The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Nine: The Nature of Capitalism

Introduction

It is interesting that social democrats express themselves in different ways. Thus, Professor Noonan, a professor at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada), who teaches Marxism, among other courses, presents what he considers one of the major issues at stake in the struggle of the left against the right in his “post (really a series of posts) “Thinkings 10” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=4662):

… a small minority class owns and controls the natural resources that everyone needs to survive. Because they control that which everyone needs to survive, they force the rest of us to sell our ability to labour in exchange for a wage. Labour is exploited to produce social wealth, most of which is appropriated by the class whose ownership and control over natural resources grounds their social power.

Isn’t this just the picture that Marx paints? Yes, it is,

No, it is not. To present the ground of the capitalist class as control over natural resources requires justification. Nowhere does Professor Noonan provide such a justification–apart from his unsubstantiated reference to Marx.

Such a presentation of the nature of capitalism misses the specificity of the nature of capital and hence of capitalism.

Control over land (the monopolization of land or natural resources) is certainly a condition for modern society to arise, but this condition–“control over natural resources”–hardly “grounds their [the capitalist class’s] social power.”

What is different about modern exploitation is that workers are mainly exploited through control over their own products and the processes which produce those products by a minority–and not just control over “natural resources.” Workers themselves, through the objective relations between the commodities they produce, produce their own exploitation. It is the direct control over these produced commodities that constitutes the ground of the social power of the class of employers; control over natural resources is mediated through such control rather than vice versa.

Let us look at what Marx wrote on the topic, especially in the notebooks known as the Grunrdrisse (Outlines), found in volumes 28 and 29 of the collected works of Marx and Engels (Marx’s best friend and political collaborator). The following has to do with an interpretation of Marx’s theory, so there will be some quotations in order to refute Professor Noonan’s social-democratic reference to Marx.

Control Over Natural Resources Is Insufficient to Characterize the Nature of Capital(ism)

Ownership of Natural Resources (Landed Property) Characteristic of Non-capitalist Societies

Marx drafted (but did not publish) an introduction to what he planned to be his critique of political economy in August and September 1857. He wrote From volume 28(pages 43-44):

… nothing seems more natural than to begin with rent, with landed property, since it is bound up with the earth, the source of all production and all life, and with agriculture, the first form of production in all more or less established societies. But nothing would be more erroneous. In every form of society there is a particular [branch of] production which determines the position and importance of all the others, and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine those in all other branches. It is the general light tingeing all other colours and modifying them in their specific quality; it is a special ether determining the specific gravity of everything found in it. For example, pastoral peoples (peoples living exclusively on hunting or fishing are beyond the point from which real development begins). A certain type of agriculture occurs among them, sporadically, and this determines landed property. It is
common property and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, depending on the degree to which these peoples maintain their traditions, e.g. communal property among the Slavs. Among peoples with settled agriculture—this settling is already a great advance—where agriculture predominates, as in antiquity and the feudal period, even industry, its organisation and the forms of property corresponding thereto, have more or less the character of landed property. Industry is either completely dependent on it, as with the ancient Romans, or, as in the Middle Ages, it copies in the town and in its conditions the organisation of the countryside. In the Middle Ages even capital—unless it was
purely money capital—capital as traditional tools, etc., has this character of landed property. The reverse is the case in bourgeois society. Agriculture to an increasing extent becomes merely a branch of industry and is completely dominated by capital. The same applies to rent. In all forms in which landed property rules supreme, the nature relationship still predominates; in the forms in which capital rules supreme, the social, historically evolved element predominates. Rent cannot be understood without capital, but capital can be understood without rent. Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion and must be analysed before landed property. After each has been considered separately, their interconnection must be examined.

The issue can be approached from a variety of angles. One angle is how to divide human history into stages or periods. Of course, there are various ways of dividing human history, and some ways are more appropriate (depending on the purpose) than others. Marx at one point divided human history into three stages. From Dan Swain (2019), None so Fit to Break the Chains: Marx’s Ethics of Self-Emancipation, pages 31-32: 

In one passage in the Grundrisse Marx schematically divides history into three kinds of social forms:

Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage. The second stage creates the conditions for the third.

The third stage is conceived as merely the ‘subordination’ of – the exertion of control over – the conditions that exist in the second. This claim is no less necessary for being historically specific, however. So long as we want to maintain the huge advanced developments of capitalism – and we do want most of them – we cannot take a step back to small scale handcrafts. Thus the only option available to us, says Marx, is economic democracy.

A Condition for the Existence of Capitalism Is the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress or Dominate Workers

Economic democracy, however, as a solution to the problems thrown up by capitalist development, must address the fact that both oppression and exploitation of the working class arises through the production of the conditions for their own oppression and exploitation and not just “control over natural resources” by the ruling class. It is control over produced resources, not natural resources, that forms an essential element of capitalism. 

From Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 28, pages 381-382:

Labour capacity has appropriated only the subjective conditions of necessary labour—the means of subsistence for productive labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour capacity separated from the conditions of its realisation—and it has posited these conditions themselves as objects, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification. It emerges from the process not only no richer but actually poorer than it entered into it. For not only has it created the conditions of necessary labour as conditions belonging to capital; but the valorisation [the impetus for producing surplus value] inherent in it as a potentiality, the value-creating potentiality, now also exists as surplus value, surplus product, in a word, as capital, as domination over living labour capacity, as value endowed with its own power and will confronting it in its abstract, object-less, purely subjective poverty. Not only has it produced alien wealth and its own poverty, but also the relationship of this wealth as self-sufficient wealth to itself as poverty, which this wealth consumes to draw new life and spirit to itself and to valorise itself anew.

All this arose from the act of exchange in which the worker exchanged his living labour capacity for an amount of objectified labour, except that this objectified labour, these conditions for his being which are external to him, and the independent externality (to him) of these physical conditions, now appear as posited by himself, as his own product, as his own self-objectification as well as the objectification of himself as a power independent of himself, indeed dominating him, dominating him as a result of his own actions.

All the moments of surplus capital are the product of alien labour—alien surplus labour converted into capital: means of subsistence for necessary labour; the objective conditions— material and instrument—so that necessary labour can reproduce the value exchanged for it in means of subsistence; finally, the necessary amount of material and instrument so that new surplus
labour can realise itself in them or new surplus value can be created.

It no longer seems here, as it still did in the first consideration of the production process, as if capital, for its part, brought with it some sort of value from circulation. The objective conditions of
labour now appear as labour’s product—both in so far as they are value in general, and as use values for production. But if capital thus appears as the product of labour, the product of labour for its part appears as capital—no longer as mere product nor exchangeable commodity, but as capital; objectified labour as dominion, command over living labour. It likewise appears as the
product of labour that its product appears as alien property, as a mode of existence independently confronting living labour … that the product of labour, objectified labour, is endowed with a soul of its own by living labour itself and establishes itself as an alien power confronting its creator.

Capitalism as the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress and Exploit Workers 

The separation of workers from their conditions of producing their own lives (conditions of life), even if produced by them, does not however, yet constitute capital(ism). It is, rather, the structured process of forcing workers to expend more labour than the labour required to produce the conditions for their own lives, relative to From volume 28, pages 396-397:

Capital and therefore wage labour are not, then, constituted simply by an exchange of objectified labour for living labour—which from this viewpoint appear as two different determinations, as use
values in different form; the one as determination in objective form, the other in subjective form. They are constituted by the exchange of objectified labour as value, as self-sufficient value, for living labour as its use value, as use value not for a certain specific use or consumption, but as use value for value.

Hiring someone to mow the lawn does not make me a capitalist nor a member of the class of employers. This hiring process becomes a class relation in the first instance because the process involves a movement that involves a drive to increase more value through control over produced commodities which are then used to exploit workers further (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

By referring to the monopoly over “natural resources,” rather than over produced commodities by the workers themselves, Professor Noonan can then ignore the specificity of the nature of capital(ism). His own brand of social reformism can then be snuck in. He writes:

… but when we paint the problems of the world in ideological terms of “capitalism” versus “socialism” we get stuck immediately in an absolute opposition between political camps. Instead of arguing with opponents we shout at them. The other side does not listen but shouts back before both sides get tired and revert to preaching to the converted.

Getting underneath the political labels will probably not solve that problem. However, it does remove one rhetorical barrier to argument. If we can stop thinking in simplistic terms: capitalism=bad and socialism=good, then we can confront one another on the terrain that really matters: life-requirements and how best to distribute them.

The implication is that we should drop the opposition between capitalism and socialism–and focus on the issue of “life requirements and how best to distribute them.” Since “life requirements” applies to all societies (all human societies involve necessary conditions for human life to continue)–the specific nature of capitalism is lost.

