The Founding Assembly of the International Migrants Alliance - an important landmark in the fight for immigrant rights.

Migrant justice groups from all over the world, including Canada, participated in the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance held in Hong Kong this summer, from June 14-17. The objective of this assembly was to build the solidarity and unity of the global working class against a global imperialist regime. It was a call to migrant rights groups from all over the world to come together in unity and forge alliances.

According to Irene Fernandez, keynote speaker at the IMA “we are fighting for a world where no-one is forced to migrate but at the same time everyone should have the right to move freely.” Her statement refers to the dual situation of oppression faced by migrants. They are fleeing political and economic marginalization in their countries of origin and then face restrictive immigration laws in the countries where they seek refuge.

The participating groups from Canada included representatives of a variety of groups working either directly or indirectly with migrants workers, immigrants and refugees. Their purpose in attending this assembly was to add the concerns of migrants in Canada to the hundreds of thousands across the world in order to develop a common basis of unity for collective action. Specifically, the delegates of Canada presented the situation of live-in caregivers and temporary migrant farm workers in Canada as well the effects of anti-terror legislation on migrants and immigrants.

The assembly began with an acknowledgement and examination of the global context of migration. Migration has become a business and governments are signing bilateral agreements that allow them to trade migrants as workers. The international financial institutions invent policies like the GATTS mode 4 to exploit the potential of cheap labour and at the same time set the conditions that will manage and police the flow of labour from the South to the North.

In receiving countries migrants face exploitation, and violation of their basic human rights. On top of that they are the first to be targeted under the anti-terror legislation.

For example, according to activists from the US, Latino migrant workers are facing horrible working conditions and exploitation. Added to that is the anti-terror sweep under ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) which is carrying out raids on undocumented migrants at an unprecedented pace and deporting them.

“They don’t really want to deport us and keep us out, they just want to control our movements and limit our rights so that we do not demand more. A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants hostage” says Teresa Gutierrez of the May 1st Coalition from the United States.

In Canada, immigrants have been targeted under the repressive Security Certificates and held in detention indefinitely and without charge. Activists from Canada detailed the repressive immigration security measures used by the Canadian government to implement a two-tiered justice system, one for citizens and another for non-citizens.

Thus the war on terror has given another layer of control to governments to further police migration. From South Korea to Australia, from Germany to Canada, migrants talked about the effects of the so-called anti-terror sweep on their lives.

In the sending countries, like Philippines and Indonesia, social and economic living conditions are worsening and there is a withdrawal of governments from social spending on health and education. There is increasing privatization and foreign investment, which has led to less not more jobs. Rising unemployment leads people to leave their homes to search for a better life, for survival. Governments use this vulnerability to exploit them for profit and cheap labour. A rising trend is the emphasis on remittances from foreign workers as a way to spur development in the home country. According to Sonny Africa from IBON (a global research foundation based in the Philippines), this is a myth since most of this money is used in consumption and international debt repayment rather than in any national social investment. “The so-called myth of remittances is used to cover up severe economic failures domestically” says Sonny.

In South Korea, there has been a massive crackdown on undocumented workers. Migrant justice groups from there recounted how migrant workers are attempting to unionize and are being prevented to do so and threatened with deportation. This is because the undocumented do not have the right of ‘free association.’ Migrant rights groups are fighting for them to gain this right. There have been similar crackdowns on migrant workers in Taiwan and Japan.

The setting of the assembly, Hong Kong, was a significant backdrop to the issues being discussed, as far as migration is concerned. Hong Kong has a large migrant worker population. These migrants work as domestic helpers, construction workers, cooks, waiters etc. They are largely employed in the service industry. Domestic workers, specially, face extremely exploitative working conditions. They are exclusively female and an overwhelming majority are imported from the Philippines and Indonesia. The strong presence of these workers at the assembly brought home the real face of global migration to the participants. These workers also gave cause for hope and inspiration in the migrant struggle as they presented their successes in organizing and fighting for their rights. There are a number of migrant justice groups in Hong Kong, the largest being the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants who have over the years achieved major gains in obtaining rights for migrants. These groups were largely responsible for the organization of the assembly as well.

The assembly concluded with a recognition of the pressing need for linkages and alliances between migrants from all over the world. Since migration is global, so the alliance should be global. These links are already beginning to form. For example, workers who are deported from South Korea and Taiwan, because of involvement in organizing, are going back to their home countries in Nepal and Bangladesh, for example, and starting to organize there. Participants in the assembly acknowledged the need for there to be some kind of an awareness campaign for potential migrant workers before they leave their countries of origin to warn them about the conditions they can face in the receiving countries. Migrant workers also need to be linked with migrant justice groups in receiving countries either before they leave their countries or as soon as they arrive. This kind of support for migrants is only possible through global networking of migrant justice groups from around the world. The assembly was a step in this direction and hopefully will continue to serve as a strong platform from which to launch migrant struggles and campaigns around the world.

