the cost of workers. How workers conceive overtime also hardly determines whether it is a cost. As for shift premiums, the same logic applies; they too are costs. Stanford never indicates what overtime payments and shift premiums objectively are.
We can, however, get some idea of what they are by referring to the value of labour power as subject to a normal working day under average conditions. Since overtime work in effect extends the working day beyond the norm, it involves abnormal consumption of the labour power of workers. As Marc Linder (2000) argues ( “Moments are the elements of profit”: overtime and the deregulation of working hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act, pages 5-6):
Marx also furnished a general framework for understanding struggles over the length of the workday or workweek. On the surface, this struggle centers on the conflict between the buyer and the seller of a commodity which generates special problems because, unlike the situation with a general run-of-the-mill commodity, the body and mind of the human seller of labor power cannot be separated from its daily use by the buyer. Since the law of exchange of commodities, however, does not recognize any special rules for this particular exchange, the capitalist buyer tries to extract the greatest possible profit from the use of the worker’s labor power for the day’s or week’s worth he has bought. The question then becomes: how long is a workday or workweek? Since the human seller lives beyond the day, he must make sure that he sells his only commodity for a price high enough to enable him to reappear at work the next day with his labor power in a condition of strength and health that meets the standards set by his competitors. But the worker as a rational labor market participant must also exercise sufficient foresight to husband his only economic asset for a lifetime—or at least the standard working life of his type of labor. If the daily value of his commodity equals its lifetime value divided by 30 years or approximately 10,000 workdays, then he must make sure that overlong workdays and workweeks do not force him to expend so much additional energy that he uses up 1/5,000 or 1/3,333
of his lifetime supply for only 1/10,000 of its lifetime value. For this reason socialist unions regarded eight-hour laws as “life lengthening” acts.The worker therefore regards such overwork as crossing the line from the capitalist’s rightful use to plundering of his labor power and, as such, a breach of their contract and of the law of the exchange of commodities. His demand for a workday or workweek of normal length—defined by its compatibility with a healthy 30-year worklife—is as rightful as the capitalist’s demand that the worker work as long as possible each day and week. Because the capitalist is not a slaveholder, he has no (capital-) invested interest in the length of the worklife of his individual employees: “A quick succession of unhealthy and short-lived generations will keep the labour market as well supplied as a series of vigorous and long-lived generations.” Thus as long as the employer can find equivalent replacements in the labor market when he needs them, this private contractual dispute cannot be resolved between individual buyer and seller. The resulting “antinomy” of right against right27 must, Marx argued, be decided by “the respective powers of the combatants.” But since “in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side,” a class-wide settlement of the hours issue was possible only through “general political action,” which meant “legislative interference” under pressure from the working class.2* Consequently, the normalization of the workday and workweek appears historically as a struggle between the “aggregate capitalist, i.e., the class of capitalists, and the aggregate worker, or the working class.”
Overtime and shift work can be conceived as compensatory costs for abnormal consumption of workers–but they are costs of hiring workers, exploiting them and oppressing them.
Cost per hour worked of paid time off 
Stanford has the following to say on the matter in order to justify excluding this subcategory:
Now here is where it starts to get more complicated. “All-in hourly labour cost,” in the auto industry, is not calculated by dividing total compensation by the number of normal working hours in a year (as we have done above: 40 hours per week
times 52 weeks in a year equals 2080 working hours in a year).
Let us pause here. What Stanford calls “normal working hours” is not the statistic that can be used to calculate the rate of exploitation since it is not the number of actual hours worked. It is the actual hours worked that produces the equivalent of the total compensation received by workers that is relevant–and not some “normal working hours” that no workers actually work.
From Anwar Shaikh and E. Ahmet Tonak (1994), From Measuring the wealth of nations: The political economy of national accounts, page 178: 

By definition, Marxian labor value added is simply the number of hours worked by productive workers
Let us continue with Stanford’s views.
Instead, all-in hourly labour costs are calculated over a much smaller base of hours. Total
compensation costs are divided by the numbers of hours actually worked in a year. Actual hours worked, the denominator of this fraction, differs from the number of standard working hours in a year (2080) for several reasons:
  • Paid time off (for vacation and holidays)
  • Sick leave (CAW autoworkers do not receive any pay during the first days of
    an illness, after which they are compensated under a sickness and accident
    insurance scheme)
  • Time not worked due to layoffs or downtimeIt is simple mathematics that the lower is the number of hours actually worked,
    the higher is the apparent “all-in hourly labour cost.”

    The CAW has placed great emphasis over the years on negotiating more paid time off, as a deliberate strategy to try to protect employment levels against the effects of technological change and productivity growth, and to provide for needed time away from the physical and mental stresses of assembly line work. However, in recent contracts the amount of paid time off has been reduced by 80 hours per year (in the face of intense cost-cutting pressure from the employers). Today a CAW production worker with maximum seniority (over 20 years) qualifies for 6 weeks of paid time off (for vacation, scheduled mandatory vacation or “SPA,” and personal leave). A new hire qualifies for 2 weeks (the legal minimum). A worker with 5 or more years seniority qualifies for 4 weeks.

    Holidays (including regular statutory holidays and a week-long Christmas shutdown) reduce working time by another 15 days per year.

    Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation. It can also be considered a basic human and labour right – one that workers have fought for over the centuries, and that is essential to the quality of life of working people and their families. Of the paid time off received by CAW autoworkers, about half is required by law. The rest reflects additional time negotiated by the union. I doubt, however, that many Canadians consider their paid time off as part of their hourly wage. They conceptualize it separately, as time. Someone who earns $15 per hour, but is allowed to take a total of five weeks off per year (3 weeks vacation, and 10 days of statutory holidays), actually earns $16.60 for each hour they work (assuming they had no other time off the job for illness or layoff). But I have never heard someone adjust their hourly pay in that manner to reflect their entitlement (legal and otherwise) to paid time off.

    According to the methodology of all-in hourly labour cost, paid time off (since it reduces the denominator over which all-in labour costs are calculated) directly increases all-in hourly labour costs. Each week of paid time off (including the two weeks of vacation required per year under Canadian law, and the roughly two weeks of statutory holidays also required by Canadian law) translates into a roughly 2% increase in hourly labour cost.

Again, his argument is unconvincing. Although undoubtedly, for example, workers who receive a minimum wage, unionized workers and other workers are unlikely to conceive of paid holidays as part of their compensation, this hardly means that the paid holidays and vacaction do not form part of their compensation. Stanford himself admits this: “Paid time off can be considered a form of compensation.” Actual hours worked and the total amount of compensation received by workers are the relevant statistics for determining variable capital costs and not imputed hours worked during holidays and vacation (when workers are not subject to the direct power of employers).
Furthermore, even some union reps in the auto industry conceived vacation pay and other fringe benefits as part of the compensation package. From Frank Lovell (May-June 1968), “The Reuther-Meany Split,” in pages 36-58, International Socialist Review, page 51:
Reuther accurately reported the new wage scales as follows:”The average production worker will receive a 20-cents-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage increase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of 58 cents an hour over the three-year period of the contract.”The average skilled trades worker will receive a 50-cent-an-hour wage increase upon his return to work plus a three per cent annual wage incrase in the second and third years of the contract. These wage increases, together with the impact of the ‘roll up’ factor, will amount to an average of $1.02 an hour over the three-year period of the contract.” (“Roll up” consists of increases in wage-related fringe benefits such as holiday pay, vacation pay, shift premiums, etc.[my emphasis]

Let us look at vacation pay and holiday pay. Essentially, it means that workers receive payment without having to work for their employer during that specific time. The amount of labour performed is thereby reduced to that extent than otherwise would be the case, with a flow of money (and indirectly commodities) going to the workers. The wage is not reproduced during that time, and no surplus value is produced either since no labour is performed.
Holiday pay and vacation pay are tied to work performed because those who do not work for the particular employer simply do not receive such holiday pay and (more obviously) vacation pay– but this condition seems too often to be overlooked. The payment of holiday pay and vacation pay is tied to the need for the worker to have actually worked for the particular employer.
The payment is tied to labour having been  performed, but not from any labour performed during the holiday or vacation. Since the workers receive the money and not the employer, the money represents the equivalent of higher wages and less surplus value available for the employer.
There is no logical reason why, when calculating the rate of exploitation, vacation pay, sick leave pay and holiday pay should not be included in the calculation.
The issue is not clear cut, but some Marxian works also include vacation pay, etc. as forms of compensation. From Edward Wolff (1987), Growth, accumulation, and unproductive activity: An analysis of the postwar U.S. economy, pages 61-62: 

Mean real labor compensation seems the most direct measure of the costs of reproducing labor power. Employee compensation is the sum of wages, salaries, and tips; fringe benefits such as health insurance, pension contributions, vacation pay, and the like;
Shaikh and Tonak also consider them to form part of compensation. From page 304: 
We use employee compensation (EC) because it includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. This is the appropriate base for estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
They reiterate their view on page 322:
Employee compensation being the sum of supplements and wages and salaries.
Impact on hourly cost of layoffs & downtime
Stanford reasons as follows in order to exclude this subcategory from the determination of the costs of employing workers:
The Impact of Downtime and Layoffs Even more far-fetched is the notion that time away from work resulting from illness, layoff, or plant shutdown should also be reflected in your “hourly wage.” Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union. Suppose that workers are laid off for 8 weeks in a year because of slow sales. This reduces annual hours worked by 320 hours. That’s a reduction of as much as 20% in hours worked (after adjusting for paid time off) – causing a corresponding increase in the apparent hourly cost of fixed annual benefits (like the pensions, health premiums, and other benefits listed above). Based on the level of benefits described earlier, this amount of downtime (not unusual given recent experience) would add $3 per hour to all-in costs. A longer six-month layoff would add over $10 to the all-in hourly cost!
This seems like a double penalty: first workers experience the income loss and insecurity of being laid off for significant amounts of time. And then they are “charged,” in the form of a higher apparent “wage,” for the fact that they didn’t work for the complete year.
Differences in the number of hours worked account for a significant portion of differences in the all-in hourly labour costs between different companies. Chrysler Canada’s all-in labour cost calculation for 2008 (which has been widely debated in the course of current restructuring discussions) was based on a very low average level of hours worked per worker that year (just 1550 hours). That was significantly lower than the number of hours worked per worker at GM and Ford that year – and far, far lower than average hours worked at Toyota and Honda plants (which until recently have been running flat out). This difference in assumed hours worked accounts for about $2 per hour in all-in labour cost differences between Chrysler and the other two North American producers in Canada. And it accounts for $4 or more per hour of the all-in hourly labour cost differences between Chrysler and the non-union Canadian facilities.
Is a worker really “more expensive” because he or she didn’t work the full year, due to downtime associated with slow sales? Not really. This is not an issue of compensation. This is an issue of capacity utilization – a variable which is clearly a responsibility of management to optimize, and is beyond the control of workers and their union.
The hours not worked do not involve exploitation, and the hours not worked do involve payment without being under the direct control of the employer due to fixed costs, such as health insurance premiums. They are like vacation pay, holiday pay and sick-leave pay.
As for the decrease in hours worked, of course, if the number of hours decreases, with fixed benefit costs, the cost per hour employed will increase for the capitalists in general. This was seen indirectly when I calculated the rate of exploitation of Magna Internaitonal workers for 2020, during the pandemic (The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Three, Updated, 2020). As I wrote in that post:
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).
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers was likely largely due to a decrease in the production of surplus value, although there was also a decrease in the costs of workers for Magna International:
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%.