It is not just a question of how “best to distribute life requirements.”–but of the form or structure or arrangement of the process that is involved in maintaining human life in a capitalist society. The very form, structure or organization of capitalist society is such that what is produced is used against workers–as a weapon against them to obtain surplus value in the private sector and to oppress workers in both the private and public sectors. Life requirements, being produced by workers, are used against workers in a capitalist society.

The concept “best distribution of them” sounds very similar to the social democrats Dhunna’s and Bush’s assumption of focusing on distribution of already produced commodities rather than the process through which they are produced in the first place (see A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Is there really any wonder that Professor Noonan then opposes movements that pose the problems that we face in terms of capitalism versus socialism. To be sure, I have already noted the illegitimacy of treating capitalism as a catch-all phrase of capitalism this and capitlaism that among social democrats (see Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part Two), but if we are going to aim for a society without classes, then aiming to create a society without classes requires the elimination of social relations, social structures and political relations that support the specific nature of the kind of society in which we live and suffer, with systemic exploitation and oppression.

Marx would therefore disagree with Professor Noonan’s specification of the problem; it is not just “control over natural resources” that needs to be discussed and critiqued, but the separation, alienation and domination of workers’ own labour and life through its own labour and products. From Volume 28, pages 390-391:

The recognition of the products as its own, and its awareness that its separation from the conditions of its realisation is improper and imposed by force, is an enormous consciousness, and is itself the product of the mode of production based on capital, and just as much the KNELL TO ITS DOOM as the consciousness of the slave that he cannot be the property of another, his consciousness of being a person, reduced slavery to an artificial lingering existence, and made it impossible for it to continue to provide the basis of production.

By ignoring the specificity of capitalist relations, Professor Noonan then simplistically argues that merely referring to “life’s requirements” and “how best to distribute to them” form a necessary and sufficient condition for the realisation of a society in which there are no classes and no exploitation and oppression. He then claims that, by focusing on “life-requirements and how best to distribute them,”

individuals are freed to live the lives the want to live.

This is wishful thinking. Rather than engage in wishful thinking, Professor Noonan would do better to engage in a systematic critique of social democrats and their philosophies–for the domination of social democrats among “the left” is itself a problem.

Professor Noonan recognizes that it is a problem–but he does not address how to solve the problem:

Progressive taxation, the Green New Deal, reparations, public health care, and GBIs [guaranteed basic incomes] can be institutionalised in ways that do not fundamentally transform the structure of ownership and control over life-resources. They can all be sold as in effect ways to bolster consumer demand by putting more money in the pockets of ordinary Americans. If the ruling class is assured that it will get its money back in the end, they can be convinced to go along with the reforms (as they were, despite vociferous opposition, in the 1930’s by the original New Deal). In Canada and the United Kingdom, social democratic parties came up with the ideas for programs like public health insurance, but it was generally ruling class parties that implemented them.

Professor Noonan offers no solution to the problem of cooptation of the labour movement and social movements. Indeed, he naively assume that by referring to life’s needs that we will be able to advance by debating the issues–rather than seeing that it is necessary to engage in struggle and critique to debate relevant issues in the first place. He writes:

While the media (mostly the right-wing media) wastes time hyperventilating about small groups of naive Antifa agitators (it would not surprise me if their ranks were thoroughly infiltrated by the cops they want to abolish) much more important debates about serious institutional changes are underway in the United States. These debates will not get anywhere without patient, organized mass mobilisation and political argument. Some of these debates are about public institutions that have long been parts of countries with effective social democratic parties (public health care, for example). Some are specific to the history of the United States (the debate around reparations for slavery). Along with ambitious plans like the Green New Deal, discussions about a renewed commitment to progressive taxation, and perhaps even Guaranteed Basic Income projects, these debates move public scrutiny beneath the level of slogans and stories to what really counts: an understanding of who controls what and why.

Firstly, Professor Noonan should practice what he preaches. I tried to engage in debate with him some time ago (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part One)–to no avail. Secondly, he does not address how social democrats not only resist any discussion of relevant issues but go out of their way to ridicule those who attempt to engage in such discussion (see for example Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?).

It would seem that Professor Noonan and I do, however, agree on the following: he implies that we should aim for a kind of society in which collective control over our conditions of life are to achieved:

The ruling class is good at playing the long game, and so must the Left be. It has to think of public institutions not in terms of income support that bolsters consumer demand for the sake of revitalising capitalism, but as first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.

However, the real Professor Noonan shows the true implications of his emphasis on the “control of life resources”–and his lack of understanding of the nature of capitalism–in a more recent post on the subject of collective bargaining. Compare the quote immediately above with the following (from the post titled “Social Democracy Meets Capitalist Reality” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=5008): 

Political persistence eventually changed the law, unions were formed, and over the next century succeeded not only in raising real wages (a feat that most classical political economists regarded as structurally impossible) but also helped democratize the work place, by giving the collective of workers some say in the organization of production (via collective bargaining).

Unions have certainly benefited workers in the short-term, but Professor Noonan simply ignores how unions often now function to justify the continued oppression and exploitation of workers (see for example  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). 

As for the claim that collective bargaining “democratizes the work place,” Professor Noonan undoubtedly works in privileged conditions relative to other workers and generalizes from his much superior control over his working conditions compared to most other workers (even when unionized). As I wrote in another post (What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five): 

Collective agreements, however, as this blog constantly stresses, are holding agreements that continue to express exploitation and oppression. A few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have decent jobs, but even that situation has eroded over time. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Gutemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from   Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

Collective agreements do not exist in a vacuum but form part of interrelated social relations; to exclude such relations when considering the nature and legitimacy of collective agreements is to empty collective agreements of the background conditions which give them meaning in the first place.

Collective agreements by no means help to “democratize the work place.” They certainly are not “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.”  Professor Noonan seems to be aware of this and yet idealizes collective agreements by claiming that they somehow “democratize the work place.” If however capitalist society is characterized by the use of commodities produced by workers to oppress and exploit them, then collective agreements (except for a small minority of workers–such as tenured professors) merely limit the power of employers to oppress and exploit workers–but do not by any means form even the first step in the democratization of the work place. 

What are these “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life?” Professor Noonan fails to specify what they are. Why is that? 

I will leave Professor Noonan with his “democratized work place.” Undoubtedly he enjoys a fair amount of control over his work; he is a tenured professor at the University of Windsor. What of the support workers at the University of Windsor? Do they?  

The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity, Part Six

The following issue deserves a separate post. As I have tried to stress throughout these posts, unions in Canada (and undoubtedly elsewhere) are inadequate organizations for representing the interests of the working class The issue illustrates how union reps limit the development of a critical approach to a society dominated by a class of employers.

I do not remember the exist order of the issue, nor do I remember exactly to whom I addressed my concerns–the executive, the members of the Substitute Teachers’ Committee or to those substitute teachers who had provided the Substitute Teachers’ Committee with their email address during the general meeting of substitute teachers.

There is a possibility that I would be willing to organize a workshop on employment and labour law, but I would like to see if there is much interest in the area. It would not enhance anyone’s particular skills to obtain employment, but it is my view that we need to educate each other about the limitations of what the WTA can do—both for substitute teachers and for teachers in general.

If you would be interested in attending a workshop on employment and labour law, please inform me of this so I can guage whether I should spend the time in selecting material and organizing the workshop.

Fred Harris, chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association

In preparation for providing a workshop on labour/employment law, I drafted the following (the parentheses were for me in anticipation of organizing the workshop according to themes or categories):

Employment Law and Labour Law Together

  1. What do you think are the major differences between an employee and a contractor (a person with her or his own business)? General idea of an employee

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between employment and labour law? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think are some of the differences between a collective agreement and employment agreement? Differentiation of employee in general and employee under labour law and collective bargaining.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Employment Law

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by employment law? Disadvantages? Employee: non-unionized

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Employee and Society

  1. Why are more and more workers becoming employees? General concept of employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Labour Law

  1. Between whom is the collective agreement an agreement? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who “owns” a grievance? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Who generally grieves? Why? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is interest arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is grievance arbitration? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the difference between a board of arbitration and a labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Does a union or association have a duty towards its members? If so, what is it? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the advantages of being governed by labour law? Disadvantages?Labour law: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the powers of the labour board? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What was the situation of collective bargaining before the Second World War? Labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What did employees do during the Second World War that initiated the legal acceptance of collective bargaining? History of collective bargaining, labour law:

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Where employees governed by collective bargaining have the right to strike, can they do so during the period in which a collective agreement exists? Limitations on collective bargaining regime here: labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. After the Second World War, what did many employers do in relation to collective bargaining? What was the response of many employees? History of collective bargaining: Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is the certification process? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What is a bargaining unit? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Can employers refuse to bargain with a certified union or association? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What can a group of employees do if the employer consciously interferes in the process of communication between a union and workers when certification has not yet been voted on? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When bargaining, does the duty to bargain in good faith mean that both the employer and the Association have to come to an agreement? If not, what does the duty to bargain in good faith mean? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What are some of the remedies that the Labour Board provides for in case it finds the employer has breached the Labour Code? Labour law

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Transition: Labour Law and Society

  1. What does the answer to question 7 tell you about the nature of the society in which we live? Relation of labour law to society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

General: Employee: Meaning

19. What does being an employee mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you? General: Employee

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom? General: Employee, but Relation to Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties? General: Employee, but Relation to Legal Profession

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of Paul Weiler’s argument, in his book Reconcilable Differences, that collective bargaining evens the playing field, making the contracting parties relatively equal in power?Labour law and Society

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think happened to relations between employees as a result of the change from reliance on each other to force an employer to recognize them to reliance on the Labour Board? Social effects of labour law and collective bargaining

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Introduction

  1. How do employment law and labour law fit into the general legal framework in Canada? General relation between employment law, labour law and legal framework: Introduction???

