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Immigrant Workers in Canadian History

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Canadian labour history is tainted by hatred, discrimination and fear of immigrant workers and immigration. This stems in part from Government sponsored racism and the capitalistic use of immigration as a means to defy the labour movement. We can start with the stereotyping and discrimination of the Irish in the 1840’s, our first large scale exploitable labour pool and move right through to today’s racial profiling and cultural unacceptance of Arabs and east Indians. Through our history the acceptance of immigrants gradually improve but even today we haven’t achieved an acceptable level of tolerance. Were not perfect but we eventually seem to learn from the mistakes of our past. After Mackenzie King and into the sixties government supported racism through our immigration department seemed on the decline. With the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms Act being signed into the constitution we took a huge leap forward. However, this doesn’t erase a past full of discrimination and exploitation of immigrants by government, employers and labour. In Canadian history immigrant workers have been racially stereotyped, discriminated against and subjected to differing levels of acceptance within Canadian culture and the working class society. Immigrant workers found themselves in varying levels of distress upon arrival to Canada, being exploited by employers, shunned by labour and oppressed as second class citizens by government. This may be considered a product of the times but the slow, gradual change to tolerance is unacceptable, and not the image Canada wants to project to the rest of the world. The exploitation of immigrants started long before the first industrial revolution but when land became less accessible around the early to mid 1800s a pool of labour began to appear. In the 1830s and 1840s Irish immigrants fleeing famine in their homeland of southern Ireland, or unemployment and poverty south of the boarder in America, became Canada’s first large scale pool of labour. These immigrants are leaving one bad situation for another in Upper Canada. With little or no chance of securing land without capital they descended on Welland and other areas to try and secure employment on the canals being constructed as public works projects in Upper and Lower Canada. These Irish workers are split into two groups the Cork and Connaught who fight each other and anyone else for the few low paying jobs that are available to them. As Ruth Bleasdale states “armed conflict between the fractions could reduce the canal areas to virtual war zones for weeks on end” (Ruth Bleasdale 1981 p.115). They are also engaged in a constant battle with contractors; strikes occur over the number of jobs, hours worked and wages paid (Ruth Bleasdale 1981 p115). This type of violence and unruly behavior reinforces the developing stereotype of Irish immigrants. They are seen as violent, irrational and unstable with little self control. Government officials and contractors invoked this stereotype to try and explain the desperate and violent situation along the canals. As one contractor put it, “They are a turbulent and discontented people that nothing can satisfy for any length of time, and who never will be kept to work peaceably unless overawed by some force for which they have respect” (Ruth Bleasdale 1981 p.107). When the government failed to suppress labour unrest and to prevent successful strike action on the Welland canal, officials and contractors used racial stereotyping and the Irish’s unruly behaviour to explain the desperate situation along the canals. They completely ignored the role government and contractors played in promoting the labour unrest and class dissention along the canals. The more accurate reasoning in determining the cause of the issue is stated by David Thorburn Magistrate for the Niagara District “The first moving cause that excites to the trouble is the want of work…” (Ruth Bleasdale 1981 p.115). The government’s inability to act on this underlying issue left the Irish in a deplorable situation. They are racially stereotyped and exploited with limited job opportunities and little chance of success as immigrants in Canada (Ruth Bleasdale 1981 p107,115). The contrasting positions of government, employers and labour, on immigration, are revealed in the recruitment and treatment of Chinese immigrants upon their arrival to Canada. In the late 1800s employers like CPR and other railways recruited Chinese labours, through immigration, as a cheap source of labour and a means of controlling the labour movement. Chinese workers were paid as low as one half the wages of unskilled white workers and given the most dangerous jobs (Gillian Creese 1988-1989 p28). When railway construction entered the Rockies the Chinese were given the perilous task