Op-Ed by Petr Liakhov
On February 15, on a bone-chilling Saturday afternoon, almost five hundred people flooded Dundas Square calling on the government of Ontario to raise the minimum wage to $14 / hour. It was the latest (and largest) of a series of once-monthly street mobilizations by the “Raise the Minimum Wage Campaign”.
This campaign, which pushes for broad class based demands, and uses mass protest as one of its primary tactics should be understood as a chance for a positive reorientation of labour politics in Ontario; a chance to start making a labour movement that is at home not with the stuffy politics of parliament but with the militant politics of the street.
The possibility of such a re-orientation, though still at a stage of infancy in Anglo-Canada, comes hot on the heels of major labour mobilizations in the United States, with successful strikes carried out by fast-food and other minimum wage workers all over the country; and with the successful struggle in Washington state, where the workers of SeaTac won a 15$ minimum wage in their city. There are also precedents here in Canada, with the Quebec student protests and Idle No More bravely blazing a trail that relies on grassroots people power instead of relying solely on lobbying corrupt and over-paid politicians.
In addition to a greater focus on militant street politics, the 14$ minimum wage campaign is also significant in that its focus goes beyond the usually narrow demands of organized labour. Instead of focusing on simply defending the rights and privileges of better paid unionized workers, it is a campaign that calls for a wage increase for millions of un-unionized Ontarians, including those who currently earn below the 10.25$ minimum wage such as agricultural and migrant workers. Furthermore, this is rare in the labour movement in that this is not just a defense of existing gains by the working class, but is a counter-offensive against the interests of big business.
All this in mind, the demand for a 14$ minimum wage is essentially a modest one, at a time when the majority employers of minimum wage workers, such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, are raking in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits every single year, a push for a wage which sits at only 10% above the poverty line is not asking for much. Nevertheless, all of the large parliamentary parties, including the so-called “worker’s party” that is the NDP, have rejected a 14$ minimum wage as too extreme with the NDP Ontario leader Andrea Horwath instead proposing a more “balanced” wage increase to 12$ by 2016. Such blatant opportunism has even caused even some close labour allies of the NDP to take pause, with Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan criticizing Horwath’s position as “unacceptable”.
Given the NDP’s track record of prostrating themselves before big business and attacking the interests of workers, students, and first nations peoples every single time they have been elected (we need only remember Bob Rae, or look to the recent Nova Scotia electoral loss for proof), this more recent betrayal is not surprising. However, the lack of any truly representative parliamentary party at the moment does bring into sharp relief both the current need for organizing in the streets, and the absolute necessity for organized labour to not only vocalize a criticism of the NDP but to do something concrete.
The on-going monthly protests for a higher minimum wage are a positive development. Yet, if they are to lead to any real changes, they must evolve into something more than simply the demand for people to be paid just enough to afford both paying rent and buying food for their family. For the 14$ minimum wage to have any lasting effect it must be approached not as an end goal, but as a stepping stone for building a peoples’ movement in the streets. Uniting middle and low income workers, students, and First Nations—demanding not just a higher minimum wage but also improvements in housing, migrant worker rights, healthcare, education, and environmental policy. The only way the modest gains of winning a 14$ minimum wage can be consolidated is if these gains lead to a movement which doesn’t just improve upon our society, but completely transforms it.
by Noaman G. Ali
Six Nations of the Grand River | “The introduction of Omnibus Bill C-10 is an attempt to criminalize the hard-working families and entrepreneurs of Six Nations and other territories,” Jonathan Garlow said to over two hundred people gathered at the Polytechnic of the Six Nations of the Grand River on February 22.
“It will disrupt the reconciliation efforts by Canada to restore the relationship of peace and respect with Indigenous nations, possibly resulting in another confrontation.”
The meeting was organized by the Two Row Times newspaper. Garlow, founder of the Two Row Times and owner of a small printing shop in Six Nations, told BASICS the community meeting was held to inform the many families in Six Nations who are involved in and benefit from the tobacco trade about the upcoming Bill and to start a conversation about resisting it.
The law not only criminalizes unstamped tobacco, it also introduces mandatory minimum sentencing that could land ‘offenders’ in prison for at least two years.
by Tyler Shipley
It’s never a good sign when the papers carry a picture of Gary Bettman grinning like an idiot.
The multi-millionaire commissioner of the National Hockey League is the human representative of the collective soulless greed of the extraordinarily wealthy owners of NHL franchises, and if they’re happy, it usually means that they’ve found a new way to squeeze money from their workers, their players, or – more likely – everyone else.
Sure enough, the announcement of a massive $5.2 billion broadcasting deal between the NHL and the Rogers corporate colossus is a victory for the rich, at the expense of we who make them rich. Though most of the attention this story received was about the fate of Hockey Night in Canada and the CBC more broadly, what was ignored was the effect this will have on working people in Canada. Read more…
Mutual aid in childcare is the means, not the end: Fighting for socialized childcare as the ultimate goal
Letter to the Editor – 22 December 2013
Thanks Vanessa Alexander for the article “Unlicensed Childcare: The Problem or the Solution?”, and thanks to BASICS for delving into an issue that’s central to the economic and social life of working class women, families and communities. As parents of three children we have relied on institutional and regulated daycares, unregulated home daycares, and many informal childcare arrangements over seventeen years.
The social reproduction of human beings in our society, and the smaller subset of ‘childcare’, is heavily based on the exploitation and super-exploitation of working class women. The basic contradiction of our society is that it is based on highly socialized production, we mostly produce things together, as part of a social project that’s larger than any individual; but the surplus of what is produced is expropriated by a small capitalist class who monopolize that surplus and the power that comes with it. The (re)productive labour in our society is largely rendered invisible in the capitalist economy, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t central to the functioning of the system. The (re)production of the working class becomes an added burden of exploitation – super-exploitation – shouldered overwhelmingly by working class women. Even though working class people spend our lives integrated in social production, we are told that the labour and cost of taking care of and bringing up children should be borne, privately, by the women who give birth to them. Working class women and families get just enough in wage and social wage to be able to survive and continue to work! And each new generation of workers available for exploitation in the capitalist economy is a ‘commodity’ that working class women and communities produce for the capitalists basically for ‘free’. This added burden of exploitation is compounded with added layers of oppression for Native women, poor women, especially poor racialized women, women who use(d) drugs, and women with a ‘mental illness’ all of whom face additional stigma and discrimination which puts them regularly into contact with the punitive arm of the State: social workers, welfare ‘fraud’ investigations, child apprehension, and cops.
Because the capitalists have created an economic system in which almost every working class person has to work a job to survive economically, but will not use the social surplus to provide high quality childcare for working class parents, we rely on all kinds of arrangements to try to ensure that our kids are in a caring, stimulating and supportive social environment when we are not with them. Vanessa Alexander points out that these arrangements often demonstrate the strength, beauty and resilience of working class communities. Mutual aid, neighbourhood social networks, and extended families – these are all things that are woefully undervalued in our society.
She also does a great job of condemning a government policy that could be used to undermine and even criminalize the childcare arrangements that working class women and families make by necessity, in the absence of a universal childcare program.
There are two things that we would like to add, however, that we don’t think are adequately addressed in her piece.
Although Vanessa Alexander points to the fact that many informal childcare arrangements are borne out of lack of affordable options, we must be careful not to valourize these arrangements: The strain on relationships when you are relying on an aging grandmother or auntie or an older child to provide unpaid childcare; the stress of leaving your kid in a less than desirable childcare arrangement because you have no other choice; the developmental and mental health impact of kids isolated and watching TV or playing video games (for example while both parents are at work on a ‘professional day’); the strain on relationships between parents when every minute of childcare is used to cover work and they never get a minute alone together. While defending our right to survive the childcare crisis in whatever ways we can and deem to be necessary, we must be cautious not to embellish the means we take to survive. That said, the Little Lemurs Parenting Coop that Vanessa is part of organizing seems to be creating the best possible option for parents and their kids in order to avoid the worst of the informal childcare arrangements.