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Think-Pair-Share

  1. What does “company time” mean to you? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case? Employee in general

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

The last reference to “Think-Pair-Share” is a pedagogical technique, where the individual is given perhaps a minute to think about the issue alone, then shares her/his thoughts with someone else and, finally, answers are shared among the group.

Think-Pair-Share or Some Other Format

  1. What does being an employee mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does an employment contract mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you consider the employment contract to involve in relation to your concept of freedom?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What do you think of the view, held by many judges under common law (the legal ground for employment), that the employment contract is an act between equal parties?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. What does “company time” mean to you?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

  1. When a boss (say, a principal) passes by you, do you find yourself acting differently than with fellow substitute teachers? If so, why do you think that that is the case?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________­­­­­­­­­­­­____________.

  1. To what extent do you consider the following description of the nature of private enterprise to be an accurate description? What do you agree and disagree about the description? Employment law and labour law in relation to society

Stage 1: Purchase: M1-C1 (=W+MP). where M1= the money invested; – = an exchange; C1 = the commodities purchased for investment purposes (which consist of MP—means of production—and W—workers);

Stage 2: Production…P… where the three dots represent an interruption in the circulation or exchange process;

Stage 3: Sale: C2-M2, where C2 = the commodity output, with C2 greater in value than C1; and M2 = the return of the money invested, with M2=C2, but greater in quantity than M1.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

I also created slides for the anticipated presentation–but there is no point if repeating what I wrote above in a different format (if indeed slides can be reproduced in this medium).

The following reply illustrates the typical limitations of union reps. I wrote it to substitute teachers (at least to those whose email I possessed) as well as to the members of the Substitute Committee of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association (WTA):

Coming now to the point on providing a workshop on employment law and labour law, I was going to give the workshop myself, but I will not be doing so. I do feel that I need to explain why I will not.

I have been told, firstly, that I do not have the necessary skills required to provide a workshop on those topics. What do I know, for example, about labour law? I did, however, write two articles in the WTA newsletter via philosophical analysis. I am a philosopher. That is my expertise—a pragmatic philosopher, specifically. I do not need to know how to negotiate a collective agreement—and I do not know how to do so any more than I know how to operate on someone. I do need to know something about labour law and collective bargaining if I am to determine its meaning, but I need not be an expert on it—anymore than I need to be an expert on in order to determine the meaning of life–in order to determine the meaning of collective bargaining—and by extension labour law. If someone disagrees with my analysis of the meaning of labour law or anything else, the democratic thing to do would be to write a refutation of it in the newsletter. To tell me that I have insufficient background in labour law is like saying that I have insufficient background in determining the nature of life bI have taken a course on labour law, as well as attending a couple of conferences funded by the executive. Would these educational opportunities suffice to provide a workshop? Probably not. However, I have been pursuing a doctorate in the philosophy of education for a number of years—in particular pragmatic philosophy. That philosophy inquires into the meaning of relations. The workshop that I had made preliminary plans would include querying the nature of employment law and labour law via an inquiry into what being an employee means to those at the workshop.

I do believe that I am well qualified to provide such a workshop. There is a difference between expounding on how labour law and employment law work and what they mean. The two, of course, are related since the meaning of something cannot be determined without knowing something about the topic. However, I do not have to know as much about anatomy and physiology as a doctor does in order to talk about the meaning of life—a topic in my dissertation.

Since I was denied the opportunity to present labour laws to substitute teachers, I provided notice of a person approved to provide such a presentation, Henry Shyka, staff member of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society and assigned to represent the WTA:

Workshop on Labour Law: Topics required

Good morning everyone,

To give a workshop on labour law, it is necessary to have some input on what topics you would like covered.  There is no guarantee that specific topics would be covered, but topics of common concern to substitute teachers would be.

Henry Shyka, MTS [Manitoba Teachers’ Society] representative, would be giving the workshop.

Please send me topics that you might find of interest.

Fred Harris, Chair, Substitute Teachers’ Committee

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





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

December 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

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

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

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

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE Unifor

 

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

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE Unifor

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

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

ips_media_release_photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Private Employer’s “Humanism” in Sweden: The Dream of Social Democrats Everywhere

As I pointed out in my critique of Jane McAlevey’s reference to Sweden’s so-called ‘leveling of the playing field for children’s opportunity for success from birth onward,” (see   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), social democrats tend to idealize the Scandinavian countries. I began to more directly debunk this social-democratic myth in the post  A Short List of the Largest Swedish Employers by the Number of Employees, Profits and the Profits per Worker ).

Let us look at the behaviour of one private employer in Sweden, which supposedly instituted humanistic methods for helping workers to become more healthy: the private employer Scania, a multinational capitalist manufacturing firm (from page 140, Christian Maravelias, Torkild Thanem, Mikael Holmqvist. “March Meets Marx: The Politics of Exploitation and Exploration in the Management of Life and Labour”. Published online: 2012; pages 129-159):

Scania is an internationally leading manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and coaches, and industrial and marine engines. It operates in some 100 countries with approximately 34,000 employees [in another source, it says 45,235].. Scania was founded in the late nineteenth century and has built and delivered more than 1,500,000 trucks, buses and engines.

Scania is well known both for its products and for its stable and long-term strategic focus. It has grown organically, primarily through internal financing, and it has remained in the same product category for more than 80 years. This conservatism has been successful, yielding annual profits for more than seven consecutive decades and helped avoid regular lay-offs since the 1940s. Today Scania is regarded a stable and attractive employer known for combining continuous improvement in production with safe and professionally stimulating working conditions.

Workers in Scania were subject to a scientific management system, with a top-down management style. As a consequence, (page 145):

the previous system was associated with high levels of personnel turnover (30%) and illness absenteeism (25%),

To deal with this problem, the union pressured for the development of a lean production model in the style of Toyota (pages 145-146):

the union was able to exercise considerable bargaining power, almost forcing the firm to accept a version of lean production that was aligned with principles of health and well-being.

However, Scanian management turned the situation to its advantage by coopting the process of a move towards  so-called health and wellness:

Like many lean production initiatives, Scania’s turn to this kind of system in the 1990s implied an emphasis on self-managing teams, continuous improvement and individual responsibility (see, e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler, Goldoftas, & Levine, 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge, Turnbull, & Wilkinson, 1992). Despite an emerging concern with well-being, the most apparent aspect of this related to the objective dimension of exploiting labour. As new tasks and responsibilities were added to all factory jobs, Scania was able to extract more value from the salary they paid workers. Making workers take individual responsibility for constantly improving the production process intensified work, as it meant that they had to do more for the same salary: in addition to take responsibility for executing predefined tasks, workers in self-managing teams were expected to set goals and find ways of reaching these goals.

This meant that each team member had dual roles: both as an operator and as a reflective practitioner. As operators, team members carried out more or less pre-defined tasks according to standard operating procedures. As reflective practitioners, they stepped out of these same processes and observed them from a distance to identify opportunities for improvement.

As reported through previous studies of lean production (e.g. Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992; Parker & Slaughter, 1990), the enhanced exploitation of labour and consequent work intensification was deeply related to speed, posing production speed in a tight relationship to production error.

The shift from strictly hierarchical managerial structures to more horizontal managerial structures (with, of course, the hierarchical managerial structure still prevailing “in the last instance”) led to the employer engaging in the exploration of new organizational structures to exploit its working force, a feature characteristic of capitalist firms as they are subject to the dual constraint of the need to exploit their working force while being subject to competitive rivalry from other capitalists (page 132):

The basic problem facing firms subject to increasing competitive pressures is to balance exploitation, which is incremental and may facilitate short-term competitiveness, with exploration, which is radical and might enable long-term competitiveness. The reason for this balancing act is that exploitative pursuits tend to undermine explorative pursuits.

This exploration of new ways of exploiting labour led to a focus on managing the health of workers (page 140):

To deal with problems of high costs and accident levels as well as high levels of production error, illness absenteeism and employee turnover, Scania decided to implement a lean production system inspired by the justin- time and total quality management principles of Toyotaism. This was later combined with investments in health promotion, and it is the emphasis on health in particular which makes this case distinct from previous studies of lean production.