of placing nitro and dynamite to blow tunnels through the rock. Andrew Onderdonk, a railway contractor said “six Chinese were killed for every mile of track laid” (Will Ferguson, 2005 p244). The government initially allowed mass immigration of Chinese to satisfy employers and their demand for cheap dispensable labour to finish railways and other projects. In response to public outcry in the late 1800s and early 1900s the government placed citizenship restriction on Chinese immigrants. In the 1870s the Government of British Columbia denies Chinese immigrant and First nation people the right to vote or work on provincially funded construction projects. In 1985 the federal government introduces a Chinese head tax of $50 per person entering Canada; the tax is increased to $500 in 1903. The Chinese exclusion from Canada continues in 1923 when the Chinese Immigration Act prohibits Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. The Chinese do not receive the right to vote federally until 1947 and they wait two years longer to vote in British Columbia (Emily Chan 1997 p1,2,3). The government needs to take a great deal of the blame for the degradation and racial exclusion of the Chinese people. They are denied political rights, restricted from job opportunities and limited by immigration laws. The government by supporting and promoting the racism of the Chinese people are creating a second class citizen. The Chinese are separated not only by language, culture, and appearance, but also by segregation, racism and exclusion by all three levels of Government (Gillian Creese 1988-1989 p28,29). Labour on the west coast, particularly British Columbia is incensed by the influx of unskilled Chinese workers and employers use of them. They blame the Chinese for steeling jobs, lowering wages and impeding the progress of the labour movement. In 1889 the Vancouver Trade and Labour Council (VTLC) is founded and becomes the center of the Vancouver labour movement; thus activists in a working class anti-Asian campaign. The VTLC lobbied for tax concessions for companies willing to implement an all white hiring policy, an increase of the Chinese head tax to $500 from $50, and a law against white women working with Asian men. These are just a few of the anti-Asian stances created by the VTLC and labour in British Columbia (Gillian Creese 1988-1989 p30,31). Asians are considered foreigners who are lowering the standard of living of white workers and thus excluded from membership in trade unions. When a group of upper class women, in need of servants, started a petition to repeal the $500 Chinese head tax part of the VTLC’s response shows the deep rooted racial concern of the Chinese; “It is, we think, absurd that the working class of Canada should run the risk of having its standard of living degraded to the level of a Chinese coolie merely to gratify the whim of an aristocratic lady for a Chinese servant” (Gillian Creese 1988-1989 p33). The escalation of the Asian problem brought citizens of British Columbia to form the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) in 1907. They in turn organized an anti Asian parade which quickly escalated into a riot causing extensive damage in China Town and the Japanese quarters. The AEL continued the attack on Asians well into the 1920’s when they successfully lobbied for the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 which prohibited Chinese immigration into Canada (Janet Dench Canadian Council for Refugees p2,6). From 1996 to 1914 Canada’s population increased by more than 34%, partly due to an immigration campaign organized by Clifford Sifton the Minister of interior from 1896 to 1905. Although his policy is an attempt to recruit immigrant farmers to settle in western Canada, exceptions are often made to accommodate an expanding business community and their need of labourers. The need for railway and farm labourers propelled immigration and business into an elaborate scheme of under the counter payments, and kickbacks. Agents and organizations recruited immigrants for a particular company or sector of society. The agents acquired immigrants from all over Europe and organized their transportation and employment. By 1900 companies in Britain and Europe had thousands of agents circulating most of the European continent advertising employment and other opportunities in North America. What started as preferred immigration from Britain, Central and Northern Europe eventually moved to the East and finally to the South. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of where to find the best immigrants to populate Canada. Sifton realized that Eastern Europeans were better suited than British citizens to farm the Canadian west. Capitalist corporations found Southern European and Asian immigrants more tolerant of exploitation. Labour on the other hand, prefers strong minded British immigrants who are union trained and know how to deal with capitalism (Avery 1995 p23-27). Sifton’s goal of bring in farmers to settle the West is expanded by large companies like CNR attempting to lower wages, break strikes and hinder the labour movement. A statement by Edmond Kirby of the War Eagle Mine indicates the companies need for Southern European immigrants “How to head off a strike of muckers or labourers for higher wages without the aid of Italian labour I do not know” (Avery 1995 p. 35). Labour protests that Italian immigrants being used as strike breakers is a violation of the Alien Labour Act, but the complaints fall on deaf ears and the Act is again proven to be ineffective (Avery 1995 p.37). The 1907 Austrian council-general’s complaint to Ottawa of Austrian national’s treatment at the hands of a labour agency operating out of Montreal is a perfect example of the corporate abuse of Canada’s immigration system. Hundreds of Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian immigrant workers signed contracts with the Davis & Nagel Co for employment on the Northern Ontario Railway. Most men are broke upon arrival, having spent their money on inflated labour agency fees and kickbacks to agents. They were not reimbursed travel expenses as promised, and prevented from leaving the camp by Forman using intimidation and firearms. If anyone escaped from the camp they were hunted down by specials, with assistance of local police, and brought back to the job site. Under the guise of economic growth, Canadian immigration between 1896 and 1914 pandered to the countries large capitalist corporations (Avery 1995 p.39). Immigrants in Canada did not come through the war unscathed by any means. Under the War Measures Act “enemy aliens” were subject to restrictions and had to register themselves. Over the course of the war 8000 to 9000 were interned in 24 different camps across Canada. The Immigration Act of 1906 that allowed for the deportation of non-Canadian citizens who advocated violence, caused riots or public disorder, was used extensively during the war years. The IWW and other socialist groups were declared illegal, and Finnish, Russian, Ukraine, Hungary, and German Publications were banned by Order of Council. Immigration officials use any means possible to deport IWW members. It appears that the government took advantage of the public fear of both enemy aliens, and the Bolshevik menace to cleanse the labour movement of its radical element. Apparently war can do a lot more damage to a country than is seen on the surface (Janet Dench Canadian Council for Refugees p4). A fear of the enemy alien during the war spread throughout work places all across Canada. Workers from Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria were terminated for patriotic reasons. In some cases employees demanded the termination of co-workers simply for being descendents of the enemy. The internment and alienation of the “enemy alien” lasted throughout the war but was concentrated mostly from 1914 to 1916. At this point labour shortages emptied most of the interment camps (Avery, 1979 p71). In the short history of Canada, nativism never simply goes away; it just bounces from one group to another. This is the case in WW1 as the “enemy alien” is replaced by the Bolshevik menace and the fear of labour revolution. Germans and Hungarians are replaced by Russians and Ukrainians as the dangerous immigrants by the end of the war. As Ukrainian socialist are quick to figure out, one week you’re deporting Germans, the next week their deporting you. The government and employers took full advantage of the situation using nativism (exploitation and discrimination of other races), patriotism and deportation to divide the workforces and weaken unions (Fudge and tucker, 2001 p100-103). In looking for a means to end disputes, and rid the country of the ever increasing radical labour movement, the government created two more orders in council. PC 2381 banning enemy language publications, and PC 2384 making it illegal to speak in favor of the enemy or possess their literature proscribing unlawful association. The problem with PC 2384 is the description of radical groups associated with Russia Ukraine, IWW, China and social democratic party, none of which we are at war with (Fudge and Tucker, 2001 p100). At the end of the war immigrants workers and women are often dismissed from jobs in an effort to create employment for returning veterans. This is summed up in quote from Breaking Prairie Sod, Chapter XII, Why The Hun Should Be Sent Home;
“How the heroic British-Canadian returns from cleaning up Central Europe, broken in health, with a pittance of a pension, and not a foot of land to his name to find the Austro-Hun, brother of the creature he has just been fighting, on his Canadian heritage. Here is a displacement any sane man can see is wrong. How would you make the matter right? Just send the Hun home, and let the Canadian soldier in” (Bridgman, Wellington, 1920 p179).

