An Op-Ed by Joyce Valbuena (Centre d’appui aux Philippines/Centre for Philippine Concerns)
First appearing at Montreal Serai and reproduced with permission
Montreal | One of the biggest challenges of migrating to another country is leaving your family behind. In most cases the reason is economics. If you are from a developing country, it becomes inevitable for at least one person in the family to go abroad to generate enough income to send kids to school, pay hospital bills, pay loans or land mortgages, be able to build one’s own house, or even just to be able to feed one’s family.
Being away, a migrant learns to cope with everything on his own. During times when a migrant faces dilemmas and prejudices, the love for the family gives him/her strength. When the strong typhoon Haiyan hit the province of Leyte in the Philippines, many of the migrants here in Montreal felt very anxious and worried about their families and friends back home. I felt heavy-hearted seeing photos and videos in the news of the devastation caused by such a catastrophe in my homeland. I was dismayed that the government had not done enough to protect the communities affected by the typhoon.
Also, when you migrate to another country, you bring some aspects of your culture and tradition that are as important to you as your family. However, what if these cultural values are suppressed in the new country where you have chosen to work or live? If wearing or displaying religious symbols, such as hijabs and turbans, are restricted, will you feel that you are being respected?
As a migrant, your ethnicity is usually considered by other people as coming from an inferior root – the smell of the food you eat, your hygienic practices, the accent as you speak, or when you communicate with a compatriot in your own language. Worse, you feel deprived of your rights to access basic services if only one language is used in social institutions such as hospitals, police stations and other public offices. How else can you seek help when abused by your employer or during an emergency if you cannot speak the prescribed language in the province where you live and cannot be accommodated in any other language?
More so, a migrant from a developing country does not have equal opportunities because his/her educational and professional experiences are mistrusted. For instance, even after having completed two-year contracts as domestic caregivers, migrants are often unable to practice their professions because their college diplomas are not recognized, despite the fact that they have worked as nurses or teachers in their native lands. Generally, most Canadian companies prefer employees with training certificates from Canada.
Meanwhile, many women migrant workers settle for jobs that are largely considered unskilled or low-status such as domestic care work. They are poorly-paid and compelled to endure exploitative working conditions. It is even more emotional for migrant mothers who leave their own children to look after those of their employers. Since domestic care work is not even considered a “real job” caretakers are excluded from benefits such as CSST [La Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail] and coverage and maternity benefits.
All these prejudices do not give relief and comfort to the worrisome migrants whose main intention is to provide a better life for their families.
The discriminating migration policies, such as the temporary foreign worker program in Canada, deny migrant workers their right to family life. Migrants should have a right to family life and to be reunited with their children. However, in this policy, temporary workers that Canada hires for specific work are sent back home to their country after four years. They have small chance to apply for permanent residency, and later on sponsor family members, because the selection requirements are stiff. The temporary foreign worker program is set up to bring cheap labor in to Canada where these workers are hired for low wages and no benefits. Because of their temporary work permits, they are often threatened and mistreated by their employers.
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, and in fact, more temporary foreign workers were accepted into the country than immigrants.
During the launch of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association (Association des Travailleuses et Travailleurs Etrangers Temporaires) in Montreal (November 2013), there were several stories that were shared of what is happening throughout Quebec and Canada. An article by BASICS Community News Service mentioned that an employer of one group of farm workers paid them an average of two hours of wages per day for over six years. Several workers complained about being tied to a single employer. One worker, whose company had laid him off for three months, explained that his work permit restrictions did not allow him to apply for other jobs, or for employment insurance. A group of workers also shared stories about their employer forcing them to rent apartments in his building or else be fired. Workers also shared stories of being told to apply on “single” status despite being married and having children back home placing their future plans to apply as permanent residents in jeopardy. Other workers shared stories about language barriers. They could not take French courses, nor could they access translation services within hospitals or some unions. These workers came from a range of occupations, and were employed across different cities in Quebec as farm workers, butchers, machinists, welders, translators, and lab technicians.
The need for genuine development in our homeland
In dire need of money to send back home to their families, many migrant workers succumb to multiple discriminations and precarious employment. They become vulnerable to unfair labor practices simply to ensure that they have enough money to meet their financial goals.
According to IBON International, remittance inflows to developing countries in 2012 were estimated to have reached US$401 billion. Top recipients of recorded remittance inflows were India ($69 billion), China ($60 billion), the Philippines ($24 billion) and Mexico ($23 billion).
In the Philippines, the overseas Filipino workers are dubbed as modern day economic heroes because their remittances save the local economy.
Whereas, in fact, the increasing diaspora of workers is a reflection of poor economic condition of the labor exporting country where migration is often touted as a catalyst for development. While migrant remittances can improve the local economy, it deprives the country from benefitting from the skills of its own labourers and professionals. The increasing exodus of labor weakens domestic economic foundations leaving very few opportunities for the people to improve the living conditions in their own country (IBON International, October 2013).
Migration becomes a global trend because of the increasing demand for cheap labor. Migrant workers are treated as cheap commodities with human rights being often violated because oppressive labor laws are tolerated by both governments of the sending and receiving countries.
While a migrant worker can give temporary relief to the economic situation of a family, in the long run this does not address a genuine development of the country because family members who are left behind continue to be dependent on remittances, or on other family members who, in the future would also migration to another land.
In the home country, there is a need to ensure sustainable employment and livelihood opportunities for everybody through national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform. Every family member should have free access to education, health care and other social services to ensure that the family is not placed in financial distress.
