What to Watch; What to Read…

And Breathe Normally, is breath-taking.  This Icelandic film  features a near-destitute single mother Lara, who is trying to raise her 7 year old son. When she can’t afford the rent, she and her son leave their apartment to go on what Lara calls a “big adventure” — meaning driving, sleeping and eating in her car.   As luck would have it, she lands a job as an Icelandic border service agent at the airport.  But somehow she needs to get to work, washed, and in uniform after dropping her son at school– all without letting on she’s homeless.  Her first or second day at work, she helps to “bust” an African woman, Adja,  who uses a  false passport in a bid to take a connecting flight to Toronto where she wants to seek asylum.  We see that the protocols for Adja’s gaining refugee status on landing in Iceland are  not much different — nor more humane — than those in Canada.  Somehow Lara and Adja’s lives connect then intertwine on a very deep level.  This is an outstanding film.  Watch it on Netflix.  Here’s the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47WvcQ6Mb1U

Walmart: Diary of an Associate is the first book about being a salesclerk or “an associate” at a Canadian Walmart store.  Written by veteran La Presse journalist Hugo Meunier, he does what too few journalists get to do — he goes underground and works as an associate for 3 months at the St Leonard store, just outside of Montreal.  This book is first in other ways.  He describes the day to day grind, the incredible poverty of his co-workers, the drive by management for the store to haul in at least $200,000 a day in sales (especially in the run-up to Christmas), walmartand what a Christmas party for Walmart “family” (staff) is like.  We experience a lot through his eyes, and through his ironic and excellent writing.  The first thing is because he is fit, able and well-organized, he  is all but promoted to “lead hand” status — which of course for the purpose of the experiment he does not want.  He hauls hundreds of pounds of frozen food, inside the store and into the freezers; he fields crazy and nasty questions and rebukes from the shoppers, and his work days drag by.  He earns minimum wage of $10.08 per hour (minimum wage in Quebec at the time) plus an extra $1.00 for his experience working in a supermarket when he was in high school.  This brings his wage to $11.08 an hour, or about $18,000 a year! The work and the conditions exhaust him. He needs to park in the outer edge of the carpark, otherwise the other staff will see he drives a late model and decent car — which none of them could afford on their wages.  Most associates take two or more buses merely to get to work  — the long hours means many associates (even those who are single parents with small kids) have to start their shift as early as 4 or 5 in the morning.  This necessitates taking a taxi — which costs them  three to four to  hours’ wages– every day.  Diary of an Associate is an excellent book — a must for students of labour relations, sociology, anthropology and even history!   I bought the book for $21, it’s a Fernwood book, translated from French.

I also read a thriller-mystery and legal drama, Dark Lady,  by the veteran novelist James Patterson North. dark-ladyUnlike some of his other books — none of this takes place in a  court room. But it is an excellent read for all of us in Halifax who are fighting against a stadium built with public funds.  In fact the situation in the imaginary city of Steelton (much like Buffalo, NY, or Cleveland) seems very similar to our situation here.  First with the debacle of the commercial Wanderers soccer team using public space on the Commons for a pittance, and then the big push for a stadium.  The book centres on a female district attorney, who is a bit hidebound and very career driven, her former lover — a clever lawyer who plays fast and loose, and dazzling levels of corruption in senior police and city government.  When her ex-boyfriend is found dead, Stella starts to investigate.  But she does not have the social capital needed to actually find out what happened.  As a formerly sheltered Catholic school girl from a poor Polish family, she cannot read the rich and the powerful.  Nor can she match them at their games.  The help she enlists puts her in more danger.  The book also looks at the all too visible “colour bar” in Steelton, and the huge disparity between blacks and whites there.  The book is clever and  veers into deeply troubling and deeply realistic issues in our very own city. I got the book as an e-book from the Halifax library.

