Archives for posts with tag: Labour

I am a Canadian. This means that I get the first Monday of September off to have one last barbecue of the summer. In theory, I get this day off because the labour movement is something to commemorate, equal in its importance to families and to the birthday of the last British monarch of the 19th century. They just laboured so hard, so the government rewarded workers with a day off just to be nice. But why is it in September? Was Jim Labour, the founder of the movement, born ambiguously at the beginning of September? Is it to give children one last day of freedom before school starts and isn’t actually associated with labour at all? Most countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, celebrate their Labour day (International Workers’ day) on or around May 1st. So what is North America’s deal?

Nothing shows international worker solidarity like pitting workers against each other, rather than holding accountable the company outsourcing to the cheapest labour standards possible. Why promote workers on Labour day when xenophobic misunderstandings of the decline of manufacturing is an option?

The biggest irony is that International Workers day has its roots in the labour movement of the United States, even though they would spell it differently. Labour day in both Canada and the US was originally commemorated in the spring as well, but was moved to September. It began as an acknowledgement of the Haymarket affair when union strikers were fighting for an eight hour work day, down from around 10 to 16 hours or so. Starting on May 1st, 1886, Chicago union workers began what was to be a lengthy peaceful protest. On May 3rd, the police opened fire on the protesters for no documented reason. May 4th, the strikers thought that maybe police brutality was a bad thing, and decided to protest that too. The mayor of Chicago at the time went to observe the protest, and confirmed that they were peaceful until… well, the police showed up. Once the cops arrived, somebody threw a bomb (nobody knows who) that killed a police officer, and then a riot broke out. A bunch of people died; it wasn’t particularly pretty.

Because aesthetics are important in American politics, they had a trial for the throwing of the bomb that instigated the riot. Unfortunately for reality, of the eight defendants, only two were actually present at the rally when the bomb went off. Seven of them ended up being sentenced to death, while the eighth got 15 years in prison. Four were hanged, one committed suicide the night before his execution, and the remaining three were pardoned in 1893 when I guess they realized that a jury that admitted prejudice against the defendants, an openly hostile judge, and no evidence whatsoever probably means that this was a gross miscarriage of ‘justice’. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that five of them were immigrants too. I’m sure that had nothing to do with it though.

Well, someone has to be guilty. Why not the innocent? I mean, how innocent could they have been, really?

What the defendants had in common was a political inclination toward anarchism. The anarchists were the de facto terrorists of the day and an anarchist even went on to successfully assassinate the American president in 1901. Even the “failing New York Times” produced very pro-police and anti-labour articles denouncing the violent ways of anarchism in response to the Chicago protests. However, much like terrorists today, anarchists served better as bogeymen rather than legitimate interlocutors on abuses of power, and those benefiting from those abuses preferred to focus on the frightening veneer of anarchism rather than an ideology that fought for the eight hour work day, the end of child labour, and fair wages.

This brings us back to Labour day. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland sent in the military to crush more striking workers, and at least 26 people died. With no anarchists to blame this time, Cleveland knew he had to do something, and it certainly wasn’t going to be better labour standards, so he gave the people a national holiday. Despite workers’ established connection to May 1st, Cleveland picked the first Monday of September. While this day is ostensibly linked to the celebration of workers done by the then mostly defunct Knights of Labor, Cleveland didn’t want any association with the Haymarket Affair because he was worried that its connection to anarchists, socialists, and communists might encourage further, radical labour action. Who wants more progress than an eight hour work day, anyway?

This radical notion took shape even before the radical notion that women should have a say in politics. I wonder what radical notions crushed by police brutality these days will seem well within the Overton window in another hundred years? Hint: it’s not going to be anti-maskers

In what is surely the largest coincidence of all time, Canada implemented its own Labour day on the first Monday of September in the exact same year. Those Knights of Labour sure were successful, just not in providing a day of international worker solidarity with most other countries of the world. While some of this is sarcastic speculation on my part, and I’m sure the Knights of Labour were huge in the development of the labour movement (they were linked to the fight for the eight hour work day and the Haymarket Affair), the reality is that a solid percentage of the world celebrates their Labour day on May 1st to commemorate the political crushing of a labour movement under the guise of “both sides” rhetoric on a continent that actively tries to sweep that history under the rug.

Today, anarchists are still used as bogeymen to scare pearl-clutching citizens away from progressive movements being brutalized by the police. It is somewhat funny that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Rather than thanking God for Friday, workers really ought to be thanking Marx and the anarchists that fought and died for their right to a weekend – anarchists that were murdered by the State just for being anarchists. But we don’t. We barbecue in September instead.

Happy International Workers’ Day!

Would you ever sell yourself into slavery? If you think this is a paradox, remember that slavery is not simply unpaid labour, but giving up our control to the whims of another. Slaves were property, not unpaid labourers. The conditions of the slavery aren’t even that important; I don’t think anyone would go back in time and choose to be a slave, even if they got to be a house slave. Slavery isn’t abominable because of the conditions, though they certainly didn’t help, nor was it anything to do with the type of labour involved since all of that labour still exists today with little controversy. Slavery was abolished because it took away our liberty as human beings.

Maybe you’re a bit more cynical. I was a quite vague in my offer, but perhaps a huge cash sum might change your mind? The thing is, though, if any amount of money tempts us to give up a fundamental condition of our human nature, then that desire can only be driven by desperation. If the thought arises that this amount of money might make life more livable, it is only blinding us to the fact that a life of slavery is less than a life. We cannot abandon liberty and still be fully human.

Now, if we wouldn’t accept a single cash buyout to enter into slavery, then why do we accept smaller, biweekly payments in the form of a wage? The conditions of our labour today remove from us our autonomy just as much as any plantation, even if the conditions might be better. If you disagree, ask yourself how able you are to say no to your boss, and how able your boss is to say no to you. There is a disparity in freedom there, and it very likely isn’t favouring you. Any ability to say “no” to your boss that you possess today was fought and bled for by unionists before you. The pittance of liberty we possess at work was not given but taken, and, under many employers, is slowly being clawed back.

You might be skeptical. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can just pick up and leave for another, right? But consider this: how many employers are there out there right now that allow you to say no to your boss? How many employers are there that don’t follow this fundamental relationship of capital ownership? Trading one plantation for another is not liberty.


“Let’s work next door. I hear they only give out ten lashes for insubordination instead of twenty!” Businesses might offer perks to compete for your labour, but never liberty; all you receive are allowances from your master.

Maybe you dream of one day becoming the boss, then you’ll have freedom! Climb that corporate ladder! Regardless of how unfeasible this might be in reality due to the disparity of opportunities, the number of aspirants, the nepotism and politics of advancement, this is still the dream of the hooker wishing to become the pimp. Regardless of where you might fall along the spectrum of middle management, it is still an immoral system. Self-interest and greedy delusion are not sufficient justification.

The movie Office Space exists and is so relatable because we all inherently recognize that the disparate hierarchy we possess in our workplace is ultimately degrading. We agree to it because if we don’t work, we starve. We agree out of desperation.

working outside

And yet if Peter’s new boss asks him to come in on Saturday, he is still in the same predicament as in the beginning of the film. His relationship to work has not changed.

In our work today, we live less than a life. What we need is autonomy in our labour. What we need is a voice in the conditions of our labour. We demand democracy in our politics, but remain blind to it for the eight hours or more we slog through in our employment. We’ve been convinced we’re free because we have a few tired hours after work to spend the money we’ve been allowed on streaming television, forgetting that those hours required workers to die because the bosses of the past couldn’t be bothered to allow us even that.

Is that what we want? A life where our few pleasures are those “allowed” to us by our employer? Or do we want a say in our lives? Do we want real choice? If we do, what then are we willing to do for our liberty?

I have a general distaste for puns, though I do maintain two exceptions: sexual innuendo for those prime “That’s what she said!” moments, and puns which are communist themed. For example, pet names based on communist ideologues are one of the few acceptable uses of a play on words: Karl Barx, Fidel Cat-stro, Meow Zedong, Pol Pup, and Kim Jong Gill for all the fish aficionados. With this in mind, I find there to be absolutely zero hypocrisy when I had a socialist epiphany in the form of a pun: “I don’t see how you can be a feminist and not be a socialist. You are literally demanding control over the means of production.” This originally started out as one of the rare examples of a hilarious pun, and… it is a good one. I mean, consider the follow up that if you do not have control over the means of production, you become alienated from your labour. The puns basically write themselves. However, the more I thought about how brilliant and hilarious I am, the more I realized that the similarities between feminism and socialism are quite abundant.

