february 2016

With this publication, we want workers to see the commonality in our struggles across workplaces, across the city, across industries and across countries. We want to find our common interests so we can come together to organize autonomously against capital, our common enemy.


the interview

Ronnie Boisvert is a drywall taper with nearly ten years’ experience. He’s worked for many employers as well as for himself. Ronnie recently returned to Sudbury after a few years living in Elliot Lake with his partner, Elizabeth Sorrell, who also participated in this interview. They’ve been organizing in our community since they returned in the spring. For our local online community, Ronnie is also known as Blungey McGrues on Facebook.

The main struggles in Ronnie’s field of work are:
    • Getting paid
    • Wear and tear on his body

Rachael: So you said you came into motion around C-51? [The Anti-terrorism Act, known in Canada as Bill C-51, and also known as the “secret police” bill, has drastically expanded both the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) mandate, including the ability to detain individuals without charge, and Canadian government agencies’ authority to share information regarding individuals.]

Ronnie: Yeah, in terms of activism. Yeah, we were in Elliot Lake, and there was a group called Lead Now. I think they've fallen apart at this point. For the mobilization of the first one, and the march, they were I think the ones spearheading it, and they just reached out to anybody anywhere. They figured the more cities, the better, and so, we just jumped on board. We had no idea what we were doing, man. And I told them that, and so they sent us information packages and various websites. But yeah, that's how we got involved.

Rachael: And just from Facebook too, I know that you're also involved with the CPC [Communist Party of Canada]?

Ronnie: Yeah, we work with the Communist Party of Canada. We share a lot of common goals and interests and, in terms of socialist and communist parties in the electoral process in Canada, they're the ones that I personally resonate with the most that I would throw my support behind. They have a pretty outstanding platform in terms of what they want to do politically. They were also really really involved in the C-51 movement from the beginning. That's actually how we got involved with them also. They sent us literature that we could use, and pamphlets to distribute.

Rachael: So you got involved with the CPC as a result of the C-51 thing?

Ronnie: No, not as a result, but it just kind of- like, I'm a communist- since I learned what it was, since I was a teenager. And for a long time, I didn't consider myself a Marxist because I wasn't familiar with Marxism, but I was familiar with communism, the achieved goal of communism. My hitchhiking travels, the people I'm with, we interact in that way. There was a point that we decided that it was just time, we were going to push communism, and it started with the word "communism" on Facebook. And so once we got involved with that, and then the C-51 rally, I saw that the Communist Party was already deeply involved in that movement, and so we reached out to them, and they got in touch with us, and we've just kind of been building a working relationship ever since. And Liz and I helped manage the campaign for Liz Rowley in this year's election, and that was pretty fun and exciting.

Rachael: I was wondering how the CPC, or yourselves, imagine the transformation, or plan the transformation of society within the capitalist structure, just because historically the only revolutions that have succeeded [initially] is by trying to destroy that structure, not by trying to collaborate with it. So, we're wondering how it is that you're formulating that?

Ronnie: That's a good question. I don't particularly want to speak for the CPC, but I'll speak to what I know about what they say. So the platform that they have laid out is basically the initial plans moving forward, and it doesn't implement socialism, but what it does is it- the first steps they would take is they would nationalize the energy and financial sectors, oil, gas, lumber, the necessities of life, and the money, the banks, the insurance companies, etc. And then from there, you have the revenue that produces the education, schools, etc., etc.

Rachael: So, what [our organization is] trying to do [is] to build an autonomous workers' movement against capital.

Elizabeth: [smiles]

Ronnie: It’s such a nice thing to hear, eh?

Elizabeth: I know, isn’t it? It's not us saying it, too! [everyone laughs]

Ronnie: We're always the ones hosting, we’re always the ones gathering.

Elizabeth: We eat, sleep, we breathe this shit, y'know?

Ronnie: We're always the ones talking and trying to inform people. It's nice [to hear].

Rachael: We tried for just about a year working on what was, like, more of a petit bourgeoisie intermediate level [progressive] organization called One Struggle [but] then we decided to change our focus to try and organize workers, because we'd refined our- we'd learned a little bit more and understood things a little bit more. In May, it'll be a year trying to organize workers [but it’s been a difficult process].

Ronnie: We feel you, man.

Elizabeth: It's hard to get people to commit. There's an interest briefly, and then it just seems to kind of dissipate.

