Many native-born Canadians are accusing immigrants of snatching jobs, weakening unions, lowering work and housing standards and creating “ghettos.” Are their charges justified?

Peter C. Newman July 18 1959


Many native-born Canadians are accusing immigrants of snatching jobs, weakening unions, lowering work and housing standards and creating “ghettos.” Are their charges justified?

Peter C. Newman July 18 1959


Peter C. Newman

Many native-born Canadians are accusing immigrants of snatching jobs, weakening unions, lowering work and housing standards and creating “ghettos.” Are their charges justified?

ALMOST TWO million people have crossed the Atlantic since 1945 to seek a better future in Canada. Most of them have found it. The newcomers have gradually been recasting their manner of life, have had nearly half a million babies, and have irrevocably diversified the character of this nation.

At the same time, an increasing number of Canadians, some in their official positions, many more unofficially, have been raising the cry that immigrants are snatching jobs away from nativeborn Canadians, lowering the standard of working conditions, and causing a shortage of housing. There are mounting charges that by allowing themselves to be exploited, the immigrants have made it easier for unscrupulous employers, landlords and others to exploit native-born Canadians as well.

Resented by some Canadians who treat them as second-class citizens, many of the new arrivals have chosen to withdraw into “ghettos” of their own ethnic groups, where at least their complaints are heard and understood. Many Italians, for example, are convinced that most Canadians regard them as inferior. “A sort of pizza curtain exists between us,” says Arturo Scotti. editor of the Italian semi-weekly Corriere Canadese. “We’re thought of as people who just like to sing and eat queer foods.”

The ill feeling against immigrants by Canadians is increasing rather than diminishing. During the months of high unemployment last winter, second-, thirdand fourth-generation citizens without work tended to blame the newcomers. In queues outside Unemployment Insurance Commission offices there were ugly blusterings of “doing something about the damn immigrants.” At union halls across the country indignant men drew up resolutions urging a permanent halt to immigration.

The antagonism toward New Canadians has not gone unnoticed across the Atlantic and has brought Canada sharp criticism. The People, a mass circulation British Sunday newspaper, recently published a series of articles accusing Canada of enticing England's skilled manpower “into a veritable man-trap.” Such attacks, whether fair or not, will make it harder to get immigrants when we need them — and most economists and many politicians insist immigration is essential for our long-range development.

Meanwhile, unless this country's business recovery speeds up, the complaints about New Canadians may grow even more vociferous in Canada next winter, and complaints abroad about Canada’s treatment of immigrants may also become increasingly bitter.

How much truth is there in the accusation that Canadian business is ruthlessly exploiting immigrant labor? To what extent have New Canadians been grabbing jobs away from “Old" Canadians?

To obtain the answers to these questions. 1 have spent several weeks interviewing government officials, social workers, union leaders, immigrants. the officers of ethnic organizations and others concerned with the settlement of the newcomers. Their statements and the evidence 1 have found in investigating their statements have convinced me that:

+ Some shameful islands of European labor exploitation do persist in this country, mainly among the small sub-contracting firms in the bigcity construction trades, and in the textile finishing shops of Vancouver, Winnipeg. Toronto and Montreal. With a few exceptions, the employers who take advantage of the newcomers’ difficulties are fellow countrymen who preceded them to Canada and now operate businesses here. At a time when the average wage for a forty - hour w'eek in Canada’s manufacturing industries is seventy dollars, some newcomers are paid twenty-five dollars to work a weekly fifty hours. Immigrants have often had to pay exorbitant rents for inferior housing. They have frequently been victimized by real-estate sharks and used-car salesmen.

•* The unionized one third of this country’s nonagricultural labor force has little realistic ground for claiming that immigrants deprive them of jobs. When industrial layoffs occur, they are usually on the basis of seniority; the newcomers are the first to be let out.

+ The unorganized, unskilled and semi-skilled element which sw'arms to temporary work of all kinds has been more seriously affected. Immigrants are in a preferred position because they will accept lower wages and are not prevented by family ties from working in remote areas.

