Tag Archives: Marx

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Marxist context

The Temporary foreign worker program (TFWP) is a federal program created by the Canadian government to allow employers to hire foreign workers who essentially come on a temporary basis. This program has been enforced for around four decades so far but there have been many issues and great controversy arising recently concerning the abuse of this program by many employers within Canada. The TFWP is only meant to hire foreign employees for job openings if a Canadian worker can`t be found to fill it; unfortunately, many employers are taking advantage of this program by bringing in foreign workers (before even looking to hire local workers) on a permanent basis rather than a temporary basis because it saves the employers a lot of money by paying the foreign workers below average wages. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) started investigating issues relating to the TFWP in April 2013. CBC reported that Canadian RBC Information technology workers were being replaced by foreign workers who were being paid a lot less. The ironic thing is that these Canadian employees who had lost their jobs were told to train the foreign workers before being found out that they were being laid off. CBC also stated that some employers were said to be bringing in temporary foreign workers to jobs to replace current workers who were collecting employment insurance benefits. Importantly, in April 2014 it was once again reported by CBC that McDonalds restaurants were employing `unskilled` foreign workers; as a result Jason Kenney, who is the Minister of Employment, announced that the TFWP had been suspended for the food services industry. Another example is of a mining company in B.C. which imported workers from China to displace the local employees. The employers even set one of the job requirements as being able to speak Mandarin Chinese, even though there is no Canadian law that states that a job in Canada requires the ability to speak a language other than English or French. (Temporary Foreign Worker Program)

The Government of Canada has recently decided to make reforms to the TFWP due to the high number of complaints towards this program regarding the abuse of the TFWP by Canadian employers and the displacement of local workers by foreign workers. The main goal of this reform in legislation is to help Canadian citizens get first priority for jobs over foreign workers. Therefore, the law states that it is against the law to hire temporary foreign workers when it could potentially put Canadians out of work as a result. “Economic Action Plan 2014 proposes to invest $11.0 million over two years and $3.5 million per year ongoing to strengthen the Labour Market Opinion process to ensure Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs” (Economic Action Plan 2014). In order to limit the number of temporary foreign workers that employers hire each year, the costs of the Labour Market Opinion process will not be subsidized by taxpayers and there will instead be a fee of $275 per temporary foreign worker application that is submitted for processing.

Some of the other newly implemented reforms to the TFWP include:

  • “Introducing a moratorium on accelerated Labour Market Opinions.
  • Requiring employers to pay temporary foreign workers the prevailing wage.
  • Allowing the Government to suspend, revoke or refuse to process Temporary Foreign Worker applications in order to better protect the Canadian labour market.
  • Restricting the use of non-official languages as job requirements.
  • Increasing the length and reach of advertising required by employers to ensure no Canadians are available before they can turn to foreign workers” (Economic Action Plan 2014)

When applying Marxist legal theory to the situation of the TFWP, Karl Marx would, without a doubt, disagree with this program implemented by the federal government of Canada because he is a socialist who promotes the idea of public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange in a society. Canada is a Capitalist society which is an economic system consisting of private ownership of the means of production and the distribution of goods and commodities for personal profit. This occurs through the exploitation of working class people by the Capitalists, elites or the owners of these means of production such as tools, resources and technology. Marx would go on and say that these exploitative methods are being used by Capitalists or employers because he believes workers in Capitalist societies lose control over the things they create and are deemed worthless the more they produce value from their labour (Pavlich 2011:90). The Capitalists hire working class individuals who survive off of wages in exchange for their labour power to produce goods and commodities for the Capitalists. These goods and commodities have a use value and an exchange value which is determined by the amount of labour power that is put in and invested by the workers who produce them. These workers are paid a lot less than what their labour value is actually worth. In other words, the Capitalists essentially steal money and make profit off of their employees by paying them wages that are not equivalent to their labour power value; this is known as surplus value. These workers are merely treated as instruments that produce wealth in a Capitalist society but Marx believes that this exploitation can be eliminated with the existence of a socialist or communist society where every individual puts in an equal share of labour power and are valued the same (Pavlich 2011: 93).

