Monday, April 23, 2007

Colleges Go Light on Women's Pay Inequity

Run Date: 04/23/07

By Hannah Seligson
WeNews correspondent

Some female college grads may be in for a rude awakening. Although they have enjoyed some key measures of parity with men while on campus, new data show they can expect to earn less than male counterparts immediately after graduation.

(WOMENSENEWS)--College women on the brink of graduation this spring may be in for a rude awakening.

While they have enjoyed majority status on campus and graduate with higher grade point averages than their male classmates, young women still conspicuously lag in one crucial area: income earnings immediately after graduation.

The American Association of University Women, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a report today that finds that one year after college graduation, women make 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. As women's age increases they fall further behind men. Ten years out of school, women earn 69 percent of what their male peers do.

"We controlled for everything that could have had an effect on earnings," Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women, told Women's eNews. "And we still found a wage gap among a demographic that you'd expect there to be very little difference with, given, for the most part, that they don't have caregiving obligations. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less; even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts."

Researchers analyzed data of a nationally representative sample of over 19,000 male and female college graduates under the age of 35 and looked at two groups to measure the wage gap over time and to assess the most recent data on college graduates.

The first group received bachelor's degrees in 1992-1993 and was interviewed in 1994, one year after receiving their degrees, and in 2003, a decade after graduation.

The second group earned degrees in 1999-2000 and was interviewed in 2001, one year after receiving their degrees.

The study found that those who received their degrees in 1992-1993 and those who received degrees in 1999-2000 did not have any significant difference in their earnings one year out of school, revealing that the wage gap has remained stagnant over time.

There have been multiple data collection studies to document the gender wage gap by both government agencies and research entities in recent decades; because they vary in methodology and sampling, studies report subtle differences in measuring the gap.

Lack of Campus Interest

Jenni Daniels, 22, a coordinator for student programs at Tulane University in New Orleans and a 2006 Tulane graduate, says the findings are in sync with a ack of interest in the gender wage gap at her school.

"Students just don't often show up to career programs. It's kind of a hard sell," says Daniels. "These women haven't dealt with pay inequity yet, so it seems far removed from their reality."

Daniels says work-force preparation for women often plays second fiddle to issues such as sexual assault and body image. "Those issues feel more immediate to students than careers, in the sense that everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped," she says. "How they feel about their bodies is also what these young women are thinking about. Eating disorders are rampant on college campuses."

Lauren Magnuson, 20, a senior at Tulane, says she can't remember a course or conference on campus that has focus on the professional woman. "The majority of speakers who come to campus to talk about careers are men."

Overlooked by Women's Studies

Ann Mari May, a visiting professor of economics at Middlebury College in Vermont, says pay equity is an important topic for young women. "It's estimated that a woman will lose $420,000 over the first 20 years of her career by not negotiating on her first salary."

May says campus interest in pay equity can be subdued because women's studies departments often skirt the subject. "Women's studies departments have lost touch with many day-to-day concerns for women, such as pay equity. It's why feminist economics is still a somewhat marginalized topic."

Kassidy Johnson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Arlington, Va., group dedicated to women's social, political and economic equality, is in touch with dozens of colleges in the South. She agrees that campus programming for women focuses more heavily on sexual assault, emergency contraception and global women's issues.

However, Johnson says interest in pay equity was apparent at the group's recent national leadership meeting for younger women. "Young women want to know how to ask for a raise and negotiate their salary," she says.

University Group Funds 11 Schools

The American Association of University Women, for its part, is pushing women's workplace programming on a few campuses this year.

The group, which has 500 college and university partners nationwide,launched in 2005 a grant-giving program, called Education as the Gateway to Women's Economic Security, to help implement campus-based programs along annual themes.

This year it awarded grants of $5,000 each to 11 colleges to use in a variety of programs that fit the theme of planning for an economically secure future.

Students at the University of Guam in Mangilao, with the support of faculty advisors, are studying how woman-friendly their university is. Roger State University in Claremore, Okla., is offering conferences on nontraditional careers and workshops on salary negotiation and financial management. Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia sponsored a series of events, including an art competition and exhibit, roundtable discussions and a "Women and Work" film festival.

At Middlebury, students used the grant for a three-day symposium in March about women's economic security. Emily Theriault, 22, a senior and one of the co-organizers of the symposium, says it was the first time career issues were raised in such a visible forum in her four years on campus.

"We have been taught to think that because we've gone to a good college that we'll get jobs that pay well," Theriault said. "I've seen some research about Middlebury College graduates, however, and it found that over the past 10 years the majority of high-paying fields--such as finance and consulting--are dominated by male graduates and the women are entering fields that don't pay as well."

Hannah Seligson is a freelance writer based in New York. Her book, "New Girl on the Job," will be published by Citadel Press in June.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

For more information:

American Association of University Women Study
Behind the Pay Gap:

Feminist Campus:

Women Don't Ask
Negotiation and the Gender Divide:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Feminism at Work

Published on Solidarity (
Feminism at Work
Created 03/03/2007 - 11:50am
Author(s):Lynne Williams

Story Body:
AS FEMINISTS WE often focus our attention on the effects gender inequality has on women. And while this inequality still exists and requires our unwavering attention, as socialist feminists we also focus on the effect this inequality has on our ability to organize a class conscious movement, where our differences do not impede our ability to act collectively against capital.

