by Megan Kinch
A union local of 22 people has been on strike for more than three months. They’ve already been replaced with scab labour. They’ve been called greedy and spoiled for demanding an increase in the starting rate of $12 and basic safety equipment for extremely dangerous and difficult work. They were arrested for handing out leaflets. They faced a court injunction that would ban them from making noise in a public park, and when the employer loses, they are sued for $4 million dollars. Their employer, Porter airlines, is a darling of the local elites, who prefer to bypass Pearson airport for quick flights to New York and Montreal.
Welcome to the new face of labour disputes, which looks more like the worker struggles that inspired Mayday in the 1880s, than the ritualized and symbolic modern strikes. But community members and workers from other unions are coming through with solidarity actions and donations, and the problems keep piling up for Porter.
Porter has effectively refused to bargain, instead trying every strategy to avoid dealing with the workers. Porter and the Toronto Port Authority tried to take out a court injunction which would have prohibited leafleting and loud noises in nearby Little Norway park. They lost. But then they sued the union for $4 million over their Twitter account. Both Porter and the workers have strategically used social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, with union supporters making memes and co-ordinating protest blitzes of Porter’s Facebook.
Big unions and the OFL have kicked in money and support to this ‘David and Goliath’ fight, but this struggle, and the larger struggle for justice in the workplace, isn’t going to be won with dollars. There has been a significant amount of solidarity shown by workers and community members, on the picket line and at the gates to the ferry, including unions with militant traditions such as CUPE 3903 and the IWW.
Jordy Cummings is an academic worker in CUPE 3903 and has been doing social media solidarity: “I spent three months on the picket line fighting for some degree of job security for precariously employed academic workers, and they ended up legislating us back to work. Little did I know that this was the beginning of the end of legal trade unionism in Ontario. The precedent was set with us, and now strikes are basically illegal. If a union does strike, they are legislated back to work within days or starved out and replaced, as with Porter workers.”
I spoke to Porter fuel worker Enrique Perez. He said that the main demand is not wages, but safety.
“We wrote a letter in April regarding the safety concerns, understaffing, high turnover rate, flight delays and worker injuries,” he said. “You need two people to fuel a plane but we end up having only one person because of staffing problems. That guy over there (points) fell off a plane and broke his arm. I had a night when I almost walked into a propeller. You really need people who’ve been around for a while to tell the new workers stories and sort of warn people.”
Perez said that Porter is refusing to acknowledge the complexities of the job: “Many complicated aspects to the job like where there is ice out, you don’t use salt, you have to use special stuff. They start us at $12, or with a DZ licence they pay 14.50. People are only getting $16 for driving a dumptruck. But this is also a dumptruck that is crossing runways when the planes are landing, carrying 50,000 worth of fuel. We drive it across the runways to put it in the fuel farms 3 times a day.”
Normally, a union is able to stop work by having a picket line which is allowed to halt vehicles for a few minutes on their way in and out of the worksite. This is the main protection against hiring replacement workers, known as ‘scabs.’ But Porter has used the police to break normal normal picket lines and even had people arrested for leafletting. Porter/Toronto Port Authority is also trying to get the right to have their own private police at the airport.
Striking for basic safety demands is something that was supposedly in the past. Canadian labour law is supposed to guarantee a safe workplace. Before the ‘labour peace’ compromise that followed World War 2, pickets lines and unions were often illegal, and had to be enforced through direct action. Unions had to fight private police in what were sometimes pitched battles. It hasn’t got to that point yet, but already picket lines are basically being made illegal through increasing anti-worker regulations.
James Taylor, strike coordinator for the Porter workers, had this to say about the arrest and the legal difficulties faced by the small union in trying to maintain a picket line. “Unfortunately as a small group we couldn’t picket the entire airport but we figured we could leaflet the passengers. So Mary and I tried because we’re staffers and didn’t want the guys to get arrested. We went over and handed out fliers on the sidewalk, it was pretty chill. The Toronto Port Authority told us to leave and said we were trespassing, and we said “no, we think we have the charter right to be here and distribute leaflets. The didn’t really enjoy those arguments. They got formal trespass letters to give us. In the meantime they called the duty officers and they had 8 or so cops there. They put us both in handcuffs and charged us with trespass and released us on the spot.”
Lawyer Glen Wheeler from COPE, the union the workers are with, called this “quite outrageous” and said that the court did end up upholding their charter right to hand out fliers.
The local community near the airport is also being drawn into a battle with Porter, who is trying to get permission from the city to expand the Island airport and fly jet planes. Rob Chamberland lives on a boat in a dock near the airport. He says that the people who will be affected aren’t having meaningful input into the decisions being made.
