On September 17, the day before the parliament returns, thousands of migrants will take the streets across the Canadian state, once again demanding permanent resident status for all. This is a revolutionary moment, and it is calling for full working-class solidarity. The victory for permanent resident status for all is a victory for all working people.
No more delays!
In Canada, 1.7 million people, or 1 in every 23 people, are migrants or people without permanent resident status. Among those, roughly 500,000 are undocumented. A significant number of migrants are working in essential industries such as agriculture, construction, and care work; without them, our society cannot function.
Despite playing a vital role in our society, migrants are being systematically excluded from certain rights, protections, and services that permanent residents and citizens have, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation, particularly by their bosses and landlords. The struggle for permanent resident status for all is more than just a fight for the right to stay. This is a fight against exploitation and abandonment. It is a fight for equality.
Migrants in Canada have been fighting for equality for a long time, and they have been winning. As a result of their persistence, in December 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau promised that his cabinet would implement a regularization program for undocumented people. However, the federal government has been stalling, and we cannot afford further delays. The victory for permanent resident status for all is within reach. But to truly get there, everyone in the working class must join the fight.
However, we should not motivate our solidarity by sympathy or charity but rather by necessity. Our solidarity should stem from an understanding that the liberation of all working-class people is bound to the liberation of migrant workers.
Labour migration in global capitalism
Labour migration is both the consequence and foundation of global capitalist development. Capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for land, natural resources and labour has led to environmental degradation, war, and poverty across the world, especially in the Global South. It has forced people to migrate in quest of safety and livelihood. For the capitalists in wealthy states, these displaced people are a source of labour to be exploited. The immigration system in wealthy capitalist states such as Canada is designed to control the flow of migrants so that corporations can hyper-exploit their labour while at the same time avoiding the responsibility to provide them with services and protections.
Controlled labour migration is also the foundation of global capitalist accumulation. From the North Atlantic slave trade and indentured workers from India and China to contemporary temporary labour migration schemes in Global North countries, the hyper-exploitation of migrant labour has been playing a crucial role in developing and maintaining the global capitalist system. By recognizing the integral role of migrant labour in the global capitalist system, it becomes clear that the liberation of migrant workers is not only a matter of social justice but also an integral part of all struggles against capitalism.
Status for all is about the fight for decent work for all
Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) are designed to give corporations maximum power to exploit migrant workers while depriving the whole working class of its ability to unite and fight back.
Through the TFWP and SAWP, migrant workers—the majority of whom are designated as low-skill/low-wage workers—are made into a subclass of workers and excluded from many rights and protections that are available to local workers, such as the right to overtime pay, to join a labour union, and to change employers without government permission. On paper, temporary migrant workers do have some rights and protections, but in practice, the lack of permanent resident status renders them powerless when challenging their bosses’ exploitation and abuse.
Within Canada’s TFWP and SAWP, it is common to hear bosses use threats of termination and deportation to prevent migrant workers from standing up and demanding that their labour rights be respected. Cases such as wage theft, physical abuse, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, and denial of medical attention to injured workers are rampant within the programs.
Having a subclass of workers with fewer rights and protections depresses the working conditions for local workers. Engels noted this in his analysis of the impacts of Irish immigration on working-class conditions in England at the end of the 19th century. Similarly, and more recently, migrant worker organizer Gabriel Allahdua wrote in Harvesting Freedom: The Life of a Migrant Worker in Canada:
“Everything that is being introduced to Canadian workers—the short-term contract, “flexible” employment—has been tried on migrant workers for more than fifty years. What they try on migrant workers, they would eventually try on Canadian workers”.
Furthermore, the labour hierarchy that is being enforced by Canada’s labour migration system is preventing working-class unity. Greater rights and protections for local workers create a sense of superiority, making them prone to surrender their class interests and embrace conservatism.
Permanent resident status for all means that migrant workers would have the same rights and protections that local workers have, which means that they would have more power to resist hyper-exploitation from their bosses. When there is no division in the working class, we can fight together for higher wages and better working conditions for all.
Status for all is a fight against the cost of living crisis
The working class is currently in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Food prices are unaffordable, rents are over the roof, and at the same time, public services such as healthcare and education are getting privatized. The prevalent argument is that this crisis results from hyperinflation fueled by excessive government spending on public services. Conservative politicians claim that the only way out of this crisis is through strong austerity measures, including further cuts to our public services. Ultimately, what they want is to completely drain off our public services so that they can subsequently sell these services to their capitalist friends to profit from.
To accomplish this goal, they must first convince the working class that our public services are failing. And they are using migrants as scapegoats. This explains why we have been hearing narratives about migrants taking our houses, refugee children cramming our schools, and migrants depleting our healthcare system and public services. However, in reality, migrants are denied access to our public healthcare and other services because they do not have permanent resident status, leaving them incredibly vulnerable to the cost of living crisis.
The term “cost of living crisis” is an euphemism used to direct our focus away from the real perpetrators of the crisis. The affordability problem is merely a symptom of the class war that is being waged by the capitalist class against the exploited working class. Food prices and rents did not go up on their own; grocery store CEOs and landlords decided to raise them, and our government is allowing them. While working-class Canadians struggle to pay their bills and suffer from reduced public services, billionaires have increased their wealth by more than 51% since the pandemic began. The highest-paid CEOs in Canada earn in a single morning what an average worker makes in a year. Their record profits and salaries are the workers’ stolen wages.