Surplus value decreased by 1,177, or 52 percent ((1081-2258)/2258×100); variable capital decreased by 353, or ((2509-2862)/2862×100)=12 percent.
The substantial decrease in the rate of exploitation for Magna International workers is likely due to the fixed costs associated with keeping them on payroll while not exploiting them (because they did not work or perform labour).
Stanford’s justification or logic for discounting the increased costs of workers per hour worked seems to be: because the relation of payments to workers and hours actually worked is independent of the workers and their unions, these increased costs should not be calculated that way, he reasons:
Time off due to illness or layoff is not a contractual benefit; it is clearly beyond the control of both workers and their union.
The rate of exploitation is hardly to be calculated on the basis of what workers and their unions are able to control. The issue is: What does it cost for the workers to produce the value of the labour power or the capacity of workers to perform work relative to the value they produce for free?
I reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory.
Cost per hour worked of SUB $1-3
Standord reasons as follows for rejecting this subcategory:
Over the years auto unions have negotiated a range of income security programs to protect against the effects of the layoffs (which are regularly incurred in the auto industry due to market swings, new model launches, and other factors inherent to the auto industry). These are called supplementary unemployment benefits (SUB), and they top up the benefits received from public unemployment insurance programs.SUB costs are incorporated into all-in labour cost by attributing them to the hours which were actually worked (by those workers who were not laid off). Are SUB benefits a form of compensation? Yes, in a form. But it is not compensation received by the workers who are still working. SUB benefits are received by the workers who are laid-off (as a partial compensation for the cost they incur as a result of the lay-off). And by far the best way to reduce labour costs, in this context, is to put autoworkers back to work: they enjoy more income and security, the company pays out less SUB costs, and the cost per hour worked of all other benefits declines by several dollars.
Because of the extensive downtime experienced in most auto plants in recent years, SUB and related programs can add $3 or more to all-in hourly labour costs in CAW facilities.
The Canadian government website reads:

Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program

Overview

Employers can use a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) plan to increase their employees’ weekly earnings when they are unemployed due to a temporary stoppage of work, training, illness, injury or quarantine.

It is certainly true that those who continue to be exploited directly by GM do not receive the benefits of SUB-but exploitation is hardly just an affair of temporary changes in the distribution of work such that only those workers who happen to have seniority are exploited throughout the year. Layoffs in the auto industry have occurred often enough for unions to attempt to address the issue. From Robert Albritton (2022), A Japanese Approach to Stages of Capitalist Development: What Comes Next?:
For this reason, the continuation of even the partial commodification of labour-power, requires that the labour market be supported by all sorts of protections, guarantees, and stabilizing mechanisms. The auto industry in general took the lead in this respect with “productivity deals” that ensured wage increases in line with productivity increases and with “supplementary unemployment benefits” (SUBS) that protected worker’s income during the annual lay-offs in the auto industry, and with pension plans, early retirement, medical benefits, etc.
Unions obliged GM to pay laid off GM workers (not fired GM workers) a top-up to unemployment benefits. This is a condition for GM to exploit the collective labour of the particular bargaining unit and forms part of the cost of employing GM workers. To exclude this cost from variable capital would exclude the flow of additional money (and commodities) that temporarily unemployed workers receive from GM. Since variable capital is supposed to measure the amount of labour required to produce the equivalent of labour power as a commodity available on the market, and SUB is a condition for such availability in this situation, it should be included as part of variable capital that GM pays.
One historian has interpreted SUB as resulting in a “greater share of the pie” going to workers. From David Noble (1984), Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, page 253:
Reuther embraced wholeheartedly the tempo of technology and the gospel of growth, and sought to halt job erosion through industrial expansion which would presumably raise the level of aggregate demand for labor. At the same time, he strove to secure for workers a larger share of the expanding pie, through guaranteed wage agreements and so-called progress-sharing agreements (as with American Motors), and to ease the plight of displaced workers, through supplementary unemployment benefits, advance notification clauses, and company-financed retraining programs (as with General Motors). [my emphasis]
I also reject Stanford’s reason for excluding this subcategory; SUB forms part of the costs of production of GM workers.
Statutory taxes $3-4
Stanford notes the following:

The all-in hourly labour cost methodology also considers various employmentrelated
taxes paid by employers to governments. In Canada, these statutory
costs include four major items:

  • Employer CPP premiums (up to a maximum of about $2050 per year
  • Employer EI premiums (up to a maximum of about $1000 per year)
  • Employer Health Tax (equal to about 2% of earnings)
  • WSIB premiums (variable rates, usually about 3% of earnings)These government payments amount to around $3-4 per normal working hour in
    Canadian auto plants.
He makes the following comment to justify excluding them from the cost of workers to GM:
These tax payments, while they fund important public programs, obviously do not
constitute compensation for workers.
If by compensation is meant “not received in the current year,” then it is true. However, costs in the present for employers can be deferred revenue for workers; in the case of the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), Canadian employers must pay the same amount paid by employees, up to a maximum of contributions per year. I fail to see why this should not be included in the cost of variable capital to GM. Furthermore, if pension benefits paid out by GM or deferred government pension benefits are excluded from the current year, when would they ever be included in the calculation of the value of labour power?
Unemployment insurance is a little more difficult to assess (in Canada, the Canadian government euphemestically calls it employment insurance). Some if not the majority of GM workers may not access unemployment insurance benefits at all during their life. It may not ever therefore be a deferred form of revenue for them. However, it should be remembered that GM workers can access unemployment insurance if they are laid off (and they also can receive SUB) and thus the same logic applies as the subcategory for SUB.
(By the way, the unemployment insurance that workers receive should also be included in the calculation of variable capital, but this would require more detailed information about the absolute amounts, the number of GM workers laid off, the average period of time laid off and other data which I doubt is readily available. Perhaps those with more skill or with better access to data could provide details.)
Furthermore, the nature of insurance in general is such that payments or costs may not result in any flow back in the form of services rendered. How many reading this post have purchased insurance of one form or another (such as car insurance or travel insurance) only not to use it? It is a cost that may never be recouped and is grounded in the nature of the capitalist society–which is subject to unemployment in various sectors at different times. Costs paid by employers associated with unemployment insurance is a charge on the class of employers for funding former workers who have had their relationship to any particular employer severed (or who severed it themselves by quitting–although here in Canada workers must prove “just cause” for quitting in order to be eligible and must not have been fired for “just cause”).
For GM workers who are never laid off, unemployment insurance is obviously not a form of compensation for any GM worker–but it is still a cost of reproducing the value of labour power as a commodity (if not the particular set of workers called GM employees). It is part of the cost for GM of being able to exploit this particular set of workers.
The Employer Health Tax, according to the Ontario government website, is:

The Employer Health Tax (EHT) is a payroll tax on remuneration (for example, salaries, wages, bonuses, taxable benefits, stock options etc.) that employers in Ontario provide to current and former employees.

The purpose of this tax is to assist in providing the government with revenue to fund health care in Ontario.

The provision of certain services by the government without workers having to pay for them constitute part of the “social wage” of workers. In this particular case, sufficiently large employers are forced to pay for part of those services (smaller capitalist firms are exempt). These costs for the employer are necessary to ensure a certain level of health services and health of workers. I fail to see why they should not be considered part of the necessary costs that Ontario employers must pay if they are to exploit Ontario employees.
An indirect argument for including the EHT in the calculation of variable capital is provided by Wolff (cited above), page 78:
One further refinement should be added. Not only private consumption but also publicly provided consumption is required to reproduce the labor force. In particular, part of the government’s expenditures on education, health, fire protection, roads, and the like
contributes directly to the welfare of workers. Thus, in order to correctly estimate the necessary consumption of workers, government expenditures on productive goods and services, Gp, must be distributed among the beneficiaries of the expenditures.
As for Workers’ Compensation premiums paid by GM, although Shaikh and Tonak (1994) do not directly address this specific category, they do generally include “employer contributions to social security” in their calculation of the value of labour power. Page 108:
for wages we use “employee compensation” (EC), which includes wages and salaries of employees as well as employer contributions to social security. Employee compensation is the appropriate measure upon which to base our estimates of variable capital, since it represents the total cost of labor power to the capitalist.
Rodrigo Finkelstein (2015) more specifically argues that workers’ compensation premiums constitute the exchange value of workers’ injuries,”The Commodity Form of Safety Information,” in pages 610-623, triple C, Volume 13, Number 2, page 622:
Through injuries, diseases and deaths, workers transfer to the premium the value they themselves lose during the labour process by the destruction of their own use-value. Workers’ use-value—i.e. labour-power—uure [sic–this term indicates that something is quoted exactly as written despite it likely being an error]-appears in the value of every commodity as the premium.
Like shift premiums and overtime, workers’ compensation premiums can be conceived as compensation for accelerated use of workers’ labour power; unlike shift premiums and overtime, the money is not appropriated directly by individual workers but is mediated through a bureuacratic appropriation and distribution process that pools the accelerated use of  workers’ labour power at the provincial level in Canada.
(These premiums should not, however, be considered the accurate costs of accelerated use of the labour power of workers. Premiums are based on claimed employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths, but actual employer-dictated work-related diseases, injuries and deaths is much higher (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health).
It should come as no surprise that Stanford ignores workers’ compensation as a cost. Firstly, he considers the view that what is healthy for “the economy” is somehow also healthy for workers. This correspondence may to a certain extent arise because capitalists, ultimately, must rely on human bodies if they are to exploit them, and unhealthy bodies may be detrimental to their exploitation.
On the other hand, there obviously is a counter-tendency for employers to create working conditions that are dangerous for workers in one way or another (see my critique of Stanford’s attempt to treat the capitalist economy as if it were an economy primarily based on the production of products that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants need–rather than a capitalist economy designed to obtain as much surplus value as possible–at the expense of workers in the posts Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads and Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Four: Is There Such a Thing as a Responsible Employer in Relation to the Health of Workers?).
Stanford’s analysis of the real cost of the value of labour power matches his economics for social democrats. His economics of capitalism for “everyone” (the main title of a book he wrote) is really an economics for social reformists–and is hardly expressive of the interests of the working class.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his social-democratic views.  Workers’ compensation premiums are linked to the determination of the value of the loss of various parts of the body, for example–equating money and the loss of human body parts. As Nate Holdren (2020),in Injury Impoverished: Workplace Accidents, Capitalism, and the Law in the Progressive Era remarks, page 5:
I remarked that it felt a little creepy that my hand had a dollar value. The lawyer laughed and agreed that it was creepy. He told me that there were tables that listed the value of all the different body parts. …  I repeated that it was a creepy idea that my body parts in particular had a dollar value, and that in general there were tables written down with the value of body parts calculated in advance. The lawyer replied that a lot of people got hurt at work and that the injuries and the payments for them were all a regular process.That meeting with the lawyer is where I first encountered what I now think of as the “tyranny of the table,” but it is both more and less than  tyranny. What I mean by the tyranny of the table is that within compensation laws human lives and human suffering have the fixed monetary values ascribed – no more than that, and not subject to discussion. What doesn’t fit into the values of the table? Nearly everything. All of the elements of a human being other than our paychecks.
Behind the numbers lie real human beings, with histories linked to other human beings in various ways. Workers’ compensation itself hides this reality behind the numbers, and Stanford’s cavalier dismissal of the payment of premiums by employers as part of the cost of the value of labour power reflects his own dismissal of the real and necessary experiences of many workers working for employers–and the diseases and injuries they experience that they suffer–and the deaths (the ending of any possibility of further human experience or any possibility of further human progress).
In Stanford’s haste at being a “progressive economist,” (he is the founder of the Progressive Economic Forum), he dismisses too hastily various costs that are relevant for characterizing the experience of workers in a capitalist society (such as the premiums paid to the Workers’ Compensation Board).
Although this post is about the rate of exploitation, it should never be forgotten that this rate of exploitation is linked to real people being used as things for the benefit of employers, with real negative consequences for members of the working class. Holdren points out how workers who work for an employer are often under the threat of being injured in one way or another, and if they are, their lives are often changed forever, page 1:
Nettie Blom worked in the laundry of a hotel in Yellowstone Park. On June 30, 1900, Blom was operating a machine called a mangle, which used steam-heated and steam-powered metal rollers to iron flat linens. The wet cloth stuck to her hand for a moment too long, and she was pulled into the machine. Blom’s hand was crushed and burnt. When a co-worker managed to free her from the machine, Blom’s hand looked like “boiled meat.” Three of her co-workers fainted at the sight. Blom suffered terrible pain and lost the use of her hand due to her injuries.
Stanford’s dismissal of workers’ compensation premiums as part of the value of labour power also hides the shift from what Holdren calls the tyranny of the trial to the tyrranny of the tables. The (unlikely) possibility of workers suing and winning a case against their employer constituted part of the tyranny of the trial historically, but gradually governments shifted the issue of health and safety compensation from the courts to government bureaucracies–Worker’s Compensaiton Boards. This shift from the workers’ financial point of view had the advantage that compensation would be forthcoming for proven injuries, disease or death–but it had the major disadvantage of eliminating any exposure of the real human damage and suffering that is so often connected to workplace injuries, diseases and death–an exposure that was at least minimally possible during a trial. In its place arose what Holdren calls the “tyranny of the table,” which depersonalized human injury and suffering at work. This is an important issue that the social-democratic left simply ignore or sidestep through the use of such euphemisms as “decent work,” “decent jobs,” “fair contracts” and the like. It is appropriate here to quote Holdren here more extensively about some of the implications of what the paying of premiums has involved for silencing workers’ grievances. Pages 115-118:
MORAL THINNING AND IMPOVERISHED INJURYIn order to standardize payments and thus create predictability for employers, compensation laws removed from the law arguments about injustice and narration of the individual effects of injury. This loss of deliberation changed the ethical grammar of the law, so to speak, deepening the eclipse of recognition, further impoverishing injury. The human meaning of injury had no place in the law. I call this phenomenon moral thinning: from murder to statistics. Non-financial harms also had no place under compensation laws. Pain and loss became newly worthless as the law provided no more space for people to narrate what it meant to lose a limb or a family member in an industrial accident. Injured wage earners became conceptually disembedded from their social and interpersonal contexts.