The exploration of control over the health of the workers led, on the one hand, to attempts to control their subjectivity (their “mind set” or their “attitude”) (page 142):

Having the right job skills was only seen to constitute one part of this. Perhaps more reminiscent of previous research on service work (e.g. Callaghan & Thompson, 2002), high performance was just as much about having the right mind-set, that is having the motivation to be an active, committed and ambitious employee. It was acknowledged by managers and workers that this was not an easy task, because a partly new type of employee was required for the lean production system to work properly. Since working the production line was hard work, workers needed to be in
good shape. But since this also involved efforts to enhance output and quality, it required a particular person who was motivated and committed to change and improvement.

On the other hand, the attempt to control the subjectivity of the worker also led to attempts to control life after work through what programs that seemed to benefit workers (pages 142-143):

This approach blurred the boundaries between work and life. In the words of one team leader, ‘being active and motivated is not a capacity you can switch on and off, [y] it comes down to who you are and how you live your life’. Hence, workers were expected to go far in adapting to the system. But if Scania was to live up to its goal of being a ‘responsible and caring employer’ as well as a lean firm, this obliged them to make far-reaching adaptations, which go beyond what has been reported in previous studies (e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler et al., 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992). The mutual responsibilities of employees and employer were expressed through two company programmes known as the Employeeship and the 24 Hour Employee. These programmes were also pinnacles in the firm’s integration of lean production and health promotion, involving anything from safe machinery to helping employees lose weight.

These programs were not just window dressing; workers were conceived as resources in a similar fashion to the machines and buildings that Scania owned; workers were expected to take care of themselves outside work and inside work in order to increase the productivity of the company, and if they did not productivity would suffer (page 143):

Scania’s objective exploration of labour, which was aimed to enhance productivity, improve quality and increase profits, required them to re-socialise workers by subjectively exploring their lives, bodies and personalities and what potential they offered in terms of being exploited as labour. This was expressed in rather explicit expectations and norms concerning employee lifestyle. To be physically, mentally and technologically equipped to handle their work, one nurse emphasised that workers were expected to keep themselves in a ‘healthy workable condition’ and
show competence in ‘health-related things such as physical fitness [and] mental strength’.

Although there was no formal right for Scania to control the workers’ lives outside work, on a practical level the two programs did lead to pressure to conform to the requirements of Scania to exploit the workers (page 144):

Of course, Scania had no formal right to interfere with what workers did in their spare time, but when a worker’s private life started to impact
negatively on their work, the firm was able to intervene in the opposite
direction, subordinating life to labour. As argued by one line manager:

If one of my employees doesn’t get enough sleep because he plays poker all night, it is his own business – as long as it doesn’t affect his ability to work. But if it  does  […] – and most likely it will – it is not just his business but my business as  well.

Workers were somewhat ambivalent about how they experienced this. In the words of an IT specialist:

a couple of years ago I went through a divorce. I started drinking a little bit too            much and somehow my boss found out about this. At first, he didn’t say  anything,  but after some time he did, and he also explained that he had spoken to a counsellor at the Health Office who he wanted me to contact. I did, and the therapy helped. But it was somewhat creepy to see how my family problems  were turned into a work problem.

This worker’s life, then, was subjectively re-socialised and explored to fit the new organisation of production which Scania was objectively exploring in the interest of more intensely exploiting labour.

The far-reaching nature of the employer–employee contract, their shared responsibilities and the blurring of the objective exploration of labour contra the subjective exploration of life was further reflected in the 24 Hour Employee programme. More specifically, this involved a mutual sense of caring, where the programme aimed to show how much the firm cares for its employees, on and off the job, by helping them live healthier. However, this programme also emphasised how workers were expected to take care of themselves during and after working hours. Workers did not necessarily view this contract as consensual, and some workers called it ‘a give-and-take thing’. While Scania promised a safe work environment and helped workers take care of themselves, the firm was seen to expect ‘an awful lot’ in return – that workers ‘live in accordance with its standards’.

Lean production did result in some workers feeling stressed out, but rather than attributing the problem to lean production itself (and the nature of the capitalist firm as capitalist firm), the problem is identified as an individual problem (a similar approach is the current psychological fad called “mindfulness”–a variant of the ancient Stoical philosophy of disregarding the real objective social constraints on our lives); used by management, this led to manipulation (pages 148-149): 

Through a therapeutic and reflective approach, the Health School sought to help workers gain better self-knowledge, set limits and prioritise. Again, this was anchored in an emphasis on individual responsibility, where participants had to accept responsibility for their own life and work. This was important since many participants initially tended to associate stress with outside factors, such as their job being too demanding or managers expecting too much. Hence, the therapeutic process was embedded in a somewhat contested terrain where therapists and participants tried to allocate responsibility and blame in opposite directions. Although therapists sometimes relaxed the responsibilities and performance targets for individual workers in the short term, there was never any doubt that participants were required to adapt to the system should they continue to work for the firm. Indeed, therapy made most participants accept individual responsibility for adapting to the system, who thereby ended up subjectively participating in their own exploitation (cp. e.g. Burawoy, 1979; Delbridge, 1995; Thompson, 1989).

The first step in the therapeutic process was to establish a trustful atmosphere where participants were ready to accept and commit to ‘the fact’ that they have a problem with stress. The second step involved mapping out the daily routines of individual participants and their colleagues. Participants were then taught how to become more aware and reflective about their own behaviour and attitudes, and taught to think in more strategic terms about all parts of their lives. While the integration of lean production and health promotion blurred the work–life boundary, this particular task encouraged participants to make distinctions between work, self and private life, and to define goals for all three areas. According to one health coach, this mindset was pursued in the spirit of helping participants gain control over their lives and ‘feel that their lives were the result of their own conscious and informed choices’ rather than forces beyond their control.

Failing to cope, then, was seen as an outcome of limited self-management skills. Incidentally, life became just a bit more like work. Although this might be seen as an example of skill expansion, we would argue that this chimes less with Adler’s (2007) upgrading thesis than with Thompson’s (2007) argument that multi-skilling does not necessarily lead to up-skilling. Here, the subjective exploration of life did not unequivocally make work more varied, diverse and interesting; it also involved a division, simplification and management of life to make it more appropriate for work.

It should be evident now that working for Scania is a double-edged sword since workers’ health, which involves the whole life of workers and not just the working part of their lives, is used as a means for enhancing the company’s bottom line. Ultimately, Scania follows the same process of subordinating workers’ lives to the pursuit of  more money on an ever increasing scale (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

The idealization of the Scandinavian countries by Ms. McAlevey and other social democrats thus does not stand up to scrutiny. Even on the assumption that children have equal opportunity at birth (as Ms. McAlevey claims–without further evidence), when they grow up many become employees–and as employees, they are used by employers as things for obtaining more and more money.

Working lives may in some ways be better in Sweden but in many ways they also may be worse under the social-democratic approach that co-opts workers’ own subjectivity.

This case also illustrates the importance of ideological struggle since employers have many resources to co-opt workers into their own schemes. Organizational struggle in itself is insufficient; it is necessary to engage in a simultaneous struggle both organizationally and ideologically.

Academic Narrow-mindedness, or the Idealization of Collective Bargaining: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part One

It has been slightly more than three years since I started this blog. I thought it appropriate to begin a series of posts on what, partly, inspired me to start this blog. 

Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.

Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.

The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.”

Abstract

This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.

Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey

The decision to reject the article as is, as well as the first review are given below along with my comments on the first review. I put the reviewer’s evaluation in quotation marks:

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education, “A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and a fair contract”.
Our decision is to: Decline submission.

Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.

All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.

I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on this project.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca
——————————————————
Reviewer A:

“The author identifies his/her aim as using the  Nova Scotia teachers’ strike “in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context.” The author disputes the assumption that workers under capitalism can use collective bargaining (hereafter CB) to create human workplaces, using Jane McAlevey’s book with a new paradigm for collective bargaining as an example of why even reformed CB will not succeed in transcending what are  CB’s inherent limitations as a strategy for creating a humane workplace.

I think this submission could be a useful addition to research and thinking about the limitations of  CB in altering teachers’ work, however for it to be so it requires significant revision.

 • The Nova Scotia strike becomes lost in the paper’s analysis. If the author wants to retain this focus, the critique of McAlevey’s book should be applied to the Nova Scotia strike.”

This reviewer at least appears to capture my intent—although s/he subsequently fails to show such understanding. I do indeed aim at showing the limitations of collective bargaining even in the improved form of Jane McAlevey’s approach to collective bargaining.

