November, The Rand Formula & History

November, the Rand Formula & the Significance of History

 

George Hewison                      Political Economy Newsletter              November, 2013

 

November is for remembering the end of the “War to End Wars” or so veterans like my father earnestly believed when they volunteered to fight the “enemy”. After four years in the horrifying trenches in Belgium and France, Dad, as teenager, became convinced that the “enemy” were actually safe at home while the young on all sides were being slaughtered. PTSD doesn’t begin to cover the sense of betrayal and bewilderment. He became a pacifist and a lifelong fighter for peace. He also became a fighter for the rights of working people and saw a system based on private profit as a progenitor of war.

 

November is also for remembering the most celebrated martyr for organized labour on the North American continent. Joe Hill was the gifted singing organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, but on November 19, 1915, he was legally assassinated by the State of Utah for a crime he didn’t commit. The need to intimidate the working class was greater than the need to have justice done, or be seen to have been done. His legacy lives on in the struggle for fundamental justice for working people.

 

November 5, 1945 also bears remembering as the workers at Ford Motors in Windsor and their allies gave the tiny (at the time) organized working class of Canada the greatest gift ever bestowed upon them. The peaceful and successful auto blockade of the Ford plant ended the hopes of Ford and all of its powerful allies that unionism could be rolled back or shattered.

 

History informs the present and future. If we don’t know where we’ve come from, we can’t get to where we want to go. Others have said it better, but you get the idea.

 

Nowhere is this truer than the current attempts by powerful voices seeking to cripple the organized trade union movement. Ever since the Rand Formula that settled the great Ford Strike of 1945, employers and their governments have attempted, often successfully, to constrain the rights of organized labour. Now with deepening economic, political and social crisis, the calls for crippling sanctions against trade unions are growing and are at a qualitatively new stage. Not only are unions standing athwart the path of capital to sustain profit RATES in a shrinking new world of intense inter-corporate competition, but also unions offer a besieged society a potential umbrella from which to carry on the struggle for social and economic justice. Capital and its political expressions, therefore, have moved unionism into its immediate gun sights, hoping to strike a knockout blow.

 

Let us briefly review the broader historical sweep of Canadian unionism to see if it informs where we are at and what we must do to preserve the most important institution for democracy and social advance and transformation, i.e. the organized labour movement. We’ve come a long ways from the imprisonment (and killing in the case of Ginger Goodwin) of Canadian unionists for opposing World War I, and we still have a ways to go.

 

Leslie Morris, writing in the Canadian Tribune on the epic 1945-46 Ford Motors strike and the ensuing report by Justice Ivan Rand that became a template for labour relations in Canada for the next seven post-WWII decades, had this to say in his column “The Hundred Days Epic Battle at Ford’s” appearing on January 5, 1946:

            Now every Tory-minded editorial writer and every pious government advisor to desperate Ford workers is willing to talk about ‘violating the rights of private property’, the ‘illegality of the strike’ and the ‘motor barricade’ of November 5, about everything under the sun except the main thing: that the Ford Motor Company was out to smash the union and get back to ‘Private Enterprise Unlimited’ and so set the pace for every company in Canada.

            Suddenly into a clear-cut situation like that, which was not marked by any untoward incidents, the authorities announced that a combined force of 250 RCMP and Ontario Provincials were being sent to Windsor. What was the pretext?

            The local police…had tried to force a way through the picket line at the main gate to let protective staff members into the plant whom the union had accused of doing other than protective work. The local police failed, whereupon what Union President England referred to as a well-timed plan of action went into effect.

            Provincial Police and RCMP, who undoubtedly had been secretly gathered from points all over Ontario in the preceding days, appeared on the scene within 48 hours, some of them shipped in by RCAF planes.

            Why all the show of force? The official explanation was that the company’s property had to be protected….All sorts of ‘reasons’ were conjured up to justify the despatch of police, including the ‘threats’ of fires and explosions, although the union had long since offered to cooperate with the local fire protective forces to eliminate any alleged danger whatsoever….

            The police were never used. Neither were the troops. The carefully built up scare…were all rendered naught by a combination of two things: the lightning response of labour and all fair-minded Canadians from coast to coast in thousands of protests and demands that the police be withdrawn; and the courage of the Ford strikers and people of Windsor.

            Much has been said about the motor barricade of November 5. It was a spontaneous action of self-defense by Canadians who knew their cause was just….

            Let us sum up: To the men and women of the Ford picket line and their leaders of Local 200, UAW-CIO, belongs the credit for the marvellous struggle whose outcome was to compel governments to intervene to bring the Ford Motor Company to the point where it had to agree to arbitrate union security, and negotiate or arbitrate the other demands….

