Pushed to the Edge: Political Activism of Guatemalan Migrant Farmworkers

  • Giselle Valarezo
  • Christine Hughes

Abstract

This paper explores political engagement by Guatemalans who seasonally migrate to Canada as contracted agricultural workers. Since 2003, an ever-increasing number of Guatemalans have pursued economic opportunities in Canadian fields and greenhouses as participants in a labour migration scheme brokered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called the Temporary Agricultural Workers to Canada (TAWC) Project. While some describe this labour migration as a win-win situation for employers and migrant workers, for too many of these migrants, work in Canada has demanded sacrifices and losses, not the least of which of their human rights and dignity at the hands of employers and administrators of the TAWC Project. While there is a great deal at stake for these migrants should they denounce mistreatment, given the climate of fear created by the employer-driven nature of the TAWC project, a growing number of them have been pushed to do so. With the support of allies that encourage political empowerment of migrant workers, black-listed Guatemalans have formed a political advocacy group - Asociación de Guatemaltecos Unidos por Nuestros Derechos (AGUND) - aimed at fighting for the realization of their rights and redressing cases of wrongdoing. Based on workers’ testimonies and other institutional interviews, this paper outlines the difficulties workers have experienced as labour migrants to Canada, the context of vulnerability that largely impedes them from denouncing mistreatment, and the development and activities of AGUND. Informed by literature on political organizing, it also identifies the factors that have both impeded and encouraged political activity on the part of these disenfranchised yet determined Guatemalan workers.