There is an element of moral thinning involved whenever the commodification of persons begins to occur, because commodification must ignore differences and particularities, setting aside whatever is unique or nonequivalent about them. Commodification tramples on singularity. This makes no difference when singularity makes no difference: the uniqueness of my morning cup of coffee does not matter; what matters is its instrumental use in my struggle toward wakefulness. The uniqueness of human beings, however, does matter: the reduction of human beings to abstract instrumental objects should trouble us. Recognition and commodification co-exist at best uneasily.

The moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table is more apparent when juxtaposed to the tyranny of the trial. Despite the many limits of the court-based system of employee injury law, that system did allow some space for fragments of the experiential truths of injury, which made possible elements of justice as recognition. As historian Kimberly Welch has put it, “[s]torytelling is omnipresent in human discourse.. . . Telling stories in court is an attempt to organize, interpret, and direct the world in which one lives, and the stories told in adversarial processes signal the narrator’s interpretation of how the world ought to operate.” The contending oughts embedded in legal stories made courts into places of normative deliberation, places where the contest of stories had explicitly moral and political stakes.

Access to that site of deliberation, and the recognition that came through that access, is likely part of what working-class people wanted from the court-based system of employee injury law. As historian James Schmidt has put it, injured plaintiffs and their families “came to court with a desire to talk about the miseries that had befallen them.” That telling intersected with other actors in court to produce what Schmidt calls “judicial morality plays.” Going to court was one kind of ritual through which people processed and, in important respects, produced the meaning of what Schmidt rightly calls industrial violence. There was, then, some space for this ritual use of law under the tyranny of the trial. With compensation laws, employee injury law was deritualized, no longer made available to working-class people in the same way.

To be clear, compensation laws never said that no other framework for valuing human beings existed in society, but these laws did not allow any other such framework to touch the legal response to employee injury. In the court system multiple systems of valuation could intersect, while under compensation laws non-pecuniary valuations of people, their experiences, their relationships, and their bodies had no legal space. The point is absolutely not to celebrate the tyranny of the trial, but to use the courts’ narrative and value plurality to highlight the moral thinning of injury under the tyranny of the table. In the court-based system of injury law at least it was possible to pose the questions of whether or not an injury was a wrong, and what it meant in the lives of the persons affected. There was no more space for these questions or for the answering stories of injury and its effects under the tyranny of the table.

Workers’ compensation premiums serve in part to hide the viciousness of a society dominated by a class of employers–a viciousness hidden by such social-democratic phrases as “decent jobs,” “decent work,” “fair contracts” and other euphemisms accepted by many on the so-called left these days. After all, they imply, working for an employer is not really all that bad; such is the moral thinning of social democrats these days. This is a class cost–Stanford’s dismissal of it notwithstadning.
Returning to the issue of the cost of workers, this cost of $63, of course, is probably less since GM workers in other parts of the world (such as in Mexico) would receive substantially less. However, without access to such detailed statistics, I will assume that the $63 per hour is still the average hourly wage for GM workers; perhaps Mr. Stanford (and Mr. Gindin) could provide more detailed statistics. Such statistics would be most welcome. 
Given a wage of $63 U.S. an hour, and given an estimated 1,800 hours of actual work per employee (see page 2 of Stanford’s article), and given 164,000 employees, the result is:

Total wages and benefits: $18.5976 billion

Calculation of the Rate of Exploitation

We now have sufficient information to calculate the rate of exploitation of GM workers (in billions of U.S. dollars)

Adjusted Income before income taxes: $7.383 billion=s
Total wages and benefits $18.5976 billion=v

To calculate the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitaiton (they are the same thing), we need to divide “Adjusted Income before income taxes” (s) by “Total wages and benefits” (v).

So, with the adjustments in place, the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=7.383/18.5976=40%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at GM works around an additional 24 minutes for free for GM.

In a 7-hour (420-minute) work day , the GM worker produces her/his wage in about 300 (5 hours) and works 120 minutes (2 hours) for free for GM. 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 unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour (480 minute-work day), a GM worker produces her/his wage in 343 minutes (5 hours 43 minutes) and works for 137 minutes (2 hours 17 minutes) free for GM.

In an 9-hour (540-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 386 minutes (6 hours 26 minutes) and works for free for 154 minutes (2 hours 34 minutes) for GM.

In a 10-hour (600-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 429 minutes (7 hours 9 minutes and works for free for 171 minutes (2 hours 51 minutes) for GM.

In a 11-hour (660-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 471 minutes (7 hours 51 minutes) and works for free for 189 minutes (3 hours 9 minutes) for GM.

In a 12-hour (720-minute) day, a GM worker produces her/his wage in 514 minutes (8 hours 34 minutes) and works for free for 206 minutes (3 hours 26 minutes) for GM.

I calculated the division between v and s according to the following:

I have used the lengths of the working day (and the corresponding division between v and s) as 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and because the length of the working day varies. According to one source:

8 hours is normal. Many will average 7 or 9 per day.

8 hours per, except for the new models introduction period.The working hours varies depending upon the targeted productions orders.

Salaried, so come in between 6 and 9, leave within 8 or 10 hours.

Typical from 7:00am to 6:00 pm M-F with weekend work typical.
One week work over 70 hours

The hours where long 10-12 sometimes

I organized the division of the working day into v and s from the shortest working day to the longest.

Of course, during these times that the worker works to obtain an equivalent of 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).

Many GM workers in the United States (and in Canada) belong to a union. The Annual Report states:

At December 31, 2019 approximately 48,000 (50%) of our U.S. employees were represented by unions, a majority of which were represented by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Despite belonging to a union, the GM workers are exploited–but to a relatively low extent–much lower than many other union workers. The highest calculated rate of exploitation so far has been Rogers Communications’ workers, at 209 percent (see the comparative rates in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at WestJet Airlines Ltd.). Why that is would be a good area for research.

Political Questions

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada) for the rhetoric of the largest Unifor as the largest private-sector union in Canada, and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized?

What of the following, drawn from the November 5, 2020 collective agrement between General Motors of Canada Company and Unifor Local No 199 St. Catharines, Local No. 222 Oshawa and Local No. 636 Woodstock? Page 7:

Section IV

Management

(4) The Union recognizes the right of the Company to hire, promote, transfer, demote and lay off and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause subject to the right of any employee to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent as herein provided.

The Union further recognizes the right of the Company to operate and manage its business in all respects, to maintain order and efficiency in its plants, and to determine the location of its plants, the products to be manufactured, the scheduling of its production and its methods, processes, and means of manufacturing. The Union further acknowledges that the Company has the right to make and alter, from time to time, rules and regulations to be observed by employees, which rules and regulations shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

This power of management is not mentioned at all in the National Unifor Bargaining Report. Like most union bargaining reports, it omits all negative aspects of working for General Motors (including being exploited and oppressed):

HIGHLIGHTS
• $1.1B to $1.4B in investments
• General wage increases
• $7,250 Productivity and Quality Bonus
• Inflation Protection Bonuses
• Improved New Hire Program
• Skilled Trades Adjustment
• Benefit improvements
• Three-year term
• Lump sum payment for pre-1994 retirees

A written summary also omits the continued power of GM management to exploit and oppress workers (page 1):

JOINT MESSAGE TO ALL GENERAL MOTORS MEMBERS

SECURING A MADE IN CANADA FUTURE

If there is a lesson learned from 2020 Auto Talks, it is that the future of Canada’s auto sector is bright and on a clear forward path.

Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Unifor-GM Master Bargaining Committee, we are proud to present a new collective agreement that follows the economic pattern negotiated at both Ford and FCA. This agreement includes a 5 per cent increase to hourly wages, a 4 per cent lump sum payment in 2021, along with $11,250 in bonuses.

The deal makes major improvements to the New Hire Program, including an accelerated path to full rate, and returns key benefits like the Legal Services Plan and the afternoon (5%) and midnight (10%) shift premium.

Skilled trades workers will see their 20% wage differential restored, new apprentices hired, and the pre-apprenticeship program re-instated for future hires. The new agreement also includes significant improvements to the benefits plan, modest (but still important) pension improvements, along with health and safety gains, retirement allowances and equity gains including 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and a new Racial Justice Advocate.

Along with these contractual improvements are commitments by the company to maintain and expand work at current Unifor facilities. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and forecasted beyond.

Also, in a stand-alone letter GM has committed to explore new potential product programs and investment opportunities for St. Catharines, with input from them union[my emphasis. When I formed part of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, in Prince George, British Columbia, the management team were able to shuffle off many items on the negotiating table by referring to a “consultation process” between the union and management–in effect eliminating such items for negotiations. The verb “explore” and the noun “input” are euphemisms for the right of management to simply do what it wants, with the proviso that it “consult” the union.] 

