Posts Tagged ‘history’

Notes on Panitch and Swartz From Consent to Coercion

From Consent to Coercion: The Assault on Trade Union Freedoms originally published in 1985 and with this third edition published in 2003 is essentially reading in the study of labour in Canada. The book traces the history of free collective bargaining in Canada, from its origins in 1944 (Privy Council Order ___ ), through the era of the Fordist accord, and through the period of neoliberalism and monetarism. ‘Free collective bargaining’ is the ability for a group of workers to as a group negotiate the terms of their work with their employer without fear of repression or coercion (e.g. being jailed, beaten-up, fired, etc.). The authors caution on the use of the word ‘free’:

The use of the word free does have a crucial double meaning. It suggests that a balance of power exists between capital and labour, that they face each other as equals, otherwise any bargain struck could scarcely be viewed as one which was freely achieved. It also suggests that the state’s role is akin to that of an umpire who works to be involved in applying, interpreting, and adjusting impartial rules. In the case of the first meaning, the structural inequality between capital and labour is obscured; in the second, the use of the state’s coercive powers on behalf of capital falls from view. (13) (more…)

T.H. Marshall, the welfare state, and citizenship

A theme in the readings from the first week of the class called “Critical Perspectives on Citizenship” was the ideas of T.H. Marshall. Basically, Marshall describes the welfare state as having come out of a progression of rights, starting with civil rights (to own property, equal treatment under the law, etc.) in the 18th century, then political rights (to vote, run for office, etc.) in the 18th century, and finally social rights (the right to demand certain provisions from government, i.e. welfare) in the 20th century. The climax of this progression is what Marshall calls ’social citizenship,’

Marshall can be situated/explained in part by looking at the time at which he was writing, the post war era, when the UN, human rights, bigger social programs in Europe and other places, etc. were all at their apex. In the last 20 years neoliberal ideology has taken over, with a corresponding decline in the rights associated with social citizenship, namely the right to the collective provision of a certain level of basic needs. Janine Brodie in ‘The Social in Citizenship’ (ch. 2 of a book called __),  describes how Marshall’s description of ‘the social’ as only reaching existence /importance in the 20th century is false. Rather the social, or rather “social problems” really came into existence in the 19th century as fissures in society opened up due to the explosion of capitalism and the “industrial revolution,” creating a poor class (=lumpenproletariat?). This process is described most well/famously by two thinkers, one of whom I am already very fond of, and the other I am coming to appreciate immensely: Karl Polanyi and Michel Foucault.

So, the neoliberal destruction of ’social citizenship,’ through the so-called ‘hand up vs hand out’ approach (also called entrepreneurial citizenship) applies market values to all social institutions and actions, creating a situation where, “citizens are released from social entitlements and obligations as they maximize their choice and capacities for self-sufficiency.” (41) Neoliberals do this in a number of basically sneaky ways, culminating in the goal of “individualization.” Individualization, “places steeply rising demands on people to find personal causes and responses to what are, in effect, collective social problems.” Thereby, “responsibility for social crises that find their genesis in such macro processes as structural unemployment, racism, or unequal gender orders is put onto the shoulders of individuals.” (41)

So, and this is basically what Polanyi describes, the neo/liberals and neoconservatives are attempting to subordinate the social to the economic, a task that is, in my opinion and Polanyi’s (at least), doomed to eventual failure.

Thats it on this for now.

The Life and Political Times of Tommy Douglas

Here is a biography of “Canada’s Greatest Canadian.” The fact that Tommy was voted ( albeit, i assume, by a biased pool of CBC listeners) best Canadian, gives me hope in the face of the other group of Canadians–the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who vote for Stephen Harper. But the real value of this book is that, as the title suggest, it situates T.D. in the context of the various major political events and issues during his long political carreer. From the Great Depression and support for food relief and labour efforts, to early condemnation of Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act, the book shows how T.D., while he had his faults, was generally ahead of the curve.