Rachael: And everything about trying to organize surprises us. Like, we can't believe that more people aren't into it more, and that we're not seeing that following through [you describe].

John: And we've talked to people who are workers, and who are pissed off.

Rachael: They're fed up.

Elizabeth: But it doesn't go any further.

Ronnie: Because we still have a good standard of living.

Elizabeth: It's not bad enough.

John: They're afraid for their job.

Rachael: People are so terrified of losing their job.

John: When you spell it out for them they're all nodding their heads, but then they say, "I can't do anything. I'll lose my job." It's been really frustrating.

Ronnie: It would be neat if there could be a way, or a system set in place, to remedy that. People who lose their job for doing this- to find work within the community of people who are participating in this. Kind of like interdependency.

John: We know of something kind of like that called the Rapid Response Network.

Rachael: Well, we certainly foresee that once we can build a [solid] core, that then, if someone does get fired in our campaigns or whatever, that we could struggle to get their job back.

Elizabeth: Or if you find a way to get a lot of the same people from the same company. It'd have to work out properly, but if you get a big enough group, I mean are you gonna fire ten people when there's only fifteen people in the building? You get enough people supporting each other, employee-wise.

John: Organizing within a workplace.

Ronnie: I think new unions need to spring up. I think new organizations need to replace the ones that have been corrupted.

Rachael: This is exactly where we're at. We're saying that we've lost control of the unions. They're not workers' organizations anymore, they're petit bourgeoisie-led, and we need to take our organizations back.

Ronnie: Another one big union.

Rachael: I don't even think we have to go there yet. I think just small- 'cause I don't know if we have the capacity, but we can certainly just start small autonomous workers' groups. Obviously the linkages, and how they grow will be determined, but we have to start somewhere, because there's nothing [working class-led] right now.

Ronnie: I think there's a few small pockets, separate organizations in town that, if we all merged, we would be ten or fifteen people, at least. That's a small scale, but I think that on a grand scale, that needs to happen also. There needs to, for example, not be three communist parties in Canada. I think that's a problem. And I realize that splits and divides go back before most of us were even born, which is silly to me. Somebody asked me about that because I had showed support- there's a Marxist school that takes place in Montreal, by a group called Fight Back. I believe they're in Montreal, Toronto, and possibly Vancouver. But they were doing this Marxist school, and the room was packed, which was very encouraging, and so I had shared that post, with a caption saying how encouraging it was. And somebody reached out to me and said, "Oh, they're a Trotskyist group. You work with them?" I said, "I'll work with anybody that has a common goal. These divides go back to a time when I wasn't alive. I didn't take part in them then, I'm not gonna take part in them now. If we have the same goal, let's do it. We can work these things out.

Rachael: Our current's perspective on that is that we can work to the level of unity that we have with any group, but let's say we don't agree that you can take power with an  electoral party, then obviously, we're not gonna work on an electoral political campaign together. But if we agree that workers need to be organized, we can work on that level. That scenario just happened to favour our model, but, like, for whatever one you can come up with the other way, I just didn’t think of one. We also are not into dogmatism. For us, the really important variable is just working to the level of unity we have.

Ronnie: That was one of the- when examining the various communist parties in Canada, one of the things that the Communist Party of Canada has going for it is that they don't create the personality cult that's prevalent among communist parties, like the Marxist-Leninist Party. We've worked with them also…during the C-51 rallies too, and continuously. But they have a personality cult built around this guy named Hardial Bains, who was the founder of that party in the 70s.

Elizabeth: They worship Bains.

Ronnie: Yeah, and I take issue with these things. And so, if that's the basis of a foundation, then again, you've missed the mark in my opinion. So, like you were saying, we support them in our common endeavours, but I won't be going to their clubhouse to say hi to their friend there on the wall. That was a problem with Leninism and Bolshevism, right, and in China. It started out as a tactical thing, and then it got- and that's the problem with replicating previous examples is that, most times, there's an extreme failure to acknowledge the context that those historical endeavours took place in….And it's happened way too many times, I think, in history. And to our detriment, again, we’re dealing with this. We have so much to undo before we can do anything….

Rachael: So, I guess…we’re heading into the interview part more specifically now. So, you said you're a drywall taper?

Ronnie: Yeah.

Rachael: Have you always been?

Ronnie: Yeah, since I was about twenty-one.

Rachael: What is your employment history? Have you usually worked for someone else, or have you worked for yourself?

