rtod: we only want the earth

On the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, these Revolutionary Thoughts of the Day are brought to you by the great Irish socialist, James Connolly.
The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go. (1910)

This speech, from 1897, is recreated in the excellent Ken Loach film "The Wind that Shakes the Barley":
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs. England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that freedom whose cause you had betrayed. Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.

This recalls what I recently posted: yoko ono was right.
The worker is the slave of the capitalist society. The female worker is the slave of that slave. (1915)

And from Connolly's poem "Song of Freedom," 1907.
“Be moderate,” the trimmers cry,
Who dread the tyrants’ thunder.
“You ask too much and people fly
From you aghast in wonder.”
’Tis passing strange, for I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the Earth.

u.s. iraq war resisters: the struggle continues

Still war resisters. Still in Canada. Still fighting to stay.

So far, the change in government hasn't helped the Iraq War resisters who remain here, nor the ones who were forced out of Canada who would like to return. The Trudeau government could do this so easily. And yet.

The CBC Radio show "DNTO" recently did an excellent segment about the US Iraq War resisters and the fight - still going on - to let them stay in Canada.
When American soldier Joshua Key fled to Canada in 2005, he never imagined that ten years later he would still be fighting a war — against the U.S. army, against post-traumatic stress disorder, and against the Canadian government.

Key is one of an estimated 15 Iraq war veterans who are fighting to remain in Canada.

The resisters left home to avoid being sent back to a war they didn't believe in. Today, they fear they'll be sent to prison if they're deported.

On this week's DNTO, you'll meet modern war resisters. Each of their stories is unique, but they all have one thing in common: they wish to stay in Canada. Should they be allowed to?
Some segments:

Meet the war resisters desperate to stay in Canada.

Who's helping the war resisters?

The Brockway family: fighting PTSD and searching for home.

A photo essay about Josh Key.

The show is really worth hearing, and you know how I feel about radio. You can listen to the full episode here.


april 28: national day of mourning

Across Canada, April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on their jobs.

The image of the canary reminds us that, not so very long ago, a tiny yellow bird was the only safety device mine workers had against some of the terrible dangers of their workplace.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees are often the canaries in the coal mine for the public, putting themselves on the front line of public safety every day. Just yesterday, members of CUPE Local 1989 in the quiet Port Credit library faced a trauma and a public emergency. None of them was physically hurt, but the incident reminds us that public-service workers often stand between the public and danger.

Each year, approximately 1,000 Canadian workers are killed on the job. One thousand! Hundreds of thousands are injured; untold numbers suffer from work-related illnesses, which may eventually claim their lives. We can do better. We must demand better.

April 28 is a day to reflect on these numbers and the real people they represent. For unionists and labour activists, it's a day to re-dedicate ourselves to our continued efforts to make workplaces safer, and to help workers whose jobs put their health at risk.

We remember these CUPE sisters and brothers who were killed on the job in 2015:
Dellis Partridge, CUPE 4946, Alberta
John Macleod, CUPE 1867, Nova Scotia
Alain Bissonnette, CUPE 503, Ontario
Harl Hawley, CUPE 30, Alberta
Nilo Sanchez, CUPE 59, Saskatchewan
Venancio Perez, CUPE 1483, Ontario
Stephen Penny, CUPE 30, Alberta
William Miller, CUPE 4705, Ontario
Mark Urbanowicz, CUPE 1000, Ontario (2014)


(un)happy equal pay day

Today is Equal Pay Day in Ontario. Why? It's the day that, if you're a woman, your earnings have finally caught up with what men were paid the previous year. Women doing the same or equivalent work still earn, on average, 30% less than their male counterparts.

The higher up the food chain a woman works, the greater the gap in pay.
Ontario’s highest paid women earn an average of 37% less than the highest paid men, translating into a whopping $64,000 less in annual average earnings.  “Over the course of a working lifetime, these pay gaps can grow into a mountain of lost earnings,” says Cornish. “For instance, a middle-income woman could find herself earning, on average, $315,000 less than men over a 35-year period. The highest paid 10 per cent of women could earn an average of $2.24 million less than highest paid 10 per cent of men over a 35-year period.
The Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives has collected the data and done the rigorous study. No further study is needed. What we need is action.


a petition to exonerate ethel rosenberg

Of all the outrageously unjust moments in United States history - and dog knows there are many to choose from - the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg holds a special place in my political underpinnings. It was an event I learned about early on, one that came up in many different contexts throughout my childhood. That was partly because the Rosenbergs were Jewish, and their case was rife with anti-Semitism. It was partly because of my parents' thorough and utter disgust for McCarthyism. And it was partly because my parents had very clear, first-hand memories of the case, the execution occurring in the early years of their marriage. They remembered the media frenzy, the protests attempting to save their lives, and finally, the Rosenbergs' deaths.

