Management Rights in a Spanish Collective Agreement: An Expression of “Free Collective Bargaining” or the Dicatorship of Employers?

There are undoubtedly variations in the rights of workers from country to country, but the fundamental principle of the power of employers as a class is constant. This power is often implicit but also often is expressed more explicitly–even in collective agreements between employers and unions.

For example, the following is taken from the collective agreement for offices between the General Union of Workers (Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT)), the Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras (CCOO)), and the Madrid Business Confederation (la Confederación Empresarial de Madrid–CEOE) (CEIM)), dated January 1, 2019-December 31, 2021:

page 6 (my rough translation) (the original in Spanish is included afterwards):

Chapter 2–Organization of Work and Functions

Article 8: General Principles

  1. The practical organization of the work, subject to this collective agreement and the current social legislation in force, is the exclusive capacity of the management of the enterprise.

A further clause also expresses the power of the employer in relation to the employees (page 28):

Chapter 10–Code of Conduct

Article 44: Disciplinary Regime 

  1. The capacity to impose discipline corresponds to the management of the enterprise or to persons delegated for that purpose.

Is this an expression of a democratic society? If democracy is a way of life and not just formal voting for political representatives, do such clauses in collective agreements (which are normally superior to non-unionized implicit employment contracts in terms of provisions for workers) express democracy? Or do they express dictatorship–a dictatorial way of life? See, for example, The Money Circuit of Capital or Employers as Dictators, Part One.

Is this a good example of what union reps mean by “free collective bargaining?” “Good contracts?” “Fair contracts?” “Decent work?” What do you think?

Spanish Original

CAPITULO II – ORGANIZACIÓN DEL TRABAJO Y FUNCIONES

Art. 8º.- PRINCIPIOS GENERALES.

1. La organización práctica del trabajo, con sujeción a este Convenio Colectivo y a la
legislación social vigente, es facultad exclusiva de la Dirección de la Empresa.

CAPITULO X – CÓDIGO DE CONDUCTA

Art. 44º.- RÉGIMEN SANCIONADOR.

1. La facultad de imponer las sanciones corresponderá a la dirección de la empresa
o en las personas en quien delegue.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Workers-First Agenda: A Critique: Part Two

Introduction

The first part of this series focused on a critique of the phrase “good jobs and decent work” expressed in the Ontario Federation of Labour’s campaign titled “Building the Fight for a Workers-First Agenda” (https://ofl.ca/event/activist-assembly-2022/). This post will focus on a critique of the phrases “high quality affordable housing” and “health care.” I draw on earlier posts for such critiques.

The so-called radical left here in Toronto rarely engages in any detailed criticism of unions or groups of unions. Quite to the contrary. They either make vague assertions about “the trade-union elite” or the “trade-union bureaucracy” (union bureaucrats or business unions), or they remain silent when faced with the persistent rhetoric that unions use. It is hardly in the interests of the working-class to read merely vague criticisms of unions or to not read anything concerning the limitations of unions or groups of unions.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

What is the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)? On its website, we read the following:

WHO WE ARE

Just as workers unite in a union to protect their rights, unions also unite in federations of labour to fight for better working and living conditions. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) serves as an umbrella group for working people and their unions.

From our inception in 1957, the OFL has grown to represent over one million Ontario workers belonging to more than 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions, making us Canada’s largest labour federation. Our strong membership and constant vigilance make us a formidable political voice.

WHAT WE DO

We push for legislative change in every area that affects people’s daily lives. Areas like health, education, workplace safety, minimum wage and other employment standards, human rights, women’s rights, workers’ compensation, and pensions.

We also make regular presentations and submissions to the Ontario government and mount internal and public awareness campaigns to mobilize the kind of political pressure that secures positive change for all workers – whether you belong to a union or not.

To accomplish these goals, we work with affiliated local unions and labour councils across the province. We also partner with other community and social justice organizations to build a fairer and more inclusive society that meets everyone’s needs.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Worker’s-First Agenda Campaign

On the above web page, we read:

That means good jobs and decent work for all workers; a $20 minimum wage; high quality affordable housing; accessible and well funded health care, long term care, education, and other public services; justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities; climate justice and a livable planet; and so much more!

These are winnable demands, but only if we fight for them. That’s why we need you to help build the fight for a workers first agenda in our province.

I certainly agree that workers need to fight to create a workers-first agenda. However, I seriously question that what the Ontario Federation of Labour calls a workers’ agenda expresses a full and complete workers’ agenda.

As is usual, I hardly oppose the fight for reforms that benefit workers. However, is what is proposed anything other than the fight for a more humanized form of capitalism? Let us see.

High Quality Affordable Housing

What would be required to actually provide high-quality affordable housing? We are not provided with any guidance over the issue. Admittedly, such high-quality affordable housing would be, in part, a function of the specific town or city for their provision. Generally, either such high quality affordable housing would be provided through private construction by capitalist firms, by the capitalist government, or a combination of the two.

High quality affordable housing also refers to different kinds of housing: rentals or outright buying (through mortgages).

If housing were provided mainly by private firms, then house and condos prices may well rise (as they have in Toronto, Vancouver and other Canadian cities).

But the document probably refers to such high-quality affordable housing being provided by–the capitalist state and rented by tenants (although government-subsidized purchases of houses and condos is also possible).

There is no indication otherwise how such high-quality affordable housing would be provided. The housing would become social housing, managed by the government, with its current oppressive structures. Social housing, even if relatively affordable (rent determined by level of income) hardly need be quality. Indeed, as I pointed out in another post (Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police):

Immediate Incident as an Occasion for Grassroots Activism

On Good Friday, April 2, 2021, 23 police cruisers showed up at 33 Gabian Way, which is a 19-story building owned by Vila Gaspar Corte Real Inc., or Villa Gaspar Corte Real Non-Profit Housing Inc. (there is some inconsistency in spelling the company).

The building is a combination of rental and social housing, built in 1993. There are 248 residential units. Apparently, the building is linked to Project Esperance, which is a non-profit registered charity. It services 111 units of from one- to three-bedroom units. Rents are geared to income.

as the incident at 33 Gabian Way demonstrates, public housing can be quite oppressive. Evictions can occur in just as brutal fashion as in private housing. The left should not idealize the public sector—which they often do.

The issue of the oppression of tenants in “affordable housing” is not addressed in any way by the OFL. To be a tenant is to automatically be subject to precarious living since there is “an inherent imbalance of power” between tenants and landlords.

The OFL also does not address how the split in the working class between those who own houses and see them as vehicles for rising asset values and those who only rent (from other workers who own houses or condos) is to be addressed. As I wrote in the same post:

Housing, Police and the Working Class

The use of houses as equity among the working class has led to a split within the class in terms of immediate material interests. From Michael Berry, “Housing Provision and Class Relations under Capitalism: Some Implications of Recent Marxist Class Analysis,” in pages 109-121, Housing Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 115-116:

Income differences are, as has been argued, also internalised within classes. In the case of the working class, for example, higher paid workers in primary jobs are doubly advantaged; they enjoy both higher and more secure wages and a higher probability of: (a) gaining access to owner-occupation; and (b) securing high capital gains from domestic property ownership. Conversely, workers in the secondary job market and those relegated to the reserve army of unemployed are more likely to be denied access to home ownership, or, if allowed access, concentrated in housing submarkets where property values remain relatively stable. Tenancy therefore evolves as a residual tenure category in a dual sense; not only can land supporting rental housing often be converted to more profitable non-residential uses, it evolves as ‘housing of last resort’ for less privileged sections of the working and nonworking population whose low incomes place strict limits on the rental returns to landlords, both factors leading to a degree of underprovision and homelessness.

In summary, working class disunity, associated with unequal access to and benefits from home ownership, and its political expression through various forms of struggle, is part of a wider system of inequality and exploitation. Both forms of advantage to higher paid workers privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers. depend on their being able to maintain their privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers.

Accessible and Well-funded Health Care

I have already posted on the issue of health in the context of the class power of employers in a series of posts (see for example Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part One). I also have addressed the issue in other posts (such as  Health Care: Socialist versus Capitalist Nationalization). I will draw on already posted posts to question whether a well-funded health care system is really possible under an economic, political and social system characterized by the dominance of a class of employers. I will dispense with quotes when it comes to my own comments in previous posts.

The Issue of Public or Nationalized Health Care

Health care even in a nationalized context can easily be an expression of oppression and exploitation. The idealization of nationalization often goes hand in hand with an argument  that we need to extend public services in health and education (as Sam Gindin, former research director for the Canadian Auto Union (CAW, now Unifor, the largest Canadian private-sector union)  has argued). However, nationalized health care can easily become an oppressive experience for workers (as well as patients). From Barbara Briggs (1984), “Abolishing a Medical Hierarchy: The Struggle for Socialist Primary Health Care,” pages 83-88, in the journal Critical Social Policy, volume 4, issue #12, page 87:

GPs AND SOCIALISM

Socialists have traditionally argued for state control of key areas of the economy and of the provision of welfare services such as health and education. Socialist health workers have argued for general practitioners to become salaried employees of the Area Health Authorities, along with the ’ancillary workers’, instead of continuing to enjoy the independent self-employed status that they insisted on to protect their status when the NHS [National Health Service of the United Kingdom] was set up.

But the NHS, the largest employer in the country, has shared with nationalised industries the failure to demonstrate any evidence of ’belonging to the people’: because of the backing of the state it has proved a ruthless and powerful employer, keeping the wages of unskilled and many skilled workers also at uniquely low levels; time and again, union members seeking improvements in pay and amelioration of very poor working conditions have been defeated. Nor has the NHS shown any kind of effective accountability to its users. Public spending constraints have hit the NHS not only by causing a decline in working conditions and in the services provided, but also by imposing even more centralised planning priorities based on the need to save money whatever the cost.

This situation likely characterizes the Canadian public health-care system as well.

Health Care Versus Health Services

In the context of the class power of employers, health care is impossible. Rather, what is provided is health services. From Bob Brecher (1997), (pages 217-225), “What Would a Socialist Health Service Look Like?,” in the journal Health Care Analysis,  volume 5, issue #3, page 221:

Service’ implies server and served; consultant and client; provider and consumer. But none of these describes the sort of relationship between carer and person carefd for that the two principles outlined suggest. To take the example of the NHS again: despite the intentions of its founders, it was the connotations of service–by turn beneficently providing for patients and ‘servicing’ them as though they were objects–which helped provide amply justified dissatisfactions with the resultant shortcomings of the NHS treatment: and these have been used to undermine its founding principles. The combination of professional paternalism, especially in respect of senior doctors; an inability or unwillingness to treat people rather than their symptoms; and an attitude of ‘servicing’ and being ‘serviced’ all helped alienate people from what was supposed to be ‘our’ NHS, enabling successive conservative governments to turn what was at its inception at least a ‘social’ health service into an expliictly anti-socialist one. … these are not accidents of the British context: such terms and the attitudes and mores they describe are inimical to a socialist structure, based as that must be on considerations of equity and respect.

It is important to emphasize, as Brecher points out, that the assumption that nationalization is somehow socialist without further ado itself contributes to the Conservative backlash and the emergence of neoliberalism. By indulging the social-democratic or social-reformist left, with their talk of “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “fair share of taxes,” “$15 Minimum Wage and Fairness,” and the like, the so-called radicals have in reality contributed to the neoliberal backlash. What is needed is not indulgence of such talk, but continuous critique of such talk. What is needed is a critical attitude towards the so-called “left” and its associated idealized institutions.

Does the OFL provide such a critical attitude? Not at all. It assumes that health care (rather than health service) is possible in the context of the domination of a class of employers. On the other hand, its standard is really health service rather than health care; its standards in this area, like in so many other areas, is quite low. But that applies in general to social democracy or social reformism.

Health Services Provided Fail to Meet Health-Care Needs

The OFL fails to address the issue of the relation between health care and prevention of sickness, injury and disease. In a socialist society, health care would still be important. From  Calum Paton (1997),  (pages 205-216), “Necessary Condtions For A Socialist Health Service,” in Health Care Anal., volume 5, page 209:

A socialist health service in a non-socialist society may be forced to stress care and rescue rather than prevention, health maintenance or the promotion of better health and more equal health status. Nevertheless this may be an important role. Even in a utopian society of perfect health promotion and prevention, people are more likely to die of more complex comorbidities at a later stage in the life cycle. The concept of substitute mortality and morbidity is useful here. 5 As a result simplistic trade-offs which suggest that ‘the more primary care there is, the less secondary care will be necessary’, are unlikely to be true either in the here and now or in the perfect society.

To be cared for with dignity, and to suffer with dignity and to die with dignity–these would all be important aspects of socialist health care.

The OFL also excludes a major issue dealing with health: its prevention. It ignores entirely the need to consider the prevention of disease, injury and sickness in the first place. What are the social conditions that increase the likelihood that a person would become a patient in the first place? Undoubtedly, as we become old, we will likely become patients at some stage in our lives–there is no getting around this fact. However, there are social determinants of health as well, and consequently becoming a patient is also often a function of social conditions.

In a socialist society, prevention would be a major focus of social policy and would deal with addressing the social determinants of health problems, ranging from health problems linked to the workplace to health problems linked to other environmental conditions, including food processing.

Today, though, many social determinants are largely ignored in favour of focusing on servicing those already sick. Consider breast cancer. It arises in many instances from environmental conditions, and yet most money is allocated to servicing those already inflicted with the disease rather than with preventing it from arising in the first place. From Faye Wachs (2007), (pages 929-931), “Review. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. By Samantha King,” in Gender & Society, volume 21, number 6 (December), pages 930-931:

Recent studies reveal that simply removing known carcinogens from products and our environment could prevent thousands of cases annually (Brody et al. 2007). However, funding for such research is limited, while the monies for identifying and curing existing cases is the focus of most efforts. Indeed, many of the companies that fund survivorship continue to use known carcinogens in their products. King points to the fact that despite increased awareness, rates of breast cancer have increased from 1 in 22 in the 1940s to 1 in 7 in 2004. Even if one considers women’s increasing longevity, this still indicates an increase in the prevalence of breast cancer. Moreover, structural factors that affect risk and survivorship, such as socioeconomic status, remain woefully understudied.

Personally, the issue of cancer research funding versus caring for cancer patients hits home. In March 2009, I was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer, and in June 2010 I was informed that I had a 60 percent chance of dying in the next five years (it never happened, of course). The extent of “inquiry” into why I had cancer was a sheet of paper when I was admitted into the hospital for surgery. Two questions related to the causes of the cancer were: Did I smoke? And did I or had I worked in areas that might contribute to cancer. Nothing more. Of course, scientific research is much more extensive and hardly limited to inquiry into specific personal cases. I did find, however, that no qualitative inquiry into possible causes of cancer indicated a lack of a certain kind of cancer research in the area.

Even worse, in December 2015, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. In 2016, I asked the doctor why I had cancer again. His answer was: “Bad luck.”

Like the doctor, I suspect that the OFL neglects the wider picture of a society dominated by a class of employers.

