Nov. 4 2015: Uber comes to town

By Paul Chislett:

Although not in Windsor – yet, the Uber ride sharing company has caused comment in the local media and online. Driving speculation about Uber in Windsor is former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s private member’s bill which is meant to open the regulatory door for Uber and other app based enterprises in Ontario. Windsor Mayor Dilkens, in perhaps a supporting role for his provincial ‘brother in arms’, was quoted in local media recently saying he thinks Uber is coming “… whether we want it or not”, and he added “ I see a net benefit to the community myself”. In the same media report, John Toth, vice-president of Unifor Local 195 representing local cab drivers, revealed that “[d]rivers have been worried to the point of anger for years and years over the threat of Uber coming in”. Toth added that 320 workers rely on cab driving to make a living wage.

Uber image

In the past neither Mayor Dilkens, nor especially, Mr Hudak have displayed sympathy for unionized working people and one could be forgiven for believing there is an ideological underpinning for the move to create what would arguably be a sea of independent contractors all competing with each other to the point no one could earn a living wage. In a de-industrializing city like Windsor one would expect careful consideration before causing any more living wage jobs disappear through careless de-regulation. The issue of a sharing economy – which ride sharing is a part of – is a timely one to discuss as politicians get on the app bandwagon.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research made this reasonable assertion: “It is appropriate for taxis to be subject to safety and insurance requirements. The ones in place now may well be excessive, but it can’t make sense to have a traditional taxi sector bound by these rules and then a group of upstarts to which no rules apply.” Mayor Dilkens says Uber “employs people too, [that] Uber drivers are employees [who] work and they make money, they pay taxes.” His assumption is that Uber work will have no impact on existing workers who get paid a living wage, pay fees related to their work and taxes as well. What are we to make, then, of new technologies and decent work at a living wage? What is the sharing economy and what alternatives are there to a Wild West scenario of independent contractors jostling to make a living?

U.S. based academic Juliet Schor leads a six-year project on the sharing economy for the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Research Network. In an October 2014 paper, “Debating the Sharing Economy” she explores the realities of the sharing economy writing that “…new technologies of peer-to-peer economic activity are potentially powerful tools for building a social movement centered on genuine practices of sharing and cooperation in the production and consumption of goods and services. But achieving that potential will require democratizing the ownership and governance of the platforms.”

Schor describes a 2014 conference called to investigate the sharing economy and offers that the “…term covers a sprawling range of digital platforms and offline activities, from financially successful companies like Airbnb, a peer-to-peer lodging service, to smaller initiatives such as repair collectives and tool libraries.” The idea of the sharing economy has many boosters but many at the conference questioned the “…popular claim that the sharing economy is fairer, lower-carbon, and more transparent, participatory, and socially-connected…”. Schor writes that “[c]oming up with a solid definition of the sharing economy that reflects common usage is nearly impossible: … Airbnb is practically synonymous with the sharing economy, but traditional bed and breakfasts are left out. Lyft, a ride service company, claims to be in, but Uber, another ride service company, does not.” For example, Uber is said to be worth $18 billion or more, is backed by venture capital, and run by another wunderkind CEO Travis Kalanick. Schor quotes lawyer Janelle Orsi asking, “[h]ow are we going to harness the sharing economy to spread the wealth?” The question worrying Schor and others is if the sharing economy will “…evolve in line with its stated progressive, green, and utopian goals, or will it devolve into business as usual?” Business as usual would be for profit corporations moving in to claim the sharing economy territory.

Schor explores why people want to participate in the sharing economy and finds that “[s]ome participants are drawn by the trendiness or novelty of the platforms[,]” … and warns that the “…novelty about which many participants … talk can be an expression of classism and racism…”. Schor explains that “…sharing remain[s] more common in working-class, poor, and minority communities. The discourse of novelty employs a false universalism that can be alienating to people who have maintained non-digital sharing practices in their daily lives.” Here I am thinking of the cab drivers who already share their lives with each other through work and the customers they serve every day. As well, I am thinking of the very stark divide in Windsor between Walkerville and South Windsor, and the Glengarry neighbourhood including the entire swath of the city from Gladstone to Sandwich.

The latter are the parts of the city where newcomers to Canada settle and are also home to working class people stuck in the lower end of the social-economic scale. In other words, for well off households the Uber experience is cool and people can believe they are sharing with everyone, yet a great chunk of the population remains invisible and out of the digital sharing loop. Yet, obviously, sharing isn’t new for working class people and I am reminded of my grandparents who used their home as a boarding house during the Great Depression. The question is does the sharing economy means inclusion and a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’, or is it reproducing inequality and exclusion?

