Migrant farm workers demanding justice from Ottawa

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Gabriel Allahdua, a migrant farmworker and one of the organizers of the month-long Harvesting Freedom caravan. As the caravan approaches Ottawa, where it will present its demands for justice for migrant farm workers to the federal government, we look back at the journey, the issues, and the struggle.

As successful as Canada has been at propagating a mythology about itself that claims otherwise, this country has always depended in one way or another on land, resources, and labour taken from people -- particularly Indigenous, Black, and other racialized people -- in unjust ways. Settler colonialism and slavery were the beginning of it, but far from the end, and many trace a related thread through things like the treatment of Chinese railway workers in Canada in the late 19th century, histories of Canadian resource extraction companies abusing people and land in all corners of the earth, vigorous Canadian advocacy for neoliberal trade agreements that entrench hardship and exploitation in the Global South, and of course the injustices codified into law in Canada's very own temporary foreign worker programs. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which brings workers each year from a variety of countries in the Global South to work on Canadian farms.

Gabriel Allahdua is from St. Lucia. Four years ago, the combination of an economic slump on the island with a hurricane that wiped out his until-then successful business left him with little alternative but to apply to the program. While he is certainly happy of the opportunity to earn money to support his family, Canada's success in propagating its mythology of innocence and benevolence left him completely unprepared for the brutal and unjust conditions that workers face in this program. They are, by law, in a different category than workers who are citizens or permanent residents, and are deprived of many rights that Canadian workers take for granted. They are tied via their work permits to a single employer. Often, that employer controls their housing, which is often substandard. They get no overtime pay, and are excluded from many basic employment standard protections. They pay into Canadian social programs but are not legally allowed to access them. When they are injured in the course of their hard, hard work they are often deported without full treatment. They are legally barred from unionizing. And at the slightest sign of complaint or resistance, employers can summarily fire and deport them.

A group called Justicia, or Justice for Migrant Workers, has been organizing workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program for a decade and a half. Allahdua encountered the group a few years ago when, near where he was working, they held a vigil for ten migrant workers killed in a tragic vehicle accident. Since then, he has done his best to stay connected with the group and participate in their events when possible, and when his agricultural work contract ended earlier this year he signed on as an organizer with them.

To commemorate the 50th year of the program, and to demand justice from the Canadian government, Justicia has embarked on a month-long caravan across Ontario that they are calling Harvesting Freedom. They are travelling from community to community, doing events, raising awareness of the injustices that migrant agricultural workers face, and building solidarity. Though the injustices they face are many, they are making but a single demand: permanent resident status for agricultural workers on arrival. This single change, they say, would go a long way to alleviate all of the other problems.

Allahdua spoke with Talking Radical Radio on September 13, about two weeks into the month-long caravan. He talks about his experiences as a migrant agricultural worker and about the Harvesting Freedom campaign, which will be culminating in Ottawa from October 1 to 3, when the workers will present their demands for justice to the federal government.

To learn more about Harvesting Freedom and to sign the online petition in support of their demands, 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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

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

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