The Division of Labour and the Silence of the OFL Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left

Related to the issue of a lack of perception of the wider picture is the OFL’s lack of reference to the hiearchical division of labour within the health field. Such a division itself has health implications:

One highly useful example from the empirical literature that illustrates the effects of process alienation is that of Whitehall I and Whitehall II studies of Whitehall civil servants (Marmot et al., 1997, 1999). Forbes and Wainwright (2001, p. 810) have commented, but do not develop further, that the evidence and results from the studies appear ‘to be directly related to the Marxian concepts of alienation and exploitation’. The research has identified that among civil servants of differing ranks there are decidedly different experiences of health that appear to relate to how much control a worker has in their workplace. Looking more squarely at the studies a picture of how process alienation is at play can be established. In both studies, there is a clear social gradient in mortality (Marmot et al., 1984) and morbidity (Marmot et al., 1991). In these studies we see how a worker’s health is affected by the extent of their control (examples being, choosing what to do at work, in planning, or in deciding work speed) within their working environment (Bosma et al., 1997), and how on a variety of measures the health, whether physical (for men and women) or mental (mainly for men), is influenced by the position or rank that they hold within the organization (Martikainen et al., 1999). This chimes very much with the alienation that arises out of the labour process where ‘[i]nstead of developing the potential inherent in man’s powers, capitalist labour consumes these powers without replenishing them, burns them up as if they were a fuel, and leaves the individual worker that much poorer’ (Ollman, 1976, p. 137).

It is unlikely that the OFL has ever inquired into reasons why a hierarchy of skilled and less skilled workers arises in the first place; such a hierarchy has advantages from the point of view of the class of employers. Charles Babbage (a pioneer in developing some principles of computer construction in the nineteenth century), published a book in 1832 titled On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, where he pointed out a major advantage for such a hierarchy. From Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, pages 79-80:

In “On the Division of Labour,” Chapter XIX of his On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, the first edition of which was published in 1832, Babbage noted that “the most important and influential cause [of savings from the division of labor] has been altogether unnoticed.” He recapitulates the classic arguments of William Petty, Adam Smith, and the other political economists, quotes from Smith the passage reproduced above about the “three different circumstances” of the division of labor which add to the productivity of labor, and continues:

Now, although all these are important causes, and each has its influence on the result; yet it appears to me, that any explanation of the cheapness of manufactured articles, as consequent upon the division of labour, would be incomplete if the following principle were omitted to be stated.

That the master manufacturer, by dividing the work to be executed into different processes, each requiring different degrees ef skill or ef farce, can purchase exactly that precise quantity ef both which is necessary for each process; whereas, if the whole work were executed by one workman, that person must possess sufficient skill to perform the most difficult, and sufficient strength to execute the most laborious, ef the operations into which the art is divided. 13

Of course, there may be other explanations of a hierarchical division of labour than the allocation of diverse skills to different individuals for the purpose of cheapening the total wage bill, but this process undoubtedly forms part of the reason why there exists a hierarchical division of labour.

Some workers in that hierarchical division of labour may, on the other hand, be more autonomous than others. Doctors may, for example, be formally employees at hospitals, but their monopoly of certain skills may give them much more autonomy than other employees. Some or even many may form part of the middle class, but other employees in the hierarchy at work have less autonomy–such as nurses, nurses’ aids, food workers and custodians. Greater autonomy at one pole often entails less autonomy (greater oppression) at the other pole. The OFL says nothing about this situation.

Social democrats in various spheres of society (such as the economy, education, health and unions) generally assume the legitimacy of the hierarchical division of labour in society; the OFL likely does so as well. They seek reforms within such hierarchy–rather than challenging such a hierarchy in the first place.

Conclusion

The OFL, like many social-democratic or social-reformist organizations, likely engages in rhetoric when it uses such phrases as “high quality affordable housing” or “accessible and well-funded health care.” Its reference to housing likely refers to public housing in one form or another–which can be just as oppressive as housing funded through mortgages or the paying of rent. Its reference to health care likely refers to health services rather than health care, and it neglects the need to shift some health-care priorities to prevention rather than care. Furthermore, it is silent over the hierarchical (dictatorial) division of labour, which itself has health implications.

Is there any surprise that the right has gained support from some sections of the working class when the social-democratic or social-reformist left fail to address the oppressive nature of public services, or when it fails to criticize the inadequate nature of the current form of public services?

What do you think?

Once Again on the General Strike that Almost Was in Ontario, Canada, Part Two: Sam Gindin’s Analysis

Introduction

For some of the context of the strike, see a couple of earlier posts (The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism and The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector). 

A few more leftists have made commentary on the initial strike of 55,000 education workers and the possibility of a general strike in Ontario. I looked at the debate between Adam King and Abdul Malik and in the online newsletter Passage  https://readpassage.com/should-cupe-have-kept-education-workers-on-strike/) in my last post.  Then there is Sam Gindin’s analysis on the Socialist Project’s website  https://socialistproject.ca/2022/12/education-workers-lead-but-come-up-short/. I will now look at his article. 

The title of his article–Education Workers Lead But Come Up Short: What Lessons for Labour?–indicates that workers and the left can and should draw lessons from the strike. His article is organized as follows (using his headings as guides): 

Introduction
Threats of Fines and Legislation
Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike
Organize, Organize, Organize!
General Strike?
Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?
Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

Gindin then lists and explains a number of points. In his own words: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

1. Organizing
2. Coordination
3. Addressing Class
4. Union Transformation
5. Politics

Introduction

In the introduction, Gindin rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation which the education workers faced. Unlike the typical scenario of the government legislating striking workers back to work and union reps grumbling about its anti-democratic nature but complying with the legislation–and the workers also complying with the legislation–Ford passed the legisaltion before the workers even went out on strike: 

The divergence from earlier experiences began with the way the Ford administration tried to end the strike. Rather than wait until the strike was actually on, Ford used his parliamentary majority to pass legislation that criminalized the right of these workers to strike even before they actually went out (in the infamous Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act). With inflation running just under 7%, the legislation imposed a collective agreement offering 2.5% for workers earning under $43,000 annually and 1.5% for those earning above that princely sum. (The distinction the government made between low-paid and less low-paid workers was perhaps intended to push 1.5% as the standard for future collective bargaining in the public sector with the additional sum for lower-paid workers an ‘exceptional’ add-on for this sector alone.)

Threats and Fines

In the section on Threats of Fines and Legislation, Gindin points out to the second difference from the typical union scenario–the use of the notwithstanding clause, which reverberated not only within the union movement but beyond it: 

and, in addition, [the Ford government] invoked the notwithstanding clause to prevent a legal challenge to such legilsation.

Gindin then points out that the workers (not the union reps) did not follow the typical script: they refused to comply with the legislation and walked off the job: 

The main break with past collective bargaining came next. Unlike earlier labour responses, the education workers rejected the script. Across the province, school custodians, maintenance workers, education assistants, early childhood educators, lunchroom and safety monitors, librarians, and office staff ignored the legislation and walked out.

The audacity of the education workers galvanized the larger labour movement against Ford’s authoritarian over-reaction. On the ensuing weekend, after the first day of the strike, rumours spread of an imminent escalation of the conflict. A press conference was called for Monday morning (Nov. 6) where unions leaders were to announce a ‘general strike’. What was so recently unthinkable – a province-wide shut-down – seemed to have become an actual possibility.

This led to Ford backtracking and to an improved wage offer at the bargaining table: 

With this, the government’s once definitive ‘final offer’ also became flexible. In response to the union’s demand to ’put more money on the table’ Ford conceded that the government would indeed increase the wage offer if the workers ended the strike and returned to the bargaining table. The union complied and on November 20, the two sides announced a tentative agreement. It included monetary gains, though short of workers’ hopes, but no gains on staffing. More than two weeks later, 76% of members voted on the tentative agreement with 73% voting for ratification (it’s unclear why ratification took more than two weeks).

Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike

In the section “Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike,” Gindin outlines why Ford acted as he did and why the wildcat strike likely happened whereas it had not happened earlier for many years among other workers: 

Like other public sector workers, the education workers had suffered under the 1% cap on wages in their last agreement. Over the past decade (2012-2021), their real wages had fallen by some 10% as prices increased by 19% while wage increases were under 9%. Moreover, while all workers have been hard hit over this period, Ontario’s education workers’ wages fell further behind the province’s broader public sector, where average wages had increased by 12.2%. Federally regulated workplaces had seen their wages increase by 18.6%, municipal unions by 19.1%, and private sector workers by 20.3%.

The education workers’ 1% wage cap had expired with the end of their previous collective agreement, ‘freeing’ CUPE to bargain without that cap – the first major agreement to be in that position. This set the stage for the face-off with the government. For the Ford administration the demands of the education workers were not just about one sub-sector but a Trojan Horse for gains across the public sector. They had to be aggressively contained.

He then claims that CUPE OSBCU faced, however, definite obstacles to engaging in a fight with the Ford government; it was only one union that faced the Ford government head on despite the significance for the public sector; he also claims that the significance for privat-sector bargaining was less directly affected: 

This morphed a ‘normal’ conflict with a set of employers (the school boards) into what was essentially a political strike against the government. The dilemma for the union was that in spite of the conflict’s significance for the entire public sector (and less directly, for private sector bargaining), the battle was being led and fought by only a sub-sector of the union movement.

This underestimates union reps’ perceived threat that the use of preemptive legislation and the use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford threatened their own economic, political and ideological interests, as I argued in an earlier post on this topic (see  The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism). To quote from that post: 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Gindin, like his ally Herman Rosenfeld, underestimaes the extent to which Ford’s move threatened the interests of not only public-sector unions but also private-sector unions. This underestimation then permits him to neglect the potentiality of uniting the union movement and workers in unions due to the pecularities of that situation–a peculiarity which Malik rightly emphasizes: 

Continuing to organize is important, but the massive groundswell of support and mobilization is already dwindling. I believe it’s doubtful we’ll see this degree of action again anytime soon, and we’re all worse off for it.

Gindin’s pessimism is reinforced by his view that only sporadic lights of hope have emerged in unions’ fights in recent years: 

Further militating against the aspirations of the education workers was that the prevailing mood of labour as a whole was characterized by a dispiriting passivity. It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike and ATU’s (Amalgamated Transit Union) GO bus strike had generated some optimism. So too did progressive changes in union leadership in OPSEU, Unifor, and the Toronto elementary teachers. But the grumbling across unions over the 1% caps on wages included little or no substantive resistance. Strikes in the public and also private sectors were at an ebb. Tentative agreements were rarely rejected. Wildcats were almost unheard of.

Gindin’s pessimism reminds me of of-quoted remark by Marx. From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 33, page 103: 

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given
and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Yes, let us be cautious when the situation warrants it, but the situation which not only the education workers faced but also the entire Canadian working class faced because of Ford’s authoritarian actions hardly warranted a conservative stance. By looking towards the past rather than the potential of the present and thus the future, Gindin, like his fellow conservative radical Rosenfeld, thereby urges the gradual approach of step-by-step organization–without any consideration of possible situations that may potentially accelerate organization and class consciousness. 

In addition, Gindin, like Rosenfeld, underestimates the potential the situation had for unifying the labour movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada since Ford’s use of the withstanding clause had the potential to threaten the collective-bargaining process across Canada if other premiers used it to prevent legal challenges to their own anti-labour legislation. Gindin, like Rosenfeld, positions himself as a radical conservative or a conservative radical by failing to take into account the potentialities of the situation. 

On the other hand, we certainly need to look at the limitations of past leftist actions in contributing to limitations on the potentials of unique situations. Gindin and his ally Rosenfeld, as well as the left here in Toronto in general, have done nothing to undermine the idealization of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Gindin, for example, justified unions’ use of the ideological phrase “decent work” in the context of working for employers because unions were acting defensively–as if unionized settings consitute decent work when workers are still used as means or things for    employers’  own purposes–see The Money Circuit of Capital for the objective situation of workers in both the private and public sectors). Bullshitting the workers with such rhetoric is hardly in the class interests of workers–and yet Gindin justifies such rhetoric. Go figure. 

What is needed when such potentially radical situations are not on the horizon is to undermine union rhetoric by exposing, on the one hand, the actual relations of workers to their employers and, on the other hand, exposing and underming directly the union rhetoric of “decent jobs,” “fair contracts,” and other such euphemisms that hide the reality of class oppression and class exploitation. 

Gindin also refers to parents as players in the scenario.Undoubtedly, parents are a player in determining the level of public support for such a strike: 

Of concern as well to the union was the likely response of parents. Parents had experienced the negative impact of COVID on their kids’ education and with their kids at home, they faced interruptions in their own work. Even though the union had prioritized its concern for kids and their parents in its emphasis on improving badly-needed school services, and there had been very impressive organizing among parents by the Ontario Parents Action Network, Ford would no doubt try to position himself as the defender of in-school learning against its ‘disrupters’.

Gindin probably underesitmates the level of parent support for the striking education workers; at the picket line and the rally that I attended on November 4, there were a number of parents who had signs that supported the workers. The use of the notwithstanding clause probably angered not just unionized workers and represenatives but also parents. 

Organize, Organize, Organize!

In the section “Organize, Organize, Organize!,” Gindin argues that the education workers’ strike was largely successful in beating back Ford’s authoritarian legislation because of the eight-month lead in organizing workers up to the strike, using Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. Although McAlevey’s organizing model is certainly innovative, focusing on using organic leaders who are the recognized leaders at the workplace (and not necessarily union or political activists) as well as “structured tests” as mini-tests to determine whether there is indeed power to back up demands). 

This emphasis on the need to engage in “deep organizing” is certainly relevant, but as I pointed out in my critiques of McAlevey’s books (see my review “Review: Jane McAlevey’s No shortcuts: Organizing for power in the new gilded age,” in the section “Publications and Writings” on this blog and the posts Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One  and  Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), McAlevey’s approach does little to address the larger class problem of the class power of employers–and such power concentrated in the government or state. 

General Strike?

The next section addresses the issue of whether a general strike was a viable option. Unfortunately, Gindin then hands over the ball to his ally, Herman Rosenfeld, by referring to an article written by Rosenfeld, who argues that a general stike was not realistically on the table: 

These are hopeful sentiments. But we need to be sober about the state of the labour movement and what it takes to pull off even a partially successful general strike (see especially the account by Herman Rosenfeld). If we credit the pre-strike organizing by education workers for their illegal walk-out, a corollary is that since labour as a whole generally has done so little of such organizing, it could not have successfully pulled off much of a general strike. The above optimism over what might emerge from a general strike does not tell us how to actually achieve a general strike.

As I have argued against Rosenfeld’s position in another post, I refer the reader to that post (    ). 

Gindin provides further arguments that it would have been unrealistic to call for a general strike under existing circumstances: 

Consider. The teachers, as noted earlier, were not supportive of the education workers’ disruption of classes and this didn’t bode well for other sectors walking out. Would public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously? Ditto private sector workers, whose unions often defended and even sold concessions such as two-tier wages to their members. Moreover, would we expect – or even want – workers to go on a general strike when they haven’t been consulted, the strategy hasn’t been debated, no education has occurred, and no larger plan articulated?

