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Aziz Choudry

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Aziz Choudry is associate professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University, where he holds a Canada Research Chair in social movement learning and knowledge production, and is visiting professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg. He is author of Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements(University of Toronto Press, 2015), coauthor of Fight Back: Workplace Justice for Immigrants (Fernwood, 2009), and coeditor of Learning from the Ground Up: Global Perspectives on Social Movements and Knowledge Production (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Organize! Building from the Local for Global Justice (PM Press/Between the Lines, 2012),  NGOization: Complicity, Contradictions and Prospects (Zed Books, 2013), and Just Work? Migrant Workers' Struggles Today (Pluto, 2016). He serves on the board of the Immigrant Workers Centre, Montreal.

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Unfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada
Editors: Aziz Choudry and Adrian A. Smith
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-149-3
Published: 04/01/2016
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 242
Subjects: Labor Studies/Emigration & Immigration

Over the past decade, Canada has experienced considerable growth in labour migration. Moreover, temporary labour migration has replaced permanent immigration as the primary means by which people enter Canada. Utilizing the rhetoric of maintaining competitiveness, Canadian employers and the state have ushered in an era of neoliberal migration alongside an agenda of austerity flowing from capitalist crisis. Labour markets have been restructured to render labour more flexible and precarious, and in Canada as in other high-income capitalist labour markets, employers are relying on migrant and immigrant workers as “unfree labour.”

This book explores labour migration to Canada and how public policies of temporary and guest worker programs function in the global context of work and capitalist restructuring. Contributors are directly engaged with the issues emerging from the influx of temporary foreign workers and Canada’s “creeping economic apartheid”—the ongoing racialization of economic inequality for many workers of colour. The collection also examines how migrant and immigrant workers have organized for justice and dignity in Canada. As opposed to a good deal of current writing that often ignores the working conditions and struggles of racialized migrant and immigrant workers, the authors contend that migrant workers, labour organizations, and migrant worker allies have engaged in a wide range of organizing initiatives with significant political and economic impacts. These have included both court challenges to secure legal rights to unionization and grassroots alternatives to traditional forms of unionization through workers’ centres.

Contributors include Aziz Choudry, Adrian A. Smith, Sedef Arat-Koç, Abigail B. Bakan, Joey Calugay, Jennifer Jihye Chun, Jill Hanley, Jah-Hon Koo, Mostafa Henaway, Deena Ladd, Marco Luciano, Loïc Malhaire, Adriana Paz Ramirez, Geraldina Polanco, Chris Ramsaroop, Eric Shragge, Sonia Singh, Christopher C. Sorio, and Mark Thomas.


“The authors of Unfree Labour have done us a great service, reporting and theorizing from the front lines of migrant and immigrant worker organizing in Canada. They’ve produced an internationally important book. The specific stories resonate with a global narrative, in which workers in poorer countries are freed to bring their labour to serve the rich, and are then rendered permanently vulnerable through the collusion of employers, police and government agencies. This bitter liberty is, however, being fought: look for inspiration in the reflections by organizers on resisting racialized capitalism, and the victories they’ve achieved, far from the media’s gaze, in fields, factories, fast-food and homes.”
—Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved

“Analyzing the contemporary production of ‘unfree’ labour in Canada’s immigration and neoliberal economic policies, this book makes an excellent contribution to the fields of labour and migration studies. Grounded in the struggles of migrant workers against racialized bondage, the studies presented by Choudry and Smith draw much needed attention to one of the most important movements of our times. A must read for all concerned with labour rights and economic justice in an increasingly polarized world.”
—Sunera Thobani, author of Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada

“Choudry and Smith have put together an impressive collection of authors who reveal the ugly truth about Canadian so-called values: that Canada is a willing participant and leader in the exploitation, racialization and commodification of human labour on stolen land. They reveal much about a human dignity that shines a light on the Canadian hubris and myth of being a champion of ‘human rights’ as families and people are torn asunder in the name of profit and privilege.”
—David Bleakney, second national vice-president, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Unfree Labour systematically shows how rapacious capitalists and the state thrive and secure profits through the systematic subordination of women, nonwhite, and migrant labourers. The chapters document that exploitation, so reminiscent of feudalism and early capitalism are ever-present in our modern capitalist system in the West. The chapters in this book provide chilling accounts of the constrained lives of domestics, agricultural labourers, and the growth of temporary foreign workers, so dependent on removing and denying rights that were achieved over the past two centuries. Choudry and Smith have assembled a comprehensive and outstanding book that is essential for all scholars of the labour movement.”
—Immanuel Ness, editor of New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

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Organize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice
Editors: Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley & Eric Shragge
Publisher: PM Press/Between the Lines
ISBN: 978-1-60486-433-5
Published June 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 352 Pages
Subjects: Activism/Current Events

What are the ways forward for organizing for progressive social change in an era of unprecedented economic, social,  and ecological crises? How do political activists build power and critical analysis in their daily work for change?

Grounded in struggles in Canada, the United States, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and transnational activist networks, Organize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice links local organizing with global struggles to make a better world. In over twenty chapters written by a diverse range of organizers, activists, academics, lawyers, artists, and researchers, this book weaves a rich and varied tapestry of dynamic strategies for struggle. From community-based labor organizing strategies among immigrant workers to mobilizing psychiatric survivors, from arts and activism for Palestine to organizing in support of Indigenous Peoples, the authors reflect critically on the tensions, problems, limits, and gains inherent in a diverse range of organizing contexts and practices. The book also places these processes in historical perspective, encouraging us to use history to shed light on contemporary injustices and how they can be overcome. Written in accessible language, Organize! will appeal to college and university students, activists, organizers and the wider public.

Contributors include: Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley, Eric Shragge, Devlin Kuyek, Kezia Speirs, Evelyn Calugay, Anne Petermann, Alex Law, Jared Will, Radha D’Souza, Edward Ou Jin Lee, Norman Nawrocki, Rafeef Ziadah, Maria Bargh, Dave Bleakney, Abdi Hagi Yusef, Mostafa Henaway, Emilie Breton, Sandra Jeppesen, Anna Kruzynski, Rachel Sarrasin, Dolores Chew, David Reville, Kathryn Church, Brian Aboud, Joey Calugay, Gada Mahrouse, Harsha Walia, Mary Foster, Martha Stiegman, Robert Fisher, Yuseph Katiya, and Christopher Reid.


“This superb collection needs to find its way into the hands of every activist and organizer for social justice. In a series of dazzling essays, an amazing group of radical organizers reflect on what it means to build movements in which people extend control over their lives. These analyses are jam-packed with insights about anti-racist, anti-colonial, working-class, and anti-capitalist organizing. Perhaps most crucially, the authors lay down a key challenge for all activists for social justice: to take seriously the need to build mass movements for social change. Don’t just read this exceptionally timely and important work—use it too.”
—David McNally, author of Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance

"To understand the world, you have to try to change it. That's what the authors of this fine set of essays and meditations have taken to heart. The result? Some of the best insights on power, organizing, and revolution to be found."
—Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing

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What Others are Saying

unfreeUnfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada: A Review
By Genevieve Ritchie
Adult Education Quarterly (AEQ)
January 2018

"The concluding chapter by Arat-Koç theorizes from the empirical examples brought forth by each of the chapters. As she argues, an analysis of unfree labor cannot remain at the margins but rather must be central to our understanding of modern-day capital- ism. Arat-Koç continues, “A focus on unfree labor promises not only a better analysis of contemporary capitalism, but also contributes critically and radically to labor, anti- racist and feminist debates and activism” (p. 180). As the chapters of Unfree Labour attest to, excavating the relations constituting unfreedom is a complex yet essential task for building solidarity and liberation. "

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unfreeUnfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada: A Review
By Sarah Marsden
BC Studies

"...This collection is significant in its contribution to labour migration studies. It includes multiple empirical pieces in which critiques of law and policy draw directly on interviews with migrant workers. It also contributes theoretically, elucidating critical relationships between Canada's labour migration policies and transnational relations, considering the potential of grassroots organizing, and problematizing the relationship between migrant workers' struggles and the “traditional” (white, union-based) labour movement, particularly in terms of its failure to adequately contest racism.  Its greatest strength, however, lies in the grounding of its analysis in the insights of organizers and activist-scholars directly involved with the material struggles of migrant workers. This work will be of interest to advocates, scholars, and activists involved with migrant workers. It will also appeal to those interested in critical perspectives on labour in the new economy, and to anyone who wishes to consider strategies to resist the subordination of migrant workers in Canada."

