Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Call for Papers: "The Worker's Economy" U of Buenos Aires, July 19-21, 2007

The University of Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, the
Center for Global Justice and the Argentina Autonomista Project are
excited to invite you to:

The First International Gathering to Debate and Discuss Self-Management

"The Worker's Economy: Self-Management and the Distribution of Wealth"

July 19-21, 2007
University of Buenos Aires
217 - 25 de Mayo Avenue
Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Workers' struggles have reemerged with force in the last decade in numerous forms--union-based struggles, self-managed workspaces, rural movements, unemployed workers' movements.... These are responses to the hegemony of neoliberal globalization imposing itself throughout the world with absolutist pretensions after the debacle of so-called "real socialism."

At the same time, the old methods and strategies of struggle--class-based parties and traditional unions, amongst others--have by now shown themselves to be, at minimum, insufficient. Old debates and ideological frameworks are now in crisis. The dominant discourses used to describe the functioning of the capitalist world system can no longer explain quickly enough (never mind predict) the changes in this system that have been occurring over the past few decades, while popular struggles have had to create new paths without having a clear horizon in sight from which to map out a final destiny. And the plethora of means ever available for capitalism to respond to threats against it, as well as the sheer force and relentlessness of its repressive power, amply overcomes the popular sectors' capacity for change...with tragic consequences.

While the taking of State power has been the driving objective of political forces for more than a century now, more recently there have appeared compelling movements that, on occasion, have questioned such objectives for revolutionary action. At minimum, these movements distance their strategies and tactics from the aims of taking State power, recognizing the difficulties of such a task. But, as evidenced in various Latin American contexts, some popular movements with solid historical roots have ended up allying themselves with national governments swept into power via electoral triumph. And so, when they least expected it, these movements found themselves at times controlling key sectors of the State's administrative apparatus which, in turn, needed to be profoundly transformed in order to be oriented towards
grassroots-based policies.

Please send a 250-word (max) abstract by May 15, 2007, or any other correspondence to: ( in Spanish): fabierta@filo.uba.ar, (In English): UBA.selfmanagement@gmail.com

For more information about this conference please visit
or http://www.autonomista.org)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Beyond profits

They're businesses, not social agencies, but their bottom line is geared to helping the needy

Mar 24, 2007 04:30 AM
Stuart Laidlaw
The Toronto Star

Miodrag Mialevic likes most of what comes with working in a kitchen – the smells, the sounds, the creativity, the chance to taste different foods every day.

But there are things he doesn't like, things made all the worse by his clinical depression, such as teasing about his condition or bosses who don't seem to care.

"There was not much sympathy," Mialevic says of restaurants he has worked at in the past.

In the hurly-burly of a fast-paced commercial kitchen, niceties can sometimes fall by the wayside under the pressure of getting good food to hurried wait staff, he says.

Mialevic is now at the Raging Spoon, a catering service run by and for people with mental health conditions. It teaches them to work in a restaurant and to take on more responsibility for the food being produced.

For more see: http://www.thestar.com/Life/article/194656

Response to the Ontario Budget 2007-8 - A short summary of a budget that’s short on anything new

March 2007
By Hugh Mackenzie
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Take the self-congratulation out of the 2007–8
provincial budget and you’re left with a very short
list of very modest initiatives spread out over a
very long period of time.

Most of the space consumed by the budget
speech and the background documents is devoted
to a repeat of announcements the government has
made over the past 3 ≥ years—many of them made
repeatedly—along with a running commentary
about what a good idea each and every one of
those announcements was. In Finance Minister
Sorbara’s own words, the purpose of the
government was to ‘celebrate’ the government’s
characterization of its own record.

In answer to a question in the media lock-up,
the Minister went as far as to describe his budget
as “magical”.

The worst-kept pre-budget secret, the new
Ontario Child Benefit, is the only new initiative
of any significance in the budget. But it is to be
phased in over a five-year period. It will be time for
the 2011 election before this new benefit is fully
phased in. This year the amount allocated to this
new initiative will be less than $200 million.
There is more money for child care. But at an
annual rate of $50 million per year, it is roughly
half Ontario’s share of the new child care spaces
transfer announced in the Federal budget. The
new funding for housing—$150 million—is less
than half Ontario’s $392 million share of new
Federal housing funding.

Despite the new postsecondary transfers
announced by the Federal government, the budget
is silent on how it will spend Ontario’s $320 million

The budget promises to bring in a uniform
rate of tax for education on business, replacing
the current mish-mash of different rates across
the province, but it won’t be fully implemented
until 2014—a delayed day that would have set a
record for deferred promises if it weren’t for the
Nanticoke coal fired generating station.

The budget makes a big deal about property
taxes, announcing that it is going to develop a
new system after consulting with the Municipal
Property Assessment Corporation and the
Assessment Review Board—not the public. But
all it is really going to do with the system is move
to every-four year assessments from annual and
spread out the implementation of assessment
increases over four years.

The government is going to end a small part
of the download of provincial costs onto local
governments by ending the pooling of social
assistance costs across the GTA, at a cost to
the province of $200 million per year. But that
change is to be phased over seven years as well.
And the budget contains no response at all to the
complaints from municipalities about the much
larger downloads of responsibility for housing and
20% of social assistance costs.

Even if you take the budget on its own terms,
it falls far short. It touts itself as the answer to
child poverty. But by limiting increases in social
assistance rates to 2%, it persists in ignoring
the obvious—that children don’t live in poverty
by themselves. They live with parents who
live in poverty. Distinguishing between the
“deserving poor”—children—and the undeserving
poor—everyone else, including their parents—may
make for good politics, but it doesn’t deal with the
reality of families living in poverty.
And it has nothing new to say about one of
the fundamental issues of poverty in Ontario—
whether the working poor or the poor living on
social assistance—the lack of affordable housing.

The government says the new Ontario Child
Benefit will bring down the so-called “welfare wall“.
But while the provision of child benefits that will
be portable from social assistance to employment
is obviously a step forward, the government’s
continuing failure to deliver on the need for
affordable child care means that the biggest
obstacle to employment faced by social assistance
recipients—child care availability and costs—will
remain unchanged.

The budget continues the overriding political
theme of the McGuinty Government—ignoring
many of the glaring public services shortfalls it
inherited from the Conservatives in 2003-4 and
governing as if they had never happened.

The government congratulates itself on
increasing social assistance rates by 2%—an
increase that, when implemented in November
2007, will actually come close to matching
inflation since the government was elected. But
it continues to ignore the devastating impact on
the poorest Ontarians of the Harris Governments
22% cut and eight year freeze in Ontario Works
benefits and its eight year freeze of Ontario
Disability Support Plan benefits.

The government congratulates itself on having
delivered on its promise to end the clawback of
the National Child Benefit Supplement, but it
won’t get there until the Ontario Child Benefit is
fully phased in five years from now and even then
only gets there by counting general increases in
social assistance benefits against the cost.

In 2003 when the government was elected,
hundreds of thousands of Ontario families were
faced every day with the unacceptable choices
that go with incomes that fall far short of the
minimum required for a decent life. In 2007,
hundreds of thousands of Ontario families still
face those same choices every day.

When it is fully phased in by 2011, the
Ontario Child Benefit will deliver $745 million
more to Ontario families with children than the
programs that it replaces. Of that amount, only
$125 million will go to families receiving social
assistance—equivalent to an increase of 7.5%
in social assistance benefits for children—or an
additional 1.4% per year for five years.
That compares with the nearly 35% loss in the
purchasing power of social assistance benefits for
children under the Harris and Eves governments.

While the government has again increased
funding for elementary and secondary education
at well above the rate of inflation, the new funding
is focused entirely on the Liberals’ new initiatives
and does nothing to address the fundamental
flaws in the funding formula that it inherited from
the Conservatives—flaws that are at the root of
the problems faced by school boards struggling
to balance their budgets. And ultimately, these
flaws lead to underfunding of the very programs
to help students at risk for which the government
continues to congratulate itself.

The strategy of denial of what preceded
the government’s election repeats itself when
it comes to postsecondary tuition fees. It has
steadfastly refused to address the fact that, in the
ten years before it was elected in 2003, student
tuition fees had already more than doubled. And
its 5% cap on annual tuition fee increases will leave
tuition fees higher at the end of the government’s
term in October 2007 than they would have been
had the Eves government’s policy of matching
increases to inflation had remained in effect.

And while the government’s claimed increase
in operating grants for colleges and universities
from $2.9 billion in 2003–4 to $4 billion in 2007–8,
when you take into account the 22% increase
in enrolment and inflation since 2003–4, the
inflation- and enrolment-adjusted increase is less
than 3% over that four-year period.

Despite the obvious crisis facing
manufacturing industries in Ontario, with tens
of thousands of layoffs in the past year, the best
the government can come up with is an as-yetundefined
Manufacturing Council, an acceleration
of a cut in capital taxes that is of principal benefit
to banks, and a cut in business education tax rates
that won’t be fully implemented until 2014.

The Premier has announced that climate
change is the issue for our generation, but so
far all the government has really embraced
is recycling—of old promises. Despite the
heightened public concern about climate change
and the Premier’s declaration, the sum total of
new funding for climate change is a $2 million
grant to the Trees Ontario Foundation and a
rebate of up to $150 for individual home energy
audits—and all of that money comes from the
federal clean air and climate change trust.

On the fiscal side, those in the government
who insisted that the government had to appear
to be balancing the budget clearly won the day.
By cutting reserves and contingency funds and
delaying the implementation of its major new
initiatives, the government is projecting a deficit
of $400 million, less than the $750 million in
contingency funds.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
410-75 Albert Street, Ottawa, on k1p 5e7
tel 613-563-1341 fax 613-233-1458 email ccpa@policyalternatives.ca

This report is available free of charge from the CCPA website at
www.policyalternatives.ca. Printed copies may be ordered through the
National Office for a $10 fee.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How Do Teachers Compare to Other Workers?

(originally published in Professionally Speaking, March 2007)

In 2004, the Work and Lifelong Learning (WALL) network conducted a large-scale survey of over 9,000 members of the Canadian labour force concerning their working conditions and learning activities. The survey was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

While the number of teachers included in the survey is not large enough to allow for interprovincial comparisons of teachers, the responses of teachers across the country can be compared with those of other occupational groups and to the labour force as a whole.

Among full-time employed workers (over 30 hours per week), the demographic profile of teachers is distinctive. The teaching force is older than the labour force in general, with nearly half (47 per cent) over 45. Similarly, nearly half (46 per cent) of all teachers have been working in the same type of job for more than 16 years. Teachers are also more likely to be female (75 per cent) and white (95 per cent) than most other occupational groups. Canadian teachers comprise a relatively stable, older, female-dominant and not very racially diverse occupational group.

Discretion on the job

In a knowledge-based economy, workers need increasing discretion to perform their jobs. But what do workers themselves think about their discretionary control of their jobs? Teachers are the most likely occupational group to say their jobs require a great deal of thought (89 per cent) and that they have a great amount of choice in doing their jobs (61 per cent). Teachers are especially distinctive in their majority belief (57 per cent) that they can always plan their own work, compared to less than a third of most other groups in the general labour force. In terms of employees' involvement in their work, teachers are the prototypical “knowledge workers.”

Changing conditions

The vast majority of Canadian workers think that work techniques and equipment, including computers and related software, have changed at least moderately over the past five years and about a third think they have changed a great deal. Canadian teachers are about as likely as other professional employees to acknowledge skill increases and changing work techniques in their jobs and more likely than either service workers or industrial workers. But they are somewhat more likely (45 per cent) than most occupational groups (less than 40 per cent) to express high levels of job stress. In response to questions concerning organizational change in employment conditions over the past five years, most workers state that they have witnessed significant organizational restructuring. Teachers are again distinctive in that the majority (64 per cent) report changes in terms of reduced numbers of employees within their workplaces, compared to only minorities (42 per cent or less) among other categories of workers.

Work hours

This survey confirmed findings of other studies concerning a recent trend in the hours of work in the Canadian labour force. After gradual declines in the length of the normal workweek for most of the 20th century, a growing polarization of part-timers and over-timers has been evident during the last few decades. The proportion of those working a previously standard 40-hour week has continued to decline, while the proportion of those working over 50 hours per week and those working fewer than 30 hours per week – typically without non-wage benefits – continues to increase. Around 20 per cent of teachers are now employed part-time, a proportion similar to that found in the general labour force. Meanwhile, the normal workweek of those in full-time employment (that is, 30 or more hours per week) is now about 45 hours. In our survey, full-time teachers – in line with what has become the Canadian norm – reported working an average of at least 45 hours per week.

But a more detailed national survey sample of teachers (Smaller H. et al, 2005) found that they work an average of 49 hours, including time spent after school hours in preparation and marking, extracurricular activities, reporting to parents, etc. Many recent studies of teachers' working conditions in Canada and elsewhere have established that teachers remain among the most likely of workers to do unpaid overtime. When asked more generally about their normal work week in the WALL survey, they were quite likely to have taken some of their unassigned duties for granted.

Along with most occupational groups teachers also do substantial unpaid housework, an average of 15 hours per week. But teachers have an exceptionally high rate (69 per cent) of involvement in voluntary organizations, compared to a minority of the general labour force. Teachers' volunteer work plays a vital but often unrecognized role in community sustainability. Teachers' extensive unpaid overtime work, their relatively high levels of job stress, and the extent of their volunteer work should be better understood by the general public.

Learning profiles

The WALL national survey asked a series of questions about ongoing learning – formal courses or workshops and informal study, whether self-directed or with a mentor. Teachers reported exceptionally high course participation rates – among the highest of all professional employees. The general survey found rates of over 80 per cent. With more in-depth probing 90 per cent of the teachers surveyed reported in-service training activities. These rates compare to about two-thirds of professionals and managers and less than 60 per cent among the general labour force.