Sarwat Viqar, Montreal, July 12, 2008

*Sarwat Viqar is a teacher at John Abbott College in Montréal, Québec. She is a member of the centre d'appui aux Philippines - Centre for Philippine Concerns and served as a commissioner on the People's Commission on Immigration Security Measures.


When Push Comes to Shove: Demanding Justice for the Former Lamour Workers!

Rally in support of former Lamour Inc. workers in Montréal, Québec

Monday July 14, 2008
35 Port-Royal East

Statement of the Filipino Workers Support Group (FWSG)

Montréal, Québec -- On Monday, July 14th a group of former textile workers will present themselves at a hearing with the Quebec Labour Relations. The workers are charging that the union that was in place in their former work place Lamour Inc. was a management run union and misrepresented them at a time when the company was closing its factory in Montreal and moving operations to places like China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. The workers demands are simple, force the union to file their complaints to the Quebec Labour Standards Commission for just compensation. After years of toiling for the company they deserve more than just a dismissal notice.

Most of the group of workers stepping forward to fight come from the Philippines and were spouses of former domestic workers who sponsored them to come to Canada. They worked in foreign owned companies when they lived in the Philippines and know a thing or two about how monopoly corporations operate in the third world. Their unions were banned, their actions suppressed and their job security was thrown out the door as their permanent positions were replaced with “flexible” labour through contracting and seasonal work. This was the legacy of years of implementing the so called “neo-liberal” policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation in their country.

Many Filipinos leaving to work abroad have come from the small villages in the vast countryside of the Philippines. Families sell off the little land they have left and incur huge personal debts so that they can send their wives, daughters and mothers to work as live-in slaves in foreign lands. Other families send off their husbands, sons and fathers to work in the oil fields or in construction in the Middle East or as modern day galley slaves on the ships that transport the goods of a “globalized” world.

The present Arroyo regime is expected to paint a rosy picture of the Philippine economy and social progress during her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28. She is expected to deny the continuing human rights violations under her regime, ignore the presence of food insecurity and hail the Philippine economy and state as stronger than ever. Her SONA will try to belie the fact that thousands of migrants leave the Philippines each day, forced to migrate by the economic hardship and a corrupt regime hell bent on suppressing dissent and tagging workers strikes and other democratic actions of the people as “terrorist” acts. It is a move to appease foreign monopolies operating in the Philippines, ensure “labour peace” in export processing zones and to keep secure the interests of her US imperialist master in the region.

Thousands of miles from their country of birth and for some more than ten years since they arrived in their new home the Filipino workers now face the same exploitative conditions and suppression of their rights that they thought they had escaped. Now wiser and together with other immigrant workers originally coming from India, Bangladesh and Haiti they will take their stand on Monday. Pushed out of their homeland and shoved out of their jobs, they are beginning to realize that they have nothing left to lose but their chains.

On Monday, the former workers of Lamour Inc. will face off with the high priced lawyers of the company and the fake union, will endure the intimidation tactics during the hearing and will expose the realities and impacts of a dying industry in Montreal. Imperialist globalization is not the answer to the poverty and misery of the workers of the world.

The Filipino Workers Support Group of Montreal is calling friends and allies to come out on Monday in front of the Labour Relations building. Join us in a rally to support the workers and demand, “Justice for the former workers of Lamour! Down with imperialist globalization! Imperyalismo ibagsak!”

The Filipino Workers Support Group is a member of Migrante International, Bayan Canada Organizing Committee and the International League of People’s Struggle.


Montreal delegation attends IMA and ILPS in Hong Kong

Members of the Centre d'appui aux Philippines - Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP-CPC) in Montreal have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong. As part of a large Canadian delegation, we attended the founding assembly of the International Migrant Alliance (IMA) June 15-16, 2008 followed by the Third International Assembly (TIA) of the International League of People's Struggle (ILPS) June 18-20. Both events were held at the ocean-side Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong and brought together hundreds of delegates from around the globe. It was a very rainy but stimulating and exciting week, shared with many friends.