St. Catharines is well regarded as a leader in the GM powertrain division and will receive $109 million to in-source new transmission work for the Corvette, adding jobs, and make
upgrades to the small block V8 engine program. GM will continue V6 engine and 6-speed transmission production over the life of the contract, and further commits to seek out new
programs that sustain the facility over the long term.

The Woodstock PDC will receive $500,000 in additional upgrades. Aftermarket parts work at Oshawa will also continue, maintaining hundreds of jobs.

In addition, and pending ratification, GM has committed to invest up to $1.3 billion to restart pickup truck assembly at the Oshawa Assembly Complex, with an expected two-shift operation in the first half of 2022 (and the potential for a third).

These “highlights” teach the workers nothing about the limitations of collective bargaining and  collective agreements. They are designed to hide the concentration of major decision-making power in the hands of General Motors (such as the “and the lack of such power (such as the “right of the Company to determine the location of its plants.”

The same could be said of the Local 222 Bargaining Report, which recommended voting for the collective agreement without any explicit indications of its limitation as indicated in the management rights clause of the collective agreement. Thus, the Report indicates among other things, the following (page 3):

Commitment to settling the 2020 GM/Unifor Master Agreement and Oshawa Local Agreement

•The production allocation is for the current life cycle. Currently, there is no future product commitment but the Company has expressed that the life cycle will be a minimum of three (3) years and that is well into the new Collective Agreement 2023.

•There will be no retirement incentives offered at the Oshawa Assembly Plant during the current life cycle of the product. In the event of a permanent reduction in force, the new hires at the Oshawa Assembly Plant will be laid off. Any employees hired prior to the 2020 Collective Agreement will flow back into the Oshawa OEM Stamped Products and Service Operation based upon Seniority.

Of course, workers have to subordinate their will to the will of employers in a society dominated by a class of employers, and so no union representatives can overcome this limitation; such a limitation is a class limitation, and it is at this level that such limitations need to be addressed. However, the class level is hardly some level that excludes the particular sections of the working class. Those particular sections are included in that general level, so at the local, regional or national level, the class issue can certainly be indicated and not simply ignored–which is what union reps do often enough these days. At the least, they could explicitly indicate the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the collective agreements that result from that process.  Better yet, they could not only include such limitations, but they could point to ways in which such limitations might be overcome through regional, national and international tactics and stragegies. Most modern union reps, however, have no intention of doing so; indeed, they are likely unaware of the need to do so.

What do you think? Are union reps looking after the needs of the working class? If not, what can be done about it?

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.

.

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.


Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part One: Critique of Jim Stanford’s One-Sided View of Job Creation in a Capitalist Society

Introduction

The title of this post–and the series of posts that will follow–comes from the title of Jim Stanford’s book (2008) Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. 

If I remember correctly, perhaps less than a year after I had came to Toronto (in 2013), I heard Mr. Stanford present at a  social-democratic leftist-sponsored workshop. I thought that his presentation assumed the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class. No one else questioned his point of view from the audience.

I was right.

One-Sided Presentation of Working for an Employer in a Purely Positive Light

Mr. Stafford wrote a piece that was published in the business section of the Toronto Star on January 18, 2020. In that piece, he claims that both the quantity and quality of work in 2019 has improved:

The news was undeniably positive….

On the quantity side, employment rose by 390,000 jobs in 2019, compared to 2018. That’s the biggest annual increment 1979. …

But I am more excited about evidence of a broad improvement in the quality of work.

By several indicators, jobs in Canada became better last year: more full-time jobs, less temporary work, growing unionization and rising wages. These improvements in job quality, if sustained, will underpin future improvement in income equality and social well-being.

This point of view is definitely social democratic and reformist.  At the quantitative level, an increase in the number of employed by employers is presented in a purely positive light. Of course, for many workers, working for an employer is better than being unemployed, but to present more jobs that involve working for an employer as purely positive expresses a definite one-sided view of the situation of workers in a society dominated by a class of employers.

Mr. Stanford nowhere shows any idea of just how degrading working for an employer as an employer can be (see for example  Employers as Dictators, Part One   and The Money Circuit of Capital). Furthermore, working full-time for an employer is presented as purely positive rather than as something that involves an increased length of time in which workers must subordinate their will not only  to the will of the immediate employer but to the impersonal and independent system of capitalist relations of production and exchange.

Of course, workers may prefer full-time work, ultimately, to part-time work since they may not be able to make ends meet otherwise. However, they may also find their lives to be worse off in that they have less of their life free from the direct dictates of the employer.

Mr. Stanford also implies that increased unionization will somehow magically make the world of work fulfilling work rather than something that must be endured. Unionized work settings are generally better than non-union work settings, but they do not involve the control of workers’ lives at work (see various management rights clauses on this blog as well as posts that indicate the oppression and exploitation of workers despite the existence of a collective agreement as, for example, in the post The Rate of Exploitation of Workers of Suncor Energy, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada).

In addition, Mr. Stanford simply focuses on one moment in time in the capitalist economic cycle. Capitalist accumulation may involve a tighter market for workers as demand for such workers increases, but the overaccumulation of capital then throws workers out of work as an economic crisis follows.

It should not be surprising that Mr. Stanford’s article reflects a social-democratic bias. The limitations of Mr. Stanford’s article is linked to the limitations of his own theory.

Nationalist Idealization of Being a Canadian

Mr. Stanford is one among many social-democratic leftist economists who are in one form or another nationalist. He writes in his article (2008) “Radical Economics and Social Change Movements: Strengthening the Links between Academics and Activists,” (pages 205-219), Review of Radical Political Economics, Volume 40, Number. 3, page 206:

This year we will inaugurate a new biennial prize, named after John Kenneth Galbraith. It will be awarded at the CEA meeting to someone whose life work has combined economics with social justice. Many U.S. economists will not know this, but Galbraith was born and initially educated in Canada before coming to America to make his name. That is very Canadian of us. Sure, we Canucks have gone and set up our own little nationalist group of lefty economists. But then we name our prize after someone who only became famous after they moved south of the 49th parallel! As usual for us Canadians, we never let consistency stand in the way of being sanctimonious.

We must live in different countries. I remember living in Canada as: having a number of odd jobs that I quit because I could not stand the alienating conditions under which we worked: for example, a dishwasher at a restaurant at Saskatchewan River Crossing (a resort area in between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta, Canada) (I was called useless despite my efforts to work as hard as possible); having work extremely fast by piling up on wooden slats wood on wooden cut from an electric saw (I lasted three days–I was in extreme pain in my lower back from bending up and down–when I was in my early 20s); crushing coal for a steel company (breathing in coal dust despite having a mask, and a lunch room with coal dust on the table and benches–spitting up coal dust after work, in addition, having to dump coal into various kinds of chemicals rapidly in order to determine their quality (with some of the chemicals splashing back onto our legs, burning us momentarily)–lasted three weeks; working for one week before quitting at the Canada Safeway factory in Calgary: could not keep up with the fast pace of having to load loaves of bread onto carts with wired shelves. I finally did find a job that I could tolerate for some time–working at a brewery in Calgary, but when I got off in the morning in the summer and fall (I frequently worked the night shift in order to minimize having management around), the so-called beautiful sunrises held little interest because I was exhausted. Then of course there is my experience of being a Marxist father in Canada (see, for example, A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One).

I would say that my experiences are just as reflective of the “Canadian” experience as Mr. Stafford’s–but you would not know it from reading Mr. Stanford’s reference to “very Canadian of us.”

But who is Mr. Stanford?

Until 2016 Stanford was economist and policy director for Unifor (and formerly for the Canadian Auto Workers), and a regular economics panelist on CBC-TV’s The National. He is also Harold Innis Industry Professor of Economics at McMaster University, and a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star.

Given the social-democratic nature of Unifor, with its limitations (see, for example, Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)), it is likely that Mr. Stanford shares some of the limitations of the organization for which he worked for a number of years.

Mr. Stanford, in addition to teaching at McMaster University, according to his biography:

Until 2016 Jim also served as Vice-President and Treasurer of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada’s premiere progressive think tank, and he remains a member of the CCPA’s Members’ Council.  He was the founding chairperson of the Progressive Economics Forum (formed in 1998), Canada’s network of over 150 progressive economists.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) is a social-democratic organization that generally assumes the legitimacy of the power of the class of employers–for example, by referring to companies paying “their fair share of taxes,” which implies that, as long as companies do so, they are legitimate and should not be taken over by workers (see my critique in  Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Part Two: The Social-Democratic Left Share Some of We Day’s Assumptions).

I doubt that Mr. Stanford’s economics reflects an economics that is relevant for addressing the class interests of workers–although it appears to do so. His economics reflects more a social-democratic view than a view that challenges the class power of employers.

I will pursue the issue in further posts in this series. In particular, in the next post in this series, I will take a critical look at his definition of money as “purchasing power.”  As will be shown, this definition is a far from adequate one in the context of a society where commodities are produced to exchange for money–by workers who work for an employer.

Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)

In the previous post in this series, I quoted several references by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to “fair contracts,” “fair treatment,” and similar expressions (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One). This is a continuation of the series.

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

The following series of quotes are from various webpages of Unifor–the largest private-sector union in Canada. They show how Unifor refers to such rhetoric as

1. Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:

Paramedics and supporters in Sault Ste. Marie demonstrated in front of City Hall on January 8, calling for a new collective agreement for EMS workers represented by Local 1359. 

The demonstration was organized to remind city councillors that paramedics need a fair deal, which takes into account issues such as: lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and benefits between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD.

The group, made up of paramedics, nurses, retired health care workers, union members, family and supporters, marched into the council chambers after the rally with signs and Unifor flags. 
“Our employer is not negotiating fairly. City representatives continually talk about the debt and nothing else,” said Mary Casola, Local 1359 unit chair and paramedic of 28 years. “They offered workers a measly wage increase of 10 cents an hour, per year. That’s 0.25 per cent. But as our sign says – ‘10 cents is non-sense.’”


  1. Of course, the issues of “lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD” are immediate issues that are important to unionized (and non-unionized) workers and need to be addressed. They should not be just shoved aside and “revolution” declared. On the other hand, while addressing these issues, the possibility or impossibility of actually achieving a “fair deal” should be discussed; in my experiences as a union member, it never is. Unions thereby become ideological institutions, in part, for the class of employers–even if they are unaware of it.





    In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, some employers have become even more exploitative and vicious than normal. However, unions that legitimately focus on resisting such employers have no right that somehow, if they resist such employers successfully, there will be such a thing as “a fair and equitable contract.”
    Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:
  2. From https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/health-care-workers-hold-rally-demand-a-fair-collective-agreement:

December 8, 2020

WINDSOR – Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions by holding a rally outside of Fairfield Park long term care home to demand a fair and equitable collective.

“The employers’ approach of viewing our members as zeroes instead of heroes is insulting and disrespectful,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “To think at a time where these health care heroes are risking their lives to care for others, their employer turns around and puts forward a laundry list of concessions and says this is what you’re worth. This employer should be ashamed. Let’s get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement, free of concessions.

Last week a rally was held outside of Broulliette Manor, urging the employer to return to the bargaining table and withdraw its long list of concessions.