I have been a committed feminist since early in life, but these politics were reinvigorated when I began working as a technician in a predominantly male workplace. Being a feminist in theory is much different than being a feminist when some guy is shaking the 18-foot extension ladder you are working on; it requires a different relationship to your goals.

In my early years, though I did face real material struggles, my feminism was largely ideological, for me it took place in arguments and was often about being right. In my work as a rank-and-file activist, my socialist feminism has become more defined and concrete. It is about building solidarity among my coworkers which is not only “right” but also actively builds the kind of solidarity it takes to enforce and reproduce socialist-feminist politics.

It means, for example, confronting the ladder shaker but also building a network of fellow activists who simultaneously confront the ladder shaker and make it impossible for other ladder shakers to do their thing without answering to the collective.

Approaching organizing in the workplace this way is an essentially socialist-feminist strategy: 1) understanding that gender does not only happen when sexism or heterosexism happens but in every moment that adherence to gender roles trumps class solidarity; 2) understanding gender and the ways it is used to organize society and the work we do; 3) understanding that gender is not only about liberal demands for individual equality but also about radically redefining the potential for individuals to be fully liberated; 4) understanding the centrality of our gender roles to developing radical class consciousness, leadership and movement; 5) finally, it is about including the tradition of socialist feminists’ insights and politics into our strategies as organizers.

1. Gender does not only happen when sexism or heterosexism happens.
Gender is not only an issue at work for queers and women. We need to be explicit about this in order to keep every discussion from being only about individual people’s struggles (which are real and deserve attention) to also include the politics and culture of the workplace as a whole.

Gender As Health Risk

One way that gender affects all workers explicitly at my job is around workplace safety issues. In an almost entirely male workplace, organizing around workplace safety involves having a complicated understanding of gender politics and a specific set of skills for navigating them.
Specifically, the guys I work with will often not work safe unless there is another issue at stake. We will do job actions which rely on enforcing safety regulations only if somebody is suspended for something else, being off the job for example. Safety issues on their own, and not as a strategy for slowing productivity, are ignored. Working safe is essentially for “wimps.”

This “macho” attitude persists while safety issues at work are huge. I work in manholes, where the safety issues range from risk of immediate injury to longterm health risks from exposure to dusts and gases. My co-workers essentially police each others’ masculinity and effectively enforce management’s approach to on the job injuries, claiming they are always the employees’ fault.

Management actively denies what union activists know, that the hazards exist at work because of how work is organized, that workers themselves do not create these hazards. Nonetheless management successfully claims that we’re not careful enough while climbing rusty ladders, lifting 300-pound manhole covers, or driving trucks without working turn signals. Hyper- masculine workplace culture affirms management’s claims.

My co-workers say injured workers aren’t strong enough or smart enough to navigate these hazards. Consequently the union membership has no active demands or positions around safety. All of the union’s gains regarding safety equipment and procedures have basically become a nuisance or seen as compromising masculinity.

Management makes safety equipment available for liability reasons and uses safety violations as a way to discipline workers. In my workplace safety, previously a union victory, has become a tool of management.

Because of this dominant workplace culture, organizing for more effective and widespread safety measures at work is also organizing against some of this staunchly hetero-normative masculine behavior. Convincing people that “unsafe for one is unsafe for all” does not compromise their individual worth, only management’s increasing productivity demands.

Organizing with the goal of redefining what is valued on the shop floor, not hypermasculinity but collective engagement in class struggle, is essentially a socialist-feminist project: a project that strengthens the collective power of all workers, regardless of gender identity, by undoing the centrality of those individual gender identities to how we work, how we relate to the union, how we define the union, and ultimately to what we think is possible in the world.

What we as socialist feminists believe is that it is possible, necessary, to live a life in which you are not constantly struggling to meet the standards of oppressive gender roles, and that individual struggle must not interfere with our collective project of building working class power.

Gender, Social Organization and Liberation

2. Gender is used to organize society.
Understanding gender roles plays such a central role to organizing in my workplace because hypermasculinity is such a big part of the dominant culture there. In reality, there is actually extreme variety in gender and sexuality, and every worker’s relationship to those identities gets lost in this dominant culture.

Though I want to recognize and understand this workplace culture, I do not want to essentialize any aspect of gender or sexuality. Some of the people I work with are not as macho; there are some women, there are macho women, there are serious union activists who derive their macho pride from yelling at the boss and not from working unsafely, and there are much more passive characters, etc.

I am trying to say that the diversity of the working class, which is truly infinite, is not made apparent by the dominant cultures in our workplaces and our unions. These cultures are often a response to how work is organized, which is not by the class, or to how union life is organized, which is not often enough by the class. Therefore, gradually chipping away at the homogenous and destructive force of patriarchy and homophobia in these places makes the way for real and lasting change.

The more and more we organize together and have each others’ backs at work around safety issues, the more the very terms of how to be a successful “guy” at work change. This strategy also makes more space for people who are not “guys.” The more successes we have as a shop, the more solidarity there is.

