How can work in the 21st century be better for workers?
It won’t come as a surprise that capitalist think-tanks are putting forward a vision of work that should trouble anyone who works for a living. Groups such as the Policy Network and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) promote future dystopia for workers where the nature of our work is perpetually precarious, privatized, and fully market-driven. It is a vision where robots, computer programs, and artificial intelligence replace all of the world’s jobs that defined and established today’s affluent worker.
This futurist view of the economy has been driving policy changes in education since at least the mid-nineties. As a result, expert panels and policy programs have successfully implemented the marketization of education by increasing tuition fees; the commercialization of university research; the corporatization of research and education institutions; the merging of industrial, government and university research and development into the university system; the adoption of “market” reforms in education services; and the cutting of skills and literacy programs for the unemployed.
In Ontario, the Liberal government is doubling down on this futurist vision of work launching yet another “expert panel”, this one on growing the “highly skilled workforce” of tomorrow. Unfortunately, what appears to be missing is any thought on the role of government in directing or mitigating the development of the so-called new economy.
The Liberal party’s analysis is heavily tilted towards supporting the development of an economy of hyper-precarious workers through private, market-driven education. Their view is grounded in the finance and technology sectors' anti-historical view of innovation that focuses on the role of the individualized worker in skills development rather than the employer or government. Their future Utopia is one where all workers are individual entrepreneurs who drive innovation with a limited role for government or industry. The worker alone is supposed to predict and bear the brunt of technological change in the workplace, fund their own skills development, constantly drive productivity and, on top of all that, be content with their jobs eventually being replaced by a robot made elsewhere.
Missing from this vision is the evolution of the social safety net that protects workers from the increased risks resulting from precarious employment. There is no examination of how the gains won by workers through workplace democracy will be sustained through time, or how these workers will collectively represent their interests.
In response, labour and student unions need to demand a transformation of the state, including socializing the risks of precarious work. In the end, this debate will depend on the forms these social supports take. These reforms should be public, not private; tax-funded, not financialized; structural, not merely responsive; and universally accessible, not designed only for the destitute.
For this to happen, the left has to play a role providing a vision for a worker-focused technological future. There are many positive aspects of adopting technology in work and life, but not if we let all the benefits go to an exclusive club of capitalists and owners. This analysis must consider the negative consequences of adopting technology – to the environment and to social and international development.
In addition to outlining the future that workers deserve, there are two questions socialists need to come to terms with:
What do workers need governments to do?
How will workers be able to organize and represent themselves in the mean time since the current crop of liberal governments will likely offer little regulation or protection?
• [[https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2015/12/premier-names-panel-to-develop-highly-skilled-workforce-strategy.html][Premier Names Panel to Develop Highly Skilled Workforce Strategy to Advise on Adapting to Demands of the Knowledge Economy]]
Conversations with Strangers
What’s Left editors Amalia Savva and Ben Lewis are currently travelling the United States and Canada, seeking out new environments and meeting people. In the first of several contributions, they describes just some of connections made after being on the road for a week.
To have conversations with strangers in an unknown place provides a better understanding of the surroundings. It offers a small glimpse into the stranger’s world of experiences and knowledge – a new perspective on life that can be incorporated into our own work and pleasure.
KeystoneXL may be saved by NAFTA
KeystoneXL pipeline architect TransCanada is out to show why investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in free-trade agreements, which allow companies to sue governments, are undemocratic. The company is using Chapter 11 in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to sue the US for cancelling Keystone XL pipeline. Chapter 11 is NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement chapter.
While the US has never lost an arbitration under Chapter 11, Canada and Mexico have been on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars when companies have sued them for passing laws that protect their citizens instead of corporate profits. The mere existence of such a provision in free trade agreements exposes what these agreements are all about.
Black Lives Matter kicks off 2016
From Canadian campuses to the streets of our cities, there is much work to be done in challenging anti-black racism across the country. Black Lives Matter spent much of 2015 building a movement in communities across the country to tackle injustice head-on. The movement and its allies have their work cut-out for 2016 in order to hold governments to account and work towards ending systemic and institutional racism.
What to watch for in 2016 from Citizens' Press
While Citizens' Press does not put forward predictions, it seems there are some themes that have come out of 2015. Reflecting on this over the break lead to some thoughts on how these themes may continue in 2016. To this end, here are some ideas of where the battle-fronts could be in 2016 and where we will be focusing – at least until something unexpected comes along.
Look for What’s Left in the CCPA Monitor
The What’s Left newsletter is off to a great start this year as we join with the CCPA Monitor for the January/February 2016 edition. This edition of the Monitor is focused on the future of work and includes a page of recent What’s Left editorials.
Also look for What’s Left editor Roxanne Dubois' book review of “44 Hours or Strike”.
The new Monitor, under the editorial guidance of Stuart Trew is not your parent’s monochrome brick, so if you have not picked up a copy for a while (or downloaded it as a PDF online), you are in for a treat.
Financial markets see terrible start to 2016
Financial markets had their worst start ever to the year. The World Bank has released a report cautioning a “perfect storm” of negative economic circumstances stating that the risks of a global recession are high. Considering that the state of the economy has not recovered for the majority of working people across the globe, this may turn out to be yet another disastrous year for workers under capitalism.
If only there were an alternative to unregulated financial capital markets.