International Workers’ Day Statement by No One Is Illegal Toronto and No One Is Illegal Vancouver, Coast Salish Territory
Last Thursday, Jason Kenney announced a moratorium on new and pending permits of migrant workers in the fast food and restaurant sector. This is a mass deportation order.
Though exact numbers are as yet unknown, there were 44,000 Labour Market Opinions in the food and accommodation sector issued in 2012. Thus, approximately that many migrants will be shut out this year. Migrants abroad with pending applications have also likely paid recruiters thousands of dollars to come to Canada. To do so, many have gone into immense debt that they will not be able to get out of. Workers already here will be unable to change jobs and apply for new LMOs in the sector, leaving them tied to potentially abusive employers.
The ex-immigration minister and now employment minister Jason Kenney has been on a war path since 2008, systematically shutting out refugees, spouses, permanent residents and citizens. To do so, he has fanned the flames of xenophobia and racism coining terms such as "bogus refugees," "marriages fraud," "birth tourism," "human smugglers" and "foreign criminals." In 2012, the Conservative government cancelled over 250,000 permanent residency applications without processing them. New refugee laws passed at the end of 2012 have halved the total number of refugee applicants in the country -- in essence excluding 10,000 people. Laws passed in 2011 will mean that migrant workers who have been here for four years or more will face deportation in January 2015. Add to that the nearly 90,000 people deported under Harper's regime -- we are witnessing an enormous wave of mass deportations and exclusion.
Challenges to these have been posed, but have never become a unified social justice concern. That must change.
Though the current story broke in newspapers and media outlets after a CBC Go Public report on April 14, which focused on "Canadian" McDonald's workers feeling sidelined by migrants, the roots of this disaster have been growing for a long time. This time last year, two other reports on RBC and coal mining in British Columbia, respectively, received national attention with a very similar refrain: "Foreigners are taking our jobs."
Mainstream media, and people across the political spectrum have perversely used examples of migrants speaking out against their abuse and exploitation as the excuse to call for migrant worker exclusion (See statements from Alberta Federation of Labour, Canadian Labour Congress, BC Federation of Labour, and the NDP).
Canadian-style racisms are institutionalized and subtler -- implicit in Canada's immigration laws and policies. Though we see vulgar and vicious anti-immigrant flyers handed out in Brampton, and the rise of white power groups in B.C. -- there hasn't been a similar rise of fascist groups and political parties as in Europe here. But the widespread exclusion of migrants, supported by organizations from across the political spectrum is the same.
While most migrants are only able to come in as temporary foreign workers now, the response has not been solidarity with them but rather calls for their removal. All across the political spectrum, we see protectionist nationalist measures demanding an end to temporary foreign workers, rather than seeking full immigration status on landing, full labour protections and clear pathways to residency.
Calling for a moratorium on migrant workers first, and then paying partial lipservice to some permanent immigration system is a de facto call for mass exclusion of people of colour. If we truly believed in equal access for people irrespective of their racialization and impoverishment, we would first ensure full immigration status for all before shutting down the program that gives a toehold to some.
Absent in the wave of press statement and media drumming is Canada's role in global displacement, the long history of exclusion of poor people of colour, and the participation of unions, churches, and other charities in that exclusion. What we do hear loud and clear are the decontextualized stories of a few people being laid off. There is no mention of the entrenchment of temporariness in the immigration system and the lack of access to permanent immigration for most poor migrants. Little voice in the current debate is given to migrant workers, who have been organizing for decades. There is an overall non-recognition of care, service and domestic work usually carried out by women and racialized people.
Austerity-era economics, which have resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in Canada, aren't factored into the equation. Instead, unemployed workers and migrants have been pitted against each other.
This is unconscionable. It allows similar patterns of oppression to unfold time and time again -- hence the rise in anti-immigrant policy and sentiment in every economic downturn. It is imperative that we recognize that the Temporary Foreign Workers Program furthers capitalist exploitation of workers. But in the fight between capitalist desire and racist uproar, at least in this latest round, racism has won. Migrant workers are being excluded because they are "foreign." Thus anti-racist work, particularly within workers' movements, must escalate. We must strive to organize all workers, with or without jobs, with or without status. It is only in naming white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism and capitalism for what they are and how they determine our economy and our society that we can actually transform the structures within which they flourish.
As we strive towards that world where the movement of people is unlinked from the displacement of others, we must ensure that those marginalized, silenced and illegalized in our community are not the ones most harassed, first excluded. It is imperative that we build solidarities with all workers, around the world. We must truly believe that an injury to one is an injury to all, and act accordingly. We must strive to organize all workers, with or without jobs, with or without status. This May Day, let us resolve to organize, to support, and not deport.
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