“Remember that there are three main communities, there are the islanders who mainly live on Ward and Algonquin Islands, there are the condo-dwellers, mostly new home owners, and then there’s the boaters, both liveaboards and your average weekend sailor. Then there are those who flock to the waterfront of the island for a day with nature. Life will now include jets, increased noise, increased pollution, and profit over community welfare. Airport expansion means the whole area becomes an industrial zone”
I spoke to Carrie Sharpe, who has been helping coordinate community support for the workers. She spoke about the attempted injunction: “What’s scary is that it was even on the table. This is an attempt to shut down dissent. Porter is trying to discourage dissent at a time when they have an application to have jets fly out of the airport and to fill in some of the lake. This injunction process has already had a chilling effect on mobilization, there will be people now afraid to protest island expansion…they are doing all this in order to shut down protests over the use of public assets for profit.”
Before legalized unionism, community and workers had to work together in order to get any kind of decent standard of living. It was brutal physical and legal repression of the Haymarket protest for the 8 hour work day in Chicago, back in 1886, that started Mayday protests for International Workers Day. Today, many workers still don’t have the 8 hour day and are forced to work more or less, and workplace safety is being rolled back. The old formalized picket structures aren’t working anymore. In this new era of labour disputes, workers and community members in solidarity (who are often workers themselves somewhere else) are going to have to jointly struggle against corporate impunity and greed. This is already happening with the Porter airlines strike, and with this year’s Mayday protest the solidarity is getting more solid!
In 1886, 127 years ago, European immigrant workers marched in Chicago to demand an eight hour work day. The massacre and execution of trade unionists that followed has been commemorated every year since, in almost every corner of the world on May 1st – International Workers Day.
Since then, working people have waged a continuous struggle, from social reforms to revolutionary alternatives. In this country, these struggles have produced important reforms including the minimum wage, pensions, a retirement age, and many social programs and rights including access to health care and primary education. International Workers Day is also a day to celebrate these victories, especially at this time when we are compelled to organize to protect these vital gains from capitalism’s latest offensive, so-called “austerity”. This agenda is being orchestrated from the highest levels of international finance right down to municipal governments, a program to advance the redirecting social wealth from state-sponsored social programs to the richest.
The colonial foundations of this country, including the systematic theft of land and attempts to destroy the culture and social fabric of indigenous nations, remains the most pressing internal issue in this country today.
The ‘Idle No More’ movement has brought the issue of internal colonialism to the world, and especially to the public in Canada that has largely ignored this reality. Indigenous communities continue to wage campaigns over land claims, the inexcusable number of missing indigenous women, as well reparations for crimes committed by the residential school system, just to name a few.
The Canadian state has also been increasingly playing a role as an imperialist political, economic, and military actor. While Canada has been active in foreign military campaigns since before WWI (participating in military actions in South Africa) over the last decade Canada has gone from being a major component of the military offensive and occupation in Afghanistan to also participating in the NATO-led bombing of Libya, with the prospect of military involvement in Mali, Syria with North Korea currently under discussion. Moreover, the Canadian state has backed and assisted in the proliferation of Canadian mining companies and their operations all over the planet. In many cases, not only do these companies engage in labour exploitation and environmentally destructive practices, which have catastrophic impacts to local communities and ecosystems, but they have also been connected to targeted acts of violence against workers as well as environmental activists, from Colombia to Tanzania.
There are many more – too many – examples of the injustices and crimes that occur here and around the world, crimes that are committed to maintain the capitalist order. All over the world, the wealthy and powerful are using the governments they control to push the same relentless, criminal agenda of pursuing profit at the cost of the rights and lives of people. Whether it be by robbing people’s money as they are doing in Cyprus, or by robbing a nation’s resources through military means as in Libya, or by unrelentingly attacking social programs and workers’ rights as is happening here, their agenda and their system must be stopped.
There should be no mistake. We are not simply talking about going back in time, rewinding the clock to the supposed heyday of the so-called “welfare state” in Canada. This welfare state was at the same time pursuing its genocide of indigenous peoples through residential schools and pursuing its criminal war of aggression against the people of Korea. We cannot continue to pretend that, as Stephen Harper said, “Canada has no history of colonialism”. We can no longer pretend that Canada acts as a ‘peacekeeper’ on the world stage and that transnationals are altruistically ‘providing jobs’ as they outsource jobs here while exploiting workers and resources abroad.
On International Workers Day, we march to build a Solidarity City. Solidarity City is a unified struggle for: Respect for Indigenous Sovereignty, Status for All, an End to Imperialism and Environmental Destruction, an End to Austerity and Attacks on the Poor and Working class, continued resistance against Patriarchy, Racism, Ableism and Homophobia and Transphobia’.
On this International Workers Day, the organizations of the May 1st Movement call for:
Support for the struggle for Indigenous peoples’ liberation including:
The defense of ancestral lands and support to frontline land defenders; and
The recognition of the right of Indigenous genuine self-determination, including their right to determine all their economic and political affairs.
Pushing back on attacks upon working class and poor communities including:
Rejecting all forms of the capitalist ‘austerity’ agenda, reject the cutting of services and trampling on worker and civil rights;
Curtailing police abuses and impunity by reducing of police budgets, dismantling of the bogus Special Investigations Unit, and its replacement with a genuine community-based civilian oversight groups;
Rejecting the continued neoliberal drive towards privatizations, eliminating public incentives and tax breaks for large corporations, and resisting outsourcing by placing regulations and restrictions on these practices.