CAP-CPC members worked hard over many months to help organize a 10-person delegation from Montréal to attend the IMA -- part of the 17-member Canadian group. Delegates raised their own money for the expensive plane tickets but very reasonable registration fees, only $150 US for the two-day conference, including room and board at the YMCA. Everyone agreed that the money and the hours in the plane to Hong Kong were well worth it to join one hundred and sixty seven delegates representing 118 organizations from 25 countries who participated in this founding assembly. Hundreds of migrants working in Hong Kong, including many from the Indonesian and Filipino communities, also attended the event as observers on the opening Sunday, the only day off work for many.

The Montreal delegation to the IMA was made up of myself, Malcolm Guy, and Sarwat Viqar from the CAP-CPC, Jennifer Chew and Sadeqa Siddiqui of the South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC), Josephine Calugay from the Philippine Women's organization of Québec (PINAY), Adrienne Gibson of the Comité d'appui aux travailleurs et travailleuses agricoles (CATTA) , Tess Tesalona from the Centre des travailleuses et travailleurs immigrants - Immigrant Workers' Centre (CTI-IWC), Marie Boti for Women of Diverse Origins for March 8 (WDO) and Rita Acosta of the Mouvement contre le viol et l'inceste (MCVI). CAP-CPC member, Aziz Choudry, now living and teaching in Montreal, represented GATT Watchdog. Also attending from Canada were representatives from Migrante Ontario, Philippines-Canada Solidarity for Human Rights, Vancouver Bus Riders Association and Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada (Vancouver) and Pilipinong Migrante sa Canada (Ottawa).

Mostafa Henaway from the CTI-IWC and Ricardo Astudillo from the Bolivarien Society of Québec took part in preparations but were not able to attend at the last minute.

The Montreal delegation were housed in a four-bedroom chalet at the YMCA with some U.S. and Filipino friends, soon purchasing a kettle so we could prepare desperately needed coffee and tea to start the day. The next three days were very intense, including many discussions and caucuses, while participating in a truly historic event to found the first-ever global alliance of grassroots associations, organizations, unions, networks and alliances of migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and displaced peoples.

The conference opened with an emotional opening film (available on-line – http://ima-2008.blogspot.com) followed by a remarkable keynote speech by Dr. Irene Fernandez from Tenaganita (Women’s Force) in Malaysia. Fernandez, who has faced imprisonment and harassment at the hands of Malaysian authorities because of her work to defend migrants, explained the global context of migration and how it has changed and been shaped by developments of the global capitalist system, leading to increased forced migration, especially of women.

She also took note of the apparent debate over the right to migrate versus the right of people to oppose displacement. She said that such was a false debate imposed by people with a superficial understanding of what it means to be a migrant. “Free movement and the right not to be displaced are two essential elements to the assertion of collective and individual self-determination,” Fernandez explained.

Dr. Fernandez congratulated all the delegates of the IMA as she also called for revolutionary changes “to break these chains of global exploitation and oppression.” Her address was followed over the next two days by information-packed panels and workshops.

Aziz Choudry took part in the panel on Wages, Job Security, Remittances and GATS Mode-4 and Sarwat Viqar in the panel on the War on Terror, Immigration and Refugees and the Criminalization of Undocumented Migrants, focusing particularly on the impact of Security Certificates in Canada.

The Montreal delegation's presentation on solidarity night, where everyone is expected to participate, made up in enthusiasm and political sharpness for a lack of preparation as well as acting talent. But how good some of the other countries were! The presentation from Japan, for example, depicting the lives of Filipina bar hostesses, revealed in a few hilarious skits the serious reality of women migrants in that country.

Sol Pajadura of Migrante-Ontario was chosen by our regional caucus to be the Canadian representative on the International Coordinating Body (ICB), the leading 17-member body of the IMA. Tess Tesalona of Immigrant Workers Center was elected member-at-large for the ICB and was then chosen Treasurer of the ICB's executive committee. Congratulations to both, they have a lot of work to do and will need our help.

A twenty-seven year old migrant worker from Indonesia, Eni Lestari of the Asian Migrant’s Coordinating Body (AMCB), was elected chairperson of the executive committee. She summed up the founding of the IMA: “For a long time, others spoke on our behalf. Now we speak for ourselves.”

International League of Peoples Struggle

After a one-day conference on Women and War organized by the Asia Pacific Research Network we headed into the Third International Assembly (TIA) of the ILPS, a global network uniting anti-imperialist peoples and mass organizations founded in 2001.

Most of our delegation from Montreal, as well as delegates from Vancouver and Toronto, stayed for the TIA. Sarwat, Rita, Marie, Malcolm, Tess T, Josephine and Aziz from Montreal were joined by Joey Calugay, representing the Immigrant Workers Centre (CTI-IWC). Two hundred sixty-five (265) participants representing 165 peoples’ organizations from 30 countries attended the assembly. Conference registration costs along with room and board at the same YMCA (the food was better this time around) came to US $250.