Ronnie: I've done both. I started out working for a friend of mine….I took to taping, but he stopped being able to pay me after a while, and then I went off, and I worked for- I worked for so many people, and for myself, and so many- construction's not a good field at all. It's greasy.

Rachael: What do you mean, greasy?

Ronnie: Everybody's trying to swindle ya. And when you're working for yourself, and when you're young, everybody's your best friend until it's payday, or when the job's done and it's time to pay you, and then nobody picks up their phone. Right before I got this job that I'm working now, I spent a week and a half chasing a guy for two hundred bucks.

John: And when you've worked for other people, has it- my impression is that it's never a lot of employees?

Ronnie: In drywall, no. I've never worked for a big company like that.

Rachael: So you couldn't organize the workers? There's not enough to-

Ronnie: No. And the Carpenters' Union pretty much has the monopoly on that. They've taken tapers in, too. I was in them for- I turned down some good jobs in town for the Carpenters' Union. They put me to work for three weeks up at the university, and it was insane. My first day there, I got told to slow down, that I was working too fast, by three different people. And then my second week there, I was told to go hide in closets so that I wouldn't get sent home. Meanwhile, they were bringing everybody in for Fridays, which was a double time. A journeyman drywaller makes thirty-five an hour. And so my partner we're in there on a Friday, I'm coating a wall up on a baker [a small scaffold], he's standing there eating a pudding for seventy dollars an hour while I'm being told to slow down. And I thought to myself, "This is unreal. How do people work like this?" And I'm working ten hour days, and I'm dragging my ass around. 'Cause I'm a runner, I run. When I work, I go. I don't usually stop for nothin'. I was like, "I don't even know what to do here." I was out of my element. I couldn't do it, the union thing.

Rachael: So you were a member, and now you're not?

Ronnie: I was on the probationary period accumulating my hours to become a member, and now I'm not.

Rachael: Based on that experience?

Ronnie: That was part of it. That was certainly part of it. I'm not a carpenter. I hate being a carpenter. I hate hanging drywall. All I ever wanna do is just tape.

Rachael: So when you're in the union, you have to do more of both?

Ronnie: Well, they can. You can do anything, from- they wouldn't send me to do finished trim and stuff, but they would send me to hang drywall, and various other things.

Rachael: So if you're not in the union, you can just stick to taping?

Ronnie: I can choose to just stick to taping.

Rachael: But you don't have as much choice if you're in the union?

Ronnie: Well, no. You kinda got do what the u- the way the union works is if they call you for a job and you say no, you go to the bottom of the list and then they cycle through the list. And then I think you can only say no x amount of times before they just write you off or something. I just don't think it's worth it, for me personally, to be in the union.

Rachael: So can you say more specifically why you don't want to be in the union?

Ronnie: Well, I can't work that slow, first of all. The work ethic in the union is terrible.

Rachael: Well, they have a lot more control over their work.

Ronnie: Well, I think what it is is, when a job is bid, they bid for x amount of hours and they bid a price based on x amount of hours. And so if you're going to finish before those hours, it's a problem. So, in residential construction or commercial construction, or any non-union job, if you finish- because I've worked for myself, I've been a piece worker. And so what that means is there's x amount of footage and there's x amount of money. And the more hours it takes, the less money I'm making. And so that's the mode that I'm used to working in, and that's the exact opposite of the union's mode, right? If you finish it sooner, it's a problem. And so you need to stretch it out to make that time.

Rachael: But you felt like you couldn't adapt to that?

Ronnie: I didn't want to. It made for really, really long days. I mean, we coated the same patch nine times because there was nothing to do.

Elizabeth: We thought, "You're in the union. That's where you wanna be."

Rachael: Well, because [in the union], you are- you have more control of your work when you're unionized, and you don't have to run as hard as the bosses want you to.

Ronnie: Yeah, I have a lot of control over my work, 'cause I'm really really good and people want me to work for them, the ones that can pay me. The boss that I have right now, that I started workin' for a few days ago, on my second day, he made me the taping foreman, he fired the other guy, and he told me that in the spring, when it gets busy, I get to pick my own guys, he's gonna hire me my own guys to train, and I'm in charge of the taping. So, for a long time now, I've had control over what I do for work, or won't do, because I know my ability is there, to just say, "No, I'm not gonna do that for that much money.”

Rachael: What percentage of the time would you say that you've worked for others, and [been] self-employed?

Ronnie: Probably like a 70/30 split, self-employed [being] 30.