The second is a closer look at the current childcare set-up in Canada. As of right now, the Live-in-Caregiver program is the de facto national childcare program for more affluent Canadians. This program, set to double its number next year to 17,500, brings mostly Filipino women to Canada to work for less than minimum wage providing childcare and domestic labour for children and elderly in affluent Canadian homes while facing separation from their own families and a difficult uphill struggle to ‘achieve’ Canadian citizenship. The program is functional for capitalism and imperialism on many different levels: taking advantage of the underdevelopment and oppression of the Philippines and propping up the labour-export economic strategy of the reactionary Philippine state; providing the rich with access to childcare which is high quality, flexible and completely under their control; and maintaining the myth of childcare and reproduction as a private responsibility of individual families.
We need to analyze the burden of our oppression and exploitation, and organize to fight for a brighter future. We need to organize around demands that expose the exploitative and oppressive nature of the current system and that reflect the needs and aspirations of our working class communities. The demand for a universal childcare system is a key starting point for this demand because it is so obviously needed and enjoys support of the majority of people who live in Canada. But it’s not the end point. Licensed daycare that currently exists may not reflect the full aspirations of our families for the social development of our children and we must radically improve the working conditions of our dedicated and skilled childcare workers; democratic community control of childcare centers and secure, adequate state funding will help address our concerns.
While we celebrate the strength and qualities in our communities that allow us to adapt and survive in a hostile capitalist world, we should not make the mistake of thinking that our liberation lies in these survival strategies and mutual aid programs. Our bright future includes a world where the work of (re)production is valued and honoured, where childcare is socialized, and the social alienation families and children is overcome.
Martha Roberts and Aiyanas Ormond
by M. Cooke
MONTREAL – “We are foreign temporary workers, any day we could be expelled. That’s why we need a strong and flexible association” said Enrique Llanes, a temporary foreign worker from Spain
Enrique was speaking to a group of over 50 temporary foreign workers who had gathered in Montreal this past Saturday to launch the Temporary Foreign Workers Association (TFWA).
They had gathered not only to fight for their rights, but also for the over 300,000 temporary foreign workers currently in Canada and those who will come in future years.
Mohamed and Helena, temporary foreign workers from Tunisia and Spain, welcomed the workers at the start of the day.
“I would particularly like to thank you for your dedication despite the cold and the distance” said Mohamed.
The workers had come from throughout Quebec: the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, Chicoutimi, Quebec City, Montreal. These workers came from a range of industries including working as farmers, butchers, machinists, welders, translators, lab technicians among others.
Helena continued the introduction saying: “The obstacles temporary foreign workers face are infinite. The system is created to keep us misinformed and isolated”.
Shortly after, one after another, the workers introduced themselves and shared their experiences of working in Quebec.
One group of farm workers talked about recently discovering that their employer had withheld an average of 2 hours of wages per day for over 6 years.
Several workers complained about being tied to a single employer. One worker explained that the company had laid him off for 3 months, and due to his work permit he could not apply to other jobs, nor could he apply for employment insurance. He was forced to work under the table to survive.
In the legal workshop held earlier in the day, groups of workers shared stories about their employer forcing them to rent his apartments or else being fired.
Workers also shared stories of being told to apply as “single” despite being married and having children back home, putting their future plans to apply as permanent residents in jeopardy.
Other workers shared stories about language barriers. They were not allowed to take French courses and they could not access translation services at hospitals nor within some unions.
But these are only a few of the stories of what is happening throughout Quebec and Canada.
The number of temporary foreign workers has been steadily increasing in the past few years. In 2011, there were over 300 000 temporary foreign workers in Canada.
There has been a shift in the Canadian immigration system says Manon Perron, a union leader with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).
“Last week, I was in meetings with a top immigration bureaucrat and he told me that they are looking for workers, not citizens” said Manon Perron to the group of workers.
The temporary foreign worker programs are set up to bring cheap labour in to Canada. The workers work here for low wages and no benefits and once they are no longer needed, they are sent back to their countries.
In 2011 there were more temporary foreign workers than immigrants accepted into the country.
The launch of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association is a big step in challenging a program that is set-up to, as Helena said “keep [workers] misinformed and isolated”.
The association will provide workers with access to legal aid clinics, workshops on labour rights, as well as translation services.
In addition, the association will fight to address the policies that lead to the issues faced by foreign temporary workers. The association hopes to win access to employment insurance and health care, open work permits, easier access to apply for permanent residency, as well as the right to unionize.
Despite the obstacles the workers face, there was something electric about having workers from throughout the province meet with each other and begin building an association that would break the isolation and fight for their rights.
Frustrated delegates at CUPE National Convention launch ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’ movement from the floor
by Steve da Silva, CUPE 3903 member
In ancient Rome, politicians were known to secure the votes of Roman citizens by doling out wheat (drawn from conquered territories, it should be noted) and providing cheap entertainment. This, the Roman poet Juvenal satirically referred to as “bread and circuses”. But what happens when bread supplies run out?
Last week, Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), held its largest-ever convention in Quebec City to mark its 50th anniversary. As the austerity policies of capitalism continue their attacks on public sector workers and the working class in general, it sometimes felt like we delegates were being made to suffer a sideshow of countless speeches, video greetings, and a video montage of CUPE through the decades, as a diversion from the fact that CUPE’s leadership actually has no strategy for defending its members in these times. That is, of course, unless you consider the state of our union as an electoral and lobbying machine that is staking it all on an NDP victory in the 2015 elections a viable and comprehensive strategy.
“A Guided Democracy”
For five days, over 2500 delegates representing some 627,000 workers in hundreds of locals across the country – which cost locals millions of dollars in transportation, registration, and accommodation fees – spent well over half their time in their seats as spectators, listening to speeches and watching videos that quite frankly did more to entrench an incumbent leadership than it did provide time for debate around the future of our union.
In fact, the elected leadership would have been completely acclaimed were it not for the courageous young worker from CUPE 4600 Lydia Dobson, who disrupted what convention floor delegates were mocking as “a coronation”. Dobson challenged CUPE National President Paul Moist from the floor, even after an older CUPE staffer told the Young Workers Caucus that it would be “political suicide” to run against Moist. Dobson did so alone, and without the support of the Young Workers Caucus. Because she ran from the floor, Dobson was denied a right to make a campaign speech. Notwithstanding being a completely unknown candidate for the Presidency of Canada’s largest union, Dobson took 21% of the votes cast.
Dobson told BASICS, “I stand by my actions. I believe in direct action and think that it is imperative that our young workers NOT become intimidated and subjected to power structures and politics that do not represent our best interests. The commotion that this caused today is a blatant demonstration of our the complacency of our members to directed voting, imbalanced power structures and a guided democracy. It should not be shocking that there was a vote at an election.”
Sham democracy aside, many of the threats facing workers were enumerated throughout the convention, but with particular attention given to Bill C-377 and the looming threat of “right to work” legislation. While these two coming attacks on unions will deal a huge blow to the working-class, it is noteworthy that the effect of these two pieces of legislation would be felt first and hardest at the top of the union movement. Bill C-377, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Conservative MP and backbencher Blaine Calkins from Alberta, would impose financial reporting requirements that are far above what exists for any other entity in Canada, and is widely recognized as discriminatory towards and clearly aimed at destroying unions. Bill C-377 would strangle unions in the redtape of their reporting requirements, starving them of their resources; not to mention making it very difficult to certify new unions. It becomes clear how threatening this legislation would be to union bureaucrats who would see their resources wasted on paperwork, an attack that would eventually trickle down to rank-and-file unionists and workers in the form of weak, cash-strapped, defenceless organizations, and eventually defunct organizations.
Fights to be fought
If C-377 is the jab, “right to work” legislation would be the blow from the other side. The so-called right to work legislation, which PC opposition leader in Ontario Tim Hudak is promising, would starve unions of their dues from the other end by whittling down their membership, giving union members to opt-out of paying dues, even though they would be covered by a Collective Agreement.
However, with or without these deathblows to unions (at least as they exist in their current form), the attacks on workers are taking place everyday and are not limited to these threats on the horizon. Impossible to enumerate briefly, these consist of “austerity” cuts that lead to lost jobs, privatizations that break unions and cost taxpayers more in the long run by subsidizing corporate profits, two-tiered bargaining that sell-out young and future workers, the deterioration of workplace safety and conditions of work, and the shift from “defined pensions benefits” that guarantee hard numbers for people’s retirements to “defined contributions” plans that tell you what you must put in pension funds, but not what you’ll get out of them.
Then there are the conditions that affect workers outside the workplace and beyond their working years: record-levels of household, consumer, and student debt; cuts to social and community services; the environmental destruction of capitalism; the $34 billion loss of federal healthcare transfers to provinces if the Health Accord is not renewed in 2014; the genocidal-colonial violence faced by Indigenous peoples in their communities on reserves or in cities. CUPE members are experiencing all these attacks, and more.
Lobbying, Electoralism, and the Complete Absence of Working-Class Strategy
From the convention floor, the anxiety of delegates could be read from the numerous resolutions debated and passed speaking to and taking stances against the deteriorating conditions of workers. But there was no real space to discuss the strategic requirements to actually arm workers for the fight to successfully fight on many fronts. Opening up such a discussion would have subjected to scrutiny the complete failure of electoralism and social democracy to serve the interests of even the “middle-class” workers in the labour movement, leaving aside the broader working poor and hyper-exploited workers.
What is CUPE’s actual plan to fight on all these fronts? Lobbying and elections, basically. One the one hand, there is the public relations campaign called “Together Fairness Works,” which the Canadian Labour Congress has rolled out in the form of a national television advertising campaign from October 7 through November 17. The Fairness project is also directing the energy and resources of staffers and union activists to engage the rank-and-file members around the benefits of being in a union and the contributions of union to society (they mean, capitalist society!). “We need to reintroduce ourselves to our members by having one-on-one conversations about the value of the labour movement and their union,” guest speaker CLC President Ken Georgetti told the Convention. A perusal of the “Fairness” literature seems to reveal, however, that the architects of this campaign didn’t get the memo that corporations and banks are actually posting record profits through austerity and neoliberal policies. As long as “the economy” remains synonymous with capitalism, we lose to the political Right on the ideological terrain because a capitalist economy grows to the extent that it exploits labour.
On the other hand, there is the NDP and the 2015 elections. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair graced the membership with his presence and a speech - essentially promising nothing more than the status quo, holding back or reversing a select few of Harper’s attacks – but could not find the time to take a single question from Canada’s largest union.
The pillar of the convention was the “Strategic Directions 2013-2015: Proud of our Past, Ready for the Future” document, where one would expect to find an elaborated strategy. While identifying many aspects of the crisis faced by the working-class and CUPE’s membership, the document falls short on questions of how we will actually defend ourselves against the panoply of attacks coming from all directions. Insofar as there is any strategy in the document, it was limited to electoralism and tied to the success of the NDP. To the shock of many delegates, a first draft of the document actually read that “We know that the ultimate power over bargaining and strikes lies in the hands of the government of the day” – a statement that was slightly modified only by a revolt from the floor during discussion around the document. Despite opposition to that statement, the amended document retained a phrase from the first draft that basically amounted to the same capitulationist position: “As long as we do not have worker-friendly governments, anything we negotiate at the bargaining table can be taken away from us through legislation.”
“Why is labour the only partner still playing by the rules?”
So, when yesterday’s labour laws are legislated out of the law, what is to be done? Well, nothing but wait for the next elections, and vote. Maybe a bit of lobbying in between. In essence, the CUPE leadership’s stance seems to be passively accepting giving up the historic birthright of the working-class – its right to withdraw its labour as its ultimate source of leverage over capital – and just wait for the next elections. Such are the honest truths presented by a union leadership that is frankly unwilling to stick their necks out and lead us in the struggles that are necessary to defend our livelihoods, let alone fight the greater fights of radically transforming Canadian society to end colonialism, imperialist wars abroad, massive wealth inequalities, and Canada’s leading role in ecological destruction and climate change.
