The Social-Democratic Left Idealize Collcetive Bargaining
Marv Gandall wrote:
“Theory is grey, but the great tree of life is green, as I’m sure a balance sheet of your years as a trade unionist would illustrate. I very much doubt you would have succeeded in persuading even the most militant of your fellow workers to reject collective agreements - as you appear to do “on principle” - at ratification meetings, or to disregard the provisions of the contract in favour in favour of wildcat strikes on the shop floor to resolve grievances”
And Gandall is going to teach all of us what is required. We await his words of wisdom. Unfortunately, there is little wisdom in what he has written so far.
Note the distortion of my meaning by the social democrat. Firstly, I hardly am opposed to collective bargaining. What I oppose is—bullshitting workers by claiming that “free collective bargaining” is fair and that the collective agreement is somehow fair. Gandall does not even address the issue—typical of social democrats, who assume that it is without any proof. I have met this distortion often enough here in Toronto by social democrats.
“Your views on intervention in the unions and parties dominated by social democrats seem to me closest to the anarcho-syndicalism of the once formidable IWW, which young workers of every generation have been since trying to resurrect https://www.iww.org/
Not understood is that the IWW grew in a period when unions and collectively bargaining were not recognized by the employers and the state, and workers - many in highly concentrated mill and factory towns - had no recourse except to engage in “illegal” strike activity to better their conditions.”
Hmm. Gandall assumes the ignorance of such facts. P.C. 1003 in Canada was the federal law that the government instituted to force employers to recognize unions in 1944 because of the level of strike activity by workers. (I have a university labour relations certificate and have taken several university courses: in arbitration, in labour law in collective bargaining, in the history of the Canadian labour movement and in Canadian industrial relations). I was a union steward, and I also was a member of a negotiating committee in a school district. I guess Gandall will teach me something else that I do not know. But what—I do not know.
In fact, when I was a member of a negotiating team for Operating Engineers Local 858, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, I consciously tried to show the workers how many items on the table we had to remove in order to obtain what we obtained by presenting all items desired on the left-hand side of the bargaining bulletin and either an x or check mark on the right-hand side; the purpose was to show the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement.
The union business manager had to present this format to a ratification meeting for those in Prince George (because she had asked me to draft it), but since the bargaining unit extended beyond Prince George, ratification also assumed the form of mail-in ballots. The union business manager changed the format to show only what we won before sending out an information bulletin. Why did the union business manager do that?
What does Gandall have to say about Rebecca Keetch's approach and both my appreciation and criticism of that approach? Keetch, unlike Gandall, does not idealize “free collective bargaining in its modern form.
As I have written before:
“Rebecca Keetch wrote an article that was posted on the Socialist Project's website on transparency and collective bargaining (https://socialistproject.ca/2020/09/canadian-auto-workers-fight-for-contract-transparency/). Ms. Keetch was a former GM worker at Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and she is a member and activist of Green Jobs Oshawa.
Ms. Keetch advocates for transparent bargaining in a form similar to what I tried to do when I was a member of the negotiating committee for the support workers of the Prince George School District No. 57, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). Not only must we present to our unionized fellow workers the proposals that we have tentatively negotiated but also what we have been unsuccessful in negotiating or had to modify in the process:
As bargaining at the Detroit Three automakers kicks off in Canada, union members are fighting back against a longstanding undemocratic contract ratification process. In an unprecedented development, the Solidarity Movement, a rank-and-file movement within Unifor, has launched a petition to demand full disclosure of the collective agreement before voting takes place. Since the launch in early August, more than 1,800 members have signed.
The petition calls on Unifor leadership to “provide full disclosure of the contents of the contract, five days before ratification, by publishing all revisions, additions, deletions, and changes to the contract, clearly marked, on the Unifor National website and the websites of the locals involved in ‘Detroit Three’ bargaining.” It also requests “that the ratification highlights include a clear statement of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.”
In the US, the United Auto Workers publishes the full contract with all changes on its website where Detroit Three members can read it before they go to their ratification/information meetings — a long-time demand of American union reformers. The UAW began posting the tentative Detroit Three contracts online in 2011.
This movement to create transparency is to be welcomed. Workers deserve to be able to see what negotiators have done on their behalf before making a decision on whether to ratify the collective agreement or to reject it. It is their lives, and they have a right to make decisions concerning its direction and quality as far as is humanly possible.
