The content and editing of this newsletter are determined by the committee. We want members to feel ownership of inSolidarity and view it as independent of any particular segment of the union. Content comes from our base of activists, staff and other labour sources.
Where an article has a byline, the views are those of the author and not necessarily the views of OPSEU.
While we welcome your contributions, we ask that these be constructive. All articles should be signed and include Local number and should contribute positively to the welfare of OPSEU.
We encourage thoughtful discussion of all related issues and reserve the right to edit for libel, length and clarity, and to reply to those that seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the union and its policies.
The elected members of the editorial committee for inSolidarity are:
Virginia Ridley – Editor, Local 116
Lisa Bicum – Assistant Editor, Local 125
Katie Sample – Local 499
Craig Hadley – Local 5109
Verne Saari – Local 659
Ex officio members:
Felicia Fahey – Executive Board Liaison
Timothy Humphries – OPSEU Communications
Special to this issue:
Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
Joe Grogan, Retired OPSEU Region 5
Please send mail to: inSolidarity, c/o Virginia Ridley, OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8. Contact at: email@example.com
We are also your elected members of Informed Newsletters for OPSEU/Bulletins informés pour le SEFPO. If you require any support, advice or start-up information concerning newsletters, please contact one of the executive members.
The True Cost
Katie Sample, inSolidarity
Inspired by the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which took the lives of 1,137 workers in April 2013. 92 minutes.
The True Cost is a look into the fashion world – as it currently exists, and where it has evolved from. It scratches the surface of the multiple labour-related and social responsibility issues that have arisen from “consumptionism” and “fast fashion.”
One in six people worldwide are employed in the fashion industry. This documentary brings to light the horrible injustices that these workers face, from the cotton farmer to the factory worker. It exposes how the industry negatively impacts the environment. It underscores the reality that, although the populace in the western world has access to cheap clothes, ultimately, we are being deceived into the idea that we need what seems to be a never-ending supply of these garments. It reveals that the “true cost” of our clothes is poverty wages, abuse of power on a global level, and a completely profit-driven disregard for human rights in the area of health and safety – up to, and including, loss of life in mass numbers.
The documentary introduces us to many different garment workers and cotton farmers the world over, but focuses on Shima Akhter of Bangladesh. Akhter is a young mother, factory worker, and leader. She founded and is president of the union where she works. Akhter recounts an event where she and other activists in the workforce were locked in an office and beaten by fists, chairs, and scissors – because they had produced a list of basic demands for management.
She is a strong and powerful presence in this film.
“I don’t want anyone wearing anything that is produced by our blood,” she says of the conditions and daily struggles these workers face.
The True Cost will touch any labour activist. It shows us how far we have come for workers’ rights in Canada, and how unthinkable the conditions are for workers in many parts of the world.
It is lacking in areas that could have been explored further. Although it features individuals who combat the unsustainable and criminal fashion industry, it does little in the way of connecting the viewer to movements, organizations, and activists of similar mindset – those who insist that this industry, and potentially capitalism itself, need to be reformed.
Ultimately, The True Cost does an excellent job of exposing a problem of absolute exploitation that we are all connected to, but does little in way of exploring solutions.
Morgan, A. (Director), and Ross, M., Siegle, L., Firth, L., Vittorio, V., Harvey, C. L., & Piety, L. (Producers). (2015). The True Cost [Documentary].
Some personal reflections on Cuba
Joe Grogan, retired member
I was in Cuba from September 15 to 22, 2015, in the Province of Holguin, and stayed at Brisas Guardalavaca on the north coast of Cuba. I chose to go to Cuba at that time to be in solidarity with the visit of Pope Francis and to show my solidarity with him and his efforts with, and on behalf of, the Cuban people. During his visit, the Pope visited the capital city of Havana, Holguin City, and Santiago de Cuba. In each city, he said a Mass that was attended by thousands of Cubans and all elements of the Cuban government, including, of course, Raúl Castro.
It was very obvious that his visit was welcome, and he was greeted everywhere with sincere demonstrations of love and affection. No doubt, this enthusiasm was linked in part to the fact that Pope Francis is originally from Argentina and knows very well, from his previous experiences, the challenges facing the everyday lives of the people of Latin America.
The Mass in Holguin City was attended by well over 100,000 Cubans of all ages. The vast majority of those who attended were dressed in white, a symbol of joy in Cuban culture.
