Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another dirty foreign worker story

If you spend any time at all reading the self-righteous press releases issued by the unctuous moraliser John Baird and his minions at the Department of Foreign Affairs, it would be easy to conclude that Canada under the Harper gang is a light unto the nations, a shining beacon of hope for the underprivileged and downtrodden the world over. Hardly a day goes by without our condemning this or being appalled by that or outraged by some other stain on the human condition.

And in principal, there is nothing wrong with that, but the Harper government was elected to govern Canada, not to set the rest of the world right. Why so much effort in finding the mote in everybody else's eye when we have so much to be outraged and appalled at right here at home?

Take the Foreign Worker Program for instance. This story on view at CBC about the plight of Guatemalan chicken catchers lists a litany of abuses, from workers having their passports seized, to dangerous working conditions, to unpaid work, to subhuman living conditions. These workers on entering the country are for all practical purposes the property of their employer-sponsors. If they quit they can't legally take another job here. If they complain they can be dismissed and deported. They have for all practical purposes the same rights as the foreign workers abused as a matter of course throughout the dictatorships of the Middle East, which is to say the right to shut-up and work harder.

The precedent for institutionalizing the exploitation of desperate foreign workers was set in the 1960's with the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The impetus for SAWP were conditions similar to those that brought about the TFW program; the claim by employers that Canadians could not be found to do the work at the wages on offer. In both cases, the more obvious solution, paying decent wages, was overlooked in favour of self-serving arguments about remaining competitive etc., which is another way of saying Canadians would rather live with this institutionalized racism than pay an extra fifty cents for a bag of apples or a chicken.

If Canada truly needs foreign workers, they need to come here as proper immigrants with the same rights as any other citizen of this country, both in the workplace and in general. As long as over a million Canadians are out of work, it would seem unlikely that an authentic need for more labour can be demonstrated. Where there is a shortage of specific skill-sets, it is the responsibility of an enlightened leadership in a contemporary democracy to provide the education and training to eliminate those shortages.

The fact that more and more stories are coming to light about the abuse of foreign workers should be every bit as concerning as the fact that this government has deliberately created the present TFW program to keep the Canadian labour market more "flexible" than it would otherwise be.

In other words, our leaders in Ottawa have devised a strategy that permits the exploitation of foreign workers while at the same time driving down wages of Canadian workers. That's hardly a solid ethical foundation from which to harangue the rest of the world about their faults.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frack Off!

"Fracking", or hydraulic fracturing, is all the rage these days. Apparently it has breathed life into entirely dead economies in Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota, and beyond, by using "new" technology to tap hitherto inaccessible or exhausted oil and gas deposits.

The technology has been around for decades. What's new is its application on an industrial scale. All ya gotta do is pump mystery cocktails of industrial chemicals into the earth under extreme pressure, and the laws of physics does the rest.

But wait? Isn't our water coming out of that same earth?

Hey, not to worry... the oil industry's scientists and engineers are all over it. They done figured out how to make it safe. What could possibly go wrong?

UK PM Cameron has gone all in for fracking. This is possibly the last move in the long-running campaign to destroy Britain once and for all.

From the union-busting of Thatcher to Tony Blair's squandering of the treasury on stupid and counterproductive wars, to the trebling of university fees, to the creation of a new underclass worthy of Dickens, they've sure buggered up their country.

Apparently they're not finished yet.

The magic of outsourcing; why Temp Foreign Workers are displacing Canadians in Calgary's Parks Department

On the face of it, you'd think Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi would have little in common, other than having been elected mayor of their respective cities.

Nenshi is the cerebral and soft-spoken mayor of Calgary, who has done more than any individual in recent history to roll back that city's reputation as the redneck capital of Canada.

Rob Ford you already know about.

But they do have one other thing in common; they both went down the road of outsourcing public services to private contractors.

In Ford's case that was outsourcing garbage collection in Toronto. In Calgary, it was summer maintenance of the city's parks, which led to this story at CBC today.

To save the good burghers of Calgary a few bucks on their property taxes, which are already among the lowest in Canada, park maintenance was outsourced to a private contractor.

The private contractor needs to make a profit, so they offer the outsourced jobs at 25% less than what the city workers used to make for the same work. Surprisingly, they suddenly run into a worker shortage!

Not a problem; fire off a Labour Market Opinion request to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and before you can say "nay ho" you've got happy Chinese foreign workers trimming the lawns in Calgary's parks.

That's the way the system works, and it's the way it was intended to work. The hard-right Thatcherite fundamentalists in the Harper regime are firm believers in the free trade of everything, including labour.

The only reason Jason Kenney has been putting on a show of "reforms" recently is because there is an election on the horizon.

The 300,000 plus "guest workers" we are hosting are doing 300,000 jobs Canadians should be doing. If the cheap-ass employers would let the free hand of Canada's labour market work its magic, they'd soon find their employees. But they'd have to pay the wages that the laws of supply and demand dictate.

That's why they favour government intervention in the labour market; crank up the supply of labour to drive down workers' wages. And the strategy was working beautifully, until a few of the horror stories began to trickle into mainstream media.

Suddenly the TFW program is in the spotlight, people, i.e. potential voters, are getting pissed off, and just as suddenly the Harper gang is keen for reforms, or (if the polling numbers need a goosing) cancelling it altogether!

Canadian workers can vote.

Temporary Foreign Workers cannot.

Why are all the top sprinters Black?

Because outrunning these assholes was a matter of life and death.

You are six degrees of separation away from the Ebola virus

Well that's reassuring!

The basic facts; there is no cure, the mortality rate is over 50%, and it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to appear.

That means my pal Harvard, who is off on a trekking holiday in Africa, can board a plane in the west of Africa, fly to Toronto, gather up all his friends and neighbours to show off his holiday pictures, and infect the lot of us before he even shows any symptoms!

Think I'll look at those pictures in a month or two.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Turkey at the crossroads

Turkey has always been at the crossroads, geographically speaking.

Turkey is where Asia meets Europe.

Turkey was also one of the very first colonies to throw off the yoke of colonialism, under Ataturk.

Today Turkey finds itself the only Muslim country in NATO.

It has become, pursuant to the above, the only NATO country that has objected to Israel's latest war crimes in Gaza.

At the same time, Turkey has worked harder to foster relations with Israel than any independent state in the Muslim world.

While that was going on, Turkey found herself one of the few surviving outposts of Muslim Brotherhood influence.

Turkey is at the crossroads of many competing forces.

Turkey scored an unfortunate own goal with its connivance in the Syrian civil war, offering itself up to its NATO betters as a staging ground for "rebels" of all stripes, even after it became obvious that those stripes were dominated by fundamentalists who were never going to be reliable NATO allies.

So where is Turkey today? The US keeps the Gulen card up its sleeve for a rainy day. Erdogan is recognized as a liability one day and an asset the next.

Turkey is at the crossroads, again.

"Lucky" Gazans with acute injuries get life-line to Jordan hospitals- but it takes ten days

Yup, that's what you want to hear when you show up at the ER; see you in ten days.

These are the depths that the National Newspaper of Record (and, yes, most people who think and read still put the NYT ahead of the Washington Post; sorry Bezos) will sink to in their desperation to wring happy stories out of Israel's latest attack on Gaza.

But it will have to do, because there's not much to work with.