Automatons gather all the pieces
This newsletter is light and uplifting. Ha ha, wow, just kidding, we live in hell and we’re in for the fight of our lives. I hate to do all the cheesy at-least-we’re-in-it-together stuff, but I needed to hear it this Friday when all the layoffs were announced and maybe you need to hear it too.
We knew this was coming and now it’s here.
We can’t allow uncertainty and dread and fear to stop us from building power. We will fight and we will win. I am very certain of this. And in any case, here’s a newsletter from your prairie socialist pals. You’re not alone, and neither are we.
Security guards get paid like shit. Maybe a career man makes a bit more, or somebody from a big outfit like Garda or Paladin. But your no-name guards, guys who don't even rate mace, flashlight boys? Local outfits with guys who sit in cars at construction sites to keep the very poor and very motivated away from copper? They get paid like shit and need a union. A newbie might take home, what, $35k per year? No benefits of course. Contractors the whole lot, 39 hours per week. As much employer bullshit as can be legally shoveled at them. $35k, a rounding error in any budget above municipal.
A rounding error that might have kept Deborah Onwu alive.
Deborah Onwu worked in the social services industry for over two decades. In October, she was working for Wood's Homes in South Calgary (the subdivision, not the south of Calgary) when she was stabbed to death by an 18-year-old client. She was 47. Her death underscores the danger of working social services in Alberta brought about by chronic underfunding, and how doing more with less, the standard operating procedure of non-profits under neoliberalism, leads to tragedy.
Jackie, a social worker in Calgary, knows how dangerous the job can be, and sees incoming cuts as more deaths waiting to happen. That's not her real name. The industry is small and set to shrink so she wants to stay anonymous. Wood's Homes staff and management wouldn't comment while an investigation was ongoing. Jackie worked in an analogous institution, a safe house and group home worker. "If a client is a danger to others," she says, sighing, "or a danger to themselves, if they have intrusive and at-risk behaviours, that leads to incarceration.'' That last word hangs in the phone speaker like a death sentence. "But you can't blame the non-profit. On average they do good work. If they had stable funding I think things would look different.”
But it's not stable, and that causes problems. Say, for example, a simple client check-in. You have next to no funding per client, but officially you staff the check-in two to one. Unless you don't, of course. It's a mandatory check, and somebody calls in sick. Or, because you're paid like shit, they just stopped coming. Turnover is high. Or, because Wood's doesn't have license to restrain clients, you maybe move over to Hull Services. A little more intense, maybe, but safer overall. Unlike Wood's they're a little more stringent about credentials. Can't go to Boys & Girls Club though. Tough gig. Nineteen year-olds doing overnight shifts, burning out in three years. Young women, of course. It's women's work. Pimps and abusive partners get the confidential locations of shelters like they're on Google Maps. It's a problem.
So officially the check is adequately staffed and the procedures are keeping you safe. Officially two people are checking on the client with the intrusive behaviours. Officially you don't need security support. But the night shift is long, the required visits are many, so one staffer goes to the upstairs client while you take the one downstairs. Unofficially, of course, but when the budget is tight, you do more with less. Unofficially you work short.
Unofficially you're dead. Deborah Onwu is dead.
"When I worked at the Boys & Girls Club, the panic buttons didn't work." Jackie is comparing the various places she’s worked. The system has its winners and losers, sorted by size and prestige. Organizations like the YWCA can keep their workers safe with newer buildings and more staff, but the provincial load is borne by a constellation of lightly regulated small institutions who take who they can and do what they can with meager budgets. "When the NDP were in power, things were a bit better. We expanded programs and beds knowing that more funding, steady funding, was coming. The NDP instituted more stringent Occupational Health and Safety regulations. Overtime pay increases and caps. Those are gone already." Dedicated young staff are, as usual, urged to do more with less, working hours just not conducive to safety. "You can't work for 12 hours and stay alert.” Without constant appeals to private funding or grant chasing with the newest, hottest initiatives, funding withers. Now you're doing everything with less.
Laura, another Calgary social worker who preferred to stay anonymous, agrees. "We have to do these huge, headline things to get any money. We have to die." Even as she watches as domestic violence and use of lethal weapons increase their impact on her clients, the funding stays static or drops. "We need to get our humanity out on the front page just so we can survive and barely do our jobs."
In an industry with lot of casual work with no benefits, many shifts to fill, no job security, no physical security, and little promise of a full-time position, something to break. In social services that aspect is the employment pool. A childcare certificate can get you in the door many places, and when the going gets tough, where are the vulnerable populations that gravitate to these positions going to go? A refugee or new Canadian with a family to support or an immigration condition of employment will take the assignment, safe or not. "A lot of them have very few other options," says Jackie. They do what they're told. "It's heinous." Laura sees the same thing where she works. "These women and women of colour, they're not working for much money, [Deborah’s] put in this vulnerable position. No supports, not even everybody awake at night.” The overnight shifts are the hardest to fill. "Overnight pay is what, maybe an extra dollar an hour? A lot of them might have social work degrees where they're from, but they don't transfer. They need a leg in and they'll start wherever.”
