Category Archives: Youth

Should you (the 99%) pay for parties for the 1%?

Since 31 July 2011, the largest province of Canada, Ontario, has cut the ‘Special Diet Allowance’ of $250 for people on welfare. Welfare rates have been cut by 55% since the Progressive Conservative Party got into power in 1995.

As a result, people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits (E.I.) and their savings and are forced onto the dole, have very little to live on – even if they didn’t have to pay rent, it would hardly cover the rising cost of food, electricity, gas and so on. They represent the poorest of the 99%.

So, while the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty try to penalise the poor and the unfortunate, whom Tim Hudak’s Tories are probably itching to put the boot in as well, rich corporate executives and their wholly-owned political allies reap the benefit of taxpayer-funded parties (ie ‘entertainment allowances’). That is, the 1% get to party and we get the bill!

And poor people, who are trying to exist on incomes that are below subsistence in a first-world city (and provincial capital), Toronto, and have those meagre incomes cut even more, there is nothing forthcoming.

My modest proposal is that these ‘entertainment’ expenses that big business executives claim (at taxpayers’ expense) should be cut by 50% (as a starting point) and turned over to those most in need: the poor, the homeless, the unemployed (whose jobs have been shipped overseas), as well as putting it towards cutting student debt and funding daycare and long-term daycare. (I would also propose that this would not include small businesses and the self-employed under a certain level of turnover.)

Since the provincial election on 6 October 2011, where the Liberals were returned with a minority (53 seats), can we expect any change for those most in need? Although the Tories hold 37 seats, the New Democratic Party (NDP) holds 17. The anti-democratic rhetoric of both federal and provincial Tories has made McGuinty ‘nervous’ about anything that can be called a ‘coalition’ and so bends the way of Hudak and Harper.

This is unfortunate as the bankrupt model of neoliberalism continues to act as a ‘Robin Hood’ in reverse – putting money into the hands of those who need it least: the 1%. That is why today 15 October 2011 some of the 99% have awaken and taken to the streets of more than 950 cities around the world in over 80 countries.

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Filed under Corporate Welfare, Corruption, Cutbacks, Democracy, Economics, Elections, Politics, Poverty, Uncategorized, Wages, Welfare, Youth

Majority of new jobs are public sector, so Tory ‘slash-and-burn’ of public sector may cut short economic recovery

The report in the Toronto Globe and Mail today about ‘Corporate Canada hiring on the cheap’ (different title to the online version) highlights an interesting contradiction for Stephen Harper’s Tories.

The majority of 192,000 jobs created so far this year, at ‘a faster pace than in 2010 and an illustration of the Canadian recovery’s strength compared with other Group of Seven nations’ (http://tinyurl.com/3nxnjol), are in the public sector.

The article also points out caution on the part of cash-rich corporations, which means relying on public sector workers to provide the ‘stimulus’ for consumption. Since we do live in a consumption-driven economy, this becomes an important factor in thinking about what will happen to an economy where the one group of workers with decent wages and pensions are about to be hit hard.

Thus, Conservative plans to engage in a Scott-Walker-style cut of public sector workers, one which was not discussed during the last election, may jeopardize Canada’s economic recovery (and leading position amongst the G-7).

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Filed under Cutbacks, Democracy, Economics, Elections, News, Parliament, Pensions, Politics, Public Sector, Wages, Work and working conditions, Youth

UWO’s Offer to Post-Docs Reveals the De-valuation of Academic Knowledge

The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) campaign to win fair wages and working conditions for post-doctoral researchers (post-docs) at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada, reveals much about the downward push on the conditions of academic workers in Canadian universities in particular and academics in general.

‘Postdoctoral Associates at UWO been trying to negotiate a first collective agreement for two whole years and negotiations have stalled once again. They are being offered a mere $10.93 an hour – that’s only 68 cents above minimum wage for highly trained academics with PhDs!’ [From PSAC National’s website: (http://psac.com/news/2011/bargaining/20110627-e.shtml)%5D

The conditions faced by the post-docs at UWO are similar to the increasing situation of knowledge workers and academics throughout much of the English-speaking/Anglophone world: the conditions that academics and students in the UK are facing are truly bleak (though there is hope in the organisation and solidarity across institutions and groups, as the attacks on the public sector have broadened out to include virtually every sector of the public and civil service).

At Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario (about one-hour’s drive from UWO), contract faculty (known as Contract Academic Staff or CAS) are waiting for early September to ratify a new contract that was recently negotiated after their last contract expired almost one year ago (2010). Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA), representing the CAS members, has to wait until most of the bargaining unit arrives on campus.

However, given the ways in which the Administration treated them during the last set of negotiations, I would not hold my breath that the contract reflects in any way an adequate recognition of their expertise, education and experience.

The CAS at WLU were forced into a strike back in March-April 2008 because of the low regard held by the Administration towards CAS. For example, one CAS member spoke to me about receiving a doctorate from WLU while at the same time the institution was trying to lower his conditions and pay to McJob wages that younger generations face (i.e. the two-tier work hierarchy that has become increasingly the norm at all kinds of workplaces).

There is a very simple way to determine the value by which university administrations regard the workers, whether academics or cleaners, who make the institutions work: their pay and benefits.

Money in our society is the measure of all things. (Don’t university presidents and provosts claim this when they are trying to explain their six- and seven-digit salaries and benefit packages?!)

Dr Amit Chakma, the President and Vice-Chancellor of UWO, is sending a clear and unequivocal message to all and sundry: someone with three degrees, including a PhD, is worth $10.93 (Canadian) an hour.

Why go into debt (a ‘mini-mortgage’) to be treated – and paid – about the same as a ‘fast-food’ restaurant worker?

How much does UWO, WLU or any university charge for their graduate tuition?

Indeed, how much are they charging for undergraduate tuition? Is it worth it when the university administrations insist on paying as little as possible?

Whether you like it or not, money is the measure of value in our society.

So, regardless of what Dr Chakma or any other university president says, what they offer in concrete, material terms (i.e. how much are they willing to pay or what kinds of benefits are they willing to provide?) indicates the regard within which they hold the PhD or any other academic degree (which, of course, is ironic in so many ways!).

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Filed under Canadian Universities, Cutbacks, Economics, Education, Faculty Unions, Higher Education, News, Public Sector, Tuition, Wages, Work and working conditions, Youth

June 30 – What does a pension mean to you?

As a young child, I remember awaking in the wee hours of the morning and listening in the dark as my father prepared to go out to work as a deckhand on ferries moving crew, cargo and passengers between various islands in cold, sleet, rain, fog, wind, and sun, too!

My father, along with thousands of other seamen, got millions of passengers, employees and employers, families, relatives, tourists, and others, travelling between various islands and the mainland, safely to and from their destinations.

While I learned to hate the idea of what work might mean for me (I was too young to realise how it might change), I knew all too well what it meant for my father: early to rise, away for five days, a week or more at a time, and sometimes also away from home at Christmas and birthdays. His family grew up and experienced life as he spent (reluctant) time away from family – and at times appeared remote from our concerns.

Yet, once he got full-time – unionised – employment, my siblings and I (there were eight of us, including foster children) benefitted from the fact that my father’s earnings during the late 1960s and 1970s ensured that my mother could stay home with the children. (Talk about a ‘family-friendly’ policy – something you won’t hear these days from Tories or Republicans!!)

My father dreamed of retiring after a life-time spent at work, helping companies make profits, ensuring passengers arrived safely at their destinations and raising a family where the children were able to become relatively socially (and financially!!) mobile: moving up and out of the working class into the middle class. A result of both my father’s and my mother’s love of education, learning and books, as well as their belief that, while they made sacrifices for us in terms of their job prospects, respect and dignity on the job (and in life generally – since so many people’s sense of their own self-worth was dependent upon their occupations in life!) and ‘creature comforts’, they could reasonably expect that we would have a better life ahead of us.

And they, at least, would be able to view that from the comfort of a small, tidy pension which would enable them – unlike their own parents and grandparents – to be free from the compulsion to work until their death, as my father’s father – my own grandfather – had done (had to do!).

A small, but decent (and well-earned) pension that rewarded them for the diligence and loyalty for working hard at unsung jobs, that recognised the work that was still necessary for the movement of goods and people, and for the personal sacrifices that people, like my father, made to do a job in the present to enable a future for their/his children.

My father, left school at 13 years of age, but was self-taught. At a time when merchant seamen had only books (rather than satellite telly) to entertain them (after gambling and/or drinking away their money!!), my father became not just an auto-didact, but a parent who wanted to teach his children to experience a real life of education, knowledge and learning. An education that would take them away from being stuck with getting up at an ungodly hour to do a thankless task for decades.