At the international level, governments must ensure to protect the human rights of all migrant workers, including their rights to safety, to express their own beliefs, to practice cultural traditions, and to access basic services amidst language barriers. Because, in the end, while migration can be a tool for development, one can question the kind of development it brings where labor exporting countries become increasingly poorer, and where migrants continue to face greater exploitation.
Joyce Valbuena is the coordinator of the Centre d’appui aux Philippines/Centre for Philippine Concerns, a Montreal-based solidarity group of Filipinos and non-Filipinos in Quebec who are concerned to end the situation of repression and exploitation in the Philippines. Joyce is a graduate student of Public Relations at McGill University.
M. Cooke. November 2013. Basics Community Service. Temporary foreign workers in QC launch their own association.
IBON International. October 2013. Migration and Development: A matter of seeking justice.
Declaration of the fourth International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR). October 4, 2013. New York, NY, USA.
By E. Humanez
Stories about the abuse of immigrant workers abound. Today we want to share the story of Lila Montana, a Colombian woman who was victimized by a delinquent agency owner.
Lila Montana arrived in Quebec in 2004 from Colombia. In 2004, she lived in Sherbrooke, one of Quebec’s regions selected by the provincial government to relocate Colombian refugees.
Lila was a specialist in the field of sewing; however she could not find employment. Most textile and clothing companies previously located in the Eastern Townships had closed or had moved to southeast Asia. A wave of outsourcing saw the movement of the manufacturing sector to other countries at the end of the 1990s.
In search of better opportunities, Lila moved to Montreal in the summer of 2007 where several of her friends had already settled.
Eager to work, she began the search for formal employment, but without success. Eager to find a job quickly, she started talking to people she knew. One day, a friend brought her a phone number that a friend of a friend had given them. It was the phone number of an employment agency run by Mr. Phantom.
Immediately, she called. He gave her an appointment the next day at 7 am, at Saint-Michel metro.
However, he said in advance that it was a moonlighting gig because it would pay “under the table”. As she was desperate and wanted to work, she accepted. She thought that maybe it could open doors to a real job.
She worked for two months and she received her pay every two weeks at a different metro station each time.
The third month, Mr. Phantom disappears.
Twenty women working for him searched everywhere. They knocked on the door of the director of human resources. And there they learned that Mr. Phantom no longer dealt with the company where they worked. They were told that he was paid for their work and that company does business with him for the management of staff. He stated that their real boss is Mr. Phantom and not the company. Having heard this explanation, powerless, Lila went home.
Four months later, Mr. Phantom returns. He called Lila and told her a sad story: his agency had failed and he had problems with the government.
Lila believes him, because she thinks everyone has problems. After finishing with his story, Mr. Phantom gives her an appointment in a metro station. However, he warned her not to tell anyone about their appointment.
Arriving at the rendezvous, Mr. Phantom apologizes again and puts an envelope with $700 in her hands. He asks a service: to return to work for the same company she had worked in the past. He promises to pay her what was due the next payday.
The first two months, Mr. Phantom pays punctually, but he has not yet paid what he owes (she is missing $300). The third month, Mr. Phantom disappears again with the pay of about 20 women, including Lila.
In the group, there were at least 12 women who were fooled by him in the past. Lila then referred the matter to the manager of the company. The woman said that she felt outraged by the behavior of Mr. Phantom, but she says they cannot a thing.
One day, Lila asked him to repay what he owed her. Mr. Phantom says he has no money and that because of her complaint to the company he lost the contract.
The next day, when Lila came to work, she was told she was no longer part of the group of people working for Mr. Phantom. She was owed over $2000 and does not know where to get it. She calls and a prerecorded track said: “the phone number that you are trying to call has not yet been assigned or is disconnected. Please confirm your number and call again.”
One day, one of the women still working for the agency Mr. Phantom called to tell her where to find him.
Lila asked her friends to help her; they all went to see Mr. Phantom. He was surprised to see her. He asked her to leave and to meet the next day in McDonalds at Cote-Vertu station. She firmly refused. A discussion started.
When things were degenerating, Lila threatened to call the police to report him. It was then that Mr. Phantom told her: “If you call the police, you will lose too, because you worked under the table, honey. Accept what I have here and leave, because otherwise the company that will call the police and we will both lose. “
He gives her an envelope with $ 1,200. Lila takes the money and leaves with mixed feelings.
One day, she met by chance in a Jean Coutu, one of her former coworkers. She asks if she had heard from Mr. Phantom. They told her that he had disappeared for good without paying them $1500 that they were owed.
Note: To preserve the anonymity of the person who lived these events, we have used a pseudonym.
Las historias concernientes a este tipo de abusos abundan en el medio de los trabajadores inmigrantes. Hoy queremos compartir con ustedes la historia de Lila Montaña, una mujer colombiana, que fue víctima de un propietario de agencia de espíritu malhechor.
Lila Montaña llegó a Quebec en 2004, proveniente de Colombia, su país de origen. Entre 2004 y 2007, Lila vivió en Sherbrooke, una de las regiones de Quebec seleccionadas por el gobierno provincial para relocalizar a los refugiados colombianos, que por esa época apadrinaba el gobierno canadiense. Especialista en el ramo de la costura, Lila no consiguió trabajo en Sherbrooke. La mayoría de las empresas del sector textil y de la confección basadas en el Cantón del Este habían cerrado sus puertas o se habían mudado al Sud-este asiático, luego de la conocida oleada de deslocalización y relocalización geográfica de las empresas del sector manufacturero en América del Norte, a finales del década de 1990. Después de ese momento, los empleos en este sector de la industria se volvieron raros en Sherbrooke.