Firstly, were teachers not supportive, or were teachers’ unions not supportive? Gindin assumes there is an identity between the two. Whether there were such an identity would have to be proven, not assumed. Secondly, even if teachers themselves opposed supporting the striking workers, would other “public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously?” That would have remained to have been seen. Given Ford’s authoritarian fist of using the notwithstanding clause, they may or may not have done so; this would have been a test to see who had more power. Even if the other public-sector workers were not organized on the basis of McAlevey’s approach, they could at least have been partially organized in order to support a general strike. We will never know, of course. But there could have been partial mobilization in support of a general strike that could have provided further pressure on the Ford government and not, as Gindin implies, some long-drawn out process that requires the step-by-step gradualism that he and his ally Rosenfeld evidently advocate.

Furthermore, this would have been an appropriate occasion for bringing up explicitly the issue of the adequacy of “free collective bargaining” and what union reps mean by that. Gindin remains silent over this issue. 

Of course, strategy should be debated–but part of what is interesting about the situation is the open-endedness of the situation, as even Mark Hancock, the president of CUPE National stated: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

For Gindin, like Rosenfeld, what is needed is–debate, debate and more debate! and not the translation of even imperfect debates into action (and even then, the debate must occur within limits deemed relevant by Gindin–see below concerning his belief that it is irrelevant to debate whether union rhetoric that unionized work is decent).. Like his fellow ally, Rosenfeld, his approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. 

Gindin also opposes the advocacy of a general strike because it was unclear what the term meant: 

Nor was it even clear what the union leaders intended by a ‘general strike’. Did they mean an indefinite strike or – more likely – a one, perhaps two-day strike which, though of consequence would essentially amount to another protest rather than a fundamental challenge to authority (protests had preceded the talk of a general strike; they were spirited and not insignificant, but far from overwhelming).

Note the downplaying of around 10,000 workers and supporters at the picket line/rally on November 4 in the context of the head of a government legislating workers back to work before they even had begun a strike and using the notwithstanding clause to prevent any legal challenge to such legislation. For Gindin, it would seem, only if hundreds of thousands of workers were organized and out on the streets should any realistic talk of a general strike be attempted.  Let us not risk anything; let us be 99 percent certain of victoy before we act. Gindin, apparently idealizes the Days of Action in the 1990s, when about 200,000 people in Toronto alone participated in a city general strike that formed part of a rolling provincial general strike (shifting from one city to another, such as from London or Hamilton–see the interview with Gindin (https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/so-you-want-to-have-a-general-strike-feat-sam-gindin/id1472061764?i=1000463838625). 

If there were 200,000 Sam Gindin’s in Toronto participating in a strike, I doubt that the Ford government would have to worry; even if organized, they would seek a very slow, very cautious path that would not upset the status quo–except perhaps in 200,000 years. 

Gindin’s cautious attitude also reminds me of a parliamentary attitude towards mass actions–despite Gindin’s own undoubtedly sincere acknowledgement of the importance of mass action. From Johannes Agnoli, Collected Works, Volume 2, page 70 (my loose translation): 

… exactly herein lies the point of divergence between attempted communism and  conformist social democracy. There will surely be many comrades at the base and in the top committees, who (without knowing that they are therewith repeating the watchword of narrow-minded German conservatism) will say: We will make no experiments, we will not stake our organization and our methods of struggle,  which are well tried and function well, in favour of a new path whose outcome  we do not know. The German social democrats had already proclaimed, when faced with the rise of Nazism: “Let’s not risk too much in order not to lose everything.” Yet one day comrades will in fact begin to think about a somewhat currious phenomenon, that the organizations and methods tried and tested by history in the western capitalist countries have not only never led in any particular case to revolution but also have not not even been good enough to stop the counter-revolution. [Werner Bonfeld, in “Constitutional Norm versus Constitutional Reality in Germany:  A Review Article on Johannes Agnoli’s Die Transformation der Demokratie und andere Schriften zur Kritik der Politik
(The Transformation of Democracy and other writings on the Critique of Politics),” in pages 65-88, Capital & Class, Volume 16, Issue No. 1, page 66). By “counter-revolution” Agnoli means, as Werner Bonefeld explains, “Agnoli understands the political integration, and thus reformulation, of social struggles for social emancipation as being bound up with a merely political emancipation which characterises the constitution of power in bourgeois societies.”

Gindin fails to take into account the effective nature of the capitalist state in co-opting or integrating  social movements in general and union movements in particular into the capitalist system (backed up, when necessary, by the iron fist of the police and, at times, the military). 

Thomas Mathiesen saw this danger to which Gindin is blind. Mathiesen calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. From Mathiesen (1980), Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism ,page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

On the other hand, Gindin does accurately assess the union reps’ likely response to Ford’s backing down over Bill 28: 

In any case, the proposed general strike wasn’t actually over the workers’ demands, but the Premier’s especially authoritarian legislation. Once that law was repealed, so too was talk of a general strike. And based on what we saw in the media and heard from other channels, while the labour leadership was rightly proud of getting Ford to step back, it seemed quite universally relieved that their threat of a total provincial walk-out would not be tested.

Yes, the union leadership was probably relieved. However, that does not mean that the rank-and-file necessarily were.

The underestimation of the co-optive capacity of the capitalist state leads Gindin to fail to support the potential opposition to the government arising from various sources–a lost opportunity. 

Bill 24, as a specific piece of  authoritarian legislation, was the continuation of earlier authoritarian legislation, such as Bill 5, which had changed–in 2018 mid-municipal elections–ward boundaries. In 2021, when the Ontario Supreme Court judged parts of Bill 254 (which pertained to doubling the length of time a third party could run pre-election ads) to be unconstitutional,  Ford used the notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 307–which contained those parts judged unconsttutional; the use of the notwithstanding clause to quash a judges rulings should be seen in the context of provincial elections the following year–which Ford won. More directly relevant was Bill 124, which capped public-sector wage increases to one percent per year for three years. Just recently, on November 29, the Ontario Supreme Court judged the Bill unconsitutional; Ford’s government is appealing the decision. 

There has been plenty of evidence that Ford has used the political system to quash even liberal political democracy when he can. Given that only about 43.5 percent or, to put it the other way, about 56.5 percent did not bother to vote in the 2022 provincial elections, this in itself indicates that actual support for Ford was probably quite a bit lower. Given the historical record of Ford’s authoritarian administration, and the use of the notwithstanding clause to break not only the union but also set a precedent that could be used to block “free collective bargaining” in the future not only in Ontario but across Canada, the potential for substantial opposition to Ford’s government was there. Furthermore, given the pent-up lives of many during the COVID pandemic, the potential was probably even greater. 

Gindin ignores this potential. 

And what did Gindin do before this situation to call into question the typical union model of “free collective bargaining?” His advocacy of Jane McAlevey’s approach to organizing as deep organizing (with stress tests to see how much power workers have) is a start, but he vastly underestimates the need to engage in ideological struggle if micro-organizing is going to be linked effectively with macro organizing with the aim of overcoming and abolishing the class power of employers. His own defence of unions’ use of such rhetoric as “decent work,” fair contracts” and so forth hardly prepared workers for a grasp of the inadequacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements as vehicles for realizing their interests. 

Gindin then provides a rather weak explanation of why Ford backed down by agreeing to repeal Bill 28: 

And yet Ford did back down in the shadow of labour’s threat of an all-out war with his government. What are we to make of this? Though speculative, it seems that it was not so much the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford, but a growing web of contradictions. He had been trying to carry the populist banner of representing ‘the little man’ and nurturing labour leaders to his side. But the chain of events that the education strike set off exposed his true anti-worker colours and lost him the seven endorsements, primarily from unions in the construction trades, that he had previously recruited.

I will not explore further Gindin’s speculation except to speculate that it was indeed probably “the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford.” Gindin wants to play down the possibility of such a successful strike and thus provides a speculative account of why Ford backed down that does not involve evidence that a general strike might have achieved more than Gindin is willing to admit. 

He then paints a geneal strike as somehow useful at times but not the only or even the most appropriate weapon workers can use to accomplish their goals: 

None of this denies that general strikes can be a crucial instrument in labour’s arsenal in the struggle to make our society more democratic and equal and our lives more secure and meaningful. But ill-prepared general strikes may also expose the weakness of the labour movement rather than showcase its potential. And general strikes are not necessarily the strategic pinnacle of labour opposition.

Consider the contrast with the Days of Action in the mid-1990s. In that earlier period the labour movement understood that it didn’t have the strength to call and sustain a general strike. The alternative chosen was to turn to a series of community shut-downs. This allowed labour to start with communities where it was stronger, concentrate their best organizers there, spend a good deal of time to prepare for each action, and ultimately sustain the protest over eleven one-day regional strikes over two and a half years.

Firstly, there are undoubtedly times when the call for a general strike would be ill-advised. When I attended a second rally in Toronto in support of the education workers on November 11, 2022, there were perhaps only 300 protesters when compared to the 10,000 a week earlier. Despite this, Socialist Action, a far-left political organization here in Toronto, had a poster that called for a general strike; it was evident that such a call for a general strike would fall mostly on deaf ears at this stage. However, before the calling off of the strike on November 7, the potential for a successful strike was much greater to at least force Ford to repeal Bill 28 before workers were to go back to work. It also had the potential to snowball into a call for the repeal of Bill 124 (the legislation that limited public-sector workers’ wages to one percent per year–which a court has recently declared invalid, a decision which Ford has appealed). 

Secondly Gindin refers to the Days of Action and the lack of a general strike but rather eleven one-day regional strikes over two and half years.” What was accomplished by such a tactic? Gindin fails to specify what was gained. Was it a further advance in the organizational capacity of workers? A further understanding of the class nature of our society? A further weakening of the legitimacy of government? When I came to Toronto at the end of August 2013. the left was dominated by social democrats or social reformers–and Gindin reinforced their dominance by failing to engage in any real criticism of their political position. 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

This section tries to answer the question in the heading: 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

The most vexing question emerging out of the education workers’ strike is how it ended. Rather than following the common union practice of staying on strike until there was a concrete offer on hand and ratified by the membership, the leadership ended the strike, returned to negotiations, and also accepted a blackout on information.

The practical point here is that the return to work took the pressure off the employer. Even if talks broke down and picket lines returned, in the interim the momentum of the strike will likely have been eroded. The democratic point is that staying on strike until workers have seen and ratified a deal gives concrete expression to the promise that ‘the union belongs to the workers’. Furthermore, the labour movement seemed to be solidly behind the strike and polls showed the workers had the support of more than six parents in ten. Why, after all the preparations and this apparently favourable moment, would the union end the strike?

As for the media blackout on information, usually justified as allowing the bargaining to ‘go more smoothly’, this generally comes from employers more concerned with trying to freeze the union’s on-going mobilization. For the union, on the other hand, keeping the members informed was a matter of respecting the wisdom of workers and of the commitment to continuous organizing. Transparent bargaining could also facilitate getting a better read on where the members were at as the conflict progressed.

Moreover, in light of Ford’s recent embarrassed retreat, the union had some leverage in rejecting a bargaining blackout. Anxious to quickly end the strike, Ford would have had trouble delaying bargaining so as to control and block information flows. (The obvious compromise was to put any blackout on hold; if bargaining did seem at some point to demand a blackout this could, through mutual agreement be reconsidered.)

Gindin is right to point out the unusual backing down of the reps for the education workers in calling off a strike until demands had been met. The lack of transparency in negotiations is also of concern since this reflects typical anti-democratic behaviour of many union reps. 

Gindin further argues: 

Yet, there were two factors making the continuation of the strike problematic. First, Ford’s eating humble pie changed the dynamics of the bargaining conflict. The labour movement’s prime concern had been Ford’s removal of the right to strike and once that was defeated, the use of that right became secondary. For the labour movement, the negotiations between the education workers and the government drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation.

Ford’s “eating humble pie” did indeed change “the dynamic of the bargaining conflict”–for union reps. Their focus was on defending “free collective bargaining,” and once that had been achieved by a written guarantee by Ford that he would appeal the law, they “drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation. This should have been met by a radical critique of not only this shift but the obvious earlier idealzing of the whole collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective-bargaining agreements as inadequate expressions of the interests of workers. Gindin has done no such thing. 

The radical left needs to explicitly address the inadequacies of the collective-bargaining process, critizing union rhetoric at every turn. It needs to use every opportunity to open up debate about the legitimacy of that process–and such a debate has not been opened up since I moved to Toronto in 2013. Should not socialists be addressing this explicitly whenever they can? 

The second factor to which Gindin refers is parent support: 

Along similar lines, the support of parents could not be indefinitely counted on. After Ford had shown some ‘flexibility’ in annulling his legislation and expressing a readiness to modify his final offer, parents could be expected to pressure the union to show a parallel flexibility by ending the strike and returning to negotiations.

It is true that parents cannot be the determining factor for union strategies – the first consideration must be the workers affected – but neither can the reaction of parents be easily dismissed. Parent attitudes can affect the morale of workers and are critical to any future alliance for improvements in school conditions and funding. And with a good number of parents themselves workers, a relationship to parents is also critical to the building of a more coherent working class. Still, risking the loss of parent support might have been the route to go if it weren’t for the second factor.

Continuing the strike demanded a strike-able issue but in moving to a wage settlement, the union undermined both the staffing issue and the possibility of continuing the strike to win more. This clearly requires some unpacking. In doing so, the point isn’t to make judgements with the benefit of hindsight, but to explore some of the dynamics of bargaining to the end of rethinking future tactics/strategies.

It is true that parent support would likely not last indefinitely–short of much more radical measures. Gindin’s point is that the union could have tried to shift the central issue in bargaining from wages to the other issue of staffing levels–which would resonate more with parents than wage increases. This was perhaps a tactical error even for union reps–they could have achieved more at the bargaining table if they could sustain parent support.

Gindin then, interestingly enough, suggests an alternative scenario that would have addressed the staffing issue even if it were not a priority for the bargining committee: 

When they did, any pressure on the government moving on staffing was essentially gone. The union could not sustain a strike on staffing alone, which would have been a hard task in any case but certainly after wages, the workers main issue, was settled. Like wages, the call for more staffing went against Ford’s determination to continue reductions in expenditures across the public sector. What was distinct about staffing was that it challenged employers’ sacred ‘management right’ to rule the workplace. Getting the government to bend on staffing would be especially difficult and uncertain.

To have escaped this dilemma, the union would likely have had to concentrate on the staffing issue before getting to wages. This may seem peculiar given that wages were the obvious priority. But there is a distinction between priorities and the tactics of putting a package together. Unions in fact commonly try to address critical workplace and management rights issues before turning to wages, even when wages increases are the main goal.

When Ford offered to modify the government’s final offer in exchange for the union ending the strike and returning to the table, what if the union had responded not by pointing to wages but by leaving the wages to the side – knowing they would in the end return to the centre – and demanding some movement on staffing before they ended the strike? If Ford bit and offered something – anything – that in itself would give the workers a breakthrough to build on. If he didn’t, then twinning wages and staffing (unlike staffing alone) could sustain the continuation of the strike.

This indeed could have been done. Pressing for an inroad into what is traditionally management rights would have opened up the possibility of further politicizing the issue. However, such a possibility would have to be built on and not just swept under the rug–which is what the social-democratic or reformist left do so often. 

