A new voice for labour in a world of precarious work

By Sara Mojtehedzadeh

The Toronto Star

There’s no easy way to summarize what 26-year-old Joan Lillian Wilson does for a living, other than to say it involves a lot of slashes: graphic designer/photographer/activist. Part-time/contract/volunteer. No union/benefits/pension.

Sound familiar? Then you, too, might be a part of the city’s invisible workforce. It’s composed of independent contractors, part-time employees, self-employed entrepreneurs, and creative types — a hitherto disparate group that Toronto activists are now seeking to unite. 

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Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s petition to study basic income marked by his own childhood

By Roderick Benns

As a youth growing up in Calgary, Robert-Falcon Ouellette remembers being inspired by the 1988 Olympics. Ouellette’s parents struggled financially, and his father was in and out of the picture. But his mother managed enough money so he could enjoy swimming at the City pool where he took to the water “like a fish.”

“I was there as much as possible – I just loved every minute of it,” says Ouellette, who is now Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre.

“Until one day a coach spotted me and invited me to join the University of Calgary swim team.”

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Unpredictable employment spreads to white-collar jobs once considered realms of stability

The Canadian Press (CBC News)

They're part-time employees without health benefits or pensions who work split shifts at a number of different locations each week. From one paycheque to the next, their income fluctuates, as do their hours.

These aren't workers hustling behind fast-food counters or holding down other McJobs. They're aspiring librarians, often with at least one master's degree.

A university degree is not a get-out-of-jail-free card from the perils of insecure employment. Precarious work, often associated with service-sector jobs, is spreading to jobs that were once considered realms of stable employment with benefits and pensions to boot.

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Small business would benefit under Basic Income: Sylvain Henry

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Sylvain Henry, a trained biochemist, inventor, and recruiter who is trying to create new opportunities for the Canadian business community with his 10-week ‘business trek.’

Benns: Tell us a little about your business trek.

Henry: Businesstrek is a 10-week bus trek across Canada to “blaze a trail for business tourism” that will boost the Canadian economy from the ground up. The primary goal of the trek is to discover, attract and create new opportunities for Canadian businesses and individuals, and then share this bounty online and during these travels.

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Improving capitalism: the promise of a basic income guarantee

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Michael Schmidt, a Canadian entrepreneur, chemist and engineer. He was previously the founder and CEO of Listn, a mobile music startup based in Los Angeles California before its multimillion dollar acquisition by Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment. He is now the CEO of Dovetale.com, a partner at PurifAid, a board member of K-Swiss and a member of the Canadian Leadership Committee for the G20. 

Benns: From your perspective as an entrepreneur, why is the concept of a basic income guarantee useful to society?

Schmidt: Basic income is all about voice. Some people want more while some people want less. By guaranteeing everyone has the absolute minimum you can guarantee, as a nation that the basic needs of life are met. It’s a win-win for the market and those who are in the market. It’s a fundamental improvement on capitalism and even democracy, because everyone now has a minimum amount of voice.

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Redefining work as a measure of our identity in the world

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Michael Vertolli, a PhD student at Carleton University who studies artificial intelligence in relation to human cognition. He believes that basic income is one of the only ways to move forward in a future of large-scale automation.

Benns: What is the connection between automation and basic income? Why should we be considering this social policy change based on automation trends — hasn’t this always been predicted and yet we still seem to have jobs?

Vertolli: The short answer is that the belief that “we still seem to have jobs” is a misleading perception held by people whose jobs have yet to get significantly affected. This means it is held by people in the middle-class range with medium-difficulty jobs that require one to think. The problem is systems like AlphaGo, Google’s Artificial Intelligence that just beat the world champion at Go, demonstrate that even these tasks can now be learned by sufficiently powerful AIs.

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Basic income doesn't emphasize divisions between poor and working people: PhD candidate

Roderick Benns recently interviewed David Calnitsky, who is a Canadian PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, completing his thesis on the Mincome experiment with basic income. The experiment took place in the 1970s in Dauphin, Manitoba. He has recently published part of it as an article: “More Normal than Welfare”: The Mincome Experiment, Stigma, and Community Experience.”

Benns: What were two or three of the most revealing aspects of the Dauphin, MB experiment with basic income, in terms of how it changed people’s lives?

Calnitsky: My recent paper is on social stigma, and broadly, the “dignity problem,” which I think gets insufficient attention in these debates. Participants with experience in the welfare system wrote about the pervasive indignities inflicted on them. Meanwhile, when asked about Mincome, people viewed the program as a pragmatic source of assistance. According to people’s accounts, participating in Mincome didn’t damage your standing in the community.

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