However, given this focus, the Nova Scotia strike and Brian Forbes’ implicit contrast of what “good collective bargaining” should be when compared to what transpired during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike (Brian Forbes’ implicit attitude is an example of what the typical trade-union leaders’ attitude is towards collective bargaining), serve as an exemplar of the implicit attitude of union representatives towards collective bargaining as a process and product (the collective agreement). In other words, I use the case of the NTSU and Brian Forbes’ implicit use of the run-of-the bill bargaining process (and the resulting run-of-the-mill collective agreement) as a representative of what is typical among union representatives in their practical dealings with workers, managers and employers: As John Dewey argued, in his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 436-437):

We arrive again at the conclusion that “induction” is a name for the complex of methods by which a given case is determined to be representative, a function that is expressed in its being a specimen or sample case.’ The problem of inductive inquiry, and the precautions that have to be observed in conducting it, all have to do with ascertaining that the given case is representative, or is a sample or specimen. There is no doubt that some cases, several or many, have to be examined in the course of inquiry: this is necessarily involved in the function of comparison-contrast within inquiry. But the validity of the inferred conclusion does not depend upon their number. On the contrary, the survey and operational comparison of several cases is strictiy instrumental to determination of what actually takes place in anyone case. The moment anyone case is determined to be such that it is an exemplary representative, the problem in hand is solved. It is customary to infer from examples and illustrations; from what Peirce calls diagrams or “icons.” That course has been frequently followed in the course of previous discussions. But it should be clear without argument that the entire value of such a mode of inference depends upon whether or not the case is genuinely exemplary and illustrative.

I used the NSTU [Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union] strike and Brian Forbes’ attitude towards an obvious breach in collective-bargaining protocol as an exemplar or representative  of the limitations of traditional collective bargaining.

I used Jane McAlevey’s book as an illustration (exemplar) of a changed collective-bargaining practice that, though it breaks new ground in some areas of collective bargaining, nonetheless shares many of the assumptions of the traditional collective-bargaining model. Ms. McAlevey persistently refers to the contract that she negotiated as a “good contract.”

In addition, when Ms. McAlevey presented her model in Toronto, I specifically pointed out that I had tried to expose the limitations of the collective-bargaining process by indicating what we had demanded and what we had obtained. Her response was that she did not know whether that was such a good idea. That is the point—her model, like the traditional collective-bargaining model, does not enable workers to see the limitations of the model. Ultimately, despite the innovations in her model, Ms. McAlevey idealizes collective bargaining in a modified form—her own model. The point is not to idealize it but to expose its inadequacies.

“• The language is often polemical in a way that undercuts the author’s credibility as a passionate and also objective analyst. Describing an action as “underhanded” isn’t useful or necessary. Present instead empirical evidence.  One way this can be done is to identify who besides the author understood the action as “underhanded”? Others present? Leaflets? This becomes the source of the description.”

The suggestion of providing further evidence is useful in order to bolster the argument. However, to claim that polemics undercuts credibility is an academic point of view. The audience to whom I aim are workers—not academics. What would be an “objective” analysis in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers?

“• Often the article is not clear in its focus. Is this a critique of the limitations of CB or of the limitations of trade unionism under capitalism?”

It is both; they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are tied together during this time. Some trade unions may not engage in the rhetoric of fair contracts and so forth, but where are they? Certainly in Canada the trade-union leaders idealize both the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement. See two previous posts that illustrate the rhetoric of fair contracts by the two largest unions in Canada (  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One  and ???     ). 

“If it’s the former, what would unions do to protect workers’ rights if they didn’t negotiate contracts in a capitalist society?  What might workers’ struggles look like?”

It is not a question of not negotiating contracts; it is a question of not idealizing such contracts and bullshitting workers by claiming that such contracts are somehow “fair” or that they somehow are “livable”–a typically apologist point of view of management and union alike.

“A provocative example of this is how teachers and school employees in West Virginia who do
not have the right to bargain collectively or the right to strike have closed down the schools in the entire state for a week, outside of the union’s control or leadership.”

This is beside the point. The strike was a wildcat strike; wildcat strikes have occurred in other contexts. Such strikes have not aimed at challenging the inadequacy of collective bargaining in principle but the inadequacy in particular circumstances. They may or may not challenge such inadequacy—but the point is to do just that.

In addition, did the West Virginia strike actually challenge the idealization of collective bargaining? It could have the potential to do so—but whether such potential was realized would require evidence that the potential was realized in practice.

Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it can be concluded that since collective bargaining is illegal in West Virginia, the strike did not challenge the principle of collective bargaining. It was an effort to achieve results without collective bargaining by going on an illegal strike. Workers have gone on illegal (wildcat) strikes before (even when collective bargaining is legal) without challenging the inadequacy of collective-bargaining in principle. Such strikes do indeed challenge the inadequacy of particular collective agreements (and the concomitant collective-bargaining process), but they often do not often do so explicitly and need not be a general criticism of the collective-bargaining process or a general criticism of collective agreements. That is what is needed now.

[For an analysis of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, see the post The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement).

“• I think the piece will be more focused without the author’s anecdotes about his/her work experiences as a teacher and union representative.”

In other words, forget about a worker’s own experiences “as a teacher” (that is to say, as a worker of a particular kind) “and union representative” (that is to say, as a radical union representative who questioned the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it and how to do it)). Linked to the claim that the polemical style lacks objectivity, the idea that a radical worker’s personal experiences should be excluded is meant to “academize” the writing—making it more conform to the typical form and content of academic writing.

Is there really any wonder why I stopped trying to have any further writings published by means of formal academic journals?

“But if these are included, they should be more closely tied to analysis about the Nova Scotia strike.”

The Nova Scotia strike is an occasion for illustrating the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the inadequacy of present unions—and my experiences as a teacher (and as an employee) and as a radical union representative were also to be illustrative of this. The focus is hardly the Nova Scotia strike; the issues are much wider.

“• The author briefly discusses education, teachers’ work and CB. If this material is retained, it should make note of some of the considerable research on teachers’ work.”

Teachers are employees; the specificity of their work as teachers is irrelevant in relation to the issue of their existence as employees and their relationship to the typical process of collective bargaining and to the collective agreement (although the specific nature of their work may have an impact in other circumstances). To discuss that specificity would detract from the focus on the inadequacy of collective bargaining and the collective agreement.

“I suggest this manuscript be taken through a significant revision, moderating its language, supporting its claims with evidence,  to do what it states is its focus: A critical examination of the limits of CB in the strike in Nova Scotia.”

The academic contradicts her/himself. S/he accurately characterizes, initially, the manuscript as using the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike as a means of criticizing collective bargaining. Now, s/he claims that I claim that my focus is a critical examination of collective bargaining in the strike in Nova Scotia. They are not the same thing by any means. S/he aims to narrow my aim, but such narrowness is exactly what I am criticizing.

“The questions it is addressing seem to me  “What was needed to improve teachers’ working conditions?” “How did ideology about the role of unions in capitalism and within that, the importance of CB, affect the outcome?”  The latter question will involve application of Jane McAlevey’s book.”

Again, it is the reviewer who is confused—s/he at first accurately characterizes my intent in the article and then inaccurately characterizes it.

“If the author wants to discuss a framework for labor that transcends CB, I suggest looking at Stanley Aronowitz’s “The death and life of American labor: Toward a new workers’ movement.” Although it focuses on US labor its arguments seem quite relevant to the Canadian context. “The future of our schools,” by Lois Weiner might also be useful as it discusses the limitations of CB.”

I subsequently looked at Aronowitz’s book and included a reference to it in this blog (see The Educational Needs of the Labour Movement: A Radical Imagination). Aronowitz does provide an interesting point of view that is consistent with this blog. Thus, Aronowitz argues that we need to have a new labour movement with a social vision of the good life. However, my emphasis in the article that I sent was on the implicit inadequacy of the collective-bargaining model that Brian Forbes implicitly uses to criticize what happened during the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike. A new social vision requires a break, at least in Canada, with the typical idealization of the collective-bargaining process and the idealization of the collective agreement.

Although there were a few useful suggestions in the above review, in general the reviewer failed to adequately capture how I carried out of my intent to expose the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Along with the comments of the other reviewers, I decided that it was a waste of time to attempt to have my views formally published in academic journals. Starting a blog would carry out more effectively my intent.

A future post will look, critically, at the second reviewer’s assessment.

Another Ideological Call for a Fair Contract–By CUPE 3902

I received the following in an email (https://weareuoft.com/e-action/):

Thanks for helping the members of CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] 3902, Unit 1, win a fair deal at the table! Our proposals are progressive and necessary to ensure good working conditions for our members and their students. Fill out the form below to send an email to UofT’s administration asking them to fairly consider our proposals! [my emphasis]

I have already commented a number of times about this cliché of a “fair deal,” “fair contract,” and so forth (see, for example, Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One, or The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left).

