Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Three: Critique of the Lack of Reference to the Class of Employers and to the Health Implications of Living Under Their Dominance

Introduction

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

Christoph Henning’s words (2005) express the nature of some so-called leftist social organizations in Toronto, such as Social Housing Green Deal.  From Philosophy after Marx: 100 Years of Misreadings and the Normative Turn in Political Philosophy, page 77:

We will see that Marxian theory, whose import was already lost in the developments discussed above, not only continued to be given a new thematic framework, but also displayed a ‘changing function’. A mode of thinking that operates within complex and dynamic socio-economic structures of development was replaced by a simplified rationale of domination. In functional terms, this led to a transformation of theory. Theory went from being a critical companion of politics to being an instrument by which to ideologically affirm a political voluntarism that was practised in a largely unreflected manner.

Before the May 2 Social Housing Green Deal zoom meeting I had drafted a critical analysis of two motioned items that were on the agenda. The first motion I discussed in the second post. This post is about the other motion. I sent my critical comments to Ms. Jessup, moderator and administrator, for the group. The motion was to support the statement by the grassroots organization “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.”

The first motion, as I indicated in my previous post, was more or less rubber-stamped. I had the impression that Ms. Jessup wanted the motion by the Suppress the Virus Now Coalition also to be rubber-stamped. However, I, Ms. Jessup and another zoom member had to leave soon.

I managed to have the motion tabled until the next meeting. That meeting was postponed, however, until May 23. I will describe why I did not attend that meeting in the final post of this series.

Second Critique: The Motion to Support the Statement Made By Suppress the Virus Now Coalition

This is what I wrote: 

There is a controversial claim in this statement.

“ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE.”

Acquiescence to avoidable sickness has been the rule, not the exception. This does not mean that there have not been struggles over health and safety in the workplace. There have been constant struggles, but currently the unionized sector of the labour movement has often rested content with rhetoric than dealing with the reality of just how unsafe working conditions were even before the pandemic.

Thus, in a recent nod to the number of injured and dead workers in Canada, the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC, an organization “committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ [Toronto Pearson Airport], TAWC posted the following on its Facebook page on April 28—the Canadian national day of mourning for workers killed on the job: “Photos of the GTAA Administration building of the flags lowered at half-mast as a mark of respect on this National day of mourning.”

My response: “It would be more relevant if all measures to eliminate processes and procedures that treat workers as means for the benefit of employers were instituted–in other words, the elimination of a society organized on the basis of the class power of employers. How many workers have been injured and died at Pearson because of the pursuit of profit?

Flying a flag at half-mast is hardly a symbol of respect if all measures to eliminate dangerous working conditions are not pursued. Have such dangerous working conditions been eliminated at Pearson?”

There were 2 likes and 0 comments.

I had another “debate” on TAWC over the issue of health and safety at Pearson earlier, but I will spare the reader any further references unless someone wants to read it.

Some Canadian statistics before the pandemic (from my blog):

Official statistics:

  1. “More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.”

    Non-official statistics:

  2. 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.”

Has there really been any social movement to address this carnage? Not that I am aware of. Resignation to sickness, injury and death at work (and outside work due to preventable diseases such as cancer) is part of parcel of Canadian culture (and many other national cultures). To then call it racist, etc seems to be an inadequate characterization of the situation of many workers in Canada. There may indeed be higher differentials of injury, disease and death among coloured workers, etc. (which requires more detailed data), but the general nature of the problem is not racist, etc but economic: workers, whatever their colour, gender, etc., are subject to the control of a class of workers, and there is no real and effective political organization that questions such control and aims to abolish the conditions that make it eminently reasonable (from an employer’s point of view) to engage in actions that injury, make sick or kill workers.

From Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

“Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.”

The kind of social process called working for an employer (being an employee) that characterizes our working lives is a threat to our health in various ways, Logically, if we take seriously the claim that “ANY [PANDEMIC[ STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH,” should be opposed, then we should be fighting to create an organization and a movement that fights against a social organization dominated by a class of employers (and the associated economic, political and social structures) and for a socialist society that eliminates class relations—period. Otherwise, any other strategy simply “resigns itself to avoidable sickness and death”–regardless of the pandemic, and regardless of its differentiated impact on race, gender and so forth. In fact, what has happened during the pandemic merely highlights the continuity with past practice—and the acquiescence of those who have failed to oppose a society dominated by a class of employers.