After his very successful visit to Cuba, Pope Francis flew to the United States. There is an important message to be learned from that choice and sequence of events. In both places, he tried to build bridges and to point out our common humanity. For me, personally, it was a wonderful opportunity to be in Cuba during the visit of Francis and to be on the scene.
Obama’s visit to Cuba in spring 2016 was certainly a welcome activity. Obama deserves a lot of credit for his attempt to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. Many persons in Canada and throughout the world, especially in Cuba, hope for a better future, and that the Cuban people will see an improved quality of life as relations continue to improve. However, the reception that Obama received in Cuba was a lot different from what was seen during the visit of Pope Francis. He was accorded every courtesy by the Cuban government and the people he was able to see and communicate with.
Obama’s special presentation to the Cuban people was broadcast live and without censorship by Cuban TV, something that I consider quite remarkable. Disappointing to me and others, however, was the fact he did not take that opportunity to directly express to the Cuban people his apologies for the hostile actions of many US governments towards Cuba, its leadership and, of course, the Cuban people – actions that include the economic blockade of
Cuba that began in the early 1960s, the Bay of Pigs attack of 1961, the arming of mercenary bands to harass the Cuban people, overflights by American military aircraft, the propaganda attacks against the Cuban revolution via TV and Radio Marti from Florida (organized and financed by agencies of the US government) and, of course, the occupation of Cuban territory at Guantanamo, where the Americans continue to have a huge military base.
While Obama’s visit to Cuba was welcomed by the Cuban people, the vast majority there are much more realistic as to the potential for change in the future than are some commentators in the US. Those commentators, especially the political analysts with CNN, wrongfully think that the Cuban people are willing to jump into the arms of Washington at all costs. While friendship between the two countries is certainly welcome, the Cubans are definitely not interested in returning to the humiliating, dependent, and destructive relationship that existed between Cuba and the United States prior to 1959. As one Cuban journalist commented after Obama left, and I paraphrase, “Please don’t mistake our courtesy in listening to your remarks as acceptance of their intent.”
I was again in Cuba from May 17 to May 24, 2016, and stayed at the Hotel Memories in the province of Holguin. While there, I had the opportunity of discussing with Cubans their feelings about Obama’s visit and prospects for future positive change in the relationship between the two countries. Cruise ships from the US have now started to visit Cuban ports. Once again, people expressed concerns about Donald Trump and the implications for Cuba – in fact, the world – should he be elected president in the November 2016 election.
OPSEU members have demonstrated their commitment to international solidarity by providing humanitarian aid to Cuba. Each and every one of the humanitarian projects demonstrates solidarity and highlights how our union is a social reform union, unlike some other unions, which really are business unions, solely involved in collective bargaining.
Our union challenge: connecting with Gen Z
Lisa Bisum, inSolidarity
As a writing teacher at Lambton College, I’m forever looking for fresh ideas as quick assignments for class. Also, as I get older, I try my best to remain relevant to these students, who are so much younger than I. Staying relevant and in touch gets more difficult with each passing year. As cool as I imagine myself to be, the gap between my students and me is becoming greater each day.
Lately, I picked up on the idea of using articles that describe their generation – “Generation Y.” To my dismay, I realized that my students aren’t “Gen Y”; they’re “Gen Z.”
Really? There’s a “Gen Z”? Clearly, I’m more out of touch than I ever realized!
From there, I decided I needed to learn how these young people thought, what they did, and what their needs and interests were. After all, I spend a considerable amount of time with these folks. Add to that the fact that my own kids find themselves in that demographic, and a little learnin’ was required on my part.
What did I discover? I was amazed to learn that all is not bleak. For years now, many Boomers and Gen Xers have complained about the “Millennials”: how whiney they can be, how they wear their entitlements, and how addicted to technology they’ve become. So I expected to read more of the same. I anticipated learning that these young folks were a walking train wreck careening out of control.
To my relief, I came to the realization that I had been sorely mistaken. Anne Kingston’s 2014 Maclean’s article titled “Get Ready for Generation Z” concluded that Gen Z individuals are actually quite the opposite.
According to experts, Kingston wrote, this generation is “educated, industrious, collaborative and eager to build a better planet.”
Her piece also described the findings of a New York ad firm. The company found that more than half of those surveyed want jobs that will have a social impact. The previous generation? Slightly more than 25 per cent of those polled said they wanted their employment to have a social impact.
