The Urban Worker Project: A new organization for new forms of work

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Andrew Cash. He was a member of Parliament from 2011 to 2015, and he is a co-founder of the Urban Worker Project.

It should not be news to anybody that work, jobs, and the economy have changed a lot over the last few decades. Lots of people were excluded from them even then, but during the post-Second World War economic boom, many people could at least aspire to the new and unprecedented layer of secure, regular, well-paying jobs with good benefits and a pension. Today, however, fewer and fewer such jobs exist. In the 21st century, jobs that fail to give access to security and prosperity are increasingly becoming the norm (though even within that, there is a broad range of kinds of work, kinds of jobs, and intensities of marginalization and exploitation).

Before Andrew Cash was an MP, he spent more than 25 years cobbling together a living in one corner of the broad umbrella that is precarious work, in his case in the arts and culture sector. In fact, it was an interest in getting meaningful government action around the needs of what he has come to think of as "urban workers" that initially inspired him to enter electoral politics. By that category, he means contract, freelance and micro-self-employed workers, often in areas like arts, culture and knowledge work (which includes things like freelance journalism, precarious academic labour, and much contract work in the not-for-profit sector). Though workers in these areas are often assumed to be middle-class, the picture tends to be much more complex than the image of easy and stable economic well-being that we still often associate with that label. Even if wages and conditions for some of them are often better than in more marginal forms of precarious work, urban workers still generally have no job security, no benefits, no access to sick days, no pension, no access to the protection of employment standards, and not even particularly good access to social programs should a crisis hit them or their family.

As an MP, Cash tabled and worked to generate considerable community support for a multi-faceted private member's bill that, had it passed, would have started the federal government down the path of addressing these issues. After losing his seat in the election last October, Cash decided that he couldn't just let these issues drop, and he and a small group of other urban workers launched the Urban Worker Project in March of 2016. It aims to animate and frame public conversations around the struggles of freelance, contract and self-employed workers; to build community and a cohesive constituency of such workers, both online and through in-person events across the country; and to mobilize people in support of specific campaigns and demands.

Cash talks with me about his own experiences of precarious work in the arts and culture sector, about the importance of doing more to protect and support workers in a radically changed world of work, and about the Urban Worker Project.

To learn more about the Urban Worker Project, 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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