WINTER 2014 | Working with your hands: it takes skill, intelligence, patience, and a pride in what you’re doing. But in North America today, some of our policies and structures assume that getting your hands dirty is second-class work.
For the past several months, Cardus’s Work and Economics program director, Brian Dijkema, has been working on the Building Meaning Project to reframe our understanding of the trades and make the connection between the dignity of working with one’s hands, good jobs, and a healthy economy. Through research, the Building Meaning Project has produced a list of recommendations for the government, industry stakeholders, educational institutions, and scholars.
This discussion began with a series of interviews with industry stakeholders across the country on whether or not the trades were suffering from a “social bias” against them, and whether this was negatively affecting the ability of the industry to meet its labour needs. The results of these interviews and subsequent research formed the basis of a discussion paper that helped direct three regional policy round tables held across Canada. These policy round tables featured a wide range of industry voices, including labour unions, contractors, employer associations, construction associations, resource companies, and other major construction purchasers, educators, aboriginal communities, and provincial government officials.
At the project’s national round table in Ottawa November 20, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development, the Honourable Jason Kenney, spoke of John Paul II and his encyclical Laborem Exercens (1981):
He was alluding to the ancient Hebrew notion of work found in the very first lines of Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” This idea of being fruitful is at the heart of what we are as human persons, and this is reflected in every great religious tradition. John Paul II went on to say that “… there is no doubt that human work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remain linked to the fact that the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say a subject that decides about himself.”
And so, what he tells us—based on a reflection on this ancient tradition—is, he reminds us that workers are not cogs in a process, they are not merely personification of some kind of human capital, they are not merely a commodity, that they are, more importantly, a free, independent subject that decides about himself or herself, that is a person that carries to work an inviable dignity that is deep and developed, and flourishes in work.
Visit www.buildingmeaning.com for more information on this Cardus project.