The study also found that many Gen Z respondents saw themselves as “entrepreneurial” and sought to start their own businesses. They view themselves as “community oriented,” as “volunteer-driven” and “prudent.” More than half said they were savers, not spenders.
Another descriptor they applied to themselves was “tolerant.” This group is reported to be more open to a wide arc of diversity: racial, sexual and generational. Wow! Generational diversity! That’s something my whiney age group could catch a whiff of. After all, we’re of the age that likes to point fingers at those young pups scampering behind us.
As pleased as I was to learn there is a fabulous group of go-getters on the horizon, I needed to reassess how I might get them to share those values inside the classroom. It’s a challenge I ask myself each day of each semester.
As much as I need to recalibrate my classroom expectations, I think all of us need to study the bigger picture. When they arrive at our workplaces, what will these young people need? How do we motivate them to get them involved in the workplace and in union activities? How will we make union activism a priority? What are the tools we need to achieve these goals? Should we abandon past methods and begin to think more “out of the box”? Should we fear their technological world – a world in which they are so evidently comfortable?
Here’s one thought: hire a teen to tell us how we might better get young workers to look favourably on unions. Seriously. The same Maclean’s article reported that Don Tapscott, the Canadian author of Growing Up Digital (the recommended Bible for those of us dealing with the “Net Generation”), has a few teenagers working on his digital team.
What I see when I attend OPSEU events is a middle-age demographic of committed people who dedicate much of their time to union activism and keeping the wheels of labour rolling.
Perhaps, though, the time has arrived for a paradigm shift. Maybe we need a few youngsters on board to help the rest of us connect with future and younger members.
Let’s consider upping our game by doing even more to share our union activities with the electronic tools and machinery of the early 21st century.
I’d like to provide these eager young folks with some fresh and untried ideas. Sadly, I’m feeling too old. On the brighter side, I’m sure we won’t have to look too far to discover some young workers out there to help us out. I’d like to provide these eager, young folks with some fresh and untried ideas.
The circle dance
Verne Saari, inSolidarity
Recently, I and several other OPSEU members attended the Region Six third annual equity retreat in North Bay. During the retreat, we took part in a circle dance, facilitated by our sister and member of the Indigenous Circle, Darlene Kaboni. Well done, sister!
The ceremony was performed on the Nipissing First Nation Reserve, in the gymnasium of Nbisiing Secondary School. Residents of all ages were in attendance.
Powerful. Graceful. Beautiful. Venerable.
Every descriptor that I attempt to place upon the event I was invited to witness looks quite pale in print when compared to the sacred event.
The circle dance was a very moving ritual for me.
Never before had I been so close to the drumming. So close that I felt it in my core. Hairs rose on the nape of my neck and goosebumps were in abundance. It was also my first real “taste” of the culture of the Nishnawbe people. That statement in itself seems inexcusable given that my life in northern Ontario is lived on the lands that generations of Indigenous people have inhabited for thousands of years. It is an indicator that much more needs to be done to educate our own non-Indigenous residents to the facts.
My upbringing was quite average by most Canadian standards. When I say most, it should probably be read as white, middle-class. This upbringing did not include much of our
Indigenous history or culture. I remember being taught during history class in public school that “they were here when the ‘brave’ explorers and conquerors arrived; the natives were ‘bargained with and dealt with.’” During my English public school education, that brief reference in the curriculum was the extent of my Indigenous education.
Although modern school history classes takes a more in-depth look, I personally feel that much more needs to be done to educate us as to what actually transpired.
The premise of the drum circle is for the young men of the community to show their strength and prowess of their drumming and singing skills, all the while watching the circle of dancers that surrounds them. The purpose is also to build community togetherness and to improve communication. For this nation, the direction is clockwise although I was informed that other nations go counter-clockwise. The dance is as old as human history itself and is found in many different cultures in varying forms.
The young men look at the young ladies in attendance in the same light that the young ladies look upon them. That is to say, they are also watching for the best dancer who may be looking for the best drummer. The ladies periodically join in the singing during the ritual. As for the dancing, the entire community and all guests are welcome to participate. Race holds no boundaries here.
One of the songs we heard was 6,000 years old (I am quite confident in stating that it was the oldest song I have ever heard); some were composed more recently; all were amazing. The evening I experienced was one I know I will never forget, nor do I want to.
