FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

NAFTA Kills: Who will Speak for the Working Class?

A recent report out of the US raises questions about politicians’ (in Canada and the US) obsession with the state of the middle class and highlights why Donald Trump won the US election. It is a sobering picture and an scathing indictment of neo-liberalism  – particularly so-called free trade. While the authors don’t say so explicitly the conclusion is inescapable: NAFTA kills.

The report, by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton (winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics) talks about “deaths of despair” and reveals that: “An epidemic of overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illness is causing a surge in deaths among white Americans with a high-school education or less that now makes them more likely to die early than those who are black or Hispanic…”

The report reinforces many other studies documenting the devastating impact of nearly three decades of deindustrialization (read NAFTA) and automation on Americans with high school education or less. According to Dr. Case: “This doesn’t seem to be just about income. This is about accumulating despair for these people.” The numbers are hard to credit: “In 1999 white men and women aged 50-54 with a high school education had a mortality rate 30 per cent lower than black Americans. In 2015 it was 30 per cent higher.” (There was no indication that the situation for Blacks and Hispanics actually improved.) The numbers are similar for all age groups from 25 – 64.

The gravity of the changes are unique to the US where deindustrialization has been most dramatic and where slack labour standards, low unionization rates, a tattered social safety net and expensive health insurance make less educated workers extremely vulnerable.  According to the two researchers Canada along with Britain, the UK, Australia and Germany are still seeing declining death rates.

But they don’t say why. But if you look at many of the conditions faced by working Canadians it is easy to conclude that we are headed in the same direction, just more slowly.  Maybe we have time to prevent ‘death by despair’ in Canada but someone had better begin speaking up for those most vulnerable. Both the Liberals and NDP federally (and provincially) have been wringing their hands about the “shrinking middle class” – failing to notice that when the middle class shrinks its ranks drop down the economic scale to join the precariate.

As I listed last November, Canada now boasts: “…the largest income gap between rich and poor since the late 1920s; incomes that have been stagnant since the early 1980s; the second-highest proportion of low-wage jobs in the OECD (after the U.S.); the highest personal debt-to-income ratio in Canadian history … the continued loss of tens of thousands of the best industrial jobs; welfare rates that deliberately punish the poor…” and an EI system accessible to less than a third of workers who pay into it.

The affects are devastating. While we do not have death by despair we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression – grinding economic insecurity, widespread abuse of workers’ rights because governments refuse to enforce labour standards, the virtual collapse of the kind of family life that was the norm forty years ago and levels of job dissatisfaction not seen at any other time in the post-war period.

The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada authored by professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario it reports on the (ever-worsening) work-life imbalance of thousands of individual workers.

“Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week — 50 per cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years…. More than half of the survey’s respondents took work home with them, putting in an average of seven extra hours a week from home. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991.”

There is nothing to suggest that things have gotten anything but worse in the intervening five years. Just this week a report on bankruptcy out of Ontario reveals that the demographics of indebtedness are changing: “…shifting to seniors with fixed incomes, single parents and millennials burdened with student-loan debt. Forced to cover debt with more debt just to pay for basic expenses, low-income earners are using payday loans and filing for insolvency at historic rates.” Twenty-five percent of filers – and 38 percent of those under 30 – rely on payday loans with astronomical interest rates,

If the recent Liberal budget is any indication the state has no intention of easing the burden on the young people, ensuring that the precariate will continue to grow. An analysis of the budget by Generation Squeeze, an NGO advocating for younger generations, points out that the budget earmarked $23,000 per person aged 65 and over and $5,500 per Canadian under the age of 45. While that may be a somewhat crude comparison any talk about fixing inequality without providing universal childcare, low or free tuition, and a reversal of the “labour flexibility” measures introduced almost 25 years ago by Paul Martin is insulting.

Governments listen to those wish the loudest voice and for three decades that has been Bay Street. There was a time when organized labour spoke loudly, too. It was responsible for successfully fighting for UI/EI, social assistance, public pensions, fair taxes, workers’ compensation and workers’ rights through enforced labour standards.

One of those standards was the forty hour week. Maybe the union movement should come out of its long slumber with a new slogan: “Bring back the 40 hour week.” Anyone? Anyone?

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
Patrick Bond
Covid-19 Attacks the Down-and-Out in Ultra-Unequal South Africa
Eve Ottenberg
Capitalism vs. Humanity
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 2: Panic On the Streets of Tehran
Jonas Ecke
Would Dying for the Economy Help Anybody?
Jeff Mackler
Capitalism is the Virus!
Andrew Moss
Incarceration, Detention, and Covid-19
Farzana Versey
Prayers, Piffle and Privation in the Time of Pandemic
Will Solomon
In the New Dystopia
Dean Baker
The Relative Generosity of the Economic Rescue Package: Boeing vs. Public Broadcasting
Dr. Leo Lopez, III
We Need a Lot More Transparency From the CDC
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Reflections on a Glass of Homemade Cider
Rashid Nuri
Homegrown Crisis Response: Who Grows Your Food?
Mark Luskus
Worst Case Scenario: Healthcare Workers Need Masks, ASAP
Volker Franke
The Virus That May Bring us Together
Mitchell Zimmerman
A Q & A on the GOP’s Call for Elder Sacrifice
Olfat al-Kurd
COVID-19 Could Be Catastrophic for Us: Notes From Gaza
Eileen Appelbaum - Roesmary Batt
Hospital Bailouts Begin…for Those Owned by Private Equity Firms
Nabri Ginwa
Carcinogens
Jill Richardson
Efficiency vs. Resilience
Lee Ballinger
Eddie Van Halen and the Future of Humanity
David Yearsley
Beset by Bach
Robert Koehler
Developing a Vaccine Against War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail