Category Archives: Analysis

The Marxist analysis of women’s oppression

First published in Socialist Action newspaper, August 14, 2014.

By CHRISTINE MARIE

Review of Lise Vogel, “Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory” (Leiden: Brill Academic Books, 2013; Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013).

In the late 1960s, more feminist theorists than not assumed that Marxism offered the main analytical tools necessary to understand women’s oppression and, in turn, to chart the strategic course to its elimination.

At the center of their theoretical efforts was the “domestic labor debate.” This debate opened with the publication of a 1969 article by Margaret Benston, titled, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation.” The work that women performed within the household became a subject of analysis; this work was understood as “productive,” necessary for the reproduction of capitalist society as a whole.

For the next 10 years, feminists who were socialists began studies to fully theorize domestic labor as an integral part of the capitalist mode of production. As Susan Ferguson and David McNally write in their introduction to the new publication of Lise Vogel’s 1983 text, “Marxism and Oppression of Women,” in dozens of journals they “probed Marxist concepts of use value and exchange value, labour-power, and class for what these might reveal about the political-economic significance” of household work.

In the main, the debate hung up on a few central questions: What kind of value does domestic labor produce? Is it the kind of value produced by workers in capitalist production, i.e. surplus value? If not, and if, according to Marxist theory, domestic labor is not central to the workings of capital in the same way that the work in an auto plant or steel mill is, does this mean that Marxism by its very nature is incapable of providing the central framework for understanding the oppression of women?

There were three main responses to this question. By far the most influential one was “yes.” The most famous articulation of that position in the United States was Heidi Hartmann’s “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism,” which launched what became known as the dual systems approach, a thesis that posited that capitalism and patriarchy merely functioned alongside each other. Over time, patriarchy began to be treated primarily as the realm of ideology, creating space for non-materialist post-structuralist approaches to women’s oppression.

Other debate participants like Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Sylvia James responded by questioning the weight that Marxist theory placed on surplus value and the strategic approach that flowed from this weight. Contemporary autonomist Marxists who work within this general theoretical approach charted by Dalla Costa and James, such as Sylvia Federici, elevate the social power of unwaged labor and see it as central to the overthrow of capitalist society.

The third major grouping of responses was expressed by individual Marxist feminists who insisted on the strategic importance of waged labor, and remained optimistic about the possibility of Marxist theoretical advances that would more adequately explain women’s oppression. These voices, however, were generally lost in the great void created by the waning of the mass feminist movement that nurtured previous such theoretical work, and a corresponding lack of attention from within the socialist movement.

One of those voices, that of Lise Vogel, has recently been given the attention she deserves. A new version of “Marxism and Women’s Oppression,” updated with essays by Vogel from the 1990s, has recently been issued in hardcover by the academic publishing house of Brill and in paperback by Haymarket Press. The re-publication of Vogel’s book is both reaction and stimulus. The current crisis of capitalism—characterized by the most extreme attacks on the social wage, an increasing awareness of the role of women in global capitalist production, and an ever more obvious shift in the way that the reproduction of labor is organized in the United States—has created a new sense of urgency regarding such theoretical work. The rediscovery of Vogel by sections of the socialist movement, in turn, has provided a basic foundation on which Marxist feminist theoretical work can more easily begin again.

Vogel’s book is divided into four sections. Part One reviews the theoretical debates that took place during the second wave of feminism (ca. the 1970s) in a kind of chronological and thematic organization, summarizing critiques of Juliet Mitchell’s iconic work “Women: The Longest Revolution,” Margaret Benston’s “What Defines Women?,” Peggy Morton’s “Women’s Work is Never Done, or: The Production, Maintenance and Reproduction of Labor Power,” Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “Women and the Subversion of the Community,” and the work of Nancy Holstrom and Maxine Molyneux.

She also notes the contributions and weaknesses of radical feminists such as Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millet. She argues that the work of this period accomplished several important things. It firmly established the project of analyzing women’s oppression as having a material, and not just political or ideological root. Secondly, they exposed how inadequate were economic determinist approaches by highlighting the psychological and ideological factors enacted in the family.

In the end, while most were certain that the concept of “reproduction” linked women’s oppression to the Marxist analysis of production, a truly unitary theory that embedded women’s oppression in Marxist theory of capitalist production remained undeveloped.