Labour reads: What's Yours Is Mine
Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
In May 2016, Uber raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – an enormous investment in what’s still really a startup firm. Uber isn’t just an assault on taxicabs. It’s part of a vast attempt to destroy traditional industries and – if we believe its backers – to create value in new investment opportunities.
The entry of Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and other “sharing” enterprises into Ontario has been quick and powerful. Last February, the Financial Services Commission, Ontario’s insurance regulator, allowed insurance companies to cover drivers carrying customers in private vehicles. Toronto, Mississauga and Ottawa are giving
Uber a green light, while London, Waterloo and Kingston are being pressured to follow. At Queen’s Park, ex-Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is championing Uber and pushing to legalize it across Ontario.
It’s the wave of the future.
Tom Slee isn’t buying it. He doesn’t believe Uber’s backers, and sees tremendous problems coming. In What’s Yours is Mine, he acknowledges that there’s something seductively warm and fuzzy about the term “the sharing economy.” It seems to pit small suppliers and conscientious consumers against big corporations: customers get to save money, and casual suppliers get to supplement their incomes. It’s a “Kumbaya” initiative. What’s wrong with that?
Plenty, says Slee. He presents a powerful indictment of phony promises and predatory practices that are already undermining the taxi and hotel industries and threaten parts of education, health care, home care, housing, and banking. Some call it the “gig economy,” while others call it “hypercapitalism.” Whichever, “sharing” is just a way for greedy companies to avoid municipal and corporate taxes, shrink secure public and private sector employment, and deny good wages and benefits to workers. Sharing companies don’t have employees, just “subcontractors” to whom normal workplace rules don’t apply.
In California, Uber spends more on lobbyists opposing regulation than Apple and Facebook combined. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio was strong-armed by fellow Democratic Governor Cuomo into withdrawing his opposition to Uber’s unlicensed cabs. These are global operations with power to spare.
What’s Yours is Mine isn’t just about getting rides from untrained, unlicensed, and unvetted drivers. It examines similar initiatives worldwide. Micro-financing, for example, is encroaching on banking but is more like loan-sharking than community funding. Rejigging affordable housing as tourist lodgings encourages “gentrification” – pushing long-time residents out of downtown locations and operating unregulated, unlicensed hotels in “quaint” neighbourhoods by destroying what made them attractive destinations in the first place.
Billed as progressive transformation – the next step after replacing horse-drawn carriages with convenient affordable automobiles – this new approach to transportation has a darker side. In her Toronto Star column, Heather Mallick likened the arrival of Uber on Toronto streets to prostitution – a dangerous way for desperate people to make money by compromising public safety and the public interest. She wasn’t far wrong.
Tom Slee, What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2016, 212 pages, ISBN 978-1-7711-3253-4.
The farer fare: Uber or taxi?
Craig Hadley, inSolidarity
If we want to compare Uber to traditional taxis from a pro-labour perspective, then we should examine the two private transportation models on an apples-to-apples basis that includes past and current working conditions, the worker/employer relationship, and the overall state of the userferrying industry.
The vast majority of taxi drivers in Canada are classified as independent contractors, similar to freelance workers, independent business owners, or any professional who owns and operates his or her own practice. This classification excludes regular worker entitlements, such as vacation or sick time, legal protections found in the Employment Standards Act, or employment security, such as Employment Insurance. While many taxi drivers are simply workers like you and me, the average cab driver has to work six or seven days a week and often 12 to 14 hours a day to earn a living.
Despite recent attempts to hold Uber responsible for their plight, these deplorable working conditions have existed for decades and are the result of a limited number of taxi licences, which are, regrettably, controlled by a small handful of wealthy licence holders, many of whom do not even work in the taxi industry. Plates are rented to drivers for upwards of $1,500 each month. These owners have profited mightily from the labours of drivers, many of whom are new Canadians and find themselves unable to secure employment elsewhere. Before Uber suddenly arrived on the scene, taxi plates were considered a sound investment with a fat profit margin.
Taxi plates were traded much like any other commodity and were especially attractive to politicians (because of the fees that ended up in public coffers), bankers, and wealthy business owners. The only glimmer of hope for drivers was that one day they, too, might be able to afford to purchase their own plate and be in business for themselves. Unfortunately, with plates trading in the range of $150,000 to $250,000, it’s a goal most drivers never reach.
