I live well below the poverty line, so I live in a cheap, slummy apartment building where everybody else is poor, too. For the most part, I like this setup. I grew up in poverty, and I’m not comfortable around moneyed people. (It’s a topic for another day but people with money are really weird about, well, money. You can’t even talk about it around them.) But being poor definitely has its drawbacks. My neighbours and I are always running out of food and meds.
One of the many things I like about poor people’s cultures, though, is that we tend to be really good at sharing resources. It makes sense: when you’re short on money, you need to have strong relationships to get by. Of course I’m going to give you what you need if I have it–I’m definitely going to need something you have in the very near future. Besides, when we’re all in the same boat, none of us is likely to believe that the reason I can eat today, and you can’t, is that I deserve it more than you, but next week when you can eat, and I can’t, it’s because you worked harder than me. Most of us are well aware that we’re going to stay poor, no matter how hard we work.
The benefits of setting up a shared pantry are that it makes sure nobody goes without at least one of their basic needs, it builds community in the place where you live, and it politicizes your poverty. There is strength in numbers, and this strength can help you if you have to fight your slumlord, or advocate for community resources to your city council, or need a dog-sitter while you’re in the hospital. It also relieves some of the shame that poor people are socialized to feel about the poverty that’s been imposed on us by capitalism. Continue reading
I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.
The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.
I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.
I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.
But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.
My union is in the middle of bargaining right now, which at the moment looks more like being handed a shit deal by the employer, who thinks they’re in a good position to strongarm us (which in all fairness is probably true). So what that means for the workers is a lot more time than usual spent sitting in bars arguing about which option is shittier, accepting a bad deal or taking the risk of getting locked out (I voted for the bad deal — the devil I know — but I might be in the minority on that). I’m feeling frustrated with where that conversation is at right now, so I thought it might help to write about it a little to figure out where I want it to end up.
I’m not finding it frustrating that we all disagree on what’s best (that’s how democracy works), but I am finding myself increasingly frustrated in conversations about who’s to blame. We do this a lot on the left — in feminism and sex workers’ rights as much as in the union — and when I think about why I dislike it so much, I’ve taken to calling it “Worst-Person Politics.” That’s because it goes like this: “So-and-so says this, but I know otherwise. So-and-so is the WORST PERSON.” Cue the vitriolic, hateful bitching. Continue reading
Sex positivity isn’t cutting it
Sure, I see myself reflected in feminist writing about sex work. I come right after “although” and right before a list of stereotype-busting truths about those other sex workers, the ones who like their jobs. As in:
Although some sex workers come from backgrounds of poverty, mental illness or drug use, many sex workers come from the middle class, have post-secondary degrees and choose their work because it offers flexible hours and a high rate of pay, a chance to explore their sexual curiosities, and a challenge to mainstream sexual norms.
That’s not any one person’s writing, of course. It’s more of a patchwork, pulled together from the zillions of sex positive writings on the topic that I’ve read in the course of my sex work activism and degree work.
Late last fall, Audacia Ray published a talk she had given as a blog post, challenging sex positive feminism to develop beyond repeating this statement that sex work can be fun:
During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the sex wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the struggle to define sex positivity with respect to sex work served a purpose. To say that not all people have a horrendous experience of the sex industry, and that many sex workers value sexuality and see themselves as complex sexual beings as well as sex educators was an important statement to make, and one that had not been spoken before. However, it is essential to put this statement in historical context. To continue making the statement that many sex workers have a good experience of the sex industry without also including those whose experiences are negative and making space for them to speak up reveals a deep doubt about the validity of the sex positive argument. If we believe in the positive power of sexuality, we must also examine what happens when people’s lives are infused with sex negativity, and we must listen and support people with this experience in sharing their personal truths.
I’ve been working lately on a conference paper that considers my story about doing sex work alongside those of other not-so-happy hookers, using blog posts from Audacia Ray, Lori Adorable, Melissa Petro, Olive Seraphim, Wendy Babcock, Hadil Habiba and others. It’s been harder than I expected to write—in part because there is so much excellent material in these posts that I want to do justice to, and in part because, even with so many brave and groundbreaking writings to pave the way, I feel afraid to write.