Immigrants seldom take jobs aw'ay from Canadians well established in their trades, but their presence is beginning to weaken the bargaining power of organized labor. “There’s no doubt,” says Bill Black, president of the B. C. Federation of Labor, “that massive immigration has slowed down bargaining. Management's very quick to toss a labor surplus in our teeth.”

Although the federal government has reduced the admission of immigrants to such an extent that the total for 1959 is expected to be only a little more than a hundred thousand — the lowest figure since 1950 — Immigration Minister Ellen Fairclough insists that New Canadians have not caused any labor

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"A Matterhorn for junior mountaineers . . . a wilderness for budding Champlains”

the time thirteen thousand years ago when waves broke on the brow of the Mountain and then gradually receded to the present level of Lake Ontario. From its sedimentary layers of dolomite, shale and limestone he can collect fossils of cup coral, crabs, spiders, clams and shellfish. Occasionally larger prizes are discovered. Ten years ago a mammoth tusk was found just beyond the brow of the Mountain.

As they grow older Hamiltonians may lose their boyhood intimacy with the Mountain but they never lose their affection for it. In summer it is a green backdrop for sweltering city streets. In winter it's a protective rampart which takes a three or four degree bite out of winter weather. In autumn the first colors on the Mountain (while trees on the city streets are still green) serve notice that storm windows and heavy boots will soon be needed. It is not until the last pocket of snow has disappeared from the Mountain side that spring is accepted.

Standing on the Mountain brow is like being in the nose of a helicopter. The sharp drop of the escarpment brings the buildings of the lower city almost under your feet. Beyond the roof tops, the cluster of office buildings, and the acres of emokepennoned factory chimneys, stretch the purple hills which are the escarpment's continuation and the farther boundary of the harbor. Eastward along the Mountain top a little-known concession

road clings to the brow lor eighteen winding miles, to a point near the fruit belt town of Grimsby. It gives a birds’ eye view of the famous orchards and vineyards of the Niagara Peninsula; beyond the land Lake Ontario stretches its blue to the horizon. In blossom time cars full of sightseers choke the lowland highways in a welter of carbon monoxide and impatient horns. The few in the know take the Mountain brow road and sec the whole snowy panorama in comparative freedom and seclusion.

It now appears possible that this section of the Mountain side, from Hamilton's eastern limits to Quecnston, may become a provincial park. The three counties concerned have submitted a brief to the Provincial Government asking that this be done as an extension of the Niagara Parks system. It would include fifteen parking areas, an improved Mountain brow road, and more than a hundred miles of hiking trails.

It is the Mountain that makes fruit growing in the peninsula possible. It protects the scar-foot plain from the cold west winds which sweep southern Ontario in the winter, making it one of the most protected regions in Canada. The temperature can dip to more than thirty below on the up ands, an extreme of sixteen below is a record for this century in the fruit belt. The Mountain also makes for a dryer climate below, which is a ic p in the mellowing of fruit. There is one inch

less rainfall between the Mountain and the lake each year and fifteen more growing days than are granted to the table land above. The fruit lands have twenty-four more growing days than has the Annapolis Valley. Frosts are dissipated in their course down the Mountain side so that when they arrive at the base they are seldom severe.

Growers pay for climate in the peninsula. Farm land is about twice the value on the plains as it is up above, though the soil is no better.

For many years the city of Hamilton was cramped between the Mountain and the harbor. It could expand only to the east and the west. But the post war boom changed all that. Wide access roads with easy gradients were built and carried the rising tide of population over the brow. At the beginning of the war there were six thousand people living on the Mountain top. Today its fiftyfive thousand people comprise one fifth of the city’s population and make it Hamilton's largest and most populous ward. On the first of January, another thirteen square miles of Mountain top land will be incorporated into the city.

Mountain residents aren't sure how they feel about this. They like to see the place grow, but they are uneasy about the heavy industry which may be needed to support the expected increase in population.

