Left out? Forgotten Struggle Histories, Perspectives on Old and New Approaches to Migrant Worker Organizing

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Aziz CHOUDRY, McGill University, Canada
Manuel SALAMANCA, McGill University, Canada
Much of the literature about contemporary migrant worker organizing, such as studies on workers centres and community-based approaches to asserting labour rights (largely, though not exclusively outside of trade unions), celebrates the apparent novelty of their forms and strategies. But how 'new' are these approaches to organizing precarious workers?

This paper discusses innovative organizing strategies and dilemmas in contemporary migrant worker organizing in Montreal by relating them to earlier, forgotten or less well-known struggles of precarious workers in Quebec/Canada. It explores the implications of recovering historical knowledge from struggles of migrant workers that are not part of dominant narratives about labour movements in Canada, in union education, the political education in community-based labour organizations, or in academic research. We contend that this forgetting/erasure impacts our understandings of the possibilities of working class organizing inclusive of migrant workers, obscuring the longstanding role that marginalized migrant workers have played in Canada's labour movements, and the extent to which they have long challenged unions and society through innovative strategies addressing broader issues of social justice.

The paper draws on critical ethnographic research on contemporary migrant worker organizing through the Immigrant Workers Centre, the Temporary Foreign Workers Association, the Temporary Agency Workers Association and broader coalitions in which these organizations have played a leading role, including their relationships with trade unions, and puts these experiences into dialogue with critical historical scholarship and archival resources from earlier migrant and immigrant workers struggles (Creese, 1987; Leah, 1999; Mills, 2014; Ramirez and Chun, 2016). We ask how recovery of this historical knowledge might inform understandings of apparently new forms of contemporary migrant worker struggles, and what lessons can be learnt for organizing among migrant and other precarious workers in today's political and economic climate.