Mod­ern work is in a cri­sis state

StarMetro Toronto - - VIEWS - Heather Mal­lick For Metro Canada

Two his­to­ries are chang­ing fast and hit­ting us hard: climate and work. There was a time, not so many decades ago, when we didn’t think much about weather, or jobs. They were in­evitable. Weather hap­pened. You got a job.

Both al­ter­ations were pow­ered by the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, that mas­sive wave that crashed into the 18th cen­tury, mak­ing the world faster and then some­thing re­sem­bling rub­ble. Now it’s joined-up rub­ble. The catas­tro­phes were per­son­al­ized, then lo­cal, na­tional and now global.

This is why Toronto Star reporter Sara Mo­jte­hedzadeh, cov­er­ing Work and Wealth, has one of the best beats in jour­nal­ism. Ev­ery­thing in her ield touches ev­ery sin­gle reader in their daily lives. Money and labour are the core.

She and reporter Bren­dan Kennedy re­cently wrote a jar­ring in­ves­tiga­tive se­ries on the huge growth of temp work in On­tario, where work­ers are paid min­i­mum or close to min­i­mum wage — some are paid in cash — to do some­times un­safe work.

One young woman, Amina Di­aby, had been work­ing at Fiera Foods in North York, Ont., for only two weeks when she was stran­gled to death on Sept. 2, 2016 af­ter her hi­jab was pulled into a ma­chine as she worked on the assem­bly line. No, not an auto assem­bly line. It was pas­tries.

Di­aby was a refugee, at her irst job. To think she came to Canada for this.

The makeshift, anony­mous work re­vealed in the se­ries was a shock to the sys­tem. It didn’t even sound like Canada.

There are di er­ent as­pects to the de­struc­tion of work as we know it in North Amer­ica. The story of new Cana­di­ans grab­bing any work they can ind is just one kind of mu­ti­la­tion of an ideal, that work could be less ar­du­ous, bet­ter paid and lift all boats, not just the yachts. Ever since Up­ton Sin­clair wrote The Jun­gle in 1906 about the Amer­i­can meat pack­ing in­dus­try, it was thought that even mucky, vi­o­lent work could be made cleaner and safer.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Con­grat­u­la­tions to the an­i­mal­rights move­ment but con­sider what hu­mans — of­ten eas­ily ex­ploited im­mi­grants — have to en­dure as the line speeds up. If white-col­lar work seems more pleas­ant, think of mil­len­ni­als fac­ing se­rial in­tern­ships, con­tract work, the low­er­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions and fear of a wasted ed­u­ca­tion. Boomers, safe with de ined-bene it pen­sions, are notic­ing that pen­sion­ers’ rights come last as com­pa­nies skimp and in­dus­tries die o .

Women, fac­ing a grow­ing back­lash against fem­i­nism, are shut out of tech jobs, fear tak­ing ma­ter­nity leave, and lash out at each other in­stead of pa­tri­archy. Men choose the wrong op­po­nent, blam­ing women for dar­ing to com­pete.

There are many causes, in­clud­ing the wor­ship of the God of Cheap, im­ported goods, sta­tus anx­i­ety, tech­nol­ogy, so­cial iso­la­tion, the valu­ing of the present over the fu­ture, dumb­ing down, the de­cline of unions, the strange lure of the hard-right for the poor and un­e­d­u­cated, ur­ban­iza­tion, the de­val­u­a­tion of higher ed­u­ca­tion, and longer lives.

Work — and its de­creas­ing re­wards — is al­ways in­ter­est­ing. The Fi­nan­cial Times, which is purely about money as op­posed to work — they should call it Money & How to Make It — has a fas­ci­nat­ing sec­tion called, with char­ac­ter­is­tic can­dour, How To Spend It. Even spend­ing money is a kind of work for the rich.

Those fool­ish enough to dis­re­gard money as a fac­tor have no idea what is shift­ing be­neath their feet.

I see Mo­jte­hedzadeh’s work as “dou­ble dig­ging,” a gardening term for loos­en­ing two lay­ers of soil and adding or­ganic mat­ter. It’s hard work dig­ging this deep, re­peat­edly, and then re­assem­bling it. Most gar­den­ers avoid it. It’s only done when gar­den beds are in a state of emer­gency.

Mod­ern work is like this now. It needs aer­a­tion and ex­am­i­na­tion.

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