In addition, Gindin does not question the adequacy of addressing staffing levels–which have to do with adequate services under the existing school system. Adequate staffing levels appears then to assume that the school system is itself adequate and what is needed is an expansion of money and current services–and public education will be adequate. Public education, however, is riveted with contradictions and inadequacies, such as the rhetoric of addressing the educational needs of children while simultaneously using grades or marks to control, oppress and stream students (see in general the series of posts titled “Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher” and for the partiular criticism of the use of grades or marks in schools see  Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fifteen: Progressive Versus Regressive Grading Systems in Schools). 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

This final section before drawing up lessons learned is a summing up of whether the education workers won or lost. 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

It’s hard to claim a victory when wages will fall even further behind inflation and staffing remains as is. But what can be said is that the internal organizing among the education workers and their readiness to strike illegally mattered. In a mere two days, the education workers had, remarkably, forced an aggressive Premier to back off a law dangerous to the labour movement as a whole, pushed the employer to drop concessionary demands like the erosion of paid sick days, and in spite of Ford’s absolute ‘final offer’, raised wages by a dollar across the workforce in each year of the agreement (a near doubling of the earlier offer).

Beyond this, the education workers were a showcase for implementing systematic member organizing into union strategy and demonstrating that workers can fight back even in the worst of circumstances. The education workers tried to derail the grim austerity agenda the Ford government has been pursuing but fell short. This poses a challenge to the larger labour movement to acknowledge its decades long internal crisis and start to confront seriously what reversing that crisis will mean.

It will take time to assess whether, considering everything, this strike is deemed a win or not. It will take some time to get a read on whether the education workers and the labour movement as a whole came out of this stronger or weaker. Time to learn about the impact on the consciousness and confidence of the education workers and time to see how the union deals with lingering disappointment. Time, that is, to see whether the example of the education workers affects the orientation and culture of the labour movement.

The education workers did indeed gain something–an increase in wages that they would otherwise have not gained, They also gained in organizing themselves and in learning to organize themselves. These positive gains also must include the negative gain of defeating Bill 28. However, largely what was gained was–a return to the status quo without any real questioning of the premises of the class power of employers. There is little indication that the workers drew any radical conclusions about the nature of working for an employer, the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements or the nature of class oppression and class exploitation.

Why is that? 

My prediction is that what transpired will have little effect on “the orientation and culture of the labour movement.” It had the potential to do so–but the potential was wasted–and Gindin, ultimately, is in agreement with such waste even if he is not conscious of his implicit agreement.

Gindin then refers to what he claims is needed for the labour movement: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

He actually refers to five, not four, “challenges/tests”: 

1. Organizing

Activists should be pressing the parent union of the education workers CUPE, the largest union in the country, to extend the education/training carried out with such success in its education sector to the rest of CUPE. And activists everywhere should push their union to emulate the internal organizing the education workers did, adapted of course to their own circumstances. Among other things this would require setting up a cross-union school for training instructors. and essentially adding ‘organizing schools’ to the characterization of what unions are.

Yes, internal organizing and organizing schools should be created–but they should be combined with a critical part of such education–on the one hand, the critical determination of the nature of the kind of society in which we live and, on the other hand, a critical discussion of the limits of collective bargaining and collective agreements. 

The second challenge/test: 

2. Coordination

It is stunning that in the face of the 1% caps on public sector wage agreements, no systematic coordination occurred across unions. There have been ad hoc attempts to coordinate bargaining in some sectors like health, but it has been limited. Any broader coordination across unions will be difficult, yet with the public sector facing common attacks from the state, it’s surely time for the creation of a permanent council of public sector unions to strategize and build solidarity for the confrontations that we know are sure to come.

Yes, this too should arise. However, coordination across the public sector that fails to be crticial of union rhetoric is likely to result in the same kind of business union concerns that individual unions address. For example, when I attended a meeting of the Toronto Airport Workers Assembly (TAWC), an organization where union reps from various local unions whose jurisdiction is Toronto Pearson Airport workers, the meeting seemed like an enlarged union meeting, with the concerns of union reps being addressed without any critical larger issues being addressed (for addtional information on TAWC, see the posts  The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC): One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward?    and  The Pearson Survey of the 50,000 Employees at the Toronto International Airport: A Document Expressing the Ideology of Employers  as well as TAWC’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=tawc%3A%20toronto%20airport%20workers%27%20council. What we also need is not just defensive coordination but offensive coordination. Unions have not engage in offensive tactics and strategies for a long time–and that does not just mean going on strike to achieve better contracts; it also means coordinating efforts with the explicit purpose of challenging the class power of employers in various ways, such as economic, political and ideological struggle. 

Gindin refers to the third challenge/test–and it sounds radical: 

3. Addressing Class

While organizing at the base and coordinating at the top complement each other, both need a clear strategic vision. What are workers being educated and trained for? What struggles would coordination prepare workers for? Some four decades ago Doug Fraser, then president of the UAW, clearly identified the emerging reality: “A class war is being waged in this country but only one class is fighting.” This remains true today and workers have suffered immensely for it. If this is to change, workers must come to grips with who they are, who is there with them, and where they ‘fit’ in the system. Class penetrates every aspect of workers’ lives and unless workers integrate class into how they think and act, the future will, if anything, be even worse than the past and present.

There is evidence that  what Gindin means by “class” is quite different from what I understandin by class. Thus,  part of the nature of class is to criticize slogans that hide the real nature of oppression and exploitation at work. As Gindin wrote on  November 24, 2017: 

Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.  Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve. ‘Decent jobs’ or a ‘good contract’ are a way of expressing defensive gains when radical gains are not even on the table and we – those on this exchange – don’t have the capacity tooter [to offer?] them any kind of alternative jobs. So criticizing them for this hardly seems an effective way to move them to your view – which is not to say you shouldn’t raise it but that you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t suddenly act on your point.

Gindin’s approach is far from Marx’s approach. From a letter written by Marx to Arnold Ruge, September 1843 (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 3, page 142): 

But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists,
ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

“Everyone pretty much knows … that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve.” Really? I doubt that. Where is the evidence that workers or even the so-called radical left here in Toronto take seriously the nature of exploitation in Toronto? It is nowhere to be found.  Who is this everyone?

Indeed, it is one of the basic features of capitalist relations (class relations in a capitalist society) that they take the form of a relation between things and thus hide the nature of class exploitation. Social relations between workers become an objective relation that controls the workers rather than vice versa.  From Nicholas Gray (Winter 2012), “Against Perversion and Fetish: The Marxian Theory of Revolution as Practical Demystification,” in pages 13-24, Studies in Social and Political Thought, Volume 20, page 19: 

Thus, in bourgeois society, although individuals hold their “social power in their pocket” or “in the shape of a thing” (Marx, 1973, p. 157), in fact it is they who are beholden to it, or under its sway: they are “ruled by abstractions” (their own social relations which have become abstracted from them – i.e. alienated from them) (1973, p. 164). The alienation of social power goes hand in hand with an ontological inversion characteristic of the money form of value: money is transformed from means of exchange to a relation of power which subjugates individuals; a social relation alienated such that
it becomes autonomous, self-standing, and an end in itself.

These objective relations between workers results in their exploitation–but such exploitation is not visible–unlike earlier kinds of society. From Meghnad Desai (1974), Marxian Economic Theory, page 16: 

The contradiction between the juridically free status of the labourer and his exploitation is the original contradiction of capitalism. It is original since it appears at the origin in capitalism. In  no other society does exploitation take the value form [objective form of the relations between producers] since in no society does it have to be masked from visible relationships.

Class relations are hidden by relations of exchange, or relations of buying and selling commodities. Desai, page 23: 

The difference lies not in the characterization of the productive process, similar for all schools of
economics, but in the process of buying and selling labour power,  which lies at the beginning of the productive process and leads to appropriation of surplus value by one class. Throughout all the participants perceive only legitimate exchange relations and not unequal relations of class and
exploitation.

Exploitation is hardly evident in a class society characterized by capitalist relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. Quite to the contrary. The capitalist process of exploitation appears in the form of its opposite. From Desai, page 55: 

In Neoclassical economic theory, preferences and technology are the structural relations which explain the observed pricequantity data. Marx would reject these Neoclassical relations as not
penetrating beneath the surface of exchange relationships to the relations of production and the forces of production. But Marx went further than this. He also emphasised that the observed reality was the inverse or mirror image of the true social relationship. Thus, exchange shows equality where the true relationships are of exploitation. In this sense, observed reality is upside down, and empirical data unless approached within a value theoretic framework would lead to conclusions which will contradict the predictions of the value theory.

Exchange relations appear as what they are–formal relations of equality between buyer and seller. No one threatens through the use of physical violence for workers to work for a particular employer. This formal exchange relation, however, conflicts with the exploitation and oppression of workers when they are working.

In addition to exchange relations hiding the real nature of exploitation, distribution relations also hide the nature of exploitation. Although I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of specific workers working for specific employers (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), the amount of surplus value or profit particular employers receive need not and indeed rarely coincides with the surplus value that their workers produce. The amount of surplus value (s) or profit employers receive is mediated through the distribution of the surplus value produced according to the rule of equal rates of profit for equal amount of total capital invested (for an example of this complicating issue, see my response to a comment made by Biswadip Dasgupta on my post  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada). As Desai remarks, page 56: 

The role of price mechanism and exchange in Marx’ s theory is to mask surplus value and make it appear legitimate as profit. The profit of anyone particular firm, industry or Department does not equal the surplus value produced by it. … The link between profits and surplus value becomes complex and in fighting against exploitation workers cannot fight against their own industry’s owners in isolation; they have to fight the whole system.

What workers face immediately, however, is a particular employer so that the fight has its point of departure there but has class exploitation as its background and supposition.

Given the nature of capitalist reality, exploitation is hardly evident to workers. An ideological struggle is thus necessary to expose such a reality–but Gindin obviously considers such struggle to be secondary to the magic of “organization.” As I wrote in another post: 

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

Gindin ignores the specific nature of exploitation in a capitalist society–its hidden nature. 

Or is Gindin referring to some union reps being aware of exploitation, such as Wayne Dealy (executive director of CUPE local 3902) or Tracy McMaster (union steward, former president of the Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), and former vice president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)? 

Perhaps Dealy plays lip service to the existence of exploitation (although I have never seen any evidence of this), but does he take such exploitation into account when formulating a plan of action? There is no evidence that he does so. Let Gindin provide evidence to the contrary. 

As for Tracy McMaster–“Our Tracy,” as Gindin once called her–her views are linked to Dealy’s response to her email sent to those on the listserve of the Toronto Labour Committee: 

Hello all,
 
Sean,  It was great hearing you on CBC this morning talking about   TAWC!  In case you haven’t heard, our neighbours the Molson’s   workers from Local 325 CUBGE are on the picket line. Representing  airport & airline workers I spoke at their Solidarity BBQ last week   at the International Drive/Carlingview entrance. They are in a tough battle with a huge corporate (and American) giant in Coors and could  really use our support. Please boycott Molsons products for the  duration of the strike, and feel free to drop by the picket line  -honking support is also welcome! The workers just want a fair deal, good jobs, pension security and fair benefits [my emphases] but the employer won’t even bargain.  I hope you all   will join me in showing solidarity with the brewery workers from   Local 325! 
 
In solidarity,

 

Tracy
Since I wanted to open up debate on such an issue, I responded thus: 
Hello everyone,
 
 
I would like to respond to Tracy’s reference to a “fair deal” and  “good job.”
 
These workers do certainly deserve to be supported in various   ways–it is a question of solidarity.
 
However, I do hear often enough such terms by those who support  unions. I too support unions, but the use of such terms needs to be  debated.
 
Having worked in a brewery for about four years, I do have some  experience in the area. I fail to see how what workers at a brewery  do is considered to be a good job. They are used as means to obtain  
more money for investors. Is being used to obtain more money for investors something to be proud of?
 
Would a parent sincerely want her or his child to be used to obtain   more money for others? To be treated as a means to that end?
 
Yes, brewery workers may receive higher wages than some, and they  may receive benefits as well (if they fight for them through  organizing themselves). However, is this adequate compensation for  
being treated, ultimately, as things to be used by investors and  their representatives in order to obtain more money? Do we not   deserve better–much better?
 
But let us assume that these workers have whatever is called a good  job and are not used by others (a cooperative could be such a  situation where workers have more control over their immediate  working lives). Firstly, what of the other workers in other  industries, or those who work in the public sector?Are their lives  not a means for obtaining a profit (the private sector), or for  realizing the mission of the particular public sector (without much  control over their own working lives). Even on the assumption that a particular group of workers have somehow a “good” job involves other  workers lacking control over their working lives. Such a situation  contradicts the principle of solidarity among workers,does it not?
 
Unless of course there is a growing movement for all workers to  control their working lives–which involves the conscious intent to  do so and the practical effort to realize such a goal.
 
The same logic applies to a “fair” deal.
 
What is meant by a “good job,” a “decent job,” or a “fair deal?”
 

Fred

Dealy responded thus: 
Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?
 
 
Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science
University of Toronto
My response: 
It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has  something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.
 
Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts  (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed,  the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real  concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in  relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response  itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on  March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.
 
Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker
By the way, the topic was never addressed by the Toronto Labour Committee at the date and time indicated–and never while I was a member of that organization. 
 
Dealy’s response: 

wayne.dealy@utoronto.ca

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.
 
Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.
 
On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of
employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.
 
And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.
 
Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.
 
Wayne.
 
p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick
Gindin’s intervention involves his cavalier dismissal in the quote above of my concerns, beginning with: “Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.”
 
Further evidence that McMaster does not take exploitation and oppression seriously is one of her emails, a response to an email I sent, part of which is reproduced below: 

On Feb 2, 2018, at 4:32 PM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

The idea that 20,000 new members have been organized as part of a collective-bargaining unit is certainly better than not belonging to a collective-bargaining unit. One has to wonder, though, what Jane McAlevey would think about such an accomplishment. Is it the old model of a union engaging in collective bargaining while the membership grieve mainly through legal means (the grievance procedure) and, otherwise, remain passive? Is it the model where at best 2,000 of those members attend union meetings (probably substantially less, if the number who attended UNITE HERE Local 75 meetings is any indication)? Where union really means an objectified social structure that fails to really unify the workers against management on a day-to-day basis?

Of course, since there are no details provided about what organizing 20,000 part-time workers actually means for the lives of these 20,000 workers, it is difficult to determine how significant this is.

What is needed, instead of merely citing numbers (purely quantitative considerations), is an opening into a qualitative debate and conversation about the goals of the labour movement and of the union movement and their relation to the power of employers as a class–unless of course we already have fairness, economic justice and fair contracts–in the best of all possible worlds.

Fred

McMaster responded as follows: 

Tracy MacMaster
Fri 2018-02-02 7:33 PM
 
Hi Fred,
I don’t normally repsond to your emails, but I feel compelled.  20,000 workers, who for 50 years had almost no protections in the workplace, since they were excluded from many of the most basic protections of the Employment Standards Act, will now have a voice in the workplace.  The potential to improve their material circumstances, as well as their health – precarious workers are at greater risk for negative health outcomes, due to uncertainty, and of course poverty – gives me hope.
 
