Building solidarity between migrant and Canadian workers

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I talk with Chris Ramsaroop and Melisa LaRue about a collaboration between Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Windsor Workers Education Centre. They are in the early stages of bringing migrant workers and Canadian workers together to talk about their commonalities and their differences, and to build solidarity in the face of shared experiences of predatory employers and precarious work.

Migrant workers are workers mostly from the Global South who are admitted to Canada purely to fill a role in the labour market, on what for most is an explicitly temporary basis, under highly restrictive legal conditions that are far harsher than those faced by even the worst-off segment of workers who are slotted into the legal category of "Canadian citizen." They've been in the news a lot in the last few years, and it hasn't been pretty. Truly awful commentary has come not only from those in coffee shops and cable news networks who revel in their xenophobia, or from the broad mainstream who clothe it in claims to common sense and national interest, but also from a significant proportion of those who understand themselves as "progressive" or "left," who often frame it as "defending workers" even as they reproduce (sometimes overtly, sometimes in cloaked ways) nationalism and, frequently, racism.

In the face of this, migrant justice groups, anti-racist organizers, and many worker organizers inside and outside of the formal labour movement have vigorously put forward different narratives -- narratives that seek to identify root causes and to build solidarity. And it is in its very earliest stages, but some are translating this into action.

Ramsaroop is an organizer with Justicia, a grassroots group which organizes migrant workers in Ontario and British Columbia, particularly in the agricultural sector. Melisa LaRue is the volunteer and outreach coordinator with the Windsor Workers' Education Centre, a community organization that organizes with low-wage and precarious workers in Windsor, Ontario, to help improve their lives and working conditions. The groups have collaborated before, and after yet another panic -- this one in Windsor in the summer of 2014 -- about migrant workers supposedly stealing the jobs of Canadian workers at a local employer, they decided they needed to do something. In the months since, they have taken a number of steps to build solidarity between migrant workers and Canadian workers, and to challenge the divisive, nationalist rhetoric that dominates in the mainstream and in many so-called "progressive" contexts as well. They talk with me about the issues, the organizing, and the huge amount that remains to be done on this issue across the country.

To learn more about Justicia, click here. To learn more about the Windsor Workers Education Centre, click here. To read the Our Times article by Ramsaroop, LaRue, and Claire Mumme that inspired this episode, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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