“I have negotiated many contracts in my day, but I have never seen an employer so blatantly disrespectful,” said Chris Taylor, Unifor National Staff Representative. “The pandemic has forced long term care workers across the country to do more with less and here we have an employer that’s asking these COVID heroes to take on all the new protocols and get nothing in return.  Our members will not be made to feel worthless and we will continue to ramp up our actions until they receive the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Contract negotiations opened with Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor on October 27, 2020. The union proposed modest changes to the collective agreement that were immediately rejected by the employer’s legal representatives. The employer’s representatives presented the union with more than six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.

The union is steadfast in its resolve to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.
To arrange in person, phone or FaceTime interviews or for more information please contact Unifor Communications Representative Hamid Osman at hamid.osman@unifor.org or 647-448-2823 (cell).

Again, it is certainly necessary to have a union that fights against “six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.” The union should be praised for doing so.

On the other hand, it should be criticized for making such statements as: “Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions … to demand a fair and equitable collective [agreement]”

As shown in the last post, unions persistently claim that, through collective bargaining and a collective agreement, there can arise somehow (by magic?) “a fair and equitable collective agreement.” There can be no such thing as long as there exists a market for workers, where human beings are treated as things and as means for purposes over which they have little control. To claim otherwise is to bullshit workers–and workers deserve much better than this.

Or perhaps union representatives can explain how collective bargaining and collective agreements can express “a fair and equitable collective agreement?” If they truly believe that it does, why do they not explain how it does so in the context of the power of both a particular employer and the power of the class of employers. (For a critical analysis of a lame attempt to minimize the power of management over workers by a representative in a unionized setting , see the post Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994. Also see the much more honest assessment of the real limited powers of unions in relation to employers, see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers)

The union should also be criticized for claiming “to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.” Obviously, the agreement should address the needs of the workers at these facilities, but “the needs of the members working” for an employer go far beyond the capacity of a collective agreement to address them.

3. Dated August 31, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-members-detroit-3-give-bargaining-committees-strong-strike-mandate:

TORONTO—Unifor members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors have authorized their bargaining committees to take strike action, if necessary, to secure fair contract settlements.

4. Dated January 7, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/locked-out-workers-escalate-fight-a-fair-deal-co-op-refinery:

REGINA – Hundreds of members of Unifor Local 594 and their supporters rallied at noon today to show the Co-op Refinery that, on day 34 of the lockout, their resolve has never been stronger.

“Co-op will not bust our union by using profits only made possible by your hard work. We are going to hold them to their pension promises. Our union will intensify our campaign to achieve a fair collective agreement for our members,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer.

Payne told locked out Local 594 members that locals across Canada will mobilize and send members to Regina as the union ramps up the fight for a fair deal.

“While refinery workers walked picket lines 24-7 in the frigid cold, their greedy employer posted revenues of $9.2 billion last year,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator and Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President. “For Co-op to attack workers with lies and misinformation while claiming to respect workers is just shameful.”

During the rally, secondary pickets were also underway at Co-op retailers in Western Canada as the union announced an escalation of the boycott campaign against Co-op. The union’s Boycott TV commercial has been seen by millions of Canadians, including during Saturday’s Gold Medal World Juniors Hockey game.

“Co-op must return to the bargaining table with a deal that does not include gutting half the value of our pensions as was promised in the last round of bargaining,” said Kevin Bittman, President of Unifor Local 594. “We just want to get back to doing the jobs we love.”

The event was streamed live on Unifor’s Facebook Page. Photos from the rally will also be available on Facebook. Facts about the dispute can be found at http://unifor594.com.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

5. Dated May 15, 2019: at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-energy-workers-sign-historic-pattern-deal:

May 15, 2019

MONTREAL— Unifor has achieved a new tentative agreement that establishes the pattern for 8,500 members of the National Energy Program.

“The energy and chemical sector continues to be an important economic driver in Canada. By working together, our members have used their collective power to make much-deserved significant gains,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Energy and chemical jobs continue to be good jobs in communities right across the country.”

The tentative agreement covers Unifor members working in the sector across Canada. Suncor was selected by Unifor as the chosen employer to set the pattern that will be rolled out to the remaining employers after ratification.

During this round of bargaining Unifor and Suncor bargained both local and national issues concurrently during one week, ensuring that no one union local was left behind.

“Make no mistake: energy companies provide good jobs across this country and are critical to Canada’s economy,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor’s Quebec Director. “Unifor members are instrumental in the success of energy and chemical companies and have earned a fair contract.” [my emphasis]

6. A campaign promoted by Unifor also claimed that, if realized, it would make the situation fair (https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/help-change-ontarios-labour-law-make-it-fair), dated July 13, 2016:

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

Today in Ontario, more than 1.7 million workers are earning at or around minimum wage and many Ontarians are trapped working precarious part-time, temporary, contract and subcontracted jobs, without a union.  

The Government of Ontario has initiated its “Changing Workplace Review” to examine the out-dated Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. In order to seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the provincial review, the OFL [the Ontario Federation of Labour] has launched the “Make It Fair” campaign [my emphasis] to push for employment reform. 

As part of this campaign, the OFL and unions across Ontario have launched a survey on precarious work – an issue that is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ for Ontario’s seven million workers.  The goal of the survey is to speak to union members about their experiences and the experiences of their families with precarious work. Lend your voice – participate in the survey here:

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

 “Inequality and precarious work are on the rise across our growing province, but collectively each of us has the power to change the law and help Ontario workers out of poverty,” said OFL President Chris Buckley.

Unionized workers have a long history of incredible gains at the bargaining table, including the 40-hour work week, maternity/parental benefits and unemployment insurance, which have become the law of the land.  

“There is an urgent need for new laws as workers, particularly young workers, increasingly find themselves in part-time or contract positions with low pay, few benefits and unpredictable schedules,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier. “Our goal is to ensure that the voices of union members are heard in the changes that will come.”

Upon finishing the survey, participants will also have a chance to enter to win a $200 gift card for either Loblaws or Metro grocery stores.  

Unifor is a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents approximately 1 million working people across Ontario.

7. Dated November 15, 2017 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/picket-highlights-need-first-contract-youth-workers:

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

Members of Unifor Local 333 working at Kennedy Youth Services organized an information picket on November 14 to highlight their struggles to reach a fair first collective agreement and increase pressure on their employer.

Prior to bargaining the employer  repeatedly refused to follow the Employment Standards Act around overtime, meal breaks, statutory holidays and vacation pay.  Kennedy Youth Services has also failed to provide a safe work environment, with workers regularly getting injured on the job. On top of the current workplace issues, the employer is pushing to introduce a 10-year wage progression from $17 an hour to $18.75 and has made any wage increase contingent on centre funding. The bargaining committee has said firmly enough is enough and will continue to push for fairness and a safer workplace.

“We need more safety measures at work. Arms are getting broken, staff members are being beaten and nothing is done about it – it’s not right,” said Amber Simpson, bargaining committee member. “Frequently, there are untrained temporary staff people who are brought in and this puts everyone in greater danger.”

The 42 developmental service workers are employed at two residential homes, providing care and support to vulnerable youth and adults with developmental disabilities. The workers joined Unifor in February and negotiations started in late October. After two days, the employer broke away from conciliation and requested a no-board report, which opens the door to locking out the workers.

“These workers joined the union because they want to improve their working lives in areas of fair wages and work schedules, and want the employer to be sensitive to the effect their work has on their health and well-being both physically and mentally,” said Kelly-Anne Orr, national representative.

Orr said that the employer did not come to the table to negotiate a fair agreement and seems to have no interest in acknowledging even basic rights as required by the law.

8. Dated January 30, 2021 at https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/iiroc-trading-halt-nee-db-180300576.html

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

OTTAWA, ONJan. 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor has reached a tentative contract with VIA Rail, in negotiations covering more than 2,000 rail workers.

VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)
VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)

“My congratulations go to members and the bargaining committees who adapted to bargaining online through the pandemic, and remained committed to reaching a fair deal for all members [my emphasis] while VIA Rail faces truly unprecedented challenges,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We must highlight all the work done by our members to ensure safe, clean standards on board trains and also, to ensure that the trains are in impeccable condition for the safety of this critical transit infrastructure. In the current difficult circumstances, this collective agreement secures good unionized jobs in the sector for years to come.”

The agreement covers Unifor National Council 4000 and Unifor Local 100 members, who work as maintenance workers, on-board service personnel, chefs, sales agents and customer service staff at VIA Rail.

“Unifor members in rail have made incredible contributions to the industry, and advancements in workers rights and labour laws have been made possible with thanks to them. Our members are greatly affected by the pandemic, and Unifor has put all the necessary resources to support them and counter the attempts at concessions made by the employer,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor Quebec Director.

The new 2-year contract replaced the collective agreement that expired on December 31, 2019. Contract talks began in October 2019 and were conducted in recent months remotely, with the assistance of mediators assigned by the federal government.

“I wish to thank our members for their support throughout the bargaining process. This is a good contract that will ensure fairness for members,” said Dave Kissack, President of Unifor’s Council 4000.

Zoltan Czippel, President of Local 100 echoed the message, adding that, “This deal represents the end of a long negotiation where the bargaining team put member’s priorities front and centre. I’m proud to recommend adoption.”

Details of the deal will only be released following ratification by members. Votes will be conducted in the coming weeks.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

 

9. Dated October 20, 2019 at https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-saskcrowns-853371456.html:

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

REGINA, Oct. 20, 2019 /CNW/ – Unifor bargaining committees have signed tentative agreements with SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskWater, DirectWest, and SecureTek, ending a 17-day strike by nearly 5,000 workers across the province.

“Solidarity and the support from Unifor members at all six Crowns along with those who joined our picket lines from across the province were key to achieving this agreement,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “I want to thank Ian Davidson, President, Unifor Local 649, Dave Kuntz, President, Unifor Local 1-S, Penny Matheson, President, Unifor Local 2-S and Doug Lang, President, Unifor Local 820 for showing tremendous resolve and leadership to stand together and fight back against the regressive Moe government mandate to achieve a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The details of the tentative agreements will be released following the ratification votes, which will be held this month.

Unifor members have been escalating strike action after the employers rejected the union’s offer to go to binding arbitration. On Saturday the Poplar River power plant in Coronach was behind reinforced picket lines that only granted access to essential services staff. Unifor members also picketed SaskTel dealers across the province asking customers to support locked out workers and take their business elsewhere.

“Unifor members proved that they are vital to their communities and the Saskatchewan economy,” said Chris MacDonald, Assistant to the National President.

“This was an historic and yet complicated round of bargaining and the bargaining committees will be recommending members ratify the tentative agreement reached today,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President.

The members want to thank the public, and other unions and Unifor members across the country who showed support on picket lines in more than 80 locations.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

10. Dated July1, 2019 at http://unifor1996-o.ca/unifor-demands-fair-restructuring-agreements-for-auto-parts-workers-impacted-by-gm-oshawa/:

Unifor demands fair restructuring agreements for auto parts workers impacted by GM Oshawa

ips_media_release_photo

TORONTO Unifor is reinforcing its demand for fair agreements [my emphasis] for workers negatively impacted by the discontinuation of vehicle production at General Motors Oshawa as the union enters discussions with multiple auto parts and service provider companies.

“As Unifor warned, thousands of additional independent parts and suppliers (IPS) workers are now facing job loss as a direct result of the assembly line closure at GM Oshawa,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The workers deserve respect and support as operations are restructured or wound down. Unifor is determined to secure agreements that address important issues such as transition to retirement opportunities, financial support, and adjustment support.”