At this point it’s useful to look at the work of two other researchers, Tawanna R. Dillahunt and Amelia R. Malone who wrote “The Promise of the Sharing Economy among Disadvantaged Communities”. The authors state that

[b]ecause of the economic crisis, unemployment rates have risen; the purchasing power of consumers has declined; and bank loans have become more difficult to obtain. Such factors have resulted in individuals looking to both earn and save money. Sharing is a common method in which individuals, particularly among low-income groups, have saved money. For example, close-knit, low-income individuals often share expenses and transportation. They also provide social and emotional support and barter services such as childcare.

The concern for Windsor is summed up in this quote cited by Dillahunt and Malone: “How can we take these sharing mechanisms and torque or re-purpose them from the point of view of people for whom sharing is not a cool, optional, sexy, ‘I-don’t-want-to-be-burdened’ thing, but for people for whom it’s an absolute necessity because they don’t have the resources for traditional ownership?” That is a crucial question for Windsor and the answer will take real leadership far beyond the ‘Uber is coming and I’ll change regulations to make it easier for living wage jobs to disappear’ kind so far offered. It really is a question of who needs the access to new technologies the most, and are we enhancing what we already have in terms of living wage jobs while we collectively figure out how to transition to new ways of working.

Getting back to Schor’s paper, there are alternatives to the destructive aspects of the sharing economy. That alternative must be led by people organizing to create a movement which can, according to Schor

…make a critical difference in realizing the potential of the sharing model” in that that “…organizations that are part of the solidarity sector, such as unions, churches, civil society groups, and cooperatives, could create platforms for their members. They could build alternatives to the for-profits, particularly if the software to operate these exchanges is not too expensive. These platforms could be user-governed and/or owned.

She cites a taxi cooperative in Portland Oregon that will use ride sharing technology that will evolve the business into a driver-owned version of ride sharing. Schor argues that “…sharing entities [must] become part of a larger movement that seeks to redistribute wealth and foster participation, [as well as] ecological protection, and social connection.” It’s a matter of putting ‘share’ in the sharing economy. Concluding, Schor offers this:

The emergence of [Peer 2 Peer] (P2P) communities that share goods, space, and labor services can be the foundation of a new household model in which people are less dependent on employers and more able to diversify their access to income, goods, and services. But the early stage goodwill from the big platforms will dissipate as they become incorporated into the business-as-usual economy. We are at a critical juncture in which users’ organizing for fair treatment, demands for eco-accountability, and attention to whether human connections are strengthened through these technologies can make a critical difference in realizing the potential of the sharing model.

Uber is just the tip of the iceberg. What we’re really talking about is the wholesale change in the very nature of work: increasingly robotized manufacturing work, autonomous cars and trucks, and the increase in low wage work, for example. There is the potential for hundreds of millions of people looking for work of all sorts around the world and turning to app based opportunities. In the de-industrializing City of Windsor clinging to history that is rapidly evolving, with the fourth most diverse population in Canada completely unrepresented in local government, and with the highest unemployment rate in the country we are in desperate need of real leadership.

We need to be looking at a basic annual income so people can do more than just survive in these changing times. Workers, unions, churches and civil society groups need to organize together for the creation of a climate of cooperativism and mutual aid that breaks down barriers in this economically, and yes, ethnically divided city. And while we are doing this, we need to preserve what living wage jobs there are, as well as enhancing existing social assistance programs, including shelters and affordable housing, so people don’t fall further behind.

What Mayor Dilkens offers is a cold shoulder to the very concept of a sharing or solidarity economy. Such a thing is within reach, but we cannot expect it to come from above.

As an addition from further research there is this:

Take, for example, Uber’s app, with all its geolocation and ride ordering capabilities. Why do its owners and investors have to be the main benefactors of such platform-based labor brokerage? Developers, in collaboration with local, worker-owner cooperatives could design such a self-contained program for mobile phones. Despite its meteoric rise, $300 million in VC-backing (and its $18 billion evaluation bubble), as well as massive international reach, there is nothing inevitable about Uber’s long-term success. There’s no magic when it comes to developing such a piece of software; it’s not rocket science. Of course, technology is only one part of the equation and instead of letting techno-determinism run its course, I’d rather point to the long history of worker-owned cooperatives, EP Thompson and Robert Owen.

