By SK & MB
In the capitalist system labour is viewed as yet another commodity that can be traded and exploited. Wages are paid for labour-power and hours worked but in some circumstances, like the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SWAP), contracted wage agreements and working conditions are not a guarantee.
As participants in UFCW Canada’s Youth Internship Program we were part of a contingent who went to Simcoe, Ontario to learn more about the SAWP. We visited farms, talked to workers and farm owners, with an objective of investigating the issues and introducing workers to the Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA) action centre in Simcoe.
As a union contingent we organized a BBQ to celebrate the workers struggles and get more information into the hardships of the work, abuses in the SAWP program and generally agitate workers to organize themselves and talk about their working-conditions. We wanted to highlight workers’ value to the region, and to bridge the gap between the migrant workers and the larger community. The information in this article is based on our investigations.
Some of the issues we uncovered while visiting workers at their homes, meeting them in the community and visiting their workplaces are how employer friendly the program is. Some of the daily abuses include:
workers being frequently repatriated for demanding their rights. No enforced third-party regulatory system for health, safety, and labour regulations. Workers pay their employers rent for housing that is usually substandard and overcrowded.
Stories from the workers we met show that we cannot depend on individual farm owners to ‘do the right thing.’ We need to create a system of fairness where standards are regulated and monitored. Migrant workers are not familiar with Canadian laws and are given no paths to educate themselves. Through investigation, we discovered many workers who took home only $5 of the $10.25 per hour they are told they will receive.
Furthermore, many of the Latin American workers are not fully confident in the English language which means they can’t read WSIB and caution signs in their workplaces. It requires a huge effort for them to educate themselves on the rules, regulations and rights of agricultural workers in Canada.
When a worker attempts to educate themselves, or inquires about the many deductions on their paychecks, they are putting their jobs at risk. When workers turn to organizations that will assist them with their issues consulates from countries like Jamaica and Mexico often warn workers that the people at the Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA) are dangerous and only intend to take their money. In reality the AWA helps workers apply for the benefits they contribute to and also assists the workers with ESL courses so they can better understand their rights. This program is further evidence of the growing systemic pattern where the race to the bottom is both legislated and supported by governments. Workers are easily replaced by the millions of other workers all over the world who are just waiting to be picked, and are just as quickly disposed of. If an individual proves to be vocal, entitled, or motivated they are easily replaced and forgotten.
The union compares the SAWP to the indentured labour practices of the 19th century but even worse in this program there is no pathway to citizenship. Agricultural work is not valued by the Canadian immigration system and when workers in the program apply to immigrate they find that the point system values education, and capital for investment, not the time and sacrifice farm workers have already made. The fight against the current SAWP program is a fight for good jobs and for sustainable communities. There are organizations fighting to improve standards and to eliminate the systemic circumstances that allow violations to occur.
Good jobs in sustainable communities that respect workers are rare in most sectors and employees must race to the bottom simply to ensure they are employed and hopefully in a slightly better financial situation. Organizations like SAME (Students Against Migrant Exploitations), AWA (Agricultural Workers Alliance), Migrante, and the Workers Action Centre are all part of this battle for improved standards. We encourage you to find out more about these organizations and assist them in their struggles for justice.
Thanks to www.leftstreamed.ca for putting it together.
By Ajamu Nangwaya
Madison, Wisconsin, may have given organized labour – or the labouring classes – a hint at the possibility of resistance in the streets of America. Or should the credit go to the children of Caliban  in the streets and squares of Egypt? Can you imagine the role reversal implied by the prospect of the children of Caliban’s teaching those of Prospero, the great civilizer, the art of being human or striving for moral autonomy…collective personhood?
Many commentators have asserted that if there had been no revolt in Egypt, and no forced departure of the pharaoh-like Hosni Mubarak, there would not have been mass protest action in that oh-so-white of a state, Wisconsin. It is simply amazing to think that the fair citizenry of Wisconsin would require an external political stimulus to challenge their exploitation; the racialized section of the United States’ working-class has been bearing the brunt of the racist, sexist and capitalist battering of the welfare state structures since the 1980s without much sympathy from their white working-class counterparts.
But predominantly-white Wisconsin is up in arms when the chicken comes home to roost in their own backyard! Martin Luther King was quite right when he declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We can only hope that white workers come to realize that white supremacist beliefs and practices only weaken the working-class – to the advantage of the small capitalist elite. Read more…
By M. Cook
Workers from USW local 1005 continue to join the picket line everyday, and for good reason.
U.S. Steel has brought over two freighters to begin removing nearly $60 million dollars worth of raw materials – 44,000 tons of metallurgical coke – from Hamilton Works. On the evening of Sunday, March 29, the first ship left before anything could be done.
U.S. Steels actions of removing the coke by night highlight the company’s intentions of trying to crush the workers resolve. Workers have been locked out since Nov. 7, when U.S. Steel walked away from the bargaining table demanding that workers accept concessions to their pension plan.
While The Federal government has brought U.S. Steel to court, they have done nothing to prevent the removal of coke. In addition, the provincial government has done nothing to protect the workers pension rights.
On May Day, the workers are calling on both unionized and non-unionized workers to rally in Ottawa and defend the rights of all.
By Jessica Ponting
Every year, people from nearly 100 countries around the world stand together on April 28 to mourn and demand justice for those who were killed or injured as a result of their labour. This April 28, there are many to mourn and there is much to fight for.