Vehicle manufacturing at Oshawa GM will start to wind down in late September and cease completely in December 2019. This will cause the closure of several independent parts suppliers. An estimated 1,700 Unifor members are facing job loss due to closure or restructuring.

“In every one of these workplaces, severance is a key issue. Workers facing job loss need a financial bridge as they transition. That is why we are demanding that all of these companies step up and provide enhanced severance for affected workers,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222.

The majority of the job losses will occur at CEVA Logistics, Syncreon Supplier Park, Inteva, Oakley, Auto Warehousing, Marek Hospitality, Securitas, Robinson Solutions, Robinson Building Services and Lear Whitby.

On Sunday June 23, Lear Whitby workers, members of Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa, met with Local and National Union leadership to discuss concerns over pension eligibility, severance, and health care benefits.

“This is devastating to workers at companies like Lear Whitby where the vast majority of the workers are in their mid-fifties and have at least 30 years of service. The closure creates a massive problem as it currently prevents many of these members from reaching retirement eligibility under the pension plan. This issue highlights why we fought so hard to try to convince GM to keep building vehicles in Oshawa,” said Dias. “On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Oakley and CEVA where our members are younger and need access to adjustment centre funding as they try to transition to new employment.”

The union is actively engaged in negotiations with all involved employers as it calls on the companies to provide the necessary support for workers in all age groups.

Transparency in Collective Bargaining: A Necessary but Insufficient Condition for Democratic and Rational Working-Class Practice

Rebecca Keetch wrote an article that was posted on the Socialist Project’s website on transparency and collective bargaining (https://socialistproject.ca/2020/09/canadian-auto-workers-fight-for-contract-transparency/). Ms. Keetch was a former GM worker at Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and she is a member and activist of Green Jobs Oshawa.

Ms. Keetch advocates for transparent bargaining in a form similar to what I tried to do when I was a member of the negotiating committee for the support workers of the Prince George School District No. 57, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). Not only must we present to our unionized fellow workers the proposals that we have tentatively negotiated but also what we have been unsuccessful in negotiating or had to modify in the process:

As bargaining at the Detroit Three automakers kicks off in Canada, union members are fighting back against a longstanding undemocratic contract ratification process. In an unprecedented development, the Solidarity Movement, a rank-and-file movement within Unifor, has launched a petition to demand full disclosure of the collective agreement before voting takes place. Since the launch in early August, more than 1,800 members have signed.

The petition calls on Unifor leadership to “provide full disclosure of the contents of the contract, five days before ratification, by publishing all revisions, additions, deletions, and changes to the contract, clearly marked, on the Unifor National website and the websites of the locals involved in ‘Detroit Three’ bargaining.” It also requests “that the ratification highlights include a clear statement of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.”

In the US, the United Auto Workers publishes the full contract with all changes on its website where Detroit Three members can read it before they go to their ratification/information meetings — a long-time demand of American union reformers. The UAW began posting the tentative Detroit Three contracts online in 2011.

This movement to create transparency is to be welcomed. Workers deserve to be able to see what negotiators have done on their behalf before making a decision on whether to ratify the collective agreement or to reject it. It is their lives, and they have a right to make decisions concerning its direction and quality as far as is humanly possible.

Ms. Keetch certainly is moving in a more democratic position when she writes:

The members’ concerns should be acknowledged, not simply dismissed. Real democracy means taking our lead from the members.

She then outlines the procedures used in typical undemocratic collective bargaining:

Historically, auto negotiations are secretive. Once contract demands are collected by leadership, workers are nearly shut out of bargaining, which takes place behind closed doors. At the completion of bargaining, information/ratification meetings are immediately scheduled.

As members enter the meeting, they are given a handout called a “Bargaining Report.” The Bargaining Report contains highlights of the tentative agreement and includes messages from the national president and other leaders encouraging ratification. Union leadership and staff make a presentation on the highlights of the agreement. Members are given limited time and opportunity to ask questions and no opportunity to meaningfully discuss the agreement with each other before being required to vote. Historically, voting has taken place at the information meeting.

She then argues that the Constitution of Unifor is supposed to be democratic and that it is necessary for it be in reality democratic rather than just formally:

Democracy In The Constitution

The Unifor constitution makes it clear that Unifor is intended to be a democratic organization and that the members are meant to control the union. Article 2, Section 1 states, “Unifor is a voluntary organization that belongs to its members. It is controlled by members and driven by members. Its role is to serve their collective interests in the workplace and in our communities. The life of Unifor is shaped by the essential ingredient of democratic participation. Democratic values are the foundation of all that we do. Our commitment to the principles and practices of democratic unionism define who we are and are reflected in our rules, structures, and processes.”

Our constitution cannot just be words on paper. If union leadership doesn’t live and breathe to empower and engage the membership, if leadership limits worker agency, participation, discussion, and debate, then the inevitable outcome is a weak, disempowered membership that can’t fight back when the bosses are trying to walk all over us.

Unifor members are often told to just trust our leadership. But ratifying a collective agreement isn’t about rubberstamping whatever the leadership brings. If that were the case, why would we even go to the time and trouble of having a ratification vote? With technology today, it couldn’t be cheaper or easier to make the contract available ahead of ratification.

The democratization of the collective bargaining process at the level of the local is certainly necessary. However, even if it were democratized, the result would not overcome limitations which Ms. Keetch does not address.

She makes the following claim:

Though the collective agreement is one of the most important documents to shape a worker’s life, Canadian auto workers at General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, and Ford are not allowed to see it before we are asked to ratify it. Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, represents nearly 17,000 auto workers at the Detroit Three.

Technically, as a document, the collective agreement does indeed shape a worker’s life–by limiting what the employer can do. From a worker’s perspective, it is, on the one hand, a a tool for limiting the power of management and, on the other, an expression of monetary remuneration and benefits for transferring the power of control over the worker’s life, temporarily, to the employer.

Ms. Keetch’s critique of the collective bargaining process is more advanced than Brian Forbes’ implicit defense of typical collective-bargaining procedures (see the article “Critique of Collective-Bargaining Models in Canada” found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog) since Mr. Forbes fails to criticize the traditional anti-democratic model of collective bargaining.

However, what if you democratize a process in the context of a situation that is undemocratic? Ms. Keetch nowhere explores the limitations as such of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement in the context of a class of employers. How does this context “shape a worker’s life?” Is this context more or less important than the collective agreement?

Readers who have read some of my posts will already know my answer: the context of a class of employers and the associated economic and political structures influences workers’ lives much more than any collective agreement. The level of influence of this context can be seen explicitly seen in various managements rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia or Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario). This lack of reference to this class situation will at most enable particular workers working for particular employers to limit their particular employer’s power in the best way possible without moving towards threatening the power of employers as a class.

Transparency is not only necessary at the level of the particular employer but at the macro level of the class economy. Mr. Keetch’s reference to democracy needs to involve both micro and macro level transparency if workers are to make rational decisions concerning the working lives and the purpose of their organizations.

At the micro level, even if there were complete transparency during collective bargaining, how would workers decide on what to do if they took no or little account of the macro structure that involves treating them as impersonal means for impersonal ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Should there not be open discussion about the kind of economy that exists in order for workers to make rational decisions about the adequacy of collective agreements in meeting their lives, both inside and outside work? To exclude transparency in the wider situation is like looking at the hand and treating it as if it were the whole body. The hand may look to be in perfect condition, but not when linked to a body that has invasive cancer in the bladder, or rectal cancer or metastatic liver cancer.

Nor can any collective agreement be considered a fair contract without considering the context of exploitation and oppression characteristic of the general situation of workers–whether in the public or private sectors (see various posts on management rights in both the public and private sectors on this blog. See also such posts as Employers as Dictators, Part One , The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One and The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

It is thus questionable whether collective bargaining can really be transparent if the wider picture of the general economic and political structure is excluded. If the purpose of transparency of the collective-bargaining process at the micro level is to ensure that workers make democratic and rational decisions concerning their lives, it is necessary to move towards macro transparency.

The purpose of this blog is, in part, to move in that direction. If others wish to do so as well, they are most welcome to do so on this blog or by providing links to their own blogs or other resources.

The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant

The following is a critique of an article written by Sam Gindin before the coronavirus pandemic emerged. It is relevant to the current situation because of the current call for public ownership as a solution to the problems that we face.

Mr. Gindin published an article on February 3, 2020, titled Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa. Here Mr. Gindin attempts to criticize, on the one hand, what happened at GM Oshawa (elimination of around 2200 direct jobs when GM closed the auto plant), and on the other to suggest what should be done to prevent such a situation to arise in the future. However, his own social-democratic position, with its implicit assumption of not challenging the power of the class of employers, shines through in the article.

Mr. Gindin claims that GM’s decision to close, among other plants, the GM Oshawa plant left the recently elected Conservative government of Doug Ford “red-faced”:

The response of the federal government, which had used the preservation of jobs to justify giving GM billions in public funds during the financial crisis, was a tepid ‘disappointment’. The provincial government, which had been plastering the province with the slogan ‘Ontario is open for business’ was left red-faced when, as its billboards were going up, GM announced the closing of one of the largest workplaces in the province.

Where is there evidence that the Ford government was embarrassed at all? The idea of “open for business” includes the idea that, in the competitive struggle for survival, corporations will sometimes close down. The obverse side of “open for business” is–“closed for business.” Corporations are free to decide to open and close doors as they see fit–such is the nature of neoliberalism. Or is that not so?

Mr. Gindin then criticizes Ms. Dias, head of Unifor (which represented the workers at GM Oshawa):

Nor did the autoworkers’ union, Unifor, escape its own share of discomfort. Less than two years earlier, its leadership had negotiated lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them. This betrayal of union solidarity was sold to the members as a victory because of its promised retention of jobs. When the closure exposed the job ‘guarantees’ as a sham, the national president reacted with predictable bluster and launched a public relations campaign to shame the corporation into reversing its decision.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Dias would have preferred for the plant not to close. To prevent such an action, Mr. Dias negotiated a collective agreement that involved “lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them.” Mr. Gindin objects to such a negotiated agreement on the basis of “union solidarity.” The principle of union solidarity, it would seem, involves attempting to have all union members who are doing the same job to be treated in the same way. (Note that Mr. Gindin does not refer to “labour solidarity” or “worker solidarity” but “union solidarity.” Mr. Gindin is a friend of–unions. As I argued in another post, he is too close to unions to adequately criticize them. But that just as an aside).

Mr. Gindin then refers to how this “betrayal to union solidarity was sold to the members of a victory because of its promised retention of jobs.” It is of course possible to criticize Mr. Dias and others for sacrificing some workers in exchange for an impossibly guaranteed retention of jobs. However, Mr. Gindin does not explicitly question the power of employers to make decisions that involve closing down plants. Such power forms part of management rights and is often embodied in a management rights clause, implicitly if not explicitly. Why does Mr. Gindin not criticize this fundamental right?

And why does he not criticize the attempt by many unions to “sell” negotiated collective agreements on the basis of “fairness,” “decent work” and so forth? He certainly criticizes Mr. Dias’ attempt to “sell” the betrayal to union solidarity” in relation to the creation of a two-tiered collective agreement–but he nowhere criticizes the implicit or explicit acceptance of unions and negotiating committees to the legitimacy of collective agreements. Union reps often “sell” negotiated collective agreements that need to be ratified to their members by referring to them as “fair contracts”

“We have been trying to negotiate a fair contract for seven months,” said James Nugent, the bargaining team’s chief spokesperson [for CUPE Local 3902, or the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902]. “We’ve been fighting for better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our members. Last night, our members sent us back to the bargaining table to keep fighting for those things, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Union reps often try to “sell” this ideology of “fair contracts” to their members. Why does not Mr. Gindin criticize this ideology and not just the ideology of two-tiered contracts? What happens if a collective agreement does not have a two-tiered provision? Does that then make it a “fair contract?” Mr. Gindin is silent over the issue–as are union reps. Why this silence?