From: “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy” by Trebor Scholz

If you are interested in being part of a discussion group on the sharing economy in Windsor please contact the author at or by phone at 519 252 1212.

When Mr Harper came to town…

Stephen Harper came to Windsor a couple of weeks ago. He came to ground zero of the collapse of the manufacturing base in Canada. About 50 labour and social justice advocates came out on short notice to exercise our right to dissent.

Windsor and District Labour Council president Brian Hogan addresses dissenters at Anchor Danly plant. (Photo: Paul Chislett Sept. 20 2015)

Windsor and District Labour Council president Brian Hogan addresses dissenters at Anchor Danly plant. (Photo: Paul Chislett Sept. 20 2015)

Harper supporters, numbering around 100, came out of the Anchor Danly plant after being treated to a typical Harper stage managed pep rally. On the way out many Harper supporters held placards that read ‘the economy is the number one priority.’ Those signs were particularly hard to take for many protestors who greeted Mr Harper at Anchor Danly, and earlier at Crest Mold. With unemployment the highest in Canada here in Windsor, and manufacturing job losses in the hundreds of thousands across southwestern Ontario over 30 years of free trade, we were left wondering what economy Harper was talking about. Now we hear another massive, secret deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership, has been agreed to in principle by the Harper government.

Although all politicians steer clear of any discussion of Free Trade during this campaign, it is the working class of the country, and Windsor specifically, that has not been able to avoid the effects: job losses, increased precarity, loss of union density ( that is to say, the loss of bargaining power and political clout for workers), and so on.

With free trade and the resulting globalization of national economies and the collapse of positive state interventions (ie income support, environmental regulation, right relations with First Nations, etc) capitalist investors sought lower wage labour elsewhere while accumulating obscene wealth. Communications technology and cheap oil made the administration of a global supply chain possible. The bottom line has been that all national economies had to submit to the global hierarchy through trade agreements and the resulting formation of trading blocks. As a result there are hundreds of millions of migrant workers all seeking a place in the global economy.

The workers being left behind as plant after plant closed in Ontario were told they and their children would have to join the knowledge economy by upgrading and gaining access to post-secondary education.

National media speak to Eleanor McGuffin during PM Harper's visit to Windsor (Photo: Paul Chislett Sept 20 2015)

National media speak to Eleanor McGuffin during PM Harper’s visit to Windsor (Photo: Paul Chislett Sept 20 2015)

The days are long gone when a tool and die maker in Windsor could literally shop his labour across the street and make a little more an hour or gain better working conditions. Unionized workers were the powerhouse of organizing politically in order to solidify gains made in the post-war “boom” years. During the development of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and then the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many warned the new economy would spell disaster for places like Windsor. They weren’t wrong, yet Canada continues to barge ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

For too many the knowledge economy has devolved  into low wage service work heavily reliant on temporary employment agencies. Post-secondary education has become a debt trap for working class students who will be for years indebted to banks. Without an effective national plan for manufacturing and investment in new technology, employers have been given a free hand to hire temporary foreign workers at will with disastrous effect. The effect has been the devaluing of  skilled work. This is NOT the fault of the foreign workers.

The global economy has wrecked the national economies of their countries; predominantly countries of the global South that for centuries have been the source of capitalist wealth beginning with the slave trade. The national economies of Tunisia, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, Vietnam, and so on, cannot produce enough jobs for their citizens thereby ensuring, for the global capitalists, a near endless supply of low wage labour willing to move thousands of miles away from family and culture to work in Europe and North America. This isn’t an accident; the system is built this way.

This is the context of Mr Harper’s visit to Windsor. And there we were; Us and Them. Windsorites that can see what I’ve described vs. those who still benefit from the status quo – the professional class, investors, real estate agents, business owners, and local politicians desperate to believe that the current prime minister is there best bet in surviving a global economy. More of the same they say, except more of the same is impoverishing the working class and destroying the biosphere.

Mireille Coral at anti-Harer rally. (Photo: Paul Chislett)

Mireille Coral at anti-Harper rally. (Photo: Paul Chislett)

As if the economy in a shambles isn’t bad enough, Mr Harper has set the country on a dangerous course with his ‘Old Stock Canadian’ comment and the Niqab wedge issue that are clearly racist taunts meant to instil in all of us a fear of the ‘Other’: Muslims, temporary foreign workers who are good enough to work here but not live here, desperate refugees fleeing the very wars waged to maintain a corrupt global economy, First Nations peoples who are on the front lines of environmental resistance to more pipelines and the general destruction of the biosphere, and any others who disagree with the prime ministers authoritarian rule. That hateful phrase – Old Stock Canadian – is a code to signal to those most fearful of the future that some may not really belong here; are not really Canadians.