En busca de nuevas oportunidades, Lila se trasladó a Montreal en el verano del 2007. En ese momento muchos de sus amigos llevaban ya cierto tiempo de estar instalados en esa ciudad. Deseosa de trabajar, Lila inicia la búsqueda de empleo formal. Como no había tenido éxito en su exploración y estaba deseosa de comenzar a trabajar cuanto antes, Lila comenzó a llamar a sus conocidos para hablarles de su necesidad de encontrar empleo. Un día, uno de sus amigos le dio un número telefónico, que un amigo de un amigo le había dado. Este era el número de teléfono de la agencia de empleo del señor Fantasma.
Lila llama. El Señor Fantasma en persona le responde. Luego de unas cuantas palabras, el tipo la cita el día siguiente, a las 7 de la mañana, en el metro Saint-Michael. Antes de concluir la conversación el hombre le advierte –sin dar muchas vueltas– que éste es un trabajo por fuera de las normas legales: por debajo de la mesa; o sea clandestino, por lo tanto el pago se hará en efectivo. Como estaba desesperada y necesitaba trabajar, Lila acepta. Dentro de sí, ella espera que ese trabajo le abra las puertas a un verdadero empleo.
Los días se sucedieron unos a otros sin contratiempo. Sin romper la rutina cotidiana, Lila trabajó durante dos meses dentro de un ambiente normal. Lo único curioso para ella era que el Señor Fantasma la citaba en una estación de metro diferente cada quince días para pagarle. Un día, al tercer mes, el señor Fantasma desapareció sin dejar huellas, llevándose con él tres semanas de sudor y fatiga de Lila y sus compañeras. Las 20 mujeres que trabajaban para el desaparecido comenzaron su búsqueda. Sin saber qué hacer, las mujeres tocaron a la puerta del director de recursos humanos de la empresa. Allí les contestaron que el Señor Fantasma ya no tenía, después de cierto tiempo, ningún tipo de trato con la empresa. Cuando preguntaron por sus salarios, les dijeron que la empresa se los había cancelado al diligente Señor Fantasma, porque la empresa hacia negocios con él para la gestión del personal supernumerario. En conclusión: el verdadero empleador de ellas era el señor Fantasma y no la empresa.
Luego de escuchar esa explicación, que a sus oídos sonó aparatosa, Lila regresó a su apartamento. Cuatro meses más tarde, el señor Fantasma apareció de nuevo. Su contacto con Lila se produjo a través del teléfono. Para calmarla le contó de entrada una historia triste: su agencia de empleo había quebrado y por eso él había tenido problemas con el gobierno. Lila le creyó, pues siempre ha sido del parecer que en este mundo todo el mundo tiene su cuota de problemas que rumiar. Luego de haber finalizado su relato, el Señor Fantasma le propuso un encuentro en una estación de metro. Mientras acordaban la hora, el Señor Fantasma le advirtió que no podía hablar del asunto con nadie.
Para no faltar a la cita, Lila se desplazó rápidamente. El Señor Fantasma le debía casi 1000 dólares. Cuando llegó al lugar acordado, el hombre le colocó entre las manos un sobre con 700 dólares, suplicándole nuevamente de excusarlo. Después de darle el dinero y de presentarle sus disculpas por haberle quedado mal, le pidió un favor especial: ir a trabajar al día siguiente a la misma empresa para la cual ella había trabajado en el pasado. Antes de despedirse le prometió de cancelarle el faltante en el próximo pago.
Al día siguiente, Lila madrugó con el fin de llegar a tiempo a una estación de metro bastante alejada de su casa, donde un emisario del Señor Fantasma debía recoger a las personas que trabajaban para la agencia y llevarlas a la empresa donde les correspondía cumplir turno. Los dos primeros meses el Señor Fantasma le pagó puntualmente el salario de la quincena, pero no le cumplió la promesa de saldar la deuda de 300 dólares que tenía con ella. Como cosa curiosa, al tercer mes el Señor Fantasma volvió a desaparecer, llevándose con él el pago de por lo menos 20 mujeres, entre ellas Lila. En el grupo había otras 12 mujeres que habían sido víctimas en el pasado de las tretas tramposas del tipo. Con el propósito de recuperar su salario, Lila fue a hablar con la responsable de la empresa. La señora le dijo sentirse avergonzada por el comportamiento indecente del Señor Fantasma, pero afirmó no poder hacer nada al respecto.
Tres meses más tarde el Señor Fantasma reapareció de nuevo y, como la primera vez, repitió la misma historia triste: “yo tuve que cerrar mi agencia. Toma 700 dólares y dame una espera razonable para pagarte lo que te debo”. El asunto se volvió a repetir en tres ocasiones y la explicación y el proceder del Señor Fantasma siempre fue el mismo. En el vaivén de la puerta el Señor Fantasma había acumulado una deuda de 1500 dólares con Lila. En situación similar se encontraban 20 compañeras de ella.
Un día Lila le exigió que le pagara lo que le debía. El hombre le dijo que él no tenía dinero. En tono enojado la acusó de ser la responsable de que él perdiera el contrato con la empresa donde ella había trabajado inicialmente, por haberse quejado por los retardos en el pago ante la directora. Según él, desde entonces la compañía no había vuelto a requerir sus servicios.
