Pensions - Part 4

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Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

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The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is sinking C$1.4 billion of members...

I know this wasn't you, epaulo, but it would have been nice if the authors could have at least bothered to google the name of the Board they're about to criticize.

It's, of course, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

Weekend Video: The Contradictions of Pension Fund Capitalism

It is often hoped and assumed that union stewardship of pension investments will produce tangible and enduring benefits for workers and their communities while minimizing the negative effects of what are now global and intensely competitive capital markets. At the core of the book The Contradictions of Pension Fund Capitalism is a desire to question the proposition that workers and their organizations can exert meaningful control over pension funds in the context of current financial markets.

Unionist

epaulo13 wrote:

It is often hoped and assumed that union stewardship of pension investments will produce tangible and enduring benefits for workers and their communities while minimizing the negative effects of what are now global and intensely competitive capital markets.

I have personally always fought against the notion that my union should get involved, in any way, in how our defined benefit pension plan is invested (with the sole exception of such demands as BDS, the arms industry, etc.). To me, it's exactly as wrongheaded as the notion that unions should have seats on boards of directors of the our employers' corporations.

We're not going to achieve socialism by incrementally becoming our own bosses - because along that road, we become the workers' bosses. It just doesn't work.

I will listen to this discussion with interest. Thanks, epaulo.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..i watched the first 2 of 4 videos. i'm learning, liking and agreeing with the direction of the discussion. going to take a break now. will listen to the rest a little later.

progressive17 progressive17's picture

So how are you going to stop your union pension plan from investing in the things you don't like if you choose not to have any influence over it? What if they invest in a non-union company in direct competition with you that imports products made from slavery? Isn't that a little hazardous to your own wages which build up the pension fund in the first place?

You said, "We're not going to achieve socialism by incrementally becoming our own bosses - because along that road, we become the workers' bosses."

I do not understand the intent of this statement. Who is the "we" who become the workers' bosses? The board members democratically elected by the workers? I thought democracy in the workplace was a stated goal of the "Left".

If we are to achieve "socialism", is that abolition of private property, if we are to go by the book? If so, what reason would any company have to exist?

People need to buy their crap because they want to own it. Workers who make the crap are filling the desire for that crap, and should profit from it. As most of them have nothing left over after rent, food, and bills, they are not profiting from it. Profit sharing and workplace democracy should mitigate this problem, ideology be damned.

Unionist

progressive17 wrote:

So how are you going to stop your union pension plan from investing in the things you don't like if you choose not to have any influence over it?

Same question arises with the money I deposit in the bank, the taxes I pay to the government, and the investment choices my employer makes with the value that my labour produces for them. There's nothing special about a pension fund in that respect. Unless we talk about working people controlling all the levers of political and economic power, we're creating an illusion of control - and more likely creating an upper crust of union appointees who rub shoulders with the millionaires.

If we're unhappy about how a pension fund, or bank, or government, or corporation invests, then we organize protests, strikes, and other measures. Nothing special about a pension fund.

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What if they invest in a non-union company in direct competition with you that imports products made from slavery? Isn't that a little hazardous to your own wages which build up the pension fund in the first place?

I actually don't think that's how pension funds invest - and they're more rigorously circumscribed than (say) how a company or a government invests.

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You said, "We're not going to achieve socialism by incrementally becoming our own bosses - because along that road, we become the workers' bosses."

I do not understand the intent of this statement. Who is the "we" who become the workers' bosses? The board members democratically elected by the workers? I thought democracy in the workplace was a stated goal of the "Left".

Yes, the board members democratically elected by the workers. Just like the members of Parliament democratically elected by the workers. It doesn't work, does it? And if it did, the real powers in society would stop it tout de suite. We will not win control of a pension plan, or a whole workplace, or a whole society, by electing some individuals and hoping the billionaires will continue generously sharing their power with us. They either coopt our democratically elected reps, or crush them if they can't. Cooptation works quite well, though.

And I have no clue what you mean by "democracy in the workplace". Please explain. Workers vote on who does what, what gets done and when, who supervises and manages? I don't believe in that.

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If we are to achieve "socialism", is that abolition of private property, if we are to go by the book? If so, what reason would any company have to exist?

My idea of socialism is that the means of production and distribution are owned by and wielded for the benefit of the society. So yes, that kind of "private property" would need to be at least tightly regulated, if not abolished. I see no problem with people owning their own living quarters, clothes, appliances, food, tools, etc. But I don't believe in free markets (i.e. the right to buy and sell) when it comes to production and distribution of the goods and services that society deems essential to all (education, health care, child care, transportation, energy, food, etc.).

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People need to buy their crap because they want to own it.

Not people like you and I. We need to buy our crap because we want to use it. If we could use it without owning it, why would that be a problem?

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Workers who make the crap are filling the desire for that crap, and should profit from it.

I totally disagree. Workers who build roads should not profit from those roads. Nor should workers who drive locomotives or staff hospitals. Society should provide everyone - regardless of what work they perform - with the basics of life (which I started to list above) free of charge, or as close to that as can be managed. And people, subject to their ability and interest, should be expected to give back to society by helping to produce and and deliver those needs to everyone.

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Profit sharing and workplace democracy should mitigate this problem, ideology be damned.

Totally disagree. Profit sharing means some big shot owns you and your workplace and makes profit off your work, and you get to "share" in that. I say all the "profit" of society should go to those who create the wealth (the workers) and their families and those who can't work because of age or disability. I wouldn't share one single penny with owners, investors, etc. as currently structured. And I still have no clue what you mean by "workplace democracy".

I do agree when you say "ideology be damned". I'll embrace any ideology that's aimed at delivering what I've sketched out above.

progressive17 progressive17's picture

Well, I agree with the end results of what you are proposing. I just don't know how we are going to get there without going through what we have now.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..finished watching the 4 videos. it was declared that unions don't control pensions funds. while the speakers do an excellent job in describing how pensions came to be, where things began to change, how the investment side works and the many contradictions..there is very little on how this can be changed.

..on making change there are broad statements made on how unions aren't doing enough. aren't doing enough to protect pensions. an example they used was unifor negotiating 2 tiered pensions. not doing enough to fight for decent pensions. not doing enough to force the structures to change. not doing enough to force ethical investments. one example is canadian pension money is invested in the water utility in britian that was privatized by thatcher. that privatization is demanding their workers reduce their pensions. another is directing investments to off shore accounts.  

..so while this makes for a good starting position on what to do now..there is a need for follow ups on how to do this. and that it is understood that this will be a difficult struggle.

Unionist

Workers need to defend their existing defined benefit pension plans, and vigorously resist attempts at "selling the unborn" (i.e. 2-tiered plans). But the real goal must be to significantly increase the CPP (and its Québec equivalent) so that all workers can have decent guaranteed pensions without having to negotiate or preserve separate private ones, which are disappearing and almost impossible to create new ones. The Canadian Labour Congress has a movement to double the CPP benefits (by doubling employer and employee contributions). That's an important start. Looks like the Liberal government is prepared to go half-way in that direction. Right now the max CPP is about $12,000 and change, and in addition there's OAS, and then GIS on a means-test basis. As for how the money is invested - once we emphasize a single public pension fund, then the question of investment becomes the same as for how all the state's funds are invested. And to solve that question, we need a movement, and ultimately we need state power.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..yes. the doubling of pensions was something suggested on the videos.

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