The first thing I thought of,  living in the 4th most diverse city in Canada, is what must newcomers be thinking hearing this comment? What was Windsor- Tecumseh Conservative candidate thinking when she said to the media, “…when I look at the party beliefs, the Conservatives fit for me”? Stoking racist values in a diverse city with high unemployment is inexcusable.

Not only is the local economy in crisis, so to is the global economy in crisis because it has reached the limits of what the planet can give: there is seemingly nowhere left to invest in job sustaining enterprises – thus the rise of low wage service work (not necessarily low social value work), and financialization; that is, debt as a commodity. The global political and investing elites are out of ideas on how to transform the global economy and are not about to admit it. They need authoritarians like the Prime Minister and his coterie of candidates to keep on implementing austerity to make sure fear paralyzes dissent – even as they preach publicly as Gignac did – about  how they will be a “…strong advocate for our residents and businesses”, or some such promise.

However, the hopeful signs, even in the face of their failures are, the Arab Spring, the global Occupy movement, and Idle No More. Also hopeful is the rise of the radical left – at least radical in comparison to the existing political economy – in Spain, Greece and Quebec. That confluence of spontaneous organization around inequality and environmental degradation must have severely shaken the confidence of the global elites; hence, the militarization of police forces, the rise of Othering, and outright racist taunts and actions, and the ever present war on terror.

In Windsor, the fourth most diverse city in Canada, the political and economic leaders look nothing like the city. Civic leaders are predominantly male, white, and wedded to the idea that private investment and low taxes are the only answers to rebuilding Windsor. We have a $75 million aquatic centre which costs, we are now told, $3 million a year to maintain. It sits on the periphery of one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Windsor. This kind of investment is born out of the mindset of global elites that envisions cities as sites of spectacle: entertainment and consumption that is supposed to drive a local economy. In so called world class cities we see hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the Olympics or other global sports spectacles. In Windsor it’s FINA or the casino; pathetic imitations of the global vision for cities.

What new politics must we imagine to confront the reality of Windsor rather than the wishful thinking of blind leaders?

Clearly, if you’re as depressed as I am at what I’ve laid out,  a new kind of thinking is required; especially for cities like Windsor, which capital has so obviously abandoned. Green jobs as we transition to a new economy (as in the LEAP Manifesto promotes) certainly have promise; but there must be more, far more. A whole new way of thinking about work, education, community; about participatory democracy and citizen assemblies is required.

Click image for more info on LEAP Manifesto

Click image for more info on LEAP Manifesto

We need to create new ways of organizing on a scale required when factories re-ordered the mainly agrarian way of life in Canada and elsewhere with the luring off the land of rural workers who became the factory workers, who became the union agitators, who became the middle class. Certainly a standard of living and material well-being was achieved like no other time in history, but the political and economic power workers had to maintain and enhance their position was always tenuous as the last 30 years have taught us.

So instead of waiting for some corporation or single genius along the lines of Elon Musk to save us all – an unlikely outcome – we need to think of ourselves as fully capable of working cooperatively for our mutual benefit using the very technology that is eliminating jobs. For it is no longer free trade and the off shoring of work that threatens our well-being and political participation in affairs. It is now the very elimination of whole categories of decent work such as truck driving and manufacturing in large factories. Driverless vehicles are just around the corner, robots already dominate manufacturing plants, and how long will Chinese factories need human workers to assemble iPhones? What will the world do with billions of surplus workers?

After October 19th, we must begin to imagine an entirely new political economy and plan on how to get there. I think the answers lie in places like Windsor and Detroit, and indeed work is underway. More on that after the election…

March 6 2015: Perspectives on International Women’s Day 2015

March 8th was International Women’s Day, a commemoration going back over 100 years, and according to the website dedicated to the day, “International Women’s Day has been observed since in the early 1900’s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.”