Just as an aside. The list of demands: how effective are they really? Are there any priorities? Are there some that need to be implemented right away? Or are all on the same level? If on different levels, should they not have been organized in some fashion to reflect the level of priorities? And not only priorities but power to achieve each demand? What organizations and supports currently exist that are more relevant for achieving each specific demand? Or all all organizations and supports on the same level?

End of my commentary

The “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition” also wrote the following: 

The Suppress The Virus Now Coalition is a network of community groups, labour groups, and individuals in Ontario. We have come together out of a shared concern about the Ontario provincial and Canadian federal governments’ approach to the COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic hit in March 2020. Now, as the second wave drags on, we demand that those governments stop prioritizing corporate profits over the health and well-being of our communities. We refuse to endorse any approach that accepts the needless death of elderly people and those living and working in long-term care; of disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised loved ones; of Indigenous Peoples in Ontario and across the country; of the Black, migrant, and racialized communities who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 infections in the GTA; of underhoused, precariously housed, and houseless neighbours; of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated community members; and of the health-care and other essential workers who are on the front lines.

ANY PANDEMIC STRATEGY THAT RESIGNS ITSELF TO AVOIDABLE SICKNESS AND DEATH IS RACIST, ANTI-BLACK, ANTI-INDIGENOUS, SEXIST, ABLEIST, AGEIST, AND UNACCEPTABLE. IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE #COVIDzero CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED BY HEALTH-CARE WORKERS, WE DEMAND THAT OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS EXPLICITLY ADOPT THE HUMANE GOAL OF ELIMINATING COMMUNITY SPREAD OF COVID-19.

Policing, threats, and rhetoric that blames individuals for systemic failures and conditions outside of their control are neither effective nor ethical tactics to deal with this pandemic. Instead, we must turn to principles of solidarity and community care, and toward robust, expansive, and inclusive social supports so that we can all make it through this crisis. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but rather than returning to a “normal” where a select few lives are privileged over others, we must build the conditions for all to live and thrive. This rebuilding must centre the needs of those most impacted by the pandemic and by the ongoing violence of the Canadian state.

We call for a just, equitable #COVIDzero approach that includes (but is not limited to): 

  • At least seven employer-paid sick days for all workers on a permanent basis, plus an additional 14 paid sick days during public health emergencies.

  • Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers, including respirator masks (e.g. N95s, FFP2s) for all workers in indoor workplaces until COVID community transmission ends, now that we know the virus can remain airborne indoors for hours.

  • The right of all workers to refuse work due to unsafe workplace conditions, and to be eligible for income supports like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) after such work refusals.

  • Expanded eligibility for pandemic-related state assistance such as the CRB, including for temporary migrant workers, undocumented people, gig economy workers, sex workers, and others.

  • An immediate ban on evictions; rent cancellation and forgiveness of arrears; a moratorium on encampment policing; and safe, accessible winter housing for unhoused people who want it.

  • An immediate end to the criminalization, racial profiling, and raids that harm migrant and non-migrant sex workers, including anti-trafficking initiatives and repressive bylaws affecting sex workers and workers in massage parlours.

  • Safe and accessible options for isolation when home isolation is not an option, and transparent communication about options that are already in existence.

  • Immediate investment to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, and offer COVID testing to students and education workers; and robust assistance for students, educators, caregivers, and families when school closures are necessary, like now.

  • Redistributing 50% of all police budgets toward resourcing social and health supports in Black, Indigenous, and people of colour communities.

  • An immediate end to deportations, and regularization and full immigration status now for all migrants, refugees, international students, workers (including temporary or seasonal migrants), and undocumented people in the country.

  • Immediate federal support and funding for clean water access, appropriate health care, and COVID supports for all Indigenous people on and off reserve, and the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty across the country, including heeding demands to immediately classify oil, mineral, and gas extraction as non-essential work, and to hit pause on extraction, exploration, and environmental assessment processes.

  • Immediate decarceration of people from provincial, federal, and immigration detention facilities, and simultaneous access to sanitation and protective equipment, harm reduction supplies, free communication resources, and appropriate and consensual post-incarceration support for all incarcerated people.

  • Permanently increasing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates to match CERB ($2,000/month).

  • Making temporary, uneven pandemic pay boosts permanent by raising the minimum wage for all.

  • Taking profit out of long-term care, replacing for-profit corporations with an entirely non-profit and public system. Enforcing national standards that ensure that long-term care workers – who are disproportionately racialized women – have a living wage, health and wellness benefits, and a safe and secure job, in order to provide high-quality care to residents.