In real life context, there is evidence of documents showing that the Canadian government was involved in granting many Canadian firms the right to bring in foreign workers and pay them less than the prevailing wages in their respective jobs. Specifically, the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained these internal government documents through an Access to Information request where they discovered these findings. The labour group says that by sanctioning the underpayment of thousands of workers, it helped bring down the overall wages in many industries, especially the food services sector (Sanctioned by Harper government). “What was supposed to be a minor shuffling of jobs has, instead, become a raging scandal that has exposed how far the capitalist class is willing to go to undermine workers’ wages and rights — and all of it openly supported by the federal government”. In addition, “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) was originally created to supposedly help fill labour shortages in Canada, especially in cases where skilled positions could not be filled by existing Canadian workers.  In reality, the program has been an opening for the bosses to further push down wages for all workers, in addition to massively exploiting foreign workers who are not subject to the same labour laws as their Canadian counterparts.. The ruling class’ dirty little secret been laid bare for all to see” (End the Temporary Foreign Worker Program).

CBC News (2014, August 15). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Sanctioned by Harper government http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/temporary-foreign-worker-program-misuse-sanctioned-by-harper-government-union-says-1.2737422

Cahis, C. (2013, April 30). Retrieved October 13, 2014, from End the Temporary Foreign Worker Program http://www.marxist.ca/labour/labour-news/874-end-the-temporary-foreign-worker-program-good-enough-to-work-good-enough-to-stay.html

Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from Economic Action Plan 2014 http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/initiative/temporary-foreign-worker-program

Employment and Social Development Canada (2014, July 21). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Overhauling the temporary http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/jobs/foreign_workers//index.shtml

Wikipedia (2014, August 24). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Temporary Foreign Worker Program http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporary_foreign_worker_program_in_Canada#2013


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Temporary Foreign Workers – New Proletariat Class?

Having been in existence for many years, the Temporary Foreign Workers program is making headlines in newspapers across the country due to some companies’ blatant abuse of this program to exploit foreign workers. To fully understand why this is happening and explain it in a Marxist perspective we must explain what the Temporary Foreign Workers program entails. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or otherwise known as TFWP, is a government designed programs to assist employers employ qualified foreign workers to work in their company when they are unable to find any qualified Canadian workers (WorkSafeBC, 2014). The TFWP program allows and permits eligible foreign workers to come to Canada and work here for a limited period of time; however the companies requesting foreign workers must be able to demonstrate that they cannot find qualified Canadian workers to employ (WorkSafeBC, 2014).

However while it does sound good on paper, in practice the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been used as a means to exploit foreign workers coming here intent on making a decent living and in some cases becoming a Canadian citizen. One of the controversies that surround the TFWP is most accurately portrayed by the first paragraph of a CBC article:

A temporary foreign worker who sold massage devices and other products in mall kiosks has reported he and his colleagues worked hundreds of hours for no pay, while forced to live under constant threat of deportation. (CBC, 2014)

But it is not only the foreign workers that are exploited, but the Temporary Foreign Worker Program also has a consequential impact on Canadian workers as well. The TFWP has Canadians feeling uncertain about their future because they believe it is easier for foreigners to take their jobs (The Canadian Press, 2014). The controversy is aligning with all Canadians due to high levels of unemployment throughout the country, and a mass of people looking for jobs (The Canadian Press, 2014). While it is believed that the TFWP is to bring in workers to fill voids where no qualified Canadian workers can be found, it is not the case. Through a go public inquiry conducted by CBC news, they found that there have been a few McDonald’s located in British Columbia that have been opting to give more and more hours to foreign workers and reducing the hours of Canadian workers (Tomlinson, 2014).

There are many ways to explain why this program was proposed, and it is Karl Marx who offers the most compelling perspective which explains the inherent reasoning behind the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Marx, whom made suggestions similar to communism and socialism as we know it today, argued that society is shaped by economic relations (Pavlich, 2011). But more specifically the economic relations in regards to the mode of production: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the people that own the means of production and employ workers to fill their workshop, while the proletariat are the workers, who trade their labor for wages. But this relationship is an exploitative one, therefore the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat to generate a profit, and the greater the exploitation the greater the profit. However to keep the capitalistic system, there needs to be conditions in place to ensure sustainability, which is to make the proletariat utterly dependent on the bourgeoisies (Pavlich, 2011).