My mother always mentioned thousands of people packing into New York City's Union Square on the night of the execution, pleading with the government to commute or stay the sentence. My mother and I both read The Book of Daniel, E. L. Doctorow's fictional imaginings of the Rosenberg orphans, and my mother bought (and gave to others as gifts) We Are Your Sons, written by the Rosenbergs' children, Robert and Michael Meeropol.

In recent years, declassified information showed that Julius Rosenberg had spied for the Soviet Union. He did not, however, pass secrets about the atom bomb, the crime of which he was accused and convicted. And no similar evidence came to light about Ethel Rosenberg. Despite these details, the US media was only too happy to declare the case closed.

When I saw the subject line in my inbox Sign the petition: Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg, I was very interested. But I was also wary. If we want Ethel Rosenberg to be exonerated, does that mean we are condoning Julius' conviction? If we say, "Ethel was not a spy and her execution was wrongful," do we imply that the execution of Julius Rosenberg was justified? Or that some executions may be justified?

I care about the Rosenbergs. I care about government-led persecution and witchhunts. But I also care about the death penalty: I am against it, for any reason, ever. (Don't Godwin me. Any reason ever.) I've known about the Rosenbergs my entire life. I wanted to sign this petition, but I wasn't sure I should.

I wasn't alone. This was forwarded to me by an activist friend who received the petition before I did.
Many people who’ve signed the petition to exonerate my grandmother, Ethel Rosenberg, have asked why the campaign doesn’t include my grandfather, Julius. My father Robert Meeropol answers that question in a blog, here.

My dad’s outlook on life and his drive to create something positive from the terrible tragedy of his early years continues to be inspiring, both for those who are new to his story and for those of us who know his journey well.

As you can imagine, my father’s life was profoundly affected by his parents’ execution. He was three years old when they were arrested, and six years old when they were killed. He visited his parents in prison and still remembers what that felt like. He also remembers the executions, and the trauma of being bounced from home to home, and in and out of an orphanage. Relatives were too scared to take in him and my uncle. They were even thrown out of school in New Jersey where sympathetic friends of the family had tried to give them shelter.

Luckily my father and uncle were eventually adopted by Anne and Abel Meeropol. This loving couple, who were teachers and artists, provided a nurturing home and shielded them from the public. And thousands of people who had tried to save my grandparents donated funds to pay for my father and uncle’s education, therapy, art and drama programs, and other services to help them grow up healthy and happy.

Decades later, my father started the Rosenberg Fund for Children to assist kids in this country who are experiencing similar nightmares to what he endured. This organization I now lead aids the children of today’s targeted activists. Their parents are being attacked because they’re struggling to combat racism, wage peace, preserve civil liberties, safeguard the environment, organize on behalf of workers, prisoners, and LGBTQI people, and more. . . .
Incidentally, the children of US war resister Kimberly Rivera received some assistance from The Rosenberg Fund for Children. I'm proud that some part of my life intersects with some part of the Rosenbergs'.

I signed the petition with a clear conscience and I hope you will, too.

If you are interested in both a progressive and factual reading of the executions, I recommend this long piece by Robert Wilbur, writing in Truthout: The True Crime of the Rosenberg Execution.
Federal District Judge Irving R. Kaufman was a pious man. He visited his synagogue to commune with whatever god he believed in before making up his mind to condemn Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to die in the electric chair, making orphans of their two young boys. That, however, was not the full reach of his piety. Under pressure from the Justice Department to end the Rosenberg case quickly, after two years of delays in the courts, Kaufman set their death for a Friday. This created an unanticipated complication, as Sam Roberts recounts in his grisly description of the execution in "The Brother": New York State traditionally carried out its executions at 11:00 PM. But this would mean the Rosenbergs would burn several hours into the Sabbath - the Jewish holy day. What to do? Kaufman sought the advice of a rabbi to ascertain the exact time when the Sabbath began, then ordered the executions moved up to a more comfortable hour.

