With this publication, we want workers to see the commonality in our struggles across workplaces, across the city, across industries and across countries. We want to find our common interests so we can come together to organize autonomously against capital, our common enemy.
Colette Ivize is a service sector worker with two part-time jobs she needs to supplement her Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits in order to survive. Colette has spent a lot of time thinking about how society is organized and has a solid understanding of exploitation and oppression.
The main areas of struggle for Colette are:
• Accelerated work pace and low pay
• Unpaid time
• Intergenerational struggle
Accelerated work pace and low pay
Colette: I filled hundreds of resumes, and in the last three years, these are the only two that have picked me up. Anyway, so xxxxxxx…that's one, and the other one is a cooking/cleaning job with xxxxxxx. xxxxxxx is an interesting one because I am working basically for the president of the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, and his wife and children....And what I do is I go in the afternoon and I cook their supper from scratch, it's always from scratch, and I do laundry, cleaning, or whatever has to be done, vacuuming, whatever. They live in a palace. It's got six bathrooms and [laughs]....it's quite, quite big and very...nice. The children are very lovely. I enjoy the children. I never see the parents....Once in a while, I'll get a note from the mother, just detailing what she wants done, but…I find it's way too much work for what it is. Way too much work. Really, to do a proper meal- I'm presented with a new recipe every single day. Every single day! So…I don't have a sort of a...hold on how I'm gonna do it. I don't even know where things are half the time in the house, 'cause she's got so much, they've got so much....So, it's like a three course meal. And, I have to get that done, cleaned up, vacuum....Then on Mondays, what I do is I change the beds...one king size, two doubles, and they're very heavy. Change the beds, bring the laundry down, do the laundry, and get their meal done, in two hours. It's almost impossible. And I do that [five days a week]. And I just feel like I'm...run off my feet. Mind you, I have a certain agency, because I'm there alone. I don't have somebody looking over my shoulder, but I'm responsible for them not...getting poisoned, y'know, or, being able to eat. It's a little bit of a stress when I know who they are....But, I'm sure they vetted all of Sudbury to find the cheapest service, because I thought, getting into this job, I'd be working for a senior. These people aren't seniors. I’m the senior, which is the ironic part of this.
My impression was I'd be...dealing with one person alone in their home, or one person...alone in whatever institution...and I'd be catering to whatever their needs were, and on a very simplified level, but this....Not full families.
The...xxxxxxx president is not a senior…he's looking for just a cheap solution- And he's got a hell of a lot of fucking money, and he can pay more. He's not paying his rent...he doesn't pay utilities. What the hell does he pay? At least, he could pay for his dinner.
Rachael: And when you described that you're expected to make a new meal every day...you never do a repeat?
Colette: I never do a repeat.
Rachael: Because that's not the way people eat.
Colette: And it's all from scratch.
Rachael: Are those ingredients there ready for you?
Colette: I've gotta find them. It's a big house. It's a big kitchen.... [The ingredients are] not always available, so I have to sort of-
Rachael: So you have to apply...some creativity?
Colette: The thing that I find hard with the job is timing....There's so much to do, and so much happening on the stoves and...this huge layout in the kitchen....I'm not used to working with a lot of the appliances....I do my own scraping of carrots and things. No, they've got these whiz-banging machines. I almost cut my finger off the first time. And dishwashers- no, I wash my own dishes....I kind of have to be techno-savvy in this place 'cause I don't know half these things....But timing is everything....So, when you're cooking, you can be cleaning something else, it's all timing, timing, timing, because the kids have to be fed when [they] come home by ten to four, their food is on the table by twenty after four, and then I leave at four-thirty. So, there's a lot of timing involved.
Rachael: And so the parents eat later?
Colette: I leave it in the warmer.
Rachael: Oh, there's a warmer?
Colette: Yeah, there's a warmer [laughs]. Of course! So, somebody said to me, "Oh, so you're making their lunch AND their supper." I said, "No, I'm just making their supper." But, actually, what...happens...I'm making enough that I thought, yeah.
Rachael: So…they can bring leftovers the next day?
Colette: Oh, I'm sure, I'm sure, because there's quite a lot. Not all the time, but quite often.... It's all organic. I mean, shit, I wanna put something in my mouth every once in a while, but I don't dare. They've probably got cameras or something.
Rachael: So, you're not permitted to eat what you make?
Colette: Never....He is president of the xxxxxxx. She is superintendent of the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx. So, I'm dealing with two professionals who are totally insinuated in the system....It's just the level of...sheer inequality here. They're making five hundred thousand. The two girls before me quit. Well, of course! Because it's too much work!
Rachael: Do you get...what you'll be cooking the next day the previous day?
Rachael: You get to know what you're cooking when you arrive?
Colette: Right....That's the problem. It's all timing. I have to get my handle on this recipe, because there's a layout. You have to know how this is gonna settle....They don't get it.
Rachael: Oh, I think they get it. They're just expecting you to jump through hoops to do it.
Colette: They're disgusting...these really rich people. They make five hundred thousand plus...whatever investments they have, and all that bullshit....But yeah, so, that's that job, and, uhm, I don't know how long I'll do it.
Rachael: How long have you been doing it?
Colette: A month and a half….I brought this to xxxxxxx. I said, "You know what? I think I should be paid a little more." I actually brought that right to them second week. I thought they'd- and I thought: okay, I'm just gonna do that, and they wanna kick me out, fine, 'cause this is, y'know- No. They said, "Well, we might consider thirteen dollars instead of twelve.".... So, I went online to look up what does a cook make? Twelve dollars an hour! And I thought, oh boy...this is really crazy, this, uh, wage inequity.