What I found was that I didn’t want to write “my story” into a paper and share it with a bunch of feminist academics. That’s actually a really scary idea, and I can’t imagine why I thought it was a good one. Between my fear of appropriation by abolitionists and my fear of rejection and ridicule by sex positive feminists, I’m paralyzed every time I try to write. I thought I might like it better here, shared with other sex worker bloggers. Continue reading
Esta es una traducción de la declaración colectiva del 3 de marzo 2013 de Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project sobre los derechos de las trabajadoras del sexo de las calles. Estoy aprendiendo del español. Probablemente hay errores en mi tradicción—correcciones son muy bienvenidos!
This is an interpretation of the 3 March 2013 Collective Statement from Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project about the rights of street-based sex workers. I am a Spanish language-learner, so there are probably many mistakes in my translation—corrections are very welcome!
El original se encuentra en: http://maggiestoronto.ca/press-releases?news_id=99 Continue reading
(This post details a souped-up truck competition from a couple of years ago at the “Maynooth Days” fair, which takes place annually over the Labour Day long weekend in Maynooth, ON.)
The mud bog was great: women and men raced their dune buggies and monster trucks through a lot of mud. And Mum ran through, too! (Yes, blind, with her glasses off, flailing her arms in the air and squealing the whole way. The other entrants were all 20-something men, and they beat her by a good minute, but a nice older fellow ran beside her, so they tied for last. I cheered from dry land.)
The mud bog is serious business, and folks are out to win and to entertain. One of the more interesting entrants was this truck: flying a “Redneck” Confederate battle flag, and painted with the Tonka logo. It was indeed fast, the fellow driving it looked like he was having a good time, and it was a favourite with the crowd, most of whom definitely qualified as rednecks. But it left me wondering about the strange mashup of cultural icons from the American south (and the flag’s resurgence as statement of racism thinly veiled as conservatism), television, and childhood that make up this slice of self-representation in the Canadian north.
Problematic imagery aside, the weekend wasn’t without its traces of labour celebration. The logging and agricultural events were obviously tied to the participants’ jobs, but the mud bog, too, is a celebration of working life in the north. If you want to get through the bush to get to the logging camp, you need a vehicle that will get you through the muck. It was neat to see some extreme adaptations of technology to the climate and terrain. If your adaptation fails, you get stuck…
And have to be pulled out by the giant skidder, a much larger version of the tractor for pulling logs that the loggers had raced the day before. From what was swinging and flopping around under this truck as they pulled it out, it looked like it had either hit a rock or just gotten so swamped in muck that the drive shaft snapped.
Adapt right, and you get freaky technological beasts, like “The Sasquatch”: a 4 wheel drive tractor, once, now with an engine pulled from an old truck, and the body of a 30s Ford coupe thrown on top. Another, less troubling, mashup from the “Redneck” team.
So that, I suppose, is what you do when you’re way up north and there’s no labour march for labour day. That, and look at the 1st place winning load of logs in the parade, of course.
Best logs ever.
This is a reproduction of a post from September 5th 2011 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108
I don’t often turn to Eminem for anti-racist analysis, but I think “The Way I Am” is actually the first source I encountered, and the most popular source for sure, with a critical take on community, national, and international responses to “school shootings” (this of course reflects my own upbringing and embeddedness in white culture, since Eminem is hardly the first artist to draw attention to the discrepancy). The lyrics in question are:
[…] And look where it’s at.
Middle America: now it’s a tragedy.
Now it’s so sad to see an upper class city
Having this happening.
The label “school shooting,” and the response to it, prescribe shock and grief in ways that the labels assigned to the gun-related deaths of children of colour and poor children, which are far more common in the US and the world over, do not. I’m not saying shock and grief are inappropriate responses to the shooting deaths of children (or adults), but the shock prescribed is because *these* children were supposed to be safe, *these* children were never supposed to witness this kind of violence, *these* parents were never supposed to feel that kind of fear. The implication held in the completely different response prescribed for “gang violence,” “perpetrators shot by police,” “high risk lifestyle,” “drug-related death,” etc. is that *those* children and *those* parents were never protected by the same expectation of safety. *Those* ones might even have deserved it.