Supporting concrete campaigns that address immediate needs of workers, including:
Extending access to services without fear of deportation, while fighting for regularization of undocumented people, and extension of permanent residency to any worker in Canada while re-regulating migrant labour to eliminate laws that exempt these workers from the rights and benefits that other workers enjoy; and
Increasing the minimum wage to $14.50/ hr, re-adjustment of social assistance rates to lift people out of poverty whiling indexing both of these to inflation.
Exposing Canadian Imperialism and reasserting our support for liberation struggles abroad including:
The withdrawal of Canada’s military from all foreign outposts and immediately halting any preparations for foreign military campaigns;
The subjection of Canadian mining companies to strict regulations to protect the rights of workers, the protection of the environment and communities where mining may take place, and the rights of people to benefit from any extraction that may take place;
The immediate halt to the practice of labour import which utilized temporary immigration status to regulate and discipline labour; and
The extension of different forms of support to liberation movements abroad from peoples organizations and social movements in Canada.
Of course, there are many other issues that impact different sectors of the working class in different ways and this is but a short list of changes we demand and deserve. Perhaps more importantly, we cannot expect the Canadian state to simply ‘give’ us these things and more. We stress the need for building people’s power in communities, in workplaces, on the streets and in the reserves, if we are going to actually achieve these.
This system is not and will not work for us, the majorities, the working people both here and abroad. We are the ones who build and make things, who perform the tasks and services that make societies progress, and it is our ancestral lands that are being plundered to feed this system.
This May Day, while the same class of politicians who live well off the public dime tell us that we need to tighten our belt and that we need to blame unions and immigrants for this mess, we need to understand that this system, and those that protect it, are the problem. We must stand with each other, in solidarity, so that when any government or corporation looks to trample on one community, one union or one group, we all stand together.
LIBERATION FOR FIRST NATIONS AND ALL OPPRESSED NATIONS!
HANDS OFF OUR SOCIAL PROGRAMS AND RIGHTS!
BUILD A SOLIDARITY CITY!
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
by Binnadang Migrante Canada
The Cordillera Day event is a uniting activity held in our home country of the Philippines and here overseas. In these yearly celebrations, it would serve us well to look back in time to where we came from, the difficult paths that we had to go through in order to be where we are today.
Cordillera Day is on its 29th year of celebration in our native land (the Cordillera region of the Philippines) and its 5th year here in Toronto. On May 4, we will be guided by the theme “Strengthen unity in the indigenous people’s struggle for self determination. Uphold the rights and welfare of migrants and families. Support the politics of change.”
Binnadang – Migrante is spearheading the celebration. We are an organization of indigenous migrants to Canada that is advocating for our rights as migrants and actively engaging in the struggle of the indigenous peoples in the Cordillera for self-determination and for the Filipino peoples’ struggles for genuine freedom and democracy.
Cordillera day was born out of the struggle of the Cordillerans. It provides us a venue to give tribute to our martyrs who courageously defended and protected our indigenous people’s rights for our land, life, honor, rich culture, and vast resources of the Cordillera region in the Philippines. Ama Macling Dulag, a respected tribal chieftain, helped unify tribes in the Northern Cordilleras from the late 70’s to early 80’s to resist the construction of the World Bank–funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dams. On April 24, 1980, Dulag was brutally killed by the Philippine military. Up to now, no justice has been served for his murder.
Today, we reflect, learn, derive inspiration and gain further guidance from our Cordilleran martyrs’ perseverance in various struggles throughout the past decades. As migrant workers, we have been forced to leave our families and live under exploitative and oppressive conditions abroad by the very same reasons why Ama Macling struggled before and why many of our people are still struggling now.
The land, life and livelihood of the Cordillerans are under attack! Across the region, the adverse effects of large scale mining have resulted in irreparable damage to the natural environment and local agriculture, the economic and even physical displacement of indigenous communities, and the aggravation of climate change impacts. Human rights are trampled through militarization, employment of union busters, private armies and pseudo-unionists who do not really serve the interest of the people.
The problem of development aggression and security continue to intensify the worsening phenomenon of forced migration. Most of the Cordillerans live on the graces of our fertile lands. But the richest of our lands are claimed by foreign capitalists and local elites. Thus many of us were left with no choice but to migrate overseas, a condition that makes us vulnerable to different forms of exploitation.
The indigenous people together with the other toiling masses of the society are left with no recourse but to resist. We want to finally go home to a country where there is an opportunity for a decent life, where Cordillerans are the ones who benefit from the riches of Cordillera, where our culture is respected and where the Filipino people are free and our society is truly just.
