Friday, 21 October 2011

Nice Work If You Can Get It

"Soon there'll be no jobs working for the Boss," Mark said to me at a One World Column meeting.

What I've realised this week as I engage in the topic of sustainable livelihoods is that it's not a simple matter. Jobs, for example, are not the same as livelihoods (see Rethink the idea of Jobs by Joanne Poyourow of Transition LA.)

I’ve spoken with fellow transitioners on the phone and at Green Drinks, followed the blog and paid attention to the unfolding Occupy movement. I even bumped into Richard who was installing solar pv's in a neighbouring village and read an interview saying 40% of bankers will lose their jobs.

"We used to install solar panels for people with an interest in environmental sustainability. Now the motivation is purely financial," Richard told me. I heard similar words from the vicar at Bungay's solar-powered Emmanuel church. People are doing it for money. Just business. As usual.

Context and Sustainability of Physical Matter
One thing came up repeatedly in the conversations: as individuals we can be dedicated to living an environmentally-friendly life, even run a local or home business with minimum carbon emissions and energy use on a day to day basis and provide work for people locally, like John. Yet every one of us in the UK and the West, works (or not) within the context of an oil-dependent, energy-intensive globalised system - however our money comes in, whether through a paid job, self-employment or benefits.

How long that system can be kept going (one meaning of sustainable) is debatable. But the physical fossil fuels it (and therefore we) have been depending on are finite and the main one, oil, which is embedded in all our goods and services, is peaking or has peaked. It’s downhill from now.

People and Social Sustainability
The theme on the Transition Network’s Social Reporting project this week is Diversity and Social Justice. In a comment on Kerry Lane’s excellent Helping Your Community Out First, fellow social reporter and smallholder Ann of Transition Bro Dyfi writes:

(It is) so easy to exclude all those who are working really long hours on tiny incomes, those who rather than jobs, have livelihoods, where a patchwork of jobs, skills and goods are traded to make a living, leaving little time or energy for community organisation…

…When a tenner a week makes a difference, that's what I call money poverty. It creates a level of ongoing insecurity which is exhausting, physically as well as emotionally. There are lots of us in this kind of situation, but mostly we go unnoticed until we become homeless, a situation we're only ever one rent raise away from.
This shows that when we’re looking at “sustainable livelihoods”, we’re also looking at social justice. And we’re back to context. There are lots of us in this situation. Most of the people I speak to in transition in fact.

Considering Ann’s words I see a direct link between the exhausting ongoing insecurity, and the tactics of ‘shock doctrine’ Chicago School-style economics, which underlie the present ideological ‘austerity measures’ and keep the illusion of economic growth going so an uberwealthy 1% can carry on landgrabbing and lording it over the rest of us.

Transition and me
So what about me? I'm looking for work. Work that, as the old economic system crumbles is the only kind of work that makes sense to me - helping to build a parallel infrastructure for the future with the underlying permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares. Some do this by growing food, setting up energy co-operatives or working with alternative currencies.

My skills work best in becoming our own media, which I spoke about in News From The Engine Room last week. I've worked with people all my life, helping them to make shifts in their personal and planetary lives. The challenge now is to do it within a new paradigm.

And to get paid for it.

Pics: Great Depression, taken from Rethink the idea of jobs by Joanne Poyourow; Earth Care, People Care, Fair Shares at Bungay Co-op Family Fun Day, August 2011

Thanks to Charlotte, Nick and Josiah, fellow transitioners with low incomes for vital in person and telephone conversations

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