The persistent use of this cliché by union reps to defend their actions indicates the contradictory (and limited) nature of unions. On the one hand, unions function to limit the power of a particular employer; on the other hand, they also function to justify the continued existence of a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police).

By the way, I did send the email that CUPE 3902 wanted people to send to university management; it is necessary to support particular unions in their fight against particular employers–all the while criticizing the limitations of their rhetoric and actions.

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

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

February 26 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

 

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

 

Keep the solidarity coming!

 

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

 

 

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Author
Fred Harris

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?

In the previous post, I calculated the rate of exploitation of workers who work for Rogers Communication (see The Rate of Exploitation of the Workers of Rogers Communications Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto). Below you will find the management rights clause of a collective agreement between Rogers Communications and Metro Cable TV Maintenance and Service Employees Association.

In a previous post, I also posted several quotes by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) that assert, without proof, that the collective agreements of CUPE locals are fair contracts (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I will continue to provide occasional posts with management rights clauses from collective agreements from different provinces to show that the management rights clause is something that unionized workers face throughout Canada–and which deserve to be often discussed among union members to see whether such clauses express in any way a democratic way of living or a dictatorial way of living (for the dictatorship of employers, see for example, Employers as Dictators, Part One).

However, I will also include collective agreements that relate to my other posts on the rate of exploitation of workers who work for a particular employer. I will, in future, post both the management rights clause (if there is an explicit one since arbitrators recognize management rights even if there is no such clause in the collective agreement) from the collective agreement and simultaneously my calculation of the rate of exploitation of the particular employer in another post (when possible).

A question for those who consider collective agreements to be fair and to provide conditions for decent work to be performed: Does the following management rights clause express the freedom of the unionized workers or their lack of freedom to determine their own lives at work? If it expresses a lack of freedom, how is the collective agreement fair? How is the work performed an expression of decent work (another cliche expression used by union reps)?

I have found it interesting that, despite my posts that refer to the management rights clauses of collective agreements and my criticisms of such clauses, there have been no explicit criticisms of such posts by defenders of union reps. I suspect that unions reps, like their social-democratic counterparts, simply want to avoid the issue since it is an Achilles heel for their claim to produce “fair contracts”

From page 9:

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT BETWEEN
ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS PARTNERSHIP
AND
METRO CABLE TV MAINTENANCE AND SERVICE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 TO AUGUST 31, 2019

Section 3 – Management Rights

3.01 The Association acknowledges that the Company retains the right to manage its operations in all respects in accordance with its commitments and its obligations and responsibilities, to direct the working force and to hire, promote, transfer, demote or lay off employees and to suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline employees for just cause, the right to decide on the number of employees needed by the employer at any time in accordance with the provisions of Company and Association seniority, the right to use modem methods, technology and equipment, and jurisdiction over all operations, buildings and equipment are solely and exclusively the responsibility of the employer; provided that any exercise of these rights by the Company which conflict with any provisions of this agreement shall be subject to the grievance procedure set out in Section 11. The employer also has the right to make, alter and enforce rules and regulations to be observed by the employees provided such rules and regulations are not inconsistent with the terms of this agreement.

3.02 The Company and Association agree that no employee shall in any manner be discriminated against or coerced, restrained or influenced on account of membership or non-membership in any labour organization or by reason of activity or lack of activity in any labour organization.

3.03 Supervisory/Managerial personnel will not perform bargaining unit work unless an explanation acceptable to both parties is provided for the performance of such work.

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One

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

I will provide a series of examples from various unions in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly.

1. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

  1. On February 20, 2020, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) published the following on its website (https://cupe.ca/union-offers-better-contingency-plan-city-toronto-negotiate-fair-contract).

Following the City of Toronto’s announcement on contingency plans for a possible labour disruption, CUPE 416 offered their own plan, one that respects all parties: negotiate a fair contract and avoid a labour dispute.

Nowhere does the webpage indicate what is meant by ‘fair contract.” The complaint against the City of Toronto as employer in relation to collective bargaining seems to have to do with the implied bad faith in bargaining–hence the reference to ‘respects all parties.” It is implied that the City of Toronto’s bargaining team does not respect the other party–the negotiating team and, by implication, the city of Toronto’s unionized workers. If only the city’s negotiating team would engage in real negotiations rather than aiming for a labour dispute from the beginning, then a fair contract could arise, it is implied:

“How does the City Manager stand up there and say the City respects its workers and looks out for the best interests of residents when they have been driving these talks toward a deadline and a dispute from the beginning?” said Eddie Mariconda, president of CUPE 416.

It is never questioned how treating human beings as costs could indicate an unfair situation as such:

 “They say that they want a contract that is affordable and sustainable. 416 members are already affordable and sustainable, and we deliver great services too.

City of Toronto workers are affordable–their costs are “reasonable.” How treating workers as costs is reasonable is never explained–it is assumed. Treating workers as costs reduces human beings to mere means to ends defined by others (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

It should be noted that CUPE is the largest Canadian union (from https://cupe.ca/cupe-largest-union-canada-and-we-keep-growing):

Canada’s largest labour union keeps on growing as today we announce our membership has reached 680,000 workers nationwide.

2. In the Collective Bargaining section of the CUPE website (https://cupe.ca/collective-bargaining) , we read:

Negotiating strong contracts for our members is what we do best. The solidarity of our members is the heart of our bargaining power, and makes gains possible. Together, we’ve built strong communities and achieved better wages, benefits, pensions and fair treatment, for workers.

It is implied that it is possible to be treated fairly despite the existence of the employer-employee relation. If, however, the employer-employee relation is inherently unfair, then CUPE’s reference to fair treatment (by means of, probably, collective bargaining and collective agreements) in effect justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of workers. After all, if workers are indeed fairly treated by means of collective bargaining, collective agreements and the existence of unions, then there is no need to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. Furthermore, workers who work in unionized environments who still consider their treatment by the employer to be unfair–despite such treatment not breaching the collective agreement–would logically be subject to criticism by union reps or at least indifference.

3. On CUPE Local 79, it reads http://cupelocal79.org/bargaining/ (of course, this link may no longer exist once a collective agreement has been signed):

CUPE Local 79 is entering into negotiations with the City of Toronto in late 2019 as the four collective agreements expire on December 31, 2019. Our union is seeking a fair deal for City of Toronto employees who work hard every day to take care of Toronto.

4. Another webpage (https://cupe.on.ca/marchingforfairness/ ) has the following (no date):

We are asking the March of Dimes to support us in the work that we do by negotiating a fair contract that respects the residents of March of Dimes Independent Living and the support workers who empower them to live independent lives. Help us by sending a message to the March of Dimes to ask them to negotiate a fair contract of support service attendants.

5. Dated November 16, 2020, the following post implies that unionized workers not only desire fair treatment but actually obtained it by means of collective bargaining and the collective agreement (https://cupe.ca/new-collective-agreement-garda-employees):

New collective agreement for Garda employees

This Monday, the Syndicat des employé.e.s du transport de valeurs et des salles de comptage de Garda (SNCF-SCFP 3812) signed a new six-year collective agreement, which calls for wage increases of 14% for the period between 2018 to 2024.

“The union achieved the objectives it wanted, particularly with respect to salaries and full retroactivity for all employees and major adjustments to schedules and statutory holidays. We have adjusted to the health crisis and have held virtual general meetings, including a vote. The agreement achieved 73.5% support, reflective of the excellent work done by the bargaining committee,” declared Jocelyn Tremblay, a CUPE union representative and trustee of SNCF-SCFP 3812.

In addition to maintaining and even improving their purchasing power, the union is particularly proud of regaining several things they had negotiated after rejecting an initial tentative agreement in April 2019. The employees subsequently voted more than 83% in favour of resorting to pressure tactics up to and including an unlimited general strike.

“This mobilization on the part of employees enabled us to be heard at the bargaining table. These people showed management that they wanted a fair agreement in line with the efforts made on a daily basis for the company,” added CUPE union representative Marcin Kazmierczak.

SNCF-SCFP 3812 represents slightly more than 1000 members.

6. On June 30, 2020, we read, from the National President’s Report (https://cupe.ca/national-presidents-report-june-2020):

The only sector presently bargaining with government is the health care sector. At that table, the government’s opening proposals included eliminating any retroactivity for wages beyond the April 1, 2020 effective date. This was rejected and CUPE will continue to fight for a fair collective agreement [my emphasis] and a strong pension plan.

7. On August 21, 2020, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/solidarity-with-port-of-montreal-longshore-workers-cupe-ontario-salutes-the-announcement-of-a-truce/):

CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members salute the announcement of a truce agreed to today between striking longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, members of CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). Both parties announced during a joint press conference that they believe they can come to a negotiated collective agreement during the truce which will end on March 20, 2021.

On August 10th, the 1,125 longshore workers began strike action to defend their collective agreement after the employer, MEA, unilaterally changed working conditions.

The workers’ previous collective agreement expired on December 31, 2018 and, instead of negotiating a fair agreement [my emphasis], the employer had been attacking workers’ rights, threatening the use of replacement workers, and diverting ships to other ports, including those outside of Canada.

The MEA spent months attacking workers’ rights in the courts, making the case that all members of CUPE Local 375, working at the Port of Montreal, should not have the right to strike. But the longshore workers fought back, and the Canada Industrial Relations Board upheld their existing strike rights. This was an important victory, not only for longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, but for all working people in Canada.

Since the beginning of the strike, CUPE Local 375 members have offered to unload and move all cargo linked to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure community safety. Despite this, the employer has tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to threaten the use of replacement workers, otherwise known as scabs. This week, when it looked like the employer was going to enact the threat, the Local mobilized with other unions for mass solidarity picket which caused the employer to back down.

CUPE Ontario will act in steadfast solidarity with CUPE Local 375 until the parties reach a fair collective agreement that treats the Port of Montreal longshore workers with the respect they deserve. The members of CUPE Ontario will continue offering support and resources to defend Local 375 members’ rights and protect working conditions.

Fred Hahn, President

Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer

It may seem inappropriate to criticize those who defend workers from attacks of employers. Attacks from particular employers or a group of employers do indeed need to be criticized, and to that extent Fred Hahn’s and Candace Resnick’s critique of the Maritime Employers Association should be praised. On the other hand, the reference to “fair agreement” needs to be criticized. 

8. On November 4, 2019, we read (http://cupe1764.ca/help-brampton-caledon-community-living-workers-get-a-fair-contract/): 

Help Brampton-Caledon Community Living workers get a fair contract

We are the members of CUPE 966. We work hard every day to provide the quality care at Brampton-Caledon Community Living (BCCL). It can be difficult work, but we do it because we care about the individuals we support, and we love to make a difference for them and their families.

BCCL is attempting to make our jobs even more difficult by keeping workers in precarious, part-time positions. We just want to negotiate a fair contract that respects our physically demanding work and protects the services we provide. We believe that no worker should see their working conditions reduced. We do not want a strike, but we are being pushed that way.

Help us continue to provide quality care to the individuals we support by telling BCCL to negotiate a fair contract now! [my emphasis]

It may seem even more inappropriate to criticize those workers who are experiencing an attack by an employer. However, where does their idea of a “fair contract” come from? Have they been indoctrinated by CUPE (and other unions)? Do they really consider it possible to obtain a fair contract? Even if they do, what is their view of management rights? 

9. On another CUPE webpage, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/somethingspecial/):

10. We read, on December 2, 2015 (https://cupe2544.ca/with-deadline-looming-warden-woods-needs-to-get-serious-about-negotiating-a-fair-contract/): 

With deadline looming, Warden Woods needs to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair contract

With a strike deadline of December 13 rapidly approaching, the union representing workers at Warden Woods Community Centre urged management to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair collective agreement. [my emphasis]

“For more than a year, our members have been trying to negotiate a fair first contract [my emphasis] with Warden Woods, but I am extremely concerned that management needs to get serious about finishing the job,” said Barbara Garcia, President of Local 5218 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 5218).

“The community depends on, and expects, the vital services our members provide. We’re committed to this community, but Warden Woods’ management needs to demonstrate their commitment to getting the job done.

CUPE 5218 has been in negotiations with Warden Woods for over a year. While some progress towards securing a first contract has taken place, several items remain outstanding. Additionally, staff have not had a wage increase in eight years.

The countdown to a lockout or strike began when Warden Woods’ management declared an impasse last month.

“We are prepared to bargain for as long as it takes to secure a fair contract, but the employer’s actions have set us on a fast track to a work stoppage, unless they get serious about finishing the job of negotiating with us,” said Garcia.

“We have been extremely reasonable in offering good faith solutions we believe are fair to our members [my emphasis], protect vital public services the community depends on, and ensure the long-term viability of Warden Woods,” she added.

Warden Woods is a multi-service community agency based in Scarborough providing supports to seniors, youth and children. The 44 members of CUPE 5218 provide a wide range of programming and services at the main office, several satellite locations, and in people’s homes.

For more information, please contact:

Barbara Garcia
CUPE 5218 President
416-725-4437

Kevin Wilson
CUPE Communications
416-821-6641

The use of the term “fair” in “fair contract,” “fair treatment,” and “fair deal” is not accidental. The implication is that the goal of collective bargaining must not just to achieve a contract or collective agreement–but a fair contract or agreement. The goal of reaching a collective agreement is qualified constantly by the adjective “fair.” The natural question would be: In what way is it fair? What is meant by a “fair contract,” etc.?

Nowhere does CUPE explain what it means by a fair collective agreement or how it is possible given the power of employers as a class. Why is that? Why is it that the union often qualifies the contract or collective agreement as “fair?” Is it by accident, or is it a means to “sell” the collective agreement to its members?

Would it be more in the interests of workers to point out that the collective agreement is unfair–but it is the best that can be obtained under the circumstances (the power structure that currently exists)? Or would it be better to merely express the rhetoric of fair contracts, etc. without discussing what is meant by that?

Which is a reformist tactic? A tactic in the best interests of workers?

Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health

In some previous posts, the title was “Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health.” I have changed the title since this post is not just directly about working for an employer.

As has been implied in the previous post on this topic, the shift to legislative measures to address health and safety concerns removed workers’ definition of problems of health and safety in relation to social causes and transformed the definition into a technical issue over health and safety.

This shift in turn involved a shift from concerns for legislation to concerns for administrative measures. This shift to administrative measures protects employers better by limiting democratic pressure by means of legislative processes. Of course, such legislative processes should not be idealized. They, too, are subject to pressures of various kinds, such as economic pressures, political (power) pressures and ideological pressures.

Legislative and Administrative Processes as Inadequate to Protect Workers

As a result, legislative measures to protect workers from dangers at work often end up being watered down–as I pointed out in another post:

However, peeling back the veneer of the federal government’s so-called crackdown on violent crime reveals a much different story. To start, it took more than ten years to introduce a new law in response to a single and violent mass killing in which twenty-six Canadians died. What is more, despite widespread political support, many politicians – particularly those with an affinity for law-and-order policies – cautioned against going too far in terms of holding offenders criminally responsible for their harmful acts (Bittle and Snider 2006).

The implicit attitude of many legislators and administrators–that deaths at work are simply unintended and inevitable facts of the world that cannot be changed–points to the inadequacy of legislative and administrative measures for protecting life and limb of workers. From Steven Bittle, doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster, pages 88-89:

… we argued that conservative conceptualizations of corporate crime dominated the process leading to the enactment of the Westray bill, thereby limiting the reform options that were given serious consideration. Three main arguments supported the analysis. First, legislators emphasized the importance of traditional legal language–particularly the doctrine of mens rea, or the legal need to establish the guilty mind of an individual – which downplayed alternative approaches to combating corporate criminal liability (also see Wells 1993: 1). Second, neo-liberal discourses helped ensure that the legislative framework conceptualized workplace safety as a shared responsibility amongst workers, managers and employers, despite the fact that few employees, namely those who carry out day-to-day production processes, have control over their working conditions (even though they bear the costs of unsafe working environments). Third, dominant conceptualizations of corporate capitalism, the idea that corporations are vital for the effective functioning of the Canadian economy, helped protect against the enactment of overly stringent legislation. Overall, given the convergence of various conservative discourses that dominated the reform process, we questioned the ability of the Westray bill to hold corporations to account for their harmful actions.

Why is it that the social-democratic left and unions do not discuss openly and thoroughly the issue of the systemic inadequacy of legislative and administrative efforts to protect workers? There is a definite need to enter into debate over such an issue, but there is an equally definite lack of discussion of such an issue. The current pandemic should have been an occasion to reassess the whole issue of the health and safety of workers–and indeed of the general population–in the context of a society dominated by a class of workers.

There has not been much real discussion about the need to overcome the power of the class of employers if we are to address adequately the health and safety of workers and the general population.

Indeed, the Trump’s administration’s efforts to downplay the tragedy of the pandemic has antecedents in the downplaying of the real cost of life, health and limb of workers and the general population in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Reported Statistics on Health and Safety Versus the Probable Real Situation of Workers and the General Population

In a previous post, I indicated that official statistics show that around 1,000 workers die at work yearly when compared to around 550 murders years (see The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers). Official statistics are, however, just that, official. They are produced through administrative processes that define what constitutes an “official death.” By contrast, there have been estimates that express a much larger number of deaths in Canada due to work-related incidents. Thus, Steven Bittle, Ashley Chen and Jasmine Hébert report a much higher figure in their article (Fall 2018), ““Work-Related Deaths in Canada,”, pages 159-187, in Labour/Le Travail, Volume 82, page 186:

Relying on a range of data sources, and adopting a broad definition of what constitutes a work-related fatality, we generated a revised estimate of the number of annual work-related fatalities. Based on our analysis, we estimate that the number of annual work-related fatalities in Canada is at least ten to thirteen times higher than the approximately 900 to 1,000 annual average fatalities reported by the AWBC [The Canadian Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada]. This makes work-related fatalities one of the leading causes of death in this country

Undoubtedly the 554 murders reported in Canada are also an underestimate–probably due to racist and sexist attitudes and organizations (the underreporting of, for example, murdered Aboriginal women). However, it is highly unlikely that the number of unreported murders even approaches half the number of estimated work-related deaths.