One of the great assets enjoyed by Mountain residents so far has been

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Immigrants sometimes get job preference over Canadians but they help create new jobs, too

surplus. She claims, instead, that the new arrivals create a great many extra jobs, since they add substantially to Canada's market for clothing, groceries, furniture and cars. The Dominion Sureau of Statistics estimates that the New Canadians who have come here since 1945 will this year spend close to two billion dollars on consumer goods and services. Census figures show that they quickly equip their homes with all of the appliances and gadgets standard in the Canadian house; one out of every three postwar immigrant families has bought a car. Since World War II New Canadians have brought with them to Canada investment and personal capital exceeding a billion dollars.

Probably the most direct cause of conflicts between Canadian workers and the newcomers is that for some of the openings that do exist in Times of increasing unemployment, immigrants are hired ahead of Canadians. "We find,” says Mrs; Nel West, director of Toronto's International Institute, an immigrant employment agency and social centre, "that newcomers get preference over Canadians with many-employers, because they realize that people who have left their homes to move here are serious in their approach to work and respect authority more.”

Work harder for less money

The ambitious newcomer has little choice. With some exceptions, European degrees, trade diplomas and other qualification papers are not recognized by professional societies and unions in Canada. To advance, the immigrant must show evidence of Canadian experience. To get such training, he often feels that he has to compensate for his ignorance of language and work procedures by working harder for less money, and taking the jobs that Canadians don't want.

On-the-job tension grows when immigrants try to preserve inbred working habits. It’s a custom in most central European plants to start the day by shaking hands with your co-workers. When Canadians coming on shift don l shake hands with them, then new arrivals think they're expressing hostility. "The perfectly understandable behavior of the newcomer in associating with fellow countrymen on and off the job also leads to great resentment,” says Sid Blum, director of the Jewish Labor Committee and administrator of the human rights program for the Canadian Labor Congress.

The feeling of insecurity among immigrants employed in marginal jobs for marginal rates of pay is sometimes intensified by the fear of deportation. The Immigration Act provides for the deportation of immigrants who become public charges, and it is mandatory for municipal clerks to turn in reports on immigrants seeking aid. Although Ottawa seldom orders deportation unless the immigrant is obviously attempting to avoid work, Canadian Welfare Council officials report that the newcomers will sometimes endure near starvation, rather than risk investigation by approaching welfare agencies.

"The fear of deportation is also being used by foreign-born employers to prevent union recruiting among immigrants," charges Henry Weisbach, the education director for Ontario of the Canadian Labor Congress, who claims that fore-

men are sometimes ordered by management to tell newcomers that all Canadian unions are communist, and that they'll get into trouble with the police if they sign pledge cards. Douglas Hamilton, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federa-

tion of Labor, recently went before a committee of the Ontario legislature and made some startling charges. He claimed that workers had been so frightened by anti-union propaganda, during a certification dispute between the Upholsterers

International LInion and two Toronto furniture firms, that none would volunteer to represent the employees on the contract negotiating committee, as required by law. The locals could not be formed. One firm was sold to another

“I don’t like these people coming here,” says one Toronto union leader

owner whose changed attitude allowed immediate contract negotiation; the other company has since gone bankrupt. “Wages sometimes go up forty percent after we organize a plant, but we have to fight both sides — some immigrants have become terrified of unions,” says Louis Lenkinski, an Upholsterers International organizer.

“I don’t like these people coming here,” complains Herbert Coulter, an organizer for local 253, United Garment Workers of America, in Toronto’s Queen and Spadina textile shop district. "Not because of what they do to Canadians, but because of what they're doing to themselves. They walk the streets around here so much, that when they get a job, they'll take it at any price.”

