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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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