The judge must have gotten satisfactory advice, for there were no complaints from organized Jewry in America. Julius died from the traditional three jolts of electricity; Ethel required an additional two jolts, perhaps the only shred of evidence that she was really the tougher member of the spying duo.

And, while the evidence remains much disputed, the preponderance suggests that spies they were. Eventually, even the Rosenberg's journalistic cheerleaders, Walter and Miriam Schneir, acknowledged that Julius Rosenberg was ringmaster of a busy espionage collective that was passing electronic and aeronautical intelligence to the Soviets during the Second World War. Julius himself - unlike the nerd depicted in photographs - was a brazen cowboy who scored a daring espionage coup by stealing the proximity fuse from its plant of manufacture piece by piece: this device uses an electromagnetic wave guide to identify a nearby aircraft, vastly increasing the efficacy of anti-aircraft batteries.

Schneir acknowledged that Julius was a spy - but not an atomic spy. And, so, the case has dragged on to this very day, and two important questions remain unanswered:

- Were the Rosenbergs framed to break up their spy ring in a distinctly conclusive manner (and, relatedly, what was Ethel's role in the ring)?

- If the death penalty is ever appropriate, was it called for in this case?

. . . .

But when everything seems to be tied up in a neat package, Schneir has a quote from Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and one-time death penalty battler turned post-9/11 advocate of torture, citing a conversation with Rosenberg prosecutor and mob lawyer Roy Cohn:
"Roy Cohn ... proudly told me shortly before his death [in 1986] that the government had 'manufactured 'evidence against the Rosenbergs, because they knew Julius was the head of a spy ring. They had learned this from bugging a foreign embassy, but they could not disclose any information learned from the bug, so they made up some evidence in order to prove what they already knew. In the process, they also made up the case against Ethel Rosenberg." ["America on Trial" (NY: Warner Books,2004.p/323)]
In right-wing quarters, especially those where "kike" and "yid" are words of currency, the Rosenberg case is still considered the crime of the century, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. . . .

So, while the Rosenbergs probably did break a law that was passed amid the hysteria of an earlier world war by passing non-atomic intelligence on to the Russians, the statesmen committed a monumental blunder in underestimating the Soviet Union's imperialistic intentions. The Rosenberg's crime was probably to break the 1917 Espionage Act; by far the greater crime was to kill husband and wife on June 19, 58 years ago. The execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is the true crime of the century - an abomination that casts an ineradicable black mark on the American criminal justice system and on the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose own crime was a failure to grant mercy.
This story on the World Socialist website sees the Rosenbergs' persecution clearly, through a present-day lens.
June 19 [2013] marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Many of the Rosenbergs’ contemporaries, for whom their persecution and state murder was the most searing episode in one of the darkest chapters in US history, have passed from the scene. Yet still today, for millions of people around the world, the name of the young couple evokes the Cold War, the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the United States and all of the crimes associated with Washington’s global crusade against communism. The execution of the father and mother of two young children, residents of New York City’s Lower East Side — he 35 years old and she 37 at the time of their deaths — is testimony to the savagery of which the American ruling establishment is capable when it perceives its vital interests to be at stake.

Despite the passing of five decades, the issues surrounding the Rosenberg case are in many ways posed more sharply today than at any time since the execution itself. Once again, a US administration is seeking to terrorize the entire population as a means of suppressing dissent and exercising control on behalf of a wealthy elite. Under the guise of a global “war on terrorism,” it has rammed through the USA Patriot Act — modeled in part on the anti-communist McCarran Internal Security Act of 50 years ago — assuming vast unconstitutional powers to arrest without charges, detain without trial and conduct unrestricted police surveillance.

Today, as then, the government’s fear-mongering and attacks on democratic rights are aimed at suppressing widespread opposition to American military aggression abroad.
You can sign a petition to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg here.


when real life meets the onion: espn wants us to know that rape is traumatic... for the rapist

Ah, the things we miss when we don't follow mainstream media. I didn't even know the sports world was celebrating a rapist.

This week, drinking wine in a hotel room in New Jersey, Allan and I were pleased to discover that the Red Sox were on the ESPN Wednesday night game. A nice treat, or it would have been, if the announcing team (which included one of my most disliked announcers ever) had been able to stop talking about basketball long enough to call the game.

