What's Left 2016-03-20 Volume 50

Our 50th edition of What's Left this Week: Resource allocation and building worker power; Universities outsourcing to lower wages; Mass surveillance Canadian Style; Attacks on the Workers' Party of Brazil; and Corbyn's Labour Party, the media and polling.

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Resource allocation and building worker power

Union organizing is a process workers undertake to come together, sometimes under adversarial conditions, and bring positive, meaningful change to their workplace. Since this process is resource-intensive, organizing constantly competes for the limited resources unions have at their disposal, and this can cause conflict when approached only as a revenue generating growth strategy. Unions often apply unsophisticated “return-on-investment” models to their organizing with the hope that any money invested will be returned as part of future dues from new members. This model can lead to organizing efforts that tend to skip steps and take short-cuts to speed up the process.

This business unionism model ignores the realities of the organizing process and its methods which require a concerted effort to talk to every single worker and increase collective awareness within the workplace and community. Anything short of this effort (which often entails thousands of hours of one-on-one conversations) may yield short-term gains, but builds unstable foundations.


Building worker power: an essential goal, not an unattainable ideal.

The gap between the ideal of organizing workers and the real experiences of organizing under restrictive labour legislation and employer interference can be substantial. These constraints on the process of democratic organizing often lead to an ever increasingly complex set of challenges to overcome during a single union drive. These struggles manifest themselves in the planning stages as organizers try to plan for every possibility upfront.

However, in the majority of cases the most effective strategy for developing local worker power is inherently uncomplicated. It can happen within a single shift, department, or lunch room. Building a union means first, taking on your own boss, not the government’s policies and all the forces of capitalism. Winning in these cases is measured in the ability to shift who has the power to make decisions and how, especially at the local level. Most organizing efforts can avoid much of the overbearing complexities of modern unionism by focusing on the expression of that power.


Organizing requires as much independence from short-term institutional political priorities as possible.

Unions are inherently political organizations, both internally and externally. As such, resource-allocation is often based on current short-term political priorities. However, for organizing to be successful, resources and macro-level planning cannot be short-term. Like any investment, the temporal aspect of organizing means focusing on immediate financial and political measures that often undermine long-term success. The challenge with considering organizing targets as political prizes is that they may not be considered a priority long enough to yield positive results. If building a sustained, structured and disciplined organizing program, this organizing must be given political cover and requires leadership to understand the process as well as the careful balance of the many factors at stake.

Building an organizing program requires money but, just as important, it requires a structure that facilitates conditions in which organizing can be successful beyond a single department or community.


Organizing works best when strategy development is put into the hands of workers.

“Strategic” is the recent buzz word that, when included in a sentence, seeks to rhetorically raise the level of conversation about organizing: we’re not just organizing, we’re organizing “strategically”. It hints to higher thinking, to analysis, and to a plan put together and implemented by other people who are good at doing those things. Strategic something sounds better than unstrategic anything.

The problem is that even if a comprehensive strategy is developed, that is not the same thing as being ready – it is possible to over-think organizing. Further, strategy means nothing if it isn’t based on a solid foundation of facts and an understanding of those facts and the strategy by the workers who are in the process of unionizing.


Over-planning without correct information and/or based on generalizations is neither strategic nor productive.

If the “strategic” organizing plan for a drive is not articulated, understood, or brought forward by those most concerned by the outcome (the workers), then it will be very hard to have those very same people actualize the strength of their own collective power. The drive becomes institutional manoeuvring.

Only by helping workers to reach their collective potential can we build a movement where they are empowered in their workplace, community, and the larger movement.

So, while we all like thinking about organizing, talking about organizing, wishing for organizing, hoping for organizing, and being “strategic” about organizing, it all comes down to doing the actual work required to develop worker understanding, and through that understand, worker power.



Universities outsourcing to lower wages

Ontario universities have some rather nasty folks in their administrations. At both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Toronto, CUPE members have been told that the administrations are intent on replacing custodians making roughly $18/hour with those making minimum wage (a poverty wage in Toronto) just to save 0.3% of their budget. This is at a time when the University of Toronto is bringing in over $200 million more each year than it spends.

The policy driving these decisions comes from the Ontario Liberal Government, which has forced universities to restructure their budgets so they act like bankrupt companies instead of the stable public institutions they are. The new budgeting process targets all those providing services that do not bring in direct revenue. The anti-worker policy ignores the fact that these are critical services (cleaning, maintenance, safety, IT, teaching) and are necessary in order to have a high quality, functioning university.

Universities in Ontario already have extreme levels of income inequality with administrators paying themselves some of the highest wages in the public sector – U of T’s president made $351,748 and its “asset manager” made $772,547 in 2014. The drive to continue cutting the wages of those making the least shows just how far the Wynne government is willing to go to erode the quality of our public institutions – and how easy it is for her to find willing administrators make this vision a reality.

Take Action: Sign the petition Help us to defend good jobs at Laurier

Take Action: Petitioning President University of Toronto Meric Gertler

Universities should create decent jobs, not eliminate them | What’s Left

Mass surveillance Canadian Style

Michael Harris (of generally disappointing iPolitics) has a great analysis of the federal Liberal’s take on surveillance and Bill C-51. While the previous Conservative government’s Big Brother policies were well known because of their regular and principled disregard of Charter freedoms, the Liberal’s take is a bit less principled. It seems the Liberals like to waffle a lot when it comes to just which oppressive state apparatus should act responsibly.

Canadians aren’t up for mass surveillance



Attacks on the Workers’ Party of Brazil

Mainstream reporting on the right-wing attack on Lula and the Workers’ Party of Brazil continues to ignore many of the political realities on the ground. The corruption probe within the state oil company is being used by the Brazilian elite to attack the foundations of the Social Democratic government.

In response, union leaders of Brasil started a petition to defend Lula with trade unions from around the world. The European Public Sector Union’s General Secretary has also expressed his direct support for progressive forces within the country trying to expose the truth behind the coordinated attack.

Unionists around the world can promote the petition “In Lula’s defense, symbol of struggle and social inclusion” for signature collection and send support to the president of the Brazilian trade union central CUT or shares support messages using the hashtag: #LulaValeALuta

Sindicalismo manifesta solidariedade a Lula (in Portuguese)

Letter from the CUT on the action #LulaValeALuta

Corbyn’s Labour Party, the media and polling

Reading UK newspapers since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK’s Labour Party, you would think that the party has collapsed in general support. In fact, all major news organizations in the UK have taken a similar approach, ignoring the leader of the opposition to an irresponsible degree (for example, ignoring Corbyn’s response to the recent budget and instead focussing on the opinions of unelected think-tanks). Or, if it’s a slow news day, they may just spend their time deriding Corbyn as unelectable.

However, in spite of this constant negative press, regular polling show that the Labour Party continues to have the same support under Corbyn’s leadership as in previous years. After another round of deep budget cuts by the Conservatives, polling showed a substantial jump in opinion with Labour now neck and neck with the Tories.

Of particular interest with these polls, Labour lost much of its support in Scotland during the last election when the anti-austerity Scottish National Party swept the region. However, the results of these recent polls show that, with Labour now competitive nationally, the party’s support may now be higher outside of Scotland than it has been in recent history. In addition, Corbyn continues to be one of the most supported Labour leaders ever from within the party. The take-home message is, as many watching the Sanders race south of us understand, not everything the corporate press writes should be believed when it concerns those who take principled positions supporting working people.

Opinion polling for the next United Kingdom general election




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