MONTREAL — Long-haul truckers in Canada — both owner-operators and company drivers — face a series of attacks today from shippers, truck bosses, federal and provincial government agencies and from skyrocketing fuel costs.
They’ve filed more than 4,800 complaints with Employment and Social Development Canada for unpaid wages and other employment abuses over the past three years. Yet the federal labor department, which acts to defend the interests of bosses, not workers, hasn’t issued a single fine to truck companies for these abuses.
Truckers in Brampton, Ontario, are waging a fight against this kind of wage theft. Trucking company bosses falsely classify them as self-employed contractors who own their own trucks, rather than as employees. They do this in order to evade having to meet basic worker protections, such as minimum wage, overtime and holiday pay or injury compensation.
The fight is being led by the Naujawan Support Network, made up of Brampton area workers and students, primarily from Punjab in India. They’ve been organizing protests outside the homes of trucking company bosses who refuse to pay truckers what they’re owed.
Close to 20% of the over 324,000 truckers in Canada are South Asians, including over half of those in the Toronto and Vancouver areas.
Another group of truckers, who take loads back and forth across the U.S. border, are fighting against vaccine mandates imposed by the Canadian government Jan. 15 that bar them from getting this work. They initiated a series of “Freedom Convoys” in different cities, including in Ottawa, the capital. These actions have attracted other participants, including some right-wing politicians, and have received widespread media publicity. And they’ve been targeted with hysterical vitriol by the government and Canadian Trucking Alliance bosses.
Arshdeep Singh Kang, a 30-year-old long-haul trucker based in Brampton and one of the protest organizers there, reports he is owed more than 3,000 Canadian dollars ($2,360) by Gill World Logistics. As a result, “I didn’t have money to pay my rent, my car insurance, my groceries,” he explained. While he has never owned his truck, he was classified by Gill World as an independent contractor.
The Toronto Star spoke to 10 drivers who say they are owed more than CA$200,000 by 10 trucking companies. They reported the rate of violations of safety regulations by these companies was six times higher than the average Ontario trucking company.
Rommel Navarra, a driver originally from the Philippines who works hauling televisions to eastern Canada and the U.S., spoke to the Militant at a truck stop about the unsafe working conditions truckers often face.
“Sometimes when the dispatcher tells me to do things I refuse because it isn’t safe, like climbing up on a flatbed to secure something without personal safety equipment,” he said. Like Kang, and many other wage-earning Canadian truckers, Navarra is not in a union.
Discussion on the convoy
There’s a lively discussion among truckers and other working people on whether the convoy advances their interests.
Dave Ridell, a 59-year-old farmer from Alliston, Ontario, who drives his own grains to market, joined the convoy to Ottawa along with his wife in the hope it will lead to all vaccine mandates being lifted. “The amount of people who are unemployed because it’s their personal choice whether they want to be vaccinated or not, it’s not fair, just totally unfair,” he told the press.
However, Kang says that the convoy doesn’t “stand for the issues that they should be standing for.”
“Wage theft is a major issue across the trucking industry, not just in Brampton. Inflation is hitting us hard,” he said. “The cost of trucking is increasing every day, but truckers are still expected to work at rates they were paid back in the 1980s.”
“Ask any trucker who drives through Western Canada or Northern Ontario how dangerous those roads are,” Kang added. “There are hardly any rest stops.”
“These are the real issues we should all be uniting over, not vaccine mandates,” he said.
The convoy is being used by a wing of Canada’s capitalist politicians to advance their anti-working-class course. Its two main spokespeople aren’t truckers, but Tamara Lich, secretary of the western separatist, pro-capitalist Maverick Party, and B.J. Dichter, a Conservative Party candidate in the 2015 federal election. Both are known for their anti-Islamic views.
Most of the signs at the “Freedom Convoy” today aren’t focused on issues truckers face, but on opposition to “tyranny” and calls for “freedom” and “liberty.”
Government threats, attack on rights
Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party prime minister of Canada, and dozens of other government officials and media pundits have excoriated the hundreds of truckers and others who took part in the convoy. At a Jan. 26 press conference he accused them of being a “small fringe minority” with “unacceptable views” and refused to meet with them. He claimed “Canadians” were “disgusted” by their behavior.
The language Trudeau and other officials use is similar to the campaign of the liberals in the U.S. against Donald Trump and the group of his supporters and some others who rioted at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. “It was an insurrection!” they scream, and the Democrats have launched endless congressional investigations, while the FBI and Justice Department had filed hundreds of criminal cases.
In both countries, the real target of the venom is working people, who the ruling capitalist families and their meritocratic hangers-on fear.
Even though the Canadian police and media admit the convoy protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson imposed a state of emergency there Feb. 6. Police Chief Peter Sloly said, “This is a threat to democracy, this is a nationwide insurrection, this is madness.”
Catherine McKenna, a former Liberal cabinet minister, responded to the Ottawa protest by tweeting, “Time for Canada to regulate social media companies so they stop promoting violence and hate.”
The Communist Party of Canada called the convoy “a dangerous movement” and called for the government to pass new laws restricting political rights, including “the designation of hate groups as criminal organisations.”
“All of this feeds into government moves to restrict the political rights of the working class and our ability to protest,” Philippe Tessier, the Communist League’s candidate in the Quebec provincial by-election in the Marie-Victorin riding in Longueuil, told the Militant. He is a conductor on the Canadian National Railway and a member of the Teamsters union. “Moves by the government and the cops to attack the convoy should be opposed by working people.
“The labor movement needs to campaign for all workers to get vaccinated, and our unions should open their halls to make vaccination available widely, to members and others,” he said. “This will help put and keep workers on the job, putting us in the best position to fight the bosses’ attacks, organize workers into unions and build solidarity with union struggles.
“My party opposes government vaccine mandates, because it is against the interests of the working class to give the capitalist rulers the arbitrary power to impose binding restrictions on us,” Tessier said. “Once gotten, they’ll use these powers to attack social protests and union battles.
“The fight by the truckers in Brampton against wage theft points the way forward,” Tessier said. “They deserve the support of the entire labor movement.”