The game was often broadcast in a little box, while we were treated to the important news that hundreds of fans had gathered outside the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. (So many things wrong with that sentence!) Gee, if only ESPN had some other stations so it could broadcast a baseball game in its entirety while still reporting on the earth-shattering news from L.A.

The news that interrupted our baseball game? Kobe Bryant's final game. So I'm thinking, Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant, don't I know something else about him... When my memory finally kicked in, I asked Allan, "Kobe, isn't he a rapist?"

Indeed he is. Recapping Bryant's storied career, ESPN made no mention of this, not even to note that Bryant has been "the subject of controversy" or some-such euphemism. Yesterday they remedied that omission. From Deadspin: ESPN Asks How Kobe Bryant Being Credibly Accused Of Rape Affected Kobe Bryant.

That's only slightly sarcastic. From Think Progress:
During the program, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne — who has been spending time with Kobe during his final days as a player — said she had a “strange” and “provocative” take on the rape charges against him. She did not disappoint.

Shelburne said that being charge with rape “freed” Kobe to “tap into the darker side of himself.” He was then able to “channel all of that rage and fear on to the basketball court,” according to Shelburne.

The comments fit a troubling pattern of ignoring the alleged victim and focusing on the impact the charges had on Bryant, his endorsements and his on-court performance.

"It was traumatic for him. I think that is the right word," Shelburne concluded.

"Traumatic for all concerned we should say, not just Kobe Bryant. There was a woman on the other side," Storm reminded Shelburne before quickly changing the topic.
And from the Onion, from some years back: College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed.

* * * *

In case you are of the opinion that a rapist is no longer a rapist unless he's convicted in a court of law, please be aware that only the tiniest fraction of sexual assaults are ever prosecuted, and of those, few result in conviction. (For example, see the infographic here.)

In the Kobe Bryant rape case, there was a substantial amount of evidence against the basketball star. The victim/survivor declined to testify, and if you've learned anything from the Jian Ghomeshi case, you can imagine why. The victim did bring a separate, civil suit against Bryant, which (of course) was settled out of court. Bryant's public statement included this:
Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
And in case you think that media should only focus on Bryant's basketball career, and not mention his rape career, I'd ask you to read or listen to any of the recent media pieces fawning over Bryant and see if they mention anything that isn't purely basketball. I can guarantee they do.

To make the point more eloquently, I give you Deadspin. I thank them for this article, especially the closing paragraph.
When a sports event becomes so big that it produces a flood of coverage, as Kobe Bryant’s season-long goodbye tour has, it’s easy for pundits and reporters to end up in awkward positions simply by virtue of having had to say so much for so long about one thing.

The conversation is even more likely to go sideways when the story in question involves something serious, like a rape investigation. That’s how we ended up with ESPN anchor Hannah Storm and NBA reporter Ramona Shelburne having a very odd conversation on SportsCenter today.

It’s exceedingly strange to suggest that being accused of rape ultimately “freed” Kobe Bryant to become the Black Mamba—a character in Nike commercials and a vicious, selfish shooter—not just because it implicitly paints Bryant, rather than his accuser, as the main principal or victim here, but also because the Black Mamba is nothing more than a branding initiative, a piece of fiction that really doesn’t have any connection to something as grave as a rape allegation.

The Black Mamba comes up, strangely, in the context of Storm and Shelburne talking about how Bryant being accused of rape affected his career and fictional persona. This makes the question of whether or not Bryant raped a woman serve the same function as his rivalry with Shaq, or the development of his post game, and draws a connection between Bryant having been accused of rape and Bryant having, subsequently, come into his athletic prime. As if to heighten the absurdity of the conversation, Shelburne and Storm seamlessly transition from discussing the rape case to a lighthearted bit about whether Bryant will cry tonight.

The fact that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape should absolutely be brought up when talking about him, but it should not be spoken about in vague terms or swept up in the mythologizing of Bryant as a player. Kobe Bryant was once accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel room. The criminal case was dropped after the accuser refused to testify. Bryant eventually settled a civil suit with her. None of this has anything to do with basketball.


another big 4/15 in the #FightFor15

Today, April 15 - 4/15 in North America - the Fight for 15 and Fairness made another leap forward. All over the US and Canada, and in countries all over the world, workers marched, walked out, rallied, chanted, and demonstrated, for themselves, and for all of us. No matter what we earn, our communities will benefit when everyone is paid a living wage.

