Caring for Crude in an Era of Capitalist Crisis: Migrant Caregivers and the Fort McMurray Wildfire

On May 3rd, 2016, a wildfire swept through the Northern Alberta resource community of Fort McMurray, scouring the political-economic landscape and leading to the largest prolonged evacuation in Canadian history. In serving as the primary service centre for the Athabasca tar sands— the world’s third-largest known oil deposit— Fort McMurray has also become a notable outpost of transnational labour. Migrant caregivers, in particular, are precariously tied to this ‘land of opportunity’— bound by short-term employment contracts tied to single employers. Thus, in following the assertion that “there is no such thing as a natural disaster,” this thesis draws upon their experiences to reveal how the everyday manifestations of capitalist crisis that exist in this place were responsible for rendering the wildfire into a disaster in the lives of tens of thousands of people. In drawing upon the experiences of this social reproductive workforce, I argue that the crisis of social reproduction (i.e. biological reproduction, the reproduction of the labouring class, and provisioning and carework), in particular, is the thread of capitalist crisis capable of illuminating the other strands of crisis at the foundation of this disaster and explicating the interconnections between them. Moreover, it is in specifically focusing on the crisis of social reproduction, I argue, that we are able to not only understand the political-economic foundation of this disaster but also how its impacts were reabsorbed into everyday life through the social reproductive labour of this largely disposable workforce. In drawing upon the concept of surplus value, I argue that in much the same way that this value is extracted from workers to rebuild the physical infrastructure of communities in the wake of disaster, families extracted migrant caregivers’ social reproductive surplus value in order to rebuild the social infrastructure of their everyday lives and re-establish the crises at the foundation of this disaster.