On Authority

by Friedrich Engels

A number of Socialists have latterly launched a regular crusade against what they call the principle of authority. It suffices to tell them that this or that act is authoritarian for it to be condemned. This summary mode of procedure is being abused to such an extent that it has become necessary to look into the matter somewhat more closely.

Authority, in the sense in which the word is used here, means: the imposition of the will of another upon ours; on the other hand, authority presupposes subordination. Now, since these two words sound bad, and the relationship which they represent is disagreeable to the subordinated party, the question is to ascertain whether there is any way of dispensing with it, whether — given the conditions of present-day society — we could not create another social system, in which this authority would be given no scope any longer, and would consequently have to disappear.

On examining the economic, industrial and agricultural conditions which form the basis of present-day bourgeois society, we find that they tend more and more to replace isolated action by combined action of individuals. Modern industry, with its big factories and mills, where hundreds of workers supervise complicated machines driven by steam, has superseded the small workshops of the separate producers; the carriages and wagons of the highways have become substituted by railway trains, just as the small schooners and sailing feluccas have been by steam-boats. Even agriculture falls increasingly under the dominion of the machine and of steam, which slowly but relentlessly put in the place of the small proprietors big capitalists, who with the aid of hired workers cultivate vast stretches of land.

Everywhere combined action, the complication of processes dependent upon each other, displaces independent action by individuals. But whoever mentions combined action speaks of organisation; now, is it possible to have organisation without authority?

Supposing a social revolution dethroned the capitalists, who now exercise their authority over the production and circulation of wealth. Supposing, to adopt entirely the point of view of the anti-authoritarians, that the land and the instruments of labour had become the collective property of the workers who use them. Will authority have disappeared, or will it only have changed its form? Let us see.

Let us take by way if example a cotton spinning mill. The cotton must pass through at least six successive operations before it is reduced to the state of thread, and these operations take place for the most part in different rooms. Furthermore, keeping the machines going requires an engineer to look after the steam engine, mechanics to make the current repairs, and many other labourers whose business it is to transfer the products from one room to another, and so forth. All these workers, men, women and children, are obliged to begin and finish their work at the hours fixed by the authority of the steam, which cares nothing for individual autonomy. The workers must, therefore, first come to an understanding on the hours of work; and these hours, once they are fixed, must be observed by all, without any exception. Thereafter particular questions arise in each room and at every moment concerning the mode of production, distribution of material, etc., which must be settled by decision of a delegate placed at the head of each branch of labour or, if possible, by a majority vote, the will of the single individual will always have to subordinate itself, which means that questions are settled in an authoritarian way. The automatic machinery of the big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalists who employ workers ever have been. At least with regard to the hours of work one may write upon the portals of these factories: Lasciate ogni autonomia, voi che entrate! [Leave, ye that enter in, all autonomy behind!]

If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, in so far as he employs them, to a veritable despotism independent of all social organisation. Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel.

Let us take another example — the railway. Here too the co-operation of an infinite number of individuals is absolutely necessary, and this co-operation must be practised during precisely fixed hours so that no accidents may happen. Here, too, the first condition of the job is a dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persona interested. In either case there is a very pronounced authority. Moreover, what would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?

But the necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one.

When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid anti-authoritarians, the only answer they were able to give me was the following: Yes, that’s true, but there it is not the case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world.

We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.

We have seen, besides, that the material conditions of production and circulation inevitably develop with large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture, and increasingly tend to enlarge the scope of this authority. Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don’t know what they’re talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.

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Air Canada Wildcat Sparked by a Sarcastic Exchange

by Stephanie Findlay, Lesley Ciarula Taylor, and Alyshah Hasham
Toronto Star

A sarcastic exchange between Air Canada employees and federal labour minister Lisa Raitt was all it took to set off a nation-wide wildcat strike.

Raitt was walking through Toronto Pearson International Airport Thursday evening when three Air Canada ground workers began heckling her.

“Workers started clapping and saying, ‘Thanks for taking our right to strike,’” said ramp worker Geoff Ward.

The trio was slapped with a three-day suspension. Ultimately, 37 employees received some kind of penalty.

By 10:30 pm, the ground workers, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), were banding together for a brazen wildcat which would last 13 hours.

Employees in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City followed in solidarity, throwing Air Canada’s domestic flight schedule into chaos for the day.

It’s a confrontation nine years in the making. To keep the airline from bankruptcy, unions have agreed for their membership to take pay cuts, delayed pension payments, salary freezes and layoffs.

Today, the company is faring better, but the relationship between management and employees is battered by chronic negotiations, government intervention and talk of a discount airline.

As of Friday evening, the peace between Raitt and the union was tenuous.

“We encourage the parties to resolve this internal dispute, return to work and restore the confidence to the travelling public,” said a statement released by Raitt’s office.

“We’re making our members fully aware that if they decide to walk off the job and protest anything they could be fired,” said IAMAW spokesman Bill Trbovich.

“As it stands right now everyone is back to work with the exception of three guys who were suspended last night,” he said.

“I hesitate to say everything is back to normal.”

Air Canada has been plagued by labour troubles for the past year. The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that recently prompted the federal government to step in with legislation banning strikes or lockouts at the airline.

Ottawa also had to intervene in contract disputes involving the airline’s flight attendants and its customer service agents.

Air Canada’s stock price remained stable at 82 cents a share, but S&P placed the airline on credit watch with negative implications. The rating agency worried about labour disruption and the possibility Air Canada would be on the hook for severance packages for laid off Aveos employees.

Those booking flights also said the company took a hit.

Travel agent Maria Stenardo booked an April flight for a client whose only request was: “not Air Canada.”

Stenardo, of Etobicoke’s Belview Travel Services, says they are reluctant to book Air Canada flights until the labour dispute is resolved.

