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.
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…
by Alessandro Drago
Montreal | “For temporary foreign workers there are a lot of injustices,” Noé Arteaga told a room of supporters and journalists. “We want justice, not just for me… but for everyone”.
Arteaga had organized a press conference at the Immigrant Workers Centre on December 17 to draw attention to his struggle for justice. Five years ago, he was unjustly fired after organizing a work stoppage to protest the maltreatment of a fellow employee. Arteaga is in the process of filing a complaint against his former employer.
Arteaga first came to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. He was hired to work for an agricultural company in Shawinigan, Quebec.
One day, a co-worker of Arteaga’s was tasked with using pesticides despite never having being trained on the use of pesticides. That day the worker was exposed to the pesticides and required medical attention. However, the employer refused to take him to the hospital. The employer claimed that the worker’s symptoms were pre-existing. To make things worse, the employer forced the sick employee to keep working.
The employer came up with excuses as to why they would not take him to the hospital. After a few weeks of preventing the worker from seeking medical attention, Arteaga and his fellow co-workers decided on a work stoppage to force the employer to take the sick worker to the hospital.
For his role in this work stoppage, Arteaga was fired and then deported to Guatemala.
But Arteaga did not accept this injustice and he returned to Canada shortly after his deportation to file a complaint against his employer. His complaint is currently in its fifth year. He is seeking several weeks of severance pay (which he is owed by the employer) and payment for the airplane ticket (which the employer is contractually obliged to pay).
Joining Arteaga at the press conference were 3 former TFWs who spoke about their experiences in Canada. Arteaga was also joined by groups such as Mexicans United for Regularization, Solidarity Across Borders, PINAY (Filipino Women’s Organization in Quebec) and several others who were there to show solidarity and support for Arteaga. Kathy Pescador of PINAY stated that the solidarity of multiple groups for Arteaga is beneficial as “the more we unite… the stronger our voice.”
Some of the other TFWs spoke of their experiences and work conditions which included working long hours, sometimes without overtime pay, being insulted by their managers, being threatened with deportation and general exploitation as many workers have to pay expenses that in reality the employer must cover. Racism is another hardship that TFWs face. For instance, Arteaga and his coworkers were forbidden to speak Spanish while working.
“Most workers remain in silence because of their vulnerability” explained Carmelo Monge of Mexicans for Regularization, who was referencing Arteaga’s strength for pursuing his complaint.
Mohammed Ali Ben Dellej, a former TFW himself and a member of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association, spoke about how most such workers do not have enough courage or are too scared to speak out against their bosses out of fear of punishment or losing their jobs.
The number of TFWs in Canada has increased to nearly 300,000 and the conditions they face have not improved. As Mostafa Henaway explained, “Noé’s case… sort of exemplifies a situation that no longer are these people are on the fringe… but that they have become the unfortunate norm.”
The discrimination faced by TFW is codified in Canadian law. Henaway further expressed, “If we want justice for Noé… then there has to be fundamental changes to the labour and immigration policy of Canada.”
As International Migrants’ Day was celebrated December 18th, it serves as a reminder of the continuing struggle and hardships faced by temporary foreign workers all over the world. Their increased vulnerability often leads to maltreatment and it is also difficult for them to seek justice afterwards.
Arteaga’s case is important as an example to all temporary foreign workers that there are ways to fight back against injustice.
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 M. Cooke
MONTREAL – “We are foreign temporary workers, any day we could be expelled. That’s why we need a strong and flexible association” said Enrique Llanes, a temporary foreign worker from Spain
Enrique was speaking to a group of over 50 temporary foreign workers who had gathered in Montreal this past Saturday to launch the Temporary Foreign Workers Association (TFWA).
They had gathered not only to fight for their rights, but also for the over 300,000 temporary foreign workers currently in Canada and those who will come in future years.
Mohamed and Helena, temporary foreign workers from Tunisia and Spain, welcomed the workers at the start of the day.
“I would particularly like to thank you for your dedication despite the cold and the distance” said Mohamed.
The workers had come from throughout Quebec: the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, Chicoutimi, Quebec City, Montreal. These workers came from a range of industries including working as farmers, butchers, machinists, welders, translators, lab technicians among others.
