Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder with Los Indignados


By Chris Ramsaroop

Chris Ramsaroop

I’m dedicating this column to the indignant ones or Los Indignados, those who refuse to be silent, those who refuse to be disposed of, those who refuse to be forgotten. Coined after a popular revolt by Spaniards against unemployment and homelessness, the term has become synonymous with struggles the world over.

In our own backyard, several recent fightbacks highlight how those disenfranchised by the system are organizing for change. Recently, a group of workers penned an open letter, one of many letters drafted by migrant farm workers, to raise concerns regarding working and living conditions in Ontario. During the pandemic many workers drafted anonymous open letters to officials demanding changes.

For all of us, the conditions that workers face in Ontario are reflective of what our families endured in the Caribbean. My roots are in those who came to Trinidad as indentured labourers. We often say that today’s guest worker programs are reminiscent of a bygone era. It is not reminiscent. It is today’s reality that farm workers from the Caribbean live and work under the same conditions as our ancestors. From the contracts that binds workers to one employer, to the criminalization that occurs when workers attempt to leave these conditions to seek redress for the injustices of farm labour, migrant farm workers will continue to endure exploitation, subjugation and dehumanization until we address the system that binds workers to a single employer.

Many of us point fingers at the governments of the Caribbean and their failure to protect workers as the main reason why migrants endure abuse in Canada. Yes, the Caribbean

Migrant farm workers

governments continue to fail farm workers but our focus should be pressuring both the governments of Ontario and Canada to make changes in Canada.

Current and former migrant workers are taking it upon themselves to demand fairness. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with them for undertaking the ultimate David-and-Goliath battles. 

Over the last few months here are some of the many ways workers are standing up. On June1 last, injured workers came together to demand an end to a workers’ compensation system that is punitive and adds further insult to injury. In Toronto, dozens of workers and their allies rallied outside the offices of the province’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) to demand substantial reforms.

Speaker after speaker, condemned the system as cruel and inhumane to injured workers. Injured migrants were front and centre with farm workers ‘Al’ and ‘Wayne’ addressing the crowd on the specific ways injured migrants are discriminated against by Ontario’s multibillion dollar workers’ compensation system. Both Al and Wayne spoke with passion about the often forgotten plight of workers from the Caribbean. It was clear from all those present that injured migrants are demanding that their voices must be heard and protections must be enacted to protect, not punish, them because of their status as migrant labourers.

Migrant farm workers

Later in June, a group of 30 former and current farm workers and allies came together in Leamington, Ontario to organize a solidarity caravan with the region’s farm workers. The caravan visited multiple workplaces to commemorate workplace tragedies and celebrate worker-led struggles. Here too, we heard of the efforts of workers who collectively came together to fight back against the use of dangerous chemicals, both in their workplace and their bunk houses. Wildcats and sickouts were celebrated. Allies were introduced to the protagonists of these struggles, migrant activists who risked their livelihoods all in the name of creating change for themselves and those yet to come. Caravan participants were introduced to comrades such as Herby, Shawn, Maurice and many others who continue to fight against and WIN against all odds.

I’m also thinking of two mushroom workers who were employed in Ontario. One worker won a wrongful termination case and another tragically died in 2020. Both were fighting against wage theft.  For the worker who passed, her family is demanding that terminally ill workers receive termination pay. The other is attempting to fight to ensure all harvesters like him are entitled to holiday pay. Neither’s fight is for huge sums of money, but if successful, will have a significant impact on the lives of thousands of low-wage workers across Ontario.

Just this past week, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) did not mince words when they found that the Ontario Provincial Police discriminated against a group of 54 workers during a DNA sweep conducted near Tilsonburg, Ontario in 2013. This is an example of workers organizing together under the principle of ‘strength in numbers’ to address both racial profiling and the vulnerability inherent in Canada’s state-managed migration schemes. Their courage and patience to demand justice should be celebrated by our community. 

Whether it’s large public actions or everyday acts of resistance where workers sow seeds of resistance at work, to the Los Indignados, we should stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers as they fight to transform their lives and our food system one small step at a time. This system of indentured labour will be dismantled by the brave actions of all of these mentioned in this column.

It is now up to the rest of us. Will we stand on the sidelines while workers fight for freedom and liberation? Or will we act as allies to dismantle this legacy of both slavery and indentured labour in our own backyard?

Chris Ramsaroop is an organizer for Justice For Migrant Workers.