After months of organizing with this socialist-feminist understanding at the core, my whole shop is getting closer to working safely for our own sake. Increasingly, there is not as much to prove as before, and what was perceived as a defense of gender is not as necessary.

What we are now defending is our collective rights to a safe workplace, reclaiming that tool from management. We have had only some success with this at my shop, but the amount of convincing it takes to get people on board has decreased drastically, which is a sign that solidarity has increased.

3. Gender is about radically redefining the potential for liberation.

Some of the success of the feminist movement has been the creation of rules for behavior and legal recourse for people who encounter discrimination and hostility on the job. These rules are valuable and are the consequence of a very real and brave fight by people of color, queers and women on the job.

Without a politicized union membership, however, these rules do not get integrated into the core of what solidarity looks like. And without anti-racist, feminist and queer organizing in the workplace, there is not the collective commitment to confront these violations of union solidarity. Management, afraid of lawsuits, essentially enforces these rules around sexism, homophobia and racism.

It is our job as activists, especially in the workplace, not to allow these victories of the movement to be turned into the very things that undo our movement. We need to redefine the terms of what it means to be union, what it means to be human. It is our job to intervene effectively in all of these manifestations of racism, sexism and homophobia on the job. It is also our job to do this in a way that builds solidarity and doesn’t simply scold offending union members, which is precisely how management undoes our solidarity.

This is the difference between a socialist- feminist approach to building a collective that can demand and enforce the rights of all union members, and a liberal approach to simply safeguarding individual rights.

A socialist-feminist approach is not only more effective in terms of building lasting structures and relationships to preserve the essence of feminist, queer and anti-racist demands, but it makes more sense. It creates situations where we are asking people to step up and have each others’ backs, not to step down and get out of the way because they just don’t get it. It demands that people be their best for the sake of their coworkers, for the sake of the union. It builds relationships and responsibility to the collective.When building one-on-one relationships, which are the building blocks of bigger organizing, socialist-feminist politics is decidedly different from liberal politics and it makes a difference when you’re talking with people on the job.

People hate “liberals” — partly due to racism and sexism and homophobia and seeing liberals as representing minorities only — but I think all of that masks the fact that people really hate liberalism because it has failed to change the world in ways that make a difference for the class.

Liberal politics depend on the class for support but work in opposition to the class, privileging individual mobility and individual citizenship. Radicalism places all of these individual struggles in the context of how capitalism alienates us from each other and ourselves. People “get” radicalism because radicalism accounts for all of people’s struggles under capitalism. They want to support each other and be supported — “an injury to one is an injury to all” — and if we don’t support each other we’re all more vulnerable.

Placing workplace struggles in this context is a radical project. Understanding how gender plays a role in alienating people from each other and themselves is a socialist-feminist project. Socialist feminism is also an approach to organizing because it understands the role gender plays in developing the class conscious of workers as well as understanding the personal as political. And this is radical.

There’s a personal and emotional connection that people have to feel to trust each other, to take risks on the job, to undo the privileges of whiteness, maleness, heteronormativity, being a productive worker — organizing is fundamentally building trust, about caring for and about each other, about creating a place where the class takes care of each other for common struggles against all of the effects of capitalism.

These personal politics play out while organizing around workplace issues and in informal social interactions away from work. Occasionally people go out, drink, open up to each other, and we as human beings who struggle with the ways capitalism organizes our lives on and off the job share our stories with each other about our needs for respect and care, our needs to respect and care.

We don’t necessarily build on these conversations upon returning to work the next day. But we share an understanding that we are in this together because of our struggles, not in spite of them, and challenging each other to be fuller people is part of our project as a class.

In all of this formal and informal conversation, issues of gender, sexuality, race, the war, how we organize our personal lives, relationships and work are constant. Being a socialist feminist helps to understand what people say, and why they say it.

When people talk about stuff they want to assert the value of the choices they have made in life, the sacrifices that they’ve made. And people are brilliant, insightful, creative and sincerely trying to understand this mess capitalism has made of our lives. They are interested in engaging with and arguing about all of these issues and desire for these struggles to be taken seriously.
As radicals, as socialist feminists, we do take all of these personal struggles seriously. It is at the core of what we believe. The effects of capitalism on our identities and how we organize our lives are sometimes traumatic.

We do not reduce our politics to only these personal struggles, but we incorporate them into our understanding of the world and our approach to organizing. This is appealing to people. This is socialist feminism.

Becoming Organizers

4. Our gender roles are central to developing radical class consciousness.
If this can be seen as one of our goals in the workplace, and in the world, we need to approach it as activists. We need to earn the respect and trust of our coworkers, our community. This is no small task. Our approach to being good organizers is also derived from our socialist feminist tradition. We integrate our understanding of the centrality of our gender roles in developing political consciousness with our methods for building democratic movements. Individual identities are fragmented under capitalism, there are unrealistic standards for living under this gendered order, and the wholeness of our humanity takes a backseat to surviving under capitalism.