Part Two focuses on the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels over time and in their historical context. She easily dismisses facile or dishonest mis-readings of the two giants of socialist thought and traces the development of their thought on this question, but does not hesitate to pinpoint moments when the thoughts of Marx and Engels on the place of woman in class society is incomplete or contradictory.

Vogel reviews the theoretical importance of both Marx’s “Capital” and Engels’ “Origin of the Family Private Property and the State,” but devotes a considerable amount of space to some of the inconsistencies of the latter owing to Engels’ rush to get out a materialist rebuttal to August Bebel’s “Women and Socialism.” Marx’s work in “Capital” on social reproduction, which becomes the anchor of her own theoretical work, she finds especially suggestive and useful for the coming effort construct unitary theory.

In Part Three, Vogel shows how the weaknesses of Bebel’s 1879 work, stemming from his incorporation of some of the ideas of Utopian socialist Charles Fourier and liberal individualism, led to great confusion in the era of the Second International. Then, as in the 1970s, the “woman question” and the class question were treated more often than not as parallel rather than intertwined phenomenon in capitalist society. The Bolsheviks attempted to correct these reformist tendencies, as they did other errors of the German social democracy, but their theoretical work was shaped by the crisis and challenges of their specific historical moment.

Vogel concludes this section by stating, “In the long run, the experience of the Russian Revolution raised at least as many questions about the relation of women’s oppression to socialist transformation as it answered. … history had posed a specific woman-question, distinct from those thrust forward by capitalist relations of production.” Unfortunately, Vogel suggests, the more advanced positions of Clara Zetkin and Lenin on the root of women’s oppression failed to make a lasting impression on the Left as a whole, and the weak legacy of the Second International remained dominant.

The basis for continuing to advance Marxist theoretical work on women’s oppression, Vogel argues, is stepping beyond the bounds of the domestic labor debate as it unfolded during the 1960s and 1970s. To begin, she says, we first have to look at Marx’s Capital and the notions of labor-power and the reproduction of labor power. From the theoretical point of view, the reproduction of labor power is not invariably associated with private kin-based households, as the old domestic labor debate assumed.

Child rearing and the private care of workers in families is only one way that capitalism organizes the reproduction of labor power. At certain moments, for example, capitalism can choose to import immigrant labor, enslave them, house them in barracks, work them to death and import more, etc.

The system of using a kin-based unit to reproduce labor power is clearly advantageous as it has been normative at moments of capitalist stability. At the same time, the countervailing tendency of capitalism to reduce necessary labor in favor of surplus labor is always at play. In our own time, the reduction of domestic labor through technological means offers capitalists the hope that profit-making can increase.

If these theoretical assertions about capitalism provide at least some of the tools with which we begin to do concrete historical investigation and contemporary economic exploration, Vogel argues, we will be back on the route toward a unitary theory of Marxism and women’s oppression. All people who are striving for social change should take advantage of the road map created by this pioneer of Marxist feminist thought.

Report: Cop Racism in Thunder Bay, Ontario is “institutional”

The widely held view that police have racist attitudes towards Indigenous people was confirmed by Ontario’s independent police watchdog following a two-year investigation. A searing 200-plus-page report by police review director Gerry McNeilly states that systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service “at an institutional level.” It says that police in the city on the north shore of Lake Superior did not carry out proper investigations of dozens of Indigenous deaths that occurred under suspicious circumstances because of deep-seated racism. The implication is that police mistreatment of Indigenous people is commonplace.

The commercial media cites McNeilly’s report as a wake-up call to police across the province and beyond, especially in cities like Winnipeg, Manitoba and Regina, Saskatchewan, which have large Indigenous populations. The report, titled “Broken Trust”, comes on the heels of another study, released in early December, that found Black people were “grossly over represented” in incidents between 2003 and 2017 where Toronto cops used force, resulting in injury or death.

The liberal elite is worried more about the loss of cop credibility — loss of “Trust” — than about achieving justice for Indigenous people, for all racialized minorities, and for the working class. The naming of a new police chief in Thunder Bay, and the hiring of the first Indigenous chair of the city’s Police Services Board, are not going to reverse centuries of dispossession and marginalization. That’s where racism is rooted. Instead of agitating for pipelines, if politicians wanted meaningful change they would attack poverty and target obscene concentrations of corporate wealth.

