Race, Oppositional Politics, and the Challenges of Post-9/11 Mass Movement-Building Spaces
Full Text: PDF
- There are currently no refbacks.
Full Text: PDF
The dozens of migrant workers who rallied in Niagara this weekend took an enormous risk in doing so, organizers of a “solidarity caravan” said Sunday.
Many workers fear retribution or even deportation if their employers discover they have been rallying for better conditions, members of Justice for Migrant Workers said.
“It’s a tremendous risk they’re taking,” said organizer Chris Ramsaroop.
About 100 southwestern Ontario migrant workers from Guatemala, Jamaica, the Philippines and Thailand, among other countries, gathered at the British Methodist Episcopal Church on Geneva St. in St. Catharines on Sunday.
They are among thousands of workers who come to Canada to fill labour shortages through Seasonal Agricultural Worker and Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.
The church was the first stop on a tour for the group whose members came on buses from as far away as Leamington and Tillsonburg.
“You’re all here to demand justice and call for rights in Canada,” Ramsaroop said to applause outside the church. “Congratulations for the risk you’re taking to stand up for your rights.”
The “solidarity caravan” is making stops along the Underground Railroad to raise questions about whether those communities still represent freedom for all or oppression for migrant workers.
Ramsaroop said some workers are fearful of rallying in their workplace communities, but will take action elsewhere.
One of those workers who travelled from Tillsonburg said there’s no way to refuse unsafe work with chemicals for fear of being sent home.
“If you deny work, you can be penalized and lose your job,” he said.
And losing his job would mean being sent back to Trinidad, where the pay is less.
He has spent eight months every year for the last 13 years working in Canada without his family for that paycheque.
He said he doesn’t want the programs shut down, but added he shouldn’t have to live in a home with rats or have insufficient medical care.
Canadians, he said, have no idea what takes place behind the scenes.
“You get these nice fruits, farming helps develop the country, but we’d like to be treated like human beings,” he said.
Tzazna Miranda, an organizer from Justice for Migrant Workers, said health and safety is a big issue with workers using pesticides and machinery without proper training. Gender and racial discrimination, labour laws and the ease with which someone can be deported are also concerns.
“The problem is there is very little enforcement. It doesn’t matter what the law is if nothing’s enforcing it,” Miranda said.
“We don’t want to close the program, but we want it to properly work.”
Filipino Gina Bahiwal, an organizer and agricultural packer in Leamington, said she hoped the caravan would raise awareness and push the government to protect migrant workers from abuses.
She said she had to find a new employer or go home after she was accused of organizing a union.
“For three years I am here,” she said. “I see there is no protection for migrant workers and there is injustices.”
Later on Sunday, the caravan made stops in Virgil and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
While many residents spent their Labour Day weekend enjoying the last bit of summer, migrant works marched down Queen Street on Sunday for better wages and rights.
About 100 farm workers and supporters took part in the caravan, says Chris Ramsaroop, organizer of Justicia for Migrant Workers.
It was one of three stops which included St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.
The organization promotes the rights of farm workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SWAP) and the Low Skilled Workers Program.
There are many migrant workers here in NOTL which are a part of SWAP, says Ramsaroop.
It is a program which responds to the labour shortage in the Canadian agricultural industry.
Migrant workers come from places such as Jamaica, Mexico or the Carribean and they can work from four to eight months in Canada, says Ramsaroop.
The organizer says the rallies are an attempt to education people about the lack of rights, the possibility of deportation if workers speak out and fees workers have to pay to recruiters just to work in Canada.
He says both the SWAP and the LSWP face the same issues.
Ramsaroop says people on the street became receptive to what the rally was about and were willing to listen when they gave away pears, peaches and vegetables which the migrant workers help to grow and harvest.
“It’s helping to break the invisibility of migrant workers.”
Panorama Theme by Themocracy