Helena continued the introduction saying: “The obstacles temporary foreign workers face are infinite. The system is created to keep us misinformed and isolated”.
Shortly after, one after another, the workers introduced themselves and shared their experiences of working in Quebec.
One group of farm workers talked about recently discovering that their employer had withheld an average of 2 hours of wages per day for over 6 years.
Several workers complained about being tied to a single employer. One worker explained that the company had laid him off for 3 months, and due to his work permit he could not apply to other jobs, nor could he apply for employment insurance. He was forced to work under the table to survive.
In the legal workshop held earlier in the day, groups of workers shared stories about their employer forcing them to rent his apartments or else being fired.
Workers also shared stories of being told to apply as “single” despite being married and having children back home, putting their future plans to apply as permanent residents in jeopardy.
Other workers shared stories about language barriers. They were not allowed to take French courses and they could not access translation services at hospitals nor within some unions.
But these are only a few of the stories of what is happening throughout Quebec and Canada.
The number of temporary foreign workers has been steadily increasing in the past few years. In 2011, there were over 300 000 temporary foreign workers in Canada.
There has been a shift in the Canadian immigration system says Manon Perron, a union leader with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).
“Last week, I was in meetings with a top immigration bureaucrat and he told me that they are looking for workers, not citizens” said Manon Perron to the group of workers.
The temporary foreign worker programs are set up to bring cheap labour in to Canada. The workers work here for low wages and no benefits and once they are no longer needed, they are sent back to their countries.
In 2011 there were more temporary foreign workers than immigrants accepted into the country.
The launch of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association is a big step in challenging a program that is set-up to, as Helena said “keep [workers] misinformed and isolated”.
The association will provide workers with access to legal aid clinics, workshops on labour rights, as well as translation services.
In addition, the association will fight to address the policies that lead to the issues faced by foreign temporary workers. The association hopes to win access to employment insurance and health care, open work permits, easier access to apply for permanent residency, as well as the right to unionize.
Despite the obstacles the workers face, there was something electric about having workers from throughout the province meet with each other and begin building an association that would break the isolation and fight for their rights.
Frustrated delegates at CUPE National Convention launch ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’ movement from the floor
by Steve da Silva, CUPE 3903 member
In ancient Rome, politicians were known to secure the votes of Roman citizens by doling out wheat (drawn from conquered territories, it should be noted) and providing cheap entertainment. This, the Roman poet Juvenal satirically referred to as “bread and circuses”. But what happens when bread supplies run out?
Last week, Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), held its largest-ever convention in Quebec City to mark its 50th anniversary. As the austerity policies of capitalism continue their attacks on public sector workers and the working class in general, it sometimes felt like we delegates were being made to suffer a sideshow of countless speeches, video greetings, and a video montage of CUPE through the decades, as a diversion from the fact that CUPE’s leadership actually has no strategy for defending its members in these times. That is, of course, unless you consider the state of our union as an electoral and lobbying machine that is staking it all on an NDP victory in the 2015 elections a viable and comprehensive strategy.
“A Guided Democracy”
For five days, over 2500 delegates representing some 627,000 workers in hundreds of locals across the country – which cost locals millions of dollars in transportation, registration, and accommodation fees – spent well over half their time in their seats as spectators, listening to speeches and watching videos that quite frankly did more to entrench an incumbent leadership than it did provide time for debate around the future of our union.
In fact, the elected leadership would have been completely acclaimed were it not for the courageous young worker from CUPE 4600 Lydia Dobson, who disrupted what convention floor delegates were mocking as “a coronation”. Dobson challenged CUPE National President Paul Moist from the floor, even after an older CUPE staffer told the Young Workers Caucus that it would be “political suicide” to run against Moist. Dobson did so alone, and without the support of the Young Workers Caucus. Because she ran from the floor, Dobson was denied a right to make a campaign speech. Notwithstanding being a completely unknown candidate for the Presidency of Canada’s largest union, Dobson took 21% of the votes cast.
Dobson told BASICS, “I stand by my actions. I believe in direct action and think that it is imperative that our young workers NOT become intimidated and subjected to power structures and politics that do not represent our best interests. The commotion that this caused today is a blatant demonstration of our the complacency of our members to directed voting, imbalanced power structures and a guided democracy. It should not be shocking that there was a vote at an election.”
Sham democracy aside, many of the threats facing workers were enumerated throughout the convention, but with particular attention given to Bill C-377 and the looming threat of “right to work” legislation. While these two coming attacks on unions will deal a huge blow to the working-class, it is noteworthy that the effect of these two pieces of legislation would be felt first and hardest at the top of the union movement. Bill C-377, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Conservative MP and backbencher Blaine Calkins from Alberta, would impose financial reporting requirements that are far above what exists for any other entity in Canada, and is widely recognized as discriminatory towards and clearly aimed at destroying unions. Bill C-377 would strangle unions in the redtape of their reporting requirements, starving them of their resources; not to mention making it very difficult to certify new unions. It becomes clear how threatening this legislation would be to union bureaucrats who would see their resources wasted on paperwork, an attack that would eventually trickle down to rank-and-file unionists and workers in the form of weak, cash-strapped, defenceless organizations, and eventually defunct organizations.
Fights to be fought
If C-377 is the jab, “right to work” legislation would be the blow from the other side. The so-called right to work legislation, which PC opposition leader in Ontario Tim Hudak is promising, would starve unions of their dues from the other end by whittling down their membership, giving union members to opt-out of paying dues, even though they would be covered by a Collective Agreement.
However, with or without these deathblows to unions (at least as they exist in their current form), the attacks on workers are taking place everyday and are not limited to these threats on the horizon. Impossible to enumerate briefly, these consist of “austerity” cuts that lead to lost jobs, privatizations that break unions and cost taxpayers more in the long run by subsidizing corporate profits, two-tiered bargaining that sell-out young and future workers, the deterioration of workplace safety and conditions of work, and the shift from “defined pensions benefits” that guarantee hard numbers for people’s retirements to “defined contributions” plans that tell you what you must put in pension funds, but not what you’ll get out of them.
Then there are the conditions that affect workers outside the workplace and beyond their working years: record-levels of household, consumer, and student debt; cuts to social and community services; the environmental destruction of capitalism; the $34 billion loss of federal healthcare transfers to provinces if the Health Accord is not renewed in 2014; the genocidal-colonial violence faced by Indigenous peoples in their communities on reserves or in cities. CUPE members are experiencing all these attacks, and more.
Lobbying, Electoralism, and the Complete Absence of Working-Class Strategy
From the convention floor, the anxiety of delegates could be read from the numerous resolutions debated and passed speaking to and taking stances against the deteriorating conditions of workers. But there was no real space to discuss the strategic requirements to actually arm workers for the fight to successfully fight on many fronts. Opening up such a discussion would have subjected to scrutiny the complete failure of electoralism and social democracy to serve the interests of even the “middle-class” workers in the labour movement, leaving aside the broader working poor and hyper-exploited workers.
What is CUPE’s actual plan to fight on all these fronts? Lobbying and elections, basically. One the one hand, there is the public relations campaign called “Together Fairness Works,” which the Canadian Labour Congress has rolled out in the form of a national television advertising campaign from October 7 through November 17. The Fairness project is also directing the energy and resources of staffers and union activists to engage the rank-and-file members around the benefits of being in a union and the contributions of union to society (they mean, capitalist society!). “We need to reintroduce ourselves to our members by having one-on-one conversations about the value of the labour movement and their union,” guest speaker CLC President Ken Georgetti told the Convention. A perusal of the “Fairness” literature seems to reveal, however, that the architects of this campaign didn’t get the memo that corporations and banks are actually posting record profits through austerity and neoliberal policies. As long as “the economy” remains synonymous with capitalism, we lose to the political Right on the ideological terrain because a capitalist economy grows to the extent that it exploits labour.
On the other hand, there is the NDP and the 2015 elections. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair graced the membership with his presence and a speech - essentially promising nothing more than the status quo, holding back or reversing a select few of Harper’s attacks – but could not find the time to take a single question from Canada’s largest union.
The pillar of the convention was the “Strategic Directions 2013-2015: Proud of our Past, Ready for the Future” document, where one would expect to find an elaborated strategy. While identifying many aspects of the crisis faced by the working-class and CUPE’s membership, the document falls short on questions of how we will actually defend ourselves against the panoply of attacks coming from all directions. Insofar as there is any strategy in the document, it was limited to electoralism and tied to the success of the NDP. To the shock of many delegates, a first draft of the document actually read that “We know that the ultimate power over bargaining and strikes lies in the hands of the government of the day” – a statement that was slightly modified only by a revolt from the floor during discussion around the document. Despite opposition to that statement, the amended document retained a phrase from the first draft that basically amounted to the same capitulationist position: “As long as we do not have worker-friendly governments, anything we negotiate at the bargaining table can be taken away from us through legislation.”
“Why is labour the only partner still playing by the rules?”
So, when yesterday’s labour laws are legislated out of the law, what is to be done? Well, nothing but wait for the next elections, and vote. Maybe a bit of lobbying in between. In essence, the CUPE leadership’s stance seems to be passively accepting giving up the historic birthright of the working-class – its right to withdraw its labour as its ultimate source of leverage over capital – and just wait for the next elections. Such are the honest truths presented by a union leadership that is frankly unwilling to stick their necks out and lead us in the struggles that are necessary to defend our livelihoods, let alone fight the greater fights of radically transforming Canadian society to end colonialism, imperialist wars abroad, massive wealth inequalities, and Canada’s leading role in ecological destruction and climate change.
And why would they? Unjust labour legislation, like back-to-work legislation, is making illegal any strike that would actually make a difference and tip the balance of power back into the hands of labour. To break these laws would hurt labour leaders the most: their assets would be seized, they would be jailed, they would face fines that would within weeks of illegal action run into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Do we have the faith in leaders that get paid six figure salaries to lead these fights? According to our Convention’s financial statement, Paul Moist took home a $159,015 salary in 2012 alone, which doesn’t include benefits, and his office used over $370,000 in travel costs. Is it any wonder that the Russian revolutionary Lenin once referred to the likes of Moist as a “labour aristocrat”?
Frustrations Spark ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’
It was the growing frustration of delegates with the lack of debate around a viable strategy that sparked midway through the convention a caucus of more radical CUPE members that began calling ourselves “Rebuild Militant Labour” - a caucus formed initially just to coordinate interventions at the mic.
By Day 3, however, with the problems with our union coming into sharper focus, and a growing number of people joining the conversation, Rebuilding Militant Labour (RML) put out an interim basis of unity, holding an impromptu meeting outside convention hours at the end of Day 4 that attracted almost one hundred people, representing much of the country, most of CUPE’s sectors, and the whole demographic spectrum of the union.
Kelly O’Sullivan, President of CUPE 4308, held up an image of a triangle encompassing labour, government, and capital, illustrating the postwar “social compromise” from the 1940s onwards. O’Sullivan asked the leadership why “labour is the only partner still playing by the rules” when capital and government have long ago abandoned the welfarist social contract.
“‘If not now, when?’ may sound cliché,” CUPE 4308 President Kelly O’Sullivan told BASICS, who represents personal support workers in Toronto. “We got the sense that the ‘now’ really is now. ‘RML happened at this national convention because now is the time. You could hear the frustration from the delegates on the convention floor and in casual conversation that we have had enough playing by the rules and that more militant action is needed. RML was a response to our own anger over lack of strategy in our union to not only protect ourselves from the attack on workers and community but also a narrow and limited focus on election of an NDP government in 2015 as the only coordinated response.”
Established on a strictly anti-capitalist basis of unity, according to its founding points of unity RML has taken on the mandate of developing a militant strategy beyond electoralism, entrenching amongst rank-and-file membership and “grassroots power”, and “a program of education for workers in our unions to understand how capitalism is the problem.”
At its founding meeting, RML organized an Interim Coordinating Committee under the mandate of coordinating the implementation of the points of unity in our locals and communities; developing an anti-capitalist educational program; coordinating our organization going into conventions in two years time, and preparing for a separate national convention of Rebuilding Militant Labour in late 2014.
The labour movement in its current form – strictly committed to the institutional arrangement of postwar social order – can no longer defend the working-class; and frankly, they never really represented the whole working-class to begin with. The bread line is closed. A growing proportion of workers can see through the empty promises of social democratic labour leaders and politicians. The circus no longer amuses. Nowhere in the world is social democracy stemming the tide of capitalism’s attacks.
It is time we return to the days when militant labour actually fought for another world, a world that would be free of class division and exploitation. The first stage on that road has always been called ‘socialism’, however you define it and whatever means you think we need to actually get there. If RML lives up to its name and mandate, we may just have one of the central means by which to resume that struggle where Canadian labour left it in the 1940s.
by Christopher C. Sorio (MIGRANTE Canada)
Migrante Canada (Ontario) which is an alliance of 19 Filipino organizations in Canada and have 5 members organizations in the province of Ontario, supports the campaign to increase minimum wage from $10.25 to $14.00 per hour.
For the last three years, the minimum wage in Ontario is pegged at $10.25 and there is a mechanism to address a review process that will look at the necessity of increasing minimum wage.
In a study conducted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in 2008 the report showed that calculates a living wage in Toronto should be more than $10.25 per hour.
The CCPA study which was conducted in 2008, by Hugh Mackenzie and Jim Stanford, calculated that a two parent family with two children would need to make at least $16.60 an hour, working full-time year round, in order to obtain a reasonable standard of living that promotes health, well-being and participation in the full life of their community.
The living wage for a single parent with one child would be $16.15.
According to Sonia Singh of Worker’s Action Centre, there are 544,000 people in the province of Ontario that subsist on a pay of $10.25 an hour, and more than 750,000 earn around $11 or $12 an hour. Singh further adds says many low-wage earners are older and have families to support. They are mostly women, recent immigrants, and people of colour.
This becomes very important, more so to immigrant newcomers in this province. Most immigrant newcomers are earning minimum wage and are at times working two or more jobs in order to meet the needs of their families.
Increasing wage increase will be good for poverty reduction for this province.
by Kitchener- Waterloo BASICSNEWS
“Ronald McDonald,” joined by approximately 30 other people, targeted a McDonalds located in Kitchener, ON, to demand a living wage for all workers. McDonalds is part of a larger lobbying group that wants to keep the freeze on minimum wage (which is currently $10.25/hr in Ontario), forcing workers to live in poverty. This action is part of a larger provincial campaign that seeks to raise minimum wage to $14/hr. According to Statistics Canada, full-time workers making only minimum wage have incomes that are 19% below the poverty line, with limited to no benefits.
“In KW alone, we’ve lost manufacturing jobs and tech industry jobs (ex. RIM), due to temporary agencies, precarious part-time work, and outsourcing,” says community activist Mark Corbiere. “While the cost of living increases and minimum wage stays the same, the gap between rich and poor increases at an alarming rate,” stated Di, a member of various community organizations.
Businesses from the targeted lobbying group include Tim Horton’s, Wal-Mart, Loblaws, and McDonalds, as well as others. For more information on this campaign or to get involved/sign the petition to raise minimum wage, please visit www.raisetheminimumwage.ca.
The following is an open letter to the Mayor of Leamington, John Paterson, from migrant justice organization Justicia For Migrant Workers. Last week, Paterson targeted Jamaican migrant workers for making “sexually aggressive” comments toward women. Paterson was quoted by the CBC as saying, “Maybe it’s appropriate back in your home town, but here’s it not. So stop.”
As the letter from J4MW shows, the mainstream media has left out a whole history of racist attitudes toward migrant workers. Leamington, a town close to Windsor, has a large proportion of temporary migrant workers hired mainly for agriculture. They have never been seen as part of the community and have been the victims of constant racism.
This racial abuse is connected to the migrants’ working conditions, where they are seen as temporary and disposable. Often, the terms of their contract are not honoured and they are dismissed without sufficient cause. They face difficult and dangerous working and living conditions. Although migrant workers form the backbone of Ontario’s agricultural economy, the Ontario government and Supreme Court have colluded to deny them their basic Charter and human rights to form unions.
Visit J4MW’s web site for more information. —Ed.
Open Letter to the Mayor of Leamington John Paterson over recent comments pertaining to migrant workers
by Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)
Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a non-profit political collective that advocates for the rights of migrant workers in Canada. J4MW has been actively engaging migrant workers in the Leamington area for over a decade. During this time, we have met thousands of migrant workers in this community.
Over the past decade we have followed with great interest the wider community’s response to migrant workers. Unfortunately, your recent remarks come as no surprise to members of our collective. In the past several years, the open hostility that your council has shown towards migrant workers represents the most blatant displays of anti-migrant sentiments we have ever witnessed. Recent comments in the media, have disparaged the use of public library facilities by migrant workers; made allegations that there are too many migrant workers ‘loitering’ downtown; and criticized the presence of too many ‘ethnic’ businesses serving the migrant worker community. In each instance ‘cultural differences’ have been used to justify the wider community’s adverse reaction to the presence of large groups of migrant workers in visible local spaces. To pass off this tension as a matter of difference based on one’s place of origin is disingenuous at best. It alludes to there being an equal and level playing field between migrant workers and Canadians. This completely masks the fact that all migrant workers in your community are:
(2) Bound to their employers
(3) Denied social and labour mobility
(4) Denied the ability of permanent residency
(5) Are separated from their families for significant portions of time
(6) Cannot exercise social and democratic participation in the processes that you represent.
Your analysis does not acknowledge the power imbalance in your community. You and your council are free to condemn and stigmatize migrant workers without any real and significant response from workers themselves; a population who have lived and worked in Leamington for fifty years, but continue to be considered temporary.
Your recent remarks pertaining to “lewd behaviour” of migrant workers cannot be taken in good faith. Instead of dealing with sexual harassment on an individual basis, you skip right to racialized stereotypes; drawing from some of the worst parts of Canadian history. It does not escape us that the community of Leamington once supported ‘sundown laws’ which made it illegal for Black Canadians to walk freely in the community after sunset.
It is apparent that your council would rather have migrant workers ‘out of sight and out of mind’; segregated from the white citizens of your community as much as possible. This de facto separation of migrants only reinforces the negative reputation that your community is earning under your leadership.
Recently, human rights violations were substantiated by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) in the form of anti-black racism and widespread attention has been paid to another ongoing case involving an employer who allegedly sexual harassed racialized migrant women. As Leamington has one of the largest population of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in Canada these important cases directly impact workers in your community – yet your office took no public stance to acknowledge them. You and your council have been absent in discussions on racial profiling of the Asian population of Leamington where officers under your direction as Chair of the Police Services Board have acted as de facto Border Officials towards Asian residents of your community.
Your office has been negligent in improving road infrastructure that would ensure safe transport and greater road safety for migrant workers. Neither your council nor the municipality has grappled with the dangerous modes of transportation that migrant workers must endure.
Performing such simple tasks as phoning home, buying groceries or sending money home become feats of life and death.
Migrant workers have continued
by Moshe ben Velvl and Megan Kinch
Two of Canada’s biggest unions, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Canadian Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) have merged into a new mega-union, Unifor. They have sketched out an ambitious vision that promises to revolutionize the way unions have traditionally organized and the way they have related to the rest of society and the working class who are not organized in unions. Unifor is now Canada’s largest private sector union. But is it a new day for the labour movement, or is it business as usual?
Rank and file workers, especially in the auto sector, have long been demanding a more democratic unionism — for example, Soldiers of Solidarity in the United States. But in a disappointing turn, the “Unity Team” slate ran almost unopposed for 25 leadership positions at the Unifor convention. Long time union leaders Dave Coles of CEP and Ken Lewenza of CAW resigned their presidential positions shortly before the new convention, paving the way for the official choice for new president, Jerry Dias. Dias was being referred to as the new president before the convention even took place, as if it was just a formality. And that’s almost what it was. All of the leadership positions had “Unity Team” members acclaimed, meaning no one ran against them. All, that is, except for one.
Lindsay Hinshelwood, a rank and file worker at Oakville Ford and member of Unifor Local 707, threw in her hat to challenge the leadership at the last minute. Not only that, but she provided a real alternative vision to the business-as-usual attitudes.
Hinshelwood gave an interview to BASICS, in which she was also quite critical of the cheerleading culture being promoted at the convention:
At the CAW convention yesterday, Ken Lewenza gave the exact same speech. We didn’t address the issues that are really affecting us. It was the old cheerleading speech, we fought for this, we fought for that, rah, rah, rah, and meanwhile our economy’s been going backwards for the last 40 years. We weren’t addressing the problems and we weren’t offering solutions to those problems.
After Hinshelwood was nominated to run for the election, co-chair Dave Coles (the outgoing CEP leader) wasn’t even going to allow her to make a speech, supposedly because of time constraints and the fact that there were 24 more “elections” scheduled for that afternoon.
He only changed his mind after someone issued a challenge to the chair from the floor, meaning that he would no longer be able to run the meeting if it was actually put up to a vote and passed. He noticed that the rest of the room was very upset with the fact that he wouldn’t let her speak and probably would have ousted him as chair if he continued to refuse her this right. Hinshelwood had this to say about that important moment at convention:
I’m very proud that the crowd challenged the chair and allowed me to speak. I really appreciate getting the time to speak. And that wasn’t rehearsed, that just came out of my mouth without me thinking about it, and it was really great that the audience responded to it, so obviously people were identifying with what I had to say.
Hinshelwood’s speech made strong criticisms of the practice of the CAW heading into the convention, for agreeing to continuing concessions over the course of the past 15 years that would essentially sell out the new hires and lead to continually declining wages and benefits for workers in the automotive sector.
In the election for president of the union, Hinshelwood got 17.5% of the vote against Jerry Dias. This is an impressive number for a last-minute candidacy with no campaign literature or official backing.
This raises the question of how Unifor can claim to be forging a vision for new fights against corporations and governments, and new organizing drives, when the CAW leadership has shown little desire to actually fight against concessions that will hurt their members. In the last round of negotiations with the big three automakers in 2012, CAW leadership agreed to a concessionary contract without calling a strike in any of the three negotiations. This despite the fact that they had received strike mandate votes of 97% or higher at all three automakers, with Chrysler having a 99% strike mandate overall and the Chrysler Etobicoke plant garnering a rare 100% strike mandate vote. What a strike mandate vote does is give the union representatives a mandate to call a strike at any time during the negotiation of a new collective agreement. The fact that the CAW representatives at Chrysler failed to utilize a strike in 2012 as a bargaining tactic despite the obvious willingness of their members to do so does not provide much promise that the new union, Unifor, will do things any differently.
On the second day of the convention, Hinshelwood provided more concrete ideas about how to fight back:
I’d like to see improvements to the Rand Formula. Workers should have the right to strike between contracts. And I have a question about the Supplemental Workers (SWEs) in the union. For example the SWs on GM lines who pay union dues but are not covered under the collective agreement. How are you going to convince these workers who have no representation but pay dues to fight to protect the first-tier workers?
Currently, the Rand Formula only allows workers to strike at designated times when a contract is over and negotiations are occurring for the signing of a new contract. What Hinshelwood was calling for was for workers to be able to strike between contract negotiations at essentially any time, which has historically been the quickest and most effective way to deal with dangerous conditions or any violations of the collective agreement by the employer.
In this very short comment and question on the second day of the convention, she brought up two of the main problems with the way unionism has been done since World War Two. While Unifor is working to bring the SWEs into the union as regular full members with full union rights at work, the new leader Jerry Dias did not even respond to her first recommendation about the right to strike between contract negotiations and updating the Rand formula. This is despite the rhetoric of Dias and other leaders about the need to change the way unionism is done in this country and really go on the offensive.
It remains to be seen how Unifor will fulfill the tasks it has set itself in the coming years and how it can be changed by rank and file activists like Hinshelwood, who had this to say to BASICS about how Unifor could address these issues and the consequences that will result it if doesn’t:
They have to listen to the dissidents instead of trying to shut the dissidents down. The dissidents are speaking for a lot of people and a lot of people are afraid to speak within their unions because you get the ‘union shun’. And you have to acknowledge where you’ve gone wrong and you have to acknowledge what people are angry about and address that situation. Sometimes it’s okay to do some cheerleading, but not when we’re facing losing our country. When you drive workers down, your social structure declines, your infrastructure declines and your civil liberties disappear too.