Uber operates under the same labour principles as the taxi industry, with independent contractors working outside of the traditional owner/worker relationship. Drivers pay a much smaller fare percentage to the parent company – Uber – without having to rent expensive cab plates. The result? Drivers pocket a much higher wage than their cabbie counterparts. While this alternative taxi service is not perfect, it offers much more hope for people trapped in a transportation industry that preys on vulnerable workers.
Cab's worth the cost
Lisa Bicum inSolidarity
When I was first asked to comment on Uber, the service was causing lots of grief. At the time, the New Year’s Eve price gouging (or “dynamic pricing”) was top-of-the-hour news. People were angry that they found themselves in what amounted to a hostage-taking situation and seemingly forced to pay hundreds of dollars for relatively short trips. Lately, however, after the tale of Jason Dalton – the Uber driver who went on a shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Michigan – I hope that people move from being just angry into the realm of being rightfully scared.
As much as competition can be seen as healthy for business – you know, shaking us from our consumer ruts and all – it’s time to shut this industry down. Wherever I look, I see nothing but the seedy underbelly of a place where rules are replaced with loopholes, and customers are expected to put their health and safety into the hands of unlicensed mavericks.
But they’re not customers, according to Uber. Uber’s corporate bosses say the business isn’t a driving business but a “technology company.” The business, they say, isn’t about providing rides; it’s about providing an app.
Uber’s loopholes are endless. Do an Internet search for “Uber problems,” and you’ll discover a litany. There are stories of people fearing for their safety, of passengers being robbed by drivers, of customers being held hostage, and of women taken to remote locations, among many other misadventures.
The most tragic loophole I’ve read involved a young girl in San Francisco who was killed when hit by an Uber driver. The most unfortunate part of this tragedy? Uber claimed the driver was “between drives,” so he was not driving for them and, therefore, was not responsible. Remember: Uber sells an app, not the ride. And pigs fly!
Huffington Post’s George Hobica says it best: “Uber has made a really slick little app. But when you fire it up and summon a driver, you’re putting your life in their hands. Is that driver insured properly? Does the operator have liability insurance? Is it current or did it expire last week?” He continues to question licence verifications, the company’s liability if anyone is injured in a crash, what local laws govern Uber, and what protections and safeguards the passengers enjoy.
Wow! There’s so much to think about when climbing into an Uber automobile. Most of us think we are getting an inexpensive ride and breathing life into the ride-for-hire competition, where monopolistic cab companies rule.
However, there are reasons why cab companies operate the way they do. With rules come costs, and I think we need to rethink our instinctive desire to save a buck.
Taxi drivers and companies don’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their licences and face publicly enforced regulations just so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can stick an official document in their automobile window that states they are authorized to privately transport people.
Over and above its ability to circumvent permits, dodge insurance, and avoid driver oversight, Uber is, basically, one of the biggest union busters found anywhere. Unions that represent drivers here and around the world are outraged – and rightfully so.
If you are still convinced that Uber is the business model for you, then please take a moment and read the fine print. Uber’s terms of agreement state: “Uber does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third-party providers. You agree that the entire risk arising out of your use of the services remains solely with you.”
At least they’re honest, I guess – but I think I’ll stick to public transport or licensed taxi firms.
Bill C-16: Male? Female? Human!
Katie Sample, inSolidarity
The last part of May was a busy time in Canadian politics. An important bill was passed.
Bill C-16 was introduced to modify the Canadian Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” in the list of identified groups protected under this act. The act protects all Canadians from discrimination at work, in public/ private services, in health care, and against hate speech and propaganda.
The federal law was introduced on May 17, 2016, to coincide with the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
The timing of the passing of this law in Canada could not be better with the news and strife that is coming from the United States. There are multiple laws being introduced that set transgender rights back in states such as South Carolina and Mississippi. I’m proud that Canada took a stand to make clear that all Canadians have equal access to human rights.
At the same time, it is also disheartening to know that having a law passed was a necessity to ensure that individuals or groups would not have to face harassment or discrimination based on sexual identity. A person is a person, and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Discrimination simply for the sake of discrimination cannot and will not strengthen our societal needs but will divide and weaken us as a whole. Is it natural for people to feel uncomfortable regarding something they lack understanding in? Sure. But there are many things that the majority of people don’t understand but accept (the law of gravity, for example.)
