Precarious work is real work and hard work. “Precarious work” describes labour conditions that exist on the margins of employment. It is work that has been made temporary or contract, forcing workers to be “flexible” about earning a stable income; “part-time,” when the difference between part-time and full-time work can be as little as one scheduled hour, and as much as a lower wage and no benefits; or hidden from regulation: jobs designed to be exempt from Employment Standards and Occupational Health and Safety legislation, or performed by workers who are denied the rights of Canadian citizens.Many precarious workers are told our jobs are pit-stops on a career path; not real jobs for real workers. But the work we do is difficult and demanding, health and safety hazards cause real injuries, and at the end of the day, we are as tired and sore as any worker, but with less pay, fewer rights, no benefits and no options.
Precarious work has always existed. We often describe precarious work as different from “standard employment relationships,” a phrase describing relatively stable and regulated work under capitalism, but the reality is that precarious work is standard, usual and everyday. Precarious work has always been used as the underground support system for the rich and elite.
Precarious workers have been our society’s farm workers, caregivers, nannies, maids, cooks and restaurant workers, contract workers and temps, casualized industrial workers, wives, mothers, sex workers, taxi drivers and educators. The workers whose labour has been made most precarious are workers who are already marginalized in our society: young and immigrant or refugee workers, racialized women, people with disabilities, and people whose residency in Canada is not documented.
Precarious workers are vital to our economic system. Because precarious work has been described as non-standard and done by people who are marginalized by racism, sexism, colonialism, ableism and ageism, it has been underpaid, unvalued and unrecognized. But the work of the privileged, the profits of the employers and the easy lives of the rich could not exist without precarious workers.
Precarious work creates precarious lives; precarious lives enforce precarious work. Those with the least privilege and the most barriers in our society have the fewest choices about where or how to work, and precarious work exploits that oppression. It keeps people living paycheque to paycheque, generating the scarcity and need that ensures people will have to do exploitive work. It keeps people poor, anxious and exhausted, limiting our power to challenge the privilege of the ruling class.
A movement is rising. Led by women and racialized people around the world, precarious workers have joined forces to end the exploitation of our labour. Since the conditions of precarious work make traditional union organizing difficult or impossible, precarious workers have organized in community unions and Workers Action Centres.
The scarcity and instability imposed on us for generations has forced us to develop a shared culture of resourcefulness, strength and creativity, despite the exploitive and isolating tactics that have been used to drive us apart. Organized precarious workers around the world have become a force to be reckoned with.
Attacks on “standard employment,” in the name of profit and excused by economic crisis, have begun to push all workers toward precarity. Workers whose jobs had been relatively stable are now facing the same deregulation, casualization and flexibility that have always been used to exploit precarious workers. Rather than being weakened by worsening work conditions, we gain power by joining forces.
We seek to restructure working conditions in favour of the people actually doing the work. We focus on the bare minimum standards of work and pay set out in the Employment Standards Act (ESA), which are denied to many workers, either by lack of enforcement or by exemption. We look first to see the ESA enforced as the basic employment contract for all workers in all industries, and then to build capacity for workers to take what is rightfully theirs: liveable work conditions and, and power on the job.
We hold employers responsible for the working conditions they create and control. Employers are responsible for creating precarity on the job; we want to make them responsible for the harm they cause by doing so. Bad bosses, bad working conditions, unpaid wages, harassment and discrimination will be on our radar, and we will help workers hold their employers accountable.
We believe in worker-led campaigns. Workers in precarious employment are not alone and can organize themselves. Steel City Solidarity will help precarious workers build collective strength, organize their own work sites and launch campaigns to fight for better working conditions on their own terms. We can take the pressure off individual workers by sharing the skills of labour organizing, providing political and practical education and supporting workers to fight for power over their own work.
We support use of creative tactics, direct action, and traditional labour organizing. For many workers, losing wages by striking is not an option. But that doesn’t give bad bosses absolute power. Steel City Solidarity supports alternative action campaigns, including boycotts, picketing, letter-writing, public and worksite demonstrations, bad boss tours and political lobbying. We also accept a skeptical and strategic use of the legal system, recognizing that legal options can be demoralizing, exhausting and lengthy, and are ultimately designed to fail workers.
Real power lies in building strength and solidarity in our workplaces and communities. Whatever the action, workers are the experts on their own working conditions, and we work with their leadership.
Justice for workers, at the workplace and in the community. Injustice at work is a product of a capitalist economic and social system. This system marginalizes and oppresses people based on class, race, gender, citizenship, age and ability. We recognize that our work must take place within an anti-oppressive, anti-racist and feminist framework.
Movements against racism and sexism, open border campaigns and living wage and adequate social assistance campaigns are also worker-led movements for justice. We support workers’ campaigns for justice at work, and in the larger community.