  • Making public transit safe by halting fare inspection, investing in mask distribution, and putting more buses on high-traffic routes to allow for physical distancing.

  • Increasing research and supports dedicated to COVID “long-haulers,” people still suffering from the effects of the virus months after infection.

  • Greater involvement of community groups in public health decision-making, respecting communities’ knowledge about their own life circumstances, and more consistently inviting their representatives into decision-making processes led by researchers and civic officials.

As the pandemic puts our society’s racial and class divides on ruthless display, it is urgent that we all show up with our neighbours to demand a just, equitable pathway to #COVIDzero that leaves no one behind.

To add your name (individual and/or organization) to this statement, and/or to get involved with the coalition’s work, please complete this short form.

We are an Ontario-based group, but the need for a just, equitable #COVIDzero strategy transcends local boundaries. We invite collaboration with people struggling towards the same goal elsewhere. We also encourage groups outside Ontario to adopt and adapt this statement freely for your own purposes.

In Ontario, here are some ways you can plug into powerful community organizing and take action:

  • Follow, boost, and contribute to groups like the Encampment Support Network, People’s Defence Toronto, and Keep Your Rent Toronto that are fighting for housing justice.

  • Volunteer with and donate to Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, providing encampment support and working to mitigate the harms of the catastrophic overdose crisis.

  • Join the Migrant Rights Network to demand justice, safety, and #StatusForAll migrants.

  • Support the labour organizing of the Workers Action Centre and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to ensure that no one is left behind.

  • Take action with 15 & Fairness and the Decent Work and Health Network to demand paid sick days for all.

  • Learn more about the work of COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada, a large grassroots organization of COVID survivors experiencing debilitating effects months after infection, and sign the support group’s petition demanding recognition, research, and rehabilitation for Long COVID sufferers.

  • Get involved with the Toronto Prisoners Rights Project to fight for justice for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and take action to demand decarceration.

  • Demand better for residents and workers in long-term care, by following the work of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Unifor, and contributing to their calls to action.

  • Follow and boost Green Jobs Oshawa’s campaign for domestic PPE production, crucial long-term healthcare organizing by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and the campaign to #MakeReveraPublic.

  • Write to elected officials to express your support for the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs who are calling for a stop to resource extraction projects as COVID-19 outbreaks recur in B.C. work camps.

  • Protect public sector jobs and collective bargaining with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council by adding your voice to their Forward Together campaign.

  • Join TTC Riders to demand adequate funding for safe and physically distanced public transit options.

  • Call the Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services to demand increased social assistance rates.

  • Demand that the Ontario legislature adopt an intersectional gender equity approach to its pandemic response

Conclusion

My general criticism on this blog has been and will continue to be that the so-called radical left fail to connect up a general criticism of a society dominated by a class of employers–with the associated oppressive and exploitative economic, political and social structures–and particular issues. The organization Suppress the Virus Now Coalition failed to do just that.

The pandemic should have been an occasion to develop a movement against the systemic nature of capitalist society. There has really been no such movement–in part undoubtedly because grass-roots social movements fail to link the particular issues surrounding the pandemic with the general issue of the impossibility of maximizing the health of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

My comments and criticisms were never addressed. My criticisms, in effect, were censored. I leave it to the reader to decide whether such censorship expresses the democratic nature of some (if not many) grassroots organizations–or if it expresses something else. 

The last post of this series will include further comments and questions about “The People’s Pandemic Shutdown.” 

The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CUPE says strike next week if no dates scheduled

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

I asked the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 66 of this collective agreement has the following clause:

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

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

Consider another collective agreement for the same local:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On their Facebook page, JFAAP posted:

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

I made the following comment:

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

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

In another post, JFAAP posted:

No photo description available.

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

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

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

The response was–silence.

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

 

Working For an Employer is Dangerous for your Health, Part Four

There was an article published in the weekly Star Metro Toronto on September 4, 2019 on a health and safety issue. I will quote the article in full in order to provide the context and details of the incident:

TTC [Toronto Transit Commission] fined more than $330,000 in worker’s death

Dedes suffered major injuries after being crushed between rail car and pickup truck

Ben Spurr (Transportation Reporter)

The TTC has pleaded guilty to one count of violating workplace safety legislation in the 2017 death of track maintenance worker Tom Dedes.

‘At a hearing Tuesday in a small courtroom on the second floor of Old City Hall, prosecutors working on behalf of the Ministry of Labour agreed to drop two other charges laid against the transit agency in /Dedes’ death.