Rachael: Because you have both experiences, how do you think having both those experiences impacts your values as a worker?

Ronnie: Because I've been a piece worker, I know how a job works. I was able to tell my boss, "Look, I know, every unit we go into, there's x amount of feet and x amount of dollars, and so however long it- the most important thing for an employee is to be able to recognize the full scope of the job, especially when it comes to a small drywall or taping company, 'cause it's usually, like you said, just a few guys. A kid that’s in there helpin' out said to me today, "Oh, I'm by the hour." I said to Liz, "That's the wrong thing. If I hear that on a job site, then you're done.' If that's your job process when you're coming in to work with us as a team then you're not there working as a team, you're there to milk the company for money. So, being a piece worker, and working for myself, I've learned to recognize these things  because there are some people, a lot of people who go to work just to collect a pay cheque and who feel like they're milking the boss. And some bosses should be milked, and some shouldn't be milked, I think. Walmart, for example: milk 'em. The amount of money that I saw goin' out the window when I was at the university was just unreal. The speed that people were walking at, it was almost mandatory that you walk at a half speed when you walk in the door, which is fine if you're in the union. It's fine if you're milking a huge company who has the money to be milked, but if it's you and a guy, and maybe another guy, whether or not one of those guys is the boss, you shouldn't be milkin' ‘em.

Elizabeth: But sometimes you're living that life for so long of milking because you're so used to being screwed, that when you get into a good job and you're still living that way.

Rachael: My take on it is it's sort of a do or die thing. Either you're gonna get milked, or you milk. And so I think  because the vast majority of people are getting milked, that when we come across [a worker] who is actually in a more powerful position, we struggle with that contradiction a little bit more because we know how much suffering's going on. I'm not sure how to resolve that contradiction but I do believe firmly that the more control we have over our work, the better.

So as a drywall taper, what are the primary struggles- now you probably maybe don't have struggles yet in your new employment, but over the history of your employment?

Ronnie: Gettin' paid!

Rachael: So wage theft?

Ronnie: The biggest struggle in construction is getting paid.

John: And have you ever been just ripped off and you couldn't get paid?

Ronnie: Oh yeah, man. We've had to threaten people. I've threatened to tear bulkheads off the ceiling, I've threatened to put my knife through every piece of drywall in a big squiggly line…so that you couldn't tape it afterwards….But yeah, sometimes, they just don't pay….This is very commonplace in construction.

Rachael: If you insist on working for money up front, will that fly?

Ronnie: I don't normally insist. Only when I know people don't pay. Just this past week that I was chasin' two hundred bucks, the way this job worked, there was something like fourteen units, fourteen bathrooms. They had changed out the tubs and where they went in, I was just doin' around the tub, just cleaning it up. And the way it was supposed to work, I did six units, then I was supposed to get paid, do six more, get paid, until they were done. And so I finished the six, and then he said, "Oh, I won't be able to pay you until next Friday." I said, "Well, I'm gonna be done all of them by next Friday. I'm not really in the business of leaving that much money on the table. So, I'm not gonna do any more until you pay me for these six." And it took me a week and a half to get two hundred bucks. Needless to say, I didn't do any more units for him. I got paid, finally, and then I got this other job.

Elizabeth: He told the guy he was working with, too, he said, "If he doesn't give you the money, we're goin' down there with our protest signs, getting the press out there, telling them the communists are here. That's what I think workers need to do too. If you start forming some sort of alliance, you know?

Ronnie: I did say that. I said I was gonna show up with a bunch of communists, and the media.

Elizabeth: That's it. You're messing with the wrong people.

Ronnie: I said, every time I told the media the communists were gonna be somewhere, the media showed up.

Elizabeth: Don't tell 'em why. Just say the communists are gonna be at this place, this time.

Ronnie: I said I won't tell 'em why 'til they get there.

Elizabeth: That's what I think workers need to do too. If you start forming some sort of alliance, you know?

Rachael: Well, that's really combative, that's good.

Elizabeth: If you have an employee working in a place, and they can't stand up for themselves, they might know somebody that can stand up for them, that doesn't work for that place that can go and cause a stink outside of his building. The employer won't know where it's coming from.

Ronnie: Yeah, we had thought about starting a group, just a protest group that would go and protest for other people's causes. Like, they would call us and say, "Hey, I need you guys to picket this place for this reason," and then we would go and do it. And it keeps the employee in the clear. And Sudbury's small enough for that to have an impact.