“As ‘urban indians’, it is a bit harder for us to maintain our culture because we are not on the land. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. As an Indian man, I have always sought to be a good man, husband, father, or brother to my family. What does an Indian man do? He is a warrior to protect his family, and he is also a provider for his family. Its harder to maintain our way of life in the city, but we learn to adapt. I go hunting all the time. Loblaw’s is the new hunting ground.” (Elder Vern Harper)
Living in Toronto, does not mean that we have to give up our traditional values or customs. As a the above quote indicates. For those of you who may have heard about ACTION (Anishinabek Confederacy to Invoke Our Nationhood) our organization has been comprised mainly of the Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp, located in what is known as Awenda Provincial Park. After spending a full year at the camp, it became apparent, that our peoples are not ready to make a large migration back to the land. In fact the opposite is quite true. While some of our people live on the reserves, and have grown accustomed to reserve living, many of us migrate away. A vast majority of our people leave the rural settings of the reserves and traplines, for urban areas such as Toronto. The 75 000 or so people who claim Native status in Toronto alone is a testament to this fact. (I am sometimes one of them).
While many of our peoples migrate to the urban centres, many do not leave the impoverishment of the reserves behind. Many end up in low paying jobs, or social assistance programs, dependent on food-banks, shelters, soup kitchens etc. I personally have been through all of the above, and can attest to waiting outside food-banks countless times. Having seen the donated foods in the food boxes (high carb, high sugar, low nutrients) it no wonder our people have the highest obesity, diabetes, heart/stroke statistic’s amoung all people on Turtle Island.
“We’ve got to really start doing stuff, you know building community gardens, hauling water, chopping wood, whatever they needed done. I said that is your responsibility is. That is what a warrior’s responsibility is.” (Leonard PeItier quote from “Incident at Oglala”)
As an Anishinbek man, it is my responsibility to be a protector and a provider for the people. Just because I am not always out on the land, it does not exempt me from my duties and responsibilities. Which is why I am spearheading a chapter of ACTION aimed at feeding our people in Toronto. We’ll call it “Serve the People/Feed the People.” Our first plan is to start immediately by joining the Good Food Box program established in Toronto.
(The Good Food Box (GFB) is a non-profit fresh fruit and vegetable distribution system created and operated by FoodShare. The GFB runs like a large buying club with centralized buying and coordination. Individuals place orders for boxes with volunteer coordinators in their neighborhood and receive a box brimming with fresh, tasty produce, on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly cycle.)
While most churches and NGO’s aims to subsidize the $13-18 dollar cost, ACTION aims to provide 100% of the cost. We will be hitting the streets, attending rallies, marches, roundances, with clipboards in hand asking for monthly donations from everyone.
The long term goal is to network with the farmers and community gardeners, to get all of our people involved in every aspect of planting, growing, harvesting, delivering, cooking, sharing…etc, just like our people once did. The immediate goal is to feed some of our people now.
We need public support. We have relied heavily on our allies to contribute funds directly over this past year, and we thank them greatly. But those costs mainly go to the operation of Oshkimaadiziig Unity Camp. We are calling out for public support to help ACTION feed the people.
We hope that you can see the need for such an initiative, and would be willing to give a small monthly donation. Our bank at Alterna makes donating quick and easy. One time donations can be made through our Pay Pal account.
Please contact Giibwanisi at 416 806 6929 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can help today.
November 2012 in Toronto there was an OIPRD conference on police complaints that put forward the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (PAVIS), the new model of policing. In response to this, KW Occupy, The Spot Collective, and Basics Community News Service interviewed 70 people from the East end and downtown of Kitchener to come up with our own understanding of policing and the PAVIS model.
Experience With Police
Several people mentioned good experiences with officers who have been kind and sympathetic, but this seemed to be the exception and more due to with the individual officers and not systematic policing practices. The most common experiences people had with police were being stopped and searched without being placed under arrest, being asked for their ID, being questioned without counsel present, or even before they have had their Rights read. Other less prevalent but still common experiences were the use of excessive force in arrests, being arrested on charges that are later dropped, having to stay in jail because of lack of bail, being targeted and pressured into giving information on friends or “people of interest”, and being denied basic rights while in custody.
Those who were targeted tended to be homeless people, marginalized communities and racial groups. Political activists are also targeted, especially if they belong to or are organizing one of those groups. There was heavy police presence in the downtown core, East end, Paulander etc.; places where there is higher unemployment, poverty, and immigration.
Increase of Police Violence
More and more police have been used to deal with people with mental health issues. Since they are not mental health workers and lack the training to do so this leads to escalations of violence. Police have also been increasing their use of force toward people whom they perceive as “troublemakers and undesirables” and those considered guilty by association such as friends or family.
Most dangerous is violence by proxy. For example, a native activist was arrested in plain sight, only to be released, given a business card, and told to contact the police with information on another activist, making it look to bystanders as if he was an informant. In another incident, police told activists and gang members that an article written about an informant was about them, leaving the writer open to violence. Police have also played gang members off each other, particularly by giving false information
Police Presence at Community Centers
More and more police are present in community centres and public spaces. Groups that receive public money are “encouraged” to be police friendly. Police in these spaces have asked about other activists, street people and minorities. While some see this as the police being nice, others are worried that police are using this as a way to gather information and intimidate. For example, during the conduction of several interviews for this report, police made their presence known. Another example is that CSIS, an intelligence agency, has advertised to recruit in an immigrant community space. Questions that police ask people when they “chat them up” are also revealing. By asking how is so and so doing, people feel that police are quietly building their friendship maps and keeping tabs on people.