The discrimination the transgender community has faced, such as losing jobs, lack of health care, refusal of service, and regular violence for simply living their lives as the gender that suits their souls, is infuriating. The transgender community has one of the highest rates of suicide, and much of that tragedy can be traced back to lack of support regarding being accepted as a person.
This bill will not change overnight our country’s shortcomings in the full acceptance of the transgender community. It is, however, an important official step in the right direction to legally protect the human rights of this community. Identifying as a gender different from one you were born with does not take from your humanity, as we still acknowledge both male and female as human. Now we just acknowledge a person’s rights to choose his or her authentic self.
What is the sharing economy?
Craig Hadley, inSolidarity
If you’ve ever used UberX, Lyft, Airbnb or Handy, then you’re familiar with the informal economy commonly referred to as the “sharing economy.” If you’re not, they are non-traditional service providers that leverage smartphone technology to connect sellers with buyers. These companies have very little overhead and typically pass on savings to the customer – resulting in traditional industry crying foul over what they see as an unfair playing field.
Who are the major players?
While there are dozens of these companies popping up daily, UberX and Lyft are the top two ride-sharing companies directly competing with the taxi industry. The popular Airbnb service allows sellers to rent a room, home or cottage to those looking to save money on hotels. Handy pairs buyers with sellers for home-cleaning services. There are dozens of new companies arriving daily.
How does it work?
The technological platform provides the name, worksite and payment for a specific task to the worker. The worker benefits from the opportunity to earn extra money, while the company benefits by charging a commission to broker the service between the seller and buyer. The consumer benefits from a user-friendly system that is less expensive than traditional services offered by
taxi, hotel or home-cleaning businesses. While sharing-economy services vary, they all use a similar zero-to-five-star rating system that allows both seller and buyer a chance to rate each other’s performance or behaviour. If an UberX driver is rude or unsafe, the user can give them a low rating. If a driver has an unruly customer, he or she can do the same. If a driver consistently falls below an acceptable rating, UberX terminates his or her employment. If a passenger falls below an acceptable rating, then they’re removed from the service. Ratings add incentive for good drivers to be paired with good passengers.
So to put it simply, the entire sharing economy is a modern-day, interactive classified ad system dependent on smartphone technology, with each service governed by a user-based rating system.
At best, the sharing economy offers workers flexible hours, low or no startup costs, and higher wages. At worst, the sharing economy is rife with deplorable working conditions that operate outside provincial or federal labour law. Workers are technically self-employed, and therefore not entitled to sick time, vacation pay or any other labour law entitlements.
In 2014, the sharing economy was worth $14 billion. It’s estimated that number will increase to $335 billion by 2025. If supply and demand economics fail to deliver better working conditions, then the recent decision by Seattle city council to allow UberX drivers to unionize may spark a mass unionization in an industry once believe to be untouchable by organized labour.
Ontario colleges: Is it business as usual?
Joe Grogan, retired member
When Ontario’s colleges were first established in the 1960s, they were proposed as institutions where young people who previously never had an opportunity to gain a postsecondary education would get that chance. Colleges were touted as places of second chances, especially for students whom we might rightly describe as working-class or who had previously been excluded or overlooked.
In the half-century since its beginnings, the community college system in Ontario has been a remarkable success. Thousands of Ontarians have benefited from a college education by graduating from programs that have enriched their lives and led to good employment opportunities. Take note: I said “education” – a learning experience that includes training, but does not entirely exclude courses and activities that relate to the so-called soft sciences and social sciences.
Should we be satisfied that our successful college system has reached its limits, even as many now bestow post-graduate diplomas and university degrees? Emphatically, I say no!
Notwithstanding their broad-based achievements, our colleges have weaknesses that reveal the need for remedial action. The vast majority of programs, courses and activities serve the needs of employers, corporate interests and the status quo of our mixed, free-market-leaning economic and political systems. The college system socializes us to the status quo.
This becomes evident by examining the material that Humber College is currently using to promote its programs at the postsecondary level, as well as its promotional material focusing on continuous learning activities. Where are the courses and activities related to worker occupational health and safety, labour history, collective bargaining, human rights, technological change, workplace stress, labour economics and related subjects? They’re pretty scant.
In the heavily pro-business culture in which we live and work, many of us assume that this is the natural order of things. This assumption is not entirely accurate. The absence of progressively oriented courses and activities is a deliberate choice made by our political leaders at the behest of the corporate elite. In my view, this sort of business/political control serves to mask the reality of our province and our country.
