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(en) Class Struggle Against Borders in Ontario - THE NORTHEASTERN ANARCHIST #5

From Mick <mickblack47@yahoo.com>
Date Wed, 18 Dec 2002 06:52:26 -0500 (EST)


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Class Struggle Against Borders in Ontario 
by Jeff Shantz (NEFAC-Toronto) 

Much has been made in recent social theory of the "flow" across borders
supposedly characterizing the age of globalization. Even left social
activists have been drawn to emphasize mobility and the supposed
permeability of borders. For example, one activist and academic inspired
by the works of Gramsci and Freire, suggests, perhaps hopefully, that "the
complex process of globalization that has increasingly decentralized
production and centralized decision-making has diminished the importance
of borders and of the nation-states within them" (Barndt, 1996: 243). New
technologies, most notably the internet, are credited with facilitating
global communications and global networks of anti-capitalist activism.
These networks have, in turn, facilitated a move beyond the nationalism
which characterized earlier struggles such as those against free trade. 

The imperialist response to September 11th, of course, smashed much of
that hope. At the same time the bold exposure of the truly imperialist
nature of globalization sharply reminds us that struggles against borders,
rather than diminishing, are perhaps the key struggles of our times.
Borders, and specifically state control of borders to free the transfer of
capital while determining the movement of workers, maintain and extend
processes of exploitation and oppression. 


FIGHTING RACIST IMMIGRATION PRACTICES IN CANADA SINCE SEPTEMBER 11th 

September 11 offered an excuse to openly display the cruel forces of
xenophobia and racism which are ever present, if often denied, features of
Canadian society (1). Among the institutions feeding those renewed forces
is the Federal government with its zealous focus on "security" and manic
obsession with the phantom of permeable borders. In an effort to show its
allegiance to US world order the Canadian government has entered into
discussions around joint agreements around border security and immigration
controls up to and including the creation of a security perimeter around
North America, a "Fortress North America." 

Until being invited to join the US Forces in violating the Geneva
Convention, Canada's hawks have had to satisfy their war cravings through
such manuevers on the "home front." The reality is that the "home defense"
has already claimed its share of casualties, however these might be
explained away by the usual apologists as "collateral damage." 

A microcosm of the dangers facing us in this epoch are painfully
illustrated in the recent experiences of three of our neighbors who have
been set upon by Canadian Immigration: Irma Joyles, Brenda Lyn MacDonald
and Shirley-Ann Charles. Despite each woman having lived in Canada for
many years, working, attending school and raising families, immigration
authorities have targeted them for deportation without hearings. In order
to avoid having to make the awful choice between leaving her child behind
without her only support or bringing her to a climate which will worsen
her health, Irma has filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate claim. Brenda,
facing a similar impossible choice, has also filed Humanitarian and
Compassionate claim. Unfortunately, on Monday, November 26, with no
hearing at all, Shirley-Ann was deported. 

According to Canadian immigration policy all three women were entitled to
have Humanitarian and Compassionate claims heard. Instead, without
explanation, officers were sent to Brendalyn's home to arrest her. In this
time of war increased "security" apparently means that government can
remove women without notice or hearing. Poor immigrants and refugees now
stand without rights to due legal process. Prior to September 11th none of
these women would have been targetted and pursued with such viciousness.
It is likely that because they have children, homes and jobs they would
not even have been investigated. 

In addition to increased harassment and threats of deportation, are the
frightening numbers of people who have been detained in Toronto jails and
detention centres, often in solitary confinement. People have been denied
access to sanitation and medical care and hearings often occur by video
link. At the notorious Celebrity Inn, a motel near Pearson International
Airport used as a detention center, families are split up. Full
information about people detained since September 11th has yet to be
disclosed despite the efforts of groups such as Anti-Racist Action and
Colors of Resistance. 

Among the groups which have determined not to allow these practices
continue and intensify is the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
OCAP has been at the forefront of developing new, creative and effective
ways of dealing with government agencies which target for mistreatment
those who are deemed to be vulnerable. One of the most successful
practices pioneered by OCAP is "direct action casework." Unlike more
hierarchical "client/caregiver" forms of casework, direct action casework
directly involves the people facing injustice allowing them to determine
what course of action to take. Unlike more passive forms of casework,
direct action casework goes directly to the source of injustice, whether a
welfare office, landlord or immigration office, mobilizing large numbers
of community members (neighbors, students, unionists, activists) to get
whatever is needed. 

Over the years, this approach has been highly succesful winning such
tangible benefits as welfare and disability checks, wheelchairs, rent
refunds and even stays of deportation. In three years OCAP has supported
over 50 families with immigration work. 