Mr. Gindin then has a section that outlines an alternative:

Toward an Alternative

A small group of rank and file Oshawa workers and retirees understood that far more was needed; both logic and history suggested that appealing to GM to rethink their cold calculations was naïve. They joined with other community allies, including the Durham Labour Council and supporters from the Toronto-based Socialist Project, to establish Green Jobs Oshawa. Its mandate was to explore and organize around other possibilities for the Oshawa facility.

A problem already arises. I am ignorant of the specific nature of the Durham Labour Council, but the Toronto and York Region Labour Council does not call into question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class; rather, it presupposes such legitimacy (John CartWright, president of the Council, refers to “economic justice”–implicitly referring to collective agreements. See my post  Ontario Looks Right–With Some Help From the “Left” ). I have criticized  as well some of the views expressed by the Steering Committee of the Socialist Project (see The Socialist Project’s Critique of Doug Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy Falls Short).

But let us proceed:

Four perspectives drove their ambitious proposal. First, GM was the problem, not the solution.

Yes, GM is a problem and not the solution–but it is not just GM that is the problem but the power of employers as a class, of which GM is only one example. Defining the problem only in terms of a particular employer is a typical social-democratic trick of focusing on one “bad” employer rather than the class of employers. Already, looking at alternatives seems limited.

Let us continue:

Second, expecting to compete in the market with China, Mexico or plants in the American south was no answer. It would only reproduce past pressures on wages and working conditions, past insecurities and past failures. Third, any alternative would need to introduce a product with special social significance. And fourth, the issue was not just jobs but retaining Canada’s manufacturing capacities.

Seeking an alternative product that would prevent competition with other workers in the same kind of market is certainly to be preferred. As for “a product with special social significance,” this issue is connected to the following:

The Oshawa facility could then be converted to assembling fleets of electric vehicles. The sale of these vehicles was to depend not on market competition, but a social plan based on direct government purchases of the products the government had invested in. The fleet vehicles involved would range from electric post office vans (as recommended earlier by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) to hydro-electric vans, newly designed school buses, ambulances and police cars. With that base, the plant could also produce electric cars for individual consumers and, depending on how much space remained available, add other environmentally-related products.

The government would provide the bulk of demand for the output, with individual consumers making up any needed demand so that the Oshawa facility could be fully utilized (GM had identified under-utilization of the capacity of the plant as a major reason for its closing).

The government as the major consumer would also be the major owner:

In line with this outlook, Green Jobs Oshawa called on the federal government – or the municipal government with substantial financial and technical support from the feds – to take over the land and equipment idled by GM.

The government would then become both the employer and the major consumer. This solution may certainly have retained the jobs–but would not have changed the use of workers as things by government. Merely because the government is the employer does not prevent workers from being exploited and oppressed (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Why did Green Jobs Oshawa not call on the government to take over the plant while concentrating decision-making power over the plant with the workers who worked there? Why did it not call into question the power of employers to make decisions at all that can affect the lives of many workers and the community–investment decisions? Why not use the GM shut down as an example of the dictatorial power of employers? Why this focus on the government as the saviour rather than the workers and the community?

Green Jobs Oshawa, rather, tried to evade this central issue:

The message was that jobs, the environment, and the industrial capacities for conversion and restructuring are inseparable. From that perspective, saving Oshawa was not an end point but a beginning and an example to build on.

Jobs, the environment and the industrial capacities for conversion are not just inseparable. To adequately address them, it is necessary to address the power of employers as a class, the infinite movement of capital (see  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One) and the social and political structures that go with them.

The next section of the article is titled “Frustration and Persistence.” Mr. Gindin outlines what he believes is the cause of workers’ skepticism concerning such an alternative:

Frustration and Persistence

Green Jobs Oshawa developed a website, distributed leaflets to workers, held educationals and public forums in Oshawa and Toronto, organized petitions, commissioned a widely respected professional feasibility study confirming its case, received sympathetic attention in the press and gave numerous media interviews. Yet the committee couldn’t generate the necessary level of support, starting with the workers themselves.

The workers in Oshawa were frustrated and angry, but anger doesn’t necessarily translate into activism. Having experienced the steady drip-drip decline of the Oshawa complex, having recently suffered demoralizing defeats after defeats in bargaining, and now seeing the final end of vehicle assembly in the city, workers had shifted to survival mode. In that state of mind, most workers, it seemed, had simply stopped even thinking about possibilities. Nor was it unusual for workers to guard against hope creeping into their consciousness; risking the pain of once more seeing hopes dashed made even hope something to willfully avoid.

Though workers contacted by Green Jobs Oshawa generally considered the proposals on conversion as sensible, this was trumped by their skepticism of ‘sensible’ driving economic and political decisions. Critical here was the role of the union. As frustrated as workers were with the union, they still looked to its structures and resources for leadership, especially given the radical nature of the alternative proposed. But with both the national and local leadership not interested in and even hostile to an alternative, it was no surprise that workers were lukewarm to committing to a fight for a long-shot alternative.

Important here, as well, were the limits of the environmental movement. Environmentalists have most impressively raised public awareness of the looming environmental catastrophe. Yet they have been far less successful in getting the mass of working people on side. Two inter-related problems stand out. First, the promise of a ‘just transition’ is well-meaning but unconvincing to workers; workers rightly ask how such a commitment could be met in a society driven by competition and private profits. Second, with the environmental movement generally absent from workers struggles, developing ‘awareness’ could only go so far.

Workers have been indoctrinated from school to accept the power of employers to make decisions over their lives (as I show in a series of posts on indoctrination in schools via the silence of the Canadian history curriculum over the historical emergence of employers and employees. See, for example,  Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Or School Indoctrination, Part One). Various organizations and activities reinforce such indoctrination (union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” social organizations that deal with oppressing people in various ways (child and family services, social assistance, collection agencies, courts and the like). To counteract such indoctrination, it would be necessary to engage systematically in a critique of such indoctrination–but Mr. Gindin does not believe that such a systematic and engaged critique is necessary (otherwise, he would have engaged in such criticism when the opportunity presented itself in relation to pairing the fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour with the idea of “fairness”).

The skeptical attitude of workers in relation to their own capacities for controlling their lives in the face of multiple forms of indoctrination and oppression is understandable, but Mr. Gindin ignores such indoctrination and oppression in practice.

The final section is called “Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On.” Mr. Gindin states what he thinks has and has not been accomplished in the Green Jobs Oshawa” campaign and what should be done:

Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On

Measured by its ability to keep the Oshawa facility humming, Green Jobs Oshawa was not successful; today, no more vehicles are being assembled in Oshawa. But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment – brings a more encouraging conclusion.

Though the Oshawa facility is now quiet, the battle to revive it, with all its noise and productive bustle, continues. The facility still has waiting assembly lines, a body shop, a paint shop, and 10 million square feet of space. In Oshawa and nearby, there is no shortage of workers anxious to apply their too often underestimated skills, suppliers with flexible tooling capacities, and young engineers leaving university anxious to apply their knowledge to developing socially useful products. Green Jobs Oshawa continues to send out material and speak at events, making connections and spreading the urgent discussion of possibilities.

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further. A significant step would be to lobby for a National Conversion Agency with the authority and financial and technical resources to intervene when plant closures occur or seem imminent.

Provincial federations of labour could focus on the environmental particularities of their own regions as, for example, the Alberta Federation of Labour has started to do in addressing how the inevitable transition away from oil could be economically and socially managed. This could include lobbying to establish local tech-enviro centers populated by the hundreds of young engineers mentioned above. Alongside coming up with possibilities for local conversion and development, they could contribute to spreading understanding to the community of what we face and what needs to be done.

For private sector workers, the crucial fact is that environmental pressures will require transforming everything about how we live, work, travel, and use our leisure time. Such a massive and unprecedented undertaking (the conversions entering and exiting World War II come closest) can, if done right, mean not a loss of jobs but a shortage of workers trying to meet society’s ‘regular’ needs and the demands of environmental reconstruction.

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights. And addressing how to implement such policies, requires bringing the mass of workers on side to both the environmental necessities and to the overcoming of capitalism. This can only begin with actively supporting the defensive struggles of workers with the goal of linking them, as Green Jobs Oshawa has tried to do, to those larger issues of conversion and democratic planning in the shaping of the world to come.

In short, the issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class, and the labour movement must escape what, for it, has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation. •

Mr. Gindin follows the British Labour Party, in its Manifesto, by jumping on the bandwagon of environmentalism–rather than focusing on criticizing the power of employers as a class (which would involve criticizing union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” “fair collective bargaining,” and the like) , first, and then linking that issue to environmental issues (see my post  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). Mr. Gindin only near the end of this section does Mr. Gindin address this issue:

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights.

But earlier, Mr. Gindin claims the following is the key issue:

But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment

The deindustrialization of the advanced capitalist countries–is that really more important than another issue that has been “largely ignored”–the power of employers as a class? Which should the left focus on? And if we focus on the power of employers as a class, should we not criticize the ideology of many unions, which often try to sell the results of collective bargaining as a “fair contract?”

Frankly, Mr. Gindin’s approach fails to see the need for a rigorous and persistent struggle against those who justify collective agreements with such phrases. The same applies to other social movements who refer to “fairness” and the like. We need to use every opportunity to oppose such indoctrination.

Mr.Gindin, however, argues only for the positive side in the following:

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

To set up committees that are more than paper committees, it would be necessary to deal with the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements while recognizing that collective agreements do provide some real protection for workers. If workers merely set up committees without engaging seriously in debate over the pros and cons of collective bargaining and collective agreements, then such committees will likely be isolated from the needs and interests of workers.

It is interesting that Mr. Gindin engages in abstract moralizing when referring to what the Canadian Labour Congress (an organization of affiliated unions that represent over three million Canadian workers) ‘ought or should do’:

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further.

Another inadequacy of Mr. Gindin’s approach can also be seen from the above quote. Hegel, a German philosopher, saw through such empty phrases as “ought to” or “should” long ago (from the Encyclopedia Logic, page 30):

… the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

This does not mean that we should not engage in wishing for what ought to be, but that what ought to be should be grounded in what is the case. What is the nature of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)? Is it realistic to believe that the CLC would ‘support and coordinate’ such initiatives? See my criticism of the position of the president of the CLC, Hassan Yussuff, in The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process.  Would it not be better to engage in criticism of the CLC–what it is, how it operates and so forth?

There are other problems with this last section. Reference to “democratic planning” clashes with the call for the government (a capitalist government) to operate as employer. How is there democratic planning when the government is the employer? This is to idealize the government and the public sector. This idealization also is expressed in the following:

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

This uncritical reference to the “public sector”–as if working for the government were somehow not subject to exploitation and oppression–is typical of social democrats. So too is Mr. Gindin’s one-sided reference to challenging “corporate property rights” without challenging the power of the state as a capitalist state, on the one hand, and as an employer, on the other. Again, see the money circuit of capital link above for a critique of this view.