Elizabeth: It is, yeah. Cause a stink.

Rachael: We would like to build that. [It’s similar to] this Rapid Response Network [idea].

Ronnie: Well, we just doubled in size! {everyone laughs]

Rachael: The only thing we would say is for those relationships, we'd need to have some kind of organizational relationship. I would feel like we can't just go and help anybody. There has to be some kind of organizational understanding….So, [getting back to the interview] getting paid is the-

Ronnie: It's the worst, man. The second [worst problem] is finding a square house! [everyone laughs]

Rachael: And so, is there a third thing? What about safety? Is it very taxing work?

Ronnie: It depends on who you're working for. Most drywallers do crazy things. Like, for example, people will put two two by fours over a stairwell, and then put a bench on top of those to tape the ceiling over a stairwell. And that's not really safe, but we do it all the time. Most times when I've said no to something, it hasn't been an issue. I've had pretty good bosses that way.

Rachael: And you don't have, like, repetitive strain injuries, sore back and shoulders?

Ronnie: Yeah, yeah. You won't find a drywaller over forty that's not on Percocets. Hangin' drywall kills the body. And then taping, I get tennis elbow. Sometimes, I wake up and I can't move my elbow. [It's] like when your foot's asleep, except it hurts. My fingers get all crampy sometimes.

Elizabeth: I just wanted to add, too. It's been tough. He was out of work, and in work, and out of work. In a way, I kind of enjoyed when he wasn't working. We don't want to live around money. When we're in poverty we find different ways of surviving. We've made it this far, and the work has been very minimal. And there's all these situations where he's being screwed over by people. It's like, forget the job because the principles come before the money. He's had to turn down jobs, and people [say], "You guys are screwed, you need the money, you need the money. Who cares if you're being treated like shit at your job?" We do. So, we learn. We will suffer in order to not add to the oppression. That's just the way it is, so as much as it's hard to find work, if his body got to the point where he couldn't work anymore, we would just deal with the struggle. You gotta get to a point where you can't keep supporting the capitalist system, even though you feel like you need money to survive, because even that is a brainwashing. There's so many things I could do to survive if we didn't have work, and I know it shouldn't be that way, but people need to learn ways to live in poverty. I know it sounds horrible, but it's not getting any better. And people that were okay, it’s getting worse and worse and worse. You gotta start living [within] your means. It sucks, but put your principles before the profit.

Rachael: But capitalists don't have to live [within] their means. Their profits continue to skyrocket.

Elizabeth: That's right, they don't. And I think we depend on their system and until we can become a little more self-sufficient and start saying no, I know there's gonna be someone to replace us, but I feel like the more we're able to stand up and find our own means, we're gonna gain a little more power than the dependency we have on their system. We're getting stronger in poverty than I've ever been. Like, I grew up in poverty, and it was a suffering, and now I'm finding strength in it. It's really interesting to see that happen, and to be proud of him when he's like this to a boss that's screwing him, rather than, “You gotta go to work, we're gonna starve.” We've never starved, we've never been homeless. It's a fear that's put into people, and that fear of people not standing up for themselves. I know it's hell to go through the labour board. I know it's hell to stand up for yourself, but if you don't, you're gonna suffer anyway, you're gonna keep suffering under that boot. I don't know which is worse anymore. I think it's worse to suffer under the boot than to pull up your own straps and survive. We're finding this in experience. The fear's there, but maybe face it, maybe find another means. Like, stop taking the abuse. Like, someone's in an abusive relationship, you leave the relationship, you maybe stay with a friend for a while. You find a way to get out of the abuse, and that's what we've gotta do. We're in an abusive capitalist relationship. We gotta get out. We gotta find a way. We have to find a safe house, a safety plan. We gotta come together and do this, because we're being abused. Constant abuse. I wrote something on Facebook the other day about depression. It came to me: we're depressed because we're oppressed. And all these people are, "Oh my god. That's it. That's what it is." Like, no support group's gonna help me, no pill's gonna help me. Let's get rid of fucking capitalism. That's what’s gonna help me. So why are we talking about all these ways to live in it, and to keep dealing with it every day and how to cope with it. No, let's find ways to get rid of it.

Rachael: Yeah, I don't think we should cope with it, I think we should struggle against it. I think we should fight back.

Elizabeth: We do have power. We are the power. Without us, they don't have anything. We're keeping the machine running. Stop!