I experienced this myself when I started at my job. I kept looking for opportunities to talk to other workers as a worker about the contract, the wages, working conditions, union, and management, but instead found people most interested in personal life — theirs and mine.
I mistakenly thought this focus on being workplace activists, focusing on what material demands we had in common, had to happen at the expense of my other identities, which were not heteronormative and therefore, I mistakenly thought, were distracting from our commonality as workers. I was struggling with how to integrate my sexuality and gender identity with my identity as a workplace activist. I was worried about making my sexuality an issue, but people seemed to be more fixated on obsessing about their own sexuality and gender than about mine.

The people I worked with were, in a funny way, more socialist feminist than I was, integrating their work and after work lives, being moved completely by both experiences. They challenged me to do the same, to be myself comfortably. Coming out ended up making me closer to people, not more alienated as I wrongly suspected. I was challenged by my coworkers and my broader politics to understand the workplace as being about more than work, as being about our whole experience in life.

One of the ways my socialist-feminist politics played a role in how I handled coming out at work is that I started out understanding that everyone has experience as a gendered and sexual person — and everyone in some way or another struggles with these identities, and with insecurities. So I didn’t see myself as unique or different from the straight men I worked with in that way. It also forced me into the unfamiliar place of knowing myself to be the “one” in “an injury to one is an injury to all” and the less familiar place of allowing the “all” to be my coworkers.

When I realized that being more of who I am on the job was the key to being able to establish trust and solidarity, it brought me back to my socialist-feminist politics in a way. As an activist, I took what I perceived as a risk to let people know more about myself. Coworkers respected this honesty and saw it as respectful, and together we effectively established a deep trust. This interpersonal politics is part of our socialist- feminist understanding of what is political, but also a socialist-feminist strategy for organizing.

Understanding that we are all in all of our struggles together, a socialist-feminist organizing approach, led me to be a more effective organizer around those workplace issues I had initially focused on and continue to work on, now with the benefit the trust and support of my coworkers. This support goes both ways and contributes to the developing of leaders and activists on the shop floor. When I intervene on somebody’s behalf, they intervene on mine. We tap each other for support, and stand together on the shop floor.

Integrating a broader understanding of what moves people, a socialist-feminist strategy for organizing, leads to developing a culture where individuals are more willing to take risks as activists around shop floor issues, ranging from the way work is organized, safety issues, discrimination, the humiliation of being constantly managed, denied bathroom breaks, and the unbelievably long list of things that workers struggle around every minute of the day at work.

Building trust and developing relationships is necessary for organizing around workplace issues. But this process does not only happen because of “typical” issues. Our broader struggles under capitalism contribute to our ability and interest in fighting, to developing a consciousness that sees all of our personal struggles as connected, to see how these struggles affect all of our fights. Socialist feminism provides us with the political framework for organizing towards this goal.

5. The tradition of socialist feminism is included in our strategies as organizers.There has been a lot of focus on socialist-feminist process in building socialist organization. And I do think it is important to be explicit about this as a political process and decision. But I also do not want to overlook the fact that socialist feminist process is good organizing: listening more than talking, caring as a task and a goal, seeing consciousness as a kind of process in which everyone is equally responsible and engaged.

Socialism has a tradition; socialist feminism is part of that tradition. In my time as a rank-and-file activist I have learned so much about what moves me and my coworkers, how to effectively organize collective action, how deep and broad the range of things we struggle with under capitalism, as workers in our lives and at work. And I have also learned how enormously lucky I am to be aware of this larger tradition of struggle and thought.

Sometimes we assume that people’s lack of interest or commitment to these traditions is deliberate. I have learned that people are unaware of these traditions. The left has not been widely present in the workplace for a long time. Some labor leaders see the middle class as our goal, and while demanding more of the share of wealth we produce is not a horrible goal, we know as radicals it doesn’t touch the sheer inhumanity of capitalism.

Sharing this tradition and the lessons of these politics is an important part of organizing, sharing the potential for a different world, a different world that is informed by all of our insights into the failure of capitalism as a way of organizing life. And going about it in a way that understands people’s alienation from the processes of struggle itself is more effective organizing. At least it has been for me in modest shop floor activities. Building bigger more lasting organization with this foundation is a longer-term project.

There are many more opportunities to learn from this socialist-feminist approach to organizing because capital is constantly reorganizing our lives and work in ways that further alienate us from ourselves, each other and the very process of political change. For all the above reasons, I think a socialist-feminist process is the most effective way to build the power and collectivity needed by the class. And for the reasons above, I think the workplace is an important place to implement this strategy.

Only conscience resistance will effectively undo the institutionalization of gender roles and the obstacles they create for building-class conscious movements. Gender roles are institutionalized and interfere with building collective struggles, interfere with collective goals and identities. Socialist feminist process and goals are aimed at developing this conscious resistance.


AS FEMINISTS WE often focus our attention on the effects gender inequality has on women. And while this inequality still exists and requires our unwavering attention, as socialist feminists we also focus on the effect this inequality has on our ability to organize a class conscious movement, where our differences do not impede our ability to act collectively against capital.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Trouble With Diversity

The trouble with diversity
ANALYSIS / Is celebrating all the stripes in the rainbow enough?
Yasmin Nair / / Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I knew the man as well as any of the other commuters. He stood outside a Chicago el station selling, for a dollar each, copies of StreetWise, the weekly city paper written by homeless people. He gets to keep a percentage of the price. The idea is that, by buying StreetWise, you give a homeless person a chance to learn skills that he might use to get jobs.

