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 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 Nicole Oliver
“The strawberry represents love, courage, and women,” explained Wanda Whitebird in Toronto at the 9th Annual Strawberry Ceremony Honoring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and those who have died violent deaths by colonialism in ‘Canada.’
“Over 600 strawberries and cups of water were handed out,” Audrey Huntley of No More Silence posted on the Strawberry Ceremony Facebook event page.
The Toronto ceremony took place February 14 outside the Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto. From coast to coast, other communities also gathered to mourn and remember beloved sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who have gone missing or have been murdered in recent decades.
“We stand together on this day to show our solidarity with the community of the downtown eastside in Vancouver where the Memorial March has been taking place for 23 years and because the violence is here too and inherent to settler colonialism”, Huntley shared with BASICS.
Indigenous women are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence, cites Canadian government statistics. Still officers of the colonial state, including the police, have a track record of over-persecuting and under-protecting indigenous women. In Canada, Onkwehon:we (original) peoples make up four per cent of the population, yet First Nations, Inuit and Metis women account for 32.6 per cent of the inmates in the federal prison system.
Blu, the event’s emcee, shared with those gathered at College and Bay that “when my Kohkom [grandmother] was murdered – her life was taken and this took something away from me, my family members, from people in my community”. When describing how healing and solutions to end the violence requires the collective efforts of community members, Blu stated, “we ask the men to help, to stand beside us, to support us as we are a community and a community involves everybody”.
Tobacco ties were handed out to participants as the Strawberry Ceremony progressed into a march from Toronto Police Headquarters to the 519 Church Street Community Centre. As an indigenous medicine, tobacco is seen as a plant responsible for acting as a medium for communication with the Creator, with its smoke seen as lifting prayers to the Creator to be heard. When offering tobacco in ceremony it signifies that those involved are to be of one heart, one mind, and one spirit moving forward with the same purpose. Those who took the tobacco ties were asked to “tie them in a place where they will be seen, so that those who come will know that someone has been there before representing not a closing, but a beginning” explained Whitebird.
John Fox, father of Cheyenne Fox, led the march of over 200 community members to 519 Church. Cheyenne Fox of the Sheguiandah First Nation died at the age of 20 in April 2013 after mysteriously and tragically falling from a 24-storey condo in Toronto. After only 8-hours police had ruled the death a suicide. John Fox has been vigilant in pressuring the police to look further into the death of his daughter.
Michelle Schell, an Ojibwe woman, shared with BASICS, “I was staying at a Native women’s shelter and I heard a story of a woman who was raped in the backyard…I later found out that this was Cheyenne Fox. The fact remains that she was harmed in a place where she was supposed to be safe. So it’s not just a question of whether she jumped from that balcony or whether she was pushed, but I cannot help but wonder had she not left that place because obviously she did not feel safe after what happened, if things might have happened differently. Either way she may not have found herself in the position of being on that balcony”.
Schell’s insight into Cheyenne’s death speaks to the continued systemic failings that indigenous women are continually subjected to by service providers and agencies set up by the Canadian colonial government.
Since last year’s ceremony, Toronto has seen the unresolved violent deaths of three indigenous women – Cheyenne Fox, Terra Gardner, and Bella Laboucan McLean.
As the march carried forward to the beat of hand drums and songful voices, major intersections were occupied by those who came out to honor the lives lived and the loved ones of indigenous sisters no longer with us. Before partaking in a community feast prepared by the men of NaMeRes, a round dance took place at the intersection of Church and Wellesley. Schell told BASICS that the Strawberry Ceremony is held in front of Toronto Police Headquarters because “it’s symbolic… to make it visible and to let people know that they have failed in so many cases and that they just don’t seem to care”.
Native hip-hop artist Young Jibwe (Cameron Monkman) of Lake Manitoba First Nation created a song featuring Robbie Madsen entitled “Come Home” to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered indigenous women of Turtle island. Young Jibwe was in attendance at the Feb 14 event in Toronto and he told BASICS that “I want to show my respect to the missing and murdered women and acknowledge my cousin Unice Ophelia Crow. She was murdered in Winnipeg in August. She was 19. She was stabbed multiple times on her upper body. I came out to shine light on that. I feel people need to know who she was. She was a great person. It’s just sad that community loses great people”.
