Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fight for $15

Saturday, Dec. 19, I went to a wonderful, grassroots meeting to raise the minimum wage in Alberta to $15 per hour.

The highlights were seeing the videos of people in the States, fast food workers and Walmart, uniting asking for $15 per hour.

Another highlight for me was seeing two Walmart employees speak about how hard it is to have those discussions about uniting for a higher wage. Along with the other people in the room, it was clear many people are just afraid of those discussions because they don't want to lose their jobs.

One of the strongest rhetoric mentioned is that people will lose their jobs and it will hurt small business, with zero evidence to back that claim up. Let's look to BC:

"...experts generally agree that raising the minimum wage has little to no discernible impact on the employment rate, and there are "meta-studies" (studies of studies) on minimum wage that come to this conclusion
Furthermore, in an April 2015 research report on whether British Columbia should increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour, David Green, a University of British Columbia economics professor and expert in minimum wage issues, stated that "the benefits of raising BC’s minimum wage to $15 through a series of pre-announced staged increases far outweigh the likely costs. Claims that such an increase will lead to massive job losses in low-wage sectors of the economy are not credible."
-Source The Parkland Institute: May 28, 2015 The case for a $15 minimum wage in Alberta posted by Ian Hussey

From that same source is also the myth that it's going to be great for teenagers here in Alberta. Here's some more truth for that argument:

"Firstly, Professor Green states that "the minimum wage has been set so far below the poverty line that past increases have not been large enough to lift full-time workers out of poverty." So it isn't that an increase to the minimum wage can't be part of a policy package meant to address poverty, it is that the increase needs to be large enough to be meaningful to workers' lives.
Secondly, most minimum wage workers in Alberta are in fact not teenagers or inexperienced, but rather adult workers trying to get by, and many are working to support their families. The Government of Alberta reports that 65% of our province's minimum wage earners for the 2013/14 fiscal year were over 20 years of age. In addition, Statistics Canada data for 2014 shows that 77% of Alberta workers earning less than $15 per hour were over the age of 20.
Furthermore, 61% of Alberta's low-wage earners are women, so raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will contribute to sorely needed efforts to address Alberta's gender gap and income inequality chasm, both of which are the highest among Canada's provinces. "
-Source The Parkland Institute: May 28, 2015 The case for a $15 minimum wage in Alberta posted by Ian Hussey

For more reading I highly recommend: July 17, 2015 Minimum wage hike won’t ruin Alberta by Ian Hussey, Iglika Ivanova (Ian Hussey is a research manager at the Parkland Institute. Iglika Ivanova is a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — B.C. Office.) The above is the argument for the average Albertan relating to the poverty issues we are seeing with the current minimum wage. Canadian Federation of Independent Business is offering to do roundtable discussions to help bridge the new NDP government and business that have contacted the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. (I'm sure the NDP government will do that and I hope the business owner's see this the idea will help everyone.)
I would recommend many forms of action.
First, the building of the group is needed. Their actions of caroling and videos are completely necessary.

Secondly, a point I made but seemed to be completely disregarded was the need for a policy to be presented at the political parties on this issue as a form of action. I feel this is actually how this imposed Westminster "democracy" works so therefore, if we work on policies in this format, political parties will be forced to follow their grassroot membership. They didn't understand it and wrote it as "talk to a MLA." I don't disagree with that action but as I explained to the group, if there is a policy and it passes, the party is obligated to follow the membership. So while I encouraged all people, no matter their political party, to talk to their MLA's, to go to those parties with a policy. Here is one example. (I encourage others to copy and paste it to bring it to their parties.)

Fight for $15 Policy:

Whereas twenty percent of Alberta’s workers, 379,500 people, earned less than $15 an hour in 2014.

Whereas 78 percent of Albertans that earn less that $15 an hour, are not teenagers, and 38 percent are 35 years of age or older.

Whereas 60 percent work full time and 54 percent have been in the same job for longer than a year.

Whereas $15 minimum wage would significantly boost the income of low-wage workers as a group, reduce working poverty.

Be it resolved, (enter political party of your choice) will support raising the minimum wage in Alberta to $15 per hour.