Looking back on last year's 4/15, the successes have been nothing short of amazing. Alberta, California, and New York State join the cities of Seattle and New York in pledging a $15/hour minimum wage. The two US states are moving way too slowly, but the fact that $15 is on the agenda is very significant.

To me, what is most exciting about this movement is that workers themselves have made this a national and international issue. Low-wage earners have organized themselves, and worked both social and traditional media with great energy and skill. You'd be hard-pressed to find a media outlet, city blog, or talk show that hasn't covered the strikes and demonstrations on a regular basis. When the people lead, the elected officials follow.

In Ontario, the call is 15 and Fairness, demanding paid sick time for all, wages and hours people can actually live on, and employment standards that apply to everyone, not just the dwindling few who still have traditional full-time employment.

My own Fight For 15 continues, as CUPE Local 1989, Mississauga Library Workers Union, fights for a fair wage for our pages, our lowest paid members. The struggles of our pages should be an embarrassment to the City of Mississauga.


what i'm reading: reckless: my life as a pretender by chrissie hynde

I'm a big fan of The Pretenders, but more than that, I'm a Chrissie Hynde fan. To me, she has always been the epitome of the female rock frontman. She's the whole package - guitar player, singer, songwriter, commanding stage presence, pure rock image, and smoldering, tough-girl beauty. I was naturally interested reading her memoirs, even more so when I learned she wrote the book herself, without a professional writer.

Reckless: My Life as a Pretender is aptly titled. Hynde's story is one of rash decisions, massive drinking and drug use, and a sizeable amount of danger. It's also a story of following your heart more than your head (often disregarding your head altogether), about loving music and the rock ethic so intensely, that only that life will do.

Hynde was ready and willing to live a nomadic, stripped-down life, without regard to commercial success, and often without material comfort at all, because comfort and success and everything that goes with it didn't matter. Only music and the rock life - and the true connections that she felt through those - mattered.

So while this review in The New York Times reads Reckless as a cautionary tale, I do not. To me it is simply an honest account without judgment. There's no doubt that Hynde's choices sometimes led to pain and suffering, but there's also no doubt they led her to her most authentic and fulfilled life. She's clearly not advocating a life of drug use and reckless decisions. She's just telling us that's what she did, for better or worse.

The book's subtitle - My Life as a Pretender - is apt, too, as Hynde often saw herself as an impostor, and maybe still does to some extent. Throughout the book, she is self-deprecating about her own talents. It isn't false modesty. It's an honest self-appraisal from someone who has lived "on nerves and feelings" (as someone Hynde and I mutually adore once wrote) and can't quite understand how her crazy life led her, at least sometimes, to success.

In Reckless, Hynde spends a long time recounting her young years, growing up in Akron, Ohio - her constant sense of alienation, her electric discovery of her musical soul, the scary and dangerous and occasionally fun situations she found herself in. Her pilgrimage to Europe - first London, then Paris, then, after a disastrous attempt to live in the US again, settling in to live in London permanently - is also documented in quite a bit of detail.

Two-thirds of the way through the book, The Pretenders still have not formed. The formation of the band, their early writing and recording, and the deaths of two members of the original lineup, all happen very quickly at the end of the book. I was left with a lot of questions.

The writing itself is very uneven, veering from moving and lyrical, and often humourous, to clunky and ridiculous. The book is sometimes extremely raw and revealing, and sometimes hazy and guarded. Some particularly rough times that Hynde survived - the subject of many book reviews - are recounted only cryptically.

Overall, though, it's a fascinating read. If you've ever fantasized about the rock-and-roll life - ever wondered how a misfit girl from the American midwest ends up leading a bunch of British men in an iconic rock band - and especially if, like me, you love Chrissie Hynde - this book is very entertaining.


precariously yours: notes from the 2016 cupe ontario library workers conference

Last week I attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, my second year, and my first since being elected to the organizing committee. This year's theme was precarious work, and nothing could be more relevant to library work today.

All three keynote speakers were excellent, with engaging, eye-opening presentations that brought our picture into sharp and disturbing focus.