They would join socialists in demanding: Restitution before Reconciliation.

What are the chances?

– BW

Ottawa caters to Trump’s anti-China campaign

by Barry Weisleder

What does the arrest in Vancouver of a senior executive with China’s tech giant Huawei, have to do with the “rule of law”? Precious little. What does it have to do with enforcing Washington’s illegal trade embargo of Iran? A bit more.

Meng is accused of committing fraud as part of a scheme to violate United States trade sanctions against Iran. She was arrested when she passed through Vancouver on her way to Mexico. U.S. officials want Ottawa to extradite her. Awaiting a decision by a Canadian judge, Meng is out on $10 million bail. The extradition procedure could take months, even years. Meanwhile, China detained three Canadians, two of them (ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor) on dubious charges of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China. No less dubious is the American agenda. U.S. President Trump openly linked the fate of Meng to winning a better trade deal with Beijing.

Washington’s efforts to punish Huawei for trading with Iran are in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 that calls on all countries to drop sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 treaty aimed at limiting Iran from developing nuclear weapons – a treaty praised globally for reducing the risk of nuclear war.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau restored relations with Iran, and lifted economic sanctions in February 2016, overturning the policy of the previous Stephen Harper-led Conservative government. So, why knuckle under now to Trump’s rogue policy? There is no obligation in law to extradite Meng. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is blowing smoke when she claims that Canada is upholding the rule of law. It is a political decision, not a strictly legal one. And the politics cleave to imperialist ambitions to control the oil fields of the Middle East and Iran, regardless the character of the government in Tehran.

Bottom line: Should Ottawa back Trump’s bid to block Huawei from U.S. and other markets where it is making headway against American tech giants?

The answer is a resounding No. The working class has nothing to gain by backing any capitalist power against another. To that end, Labour, the NDP and all workers’ organizations should demand an end to Ottawa catering to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia, and beyond. The release of Meng will likely bring the detained Canadians home. It won’t quell Trump’s simmering trade war with China, but at least there would be one less state accomplice.

Huawei and Military Power

by Gary Porter

Huawei is the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, recently passing Apple. The Chinese company sells over 10 per cent of the world’s smartphones. Yet its devices are effectively banned from sale in the United States due to suspicion of Chinese state involvement in the running of the company, and ties to China’s military that go right back to Huawei’s inception.

Would you be safe buying a Huawei phone? The quality of its tech is certainly compelling. The Huawei P20 Pro, for example, is widely considered to be the best camera phone on the market. But U.S. consumers may never get to own one.

China’s military is an important Huawei customer. It serves as the company’s political patron and R&D partner, according to Timothy Heath of the Rand Corporation.

“Huawei continues to receive contracts from the Chinese military to develop dual use communications technologies. In particular, it is helping develop 5G networks with military applications in mind”, Heath asserts.

Of course, exactly the same thing happens in the U.S. Telecom manufacturers collaborate with the U.S. military and spy agencies to enhance digital spying, military communications, command and control and cyber war applications. The U.S. is determined to maintain its hegemony, against this powerful and highly competent Chinese competitor.

To put it another way, the United States insists on being the one entity that spies on your entire life and does not want to share that capacity with powerful trade and military competitors like China.

Are Huawei devices safe from surveillance? Probably not. Are U.S. companies’ devices safe from surveillance? Definitely not. So my next phone will be a Huawei P20 Pro. If I am going to be spied upon anyway, why not get the best phone? Helping American imperialism maintain technical dominance is just not in my interest.

Photo: Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei

Marxism and the Social Reproduction of Labor Exploring the roots of women’s oppression

By Lisa Luinenburg

When I became a mother four years ago, I began to feel my oppression as a woman in capitalist society more acutely. All of the endless demands on my time began to add up—the sleepless nights, the feedings, childcare, cooking, housework, errands and laundry around the clock. And then there were the demands at work—no paid maternity leave, the pressure to go back to work as soon as possible after giving birth, pumping in a bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and I love being a mother, but I began to think deeper. Have women always been oppressed? Where does my oppression as a woman stem from? And isn’t there a better way to do things that spreads out all the work that women do more evenly?

