Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
This pirate piece is dedicated to my beloved and awesome ex-co-worker. I trust that given the astronomically high staff turnover in early childhood education, she won’t realise it’s about her.
My co-worker quit the other week. She didn’t quit her job for another position in early childhood education and care, she quit to change careers. She is good at her job of being an educator. She is caring, engaging, she forms close relationships with families and children, she is committed to social justice and equity work: she is an amazing educator. But she couldn’t afford to keep living on the pitifully poor wages that a certificate III qualified educator gets. I had suggested to her a few times that she could study for her diploma, hence getting a pay rise. But the cost of a diploma in our state, around $9000, seemed unattainable while earning $18 an hour. When she was borrowing money from her family just to get by, the idea of paying so much for a diploma was just unrealistic. Almost like an evil, cruel taunt- if you earnt more money, you could pay to study to earn more money. And, regretfully for her, me and the families and children, she quit.
There are lots of reasons why the pay is so low for early childhood educators. Lack of union involvement could be one. The government devaluing our work is another. There are strong collectives that actively push against pay rises because of how this will affect privately run centres (certainly not all privately run centres are involved in this, but some definitely are).
But I think one of the main reasons that the pay for early childhood educators is so low is because of the way we talk about our jobs: ‘I don’t do it for the money’, ‘it’s about passion’, ‘it’s for the love of it’… we’ve all heard those quotes. Every time someone says that, they devalue their own work, but they also devalue the work of others. I enjoy my job, there is no job I would rather do but I do work for the money. If we say ‘I’m not in it for the money’, then we are saying ‘my work is valueless, I- and all other educators- do not need to be paid well’.
Yep, you’ve probably heard all this before. But then I read this:
“Do What You Love” by Miya Tokumitsu
Read it, it’s just a short blog.
So I read Miya’s piece. And then read it again. And then again. And then a few more times for good measure. There is much here that speaks to me about our work as early childhood educators. Here are some good bits from it:
“By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, Do What You Love distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.”
When people say they don’t need the money, I wonder who supports them financially. Do they have a higher-earning partner? Good for them. I don’t. I’m the primary wage-earner in my family. And I think of all the educators who are also primary wage-earners or single-income families and this attitude clearly reeks of the whole ‘nice little job for the wifey to earn some pocket money while hubby earns the real money’ sort of attitude. Please don’t let your privilege speak for my financial needs.
“According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”
Yes, yes, yes. You want more money in ECE? Just upskill. Do your diploma, do your degree. If you don’t have the passion or determination (or ability, or finances, or access- but we never consider these things) to keep studying, well it’s your own fault and you can slowly sink further and further into debt. If you loved your job, you would work 38 hours a week and study 20 hours a week. I mean… what’s 58 hours a week if you love it? Can we look at this in terms of neoliberal feminism and ‘love’?
“In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, Do What You Love may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?”
Is this why our unions have such low membership? Does our ‘love’ for the job mean that there is no ‘work’? We don’t need better conditions, we just need more love. (Note: I need better conditions).
“No one is arguing that enjoyable work should be less so. But emotionally satisfying work is still work, and acknowledging it as such doesn’t undermine it in any way. Refusing to acknowledge it, on the other hand, opens the door to the most vicious exploitation and harms all workers.”
It’s okay to love your job. I love my job, but I won’t “love” it so much that I don’t need a living wage, or so much that I will work unpaid overtime, or so much that I will work in unsustainable ratios. I refuse to let my enjoyment of my job mean that I am being used without pay.
“Ironically, Do What You Love reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm… Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.”
‘I do portfolios in my own time because I love doing it’- yep, heard that one. And isn’t it handy that professional pride is placed in portfolios and documentation that makes educators want to do them in their own unpaid time…. I don’t work in Victoria, but I’ve been watching their union campaigns with interest as they encourage educators to stop working at home, stop doing unpaid overtime. I like documentation, but I don’t like being exploited by the dominant discourses that tell me I should put professional pride into my documentation that ends up meaning that I’m working at home, unpaid, on these.
“Women are supposed to do work because they are natural nurturers and are eager to please; after all they’ve been doing uncompensated childcare, elder care, and housework since time immemorial. And talking money is unladylike anyway.”
Don’t forget that our profession is about 97% female.
“In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, Do What You Love is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. It shunts aside the labor of others and disguises our own labor to ourselves. It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.”
Let’s do it. We need fair wages. We need no unpaid overtime. We need strong union membership. We need to talk about not coping on low wages.
And to my co-worker: I miss you, but I understand why you had to leave. I hope one day the wages will be better, the working conditions fairer and you will come back.
© Awilda Longstocking, 2015
Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates.
Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.