IDC Newsletter 2020-08-01
In this issue of the IDC Newsletter we have three articles. The first, “Sorry, Not Sorry” by Loljapes, looks at Justin Trudeau’s definitively Canadian habit of responding to (most) scandals by apologizing without ever actually following through on correcting his behaviour. The second, “The Problem with Job Creators” by Yogthos, breaks down the myth that the rich are necessary because they provide people with jobs. Last of all we have an interview with lotuswrench, the creator of @canadapoast and the Woorker series of memes that the IDC has been posting around in order to try and push workers to think about unionizing. Lotus offered some valuable insight into the mechanics and mindset of producing content for the internet.
Justin Trudeau was only six months into his prime ministership when the jokes about his apologies began. The earliest commentary I can find is a Last Week Tonight segment where John Oliver recounts the three apologies (issued over the course of two days) that Trudeau felt compelled to give after a very minor scuffle occurred on the floor of Parliament. The BBC joined in on the fun in 2018 with a video montage of all the apologies Trudeau had issued to date. Now, the emergence of the WE charity scandal is giving us all a mid-summer break from wall-to-wall COVID coverage, and Trudeau’s apologies are again raising smiles (or perhaps other facial expressions) behind our masks.
Although Trudeau’s apologies tend to get covered with an air of humor, there’s a pretty sophisticated communications strategy behind a lot of the apologies he gives. There are actually two types of Trudeau apology; the broad apologies he gives for misdeeds committed by Canada (usually before he was born) and the much narrower apologies he gives when caught in one of his own ethical imbroglios.
Trudeau has delivered seven official apologies on behalf of the Canadian state, four of these concern actions taken against various First Nations groups*, two were related to Canadian refusal to accept refugees during the world wars** and one addressed persecution of LGBTQ2 Canadians by the state. Each of these apologies have been exquisitely stage-managed affairs. (When Trudeau apologized to the Tsilhqot’in National Government for the execution of chiefs during the Chilcotin war, he rode to the event on a black horse). Additionally, these apologies usually involve the delivery of an expansive speech by Trudeau where he gives the historical context behind the apology and explains the damage caused to the victims of the event under discussion. As a bonus to the generally good press Trudeau gets for delivering these apologies, these events also serve to distract from negative news that Trudeau is arguably more accountable for as prime minister. For example, Trudeau’s apology for Canada’s refusal to accept immigrants from the Komagata Maru during WWI completely overshadowed news that came out the same day that the RCMP had been extra-legally spying on journalists in Quebec.
These official apologies can be contrasted with the numerous personal apologies Trudeau has had to give for his own behavior. These mea culpas have a completely different character. They are usually only issued under duress as an act of damage control. For example, it wasn’t until a report from the ethics commissioner found Trudeau in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act that he apologized for visiting Aga Khan’s private island for vacation. Unlike Trudeau’s official apologies, which demonstrate an understanding of the systemic effects bad decisions by powerful people can have on a society, Trudeau’s personal apologies usually seek to de-emphasize the power he has as Prime Minister of Canada. After a second ethics investigation found Trudeau in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act again, for actions he took during the SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau issued a limited apology to Jody Wilson-Raybould for abuse she faced on social media. He didn’t, however, seem to see any problem with the fact his government had amended the criminal code (using an omnibus budget bill) to create deferred prosecution agreements that would allow SNC-Lavalin to side-step accepting criminal responsibility for bribery it had committed in Libya (and thereby allow SNC-Lavalin to continue to bid on lucrative Canadian government contracts). Nor did he feel the need to apologize for personally attempting to influence the Attorney General, instead he said; “I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s my job”. (A serious person might have given some consideration to what happens to the jobs of people at companies that don’t illegally bribe their way into contracts if you allow companies that do to get away with it).
The comparison between Trudeau’s ‘official’ apologies and his ‘personal’ ones is so infuriating because, when he discusses the misdeeds of others, Trudeau shows he is perfectly capable of understanding how powerful people and institutions justify self-serving and selfish decisions. However, when it comes to his own actions he seems to be unable (or more likely, unwilling) to bring the same level of analysis to bear. Surprisingly, this tactic seems to have worked out pretty well for him so far. Despite two ethics reports finding him in violation of the law there have yet to be any legal repercussions for Trudeau personally. Trudeau was even able to muddle through the unearthing of multiple blackface photos during the last election by issuing an unintentionally hilarious apology where he refused to say just how many times he had blacked-up. If the past is any guide, Trudeau will likely attempt to get through the current WE charity scandal using tactics he has already honed; refusing to accept any criticism of his actions until forced to by the establishment of facts he can’t deny, followed by the issue of an apology that expresses abstract regret but rejects the idea Trudeau had any agency over what happened or should face any negative consequences.
Trudeau will apologize for Canada’s historical wrongs (to liberal applause) as much as you like, but when it comes to his own actions the only apology he seems able to muster is – ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t see why this is such a big deal’.
* (1) An apology to victims of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools on 2017-11-24 (2) An apology for the execution of indiginous chiefs during the Chilcotin war on 2018-03-26 (3) An apology for the treatment of Inuit TB victims in the mid-20th century on 2018-11-02 (4) An apology for the conviction of Chief Poundmaker on 2019-04-23
** (1) An apology to Indian immigrants aboard the Komogata Maru who were denied entry to Canada during WWI on 2016-04-18 (2) An apology to Jewish refugees aboard the M.S. St Louis denied entry to Canada during WWII on 2018-11-07
A common argument against implementing a wealth tax or closing tax loopholes is that the rich are job creators and if we didn’t bend over backwards to accommodate them they might leave taking all the jobs they offer with them.
Of course, it can be easily shown that such line of argument amounts to absurdity. As long as the business is filling a useful niche there is profit to be made. All that would happen if the original owner left is that the business would pass to a different owner who is willing to accept the lower profit margin.
However, there is a more fundamental problem with the notion of job creators that warrants discussion. The question we need to ask is how we ended up in a scenario where jobs are handed out by a small number of people who are able to hold the rest of us hostage to their whims.
To find the answer we’ll first need to take a look at how jobs are created in our society. There are two primary sources of jobs known as public and private sectors.
Public sector jobs are offered by the government and largely fill functions needed to make our society function. Some examples of public sector jobs include education, healthcare, and sanitation. Many of these jobs are what we refer to as essential work during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the principal goal of jobs created by the private sector is to generate wealth for the business owners. Many of these jobs don’t have any clear benefit to the society at large. Some jobs created in this fashion, such as fossil fuel lobbyists, can even be considered harmful.
Most jobs in Canada are offered by the private sector, and exist for the sole purpose of generating wealth for the capital owning class. The value generated through the labour of the workers is appropriated by the business owners with the workers being paid a small portion of the value they produce in form of wages. It’s easy to see how this system resulted in massive wealth concentration with a mere hundred families accumulated more wealth than bottom six million families combined through relentless exploitation of the working class.
We now arrive at the core problem with the idea of job creators. Having affluent individuals being in charge of handing out jobs results in work being largely allocated towards increasing the wealth of these individuals as opposed to the needs of our society.
Millions of Canadians are working hard every day, but they’re not the ultimate beneficiaries of the wealth that they’re producing since their jobs often have low pay, poor benefits, and long hours. The wealth ends up being hoarded by a small minority while 48% of Canadians are $200 or less away from not being able to pay their bills.
Surely, Canadian workers should be the primary beneficiaries of the hard work that they’re doing. Yet, that is clearly not the case when they are being exploited for profit. Nor does the work performed at many of these jobs appear to have any inherent value beyond enriching the business owners. Labour in Canada is primarily allocated towards the whims of the capital owning minority at the expense of the majority.
Now that we’ve discussed why the role of job creators is inherently problematic, let’s take a look at a couple of concrete steps we could take to remedy this problem.
A first step would be to create more jobs in the public sector. As we saw earlier, these jobs directly improve the quality of life for all citizens of Canada. Strengthening our public sector helps ensure long term stability of essential services that we all rely on. Therefore, this type of work should be encouraged and celebrated because of its inherent social value.
A second step would be to encourage cooperative ownership in the private sector in the form of government loans and subsidies. When the workers own their business they become direct beneficiaries of their own labour without anybody skimming surplus value off top.
Cooperatives directly help combat the problem of wealth concentration by ensuring that the profits are split fairly as opposed to being hoarded. Currently, around 240 billion dollars is being stashed away in offshore accounts by wealthy business owners. However, with a cooperative model the money generated by the business would be distributed to amongst the workers and ultimately end up circulating back into our economy.
Furthermore, studies show cooperatives to have a number of advantages over traditional companies. One study found that some of the cooperatives are both more productive and preserve jobs better. Meanwhile, increased worker participation in the decision making process results in cooperatives being more robust in dealing with demand shocks.
The research suggests that increased cooperative ownership would strengthen the Canadian economy against unexpected events, such as the current pandemic, going forward.
Not only should we not worry about job creators leaving Canada, but we should actively strive to get rid of job creators as a role in our society. People doing the work are in the best position to make decisions about how that work should be performed, and they deserve to be the primary beneficiaries of their work.
To start, how long have you been making memes for?