In discussing where the solutions to end the violence will come from Schell told BASICS, “I think the answers will come from the community itself; whether it’s an indigenous issue or not we have to stop relying on the government…obviously they don’t listen, obviously they don’t do anything … they keep saying there’s no money, we don’t have it, so we have to look to ourselves to organize.”
by BASICS Team Kitchener-Waterloo
This past September, Kitchener’s Anti Colonialist Working Group – a grassroots organization supporting political prisoners and prisoners of war against colonialism around the world – toured the independent Irish Republican, Brendan Casey, around parts of Canada to speak of today’s struggles of Irish prisoners of war (POWs) incarcerated by the British.
The purpose of the tour — which lasted a week and touched down in Guelph, Kitchener, Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, and several other cities — was to raise awareness of the reality of the occupation, as well build ties with others fighting colonialism and imperialism.
In the words of one participant, Jason Lamka, “The tour was very powerful and Brendan is a great speaker. We never hear anything in the media about the stops and searches, the internment of prisoners like Martin Corey and Colin Duffy, or loyalist violence.”
Jason added, “From what I understand the purpose of this tour is to break the media silence around what is happening under the British occupation, and for me his presentation did just that. I’m glad I went.”
Brendan Casey himself was also pleased with the tour. “We have met with all sorts of people from Mapuche resistors, to members of the Cuban Federation of Women, to people from Six Nations. People across this whole country seem very political and active and I look forward to coming back.”
Despite the positive reception at the events, the tour was mired by threats of violence in Kitchener from ‘Loyalists’ who support Britain’s occupation of Ireland, in addition to police harassment. Tour organizer Julian Ichim said, “We got some threats of violence from Loyalists; and the police warned the venue that we were hosting a speaker from “the bad IRA” that didn’t disarm and they tried to intimidate the venue into cancelling but that didn’t happen.” Ichim added, “These so called loyalists are idiots and I’m a bit sorry they didn’t show up as we would have made short work of them. Still the slander of the police demonstrates that anyone who stands up against occupation can and will be smeared and criminalized.”
In spite of some of the intimidation and harassment, the tour succeeded in raising awareness of the brutality of the British occupation against those who continue to uphold Irish republicanism, especially for Prisoners of War in Ireland.
by Jesson Reyes
In December 2013, the newly appointed Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, announced that the handful of proposed changes within the Family Reunification Program will be effective as of January 2, 2014. Together with this announcement is the assurance to the applicants of its main motives: to decrease processing time (currently averaging 4 years) and to clear backlogs in the application pool.
Most of the changes constitute an additional burden to what is already a challenging process to begin with: Citizenship Canada has been quoted as saying they are doing everything to reunite ‘families’ as quickly as possible. But the CIC defines a family as per the nuclear family model — family members that can come with you when you immigrate to Canada are your spouse, dependent child and the child of a dependent. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles are not allowed to be sponsored unless they are streamed into a particular program.
Also, an applicant who does not declare their “dependents” when they initially apply for the permanent resident form, will not be able to “add a dependent” in the future. This may not appear to be an issue for most applicants but it certainly affects those who may come from a particular situation where reasons for not claiming their children may come from the fear of persecution from either family members or their government.
The CIC’s definition of the family actually contradicts Statistics Canada’s, which in 2002 broadened its definition of family to include couples of any sexual orientation, with or without children, married or cohabiting, lone parents of any marital status, and grandparents raising grandchildren.
In addition, the age of who would be considered as a “dependent” will be changed from 22 to 19. It is important to remember that this particular change was considered to “better the economic integration” of dependents coming in to the country.
In 2012, Canada’s Economic Action Plan was released where the Government cited its immigration priority goals: to fuel economic prosperity, transition to a fast and flexible economic immigration system, and select immigrants that have the skills and experience required to meet Canada’s economic needs.
Research has demonstrated that older immigrants (age 19+) have a more challenging time fully integrating into the Canadian labour market, and so the policy is meant to promote immigration only of those deemed economically useful. The policy does not give consideration to family unity.