Stronger austerity measures are not the solution to the crisis. What we need is a redistribution of wealth. We need the government to legislate a higher minimum wage and rent control, increase the tax rate on billionaires and corporations, and use the money to adequately fund our public services.
When we fight for permanent resident status for all, we oppose the ruling class propaganda that argues the cost of living crisis requires austerity policies. Instead, we are directing our focus towards the real culprits of the crisis: the capitalists who hoard all the wealth and the government that enables them.
Status for all is a fight against increasing police power
The call for strong austerity measures will always come with the call for more funding for the police. This is because austerity policies will result in an increase in violence and harm. Conservative and Liberal politicians’ favourite solution to the increase in violence and harm has always been more policing. The fact is that more policing will only lead to increased violence and harm, particularly towards marginalized groups such as migrants. What we need is to defund the already gargantuan policing budgets and invest the money into our public services that desperately need them.
Last year, Canada spent $18.5 billion on police services, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. This excludes money spent on other policing institutions, including those designated to police migrants, such as the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and immigration detention centres. As my comrade Maya Menezes wrote:
“It takes a massive amount of money and effort to set up and maintain a system that allows Canada to maximize the exploitation of migrant workers’ labour while minimizing the protections that the state must provide them. This money goes toward enforcing arbitrary and punitive borders at every point of access to public services. Whether it’s transit cops demanding to see your passport, traffic police demanding your work permit, or being asked to prove your permanent residency when reporting a sexual assault, migrants are constantly policed and surveilled.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Migrant Rights Network reported that police officers across Canada made over 10,000 phone calls a year to immigration enforcement.
When we fight for status for all, we demand the government stop channeling billions of dollars of public money to surveil and punish migrants who are members of our community. That money should be invested in housing, healthcare, education systems, and community-centred responses to violence and harm based on inclusion, not punishment.
Status for all is climate justice
As the home to three-quarters of global mining companies, Canada is heavily responsible for the global climate crisis, which has resulted in the forced displacement of millions of people across the world, particularly in the Global South. Instead of welcoming these climate-displaced people, Canada has intensified its border security measures to keep them out. An example of such measurements is the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, which was expanded this year to cover the entire US-Canada border.
While refusing entry to the displaced people on its borders, Canada has steadily increased the number of temporary migrant workers. Many of these workers are coming from overexploited places that have been devastated by climate catastrophes. Instead of accepting the displaced people as refugees and providing them with adequate support, Canada pushes them into temporary migrant workers to be exploited for profit and excluded from any services and protections. Many of these workers are being forced to work in the agricultural sector, where they must once again be at the forefront of climate disasters. While Canadian citizens are being told to stay home, migrant agricultural workers are being forced to toil on Canadian farms during extreme heatwaves and the toxic smoke of forest fires. The fact that their permits are tied to their bosses is preventing them from being able to refuse dangerous working conditions.
If climate justice is about protecting and caring for those who are vulnerable and displaced by climate change, then permanent resident status for all is climate justice. As the impact of climate change intensifies inside and outside of Canadian borders, we have to push the Canadian government to give permanent resident status to refugees, migrant workers, students, and undocumented people so that they can get adequate protection and services such as health care during climate disasters.
It is also important to keep in mind that as more and more people are being forced to migrate, the fight for permanent residency status must extend beyond a fight for the migrants who are already in Canada. This is also a fight for the rights of future migrants coming to Canada in search of safety and livelihood. This is a fight for the direction that the Canadian government has to take in response to the increasing mass climate migration. Would the government allow the climate-displaced people to cross our border, treat them with dignity, and provide them with the same rights and protections as its citizens, or would they be refused entry unless they could be exploited as temporary migrant workers?
How can migrant workers win status for all?
Historically, the working class won their battles against capital through collective actions that disrupted capitalist production. An example of such action is labour strikes. Since migrant labour is essential to the Canadian economy, the ruling class would stand no chance if migrant workers could be confident enough to collectively withhold their labour.
Earlier this year, we witnessed 700 migrant students organize a 24/7 sit-in protest outside the CBSA offices in Mississauga, Ontario, to challenge their deportation orders. After eighteen days of 24/7 sit-in protest, the government buckled and temporarily stayed their deportation orders. The students fought bravely, but they were not alone. The students’ tenacity inspired the larger working-class community, who responded with a massive outpouring of solidarity, joining them in the sit-in protest, bringing food, and providing them with various forms of support. The support from the community not only helped sustain the students physically but also boosted their morale and determination. The strong display of solidarity sent a powerful message to the government that the community was united in fighting the injustices.
The victory of the migrant students highlighted the importance of community solidarity in fighting systemic injustices. We should apply this lesson to the fight for permanent resident status for all. We need to make our solidarity visible to migrant workers. Let’s do that by showing up to the rally on September 17 and bringing your family and friends with you. If you are a member of a labour union, tenant union, or other working-class organization, you should get your organization to endorse and support the movement and organize for your union to join the rally. You should also sign the petition, put up posters, send emails and call your MP and tell them they have to support permanent resident status for all.
The empowerment of working-class migrants is essential to all anti-capitalist struggles. When migrant workers are empowered, the whole working class will stand a better chance to overthrow our capitalist oppressors and build a better world. As my comrade Syed Hussan beautifully stated, “Revolutionary possibilities bloom when migrants fight back.” Well, migrants have been fighting back. It is now time for the rest of us to have their backs.
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