Count it and name it, so we can change it

Wayne Lewchuk, professor of economics and labour relations at McMaster University, is the go-to guy for research into precarious work. Michelynn Lafleche is the Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation at United Way Toronto. (United Way is the primary social-service provider in this region.) They developed PEPSO: Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario. Its purpose: quantify the anecdotes, demonstrate what precarious work is and the affects it has on individuals, families, and communities, and offer practical solutions to this crisis.

PEPSO has produced two major reports, It's More than Poverty in 2013 and The Precarity Penalty in 2015. As Lafleche writes:
...we (as a society) got here one decision at a time. So the good news is that vulnerability and insecurity are not inevitable: we can escape this growing trend, decision by decision. It will take time, it will take clear ideas on what to do, and it will take a widespread coalition to make the necessary policy and social change, but it is not impossible. Our task, now, is to make this change happen.
What is precarity and how does it affect us?

Wayne Lewchuk must be an absolutely awesome professor, because I've never seen someone turn statistical data into such an engaging presentation.

Precarity is more than poverty. Although precarity can certainly lead to poverty, its effects are felt throughout the middle class, too. To quantify and document precarious work, Dr. Lewchuk and his researchers developed the Precarity Index, a multi-layered tool that was rigorous, far-reaching, and extremely revealing. Here are some highlights from their work.

In this context, precarious work means some combination of:
  • involuntary part-time work,
  • no paid sick time,
  • no benefits (in the Canadian context, this means no coverage for prescription drugs, dental, vision care, and other "extras"),
  • uncertain schedules that the worker cannot predict or control,
  • fluctuating hours and income.
The research found:
  • Precarious work in southern Ontario doubled between 1989 and 2014.
  • Almost half of all households in southern Ontario are now affected by precarity.
  • Precarious work has become the norm in colleges, universities, and libraries.
  • Precarity affects both low-income and middle-income households.
  • If one member of a household is in a precarious work situation, the whole household suffers.
Precarious work has many insidious and inter-related effects. Precarious workers...
  • are less likely to have access to on-the-job, employer-paid training, which obviously has long-term implications for their ability to advance into less precarious and higher-paid work;
  • are often unable to hold a second job, because of uncertain work schedules;
  • are often unable to arrange consistent, quality childcare, because of uncertain work schedules;
  • are less likely to participate in their communities, for the same reason;
  • are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues;
  • are more isolated, have fewer social connections;
  • are delaying forming relationships and delaying having children.
Children in a family where one income-earner has precarity...
  • are less likely to be enrolled in activities outside of school, because their parents cannot afford those opportunities, or don't know if they'll be able to afford them in the near future;
  • are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
And, no surprise, rates of precarity are higher when factoring in race, gender, and country of origin. Precarious workers also face higher rates of discrimination: when you have five, eight, ten different employers over the years, there are many more opportunities for discrimination. And of course, precarious workers are very unlikely to stand up for their rights in the workplace, for obvious reasons. (Very convenient for employers!)

You can read and watch fascinating - and depressing, and enraging - case studies from the PEPSO research here.

What can we do about precarity?

After Dr. Lewchuk's important but depressing statistics, Michelynn Lafleche's presentation was a much-needed boost. PEPSO has 28 specific recommendations that, together, would end this crisis of under-employment.

The first is so obvious and so overdue, I can barely believe it hasn't happened yet: reform the Employment Standards Act! The ESA, which governs the rules of the workplace in Ontario, was last reformed in 2000. The conditions of employment have changed drastically since then, and fewer and fewer workers are protected by the ESA.

Modernizing the ESA must go hand-in-hand with reforming Employment Insurance. What good is EI if the only people eligible for it are those with permanent, full-time jobs? Temp workers, contract workers, and all manner of precarious workers are not eligible for EI! This is a disgrace and must be rectified.

Other recommendations were less obvious but equally urgent. Government-paid training embedded into the system. A system for benefits for workers in precarious employment. Improved regulation of temp agencies.

You can read about other proposed solutions here, from the Toronto Workers' Action Centre, and here, from Unifor.

It wasn't always like this! How did this happen?

Kaylie Tiessen, formerly of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, now with Unifor, addressed the same topic from a slightly different - and equally enlightening - angle. It's no wonder I enjoyed her presentation so much. It was about an issue that I'm always going on about, and see very little mention of in the media.

Over the last 30 years, we have seen the erosion of both the labour market and public services. What caused that? Short answers: tax cuts (especially to corporations), trade agreements, corporate greed, and the failure of governments to act on our behalf.