But one of the major barriers that those above the age of 19 face in finding jobs remains with the employers’ inability to recognize their working experience and/or their professional credentials. The Ontario Human Rights Commission even considers this requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ to be a violation of human rights. But the prevalence of such requirements leads to deskilling or deprofessionalization of well-qualified immigrants.
Clearly, Canada or at least its current government has demonstrated with its immigration policies that it is not willing to acknowledge and engage in the issues of transnational families. This is reflected in its reluctance to sign the United Nations Convention to Protect Migrant Workers and their Families. Canada has contributed to separating families through strict laws regarding migrant workers, since the 1920s with the Chinese railroad workers up until the introduction of the live in caregiver program in 1993.
All that matters is what is economically expedient, not family values! Statistics indicate that family class decreased from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993 to 21.5% in 2010.
Grassroots community organizations such as Migrante Canada, Filipino Migrant Workers Movement, Justicia 4 Migrant Workers, No One Is Illegal, and Migrant Workers Alliance for Change are all at the forefront of migrant struggles in Canada.
These groups are fighting both the injustices on foreign soil and against the systemic displacement of people through what countries like the Philippines call their ‘Labour Export Policy.’ Imperialist interventions and systematic underdevelopment provoke people to look for work abroad. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the struggles of migrants start way before they land on Canadian soil.
As we approach the 10 year anniversary of Canada’s invasion of Haiti, Ajamu Nangwaya of the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity & Toronto Haiti Action Network explores humanity’s debt to, and imperialism’s crimes against, the Haitian people.
by Ajamu Nangwaya
February 28th/March 1st will mark the 10th anniversary of the coup in Haiti that was orchestrated by the French, American, and Canadian governments, resulting in the kidnapping and downfall of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to journalist and writer Yves Engler:
“On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.”
Just over a year after this pivotal meeting of the three Western states in Canada, the democratic government in Haiti was overthrown, President Aristide had been kidnapped and exiled to the Central Afrikan Republic, hundreds of Fanmi Lavalas’s (FL) supporters were killed, immediate occupation of Haiti by 2,000 Western troops (latter replaced by the United Nations’ military intervention), repression against grassroots organizations, filling of the jails with political prisoners and abandonment of the FL government’s investment in education, job creation, healthcare, public services and preoccupation with increasing the minimum wage.
People of good conscience across the world, especially those in the Americas, should take the upcoming anniversary of the coup to not only learn about what has transpired in Haiti these past ten years, but more importantly, develop and strengthen our ties of solidarity with the popular organizations within and serving Haiti’s working-class and peasantry.
People-to-people solidarity based on mutual respect and principled collaboration will assist the Haitian people in their long struggle to rid themselves of the United Nations’ (MINUSTAH’s) occupation force that has been implicated in gross human rights abuses over the past decade, including the UN borne 2010 cholera outbreak that killed 8,300 deaths and infected close to 650,000 Haitians.
Our solidarity could support the demand put forward by kidnapped and deposed president Aristide that France repay Haiti the 90 million gold francs (over $23 billion today) ransom that was extracted from the latter as the price for diplomatic recognition and freedom from the threat of re-enslavement.
Our awareness can help end the cycle of Western military interventions, coups and/or propping up of anti-democratic, anti-people regimes that has plagued Haiti throughout the entire 20th century up to the present; and help Haitians put an end to the local elite’s and foreign capital’s exploitation of the people. Based on Haiti’s contribution to humanity, it should hold a special place in the internationalist programmes of progressive forces across the world.
In the annals of history, the enslaved Afrikans in Haiti were the only people to have successfully overthrown a system of slavery. They defeated the strongest military forces of the day, that of France, Britain and Spain, in order to free themselves from the servile labour regime and boldly assert their freedom and humanity.
This historic feat, the Haitian Revolution, was significant beyond the victory that the enslaved Africans registered in using armed struggle to effect emancipation-from below. These Black Jacobins etched the fear of revolution in the hearts and minds of the enslavers or agricultural capitalists in the other slave-holding territories in the Americas.
Haiti’s role in Simon Bolivar’s wars of independence in Latin America is not widely known. In the spirit of principled international solidarity, Haiti provided a place of refugee to Bolivar and his comrade Francisco de Miranda in 1815 and gave them material aid in the form of schooners, printing presses, fighters and as well as guns for several thousand troops.