Ms. Keetch certainly is moving in a more democratic position when she writes:
The members’ concerns should be acknowledged, not simply dismissed. Real democracy means taking our lead from the members.
She then outlines the procedures used in typical undemocratic collective bargaining:
Historically, auto negotiations are secretive. Once contract demands are collected by leadership, workers are nearly shut out of bargaining, which takes place behind closed doors. At the completion of bargaining, information/ratification meetings are immediately scheduled.
As members enter the meeting, they are given a handout called a “Bargaining Report.” The Bargaining Report contains highlights of the tentative agreement and includes messages from the national president and other leaders encouraging ratification. Union leadership and staff make a presentation on the highlights of the agreement. Members are given limited time and opportunity to ask questions and no opportunity to meaningfully discuss the agreement with each other before being required to vote. Historically, voting has taken place at the information meeting.
She then argues that the Constitution of Unifor is supposed to be democratic and that it is necessary for it be in reality democratic rather than just formally:
Democracy In The Constitution
The Unifor constitution makes it clear that Unifor is intended to be a democratic organization and that the members are meant to control the union. Article 2, Section 1 states, “Unifor is a voluntary organization that belongs to its members. It is controlled by members and driven by members. Its role is to serve their collective interests in the workplace and in our communities. The life of Unifor is shaped by the essential ingredient of democratic participation. Democratic values are the foundation of all that we do. Our commitment to the principles and practices of democratic unionism define who we are and are reflected in our rules, structures, and processes.”
Our constitution cannot just be words on paper. If union leadership doesn’t live and breathe to empower and engage the membership, if leadership limits worker agency, participation, discussion, and debate, then the inevitable outcome is a weak, disempowered membership that can’t fight back when the bosses are trying to walk all over us.
Unifor members are often told to just trust our leadership. But ratifying a collective agreement isn’t about rubberstamping whatever the leadership brings. If that were the case, why would we even go to the time and trouble of having a ratification vote? With technology today, it couldn’t be cheaper or easier to make the contract available ahead of ratification.
The democratization of the collective bargaining process at the level of the local is certainly necessary. However, even if it were democratized, the result would not overcome limitations which Ms. Keetch does not address.
She makes the following claim:
Though the collective agreement is one of the most important documents to shape a worker’s life, Canadian auto workers at General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, and Ford are not allowed to see it before we are asked to ratify it. Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, represents nearly 17,000 auto workers at the Detroit Three.
Technically, as a document, the collective agreement does indeed shape a worker's life--by limiting what the employer can do. From a worker's perspective, it is, on the one hand, a a tool for limiting the power of management and, on the other, an expression of monetary remuneration and benefits for transferring the power of control over the worker's life, temporarily, to the employer.
Ms. Keetch's critique of the collective bargaining process is more advanced than Brian Forbes' implicit defense of typical collective-bargaining procedures (see the article "Critique of Collective-Bargaining Models in Canada" found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog) since Mr. Forbes fails to criticize the traditional anti-democratic model of collective bargaining.
However, what if you democratize a process in the context of a situation that is undemocratic? Ms. Keetch nowhere explores the limitations as such of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement in the context of a class of employers. How does this context "shape a worker's life?" Is this context more or less important than the collective agreement?
Readers who have read some of my posts will already know my answer: the context of a class of employers and the associated economic and political structures influences workers' lives much more than any collective agreement. The level of influence of this context can be seen explicitly seen in various managements rights' clauses in collective agreements (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia or Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario). This lack of reference to this class situation will at most enable particular workers working for particular employers to limit their particular employer's power in the best way possible without moving towards threatening the power of employers as a class.
Transparency is not only necessary at the level of the particular employer but at the macro level of the class economy. Mr. Keetch's reference to democracy needs to involve both micro and macro level transparency if workers are to make rational decisions concerning the working lives and the purpose of their organizations.
At the micro level, even if there were complete transparency during collective bargaining, how would workers decide on what to do if they took no or little account of the macro structure that involves treating them as impersonal means for impersonal ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital).
Should there not be open discussion about the kind of economy that exists in order for workers to make rational decisions about the adequacy of collective agreements in meeting their lives, both inside and outside work? To exclude transparency in the wider situation is like looking at the hand and treating it as if it were the whole body. The hand may look to be in perfect condition, but not when linked to a body that has invasive cancer in the bladder, or rectal cancer or metastatic liver cancer.
Nor can any collective agreement be considered a fair contract without considering the context of exploitation and oppression characteristic of the general situation of workers--whether in the public or private sectors.