Despite being a movement made up primarily of poor people, unemployed
worker and homeless people, OCAP has been a pole of attraction for
struggles against local regimes of neoliberal global governance. Through
direct actions, rank-and-file militance and community organizing based on
a sense of working class unity, OCAP has provided an impetus for a
recomposition of class struggle forces across the borders which keep our
class so divided. 

Finally, in early May, 2002, Brendalyn McDonald received a favorable
decision on her application to apply for permanent residence. This was a
major victory and came only after months of fighting the deportation order
by Brendalyn, her family and allies. OCAP's efforts, including written
correspondence and phone calls, small and large scale actions, the
mobilization of unions and drawing media coverage, were critical in this
victory and show the type of work that needs to be done to fight off
government attacks. 


IMMIGRATION AND LABOR POLICIES 

Racial and economic profiling maintains the system of divide and conquer
which allows bosses and governments to play sectors of the working class
against each other. It is part of longstanding practices which drive wages
down and prevent opposition movements from forming. 

The unequal distribution of rights ensured by state definitions of
citizen, immigrant, refugee or "illegal" serve the interests of capital in
several ways. At the same time these differential categories harm workers
across the board. First, the limitation of political or legal rights on
the basis of birthplace makes people vulnerable and open to intimidation
and extreme exploitation. Denial of social benefits such as welfare,
disability benefits and unemployment benefits ensures a precarious
workforce willing to take on undesirable or dangerous work and less able
to organize for better conditions. Differential categories of citizenship
also serve as markers of difference separating workers. 

Workers have to get past the racist anti-immigrant hysteria, so readily
manipulated by bosses and politicians, to recognize that immigrants are
not the cause of the social ills of capitalism. Poverty, violence and
unemployment are standard outcomes of capitalist production for profit. 

Immigration is the movement of people affected by that exploitation.
Poverty and unemployment result from the capitalist structuring of work
which sees some work 60-hour weeks while others are left without work. In
reality, the ills of capitalism can only really be alleviated when those
affected by exploitation, employed and unemployed, immigrants and
non-immigrants, embrace each other in solidarity to defend against
exploitation. This should be initiated by organized labor and will require
that organized labor work to overcome the nationalism which has driven
much of labor politics in Canada. 

This sort of working class cooperation, especially in this global age of
capital movement across all borders, is necessary for a real defense of
our neighbors and communities. Conversely, the strengthening of the
state's powers and the tightening of border controls only works to tear
apart our communities. 


FLYING SQUADS AND LABOR UNITY 

In early September, 2001, OCAP along with allies in Canadian Union of
Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 flying squad went directly to Pearson
International Airport to demand an end to threats of deportation against
the three families. Leaflets were given to passengers alerting them to the
situation and a visit was paid to the Immigration Canada deportation
office in the basement of Terminal One. OCAP demanded and received a
meeting with the airport's immigration management and gave a deadline of
the end of the business day for management to issue stays of removal in
all three instances. All three deportations were eventually cancelled.
This unusual result, in which the removal dates were cancelled prior to a
Federal Court challenge, is a testament to the powers of direct action. 

It must also be stressed that the presence of the flying squad was crucial
in the success of this action. The flying squad, a decentralized group of
rank-and-file activists on-call to support strikes, demonstrations or
casework actions, demonstrates how labor organizations can step out of
traditional concerns with the workplace to act in a broadened defence of
working class interests. The expansion of union flying squads, with
autonomy from union bureaucracies, could provide a substantial response to
the state's efforts to isolate immigrants and refugees from the larger
community. CUPE 3903 has also formed an Anti-Racism Working Group and, as
an initiative of anarchist members and OCAP supporters, an Anti-Poverty
Working Group to work hand-in-hand with OCAP on actions or cases. These
are just a few of the efforts that organize labor can undertake in the
here-and-now to build a global network of solidarity and support in which
more secure members of the working class work contribute to the defense of
less secured members (2). Anarchists in unions can, as in the case of the
Anti-Poverty Working Group take these initiatives into their unions. The
emboldened aggressiveness of Immigration Canada after September 11th make
such actions in defence of innocent people much more pressing, as the case
of Shirely-Ann Charles shows with frightening clarity. 

There is more that unions could do. In the Netherlands, pilots can refuse,
as a health and safety issue, to transport people who have been deported.
This is something which should be implemented in airline unions in North
America. Instead of refusing to attend the Pearson action, as they did,
the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), which represents many airline workers,
could have used the opportunity to discuss the issue with their members as
a first step in actively pursuing such a policy 


A NEW UNDERGROUND RAILROAD? 