If you agree, please take that policy to your local electoral districts and MLA's (modify it as you need) to get this moved forward as I'm not confident the group will forward it to you, even if you join it.

Some of the low lights of the meeting was how the space felt unsafe for me to speak freely, then feeling marginalized. When I got a chance to speak, it was at the start when we were asked to say our names and why we chose to come. I spoke of how disappointed I was in the NDP government's waffling of the $15 minimum wage election promise as I live in the area of the hard working poor where people are working two and sometimes three jobs and still can not make ends meet. I was disappointed that the NDP weren't being more bold in their budget as they are very unlikely to get reelected since the right wing parties were divided for the moment. I expressed how I hoped that this group would be that accountability to the NDP and have action. I also acknowledged Tsuu T'ina and Dene as part of the Treaty 7 signatories as the Stoney and Blackfoot were previously mentioned. (I should mention it was brought up AFTER myself and another Indigenous woman walked into the room.) Bringing it up AFTER Indigenous enter a room, is very disingenuous. (I know here in Alberta, we are just getting use to the idea of acknowledging this at all so the irony is, I was happy it was mentioned at all.)

The truth is, Indigenous peoples' still are oppressed under the Indian Act. Internationally, the rest of the world sees our hypocrisy on human rights while still oppressing a race of people. Canadians still don't really understand the gravity of that. During the meeting, there was a NDPer that identified as proud to be retired, being a NDPer her whole life, donating her money to the NDP and campaigning. She spoke so condescendingly and even singled out "arm chair activists" and Communists. She also marginalized my voice too as I thought that meeting was a safe place to voice the disappointment of NDP's election promises. The irony is, I do volunteer with the Federal Liberal Party because as an Indigenous woman, my issues tend to be so called Federal jurisdiction in this colonial Westminster "democracy" imposed on these lands. I don't have a lot of money to give so I give my time and energy.  The NDP's Aboriginal Peoples' Commission didn't seem active so I did join the Liberal Party's Aboriginal Peoples' Commission because they were active at the time. I was even able to get two policies put forward that passed nationally - Two-Spirit and Denouncing Spying on Indigenous. Of course the real issue to me was that in the end, it wasn't a safe space to be critical of the current government even though they aren't showing strength on that issue.

It was clear to me from that meeting that Indigenous issues are different when talking about even this issue of fighting for a higher minimum wage.

There were temporary foreign workers present. Anyone that followed the issues pre-election knows there are serious issues of human rights issues that need addressing. I believe in my soul that each temporary foreign worker has been given a raw deal and should be eligible for permanent status so that the program doesn't seem so modern-day-slave-ish. That said, I personally know an Indigenous man who was born in the US and is now living in one of the communities I'm part of in the greater Forest Lawn area. Because Canada does not honour the Jay Treaty, this Indigenous to North America man can not work at all here in Calgary, even though he has a full desire to. (He spends so much time volunteering and doing wonderful things in our communities since he can't.) So the people at the group fighting for a higher minimum wage increase, who don't really know the Indigenous signatories of the Treaty 7 land we are on, and Indigenous are already having a very different conversation. Of course the temporary foreign workers and new immigrant community also are unaware of these issues because there is zero education on Indigenous issues when they come to these lands.

Next is the name issue. Many barriers are present for Indigenous that non-Indigenous do not face. By simply having an Indigenous name, many employers do NOT hire due to prejudices. So while it is great to be fighting for a higher minimum wage, most non-Indigenous are unaware Indigenous stats on unemployment aren't even counted in the overall picture. Ultimately, those that benefit from living on a land where the Indian Act is in place, and are purposely unaware of the realities Indigenous people face, can not understand how we are not even in a place to fighting for minimum wage increases when our positions are the first ones cut in "economic downsizing" times.

While those were negative experiences for me, I hope others will still consider joining up in solidarity. They are also hoping to record some personal stories from those struggling in the workforce, especially if working in a wage less than $15 per hour. If you're interested in joining, please do here:

Working class Caroling
Saturday from 5pm-7pm Sunridge Mall

Next meeting Jan. 23rd

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