As part of its guilty plea, the TTC agreed to pay a fine of $263,000, which was the amount prosecutors recommended, Including a mandatory 25 percent victim surcharge, the total amount the transit agency will pay is $331, 250.

Each of the charges, which are non-criminal provincial offenses, carried a maximum fine of $500,000 at the time they were laid [emphasis added].

Speaking outside the courtroom, Tom’s brother George Dedes said the TTC plea, which came with a promise to improve worker safety, would give his family some closure after two years of anguish.

“It signals that they are taking steps to address the issues, which is good news,” he said.

“You want some accountability. They’ve done what they had to do. Honestly what else could they do? They can’t bring him back. They can’t change what happened.”

Dedes, an 18-year veteran who was 50 at the time of his death, suffered major injuries in an accident at the TTC’s McCowan Yard in Scarborough at around 2:18 a.m. on October 1, 2017.

According to an agreed-upon statement of facts that was read into the court record, at the time of the accident Dedes and a crew of workers were preparing to head out on a job to replace a section of track on the Scarborough RT.

They were loading equipment from a pickup truck onto a work railcar, but as they were about to leave they discovered a power pack–a hydraulic unit used in track welding–on the flatbed of the car was dead.

They moved the truck closer to the car to try to jump-start the battery pack by attaching it to the truck engine with jumper cables. The cables were too short, however, and they had to lift the pack off the flatbed using a crane.

Once it was successfully boosted, they hoisted the pack back onto the flatbed, and some of the workers got into the pickup truck.

The car operators’ view was obstructed and he couldn’t see the truck. He began advancing the car just as Dedes was walking around the back of the truck to the rear driver’s side door.

Because the rail car was on a curved track, its tail end swung out and struck Dedes, crushing him against the pickup truck. He died in the hospital eight day later.

Last September, nearly a year after his death, the ministry charged the TTC with three offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including violating regulations that require employers to ensure adequate lighting, and to provide markings or barriers to protect workers from vehicles.

Those two charges were withdrawn Tuesday and the TTC pleaded guilty to the third charge: failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers–specifically failing to provide a qualified employee to monitor work car movements.

The TTC says Dedes’ death has already prompted it to improve safety at its McCowan Yard and other facilities. Among the steps the agency has taken are upgrading lighting, installing visual markings and a barrier around the railcar track area, and retraining employees.

Contrast this with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113: (

TTC PLEADS GUILTY TO ONTARIO MINISTRY OF LABOUR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT VIOLATION REGARDING THE DEATH OF ATU LOCAL 113 BROTHER TOM DEDES

ATU Local 113 President Carlos Santos today released the following statement to members regarding the TTC pleading guilty to a violation of the Ontario Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Act that resulted in the death of our Brother Tom Dedes who worked as a track maintenance worker:

“This is a sad day for our union as we continue to grieve for Tom Dedes, an ATU Local 113 member who left us too soon. Today, we offer our deepest condolences and support to Tom Dedes’ family, friends and co-workers.

The TTC today finally admitted guilt for violating the Ontario Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Act by ‘failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.’

Today’s guilty plea is further evidence the TTC must do more to protect its workers. ATU Local 113 will continue to support our union representatives on the Joint Health and Safety Committee to ensure the TTC is held accountable and exercises due diligence with implementing all recommended changes to create a safer workplace for all.

The TTC’s admission of guilt and the resulting fine is a somewhat hollow victory for Tom Dedes’ family, friends and co-workers who still deal with the tragic events and will continue to deal with the circumstances of his loss for the rest of their lives.

The TTC should have ended this case much sooner. The TTC legal team had possession of all the reports, statements and Ontario Ministry of Labour documents for a long time, but waited until attending court, one month shy of two years since the incident occurred, to admit guilt and settle. As is usual in these cases, the only people who come out ahead are the TTC’s lawyers as the TTC continues to waste taxpayers’ money fighting cases dealing with important health and safety matters.

For the TTC, the case is over when the fine is paid. However, for those left behind who continue to work day after day at the TTC, the situation is far from over.

For almost two years, family, friends, co-workers and investigators have dealt with trauma. Thoughts of that night, reliving the experience throughout the investigation and anticipating reliving the events in an unfamiliar court environment have caused many sleepless nights and stressful days for those involved. Looking at these experiences, our union’s position is that the TTC failed to provide an adequate support system for the employees who witnessed the incident and experienced trauma, which is unacceptable.