Defense of Arrested Picketers is Vital–But Not the Idealization of Collective Bargaining, Collective Agreements and Strikes

On January 20, 2020, Jerry Dias, president of a large private-sector union in Canada, and others–were arrested in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Despite my criticism of Mr. Dias on this blog, in this instance he and others deserve support–as do the workers who are on the picket line in that city.

I am copying the details below from the Rank-and-File website–but I also have a criticism of how Rank-and-File used the situation to support an ideology of fairness if there were anti-scab legislation to prevent the situation from arising in the first place:

In a move that shocked trade unionists across the country, the Regina Police Service arrested Unifor National President Jerry Dias and thirteen other Unifor members at Gate 7 of Regina’s Co-op Refinery Complex on Monday, January 20, 2020.  About 730 refinery workers, members of Local 594, have been locked out for the past 49 days for trying to save their current Defined Benefit pension plan.

Earlier that day, Dias announced Unifor would blockade the refinery gates, challenging a court injunction which ruled workers could only delay vehicles entering and leaving the refinery by 10 minutes. The union argues this injunction interferes with workers’ constitutional right to picket.

“Let’s just say in 2019 – and so far 2020 – we’ve had enough injunctions that we could probably wallpaper a concert hall,” Dias tells RankandFile.ca. “The simple reality is that Unifor is very different than other unions. The fines, the police, the court decisions are not going to prevent us from winning justice for our members. It isn’t any more complicated than that.”

The night prior to the Unifor arrests, around 500 Unifor members from across Canada flew in to help bolster the picket lines. Because of this, Dias asserted that Unifor – not Local 594 – was blockading the refinery, and therefore not breaking the injunction leveled against Local 594.

However, the Co-op Refinery disagreed, calling the blockade “illegal” and a “bullying tactic.”

The Regina Leader-Post also reported that trucking companies lobbied the government and police to intervene the morning of the crackdown:

“C.S. Day Transport president Heather Day sent a letter Monday morning to RPS Chief Evan Bray, as well as Premier Scott Moe, Labour Minister Don Morgan, Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell, Mayor Michael Fougere and Regina city councillors.”

“RPS is failing to enforce the court order and other laws and bylaws by ‘not choosing sides.’ Does the presence of a labour dispute mean that laws no longer need to be followed or enforced?” she asked.”

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray stated this letter did not influence his decision to intervene.

Following Dias’ arrest around 5 PM, the Regina Police Service continued a protracted attempt to break Unifor’s blockade, bringing in several tow trucks – two belonging to the City of Regina – and a front-end loader to remove vehicles Unifor had parked as part of their blockade. Bray says about 50 police officers were deployed.

Unifor members responded by climbing in and on top of the union’s vehicles to prevent them from being towed, letting air out of the tires, or removing tires altogether. At one point, an RPS officer took control of one of Unifor’s U-Haul trucks and attempted to drive it away, hitting a worker who was then arrested by other officers. RPS also threatened to use tear gas, but the union was able to talk to the police and deescalate. The police withdrew around 11 PM and the blockade remained intact. The workers arrested throughout the night were charged with mischief.

“We don’t see the police getting involved very aggressively very often anymore,” says Charles Smith, co-author of Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “It was much more common in the post-war period in the 50s and 60s. We don’t see it as much anymore – which is why it’s in some ways so shocking.”

Instead of jail time, courts often level major fines against unions for breaking laws or injunctions. For example, Prime Minister Trudeau legislated the Canadian Union of Postal Worker’s back to work in 2018. This broke the union’s rotating strikes under threat of $1,000 – $50,000 fines a day for individual workers and $100,000 a day for the union if found in contravention of the act. These fines are significant enough to deter union leadership from breaking the law, even if it weakens the union’s position at the bargaining table.

Unifor 594 has been fined $100,000 for breaking the injunction.

“You know, if you want to win these battles, sometimes you’re going to have to pay a bit of fines,” Unifor 594 President Kevin Bittman explains to RankandFile.ca. “Because really, if you’re going to just stand out here and walk back and forth, you’re probably not going to win it against somebody that’s willing to spend a billion dollars just to try and break you.”

Smith argues Co-op’s injunction escalated tensions on the line because it took away the workers’ key bargaining chip – putting economic pressure on the employer by withholding their labour.

“There’s no way we can call it an equal struggle,” he states. “Now imagine if we had anti-scab legislation, which meant the employer couldn’t use replacement workers. Then it becomes much more of a fair fight, but of course we’re not willing to have that sort of negotiation in Saskatchewan, because the government isn’t interested in evening the playing field.” [my emphasis] 

“Because we have this situation where employers can weaken lines through these legal instruments,  why would we be surprised that tensions ramp up like this?” Smith continues. “It easily could have not happened, we easily could have avoided this had there been some sort of semblance of fairness by the employer or the state.”

SOLIDARITY RALLY HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR WORKING CLASS UNITY

Unifor 594 President Kevin Bittman speaks at Wednesday’s solidarity rally.

Following Monday’s arrests, labour unions across the country condemned the police intervention and called for Co-op to return to the bargaining table.

Notably, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff flew in for a solidarity rally on January 22, alongside CUPE National President Mark Hancock, OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas and Seafarers’ International Union President James Given. Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions President Linda Silas and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Lori Johb were also present.

Representing Unifor was Local 594 President Kevin Bittman and National Secretary Treasurer Lana Payne. Dias was barred from the picket line, a condition of his release. Payne told the crowd Dias faces a two year prison sentence if he returned to the refinery.

“You cannot allow an employer, whether it’s a government, or private business to be allowed to destroy workers hopes and dreams to build a better life,” Yussuff tells RankandFile.ca. “I’m here to show solidarity with these workers – regardless of course of anything else – and to make sure they know the entire labour movement is with them to ensure they can get a fair settlement to resolve this dispute.” [my emphasis] 

In 2018, Unifor disaffiliated from the CLC following an attempted raid of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. Unifor and the CLC disagreed over the interpretation of Article 4 of the CLC constitution. According to Larry Savage, Article 4 “governs the disputes between affiliates and provides a pathway for workers to switch unions.”

The disaffiliation created tension between Unifor and the broader labour movement, impacting organizing & resource distribution all the way down to the labour councils. Given this history, Yussuff’s presence at the Unifor picket line is significant.

“I think this should remind us all we’re stronger together. When we’re together, we’re a stronger movement, because we need each other,” he continues. “Without that, of course, any employer or government could take advantage of us. This again demonstrates why we need solidarity and to build together to build the entire labour movement in this country.”

CUPE National President Mark Hancock not only showed up to Wednesday’s rally, but actively intervened in de-escalating Monday night’s police crackdown. The police had brought two City of Regina tow trucks and a front-end loader operated by CUPE members. Hancock let his members know they had the right refuse unsafe work, which they did, leaving Gate 7.

“We all have our differences,” Hancock tells RankandFile.ca. “Every union is different…they all bring different things to the Canadian Labour Congress…and sometimes, you know, we have our disagreements, we have our fights – and that’s okay. But when it comes to workers, being treated the way that these workers are, the attack on their pensions, the labour movement needs to be united. Whether it’s Unifor, whether it’s OPSEU, whether it’s CUPE, we all need to support each other – and that’s why CUPE is here.”

President of the Seafarer’s International Union James Given said SIU would donate $10,000 to Unifor, and challenged all other unions present to do the same.

“If they wanted a fight, if they’re looking for a fight, they’ve got themselves a fight” Given said about Co-op at the rally, “…11.5 million union members are now focused on Regina.”

Shobna Radons, President of the Regina and District Labour Council, believes it is important to remember this dispute is about real people.

“One of the things that’s just amazing to me is coming out and spending time with folks on the line and talking with real people,” she tells RankandFile.ca. “Everyone knows there’s been a disaffiliation of Unifor and that affects us even at the municipal level and the labour councils. It’s pretty powerful having [Yussuff] here supporting workers, the fact that we can put our differences aside and fight the fight.”

Bittman is thankful for the support, and emphasizes the outcome of this pension fight with the Co-op impacts workers across the country, not just his members.

“It just keeps building and building, every day there’s more people on the lines, there’s more unions coming out to support, everybody knows what’s at stake here,” he says. ”This is just old fashioned union busting and we’re not going to let it happen. If you can let a company that’s making 2.5 billion dollars over 3 years take away pensions, it’s really okay for companies to take anybody’s pension away. This is a stand that we’ve got to put down and say it’s not okay.“

The call for solidarity is indeed welcome. Anti-scab legislation, furthermore, is certainly preferable to a lack of such legislation. However, alongside this call in the article for such legislation, it is argued that anti-scab legislation can somehow magically transform the struggle between the working class and the class of employers into “an equal struggle,” that anti-scab legislation can miraculously transform such struggles into a “much more fair fight,” thereby “evening the playing field,” leading to a “fair settlement?”

Is there evidence that any collective agreement expresses “a fair settlement?” Is there evidence that anti-scab legislation leads to a much more level playing field between employers and workers?

Anti-scab legislation does exist in two other provinces–Quebec and British Columbia (see “A Federal Anti-Scab Law for Canada? The Debate over Bill C-257,” Larry Savage and Joseph Butovsky, 2009, in Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society , Volume 13 , Spring 2009). Such legislation does not prevent the economic power of employers from taking precedence; therefore, such legislation does not by any means tip the relation between unionized members and their employers in such a way that they are equals (page 20):

Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. For that reason, economic conditions rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreement.2 … anti-scab laws may provide modest improvement in settlements…

Furthermore, as shown on this blog, collective agreements in Quebec and British Columbia express, implicitly and often explicitly, the power of management (a minority) to dictate to workers (a majority) in a particular firm or state organization (see Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia,  Management Rights, Part Six: Public Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia  and Management Rights, Part Seven: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Quebec).

The social-democratic left, it can be seen, must idealize legislation and  the collective-bargaining regime because, if they did not, they would then have to openly recognize that the working class can never possess equal power to the power of employers as long as the economic power of employers as a class is not challenged as such (and not just the particular powers of particular employers).

(I will critique Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff’s views in another post when I review Jane McAlevey’s book A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy.) 

What has been the response of some leftists here in Toronto? If the response by the Steering Committee of the Socialist Project is any indication, then there is obviously condemnation of the arrests, but the Steering Committee then makes a vague criticism of the rule of law:

While the employer crows on about how wonderful the “rule of law” is – a trumped-up law that prevents workers from protecting their futures and jobs – Unifor Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne commented, “[t]his will not be settled in the courts. This will not be settled by police. We’re holding the line. I don’t know how much more clear I can be.”

The Socialist Project stands in support and solidarity with the members of Unifor 594 and the union’s national leadership in this struggle. We support the union’s demands for an end to the prosecution of workers exercising their right to picket, removal of the trumped-up charges and injunctions, stopping the use of scabs and demand that Co-op return to the bargaining table and withdraw their efforts to change workers’ pensions. •

Reference to the “rule of law” in quotation marks, I assume, uses the quotation marks as “scare quotes.” But what is the Steering Commitee’s position on the rule of law? Silence. (See, by contrast, the posts Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One). What is the Steering Commitee’s position on the idea that collective bargaining is a fair process and that the collective agreement is a fair contract? That unionized workers have a “decent job” because of the existence of a collective agreement? What is the Steering Committee’s position on the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in collective agreements?

Such is the left in Toronto these days. Is there any wonder that there is a rightward drift of workers when the left simply ignores such issues?