Ruth Lor, a Japanese-Canadian socialwork student at the University of Toronto. personally investigated working conditions in the needle trades in Toronto recently by joining the blouse production line at the Service Garment Company, on Adelaide Street, just off Spadina. "I was hired in a completely offhand fashion." she recalls, "It was two days before anyone asked my name, and I didn't know how much money I was making until I got my first pay envelope, ten days later. When I asked the foreman. he said he'd first have to see how good 1 was.” Miss Lot's rate turned out to be fifty-five cents an hour, increased by ten cents at the end of three weeks. Jack Price, the vice-president of Service Garment, told Maclean’s that when New Canadians become qualified, they re paid as much as his company’s other workers. "But.” he said, "no one from Europe should come here and expect to earn the same pay until they get used to our ideas and way of doing things.”

Provincial government officials across the country say that the greatest number of complaints about immigrant exploitation involve small sub-contracting firms in the construction industry. Bruno Zanini. an Italian-speaking organizer for the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers Union, claims that in a survey he reccntconducted among Italian sub-contractors in the Toronto area, he found that eighty-

five percent of the bricklayers employed by the firms were not receiving holiday pay — compulsory under Ontario law. “Many of these men,” he says, “have never heard of unemployment insurance —their employers haven't deducted the workers’ share or paid their own.” Eric Billington. chairman of Ontario's Industry and Labor Board, which investigates employer practices, insists that Zanini’s claim is greatly exaggerated. “Certainly some of the Italian sub-contractors try to evade making holiday payments, but they’re no worse than any other group, ’ he says.

Small sub-contracting firms that sometimes disappear between jobs and keep few records are the worst offenders, according to government officials. The Manitoba department of labor recently discovered that a Yugoslav sub-contractor in Winnipeg was keeping the only data on his five-man crew of Yugoslav immigrant laborers on the inside cover of his cigarette-paper package. He had to pay a ten-dollar fine for failure to deduct income tax, unemployment insurance and workmen's compensation. "I don't know about the small firms,” says George Playfair-Brown, general manager of Donolo (Ontario) Limited, a large Toronto construction firm that employs many immigrants, "but it would certainly be impossible for an employee receiving wages from us not to receive vacation pay or unemployment insurance."

Despite some flagrant examples of immigrant exploitation in the unskilled and semi-skilled categories of nearly every industry, the overwhelming majority of postwar newcomers to Canada have been absorbed relatively smoothly into the country’s labor force. Most of them labor in jobs without heavy responsibility, but more and more of the immigrants have been gaining positions in the middle echelons of management. Except for some controlled by European capital, however, no major corporation in Canada is yet headed by a recent arrival from continental Europe.

As their jobs improve, many immigrants are assuming much more secure economic positions. The established new-

comers put away an estimated hundred and fifty million dollars a year into their bank savings accounts, but recent arrivals have a tendency to purchase goods beyond their means. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, where there are fewer credit opportunities, sometimes translate the earnings from their first job into continental terms, decide they're doing very well, then load themselves up with installment debts. Parents of single men who come to Canada frequently receive in one of their first letters a photograph of their boy in front of his newly acquired used car. "Because they’re so insecure, they become very materialistic and strive to collect symbols of their success as quickly as possible,” says Dr. John Sawatsky, a University of Toronto psychologist who has studied immigrant integration. He claims one serious problem is that some of the smaller finance companies lure immigrants with easy loans, then hint at deportation proceedings if they fall behind on payments.

Just as some of the better-established immigrants most flagrantly exploit the newcomers as employees, they also are the worst offenders in selling newcomers things they neither need nor can afford. The immigration department recently ordered out of its immigrant coaches the vice - president of a German - Canadian club in Toronto, who rode the trains from Halifax, Saint John and Montreal as a welcoming ethnic representative. Federal officials discovered that he was simultaneously paid commissions by a Toronto store to sell the newcomers furniture. One German family complained that they had been signed up for fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of furnishings an hour out of Halifax. The ethnic representative had told them that they’d have to own the essentials as soon as they left the train because all Canadian fiats are unfurnished.