The economy used to be shaped something like a pyramid: low-paying jobs on the foundation, higher-paying employment but fewer positions as you go up each level of the pyramid. At the top are the highest-paid people, but not so many of them.

This is the closest image I could fine online.
Subject to interpretation.

In theory, with education and hard work, one could move up the pyramid, at least from the bottom to the middle, and sometimes from the middle to the top. (How well that theory worked, and what social supports were needed to make it work, such as affordable education, is another story.)

Now the economy is shaped something like an hour-glass. The middle has been squeezed to a choking point. Most of the people who were formerly middle class have been squeezed downward, producing something new in modern times: a huge trend of downward mobility. And more than ever, people employed in (what used to be) entry-level jobs remain in entry-level jobs, no matter what their skills, education, or work ethic.

Increasingly, working people are stuck in a "poverty gap". If you earn minimum wage, how can you afford to buy appropriate clothes for interviews? How can you devote unpaid time to look for work? How can you afford education to improve your skills? Increasingly, our society is offering poverty wages, with no way out.

Where have all the good jobs gone?

Ontario has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. (This happened much earlier in the US. In this case, Canada being behind the US was a good thing. But it didn't last.) Corporations found it more profitable to move their operations to countries without environmental protections and labour laws, and our governments - instead of protecting our jobs and our communities - made it easy for them to do so, entering into "fair trade" agreements with no democratic oversight. (That's what the "G8" or "G20" is, by the way: elites from around the globe making deals that benefit the few and disadvantage the many.)

Some employment sectors have seen growth. That's good news, right? Let's take a look. One area of growth is in the healthcare field. Does this mean more doctors, more nurses? More service and more good jobs for Ontarians?

The answer is no. The new openings are not for well-paid doctors and nurses. They are, for example, personal support workers. Tiessen described the working conditions of a typical PSW.

She is paid $15/hour.

The night before she sees clients, she must call each client to arrange and confirm appointments. She is not paid for that time.

She must drive from client to client, over a distance of many kilometres throughout her region. She is not paid for that time. She receives no reimbursement for the use of her car or for gas.

She is paid only for the time spent with clients.

And her client list varies from week to week, so she never knows how much she'll earn. Some weeks she has no work at all. That right there is precarious work.

Next time you hear about "jobs being added," ask yourself, What kind of jobs?

Why is this happening?

The erosion of quality services and good jobs goes hand-in-hand with the sharp decrease in the corporate tax rate. When governments are more interested in corporate profits than with human and social needs, the corporate tax rate drops. Public funds are depleted, so services and good jobs begin to disappear.

Supply-side economists claim that corporate tax cuts lead to job creation. Yet it has been proven - time and time and time again - that this does not happen. Corporate savings are "warehoused". The tax savings go into private pockets and are never returned to the economy.

Minimum wages vs. living wage

From June 2014
Living Wage Canada has created a Living Wage Index, showing what a living wage would mean in different communities across Canada. In Toronto, the living wage is $18.52/hour. Peel is still being calculated, but it can't be that much less. The minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25. Many people in Ontario are working and using food banks to survive. That should be unthinkable, but it is rapidly becoming the norm.

Obviously the minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living. That didn't begin last year or even in the last decade. The last year that a minimum wage job could lift a person over the poverty line? 1976.

We deserve more. Demand more!

At the end of her talk, Tiessen revealed that until very recently, she was one of the many "millennials" - people now in their 20s and early 30s - living with precarity. Now, at 34 years old, for the first time, she has full-time employment. She noted that when she did her taxes this year, for the first time ever, she had only one T4 slip.

We're lucky that people like Wayne Lewchuk, Michelynn Lafleche, and Kaylie Tiessen are working to change things, not just for themselves but for all of us. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Unifor, CUPE, PEPSO, United Way, Living Wage Canada, and many other organizations are working to change this.

We need a social safety net that catches everyone. And if we want to be a healthy society, we need to provide a safe route out of poverty.

library workers are precarious workers

Local 4948, Toronto Public Library Workers Union, a/k/a the most kickass library workers' union in North America, produced two videos about the state of library work today.

Here's the short, humourous version.

And here's the longer documentary version; it's about 19 minutes long. If you care about libraries, about the lives of working people, and about our communities - or, like me, if you are passionate about all three - I hope you'll watch.

More on this subject coming soon.