activism,  politics

three stories about Canada

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In my newsfeed this morning there’s a story about the Royal Bank of Canada hiring temporary foreign workers. Don’t worry, the company says that most of the workers will only be here till 2015, by when they’ll have moved most of the jobs overseas and “only a few foreigners will remain indefinitely.” Alas, if only they understood that the problem was not foreigners coming to Canada, but middle to nearing-retirement Canadians being fired so that foreigners can be brought in to do the job at less pay and no security. The problem is the reality that many foreign workers have to pay recruitment fees that make them start their jobs in debt.

Most alarming is the article is the line:

The workers also said they were not offered jobs with iGATE and were told this “realignment” might expand to affect more of the bank’s 57,500 employees in Canada.

We need to put a stop to this. We need to make it legally and socially unacceptable for companies to be laying off workers like this. The minister of human resources and skills development does say that they will investigate the situation because if what the workers say is happening is true, then it isn’t legal. Perhaps this situation is, perhaps it isn’t. Definitely ministry does not want specific Canadians to know they are losing their jobs to temporary workers and might do something when the situation is brought to their attention. Yet at the same time they have been creating the problem with relaxing the rules on foreign workers, and the Harper government has made it very clear in its EI changes that it supports forcing Canadians to accept lower wages and be grateful for any jobs they get.

I think of the Noam Chomsky quote about education:

“Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.”

I agree with Chomsky about the role of education, and I think the increase in temporary foreign employees plays a similar role. The official rhetoric is that the program is because Canada lacks all the skilled employees necessary, implying that Canadian unemployment is our fault and that education (and its accompanying debt) is the answer. At the same time the program is being used to employ fast-food workers, implying that Canadians are just ungrateful and not willing to work for low enough wages. We’re told if we don’t allow businesses to lower labour costs they’ll have to raise prices (and thus that we’ll see a lowering in our standard of living). To maintain the standards of living of those who still have jobs we must allow other jobs to be sacrificed. We’re told this pinching is necessary and inevitable and as long as people feel that they can survive but must focus on surviving they can’t put the energy into trying to change things.
Of course there are people trying to change things and various governments are doing things about that too. There’s the stories about the police kettling protesters at protests in Montreal. There’s video footage at a cbc article and background information on
Even the mascot Anarchopanda was arrested (and the head seized). Yes, it is illegal to wear masks at protest in Quebec, however the supposed reason is public safety, to prevent people from being able to be violent or dangerous anonymously. The Anarchopanda costume really doesn’t assist in doing anything anonymously. Instead it makes the wearer stand out and restricts his movement.  Is the arrest just the police over anxiously following the letter (but not the spirit) of the law, or is the arrest an attempt to remove symbols that people can rally around?

Montrealers showed amazing ability to protest and to transform that protest into political action but I think the politicians there don’t want that to happen anymore. If a protest must give the police their plans in order to make it a “legal” protest, then protests must always be organized never spontaneous. To spontaneously protest becomes a crime and the people can be arrested regardless of not causing any real harm.  The laws are different between Ontario and Quebec, but even here the police are trying to put themselves in a position of ‘assisting’ all protests. (I’m linking here to my own blog post about the police contacting me).

On my twitter feed I did notice something encouraging or at least amusing. A lady in BC is using to raise funds for Canada to buy its way back into the UN Convention on Desertification. If any of you missed this, the Harper Government is saying that the 350K price tag for participation is too hefty for us. Nevermind that the cost is less than 2% of the money the Harper Government spent advertising their economic action plan last year, it is still too expensive. Apparently it is all talk and science, and not enough getting out there and doing things, and we all know how the Harper government feels about science. Anyway, the indigogo project is to deliver a large cheque to John Baird and if he refuses it to make the money a donation to the Canadian Red Cross International Emergency Relief Fund.

In some ways I love the idea of a fundraiser for this – a way of showing that Canadians are not so stingy, and that they want to be an active part of the international community. On the other hand, I worry for the creator of it that she’ll be disappointed and that people won’t rise to the challenge. If the project fails would it imply that Canadians don’t care. I don’t think its a fair test of Canadians, since it may not go viral enough and because people might have other hesitations – like concern for the Red Cross abusing funds or a sense that that type of protest is not effective. Hopefully she will succeed in raising the money. I love to see people making efforts to change things and to protest in whatever ways they can.

Edited to add: There has been great public outcry against Royal Bank of Canada for their decision. Check out the facebook page calling for a boycott, and the comments on Royal Bank’s own page, when they attempted to shift the blame to the company they are contacting with rather than accept responsibility themselves. I might try contacting the Royal Bank customer service line and politely talking to the employees there. My gripe isn’t with the employees, but maybe people taking up some of their time can help show the RBC its not acceptable. I hope people pull their accounts from there.

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