Hagar Farag, Mireille Coral, and Theresa Sims in the CJAM studios March 6th 2015

Hagar Farag, Mireille Coral, and Theresa Sims in the CJAM studios March 6th 2015

You can find out more on the history of IWD and how it was born out of women’s struggle to escape oppression and inequality – a struggle in tandem with the workers movement in general against the ravages of capitalist exploitation:

On Friday, March 6th I had in the CJAM 99.1FM studio Theresa Sims a Six Nations Mohawk and member of the Turtle Clan, Hagar Farag, a graduate studies student at the University of Windsor studying the militarization of North American police forces, and Mireille Coral an activist educator and alumni of University of Windsor. She was also one of the founders of the Womyn’s Centre at the university in the 1980’s.

They spoke about personal experiences as women, politics, identity, and who shapes the narrative around issues like, for instance, dress, culture, and what is important to talk about.

We attempted to create a cross section of women’s experiences for a discussion and to start off it was thought each could have a few minutes to describe their encounters in the world as women and the significance of IWD to start off the discussion.

The program is The ShakeUp, a project of OPIRG Windsor airing Friday’s at 4PMEDT

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).

Social Justice Report for Windsor District Labour Council: February 10, 2015

Note to WDLC on public meeting at Tecumseh Council:

January 19 2015

On January 13, 2015, in my role as president of the Windsor Workers’ Education Centre ( I also sit as Member at Large for Social Justice on the Windsor District Labour Council executive), I attended a public meeting in Tecumseh regarding Bondeulle’s proposal to renovate an existing building on the site of the packaging plant to house up to 60 migrant workers. Also attending were Marion Overholt and Cathy Kolar of Legal Assistance Windsor, Chris Ramsaroop, organizer and educator for Justicia for Migrant Workers, and Adrian Munroe, a migrant worker. The public meeting was to hear arguments regarding a proposed by-law amendment to change a current zoning from ‘restricted industrial’ to ‘residential’ on a portion of plant property. The company claims that since workers are housed on site at greenhouses and farms, they can be housed on plant property.

The company stated at the meeting they want this on site housing for the safety of the workers. Right now there are a handful of workers living in Windsor who get transported by the company to the plant. They are ramping up the number of migrant workers because of expected increases in production. The company has produced a sketch of the housing but it is not yet clear the housing meets standards – it is a bunkhouse style arrangement. The workers will be Jamaican men. The company also claims that the work will not suit students as it is off-summer work.

Marion argued that the plan is in contradiction with the town’s own master plan and that the zoning bylaw amendment should not go ahead without further study. Cathy, Chris and I argued around the themes that the workers are in effect being isolated and segregated from the general population. In effect the company controls their movements, who they see and making it harder for them to feel they can speak up freely if they face problems in the workplace. As well, we argued that these workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They should be able to live in housing in the community so they are free to interact with allies, community members, and be able to shop as they see fit. For example, there are no discount grocery stores in Tecumseh – the community is an upper middle class suburb geared towards a mobile population with above average wages: imagine riding a bike for groceries at Manning and Tecumseh Roads.

As long as the global economy forces the migration of hundreds of millions of workers around the world, we will have foreign workers here. This isn’t the issue for us. Chris Ramsaroop made the point that the problem lies in the failure of the federal and provincial governments to institute and labour plan for the country and regions including a manufacturing policy. Only then could all Canadians really understand how many jobs there are, where they are, and how many foreign workers are needed. As well, if the workers are good enough to work here, why are they not good enough to be citizens? The way forward is NOT to point fingers at the workers but at the system that denies them the rights Canadian workers enjoy, and also the right to citizenship if they desire it. (OFL statement and link to a proposed Migrant Workers’ Bill of Rights)

The proposal to amend the bylaw by Bonduelle will set a bad precedent in that they are equating a packaging plant to a greenhouse/farm operation. Yet farming and packaging are two very different things, and the fire last year at the plant should be enough of a warning about how incredibly dangerous it is to house workers on plant property. A packing plant is more akin to a manufacturing plant and quite different from a farm or greenhouse operation.

I think it is critical that the WDLC take a stand on how migrant workers are treated in the area. In my opinion the WDLC must speak out in support of the rights of workers to have off site residences (the company claims to have looked into alternatives to on site housing), and to counter the perception that migrant workers are taking Canadian jobs. The real issue on that point  is the failure of other levels of government to enter into discussions with the public, labour representatives and migrant worker advocates on a labour strategy for the country. There will be another public meeting in 15 to 30 days to allow more public consultation on this issue.