And why would they? Unjust labour legislation, like back-to-work legislation, is making illegal any strike that would actually make a difference and tip the balance of power back into the hands of labour. To break these laws would hurt labour leaders the most: their assets would be seized, they would be jailed, they would face fines that would within weeks of illegal action run into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Do we have the faith in leaders that get paid six figure salaries to lead these fights? According to our Convention’s financial statement, Paul Moist took home a $159,015 salary in 2012 alone, which doesn’t include benefits, and his office used over $370,000 in travel costs. Is it any wonder that the Russian revolutionary Lenin once referred to the likes of Moist as a “labour aristocrat”?
Frustrations Spark ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’
It was the growing frustration of delegates with the lack of debate around a viable strategy that sparked midway through the convention a caucus of more radical CUPE members that began calling ourselves “Rebuild Militant Labour” - a caucus formed initially just to coordinate interventions at the mic.
By Day 3, however, with the problems with our union coming into sharper focus, and a growing number of people joining the conversation, Rebuilding Militant Labour (RML) put out an interim basis of unity, holding an impromptu meeting outside convention hours at the end of Day 4 that attracted almost one hundred people, representing much of the country, most of CUPE’s sectors, and the whole demographic spectrum of the union.
Kelly O’Sullivan, President of CUPE 4308, held up an image of a triangle encompassing labour, government, and capital, illustrating the postwar “social compromise” from the 1940s onwards. O’Sullivan asked the leadership why “labour is the only partner still playing by the rules” when capital and government have long ago abandoned the welfarist social contract.
“‘If not now, when?’ may sound cliché,” CUPE 4308 President Kelly O’Sullivan told BASICS, who represents personal support workers in Toronto. “We got the sense that the ‘now’ really is now. ‘RML happened at this national convention because now is the time. You could hear the frustration from the delegates on the convention floor and in casual conversation that we have had enough playing by the rules and that more militant action is needed. RML was a response to our own anger over lack of strategy in our union to not only protect ourselves from the attack on workers and community but also a narrow and limited focus on election of an NDP government in 2015 as the only coordinated response.”
Established on a strictly anti-capitalist basis of unity, according to its founding points of unity RML has taken on the mandate of developing a militant strategy beyond electoralism, entrenching amongst rank-and-file membership and “grassroots power”, and “a program of education for workers in our unions to understand how capitalism is the problem.”
At its founding meeting, RML organized an Interim Coordinating Committee under the mandate of coordinating the implementation of the points of unity in our locals and communities; developing an anti-capitalist educational program; coordinating our organization going into conventions in two years time, and preparing for a separate national convention of Rebuilding Militant Labour in late 2014.
The labour movement in its current form – strictly committed to the institutional arrangement of postwar social order – can no longer defend the working-class; and frankly, they never really represented the whole working-class to begin with. The bread line is closed. A growing proportion of workers can see through the empty promises of social democratic labour leaders and politicians. The circus no longer amuses. Nowhere in the world is social democracy stemming the tide of capitalism’s attacks.
It is time we return to the days when militant labour actually fought for another world, a world that would be free of class division and exploitation. The first stage on that road has always been called ‘socialism’, however you define it and whatever means you think we need to actually get there. If RML lives up to its name and mandate, we may just have one of the central means by which to resume that struggle where Canadian labour left it in the 1940s.
by Steve da Silva
With the consciousness of people in Canada taken up a notch on the issue of “fracking” by the Mi’kmaq-led resistance in New Brunswick, it’s only a matter of time before people’s sights and struggles shift to the next major shale-gas frontier: Ontario. The US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2013 that there were 573 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in Canada.
“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which oil is withdrawn from harder to access sources by blasting water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock formations.
High gas prices have opened the way for the oil industry to push fossil fuel exploitation into the realm of more difficult to reach fossils fuels, what are known as “the unconventionals”: tar sands, shale-gas, and deep-water oil wells.
Most people in Ontario are unaware that a Canadian oil firm out of Alberta has for years been acquiring land rights across southwestern Ontario, in order to explore and drill the extensive shale-gas deposits in the province. Although up-to-date information on its operations are scarce, by 2011 Mooncor Oil and Gas Corp. already owned some 20,000 acres of land in Chatham-Kent and Lambton County, in southwestern Ontario.
