Commentary  Build alliances of solidarity!

We need labour unions and community organizations

In a climate of global fiscal austerity, the majority Conservative government in Ottawa has gone to great lengths to create a “business-friendly environment” in the name of  keeping economic growth steady and preserving the competitiveness of the Canadian economy globally. Two clear examples of this effort in immigration and labour policy are the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFPW) and the success of temporary placement agencies.

On the surface, the TFPW creates a significant amount of jobs. In the low-skill class part of the program, there was an addition of 300,000 workers across Canada added to the TFPW in 2011 alone.  According to Statistics Canada, from 2007 to 2011 almost 30 per cent of new jobs created across the country were created by this program.

Although the numbers look formidable, the specifics of the TFPW itself engender systemic abuses of workers’ rights because the legal status of the temporary foreign worker depends on one and only one employer. The threat to a worker of losing a valid TFPW visa status is enough to foster an environment of fear among workers whereby they do not resist low wages and unjust work practices. Because of the legal terms of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, a class of precarious workers has become a permanent part of the private-sector workforce.

Another winner in the business-friendly environment created by the Conservatives is temporary placement agencies. Temporary placement agencies supply employers with low-wage workers who can be laid off very quickly, cheaply, and with little notice by the employer. By keeping temp agency workers vulnerable, businesses such as Dollarama and its owner Larry Rossy make a significant profit.  Rossy himself is the eighth richest man in Quebec.  Overall, temporary placement agencies have become extremely rich and vitally important in the Quebec labour market.

The Conservative immigration and labour policies over the last four years do not constitute an austerity measure as direct as the recent cuts to the federal budget.  Nevertheless, these policies have created an environment exploited by businesses whereby temporary foreign workers and temporary agency workers together form a pool of precarious low-wage workers with no benefits with little or no oversight by the federal government.

In this context, it is time for community organizations like the Immigrant Workers Centre and unions like MUNACA-PSAC to build alliances of solidarity in order to resist direct austerity measures like federal budget cuts to services for themselves as taxpayers. Just as importantly though, an alliance of community organizations and unions has the opportunity to challenge the logic and practice of federal immigration and work policies that create low wages, and abusive and dangerous conditions that no worker and no person should be forced to accept.  To learn more about the issues surrounding work and immigration policy under the Conservative government, and the consequences for migrant and organized labour, please join IWC and MUNACA-PSAC for “A Quieter Form of Austerity,” tonight at 6 p.m. in the basement of the Bronfman Building, Room 001.

Mostafa Henaway is an author and community organizer at the Immigrant Workers Centre/Centre des Travailleurs et Travailleuses in Montreal.