Ronnie: That's why we're shifting gear from a manufacturing and production society to a service society because when we're producing, then we have power. When we have huge exports, and our economy is based on these exports then the workers producing that have power and when you send that away, you take away the power. Because people get nostalgic, and they think about the old strikes. They did all these great things, but they were producing. They were responsible for the productivity of the empire, ultimately. They had the power to leverage, whereas I don't think we have that anymore.

Rachael: Can I ask what informed your perspective about the difference between production and service industries?

Ronnie: I don't know. I think it was just like an observation. If I wanted to remove the power of people, how would I do it? That's how I would do it.

Rachael: Surplus value is the only new money that goes into the economy, and the only workers that can produce surplus value are industrial workers. And that is a very contentious issue for our current….that not all workers are equal, that service workers are helping to circulate capital, but they don't produce any new value.

Ronnie: I can agree with that.

Rachael: Capitalists cannot reproduce themselves without that surplus value. Our whole society is based on the work that these particular workers- like, you can't organize a society around services. It has to be production [and] in order to build a mass movement that's effective against capital, we're gonna have to have industrial workers in the lead, and in our social formation, we still have industrial workers, we have miners. And actually, construction workers are also surplus value workers. Farmers- we don't really have farm workers in our community, but farm workers are surplus value workers [too]. But they have been shipping- like, all of the free trade agreements are about distancing us from surplus value.

Ronnie: That makes sense.

Rachael: If you talk to the RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party] or whatever, they do not agree with that line.

Ronnie: I wanna work with anybody who wants to work, but they’re hard on people. People aren't ready for revolution. People aren't grabbin' guns and stormin' Parliament yet. To fail to recognize that and to keep shoving that down people's throats and to criticize militantly people who don't fall in line with that practise, again, I think they're missing the mark.

Rachael: So with this employer you currently have, I mean you’re what, day three?

Ronnie: Yeah.

Rachael: Is there anything you can say- and it's fine if it's just positive at this point. No struggles so far?

Ronnie: No. No, I think it’s gonna be good, actually. I'm pretty stoked about it.

Rachael: And how many workers are there?

Ronnie: There [are four].

Rachael: And what is the construction project?

Ronnie: We're doing a four-plex. And that one's a new building. And we're doing an apartment building on Second Avenue. I think it was an existing apartment. It's a huge, huge renovation.

John: So your work experience, you've shifted a lot from different bosses, then on your own a bit?

Ronnie: Yeah. I've had problems too, where people have hired me and then, I'm a better taper than them. And then it upsets them, so then they don't want me around. I was criticizing [one employer's] work and he wasn't happy. We had to threaten to fucking cut his tires to get paid. He fired me after I fixed his work. told me I wasn't worth fifteen bucks an hour. Too often, you gotta threaten people to get paid.

Elizabeth: People are not expecting their employees to come after them. They're expecting the employees to just take it and walk away.

Ronnie: And it's commonplace, and it's so unfortunate that it's commonplace. Like, I wouldn't suggest to anybody to get into construction. Ever.

Elizabeth: Sometimes, you say something though, and you get paid….

Rachael: You're a pretty combative guy.

Ronnie: I'm pretty calm also. It's important to be calm while you're threatening people. If you're all animated and stuff, no one will take you serious, but if you're calm and collected, and you tell somebody they're gonna come out of their job and have no tires left on their truck, they believe you.

Elizabeth: And I think workers can do things like this that they're not doing. Again, the fear. If they know of examples where it's worked, and sometimes it won't work, but again, where are you worse off? Sometimes, they're not expecting the employee to do anything about the abuse, so when they do, they're like, "Oh, shit." They're caught off guard, 'cause they screwed so many people over.

Rachael: Is there anything else that you want to say about being a drywall taper?

Ronnie: Yeah, I probably won't ever work for myself again. I would rather go to work every day knowing I'm gettin' paid every second Friday, take my pay cheque home. I don't ever want to work for myself again.

Rachael: Because most of those times when you weren't getting paid, that was like a self-employed thing?

Ronnie: Yeah, most times, it's a self-employed thing, sometimes it's a payroll thing too.

Elizabeth: And we spread the word.

Ronnie: Yeah, that's the thing. Sudbury is so small. Like, with this guy that owed me two hundred bucks- that's the thing too, right? I would have just told. I would have put ads all over Kijiji saying this guy doesn't pay his guys. I would have ruined his business for two hundred bucks. And, why? Just pay me. I did the work. Just pay me. It's simple.