I got started around the same time I started taking a serious interest in leftist politics, late 2016. That election was a doozy.
What got you into making and posting memes? Do you just find it fun, or have you always been trying to make some kind of propaganda with the memes you make?
It’s always just been about making funny things to post online to me lol. I mean in the beginning I was mostly dunking on trump as a #resister (I know, cringe) but as I watched the real energy of the movement sapped off by die-hard centrists and starting connecting with more staunchly left-leaning people, having some of their ideas rub off on me, I’ve been trying to more effectively use my work to push revolutionary ideas and highlight social problems.
What were the influences that developed the Woorker idea? Was it just the Wojak format itself that caught your eye, or was there a developing trend of memes that you thought the Woorker would fit into?
There was a conversation in the discord about unionizing entry level workers, and I just thought about some of the experiences I had in my late teens/early 20s working in kitchens and how universal the stress of low paying entry-level work is. Everyone’s gone through it at some point. I picked Wojak though because it’s an easy template to work with and subverting some of the tools used by the alt-right is kinda interesting to me. They’re really good at getting through to people and we on the left could probably take a few notes.
Have you kept much track of the reception to the Woorker meme? Do you usually track how much attention/engagement a meme gets, and if so, do you find that helps you learn how to get better at memes?
The Woorker meme was pretty low effort and I made it specifically for ICD1 to use, so outside of occasional updates through the discord I haven’t been paying too much attention to it. I’m glad people are liking it and it’s been adapted to fit other professions especially by @gv4et (on twitter & instagram). I’ve also noticed my “4/20/69 work week ” meme has been blowing up by other people posting it on twitter and reddit, with one post getting engagements in the low thousands and kinda regret not watermarking it lol, but if it’s got people talking about the ridiculousness of the lack of a livable wage that’s pretty cool
Do you do many drafts or polishing of a meme, or do they usually come out about as good as they’ll get?
I do occasionally workshop an idea in the discord or in a chat on twitter before I post them, getting criticism from other posters, which can be helpful, but more often than not posting memes is pretty time sensitive, so I just close my eyes and post lol
Do you feel like you’re developing a skill as you make more memes? If so, does the feeling of development feel similar to getting better at drawing or writing?
I primarily use GIMP, and it seems like every time I set out to make a new meme I end up exploring a new feature, be it layer masks, or paths, or even just playing around with the filters.
What’s the most important skill that comes with making a meme, in your opinion? Is there a sort of design craft aspect to it, or is it mostly just knowing how to translate a feeling of the moment into a concentrated image?
Lol, lately I’ve been trying to really learn from a couple of the real heavy hitters like @TeenageStepDad and @MemeIndustrial who both have a pretty keen eye for commercial design but being able to quickly represent a mood is really useful
For my own part I’ve rarely felt like the internet is an actual thing I can interact with. Or that if I did interact with it by posting the big flood of voices would just drown me out. Do you find the internet feels different to you now than when you (if ever) weren’t producing content for it?
It can feel kinda daunting inserting yourself in to the middle of a large conversation, but I find it’s easier to jump in to comments and get engaged if I have something made to drop in that’s relevant and often it sparks further conversation.
How has making memes affected your own engagement with content on the internet? Does it feel like you have a more critical eye for content, as if you’re analyzing other craft-work?
Oh definitely. I’m constantly looking at other people’s work trying to figure out how they did certain things, made certain details etc, or what fonts work with what kind of styling etc
Any thoughts about the silliness of it all? Like, I’m interviewing you about the mechanics and theoreticals of making funny/relatable pictures for the internet in the hopes it grabs enough people’s attention to get them thinking about the inherent contradictions of the status quo while also motivating them to help change it. All through an image and joke people will look at for barely more than a second. Does any of that feel off to you, like we’re taking something too seriously? Or is the internet really and truly srs bsns?
We live in a world where a bad tweet from a billionaire can tank stock prices, it’s very absurd. Social media also gives the average person the opportunity to tell politicians and other people with power that their bums stink in a way that hasn’t been available before, so in some ways it’s kinda great. There is definitely a lot of late-stage capitalism hellscape that comes with it, but social media offers the working class ways to connect and organize in ways that have previously been very difficult if not impossible. I think both have a future beyond capitalism.
- Sorry, Not Sorry - loljapes
- The Problem with Job Creators - yogthos
- The Woorker Meme: an Interview with Lotuswrench - jonkle
- Image credit: @canadapoast - https://www.instagram.com/canadapoast/
- Web support - snoe, yogthos
The JI Newsletter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. If using material from the newsletter, please credit the author and provide a link to the relevant newsletter in your attribution. Any content produced using material from the JI newsletter must be licensed under the same terms.