These emerging circumstances of increased repression against immigrants
and refugees mean that unions and social movements must develop much more
thorough and advanced strategies for support. Labor needs to organize
outside of the limited confines of collective bargaining and the workplace
to build networks of class-wide support. This must include support for
unemployed workers, poor people, injured workers, immigrants and refugees
among others. In effect these networks should form the basis for a new
underground railroad which can secure safe travel across borders for
people seeking to flee economic exploitation or political repression. As
in the original underground railroad, this new network must be ready to
operate outside of legal authorities. While community organizations can be
expected to play a part in this, only organized labor has the resources to
make this an effective and ongoing practice. Labour can help to provide
transportation, safehouses and even employment, all of which will be
necessary. 

Of course labor must work fundamentally against the statist categories of
citizenship which arbitrarily grant workers differential political and
legal rights. As long as these citizenship categories exist bosses will
continue to use "illegal" labor for their own purposes. As long as there
are vulnerable and hyper-exploitable categories of workers capital will be
able to use these differences against workers. Illegal workers will still
be subject to harsher working conditions at lower pay without social
benefits. Legal precariousness will always be a mechanism for exploiting
those workers who find themselves in such a situtation. Thus labor must
not stop at helping the movement of illegal workers but must fundamentally
work to abolish those practices which make anyone illegal. As European
movements have stated: "No One Is Illegal." 

Bosses have established free movement for themselves through free trade
deals and other legal mechanisms while simultaneously working to limit the
movement of workers. This works to their benefit by allowing them to
pursue low wages and weak environmental regulations while limiting
workers' options for seeking improved living conditions. Limiting the
movement of workers makes it tougher for them to refuse the bad deals
bosses offer them, which in turn keeps weakens wages and working
condition. 

Of course socialists, anarchists and radical democrats have long
maintained that people have the right to live, work and travel wherever
they choose and to associate with whomever they choose. As
internationalists, we actively oppose the national borders which serve to
divide and segregate people. Governments have no right to determine
community participation (citizenship) and anarchists view as legitimate
any government claims to territorial sovereignty. It is important to
remember that these views were once central parts of the international
labor movement at the time of capitalist liberalism a century ago. It is
time for labor to remember this vital part of its history. 


CONCLUSION 

Class war, as modern war is always spatial and territorial. Thus Canadian
and US governments, under the cover provided by September 11th, are
devising joint agreements around border controls and immigration criteria.
There has even been chilling talk from some authorities about establishing
a continental perimeter, a "Fortress North America." 

As many commentators have pointed out these practices are also about
strengthening the government's hand in fighting the globalization
struggles at a time when many sensed it was beginning to lose its grip.
This is one reason why legislation against activism has gone hand in hand
with a clampdown on immigration, the global mobility of labor. 

An enormous part of the work of spatializing class war has been carried
out through policing and criminalization of various subject populations.
This criminalization is more broadly deployed than is generally described.
It also includes, fundamentally, the use of the repressive legal apparatus
to keep possible forces of dissent from ever joining together in common
cause: classic divide and conquer tactics. Whenever members of the working
class are made to fear standing up against the bosses and the state,
whether through threats of job loss, eviction or deportation this acts to
quell possible rebellion. 

When the legal state creates and perpetuates phony divisions between
workers through immigration laws and the construction of "legals" and
"illegals" we must recognize this as part of the spatialized class war.
Likewise when these divisions are maintained through legal repression
against poor people and homeless people. Any legal mechanism which impedes
the recomposition of the working class as a stronger force or which helps
a decomposition of the working class to the benefit of capital must be
understood in this way. 

Anti-capitalist organizations must take up the challenge of borders at
local and global levels. OCAP deploys a variety of tactics to overcome the
divide and conquer tactics which keep the opposition to capitalist control
divided and weakened. Still, OCAP is an anti-poverty organization lacking
the resources necessary to lead the fight. Organized labor must take up
the challenge in a serious way, drawing on OCAP's example but extending it
radically. The old labor standard, "An Injury to One is an Injury to All"
must be labor's driving principle once more. 


NOTES 

(1) While this article has a post-September 11th focus I do not want to
imply that the actions taken by the Canadian government since then are out
of character. Canada's immigration system has always been racist,
anti-worker and anti-poor. 

(2) This distinction between secured and unsecured members of the working
class is drawn from the work of Antonio Negri and autonomist Marxism. The
secured working class consists in part of unionized workers with benefits
and securities such as unemployment insurance, cost of living allowances
and pensions which may even extend beyond general rights of citizenship.
The unsecured workers include temporary workers, homeless people and
undocumented workers. [See Negri, 1989 and Hardt and Negri, 1984] 

REFERENCES 

Barndt, Deborah. 1996; 'Free Trade Offers 'Free Space' for Connecting
Across Borders'; Local Places: In the Age of the Global City edited by
Roger Kiel, Gerda R. Wekerle and David V.J. Bell (eds.). Montreal: Black
Rose, 243-248 

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 1984; Labor of Dionysus (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press) 

Negri, Antonio. 1989. The Politics of Subversion. Cambridge: Polity Press 
 

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