Is worker solidarity dead?

Fruitvale resident sheds light on Canada's unemployment rates and what they really could mean.

Some right-wing pundits in our media seem to live in a world of make-believe when bragging about the relatively low number of unemployed in Canada. The fact that a large and growing proportion of the so-called employed are part-time and temporary jobs is thereby conveniently overlooked.

With more and more employers looking for a flexible workforce – low pay and few benefits – an ever wider divide in income is created between people in low-skilled work and those in full-time employment.

The five largest employers in the U.S., including Walmart and Mc Donald’s all pay close to the minimum wage. My guess; not far different from the same franchises in Canada. Estimated as about 30 per cent below the official poverty line.

Those on the wrong side of that divide find themselves pretty well between a rock and a hard place, a vicious circle where, because of short in income, they are compelled to shop at the very places that pay starvation wages.

At one time union wages had a huge influence on wages in general, but it would be foolish to think that the pittance payed to this growing segment of workers will not have an influence in suppressing wages on the right of the divide. To dismiss or ignore this part of the working population would be short sighted in view of current developments. And surely, more can and should be expected on the part of the Canadian Labour Congress to include them – even when not unionized – in the overall scheme of union policy.

It is often said that if there is a will to work a job can be found, but this is sheer nonsense when we look at the numbers. It is only a few decades ago that Cominco ( Teck ) employed 4000 people. Today I believe that figure to be about 1300.

The attrition in manufacturing – lending itself more to outright automation through the use of robotics, and I might add, the export of jobs to low-wage countries – is far worse. Making it rather obvious that the age of full employment is long gone. And it’s just not feasible to put everyone to work ‘fracking’.

When we look at the obscene profits of banks and some corporations it should not be impossible to go to a more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth. To move from a minimum wage to a ‘living wage’, allowing everyone a decent standard of living.

For too long an attitude of ‘ I’m OK Jack ‘ has prevailed, with the principles of solidarity seemingly laying dormant in the minds of many. It was encouraging therefore to see some 100 members of local 480 to put on a show of support for the Fortis BC workers currently locked out. But in days gone by that number could’ve easily been a thousand.

As for now it would not be amiss for most of us to muster some of the old spirit of solidarity and think  what it must be like for those on the wrong side of that divide, those working for minimum wages, to nevertheless serve with courtesy and a smile.

Peter van Iersel

Fruitvale

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