Pensions are also a recognition that when you give up a part of your life to ensure that certain tasks are carried out, you lose the opportunity to engage in other activities and (possible alternative career paths) – and it is this loss of opportunity which is part of what pensions also represent.

It’s not just the potential that their own lives might have had that people lose, when they do these thankless tasks, but that their own lives may be shortened or become otherwise less fulfilling because of a lack of opportunity to realise their own potential.

That is, pensions are not just a means to which people have contributed as part of their financial planning for life after work, but that we have to recognise that people lose out other possibilities, other potentials that remain unrealised, because – for whatever reason – they chose, or were forced to choose, a life that excluded other opportunities.

My father always talked about how much he would have loved to have been a teacher, a second-hand bookseller, a writer and so many other things. The opportunity for my father never arrived. However, he had hopes that we would not have to live the lives that he had: moving in and out of unemployment; moving from job to job; being ripped off by employers; and so  on.

Knowing that a pension would allow one enough to live on in at least minimal comfort at the end of 30, 40, 50 or 60 years of working is an expectation that should be offerred to every man, woman and child, regardless of their position or which position they have ended up in!

Everyone should be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour, shouldn’t they?

When people think that governments and politicians should just be able to rip up people’s pensions, they never consider perhaps how those people made sacrifices that enabled the economy to function, goods and people to be transported, and so on.

And, that these working people made great sacrifices during their working lives. Why shouldn’t they be able to retire?

Why do we think that only CEOs should enjoy the fruits (profits) of your labour?

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A Modest Proposal for Linking Tuition Fees to Minimum Wage

If increasingly employers require a minimum of an undergraduate degree, even when the necessary job skills do not demand such education (and perhaps such demands are used as a means to sift through greater numbers of applicants for fewer positions), then surely it is a broader responsibility than the student’s (or her/his family’s) to pay for that education.

If it is the case that employers demand that new employees have a degree, then surely there needs to be some kind of commitment from those employers who are the beneficiaries of their new recruits studying for their university degrees. That is, perhaps employers need to think about paying for the education of the people that they hire – or paying their ‘fair share’ in taxes to support such educational provision.

We also have to rethink about providing access to a greater number of young people to obtain the necessary education to earn the degree while thinking about how it should be paid for.

So, I am wondering if it is more ‘realistic’ or ‘pragmatic’ to propose a linking of tuition fees to a certain number of weeks of employment at a minimum wage?

Essentially, I would suggest that we identify a reasonable number of weeks at full-time hours at minimum wage to be equated to one year’s tuition fees for undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences (or ‘liberal arts’). (Perhaps, sciences, engineering and related disciplines may require a slightly different model, but I will confine my proposal to the areas I know best.)

While the first university degree, the bachelor of arts or science or education, is becoming the equivalent of the high sch0ol diploma, then perhaps we have to work to ensure greater access by more youth to the first degree as part of a social-economic commitment of the nation to its youth.

While my proposal is primarily directed towards the Canadian situation, it may also have some impact upon those involved in combatting the tripling of tuition fees at universities in the UK (I have been both a student and a lecturer in post-secondary institutions in Canada and the UK).

As you can read in a wee bit more detail below (and in an earlier post in this blog where I made a comparison between the late 1970s and today), I would suggest that it should be in the 4-6 week range. That is, we should think about 160-240 hours (4-6 weeks of 40 hours per week) of full-time minimum wage work.

This link would also have an impact upon the concerns and issues in linking up student jobs and what they earn or, more commonly, what minimum wage pays.

Indeed, perhaps such a link would also work to help identify the problems that minimum wages generally don’t meet the costs of living in the same way that the ‘living wage’ does (perhaps there will be the belated recognition that current minimum wages are any where near what they were in the 1970s and early 1980s).

However, we shouldn’t expect people to have to pay more than the 4-6 weeks of work at minimum wage especially when the lack of employment opportunities often force young people to take contract, temporary and part-time employment.

 

Below are the comments that I made that helped to formulate this proposal, and which are posted on the University Affairs website with the original column by Dr Doug Owram and his thoughts on tuition fees, which can also be accessed via the link (http://www.universityaffairs.ca/thoughts-on-tuition.aspx).

While I appreciate your identification of inflation as part of the equation that saw the low percentage of university costs (or income?) paid for by student tuition fees, I do think we have to consider something comparable between minimum wage rates and tuition fees to make universities accessible for students from non-affluent backgrounds.

As a working-class teenager, the costs of tuition were always a concern. I certainly would not go to any university, including the one that I teach at now, with the kind of costs that I have to incurr.