            The Ford strike was a laboratory of working class struggle for a better life and democracy. Canadian labour owes the Ford workers an eternal debt of gratitude. One of the best ways to repay that debt is to examine the lessons of that great battle for the union.”

 

The trade union movement, started decades earlier, now had an important beachhead.

 

The Rand Report that settled the Ford strike is thus often referred to as a historic compromise between labour and capital, and so it was. But of the many voices that greeted Rand’s report, some, including Morris sounded this warning in his February 9, 1946 column entitled simply “The Rand Report”:

            “The granting of the checkoff to Ford Local 200, UAW-CIO, is a victory for the determined men and women who struck for 100 days in the most bitterly contested strike in Canadian history. The checkoff is not the simple collection of dues via the company’s office. It is a mark of permanency of the union in the plant. That is what the Ford workers fought for, and that is what they won. It is a quality of union security….

            The victory for the cause of the Ford strike being thus emphasised…other things must also be said. Mr. Rand has laid down a pattern of ‘company security’ which cannot be accepted by Canadian labour…..

            The issue in Canada is not company security. Industrial corporations have all the security which comes from their ownership and their power. The real issue, as labour sees it, is the security of livelihood, employment, income, and organization of the workers in industry, and anything that takes away from that- as Mr. Rand’s formula tries to do- is anathema to the trade union movement….”

 

Why would Morris take such a critical view of Rand? Perhaps, because his view of history pre-dates Rand by many years, and he saw Rand, not as an end in itself, but as a book mark of history, that is now, 68 years to the month, being challenged by the Right and another chapter is about to be determined for a future generation of readers.

 

The first general strike in Canadian history had taken place in Vancouver a generation earlier (1918), around the funeral of gifted union organizer and martyr, Ginger Goodwin, murdered by a special police constable, Dan Campbell outside of Cumberland, B.C. Here is a description by a working class writer of the time of the general strike in the aftermath of Goodwin’s shooting.

At noon on Friday, August 2, the strike became effective. Almost every worker affiliated to the organized labour movement in Vancouver quit work…Glaring, screaming headlines inspired the backward ‘patriotic’ elements to mob violence…In the afternoon the city was given over to mob law. Between five and six hundred returned soldiers…filled with rum, were urged on by profiteering business elements to wreck the Labor Temple. The furniture was smashed, books, documents and papers thrown out of the windows and anybody they could lay hands on made to kiss the flag (Union Jack).

The raid was organized. Behind it was the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association and the Board of Trade; the Daughters of the Empire did the appealing; the soldiers were mere dupes.”[1]

 

After Vancouver and the sympathy strikes around the historic Winnipeg strike of 1919 the next year, a reign of terror descended on Canada’s working class. State violence against workers in struggle was often the norm. Bitter struggles of workers for better wages, conditions and unionization were not fought in a vacuum, but within a climate first of an expanding post-WW I economy, and later in the depths of Depression. There were some successful struggles for labour, but most were not and gains were fleeting and too often erased.

 

With the Great Depression, most of whatever modest gains labour had achieved during the Roaring Twenties were rolled back. Organization continued, but it was not until the outbreak of WWII and labour was in short supply that organized labour was able to apply lessons garnered over decades, and mass unionization took firm root.

 

The struggle at Ford, the Vancouver Province (1947), Seaman’s Strike (1946), Iron River (near my home town by the IWA 1946) and many others was a desperate attempt by employers and their political mandarins to roll back the historical clock to pre-War “Private Enterprise Unlimited”. They mostly failed and a general “historic compromise” was agreed upon.

 

The Rand Formula became a template for labour relations in Canada. An entire field of specialized jurisprudence sprang up. A similar process happened in the United States and had a powerful impact on Canadian organized labour because of the influence of American-based unions that helped shape Canadian labour for the first three decades after World War II.

 

The Wisconsin School of labour relations[2] was the ideological underpinnings of this compromise and the US Wagner and Taft-Hartley Acts. The Rand Formula was in most respects crafted from this ideology. A major Wisconsin advocate, Selig Perlman, “rejected socialism as the necessary historical mission of the working class and the trade union movement….”[3] Rather, Perlman argued, trade “unions come to capitalism as bargainers, desiring to strike the best wage [my emphasis, GH] bargain possible.”[4]

 

Perlman’s thesis and view of the philosophy of AFL-CIO President Samuel Gompers fit snugly:

            “labor must strive, by all means of economic coercion or persuasion, to bring employers around to recognizing unions as co-administrators with themselves of the available jobs. But Gompers insisted that labor should never run the risk of being called subversive by advocating any sort of ‘workers control’, socialism, or nationalizing of industry.”[5]

The global expansion of capital in the post-World War II period helped to foster illusions that supported Perlman and the Wisconsin School, inside and outside of the labour movement.  What the economic illusions failed to do, McCarthyism and the Red Scare reinforced, and in the end bequeathed a certain imprint for labour in Canada and the United States.

http://www.kuriositas.com/2013/10/the-red-menace-anti-communist.html

28,000 national and local labour leaders were forced to sign anti-communist, loyalty oaths, and those that refused were removed from office or subjected to heavy penalties by the state, including jail time. Whole unions came under attack and some were smashed. The proud Canadian Seaman’s Union (CSU), that led the fight against the destruction of Canada’s merchant marine (the third largest in the world at the time-see: Jim Green’s book “Against the Tide”) was destroyed by an unholy alliance of government, shipping companies, the media and unprincipled trade union leaders who brought the thug, Hal Banks, and his Seafarer’s International Union (SIU) into Canada to finish off the CSU and our merchant marine.

 

After their successful raid on the CSU, the SIU turned its attention to my Union (the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, now UFAWU/UNIFOR); but the complexities of the industry and the exposure of the leading role of fishing companies in the raid caused the SIU and Hal Banks to fail. Other unions were subject to raids as a militant thread dating back to before the IWW and their Little Red Songbook soon faded before the allure of “business” unionism and the pop culture-inspired little Blue Songbook of the AFL-CIO. Songs of struggle were expunged just as methodically as union militants and those songs chronicling militant struggle were replaced by “Down in the Valley” and “Mammy’s Little Baby”.

 

That was then. This is now. The growth of a new, more complex, work force and society has brought hundreds of thousands of workers into the labour movement with little or no knowledge of the past, and we can’t expect newcomers to be aware of all of the factors that got us to our present situation. Those of us who are passionate about a positive future for organized labour have learned and continue to learn many lessons. One thing is sure: the economic, social and political reality around us has changed profoundly. Capital is in deep crisis and by its irrationality is helping shatter illusions in our ranks on a daily basis. That is objective reality from which we need to draw optimism, the correct conclusions and chart the path ahead.

 

Subjectively though, many of the methods and the institutions that history helped to foist on us and might have got us a pass during the first few decades of post-WWII when capital was content with “compromise” doesn’t cut it today and in some ways stand in the way of finding the correct path forward. Neo-liberalism is the economic expression of the brutal assault of capital. The attack on democracy is the political form of that assault. Thus the war on labour is a decisive part of the new neo-liberal reality.

 

Shifting gears is never easy when dealing with hundreds of thousands of people who must be involved in shaping the dynamic and powerful instrument that is the trade union movement, a movement we all need going forward. I am heartened by some important recent developments in our trade union movement both in Canada AND the US. There will be many vigorous debates, and even false starts. Patience and vigilance must be the ever present watchwords. We will get there.

 

History informs us that as we boldly embark in a direction which may be uncomfortable for some in abandoning organizational, methodological forms and practices concocted by ideologues of the Wisconsin School, we must retain labour’s spirit, the spirit of Joe, Ginger and the Ford strikers, that has always militated in the direction of fundamentally changing our society for the benefit of all. That is our compass in a turbulent world. Within that compass bearing, all the rest is tactics and strategy.

George Hewison is a lifelong union organizer and former officer of his union, the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union. He embraces political and social activism in the interests of social justice and fundamental social change.

 

Hewison believes in the power of working people, who, if given the proper tools, can change the world. One of those tools is a deepening understanding of how our society is put together. George has been the recipient of many important lessons, both positive and negative, from veterans of Labour’s struggles stretching back decades. He has spent most of his adult life sharing those lessons with others.

 

For a number of years, he has embraced a study of the political economy of capitalism, including its current iteration, and conducts discussion groups with interested working folks who share his desire to explain the complexities of the social, economic and political world around us.

 

He also continues a tradition of combining activism with the power of song and continues to tour and perform extensively.

 

He may be reached at georgehewison@gmail.com .

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] “Builders of British Columbia”, Wm. Bennett, Peoples Advocate, Vancouver, 1937.

[2] Called after a group of scholars gathered at the University of Wisconsin in the early part of the Twentieth Century to study the history and purposes of the unionism.

[3] “Labor Economics and Industrial Relations-Markets and Institutions”, edited Clarke Kerr and Paul D. Staudohar, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1994, p.46

[4] Ibid p.46

[5] Ibid p.47