There were two different strains of theories stemming from Marx’s theory: Instrumental and Structuralist Marxism. The Instrumental Marxist argue that the state is the right hand man of the capitalist class, therefore act to every whim and command the bourgeoisie give (Comack, 2006). While Structuralist Marxist believes that the state through accumulation and legitimization processes strives to reproduce class relations and domination in line with capitalism (Comack, 2006).

According the Marx explaining the Temporary Foreign Worker Program would be a walk in the park. The TFWP is in existence to promote the bourgeoisies’ interests by increasing the ability to increase exploitation of foreign workers thus generating more profit. Furthermore with the ability to bring in more and more workers adding to the reserve workforce enables the owners or otherwise the capitalists to ensure that there is plenty of competition for the job therefore keep wages down. Along with the increase dependence of the temporary foreign workers onto the people whom employ them, there is also an increase in exploitation as shown in the CBC quote above. Where the refusal to work and request more humane working conditions usually ends with termination of the employment or threat to do that.

The ability to exploit workers that put up less resistance and unable to establish an union or band together to petition for higher wages, are exactly the workers that companies want and the ones that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program brings over. With the threat of replacement with another foreign worker, Marx would claim that the bourgeoisies’ will to maximize profits through exploitation is clearly expressed through the TFWP. Similarly the exploitation of these foreign workers impacts the Canadians just as much. Like the case of McDonald’s as noted previously, Marx would claim that it just adds to the supplementary workforce and increases exploitation, therefore increasing competition for jobs which results in lower wages and lower costs of operation for employers.
While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is opposed by a majority of people across Canada, not just for the exploitative acts that it condemns over foreign workers; but also because it enables the ability for employers to opt for cheaper foreign workers rather than domestic and more expensive workers. It is not surprising according to Marx to see that Canada’s government insists that the TFWP is absolutely necessary in sustaining the economy. Marx would claim that the government’s inherent goal is to maintain the capitalistic interests, thus the ability to bring in foreign workers would maintain the status-quo of bourgeoisie and proletariat, even with the push of Canadians for higher wages and good working conditions.

Works Cited
CBC. (2014, May 5). Foreign Worker Reports Death Threats, Coercion. Retrieved from Huffington Pos: Business: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/05/foreign-workers-canada_n_5265763.html

Comack, E. (2006). Locating law: race/class/gender/sexuality connections. In E. Comack, Theoretical Approaches in the Sociology of Law: Theoretical Excursions (pp. 18-67). Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Ontario: Oxford University Press.

The Canadian Press. (2014, April 29). Jason Kenney on hot seat as controversy rages over temporary foreign workers. Retrieved from CBC News: Politics: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/jason-kenney-on-hot-seat-as-controversy-rages-over-temporary-foreign-workers-1.2625377

Tomlinson, K. (2014, April 14). McDonald’s accused of favouring foreign workers. Retrieved from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mcdonald-s-accused-of-favouring-foreign-workers-1.2598684

WorkSafeBC. (2014). Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Retrieved from WorkBC: http://www.workbc.ca/Employers/Find-the-right-talents/Recruitment-and-Retention/Temporary-Foreign-Worker-Program.aspx

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Food for Thought: Law, Ideology, and Legitimacy

This week’s ‘Food for Thought’ post concerns the work of Karl Marx, and Marxist legal scholarship generally. You have a choice of three (!) different questions to respond to. You may only respond to one question.

Option 1:

Douglas Hay’s classic analysis of England’s Bloody Code identifies three aspects of law as ideology: Majesty, Justice, and Mercy. During this week’s class, we discussed the applicability of these ideas to the contemporary Canadian legal system. We were in general agreement that these aspects of law as ideology are still applicable, but perhaps in modified or diminished ways.

From a Marxist perspective, law is part of the social superstructure, and it serves to legitimize (and rationalize, and justify) the underlying socio-economic base. Importantly, this means that the nature of the legal system in any given society at any given point in history will reflect (and legitimize) the particular mode of production that characterizes the society. It stands to reason, then, that there should be ideological aspects of Canadian criminal law that are particular to the present moment.

