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 his business.

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 opinion search.

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 work.

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 nation

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.

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