Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Tunes: I Hate my Job

This week’s installment of labour themes in pop culture is JbDubs' “I Hate my Job”. The lyrics are not particularly complex but the sentiment behind them is something most workers can understand. 

What I liked about this song was it tackled sexual(ity) harassment head on (“As I walk by I get a pat on the fanny fanny/Don’t look at me like I’m a two dollar tranny tranny”) and identifies it as an occupational hazard.

It also rejects the victimization that often accompanies discussion of harassment. While “I'll staple your tie to your eyes/Better think again next time/You wanna survey my behind” likely isn’t found in the best practices guide for health and safety, it is likely to be more effective than filing a harassment complaint.

Plus these dudes have amazing legs.



Note: OSHA stands for the US Occupational Safety and Heath Administration.

J - B - Duh - Duh - Dubs
J - B - Duh - Duh - Dubs
J - B - Duh - Duh - Dubs
J - B - Duh - Duh - Dubs

[CHORUS]
I hate my boss
I hate my coworkers
I hate my job
I hate my boss
I hate my coworkers
I hate my job
I hate my boss
I hate my coworkers
I hate my job
Hate my job
Hate my job
Hate my job
Hate my job

As I walk by I get a pat on the fanny fanny
Don't look at me like I'm a two dollar tranny tranny
I'll staple your tie to your eyes
Better think again next time
You wanna survey my behind

Oh OSHA gonna call on you tonight
Oh OSHA
gonna make you serve time
'Cause you an occupational hazard
to - n - n - n - night
'Cause you an occupational hazard
to - n - n - n - night

[CHORUS]

So I'm a regulation hottie you a Star Wars yeti
If I am Wilhelmina then you are Ugly Betty
I'll put your fingers in a paper shredder
you know better than to
creep on me creep on me
creep on
creep on me creep on me
creep

Oh OSHA
gonna call on you tonight
Oh OSHA
gonna make you serve time
'Cause you an occupational hazard
to - n - n - n - night
'Cause you an occupational hazard
to - n - n - n - night

[CHORUS]

Knock knock
On the door door
Say Hey Hey
To my boss boss
Give my two weeks
Peace out freaks
Peace out freaks
Peace out freaks
Knock knock
On the door door
Say Hey Hey
To my boss boss
Give my two weeks
Peace out freaks
Peace out freaks
Peace out freaks

I hate my job
I hate my job
I hate my job
Get me the hell outta here

[CHORUS]

'Cause you an occupational hazard
to - n - n - n - night

-- Bob Barnetson



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sexism in the food industry

Last week, Metro News reported on an interesting project out of the University of Alberta. Four U of A students have launched an interactive website to track stories of sexism in Edmonton’s food service industry. More specifically:
High-end and high-profile restaurants that monopolize the industry often escape accountability in terms of sexism and other forms of discrimination within their workplace, marketing, and service. We hope to shed light on this disappointing trend by encouraging you to assess the places you choose to eat with a more critical eye.
The stories they have posted so far are pretty much what you would expect: hiring based on looks, wage discrimination, and injurious gender-based working conditions. Anyone who has eaten in a chain restaurant in Edmonton has likely witnessed this. Of course, sexism isn’t just limited to hiring and employment practices, as evidenced by the ad above, which ran in Singapore in 2009.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Tunes: Career Opportunities


This week’s installment of labour themes in pop culture is The Clash’s Career Opportunities. This song was written in the late 1970s, a period of profound economic downturn in the UK, and it bemoans the lack and poor quality of jobs. 

The profound shift in labour market power towards employers during recessions as well as the hopelessness this engenders among workers is captured in “They said I’d better take anything they’d got”.

The song also speaks to issues of class conflict and control:
They're gonna have to introduce conscription
They're gonna have to take away my prescription
If they wanna get me making toys
If they wanna get me, well, I got no choice
According to one source I found, the line “And I won't open letter bombs for you” refers to an actual job held by guitarist Mick Jones (who knew the IRA were an important source of jobs?).



They offered me the office, offered me the shop
They said I'd better take anything they'd got
Do you wanna make tea at the BBC?
Do you wanna be, do you really wanna be a cop?

Career opportunities the ones that never knocked
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunity, the one that never knocked

I hate the army and I hate the R.A.F.
I don't wanna go a-fighting in the tropical heat
I hate the civil service rules
I won't open letter bombs for you

Career opportunities the ones that never knocked
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunity the one that never knocked

Oi!

Bus driver.... ambulance man.... a ticket inspector
(I've done all of them...)

They're gonna have to introduce conscription
They're gonna have to take away my prescription
If they wanna get me making toys
If they wanna get me, well hell, I got no choice

Career opportunities the ones that never knocked
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunity, the one that never knocked

Careers...
Careers...
Careers...

That ain't never gonna knock!

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Research: Enhancing OHS participation in low-wage workplaces


The Labor Studies Journal has released an interesting article about labour-community-university partnerships in Southern California that focus on supporting worker engagement in occupational health and safety (OHS) enforcement in non-unionized workplaces. “Worker Engagement in the Health and Safety Regulatory Arena under Changing Models of Worker Representation” examines how the use of popular education and participatory action research to build the capacity of workers and advocates in low-wage, non-union jobs to participate in state occupational health and safety (OHS) enforcement processes. The five interventions documented appears to have resulted in increased state enforcement.