In Ontario, geologists have broken down shale-gas deposits into three major zones: the Kettle Point Formation known as Antrim Shale; the Collingwood-Blue Mountain formations known as Utica Shale; and the northernmost limit of the Marcellus Shale that extends up from Pennsylvania and New York State.
While Ontario shale-gas exploration is reported to have not yet used the fracking method, the even greater danger of tapping shale-gas is the planetary danger posed by carbon emissions through new fossil fuel exploitation. Although natural gas emits half the greenhouse gas that coal gives off, most of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels cannot be exploited without initiating irreversible levels of climate change.
by Steve da Silva
Many of us have the impression that immigration policy in Canada is driven by so-called “Canadian values” like humanitarianism. This may have been part your or your parents Citizenship test, or maybe you learned this in school.
However, since the 1870s, Canadian immigration policy has primarily been about attracting workers to feed its expanding capitalist economy. In the century leading up to that, immigration policy was primarily focused on colonizing Indigenous lands with British settlers.
By 1942, just as most of Canada’s 23,000 Japanese were about to be branded as “enemy aliens,” dispossessed of their property, and removed to concentration camps, the government began thinking seriously about the crisis of legitimacy they would face after the war, especially in the eyes of non-Anglophone peoples. They did not want a repeat of WWI, which sparked the takeover of Winnipeg by workers in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
In the same year, the Department of National War Services established an Advisory Committee on Cooperation in Citizenship that was charged with studying the views of immigrants for the purpose better cultivating their allegiance and loyalty.
Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, a large section of the immigrant population and a growing section of the lower middle class were orienting towards the Communist Party and their vision for an egalitarian society; and communists played a leading role in building unions for industrial workers. So cultivating the allegiance of certain sections of labour in postwar Canada would be just as important as cultivating the allegiance of immigrants in general.
In February of 1944, the federal government passed an executive order recognizing trade unions; by March 1945, 133 new unions had been certified; and a fierce 99-day strike at Ford over the summer of 1945 led to the compulsory check-off of union dues from members’ pay cheques (the ‘Rand’ Formula, which is being threatened today). But these moves were not a concession to the communists: rather, bringing labour relations within the law went hand-in-hand with the subsequent policy of isolating and fiercely attacking communism during the Cold War period that followed.
In 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed, and in 1950, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent made clear that the goal of the Act was “to make Canadian citizens of those who come here as immigrants and to make Canadian citizens of as many as possible of the descendants of the original inhabitants of this country.” In other words, the objective was assimilation, for immigrants as well as for Indigenous peoples.
Once the flow of cheap European labour began drying up in the 1960s – the last waves of which were the Greeks and Portuguese – the Canadian state began looking towards other pools of immigrants, and to varying degrees grudgingly ‘tolerating’ non-white peoples migrating and gaining citizenship.
Canadian immigration policy responded to these labour needs by introducing the “points system” by 1967, which formally lifted the racial criteria (which identified “preferred races”) for immigration and set out ‘objective criteria’ for the recruitment of prospective immigrants, such as education background, language skills, occupation or professional experiences, as well as family ties to Canada. These policy shifts in immigration became institutionalized with the Immigration Act of 1976.
Meanwhile, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (DCI) oversaw Indian Affairs from 1949 to 1966, at a time of the height of the Indian Residential Schools. A 1961 report from DCI explicitly stated that the government intended using off-reserve educational opportunities – such as the Residential Schools – as a means of depopulating reserves and effecting the assimilation of Indigenous peoples.
By the mid-1960s, however, the Federal government became frustrated with the pace of assimilation of natives, and the Trudeau government decided to proceed with its infamous ‘White Paper’ of 1969, which called for a complete dismantling of the Indian Act and the direct assimilation of natives as ‘Canadians’ – which would have made them into the most dispossessed and poorest strata of the working class, and completely eliminated their self-determination.
The policy of native assimilation, the demand for cheap labour, and the need to tame Quebec nationalism, therefore, were driving forces behind the policy that we have come to know in the benign terms of multiculturalism.
But in his own day, Trudeau was clear that his policy of multiculturalism sought to “promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity”. What national unity? Whose nation?
Many would point to Canada’s refugee policies (at least until very recently) as an example of Canada’s humanitarianism. However, as Pablo Vivanco analyzed in BASICS recently, it wasn’t until solidarity activists forced the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees fleeing the Western-backed dictatorship that Canada’s refugee policy was partially opened up to refugees who weren’t anti-communist. Until the Chilean refugee crisis, Canada’s Cold War refugee system only granted asylum to people leaving ‘socialist’ countries, like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam. Recruiting anti-communist refugees had a lot to do with national unity as well: the unity of Canada as a capitalist country.
With the banning of religious symbols in the public service in Quebec’s new Charter clearly directed at Muslims, many are wondering what happened to ‘tolerance’ in this country. But the emergence of the policy of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada was never the product of some progressive enlightenment of Canada’s political system, its nationals, or its elites. It was developed in the postwar era as a strategy for the assimilation of immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and containing Quebecois nationalism. It was a policy for assimilating and managing an increasingly diverse population in the interests of capitalism and colonialism.
Many of us want to live in a diverse society where all peoples from all nations are genuinely respected and can fully participate in society for the benefit of all. But that was never Canada. Not yesterday, not today. That’s a society we have yet to build.
 See p.444 of Bohaker, H. & Iacovetta, F. (2009). Making Aboriginal people ‘Immigrants Too’: A comparison of citizenship programs for newcomers and Indigenous peoples in postwar Canada, 1940s-1960s. Canadian Historical Review 90(3), 427-461.
by Christopher C. Sorio (MIGRANTE Canada)
Migrante Canada (Ontario) which is an alliance of 19 Filipino organizations in Canada and have 5 members organizations in the province of Ontario, supports the campaign to increase minimum wage from $10.25 to $14.00 per hour.
For the last three years, the minimum wage in Ontario is pegged at $10.25 and there is a mechanism to address a review process that will look at the necessity of increasing minimum wage.
In a study conducted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in 2008 the report showed that calculates a living wage in Toronto should be more than $10.25 per hour.
The CCPA study which was conducted in 2008, by Hugh Mackenzie and Jim Stanford, calculated that a two parent family with two children would need to make at least $16.60 an hour, working full-time year round, in order to obtain a reasonable standard of living that promotes health, well-being and participation in the full life of their community.
The living wage for a single parent with one child would be $16.15.
According to Sonia Singh of Worker’s Action Centre, there are 544,000 people in the province of Ontario that subsist on a pay of $10.25 an hour, and more than 750,000 earn around $11 or $12 an hour. Singh further adds says many low-wage earners are older and have families to support. They are mostly women, recent immigrants, and people of colour.
This becomes very important, more so to immigrant newcomers in this province. Most immigrant newcomers are earning minimum wage and are at times working two or more jobs in order to meet the needs of their families.
Increasing wage increase will be good for poverty reduction for this province.
by Kitchener- Waterloo BASICSNEWS
“Ronald McDonald,” joined by approximately 30 other people, targeted a McDonalds located in Kitchener, ON, to demand a living wage for all workers. McDonalds is part of a larger lobbying group that wants to keep the freeze on minimum wage (which is currently $10.25/hr in Ontario), forcing workers to live in poverty. This action is part of a larger provincial campaign that seeks to raise minimum wage to $14/hr. According to Statistics Canada, full-time workers making only minimum wage have incomes that are 19% below the poverty line, with limited to no benefits.
“In KW alone, we’ve lost manufacturing jobs and tech industry jobs (ex. RIM), due to temporary agencies, precarious part-time work, and outsourcing,” says community activist Mark Corbiere. “While the cost of living increases and minimum wage stays the same, the gap between rich and poor increases at an alarming rate,” stated Di, a member of various community organizations.
Businesses from the targeted lobbying group include Tim Horton’s, Wal-Mart, Loblaws, and McDonalds, as well as others. For more information on this campaign or to get involved/sign the petition to raise minimum wage, please visit www.raisetheminimumwage.ca.