The book that has ultimately helped me the most to understand my own oppression as a woman is Marxism and Women’s Oppression by Lise Vogel. Originally written in 1983 and since updated, the book gives a comprehensive overview of the evolution of socialist feminist theory since the time of Marx and Engels. It delves into the debates between radical and socialist feminists in the 1960s and 1970s and ultimately offers a detailed explanation of a socialist feminist way of understanding women’s oppression—social reproduction theory. I would urge anyone who is interested in the subject to give Vogel’s book a close read for a deeper understanding of this important subject.

Before we delve into the origins of women’s oppression, let’s dispel a central myth in our society—that women have ALWAYS been oppressed. This viewpoint claims that women’s subordination is inevitable because it is a function of their biology or psychology. Eleanor Burke Leacock, a feminist anthropologist and Marxist wrote Myths of Male Dominance in 1981 and debunked this myth. Her research showed that male dominance results from the effects of colonization and participation in market relations in societies that were previously egalitarian, from developing inequality in societies where specialization of labor and production for exchange is undercutting the collective economy, and from data as viewed through a Western lens. At the same time, history shows that women have not always been oppressed. While their childbearing function has always remained the same, women’s social status has changed dramatically throughout history. The oppression of women is not rooted in our biology. The origins of women’s oppression are economic and social in character and the development of women’s oppression is intertwined with the transition from pre-class to class society.

Before the rise of class society, social production was organized communally and products shared equally, and the material basis for the exploitation of one group over another did not exist. The social status of women and men reflected the indispensable roles each played in the subsistence process, and gender and sexuality were often much more fluid categories than they are today. The change in women’s status developed along with the growing productivity of human labor based on agriculture, the domestication of animals, the rise of new divisions of labor, the private appropriation of an increasing social surplus, and the development of the possibility for some humans to prosper from the exploitation of the labor of others.

There are many different theories about the causes of women’s oppression that have been hotly debated by socialist and radical feminists since the 1960s. They have raised many questions which are not easily resolved (read Vogel for a comprehensive overview of these debates). Questions raised include: What is the nature of domestic labor? What is the purpose of the family? What is the meaning of patriarchy? Of reproduction? What is the relationship between imperialism and the family? Between sex and class oppression? Between women’s oppression and other forms of oppression (for example, racial oppression)?

Some theories, called dual systems theories, imply that women’s oppression comes from two distinct and autonomous systems, such as capitalism and patriarchy, the mode of production and the mode of reproduction, or the class system and the gender system. But these theories fail to explain how these systems are related.

On the other hand, socialist feminism starts from the assumption that there is a material root to women’s oppression, and that the family is a major terrain. Marx, Engels and other early socialist thinkers did write about the “woman-question,” but their theories were often inadequate or not fully developed and they were constrained by the social conventions and male-dominated ways of thinking of their time (read Vogel for a more in-depth analysis). At the same time, Engels made an important contribution in “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” as he closely examined the way these three institutions actually co-developed and continue to sustain each other. They are a powerful 3-legged stool on which Capitalism stands.

Social reproduction theory considers two concepts of Marx’s work as a point of departure: labor-power and the reproduction of labor power. Basically, workers sell their labor power on the market as a commodity. Labor power is realized when workers produce something with a use-value, which may or may not be exchanged. But workers also suffer wear and tear and eventually die. They must renew themselves on both a daily (individual) and long-term (societal) basis—this is the reproduction of labor power.

There are three types of processes that make up the reproduction of labor power in class societies: daily activities, the maintenance of non-laborers (for example children, the sick, and the elderly), and biological/generational replacement.

It is also important to note that the reproduction of labor power can take place in many locations, such as labor camps or barracks, and through many different processes, such as replacing laborers through slavery or immigration. However, most capitalist societies primarily reproduce labor power through kin-based family units and through biological procreation. These heterosexual family norms are most often institutionalized in class-based societies. They are constantly reinforced and made to seem like they’ve been around forever, even though (as we have seen) this is not historically the case.

Women’s special role in the biological reproduction of labor rests on a capitalist contradiction—capitalists need women to have babies to reproduce the labor pool, but when women give birth, it temporarily decreases their ability to contribute both as direct producers and in daily maintenance activities. Men also have to spend more time maintaining women during this period of time, which means they are less able to spend time producing commodities. This cuts into the capitalists’ ability to accumulate even more profits.