There are less panhandlers downtown, but this has nothing to do with an improved economy. Instead, intensified police presence downtown has focused on the removal of undesirables to make it “more comfortable” for the economic group they are trying to attract. Businesses are quick to refuse service to those not “dressed nice enough”, even if they have money, and use police to remove them by force. Furthermore, people have noticed an increase in ticketing people of lower income as a deterrent for them to be downtown.
Generally speaking, people feel that the police have the final say. Even when the court gives a verdict of not guilty, it does nothing to make up for the time spent in jail. People felt the police complaints process was useless, and of those interviewed, not one has had a complaint successfully resolved. Some felt that protests and the CopWatch program were one way of holding police accountable.
Police and Politics
The people saw the police as a political organization. Those interviewed felt that the police’s effect on grassroots politics is negative; activists were being arrested on charges later dropped, police are infiltrating activist groups and using informants to gather information on political meetings, activists and protests. Some felt that attending demonstrations made them targets, especially if they come from a poor or working class background or were racialized.
Tactics at Protests
Heavier police presence was noted at protests. People had their pictures taken and observed retaliation for attending such as getting picked up later on charges, being followed, or getting “jacked”. People have been told not to attend protests and felt intimidated from openly participating in political activity afterwards, especially if they came from a marginalized background. More interesting are the bail conditions those arrested have faced – they cannot associate with political people or legal democratic political groups, attend demonstrations, etc.
It is obvious to those interviewed that these conditions are aimed at stopping people from participating in political activity and has nothing to do with law and order. People have seen an increase in police attempts to recruit informers, infiltrate political organizations etc.
by Steve da Silva
The moral backlash that Canada’s largest and most profitable bank, RBC, was met with when news broke earlier this month that they were using foreign workers to replace dozens of their IT staff has developed into a wider scandal that is engulfing virtually all of corporate Canada and all of Canada’s political parties.
It is no secret that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been growing rapidly, tripling in a decade to more than 338,000 workers by the end of 2012. As has been pointed out, this is a larger workforce than that of Canada’s smaller provinces.
The moral outrage sparked by the outsourcing of 45 of RBC’s IT staff reflects a sense of indignation amongst Canadians – as if a line had been crossed. Many seem to be reflecting a feeling that they’ve been lied to, and were under the impression that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program had been limited to jobs like being caregivers or tomato pickers (which are actually part of separate programs, the Live-In Caregiver Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program), jobs that “Canadians don’t want” or in industries facing only temporary labour or skills shortages. After all, as the government website for the program reads, “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary labour and skill shortages when qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available.”
As an employer, here is how you make a “Canadian” job suitable for a migrant worker: Drive wages down to rock bottom, break or block union formation, and minimize safety regulations. Then no one takes your job. But don’t worry! The TFWP will help you! Apply for a Labour Market Opinion from the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada saying that you couldn’t find enough workers in the required fourteen day advertising period, and bang! Not only do you have a cheap labour supply, but you have workers that are stuck with you as an employer, workers who can’t unionize, and who you can pay 15% less than the minimum wage. This trend is sweeping across the economy.
Temporary foreign workers are working in all sectors of the economy. In the weeks following the news, one source reported that eighteen of Canada’s largest fifty employers are on the list of users of the TFWP, including: Shaw, Sun Life, RIM, Maple Leaf, Air Canada, Canadian Tire, Financière Manuvie, Rona, Rogers, Sears, BMO, Bell, Thomson Reuters, Bombardier, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, Loblaws. Other notable employers of TFWs include Lulu Lemon, Hudson’s Bay Company, Bank of Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart, Telus, Enbridge, Sobeys, CN Rail, Porter, Tim Hortons, SNC Lavalin, CP Rail, McDonald’s, Suncor, and Talisman Energy. The total number of employers now using TFWs is 33,000. Other noteworthy employers on the list include the Bank of Canada, CBC, and the Girl Guides. With an official joblessness level sitting at 1.4 million people, it should become clear where this outpouring of indignation comes from.
Not only has the scandal spread to virtually all of corporate Canada, it has spread to all of Canada’s political parties too. After some righteous posturing from the Conservatives pretending as if they weren’t aware of such uses of the program and some vague promises about immediate reforms, they have now deflected criticism by revealing active support for the program by the opposition parties. The Conservatives released this past week a series of personal letters written by Liberal and NDP MPs – including Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Status of Women Critic Niki Ashton, and NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar – making personal appeals for the use of temporary foreign workers in their ridings.
