Demanding workplace dignity, not just a higher minimum wage

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Deena Ladd and Winnie Mah. They are both active in the Fight for $15 and Fairness, an Ontario-wide initiative that is mobilizing low-wage workers to win an increase in the minimum wage while at the same time pushing the provincial government to address the complex web of other indignities facing low-wage, part-time, temporary, and precarious workers that a wage increase alone would not fix.

Efforts by low-wage workers to increase their wages are among the most common kinds of campaigns happening in North America these days. Some of these campaigns are directed at employers, but many of the largest have focused on getting governments to raise the mandated minimum that employers are allowed to pay -- the minimum wage. The cry "Fight for $15!" has been heard in jurisdictions across the continent, and has won victories -- albeit mostly partial -- in more than a few places.

Yet despite how broadly that demand resonates, there have also been some voices of caution among workers and their supporters -- people who definitely endorse the idea that working full-time should earn enough to get you out of poverty, but who also recognize that there are a series of other interrelated problems with how more and more waged work is organized today, and with what employers can get away with doing to workers, that changes in the minimum wage alone will not remedy.

During and after a campaign focused on the minimum wage in Ontario a few years ago, the Toronto Workers Action Centre -- one of the lead organizations in the broad coalition driving that campaign -- heard all about these complex, interconnected problems and the importance of addressing them. As they geared up last year for a renewed minimum wage fight, they seized on an Ontario government decision to consult the public around revamping basic employment standards in the province. As a result, last year an even broader coalition of workers, supporters, and organizations came together not just to "Fight for $15", but to "Fight for $15 and Fairness" -- for an increase in the minimum wage that would begin to lift workers out of poverty, and for a series of other changes in employment law in Ontario that would give the increasing number of workers in precarious, part-time, and low-wage jobs a bit more dignity and respect in the workplace. This includes paid sick days, better provisions around scheduling, better enforcement of employment standards, better protections from unjust dismissal, an end to exemptions from workplace protections for many classes of work, and much more. The campaign, which has been happening in at least 20 communities across Ontario, has included a combination of actions on the street, demands focused on the provincial consultation, and amplifying the voices of workers through mainstream, grassroots, and social media.

Deena Ladd is a long-time organizer with the Toronto Workers Action Centre. Winnie Mah worked for many years in the retail sector and for the last year has been active in a variety of capacities with the Centre. Both are very involved in the Fight for $15 and Fairness. They talk with me about the difficult realities faced by precarious, part-time, and low-wage workers in Ontario; about the nuts and bolts of the campaign; and about their vision of dignity and an end to poverty for all workers.

To learn more about the Fight for $15 and Fairness, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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