This spring, the provincial government will be asking Metro Vancouver residents if they approve of a new TransLink funding proposal. The social democrats are coming out of the woodwork to throw their weight behind the ‘Yes’ side in the referendum, as though it were some kind of grand cause. In reality, neither a ‘yes’ vote nor a ‘no’ vote will have an impact on the political direction of transit in our region: privatization, criminalization of the poor, racial profiling, and ‘service’ geared to corporate profits rather than people’s needs.

People Waiting in Line at a Food Bank

Labour market management: Controlling the ‘surplus population’

Managing the labour market is a major function of bourgeois governments in a capitalist economy. This means maximizing the rate of exploitation of the working class while mitigating resistance, rebellion or disruption to capitalist accumulation.

In a monopoly capitalist economy, high rates of unemployment and underemployment are considered normal and desirable. Unemployment has an active function, operating as a downward pressure on wages and a fetter on the rate of inflation. The rich want inflation kept low because when it rises it erodes their accumulated wealth. Moreover, monopoly capitalism as a system tends not to reinvest the surplus (profit) extracted from the working class in job generating activity, instead sinking a high proportion of the surplus into socially harmful activities like advertising, speculative financial activities, real-estate and the war economy.[1] Monopoly capitalism therefore generates high rates of unemployment and, particularly in its neoliberal form, fewer and fewer stable, ‘well-paid’ jobs.


AUTHOR’S NOTE | This article emerges from 5 years of working as a community organizer for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). Thank you to the VANDU Board for allowing me to lean on their community organizing work and to collaborate in developing an analysis of the ‘mass incarceration agenda.’ And thank you to all the VANDU members who shared their experiences, challenged my ignorance and encouraged me to contribute this analysis to the struggle against the drug war and the war on the poor.


The last decade in Canada has seen the strengthening of the instruments of repression of the Canadian State such that we can now begin to describe and analyse the neoliberal containment state as a specific set of policies and institutions. These policies and institutions are aimed at containing the growing social ‘disorder’ and emerging resistance that have resulted from 30 years of the neoliberal economic order.