Rachael: So, there's a business now in precarious work?
Colette: Yes. Just grab somebody from there, grab somebody, but there's no idea of a permanent job, or a long-term position, or full working hours, or decent pay. None of that.
I think it's really despicable that if xxxxxxx's service is designed for seniors, and these guys are being allowed to use it just because they're the president and 'cause they wanna try and make more money.
And they pay shit.
They would be paying maybe twenty bucks an hour, because the service takes a cut.
Rachael: Then the company...skims off the top?
Colette: Well, it might be more than the top. It might be the top half.... [The work] is hard, but...that is the contradiction: some of the hardest jobs are the most poorly paid.
Colette: For my tutoring job, I work with xxxxxxx, and I really wish I was a math whiz, because it would be so simple, the job would be so simple, but...I'm doing English. So I get high school...English, which usually means I'm getting…kids in…[grade] 11 and 12…but I have to ramp up for grade 11 and 12 Shakespeare. Usually, it's around Shakespeare. I've been out of...high school for at least forty years now, and so my ramp must take more than three or four hours a week, and I get paid for one hour. I'm not within the school system where I can just, y'know, just go up and offer my two bits, that kind of thing. So it's a little tricky. I wouldn't mind tutoring…anything else, anything else than English, but it always has to do with Shakespeare.
Rachael: So, it's one hour a day, that job?
Colette: No, no, no, no. One hour a week...per student.
Rachael: How many students?
Colette: Well, I had three last year, but now I'm down to one, 'cause I only had that job. I have to watch very carefully though, because if I make over a certain amount, Disability [ODSP] cuts me in half....It's really disgusting....You're within a little box, parameters, and you're not allowed to move forward. But if you don't get that little extra bit, you can hardly survive....It's just a disgusting system.
Rachael: And when you talked to xxxxxxx about the fact that you have prep time?
Colette: They said, "Oh, well...that's our job. We're to trying to fit people that...have more in common with their students....I thought, okay, well, you'd better find a teacher that's in the system.
Rachael: They’re taking your prep money by matching?
Colette: That's another- they take money too...off the top, because the parents pay more than what we get....There's all these middle men.
Colette: Exactly! Basically, they're both the same...very precarious one-off jobs....[Regarding the tutoring job], the parent buys a block of...three months, so you go every week for three months, or, when the teachers were out, I went twice a week....But yeah, so they buy a block, so you can count on this little dribble of money. But in a way, it's the only way that I can dance with ODSP.
You're allowed 200, and then they- they're supposed to cough in another hundred.....It's well below poverty. If you make 300, they take 50 off that extra hundred.
Rachael: You described how your daughter is not working in her field....This is a big way that capitalists are offloading the current crisis…onto parents. So how does that impact your life?
Colette: She gets that the situation is tough....And she's now in full-time working over at xxxxxxx, so she definitely helps with paying for stuff, but I end up buying all our food....I'm spending 700 bucks a month which I don't have....And gas....She's paying the lease on the car, I pay the gas....I pay a few utilities, she pays the taxes, so we kind of divvy the stuff up like that, but...I launch into being...high school kid's parent again....She's exhausted, she comes home.... She does her workout....She still wants to go out with her friends....I've shifted back into realizing that I just...kinda cope, I just do as much for her so she's not as stressed....I do all the shopping, I do all the kind of domestic stuff....She's realized how hard it is finding work. She's taking an extra course at xxxxxxx…so she wants to keep her hand in xxxxxxx….She's not gonna find a job up here in that, though....And the tragedy is with the sale of the house...I have a huge mortgage to pay off....All we've been able to do is pay the principal....I don't even know if we can pay rent! xxxxx and I are just going to have to keep working as hard as we can at these minimum wage jobs.
I don't necessarily see it as bad, because I think people did live in...extended generations, and the privatizing of living...that has recently happened...is now having to turn in on itself...because of economics.
But it does create a schism when the young people feel that- well, even my generation might feel: oh well, we want the kids out the house...I'm in a situation where I love having my daughter because it's been helpful and I'm alone and I like having her there periodically...I like knowing that she's there.
Update: Colette was fired from her cooking and
cleaning job at xxxxxxx.
Her boss called her to say her cooking was fine but that her cleaning was
insufficient: laundry should be done even when there isn’t a full load
and dishes should be washed by machine and not by hand. (Colette had struggled
to operate the commercial dishwasher and so instead did the dishes by hand.)
When Colette questioned the amount of work and the fact that the client
was not a senior, she was told it wouldn’t “work out” and to hand her shirt
in. (Colette had to wear a company shirt at work.) I asked Colette if she
wanted to struggle to get her job back. She did not. She was relieved to
be rid of this job, as I’m sure the next person will be.
With this type of company, the boss doesn’t even have to pretend to have any commitment to workers. Not only is this work incredibly precarious, it has disorganizing workers built in to it – by keeping workers apart. This is all the more reason to organize!
If we can’t organize at the workplace level we
can still organize on a local level, bringing together as many precarious
workers together as we can in order to figure out what we can do about
these working conditions collectively. This is an important aspect of building
a working class-led mass movement.
Workers Struggle-Sudbury is edited by Rachael Charbonneau and John Newlands and is published monthly.