Hurricane Fallout: School Closures & Comfort Centres

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – There are more questions than answers about what took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

See also: Judy Haiven: Hurricane hardship in the workplace

First let’s tackle the business about school closures, and then we’ll look at who supports “comfort centres” for Nova Scotians without power.

On Monday, there was no school throughout the province – no elementary, no secondary, no post-secondary.  Nova Scotia was trying to catch its breath.

On Tuesday, there was no school for elementary students anywhere in NS. Of course in some communities it was a matter of safety.  Downed electrical wires, broken and leaning trees, flooding and no electricity – that meant no schools should have been open in those areas.

However why wasn’t school open in relatively safe Halifax for example?  Or in Lunenburg? One possible reason is this: 21 months ago, with a stroke of a pen, Premier Stephen McNeil  decided to abolish the province’s seven school boards. He replaced them with an “advisory council” composed of members handpicked by Zach Churchill, the Minister of Education, who are more or less guaranteed not to cause any grief.

The Nova Scotia Liberals now control all schools directly –it’s just easier to do the one size fits all:  decree that all the schools are closed, no matter the local conditions.

As Hank Middleton the former president of the NS School Boards Association (now defunct) said about McNeil’s decision:  “We’ve gone from educational democracy to educational bureaucracy. It drives me crazy that [in] the province of Joseph Howe and responsible government we’re eliminating elected school boards.”

Comfort Centres

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, there were more than 50 “comfort centres” set up around the province.  Open for varying but limited hours in community fire stations, town halls and empty storefronts, comfort centres allowed residents without power to charge their phones, get a hot drink and amuse their kids with TV for a while.  But who exactly pays for these comfort centres – certainly not NS Power! In fact the centres are kept open by volunteers who staff them, and supply coffee, snacks and water. Can anyone explain why NS Power – a huge for-profit power monopoly in NS which declared $3 billion dollars in profits over the last 25 years  – does not at the least pick up the pay for comfort centres?

Thanks to NS Advocate for publishing my two stories on  Hurricane Dorian.

 

Hurricane Dorian — Hardship in the Workplace

Because of Hurricane Dorian most shops, bars and stores were closed from at least last Saturday at noon until the following Tuesday. Depending on whether or not there was electricity or damage, many shops and services did not re-open till later Tuesday or even Wednesday.

Does anyone pay workers when they can’t work due to “weather”? Hourly paid workers – such as bar, restaurant, and coffee shop employees simply do not get paid. This week, they could lose nearly half their week’s pay (and tips), due to the closures. Some more conscientious employers do try to compensate their employees, but those employers are few and far between.

Just as the public got stuck with having to throw away often hundreds of dollars worth of milk, vegetables, eggs and frozen food in their own fridges and freezers which went bad or thawed because of a lack of electricity, so too did restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores. No doubt employers or owners who grouse about their business food losses are not thinking much about their employees who are now going without pay.

About 73% of workers in Nova Scotia are covered by the meager protections and benefits set set out in Nova Scotia Labour Standards. I scoured the Labour Standards Code only to confirm that employers have no obligation to pay their staff – when the premises are closed due to “weather”, lack of power, or flooding. Essentially, if workers don’t work, they do not get paid.

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The other 27% of NS workers are union members, so they benefit from better working conditions and wages which are negotiated by their unions. Some, especially those on salary, they will get paid, even when weather made it impossible to go to work.

Statistics Canada reveals that across Canada and in Nova Scotia the most common occupation for women is retail salesperson. But most of them work part time, don’t earn as much or get promoted as often as men who work in retail. With the malls and shops closed in the wake of the hurricane, women especially lost hours and income. The most common job for men is truck driving. While drivers lost routes and days because of the storm, overall men are paid more, and typically rely on full time jobs.