Haiti’s only condition for its contribution was Bolivar’s commitment to abolishing slavery, which he didn’t vigorously and speedily implement. Haiti was still living up to the ideal of universal freedom from slavery and colonial domination and it was there during a crucial movement in the Latin American struggle for self-determination. It is rather instructive and ironic today to see Latin American military forces serving in Haiti in occupation army under the United Nations’ banner (a force that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay).
Haiti’s legacy of defying and exposing the farcical nature of the racist characterization of Africans as sub-humans by defeating the best European armies of the period, taking its freedom in its own hands, contributing to the liberation of Latin America and threatening the continued viability of slavery has probably earned the country the unenviable economic and political status it currently holds in the region.
I believe the poet William Wordsworth’s was right in declaring to the fallen and deceived Toussaint L’Ouverture (and by extension Haiti), “Thou hast great allies / Thy friends are exultations, agonies, / And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.”
Our anti-imperialist obligation to Haiti and its people for their contribution to universal freedom entail the provision of political, moral and material support in fighting our common enemies of social emancipation and justice.
As the 10th anniversary of the coup d’etat and occupation of Haiti approaches, the least you can do is inform yourself about the situation in Haiti by attending Toronto Haiti Action Committee’s February 24 public education event with Haitian human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph and Dr. Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto.
The abolitionist, former enslaved Afrikan, feminist and statesman Frederick Douglass had this to say about Haiti’s role in promoting “universal human liberty” and a reminder of our debt of gratitude and obligation to its people:
“In just vindication of Haiti, I can go one step further. I can speak of her, not only words of admiration, but words of gratitude as well. She has grandly served the cause of universal human liberty. We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day; that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies; the freedom that has come to the colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons [and daughters], of Haiti ninety years ago. When they struck for freedom, they builded better than they knew. Their swords were not drawn and could not be drawn simply for themselves alone. They were linked and interlinked with their race, and striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man [and woman] in the world.”
by Jordy Cummings
In May 1970, National Guardsmen in the U.S. were called in to respond to a highly militant anti-war protests taking place at Kent State University in Ohio. The protests were an immediate, emergency response to then President Richard Nixon “spreading the war” from Vietnam itself into Cambodia. On May 4, these armed instruments of state power used the same weapons used against the Vietnamese revolution, and opened fire, killing four protesters.
Within a few weeks, Neil Young, with his on again/off again bandmates, Crosby, Stills and Nash, were in the recording studio recording a response which was on the radio within four days. The song explicitly situated itself as coming from “the movement” at a time when millions of Americans believed they were on the cusp of revolution at home. The governor of Ohio felt the same way, calling the protesters violent revolutionaries, and proclaiming that “these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes.”
“Ohio”, the sparse and angry song recorded that day wasn’t your typical protest anthem. It was neither a preachy message song or a simple pacifist chant that reduced the movement to giving “peace a chance”. Instead, it seethed about “tin soldiers” who had caused the four dead. Instead of giving peace a chance, it made the unambiguous plea “gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down..should have been done long ago”. What should have been done, it seems, was revolution. Moving from the general to particular, it then addresses its listener, “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground, how can you run when you know”?
Just as Neil Young did the right thing about the anti-war movement, he has the opportunity to do so on an issue at least as important. With that in mind, I’d like to turn the questions that Mr. Young raised in “Ohio” back onto Mr. Young. Mr. Young , think of the Palestinian people killed by Israeli weapons or the quiet weapon of starvation and open-air prisons. What if you knew them? How can you run when you know? Let us not forget the treatment of Africans by the Israeli state, migrant workers who have been as of late agitating for their rights. Israel’s racist attitudes, far right hate groups and mounting detentions against Africans is not dissimilar to that of the “Southern Man” that Mr. Young inveighed against not too long after recording “Ohio”. Would Neil be “Rocking in the Free World” by playing Israel? Is this in the interests of the dispossessed “patch of ground people”, or the interests of “Vampires” that “Sell you twenty barrels worth”.