More than ever, we need to bring balance to the offerings of our college system. We need more courses of the sort I described and others that raise political consciousness – not more that suppress it. Let’s offer more that will build effective citizenship and social change, and fewer that diminish our voices.
Critics would say balanced offerings amount to little more than social engineering. On the contrary. A more progressive education agenda would lead to a stronger democracy – one that is more responsive to the majority whose taxes, let’s not forget, fund the education system at all levels. More than anything else, introducing more equality to what colleges offer in courses and programming would introduce some badly needed balance to the current menu, which weighs heavily in favour of corporate Canada.
With these changes, we could deal more responsibly with the serious economic and social problems that face our province and our country.
What sorts of problems? They are many and profound:
- cutbacks and contracting-out of public services
- precarious employment
- systemic racism and sexism
- de-skilling associated with some aspects of information technology
- trade deals that favour the mighty over the weak
- underfunded public health care, which today emphasizes profits over care
- the Americanization of public education in Canada
- the application of business priorities and values to the public sector, where public services increasingly reflect the culture and ethics/profit orientation of business
- unpaid internships, which have become the new normal of exploitation, especially for aspiring college graduates
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
If we doubt the need for change (and my suggested remedies), why not investigate the many advisory committees for college and institute-related programs? Take a close look at those who sit on these committees. What are their professional backgrounds and whose interests do they serve, even if involuntarily?
What about the boards of governors or the academic councils of the colleges? True enough, these bodies often include faculty and support staff representation. Even so, do those members see themselves as representing the needs of college workers, the external community or union interests? Or, on the other hand, do they view themselves as professionals who have been co-opted by their employer’s perspectives? How do the processes of academic councils encourage critical consciousness? How do we get the people who occupy the highest positions in the college advisory system to see beyond our current parameters?
I appreciate that faculty and support staff unions at the colleges face many work-related issues on a daily basis. As a retired faculty member who has worked at Humber College for 34 years and who previously worked as a commercial/vocational secondary school teacher for two years, it’s my view that today’s “business as usual” culture found in the college system means less job satisfaction for many college employees. The increasing reliance on computer-based and online courses, which threaten job security, are very troubling. It produces a decline in the quality of education and results in a less prepared student body who face many post-academic employment, economic, and social challenges.
As they try to navigate the world after their formal education ends, let us agitate for and organize curricula that provide them with the training they require, but also the skills, attitude and knowledge they equally need to build their lives and the communities around them. These were my priorities when I taught at Humber College, and they remain so today. Business as usual only works for some.
Joe Grogan, Cert. in Business (U of T-1967), Commercial-Vocational Secondary Teaching Cert. (College of Education/U of T-1969), B.A. (York U.-1972), M.Ed. (OISE/U of T-1981), Cert. in Labour Studies (George Brown College-1989), former college professor at Humber, 1969 to 2003, retired member of OPSEU-Region 5.
Humour: Why I support a giant meteor for president of the United States
Craig Hadley, inSolidarity
The US primaries season leading up to the American election in November has been anything but routine. In one corner, we have Donald Trump, a hate-spewing Republican and product of inherited wealth running under the guise of being a self-made billionaire. His campaign centres around the notion of returning America to a period of economic prosperity, when union density was at its highest, creating America’s middle class. The only catch? He would do it without unions and use the same austerity measures that landed America in the economic trouble it’s in today.
The Democrats will be running with Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a long-time politician with deep ties to corporate America. Many question her ethics and suspect she will likely maintain the status quo of American neoliberal politics. For the average American struggling to make ends meet, the option of selecting Hillary “much of the same” Clinton or Donald “narcissistic psychopath” Trump leaves many looking to the sky for answers.
Here it is! Giant Meteor (Asteroid to some) is a third-party candidate that is completely self-funded and shielded from Wall Street lobbyists. At an estimated five billion years of age, it has an excellent understanding of the universe and is ready to make a major impact on American politics.
To be clear, Giant Meteor isn’t a global killer like its predecessor, which ran a successful campaign against the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Giant Meteor is 1.3 km in diameter with a density of 3,000 kg/m3 and travels at 61 km/second. Its entry into the political arena will be roughly 54 degrees, with an impact zone somewhere in the southern US. With months before the actual election, Giant Meteor has given enough notice for all Americans to relocate to the northern US, thus absolving itself from any human casualties, while simultaneously sparking an economic boom, thanks to the millions of Americans looking to relocate.