Some of the early misunderstandings between immigrants and Canadian merchants grow into charges of discrimination that turn out to be groundless. Immigration officers in Hamilton received one impassioned complaint from a recently arrived Italian family that Eaton’s de-

iriartment store was discriminating against iihem. When government representatives ¡investigated, they discovered that the ¡Italian women were furious with Baton’s clerks because they refused to bargain over the price of merchandise — an accepted procedure in southern Italy.

The heads of immigrant families strive eagerly for the feeling of security afforded by home ownership, but they are often victimized by real-estate men who take advantage of their unfamiliarity with local conditions. “They're in such a rush to have a house, they’ll believe almost anything they’re told,” says Julius Bóteles, a Hungarian-born Winnipeg lawyer. In one case he recently investigated, he found that an unscrupulous real - estate agent had arranged for a Hungarian family to obtain a house for a down payment of only one hundred dollars, but the terms were such that the immigrants are now bound to pay off a mortgage for nearly twice the value of the house. The mortgiage interest rate is eight percent.

A more spectacular plight was that of Ludwig Zsoldos, a Hungarian living in Edmonton, who bought a house for five hundred dollars last winter. The dwelling was obviously in bad shape, but Zsoldos thought he was getting a great bargain. He didn't notice that the sales documents only referred to the building. The lot on which it stood had already been sold to aí brickyard. The house was in too poor condition for transfer to safer ground.

The exploitation of immigrants is not confined to cities. While the isolation of farm laborers makes them the least vocal oif the immigrant groups, the leaders of ethnic societies claim that many newcomers who have taken agricultural jobs are being badly abused in terms of pay and working hours. One case recently investigated by social workers in Calgary involved a Spanish immigrant who had been kept for almost a year without pay on a nearby farm, working up to fifteen hours a day. The immigrant claimed the Canadian farmer had convinced him that he had entered the country illegally, that he was being sought for deportation, and that his picture was even hung with other wanted men in the local post office. The Spaniard eventually left to look for himself and told his story to a local welfare agency. It arranged another job. but no court action was instituted for back pay.

I he farmer claimed that he had rewarded his Spanish hireling with free board and clothing; the immigrant refused to take his case to trial.

Few wage disputes involving immigrants reach the courts. The amounts of money at stake are usually small and the newcomer is frightened of contacts with the law. There are still arguments about the extent of actual exploitation that took place in the most controversial postwar immigrant labor incident. This was the scheme of Ludger Dionne, who in 1947 flew in from European DP camps a hundred Polish women to work at his rayon spinning mill, in St. Georges de Beauce, Que. Those chosen had to sign two-year contracts for a forty-eight-hour week, at an initial rate of twenty-five cents an hour, then the province's legal minimum.

I hey lived in the annex of a convent near

the factory, had to call Dionne Tutus (father) and could only leave their residence twice a week until 1 1 p.m. Dionne personally approved their shopping lists and they had to submit any marriage proposals received for his sanction — a blessing seldom given. After paying rent and returning part of their trans-Atlantic air fare, their weekly wages averaged S3.60. The plan was so heavily criticized in the House of Commons, where Dionne was a Liberal backbencher, that nearly all of the women were allowed to leave within a year.

Another potentially explosive situation involving immigrant labor occurred in the summer of 1957. during the recognition strike by the United Steel Workers against Gaspe Copper Mines Limited, at Murdochville. Que. The new miners imported by the company to replace the strikers included a heavy representation of German immigrants. When Roger Provost, the president of the Quebec Federation of .Labor, led a protest delegation to the mine site, the Germans lined up behind the barricaded fences, hoarsely repeating the illogical chant:

"GO HOME DAMN CANUCKS!" Some violence followed, and most of the immigrants have now left the Gaspe.

These and similar embittering incidents are difficult to eliminate, but there is in this country an increasing realization that the immigrant is one of the indispensably valuable factors in maintaining Canada's economic and social development. "Our high standard of living,” says Sid Blum of the Jewish l abor Committee, “could never have been developed without the human resources made available by largescale immigration.” -AT