So all political parties have more or less supported the Program, and virtually all sectors of economy are using temporary foreign workers. Yet the moral backlash remains centered not on the super-exploitative and often abusive and dangerous conditions that temporary foreign workers have endured for decades, but rather on the concern that the TFWP has begun to cut into “Canadian jobs” and that it has far surpassed the mandate of the program to fill short-term labour or skills shortages. This is a line of thinking that is being actively encouraged by the media, with what seems like ‘two sides’ to the debate arguing over whether this or that job can or should be filled by citizens. And to the extent that this moral backlash in the media reflects popular sentiments of anxieties over people’s jobs and livelihoods, it is understandable. Rising consumer and student debts with fewer job prospects and employment insecurity is a reasonable basis for anxiety. But we can’t let those who are responsible for generating these social insecurities – all levels of government and the businesses that get them elected – leverage them for their own purposes.
The moment we workers – those of us who rely on our labour to survive, who make others rich by our work – buy into this logic of there being certain jobs that are suitable for “Canadians” and certain jobs suitable to foreign workers, we’ve already lost the battle. We’ve lost because we’ve already accepted that a divided working-class is acceptable, divisions which are only hardened by differing immigration statuses and racial lines.
But we don’t have to accept these divisions. Workers looking for real alternatives to capitalism and a way to resist capitalist “austerity” shouldn’t get pulled into this debate of where we draw around which jobs are okay for the super-exploitation of foreign workers. The capitalists and their governments will go on creating whatever hiring practices and wage systems are necessary, no matter how exploitative, to make their profits and “compete” in the global capitalist economy.
In any case, the job of workers is to organize against these capitalists. Just as immigrant workers did in militant and courageous ways in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, so too we will and must today. Hopefully today, with greater unity and support from workers with citizenship and status.
As the May 1st Movement and its allies have called for this coming May Day, we need a Solidarity City – a city of organizations and alliances united against capitalist austerity, imperialism and colonialism, and united through a network of people’s power in this city and far beyond it that is actually capable of bringing forth a new economy and a new society.
by Laura Lepper
In February 2013, members of the Commission in Support of Indigenous People’s Struggles (of the Canadian chapter of the International League of People’s Struggles) travelled to join fellow members from Mishkeegogamang and Savant Lake on their traditional territories, 1,700 km north of Toronto. We saw the apartheid-like conditions that lead people to call the region the “deep North.” Everyone we met shared a story of severe displacement, dispossession and social trauma at the hands of state-supported projects such as residential schools and the mining and forestry industries.
In order to strengthen the alliance between grassroots struggles of Indigenous activists in different nations, and build a common front among people’s struggles from all directions, the Commission was formed at the 2013 ILPS ‘Right to Exist, Right to Resist’ conference. It is currently composed of delegates from struggles in the native communities of Six Nations, Mishkeegogamang, Savant Lake, and the groups Anishinabek Confederacy to Invoke Our Nationhood, CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group, and the Anti-Colonial Working Group of the Law Union of Ontario. Delegates organized a trip to the northern Ojibway communities out of a deep understanding that building an effective Commission must come from strong relationships built out of shared understanding from on-the-ground experience and concrete struggle.
Gary Wassaykeesic of Mishkeegogamang and Darlene Necan of Savant Lake introduced us to people in their communities and the nearby cities and towns. The trip began in Thunder Bay, with the Sleeping Giant rock formation always on the horizon. Our last visit was in Pickle Lake, the most northern community in the province that has year-round access by road. Pickle Lake airport is the entry point for much of the region’s mining and many of the 49 fly-in-only Indigenous communities in the region such as Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and Attawapiskat.
We traveled to Savant Lake, a small settlement of Ojibway people of the Saugeen Nation, to see Darlene’s trapline. A trapline is an area of ancestral land where a family will hunt and trap animals for food. In 2004, Darlene’s mother was kicked off her trapline because Abitibi Bowater/Resolute was spraying herbicide, which was poisoning traditional food sources. Her story is not unique among her people. Darlene shared stories of Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), along with treeplanters, burning cabins and destroying camps put up by Anishinaabe people.
There is special interest in the land around Savant Lake, since CN Rail goes right through the town. While industry wants to transport gold through Savant and prospect on Darlene’s land, many members of the Saugeen Nation are impoverished and essentially homeless. There is also interest in Savant because of its proximity to the ‘Ring of Fire’ – an area of muskeg swamps in the James Bay Lowlands. Ontario has plans for massive escalation of mining development in the Ring of Fire, despite Indigenous leaders calling for a moratorium on mining in the area.
We drove about an hour north of Savant to the community of Mishkeegogamang. Jon Thompson, of the Dryden Observer, reported that of the 1,644 people living in Mishkeegogamang First Nation, 8.6 people live in every house, leading to crises of overflowing septic tanks, homes without electricity or sewage, hundreds on constant suicide watch, and traumatizing poverty. Over 1,000 more are in jail and nearly 300 people have lost their lives suddenly since 1981.
Mishkeegogamang is on what is called Treaty 9 territory. Tom Wassaykeesic, a band councillor working hard to seek justice for his people, explained: ”According to the governments…we surrendered the land and all its resources. But our ancestors never agreed to surrender anything. We’ve always believed that the spirit and intent of the Treaty No.9 is to share the land.”