El día siguiente, cuando Lila llegó al trabajo el responsable del taller le informó que ella ya no hacía era parte del personal de trabajo, que trabajaban para el Señor Fantasma. La noticia la tomó por sorpresa y la impotencia se apoderó de su espíritu. El Señor Fantasma le debía más de 2000 dólares y ella no sabía dónde buscarlo. Siempre que lo llamaba, una voz pre-registrada le contestaba: “el número de teléfono que usted acaba de marcar no ha sido aún atribuido a ningún usuario o ha sido desconectado. Por lo tanto le solicitamos que revise su número e intente la llamada de nuevo”.
Un día, una de las mujeres que aún trabajaba para la agencia del señor Fantasma la llamó para informarle que esa semana, el propio Señor Fantasma estaba transportando el personal a las fábricas. Una de las personas que transportaba a su lugar de labores a los trabajadores de la agencia se había marchado a Toronto. Como no había conseguido aún quien lo remplazara, el Señor Fantasma había tenido que ocuparse del asunto. Para enfrentar con seguridad al espantajo, Lila pidió ayuda a dos amigos para que la acompañaran en su diligencia. Cuando llegó al lugar donde se hallaba el sujeto, el hombre se sorprendió al verla. Nunca imaginó que ella iría a buscarlo allí.
Cuando Lila se dirigió a él, el Señor Fantasma le pidió en tono rudo que se retirara del lugar y que fuera a verlo el día siguiente al McDonald de la estación Côte-Vertu. Ella se negó rotundamente. Una discusión escabrosa comenzó. Cuando la situación comenzaba a degenerar y la tensión subía, Lila amenazó con llamar a la policía para denunciarlo. Al darse cuenta que Lila no bromeaba, el Señor Fantasma le dijo: “Si usted llama a la policía, usted perderá también, porque usted ha trabajado de manera ilegal mi querida señora. Por eso yo le aconsejo que acepte esto que yo tengo aquí para usted y aléjese rápidamente del lugar, porque si no será la empresa quien va a llamar a la policía y en ese caso vamos a perder los dos”.
De manera precipitada y brusca, o tal vez al revés, el Señor Fantasma le entregó un sobre con 1200 dólares. Lila tomó el dinero y abandonó el lugar mitad frustrada, mitad serena. Un día, que se encontraba mirando promociones de cosméticos en una sucursal de Jean-Coutu se encontró, por azar, con una de sus antiguas colegas de trabajo. Como quien no quiere la cosa, Lila le preguntó si ella tenía noticias del señor Fantasma. Con un tono entre amargo y resignado, su colega le contó que el tipo había desaparecido definitivamente sin pagarle más de 1500 dólares.
Al final de la conversa las dos coincidieron en un asunto: el negocio del Señor Fantasma consistía en cerrar su agencia cada tres o cuatro meses, esconderse por cierto tiempo en la manigua, para regresar y desaparecer de nuevo tres o cuatro meses más tarde. Como él jamás le dijo a Lila su verdadero nombre, lo hemos llamado –por simple trámite- el Señor Fantasma.
Nota: para preservar el anonimato de la persona que vivió estos hechos hemos usado un pseudónimo.
by Pragash Pio and Denise Cordova
On March 13, 2014, the Committee in solidarity with those affected by Chevron in Ecuador organized a forum “Exposing the Dirty Hand of Chevron,” as a part of a wider awareness campaign.
For the past 20 years Ecuadorian indigenous and peasant communities have been fighting a legal battle against the oil giant Chevron for what is the largest environmental oil-related crime of our time that has been left behind in the Ecuadorian rainforest. In 2012 Chevron was sentenced to pay damages of US$ 9.5 billion. However, the corporation no longer has any assets in Ecuador to be seized.
Therefore, in order to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment to indemnify and compensate the victims and survivors of the contamination left in Ecuador by Chevron, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in December 2013 that Ecuadorian indigenous communities have the right to pursue all of Chevron’s assets in Canada.
Justice James MacPherson of the Court of Appeal for Ontario said that: “Chevron’s wish is granted. After all these years, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment heard on the merits in the appropriate jurisdiction. At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction.”
Given that the legal battle against Chevron now continues here in Canada, several organizations and collectives in Toronto saw the need to create a Solidarity Network with the affected communities in Ecuador by Chevron.
During their initial meeting, held on January 16, 2014, they gathered to denounce the pollution that Chevron left in Ecuador and the serious impact this has had on the health of the indigenous and peasants living in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Participants also expressed their support in the struggle of the Ecuadorian government of President Rafael Correa to win a measure of justice in the courts and media against the powerful U.S. Corporation.
“How can it be possible that Chevron, colluding with a private arbitration centre, wants to make the Ecuadorian government responsible for paying the judgment of US$9.5 billion to the affected communities?” asked Janis Mills, a Canadian academic and activist.
In an effort to create awareness in Canada around this issue, the committee has organized various screenings, events and information series.
Nicole Oliver, who participated at one of these events, noted that “The battle against oil corporations is also happening here in Canada. For example, theUnist’ot’en are currently battling against Chevron and other companies in resistance to the Pacific Trails’ Pipeline in northern B.C. over unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.” Oliver also stressed that “we think that peoples from Canada and Ecuador have similar problems, in many cases, facing the same threats, such as corporations and Canadian companies, that put profit first over the common good. In this context we think that affected communities can learn and support each other beyond borders.”
On March 13th, 2014 a forum was held at the University of Toronto with Brendan Morrison, Canadian lawyer representing the victims of Chevron in Canada, and Santiago Escobar, a human rights activist who has exposed and denounced the crimes of Chevron in the courts of both Ecuador and North America.
The forum began with the screening of a documentary on the crimes of Chevron, describing the hard evidence being used to legally challenge and sue the U.S. corporation for its chemical pollution. The screening described how Chevron’s pollution was the source of the rising epidemic of cancer and other health-related issues appearing for the first time throughout the Ecuadorian rain forest.
Brendan Morrison gave an overview of the legal battle during which he quoted Chevron’s spokesman’s declaration that the oil corporation “will fight [any legal challenge] until hell freezes over” and then “fight it out on the ice”.
“Chevron keeps refusing to accept responsibility for the environmental damage caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which as a result has generated high levels of cancer, abortions and various health problems among people living in areas contaminated by Chevron. It is time for this corporation to take responsibility,” said Toronto activist, Megan Kinch.
Santiago Escobar showed further fraud with proof of payments made by Chevron to Borja Diego Sanchez (known as “Chevron’s dirty tricks guy”) describing the collusion between the two. According to documents from Chevron, which emerged during Borja’s deposition in the U.S., Borja received over two million dollars in support to create propaganda for Chevron; ranging from use and payment of Chevron’s attorneys; a salary of ten thousand dollars; funding for his travels, among other various expenses.
“Chevron’s dirty tricks guy” first became known in September 2009, when Chevron used some videos he produced in which among other things, he created the impression that the judge proceeding the legal case of the affected communities against Chevron was being bribed. Chevron used these videos to accuse the government of Ecuador of inventing a false legal case for political reasons.
The forum came to an end with a photo exhibition documenting environmental damage caused by Chevron. All the participants created hand prints with black paint on canvas as a symbolic protest against Chevrons’ poisoning of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
On March 18th, at the University of Toronto, the Youth Communist League organized a Forum on Ecuador vs. Chevron, and Report-back from the World Festival of Youth and Students that was held last December 2013 in Quito, Ecuador.
Currently, several organizations and alliances in Canada are backing the Indigenous plaintiffs in Ecuador, including the Canadian and Quebec sections of the International League of People’s Struggles; the Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front; La Red de Amigos de la Revolución Ciudadana; Hispanic Centre of York and Barrio Nuevo.
The Committee in Solidarity with those Affected by Chevron in Ecuador is comprised of people committed to social and environmental justice. If you want to join the cause, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on : www.facebook.com/chevronsdirtyhand – https://twitter.com/chevronsdirty
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 Steve da Silva
One of Toronto’s inner suburbs has become a focal point in the ongoing struggle in Venezuela between the Bolivarian transition to socialism and the fascist resistance that has been developing over the last month.
With its face to the bustling city moving past it on Dufferin, just a little south of Lawrence, the quaint little church of San Lorenzo appears as a modest sight to unwitting passersby. But the small church, and its Latin American Community Centre to the rear, are more than simple sites of worship.
Since its establishment in 1997, the San Lorenzo parish has become a beacon for many in the Latin American community who have fled fascist dictatorships and military juntas over the decades from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But its message and ministry amount to more than a salve for the restless migrant soul, more than a home away from home. In the words of the Church’s patron saint, San Lorenzo: “The poor are the treasures of the church.”
That this church actually treasures the poor (as opposed to seeing the poor as a source of its treasures) can be seen in the day-to-day activities that drive the vibrant community organization that has built up around San Lorenzo. Its community centre is home to Radio Voces Latinas 1660 AM, Canada’s only 24-hour Latin American radio station and a key alternative to commercial news, views, and music that dominate the spectrum.
San Lorenzo is also the organizer of the annual “Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun,” which draws thousands into Christie Pits under the summer sun to to mark the celebration of the summer solstice in the tradition of the Andean region’s Indigenous peoples. The festival routinely raises thousands of dollars for the church’s solidarity missions and charity drives.
Among those programs include fundraising drives for disaster relief in Haiti, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela; as well as the community centre’s “Caravan of Hope,” which drives decommissioned ambulances and wheel-trans buses to El Salvador annually.
However, over the years, San Lorenzo and its priest Hernan Astudillo, have courted more controversy than one may think such acts of humanitarianism would invite. When charity becomes solidarity — when one proceeds from charitable handouts to morally and materially supporting struggles to emancipate people from their class oppression — some hearts simply stop bleeding for the poor.
As the old proverb has it, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if this man is violently dispossessed of his fishing rod? His family chased away from his lake-side community and into the urban slums? What if the rivers are being poisoned by large corporations?
It is the understanding that such social inequalities are the basis for poverty and suffering that drives San Lorenzo’s and Hernan Astudillo’s theology, which is part of the liberation theology tradition in Latin America that has prioritized the poor and their emancipation and which is seen as reflecting historical Jesus’s lived practice.
This past March 9th, San Lorenzo held a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — a tradition in keeping with past ceremonies held by the church for Latin America’s champions of the poor, with masses marking the deaths of various fighters for freedom, from the assassinated Che Guevera to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was the Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 in wave of terror that targeted thousands of leftists, including many clerical elements. Romero is also a key figure in Latin America’s liberation theology tradition.
“I did the mass in honour of Hugo Chavez, who I consider with all humility, a very holy man,” priest Hernan Astudillo told BASICS. The result was predictable and sadly not unfamiliar to Astudillo and the church.
“I received a fax saying they would ‘eliminate’ me personally… basically, a death threat, they will kill me. We have received death threats over the phone. We have received two messages: One sent by email from an anti-communist organization insulting our people who work on the radio station, saying that they are going to take out our [radio] antenna.”