Food for Thought:

Write a post that describes an ideological aspect of contemporary Canadian criminal law, other than majesty, justice, or mercy. Your post must describe this characteristic, explain how it relates to the operation of the legal system, and explain how it operates as ideology. Note that we discussed several potential responses in class. You are welcome to pick one of these examples and elaborate on it in your post. Be sure to refer to supporting material, and cite your sources.

Option 2:

One of the defining features of the Official Version of Law (Comack 2006) is the notion of equality before the law. Comack (2006) notes that:

“While the pivotal point in the rule of law is ‘equality of all before the law’, the provision of formal equality in the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere. Thus the law maintains only the appearance of equality, because it never calls into question the unequal and exploitative relationship between capital and labour.”

Food for Thought:

Write a post that uses a case study* to examine this quote. You may support Comack’s argument, in which case you will need to use your case study to illustrate how “the law maintains only the appearance of equality”. Alternatively, you may critique her argument, in which case you will need to use your case study to illustrate how the law operates to extend equality beyond the legal sphere. Begin your post by quoting the above passage and explaining what it means (this should take up no more than 1/3 of your post). Then introduce your case study and develop your argument.

* interpret ‘case study’ broadly. You could select an actual legal case, a particular statute, a particular legal process, etc. Just be sure to pick an interesting and relevant example, and to explain it to your readers.

Option 3:

Food for Thought:

Briefly describe the Temporary Foreign Workers program and provide an overview of the recent controversy surrounding this practice (this should take up no more than 1/3 of your post). Then draw on Marxist legal theory to explain the program and the controversy.

If you decide to prepare a post in response to one of these questions, you must submit your post before class on October 14.

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Food for thought: Law, Ideology, and Capitalism

This week’s class focused on theories of law & society informed by the work of Karl Marx, with an emphasis on the argument that law is an ideological instrument. We explored Marx’s historical materialism and his analysis of the dynamics of capitalist society. We considered contemporary revisions of Marxist theory, as well as some criticisms of Marx’s ideas. As a case study in the role of law as ideology, we reviewed Douglas Hay’s classic essay on ‘Property, Authority and the Criminal Law’.

CRIM 3305_Hay

Food for thought:

Douglas Hay distinguishes three aspects of the law as ideology: majesty, justice and mercy.

Write a post that:

  1. briefly explains what Hay means by this. How does the law (and legal system) represent ideology, according to Hay?
  2. considers the operation of law and legal systems in the present context. Does Hay’s argument still hold true? Does law function to secure consent and the perception of legitimacy despite the manifest inequality of the social order? Provide supporting examples.
  3. concludes with a short commentary on the implications of your response to part 2 – does law necessarily operate as ideology, and if so, what does this mean for law reform projects / movements? [be sure to read Pavlich pp. 96-97 before responding].

Your post should be submitted before 19:00 on October 23.

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Prohibition Laws by Durkheim and Marx

The paper I am writing about will be on laws governing prohibited substances.  Laws prohibiting illegal substances have been created and repealed many times throughout our society, with the infamous alcohol prohibition in the early 1900’s to the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  Both Durkheim and Marx provide differing opinions on this issue and what the causes and effects are.  For Durkheim, his belief is that law shapes society, meaning that our society’s norms are reflected in our laws.  Marx suggests the contrary, that our society is what shapes law.  This is in regards to his beliefs that society’s common interests must arise from our methods of production.  A State does not directly form a society; rather it develops based on the social conditions at the time.  He argues that a society cannot be based on old laws that were created from previous social conditions.

Durkheim’s theories of society and its structures covered a broad range of topics, but “he was mostly concerned with social solidarity, or how society is held together” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 73).  This social solidarity can be separated into two different categories dependant on the type of society: ‘Mechanical solidarity’ and ‘Organic solidarity’.  Mechanical solidarity occurs when “a certain number of states of consciousness are common to all members of the same society” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).  In this type of solidarity exists a ‘repressive’ system of punishment (e.g. criminal, penal).  The reason for this type of punishment is because of the strong collective morality that is offended by a crime.  Organic solidarity is a modern type of society where it is comprised of several independent systems that all work together in cohesion.  With this society comes a new type of ‘restitutive’ punishment (e.g. civil, administrative).  This involves “a complex division of labour that generates disputes around individual property rights, commercial transactions, torts, administrative regulations…” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).