Having worked alongside numerous activists on this project for the past 13 years, I can only express delight that they finally have come this far.  Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none [my emphasis]. I hope you can attend the meeting to hear what’s going on with them, particularly in the context of the pressure being put on their employer through the recent faculty strike. Theory is a marvelous thing, but we need to acknowledge concrete gains and losses if we have any hope of affecting change.
 
In solidarity,
Tracy
In the first place, I had already recognized that collective bargaining that results in a collective bargaining is better than no collective agreement. In the second place, her claim that “collective bargaining is limited and imperfect” sounds like more union rhetoric. If it is limited and imperfect, in what way? If so, what is McMaster doing about it? The reference to “limited and imperfect” is union rhetoric that hides any real consideration of such limits and imperfections and taking them to heart. The only way to convince Ms. McMaster, as far as I can see, is to–agree with her. She idealizes collective bargaining and fails to address its limitations.
 
I sincerely doubt that McMaster takes seriously the limitations and imperfections of collective bargaining. If there is such evidence, others should provide us. If she did, she would have discussed such limitations and imperfections as well as what needs to be done to overcome such limitations and imperfections. She merely pays lip service to such limitations and imperfections. In practice, she operates entirely in terms of collective bargaining.
 
Gindin’s claim that “Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve” rings hollow both at the level of working class in general and at the level of so-called trade-union activists. 

The fourth “challenge/test” also seems to be radical: 

4. Union Transformation

Carrying out the above projects is not just a matter of adding certain functions to unions. To deal with them seriously is to recognize that what is at stake is transforming our unions. Truly addressing all of the above means changing union structures and priorities, how unions allocate their funds, the role of the staff, the leadership’s relationship to their members, the unions’ approach to bargaining, and its orientation to ‘politics’.

Given Gindin’s position in point three above (unless he has changed his position in the meantime), his call for transforming unions is insufficient. When faced with a challenge by me of a typical union position, he defended the union position and criticized my position without a thought. His meaning of what union transformation involves and what I mean are obviously quite different. 

Furthermore, in Gindin’s article, he implies above that going out on strike 

It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike.

How was the college strike an indication “of a reawakening within the labour movement?” Gindin fails to explain how this was so. Going out on stike as a means to obtain a collective agreement has formed part of the union scene even during the Second World War and has formed a part of that scence during the post-War settlement. That strikes have decreased in frequency does not mean that a resurgence in strikes questions the premises of the class power of employers in any way. It may just be a tactic to obtain a better collective agreement. 

How is this change to arise if not through criticism? Through open debate? I withdrew from the Toronto Labour Committee and started this blog in large part because of the lack of open debate in the Toronto Labour Committee over issues that I consider important. I fail to see how Gindin’s position has changed in the meantime. Perhaps he can enlighten his readers on this point. 

The only change that Gindin seems to propose concretely is to follow Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. He fails to address how the macro issue of the class power of employes is to be addressed (McAlevey fails to address it). He nowhere takes into account how the nature of capitalist economic, political, legal and ideological relations hide the nature of exploitation and oppression. He also fails to address the issue of how unions are to be transformed when they persistently define the limits of their actions in terms of collective bargaining. Even McAlevey repeatedly refers to “good contracts”–as if there were such a thing. 

Fifth challenge: Politics

5. Politics

The problems workers face go beyond any workplace, union, or sector. And at some point we need to clearly address why things are the way they are: Why do inequalities keep rising? Why is there unemployment and why is there inflation? Why do we have a looming environmental crisis? Politics is not so much about good policies as about building the social base so we have the power to see those policies implemented. At the centre of building such a base is the making of a working class with the understandings, coherence, individual and collective capacities, and confidence to make change. At this moment in time, the over-riding political question is how we to organize ourselves so as to build that kind of working class. The Ontario CUPE education workers gave us a glimpse of what is needed and what is possible. Will the labour movement in Canada build on this? There is much more to be done. •

Note Gindin’s focus here: increasing inequalities, unemployment, inflation, the environmental crisis. All of these are real enough and of concern for workers, but there is also the daily politics of subordinating billions of workers’ lives and wills to the power of employers. No mention of exploitation here. I guess we never really need to make exploitation an essential aspect of any critical approach to class politics. 

Gindin seems also to asusme that what is needed is to develop the social power of workers–so that they can push through policies that the state will then implement–why else refer to “have the power to see those policies implemented”? Who does the implementing of policies is vital. It is crucial that workers not only “have the power to see those policies implemented” but that they have the power to implement them as well and to oversee such implementation–the democratisation of the state through the abolition of its hierarchical, separate and objective nature (see the post The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector for an elaboration of this)–in effect abolishing the nature of the state as an oppressive feature in our lives and self-government through an a great expansion of who is elected (administrators and judgeds would themselves be elected) and a great expansion of control over those elected through the right to recall elected officials–real accountability, not the pseudo-accountability of the present neoliberal state. 

Conclusion

On the positive side,  he rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation–especially Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. Gindin also emphasizes the need for deep organizing as suggested by Jane McAlevey–and how the education workers used that principle to organize their own strike. In addition, he correctly assesses the probable desire of union leaders to return to the status quo of “free collective bargaining” as soon as possible. Furthermore, Gindin also usefully refers to the need to consider tactical considerations (and public support) when emphasizing certain bargaining demands, Finally, he justifiably indicates that the education workers did make some gains

,  -but . He certainly does not really engage with the issue of how working for an employer is oppressive and exploitative nor how collective-bargaining and collective agreements cannot adequately address this common situation of workers

There are nontheless many problems with Gindin’s analysis. Gindin’s approach clings to caution, caution and more caution. His underestimation of the uniqueness of the situation to unify the union movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada leads him, in part to be overly cautious. This cautious attitude is reinforced by his underestimation of the probable level of public support for the striking workers. He also downplays the probabe real fear that Ford experienced of a possible general strike.

Despite his recognition of the need to fashion bargaining demands that take into account likely public reaction (especially in the public sector) while making inroads in management rights, he does not consider the larger qualitative issue of the adequacy of the social services provided in the public sector (such as the adequacy of the grading system to meet the learning needs of students). 

Gindin leaves open the impact of the education workers’ strike on the union and labour movement. My assessment is that there will be little impact of what occurred on the larger labour movement. Gindin ignores both the specific hidden nature of exploitation and the co-optive capacity of the modern capitalist state. 

Organizing will continue on the same basis, and “free collective bargaining” will continue to be idealized. Even deep organizing will fail to address the wider class issues. So too will coordination within the public sector unless it addresses the exploitative and oppressive nature of the employment relaitonship and the inadequacies of “free collective bargaining.” 

Gindin’s call for making class central sounds radical, but his understanding of class does not come to grips with the specific nature of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Given the nature of class exploitation and oppression in modern capitalism, his call for union transformation, accordingly, has a hollow ring to it since he fails to address the economic, political and ideological obstacles to such a transformation. Similarly, his call for class politics sounds radical, but he apparently conceives the modern government, with its hierarchy and anti-democratic executive structure, to be the vehicle for the realization of the social power of the working class. Class politics, however, also needs to involve a radical breaking down of the hierarchy through the expansion of the election of administrators and judges and the closer control of them by workers and the general public. 

Now that the opportunity for a general strike or at least a more unified union and labour movement–along with advanced in the repeal of repressive Bills (such as Bill 124) through workers’ own initiative rather than through the courts–has been lost, what will Gindin do? Probably continue to engage in his slow, social-reformist approach that will not serve the interests of the working class as a whole. 

All in all, Gindin’s article, like Rosenfeld’s article, expresses conservative radicalism or radical coservativism.

 

Once Again on the General Strike that Almost Was in Ontario, Canada, Part One: The Debate Between Adam King and Abdul Malik

Introduction

For some of the context of the strike, see a couple of earlier posts (The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism and The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector).

A few more leftists have made commentary on the initial strike of 55,000 education workers and the possibility of a general strike in Ontario. There is a debate between Adam King and Abdul Malik and in the online newsletter Passage  https://readpassage.com/should-cupe-have-kept-education-workers-on-strike/). Then there is Sam Gindin’s analysis on the Socialist Project’s website  https://socialistproject.ca/2022/12/education-workers-lead-but-come-up-short/.

I will restrict this post to the debate between King and Malik and will reserve another post to Gindin’s analysis.

King takes the position that CUPE’s(the Canadian Union of Public Employee) Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSCBU) made the right decision in calling off the strike since Doug Ford agreed, in writing, to repeal Bill 28, the draconian piece of legislation that not only legally forced the striking workers to return to work before they even started the strike but also used the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent any legal challenge to the legislation.

His argument basically is that CUPE’s OSBCU, had it not called off the strike, would have faced one definite oppressive force–the continued existence of Bill 28–and was facing a possible other oppressive force–the Ontario Labour Relations Board’s future decision of whether the walkout was illegal, which, if that were the case, would have workers face a $4,000 a day fine and the union a $500,000 a day fine (for a total of a $220.5 million a day fine) for the walkout, which started on November 4 (a Friday) and continued on Monday, November 7.

Thus, on the issue of the continued existence of Bill 28, he has this to say:

Again, continuing the strike would have left the bill in place — an extremely risky move.

Yes, it would have been risky–but such is life in a society dominated by a class of employers. Workers risk their lives in various ways every day by working for an employer (see for example  Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health  )-but King is silent about the need to fight against this risk; rather, he prefers to look at the risk of the continued effect of Bill 28. (As an aside, when I was a teacher at Ashern Central School, during a staff meeting, Rick Trittart, the Safety Officer for Lakeshore School Division, indicated that educational assistants could not legally refuse to work if their students were violent or otherwise consttuted a threat to the health and well-being of educational assistants if such conditions formed a regular part of their work (educatonal assistants form part of CUPE OSBCU).

Yes, it is necessary to take into account the level of risk when determining whether to act in a certain manner, but it is also necessary to consider the daily risks that workers face as means to be used by employers for purposes over which workers have little or no say. Furthermore, King himself admits that there was substantial support for the striking workers:

Abdul claims that the union had “considerable leverage” and “a favourable legal position.” I don’t dispute that the Canadian labour movement came to the aid of CUPE in a remarkable way.

Given the level of support, both in terms of the union movement and the general public, it would seem logical to take this support into consideration when determining the level of risk. Malik rightly emphasizes the level of support and momentum that Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause had generated:

It’s worth mentioning just how rare the degree of mobilization around Bill 28 actually was. From public support to member mobilization and the threat of solidarity strikes, this was a lightning-in-a-bottle opportunity that would otherwise be unfathomable. The sheer momentum behind this strike can’t be overstated, and is possibly a reason the government backed down so quickly. It’s not a stretch to say this was a generational opportunity to exert pressure and win concessions with far-reaching implications for the broader conditions of working people. If power concedes nothing without a demand, OSBCU was in a position to insist on far more than what they settled for by collapsing the picket lines.

He counters this observation by adding the other possible oppressive situaiton which the striking workers faced: the possible finding by the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the strike was illegal:

I fail to see how the union was in anything but a horrendous legal position. At best, they might have received a favourable decision from the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) after the marathon unlawful strike hearing brought by the government over the weekend. On the other hand, we still don’t know the contents of that decision. Had the OLRB found in the government’s favour and deemed the strike illegal, the government would then have been in a position to levy the considerable fines contained in Bill 28 (double the amount for members, and 20 times the amount for unions normally stipulated by the Ontario Labour Relations Act).

Being in a precarious legal position does not mean that the workers would have been in a precarious power position; if the OLRB had declared the strike illegal, then the workers would have had to decide to continue to strike despite the legal repression or to desist. The issue of the legitimacy of the law could then have become an issue–but King assumes that the declaration of something as illegal by the OLRB would have to be respected.

This is a conservative stance, obviously–caution, more caution, and still more caution. Malik rightly questions such a cautious position, given the momentum and support for the striking workers:

While workers staying and continuing to leave Bill 28 in place would have posed risks, it’s important to reassert that with enough groundswell and unions on picket lines threatening to shut down the province in full, any legal hazards would be largely moot. Moreover, the legal confines of business unionism, and in particular Canada’s adherence to the Rand Formula, exist largely to confine and manage worker dissent. Strict adherence to legal procedure already puts labour in a losing position, as we’ve seen through the decline of union density due to layoffs, cutbacks and government endorsed capital flight for decades.

Malik also points out how, historically, wildcat strikers have often not suffered the threats which governments have made so that King’s estimation of the real threat overstates the risk:

Historical precedent with Canadian wildcat strikes has also demonstrated disciplinary action is often mitigated through mediation, compromise and other legal avenues.

This cautious attitude is in line with King’s evident faith in the collective-bargaining system as a mechanism that produces “good contracts.” He uses this phrase a couple of times in his defense of CUPE OSBCU’s decision to call off the strike:

Second, ending the protest in no way implies the fight is over. There’s a good contract [my emphasis]to win. CUPE members and supporters can still play a role in ensuring that happens.

And again:

 Yes, the protests at MPP offices have ceased and members have returned to work, but there’s a struggle ongoing for a good contract [my emphasis].

Since I have criticized this and similar phrases in other posts, I refer the reader to earlier posts (see, for example, The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process and Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One).

Further evidence of King’s union rhetoric is his reference to a “fair deal”:

Moreover, union leaders made it clear during their press conference on Monday that they will remain on “standby” until education workers secure a fair deal [my emphasis].

Since I have criticized such union rhetoric specifically in relation to CUPE in another post, I refer the reader to that post for evidence of such union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)).

King’s focus on achieving a collective agreement without addressing wider issues also comes out in his weak justification for OBSCU’s decision to call off the strike without any call for an immediate repeal of Bill 28 before doing so:

Before addressing each point a bit more, I have to say that I think too much is made of the government not reconvening to repeal Bill 28 immediately. I agree that the haste with which the bill was passed stands in sharp contrast to the heel-dragging involved in its repeal. However, the union made sure to get Ford’s commitment in writing and bargaining has already resumed, which is equally as important.

Malik answers his objectiion thus:

While you can suggest frustration at the delayed repeal of Bill 28 is an overreaction, it’s also important to look at the idea of momentum here. A delay from people getting off the picket line and back in schools, alongside receding outrage toward the government’s outright animosity for the working class, makes it extremely difficult to whip up new anger or support as the news cycle continues to churn. Delaying Bill 28’s repeal is nothing but a concerted effort to enforce a cooldown period for labour militancy — and labour has played right into the government’s hands.

King’s approach essentially reduces all struggles to one centered on collective bargaining and collective agreements–well within the limits of the purposes of bureaucratic trade unions and their representatives.

The resulting collective agreement resulted in an actual wage increase was $1 per hour across the board for four years (an across-the-board increase was one of CUPE’s demands–and not a percentage increase offered by the Conservative Ford government ) (see the tentative memormandum of settlement at   https://osbcu.ca/img/tentative_cupe_mos_2022_11_23.pdf#:~:text=The%20wage%20increase%20for%20all%20job%20classifications%20within,hour%202025-2026%20%241%20per%20hour%20b%29%20Salaried%20Employees   ). The issue of inadequate staffing levels, however, was not addressed, so working conditions will still remain at earlier intensive and oppressive levels.

