Precarious Work

When an employer won’t allow a worker more than 25 hours a week but requires that worker to be available for work 7 days a week, people become little more than commodities on the open market of Precarious Employment.

Lately I have made an effort to talk with folks that work at places like Shopper’s Drug Mart, Home Depot, and Save-on Foods and none of the workers I have talked to get an eight hour shift. My partner’s son just landed a job at 30 hours per week, no benefits of any kind.

Efforts like the Living Wage movement are gaining traction but large corporations seem slower on the uptake than do small business owners. When will the incessant desire to keep wages low by major businesses end up hurting the economy on which these low wage employers depend? There is a tipping point somewhere down the road – for everyone.

The Living Wage movement is a welcome Pan-Canadian effort to ensure that people have a “livable” income. We also need to collectively address the commodification of human beings who are put to work without any consideration for what happens when a worker or her child is sick, for the need to have a day off to rest and revitalize, not to mention deal with life’s practicalities.

Imagine being fired for being sick and missing a couple of days of work. Imagine working for $12.00 per hour in unsafe conditions and suffering from a workplace injury that could have been avoided. Imagine no health and dental care, no vacation time, nada.

Imagine being a part-time worker and not being able to seek other part-time work because your employer wants access to your entire work week to schedule you.

For too many Canadian workers there is no need to imagine. This is their reality.

In Ontario, there is a movement to get the minimum wage to $15 per hour and to bring in legislation and regulations that would address the unsavory trend of precarious work. Led by Fight for 15 and Fairness, the good folks there launched A Better Way Alliance and features videos of business leaders who also believe in the importance of decent work. Click here watch the videos.

Take a look at some great employers who do care and who do value their employers. They tend to be small employers and I have to wonder if they can treat their employees like human beings that matter, why can’t large businesses?

better alliance

IF WE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD

As some of you may know, I often open and close Tamarack gatherings with original music. Some years ago I wrote The Truth We Find in All that We Deny and since then have performed it numerous times around the country. You can listen to a version of it HERE. That simple song is about how often the truth is found in what we turn away from, found in what we step around or deny.

I was going to perform it again this year at Tamarack’s Poverty Reduction Summit in Hamilton, which took place April 4 to 6, but a few weeks before the gathering I told myself I should write a new song for the closing. Telling myself I should write a new song was easy. Actually writing one was a tad harder. In fact, by the weekend just prior to the Summit, I had yet to even attempt a new song.

In addition to being quite pre-occupied with getting everything done for the Summit, I had picked up a book I had read sometime ago by Adam Kahane called Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King Jr., the gist of Kahane’s book is that love is not enough to change the world and the power on its own is a dangerous creature. The quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that I heard Kahane quote during a talk I was present for provides the thesis for the book:

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

I had been mulling over that quote, thinking about how power and love can and should relate to the work I am doing with Vibrant Communities Canada. I was also thinking about Truth and Reconciliation and how the opportunities it provides will only stand a chance of coming to fruition if power and love are married together to produce the justice referred to by King. I wasn’t connecting all of this to a song by the way.

Because my mind meanders, in the midst of all of this, I recalled listening to a gentleman on a video somewhere talk about empathy — in particular how it is over-rated and often is an expression that accomplishes little or nothing. When someone clicks LIKE on a Face Book posting about a hungry child or about homeless people, that action is often the entirety of the person’s action on the matter. It’s like saying, “Oh, that’s a shame” or “I feel for him or her or you.” I am not saying people who express empathy this way are not genuine in their expression, but if empathy’s stature is limited to a simple click of the mouse or words that we leave behind as we move on to the next thing, what has such empathy accomplished? It becomes little more than a vicarious experience of feeling what someone else is feeling – or what we think that person is feeling and going through.

Empathy should mean more than that, shouldn’t it? Feeling the suffering of others and then moving on ends up having empathy being more self-serving, I think.

So on Saturday, three days before the Summit, I was sitting in my living room strumming on my dulcitar and playing around with a new melody. This is how I write music. I search for a melody and then I start humming or even mumbling words as I play. It’s kind of like free writing, which is a tool writers use to find a way through writer’s block.

While I could say my process has to do with creating lyrics for the melody, in reality I think the lyrics are already there, waiting for me to recognize them. It took about an hour for that to happen. The lyrics were rough, not yet complete enough for a song, but the foundation was there and on Sunday I returned to the sketch of a song that had found me and the song happened.

All of the thinking I had been doing about power and love, Truth and Reconciliation, and empathy had converged and then tapped me on the shoulder, as if to say, “Hey Mark, here you go. Here is your closing song.”

I don’t have a recording to share of this new song, but I do have the lyrics. Amazingly as I was singing this song before a couple of hundred people, the lyrics kept changing right there as I was performing.  For what it’s worth, here are the (current) final lyrics.

