Education Inequality (December 2013)
Can education be the great equalizer in a society that is unequal in so many ways? One look at schools in the neighbouring communities of Thorncliffe Park and Leaside shows that disparities in educational performance mirror income inequality. This disparity starts as early as senior kindergarten, measured in early development scores, and continues throughout elementary, middle and high school levels as reflected in provincial standardized tests.
Preempting the argument that the new-immigrant status and thus the lack of English-language skills of students and parents in Thorncliffe is likely responsible for the low scores, the event showed that this pattern repeats itself across other low-income communities across Toronto, many of whom have been here for generations.
So, what does income have to do with it? Low-income families tend to spend most of their money on rent leaving little for educational enhancement activities, like music and sports classes. The financial stress in the household limits the quantity and quality of time parents are able to spend engaging with their children. On the structural level, funding constraints faced by school boards means they rely more and more on parental fundraising, resulting in gross inequities between schools in wealthy neighbourhoods and those in low-income ones.
Civil Rights in Canada (March 9th, 2014)
When the Prime Minister of this country has declared that “Islamicism is the biggest threat to Canada” how can Muslim immigrants feel safe? As residents of Canada, we are all supposed to be guaranteed certain basic rights, like freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest, right to due process if we are arrested. All of this means little when an entire religious community is targeted as a threat by the government. From the recent Quebec Charter of Values seeking to prevent Muslim women from wearing hijabs to the Thorncliffe community’s very own fight to establish a mosque and to allow Muslim students to hold Friday prayers at school, it is clear that the rights of Muslim communities are under attack.
How do we make sense of all of this?
As Sid Lacombe, from the Canadian Peace Alliance, explained, nourishing Islamophobia among the Canadian population makes it easier for the government to justify their imperialist policies in the Islamic world. From its ongoing occupation of Afghanistan, to its participation in the Libyan intervention, to its constant war-mongering against Iran, Canada has been consistently using the threat of “Islamists” to gain support for expanding its military spending and killing innocent people. Denying the rights of Muslim communities at home goes hand in hand with invading Muslim nations abroad.
Ultimately, whether we want to fight against Canadian imperialism or ensure that Muslims in Canada are not unfairly targeted, we cannot continue to shake our heads at all the bad news. We must organize in our communities and take collective action to bring about a society free of racism and imperialism!
Employment Rights (March 16th, 2014)
When big businesses continue to make billions in profits even in times of widespread joblessness and governments keep repeating their promises of creating jobs, how can we believe that either of them really want to eliminate unemployment and poverty?
In fact, as Professor David McNally argued, unemployment and poverty are conditions deliberately created and maintained in the economic system we live in, capitalism. In order to maintain their high profits, businesses pay their workers the lowest wages possible, to maintain which they need people to be desperate enough to settle for whatever they are offering. There must always, therefore, be more people looking for work than jobs available. Despite their claims to the contrary, neither governments nor businesses have any interest in getting rid of unemployment because this business-friendly, low-wage economy depends on it.
Every little while though, the cheap labour available in Canada is not cheap enough. This is when the gates of the country are opened to immigrants so they can be funneled into the worst jobs. From the use of Chinese workers for the construction of railways in the 1880s to the current use of Latin American temporary migrant workers on farms, Canadian history is rife with examples of immigrants being allowed into the country to work under exploitative conditions to keep wages low for domestic workers. Racism has been very useful in this equation to turn Canadian workers against their migrant counterparts instead of worker solidarity being fostered against government and businesses.
Canadian history, however, also offers examples of when this divide and conquer strategy has not worked so well. In the 1930s the East York Workers Association (EYWA), for example, sought to build solidarity among the working class in this area through education and action. When the sheriff would be sent to evict someone for not being able to pay their rent, a hundred EYWA members would gather in front of the unit to prevent the tenants from being kicked out.
It is necessary to understand the lessons of history, both the brutal and the hopeful ones and collectively figure out an alternative society which is not based on profits but on values of social and economic justice.