Conclusion

King’s position in supporting the decision to call off the strike reflects the typical union idealization of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements. He assumes, without question, that the primary purpose of going out on strike is to achieve a “good contract” and a “fair deal.” The continued threat of Bill 28 and the possible threat of facing massive fines argue against continuing the strike.

Malik’s position, on the other hand, points out that there was considerable support for the strike and that momentum was building–and such momentum would have likely made the existence of Bill 28 a moot point. Furthermore, historically, wildcat strikes have not ended up with massive fines as such threats evaporate as alternatives are found. By  calling off the strike and returning to work, CUPE effectively broke the momentum that could have maintained pressure on the Ford goverment and obtained much more than they actually did.

Malik’s analysis is certainly more relevant–it shows how the potentialities of a situation precipated by an oppressive action by government could galvanize workers into opposing such a dictator. He recognizes that the potentiality was wasted when CUPE called off the strike before returning to the bargaining table.

Given that that potentiality no longer exists, what are radicals to do? While trying to organize workers, should they not try to have workers come to grips realistically with the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements in addressing their exploitation and oppression?

A Lack of Crticial Analysis of the Failure of the Union Movement to Generate a General Strike Against a Conservative Government

John Clarke, a radical here in Toronto, provides a general negative characterization of the union movement that opposed the reactionary effort by the Ontario Conservative government of not only legislating workers back to work even before they went on strike but also trying to use the nonwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom to prevent any legal challenge to his legislation. However, apart from a very general negative characterization of the union bureaucracy, he does not delve into detail about what the limitations of unions are. For example, he does not refer at all to the connection between union bureaucracy and the idealization of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements. His criticism remains at too high a level of criticism for it to be useful for workers and members of unions.

His most recent post on Facebook on the topic reads: 

The forms of regulated and state supervised class struggle that emerged after WW2, have played out under changing economic, social and political conditions. Their role has, therefore, also evolved over time.

1. When the deal was brokered and for decades afterwards, it allowed for gains in working class living standards to be conceded, while ensuring greatly limited forms of working class resistance and stability for the capitalist economy. Decisively, a bureaucratic layer formed in the unions that had its own independent interests based on the preservation of the compromise.

2. As the boom years that followed the war ended and profits declined, a neoliberal strategy of intensified exploitation was put into effect. This changed the nature of the regulated class compromise. Previous working class gains were being lost and unions were being weakened, yet their leaderships continued to play by the rules of the compromise deal with only rare and reluctant acts of defiance. The losses were substantial but they played out over decades and were relatively incremental.

3. The present period is one of greatly sharpened attacks on working class living standards. Economic instability is interweaving with ecological disaster and the impacts of global rivalry. These combined effects have generated a global cost of living crisis and the state is resorting to class war measures to regain stability. This means that adherence to the forms of class compromise goes from ensuring a gradual loss of ground by workers and becomes a recipe for catastrophic defeats.

In order to fight back effectively, the strike weapon will have to be used in united mass struggles that press general demands. The Ontario education workers’ struggle pointed to the incredible power that could be unleashed with such an approach. However, the fact that the forward movement was halted as soon as it possibly could be also reveals how much change is necessary, if we are to even mount an effective defence, let alone go on the offensive.
How we are to halt the halting of the forward movement remains a mystery; surely, we need to engage constantly in discussing and criicizing the limits of collective-bargaining, collective agreements and associated union rhetoric around them, such as “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” “decent work,”and “good jobs.” 
 
And what does Clarke mean by “general demands?” Your guess is as good as mine. 

We read the following the day before on Facebook by Clarke (with a posted news article explaing some of the context):

hough a major effort will be underway to present this as a great gain, it is hard to justify such a position. Factually, the wage increases won, though improved, don’t match the present rate of inflation and would mean very small increases in the following years, IF current projections are accurate. Measured up against the present cost of living crisis and the loss in real wages for education workers over a long period, this is clearly inadequate. The OSBCU president also points out herself that no gains were made in terms of services and staffing. The decision to end the strike on Ford’s terms has produced a very meagre settlement and blocked the prospects for a generalized working class fight back that could have taken its lead from the education workers’ struggle.

All this being said, the resistance taken up by these workers threw the Ford Tories into a crisis and struck a chord with working class people. The fact that such a significant number of workers didn’t ratify this, coupled with the obvious disdain coming from OSBCU, has to be taken to heart. A movement based in the rank and file of the unions and in hard pressed communities remains the only viable means of breaking out of the rituals of a failed compromise and fighting the attacks we face on equal terms.

https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-education-support-workers-vote-to-accept-new-deal-1.6180879?fbclid=IwAR1Nivoht9rlYamGTsj0iLSS1xWFabl51q6WeMxwP6BGz2AJpvhKyNS2r50

The lack of gains made by the movement–except the repeal of the repressive legislation–indicates a major problem with modern unions, but Clarke does not really engage in just how limited modern unions are in their role as representatives of the economic and political interests of workers. Furthermore, Clarke exaggerates the opposition of the rank-and-file members to the resulting collective agreement: 73 percent of .those who voted apparently voted for the collective agreement (the posted news article is somewhat unclear on this. I assume that it was 73 percent of those who voted voted to accept the resulting collective agreement, with 76 percent of elegible voters actually voting). 
 
In addition, Clarke’s reference to “the obvious disdain coming from OSBCU” (the union responsible for bargaining for the 55,000 workers at a general level rather than at a local level) probably refers to Laura Walton’s own dissatisfaction with the resulting collective agreement. Nevertheless, she herself admitted that she voted for it. Morever, does not Laura Walton, president of OBSCU, herself believe in the sanctity of the colective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement? 
 
Should not Clarke–and other radicals–be engaging in a more concrete critical analysis of the limitations of unions? What do you think? 
 

The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector

Introduction

Premier Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause to prevent a union legal challgenge to legislation forcing education workers back to work despite the workers not even going out on strike yet should give the left pause for thought. Is not Ford’s government part of the public sector?

And yet the social-democratic or social reformsist left frequently idealize the public sector (as the good) (see for example  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Six: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part One  , or  The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two  or    The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services      contrasting it with the bad (the private sector).

Of course, the social-democratic left will deny that what they mean by the public sector includes the likes of Doug Ford. However, he was elected premier of Ontario despite their wishes, and he does form part of the public sector. What the reformist left want is, however, to elect “progressive” leaders and prevent the election of such right-wing leaders as Doug Ford. However, there will always exist the possibility of the emergence of such right-wing leaders as Ford in such a system since the power of employers remains intact. Furthermore, Ford’s power comes from the hierarchical nature of government and not just from the nature of Ford’s politics.

The social-democratic left should be questioning the democratic nature of the public sector and not just Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. That it does not do so should give one food for thought.

French History and Ford’s Use of the Notwithstaning Clause: A Lesson to be Learned

Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause (and his imposition of a maximum increase of one percent increase in wages in the public sector via Bill 124, legislated in 2019 and quashed just this week by an Ontario court, which Ford will apparently appeal) has parallels with French history in the nineteenth century.

Napoleon had followed up the plebescite with a wave of arrests that left the French branch of
the IW A disoriented and leaderless. The entire twenty-year period of Bonapartist rule, Engels [Marx’s friend] lamented to Marx on August 8, has “produced enormous demoralization. One is hardly justified in reckoning on revolutionary heroism.

Engels in this instance was mistaken; he underestimated the creative capacity and potential of workers. Napoleon III entered into war between 1870 and 1871 with Prussia (a part of the North German Confederation in 1867).  Napoleon lost power to the provisional government, headed by Adolphe Thiers in 1870. Early in 1871 there was a French vote for peace–but not for right-wing reaction of the Thiers provisional government (which installed itself in Versailles, outside Paris due to the radical climate that then prevailed in the capital). .From Richard Hunt (1984), The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels. Volume 2.  Classical Marxism, 1850-1895, page 112:

The overwhelming vote for peace [between Prussia and France]  in February 1871, then, had not
been a simple vote for restoration, a state of affairs which must have been appreciated at Versailles if one notes, as Marx was bound to, the zeal with which the Versaillese hermetically sealed off communication between Paris and the rest of France, immediately passed legislation which strangled self-government in all towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants, adopted a new law restricting freedom of the press, and enacted what Marx characterized as a “new-fangled, Draconic code of deportation” for political offenses. The National Assembly did not behave like a government confident of its own popular support, or one under which democracy would long survive.

Ford’s draconian measure of not only passing legislation that forced the workers back to work (even before they went out on strike) was intensified by a further draconian measure of invoking the notwithstanding clause. Draconian measures, though on a larger scale, were instituted by the provsional government in Versailles in 1871. The executive branch of the modern government will always be a threat to a democratic way of life because of its hierarchical and unelected nature.

When the French army suffered complete defeat in March 1871, first the Parisian National Guard revolted (when Thiers’s government tried to strip Paris of its cannon, then those residing in Paris revolted, setting up a government independent of the provisional government. The Parisian government was called the Paris Commune.

This government elected its administrative body and did not rely on a hierarchy of unelected civil servants or officials. Hunt, page 130:

The ninety-odd councillors who formed the communal assembly- or the “Commune” in the narrow sense Marx employs here-did their administrative work through ten commissions (for finance, public works, justice, etc.) elected from among their own numbers and responsible to the whole assembly, just as each councillor was in turn responsible to to his popular electorate in the ward, by whom he could be recalled at any time. The intent was to make all administrative posts elective and responsible,
which would have the effect, as Marx elaborated in his First Draft, of “doing away with the state hierarchy altogether and replacing the haughteous masters of the people into always removable servants, a mockresponsibility by a real responsibility, as they act continuously under public supervision.”

The potentialities of some situations give rise to the calling into question of hierarchies and power structures that have dampened the creative power of workers. From Kristin Ross (2015), Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune:

In one of his earliest essays, Rancière suggests that the poetry written by workers like Pottier, stealing time in the late night hours their schedules allowed them, was not a means of revindication—neither the form nor the thematic content of the poetry were what mattered. “It is not through its descriptive
content nor its revindications that worker poetry becomes a social oeuvre, but rather through its pure act of existing.”17 The poetry illustrates neither the misery of the worker’s conditions nor the heroism of his struggle—what it says, rather, is aesthetic capacity, the transgression of the division that assigns to some manual work and to others the activity of thinking. It is the proof that one participates in another life. When Marx says that the greatest accomplishment of the Paris Commune was “its own working existence” he is saying much the same thing. More important than any laws the Communards were able to enact was simply the way in which their daily workings inverted entrenched hierarchies and divisions—first and foremost among these the division between manual and artistic or intellectual labor. The world is divided between those who can and those who cannot afford the luxury of playing with words or images. When that division is overcome, as it was under the Commune, or as it is conveyed in the phrase “communal luxury,” what matters more than any images conveyed, laws passed, or institutions founded are the capacities set in motion. You do not have to start at the beginning—you can start anywhere.

In facing the Ford government, with its unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause to impose directly the class power of employers on the workers, workers could, potentially, come to perceive the gross class power of the executive of the modern government or state and to understand that it could not be used to express their own class interests:

The new sentence Marx felt obliged to add to the new preface to the Communist Manifesto he wrote in 1872—”the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for their own purpose”—indicates clearly the distance that the Commune made him take toward his earlier thoughts about state centralization.25 What he now understood was that under the Second Empire, the state’s formal independence from civil society, its growth as “a parasitic excrescence” grafted onto civil society, was itself the form through which the bourgeoisie ruled.26 Attacking the separation between the state and civil society was not one of communism’s remote objectives but was instead the
practical means for its attainment, the very medium for class struggle. The form of the Commune, in turn, was less a form than a set of dismantling acts, the critique-in-act of the bureaucratic state, a critique that, in Marx’s words, amounted to the state’s abolishment. The Communards had not decreed or proclaimed the abolishment of the state. Rather, they had set about, step by step, dismantling, in the short time they had, all of its bureaucratic underpinnings. An acting, not a parliamentary body, the Commune was both executive and legislative at once. The army was eliminated; all foreigners were admitted into the Commune; state functionaries were eliminated (certain of their tasks still existed, but they were performed by anyone—at a worker’s salary, and subject to immediate recall); priests were sent off to “the recesses of private life.”

The Social-Democratic Left’s Silence About Executive Power

The social-democratic or reformist do not even mention the issue of the undemocratic nature of the exeuctive power. Their focus is on Ford–as if Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause were not an expression of a deeper-lying problem of the undemocratic and hierarchical nature of the public sector. Of course, it was indeed necessary to criticize Ford’s undemocratic move, but there is no hint that the very structure of the executive power of government is undemocratic. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which supported a wildcat support strike of its own section of education workers in favour of the striking education workers, made the following press release  (https://www.baytoday.ca/local-news/opseu-workers-to-join-friday-strike-in-support-of-cupe-6049790):

“Bill 28, which is a legislative attack on workers’ constitutional right to fair and free collective bargaining, was introduced on October 31 after CUPE gave its five days’ notice for job action, with the possible start of a strike on Friday, November 4.,” says an OPSEU news release. “Bill 28 preemptively prohibits these workers’ right to strike, imposes massive fines, imposes four-year long collective agreements, and invokes the notwithstanding clause to preclude any legal action against Ford’s unconstitutional and undemocratic attempt at strong-arming.

The issue of the undemocratic nature of the executive branch of the government is not questioned, though. In other words, OPSEU presents Ford’s actions as undemocratic–but not the general nature of the executive branch of modern government, with its hierarchy of power and appointed positions–much like the dictatorial hierarchy that exists in employer-dominated workplaces (see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish Marxist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, developed some points that are relevant for the issue in relation to participation in the government (rather than the participation in elections or in parlaiment or congress). From Michael Brie and Jörn Schütrumpf (2021), Rosa Luxemburg
A Revolutionary Marxist at the Limits of Marxism, page 88:

In the debate on socialist participation in government, Luxemburg established four decisive theses for her understanding of the state: (1) reforms within capitalism never transform the capitalist character of property relations so fundamentally as to bring forth elements and tendencies of a new order. Socialism cannot be ‘implemented’ as a gradual transformation, but rather must be done so by a state with an entirely socialist character. The seizure of state power by the working class is the actual goal, as this is the only way to overturn the economic order. (2) The bourgeois state is the most significant impediment to a socialist reorganisation of society. It forms the wall that must be battered down for a revolution to be initiated. (3) From the executive of a bourgeois state, only bourgeois politics can be pursued, whereas in the legislative branch, it is possible to attempt to implement social reforms while ‘simultaneously opposing the bourgeois government as a whole – something that is manifested,
among other places, in the rejection of the budget’ (Luxemburg 1979a, 485). (4) Struggling to protect bourgeois democracy and being prepared to undertake revolutionary violence go hand-in-hand.

The social-democratic or social-reformsit left, by contrast, fall all over themselves trying to elect “progressives” to government–and never question the necessarily anti-democratic nature of the exeuctive branch.