The file is closed on the case, but the work is not done. Now, we move forward. We learn from this horrible lesson and do our best to ensure another group of workers does not need to go through this experience.

We remember Tom Dedes and we continue to offer support, kindness and understanding to those still suffering. We look ahead and do our jobs safely. We have the right to work safe and come home safe. Now, more than ever, members need to have an awareness of their work environment and exercise their rights if, at any time, they do not feel safe.

ATU Local 113 will continue to fight for the TTC to provide a safer workplace and proper support for all workers who experience trauma.”

The emphasis of the union is, on the one hand, the emotional aspect of the death and, on the other, the moral irresponsibility of TTC management for ensuring safety and in providing timely closure for family and friends of those who die.

Although the union’s attitude is certainly more humane than the attitude of TTC management, it is debatable whether that is all that can be learned from this situation. To say the following by the ATU union fails to address the issue of the power of management as representative of employers:

We look ahead and do our jobs safely. We have the right to work safe and come home safe. Now, more than ever, members need to have an awareness of their work environment and exercise their rights if, at any time, they do not feel safe.

This fails to take into account the level of fear characteristic of the work environment, whether implicit or explicit. Workers know, even though they rarely explicitly admit it, that they are economically dependent on employers in general and their specific employer in particular. This economic dependence often prevents them from asserting their “rights” out of fear of retaliation by management.

Secondly, the inadequacy of worker rights with regard to safety are not even acknowledged. Yes, workers have the right to refuse to work if they consider the work to be unusually unsafe–but if their work is usually unsafe, they have no right to refuse to work. Thus, when I worked as a teacher, the educational assistants were informed that they could not refuse to work with students who were violent in one way or another because such situations formed part of their normal duties.

Thirdly, the union avoids the issue of the extent to which workers can engage in work that is unsafe no matter how many precautions they take since it is employers and their managerial representatives who generally provide the working context for work and not workers.

Fourthly, the union does not even bring up the issue of the charge(s) not being criminal charges. In the case of deaths caused by individual citizens, charges can have a criminal character. Why are they not here? Why the silence over the issue by the union?

The inadequacy of the union point of view can also be seen in an exchange I recently had the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC) Facebook page with someone concerning safety at work. The following exchange occurred:

Jonathan Horchata Delgado Give the crews the proper training and guidance they need in an environment that encourages it. Your accident rates will plummet. You’re only as good as the training you have.

Fred Harris The view that “accidents” are caused mainly by a lack of training is a myth. Employers control many conditions over which workers have no control–and employers in the private sector are out to obtain as much profit as they can. There is hardly any wonder that people are injured or die.

As I wrote on my blog:

I submitted an article for the popular education journal Our Schools/Our Selves concerning the issue of safety (and the lack of critical thinking skills that is embodied in two Ontario curricula on Equity and Social Justice). In that article, I quote:

More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.

Murders are the focus of the social media and the criminal legal system. Inquiries into murders do occur, and some are very thorough. On the other hand, inquiries into the extent to which the pursuit of profit played a major role in the death of employees (or the extent to which the undemocratic nature of work of public-sector employers) are lacking. There is an implicit assumption that such deaths are acceptable and the cost of living in the modern world. Should not those concerned with social justice query such an assumption? Is there much discussion concerning the facts? Or is there silence over such facts? Should those concerned with social justice inquire into the ‘perspectives and values’ of curriculum designers? Should they attempt to “detect bias” in such documents?

Should not the issue of the relation between the pursuit of profit and needless deaths be a focus for public discussion on an ongoing basis if social justice is to be addressed? Where is the public discussion over the issue? Indeed, if critical thinking is to lead to “issues of power and justice in society,” you would expect to see inquiry into the power of employers and the relation of that power to the death, dismemberment and injury of workers. Is there any reference to such an issue in the two curricula documents?

Are not workers in our society bought and sold on a market called the labour market? As long as they are, they are “costs” to employers, and as costs employers tend to try to reduce such costs in order to obtain more profit (in the private sector). One of the ways in which they can reduce costs is by not spending much money on equipment and training that relates to safety. The temptation will always be there as long as employers exist and have control over workers. See (The Money Circuit of Capital) for an explanation.)”

The view, furthermore, that employers can invade our privacy any way they like because other employers do it is absurd; it assumes that what employers do in the first place is somehow legitimate.

