The Whimsical World of Business Updates and the Incredible Shrinking Worker

By Lynne Fernandez,

This isn’t the first time I’ve been inspired by the CBC’s early-morning business update to go on a little rant. Sometimes it’s the blatant business bias that makes me choke on my bagel; other times it’s the banality of the supposed news that gets me going. Today it was a combination of both.

For some reason our national broadcaster thinks we need to know that Yahoo! has changed its logo. So important is this information that the business reporter and local host were able to dedicate precious air time discussing it. “Whimsical but sophisticated; fresh and modern” says the Yahoo! spokesperson of the new logo. Who needs news about falling wages, the shrinking of the middle class, the growth of precarious work – when events of this magnitude are breaking? In fact, why talk about workers at all?

Media has given up covering issues of importance to workers unless it’s to highlight labour conflict and show how much inconvenience is being caused by a strike. When such-and-such corporation lays off thousands of workers in order to remain competitive, it’s rare that the effect on workers is considered; much more interesting is the impact the layoffs have on the value of the company’s stock. Workers have become invisible.

The shrinking of workers’ profile in the media was obvious as the reporter launched into his next bit, which was to announce that Prime Minister Harper, recently arrived at the G8 economic summit, threw out a challenge to the developing economies: lower your debt/GDP ratio to 25% by 2021. Canada’s is currently at 34%, and he pledged to get ours down to 25% as well.

This obsession with debt, when fully unpacked, is another reminder that workers don’t count for much in the new grand scheme of things. Government debt, when demonized, provides an excellent justification for austerity. Let’s blame government debt for all our economic woes; unemployment, underemployment, low wages which lead to low demand, none of these seem to be pressing problems. Government debt, caused by a bloated public sector and too much spending on social programs, is a dragon that must be slayed; the fact that so far our economic recovery has been in the low-wage service sector deserves barely a mention (let alone the idea that increased government spending/debt would actually create more jobs).

So next time you get that vague feeling that something is missing in your life (especially if you’ve been in contact with some form of media) ask yourself these two questions: when was the last time you heard some meaningful news about workers (i.e. you and yours) and how much do you really care about the whimsical world of banal business updates?

Lynne Fernandez is the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues