Category Archives: Canada

Migrant Workers and the struggle for Dignity, Equality and Status

by Peter D’Gama

Recently the death of an injured Jamaican seasonal agricultural worker, reported in the Toronto Star [1] highlighted the inhumane treatment, akin to slavery, to which many such workers are subjected when injured on the job. The struggle to change these conditions has gained impetus as the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program comes under review. In this struggle migrant workers call for “Landed Status Now!”. Socialist Action spoke in Toronto with Gabriel Allahdua of the Justicia4Migrant Workers collective.

Gabriel, can you tell me how you came to be involved with Justicia4migrantworkers (J4MW)?
I got involved with J4MW when they were organising a vigil for the 10 migrant workers who died in Homestead, in the Kitchener (Ontario) area. [2]
I was one of those invited from my farm to attend. It was my first invite to things of that nature. It was the first time I ever heard of J4MW.
At that event, we were invited to make contributions and this I was longing for as my high expectations of coming to work in a developed country like Canada was very quickly dashed when my high expectations met with reality.
I saw the many challenges faced by migrant workers, the dark side if you will of Canada with working conditions that reflected the 18th century. My first campaign was to fight for Equal Treatment under the Coroners Act, to expose unacceptable and dangerous working conditions that put workers’ lives at risk.

The Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program is very much a policy of the capitalist state to promote accumulation of capital and enhance the profitability of employers rather than promoting the welfare of workers. Can you comment on some of the disparities and unequal rights when it comes to labour law that migrant workers face?
The contract that the migrant worker has with a private employer lacks enforceability. It is a recipe for exploitation and not a recipe for equity. Working and conditions and labour relations reflect those that existed in the 18th century and not that of a modern Canadian Labour law which should be ensuring employers create jobs with safe working conditions. Tying workers to one employer works against any incentive for employers to do this. This unequal relationship, allows employers to exploit the vulnerability of workers to increase their profits rather than create equity. We are asking for equity so that, we can access Employment Insurance (EI) because we make contributions to it . This is why we are asking for immediate landed status and open work permits which would be more equitable for all migrant workers and would ensure that they be treated fairly like any other worker in Canada. [3]

Currently there is a review of the Temporary Workers’ Program. Can you tell us about this process and what are the demands of the migrant workers movement ?
The review is not an accurate description of what is going on now. A review is something that is methodical, systematic and taking into account all voices, but this not the case. The review is rushed. For example in appearing before the committee, I had seven minutes, shared with a colleague, who spoke on low skilled temporary workers. I had three minutes to speak on Seasonal Agricultural Workers. How could I speak of a fifty year program in just three minutes – this is not a review. Other presenters dealing with other sectors of economy more favourable to the business class were given more time. They don’t want to hear from workers impacted by the program. It’s like this process is a mere formality giving the appearance of fairness by using the word Review. Our demands are simple. We do not ask for extraordinary measures, we only ask for equality. This means that workers be granted permanent immigration status, access to social services and benefits, and among other things, stopping the unilateral repatriation of migrant workers. [4]

The Final Report is being released on June 15. What are the next steps that J4MW workers and the Migrant Workers alliance for Change will be taking after the report is released?
There are several activities that we have planned including forming alliances with our sister organizations and unions to demand status now. Continue the campaign “Landed Status Now”. Make people in the community aware of the inequities in the system. Most people, when they sit around dinner tables, are not aware of the unsafe conditions and the plight of agricultural workers who produce their food. We also are asking people to learn about our campaign and lobby their MP’s and MPP’s. Inform them of the plight of migrant workers under the program as it now exists. We also have a new movie out called Migrant Dreams(http://www.migrantdreams.ca/) which we are hoping to use as an educational tool mobilize people to lobby MP’s to change the laws and provide for greater equality. Come September or October we will have a caravan from Leamington or Windsor, to Ottawa, to press to change the laws so that they better reflect human rights and diversity. People can sign our petitition https://harvestingfreedom.org/petition/

Thank you Gabriel, I will take some of your thoughts to my MP when I meet with her in July.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/05/19/the-shame-of-our-disposable-workers.html
[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/migrant-workers-killed-in-crash-were-breadwinners-1.1142487
[3] http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Canadas-Choice-2.pdf
[4] http://www.migrantworkersalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Letter-from-Caregiver-Organization-to-Federal-and-Provincial-Govts.pdf

Leadership race off to a rocky start: NDP brass to forgo democracy

by Barry Weisleder

The $30,000 entry fee, and the 25 per cent tax on campaign funds raised, are bad enough barriers. Now the requirement to collect hundreds of signatures of NDP members in five different regions of a vast country, including 100 from specifically designated equity-seeking groups, makes it virtually impossible for working class NDP members to be eligible to run for Leader. Ironically, the new rules will tend to exclude members of the very same equity groups whose signatures are required. And any NDPer who is not a veteran professional politician, or who is not rich, can just forget about being an “official” candidate for Leader.

To make matters even worse, the One Member One Vote process means that party members will not gather in one place to discuss the merits of the candidates. The capitalist media will have a predominant influence on popular perceptions of the contenders. NDP members will not meet before the election to decide the policies that the new Leader should implement. If there is only one ranked ballot cast, they will be unable to make second and third Leader choices as the sequential vote results are counted and revealed at each step. But even if two or more separate ballots are cast after the bottom candidate on the list is dropped each time, the voters are atomized. They make their choices in isolation – except from the barrage of propaganda issued by the corporate media and the big spending candidates. This is a perscription for establishment rule, not for working class political action.

The lessons of the failed election campaign in 2015, and the spirit of the change-hungry NDP federal convention in April 2016, appear to be lost on the party federal council. It presents a tone-deaf response to the cry for greater democracy, accountability and transparency. It makes a mockery of the demands and needs of the working class base of the party.

Will the NDP, having been driven deeply downwards in the polls by its conservative, autocratic leadership, continue to ape the parties of big business? Or will the rank and file take charge and fight to win democracy and socialist policies? More than ever it is clear: To survive, the NDP must turn sharply to the Left!

Fortunately, there is a socialist candidate for Leader, and soon there may be two.
Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for the Toronto provincial riding of Parkdale-High Park, is running as a loud and proud socialist. When she launched her campaign on June 7, she declared that she refused to pay the $30,000 entry fee. After being derided in the media as “unserious”, Cheri said she would pay up, but only under protest. (The NDP Socialist Caucus is petitioning to abolish the fee. For details visit: http://www.ndpsocialists.ca )
Avi Lewis, film-maker and co-author of the Leap Manifesto, is actively considering a run for Leader too. It is common to have several contenders from the party right wing, so why not have more than one from the left?

In a message to a June 26 picnic co-sponsored by the Socialist Caucus and Momentum in Toronto, Cheri DiNovo summed up her political platform:
“Our New Democratic Party looked more like the ‘old’ Democratic Party south of the border in the last election and is still controlled by those who want to ‘win’ by becoming neo-liberals. We’ve seen how well that works in elections in Ontario, BC, Olivia Chow’s (Toronto) Mayoral bid, and the last Federal debacle. Crazy is doing the same old things and hoping for a different outcome.

As I’ve said before: the only place left to go is left. Particularly with Trudeaumania 2.0 putting Leftist lipstick on a neo-Liberal pig.

“We need to remember who we are, who we were envisioned to be by our founding mothers and fathers. We need to become Socialists again. We need to posit an alternative to the casino capitalism that has become a fatal disease. We need to, yes, take a Leap, and enact the sort of strong legislation that makes us a beacon on climate change rather than a contributor to the climate crisis. We need to eradicate income inequality, provide everyone with the education, healthcare, childcare, housing, and green employment they need. Everyone, yes everyone, should be in a union. This used to sound utopian to many. Now to imagine a world of the 1% existing into the next century sounds more than utopian – it sounds insane.”

A challenge to academic socialists – take a Leap!

by Robbie Mahood

It is well and good that Socialist Project (a Toronto-based group led by left academics and former labour bureaucrats) welcomes the Leap Manifesto and the modest new opening to the left that exists in the NDP — now that the party has effectively embraced Leap and turfed Mulcair. This is a welcome departure from the ritual feeding off the sins of social democracy we so often see in the SP e-publication, The Bullet. Socialists should engage with real developments in the labour movement and there is a tacit recognition that, like it or not, this includes the NDP.

But given an influx of new activists into the NDP (some are already there), it seems the authors would have Socialist Project stand aside, neither impeding nor encouraging such a development. That stance would seem to be designed to preserve (at least for the SP) the option of a new ‘left’ party.

The nature of such a party is not specified. Would it be a re-edition of social democracy from its earlier, rather mythic, heroic days, or perhaps it would take its inspiration from recent new ‘left’ parties in Europe like Syriza, Die Linke, Podemos, or closer to home, Quebec Solidaire? Surely not a Leninist combat party in the tradition of the early Canadian Communist Party!

The authors approach this dilemma with rather excessive delicacy, pretty much conceding everything to process. Not so much a party, but a “project of transcending capitalism”. Not a “genuine storehouse of the truth”, but rather offering “strategic spaces” to develop “better socialist ideas and alternatives”. Pretty thin gruel. Do we have really have to reinvent the wheel?

Vancouver-based writer Roger Annis, in his comment on the article, at least broaches the question of program and strategy. But why have all initiatives to form a new party over the past 40 years met with failure? History shows that new parties emerge from important upsurges in the class struggle, or from splits in degenerating reformist parties, whether of social democratic or Stalinist lineage. So far, neither of these apply to Canada, or apply only to an insufficient degree.

Socialists need to be present in all facets of the class struggle, and the NDP is an important arena as recent events have shown. Socialist Project should intervene in the NDP as an organized tendency, rather than watch as supporters move back into the NDP as individuals. That is indeed the only way to avoid the perils of entryism and adaptation to opportunism – by fighting for class struggle policies, and doing so where it really matters.

(Disclosure: I am actively involved in the NDP Socialist Caucus.)

Brexit vote – a blow to the corporate elite

by Barry Weisleder

John Pilger, the award-winning journalist and documentary film maker, hit the nail on the head. When 52 per cent in Britain voted to leave the E.U. it was a devastating blow to the British ruling class and the European grand masters. It is not a matter of choosing between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Instead, as Pilger says, it is a matter of recognizing the virulently anti-working class agenda of big business in both the U.K. and the E.U. — an agenda of austerity and growing inequality, of pillage of the environment, and endless wars of intervention.

So the Earth moved on June 23. It did so for an array of reasons that have as a common denominator mass opposition to the arrogant establishment and its hideous policies. Now the big capitalists are on their heels, spitefully lashing out at the voters, especially those they regard as the ‘ignorant losers in the globalization game’, who ‘should never have been trusted with such an important decision.’ Referendum? Never again, the rich bastards say.

But the genie is out of the bottle. The U.K. Conservative Party is deeply divided. And the British rulers may lose more than “their markets” in Europe; they may lose the North of Ireland and Scotland in the bargain. It is also, as Pilger correctly argues, a blow for peace, and against the New Cold War aimed squarely at Russia and China.

The question now is this: Will the radical left take the initiative, and act to win the broad left to a course of mass struggle to reverse social cuts, privatization and layoffs? Or absent that, amidst so much hand-wringing over the fake democracy and illusory humanity of the E.U., will the left allow UKIP (unilaterally anointed by the business media as the sole voice of Brexit) to enjoy the benefit of the majority vote against the tyrants of the E.U.?
As Tariq Ali wrote in Counterpunch, Brexit “was a revolt against the political establishment (former Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband acknowledged this fact) and had Jeremy Corbyn come out for LEAVE his party would have been in a very strong position. The Tories are wounded. Labour and others should demand an early election. Impossible to wait till 2020. And the election campaign should be waged fiercely for an anti-capitalist programme and fighting the Right on racism/xenophobia, etc. Mass campaigning of the sort that won Corbyn the leadership is the way forward.”

Jeremy Corbyn needs to shift radically to the left, and to mobilize his base against capitalist austerity. His movement must quash the Blairites who are now out for his skin, targeting him as a weak campaigner for the troika. What hypocrites! The Blairites governed in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, laying the basis for the social misery that found a popular outlet in the Brexit vote.

This is a turning point in Britain, a potentially terrific one. Sadly, some British leftists fail to recognize that. Worse, they continue to defend a totally unprincipled line of setting their political compass according to the positions of assorted left liberals, social democrats and ‘left’ labour bureaucrats.

Just imagine if ‘Remain in the E.U.’ had won. Everyone now in charge of disaster capitalism would be celebrating. Celebrating what? The status quo, of course. Instead, we have a new situation where the only obvious result is that there are question marks over everything. It is a situation that socialists should welcome — and then quickly get to work.
On June 23 the Momentum group in the British Labour Party issued a statement, which included the following: “We recognise that people voted ‘Leave’ for many reasons. Much of this vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment. Many such working class communities have been utterly neglected for years by those in power. Millions appear to have chosen ‘Leave’ to vote against the unfettered globalisation that has seen living standards stagnate or fall, as the cost of living rises. We share this scepticism of big business dominance, austerity and distant elites, be they British, European or Global, and share that demand for a country where working people have control.

“Many ‘Leave’ voters usually vote for Labour, or are working people Labour should represent. Now the Party and the whole labour movement needs to show the country that it alone can offer working people genuine control over their lives, workplaces and communities. Labour must clearly demonstrate how it will improve lives through policies that will increase wages, tackle the housing crisis, and give people a greater say at work and in their communities.”

Amen. This is the view that should now be advanced in the New Democratic Party and in unions across Canada, as we continue the fight against the TPP and CETA, the latest of the nefarious corporate trade deals.

The arsonists of Fort McMurray have a name

Fossil fuel corporations are causing the climate change fueling mega-fires – and they should be footing the bill for the devastation

Commentary by Martin Lukacs, first published in The Guardian, Thursday, May 12, 2016
As the fire that ravaged Fort McMurray finally moves past the city and the province tallies the heartbreaking damage, a search will begin to discover the source of the destruction.
Investigators will comb the nearby forests for clues, tracing the fire’s path to what they call its “point of origin.” They’ll interview witnesses, collect satellite imagery, and rule out natural causes—much like the work of detectives.
Alberta tar sands, photo Mark Ralston, Agence France-Presse
Alberta tar sands, photo Mark Ralston, Agence France-Presse
Except, in the age of climate change-fuelled mega-fires, this truly is a crime scene. Not, I mean, the handiwork of troublesome teenagers, nor a campfire left accidentally burning. The devastation of Fort McMurray is the predictable outcome of arson on an entirely different scale.
These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences.
Yet in the fire’s aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations. Of course they’re not the only ones who have fuelled climate change: all of us consume oil at every level of our lives. But the record is clear that we are not equally responsible: an astonishing 90 companies alone have caused two-thirds of global carbon emissions. And all the oil giants involved in the Alberta tar sands are among them: ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, Chevron.
Aerial view of a typical tar sands operation in Alberta (2009 photo by Dru Jay Ojay)
Aerial view of a typical tar sands operation in Alberta (2009 photo by Dru Jay Ojay)
In the last week, these corporations have escaped accountability as quickly as ordinary Albertans have risen to action. Across the province, people have opened their homes to evacuees, offered gas, shared food. The most marginalized have given the most: First Nations welcoming thousands to their communities; Muslims praying for rain at the Alberta legislature; and Syrian refugees, barely resettled in the province, gatheringdonations. Stories of heroism have abounded: like the school principal who drove a bus full of children out of the burning city, reuniting each one with their families, and filling extra seats with strangers from the roadside. At almost a moment’s notice, a province often written off as dog-eat-dog individualists proved the naysayers wrong: they have come together in a spirt of fellowship and solidarity.
Most of these people had no idea of the disaster that was coming. But there were some who did: the corporate arsonists themselves. As far back as forty-five years ago, certain Canadian oil corporations already knew the lethal climate consequences of their business model. Last month, building on similar revelations about US companies, investigative reporters discovered stunning proof in the archives of a Calgary museum—a clue as good as any about this mega-fire’s “point of origin.”
An uncovered report produced in 1970 by Imperial Oil, the Canadian branch of ExxonMobil, put it crystal clear: “Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it.” Except the oil company proceeded to spend decades lying about what they knew, and ensured the disaster would be as profound as possible. Little wonder the same company report branded its own actions as “anti-social.”
The very picture of anti-social? A fire ripping through a city. The incineration of homes. Irreplaceable possessions and family albums burned to ash. Climate refugees spilling across a province and country, stripped of their livelihoods and uncertain of their future.
Science may not show a direct link between climate change and the existence of one particular fire, but there is no doubt why the blaze that devoured the Alberta town was so powerful.
We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”
Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”
To remain mute about those responsible for this devastation is not an act of sensitivity toward the citizens of Fort McMurray. It is to stand idly by while these corporations move on to claim their next victims. To argue, as prime minister Justin Trudeau has, that making the connection between climate change and this infernal fire is not “helpful,” is not a gesture of statesmanly maturity. It is the prevarication of political cowards.
Other politicians have adopted an even more toxic approach: not letting the crisis go to waste. Former Conservative natural resources minister Joe Oliver argued on national television that Trudeau should seize the fire as an opportunity to force through a tar sands pipeline to the coast. And British Columbia premier Christy Clark insisted the economic impact of the blaze could be balanced by ramming oil and liquified natural gas projects through the regulatory process—doubling down on what helped cause this crisis in the first place. In the days ahead, watch for this argument to grow even louder.
But the greatest model of insensitivity is this: the arsonists don’t seem content with the burning of just one Canadian town. The latest climate science has told us exactly how much fossil fuels we can burn before we lock in catastrophic warming—warming that will make today’s mega-fire look modest. But companies have access to four or five times that amount in their reserves. They plan to extract and burn it all.
If we want to contain warming to the Paris climate accord’s target of 1.5 degrees, we will need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground—to strand these assets and shift to clean energy. But corporations have no such intention. “We don’t see any stranded assets. We think all our assets will be required,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said after the signing of the Paris accord. It “reinforces our approach,” Shell added. In other words, they’re bent on arson on a global scale.
The law is finally catching up to this planet-altering recklessness. In the United States, both California and New York’s attorneys general are investigating ExxonMobil for spending decades misleading the public about its knowledge of the risks of climate change. Meanwhile, both Democratic presidential candidates have joined the chorus of voices demanding the federal Department of Justice join the investigation. Last month, lawyers in the Philippines launched another precedent-setting case: a lawsuit against fifty of the world’s fossil fuel companies for damages the country has suffered from climate change-driven hurricanes.
This path should show the way forward for Canada, entrenching a basic moral principle: the polluter pays. Fossil fuel companies shouldn’t be celebrated for the minimal corporate paternalism they are now demonstrating—housing, feeding and flying evacuated workers out of Fort McMurray and the surrounding work camps. They should be footing the bill for the devastation. They invested billions in an industry knowing it would prove destructive to the air, water, climate, and health of Albertans? It’s time to put our hands—through higher taxes, royalties, even a public takeover—on some of their gargantuan profits, and use them to transition to a new economy full of good clean jobs and beyond these dangerous energy sources.
That would mean rejecting the lopsided sacrifice currently demanded of us: that corporations derive the rewards while we cover their damages. Canada’s fossil fuel companies have vacuumed billions in profits out of Alberta, and used their political influence to prevent the emergence of a more diversified economy in a province with incredible renewable energy potential. Yet the relief and recovery effort, which may cost upward of $10bn, will be paid for by the government and taxpayers. The donations offered by individual Canadians are a testament to incredible generosity: they also represent an outsourcing of responsibility.
But that spirit of solidarity and mutual aid, of compassion and confidence in each other, is the best expression of ourselves. It points the way forward. Two people tragically died in the evacuation of Fort McMurray—but many more no doubt were saved, by courage and heroism and the deep care and love for fellow citizens that can flourish in a period of catastrophe. Such are the values we will need to mount a collective fight against the unfolding disaster of climate change.
Imagine these values actually governing our society—for a start, relaxing EI rules toensure dignity for all of the evacuated workers. Imagine this resiliency, courage and generosity being harnessed to lead the transition to a healthier, more just post-carbon society—helping prevent even more extreme weather to come. Imagine the rebuilding of Fort McMurray being not just a page turned on an unprecedented disaster, but the beginning of a new direction.
If that can happen, the smoke will truly lift from this country and this town.
Martin Lukacs is a writer living in Montreal. On twitter: @Martin_Lukacs