A Permanent State of Crisis? Lessons from Organizing Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Quebec

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Aziz CHOUDRY, McGill University, Canada
Mostafa HENAWAY, Immigrant Workers Centre, Canada
Manuel SALAMANCA, McGill University, Canada

Montreal’s Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) arises from community organizing and non-traditional labour organization traditions. Its activities include casework, the building of worker leadership, organizing against precarity and immigration injustice, build grassroots solidarity between temporary agency workers, migrant workers in several programs, undocumented workers, and other coalition work.  This paper explores the successes, challenges, and limitations of the IWC considering  increasingly restrictive immigration/labour policies, an unresolved crisis of organized labour (Camfield, 2011), and a climate of ‘austerity’.

Drawing from interviews with workers, organizers, and allies, and literature about organizing migrant/other precarious workers outside of traditional trade union forms (e.g. Choudry and Hlatshwayo, 2015; Fine, 2006, 2011; Ness, 2014, Suzuki, 2012), we discuss the IWC model as  developed over 15 years. Considering the 2008 crisis, we contend that there is continuity and change in the conditions for migrant and immigrant worker organizing.

First, we give a brief history of the IWC’s development, contextualized in relation to the state of Quebec/Canadian trade unions as precarity increasingly becomes the norm for many workers. We argue that the IWC has helped advance an analysis relevant to confronting labour precarity and exploitation, strategy and organizing in the context of the crises of capitalist globalization, the attendant neoliberalization of the Canadian immigration regime, and the transformation of work.  We also consider challenges surrounding the IWC’s sustainability, scale and impact, and the dynamics of its relationships with unions.

Second, we examine IWC’s work to build and develop worker leadership, maintain political autonomy, and responses to austerity measures, including building worker associations of agency workers, and temporary foreign workers.  We explore a) challenges from women im/migrant workers; b) knowledge produced with/by workers in building resistance; and c) the dynamics of coalition work. (eg. on the minimum wage). We conclude with some broader lessons about labour organizing models.