Although this differential division of labor that surrounds a woman’s ability to bear children need only last for a short period of time surrounding her pregnancy, most societies assign these roles a more permanent status through the family structure. Families then become the site for the performance of the daily and generational replacement routines, and are usually legitimized by male domination and backed up by institutionalized structures of female oppression. This also helps explain why heteronormative forms of the family are institutionalized. Non-normative families, such as LGBTQI families, or people who don’t fit neatly into binary gender categories, such as trans women, are less likely to be directly engaged in the social reproduction of new workers. Thus, it profits the capitalist system to exclude these people from mainstream society.

The family system is the fundamental institution of class society that determines and maintains the specific character of the oppression of women. In the upper classes, women’s oppression stems from their role in passing property along to their heirs. In the lower classes, it stems from women’s role in the reproduction of labor. Thus, women can experience oppression across all classes, although on different levels.

Let’s return to the concept of labor for a moment. There are two types of labor in capitalist society: necessary labor, and surplus labor. Necessary labor is the labor needed to renew a worker so they can continue to work the next day (this can be on an individual or societal scale). For example, cooking food, taking care of children, or preparing for the next day’s work. When workers work for their capitalist bosses, part of their work during the day is necessary work (the work they do to earn wages). Workers need wages in order to buy the products of capitalism for their personal consumption and renew their labor. The other part of their work is surplus labor. This is the extra labor they are essentially doing for free—the labor the capitalists bosses appropriate for their own profit.

Necessary labor has two parts: the social component (the part that earns wages) and the domestic component (unpaid labor in the home). The domestic labor often takes the form of additional labor needed to make commodities purchased by the worker for their consumption at home useable. For example, if you buy food, you have to cook it before you can eat it. It can also include caring for people who are not part of the labor pool, such as childcare or care for the elderly who cannot work.

Because of the contradiction in women’s roles in the reproduction of labor power and the institutionalization of the family structure, men are often primarily responsible for earning the wages, while women become primarily responsible for domestic labor. In capitalist society, the realms of productive and domestic spheres become spacially, temporally, and institutionally isolated from each other.

The capitalist bosses are always looking for ways to decrease necessary labor so they can increase their surplus labor and maximize their profits. They can do this in several ways—through longer working hours, speed ups, or increasing worker productivity. There is also a tendency to decrease domestic labor, for instance by socializing education, or obtaining even more profits through outsourcing tasks such as child care to daycare centers, or laundry to laundromats. This also helps explain the drive to privatize education to gain even more profits for the ruling class.

It is important to note here that women also play an important role in production and have often worked outside of the home (both in the present and historically). But it is through their role in the reproduction of labor that their oppression arises. Family members who are not working and are maintained by the family wage also help make up a reserve army of labor that capitalists can draw on when they need more workers. In fact, it benefits capitalists to have women as a mobile workforce they can exploit on demand, and women entering the workforce doesn’t necessarily mean that a family’s circumstances or wages will improve. For example, capitalists can use this as an excuse to pay everyone lower wages if more members of a family are working (and the lower wages have historically gone to women and children). The entry of women in the workforce has also been a controversial topic in socialist feminist debate.

So now that we understand where women’s oppression comes from, what can we do about it? Domestic labor has often been a class battleground and working people strive to win the best conditions for their personal lives and the renewal of their labor. Historically, women have been incorporated into strikes even if they are not in the workforce, for example the women’s auxiliary in the 1934 Teamster’s strike in Minneapolis. Women also played a crucial role in the recent teacher’s strikes that took the nation by storm.

Efforts to organize and expand equality can also reveal the fundamentally exploitative character of capitalism while moving everyone towards a more equal footing. Social struggle, as we all know, is essential and many things we take for granted today, such as the 8-hour day or child labor laws, were won through hard struggle by the working class. Despite the family’s base for the exploitation and oppression of women, families can also have a protective aspect for the working class—they can be centers for organizing against exploitation and provide social ties and supports to working people.