At labour council February 10 I presented the following motion: “Whereas the dignity, health and safety of migrant/temporary foreign workers are at risk while living in a bunkhouse on company property, and whereas there has already been a serious fire at the Bonduelle packing plant in July, 2014, and whereas housing migrant/temporary foreign workers on isolated farm properties is not the same as housing such workers in a town or city on what amounts to factory property, the Windsor District Labour Council is opposed to the company’s plan to house migrant/temporary foreign workers on company property where workers are isolated from the rest of the community. The WDLC also urges the Town of Tecumseh to work with the company to house workers in the broader community with proper transportation provided so workers can commute to their jobs at Bonduelle.”

On February 11th, before the WDLC could act on the motion, CBC Windsor reported that Bonduelle had pulled its proposal to house migrant workers on their property and that the company will “…review all its options at the plant, including increasing productivity.” Also the company stated it was pulling the application because of the “…public’s reaction to adding residences for up to 60 seasonal migrant workers.”

Following is the remainder of my report to WDLC:

As you may have heard, a Detroit worker, James Robertson, hit the news about his plight walking to work. He became the subject of a crowd funding campaign where $350,000.00 was raised. The thing is, as he recognized himself in an interview, he is not alone and in fact is one of millions of working poor people who not only have to live on low wage jobs, but tax cuts have destroyed public services like mass transit, that serve working people. In fact it occurred to me that fair taxation is the original crowd funding idea that helps millions at a time, not one person out of pity or charity. Taxes are the glue that hold society together and yet to many working class people have fallen for the tax cut mantra. I’ve proposed a campaign called Walk a Mile in My Shoes, where non-union, low wage workers can tell their stories and make the case for a living wage backed up by fair taxation. This is in fact what workers gained in the 20th century and what is being dismantled now. If workers have to rely on social media charity, we will continue to falter as a society. I’m hoping we can kick off a campaign soon in collaboration with an organization in Detroit to be confirmed. A hands across the river campaign would show the similar hardships workers on both sides of the river face.

As you know the Scoop Newspaper has stopped publishing and lesser known is that Ann Beer’s bookstore, The Bookroom on Wyandotte near the university, is going to close as she can no longer run it. These two Windsor institutions really cannot just disappear and I have been meeting with interested parties to put together a plan to keep them going. Briefly the idea is to acquire a common space that would be a non-profit social enterprise and which would house the workers’ centre with funding for 1-2 para-legals and a coordinator, the newspaper, a makerspace, and a café/bookstore. The workers’ centre would continue to educate and advocate for workers and workers’ rights. The point of the makerspace is to be a lab of sorts to investigate new technologies like digital fabricators for community production. The café would be on the model of Democracy cafes where people come together to discuss issues around work, politics, economics and so forth with action coming from such discussion. It would also provide jobs and hope for workers. The newspaper is probably the key component to critique the existing political and economic realities and further, produce constructive, useful and doable alternatives that are not covered by the mainstream media (MSM). All MSM does is serve as an echo chamber for the elites who are out of ideas and continue to propose austerity, and cutbacks for workers. Technology has progressed to the point where it is already possible for small start-ups to manufacture what the community needs using digital fabricators. Communication technology can be used to produce a newspaper in print and online with a website and social media including an Internet radio station. The Democracy Café can bring people together in a common space with all this going on so action can take place – in other words, social media only goes so far. It takes people in community in person to generate ideas that lead to action and by action I mean real change in the way we organize ourselves around work and an economy. The goal is to democratize the economy and create democratically run workplaces on a co-op/social enterprise model, and do this on the local level. Much is happening along this model in Detroit and we can learn by collaborating with like-minded organizers there and elsewhere around the world and Canada.

I am working on funding ideas including something I can approach the local labour community with for start-up funding. The goal is to become a self-supporting non-profit enterprise in the near future.

There is a lot wrong with the world and we can easily see that the ruling class – nationally, globally and locally – has no real clue on how to address, democratically, the failures of capitalism and globalization. A globalized economy with free trade agreements was promised to bring prosperity to all, and instead it has brought us closer to war, has increased inequality, has heightened racism and islamophobia, and created the specter of a police state in Canada and elsewhere. It’s time for the working class to get organized ourselves because if the ruling class has a plan for the future it does not include millions of workers around the world. It should be obvious that while the rich get richer, what’s in store for us are surveillance, police violence and war. The way out is to organize around our commonalities, build resilient communities, learn how to better cooperate in common cause, and learn new technologies and apply them democratically meeting peoples’ real needs. He common space project is a start towards a truly democratic, inclusive, cooperative alternative to the global capitalist nightmare unfolding before us.