My finances changed when I became a freelancer, and I struggled to pay my bills. I was hard-pressed to spare that dollar. Yet, I persisted in guiltily handing him one every time I passed him; paying for something I could not afford. I never thought of myself as like the man outside the el. My education and sundry other factors--like the roof over my head--meant I could never see myself as poor like him.

And then one day he made what seemed like a nasty personal comment--not salacious or creepy--just mean. That comment became my reason to stop buying the paper.

My real reason for not engaging in our usual transaction was that I couldn't afford it. But acknowledging that would have meant acknowledging that I shared a class identity of sorts with him. The truth is that I just didn't want to admit to my poverty.

This is how inequality and poverty are lived in the US. Nobody claims "poor" as an identity, despite the fact that there are larger numbers of us every year and that the gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider. Forty-seven million in the US, the world's largest industrial and military power, live--and often die too early--without health care. As Walter Benn Michaels puts it in his new and important book, The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (Henry Holt & Company, $30), the gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. Americans today work more for less than ever before, leaving many of us perennially exhausted in multiple dead-end, often part-time jobs, with no benefits.

But comfort beckons in the form of identity. You can claim any number of racial, gender, sexual, and ethnic identities when job hunting, but you can never simply state that you're poor, really poor, in deep financial hell, or desperately hoping you'll win the lottery or American Idol and quickly leap out of your penury. All of which might actually be better reasons for wanting a job in the first place.

Sure, we might proudly celebrate the culture of the working class, as is the wont in some political and academic circles. We might emphasize the dignity, hard work, values, the saltiness and saintliness of the working class. (We're less likely to refer to them as "lower class"--horrors, there are no hierarchies here!) Reading Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina might be sufficient proof that you know what it's like to be poor and queer.

In the US, diversity mandates have proliferated to the extent that there is an entire industry around diversity training. You can hire people to come to your expensive law firm or school and teach you and your employees how to be nicer and more sensitive to people of colour, the disabled, women, queers, and so on. Create a world without prejudice, we are told, and we can approach something like full equality for all.

Michaels isn't buying that argument. Instead, he demonstrates that the rise in economic inequality in the US parallels a rise in the discourse of diversity. The Trouble With Diversity lays out the ways in which economic disenfranchisement has not only been obscured by the commitment to diversity, but actively enabled by it.

Even talk about class has become another way to turn the stark economic differences between people into factors of identity, avoiding any analysis of the systemic inequality that divides them. The sheer genius of the US-based mandate to diversify is that it turns even class inequality into an identity category.

Michaels writes about the New York Times series, Class Matters, which "started treating class not as an issue to be addressed in addition to... race but as itself a version of race, as if the rich and the poor really were... different races, and so as if the occasional marriage between them were a kind of interracial marriage."

Hurricane Katrina was supposed to have opened our eyes to inequality, and it did show us the immense racialization of poverty in the US. But besides the occasional story about the victims not getting their money or their houses back, it's a story whose real implications have vanished. In fact, it's far more likely that the eyes of people in Vancouver, Calcutta, or Jakarta were opened to the depth of inequality in the US, while ours have remained shut to it. Meanwhile, we've persisted in thinking that race was the primary problem in Katrina, not poverty.

Kanye West said to the cameras at a telethon following the disaster, "George Bush hates black people." Actually, there's little evidence for that; his is in fact the most diverse cabinet in history. Some of Bush's best friends seem to be people of colour, but they are certainly not poor people.

As Michaels writes: "We like blaming racism [for Katrina], but the truth is there weren't too many rich black people left behind when everybody who could get out of New Orleans did so... This doesn't mean, of course, that racism didn't play a role in New Orleans. It just means that, in a society without any racial discrimination, there would still have been poor people who couldn't find their way out." Whereas, he argues, in a society without poor people (even a racist one), there wouldn't have been.

In contemporary American gay politics, nothing signifies inequality more than the inability to get married. The problem with gay marriage as a monomaniacal focus of organizing in the US is that it so blatantly affirms that those who choose not to marry--or are in civil unions or domestic partnerships--simply don't deserve the right to health care or benefits. Or, as one snippy young dyke once said to me at a party, "Why shouldn't I be rewarded for my commitment to my life partner?" Her arrogance took my breath away.

So, when the gay marriage movement people go on endlessly about how Canadians and assorted Scandinavians and, oh yes, Spaniards, have gay marriage rights, and that this is proof of their advancement, they miss the point. If you're a Canadian queer who gets divorced, you don't lose your health care. If you're a queer in the US whose loving life partner suddenly takes a shine to the prettier, younger thing she met at the bar while you were taking care of your baby, you're up Shit Creek without health care, benefits, money, or possibly even a roof over your head. Take heed, snippy young dyke.