Highlights of the first day included the opening chorale singing of the ILPS hymn written by a talented friend, Danny Fabela. The refrain goes: Let us break the chain of oppression, Defeat the wars of aggression, With every stride, with every fight, We shall change the world, With every stride, with every fight, We shall change the world. Poet Varavara Rao was not permitted by the Indian authorities to attend the conference, so his keynote speech was read by GN Saibaba, deputy General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) of India. ILPS chairperson Jose Maria Sison presented his report via the internet to the appreciative audience. Joma would actively participate thanks to the internet in TIA events over the next three days.

The afternoon session included speeches by ILPS Deputy Chairperson Manilis Arkolakis, Wahu Kaara from Kenya on African People's Resistance to Imperialist Globalization, and a speech written by Rep. Crispin "Ka Bel" Beltran was read by Elmer C. Labog, chairperson of the militant KMU labour organization in the Philippines. The much beloved and respected Beltran, founding chairperson of the ILPS who passed away suddenly on May 20, 2008, was remembered with a tribute speech from ILPS Chairperson Jose Maria Sison and the showing of the film “Ka Bel”. We all felt very close to Ka Bel, especially since he recently visited us in Montreal as part of a cross-Canada tour of Philippine Parliamentarians.

A special forum on China was held the first evening. At the same time Marie and Malcolm organized an evening of film screenings featuring anti-imperialist films from Canada, Burma, Philippines and elsewhere. The event entitled "Using Video for People's Struggles" was well appreciated by participants and continued on the evening of June 19.

Day Two focussed on workshop sessions around the 18 concerns of the ILPS. Montreal delegates participated in the workshops on culture, women, migrants, workers, indigenous struggles, health, teachers and national liberation. The evening featured a special forum on Displacement.

The main activities on Day 3 included reports from the workshops. Our report from the cultural workshop (ILPS Concern No. 14) was roundly applauded since it was delivered in song, musical instruments and collective voices.

The afternoon session focussed on the elections for the leading body of the ILPS, the International Coordinating Committee (ICC). Aziz Choudry and Malcolm Guy from Montreal were elected to the ICC (made up of 27 regular members and 8 alternate members). Malcolm was subsequently elected as Auditor on the International Coordinating Group, which will coordinate activities of the ILPS between meetings of the ICC.

The Assembly ended with a Solidarity night where Canadian delegates dedicated our presentation to Canadian internationalist Norman Bethune, who gave his life in the struggle to liberate the people of China.

Such a short report on the ILPS TIA cannot do justice to the richness of the presentations, discussions and exchanges that occurred during these three days. How often do hundreds of dedicated anti-imperialist activists from around the world meet together for three days to discuss tactics and strategy and plan campaigns?

We were very impressed with the organization of both conferences but one aspect that Montreal delegates felt could be improved was the use of more than only English as the official working language, and encouraging people to speak in their mother tongue. This could serve to draw in more delegates from Latin America, for example. Kudos to the Turkish, Chinese, and Japanese interpreters for serving their delegations so well. There is a clear consensus about the need for more delegates from Central and South America as well as Africa in both IMA and ILPS, and we began discussions on how we could help that process here in Canada.

For those lucky enough to stay on after the TIA, activists from Hong Kong invited us on Sunday, June 21 to a day-long exposure in the central squares of downtown Hong Kong. Since Sunday is the only day off for many of the domestic helpers and other migrants, thousands gather in the squares, streets and parks in the centre of town to eat together, sing karaoke, cut hair, perform manicures and exchange stories. We were offered a delicious picnic lunch by women migrants in Chator Gardens.

We then participated in a forum on the impact of mining companies in the Philippines (including Canadian companies like TVI and Olympus) and ended the day with a fund-raising karaoke party at the Philippine Independent Church, where Marie, Malcolm, Sarwat and Tess performed Fernando, explaining the revolutionary background of this song popularized by ABBA. Everyone was soon up off their seats and dancing and swaying to our enthusiastic, if off-key, rendition. It was a wonderful way to end the week in the company of many of the migrant workers we had met earlier during the founding of the IMA.

Malcolm Guy
Montréal, July 6, 2008


Press Communique on the Third International Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS)

By the ILPS International Coordinating Committee
June 21, 2008

The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) successfully held its Third International Assembly (TIA) from June 18 to 20, 2008 in Hong Kong. The assembly carried the theme, “Strengthen the peoples’ struggle, unite to build a new world against imperialist aggression, state terrorism, plunder and social destruction!”

