Modern work is in a crisis state
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.