It is thus questionable whether collective bargaining can really be transparent if the wider picture of the general economic and political structure is excluded. If the purpose of transparency of the collective-bargaining process at the micro level is to ensure that workers make democratic and rational decisions concerning their lives, it is necessary to move towards macro transparency.”
“You’re not suggesting that the Amazon and other fledgling unions try to organize and strike deals with their powerful employers outside of the legally sanctioned industrial relations regime, and that is is only the “reformists” (including on this list!) who are holding them back, are you? That does seem to be the practical implications of your abundant theorizing.”
Hardly. Gandall cannot draw logical conclusions since his premises are faulty.
The Amazon Union should not bullshit workers about the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement to be fair. It should explicitly try to have open discussions about the limitations of the collective-bargaining process and the limitations of collective agreements. It should try to have discussions about almost all grievances against the collective agreement arise from the union side. It should foster its members to question why that is the case. It should refer to the management right clauses in many collective agreements and what the implications of that is for the lives of workers.
I must say: Gandall's response is certainly what I would expect from social democrats—they fail to address whether collective bargaining only limits the power of management while also legitimating it—a double-edged sword (but social democrats only recognize one edge—the positive side of collective agreements) and what, if anything, is to be done about the undemocratic economic coercion and economic blackmail that characterizes the employer-employee relation.
Perhaps Gandall can enlighten us about what he and others would do about management rights? About the continued exploitation and oppression of even unionized workers? About using workers as means for purposes undefined by them? About the dictatorship at workers by employers despite the existence of “free collective bargaining” and collective agreements? And many, many other features of an exploitative and oppressive society—which social democrats deny, of course.
Of course, unionized workers may have other ideas—than union bureaucrats and their ideological representatives.
On Sat, Jan 14, 2023 at 04:59 AM, Frederick Harris wrote:
I hardly am opposed to collective bargaining. What I oppose is—bullshitting workers by claiming that “free collective bargaining” is fair and that the collective agreement is somehow fair.
Yes, I noticed after sending my post that you’re not opposed, strictly speaking, to collective bargaining. You only insist that it not be seen or sold as “fair”. All of your extended contributions have turned on this point.
You’re wasting a lot of angry words on what is essentially a non-issue. Tentative agreements aren’t ratified or rejected on the basis of whether they’re “fair” or not, but rather whether they’re the best that can be won given the relationship of forces. In other words, it is power not ethics, as you suppose, which is typically the framework in which an agreement is judged - as much by the membership as the bargaining team. When the workers do not share the view of the latter and want tt continue the struggle, they send their negotiators back to the table to secure a better settlement. Sometimes, that’s a winning strategy, sometimes not. In all conflict, whether the assessment of the prevailing power relationship is correct can only be known in retrospect.
Note the dismissal of the issue by Gandall. If it were such a non-issue, then why do union bureaucrats frequently use the term "fair contracts," "fair deal" and so forth? Gandall simply refuses to deal with the issue. Workers, for him, automatically rejrect the employer-employee relation and strive to abolish the class relation. What nonsense. Where is Gandall's evidence that this is the case?
"It is power not ethics, as you suppose, which is typically the framework in which an agreement is judged." If that is the case, then why the frequent use of such phrases s "fair contract," etc? See my posts theabolitionary.ca/2021/01/29/fair-contracts-or-collective-agreements-the-ideological-rhetoric-of-canadian-unions-part-one/ , theabolitionary.ca/2021/04/23/fair-contracts-or-fair-collective-agreements-the-ideological-rhetoric-of-canadian-unions-part-two-warren-smokey-thomas-president-of-the-ontario-public-services-employees-union-opseu/ , theabolitionary.ca/2021/07/23/fair-contracts-or-collective-agreements-the-ideological-rhetoric-of-canadian-unions-part-two-unifor-largest-private-union-in-canada/ and theabolitionary.ca/2022/03/04/fair-contracts-or-collective-agreements-the-ideological-rhetoric-of-canadian-unions-part-four
In those posts, I provide evidence that the large Canadian unions use the phrase "fair contract," often. Gandall simply wants to ignore this fact. For him, it is a "non-issue." Anything that contradicts his idealized version of unions is simply ignored. In other words, he also bullshits workers.
Note that Gandall ignored completely Rebecca Keetch's critique of the lack of transparency of the typical collective-bargaiining process. Why? Note that he also ignored the fact that most grievances arise from unions, not from management. Why? Do unions really discuss with members frequently why managers have such unilateral power that they rarely need to grieve? Let Gandall provide evidence to this fact.