The clean-up of Hurricane Dorian adds to GDP (Gross Domestic Product). As long as money is spent fixing shingles, drying basements, chopping up downed trees and taking down a construction crane – it adds to the economy. However for all those retail workers, cashiers, servers and bartenders – Hurricane Dorian proved to be a financial disaster.Hur

Hong Kong vs Gaza– Don’t touch the ‘3rd rail’

 

This is the 13thweek that protests are taking place in Hong Kong. Since the CBC has one reporter in Beijing and one in Hong Kong, they report on the protests every night – live on our TV news.hong-kong1

What started out as a single demand to kill a bill that would allow extradition of miscreants to Beijing, it has now morphed into other demands including one for “fully democratic elections” for the one-time British colony.  Though Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has now rescinded the extradition bill, she insists she will go no further in political reforms.

Every night what Lam calls “radical protesters”  throw Molotov Cocktails,  corrosive liquids and bricks at the police.  The protestors set fire to institutions, mob the subways and airport, and set barricades on fire. hong-kong3

In the last two weeks, Hong Kong police have fired more than 1800 rounds of tear gas.  Police shoot water cannons filled with blue-dyed water to stain demonstrators in order to make them more visible to authorities.

Internet sources claim eleven have died as a result of the protests, with four of them taking their own lives for reasons that are unclear.  Virtually no one has been seriously injured.HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-CRIME

Compare the Hong Kong situation to Gaza where there have been thousands who have protested every Friday for the last 74 weeks. Do Canadians know? Has there been weekly coverage on the CBC or on any media outlet?  Far from it.

However, 17 months ago, on 31 March, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great March of Return.  The people of Gaza – who live in what Noam Chomsky and others call the largest open-air prison in the world– decided to peacefully march to the border fence with Israel. Their demands are an end to the 12 years’ siege of Gaza, and the right for refugees to be allowed to return to their homes.  Every Friday for 74 weeks, tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians march to the border with Israel to stand there. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) have shot, killed and maimed thousands of these civilians. More than a dozen medics,  including Dr Tarek Loubani, a Canadian doctor from London, Ont., have been injured.    Gaza13

(above) Ibraheem Abu Thuraya: an Israeli airstrike took his legs in 2008, and took his life in 2017.

To date, Israeli snipers have killed more than 220 Palestinians, 43 of whom were children.  With live ammunition, the IDF shot and injured 6300 Palestinians; more than 120 of whom had have had limbs amputated as a result.  Subscribing to an “open-fire policy”, Israeli-fired tear gas canisters have smashed at least than 1600 people in the head – killing dozens.  In the last year, Israeli airstrikes have destroyed 30 Palestinian homes and damaged more than 500.

The CBC and other mainstream media has got behind the “little guy” in the David and Goliath story of Hong Kong vs mainland China.  Especially in the first weeks, the media was rooting for the students and families who wanted “democracy” for Hong Kong – meaning resistance to Chinese “Communist” authorities. gaza11

But what of Gaza?  There was not one instance in which the Canadian media empathized with the hundreds of thousands there who demonstrated peacefully for their rights.  The destruction of Gaza and its population was dropped from the news because our media’s pro-Israel bias is so ingrained that they do not need to be told what not to cover.

Recently the media has covered rather harmless clashes between Chinese Canadians who favour the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong and the Chinese Canadians who support the government in Beijing.   But that same media has consistently refused to cover the scores of demonstrations across Canada in support of Palestinians’ rights in the Occupied Territories and Gaza.

Why is that?  How, in all conscience, can the Canadian media stir the sympathy pot for Hong Kong and totally ignore the genocide going on in Gaza?

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One clue is the backlash of the pro-Israel lobby in Canada and the US.  More than one  producer at the CBC  has said that every time they run a story on Gaza, the backlash from Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), “Honest Reporting” and various other right-wing media is so intense,  it is “not worth it.”

