(Editor's letter from Shameless issue 19, The Labour Issue. Originally published in Shameless magazine. )
On November 2, 2011, Oakland went on strike. In a formidable display of solidarity and support, workers across the city united in opposition to oppressive government policies, industry exploitation and state violence.
At home in Toronto, I watched while an estimated three thousand protesters successfully forced an operational halt to the Oakland Port. I was moved when I saw local businesses shut down in solidarity and I cried when I saw hundreds of school-aged children carrying crayon-coloured “Occupy our future” placards. The messages of anger, frustration and solidarity were echoed in Occupy and Decolonize protests across the world.
When workers are able to shut a city down, we are reminded of the power of labour. In the same way that we work to support our causes, our families and ourselves, we are, everyday, supported by hundreds of fellow workers: workers in the public sector who educate us, keep us safe and keep us healthy; workers in the private sector whose labour is sewn into the clothes we wear, assembled in the computers we use and written in the books we read. Labour is embedded in every product we consume and every service we rely on.
The production and consumption of wage labour is a necessity under capitalism; a necessity made even stronger by the growing income gap and increase in privatization. However, pervasive austerity measures, the normalization of contract and precarious or unpaid work and global and migrant labour divisions make it harder than ever to earn a living with dignity and respect. These government and industry policies disproportionately affect already marginalized groups of people: the working class and poor, women and trans people, migrant peoples, (dis)abled peoples, people of colour, Indigenous peoples, and, significantly, youth. Under a system of global capitalism, these policies fuel the income gap and contribute to a cycle of deplorable workers’ rights.
We spend a lot of time working, training to work, thinking about work, looking for work and recovering from work. While work has come to shape so much of our day-to-day lives, we need to start thinking about ways of using our work to shape the world around us. While work has come to define so much of who we are, we need to start finding ways of defining the terms of the work that we do. With this issue of Shameless, our labour issue, we hope to use our work to encourage you to think critically about your work.
In this issue, we feature workers speaking about unions (p. 18), internships (p. 24) and sex workers’ rights (p. 28). We bring you stories about tree planting (p. 8), workers going green (p. 16) and young women farmers (p. 38). We help you learn your rights at work (p. 12) and consider the labour that goes into the clothes we wear (p. 40). By sharing these stories of fellow workers, we hope to facilitate a dialogue around what it means to work with dignity and respect, and to facilitate solidarity among working people that allows all of us to collectively speak up for all of our rights.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our volunteer staff, writers and artists who continue to work tirelessly bring these issues to you. Shameless is a labour of love and we hope that with it, you are able to find love in what you do.