In 1978, however, I could afford to go to university (in BC)for the equivalent of 4 weeks of full-time work (40 hours per) at minimum wage ($3 per hour). In Ontario at present, students pay closer to 16 weeks: basically four (4) times the amount of work that my generation had to do to pay for tuition.

I don’t believe that it is just the cost of faculty salaries that is a root cause here if for no other reason than classes are so much larger than what I took when I was an undergraduate.

For example, in my department at Wilfrid Laurier University, we teach first-year classes of 300-400 students. Our third-year classes are 50 and last year many classes exceeded that number to cope with cutbacks by the Administration (even though the provincial government made no cutbacks).

However, the Administration has been expanding the number of administrators (estimated at a 48% increase in the last five years versus a 13% increase in faculty and a 18.5% increase in students). (These are the University’s own numbers, by the way.)

Compare that with the late 1970s and early 1980s and third-year classes of 15-30 students (I think there was one I took – a required course – with around 40-50 students in it). My professors were usually full-time and permanent, whereas today at my own university at least 35-40% of classes are taught by Contract Academic Staff or contract faculty (who may be teaching at more than one university to try to earn enough to pay off student loans and other debts incurred while studying for a doctorate). (This, of course, is another issue: the lack of respect shown by Administrators for contract faculty in terms of pay and conditions. Ironic, isn’t it, that universities encourage people to study for a PhD and then want to hire them at McJob rates of pay – even when they’ve earned the PhD from the very same university that treats them with such disdain?!)

Part of it the problem are the low wages available to students when they do graduate: many students also study for a one-year diploma in PR or marketing or Human Resources but still end up working for $25-30,000 per year in Toronto and owe anywhere from $25-42,000.

Universities need to re-think what is at the heart of their mission as well as rethinking how they charge for tuition. Perhaps, we need to consider what the minimum wage is and ensure that NO student has to pay more than say four (4) to six (6) weeks of minimum wage for their full-time university tuition fees.

Universities also need to re-think why they have become so top-heavy with senior administrators and why so much money is being expended in extra-curricular areas rather than in the core missions of the university: teaching and research.

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Filed under Canadian Universities, Economics, Education, Faculty Unions, Higher Education, Tuition, Uncategorized, Wages, Youth

UCEA Offer Reveals Much About Employers

The news that the Universities and Colleges Employers Association has offered academic staff ‘a £100 pay rise for the 2011-12 academic year’ is more than an insult. It reveals much about how employers view staff. (See ‘Employers make £100 pay offer’ by John Morgan in THE.)

Whenever you hear excuses about the need to ‘recruit’ and/or ‘retain’ people in the financial services industry, banking and sectors, it is always about the executives (or bureaucrats) at the top who take home pay that is beyond what most people can dream about making during their careers or (in the more obscene cases of executive pay) in a lifetime.

Yet, the same (supposedly) ‘common sense’ expression never seems to apply to the rest of us: those of us that do the teaching, research, administration and service that makes universities (and the rest of the world) work so well. It’s a myth. It’s just an excuse to pay money that comes out of the pockets of employees and consumers, and academics and students, that goes to pay for these bureaucrats at the top.

If you want students to pay £9,000 a year for a degree at a university in the UK, then you are going to have to think about paying academics decent if not competitive salaries in order to compete with universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Otherwise, you are going to have an increasing problem with the world reputation of universities. The reputation of the worst affected universities will affect the overall reputation of all universities in the UK, regardless of individual performance.

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Filed under Economics, Education, Higher Education, Tuition, Wages, Youth

Student Debt Reins in Student Choices

One other aspect, that I forgot to add (and I am sure there are more that others can think of and perhaps add…), is that:

(6) 1970s-1980s: 20-30 years ago and students came out of university with no or little debt, or at least it was a minimal amount and under reasonable terms (there were grants for poor students and such similar attempts to level the playing field….).

This meant that they did not begin life with a mini-mortgage weighing them (and their start in life) down, which forces them to take on board jobs rather than being able to pursue a particular passion or career.

How can young people have a chance to start out, to go travelling, or work for a charity or volunteer?? The harm it does to society is unnecessary.

There is a cartoon posted on Rachel Serda’s blog:
http://www.rachaelseda.com/post/5599098024/think-before-you-major

It’s what brought that idea to mind…..

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Filed under Canadian Universities, Higher Education, Tuition, Wages, Youth