On March 6, the church received a letter from an organization calling itself “Contracomunistas” in which the Radio Voces Latinas was cited as a target. On March 12, the fax threatening Father Hernan’s life came in.
But the threats are nothing new for Father Hernan: “This reminds me how when 14 years ago I performed a mass for Monsignor Oscar Romero in this same church, I had also received death threat letters because I was holding a mass for a ‘communist bishop’.”
If only this was all just some verbal aggressiveness from the Latin American community’s right wing, the threats could perhaps be dismissed as posturing from disgruntled elements anxious about their oligarchic families and classes losing their grips on power back home. But a history of these threats actually materializing on the Church gives great cause for concern.
In 2006, the antenna of Radio Voces Latinas was discovered to have been shot after having experienced some unknown technical problems for a period of time.
BASICS asked Father Hernan if the threats have ever translated into bodily harm: “I’ve received death threats more than ten times and on two occasions, a group has stolen money from us during our summer festival at Christie Pits park. In September 2008, they even came to my office, hit me, and dislocated my right shoulder. They were trying to instigate me to react violently, but I refused to.”
Father Hernan drew out the irony and hypocrisy of the attacks on his church’s concern with the poor and their social struggles: “I’ve been meditating over how during this time of Lent [the season of penance and prayer leading into Easter], I might receive even more letters like this [death threats] as I prepare mass for Jesus Christ, because he was really far stronger than Monsignor Oscar Romero and many other martyrs and prophets in the world. His actions, his life, his decisions were always with the poor people.”
BASICS asked Father Hernan if he’s seen any of this opposition or resistance to the church’s pro-poor messaging and its socialist sympathies from within his own parish: “This is from outside. This parish knows what kind of theology we have. We don’t practice the theology of the conquerors. We follow the theology of the historical Jesus Christ, a man who gave his life for equal rights, a man who was fighting the Roman Empire.
“Jesus Christ was not a person who was faking his spirituality in his life. He was a wonderful human being with a pure and transparent identity, to rehumanize the world he was living in at the time in Nazareth and Galilee.”
BASICS correspondent and San Lorenzo parishioner Pablo Vivanco was also in attendance at the March 9 mass for Chávez, which brought out a single anti-Chávez protestor.
“One individual brought out a placard in the mass that stated something to the effect of honoring the ‘student martyrs’ in Venezuela,” Vivanco commented.
“Of course, the names he had on there (some of them incorrectly spelled) were of Chavistas and others killed by the violent opposition in Venezuela. One of the names this individual was hailing as a ‘martyr’ was Juan Montoya [killed in mid February], who was actually a prominent member the Tupamaros.”
The Tupamaros is a decades-old leftist guerrilla organization with a strong base in some of Caracas’ poor neighbourhoods that has been supportive but independent of the Venezuelan government.
“So it’s entirely disingenuous to claim Montoya’s death for the opposition cause, and equally dishonest to not acknowledge that the vast majority of people who have been killed in the last month are the result of the opposition and their actions,” a fact of the reality in Venezuela that is being assiduously documented by independent researchers.
“But the right wing sectors in the community unfortunately do not have this sort of tolerance,” Vivanco elaborated. “This isn’t the first time that threats have been issued against Father Hernan for his principled stances. What’s more concerning is that the violent right wing opposition in Venezuela is killing people and has also attacked media and journalists, so who knows if those allied with the opposition in Venezuela will try something like that here.”
In 2010, Father Hernan Astudillo visited Venezuela to learn about the vast expansion of popular media projects in the country and to deliver the community-generated funds to victims of landslides.
From his own experiences in the country, Father Hernan shared with BASICS his view that: “The opposition in Venezuela is fighting not because they want to help the poor people, but because they want Venezuela’s oil wealth to themselves. They are not fighting because they want to help the poor people, like President Hugo Chavez did. That finally poor people have hope is beautiful.“
The evidence of the threats against San Lorenzo and Hernan Astudillo are now in the hands of Toronto Police Services. BASICS contacted 13 Division’s Criminal Investigations Bureau on the morning of March 19, but the assigned detectives were not available at the time of publication for comment.
With the legitimacy that the Canadian government has given to the violent opposition and the blame for violence that is has misattributed to the Venezuelan government, we shall see if the threats against San Lorenzo will be treated with the same severity that such threats would be met with if they threatened a corporate leader or a Canadian politician. Updates on this investigation will be made here.
Nunavut Mayors’ Forum Passes Motion Opposing Seismic Surveys
by Warren Bernauer
The mayors of Nunavut’s Qikiqtani (Baffin) region passed a motion opposing offshore oil and gas exploration at the 2014 Baffin Mayors’ Forum. The motion was passed unanimously, with all thirteen mayors of the region voting in favour.
The motion states, “the people have expressed concerns of the [oil and gas] activities that can have adverse affects on the ecology of our offshore region, and our hunter gatherer society”.
“The Mayors of Baffin Island are opposed to oil & gas activity, including seismic testing in Davis Strait & Baffin Bay until such time when our concerns have been met and Inuit can be full participants of such activity.” Read more…
Toronto-based activist and journalist Ali Mustafa was killed on Sunday, March 9, by the Assad regime’s bombs in the opposition-held city of Aleppo, Syria.
Ali was a friend to many of us in BASICS and someone who touched a lot of people inside and outside of Toronto. As the corporate media laments the death of a Canadian photojournalist in Syria, we know that Ali was much more than that. If he was killed in the line of duty, it was as a revolutionary and a people’s journalist in concrete solidarity with the people of Syria, not as a careerist with the backing and resources of a CNN or CBC correspondent. To many of us, Ali was far more than just another photojournalist — we know him as a caring and sweet soul, and a tenacious fighter for social, political and economic justice.