Also there may be the little issue of race: like many people in Canada, I grew up with the media’s portrayal of Arabs (read Palestinians) as violent, knife-wielding and backward. On the other hand, Israelis were portrayed as cultured, western and exemplified by Paul Newman in the film Exodus.  For decades Palestinians and all Arabs have been labeled terrorists – you just need to look at the false arrests, and the incarceration of many Arab-Canadians (and many more Arab-Americans) in the wake of 9-11.  Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization, but it’s been the elected government of Gaza since 2006.

What we have is an abject failure by the media and frankly Canada to grapple with the contradiction in front of us right now.  The continued coverage –cheered on by the media — about Hong Kong’s rebellion against mainland China, versus the near absolute media silence about the tens of thousands who continue to stand up to what the UN has called an illegal and brutal occupation of Gaza—now in its 75thweek.

The Israel and Palestine issue is the “third rail” of Canadian politics. Touch it and you will be electrocuted.  Better, then– as far as the media is concerned —  to give it a wide berth.

What to Watch, What to Read

It’s well worth watching I am not an Easy Man on Netflix.  This French film turns the tables on the typical French “love affair” based film.  Instead it shows what happens when women run the companies, run the bedrooms, and run everyday French life.  And when men are forced to be subservient, cute, caregivers.  The acting’s great, and it’s a lot of fun.

It reminds me of another great “reversal” themed film White Man’s Burden featuring Harry Belafonte.  In this alternate universe of the US, black people run the country and whites live in fear of attack, police brutality, and worse.  It’s scary and very clever. Buy it second hand on Amazon.ca White_Mans_Burden

On my trip to Cape Breton, on Netflix I watched Tim Robinson’s very funny skits on a delightful series called  I think you should leave — here’s the 3 min. trailer.   https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-Lkry-SF01&hsimp=yhs-SF01&hspart=Lkry&p=i+think+you+should+leave#id=4&vid=5ea97aa95de65d4bb139594c37475a98&action=click

As for reading, I recommend the door-stopper sized book, Guantanamo Diary.  Its author Mohamedou Ould Slahi is from Mauritania and suffered through more than 15 years of American torture and imprisonment in Guantanamo.  Half the book is redacted, as he wrote it while in “custody” and it had to be “passed” by US censors.  That in itself is amazing.  To see the black marker lines through page after page is disturbing.  Slahi’s English is brilliant and his sense of humour is great — the former was mostly learned in Gitmo.  And the feat of remembering, his talks and his guantinteractions with guards, lawyers, and torturers is remarkable.  I first found out about Slahi because of an excellent article in the New Yorker, a taste of what this man, a graduate engineer trained in Germany, and one time Montreal resident, went through.  And a very good  review of his book is  here. 

JUDY & LARRY HAIVEN: Provisions for Nova Scotia workers woefully inadequate

JUDY HAIVEN and LARRY HAIVEN \\

published online inHalifax Chronicle Herald, 28 Aug. 2019 — click here

As we approach Labour Day of 2019, we would do well to ponder the miserable situation of those who toil in the workplaces of this province and how this hurts us all.

A combination of both the presence and absence of legislation and rising costs conspires to diminish the power of working Nova Scotians to support themselves and their families and to maintain their dignity and health at work. And this deterioration is happening despite the slow but steady economic recovery of the past several years. Somebody is thriving from rising GDP and it is not those who work for wages.

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That continues a trend of the past 35 years. Over that period, despite generally rising economic prosperity, real median wages in Nova Scotia have dropped. In other words, most workers are worse off than they were in 1981.

Nova Scotia now has the unenviable reputation of having the lowest (but for P.E.I.) average wage in Canada.

The trend downward also applies to other working terms and conditions. A recent report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia, by Prof. Rebecca Casey of Acadia University, reveals that Nova Scotia has among the poorest labour standards provisions in the country. We have one of the longest work weeks, with no overtime pay until after 48 hours. Our minimum wage, starting at $11.05 is nowhere near the $19.17 “living wage” in Halifax that the CCPA-NS says is required for a two-parent family with two children to barely meet its needs. Our seven statutory holidays and two weeks of vacation are also bottom-dwellers. And even those paltry provisions are not available to thousands of workers exempted from labour standards.

nursesAs for Occupational Health and Safety, Nova Scotia is now the only Canadian jurisdiction that has neither introduced nor publicly announced the intention of introducing legislation against psychological harassment or bullying in the workplace. The International Labour Organization, with Canada’s backing, has recently adopted Convention 190 calling upon member states (and provinces) to prohibit “a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.” Nova Scotia’s absence is conspicuous.