Elizabeth: 'Cause they don't know. They don't think they're gonna get a backlash. They think you'll just take it.

Ronnie: But it shouldn't come to a backlash.

Rachael: But that shows you though that there are a lot of workers that just take it. And that's why combativeness is important, whether you like that particular phrasing or not.

Ronnie: Well, it is combative.

Rachael: Since it's not really practical for you to organize in your own workplace right now, do you think that you would ever be interested in organizing in other workplaces or, like, say, in a local workers' committee?

Ronnie: Yeah.

Rachael: Okay.

Ronnie: Yeah, I'd be interested in doing anything, anything that promotes the struggle and promotes the unity.

Commentary

The prevailing ideology of any society – ideas, culture, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, traditions, media, arts, and education – reinforces the interests of its ruling class. Under capitalism, the ruling class is the capitalist class. Competition is the engine of capitalism and individualism is its ideology. Capitalists’ interests are served by forcing us to compete with each other to meet our needs. In pre-class divided societies, collectivism was the prevailing ideology: we cooperated with each other to meet our needs. Today, collective struggle is the only way that we can overcome our domination by capitalism.

To begin to reclaim our collectivism we have to struggle to reject individualism over and over again. To fight individualism, we need to discuss it openly to see how we can best organize to overcome it. Workers and progressives shouldn’t feel ashamed, nor should they shame others, for struggling with individualism under capitalism. It’s very difficult to go against our culture. Building ideological strength is advanced by building political unity – by building organization. And these aspects of our struggle advance in tandem. This is one of the many reasons why organizing in our own interests is so important.

Unions, despite their current lack of working class leadership, are an advance over the straight competition demanded of individual, unorganized workers. Unionized workers have better working conditions, better pay and better benefits, and this is because of the power of organization. Despite the precariousness and seemingly rampant abuse in his field, Ronnie struggled when he was making the transition to unionized work. This was a struggle to overcome individualism, to overcome ideology. He struggled to transition from competitive, individual work to organized, collective work. This is understandable, and his struggle also offers us insight to the connection between ideology and economics.

During his periods of self-employment, Ronnie negotiated around the completion of jobs rather than his time, and so it made sense for him to work faster. However, workers who are hired by the hour have a different interest in controlling the pace of their work. From this example, we can see that a worker’s relationship to production impacts their ideology. This example also shows us how an industrial worker is automatically anti-capitalist – they don’t have to declare themselves to be!

Also situated in the ideological field is the culture of fear regarding losing our jobs. The challenge of finding workers who are willing to be interviewed about their working conditions has made this phenomenon very clear to us, and workers who have been willing to stick their necks out first have been vital to this series. Elizabeth was also willing to stick her neck out first to reject the fear of Ronnie losing his job. She rejected individualism by supporting Ronnie when he stood up to an abusive employer. Her confidence that they could meet their needs in more collective ways is the kind of support that workers taking a stand need from family and friends. Her leadership in this aspect of the struggle is crucial and should be recognized as such. It’s precisely this political unity that is required to advance workers’ ideological strength, including attitudes such as combativeness.

Ronnie’s combative instinct to call communists for help with a workplace struggle also gives us insight to the connection between a broad working class movement and the different political levels of organization that are part of such a movement: revolutionary, intermediate and mass levels. The relationships between these political levels are dialectical and their boundaries are permeable. Workers can move within these levels of organization and also organize in more than one level at a time. When Ronnie thought to call communists for support he was acknowledging the role of the revolutionary level. He did it again when he hypothesized how to organize workers who are worried about retaliation. However, we disagree that the CPC is a revolutionary level organization. If the CPC does recognize the determinant role of the working class in formulating an alternative to capitalism, it does so in theory only, not in practice. Communist parties established in advance of mass movements, and that are disconnected from workers, are one of myriad examples of the petit bourgeoisie trying to lead our struggle.
 
 
 
 
Capitalism is attacking all the dominated classes from all directions. We have common problems and capitalism is our common enemy. We can’t rely on politicians, business unions or NGOs to offer any way out. We have to fight for our own interests outside of these structures. We want to build an autonomous working class-led organization with different elements that are working together to fight capitalism. If you’re interested in building such an organization, get in touch: info@workersstrugglesudbury.com

Workers Struggle-Sudbury is edited by Rachael Charbonneau and John Newlands and is published monthly.