The authors provide the following table to substantiate their claims (slightly modified to accommodate the formatting of this post), page 169:

Work-related cause of deathEstimated fatalitiesEstimated fatalities
Injury fatalitiesOccupational-disease fatalities
AWCB’s average from 2014–16 (see note a below)332
Commuting/Driving to and from work466
Agricultural64
Non-reporting/reporting errors20
Non-working victims90 (see note b below)
Work-related suicides400–789
Mesothelioma485
Other cancers5,959–8,939
copd (see note c below)2,062
Estimated injury total972
Estimated disease total8,906–12,275
ESTIMATED TOTAL: 9,878–13,246

Note a: The AWCB’s statistics include only deaths from a traumatic incident or “accident.” We exclude occupational diseases and cancers to avoid duplication with our revised numbers concerning these fatalities.
Note b: This figure is based on TSB (Transportation Safety Board of Canada) information and is thus a conservative estimate. There are a significant number of unknown cases that could also be included in this category.
Note c: copd (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) refers to progressive and incurable lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma.

Given the threat to their health of many workers and citizens, there should be persistent discussions of how legislation (and administration procedures) fail to protect workers–systematically, and not accidentally–in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Accidents there will always be–but it is necessary to create a society that minimizes the probability of such accidents. Where is the movement or organization that is consciously aiming to abolish this carnage?

Is there fear among the social-democratic left and union reps to do so? What else would explain such silence over an issue that is of vital concern for workers? Union reps and the social-democratic left may complain about such facts and try to reduce the number of deaths, but unless the root cause of such deaths–the lack of control by workers and citizens over their own lives–is addressed, all complaints and proposed solutions will be measures that may reduce but not eliminate unnecessary deaths.

I have quoted this before, but it is often appropriate when addressing the inadequacies of social-democratic deficiencies. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital (page 91):

Perseus wore a magic cap so that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over our own eyes and ears so as to deny that there are any monsters.

The Monster Pandemic

The monster called the COVID-19 pandemic still exists, but there is little direct questioning of the kind of society that permits millions to die–while the stock market rises.

For example, it is implied that there is a crisis in Ontario health care, especially in long-term care homes, due to the Covid pandemic in a post on the Socialist Project’s website on January 8 (see https://socialistproject.ca/2021/01/covid19-crisis-situation-ontario/). The title of the post is “COVID-19 Crisis Situation In Ontario: Deadliest Day of the Pandemic,” produced by the Ontario Health Coalition. It is divided into four sections: a short introduction, a section titled “Hospitals,” another titled “Long-Term Care,” and a final section titled “Stronger Public Health Measures Needed Now.”

The introduction points out that January 7, 2021 constituted the highest number of deaths in Ontario (a province in Canada) since the pandemic became official. It argues that stronger measures are required and greater supports are required for the most vulnerable. In other words, it outlines some of the problems and offers some solutions.

The sections on hospitals and long-term care outline the dire situation of hospitals and long-term care homes–such as hospitals filled to capacity, morgues in some cities full, a dramatic rise in the number of deaths in long-term care homes.

The final section outlines some immediate solutions:

  1. “stronger safety and infection control measures in open businesses, full public reporting of outbreaks, more effective and coherent shutdowns.”
  2. “individuals whose employment has been or will be impacted need full support for income and housing, and local businesses need full supports to survive the pandemic.”
  3. “Our government can do a much better job of providing coordination and supports for these protections.” Including:
  • “Stronger, more coherent public health measures, including a fast ramp up of testing, contact tracing and quarantine capacity in public health and labs must be undertaken now so that the province can get the spread of the virus under control.
  • There must be fewer contacts among people to reduce community and workplace transmission and stronger public health measures across the board, including shutdowns and stronger safety measures in open businesses, must be undertaken.
  • The crisis in staffing capacity in long-term care must be addressed without any further delay.
  • The vaccine roll-out needs to be coherent, competent and much faster.
  • Community care, which is taking more of the burden of COVID-19 cases as hospitals are full, must be provided with clear directives to ensure staff have proper PPE including N95 masks.”

Given the emergency situation, certainly the identification of such immediate problems and proposed solutions to such problems is warranted. They are necessary and urgent. We need, as the post does, guidelines about what needs to be done immediately to address the inadequate responses by the Doug Ford government to the crisis in health care in the context of the pandemic.

However, this short-term could at least have been linked to both the specification of the longer-term problems that led to the pandemic and to longer-term goals that address the problem of overcoming economic, political and social structures that treat human beings as expendable costs in the production and exchange of commodities or as costs in long-term home care.

Some of the longer-term conditions for the emergence of Covid-19 are outlined by Mike Davis in his work (2020) The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism:

But this time around there was little mystery about the identity of the microbe—SARS-CoV-2 was sequenced almost overnight in January—or the steps necessary to fight it. Since the discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 and the recognition that it had jumped from apes to humans, science has been on high alert against the appearance of deadly new diseases with pandemic potential that have crossed over from wild fauna. This new age of plagues, like previous pandemic epochs, is directly the result of economic globalization. … Today, as was the case when I wrote Monster fifteen years ago, multinational capital has been the driver of disease evolution through the burning or logging out of tropical forests, the proliferation of factory farming, the explosive growth of slums and concomitantly of “informal employment,” and the failure of the pharmaceutical industry to find profit in mass producing lifeline antivirals, new-generation antibiotics, and universal vaccines.

Forest destruction, whether by multinationals or desperate subsistence farmers, eliminates the barrier between human populations and the reclusive wild viruses endemic to birds, bats, and mammals. Factory farms and giant feedlots act as huge incubators of novel viruses while appalling sanitary conditions in slums produce populations that are both densely packed and immune compromised. The inability of global capitalism to create jobs in the so-called “developing world” means that a billion or more subsistence workers (the “informal proletariat”) lack an employer link to healthcare or the income to purchase treatment from the private sector, leaving them dependent upon collapsing public hospitals systems, if they even exist. Permanent bio-protection against new plagues, accordingly, would require more than vaccines. It would need the suppression of these
“structures of disease emergence” through revolutionary reforms in agriculture and urban living that no large capitalist or state-capitalist country would ever willingly undertake.

Does the Ontario Health Coalition look at not only the immediate threat and its solutions but also the wider social context? The indirect criticism of neoliberal cuts in health care are implied: “The crisis in staffing capacity in long-term care must be addressed without any further delay.” The longer-term problems associated with the kind of society that is dominated by a class of employers is shuffled off into outer space, where it will be addressed who knows when or how.

Surely, the issue of health and safety in a society dominated by a class of employers should be a center-point for discussion and what can be done about it. Short-term problems and appropriate measures to be taken do indeed need to be discussed, but this pandemic is no longer something a few weeks or months old. We are now in 2021. Why are not the longer-term problems associated with an economic, political and social structure that has not only fostered conditions for the emergence of deadly viruses and their spread not discussed? Why are there not deep discussions about possible solutions to this large-scale problem?

The Ontario Health Coalition, in its article, instead of providing such a discussion and a vision of how we can prevent this situation from ever happening again, mainly focuses on immediate problems. These are indeed necessary–but they are hardly sufficient.

One last point. The Ontario Health Coalition is just that, a coalition. The interests of the working class do indeed require entering into coalitions, but first workers need to create their own independent position so that their interests are not absorbed into high-sounding phrases that lead nowhere. For example, this is what we find on the Ontario Health Coalition website in its section on “About Us” ( https://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca/index.php/about-us/mission-mandate/):

Our primary goal is to protect and improve our public health care system. We work to honour and strengthen the principles of the Canada Health Act. We are led by our shared commitment to core values of equality, democracy, social inclusion and social justice; and by the five principles of the Act: universality; comprehensiveness; portability; accessibility and public administration. We are a non-profit, non-partisan public interest activist coalition and network.

What is meant by “equality, democracy and social justice?” Can such goals ever be achieved in a society dominated by a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers? How is that possible, given that workers are means to be used by employers and costs to the employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital)? Is it possible where workers are dictated to by management as the representative of employers in various ways (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia and, more generally, Employers as Dictators, Part One)?

We do not need rhetoric. We need an accurate assessment of what threatens us in the world and what we can do about it.

Or do we deserve less than this?