Even very recently, Young has proven himself to be on the correct side of the question of the day’s most pressing issues. Young has been a lifelong supporter of indigenous struggles, not merely in the form of his songs, like Pocahontas, but in his actions, most recently in his “Respect the Treaties” tour and publicity event. For this sin against Canadian interests, Neil Young was attacked in the corporate media and even by the Prime Minister’s office. This was perhaps one of the most effective political interventions made by a cultural icon in Canada in recent years, and at least so far as I remember. The Two Row Times praised Young’s integrity, calling him “a deeply spiritual man with the heart of a prophet, who has pointed the way to the future for nearly three generations of young people.” Neil Young seemed to be the Anti-Bono. As opposed to palling around with George W. Bush and Bill Gates, ostensibly in the service of helping “poor Africans”, Young has taken the lead in what is one of the most important and pressing issues within Canada’s borders.
It is for this reason, more than any, that progressives must demand that Mr. Young cancel his concerts in Apartheid Israel this summer . How can Neil maintain this deeply felt and deserved reputation, as a craftsman, a guitar visionary, a wise man, if he were to betray every principle that culminated in his recent interventions?
It is not unlikely that Mr. Young is aware of the calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. From Gil Scott Heron to Elvis Costello, progressive musicians – and even those not necessarily known for their politics (the Pixies, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack) – have responded to the call by cancelling and/or not booking shows in Israel. Perhaps Neil Young has been informed – even by the people with whom he just concluded a tour – that there were those calling for him to show his principles, and perhaps his attitude is that it would be hypocritical for him to play Toronto and then not play Tel Aviv. Yet there has not been a call from indigenous communities in Canada for a cultural boycott of Toronto. There is, however, a standing call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
Neil Young has sang that he is “proud to be a union man”, a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He should realize, then, that the Palestinian labour movement has explicitly called for a cultural boycott. Mr. Young – I know that it may be annoying that you are being addressed after the fashion of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s denunciation of you, but if the shoe fits… But please, “how can you run when you know?”
We all hope you do the right thing, Mr. Young.
by Lesley Valiente and Sarah Salise
Kenneth Aldovino stood in the brittle cold after receiving an envelope from the mail this past 21st of January. The letter was disheartening: it was from Citizenship and Immigration Canada letting him know his permanent residence application had been denied, and he was asked to leave the country before the end of the month.
Aldovino has been in Canada for just six months. Edna Aldovino, his mother, had learned she had terminal cancer back in February 2011. Since her diagnosis, she had longed for her son, to be with him in her last days. But she was a live-in caregiver, faced with the choice of returning home or staying in Canada working to complete the requirements of her program before her son Kenneth could be eligible to join her. Mother and son spent only a week together before Edna’s passing in July 2013. And now Kenneth is being told to leave. Read more…
Workers lose jobs after successful union drive turned away by Paul Moist’s office
by Priscillia Lefebvre
Ottawa | Female Residence Fellows at Carleton University in Ottawa were met with blatant sexism and were told to “calm down” and to “stop blowing things out of proportion” when they approached Housing and Conference Services in October of this year with accounts of being actively harassed and intimidated by a male coworker.
Earlier this fall, another Fellow had brought concerns to management about being targeted by a student through physical intimidation ,verbal threats, and cyberbullying since early September. The floor she lived on was trashed and the door to her room was tagged with sexually derogatory slurs, but it fell on deaf ears. Management allowed the harassment to continue, undermining her authority to issue sanctions to students. According to sources consulted for this article, the situation finally spun out of control two months later resulting in a brawl breaking out on the floor involving approximately 50 students.
Residence Fellows are among the most overworked and precariously employed on a university campus. They are the front line workers for students living in residence and are expected to maintain a high level of visibility. Carleton University describes the Residence Fellow position as encompassing a scope of roles including “leader, administrator, facilitator, and educator.” The position is usually reserved for upper-year undergraduate student-workers who deal with a multitude of issues in their jobs from underage drinking to sexual assault and suicide intervention.
