February 1, 2017
“We refuse to regress.”
This is the sign that stood out for me in the sea of placards, pink hats and determined faces in a photo from the Women’s March on Washington in Toronto. It has become the caption for the composite picture of this historic day — and the painful days that followed — in my memory.
This is also the sign that sums up our time with Carmen Rojas, the Chief Executive Officer of The Workers Lab from Oakland, California. Just a few days after the inauguration of a new president, Carmen joined us in Toronto to talk about implications for the workers movement in the US. This week-long visit was the continuation of a conversation about our shared ambitions that began last year. You can listen in by watching these video highlights from a dialogue between Carmen and Sara Mojtehedzadeh, the Toronto Star’s Work and Wealth reporter, at a gathering of more than 60 of our closest collaborators.
In her closing comments, Carmen calls us to resist the impulse to divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. She holds up the value of listening closely to everyone and of seeing our fates as tightly tied together. In her message, I heard an echo of my own words to University of Toronto Scarborough grads on the night of the US Presidential Election.
At the start of this new season and the end of Carmen’s visit, I know three things for sure. One, we’re grateful for colleagues whose commitment to decent work transcends sectors, borders and politics. Two, we’re excited to work with more “unlikely allies” and to be one too. Three, we’re ready to accelerate experiments to move workers to the centre of Canada’s innovation agenda.
We’re encouraged by two early-stage experiments that are showing how private and public policy innovation can produce more decent work and equitable economic growth. The first is a response to the fact that Canadian retailers lag behind their global peers in the disclosure of decent work metrics. Our long-time partner, the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), issued a report recently to introduce a new set of key performance indicators linking decent work policies and practices, company performance, and value creation. These indicators will help investors and managers drive innovation in the private sector.
The second experiment is tied to Ontario’s multi-billion dollar, ten-year plan to renew public infrastructure. In December, the Premier of Ontario announced the first community benefits agreement negotiated by government, business, labour and community representatives for Canada’s largest transit project. This agreement will ensure 10 per cent of the work hours needed to complete the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will go to low-income residents.
It was a gratifying moment for all of us who have been working inside and outside of government for several years to realize the promise of community wealth building strategies like this one. Even more satisfying are the early signs that this innovative approach to job creation, skills training and neighbourhood renewal is working. To date, close to 50 jobs have been created with an additional 300 expected over the life of the project.
Surfers know, when this kind of forward momentum is behind them, they have to find a balance point on the surfboard. There is a spot at the very front that can take their weight without burying the nose. We’re told to walk slowly, to take small steps forward and backwards on the board, and to get a feel for how it sits on the wave. Lean too far to the left or right, we fall. Lean too far forward or back, the board torpedoes out from under us. Find that spot and ride even the most forceful waves all the way.
That’s exactly what we’ve resolved to do at this critical time for workers and for the democratic principles the Atkinson Foundation was created to uphold. Find the balance point. Ride the wave. Move forward. Refuse to regress. Share signs of progress. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in working with us to grow the movement for decent work and shared prosperity. Do let us know what you’re doing and how you think we can help.