A starving salary

The quirks and contradictions of the time are exposed to who better the better in the consumerist orgy which is starting again. This series looks at a few inexpensive items and services that are used and wasted now, this time of year, and year round. First case: underpaid labor.

Moisson Montreal collects food, lots and lots of food, then helps distribute the big stuff among the cripples of the system. The health crisis swelled their ranks, and the charity increased its deliveries by 42% in 2020 compared to the previous year, to finally exceed 20 million kilos distributed. This year, the increase will be around 20% compared to 2019.

“The cause of hunger is poverty,” says Richard D. Daneau, general manager of Moisson Montreal, met in his huge 11,000 square meter headquarters near the Décarie interchange, a Walmart of compassion redeveloped with warehouses, refrigerators and even a laboratory to test the quality of the meats. That day was the famous Ugly Sweaters Day, and many cross reapers respected the concept by abusing their right to bad taste.

“Rent is compulsory for everyone,” continues the director. For food, you can skip a meal or get help from loved ones before deciding to pounce on your pride and go to the food counter. No one does that out of heart. I am convinced that going in line to beg for food is not a lifestyle choice. “

The merciful manna of Moisson Montreal, once disseminated by nearly 300 partner community organizations, responds to more than 710,000 individual requests for assistance each month. Children make up a third of the beneficiaries. And one in six supported people work …

We repeat: 15% of food aid seekers use this vital service because their salary simply does not allow them to eat adequately. The number of beneficiaries in this paradoxical situation even increased by a quarter during the pandemic.

Work and stay poor

In this rich country we can therefore work and stay poor. There are approximately 800,000 employees paid less than $ 15 an hour in Quebec, including approximately 300,000 at the minimum wage set at $ 13.50 now.

Maxim is among the underprivileged. Christmas is approaching and he is delivering a large number of packages for a small company subcontracting to larger companies. He lives with his mother, a nurse’s aide, and two young sisters. His salary at the minimum hourly rate helps make ends meet for the family who does not go to food banks.

Maxim left college at the start of the health crisis; he didn’t want to take the online courses. “I found this job that allowed me to stay outside when everyone was locked up,” said the young man hailed between two clients on the Plateau-Mont-Royal. “There was less traffic at the start of the crisis,” he says. Now it has become more difficult to move around again. “

The pandemic has at least served to make more visible these shadow workers who work hard for peanuts sometimes in companies bathed in luxury. The job offer of the restaurant Au Pied de Cochon for a cook minimum wage (the industry average is $ 19 an hour) has concentrated this image of a surplus-value mill.

Global capitalism was built and still rests on this intense exploitation of labor. Raj Patel, tutelary figure of the present series with his book How our world got cheap (Flammarion 2018), points out that everything fits and gets stuck in the black cauldron of the cheap.

“Workers are poorly paid, if at all, for absurd and dangerous work,” he said in an interview on the “cheapization” of the world. But also, workers do not survive on low wages without cheap food. You need cheap energy to run the chicken coop. You need cheap money to be able to finance franchises… ”

Precarious intellectuals

The pandemic, like the time of overconsumption at the end of the year, is exposing this economic universe ad nauseam. “We have the impression that with the crisis no one can ignore the great disparities in income in our society,” comments Marie-Pierre Boucher, labor sociologist, professor and director of the Department of Industrial Relations at the University of Quebec in Outaouais (UQO). With the pandemic, we can no longer hide our face on the inequalities in the sexual division of domestic work or in the public space. Two years later, I wonder if we’ve really learned the right lessons. “

She cites the example of telework structured by class issues since only certain more or less privileged categories have the benefit of benefiting from it while others deliver them packages, educate their children, take care of the sick. “Is teleworking really the most important way of thinking about work in our society today ?, asks the professor. Shouldn’t we focus more on the conditions that affect workers at the bottom of the ladder? “

Whoever educates himself does not necessarily get richer. Publishing houses, newsrooms and classrooms are filled with precarious intellectuals. They don’t pedal to deliver packages, sure, but they too are underpaid to run the system.

“Lecturers teach between 40% and 75% of undergraduate courses in universities in Quebec, Canada, and around the world,” she says. These are poorly protected and low-paying jobs. The world of higher education survives on precarious work. It is really fascinating. And it’s even worse in CEGEPs with extreme precariousness. “

Free work

The fact remains that basically the worst exploited job remains the one that is not paid at all. Capitalism has also always rested on a triple exploitation, as Raj Patel still says: that of natural resources, that of “human resources” and free labor. care, fsupplied by women most often. Domestic work, for example, or the role of caregiver. Feminists are bluntly talking about free work. Professor Boucher, just as feminist, does not really endorse this reading.

“Working less for pay to maintain meaning in human life is one thing,” she said. Unpaid salaried work is quite another thing. Being underpaid under the pretext of a love of work, or “outperforming” to stay competitive seems more meaningful to me. Artists are becoming the vanguard of these forms of free labor. “

People on the other end of the spectrum don’t complain. The gap between the richest and the poorest has widened further in the pandemic. The 400 largest US billionaires will see their collective fortunes increased by 40% in 2021.

M. Daneau has his opinion on this iniquitous world. Obviously, wealth redistribution policies are the best way to improve living conditions for the greatest number. Only, he recalls, part of the means of his charity is indeed provided by rich and even very rich people.

“The capitalist model is not perfect,” says the managing director. He has limits. It is neither fair nor equitable. But at the margin we can do things. It can be shocking that people are getting richer, but we are supported by great foundations here. During COVID, in the first year, we donated $ 36 million more in food than the year before. “

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