It is important to recognize here that there are democratic demands that we can fight for now that can be achieved under capitalism. Social reproduction theory provides a useful lens for us to examine social struggles that are currently occurring in a context of capitalist crisis. When capitalism is in crisis, there is an extraordinary level of pressure on women to “return” to their “traditional” role in the home. I put “return” and “traditional” in quotes because for working class women and especially women of color, not to mention women who are not heterosexual or cis-gendered, this traditional family role is pure mythology. Being full time in the family home and playing a support role for the nuclear family is not a viable option. But the ideological and physical assaults are real. There are attacks on reproductive freedom. All the services which support women in exercising full autonomy over our own bodies are on the chopping block. Abortion certainly, but also sex education and birth control. Services which help mothers maintain themselves in the workplace, such as paid maternity leave, breastfeeding supports, and low-cost quality childcare are all under attack as part of Capitalism’s offensive against women, as are social support programs targeted towards women and children, such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid. Immigrant women, whether undocumented or refugees, are doubly oppressed, as they face super low wages and deportation of the head of the family household, and are barred access to social service programs due to their immigration status.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence are part of the same offensive, a conscious ruling class campaign to “put women in their place.” African American women and women of color have faced especially brutal levels of repression in this area and experience deeper layers of oppression as women because of their race. Socialist Action has always spoken out when women are under attack. We join the chorus welcoming the #MeToo movement and we join the protests against violent misogynists in power—from Trump to Kavanaugh and beyond. But we have a lens that others lack, which helps us explain where this entitlement and violence comes from. It is the violence of the capitalist system in crisis, desperately lashing out against women’s ability and right to function in the public sphere.

Socialist Action recognizes that the oppression of women and the oppression of LGBTQIA people are intertwined and we have always supported LGBTQIA liberation struggles. We have done so because we believe that everyone has the right to be fully who they are. Here too, social reproduction theory gives us additional insight into the nature of the oppression LGBTQIA people face. The normative and central role played by the heterosexual nuclear family unit under capitalism implies additional levels of oppression for those who fail to comply. It is important to affirm everyone’s unconditional right to be who they are, and to be free from discrimination, harassment, and violence because of their sex, sexuality, or gender.

At the same time that we support all of these important social struggles, we must also recognize that a true end to women’s oppression can only be achieved through a socialist society. Socialist society will give us the freedom to re-think and re-distribute labor, which is the only way to eliminate the material root of women’s oppression. The need for domestic labor will never go away, but socialist society will allow us to socialize domestic labor under worker’s control. It is interesting to think here about what will happen to the institution of the family under socialist society. Once the material basis for women’s oppression is gone, the family will also begin to naturally shift and take on new forms and shapes.

I would like to end with a quote from Vogel’s book (page 181-182): “Historical materialism poses the difficult question of simultaneously reducing and redistributing domestic labor in the course of transforming it into an integral component of social production in communist society. Just as in the socialist transition ‘the state is not “abolished”, it withers away’, so too, domestic labor must wither away…In the process the family in its particular historical form as a kin-based social unit for the reproduction of exploitable labour-power in class-society will also wither away—and with it both patriarchal family-relations and the oppression of women.”

This text was presented at the SA Educational Conference (Toronto) on November 16, 2018.

GM shareholders get a boost. Workers get the boot.

by Gary Porter

On November 29, analysts making 12-month price forecasts for General Motors Co. projected $45.16 per share — an increase of almost 23 per cent over the current $36.76. This is great holiday news, if you are shareholder. That includes the GM Directors who receive 60 per cent of their compensation in stock options. It is critical, according to business schools, to tie the interests of your Directors to the interests of the shareholder owners. But the interests of the workers are not considered so tenderly.

The joyous forecast coincides with announced plans by the auto giant to halt production at five factories in North America and cut about 14,000 jobs in the company’s most significant restructuring since its bankruptcy and taxpayer bailout in 2008 by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama.

GM warned last summer that the trade war instigated by President Donald Trump could force job cuts in the United States. Trump was irate with GM, tweeting that he was “very disappointed” with the company and CEO Mary Barra for plans to idle plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland.

“Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get,” Trump wrote. But the Donald misses the point. Just like him, GM does what makes the most profit. It is moving to production of autonomous EV vehicles.

GM has a plan for the estimated $6 billion to be gleaned annually from the plant closures. The all-electric, fully automatic, no steering wheel, no-pedals version of The Bolt is supposed to be on public highways by 2019.

