Waiting for a Factory Girl (with apologies to Mick and Keith)
The early Stones music so great!
I was driving the other day and the song “Factory Girl” by the Rolling Stones came on the radio. It’s an observational song that gets at some of the working class and male bravado themes which made the early Stones music so great. In dissecting the song, my thoughts turned to the current state of factory boys and girls. More to the point, what is happening to the people I call the “Daily Grinders,” that is, those people who are busting their hump day in and day out to make ends meet?
Two recent examples of factory closures have left a couple of communities across Ontario reeling. One was the Heinz Plant in Leamington, a small town close to the Windsor /Detroit border and the other was a Unilever Plant in Brampton, Ontario. In all it effected close to 1000 direct employees – which says nothing of the suppliers which provided goods and services to these companies, local businesses and everyone’s family.
But what really got me thinking is what these people will do after they meet with the hatchet man or woman, get the brown envelope and walk out of the room. What happens to their esteem, persona, self-worth? What happens next? Who will help? Who will listen? Generally speaking government and social safety nets are a disconnected web of disaster. Having been positioned to help those in need, there is an inexplicable and shameful conflict within a bureaucratic culture of red tape and political agendas which puts the system above the individual. No finger pointing, but honestly when did we lose our way? And did we ever have it to start with?
Factory Workers Falling further into despair?
Optimistically speaking, all is not lost and some progress in social policy in North America has been made. We are seeing a movement towards “linking-up” or integrating services (the United Kingdom has been doing it for years) that are client centred and intended to be holistic. The Housing First model, which rapidly re-houses someone, who has become homeless and offers a dedicated level of support to ensure housing success is showing impressive results where it is implemented.
But what is more disconcerting are the people that never show up in an office with a title that indicates some sort of status; think “homeless,” “mental illness,” or simply “poor.” What is there for the Daily Grinders who are quietly trying to keep going? Why don’t we invest in programs designed to prevent them from falling further into despair? What is keeping us from doing more for people who don’t find themselves facing such extreme circumstances? In some respects my government colleagues have become our own worst enemies. To demonstrate effectiveness we have created sophisticated measurement models, best practices, dashboards, return on investment formulae, yada, yada, yada.
Arguably these are done to show accountability to those who fund the programs – the taxpayer. But lets face it, unless you are a true statistic you never show up in any of these charts, graphs, reports or cabinet documents. The experience of the Daily Grinders will rarely, if ever show up, unless we use their 4 year old census data. Waiting lists, stringent program criteria, policy frameworks that come complete with appeal processes are our norm. Yet, I wonder, sometimes out loud, what would happen if we left that apparatus alone in favour of the tried and true approach that spent time simply asking people “How’s it going?” “What do you need?” “How can we help?” What if we set aside the bureaucratic boxes, forms and self-congratulatory corporate awards because we simply did what it is we were supposed to do?
The normal course of naysayers is to start throwing around the idea that “it costs too much to do that you softie socialist want to do!” Sure, it costs. Everything costs. But seriously, how much does it really cost to hire people to create measurements and outcomes that aren’t realistic, representative or achievable. What does it cost when people start feeling the stress and effects of normlessness, family discord and illness? To use a Dr. Philism…how’s it working for you so far? Naturally, this is provocative, observational and loaded with rhetorical questions…it’s supposed to be. But for those who are invested in making change – true, fundamental structural change, these are the questions to ask and the systems and thinking that needs to be challenged.
The Factory Girl, or Daily Grinders are real people – often overlooked and not captured in the wild west of social policy and statistics. Instead of fixing our gaze on the most obvious problems and digging down a bit deeper, we may actually start a conversation that keeps people off the ledge in the first place. Maybe.