He would explain prohibition laws as performing collective functions for the benefit of society.  In general, he argues that crimes would inform individuals of what not to do and act as a deterrence.  Crime is an inevitable part of our society, so naturally we would need laws based on social norms to prevent it.  However, there would need to be a shared value among individuals that illegal substances are against the norm which Durkheim calls ‘social facts’.  It is best to look at this issue with a functionalist perspective as Durkheim would do.  In this perspective, laws would be analyzed to gauge their social impact in two ways.  Laws can either perform restitutive affects or reinforce the norms of a society.  What prohibition laws could do with this perspective is force offenders to make some sort of amends for their crime(s).  Also, if this were a regulatory society (i.e. organic solidarity), we would be able to reduce the occurrence of illegal substance use due to increased sanctions that could possibly make obtaining these substances more difficult.  Another method that drug prohibition laws could change society is by reinforcing the collective norms against that illegal behaviour.  More specifically, it could strengthen the bond between individuals to reaffirm their social norms.

On the other hand was Karl Marx, who believed that law is a product of society and not the other way around like Durkheim suggested.  One major difference between Marx and Durkheim was that Marx focused more on the economy and politics in his ideas about society.  In particular, he focused on ‘materialism’ or the production of our needs society.  He viewed this economic system as a constant struggle between the capitalists, who own the land and employ the workers, and the working class.  The legal system comes into play to uphold the capitalists’ means of production.  In particular, criminal law exists to keep the capitalist class stable against any sort of organized revolution against them.

Crime, in a Marxist approach, occurs as the result of the conflict between the opposing classes.  Marx would explain prohibition laws as being based on the social conditions during the time they are enacted.  He would suggest that these laws came into place in an effort to control the working class.  By the capitalists imposing social control over the working class, they would be able to continue their means of production.  In essence, law and the State are one and they reflect the current economic state.  Moreover, Marx would also suggest that the legal substances today that used to be illegal, such as alcohol, are accepted because of the financial gains the capitalists make from it.  To them, alcohol is a profitable business, which is why it is in their best interests to keep it legal.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

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Law, Ideology, and Revolutionary Social Change Facilitated Discussion Questions

As our facilitated class discussion was unfortunately cut short last week, we have decided to post the questions for discussion online in hope that this may generate further lass discussion this Friday. Enjoy.

  • Materialist conception of history
    • Understands modern society through an analysis of its mode of production and the changing forms of social divisions.
    • The division of labour develops out of struggles to own and control the ways given societies produce necessities to secure their survival.
      • Can this be applied to the creation and maintenance of Law

      Marx and Engels did note the “duplicitous face” of law: Its repressive coercive functions are obscured by its ideological functions that portray it as equal, universal, and just. What does the class think of this statement?

      Marx and Engels often caution us not to expect law to do much more than reform “surface” issues. Agree/Disagree? Why?
      Can law ever do more than simply replicate the interests of the ruling class? Thoughts?


      1. The Granting equal and universal rights within structurally unequal societies often perpetuates, rather than alleviates, the inequalities
      2. The law reflects the common interests of the ruling group and may, on occasion, appear to work against the interests of particular capitalists
      3. The laws repressive coercive functions are obscured by its ideological functions that portray it as equal, universal, and just.
      “… society does not depend on the law. That is a legal fiction. The law depends rather on society, it must be an expression of society’s communal interests and needs, arising from the material mode of production, and not to the arbitrary expression of the world of the single individual. I have here in my hands that Code Napoleon, but it is no the code which created the modern bourgeois society. Instead, it is bourgeois society, as it originated in the 18th century and underwent further development in the 19th century, which finds its merely legal expression in the Code. As soon as the code ceases to correspond to social relations, it is no more than a bundle of paper. (Marx, quoted in Phillips 1980: 187).

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