Rather, they speak like Herman Rosenfeld, when he speaks of reforming the police:

Shouldn’t that institution [the police] be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

Compare this with what happened during the short period of the Paris Commune: police as a separate unit controlled by a central authority independently of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers was abolished and a new force was created, subject to power from below. From Marx, The Civil War in France, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 22,  page 331:

The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, of acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes [my emphasis], and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the
Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the Administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The vested
interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of State disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves.b Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of
the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the State was laid into the hands of the Commune.

Indeed, if a general strike did in fact arise, the issue of the organization of the police and its anti-democratic nature might have arisen as well. After all, when a general strike arises, the issue of the responsibility for public safety arises. The separation of the police as a separate force to oppress workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers then might arise.

Since financing both the wages demanded by the striking workers and the issue of funding of extra staff separated the two sides, the an indication of an altnerative source of revenue by shifting resources from the police to schools could at least have been highlghted.

One of the issues that arose during Covid was the abolition or defunding of the police. This too could have been raised as an issue and another spoke that revolved around the hub of a general strike.

Conclusion

The lack of criticizing of the undemocratic nature of the executive power of modern government by the social-democratic or reformist left should not come as a surprise to radicals. Like much else, the social-democratic or social-reformist left lacks any intention of criticizing its own cherished assumptions–such as the implicit view that we live in a democratic society. There is some democratic aspects, to be sure, such as elections, but they are hardly matched by the dictatorial structures and processes characteristic of both the executive branch of modern government and the power of employers at work.

The idealization of the public sector by the social-democratic or social-reformist left must be criticized at every turn. The public sector is hardly the embodiment of democracy.

The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism

Introduction 

The recent wildcat strike by 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members, represented by the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU, who work in schools in Ontario, Canada, was stimulated by the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28, which not only legislated workers back to work, but also used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter and Rights to Freedom to prevent any legal challenge–essentially stripping away collective-bargaining rights–including the right to strike.

The wildcat strike has resulted in two distinct political positions on what should have been done: push forward to aim for a general strike, or limit the movement to the aim of defeating the Conservative Ford government’s Bill 28 and of obtaining a collective agreement.

The two distinct political positions are expresssed in the largely Canadian social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension, with Martin Schoots-McAlpine arguing for a general strike (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-general-strike-that-could-have-been) and Herman Rosenfeld aguing that a call for a general strike was premature and, he implies, ultra-leftist (see https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/a-first-post-pandemic-political-victoryhardly-a-general-strike-that-could-have-been ).

I will argue that Schoots-McAlpine’s political position, at least with respect to his advocacy of a general strike before the repeal of Bill 28, is the more reasonable radical position and that Rosenfeld’s position reflects a conservative radical’s political position–or rather a social-democratic or social-reformist political position.

I will not enter into detail into Schoots-McAlpine’s article since it is more important to address the inadequacies of Rosenfeld’s social-reformist position since that position has ultimately been practically realized.

The Conservative Radical’s Political Position

The Aim of the Movement Should Be Limited to the Repeal of Bill 28

Rosenfeld paints the restriction of the victory (and it was a victory in the negative sense of forcing the Conservative Doug Ford’s government to agree to abolish Bill 28) in a very positive light: 

A determined, organized and mobilized local union, the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), closed down most of the main school boards in a “political protest” which doubled as a contract strike. The Ford government withdrew its Bill 28, a constitutional attack and challenge at the OLRB, and was forced to go back to the bargaining table. CUPE maintained its right to strike if an agreement was not reached.

This was a big victory for CUPE, public sector workers, and the labour movement writ large, even though, like all such wins, it is temporary, conditional, and is only one moment in an ongoing class struggle which takes both economic and political forms. It was recognized as such by most working people, union members, officials, and critics from the left and socialists across the board.

Rosenfeld obviously considered it emintently realistic to aim only at the repeal of Bill 28: 

And, of course, the main issue was not to change the Ford government’s larger political agenda all in one go, but to defend the right of the CUPE local to bargain, build support amongst the larger working class for their demands and opposition to the government, and force Ford to back off. That was the initial step in this ongoing war and workers mobilized around it and won.

Rosenfeld’s Characterization of Schoots-McAlpine’s Position as Naive, Mechanistic, Abstract Ultra-leftism–and Inconsistent to Boot 

He then turns to what he considers the dark side (the Darth Vaderian side)–what he considers to be an ultra-leftist position. He characterizes this position in negative terms: 

Yet, in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise, this wasn’t good enough for Martin Schoots-McAlpine. For him, in his article published yesterday in Canadian Dimension (and there are other activists and comrades who clearly feel the same way), getting Ford to back down on this battle didn’t matter. The promise of a larger general strike—to be led by the dreaded labour bureaucrats he so roundly attacks—developing into a greater political movement (led by whom?) targeting many of the key elements of the capitalist agenda in the city and province was in the wind and was ended unilaterally, and wrongly, by calling off the CUPE strike and the movement towards a general strike.

And, further, even though this was to be led by the dreaded bureaucrats, Schoots-McAlpine writes, it seems that the working class, and the members of the union movement were chomping at the bit to build this movement. He writes, “for a brief moment we as workers in Ontario had an opportunity to really change the direction of this province for the better…workers across the province were willing to fight.”

Rosenfeld can hardly hide his contempt for any position that is more radical than his own. I have already pointed out in a previous post how he unjustifiably characterized a more radical position than his own as “sloppy thinking” and that his own views reflect “sloppy thinking” (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One)  Now he accues Schoots-McAlpine of engaging “in a naïve, mechanistic, and abstract intellectual exercise.” 

Rosenfeld further engages in character assassination with the title of one of his subsections: 

Delusions and wishes can’t substitute for materialist analysis of reality

Rosenfeld’s Justification For Limiting the Labour and Social Movements to Repealing Bill 28

How does Rosenfeld justify such a negative characterization? Apparently, by providing “a materialist analysis of reality.” What is this “materialist analysis?” Rosenfeld seems to argue under the above section title that workers and union leaders generally did not aim for anything more than the repeal of Bill 28; they were not prevented from pursuing a general strike since that was never really on the agenda. The following two sections are titled “Of leadership, bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers,” and “A word on general strikes.”

The section on union bureaucracy and rank-and-file workers seems to deny that the Rand formula of automatic dues deduction interfered with the relationship between union leaders and rank-and-file members. He also argues that although there has historically been a gap between union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file, leading to constraints on what the rank-and-file can do, this is not written in stone. Socialists in particular can challenge such constraints and this is what is needed. Rosenfeld admits that there is a tendency for union leaders to be co-opted, but he denies its inevitability. On the other hand, Schoots-McAlpine’s assumption that the rank-and-file are automatically militant is questionable. Workers have contradictory views since at a bare minimum they depend economically on their employer. If workers were so militant, they would have themselves called for a general strike: 

 If workers had this understanding already, they would be challenging the agreement for CUPE to go back to the bargaining table, pushing for a general strike, and calling for a political movement arguing for the demands that Schoots-McAlpine legitimately calls for on their own. But calling for general strike plans to go ahead anyway avoids the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it happen. Schoots-McAlpine leaves no place for it to happen.

Furthermore, as a counter-example to the characterization of union leaders as bureaucratic, he refers to, among others, J.P. Hornick, current leader of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU). Workers should definitely appreciate the militancy of Hornick, who supported a wildcat strike by section three (education workers) of OPSEU who themselves supported the striking CUPE members (see https://socialistaction.ca/our-initiatives/the-red-review/ for details), we should not fail to recognize the limiations of Hornick’s own views (see my criticisms of her views in May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract  and May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: More Rhetoric from a Union Rep: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part Two: Do Corrections Officers Protect Us?  ). Rosenfeld does not address such limitations and thus remains quite abstract. 

Let us add one more quote, from the section about delusions: 

Moments of struggle always provide openings to build and move forward, and for workers who are participating, to learn key lessons and develop deeper consciousness and understanding. But every struggle and every moment aren’t necessarily similar. As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them.

Let us stop here. We need, according to Rosenfeld, base our analysis on a materialist realiy and focus on the particularities (specifities) of the experience and potentials. However, Rosenfeld does not even go into the material reality of the peculiarity of Ford trying to use the notwithstanding clause to impose a unilateral contract (to call it a collective agreement would be an oxymoron). Nor does he enter into analysing the potential of this peculiar situation to build up a movement in a short period of time. It is in such circumstances that workers may well go beyond their representatives and even their union leaders.

The Unique or Peculiar Situation of an Attack on the Union Movement in General: A Materialist Analysis of the Situation 

Rosenfeld does not engage in the specific nature of the use of the notwithstanding clause as an impulse for union leaders, union rank-and-file and probably social movements to engage in protests, picket-line walking and rallies.  

In normal times, it would be inconsistent  to rely on the bureaucratic union leadership to lead a general strike. However, the Ford government’s  use of the notwithstanding clause to preempt a strik indicated  abnormal times. The bureuacratic union leadership might have felt forced to move towards in a general strike for two reasons. Firstly, they themselves identified with “free collective bargainng” as a principle, and that principle was being threatened. Secondly, they might have been subject to pressure from below. It would of course be necessary to determine if there was such pressure, but the willingness of many workers to engage in an illegal strike/political protest and be subject to $4000 fine a day, as well as the support of the strike by Unifor national, CUPE national and OPSEU, as well as the support of some parents, indicates a willingness to support a move towards a general strike. 

Indeed, in a press conference following the agreement by the Ford government that it would rescind Bill 28, Mark Hancock, president of CUPE National, had this to say when asked about what preparations had been made for a general strike: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

There is such a thing as the “logic of events.” The need for union bureaucrats to appear to represent the will of their members, especially in the context of such a public and political event as Ford’s open use of the cudgel of the notwithstanding clause might well have forced them to take measures that they would not normally take. Furthermore, their own evident belief in the sanctity of collective bargaining  might have reinforced this pressure to engage in more radical measures. 

Rosenfeld’s “materialist analysis of reality” simply ignores the “particularities” of the situation. But the particularities of a situation do not just involve facts–but potentialities. Rosenfeld also ignores the potentialties of the situation. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of the Situation

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Unifying Unions Across Canada

Furthermore, Rosenfeld’s statement: “As a socialist, one has to look at the particularities of the experience and the potentials, and build on them” is empty. The use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford opened up the potentiality for a national struggle and not just a provincial struggle. That is why Unifor national president spoke at the press conference as did the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. That is why even unions that supported Ford criticized him. The potential to unify unionized workers across the public and private sectors existed because of Ford’s imposition of the notwithstanding clause. 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Hancock used the term “unprecedented” to chaacterize the situation. Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), also used the same term: 

The Draconian legislation the Ford government passed to impose a collective agreement on CUPE and remove their Charter Rights to free and fair collective bargaining and to strike was an unprecedented attack on collective-bargaining rights the likes of which we have never seen in Canadian history. Rest assured, we, our members, my colleagues, people of Ontario, we will hold Premier Ford to his word to rescind Bill 28. We stand in stead-fast solidarity with you. You can count on us. You can count on ETFO. Solidarity.

Rosenfeld neglects to take into consideration the “unprecedented” threat to the Canadian union movement of Ford’s actions. He wants to restrict it to the issue of repealing Bill 28. Such radical conservatiism. Such conservative radicalism. Such naivety. Such mechanical thinking. Such abstract thinking. 

Of course, like Schoots-McAlpine, I would hardly interpret this rhetoric in a radical sense. Hancock and others, since they sell unions on the basis of the principle of free collective bargaining, rightly saw what Ford did as a threat to their own economic, political and ideological positions. They likely wanted to get back to the status quo as quickly as possible–trade-union cretinism similar to parliamentaty cretinism, which uses voting and social movements as means to pressure the government to obtain limited reforms independently of linking up such reforms with the aim of abolishing the class power of employers. 

This potentiality to unify union forces across Canada and not just in Ontario was there–and squandered. Rosenfeld agrees with such a waste of potentiality. 

Underestimation of the Potentialities of Accelerating Worker Creativity, Organization and Class Consciousness  

Rosenfeld also underestimates the potentiality of workers for accelerating their creativiy and class consciousness in such situations. Indeed, Marx criticized those who failed to recognize the creativity of the working class. From Daniel Gaido (2021), “The First Workers’ Government in History: Karl Marx’s Addenda to Lissagaray’s History of the Commune of 1871,” in pages 1-64, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, page 42: 

In the extensive section inserted by Marx to criticise the leaders of the Paris Commune, he delved into the question of revolutionary leadership …,  pointing out how the enormous potential power of the working class had ‘always been squandered, diverted, annihilated … by a swarm of declaimers and sectarians … others who are only anxious to climb up the social ladder … [and] a bunch of blind hotheads…’

Marx insisted that ‘If a party needs wisdom, clarity, reason, leadership, it is the revolutionary party.’ [and by party marx did not necessarily mean a formal political party but a group of those who oppose the class power of employers].

Nowhere does Rosenfeld address this potentiality. Indeed, for him the concept of potentiality is limited to the conscious immediate aims of all participants indepdently of the peculiar situaiton of Ford’s invocation of the notwithstaning clause. . Why else does he not refer to the unprecedented situation of an elected official using the notwithstanding clause to break not only a particular union but trying to abolish the right to strike and the potential of that situation? He acknowledges that the right to strike was at issue, and so was the entire union movement not only in Ontario but throughout Canada (since any provincial government could then use the notwithstanding clause at any time to break a union). This fact was initated by the Ford government, and it threatened (had the potential) to unify different union movements thoughout Canada over the issue (and provide a focal point for community organizations to link their demands to that issue as well). 

The potentialities of the situation, however, should not lead us to the conclusion that workers will spontaneously come to the conclusion that we need to go beyond the collective-bargaining regime. This is where previous socialist criticisms of the limtiations of collective bargaining and collective agreements can play a role. Without such criticism, the extent to which workers will be willing to go beyond such a situation will likely be limited. The negative work required to undermine faith in the fairness of the collective-bargaining system needs to become more general if the potentialities of the system are to be realized in such a way that the workers go beyond such a situation. The danger of co-optation is ever present as a limitation to an expansion of the movement in a socialist direction of the abolition of the class power of employers. (For a short critique of the exaggeration of the implied spontaneous leap in class consciousness in such situations, see The Illusions of Radical Social Democrats or Social Reformers about the Extent of the Impact of the Current Educational Workers Strike Wave in Ontario). 

Overestimation of Rosenfeld’s Own Political Position and Actions

Rosenfeld’s implied claim that only if the workers defeated Bill 28–and then subsequently built on that short-term victory–is consistent with his gradualist approach. Only one step at a time–baby steps. The problem with that approach is that the goal of abolishing the class power of employers is most often forgotten in the process. 

Another problem is that it allows the represenatives of employers to figure out strategies that co-opt the movement (a danger that Roesnfeld simply ignores). I pointed Rosenfeld’s neglect of this in another post:

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms.

Rosenfeld’s strategy leads the left down the path to nowhere but reformism and to limits to class struggle that fail to realistically organize to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. 

Rosenfeld, by arguing that we must create 

the necessary education, organization, and strategizing that socialists and radical activists in and around the union movement must bring to either force or help leaders create opportunities to make it [a general strike] happen.

adopts a conservative stance. We must take baby steps, always being cautious, never assuming that certain situations may have the potential to accelerate class creativity, class organizing and class consciousness. 