Residence Fellows had been organizing to form a union for several weeks since early November, putting themselves at great risk in the process. A union could have raised awareness of the issues Residence Fellows face as university employees, pressured the University to sit down and negotiate a fair collective agreement, and allowed workers to grieve Housing Services’ failure to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Residence Fellows were succeeding until they received shocking news on December 1 of this year from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – which boasts a membership of over 627,000 workers – that the union would not be accepting them after all.
The decision came from on high: the President’s office at CUPE National. Once the news surfaced the organizers were outed to management at Carleton. Workers were threatened with being fired for even mentioning the word “union.” Organizers were cut off from any support, leaving them to deal with potentially volatile situations on their own. Isolation and retaliation made their working conditions intolerable.
By December 7, three workers, including Marina Tronina and Miranda Moores, resigned as a result. Because their employment was tied to their room and board on campus, this meant losing their homes as well. Moores explains, “We can’t work there anymore. Understand we didn’t resign simply because the environment was hostile; we resigned because we could not work there safely. It is too dangerous.”
A union campaign squashed… by a union
CUPE Local 4600, already representing Teaching Assistants and Contract Instructors on campus, had been working with the Residence Fellows to push for their inclusion into the Local. Their membership of about 2500 workers shares many of the same concerns including overwork, harassment, and job security. On November 21, Colette Proctor, CUPE National Organizing Representative, sent an email stating, “as long as the Local is fine with the possibility of having to cover the group I think we can organize them.” Thirty-one union cards were signed by November 24 reaching the certification requirement, before the President’s Office at CUPE National killed the campaign a week later.
When asked by Local 4600 on December 12 why the go ahead to sign cards was given before an official decision had been made, Proctor responded, “I didn’t foresee National having a problem organizing the group.” If staff at the Organizing Department was so certain that the campaign would be approved, why did CUPE National ultimately decide to turn its back on these precarious workers?
Their reasoning was weak, nonsensical, and indicates a clear lack of understanding of the experiences of young student-workers in the post-secondary sector. According to Francois Bellemare, Assistant Director of Organizing and Regional Services, CUPE National feels that the union would not be able to maintain appropriate services and “make a big difference” to these workers since they work on limited one-year contracts. Nor are they considered to be in an employer-employee relationship with the University since they work for room and board. This is rather alarming considering members of Local 4600 only work four-month contracts and Residence Fellows are members of the Residence Life Staff who do indeed work for the University and pay income tax.
Workers left behind now have to deal with the aftermath. “We can no longer work there and Housing Services are now free to exploit workers who are still there. All the organizers are gone,” says Tronina.
Dan Preece, Vice-President of Unit 2 at Local 4600, elaborates on the situation, “There were options before. Now they are abandoned and this has created a poisonous environment. Workers are either too scared to say something or they have absolutely no faith in unions… Nobody should be signing a card if the decision from National could go either way. CUPE National needs to consider the human cost here.”
The “Year of the New and Young Worker”
It is no secret that the deteriorating conditions for young workers have them struggling to keep up with rent increases and the cost of living as well as lumbered with student debt. CUPE’s own statistics they show a 30% drop in full-time employment among young workers. CUPE named 2013 the “Year of the New and Young Worker” and states that it recognizes young workers as especially vulnerable to exploitative working conditions through precarious contract positions characterized by minimum wage and no benefits.
CUPE National is on record as saying that “the issues facing young workers need to be connected to all aspects of the labour movement.” In light of the Residence Fellows, this statement is reduced to empty rhetoric and fist waving for the cameras.
Solidarity For…Never? The sad state of bureaucratized unions
With the right to collective bargaining under attack by anti-union governments and bosses, fighting back matters and there is strength in solidarity. The labour movement has a strong history of workers who risked their lives demanding respect, safety, and fair treatment in the workplace. CUPE National’s recent actions puts that history to shame and serves as a harsh reminder of how bureaucratized union institutions can actually impede workers fighting for their rights.
The Residence Fellows at Carleton University deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their employer. It should not be too much to ask that the same be expected of Canada’s largest union, which claims to be “committed to improving the quality of life for workers.”
At the time of writing CUPE National President, Paul Moist has yet to agree to meet with either the Residence Fellows or Local 4600 about this matter. Nor has he taken any responsibility or offered compensation of any kind to the three workers who lost their jobs and their homes as a direct result of this debacle.
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…