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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Indian Farmers Rise Up Against Corporatization

by Selina Singh*

Thousands of Indian farmers have parked outside the capital Delhi for more than 100 days. They have pitched tents on five highways that lead to the city and say they will leave only when the federal government withdraws three new farm laws enacted last September. 

Half the Indian population depends on agriculture for a living, and farms are almost entirely family-run. The protesting farmers fear these new laws will corporatize Indian agriculture. They may not know what happened to American farmers when Ronald Reagan was president, but what scares them is akin to what happened then—loss of income, more indebtedness, and the empowerment of a pillaging BigAg. 

Most of the agitating farmers are from two Indian states, Punjab and Haryana. In both regions, federal and state governments buy up most of the staple food grain that farmers raise. The government also fixes the price of the grain it buys at a Minimum Support (or purchase) Price. To varying degrees of efficiency, this purchase system prevails in most Indian states. 

Indian farmers, workers, and the poor depend on the purchase price and the government procurement system. For growers of rice and wheat, this price is a stable and assured source of income. Governments sell a part of the food grain they procure at subsidized rates. Roughly 800 million of the poor rely on this subsidy to be able to afford their food. 

After introducing the new laws, the government assured farmers their income would double in two years. But farmers rejected the offer, saying they prefer the reliable MSP system over grand dreams of higher income. They say they will be ruined by the three new laws—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020

Favors for Corporates

Farmers are afraid of these laws because they create a parallel agricultural market, one where there are no transaction taxes. The existing markets run by state governments charge a transaction tax (it is an 8.5 percent tax in Punjab) for their upkeep. If traders would move outside the government-regulated markets to operate in the tax-free open market, farmers expect it will undermine the MSP system.

Initially, farmers suspect, they may get higher prices for their produce from private traders or agro-giants than in the existing markets. But over time, the government-run markets would start failing. Then, say the farmers, they would be at the mercy of agribusiness giants. 

The new laws also permit and encourage contract farming, wherein farmers would enter into contracts with companies that would commit to supplying seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs to farmers (or groups of farmers), in exchange for raising crops demanded by the companies at pre-fixed rates. Farmers fear this will have private companies impose stringent conditions on what crops they can raise and how. The risk of rejection of crops over “quality issues” would forever loom over them. They are anxious that contract farming could reduce them to workers on their land, raising crops at the instructions of companies that they enter into contracts with. 

They resent that the law on contract farming is formulated in a way that the contracting company would control the input as well as the output of farming.

“Any company we enter into a farming contract with will supply us seed, fertilizer, pesticide, etc. So, our inputs will be under the control of the company. Existing retail stores will go out of business [as they cannot withstand competition from corporate giants]. Then, the grain we produce will also go to the same company,” says Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who heads the Indian Farmer Union (Ekta-Ugrahan). 

It is the biggest farmer union in Punjab and represents the interests of small and marginal farmers. A small farmer owns up to 5 acres of land, while a marginal farmer owns less than 2.5 acres of land.

The new law on contract farming bars farmers from approaching civil courts if there are disputes. It says they can take out loans to finance their contractual obligations, but the government will recover arrears on land revenue from farmers who fail to meet contracted obligations. That, farmers say, means their land (and/or other assets) would be auctioned to recover what they owe. In other words, contract farming is luring farmers with higher returns but it could make them even more vulnerable than they are. 

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