The one group to have resisted this trend downward consisted of unionized credentialized skilled workers like teachers and nurses who have some bargaining power. It is to that group that the provincial Liberal government turned upon after its election in 2013, waging an all-out war against organized labour, passing a tsunami of legislation to curtail the ability of unions to organize new workers and to bargain collectively. Most of this legislation will likely be declared unconstitutional, under the Charter protection of the right to unionize and to strike. But while those challenges work their way through the courts, the legislation stands. The restrictions on public sector unions have a chilling effect on all other unions.

The Nova Scotia assault on unionized and non-unionized labour has a damaging effect on our economy. Far from contributing to prosperity, it emboldens employers to rely on a low-wage ghetto for their profits. It is a disincentive to employers to invest in value-added capital intensification, research and development and worker training.

In short, far from stimulating economic development, our politicians promote lazy capital. Shame on both of them.

Judy Haiven is a retired professor of management at Saint Mary’s University. Larry Haiven is professor emeritus of management at Saint Mary’s University. They are both members of Equity Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to workplace rights.

Feel like spending $4,340.00 to play golf?

People say I’m against Halifax developers.  I’ve also got problems with Inverness golf course maker, Ben Cowan-Dewar.  He’s now developed 2 golf courses and stolen the view  of Inverness beach for ordinary people.  Here he is on his Cabot Links golf course.   invern-ben

Of course there is a special golf package just for you — $4340 (Can) for 13 days of golf around Nova Scotia including several days at this sumptuous course in Cape Breton.

On my current vacation in Inverness, I spotted the new condo-like “cottages” for golfers; plus a local cat who’s not too thrilled with the development either.  The smaller photos show the old miner’s houses.  Some owners are letting the early 20th c. historic houses fall into ruin until developers offer to buy the tumble-down buildings that face the ocean.

Ben Cowan-Dewar’s also one of the backers of a new airport for Inverness — which up to now the Liberal government has refused to pay for.  As one pundit has said,

“If this airport is such a great economic opportunity, benifitting both golf courses and the surrounding region, why aren’t the promoters offering to pick up even a nickel of the cost? The question answers itself.”  Bruce Evans, formerly of Cape Breton.  He  read the business case for a Cabot Links Airport (July 2019 published in MacDonald Notebook here.)

Here is the little kitchen sign with homilies. I especially like the “No texting during meals” bit.  Larry and I at duelling computers in the dining room of our rented cottage, and below it,  Max and Cassie at duelling computer in the living room.

cheti-restauIn Cheticamp we had dinner at a new restaurant, L’abri, overlooking the ocean.  On the right side is a good friend, biologist Gretchen Noyes-Hull, who operates  GAMS  — Gulf Aquarium & Marine Station Co-operative in Grand Etang.

Just returned from a stint in Baddeck.  We went to the Alexander Graham Bell museum (part of Parks Canada) and the displays look about as worn out as the indoor-outdoor carpeting throughout the museum.  You can’t see it easily but here is a list of extra charges for going to films, talks, and kids activities — on top of paying admission.  The mansion is Beinn Bhreagh, the wonderful original home of the Bells from the 1890s… I have actually toured it, years ago.  It has all kinds of plundered artifacts from around the world, plus a (real) stuffed bear, and a zebra rug since one of Bell’s sons-in-laws, Gilbert Grosvenor, was a founder of National Geographic and so actually came by the art and artifacts in his travels in the first decades of the  20th century.