The following is another piece of abstract and mechanical thinking (sloppy thinking–a term Rosenfeld used in another atticle to characterize another radical–see my criticism of his views on this in Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One): 

The education necessary to eventually organize more widespread, radical, and concerted actions still needs to be done within unions, locals, and communities in the education, health care, and other sectors. Is the author of this article willing to contribute to this, or would he prefer to sit on the sidelines and criticize the main protagonists?

This is hardly realistic. Rosenfeld, Jordan House and I presented “educationals” to workers at the Toronto Pearson Airport in the mid 2010s (and, I will admit, they did more work on the course than I did–I never have liked speaking in public). However, at one point, we had to wait almost two years to provide one course. Such educationals hardly provide a dent in the armour of the class of employers. Something much more is needed–and the situation which developed was far more important for providing an educational context than such educationals. 

Let Rosenfeld provide an account of just how he has educated the workers about their exploitation and oppression. Let him enlighten us on just how effective he and his fellow radical conservatives or conservative radicals have educated the workers on their class situation. 

Frankly, his abstract and mechanical thinking leads to a situation of just talking and talking rather than taking bold steps that may indeed fail–but are better than just chattering about socialism without really advancing it at all. His approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. And hardly ever any real critical discussion.

Indeed, when we had three educationals at the airport, the first of them was without hand-picked trade union reps. The educational lost its focus (our curriculum) because the session turned into a series of long complaints about the employer and the union. None of us really had an idea about what to do with the situation. Finally,, I perceived that one of the workers attending had an exaggerated understanding of the power of collective bargaining and collective agreements and did at least manage to point that out. The following two educationals were with hand-picked trade union reps who were more “docile.” Thus, when these hand-picked union reps were presented with the situation at the brewery where I worked (I was not identified in the exercise personally), in which I refused to carry out an order by the foremen, most stated that the person should have grieved the issue and acquiesced–hardly a dignified response and also a response that would have prevented workers to engage in solidarity at the actual workplace–which is what happened. 

Conclusion

I will end here, for now. Rosenfeld obviously believes that limiting the illegal political protest/strike by CUPE education workers to the repeal of Bill 28 was justified under the circumstances. To that end, he engages in name calling by claiming that Schoots-McAlpine’s defense of a general strike expressed a naive, mechanistic and intellectualist point of view. In fact, such a defense is delusional for Rosenfeld. 

Despite his claim to engage in a matrialist analysis of reality, he fails to engage in an analysis of the unique or peculiar situation which not only workers but union leaders faced when Ford passed Bill 28. His materialist analysis is wanting. The same could be said of his lack of analysis of the potentialities of that situation. Bill 28 threatened unions across Canada, and it had the potential to create more permanent links between unions across Canada. In such a situation, workers’ own creativity, organizing capacity and class consciousness could have developed further–if the strike had not been called off on Monday, November 7. Finally, Rosenfeld greatly overestimates his own political postion and actions; his analysis and actions remain puny beside the rage, the actions, the unity and the solidarity of union members, parents and others when Ford passed Bill 28. 

One can only wonder who is delusional in such a situation. 

There are undoubtedly many other issues that have arisen that are relevant to Ford’s attempt to impose a preemptive contract on workers, with the help of the notwithstanding clause. I may or may not write further on this topic and, if I do, I may then convert this into the first part of a two-part series, or I may simply write another post about some related topics on the issue. Or I may just modify this post. 

 

A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Edmonton, Alberta, Based on the Number of Employees

The following is a list of the twenty-two largest private employers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, based on the number of employees. I restrict this list to private employers since the number of employees across government departments seems to be provincial and not city-based. For example, the number of employees in Alberta Health Services is 123,000, which far exceeds the number of employees for private-based companies. The list also excludes not-for profit companies.

The statistics are based on the following site: Largest Employers in Edmonton

  1. Stantec: 22,000
  2. PCL Employees Holdings Ltd.: 16,000
  3. Bee-Clean Building Maintenance (Gingras Enterprises): 9,500
  4. Katz Group: 8,000
  5. Brick Warehouse Corporation: 5,700
  6. ATB Financial: 5,600
  7. AutoCanada Inc.: 4,200
  8. Chemco: 2,500
  9. EPCOR Utilities: 2,340
  10. Canadian Western Bank: 2,300
  11. Lilydale (Sofina Foods Inc.): 2,300
  12. Services Credit Union Ltd.: 2,200
  13. Alcanna: 2000
  14. Lockerbie & Hole Inc.: 2000
  15. Fountain Tire: 1,600
  16. Morgan Construction & Environmental Ltd.: 1,500
  17. Pyramid Corporation (A PTW Company): 1,300
  18. DynaLIFE: 1,200
  19. West Edmonton Mall Attractions Inc.: 1,200
  20. All Weather Windows: 1,000
  21. IBM Canada Limited: 1,000
  22. K-Bro Linen Inc.: 1,000

Total Employees: 94,140
Average Employees per Employer: 4,279 

The statistics do not reflect in any precise manner the number of employees specifically employed in Edmonton. For example, Stantec employees are spread across the world, but without further dis-aggregation of the statistics, it is impossible to tell how many employees Stantec employees only in Edmonto. Consequently, the total number of employees is skewed as is the average employees per employer.

In any case, what is the power of these employers in Edmonton? In Alberta? In Canada? In the world? Compare your power to its power, whether you are unionized or not? Could it not be concluded that, compared to such employers, you have little power? As a worker? As a unionized worker? As a voter? As a legal subject? All talk about freedom, democracy and the like ignore such realities.

In the movie The Lord of the Rings, Part 2, The Two Towers, King Theoden says: “How did it come to this?” How indeed did it come to the point where individuals have little power and employers have concentrated power?

To be sure, belonging to a union can increase the power of individuals and decrease to a limited extent the power of an employer, but we should not have the illusion that unions somehow balance the power relations. Even if there were a balance of power, since employers’ goal is external to employees, such a balance would not be maintained for very long; employers would revolt and attempt to subordinate workers to their wills.

The social-democratic left have little to say on this score. They talk about “fair contracts,” “decent work,” and the like. They themselves contribute to the power of employers by failing to look beyond such cliches to the reality of the power that employers have as a class over workers at work (whether unionized or not), in “public life” and in the political sphere. Or they talk about such employers “paying their fair share of the taxes.” In such a view, as long as such employers pay a certain percentage of taxes, they have the right to use workers as things (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Does this situation express the freedom of workers? Or the freedom of employers? Their freedom to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and how much to produce?

What should be done about such a situation? The first thing to be done is to recognize the situation and to discuss its economic social and political implications. The radical left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) do not do so. They talk about capitalism this and capitalism that, but they are so vague that no one takes them seriously. Or, alternatively, they are so afraid of upsetting trade unionists that they timidly bring up such questions. Is this what we need–given the situation that workers working for such employers face?

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Workers-First Agenda: A Critique: Part One

Introduction

The so-called radical left here in Toronto rarely engages in any detailed criticism of unions or groups of unions. Quite to the contrary. They either make vague assertions about “the trade-union elite” or the “trade-union bureaucracy” (union bureaucrats or business unions), or they remain silent when faced with the persistent rhetoric that unions. It is hardly in the interests of the working-class to read merely vague criticisms of unions or to not read anything concerning the limitations of unions or groups of unions. 

To enlighten workers concerning such limitations, I have on a number of occasions criticized unions in various ways. The following is a further example of such criticism. It pertains to Ontario Federation of Labour’s “Workers-First Agenda” campaign.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

What is the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)? On its website, we read the following: 

WHO WE ARE

Just as workers unite in a union to protect their rights, unions also unite in federations of labour to fight for better working and living conditions. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) serves as an umbrella group for working people and their unions.

From our inception in 1957, the OFL has grown to represent over one million Ontario workers belonging to more than 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions, making us Canada’s largest labour federation. Our strong membership and constant vigilance make us a formidable political voice.

WHAT WE DO

We push for legislative change in every area that affects people’s daily lives. Areas like health, education, workplace safety, minimum wage and other employment standards, human rights, women’s rights, workers’ compensation, and pensions.

We also make regular presentations and submissions to the Ontario government and mount internal and public awareness campaigns to mobilize the kind of political pressure that secures positive change for all workers – whether you belong to a union or not.

To accomplish these goals, we work with affiliated local unions and labour councils across the province. We also partner with other community and social justice organizations to build a fairer and more inclusive society that meets everyone’s needs.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Worker’s-First Agenda Campaign

The Ontario Federation of Labour (Ontario is a large province in Canada) has initiated a campaign called “Building the Fight for a Workers-First Agenda” (https://ofl.ca/event/activist-assembly-2022/). 

I certainly agree that workers need to fight to create a workers-first agenda. However, I seriously question that what the Ontario Federation of Labour calls a workers’ agenda expresses a full and complete workers’ agenda. 

As is usual, I hardly oppose the fight for reforms that benefit workers. However, is what is proposed anything other than the fight for a more humanized form of capitalism? Let us see. 

On the above web page, we read: 

That means good jobs and decent work for all workers; a $20 minimum wage; high quality affordable housing; accessible and well funded health care, long term care, education, and other public services; justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities; climate justice and a livable planet; and so much more!

These are winnable demands, but only if we fight for them. That’s why we need you to help build the fight for a workers first agenda in our province.

A $20 minimum wage is certainly better than $15; high quality affordable housing is certainly better than privatized unaffordable housing, or affordable but dilapidated housing (I used to live in a dilapidated house in Calgary, Alberta), more accessible and better funded health care, long-term care, education and other public services  that are more accessible and better funded, It is certainly preferable to achieve greater justice for Indigenous and racialized communities. It is also better to reduce global warming and the destruction of our planet. 

But what is the standard used to determine 

  1. what good and decent jobs are? 
  2. high-quality affordable housing? 
  3. accessible and well-funded health care?
  4. accessible and well-funded long-term care?
  5. accessible and well-funded education?
  6. justice for Indigenous people and racialized communities?
  7. climate justice?
  8. a livable planet? 

Decent work would undoubtedly include 10 paid sick days for all workers (including gig workers and migrant workers). A more detailed treatment of what the Ontario Federation of Labour means by “decent work” can be found in their document titled Protection for Every Worker
Establishing the Future of Decent Work in Ontario, a “Submission to the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development,” dated July 21, 2021 (see the post on the webpage https://ofl.ca/   by using the search terms “decent work”). 

In that document, we read: 

1. THE DECENT WORK AGENDA

As we emphasized in the OFL’s extensive submissions to the Changing Workplaces Review, a job should be a pathway out of poverty. We strongly encourage the OWRAC [Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee] to review the OFL’s submission to the Changing Workplaces Review, which outlines a suite of required changes to both the ESA [Employment Standards Act{ and the LRA [Labour Relations Act]. While some Ontarians are staying home, those keeping the province running – and facing a greater risk of infection – are people working in jobs that traditionally have been the lowest paid with few benefits and no access to unionization. And it is women workers, racialized and Indigenous workers, migrant and immigrant workers, and workers with disabilities that are overrepresented in these precarious but essential jobs. A full economic recovery will require the government to legislate increases to workers’ wages and protections as well as to correct the inherent power imbalance between workers and employers.

The Limitations of the OFL’s “Workers First” Labour Agenda Campaign

The OFL admits that there is an “inherent power imbalance between workers and employers”–but fails to explain why such an inherent imbalance of power exists in the first place. Surely it is due to the workers not having a right of access to the means of producing their own lives (machines–including computers–buildings, offices, office supplies, raw material and so forth) and employers having the right to exclude workers from such right of access. Why is the OFL silent over an elaboration of the nature of such imbalance? 

I searched on the Ontario Federation of Labour’s website using the search term “power imbalance” (in quotation marks). These are the results (three of them) (my emphases): 

  1. The OFL’s submission puts forth recommendations to both the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act that will raise the minimum standards for all Ontario workers, expand access to our fundamental freedom to associate for the meaningful pursuit of collective workplace goals, correct the inherent power imbalance in the employment relationship, and protect vulnerable workers.
  2. Ontario’s outdated labour laws can do little to remedy the dramatic power imbalance that exists between well-heeled company owners and their employees

  3. “Migrant workers endure an incredible power imbalance in the face of their employers and are often gendered and racialized workers,” said Irwin Nanda, Executive Vice-President of the OFL. “To address the root of this exploitation, the province must also push the federal government to scale back the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and return to a robust national policy of permanent immigration that provides migrant workers with opportunities for permanent residency.”

The incredible lack of educational content in this reference to “imbalance of power” is typical of the social-democratic or social-reformist left here in Toronto (and the so-called radicals here rarely if ever challenge this). 

So, there is acknowledged an inherent imbalance of power between employers and employees–but the OFL fails to explain why that is so. This is the first limitation of their so-called “workers-first agenda.” 

The second limitation also relates to this inherent balance of power between employers and employees; the OFL implies that this inherent balance of power between employers and employers can somehow be overcome by “correcting” the imbalance of power. 

How is this to be done? Nowhere does the OFL really spell this out, but it can be inferred, from the typical justification for reference to “decent work” among the social-democratic or social-reformist left is free collective bargaining and the resulting collective agreement.

This is simple nonsense. As I have argued in a number of other posts (see for example Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?), collective bargaining limits the power of employers over workers but hardly leads to a balance of power; oppression is inherent in both public and private employment, and exploitation is inherent in the private sector (if not in the public sector). To be an employer inherently involves more power than workers (this of course does not mean that key workers in specific industries cannot disrupt the power of employers if the material conditions are such that they form a strategic place in the chain of production of commodities. Such disruption, unless it aims to overcome the inherent imbalance of power between workers as a class and employers as a class by abolishing classes, can hardly change the ultimate class-based imbalance of power between workers and employers). 

The inadequate solution to the problem of the imbalance of power between employers and workers is linked to the inadequate definition of the problem. By failing to engage in inquiry into why workers face an imbalance of power, the OFL’s implicit proposal of correcting the imbalance of power by means of collective bargaining and collective agreements fails to address the inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers even when “fair” collective bargaining and collective agreements exist; management rights (implicit or explicit in collective agreements) give the lie to the claim that such an imbalance of power can be “corrected.” 

Conclusion

The OFL, like so many other social-democratic or social-reformist organizations, does not and cannot face the reality that unionized workers face. It itself contributes to the persistent imbalance of power between employers and workers by inadequately defining the problem and the corresponding solution. 

References to good and decent jobs are not equivalent to creating a balance of power between workers and employers.

By defining the problem the way it does, the OFL necessarily excludes the solution of developing a movement that aims to abolish the power of employers–period. For the OFL, the existence of employers is permanent; what needs to be changed for it is the power imbalance through unionization. 

Frankly, this is social-democratic ideology. It needs to be constantly challenged by the radical left (unlike the so-called radical left that fears to challenge it) and in some detail (unlike the radical left, that often refers vaguely to capitalism this and capitalism that).

As for my other questions, I will deal briefly with some of them in another post since I have already dealt with them in other posts and will refer the reader to those posts.