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unfreeUnfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada: A Review
By Daniel Tseghay
Rank and File
September 29th, 2016

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) includes: the Caregiver Program, which was, until November 2014, the Live-in Caregiver Program, consisting of racialized, women care workers from the Philippines and the Caribbean; the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), mainly composed of Mexican and Caribbean workers; the Stream for Lower-Skilled Occupations; and the Agricultural Stream.

They do the critical work of growing food, serving in restaurants, in the homes of the elderly. They do so over long hours, with few days off, and no vacations. And for all that, permanent residency is being offered to few people every year. Their immigration status is tied to a specific employer so if they are unlucky enough to have a bad boss they can’t simply look for another job. SAWP workers, for one, have to work for a specific amount of time and if they don’t they can be both deported and prevented from being employed by the program in the future. And, while they’re in Canada, their families cannot join them. They’re both isolated from the community and their family, and they have no other source of economic security while they’re here. Migrant workers are, according to the editors of Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada, Aziz Choudry and Adrian A. Smith, “commodities, labour units to be recruited, utilized, and sent away again as employers require.”...

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unfreeUnfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada: A Review
By Andreas Bieler
Trade unions and global restructuring
October 20th, 2016

"With precarious forms of work increasingly also emerging within the core of industrialised countries in the global economy, the issue of how to organise migrant workers has become an ever more pressing concern. In his talk at Nottingham University on Tuesday, 17 October, Aziz Choudry reported on related challenges, drawing on two of his recently co-edited books, Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016), together with Adrian Smith, and Just Work? Migrant Workers’ Struggles Today (London: Pluto Press, 2015), together with Mondli Hlatshwayo. In this blog post, I will draw out a couple of key insights resulting from Choudry’s analysis of a large range of different forms of migrant labour organising..."

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organizeOrganize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice
Globe & Mail

What with greedy corporations, cash-strapped social services and callous governments, it’s not a bad idea for people to learn how better to organize themselves and their neighbours to protect their communities. The editors have drawn on a wide range of activists, academics, lawyers, artists and researchers to present a compelling mix of actions – community-based labour-organizing strategies for immigrant workers, mobilizing psychiatric survivors, support for indigenous people – to bring about change in a time of unprecedented economic, social and ecological crises. The essays in this work examine the tensions, problems, limits and gains in a range of organizing practices, and place the processes in historical perspective.

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organizeOrganize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice
by Aziz Choudry
wi: journal of mobile media

In our new book, Organize! Building from the local for global justice**, Jill Hanley, Eric Shragge and I identify three elements that are key to effective organizing: analysis, action, and critical reflection on practice. Without romanticizing the current movement, I have no hesitation in saying that I come across each of these elements on a daily basis in my engagement with these mobilizations and student activists. The Quebec movement is a rich site of critical learning. Further, the level of engagement, sacrifice and collective struggle which many thousands of Quebec students have displayed so consistently is forcing many to re-examine their cynical view of today’s youth as individualistic and self-absorbed. We cannot predict the course and outcomes of this movement but the conscientization and politicization of a generation of students – and their courage in taking action – offers hope for the future for many people who do not see ‘business as usual’ as a viable option faced with today’s profound economic, political and ecological crises. Indeed, perhaps as historian Robin Kelley (2002) suggests,…the most powerful, visionary dreams of a new society don’t come from little think tanks of smart people or out of the atomized, individualistic world of consumer capitalism, where raging against the status quo is simply the hip thing to do. Revolutionary dreams erupt out of political engagement; collective social movements are incubators of new knowledge (p. 8).

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