In addition, over 90 per cent of teachers reported active engagement in informal on-the-job learning, marginally higher than other workers (about 80 per cent). Teachers are more likely (56 per cent) than most workers (42 per cent) to seek mentoring from colleagues, but their estimates of time spent in informal job-related learning and informal learning generally were similar to other occupational groups. Overall, teachers are more involved in combinations of formal and informal learning and spend more time in learning activities than most other general occupational groups.

The WALL survey findings offer some preliminary benchmarks for assessing the changing nature of adult work and learning in Canada. The comparisons of teachers to other Canadian workers could help the teaching profession in steering its future policies.

The WALL survey raises some immediate challenges:

We [teachers] need to make greater efforts to achieve a teaching force more demographically representative of the Canadian population.

We need to use the relatively high levels of discretionary control we have in our jobs and our very high rates of continuing education to exemplify and promote the kinds of high-involvement organizations required by a well-developed knowledge-based

But we should sound alarm bells because of relatively high staffing cutbacks in our schools, long hours and high levels of stress.

For complete questions and results see the full report, available at the Research Network on Work & Lifelong Learning, OISE/UT.

David W. Livingstone is Canada Research Chair in Lifelong Learning and head of the Centre for the Study of Education and Work at OISE/UT.

Fab Antonelli is a member of the College and a doctoral student in sociology and equity studies at OISE/UT.

Curbing our enthusiasm: the underbelly of educational technology

(originally published in Academic Matters, Winter 2006)

Arguably, the most pressing issue of technology in post-secondary education today is online distance education, or e-learning. Indeed, its development has stimulated vital debate, and it continues to hold significant potential for supporting educational goals. But I hope to renew a call to rethink the enthusiasm that has captured so many post-secondary educators and leaders.

Love or hate it, David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education (Between the Lines, 2002,), is perhaps the best starting point for this re-thinking, raising issues the e-learning enthusiasts rarely acknowledge. Noble marks as an important turning point the 1990 amendment to Canadian patent law that gave universities ownership of the outcomes of federally funded research. It is against this backdrop, as well as creeping under-funding, that new profit-centre strategies have pragmatically emerged in both American and Canadian universities. These new strategies are expanding to include the appropriation of copyright control and the commodification of teaching and learning, which threaten to re-shape educational institutions, the purposes that shape our curriculum, and much, much more.

As Noble argues, “copyright is the sine qua non of the digital diploma mill.” Over the last decade in the United States, the copyright issue has been central to new university-corporate arrangements establishing private and semi-privatized ownership of online curriculum (and interaction records). This, in turn, has created additional pressure to establish an army of non-permanent instructors who are asked to sign new copyright agreements as part of their employment contract. We might ask ourselves in this context: Does it make sense for profitability to determine what gets taught?

An equally important question is, What is the effect of e-learning on education? It’s true that research has established that satisfaction levels in e-learning are about the same as in traditional learning. Yet we must also recognize that, as engaging as either synchronous or asynchronous e-prose may be, the fullness of human communication and, through it, the collective accomplishment of rich “learning experiences” are largely absent in elearning environments.

This critique is supported all the more when we admit that elearning can’t help but isolate students from the kind of informal, collective “campus-life” learning that many students find fundamental to a full education. Although, certainly, one can serendipitously “meet” new people in cyberspace, how can these social experiences not pale in comparison to the emergent circles of friends and co-learners found face-to-face on campus?

E-learning options can and do make acquiring a credential more convenient. But we should think carefully about the financial backdrop of this convenience, which supports the downloading of costs to individual students in two principal ways. First, while some students might choose to complete their education from home, this must be seen, in some part, as a coping behaviour in response to an inadequate grants system that does not allow students to experience the fullness of formal and informal educational life. Secondly, there is the well-established phenomenon in the research that, in fact, e-learning more often serves those marginalized by lack of time, rather than by distance. Where does this time crunch come from? Are rising tuition and the need to perform more paid work not connected? No research proves that e-learning produces better results in head-to-head comparisons. We should admit that the enthusiasm for elearning in the administrative halls is connected to under-funding.

Does all this mean that e-learning has no place in education? Hardly. E-learning has a place, but it must be kept in its place. As support to bricks-and-mortar education it has value. However, even under the most progressive of conditions, this calls for serious inquiry into faculty collective bargaining over workload; intellectual property rights; support for new forms of faculty training; student funding; the role of e-learning in the shaping of curriculum through corporate partnerships; and, lest we forget, careful attention to the fullness of educational experience.

Peter H. Sawchuk is a professor in the Department of Sociology & Equity
Studies in Education, at the Ontario Institute for Studies on Education/University of Toronto.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Participating organizations:

Monday, March 19, 2007


Welcome to this portal, which provides access to a range of courses, resources, research projects and public activities on learning and work. They are centred at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, Canada. Here you will meet a wide range of university faculty, graduate students, labour unionists, worker educators and literacy activists.