Worker engagement is important in complaint-drive OHS systems (like Alberta’s) by increasing the risk of an employer being caught violating the law in an era characterized by government’s starving enforcement regimes of resources amid the proliferation of small employers. The strategy explored in this article also identifies well documented worker complaints as being important to successfully remediation of unsafe work. In this way, workers can get around the ability of employers to cover up violations and the unfamiliarity of inspectors with the hazards of individual workplaces. Similarly, workers are able to perform ongoing follow-up won worksites to ensure remediation occurs.

Obviously such strategies are not a panacea for unsafe workplaces (meaningful enforcement is still required). But this article suggests worker partnerships can help to ameliorate some of the effects of the state withdrawal from OHS enforcement. This builds upon Canadian research on joint health and safety committees that suggests the manner in which worker representatives comport themselves can significantly improve the effectiveness of the committees.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Tunes: Frankly Mr. Shankly


This week’s installment of labour themes in pop culture is The Smith’s Frankly Mr. Shankly. This 1985 (I think) song was written as a message to the Band’s Label, disguised as a resignation letter from a worker to a boss.

What I like about this song is it teases out the meaninglessness and alienation of workers. Consider “Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I've held/It pays my way and it corrodes my soul” and “But sometimes I'd feel more fulfilled/Making Christmas cards with the mentally ill”.

In an era marked by rhetoric around high involvement workplaces, team work and total quality management, it is refreshing to hear a more realistic assessment of most workplaces—even relatively good ones:
Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask
You are a flatulent pain the arse
I do not mean to be so rude
But still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly, give us money
A jaunty tune and cheeky lyrics can help workers who otherwise might over-identify with their employer or profession reconsider just who benefits the most from their work.



Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I've held
It pays my way and it corrodes my soul
I want to leave you will not miss me
I want to go down in musical history

Frankly, Mr Shankly, I'm a sickening wreck
I've got the 21st century breathing down my neck
I must move fast, you understand me
I want to go down in celluloid history Mr Shankly

Fame, fame, fatal fame
It can play hideous tricks on the brain
But still I rather be famous
Than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day

But sometimes I'd feel more fulfilled
Making Christmas cards with the mentally ill
I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of

Frankly, Mr Shankly, this position I've held
It pays my way and it corrodes my soul
Oh, I didn't realise that you wrote poetry
I didn't realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry Mr Shankly

Frankly, Mr Shankly, since you ask
You are a flatulent pain the arse
I do not mean to be so rude
But still, I must speak frankly, Mr Shankly, give us money

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A 5% wage cut? Hell no!



This week, A Better Way Alberta rolled out a nice video highlighting the effect of Alberta’s tax structure. A Better Way Alberta is a union initiative designed to identify the ways that government policy affects Albertans. The video below drives home who really benefits from a flat tax structure.



Of course, trade unionists don’t need a large budget to highlight bad behaviour, especially in the workplace. For example, when BC Government budget cuts forced colleges to lay off staff (circa 1985), the union at Northern Light College bought everyone long pink T-shirts (“official Northern Lights College Pink Slip”). I recall managers (the only workers not wearing pink) being uncomfortable: suddenly it was evident that they were (1) few in number and (2) being shunned by everyone else on-site.

Or last week, when Athabasca University demanded a 5% wage reduction from its staff. This comes after two years of wage freezes and layoff. Bargaining foundered on the employer’s unwillingness to negotiate and is now off to arbitration.

As it turns out, the university only budgeted for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of zero per cent. Basically, the employer was hoping to stampede the faculty association into unnecessary concessions. 


The worker’s response?

A Zero COLA (“Now with five percent less wages”) can and bottle wrap. 

Nothing fancy or disruptive—just a quiet way to show solidarity and a degree of scorn for the employer’s lousy behaviour.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Tunes: There is Power in a Union

This week’s instalment of labour themes in popular culture is Billy Bragg’s There is Power in the Union. This was mostly recently heard on the soundtrack of Pride. It is popular to suggest that unions are irrelevant these days, especially in Alberta. Certainly trade unionism has been damaged by 40 years of anti-worker legislation and policy.

But come back to Bragg’s lyrics for a minute, especially, “The union forever defending our rights” and “Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us”. Over the past few years, Alberta’s public-sector unions, however beaten up, have successfully fended off significant efforts by the Conservative government to strip workers of wages and pensions.  And, it looks like they will have to do so again this spring.

While many traditional forms of protest have been foreclosed by government legislation prohibiting strikes, this legislation does not resolve the underlying conflict that gives rise to resistance. Instead, we’ve seen organized labour fight for workers rights in the court and, increasingly, in the public sphere. This includes public meetings and television ads showing the value of public-sector workers  It also includes online documentaries are used to show the effect of government policies that grind the wages and workers conditions of public sector unions, such as this AUPE film on senior’s care.
Money speaks for money, the devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is indeed power in a union. That is way the government keeps attacking them.



There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand there is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union.

-- Bob Barnetson