Still fresh in many people’s memories are the deaths of Alexander Bondorev, Aleksey Blumberg, Fayzullo Fazilov and Vladimir Korostin, the migrant workers who were killed when the scaffolding they were working on collapsed on Christmas Eve 2009. Their deaths sparked demands from community members to ensure full immigration status, workplace protections, health benefits and just workers’ compensation for all workers, particularly those without full status.
Paul Roach and Ralston White will also be remembered. On September 10, 2010 the two workers died working at a farm near Owen Sound. One worker was repairing a broken pump in a cider tank and was overwhelmed by the fumes. The second worker tried to save his comrade, but he too was overwhelmed by the fumes. Both men died before they could be rescued.
Roach and White had been coming to rural Ontario from Jamaica annually as part of the federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). The program has been widely criticized for preventing labour mobility through employer-specific work permits and because the employer is able to threaten workers with deportation. Despite numerous requests following the deaths of White and Roach, there has been no indication that the government will do a coroner’s inquest and no changes have been made to the migration program that contributed to their deaths. Read more…
By Herman Rosenfeld
By the end of March, the Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty will have passed Bill 150. It declares the TTC to be an essential service and denies Toronto public transit workers – members of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union (ATU) Local 113 – the right to strike.
The attack on the transit workers was one of the first things that the newly elected right-wing populist Mayor of Toronto did this winter. Building on the memory of a short transit stoppage and the municipal workers strike from a couple of summers ago, Ford saw this as part of his plans to demonize public sector workers as a way of isolating all unions and weakening the collective gains of working people. (In fact, the ATU has walked out a total of 75 days since 1921).
He packed the Toronto Transit Commission with his allies (as he did all other administrative bodies in the city government), and pushed through a resolution calling on the Provincial government to pass legislation affirming this attack on union rights. Only the provincial government has the power to take away these workers’ right to strike through designating their jobs as “essential”. Read more…
By Herman Rosenfeld
The Ford administration has wasted little time in moving towards privatizing, selling off, key city services to the private sector. The president of the outside municipal workers union , CUPE 416, noted that Ford, his brother and their allies have cut the vehicle registration tax and are looking to starve the city of needed revenue. On that basis, Ford can cut services, attack the gains of public sector workers and privatize, “anything that is not nailed down” (in the words of Doug Ford, Rob’s senior advisor and ‘the brains behind the outfit’).
In February, the mayor announced plans to hold a city council vote to privatize garbage collection in the west side of the city in May. This is the first of a number of plans, which are said to include parks cleaners, maintenance, recreation centres, community housing, and possibly others. Three million dollars will be spent on hiring an army of consultants, looking for suggestions of things to cut and privatize.
Ford has begun with the garbage collectors, because they are seen as a relatively easy target. Even though thousands of inside and outside CUPE workers were on strike two summers ago, many people remember the garbage workers, and the inconvenience associated with that experience. Moreover, the propaganda coming from the right-wing, media, business and even the previous Miller administration tended to demonize these workers, with claims that their historic contractual gains somehow constituted “privileges”. Read more…
By Meg M.
On February 27, 2011 Women United Against Imperialism (WUAI) hosted the community forum Confronting Precarious Work in the Era of Imperialism to educate and organize around the theme of precarious work for the upcoming International Women’s Day events that took place in early March.
Petrolina Cleto began the forum by sharing her poem titled “A Place” with the group. Her words set the tone for the discussion ahead; about the sacrifices women make under global imperialism, as they migrate to foreign places for their families’ survival and the love behind migrant women’s work. Cleto explained, “working with the community of women migrant workers in Toronto has deepened my understanding of forced migration and the effects of imperialism on the majority of women in the world today. I now clearly see their courage. I also see what is often taken for granted… the great love with which they do their sacrifices, is also what they give to the people they work for.”
The following speaker, Brigitte Dang-ay, shared with the group that she arrived in Canada in 2006. She has since been separated from her four children in the Philippines while caring for Canadian families as a temporary foreign worker under Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP). LCP caregivers are required to complete 24 months of documented, full-time, live-in domestic work within four years of arrival in Canada. On completion of this requirement they become eligible to apply as permanent residents to Canada. Although it takes great courage for caregivers under the LCP to speak out on the vulnerabilities they face at work due to their precarious migration status, Dang-ay gave voice to the difficulties many women migrant workers experience and presented a powerful account of the impact of global imperialism on her life. Read more…
By Justicia 4 Migrant Workers
“No work, no pay, I fed up of the broken promises, and I don’t work for no one for free!!!”
Over a hundred migrant workers employed under the auspices of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers program (CSAWP) were recently deported for demanding thousands of dollars in back wages.
The migrant workers had not been paid for several weeks. Meanwhile, the employer kept telling its workers that their pay was coming and that they should continue to work.
As the employer continued to break its promises, the solidarity between Mexican, Trinidadian, Barbadian, and Jamaican workers strengthened and they began a wildcat strike in November 2010. Read more…
By M. Cook
“It’s not just about U.S. Steel, it’s every company. They’re doing all the same thing,” a worker from the United Steelworkers told BASICS.
On Saturday, January 29, thousands of working class people from Quebec and Ontario marched through the streets of downtown Hamilton. They came to show solidarity with United Steelworkers (USW) in Hamilton who have been locked out by U.S. Steel for over 11 weeks.
When asked how the fight was going, one USW worker replied, “It’s getting better. We had a lot of support from the community and other locals; they donate money. People are donating food, money, everything… Everybody’s helping out.” Read more…