Douglas’s unflinching committment to making political decisions based on moral and ethical factors (i.e. the wellbeing of his fellow men and women) is an inspiration to me, as a young person interested in politics, but repulsed by the pettyness of party politics, and the lack of moral leadership/righteousness displayed by our ’socialist’ party, the NDP.

Another communist interpretation of Roosevelt’s New Deal…

From The Worker August 1933. The blue eagle represents Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act, I assume the gear is the “wheels of industry” or something like that. The communists in the 1930s were very aware of the potential for a declaration of war by capitalist countries against the Soviet Union, as a way for the capitalist countries to deal with their economic depression and the “red menace.” (On a side note, the USSR aparently did very well during the 30s, experiencing massive growth and near zero unemployment.) Thus, the increased military spending that apparently was part of the new deal plan was seen by the communists as part of the general pro-military, pro-fascist, i.e. anti-communist, trend at the time, hence this cartoon showing the blue eagle turning into a swastika….


On the New Deal, a 1930s communist perspective. Rings surprisingly true

An article from The Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC), from July 1933. There is a lot of talk these days about the New Deal, and Obama’s stimulus pacakge, and Harper’s as well. The media seems to me to represent the New Deal as a very progressive or even socialist moment in American history, when massive social programs and spending were brought in to relieve unemployment and class divisions. This may be true, I don’t really know. But, this article, by American communist leader Earl Browder, at least offers a different perspective on the New Deal, albeit from 1933 shortly after it was brought in. Perhaps I will find more articles from later dates to see how it was perceived by the CPC later on.

Browder argues, among other things, that the New Deal is essentially a plan to give (or continue) tax breaks and public money (in the form of loans) to the leaders of finance and owners of capital, and shift the burdenof the depression to the middle and lower classes. Sound familiar?? Corporate bailout anyone??

Hilarious excerpt from The Worker, June 1934


The above text describes part of women in an incident at a mine near Stellarton, Nova Scotia. A group of miners was trying to break away from their old union (the United Mine Workers of America) and reaffiliate with the Amalgamated Mine Workers of Nova Scotia (AMW), a more millitant union associated with the Workers Unity League, a centre of communist labour unions in Canada. Both the UMWA and the AMW had been striking to protest a pay cut proposed (or forced) by the coal mine owners. The UMWA accepted the pay cut fairly easily, while the AMW continued to strike to fight it. As a result, the UMWA allied with the owners to attempt to break the AMW and force its members to join the UMWA, which (falsely) claimed to represent the majority of the workers. So, the owners bar the AMW men from working, and as a result the AMW men picket the mine, to stop what UMWA men as are willing from going down the mine. Of course, the RCMP show up to escort the scabbers down the mine (only 12 were willing to scab). Anyhow, the above snipit picks up what happened when the scabbers came up from the mine. Esentially the wives of the AMW men jump them and beat them up, etc. Murdock Wilson, refered to in the clip, is actually one of the AMW leaders, meaning the women were so angry that even the leader of the union they were supporting couldn’t reign in their fury….

A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn


I recently finished  A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn, which is a graphic novel adaptation of part of his larger book A People’s History of the United States. The book covers the history of American “adventures,” from the indian wars and the American domination of the continent marked by the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 to the invasion of Iraq and Afganistan following 9/11. One general comment of mine is that I was surprised to learn that American corporations had been for so long tied into American imperialism and general warmongering. For example, the invasions of the Phillipines and Cuba in 1898 were encouraged by american business interests…

This book to me reinforces the value of “people’s history,” which I would define as the telling of history through the actions of average people acting in extraordinary ways against state or military power. As opposed to conventional history, which seeks to make forgotten the stories of the people who were there on the ground. Lately, in my studies of the Canadian working class during the years 1930-36, I have been amazed by how little I (and presumably that average person) know about what actually happened to average people during this time. Or more so, shocked by the incompassionate, selfish, violent, and occasionally murderous actions of the political class and their main weapon, the RCMP.