August 9, 2013
For immediate release
Toronto, ON–Continuing to forge a new path, the Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance/Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada—Ontario (UKPC/FCYA-ON) brought together youth, students, young workers, professionals and allies to tackle the continuing assault on workers at the conference titled “Making the Youth Count in Canada’s Future: The Struggle of Young Workers in the Age of Austerity and Neoliberal Globalization,” held this past Saturday, August 3rd. During the one-day conference, youth gathered voices from the progressive left community to talk about the need to organize and to develop a progressive culture amidst the strengthening neoliberal and austerity agenda being pushed in Canada and around the world.
Over 50 participants gathered to learn and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing young people today. Some of the speakers included Fay Faraday, a labour, immigration and human rights lawyer; Mike Leitold, an activist and criminal defense lawyer; Gabrielle Fayant, an activist and organizer with Canada’s Indigenous communities, and representatives from Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Karina Francisco and Aizaz Malik. Reuben Sarumugam, a panel speaker and Chairperson of UKPC/FCYA-ON, explains how the conference signifies a new departure: “While we strive for genuine change within our own communities, we are also pushing for broader social transformation. Rather than continuing to silo ourselves off, we must forge alliances with other groups and organizations based on our common experiences as workers and as people of colour. We are all fighting the same system of imperialism.”
Fay Faraday, author of the report “Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers Insecurity,” explained how the Canadian government has shifted towards a low-wage labour market strategy by using the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and how the program itself facilitates exploitation in Canada. Faraday explains, “In the political discourse, it has become absolutely normalized to say that we need a migrant labour program and it must be in this way and that it is temporary labour migration. That’s the myth that I want to explode because these are very recent policy choices—active choices which deliberately create a working class without rights.”
During the second panel, Mike Leitold covered the potential impacts of the “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” the increasingly militaristic character of the Toronto Police Force, and the oppression faced by marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous communities. He expressed the importance of gathering to take action against the legal and overall changes happening in Canada. “I am really honoured to be asked to be with all of you who are here on a sunny afternoon talking about important issues and organizing, and doing what I think we should be doing in the face of neoliberalism, globalization and austerity—organizing to fight back,” Leitold stated.
During the last panel, UKPC/FCYA-ON members Aila Comilang and John Kevin Nerier presented on the long history of youth organizing in the Filipino Canadian community. From anti-racism workshops to consultative youth forums and community-based art and culture, Comilang and Nerier reiterated the need to create a progressive culture. Nerier stated that “through creating a progressive culture—what we want to do, instead of taking ‘selfie’ pictures—is to organize. What we want to ‘hashtag’ is community. Instead of just ‘looking up,’ what we want to do is look beyond. As long as we have new generations of youth, we can change the world. My challenge to you is, are you part of it? Let’s change it together.” Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada, echoed these sentiments. She emphasized that “the only way for us to move forward, is for us to know who the progressive and the revolutionary organizations are in the Filipino community. It is also very important for us to have critical and revolutionary thinking. We cannot move forward without learning our past.”
Inspired by the content of the conference, youth performed music and modern dance late into the day. Paulo Manalo produced a musical track specifically for the conference as a background track for his solo hip-hop dance routine. Manalo, a hospitality and tourism student, danced in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and later removed articles of clothing to reveal his retired McDonald’s uniform, until finally revealing a shirt that read “unity.” His performance depicted the realities of young workers working in various odd jobs, as well as the strength of young people.
Upon learning about the struggles and resistance of various communities, youth participants clearly saw their roles as future leaders, not just within the progressive Filipino Canadian community, but also as part of the broader left movement in Canada. “It was very inspiring to be part of this conference. It really showed me the importance of organizing for social change, given our current situation as youth in Canada. This is crucial not just for our generation, but also for the successive generations to come,” said Judy Bautista, a member of UKPC/FCYA-ON. The conference immersed all participants in a culture of resistance, critical awareness and militancy.