However, what the world really needs is non-polluting buses, street cars, trains and ships. Mass public transportation and shipping. Left to private, profit-motivated companies, the massive waste embodied in private cars will continue. GM makes more money that way. The only way to get the efficient public transportation systems we need is to nationalize the vehicle business and retool the existing hi-tech, modern plants. That way workers can be retrained, not scrapped. Workers know everything about building cars. They can manage the factories. The owners’ skill is in siphoning off profits and spiriting them away to low tax havens. We simply do not need that skill. Let’s throw the bosses on the scrap heap.

GM, over its history, has a long, very shabby, anti social record. It has been a leader in some pretty bad causes. They include: the fight against regulations to enforce auto safety for consumers, the battle against safety for its employees, and against environmental safety for the human race. GM led the resistance to greater fuel efficiency laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses emitted from engine exhaust pipes. Generations ago GM led a consortium that bought street car lines, ripped out the tracks, set up bus systems and sold them. It also bought the rights to an electric car and stifled it decades ago. GM, quite simply, is a capitalist corporation that operates exclusively for private profit. It has committed crime after crime to that end.

Under capitalism, the doctrine of individual ‘liberty’ asserts the absolute right of capitalists to make ‘free’ decisions about their property, entirely in their own interests, even when it throws thousands out of work, leaves children without support, and causes the collapse of whole communities. Their liberty is simply imposed on workers and their families without their consent.

What about our ‘liberty’ as workers? Up to November 27, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers conducted rotating strikes against Canada Post, a Crown Corporation, opposing management-imposed speed up, compulsory overtime and pay discrimination against rural, mostly female mail carriers. The Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau and the ‘opposition’ Conservative Party worked smoothly together to violate the workers’ ‘liberty’ to withdraw their labour, their right to free collective bargaining, including the right to strike, and ordered the workers to end their job actions or face stiff fines.

Bosses can impoverish thousands of workers, but workers can’t even slow down the mail, including the packages shipped by brutally low-wage employers like Amazon. Only the labour-based New Democratic Party spoke loudly against the move. NDP MPs walked out of the House of Commons in protest. So much for workers’ ‘liberty’.

The Conservative government in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, under Premier Doug Ford, a hard-right winger and scion of a rich family, has moved quickly since June 7 when it was elected. His Progressive Conservative Party attained 61% of the seats with only 40.5% of the votes cast in the first-past-the-post electoral system. The voter turnout was only 58 per cent.

Ford has stripped many rights and statutory benefits from Ontario workers, cancelled the planned increase to a $15/hour minimum wage, cut welfare increases and made disability benefits harder to obtain. Under his slogan “Ontario is Open for Business” he is forcing workers to labour under deteriorating wages, benefits and working conditions, fostering a level of desperation most convenient for the Walmart and Amazon tycoons. He seems to think he has every right to destroy the hard-won gains of workers.

But he says he can do nothing about the GM plant closures and accuses federal politicians and union leaders of peddling false hope to the workers.

UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union with 315,000 members, represents about 25,000 autoworkers including the 2,500 in the GM Oshawa plant. Jerry Dias, UNIFOR President, demands that Trump and Trudeau impose a 40 per cent tariff on GM cars made in Mexico. His line is to support his Canadian members by imposing cuts on the lower paid Mexican workers. A spokesman for Trudeau said Dias’ proposal was not discussed with Trump.

Dias also says he may urge a mass autoworker walkout from all Canadian and US plants, but a United Auto Workers union spokesman in the US says his union has no such plans. Actually, a walkout is an excellent idea. But the American labour brass is even more ossified that its Canadian counterpart. The UAW still supports the capitalist Democratic Party instead of setting up an independent labour-based political party like the NDP, which the Canadian union bureaucrats dominate (although Dias and UNIFOR have backed the Liberal Party of late, with bitter results).

Dias’ proposals simply have no weight unless he gets the backing of the workers themselves. The leaders of UNIFOR like to parade as the workers’ saviours. This highly paid, privileged layer of union bureaucrats can make a big noise; however, they bargained away hard-won worker gains like equal pay and good pensions. They accept the so-called rights of the owners to do as they please and fear the power of a mobilized union rank and file.

In the end, it is only the mobilized rank and file that can force action by GM and by the capitalist politicians. Mobilizing the mass power of the auto workers and of other unions in solidarity can bring home the point that workers together can stop production, choke profits, and force boss concessions — instead of making concessions themselves.

 

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