The IWC was founded in 2000 by a small group of Filipino-Canadian union organizers along with their academic and activist allies. The idea for the Centre grew out of the experiences of two of these former union organizers, Tess Tesalona and Marco Luciano. They had observed that there was a real need for a space outside of the workplace (and outside of people’s homes) to carry out the education and recruitment work necessary to successful labour organizing. Tess, Marco, and their allies realized that unions were often controlled by bureaucrats who had little to no contact with their members and were troubled by the tendency of unions to abandon popular education and solidarity work once they had completed a union drive. The Immigrant Worker’s Centre emerged to address these needs and concerns, providing both a safe place for workers to discuss their workplace circumstances, as well as establishing an alternative to standard union organizing. It has become a prime example of a community based labour approach in action.
In its first year, the organization received a grant from the Canadian Auto Workers Union to intervene in labour issues within the community. The grant allowed the IWC to get to work providing information and critical analysis, while also finding ways to address workers’ issues outside of standard union structures and strategies. Since then, the IWC has sustained itself through grants, fundraising, and donations from organizations and individuals. The IWC continues to be engaged in many forms of labour organizing, including popular education projects, political campaigns, and working with individuals to defend their rights in the workplace. Some of our biggest priorities include:
- Popular education projects that allow workers to build up their own skills and analysis. For instance, the IWC often offers workshops and discussions on the history of the labour movement, the Labour Standards Act, and on collective organizing. We also coordinate the “Skills for Change” program, which combines computer literacy and labour education.
- Supporting union organizing in workplaces where there is a high concentration of immigrant workers
- Building political campaigns around the particular issues facing immigrant workers, like dismissal, unpaid labour, workplace injuries, abusive employers, or, sometimes, inadequate representation by their unions
- Building alliances between the struggles of immigrant workers with other social and economic justice movements
For more information about our ongoing work, please explore our website (especially the “Projects” page), or check our facebook for upcoming events and updates