24 March 2017

- A report by 2015 scholar Anelyse Weiler

With the decline of traditional organized labour and the rise of insecure employment, people hired in restaurants, farming and food-processing face tremendous challenges to realizing decent work. The recent expansion of ‘low-skill’ labour-migration streams in Canada and crackdowns on undocumented migrants in the United States have intensified workers’ vulnerability. These barriers, however, have elicited powerful movements across the food system for workplace dignity, human rights and immigration reform. 

On 18 March 2017, Anelyse Weiler, 2015 scholar, co-organized a free public symposium on how food workers and farm workers in Canada and the United States have struggled for workplace power through creative forms of organizing and resistance. Some 100 guests took part in the event, including food security leaders, academics, news media, lawyers and international labour activists. The event was co-organized with Gerardo Otero of Simon Fraser University’s School for International Studies in honour of the late Kerry Preibisch, a professor who advocated tirelessly for justice with migrant workers and their families.

Existing research has helped us understand how state policies and employer practices create the conditions for exploitation,” says Weiler. “It’s just as important to share stories of how workers have successfully fought for racial justice and gender equity, and how they have improved conditions within and beyond kitchens, fields and meat-processing plants.”

Support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation helped make it possible for the symposium to welcome 17 experts from activist networks, academia and labour organizations. Presenters included Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers’ Center of Central New York and Kathleen Sexsmith of Cornell University, who shared insights from organizing with immigrant dairy workers in upstate New York. Focusing on familiar Canadian fast-food sites like Tim Hortons, Professor Geraldina Polanco from the University of Waterloo considered the challenges to cross-national solidarity between migrant Filipina and Mexican migrant workers.

The purpose of the symposium was to strengthen networks of solidarity across diverse sectors of the food system and to cross-pollinate ideas for worker-led movements toward justice. With that in mind, Weiler and Otero intend to compile a selection of papers from the symposium into a book. Partial recordings from the event are available here.

Anelyse Weiler

Anelyse Weiler (sociology, University of Toronto) wants to understand how the perspectives of migrant farmworkers in North America on environmental, health, and equity issues can inform local and international efforts to realize more sustainable food systems.

2015 Scholars