the will to work
I was at my stylist's recently; my hair had gotten long and shapeless. She was running
quite late, so I got was there while she worked on the client before me. I was able to listen
in and hear.
What's a million?
He's a millionaire. This was obvious from the description of his house, with a
swimming pool, a patio, a wine (I wrote "whine" first--you'll see why later) cellar--and
He owns an opinion survey company, located in Toronto, Ottawa, and now
opening in Montreal. I have little personal experience working in these sorts of
companies, but I suspect many of my readers on Everything do.
I understand they are very technology intensive: the latest in computer and
telephone technology. The employees, mostly university students, sit in little cubicles,
phoning, talking to people the computers have called up to meet the requirements of the
Each employee's work can be--and probably is--minutely
monitored for time spent, numbers called, and words used. They are probably paid based
upon the number of calls made--rather like the piece-work my grandfather did in the
rag-trade in Toronto at the beginning of the twentieth century. If they fail to measure up
to standards set by this guy, they’re fired. It’s as simple as that.
The new economy, same
as the old economy.
He won't set up in British Columbia, because his workers would unionize
instantly--and provincial law allows that. Clearly, in Mike Harris' Ontario, and
Quebec, labor unions are not permitted to organize easily.
But he is having trouble in Montreal. Despite high unemployment, persistently the
highest for a large urban center in Canada, he can't find university students to work. His first
explanation is they are just getting into their classes, and will be able to work later.
His second, and a more general complaint, is they lack the will to
I am hearing this, or echoes of this, all the time now, as Canada moves toward a
federal election in the next year.
Let's get the government to keep them in line.
In a recent by-election, Stockwell Day, leader of the Canadian Alliance and Joe
Clark, leader of the Progressive Conservatives of Canada, were elected to parliament.
In the leadup to this, a Canadian Alliance organizer was accidentally overheard
on a live microphone (when will politicians learn not to say anything
around a microphone they wouldn't want heard) to say that people in the Maritimes are
lazy, don’t want to work, and just want to collect government "handouts". Stockwell
Day fired him quickly, but the question remains.
Day, in recent interviews with newspaper editorial boards, and broadcast on the
CBC, comments on the need to stop subsidizing what in Canada have traditionally
been called have not provinces--the Maritimes, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan,
and Yukon, and the now two Northwest Territories, one now Nunavut, (everything
except Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.
More recently, Day said the federal surplus is generated by the new economies of
Ontario and Alberta. These two provinces just happen to have the economic and social
policies he espouses--and very familiar to my American readers, having been imported
from the south. (However, the economy of Ontario is still mainly manufacturing, and
Alberta’s is oil and gas, not high-technology.)
Paul Martin, the Canadian finance minister, in a speech to the Board of Trade,
whose timing could not have been coincidental, spoke of the tax reductions the
Liberals will make with the budget surplus generated. This, conveniently, takes
the wind out of Stockwell Day's sails.
Now, what does all this have to with the millionaire of the new economy getting
his hair cut and styled just before me?
What is good for General Motors, is good for the
In the next federal election the talk will be about the will to work.
About how it has created wealth in those provinces--Ontario and Alberta--where it has
been allowed to soar. The talk will be about moving people from places where there is no
work--the Maritimes, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and the North--to places where
there is--Ontario, Alberta, but probably not to British Columbia (because of the
easy organizing laws). This will conveniently ignore the vast increases in
homelessness, and poverty, all, also conveniently, not tracked by statistics.
This is the new economy: low taxes, small government--no regulation, few social
programs--turn over to the private sector whatever in the realm of people services is left.
And begin to police those who have fallen out of the system. Rudolph Giuliani does that in
New York; Mike Harris has begun to do that in Toronto.
The talk will be of the moral goodness of the will to work. If you
fail, it is your fault--you are drunk, or drug addicted, or just plain lazy--and you are a
drag upon those who are productive, like my millionaire.
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
He is the poster child. O yes, he was planning to golf the next few days. His will to
work? He has students do the work, in speed-up conditions, no prospect for any
advancement, in work that is not interesting. And they will not be planning to stay
around--like in Starbucks, or any other place that exploits young people.
We have been overwhelmed by the business culture; it has conquered us almost, it
seems, without firing a shot. Corporate media encourages us to relinquish all national
controls over industry, labor, the environment, so that any corporate entity can
blackmail people to accept lower incomes, standards, prospects--and if they don't, well,
they have no will to work, and deserve whatever they don't get--or do.
Where are the corporate welfare bums?
Never have I heard a more odious phrase. It is odious in the mouths of those who
use it is to point out the difference between them--they have money, whether from work,
or not, is a matter of opinion--and those who aren't like them--who don't have money,
whether from moral flaws is also a matter of opinion. And it is odious when it becomes
the foundation of an election campaign.
While most can point out examples of those that seem to fit this description, it is now
rare to be served images of corporate welfare bums (the David Lewis phrase to
describe the obvious), or white collar crime. The images served are all of the lazy, the
addicted, the criminal. People want to have a life; they also want to have work that is meaningful,
dignifying, and gives a living wage--just like my millionaire.
Poverty has become an issue of personal character, not of political economy.
Next, I expect to hear that Arbeit Macht Frei--work will make you free.
This is the election to come. It will be fought upon the most negative, most divisive,
and class warfare terms Canada has ever known. And it won't be the socialists, or
liberals who will be doing it. Social Darwinism, never very far from the surface, will, thanks to the American example, come to the fore.