Consider a country where the gay marriage problem is solved. When gays got the right to marry in South Africa, queers everywhere rejoiced. But 40 percent of South Africans live in dire poverty and the rest are not exactly well off. Thirty percent of pregnant women in South Africa have HIV/AIDS. Nearly 30 percent of the country's citizens, male and female, are HIV-positive.

"In 2006, 900 people died every day of AIDS-related illnesses because they did not have access to antiretroviral medicines," writes Zackie Achmat, South Africa's most prominent AIDS activist. Achmat has refused to take antiretrovirals until they are made available to the general public.

The South African constitution does not guarantee health care and access to free or affordable medications. In this context, giving queers the right to marriage means, well, nothing, given the scale of economic and medical inequality.

In fact, the disconnect between the symbolic generosity of the state toward inevitably middle and upper-class queers and its material stinginess to the poor has fuelled resentment against gays among ordinary South Africans.

And that's the trouble with diversity; it's often a social, cultural, and emotional response to economic problems which allows us to live in blissful ignorance of the inequality that surrounds us. It allows us to believe that expunging bigotry or prejudice, or granting extra access to a few, encompasses the entire field of social justice.

Yasmin Nair is a Chicago-based writer. A longer version of her piece appeared in the March issue of Xtra West's sister publication, The Guide. Link to the full text online at

No Way to Treat a Guest Worker

No way to treat a guest worker
The Toronto Star
Fri 13 Apr 2007
Page: A16
Section: Editorial
Byline: Carol Goar
Source: Toronto Star

We used to look askance at European countries that brought in guest workers from Turkey and North Africa to do the dirty jobs no one else wanted.

These migrants were segregated from the rest of the population and not allowed to become citizens.

Canada would never treat people that way, we told ourselves, overlooking the fact that we’d been bringing in seasonal farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean since the mid-’70s.

It became harder to delude ourselves in the early ’90s, when Ottawa launched its Live-in Caregiver program. This allowed families seeking nannies to hire Filipino and Caribbean women who were ineligible for permanent residency until they had fulfilled the terms of their contract to the satisfaction of their employer. This left them extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

In 2002, the government took another step toward a two-tiered labour force. It launched the Low Skill Pilot Project, allowing employers facing serious labour shortages to bring in foreign workers for up to 12 months.

As demand increased, the government expanded the program and loosened the eligibility criteria. It enlarged the number of “occupations under pressure” for which foreign workers could be recruited. It reduced the time a job had to be advertised in Canada from six weeks to seven days. It set up processing centres in Calgary and Edmonton to fast-track applications. And it allowed employers to keep their foreign “temporaries” for 24 months. But they still had to go home.

In all but name, Canada now has a guest worker program.

And judging from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s latest budget, it is going to grow. Pointing to labour shortages in the Alberta oil sands and the British Columbia construction sector, he promised to make it easier, faster and less costly to hire foreign workers.

So far, there has been little dissent. It is probably because the numbers are still small. Temporary foreign workers account for just 0.7 per cent of the labour force.

But as their numbers rise, Canada is going to face some difficult moral and legal questions:

Is it right to invite migrants into the country to alleviate our economic problems without offering them the opportunity to become citizens?

Is it legal to deny foreign workers the rights guaranteed in Canada’s Constitution, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and equality before the law?

Is it ethical to place people in situations - being required to live under an employer’s roof, knowing dismissal could mean deportation and lacking basic safeguards - that leave them open to abuse?

Is it fair to bring in low-skilled workers from abroad when unemployed Canadians could be trained to fill many of the existing vacancies?

Is it wise to go down a path that has led to ethnic tension in Europe?

Is it sensible to use a stop-gap remedy to solve a long-term demographic problem?

Karl Flecker, who heads the anti-racism and human rights program at the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), has given these questions a lot of thought.

“We’re not opposed to immigration,” he says. “But we are concerned about any worker who walks into exploitation and we are worried that employers will use these programs to drive out workers and seek cheap foreign replacements.”

CLC affiliates are already reporting such tactics in warehouses, nursing homes, food processing plants and on construction sites.

It troubles Flecker that many of the employers who are now desperate for foreign workers have failed to invest in training for years. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, for instance, construction companies in the tar sands hired far too few apprentices for the pace of development.

It also disturbs him that just 2 per cent of the $80 million earmarked for improvements in the foreign workers program is designated to enforce labour standards. The number of complaints from migrant farm workers and live-in caregivers ought to have prompted Ottawa to invest in better monitoring and protection of foreign workers, Flecker says.

Before venturing further down this road, the CLC would like to see some serious discussion of alternatives.

It wonders why Canada can’t adjust its immigrant selection criteria to admit the kind of workers it needs. It wonders why the government is rewarding employers who neglected to invest in training. And it wonders whether developing non-renewable resources at breakneck speed is in the country’s best interests.

If Ottawa is determined to import guest workers, Flecker says, they should have all the rights spelled out in the Charter and the chance to make this country their permanent home. “If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to live here.”

That attitude earned Canada its reputation as home to the world. It would be a shame to squander it.

Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

© 2007 Torstar Corporation

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Analysis, Solidarity, Action—a Workers’ Perspective on the Increasing Use of Migrant Labour in Canada

Friday, April 13, 2007

CAW says 'insanity' of green movement is unfairly punishing auto sector

1 hour, 56 minutes ago

By Michael Oliveira

PORT ELGIN, Ont. (CP) - The Canadian Auto Workers union targeted the federal Conservatives and the "insanity" of the environmental movement Friday as delegates talked strategy with an election ever looming and an Ontario provincial vote less than six months away.

Although historically linked with the New Democrats, union president Buzz Hargrove invited Ontario's Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty to speak and saved his criticisms for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and environmentalists who want the auto sector targeted to fight climate change.

The upcoming elections are fuelling a lot of rhetoric as politicians try to "out green" one another, Hargrove said.

"Politicians are running with it now because Canadians are saying it's a key issue in the upcoming election and it just infuriates me," Hargrove said in a wide-ranging address to delegates.

"We stand to lose 150,000 jobs in our auto industry if the insanity of this environmental movement is allowed to continue."

Canada is only responsible for about two per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas production and shutting down the entire country would barely make an impact, Hargrove said.

Still, Hargrove said the union is supportive of the Kyoto Accord - as long as timetables are flexible enough for industries to meet them.

Hargrove said he was impressed by McGuinty's recent statement that the auto industry shouldn't necessarily phase out gas guzzlers like SUVs because, realistically, they're not going away.

The manufacturers should instead try to make the vehicles more fuel efficient and environmentally sound because there's big money to be made if those innovations are developed, McGuinty said.

"Going green isn't necessarily about going small," McGuinty told delegates Friday, adding he wants that technology to be made in Ontario.

"It will be good for jobs and good for the economy."

A move away from supporting the NDP has worked well for the union, considering McGuinty has been "a great supporter of issues that are important to our union," said Hargrove.

"We have to work with whoever's elected to try to get policy in the best interests of members families and communities ... and the premier's done an incredible amount," he said.

While a few delegates quietly booed when the premier's name was announced, during question and answer periods they chose to attack Harper for not support their industry.

Hargrove also said the union will consider employing strategic voting whenever the next federal vote is held in an attempt to avoid a Conservative majority government.

The union says the manufacturing sector produces 18 per cent of the country's overall economic activity, but almost 333,000 jobs have been lost in the last four years and there's no evidence the slide is coming to an end.

Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility: The Paths Taken by Two Ontario Credit Unions

Panel: Corporate Social Responsibility: The Paths Taken by Two Ontario Credit Unions

Full details at:

Scott Windsor, Senior Manager, Corporate and Community Relations and Employee Communications, Meridian Credit Union
Kimberley Ney, Senior Vice President Marketing, Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility, Alterna Savings
Moderator: Denyse Guy, Executive Director, Ontario Co-operative Association

Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm.
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
Room 12-199, 12th floor, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto.

Scott Windsor of Meridian Credit Union and Kimberley Ney of Alterna Savings and Credit Union discuss Corporate Responsibility from their credit union perspectives. Scott will discuss the challenges of implementing a new CSR program following his organization's corporate merger. He will focus on the development of Meridian's Good Neighbour Program and the formation and implementation of the credit union's CSR, sponsorship and donation programs. Kimberley will present Alterna Savings' initiatives in community economic development and its role in shaping financial literacy, corporate accountability and environmental sustainability programs. She will share Alterna's perspective on philanthropy, including some unique "twists." Denyse Guy, Executive Director of the Ontario Cooperative Association, will moderate the session.

Bring your lunch and mug. Water, coffee and tea will be provided. To RSVP, or for more information, contact Sherap Winn: (416) 923-6641, ext. 2087 or

The webcast will be broadcast live at the time of the event. Go to for instructions and to view the webcast

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Can "Ethical" Companies be Union-Busters?


Remembering Freire, Reinventing Freire

A half-day conference on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the death of Paulo Freire

May 2, 2007, 2.00 pm - 7.00 pm (followed by reception)
OISE/University of Toronto
252 Bloor ST. West, Toronto
7th floor, Peace Lounge

Organizers and sponsors: Ontario Region of the Canadian Association for the Studies of Adult Education (CASAE), Program of Adult Education and Community Development (OISE/UT), George Brown College, and Transformative Learning Centre (OISE/UT)

To see the program, go to

For more information contact:

‘Part of the Solution’: The role of community-based green co-operatives in advancing sustainable development and energy literacy

Fiona Duguid, WindShare Co-operative and doctoral candidate, University of Toronto

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
12.00-1.30 pm
OISE/UT, 252 Bloor St West, Room 7-162

After five years of development, WindShare Co-operative in Toronto, Ontario became the first urban wind turbine in North America and the first co-operatively owned and operated wind turbine in Canada. The development of WindShare Co-operative has spurred the growth of a green energy co-operative sector in Ontario. This presentation, which draws on 27 interviews and a focus group with members of WindShare Co-operative, focuses on the roles of community-based green energy co-operatives in advancing sustainable energy development and energy literacy. Members of WindShare expressed resounding feelings of pride, efficacy and understanding of WindShare’s role in sustainable energy. WindShare Co-operative provided the structure whereby members felt a part of the solution in terms of sustainable energy development. From this study it was found that policies and practices at all levels of government should encourage the advancement of green energy co-operatives to support Canada’s efforts at public involvement in addressing climate change.