The original site where the treaty was signed is now underwater. In 1934, the Ontario government chose to build a hydro dam to supply the Pickle Crow Gold mine with hydro. Water began to rise in 1935, washing away homes, gardens and gravesites for the man-made Lake St. Joseph. People were not told they would be flooded and awoke to find water rising in their homes.
The dispossession of the people of Mishkeegogamang only continues. Highway 599 runs right through the reserve and is crucial for the vast gold mining industry in the area, which results in billions of dollars coming from Ojibway land and resources. The East-West route for the Ring of Fire development will include Mishkeegogamang, but as Tom highlighted, the continual promise of social development and employment has only resulted in continual disappointment.
Mishkeegogamang has a band council under the Indian Act. Gary and Tom continuously emphasized that this political system imposed by Canada has resulted in levels of corruption that have been dangerous for the people.
Pickle Lake and Central Patricia Path
Our visit to Pickle Lake, 20 km north of Mishkeegogamang, continued to reveal the displacement and apartheid conditions of the region.
The long history of mining around Pickle Lake has brought Native people to the town from the many fly-in communities such as Round Lake, Bearskin Lake, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug only to face eviction and segregation. Tom Wassakeeysic’s family, like many others, lived in a former mining house on Central Patricia Path until “white guys from the township” told them they had 3 days to move to the Mishkeegogamang reserve so that white mining workers could live there.
We were told many stories of police brutality in the town. George shared an intense story of being harassed, tasered and arrested by the OPP “while just waiting for a cab.” A state-of-the-art OPP detachment centre stands in stark contrast to the run-down buildings of the economically depressed town. There are 13 OPP officers in this town of only 400 people.
On our drive back to Thunder Bay, Gary stated: “There’s a lot of potential now. With this group that came up [ILPS], I think you opened the door for other organizations to come in… to visualize, to support. And you’re coming into a community where that’s what people need right about now.”
These relationships and commitments extend to ILPS membership and beyond, as people committed to struggling against colonialism and imperialism, for true justice for Mother Earth and her peoples. This destructive system makes the links between us every day by raping the land in Northern Ontario to fuel financial centres and capital accumulation in Southern Ontario. Thus we must continue to form relationships in struggle which connect the defense of land in the North with people power in the South.
Concrete Next Steps: Building a Home and Building People Power
We in the ILPS Commission in Support of Indigenous People’s Struggles are in the process of working with our friends in Mishkeegogamang to see how best to support the efforts of the community to seek justice, especially for the youth.
Our immediate next step is to support a group of Saugeen women who are addressing the lack of housing in their community, their forced disconnection from the land, and the lack of institutions under people’s control. This summer, we are organizing for a group of people to join the building of a log cabin for a Saugeen woman who needs a home immediately. She wants to live directly on the land that she is fighting to protect from the incursion of mining and the poisoning of traditional food sources by forestry companies. She is leading the building of homes for many other young families who need housing and is also building a general store by the highway to address the need for resources and employment.
Her strength and vision is clear: “We’re put in these areas to look after earth and her people. That’s why I’m going to do my best to walk with the people.”
by John Clarke
As we approach May Day, it is worth considering the impact of the mounting austerity agenda on the poorest part of the working class and some of the ways the poor are fighting back as part of an emerging common front.
Since 1995, people living on social assistance in Ontario have seen their sub poverty incomes reduced by about 55%. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has responded to this by initiating the Raise the Rates Campaign to challenge cutbacks by the Liberal Government and to press for the restoration of social assistance. We joined with a wide range of local anti poverty organizations and with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Ontario) in this fight.
Towards the end of last year, the Liberals announced the elimination of the vital Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) that people on social assistance used to maintain housing or obtain it if they were homeless. It was replaced with a patchwork of locally administered, underfunded programs.
The Raise the Rates Campaign took up a huge fight on this issue. A week of action was organized in some thirty communities, with demonstrations, occupations and even road closings. This effort, along with other initiatives, forced the Government to put back $42 million in funding for the new programs. It was a partial victory but it showed that we are not powerless and can fight back successfully.
As a Provincial Budget looms, the austerity driven attacks on the poor from Queen’s Park are going to intensify and we will face greater struggles ahead.
Here in Toronto, the impact of economic downturn and social cutbacks has reached the level where homeless people are being left to die on the streets. Last year alone, there were forty two recorded homeless deaths. In recent months, we have challenged the appalling overcrowding in the homeless shelters. The response of the Mayor and administration was to claim that all was well and that the shelters were meeting needs.
OCAP and many allies mobilized to demand that the city government respond to the crisis on the streets. We held two occupations at Metro Hall and City Hall, setting up shelters for the homeless in both places. Police were used to clear us out but we didn’t give up. After months of community action, City Council voted to reduce the occupancy rate in the shelters.
We are not raising our voice against something we are powerless to stop. We are fighting to win. OCAP intends to build the size and strength of our resistance to poverty and austerity and to unite with communities and unions fighting back. Poor and working people did not create the crisis that has led to government cutbacks and we won’t let them make us pay for it.
