For a Winnipeg Without Poverty

Posted: May 5, 2018 in Act Locally, Winnipeg
Tags: , ,

Last week, anti-poverty activists in Winnipeg released a report aimed at encouraging the City of Winnipeg to develop a strategy for reducing poverty in the city. They called on the mayor to champion poverty reduction, observing that the most promising civic antipoverty programs in Canada (in Edmonton and Calgary) are promising specifically because of the leadership of the mayors in those cities.

I read the report with a mixture of despair and frustration. My despair was stimulated by the depressing and familiar litany of statistics that describe the depth and breadth of poverty in my hometown. The frustration was rooted in the knowledge that this well-intentioned report would, like its predecessors, consume the energy of its proponents but ultimately lead nowhere unless we focus on challenges unacknowledged in the report.

The report is worth reading. It is particularly strong in illustrating the shocking extent of poverty in the city.  When it gets around to policy prescriptions it’s a mixed bag. There are some good ideas, and there are others that will do little more than create busywork for government and NGO bureaucrats.

In trying to be comprehensive, the report is often superficial. But more problematic is the elephant in the room that does not get a mention. We live in a capitalist political economy that benefits from the existence of poor, unemployed, under-employed or under-paid working people. This “reserve army” of poor workers helps depress wages, dampen labour power and discipline the working class, all of which serves the interests of the capitalist class – that unacknowledged elephant.

If we accept that proposition as a starting point it follows that any decent anti-poverty strategy has to focus on creating jobs that pay living wages. Nothing is more empowering than a good, secure job with a decent salary.  However, we can’t rely on capitalist market forces to create jobs; our governments must take steps to foster these developments.

I would have liked to have seen a section of this report devoted to exploring how the City could support the development of worker co-ops, social enterprises, and new, innovative industries that would create green products and services while training and employing inner-city residents. Without a serious economic strategy that focuses on creating industries and jobs for the 21st century, all we are left with are social work solutions which, up to now, have failed to contain poverty, much less eradicate it.

Poverty in one of the richest countries in history is unacceptable. Despite my misgivings about the report, I hope people get behind the campaign to get the City to step up to the plate. A place to start is to sign this petition. But this is just for openers.

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