Curiosity is terminal

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ah, Another Day in Divisive Politics

There is an article in the London Free Press today about how EI rips off steady workers.

I wonder how it is that some people think that their experience is the only experience in the world. They have steady work and so everyone else must too. They got through school with no problems, so learning disabilities, differences in abilities, different kinds of encouragement (or dis- as the case may be) cannot have existed. Their job never moves, so they give no thought to what it feels like to have to move for work.

Once upon a time I was  a waitress and a cook. Here is the thing about cooking and waitressing: its kind of dead-end and the hours are crappy if you want a regular life with a mate and your kids. The money is really only good if you work at night, which, see above is not necessarily conducive to your relationships. So I took up carpentry. Here is the thing about construction: every job comes to an end. You build a building, its done. If the company you work for has another project right now, maybe you don't get laid off. But maybe you do. I worked at 2 restaurants before my apprenticeship. I'd been at both places a long time and I knew what I was doing and could be trusted to show up and do my job and not need any supervision, and so I worked all three jobs in a kind of concurrent/rotating arrangement. I would finish a building, call the restaurants and have shifts right away. And I could be called on in an emergency to cover shifts too. Because I was reliable that way, when I got a call for a construction job, someone would cover my shifts so I could go.

And then we had a recession. While I finished up a building I was doing, both my restaurants closed. I was laid off. 300 carpenters in my union hall moved away to find work during the next 9 months. I had a small child. My daughter's grandparents and great grandparents are all here.  The idea of leaving all of our emotional support was beyond distressing. I had three specifically marketable sets of skills, cooking, serving and building. There was no building work, and the only thing that restaurants could see was that as soon as construction picked up again, I would go for the better wages and benefits. This was the response my resume got everywhere I went. (Never occurred to them to pay me enough to stick around, though) And so I was on EI. I had to bring in a job search report once a week. Every week I would pick a different part of town, and I would spend all morning all week looking for work. I would apply at every business that looked like I could do or learn what they did. (and with construction, cooking, serving, sewing, some typing and rudimentary computer, mechanical and welding abilities, I am hardly unemployable). I was unemployed for 6 months. I got a job in a grocery store that had recently gutted its employee's collective agreement. I was hired at $8 an hour- almost 2/3 less than I had been earning, and was held by the new agreement to 20 hours a week. I earned a whopping $165 a week. Just enough to have enough docked from my EI that I wound up with a little less than $200 a week. My rent was $500. My savings fed us, but before I managed to score a second job in a truss plant, that was gone. There are 2 months that I am still not sure how we lived.

But I finished my apprenticeship and things picked up and because I was a hard worker I started getting name requests and working a lot. And that maybe was a story in itself because I'm a small woman. And how I came to work for this scaffold outfit and do what I do is another story yet. But for the last 6 years I have maxed out my EI contributions in September. I can send my kid to university, and study part time myself. I have a good life. I don't know that I won't ever need EI again, but I am damned grateful it was there once. Not for one minute do I begrudge the $800 I contribute every year to the program, because it helps someone somewhere eat, or pay the rent, or be able to send their kid on a school field trip. But I do kinda resent some of my taxes, which are paying for the leeches who don't want the working schmucks to have three meals and a roof over their kid's heads.

So good for John Robson if he has never needed it. And good for him if he never needs it.  But his world is not all our worlds. And some of us might give him a hand if he needs it. I wonder if he would do the same for me?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Canada, oh Canada

So the list over on the right is by no means exhaustive. There are probably about 30 blogs and online newspapers I read regularly. And by regularly, I mean a few times a day.  (My own particular jury is out on whether my smart phone was such a smart idea.)  But reading keeps me from writing. Because they are such good researchers and analysts and writers, I often feel like what I might say about these things is immaterial. I am, in a word, intimidated.

I do feel strongly about the state of this country. I am pro-choice. I am in solidarity with the Montreal students and their supporters. I am appalled at the bundling of so many regulatory items in the budget implementation budget. I am in agreement with Mr Mulcair on the situation with the dollar and the lapdog behaviour of the western premiers. I am opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. I am in favour of Canadian jobs, but not at the expense of the Canadian wilderness. I am an anti-capitalist.

But honestly, I don't know what to say about those things that dozens of people have not already said very well indeed.

25 years ago, the local school district stopped doing certain maintenance on one of the old schools in the city. It was built in 1910. It was a big two story structure with great high ceilings and tall windows and big wide trim, and sagging floors. I went to school there when I was 10, and my daughter went there all her elementary years. 15 years ago the district began their campaign to close it. That was when my daughter was 7. Their first argument was that the school was underused.  In fact it was not underused. There were actually two schools - the regular english public school, and Programme Cadre, a program for French Canadians. Even though my daughter attended the english program, I found the cross- cultural experience of  this combination exhilarating. We learned so much about Quebec by participating in the Programme Cadre events. The school also housed the local YMCA daycare program. In all the school provided rather a rich community experience, but our board had visions of a central mega- school  and no quaint little community schools in children's neighbourhoods.  Why is community and connection anathema to a certain kind of politician?
I remember going home from the first meeting about the possibility of closing the school and being mad. Really mad. And as I brushed my teeth before I went to bed that night, I thought, "Somebody needs to do something."  And I looked in the mirror. And my reflection looked back, and I thought, "Oh..."

We managed to rally the community for 5 years and put off the board's plans. But remember they had stopped doing maintenance 25 years ago? It was intentional. By the time my daughter moved to highschool, the cost of catching it all up was apparently prohibitive. The school was demolished, and in its place stands a shiny new highschool. No elementary school in the area.

I don't know what to write about what this same kind of people are doing to our country (in fact, one of those school board members is now the provincial AG). I don't know how to express my anger, and my fears, and yes,  sometimes my despair. They are making a mess that is going to be expensive to clean up. But in my mind, demolition is not an option.