IF WE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD

Do you ever think about tomorrow?
Ever wonder what is waiting over there?
Will there just be more suffering and sorrow
Or will love show up and really care?

We need to do more than empathize and then walk away
if we want to change the world.

How can we do what really matters?
How can we move through what’s in our way?
And when we discover we are the obstacle
Will we help one another change?

We need to do more than empathize  and then walk away
if we want to change the world.

Change requires love and power together.
Each one is not sufficient on their own
To carry truth and reconciliation
Into every heart and every home.

We need to do more than empathize  and then close the door
if we want to change the world.

Power without love is self-serving.
Love without power: It’s just a Hallmark card.
We need both of them to marry
So their child Justice can be born.

We need to do more than empathize
And then walk away.
We need to do more than empathize
And then close the door
If we want to change the world.

Do you ever think about tomorrow
And what we should be creating over there?
copyright 2017 Mark Holmgren

More about the Game-Changer Approach to Poverty Reduction

As some of you know, I have written about and I am continuing to work on what I call a Game-Changer Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategy and Evaluation. You can read my initial paper HERE. And a recording of a webinar I did with Mark Cabaj is HERE.

I have been asked about the difference between Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) and this game-changer approach I am working on with my colleagues at Vibrant Communities Canada. The game-changers we have identified are Housing, Transportation, Education, Health, Income and Jobs, Food Security, Financial Empowerment, and Early Childhood Development. All of these are aligned with SDoH, but there is, I suggest, more to what we are exploring than social determinants of health.yes-and-no

The Game-Changer Approach also is stressing the importance of avoiding the creation of “thin” strategies among a host of other “thin” strategies that, in effect, can lead to an overall poverty reduction strategy that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

The notion of prioritizing our efforts is one that is often accepted as necessary but in practice not emphasized. One of the fundamental tenets of the Game-Changer Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategy and Evaluation is rooted in an old Taoist saying, For every yes there is a no. Continue reading

Mandatory Winter Tires and Poverty

Yes, perhaps an odd title for a posting, but bear with me. I was on my way back home from meeting downtown with Alberta Government colleagues who also work in the poverty reduction arena and I heard this call-in show about winter tires and more to the point about whether or not winter tires should be mandatory.

They are in Quebec now but even in some provinces without a mandatory requirement more than 80% of drivers have winter tires. Not so in Alberta where the percentage is just over 50%. Not sure about other low percentage provinces, but here is what went through my mind.

The folks that called in didn’t all agree, but I got the impression that most were for making it a legal requirement to have winter tires and my impression of the radio interviewer and guest was that they were biased toward mandatory winter tires. I get that. It makes sense, right, that all of us would require one another to do this. It’s safer. Winter tires stop a car better than all season tires.

I have never owned winter tires but could afford them if I chose to buy them or was required to, though being forced to dole out $1,000 for a new set of tires and then pay more for rims and the ongoing costs of changing and balancing each season – well, the “Albertan” in me just doesn’t want to be forced to do that.

But all of the above is not really why I wrote this post.

While I was listening to the radio show, it hit me that this radio engagement of citizens around winter tires was one more example of how a certain segment of the population is marginalized, not really considered, and in a sense relegated once again to second-class citizen. Continue reading

Signals of Coming Disruption

Big change doesn’t just click on. It occurs over time, starting out often as weak signals of the change to come. Sometimes it’s like the old frog in the boiling water story. Put the frog in when the water is cool and turn up the flame and eventually the frog realizes its plight, just too late to adjust, to escape.

For years, donor giving has been changing. Charities have become increasingly dependent on larger gifts from fewer donors. As the economy has served to increase the income and wealth gap between the small numbers of wealthy and the rest of everyone else, we have seen food bank use escalate and a growing number of workers living pay check to pay check. Job security is no longer a reasonable expectation for a growing number of people, much less the chance for advancement. Employee supported pensions are no longer the norm and health and dental benefits are harder to come by for low income workers and many who do not yet qualify as “low income” workforce members.

imagenoise_signalmlab2The adaptations charities have taken have been focused on how to grow revenues through different sources of revenues. Funders are looking at alternatives too, given their inability to fund all the good things that come their way. Crowdfunding, social enterprise, impact investing, social purpose businesses are among the more recent options in financing social good.

GDP growth has been slowing, 80% of Canadian incomes are not increasing or if they are, at far less a rate, the restructuring of the job market is creating more insecure and benefit-less employment. the ratio of workers to seniors is dramatically decreasing. Key drivers like oil prices are in turmoil. Consumer debt keeps increasing. The numbers of people making $15 or less are growing as businesses work harder to cut back on expenses in order to feed more profits to investors. Continue reading