- Michal Rozworski reminds us that while a shift toward precarious work may represent an unwanted change from the few decades where labour prospered along with business, it's all too familiar from a historical perspective:
(P)recarity is what it means to have nothing to sell but your labour power, to use Marx’s turn of phrase. Taken in this sense, precarity is wide-spread: today, the bottom 40% of Canadians today own a measly 2% of national wealth and the bottom 60% own just over 10%. The fact of owning relative peanuts gives precarity an important part of its meaning – it’s certainly nicer to live in a rich country, but the “outside option” remains the wage with all its attendant risks.- Meanwhile, Elizabeth Renzetti writes that Canada's climate poses extra difficulties for citizens with mobility issues.
The fight against precarity is also the foundation of the welfare state. The welfare state provides a social wage in addition to the working wage and thus undermines precarity. Its genesis was an experiment in social compromise. On the one hand, it gave workers greater security – a springboard to potentially fight for more. On the other, it gave elites a tool to manage labour unrest, especially the wave coming out of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the means to incorporate workers into new cycles of accumulation. For now, however, this experiment is sputtering. The last several decades have seen the breakdown of the compromise and, perhaps unsurprisingly, have brought precarity back to the fore, if for now in a more limited sense.
The major transformations we are witnessing are not just (or even primarily) in how work contracts are organized but how work itself is organized – its speed, the way tasks are assigned, how production (whether of goods or services) is managed, and so on. The system of just-in-time production – while still reliant on large-scale investments in some goods sectors but not necessarily so in others or in services – has its own specific, internal precarity: flexible production that at the same time creates and demands flexible workers. Canada, for instance, has seen an increase in the size of its tradable goods and services sectors, particularly tradable services, since the adoption of a series of free-trade agreements, notably NAFTA. This has opened more jobs to international competition and attendant pressures.
There is a concurrent removal of the anchors that characterized the attempts at managed post-war capitalism. You don’t need to become a contract worker to lose your defined benefit pension; it can be bargained away by your boss. In fact, this is what has happened in Canada and elsewhere. Similar things are happening at the level of the state: eligibility for unemployment benefits, for example, has been slashed to the point that less than 40% of the unemployed in Canada currently receive benefits. Both of these increase precarity without necessarily changing the kinds of contract governing employment.
In some ways, the sense of growing precarity seen as a rise of contract and temporary work is an epiphenomenon of renewed attacks on workers’ rights generally. It could also be reflective of what Moody characterizes as a struggle that has not yet recognized and internalized the changing circumstances in which it is fought.
- Andrew Mitrovica slams Stephen Harper as Canada's Chicken Little-in-chief. And Don Lenihan questions whether the Cons' terror gambit is going to accomplish much politically even as it creates a more fearful society.
- Ronald Crelinsten argues that CSIS needs more resources to exercise its current role, not a vast new array of powers it's ill-equipped to use. Malone Mullin wonders about C-51's effect on academic freedom. And Wes Regan calls for MPs to show the courage needed to stand up to the Cons' bullying tactics.
- The Cons' latest step toward pointlessly harsh criminal law hasn't passed without comment either, with Irvin Waller and Michael Kempa along with the Star's editorial board weighing in. But in case anybody was under the illusion that the Cons cared in the slightest about people in the prison system, Patrick White reports on their instructions to argue than an inmate with mental health issues who spent 162 days in solitary confinement was responsible for his own suicide.
- Finally, David Dayen offers a warning about the dangers posed by the increased shipment of oil by rail, while noting that the risks are only getting worse due to lax regulation.