Statement on Bonduelle’s decision to pull its Tecumseh re-zoning application

This is part of my on – air commentary this afternoon after 4:30 PM on The ShakeUp Campus Community Radio program on CJAM 99.1FM. It is a response to various local media reports  (and Here) in reaction to Bonduelle’s decision to pull its re-zoning application:

On Wednesday Bonduelle announced it was withdrawing its application to Tecumseh Town Council for a re-zoning of a portion of their property so they could house up to 60 migrant workers in a renovated office building.

The company claimed that having the workers live on site would be safer for the workers, and that since migrant workers are housed on site at greenhouse operations and farms they should be able to do the same on the processing plant site. It should be stressed here that food processing plants are NOT farms or greenhouse operations – they are more akin to factories.

On behalf of the Windsor Workers’ Education Centre, and with representatives from Legal Assistance Windsor and Justicia for Migrant Workers, I was a delegation at a public meeting in Tecumseh in January where we argued against the re-zoning application. Here is a summary of the main arguments:

  • The re-zoning is contrary to the Town’s own master plan
  • The diagram produced by the company was not to scale and it was unclear the living arrangements would be adequate for the number of workers proposed
  • Having workers housed on a plant that suffered a major fire last year is obviously not a safe option
  • Workers will be segregated from the rest of the community and from allies who can advocate on their behalf
  • Isolated workers are less likely to speak up in the workplace in defence of their rights
  • The company would have total control over the movement of the workers and it is not clear visitors would be able to access company private company – this is uncomfortably close to indentureship
  • The plan is to hire only males for the bunk house which is a discriminatory practice
  • Migrant workers seem to be good enough to work here but not live in the community in which they play a crucial economic role.
  • What we should be talking about is a Migrant Workers Bill of Rights such as the one proposed by the Ontario Federation of Labour (more about that in a minute)

At the public meeting some residents expressed concerns about having Black men near their backyards and in the community. This racist thinking was a minority expression at the public meeting. The people who were recognized as delegates, including Adrian Munro, a migrant worker, spoke to the points I’ve just outlined. As worker advocates we recognize that migrant workers are a feature of a globalized economy that wreaks havoc on local communities around the world. We speak of the loss of the middle class in our country yet the global south achieves only great inequality between rich and destitute. To survive means to travel thousands of miles from home to make a living. Migrant deserve our solidarity not racist indentureship. Our goal as worker advocates is to make social and political changes so migrant workers are not treated as second class workers. In other words, just because the global economy treats workers as mere inputs doesn’t mean we as workers ourselves have to play into that system.

Tecumseh and similar area towns are small communities in a globalized economy; an economy that relies on low wages and low corporate taxes; an economy that is run by private investors who seek maximum profit achieved almost entirely on the backs of workers and communities deprived of fair tax revenues. A proper response in communities should not be to treat workers like garden rakes and house them in what amounts to sheds in between shifts, or to react with racist indignation to migrant workers. The response required is a political one where workers and their representatives, citizens, business leaders and political leaders carve out a coherent Canadian labour strategy in contrast to the ‘wild west’ investor run “casino economy” that pits us against each other. A start would be a community discussion on the 8 point proposed Migrant Workers Bill of Rights… (pp 18 – 19 MWBR).

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