The Citizens Committee of 1000 ran a fear campaign during the Winnipeg strike of 1919. Excerpts from a newspaper add placed in the Winnipeg Telegram on June 6, 1919 shows their position on immigrant workers “If there is unemployment in our midst, it must be the undesirable alien and not our own returning soldiers who walk the streets…Choose between the soldiers who are protecting you and the aliens who have threatened you” (J. M. Bumsted 1994 p29). Immigration slowed down for a 10 year period during the war and after the Winnipeg strike. It didn’t rise again until the mid to late 1920’s as the economy picked up and companies like the railways need more exploitable labour from Europe. However this was short lived as the depression took hold. In March 1931, Order in Council P.C.695 was adopted, restricting immigration to American citizens, British subjects, and agriculturalists with economic means. The great depression meant the end of the line for a lot of immigrants. Deportations of immigrants who, for lack of employment opportunities, became public charges increased to a total of 16,765 from 1930 to 1934. In 1932 the “red raid” gathered up left wing leaders from across Canada and interned them in Halifax. Despite public protest and one being a Canadian citizen by birth, they were deported (Janet Dench Canadian Council for Refugees p7,8). Mackenzie King’s memo to the Department of External Affairs and Mine Resources in 1938 shows his stance on admitting Jewish refugees into Canada “We do not want to take to many Jews, but in the circumstances, we do not want to say so…” (Janet Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees p.9). In 1939 a ship from Germany caring 930 Jewish refugees arrives in Canada. Despite protests from the Toronto business community they are refused entry into Canada or any other country in the Americas. The ship is subsequently forced to return to Europe where more than half the Jews aboard are killed at the hands of the Nazis (Janet Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees p9). Canada put up a virtual blockade during WWII in an attempt to keep Jewish refugees out of the country. Taking in a small number, but not without complaint from Mackenzie King, who in expressing his concern stated “to keep this part of the continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood”, apparently this meant Jewish blood (Will Ferguson 2005 p231). War always seems to bring out the worst in us, and WWII is no exception. After the attack on Pearl Harbor we rounded up most of the Japanese in British Columbia, (75% of whom were Canadian Nationals) and sent them to relocation camps. With only 24 hours notice they were carted off and their belongings sold at auctions for government profit (Jennifer Baker diversity watch We can not blame all this on the war, the government unsuccessfully attempted to deport 10,000 Japanese as late as 1947. 4000 Japanese were deported by the time Mackenzie king bowed to public pressure and gave up the fight. Of the 4000 deported half were Canadian-born citizens and a third were children under the age of 16 who couldn’t even speak Japanese (Will Ferguson 2005 p332). Politicians can’t take all the blame either, they are just responding to the will of the people. Thankfully, not all the people, there were always protests along the way, just not enough of them. Ironically a Canadian, John Humphries, in his role as director of the United Nations Human Rights division, was instrumental in creating the Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. in 1948. We have come along way in the last 50 years, but if you ask any doctor or engineer driving a taxi cab in Toronto, we still have a long ways to go. There are always more steps to take towards greater tolerance and understanding of other races and religions. Our latest challenge is the stereotyping of the Muslims from the Middle East. Their religious practices don’t always mesh well in our society, how we will handle this is yet to be seen. My question is how did we get to this point, and why do we expect all other nation to change at the same rate that we did? Countries were concerned about like China, Iran and Somalia may be heading in our direction, but just a few steps behind us. A look at our past may lessen the shock, and create a greater understanding of some of the atrocities we see in other countries around the world.


Class Conflict on the Canals of Upper Canada in the 1840’s Ruth Bleasdalein labour/Le Travailleur, Vol. 7 Spring 1981 p115,107

Exclusion or Solidarity? Vancouver Workers Confront the Oriental Problem Gillian Creese in BC Studies, Vol. 80 Winter 1988-1989 p28,29,30,31,33

Canadian History J. Wiley and Son, Will Ferguson, 2005 p231,244,331,332
Emily Chan, Moments of Chinese Canadian History, 1997 p1,2,3

Janet Dench, A hundred years of Immigration to Canada 1900-1999 Canadian Council for Refugees p2,4,6,7,8,9

Reluctant Host: Canada’s Response to Immigration Workers, 1896-1994,Donald Avery Toronto; McClelland and Stewart 1995 p23-27,37,39

Dangerous Foreigner, Donald Avery McClelland and Stewart , 1979 p71

Labour Before The Law, Fudge and Tucker, Oxford University press Canada 2001 p100,103
Breaking Prairie Sod, Bridgman, Wellington,1920 p179

1919 Winnipeg General Strike Reconsidered, J. M. Bumsted The Beaver Exploring Canada’s History, Vol. 74, No. 3 1994 p29

Jennifer Baker, diversity watch

. .…...

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...Major General James P. Wolfe was a British Army officer, known for his training reforms but remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Canada. James Wolfe was born in England into a military family. Both his father and grandfather were officers in the army. From an early age he was determined to have a military career. Wolfe joined his father’s regiment at age 14. He transferred to the army the next year and saw service in Germany, the Netherlands, and Scotland. By 23, Wolfe was a colonel. He earned a reputation as a leader and trainer of soldiers. He was a superb battleground commander. After his heroism at Louisbourg, Prime Minister Pitt made the young ambitious Wolfe the commander of the Québec expedition. Born January 2, 1727 (Westham, Kent, England) Died September 13th, 1759 (Quebec) (Aged 32) Rank: Major General Years of Service: 1740- 13th, September 1759 Allegiance: Great Britain Service/Branch: British Army Commands held: 20th Regiment of foot Battles/Wars: War of Austrian Succession 1740-1748 - Battle of Dettingen (1743) - Battle of Lauffield (1747) Jacobite uprising 1688-1746 - Battle of Falkirk (1746) - Battle of Culloden (1746) Seven Year War 1756-1763 - Raid on Rochefort (1757) - Siege of Louisbourg (1758) - Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759) As Wolfe lay dying on the......

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Canadian Labour History

...waged labour was not only done by men, but also by the women and children. (Bittermann,pg.19) These farmers were drawn to work for other larger, more prosperous farms instead of other trades such as shipbuilding or the timber trade, due to these trades "permitting less flexibility" in their schedules and leaving them unable to focus on their own farms. (Bittermann,pg.18) The article brings to our attention that due to the amount of funding necessary to acquire the land, time needed to prepare it for planting and the time that the farmers had to wait for the fields to yield crops on a larger scale some farm households remained dependant upon wage labour to meet the basic necessities of life. Self-sufficiency was dependant upon the immigrants "circumstances upon arrival, the natural resources of their farm properties, the annual returns that could be made from wage work, and the level of commitment to acquire a self-sustaining operation." (Bittermann, pg. 6) Many of the family households in the colony had developed less than 5 acres despite actually farming there for as long as 20 years. (Bittermann, pg. 7) According to Bitterman, the farmers believed that the "goals of autonomy and independence might best be achieved by securing a land based livelihood" (Bittermann,pg.23). They saw their land as their path to self-reliance. Due to poor farming yields, a farm that was almost self-sufficient may become thrust into reliance upon wage labour due to a poor harvest......

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...just reasons completely. In sociopolitical scopes their rights are not as favorable as we thought, because it is simple fact of being immigrants makes vulnerable people in a country where it is very difficult to exceed the social adversities: economic and of the security towards these. It is surroundings where although it is known to act is arrived far and, when not, they’re held to external phenomenon headed directly to the vulnerability of the Hispanic immigrants. Introduction In this paper are shown phenomenoes of the new life and traditions of the Hispanic people in the USA. The evolution of their way of being and also their economic situation. Labour life has become in their unique way of life, and also the violation of their own human and citizen rights. Also is showed the tensions of the USA - Mexico border and how it affects to the way of life of immigrant and American citizen. The transformation of a new society composed by American and Hispanic citizens, and the coexistence between them. Although the fact of being an immigrant doesn’t matters in their own way of life, they need to have a special identity and a circle of relationships, that in most cases are from the similar origin. So it’s the way of being and identity in the USA, a strange environment. Historical Background Inevitably, there is great rivalry in history between Mexico and the United States, specifically (mora tan other Latin american countries). Existence since the beginnings of......

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