My Journey to Leftism.
By Micah Dewey
February 8, 2021
The 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Irishman George Bernard Shaw, once wrote, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” The author of this paper will explore how this maxim has proven true to them over the last several years of participating in the Manitoba labour market. “Decent work” can be defined as an opportunity for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families. In pursuit of what the UN and the ILO call “decent work,” I discovered how a good-paying job that allowed me to work with my hands was what led me to a life-changing injury, near financial ruin and a new outlook on how work is viewed by myself, my family and the greater labour community in Manitoba. It is the opinion of the author that the idea or goal of “decent work” is a lie created by neoliberal capitalists, the UN and the ILO, who value market efficiency over human welfare and security. Even the authors of this course’s textbook seem to agree: “This crisis of insecurity and inequality that resulted from the Great Recession of 2008 is rooted in significant part in the so-called flexible labour markets created by governments enthralled with neoliberal economic doctrines and employer interests.” Overall, my working experiences have changed how I view ownership of all companies, small and large. Those experiences have directly impacted my recent action and activism focused on expanding the number of unionized workers and unionized workplaces throughout our province.
In the Spring of 2019, I ended my employment in a commissioned sales position. I hurried to find another job that could pay my bills and provide me with what I would have considered to be reliable, decent work. At the time, the job market in Steinbach was mostly retail and service industry jobs that were, at best, the same or worse than the job I was leaving. Due to these factors and several others, my interests turned towards finding a construction job. I had friends and family members who had worked in the industry and had found success, both socially and financially, or so I was told. At the time, I was getting desperate for any job, so when I finally received a callback from a local concrete company, I decided it was time to commit, and I did. From the first day of work, I realized that this was not like any other job I had ever worked. It was outside, in Manitoba, in February, doing more physical activity than I had done in at least eight years. Despite making more money than I had previously, this was the first job I had worked that I understood what it meant to be an exploited worker.
On March 18, 2019, my life changed forever. I had shown up to work at six in the morning primed and ready to go. Like the previous two weeks, we worked on laying the foundation for an upcoming apartment building. The blowing snow and ice that continually slashed against our faces was something that had become second nature. However, this specific day the ice had started to take hold onto the packed brown earth beneath my feet. It was a task like any other. I just had to help the boss move the red Honda generator from the yard back to his truck, easy enough. The generator was still relatively full of fuel as we had only been out on-site for about four hours, and this would, unfortunately, turn out to be important after about a dozen steps. I lost my balance and slipped face-first towards the ground. As my knee twisted and strained against my body weight along with the added heft of the generator, I lost complete control. I hit the ground, collapsing my knee under the weight of the generator. The details of what the injuries were and what was said immediately following the accident are not crucial to the moral of this tale; what is important is the reaction of the owner of the company. This is where our long-dead Irish Nobel Laureate comes back. False knowledge is significantly more dangerous than ignorance, especially when it comes to employers. Immediately following the accident, my employer, who was holding the other side of the generator, explicitly told me not to file with the Workers Compensation Board because it would raise his insurance rates. Being naive and unsure about both the short-term and long-term impacts of my injury, I foolishly agreed to these terms with the caveat that I needed to go to the clinic or the hospital.
As I arrived at the clinic, I could barely walk. With every step, a sharp pain shot up my leg and through my back. Upon seeing the nurse, they recommended that I file with WCB because of the injury’s impacts and how long I was likely to be off work. I explained what my boss had told me, and the nurse immediately looked shocked. Later that day, I filed my claim and informed my boss that I was not going to be held hostage over money that I need to live. Eight months would pass, physio, rehab, and the WCB payments kept me afloat, but then I was informed that my benefits would be cut off because the doctors were unable to confirm the long-term damage. This left me in a very precarious situation financially. Through the failure of my boss, the healthcare system, and now the agency’s failure that is supposed to be the last line of defence for injured workers, I had finally seen enough to make a promise to myself that I would never work for a non-unionized company ever again.
Most, if not all, wage labourers in North America will spend most of their productive years being exploited by the capital owners and managers that direct and produce their daily work lives. Whereas in previous generations, there was at least a high probability that there was a career path forward for those starting from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. For a vast majority of Zoomers and Millennials, this intergenerational advancement has stagnated. It shows little evidence that a return to the previous status quo is imminent. The proliferation of precarious work has been on the rise alongside the gig-economy, which has destroyed working-class wages and benefits, especially in the United States. Under capitalism and American exceptionalism, freedom is the proverbial carrot handed down by institutional and financial elites. As an American, freedom is expected, yet rarely handed out, equality is assumed but never guaranteed, and fulfillment is promised but never comes to pass. Emotional reactions to these statements should not come as a surprise to anyone living in the real world, but with the rhetoric of right-wing politicians and pundits, the target of our collective expression of rebellion, will then continue to blame ordinary people for the destruction that has been wrought upon our own communities by the austerity, systematic racism and bigotry inherent in our current economic system of winners and losers.
Since I was taken off of WCB benefits, I have worked as a licensed security guard for GardaWorld and am represented by UFCW 832. This change in scenery has been fantastic. Despite still dealing with low wages, I know that my union rep, my shop steward and my coworkers are much more focused on collaboration and improving our working conditions. This has been made clear by the actions that the union has taken in response to the provincial government’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. I finally feel like I have some protection against unreasonable demands at work now. However, one question remains, does my current job fit the definition of decent work? Furthermore, if it does, would I recommend it to others? Well, right off the top, I would not say that my work as a security guard for an international pharmaceutical company is overly productive. I have no idea what value I even bring to the organization, at least financially. Is $13.25 an hour for an overnight shift in a class 3 facility a fair wage? I would argue no.
We have been specially trained to handle extreme situations such as chemical spills, quarantine procedures, and triage. Yet we make a mere fifty cents an hour more than the guys twiddling their thumbs at the Dollarama. I would argue that the wages should be commensurate with the training and replaceability of your workers. Is there security in the workplace? Yes. I am the security in the workplace. Finally, is there a degree of social stability? While I would say yes, I would have to add the caveat that despite the job security inherent in a union job, the wages offered do have a stabilizing factor. It is just at a lower than acceptable level. So here is the ultimate problem with the decent work hypothesis; even a job like a unionized security guard working in a healthcare facility is not a job that fits their criteria. Workers will always be exploited under capitalism. The neoliberal tendencies that have infiltrated North American politics have systematically removed protections for labourers, both unionized and non-union. The best solution to end poverty is not to force your most desperate into exploitative jobs but rather to lift them out of poverty through the power of government investment in their communities, daily life and financial well-being. The system is not broken. It is working as intended, and the worker is not supposed to get ahead. The worker is the fuel for the capitalist machine. In the words of former Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, “There’s a big distinction between humans as humans and humans as workers. The former are indispensable. The latter may not be.”
Decent work. Accessed February 8, 2021. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/decent-work/lang--en/index.htm.
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Yang, Andrew. The War on Normal People the Truth about America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future. New York, NY: Hachette Books, 2019.