“We like Air Canada…but we just wish they’d fix it once and for all, for both parties,” she said.

More than 200 Air Canada flights in and out of Pearson International Airport and dozens more flights in and out of Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau International Airport and the Quebec City and Vancouver airports were hit by the walkouts.

“Lisa Raitt came on one of our flights. Got heckled…Entire ramp walked out at YYZ (Pearson),” said a text received by one striker Thursday night shortly after 10 p.m.

“Corporate security was trying to provoke us,” said baggage worker Pascal Leroux, 43. “The reaction was heavy-handed.”

It turned ugly. An Air Canada customer service employee was spat on by an angry passenger who had been swearing at the picket line.

Police moved in and the spitter came back shortly afterwards to apologize, a man who identified himself as the Air Canada employee’s husband said.

“The public doesn’t understand. They think we’re overpaid monkeys,” said ramp worker Randy Hale.

Striking ground workers were circulating a document explaining their wildcat.

“The use of forced overtime and the systematic and persistent discipline of employees without due process with the heavy-handed tactics they use to intimidate and demoralize the workforce must cease.

“We want a ruling from the CIRB (Canadian Industrial Relations Board) on whether or not we are an essential service.”

Airport workers belonging to the CAW and CUPE unions joined the strikers with signs. A purple bus belonging to CUPE 966 arrived at midmorning with President’s Choice chocolate chip cookies and water.

One customer service worker said she was there because the suspensions “were the icing on the cake. The meat and potatoes of it is that our right to strike has been stripped away.”

The Government of Canada was opposed to the strike, threatening to enforce fines of up to $1,000 a day for employees and $100,000 for the union, IAMAW.

Though most wildcat strikers were working by noon, about a dozen others remained outside. The cluster of militants booed as workers walked through the terminal.

“We’re not going back to work until we get a promise from Air Canada at the negotiating table,” said ground worker Sean Goveas. “The actual issues haven’t been addressed. We won’t go back if any of us are disciplined.”

At Pearson, about 50 people lined up in front of the Tim Hortons counter as stranded passengers clogged Terminal 1.

Sitting nearby was federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, whose Toronto to Sudbury flight was cancelled. He called it “regrettable” that passengers were inconvenienced.

Jane Halas’s Vancouver to Ottawa flight stranded her in Toronto en route to visit a sick mother-in-law.

“I think they should be fired. I won’t be flying Air Canada anymore. I’ll be flying WestJet.”

Soon after the job action began, many passengers said they had no idea where their luggage was, or how they were going to get to their destinations. One passenger described the situation at the airport as “a zoo.”

Many people had to leave flights already on the tarmac until management was able take over some baggage handling duties and allow the delayed flights to continue.

In order to facilitate changes to travel plans, Air Canada has revised its ticketing policy for customers booked on flights until Sunday March 25, 2012. Those wishing to rebook can do so free of charge until the last day of April.

Later in the day, an Occupy group briefly set up camp in Lisa Raitt’s Milton office. A Facebook group calling for her resignation also popped up.

The wildcat may be over, but some say the repercussions will linger — at the customer’s expense.

Fred Lazar, an economist at York University’s Schulich School of Business and long-time airline observer, says it would be optimistic to expect smooth sailing when flying on Air Canada.

“Just because you go back to work doesn’t mean you’ll be working all that hard,” he said.

“I think some people will feel ‘why should I care about the customer if my employer doesn’t care about me?’”

*note: with files from Josh Rubin and The Canadian Press. Original article here.

Feds Urged to Use Back-to-Work Legislation Only in ‘Very Extreme’ Cases

by Steve Rennie

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt delivers a statement in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt delivers a statement in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

OTTAWA – An appeal from federal bureaucrats to use back-to-work legislation only as a last resort in labour disputes at Air Canada appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development advised the governing Conservatives in a secret report to use the powerful legal measure only sparingly after the airline’s customer-service and sales staff walked out last June.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the July 21 report under the Access to Information Act.

In it, senior officials urged the Tories to save the back-to-work law for emergencies. The bureaucrats were not convinced the walkout by customer-service agents constituted anything more than a nuisance to air travellers.

“This is an option to be used only in very extreme circumstances where there is a serious impact on the national economy — in this instance it would appear to be more of an inconvenience to travellers who would have to rely on other modes of transportation,” the document says.

That piece of advice came after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had already tabled back-to-work legislation to end labour unrest between Air Canada and its customer-service agents. The two sides reached a deal before the measure could be enacted.

A few months later, Raitt again threatened further back-to-work legislation when it looked like Air Canada’s flight attendants might walk off the job. The labour minister also sought to head off a strike by referring the dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, allegedly over health and safety concerns during a work stoppage. The lead arbitrator subsequently imposed the last deal rejected by flight attendants.

Fast-forward to the airline’s latest bout of labour unrest. The House of Commons just voted to send a pair of disputes at Air Canada to binding arbitration even before a threatened strike and lockout. The legislation covers about 3,000 pilots and 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground crew.

On Tuesday, Air Canada pilots filed a legal challenge in an Ontario court, arguing that federal legislation contravened their charter rights.

Raitt’s spokeswoman did not directly answer questions about the department’s recommendations for using back-to-work legislation.

“Our government acted in the public’s best interest and the best interests of the national economy,” Ashley Kelahear wrote in an email. She did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about the report.

The Human Resources and Skills Development report gave several options to settle labour disputes, including back-to-work legislation. The other options were mediation, summoning both sides to Ottawa to meet Raitt, binding arbitration, ordering a vote on an employer offer and referring the dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The Tories have not been shy about passing bills to prevent work stoppages. The House of Commons passed a bill in June ordering 48,000 Canada Post employees back to work.

*source: The Canadian Press