Below is a collection of stories and tributes to Ali from many of us who knew and loved him, in no particular order. As we continue to mourn our loss and remember Ali, we will continue accepting your contributions. Please send all subsequent tributes to email@example.com.
Please also consider making a financial contribution to support Ali’s family in this difficult time.
—BASICS Editors Read more…
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
612 Markham St, Toronto
Since February 12th, when demonstrations against the Government of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela turned violent, Venezuela has been in
the spotlight of media around the World.
But what is really going on? Is the mainstream media telling the whole story?
Come to this open discussion, facilitated by progressive Venezuelan
and Latin American activist, to learn about what is really happening.
The Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN), the Hands
Off Venezuela Campaign, the Hugo Chavez Peoples Defense Front
This is an interview by Camila Uribe-Rosales of BASICS with Oscar and R (who prefers to remain anonymous), two Latin American youth who migrated to Canada from El Salvador and Mexico, and their experiences in the Canadian education system.
O: I was born in El Salvador. My parents migrated here. I didn’t speak the language at all as a youngster, and I remember I was about 7 years old. You definitely feel outcasted. I remember feeling that the only people that really knew me and the only place where I felt safe was at home amongst my family. I would go to the classrooms. Kids would laugh at me.
R: The first school I went to, there was no ESL program at that school. There was one Latina. Actually she was from Spain, she wasn’t Latina, and she refused to speak to me. I remember very clearly that she said she would be considered low class if she was to speak Spanish to me.
O: There was one particular incident where there were these two girls that were speaking and they were talking about my skin colour. Something along the lines that “We shouldn’t judge him because of his skin colour, like it’s not his fault.” And I was like “Really? Like why is that even a problem?” I didn’t even know that that was an issue.
R: I remember being picked on a lot. People would come to me and sing Daddy Yankee songs, like that was cool or that I would feel at home or something, and people bullying me. It was very hostile. A lot of people tried to fight me and I didn’t really know why.
At one point, I went to Mexico to celebrate Christmas. And so when I came back, the teacher had a set-up with chunks of desks, like she had four here, four there, whatever. And when I came back, my desk was at the corner closest to the door. And everyone else’s was at the opposite corner, packed away from me. And so when I walk into the classroom the teacher says to me, “Look, we just really feel you shouldn’t be here, because you’re Mexican and we don’t want to catch swine flu. And so we wanna ask you not to come back to school.” I got completely bullied. I was harassed. People wrote this on my Facebook and made videos about it.
R: I got kicked out of the school because, well, I was in a classroom and the priest walked in and he started to ask people the commandments. And so I didn’t know them in English and so he threw a set of keys at me. And I picked them up and I walked to him and I gave them back to him in his hand. I mean, he was a priest and I was just coming from Mexico. And so he once more asks me for a commandment which I don’t know how to say. And so he throws the keys at me for the second time, and I pick up the keys and I throw them at him. And so I was like arrested [sic] by a teacher, and they took me to the office and they were just screaming at me. Like I understood what they were saying. They were saying I was stupid or I was gonna burn in hell, that Mexicans were violent, that it was all because I was Mexican. That Mexican people were horrible.
Then I arrived at Downsview which is where I completed my high school. There was a lot more Latinos at Downsview and things were a lot more enjoyable in the sense of students. I remember at one point we had a group of like 30 friends and we would help each other out. But as soon as I got there I was told by the principal that I would never be able to go to university, and that I would never achieve to graduate high school, because I would never be able to pass Grade 12 English.
And I was bashed out of many classrooms by teachers because I was called a communist, simply because I wanted to speak about things. I remember one time, this teacher wanted to give us a lot of homework for Thanksgiving. And I said to him, “No, this is a holiday.” And he started to argue to me and I said, “Look, this is not a dictatorship. You’re not an ultimate power. You are in a sense elected by somebody and if we all work as a collective and decide to walk out on you, you will be fired.” And he bashed me out of the classroom. He called me very nasty things and started to relate me to a lot of nasty characters in Latin American history. He started saying “Oh, don’t call Pablo Escobar on me,” and stupid things like that.
O: I remember this one professor, he was white, but I remember one of the first slides. He showed a little caricature, and he said, “Oh its scientifically been proven that those students that wear hats backwards, there is a correlation with lower grades.” So I purposely would bring in a cap. I wouldn’t always put it on backwards, but I would always bring it in, as a form of resistance. And you know, that’s bigotry right to the end because it’s based on absolutely nothing, and yet you’re claiming it to be scientific evidence, as a professor. I don’t know if he was joking but even if he was, like who jokes around about that? Why, out of everything, pick that? And I think that’s definitely targeting racialized groups. They don’t understand the culture that it even comes out of.
