The Power of Care

Image Credit: CBC Gem

Nora Cole is Atkinson’s Manager of Policy and Communications. 

This week, we heard that the Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers, Armine Yalnizyan, was named to Maclean’s 2022 Power List as “the caring person’s economist.” 

When I went to take a look at the list, I was so pleased that Bilal Baig, the creator and star of CBC’s Sort Of, also made the list. In the show, Baig’s character Sabi navigates their work as a nanny and bartender and their relationships. 

Sort Of was my January comfort show. I think I found it so comforting because at its heart, the show was really about care. Sabi caring for themself, in ending bad relationships and trying to figure out what they want in life. Caring for others, as Sabi helps the family they work for continue on after the mother, Bessy, is hospitalized following a serious bike accident. And accepting care from others, in yogurt containers of home cooked food from their mum. 

While the show exists in a pandemic-free Toronto, in our real-life city the COVID-19 pandemic has also clarified the power of care. To navigate online and in-person school environments for kids. To help seniors live good lives. To live in thriving communities. 

While there have been many discussions about “standards of care” over the past two years, we’ve heard a lot less about standards of work for care workers. In March 2021, Armine wrote:

Essential for our well-being and for maximizing our potential, many if not most workers in child care and elder care are poorly paid and lack workplace protections. And, notwithstanding our pandemic reliance on care, some of that work is becoming worse for workers, as Jenny Yang and Sara Mojtehedzadeh at the Toronto Star have been documenting this week.

Any job can be a great job. The Caring Economy has the potential to be a powerhouse for recovery, and a major source of good jobs. It could play the role that the manufacturing sector played in creating the middle class from the 1950s to 1970s. 

How do we harness this potential? By listening to care workers and caring about their work. 

Migrant care workers have been speaking up about their needs: decent work and wages; benefits; access to income supports; and permanent residency for all. 

Child care workers have laid out a roadmap for implementation of the federal government’s promise for a national child care system. It’s built on the pillars of decent work for early childhood educators, affordability for families, and the expansion of public and nonprofit child care. 

Health care workers have been forcefully advocating for paid sick days for all

Personal support workers have been fighting for wage increases, full-time schedules, and fairness

The truth is, power isn’t only individual. It’s collective. It’s how we choose to come together. It’s what issues we give attention to. It’s the stories we tell each other. It’s who we listen to. Real, transformative power is found in relationships and in collective action. 

In 2018, Atkinson’s Ausma Malik and Colette Murphy had the chance to chat about organizing, care work, and movements for justice with Ai-jen Poo, the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in the US. She said “the beauty of a movement is that we each bring our tool or thing and then we build this really powerful vision for the future together.”

Armine’s bringing her sharp economic analysis. Bilal is telling thoughtful, moving stories. Workers across many sectors are organizing together in the Justice for Workers Movement, to fight for a decent work agenda to better protect all of us.

You can follow and join their work. Sign up for Armine’s newsletter, This Minute, to get the latest insights that work for workers. Watch Sort Of and think about what care means to you.

A caring economy is a powerful and possible vision. We just need to care.