Let’s first spell out a basic feminist premise. Women ought to have control over their reproductive rights. She ought to have a say in the conditions within which that reproduction takes place (eg. consent is important), and she ought to be able to have direct control over the reproduction itself (eg. birth control or an abortion). From here it is a simple matter of replacing reproduction with production; after all, producing something with her hands compared to producing something with her uterus is only superficially different based on what part of the body is doing the production. If she crafted a perfect AI, indistinguishable from human consciousness and passing anything Alan Turing could concoct, the differences would become even more minute.

The quality of the product is not important. Whether the woman begets the next brilliant physicist or endures a tragic stillbirth, it is the means of that production that she has the rights to; the outcome is irrelevant. Similarly, if she handcrafts an AI brain-chip or merely pushes a button to have a machine do it for her, she is still producing something, be it the action of pushing the button or the brain-chip itself. Regardless of how menial the labour, she still ought to have a right to direct control over the conditions of her production and the nature of that production itself.

Now hold on, you might say, the person pressing the button shouldn’t have the same rights in brain-chip manufacturing as the person who designed it. There is a huge production process with each person contributing something different with scaling value regarding the finished product. The designer has contributed more energy than the button pusher. And you’re absolutely right, but that still doesn’t disprove the initial point, it just adds more people to the process. Each person has their own right to their individual labour, but production is a collective action, which is why collective ownership over the means of production is literally the definition of socialism. It’s simply applying democratic principles to labour rather than autocratic ones. Dads don’t contribute very much to the production of a child, but typically they want a say in how the baby is raised.

There are going to be critics who say that the person who puts the money upfront for production ought to have the lion’s share of control. Except that person is not generally a person but a bank, and banks usually recuse themselves once the money has been repaid. We’ve already established that the idea for a product and its production doesn’t negate the necessity for worker ownership since everybody is contributing collectively, so the foundation of a company really ought not to bear on its collective ownership. It’s like a judge saying that they have the right to decide how women ought to reproduce since they are the ones dictating the legal recourse for rape. That’s apparently how it works in our current system, but that doesn’t mean that that is the most morally righteous way of doing things.

Perhaps there are libertarians out there who believe that ownership of personal production is great, but that production can be contracted out to companies willing to pay for it. My first response is that this immediately puts the two in conflict; the contractor will try to get as much from the company for as little as possible, while the company will do the same with the contractor. If they were willing to work cooperatively rather than against each other then they would be socialists, so the conflict stands. This also puts our contractor in a predicament, since they are likely to need the job to eat and keep a roof over their head, and so desperation would negate any bargaining equality between the two. It’s the premise behind and the counter-measure to strikes. Each side is waiting for the other to run out of enough money to become desperate enough to agree to a biased deal.

My second response is that we started out this article by comparing production to reproduction, and we already have a slur for the women who contract out their reproduction: whore. Personally I believe that if everything else is commodified, and the woman has control over her production of sexual pleasure, then there are no problems since a service job is a service job. However, many people still feel that prostitution is a cheapening act. Perhaps this is no different from classical liberal philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt’s criticism that every instance of renting one’s labour is a cheapening act:

“…man never regards what he possesses as so much his own, as what he does; and the labourer who tends a garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits…In view of this consideration, it seems as if all peasants and craftsman might be elevated into artists; that is, men who love their labour for its own sake, improve it by their own plastic genius and inventive skill, and thereby cultivate their intellect, ennoble their character, and exalt and refine their pleasures. And so humanity would be ennobled by the very things which now, though beautiful in themselves, so often serve to degrade it…But, still, freedom is undoubtedly the indispensable condition, without which even the pursuits most congenial to individual human nature, can never succeed in producing such salutary influences. Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being, but remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness…

…we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.”

So there you go. Not only do you have to dabble in anarchism to be a feminist, but it turns out that socialism is necessarily required as well.

Post-script: If I’m equating feminism to socialism, I think feminist ideologues ought to have an equal right to pet names, like Mary Woofstonecraft, Simone de Bow-wow, Emma Goldman Retriever, and maybe bell hoofs if you’re lucky enough to get a pony.