The Alberta Ministry of Community and Social Services commented through Minister Rajan Sawhney's press secretary, Kassandra Kitz. "We greatly value the contributions of Alberta's caseworkers and the important work that they do. While these workers are not government employees, organizations are required to have appropriate security protocols in place”, they replied to questions in a prepared statement. "We have also asked our officials about appropriate protocols and procedures, but we will not comment further given ongoing criminal and OH&S investigations".
Both Jackie and Laura see recent cuts to health care and education as the shape of things to come. Even with the Kenney UCP promising an increase in mental health spending, what form does that take? Who gets those dollars? "Nursing and teaching are getting cut, and those are primarily women's jobs, and women of colour," says Laura. "What will be cut in social work? We're waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's women's work being defunded and it's political".
🏴There’s been like 100 articles in the bourgeois press about how general strikes are scary and public sector unions are greedy and frankly I don’t want to link to any of them because a good portion were written by actual, real-life scabs, so allow me to remind you of this — strikes are incredibly cool and good, and we wrote about how we can build the necessary power to get there.
👩⚕️We need more nurses, not fewer. The government is axing 5,900 jobs represented by Alberta’s largest public sector union. What’s important here is that these jobs can’t be touched until April 1, 2020. This gives us a brief but crucial window of time to organize and fight back. Albertan governments have backed down before and we’re gonna ensure that they do it again. It’s time to fight or get fucked.
🐔A lot of UCP legislation reads like pilot projects to protect oil and gas in the future. This week it’s penalties for outing animal abuse on Alberta farms.
✂️Small businesses got a tax cut in Calgary, and you’re getting a tax increase. Enjoy your new hockey stadium.
⚡The UCP is scrapping an electricity price cap because there is no place in our lives this government won’t scrape some money out of our pockets to give to their rich friends. I really cannot overstate the contempt I have for these people!
🐭Please enjoy this TikTok about how Jason Kenney is a rat.
🐇Giant dummies thought Wexit was real, decided not to bring imaginary jobs to Calgary. Nothing of value was lost.
❄️The hidden costs of poor snow clearing are incredibly high. We should be investing in unionized snow clearing services to create good jobs and solve this crisis of mobility.
💥Usually when Moody’s decides to downgrade the debt rating of a jurisdiction it’s because a toothless soc-dem has taken power and decides to lift the boot off the face of the population a millimeter or so, risking tens of dollars in lost profit for the local wildlife poisoning concern. No more! Now the downgrade comes because we have no other fucking industries and all we can do with any reliability is dig goop out of the ground and hope someone is in the goop market, despite the availability of plentiful, higher quality goop. The cultural Marxists in academia trying to turn your daughter into a gay space communist call this a “petard hoist”.
🚸200 Calgary students walked out to protest education cuts and we salute them.
🐕🦺Husky was handed a quarter BILLION of your dollars with the expectation that it would stir them to keep jobs in Alberta. Instead they took it, ran, cut spending by a half billion, and cut more jobs, because fuck you.
🔗Lacking a government that will do anything about it, reconciliation official asks Albertans to do the work or something? The sentiment is nice but I wish someone would just say these fucking racists won’t do anything about the murders or marginalization so what the fuck can we do. Personally I would chain myself to the Nechi Institute building and make them cut me away with the jaws of life.
✊Rest in power, Fred Hampton.
💰Internet fascists are useful idiots captured by capital and their government handlers. It pays to know the players.
💉Your life is a commodity to be profited from, and health care capitalists know it.
👕Clothing rental. CLOTHING RENTAL.
🖥️Silicon Valley won’t stop their bullshit until Exxon chokes us to death.
👮Someday you might say ACAB and then the cops will leave you alone forever. We can only dream!
🤷Giant fucking morons are trying to label Green New Deal proponents “the Green Taliban”. I have nothing pithy to say about this.
📹Family member murdered by a cop? I hope you like constant surveillance and violation of your privacy! Like any shitty criminal these cops are doing two crimes at once. Unlike a shitty criminal, there will be no consequences.
☠️Recycling tech shit will, inevitably, poison someone half the world away.
😂We’ve released one episode since our last newsletter — an update on Hellberta and a strategy session to starve off the despair.
⚔️Friend of the podcast Bashir Mohamed is suing Rebel Media for “false and misleading” reports after they published an “article” about his attempts to fight systemic anti-Black racism in Canada. Go give ‘em hell, Bashir!
🥺Honestly, screaming at Calgary city council in any amount will get them to stop doing what they’re doing. They’re soft little fellers, as evidenced by two inner-city pools staying open for the time being. A teachable moment.
🏎️The Cannonball Run is a classic in the pantheon of ignoring laws and not giving a shit about the cops. Congratulations to the new record holders.
🏗️Chilean uprisings didn’t just happen, they were built.
🎧Dog Island brings on a special guest to talk about why you never trust a Trudeau.
🔇Struggle Session talks about the coup in Bolivia with a guy who…was arrested during the coup in Bolivia.
💵Progress Alberta tends to piss off all the right people, and they need some help to fight said assholes when they get sued. Mosey to their website and donate to their well deserved legal defense fund to push back on frivolous lawsuits brought by low-T shitheads.
😳The UCP is holding a town hall in Calgary. Tickets are, uh, free. It would be a shame if someone showed up to tell them off. Yep, a crying shame. Also a shame that some of Team Advantage will be there. Yep.