Gandall wants to ignore the evidence that unions often in practice function to legitimate the class power of employers by papering over the power relations that exist between workers and employers. Such is the nature of social democracy.
Gandall likely has a similar attitude to the union attitudes of Tracy McMaster (union steward, former president of the Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), and former vice president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and Wayne Dealy ((executive director of CUPE local 3902).
McMaster's views are linked to Dealy's response to her email sent to those on the listserve of the Toronto Labour Committee (an organization to which I belonged but from which I withdrewy when it became evident that it was too closely tied to unions). I quote from my blog:
Since I wanted to open up debate on such an issue, I responded thus:
Dealy responded thus:
By the way, the topic was never addressed by the Toronto Labour Committee at the date and time indicated--and never while I was a member of that organization.
Further evidence that McMaster does not take exploitation and oppression seriously is one of her emails, a response to an email I sent, part of which is reproduced below:
McMaster responded as follows:
In the first place, I had already recognized that collective bargaining that results in a collective bargaining is better than no collective agreement. In the second place, her claim that "collective bargaining is limited and imperfect" sounds like more union rhetoric. If it is limited and imperfect, in what way? If so, what is McMaster doing about it? The reference to "limited and imperfect" is union rhetoric that hides any real consideration of such limits and imperfections and taking them to heart. The only way to convince Ms. McMaster, as far as I can see, is to--agree with her. She idealizes collective bargaining and fails to address its limitations.
I sincerely doubt that McMaster takes seriously the limitations and imperfections of collective bargaining. If there is such evidence, others should provide us. If she did, she would have discussed such limitations and imperfections as well as what needs to be done to overcome such limitations and imperfections. She merely pays lip service to such limitations and imperfections. In practice, she operates entirely in terms of collective bargaining."
Gandall also probably holds similar views to John Cartwright, the former president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, who wrote the following (from an open letter) in 2018:
"We need to fight for labour law reform including broader based bargaining so that precarious workers can have a vehicle in which to achieve dignity and economic justice."
My comment to that statement, made in a post:
Gandall ignores the ethical rhetoric that union officials often use to cloak what is an exploitative and oppressive situation and relationship. By ignoring this, he himself contributes to such exploitation and oppression. After all, for him, it is a "non-issue."
This discussion actually illuminates the age old problem of how to work to overthrow an unjust exploitative system that is very powerful and not in danger of being overthrown anytime soon WHILE WORKING WITHIN IT --- because one is forced to. The whole point about capitalism is --- workers have to work for someone else because they do not own their own means of production. Even "working class" parties have to compete in the rigged electoral process where money can buy votes and politicians can (increasingly) choose their voters !!!
NOW --- Rick Woolf and Gar Alperovitz (and probably lots of other people in many different political entities around the globe) have been working on how to find elements of the "new society" in the "womb of the old" --- and they both think that cooperative, worker-owned collectives, present just those "seeds" of the future political economy.
But that of course does not absolve all of us from fighting to improve the lives of people --- and of course that is where in the workplace collective bargaining comes in --- and where in the political realm reformism comes in ---
This issue of how to live and fight within an exploitative dangerous (dangerous for humanity now of course) system is real and serious and difficult.
So far, all I've done is say the obvious -- but my reason for doing this is because the arguments that Fred and others are having with each other (even with all the strum and drang and insults....) are at base very important ones.
and all of us have to figure out how to live and (if possible) contribute to the struggles ---
My one caution would be to try and separate realistic "baby steps" that might not go far enough from dangerous mis-leading. I know the old fights (current fights?) between communists and social democrats turned on which group was dangerously mis-leading people and therefore being objectively on the "wrong side"
(remember the German CP's accusation that the German Social Democrats were "social fascists")
But I continue to cling (maybe this is just being in "la la land") to the view that the various currents on "our side" have much more in common than in division -- and this is certainly true in the United States which is becoming the center of what I consider a world-wide fascist movement that by destroying whatever vestiges of "bourgeois democracy" exist will also doom the human population on the planet as well as large portions of the world working class. (When Rosa Luxembourg said, "socialism or barbarism" she probably had no idea about global warming and ecological catastrophe --- but --- she was so goddam prescient!)
Again -- sorry for stating the obvious ...
On Mon, Jan 16, 2023 at 08:31 AM, Michael Meeropol wrote:
But I continue to cling (maybe this is just being in "la la land") to the view that the various currents on "our side" have much more in common than in division -- and this is certainly true in the United States which is becoming the center of what I consider a world-wide fascist movement that by destroying whatever vestiges of "bourgeois democracy" existThe indulgence of the social-democratic left is hardly in the interests of workers. Such indulgence has in part contributed to the existence of the current situation of the left. Here in Toronto I tried to bring up issues that for me have been important in my experiences as a worker and citizen--only to be ridiculed or ignored. Gandall's reference on this site to the ethics of collective bargaining--whether it is fair or not--as a non-issue exemplifies the refusal to take seriously such issues.
This does not mean that there cannot be coordination between leftists and social democrats on certain issues; there is a qualitative difference between social democrats and more right-wing individuals and groups. However, unless there is an independent position that expresses the class interests of workers, there will be no adequate solution to the problems which workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants.
And one aspect of that class interest is the recognition of the limits of collective bargaining. Of course, there are other aspects, and these must be worked out along different lines.
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YES, I do agree with Fred that in as many ways as possible, exposing the fact that most reforms are NOT ENOUGH is important ---
I guess where we might differ is that I am perhaps more sanguine about the VALUE of even "baby-step" reforms --- both for the obvious benefit to people (case in point --- expanded unemployment compensation in the US when the pandemic hit made a TREMENDOUS difference in the real life experiences of millions of American workers --- which is why the right wing wanted so desperately to END it ... and their success in ending it is an important marker for people about the betrayal of what we might call "corporate" Democrats --- and especially Synema and Manchin ) --- AND --- I think this is also important --- for the demonstration that if "we" struggle for something important sometimes (not all the time) we can actually win "something" ---
(and the only time I have been in a unionized bargaining unit [PSC of the City University of NY only for four years] our leadership was locked in a long term struggle with Cuomo and the State Legislature about the terrible underfunding of CUNY and refusal to bargain in good faith .... so I have been fairly peripheral -- and also supportive of the union leadership's efforts ---- my political issues have always been at the local and national election (and for my personal life, "educational") level ...)
On Tue, Jan 17, 2023 at 7:26 AM Frederick Harris <arbeit67@...> wrote:
On Mon, Jan 16, 2023 at 08:31 AM, Michael Meeropol wrote:
On Tue, Jan 17, 2023 at 08:43 AM, Michael Meeropol wrote:
I guess where we might differ is that I am perhaps more sanguine about the VALUE of even "baby-step" reforms --- both for the obvious benefit to people (case in point --- expanded unemployment compensation in the US when the pandemic hit made a TREMENDOUS difference in the real life experiences of millions of American workers --- which is why the right wing wanted so desperately to END it ... and their success in ending it is an important marker for people about the betrayal of what we might call "corporate" Democrats --- and especially Synema and Manchin ) --- AND --- I think this is also important --- for the demonstration that if "we" struggle for something important sometimes (not all the time) we can actually win "something" ---The issue of "baby steps" and "we can actually win something" leaves wide open the capitalist state--and social reformers--to co-opt the movement. The issue has to do with the nature of external aims or internal aims, an issue that the philosopher of education John Dewey addressed.
Let us look at John Dewey's view of the nature of aims to see the difference between an internal aim (what Dewey called a good aim) that incorporates the future in the present and an external aim that has little relation to the present. From Democracy and Education (2004). Let us begin with his characterization of a good aim:
Isolated acts that "win something" or are "baby steps," unless they are tied to the larger goal of abolishing the class power of employers, are external aims--they do not contribute to that goal. The people who perform such "baby steps" may feel that they have won something--and they have: reforms. But reforms hardly need lead to the abolition of the class power of employers.
Another analogy. A set of points do not make a line--there lacks a unity in direction. It is unity in direction that characterizes a set of points as a line. Each baby step, unless it is linked to the goal of the abolition of the class power of employers, has no direction other than itself.
Furthermore, unless the goal is used to organize present activities, it is unlikely to be achieved. Baby steps and "winning something" hardly need be linked to the goal of abolishing the class power of employers. And yet divorced from such a goal, they will not be factors in reaching that goal.
Engaging in collective bargaining without aiming at demonstrating its limtiations is reformist and will lead nowhere except--more reformist collective bargaining at best, and neoliberal attempts to abolish collective bargaining at worst.
It is better to aim explicitly for the abolition of the class power of employers and use that aim to organize present activities.