Restaurant worker from Baba Dhaba addressing NSN crowd at protest in July 2022. Banner behind her arguing for ending wage theft / exploitation

Punjabi Workers in Toronto Are Fighting Wage Theft—And They’re Winning

Inspired by India’s recent farmer protests, immigrant truckers and students are bringing fresh militant tactics to their struggle for worker justice in the greater Toronto area. The results speak for themselves.

Arshdeep Singh, a 30-year-old Punjabi semi-truck driver in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, was left with a bloodied lip after his group’s protest on July 9 outside Sukh Auto, an auto repair shop. Singh was attacked by the shop owner, Sukhdeep Hunjan, and a handful of goons. 

It was one of said goons who threw the punch that busted Singh’s mouth. Then Hunjan, a squat boss in a tan shirt, black pants, and blue sneakers, called the police—not to report the assault, but to report the protest. 

The Peel Regional Police promptly sent 10 cop cars to the scene, but that didn’t stop the crowd of about 100 from chanting “Lutt band karo! (Stop the robbery!),” and other choice slogans.

Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan”translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old.

This was the second protest outside Sukh Auto that Naujawan Support Network (NSN) had held in a matter of months. Both protests were designed to pressure Hunjan to pay back wages stolen from former employee Rupinder Singh by publicly naming and shaming the boss. (A note for readers: While a number of them share the last name Singh, none of the persons interviewed for this piece are related to one another.)

The sign for the shop is now gone—and, according to members of NSN, Hunjan has changed the name of his business on Google. 

Bold, militant protests like these are happening with increased frequency in Brampton, resulting in big wins for workers who have been exploited and taken advantage of for too long. And yet, the Toronto-area group’s emergence as a powerful grassroots force fighting for worker justice has been among the least reported labor stories in North America’s settler colonies over the past year (with some very limited exceptions). 

Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100 mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan” translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old. 

At the core of NSN is a dedicated group of volunteers and workers who connect with and support other workers who have experienced wage theft or other forms of exploitation. Mobilizing workers and community members to take collective action, like the protests in front of Sukh Auto, is an integral part of the organization’s mission—and a crucial source of its strength.

“Our benchmark—our filter—for organizing is that a worker has to be willing to come to an organizing meeting and fight for their rights while standing alongside other workers,” Simran Dhunna, a 26-year-old NSN organizer, told TRNN.

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Red, White and Saffron

A little birdy gave me a copy of the materials Hindu American Foundation is using to lobby U.S. Congresspeople.  Lobbying is a process involving visiting with policymakers that groups like corporations and non-profits use to push their agendas on the American government.  HAF is a ‘soft’ right Hindu nationalist organization that uses human rights rhetoric.  Critics argue that HAF is linked to militant Hindutva organizations in India such as the RSS by forming an arm of the sangh parivar, or, family, of groups.

As you will see in the materials, there are some surprises (jointly lobbying for religious worker visas with Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others) and some of the old, familiar Hindutva rhetoric (“India first faced Islamist violence, dating as far back as the 8th century, to the time of the Mughal invasions…”)

A quick and dirty assessment: the rhetoric is often fine and might work perfectly well to inform an American congressperson of, say, the most salient points of anti-minority violence in Bangladesh; at the same time, the materials are one of several ways that the slanted agenda and ideas the intellectual framework of virulent sangh organizations can make their way into American policymakers’ minds.   Why, after all, does one need to lobby U.S. Congresspeople on the alleged need for a uniform civil code in India or defend Narendra Modi against claims that he was involved in religious pogroms?  The answer is that one doesn’t need to.  So why is HAF doing it, if all it cares about are human rights of Hindus?

Bonus: a list of donors to the HAF is included on the last page of their newsletter, including someone with the same name as Obama appointee Sonal Shah, whose nomination was controversial in South Asian progressive circles exactly because of alleged ties to Hindu right organizations.