On Saturday, Dec. 4 in Brampton, students and workers of the Naujawan Support Network (NSN) led a militant demonstration against wage theft. The action was directed in particular against a restaurant called Chat Hut, which had stolen over $18,000 in wages from a young international student and worker. This demonstration was one part of a larger series of escalating actions the NSN has taken against greedy bosses who refuse to pay their workers, as we’ve reported on previously.
After having tea and samosas to get warmed up (it was a very cold day), the march began, and was incredibly militant and inspiring. Despite attempts by the police to discourage attendees from exercising their democratic right to protest, the march traveled up the busy Hurontario Street directly to Chat House.
The working class anger was palpable, as evidenced by chants of “Chat Hut, Cheat Hut!” and “Name them, shame them!”, referring to the owners of Chat Hut, Ajay and Shweta Kalra. NSN made signs with names and pictures of the Chat Hut owners declaring them “Chors” (thieves) and cheaters. The demonstration stood in front of the restaurant for about an hour and several speakers told the crowd about their first-hand experiences of wage theft. The NSN stated that if the stolen wages were not paid, then next time they will go further and will march directly on the homes of the Kalras.
In particular, the woman whose $18,000 in wages were stolen spoke of her experience working at Chat Hut. She worked there for over six months, doing 12-hour days during the middle of the pandemic in 2020, before vaccines were widely available. The conditions were so exhausting that she fainted multiple times at work, and the owners simply walked around her collapsed body, leaving her on the ground for hours, not even pretending to care, let alone seeking medical attention. The avarice of the capitalists knows no bounds. She was paid $100 for a 12-hour work day, averaging to $8.33 per hour. This rate was in fact an increase from the original rate of $5 per hour that she started at Chat Hut with. The young worker took this job due to the employer’s promise to provide her with an employment letter—a requirement for permanent residency applications. When she asked for the employment letter, the employers asked her to work for another whole year before they would be willing to provide the letter. At this point, she decided to move on to another workplace and demanded to at least be paid minimum wage for her hard work. They flatly refused repeated requests for both the minimum wage and the employment letter. As a consequence, she is still without permanent resident status in Canada, even though she meets all the criteria to apply.
After shaming the owners of Chat Hut, the march continued up a busy road to one of the main intersections in Brampton, Hurontario and Steeles. During the march, the police tried to intimidate us into stopping by using very loud sirens and dangerously aggressive driving at the edges of the rally. It was clear to every worker there whose side the police were on: the bosses’. The police will readily bring in dozens of officers to repress a workers’ protest within minutes, but of course we cannot call the police to arrest the boss when our wages are stolen.
Without the NSN and their militant tactics, the only way for workers to recover stolen wages is through a lengthy bureaucratic process which may take years to complete, if it is successful at all. Yet even if the bosses paid these workers their full wages, they would still be exploited. Capitalism is based on profit. Fundamentally, the only way the bosses can profit is if they pays workers less than the value that their labour creates. Marxists believe workers should control the full value of their labour, something that can only be achieved by socialist revolution.
Indeed, one of the main chants during the protest was, in both English and Punjabi, Inquilab Zindabad! “Long live the revolution!” Another common chant was “Long Live Workers’ Unity.” In the spirit of unity and solidarity, at the close of the demonstration, NSN invited our comrade Ana to speak, as can be seen below. She commended the militant actions of the NSN and spoke about the link between the struggle of workers in Brampton with the struggles of workers around Canada and the world.
“There are currently multiple strikes, from warehouse workers in Quebec, to university workers in Manitoba, and a big unionization drive in Waterloo. This is part of a bigger process of workers around the world realizing that they must organize or face ruin. In the last couple of months, there have been huge strike waves in America, Turkey and a general strike in South Korea. There are many ongoing efforts to organize the unorganized, which we’re seeing especially around Amazon. Of course, we just saw the victory of the Indian farmers! We saw that militant mass class actions work!”
She ended the speech by highlighting that the NSN is a part of bringing the international workers’ struggle against the bosses and capitalist exploitation to Canada.
The Naujawan Support Network is an inspiring movement of youth, international students, workers and community members. Many workers gave speeches describing how their families back home took part in the year-long mass protest movement of Indian farmers, which recently won a significant victory against the right-wing Modi government. The NSN workers, like their families back home, refused to be intimidated by the police or to be told to limit their protests to typical, safe channels. The courage and bravery of these workers serves as a point of inspiration for all class fighters.
The labour movement stands to learn a lot from these revolutionary workers. Indeed, Melisa Bayon from the OFL gave a speech at the start of the rally describing why there should be no shame in poverty, why capitalism is at fault, and concluded by emphasizing the need to vote out the Ford government. However, she neglected to say who exactly we should vote for (Liberals? NDP?), and, in any case, the callout did not seem to resonate with the crowd since most NSN members do not have the right to vote in Canada, given that many are struggling to attain permanent resident status, let alone citizenship. The NSN’s brave, militant tactics in directly confronting the bosses stands in stark contrast to the conciliatory business unionism that has plagued the Canadian labour movement.
Fightback stands in complete support of the NSN and we will continue to organize solidarity contingents to join the rallies they organize. If you’re interested in getting involved in Fightback or want to join us in the next solidarity contingent, sign up here.