August 13, 2013
Toronto, ON—On Saturday August 3rd, over 50 youth, students, young workers and allies filled the United Steelworkers Hall to take back their future amidst worsening conditions here in Canada and abroad. Organized by the Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance—Ontario (UKPC/FCYA-ON), the conference titled “Making the Youth Count in Canada’s Future: The Struggle of Young Workers in the Age of Austerity and Neoliberal Globalization” brought together progressive young leaders, professionals and allies to tackle some recent developments that will shape the future for young people in Canada.
Blazing a new path, UKPC/FCYA-ON brought new participants together to expose the neoliberal character of capitalist development in Canada and around the world. By looking at the overall economic situation, speakers Emmanuel Sayo, Fay Faraday and Reuben Sarumugam gave a theoretical, political, legal and experiential insight into the development of a neoliberal society and the impacts on workers and young people. Emmanuel Sayo, co-founder of the Kalayaan Resource and Training Centre, reviewed the global situation and the ongoing economic crisis, as well as movements that have erupted in response. Author of “Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity,” Fay Faraday presented on the Canadian government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program as a low-wage strategy that has changed the labour market. With Canadians continuing to experience high unemployment and with the shift towards temporary, contract and part-time jobs, the Canadian government has facilitated the ability of employers to hire workers from abroad as cheap labour. Chairperson of UKPC/FCYA-ON, Reuben Sarumugam highlighted austerity measures and neoliberal developments in Canada. Along with his personal experience, Reuben also connected the emerging neoliberal society and its impacts on youth in terms of their increasing disposability, consumerism, and their continuing de-politicization in the workplace, society and through social media.
The second panel featured Mike Leitold, Aizaz Malik, Karina Francisco and Andrew Sayo, who all delivered presentations on the increasing criminalization of public dissent. Long-time activist and criminal defense lawyer, Mike Leitold shared the impacts of the “Safe Streets and Communities Act” and the increasing militaristic character of the police, especially in light of the recent killing of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim in Toronto. Representatives from Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), Aizaz Malik and Karina Francisco reviewed the historical development of the occupation of Palestine and Israeli apartheid. They then explained how their political views as a student organization and their annual rally for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign pushed the York University administration to unjustly revoke their club status and send out formal warnings to students and groups involved. SAIA later received legal backing from the Canadian Association of Civil Liberties, who denounced the York University administration by declaring their actions as unfitting of an institution that is supposed to encourage discussion and critical thinking. Andrew Sayo, UKPC/FCYA member from Montreal, Quebec, shared with the historical development of the Quebec student protests, which initially started as a result of a tuition increase by the Liberal Party of Quebec and eventually developed into the largest mass protest in Canadian history. The student protests in Quebec led to an outrightly repressive response by the Quebec state and Montreal police, who charged and arrested any civilians who participated in the public demonstrations. For instance, the state implemented Bill-78, which created strict regulations, such as attire, time, and place, through which a demonstration or protest could legally by carried out. The Bill subsequently led to 700 arrests the first night it was implemented. Some of its provisions eventually merged with existing Montreal Bylaw P6. The second panel demonstrated that whether on a campus, municipal or national scale, Canada is becoming more repressive towards genuine criticisms of policies, concerns and institutions that exercise control within the current neoliberal order.
UKPC/FCYA-ON members Aila Comilang and John Kevin Nerier led the third panel by sharing the long history of UKPC/FCYA. They emphasized the shift in UKPC/FCYA’s work from prioritizing the rights and welfare of Filipinos in Canada and carrying out support and solidarity work for the Philippines towards calling for the community’s genuine settlement and integration as part of the Congress of Progressive Filipino Canadians (CPFC). This new path takes the struggle here in Canada as the most immediate conflict that needs to be addressed in order to advance social change and social transformation. Under the CPFC, the organization’s concerns include not just the well-being of Filipinos in Canada, but of all immigrants, migrants, workers, youth, women, the elderly, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and Indigenous peoples. This new platform allows the various organizations under the CPFC to build stronger networks and do more sophisticated work.
Gabrielle Fayant, a leader in the Indigenous community and organizer for the Idle No More campaign, shared the situation of Indigenous communities in Canada, including their high youth dropout rates, the cases of missing and raped Indigenous women and their struggle for basic human needs, such as clean drinking water and a healthy environment. The current government’s assault on Indigenous communities has allowed large resource extraction companies to ignore land claims, destroy livelihoods and pollute the environment. As Gabrielle explained, the destruction of the environment goes beyond the Indigenous community as it affects all Canadians. On a positive note, Gabrielle also explained that the Indigenous community is experiencing an unusually high birth rate, that youth are standing up and organizing, and that Indigenous women are continuing to organize massive campaigns on the ground such as Idle No More.
Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada, shared some lessons learned from having organized nationally for over 20 years. Cecilia emphasized the importance of critical thinking within the revolutionary movement; as revolutionaries, our ability to critically assess and analyze situations must remain sharp at all times. She recounted the many experiences and difficulties organizers encountered in the 20-plus years of the Kalayaan Centre’s history.Most recently, the city ordered the demolition of the Kalayaan Centre due to the safety concerns. However, Cecilia explained that organizing will continue in Vancouver, especially with the resiliency of the SIKLAB and PWC-BC members, who are mainly former domestic workers, who have never left the Kalayaan Centre. Even without the physical building, the SIKLAB and PWC-BC women still see the need to organize because there are still women who are struggling that are looking for the Kalayaan Centre. Cecilia expressed that while there have been several generations of leadership at the Kalayaan Centre, it is the women from SIKLAB and PWC, the workers, who have stayed and truly embraced the working class perspective that the Centre stood for. She argued that we must understand our past before we can move forward, and that we must also know who we are and be able to think critically.
In an era where young people are devalued socially, economically and politically and forced to accept the conditions of the neoliberal market, the need to organize must continue. The “Making the Youth Count in Canada’s Future: the Struggle of Young Workers in the Age of Austerity and Neoliberal Globalization” conference brought the need to advance the role of youth and young workers to the forefront.
For photos of the conference, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pwcontario/sets/72157634982208312/
Issued by the Conference secretariat
August 6, 2013