Work hard, get rich: the neoliberal fantasy

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Pat Watson By Pat Watson
Thursday May 14 2015



One of the driving messages we hear today is that if we just work hard enough, if we just don’t quit trying, then whatever we aim for will eventually become ours to claim. It is such a motivating message. It is the kind of message that finds favour among the kind of people who leave their homelands and travel to new regions in search of a better life.

These pioneering types are prepared to give it their all to make a better life for themselves and their children in a new land.

It is a message that neo-liberals would like us all to swallow whole. We are all in charge of our destinies and whatever happens to us, good or bad, is the result of our own actions or inaction.

Really? Is that what the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was all about? Individuals empowering themselves?

Ask the people who enjoyed a middle class lifestyle, putting their eight to 10 hours of hard work on a daily basis, how much that work ethic now benefits them.

We are now living with the consequences of large policy decisions, trade deals such as NAFTA. These agreements, pushed by capitalists and dressed up as job opportunities for masses of workers to sustain employment and job growth, are nothing of the sort. Politicians will try to buy votes with talk of these job creation initiatives, but the fact is that what they are structured to do is to put more money into the pockets of those who have the power and the means to direct government policy. That is not you or me, Mr. and Ms. Underpaid, Underemployed person.

Too many of us have bought into the feel good fantasy of the American cum Canadian, dream when in reality, what we have left for us to dream with is that $5 (and for many people much more) weekly voluntary tax we call the lottery.

Recently, I was able to find myself in a small Caribbean nation suffering the long drawn out effects of the colonial aftermath. There, the fantasy still flourishes of coming to North America, making lots and lots of money, then returning to a comfortable life in the old country.

Ask anyone who came here in the 1970s from the Caribbean how that fantasy has worked out. There are those who will tell you it went well. There is still a far greater number waiting for a spot in subsidized housing because they are having a hard time paying rent and buying food at the same time. And, it is not because they came here with the intention of having a cushy ride and coasting on this country’s ever diminishing social safety net.

So those business deals made between the powers that be that affect the lives of the faceless millions have a great deal to do with how we are faring. Never mind the “work hard, become successful” notion.

In fact, any person who has found that level of success has arrived there through the contributions of many along with his or her own hard work. The thousands who either lost their lives or were injured in the factory disasters in Bangladesh in late April 2013 all contributed to the wealth of the factory owners and the companies that hired them – a $1,200 billion annual industry that pays the mostly female workers a few dollars for their 12 to 14-hour workday.

We can be sure those women, who are now doing the garment factory work that used to occupy a lot of space on Spadina Avenue, are working just as hard as those big dreamers did here before their jobs were shipped off, thanks to the benevolent job creation initiatives signed by politicians and big business. The American/Canadian dream, indeed.

A note on reparations…

How marvelous that France has decided to forgive Haiti’s debt. It’s a start. Next, France should pay Haiti reparations. Haiti is not the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere by chance. The downward spiral began with France’s demand in 1825 for payment of 90 million gold francs ($50-billion by today’s standards) from Haiti for loss of property (the slaves following emancipation). The demand was punctuated with 12 warships fully armed with cannons, after the historic Haitian revolution. Jean-Bertrand Aristide notably made a call for reparations in 2003.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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