Giant Meteor’s campaign slogan, “We Will Rebuild,” is being compared to Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” except Giant Meteor actually has the numbers to back up its claim. Under Giant Meteor’s plan, trillions will be invested into infrastructure, employing millions of Americans. The project will take 90 years to complete and, like the Great Chicago Fire, will give America a chance to reinvent its urban planning with modernized cities to better accommodate future generations.
Some critics are fearful the plan will increase the national debt, and have raised concerns over who will be paying for the rebuild. With Giant Meteor unavailable for comment, economists suspect the plan will be modelled after the widely successful 1947 US Marshall Plan and FDR’s New Deal, and paid for by European and Asian countries desperate for Hollywood blockbusters and new Game of Thrones episodes. With more and more “Giant Meteor 2016” bumper stickers being spotted, it appears its campaign is gaining support from everyday Americans.
Han Shucklebuck, a Texas resident and doomsday supporter, had this to say about the meteor: “This candidate is different. I mean, it’s a straight-shooter: we know when it’s coming and we know it’ll create jobs. It’s real and its dad beat the dinosaurs, so it’s definitely onside with God. I like that.”
Detroit resident James Hill described the plan as feasible and welcomed the influx of southern residents. “After years of failed domestic policy, I’m all for southern migrants. There’s no better time to move to Detroit than when there’s a pending meteor impact.”
Historically, voting for a third-party candidate is a wasted vote, but this election, when tasked with selecting certain disaster (Donald Trump) or predictable misery (Hillary Clinton), an earth-shattering Giant Meteor may be the best option.
Labour reads: Do What You Love, and Other Lies About Success and Happiness
Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
It’s almost too easy to become uselessly cynical these days. Surrounded as we are by celebrity politicians, commercial hucksters and opportunists of all sorts, healthy scepticism can quickly turn into a toxic blend of distrust and suspicion. Perhaps that was always true, but it seems to be truer today. Or, maybe we’re just getting smarter.
What isn’t as hazy is the fact that our language is being increasingly degraded. It’s as if we’re encircled by code. Words don’t mean what they once meant – if they mean anything at all. For example, I was recently surprised when my daughter showed me some letters she was writing to prospective employers. Every one spoke of her “passion” for this or that service that the firm was offering. My doubts were answered promptly: “Dad, everybody expects you to be passionate about the jobs you’re trying to get!” I wish I’d read Miya Tokumitsu’s book earlier.
Being “passionate,” Tokumitsu explains, is just another way to say that you’re willing to work cheap. She has other sharp insights into the contemporary culture of work and the economy in this extremely lively, fact-filled, and relentlessly astute assessment of life on the job.
People with a prejudice against the “humanities” might find Tokumitsu’s realistic (and ultimately therapeutic) message an unexpected treat from a woman whose training is in Renaissance art, and it would be easy to get her wrong. She stands in defiant opposition to the kind of smug and saccharine HR happy faces that encourage workers to “celebrate” their careers, to stay “positive” and “upbeat” regardless of what is really happening, and to refrain from criticism of management, the workplace and all the dumb things that are going on around you – especially the transformation of full-time into “precarious” employment.
Do What You Love and Other Lies isn’t a malcontent’s inventory of complaint; in fact, it’s the opposite. Reviewer Shannon Rupp said the book is “infuriating” and that it will send its readers “into a rage for hours, and possibly days.” As such, it’s “probably the perfect grad gift for newly minted workers.” It’ll wash the cotton candy from their eyes and ears as they start down a path of temporary, poorly paid, and even volunteer labour.
And, if they are as smart as they can be (and as they probably think they are), these young people will quickly learn that the most important passion they can have is for justice for themselves and others. Tokumitsu’s elegant exposé of 21st-century workplaces should spark a fire. What remains is for union activists and recruiters to direct that flame into the politics of the workplace and the spirit of solidarity that will best improve conditions and reveal the real cynics as the mendacious managerial minions who manipulate our ambitions and ideals for their own narrow interests. Miya Tokumitsu, Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness. Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2015, 192 pages, ISBN 9781941393475.
Catherine Csuzdi, Region 6 Provincial Young Workers Committee Representative
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