By Barrio Nuevo
On the eve of Presidential elections in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, people from a number of cities came together to form a Canada-wide network to support the Venezuelan process of social transformation, debunk myths and lies perpetuated in the media, as well as denounce acts of aggression or interference by the Government of Canada in the affairs of Venezuelan people.
Organizations and groups from Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Kitchener, London, Hamilton, the First Nations were among those gathered in Ottawa to discuss the actions to support the Bolivarian Revolution, the legacy of President Hugo Chávez, and the future president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.
The more than 120 delegates agreed to:
• Support the Bolivarian Revolution, the legacy of Comandante Hugo Chavez, the construction of socialism, the independence of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the eradication of capitalism
• Deepen the Solidarity, the exchange, and brotherhood among peoples of Latin America and Canada
• Gather Canadian organizations and groups to join the Venezuela Solidarity Network, in order to support and defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
Further, participants were asked to remain alert to any maneuvers to destabilize the country following the Presidential elections.
The candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for President, Nicolas Maduro, edged out the right-wing candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski of the MUD by just under 300,000 votes. Capriles, the favored candidate of the western imperialist powers, declared that he would not accept these results and called his supporters to the streets in protest. Supporters of the right-wing parties responded to these calls with violence, killing 6 supporters of the Socialist Party the day after the elections. Moreover, these groups attacked social programs identified with the Bolivarian Revolution including community health centers and people’s markets, while also targeting offices of the Socialist Party and its leaders. Public and community media outlets including Telesur were also targeted and journalists threatened.
“The right-wing has tried to claim fraud in every elections that they haven’t won,” said Santiago Escobar, Toronto spokesperson for the Venezuela Solidarity Network (VSN). “Despite their claims to be democratic and peaceful, their actions show that they are little more than US sponsored fascists who have no regard for the lives let alone the will of the Venezuelan people”.
Recently, federal Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis has been working with Venezuelan opposition groups in Canada to target the Bolivarian government. Karygiannis, also the Liberal Multiculturalism critic, went to Venezuela to observe the elections and met with Capriles and other members of the MUD.
The VSN, whose plans include opposing and exposing these plots against Venezuela being organized here in Canada, will hold another meeting this coming fall in Montreal.
by Christina Soto
Since last September I have received a monthly $100 cheque in the mail, money that sits heavily in our family pocket book. If I didn’t really need it I would rip it up and throw it in the trash. It is a cash incentive from the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and it comes with a price: the cost of a National Childcare program and the overall well-being of our children.
The National Childcare program would have been a first step towards a real childcare system in Canada. However, it was cut by Stephen Harper (within three hours of taking office) in favour of this $100 a month plan. An extra $100 for a family is insignificant in the big picture and makes little impact to the actual cost of childcare.
Last month, the UCCB “celebrated” its seventh year. During this time it has cost Canada $15 billion dollars, but we have little to show for it. But parceling it out eliminates the possibility for a national childcare structure that would build regulated quality care and make families lives easier.
Instead, families have limited options.
For people in the upper income brackets there is a myriad of choices; including the Live-In-Caregiver program. For working-class families, our hostile government has left us scrambling to find our own, usually expensive, solutions. In Quebec families pay $7/day, that is $154/month. In Ontario, a space runs from $1000-$2000 a month. This is completely unreasonable for most families and especially for those of us struggling to get through difficult economic times.
In light of this, some families have been forced to innovate, to band together to form Community-Run Childcare collectives. These collectives share the responsibilities of childcare amongst parents and aim to provide quality care for children. The philosophy of the collectives also runs completely counter to the individualism espoused by the UCCB (“Here’s a $100, go spend it” versus “Let’s work together and build something”).
A report published just last year from the United Nations reprimanded Canada internationally for its human rights failures on childcare. The U.N. Committee for the Rights of the Child called on Canada to fulfill their human rights obligations with regard to childcare. The report showed that only 20% of our children have access to care. While 900 thousand children have access to care almost 5 million do not.
In a global assessment of children’s health and wellbeing, Canada isn’t doing very well either. A recent UNICEF report shows that Harper’s Canada has failed our children. Compared to the rest of the world’s “rich” countries, Canada ranked poorly, landing in the bottom third of the list due to our childhood poverty rates. 1 in 7 Canadian children live in poverty. This is a grand shame.
The early years, 0-3, are the most critical in childhood development. In this increasingly inequitable society, families have to struggle to meet the basic needs of their young children. Now they also have to battle, on their own, to ensure access to childcare. High quality childcare is as important as access to good housing, healthy food, and education for the health of our communities. The short sighted thinking of the UCCB is only increasing the burden on individual families, negatively affecting the overall well-being of our children.
Thankfully, in times of pressure communities can come together and create innovative solutions. If you are interested in building a community parenting collective in your neighbourhood, contact email@example.com.
Christina Soto is a parent and member of the Revolutionary Women’s Collective, a people’s organization that highlights women’s struggles around the world.