Paradkar: Dear immigrants: Coming to Canada? Here’s what you’re really in for

While a bit overboard, all too accurate given the various changes to ease business restrictions on temporary worker permits and limits on employment time for international students:

Hello, new immigrants. Most of you are likely coming to Canada in search of a better life and better opportunities than in the lands you leave behind. The good news is that many of you will find a job. Some of you will even be well-paid. But more than a few will find your dreams of stability and comfort seriously challenged.

For those who take on the vast majority of jobs Ontario is looking to fill — in restaurants and in bars, in truck transportation, construction, nursing homes — you’ll first have to survive the savageries of capitalism and xenophobia.

As Canada opens its doors to half a million immigrants annually — about half of whom will land in Ontario — we say welcome, today’s newcomers. But do you know what you’re in for?

Canada has historically benefitted from immigration. Many immigrants, particularly higher skilled ones, have also benefitted by coming here. But this round of gate-opening reveals the truth about Canada’s economic immigration policy. It’s designed in the interest of a stronger economy, which serves, first and foremost, not the majority of immigrants, who will be channelled into unskilled, often temporary jobs, but those at the top.

What Canada wants, but is not saying out loud, is a servant class; a vast army of workers prepared to accept the low-paid jobs no one else wants. And given how the economy is structured along with our poor preparedness to receive these newcomers, it’s clear we want to keep them in that position.

The current immigration push continues a centuries-old tradition of worker exploitation in the Americas. When European settler attempts to enslave Indigenous populations failed for various reasons, indentured servants arrived in the 1600s to care for the vast lands the earliest settlers had got, bought or stole.

Then came chattel slavery, itself created because the elite capitalists realized free labour by commodifying humans kidnapped from afar was more profitable than cheap wage labour.

When, some 200 years later, Britain abolished slavery in most of its colonies in the 1830s, this continent experienced a “labour shortage,” like the one today. That led to Britain importing indentured or bonded labour from colonies such as India, particularly on its plantation islands.

Then, as today, “labour shortage” didn’t mean there was a lack of human bodies to do jobs that build societies. Nor did it mean there was a lack of skills to do them. Then, as today, it meant something about the shifting dynamics of demand and supply.

A higher demand for labour shifts power toward workers, who agitate for better wages and working conditions. Flooding the market with a supply of workers swings that shift in power back to the owning class.

Today’s immigration push comes with baked-in economic disenfranchisement. Temporary work in precarious jobs leaves workers vulnerable to abusive working conditions.

Much like the West Indian Domestic Scheme of the 1950s and ’60s, when Canada sought Black Caribbeans to be domestic workers, the floodgates are opening today through initiatives such as the Temporary Youth Worker Program and the Federal Skilled Trades program, and via colleges and universities, which are taking increasing numbers of international students.

According to Statistics Canada, a vast majority of Ontario’s job vacancies right now — 60 per cent — require a high school graduation or less, many needing less than one year of experience.

The Federal Skilled Trades program doesn’t require candidates to have secondary education but it will prioritize those with a certificate or diploma or degree. That means many economic migrants will be overqualified for the jobs being asked of them, but they will come, perhaps hoping they’re at least getting a foot in the door.

Once in, however, these immigrants will have been slotted into the jobs Canadians won’t do for the wages being offered.

The overt racists and xenophobes also grease the wheels of this exploitative system.

If employers see labour as robotic capital-making units, xenophobes, easily made insecure by “outsiders,” keep immigrants bracing for attacks on their very existence, leaving them grateful for the crumbs, told their deplorable circumstances are a result of their not working hard enough or their supposed inferiority.

The economy is structurally built to see full employment — everyone having a job — as a problem.

A seventh straight month of job gains and near-record-low unemployment of five per cent is leading economists to predict that the Bank of Canada might well raise already high interest rates in coming months to “cool the economy” and inflation.

In this way of thinking, rising wages for, say, an average grocery worker in Canada, who earned $18.97 per hour in 2022 is a threat to the economy. But grocery magnate Galen Weston earning $5,679 an hour is not.

This thinking is why employers freely blamed programs such as Canada Emergency Response Benefit — that offered about $500 a week to those who lost income due to COVID — for “spoiling” workers.

Far better to call a person earning $500 a week, and not wanting to work for less than that bare minimum, lazy than pay them higher wages.

Perhaps the new immigrants coming in to rescue our economy, including those who have to remain jobless in service of this country, might be thanked in other ways? Maybe they’ll be housed relatively easily? Not have to worry about finding good schools for their children? Or have a safety net should they fall ill?

No such luck. Provincial parsimoniousness has already extended to defunding education, defunding health care and not building enough or affordable houses on land already earmarked for homes.

Politicians and their owning class friends are eyeing for-profit education and for-profit health care once the current systems are squeezed to the point of hopelessness. Large developers, quite coincidentally, bought precisely those thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive and protected Greenbelt land that Ontario’s premier opened up to build housing.

Yes, developers will need construction workers willing to work for less than a decent wage, if they hope to pad their profits. Instability in foreign lands fostering desperation can be a wonderful boon.The very rich benefit mightily from boosted immigration in other ways, too. More people means more consumers and buying food is non-negotiable. Ka-ching, that sound of cascading coins, is an inadequate metaphor to capture the surge in sums of money for people like Weston, whose family’s net worth is about $8 billion US.

We — as a nation — either need to be better prepared to receive newcomers or, failing that, be honest and say: Welcome, newcomers — welcome to your new life of multi-dimensional suffering.

Source: Dear immigrants: Coming to Canada? Here’s what you’re really in for

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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