Why does this matter? And why is the middle of the response to tragedy the appropriate time to bring it up? I’ll suggest three reasons:
1) In addition to gun control, progressive responses to this tragedy have identified accessible mental health care as something that could have prevented it. While anyone with a psychiatrized disability has to overcome almost-insurmountable systemic ableism to access mental health care, on the whole, middle class whites have the *most* access to health care. People of colour and the poor, especially in the US where health care is privatized, bear most of the burden of inaccessible health care systems. If we were to stop considering the violence experienced by children of colour and poor children — not only gun deaths, but the routine and systemic violences of racism and poverty, too — expected and normal, then what might solutions to the crisis of inaccessible health care look like?
2) Speaking of systemic racism and poverty, the premise that middle class white lives are inherently more valuable — that their loss is inherently more shocking, grieving, unexpected and unacceptable — is white supremacy and class war in action. As long as white supremacy and class war remain the dominant ideology of the white middle and upper classes, the associated belief that white middle and upper class boys are entitled to take others’ lives to maintain their status will remain intact. The only negotiation is whose lives: their girlfriends and wives? Their schoolmates? Their mothers? The lives of those employed to make consumer goods for them? The lives of sex workers, domestic workers, employees, Iraqis, Afghans, Haitians, Mexicans? The lives of prisoners?
3) These two positions of privilege, safety from violence and the entitlement to commit violence, are markers of status, wealth and power. The first, safety from violence, is unattainable for many people who don’t already have status, wealth and power. But the products of our culture relentlessly teach us, and especially young men, that being a violent person is a way to *get* status, wealth and power over others. Look at the way “school shooters” dress and behave: these are tropic images of masculinity and power and, while “video games caused it” is far too simplistic, they were not appropriated and acted on by young men in a void. Aggression and violence are imposed on boys and men from day one, and especially on boys and young men who have few or no other claims to economic or social power. If we cannot deconstruct the messages through which we confirm these two privileges as reserved only for a select few, we cannot prevent further violence. Our response to the “shock” of “school shootings,” in contrast with our response to the shootings of children of colour and poor children, is one such message.
Don’t get me wrong: what happened is very sad, I feel for the parents and families, and I can even understand why my friends who are utterly unconnected to the whole situation might have cried or hugged their children on hearing the news. I don’t think critique of the media and popular responses takes away from that. I think it recognizes the scope of the injustice in a way that being manipulated by media to act out particular responses in ways that best draw viewers for their advertisers without challenging the system upon which their advertisers’ profits are founded… well, it just doesn’t.
This is a reproduction of a post from December 14th 2012 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108
“Negotiate, don’t legislate” has been the steady chant on CUPW picket lines, where they have been joined by public and private sector trade unions in solidarity over the lockout by Canada Post. But why?
For all Canada Post’s claims that it’s not making enough money, and postal workers need to tighten their belts (postal workers in Toronto, btw, make exactly the median wage in the city — if greedy unions are what’s keeping some small parts of the working class out of the poverty of the minimum wage, I’ll take ’em, thanks), a lot of people have been seriously inconvenienced by having limited, and then no, postal service, businesses big and small are losing money, and everyone seems to agree that a universal postal service is essential to the Canadian economy. So of course we all want the postal workers working, and why not just legislate them back, force an end to the labour dispute, and carry on as normal?
Because the Canadian economy is not carrying on as normal — at least not for workers. And every single one of us has a stake in that.
As Judy Haiven and Larry Haiven from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, in BC and Newfoundland workers have been forced to end strikes, and to accept deals that included a wage freeze for one group and a 15% wage rollback, longer work week, and agreement to out-source public-sector jobs to private contractors for the other:
Both governments threatened massive punishments for those who defied the edicts, including dismissals and huge fines for the unions and their members.
The governments have sent a powerful message to trade unions, one which will have ominous future repercussions: You can negotiate all you want, but when push comes to shove, unless you agree to what employers want, we will bring the full force of the state against you and impose what employers want. […]
What makes recent cases so different and so dangerous is that governments are bypassing the arbitration route and writing the terms of settlement into the legislation. When it happens again and again, collective Canadian governments are, for all intents and purposes, rendering collective bargaining dead.
Back-to-work legislation has been used in the past, and will, eventually, be used against Canadian postal workers, but its unquestioned use, and the attitude among Canadians that workers should be legislated back to work immediately, whatever their situation, is a worrying one. As Haiven and Haiven point out,collective bargaining was institutionalized to stabilize the process of negotiating labour disputes. When joining a union and striking was illegal and answered when violent force, when workers were told management could make unilateral decisions about their working conditions and there was nothing they could do about it—workers joined unions and went on strike anyway. Personally, I like the idea of illegal strikes. I like the idea of a general illegal strike. Actually, I’d really like to have a revolution. But political will isn’t there (yet) in Canada, and collective bargaining — the often-fraught process of coming to a compromise between workers and employers over employment and labour conditions — is designed to keep our jobs and businesses stable until we get there (or forever, I guess, if you don’t want to have a revolution).
Undermining the collective bargaining process is designed to destabilize the carryings-on Canadians have considered normal for the last couple of generations.
Welcome to the “new reality”
Did you know we have a new reality? It’s one where your job is on contract and temporary, where you work ‘for yourself’ without owning a business or seeing any profit, where your wage (if it’s guaranteed) is at or near minimum and just barely approaches the poverty line, where you don’t know what hours (if any) you’ll work next week or if you’ll have a job next March, you can’t have benefits because you’re not a permanent employee (but you can buy private insurance, right?), and there’s no such thing as seniority or promotions. This is precarious work.
Precarious work reduces workers — entire human beings with families, communities, needs, and futures to worry about — to the essential traits that make them assets to corporations: low cost, short-term and long-term “flexibility,” and the hardcore willingness to do the job and do it well that can only come with desperation. Culturally, many of us are led to support this, thinking of ourselves as branded individuals, who will succeed if we sell ourselves hard enough, and who can benefit from flexibility, if we’re lucky and resourceful (and aren’t we, though?). In practical and cultural terms, business has worked very hard to keep us from thinking of ourselves as a working class.
And that keeps us from realizing that we have a stake in the postal workers’ struggle, beyond whether or not the thingum we just bought on eBay gets delivered, and in migrant workers’, restaurant workers’, sex workers’, domestic workers’, cab drivers’, retail workers’, even academic workers’ struggles. Because while some of us can find some ways to benefit from flexibility, most of the working class just suffers as the bar for decent work is set lower, and lower, and lower, and the government and corporations undermine what few institutionalized processes we have to get together and do something about it.
Trade unions in Canada right now, who are demonized in the media for exactly these class-oriented politics of raising the standard for decent work (you may have heard it as: “being lazy, greedy mo’fuckers who don’t understand that corporations need to make money and go on strike every five minutes because they want the whole year off on vacation”), are fighting their own battles for their own workers as well as a struggle against systemic neoliberalization for the entire working class.
Unions constantly advocate for non union workers, lobbying for improvements in EI so that everyone is treated equally, such as part time seasonal and contract workers. They also led the charge for the fair treatment of workers forced to use temp agencies none of whom are likely to be unionized.
Unions are at the forefront of the battle to protect our pensions and most importantly our precious health care system. Do you honestly think that the corporations and the neoliberals who govern us are going to step up and fight to protect these important institutions. Of course not, in fact they wish to see their destruction,hence the demonetization of Unions, one of the few organizations capable of standing in their way.
There is perhaps one other area where we will need the Unions and it is a very important one. As our governments continue to sell out our interests to the corporations, ratchet up the security state and institute their austerity agenda (that is austerity for me and you, not them), there will come a time when we will have no choice but to fight back. This is when we will require their experience and ability to organize.
CUPW has been very clear about what’s at stake for them as workers: sick days, pensions, benefits, and a wage reduction that would affect new and younger workers, making the “new reality” the standard for my generation (while we pay out our parents’ pensions). But they’ve also been clear about their support for CAW at Air Canada, and their solidarity with Toronto public employees, OPSEU workers in Toronto, and Toronto teachers, whose contracts are coming up soon, as well as with the majority of the working class who struggle in deplorable working conditions, for poverty wages, and with no hope for change under the new reality. Fighting against CUPW, or any union these days, is fighting against workers in general.
Why on earth would it be in any of our best interests (unless we own huge corporations, I guess. Or really, really want to) to support our government in undermining postal workers’ bargaining power and decent work conditions? Yeah, they get a lot more than some of us do… but shouldn’t we get that, too? We are, after all, the resourceful, flexible, willing, and hardworking people of the neoliberal reality — who says we haven’t earned it?
But I really, really, really want my thingum from eBay!
After the revolution, I’m stealing your house.
This is a reproduction of a post from June 23rd 2011 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108