Two hundred sixty-five (265) participants representing 165 peoples’ organizations attended the assembly. They came from 30 countries namely: Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Burma, Canada, China (including Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan province), Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, The Netherlands, Turkey, Korea, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
The assembly commenced with the singing of the ILPS hymn. Manolis Arkolakis, ILPS Deputy Chairperson then welcomed the delegates.

GN Saibaba, deputy General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) of India read the keynote address of the designated keynote speaker distinguished poet Varavara Rao who could not join the assembly in person because he was denied permission to travel by the Indian authorities. In his speech Varavara Rao underscored the theme of the TIA as “most relevant and urgent in the context of growing imperialist military attacks and unbridled plunder of the resources, labor and markets of oppressed countries.” He further said, “ILPS has grown into a massive league of anti-imperialist, revolutionary democratic forces the world over. It has emerged as the centre of oppressed nations and people by bringing together the struggles of all continents on the globe.”

Prof. Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC), gave his report by internet video. He cited the most significant achievements and shortcomings of the ILPS since the SIA, the favorable conditions for further strengthening the ILPS, the challenges and urgent tasks. General Secretary Arman Riazi also gave his report giving further details of ILPS achievements and underlining the bright prospects in further strengthening and building the ILPS. Discussions followed the reports.

A number of amendments to the charter were proposed and approved to reflect the current realities and future prospects in further strengthening the ILPS as a political center of the peoples’ anti-imperialist and democratic struggles.

A fitting tribute was given to Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, the founding chairperson of the ILPS, who passed away on May 20, 2008 with a short speech from ILPS Chairperson Jose Maria Sison and the showing of a short video of “Ka Bel”.

A panel of distinguished speakers spoke before the plenary session of the assembly. The speech on “Neoliberal Globalization and Labor” which was to be delivered by “Ka Bel” was read by ICC member Elmer C. Labog. Manolis Arkolakis spoke on “US Militarism and War”. Haluk Gerger spoke on “Anti-terror Laws and Human Rights”. Irene Fernandez spoke on “Labor and Migration”. GN Saibaba spoke on “Forced Displacement and Rural Communities in India”. And Wahu Kaara spoke on “African People’s Resistance to Imperialist Globalization.” Arundhati Roy who could not be personally present sent a contribution entitled “Attacks on Rural Communities and Displacement.” A lively open forum followed.

Workshops were held on the 18 concerns. They featured prominent resource persons and produced comprehensive and specific resolutions with highly important information and analysis as well as urgent calls to action.

The General Declaration of the TIA included as main text the aforesaid comprehensive resolutions and was approved by the plenary session after principled and vigorous discussions.

The Declaration said: “Today, the world monopoly capitalist system is caught up in one of its biggest crises since the Great Depression. This is principally due to the unraveling of the imperialist policies of ‘neoliberal globalization’ and ‘global war on terror’. The US, which is the core of the system, is afflicted by a grave economic and financial crisis and is generating waves of economic and social ruin in all imperialist countries, in the largest so-called emerging markets and worse than ever before in the general run of semi-colonies and dependent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America…In the face of the intensified exploitation and oppression by the imperialists and their reactionary puppets, the people have intensified their resistance…The daily worsening conditions of oppression and exploitation require the ILPS to intensify its efforts to arouse, organize and mobilize the people in their millions in building a new and better world of greater freedom, development, social justice and global peace.”

A new ICC was elected composed of 27 regular members and 8 alternate members. In its very first meeting, on 21 June 2008, the newly-elected ICC elected its officers to compose the International Coordinating Group (ICG) and made several important decisions for the ICG and the General Secretariat to implement for the reinvigoration of the ILPS as well as in preparation for the next ICC meeting later this year or early next year.

The ICC elected the following:

As ICC chairperson, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of International Network of Philippine Studies, Netherlands; as Deputy Chairperson, GN Saibaba from the Revolutionary Democratic Front of India; as Deputy Chairperson for Internal Affairs, Dr. Carol P. Araullo, chairperson of BAYAN, Philippines; as Deputy Chairperson for External Affairs, Manolis Arkolakis from the Committee Against Military Bases and Dependency of Greece; as General Secretary, Arman Riazi from the Democratic Antiimperialist Organization of Iranians in Great Britain; as First Deputy General Secretary, Elmer Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno of the Philippines; as Second Deputy General Secretary, Aliyah Brunner of Umut Publications of Austria; as Treasurer, Theo Droog from Nederlands-Filippijnse Solidariteitsbeweging of The Netherlands; and as Auditor, Malcolm Guy, founding member of the Immigrant Workers Centre from Canada.###