Fiona Duguid is completing her doctorate in the Adult Education department at the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education at the University of Toronto. Her research looks at sustainable energy development through green energy co-operatives. She is working with WindShare Co-operative and with the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative.

Autogestión in Argentina: Self-Management, Recovering Work, Recovering Life

Presenter: Mario Alberto Barrios, General Secretary of the National Association of Self-Managed Workers of the Industrial Federation, Argentina Workers’ Central | Secretario General de la Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Autogestionado (ANTA), Federación Industrial, Central de Trabajadores Argentina

Moderator and discussant: Marcelo Vieta, PhD Student in Social and Political Thought, York University

Tuesday, April 17
Room 7-162, OISE/UT
252 Bloor St West

In Spanish, “autogestión” means to self-manage work cooperatively. More specifically, it is to “self-constitute” social and productive lives while minimizing the intrusive mediation of traditional bureaucracies, hierarchical organization, or the state. In Latin America, myriad social justice groups are increasingly using the concept to articulate how the (re)invention and (re)construction of labour and social relations can take place. To “autogestionar” is the verb that drives how more and more groups are democratically and ethically reconstituting productive life. In Argentina, especially since the socio-economic crisis of 2001 and 2002, countless grassroots groups—the piqueteros, worker-recovered factories, microenterprises, affordable housing activists, human rights groups, popular education initiatives, environmental and rural groups—have been experimenting with and concretely practicing forms of autogestión that both contests the neoliberal enclosures of life and, at the same time, moves beyond them. In the process, they are inventing new horizons beyond socio-economic crisis. For these groups, to self-manage collectively is not only to produce cooperatively, it is also about transforming traditional economic relations into “social economies”—more equitable, humane, and horizontal expressions of individual and collective needs and desires.

Since December 2005, the Argentina Workers’ Central (CTA) has embarked on a project of organizing Argentine workers involved in self-managing their workspaces and jobs under the auspices of the National Association of Self-Managed Workers (ANTA). This was a response to the reality of a state and traditional unions that turning their backs on the plight of the cooperatively employed, underemployed, and the unemployed. Initially made up of 83 organizations and over 800 members, ANTA lobbies for and assists self-managed workers’ collectives in their struggle to secure pensions, fight for equitable wages, and access favourable and just loans while giving political voice to the voiceless…especially in the face of no national government policies and the lack of participation by traditional unions in the fight for more equitable, more cooperative forms of work relations.

The Transformative Learning Centre (OISE/UT), The Social Economy Centre of the University of Toronto, Dialogo Argentina-Canada, and CERLAC (York University) invite you to join us in welcoming Mario Alberto Barrios as he discusses his work in the struggle for the rights of self-managed workers in Argentina. Involved in labour education and union leadership since 1986, Mario has been ANTA’s general secretary since its first days in 2005. With Mario we ask three fundamental questions: How viable is self-management (autogestión) today? Can self-managed work relations lead to a better way of life? Can self-management work in Canada?

Monday, April 2, 2007

New Approaches to Lifelong Learning Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography of Studies Based on Data from the Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning

The Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL), was developed to generate and disseminate knowledge related to lifelong learning in Canada. Between 1996 and 2002, this network was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

NALL undertook a wide array of research, networking and dissemination activities. The NALL network involved over one hundred members across forty-five research projects, including over 20 community partners (trade unions, equity groups, training boards and other community organizations), almost 70 academic researchers and collaborators, and over 20 university and college partners.

Over the course of the four years, NALL widely disseminated key research findings via academic publications, conferences and the NALL website (, as well as creating assessment tools for the field.

2004 Learning and Work Survey

The WALL Survey was conducted in 2004 with a large representative national sample of the adult (18+) Canadian population (N=9,063) to provide unprecedented quantitative detail on learning and work activities and their inter-relations. The survey was administered by the Institute for Social Research at York University.

This survey is part of the research network on “The Changing Nature of Work and Lifelong Learning” (WALL) funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) as a Collaborative Research Initiative on the New Economy (Project No. 512-2002-1011). The network is based at the Centre for the Study of Education and Work (CSEW) at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

The network also includes 12 related case studies. A previous research network, New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL), completed a smaller (N=1,562) related national survey in 1998 (see Over 70 related survey and case study papers are posted on the NALL site and over 50 papers on the WALL site.

Visit 2004 Learning and Work Survey

Work and Lifelong Learning Online Resource Base

Work and Lifelong Learning Resource Base

Materials for Teaching, Research and Policy Making

The Work and Lifelong Learning Resource Base (WALLRB) provides a wide range of bibliographic references and links to full-text sources of research on diverse forms of lifelong learning and diverse forms of work, with a primary focus on the relations between learning and work.

Sections on general theoretical perspectives and relevant research methods are included as well as specific studies of different aspects of work, learning, work-learning relations and several other topics. The current version of the WALLRB focuses on materials from the 2000 to 2006 period, with a few earlier items.

The Resource Base can be downloaded in individual sections as PDF files.