R: I was incarcerated [sic] by a principal. It was in high school and the teacher said we could do whatever we felt like doing, but our teacher had written on the board that we had to do a shitload of work, like a crazy amount of work. He had been absent and he hadn’t taught any of the material he wanted us to do, and so I was like “Wait a second, this guy never comes to class, never teaches the material and expects us to perform like a super student.” And so I said to the students “Look, if we all walk out of this classroom, the teacher can’t fail us all. If all of us get up and walk out right now, he’s screwed.” And so, we all got up… Well it took some convincing, took me a little more convincing. And so we all got up and started walking out, and the principal grabs me. Grabs me by the shoulders and yells, “Everybody get back into the classroom!” Everybody gets freaked out. Everybody started heading back in. And he says, “You’re coming to the office with me!” By the way, that class was very crucial to me. That was Grade 12 English and if I didn’t pass I wouldn’t graduate. And so he took me to the office and made me sit in a corner of his sketchy office. And so I said, “No, I’m an adult. You’re not gonna treat me like this. You’re not gonna segregate me, you’re not gonna outcast me because I was speaking about my rights.” And he was literally like, “Shut up, I don’t wanna hear you, go in your corner.” And so he locked the door and locked me in. And he left me in that office for two hours, just sitting there. And I remember kicking the doors and getting angry and screaming. I started writing step by step how I was segregated, and comparing it to acts of genocide which have happened in our society. Like I was locked in an office as a student for fighting for my rights! And I drafted this to the director of education. He looked at the paper and said, “Oh yeah, this is a good principal, don’t worry about it.”
At one point in my life, I was like, “Fuck this. These guys are all racist. I’m never gonna win against them. There’s no one like me. I’m a nobody. I’m not gonna go to university,” and I started believing it. And it’s really hard without teacher support, it’s really hard as a student. And it’s quite frustrating because you don’t have control over them. If a teacher wants to be racist to you, he will be racist to you. And to know that you can’t do anything about it, that you report it to the Director of Education and he does nothing about it. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.
You don’t feel like you belong in the school, all your teachers are white, and they talk about white behavior, and they’re all racist towards you, and it’s like well, what am I? A fucking alien? Am I the weird one? We talk about why there is so much violence in youth, why there is so much anger…fuck, what do you think this frustration builds to?
O: I feel like a lot of times we have to resort to those things [violence], or fit into the stereotype that was being projected onto me. As a young Latin American male, you’re like cholo, gangster, like you have to do that. You have to be a drug dealer, beat people up, treat women like shit, be a scumbag, machista. Even with all the bullshit that we have to go through, I imagine it’s much, much more difficult for a Latina.
R: My girlfriend was told to take parenting classes five times because she was told by a guidance counselor that all she needed to do was go to university to find a husband. And that once she found a husband that what she would do for the rest of her life was be a mom, so she might as well take a lot of parenting courses. And so it took her two extra years to graduate high school because of that, because the courses she was supposed to take were not given to her because she didn’t need to be smart. All she needed was to find a good husband, so she was given almost a semester and a half of the same subject. Just because she was Latina.
R: There was definitely a lot of pride in the land where we came from and I never wanted to turn my back on mi gente and my community. I was blown away by the lack of community that I experienced here. Coming from a little colonia back home, it was all like one family and that was something that I lost. Every time you try to explain to people who we are as Latin Americans, we aren’t listened to. Like I feel that we are a minority and not even recognized…things like the constant need to remind people that we’re not Spanish but Latin American, and the constant need to remind people that we’re not all Mexican. We’re not all the same. It’s important for us to come together; I remember one of the chants in El Salvador that is used all over Latin America. “El Pueblo unido jamás será vencido” [The people, united, will never be defeated] and I truly believe that.
by Ashley M.
Total Fitness Studio doesn’t look like your typical mainstream gym, and doesn’t follow the same model. With a small studio in the heart of Scarborough, it promotes healthy living with fun — “Move it to lose it!”
This fitness studio removes the veil of expensive machines as the only way to be ‘healthy’ with realistic and sustainable exercises that are meant to use one’s own body weight. It doesn’t feel like a business, but a place to have fun working out.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of getting fit with expensive machines. Too often, people are bombarded by aggressive gym advertisers and salespeople interested in signing up gym memberships but not really looking at people’s health or financial issues. People end up continuing to pay these fees, without actually going to the gym anymore with lack of motivation.
High membership fees and personal training costs also create a hierarchy of those who can afford to pay these exorbitant fees and those who are struggling with their health but are not able to pay for these luxuries.
But fitness is a $2.2 billion business in Canada according to the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and nearly 5.4 million people are enrolled in health clubs in Canada. The fitness industry both creates and feeds off the fear of gaining weight and counts on people as consumers that need to purchase a particular body type.
“The view that some weights are unacceptable and that body weight is malleable has led to a large diet industry in North America, with estimated annual revenues of $35 to $50 billion,” write Marion P Olmsted and Traci McFarlane in an article in the scientific journal BMC Women’s Health. “Our current cultural preoccupation with thinness extends beyond the health risks associated with obesity.”
The fitness and diet industry place blame on those who ‘choose’ to eat unhealthy food or develop unhealthy habits. The cycle of poverty or the socio-economic factors that contributes to the lack of access to ‘healthy lifestyles’ is ignored, as is an holistic, overall approach to health. The financial burden and mounting societal pressure that people face don’t factor in; neither does the concept of a community that fosters self-care, love and acceptance along with mutual support.
Not everyone has the means to afford organic food nor the money to afford a gym membership, which is more often than not, seen as the only way to get fit within the thinking that drives the business of fitness. This is where Total Fitness Studio comes in.
“I started this gym in hopes of helping others, looking back at the lack of money to afford going to a gym, while also being overweight and struggling to become healthy,” says Lisa, the personal trainer and co-owner of Total Fitness Studio. She went through a journey of losing 200lbs on her own.
Lisa is not looking to make a buck, only to make enough money to keep the gym open. “I want to make a positive, transformative change in people’s lives,” she says. “It’s a risk in the business world, but is it not better to try?” If you want to get in touch with Lisa, give her a call at 416-709-3710.
People before profits! Health before greed!