 

Jonathan Horchata Delgado Fred Harris i agree that employers shouldn’t be invading privacy, as it breeds a culture of fear and mistrust, and big gap between managers and crews, and I see your point about training, but, well trained staff with good resources, even if the equipment isn’t top tier, shouldn’t be a deciding factor in safety. Companies are always about profits, true. I still believe that if you’re trained and feel you have access to proper resources, and skill is nurtured, your accident rate would still be low. I’m speaking from experience once working for probably the worst company for equipment, and we had nearly zero accidents. Also, in the military, which many good companies utilize or training matrixes, teach the human factor is the main quotient in accidents. Not disagreeing in total with you, but I wouldn’t blanket accidents and training as a myth completely. 

Fred Harris I did not say that it was “entirely” a myth–but to view training as the deciding factor in accidents is a myth.

And the view that “if you’re trained and feel you have access to proper resources, and skill is nurtured, your accident rates would still be low.” It is not about “feeling you have access to proper resources” but actually having such resources–and that is in the hands of employers, in general–employers whose aim is profit.

Furthermore, workers are “costs” for employers, and as costs, the “cost” for probable accidents is factored into determining whether to cut corners, etc.

Of course, some training can reduce accidents–but the idea that it is mainly the fault of workers that “accidents” occur is a myth.

Further evidence of the limitations of the union point of view is the posts on the TAWC Facebook page about “accidents.” The reference is to a worker killed when a luggage vehicle flipped over, pinned and killed at the North Carolina Charlotte-Douglas International Airport:

https://www.fox46charlotte.com/news/airline-employee-killed-after-luggage-vehicle-flips-pins-worker-at-clt-airport

At the above link, it says: One of the construction workers at the airport said: “It’s like a racetrack out there.” The reporter explains: “He was referring to how busy the tarmac is out there, with so much traffic in the area.”  Why would it be like a “racetrack” out on the tarmac? Perhaps because it was more profitable for the various airlines than a less intensive workplace? One of the ways that employers can obtain more profit is by increasing the level of intensity of work.

The union, however, never mentioned this factor as a social cause in the accident. There will be an investigation, but it is highly doubtful that the accident will be linked to the pursuit of profit. Since, however, workers are mere means for obtaining more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), it is understandable why the tarmack would be like a racetrack.

American Airlines, of course, expressed the following rhetoric:

American Airlines is deeply saddened by the death of one of our team members from Piedmont Airlines late last night. Right now our priority is caring for his family, and for our team in Charlotte.

Let us now listen to the union point of view in relation to safety in general:

TAWC commented on its Facebook page:

Sending love and solidarity from YYZ to the friends, family, and coworkers of the worker that lost his life last night in Charlotte.

Work smart, stay safe, and look out for one another. Airport workers across the globe share the same goal, we all want to go home safely at the end of the day.

On August 14, 2019, the TAWC made a comment about another “accident”–this time a Delta tug operator was killed on the job:

Work Smart!
Work Safe!

Deepest sympathies to yet another fallen airport worker

Solidarity is undoubtedly important. And working as safe as you can is also important. But how can workers really work safe (and smart) when they are subject to pressure to work as fast as possible in order to make as much profit as possible for the employers (or in order to minimize costs in the case of both public sector and private sector employers)? It remains a mystery to me.

The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council had the following on their Facebook site on August 19, 2019:

Another serious accident involving a baggage tractor. This time it’s one of our YYZ colleagues.

We wish a speedy recovery to our YYZ Coworker.

Work Smart! Work Safe!

On a Twitter linked to this, Tom Podeloc posted:

INCIDENT Baggage handler trapped under a tractor. Extricated by Toronto Pearson Fire. Transported to trauma centre by Peel Paramedics with serious injuries. Scene being held for investigation. Occurred on the ramp between T1 & T3.

Of course, union references to such incidents and the call for both solidarity and more training is important. However, is this really enough? Should not union reps recognize that the existence of a class of employers and the existence of social structures that support their existence necessarily contribute to death and injury?  Why do the unions ignore the existence of a class of employers as such, the social structures that support them and the deadly consequences that flow from their continued existence?

It is hardly enough to call for solidarity and to work safely. Workers cannot work safely as long as employers as a class exist and as long as their exist social structures that support the existence of such a class of employers.

Workers deserve better than a call for solidarity on the basis of the continued existence of a class of employers–they deserve to be treated as human beings–an impossibility under the given social structures and relations. Full solidarity demands questioning the power of employers as such. Otherwise, human carnage, injury and suffering will continue needlessly.