Aug 312014

By Judy Haiven. Judy is a member of Solidarity Halifax and teaches in the Management Department, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax. Originally published at the Halifax Media Coop.

Labour Day 2014: What’s Brewing?

As we approach the Labour Day holiday, a new interest in unions is coming from an unlikely quarter.

Servers at one local coffee shop, Just Us in HRM, won union certification and employees at another cafe, Coburg Coffee House, applied for the right to union representation.

What does this mean – and what will it mean for baristas or servers in other coffee shops?Coburg Vote Yes

First things first:  minimum wage in NS stands at $10.40 an hour.  For employees new to the labour force, employers are entitled to pay $9.90, the ‘inexperienced’ wage, to any employee who has less than three months experience in the job.  Almost 60% of minimum wage workers hold jobs that are part-time, compared with less than 20% for all employees.  In NS, many minimum wage earners – including coffee shop and restaurant workers — find themselves trying to hang on to part-time jobs of 20 or 30 hours a week.  These part-time, minimum wage workers earn between $200 and $300 a week or  $11,000 to $16,000 a year. It is estimated that $18,178 a year is the minimum income necessary for a single person in Halifax, and $25,449 for a parent and one child.

Statistics Canada data report that in 2009, 5.8% of employees across Canada earned minimum wage, or less.  But in Nova Scotia, that number stood at 6.8%.  Today more than 6% or 23,600 Nova Scotians earn minimum wage.

Enter coffee shop workers.  Their shifts often start at six or seven in the morning; some work until after midnight.  Despite their typically part-time hours, employees open and close the shops; they deal with cash sales and high ‘throughput’ all day long. Baristas frequently suffer burns when pouring coffee and serving very hot drinks in a small space behind the counter. Employees also deal with cranky (and sometimes kindly) customers.  The servers must be pleasant and friendly to earn tips.  While some customers balk at leaving a tip, tips are a necessity for servers who need the money to make ends meet.  Rather than the business itself paying workers a better wage, business depends on customers’ tips to subsidize servers’ pay.

Most people who work in cafés and restaurants are treated as ‘kids’ even though they are teens, university graduates and even older adults.  Management often believes that employees who create problems or question the bosses’ authority can be let go and easily replaced. But increasingly in this economy, servers or baristas see their jobs as more permanent than temporary.  They need the jobs and they demand respect at work.  This is essence of why servers and baristas signed union cards.  While a union can negotiate higher pay, a union can also win more rights for workers — such as coffee breaks, paid sick leave, defined hours, overtime pay, and dignity at work.

This is something we all deserve.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 212014

By Judy Haiven. Judy is a member of Independent Jewish Voices- Canada and of Solidarity Halifax. She teaches at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Originally published at the Halifax Media Coop.

Our public broadcaster doesn’t want to cover pro-Palestinian peace efforts…

Carrying signs today in front of the Public Gardens

Carrying signs today in front of the Public Gardens

It’s one block away from headquarters, but no one comes to see.

It’s at midday, when – given that it’s glorious high summer – no one from headquarters drops by on their way to lunch on Spring Garden Road.

It takes place on the busiest corner in Halifax, but no one from headquarters comes near because it could be controversial.

The ‘no one’ is any journalist or reporter at the CBC Radio One headquarters. Dozens work there.  We are told that there is the need for local content to shape the Information Morning show – 3 hours every weekday.  There is also the one hour daily Maritime Noon program, and there is the 3 hour Main Street current affairs program broadcast in the afternoon, when Haligonians drive home from work.  Oh I almost forgot, CBC Radio One also has to fill a local news spot every half hour for 12 hours a day – that’s 24 news spots.


But not one reporter bothers to walk to the corner where we hold picket signs about stopping Israel’s destruction of Gaza.

And still,  the journalists at the CBC Radio soldier on reporting the business news, the stock market news, the charity swim news, the highway accident news, the grizzly murder and mayhem news –as though crime has not decreased to levels not seen since 1970.

This sign attracted many people who signed the letters to PM Harper

This sign attracted many people who signed the letters to PM Harper

But there is no news on CBC Radio One about local people who are protesting Israel’s destruction of Gaza.

Indeed, the news about 400 plus people in Halifax who stopped at the gates to the Public Gardens to sign letters to the Prime Minister — our local public broadcaster simply ignores.


The Case:  For the last 10 days from 12 noon to 12.30 pm,  in front of the Public Gardens, members of Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, and Independent Jewish Voices-Canada have asked Haligonians and visitors to stop for a minute and sign a letter to PM Harper.  The letter urges Harper to demand that Israel lift its 7 year blockade of Gaza and rebuild Gaza which Israeli troops attacked in their Operation Protective Edge.  Israel has killed more than 2,000 civilians and maimed more than 10,000 people.  More than 400,000 of Gazans (one quarter of their population) cannot go home because Israel has destroyed tens of thousands of houses in Gaza since early July.

Kevin. He's come to hold a sign and leaflet every day for 10 days.

Kevin. He’s come to hold a sign and leaflet every day for 10 days.

The Result: Fewer that 2% of people walking by the Public Gardens have refused to sign a letter to Harper. There is tremendous interest in halting Israel’s deployment of Hellfire missiles and shells on Gazan civilians.  Even through short-lived  recent ceasefires in effect, people in Halifax continued  to demand that Israeli hospitals treat the 10,000 Palestinians burned and broken by Israel’s airstrikes.  The letters to our PM also ask him to tell Israel to rebuild homes, mosques, hospitals and schools in Gaza, since Israel destroyed them.

Today, at our media conference in front of the Public Gardens, there was no sign of reporters from the CBC – our public broadcaster.  Maybe they are afraid of controversy.  Maybe they don’t bother to open our emails and press releases.  Maybe the reporters are simply too busy and too jaded to look at what hundreds of people in this city are doing for peace.  400 signed letters are a serious start.






Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 182014

By Ben Sichel. Ben  is a teacher in Dartmouth and author of the P-12 education section for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Provincial Budget. Originally published at no need to raise your hand.

There’s a rally in Halifax this Tuesday in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and all black youth.

If you’re a teacher, I’d like to encourage you to attend. 

Ferguson solidarity signsI won’t re-hash here the details of Ferguson teenager Mike Brown’s killing by police officer Darren Wilson, or the subsequent wave of protest that showcased the militarization of U.S. police for the whole world to see.

The rallies and demonstrations taking place around North America in response to this incident are reminders (for those of us who have the privilege occasionally to forget) of the centuries-old patterns of anti-black racism* that continue to plague our society.

In the wake of Mike Brown’s death, more of us are learning statistics that illustrate this, like the fact that more than 300 black American men were killed by police in 2012, or that the median black family’s wealth is 1/20 that of the median white family.

Here in Canada our conversations about race are more muted, probably due at least in part to our preferred national image as the place where enslaved African-Americans came for freedom – after fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and on the Underground Railroad.

The full picture is much more…spotty, to put it kindly. The first major wave of Black immigrants who came to Nova Scotia in the late 1700’s faced such fierce racism that most of them left within a decade. American Jim Crow laws were often mirrored in Canada, with segregated institutions mandated by law from the mid 1800’s (at the height of the Underground Railroad) to the mid-1900’s, when civil rights heroes like Viola Desmond actively challenged them. In the 1910’s and 20’s, governments attempted all sorts of chicanery to stem a feared tide of black immigrants from Oklahoma, including stating that Black people were “unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.” [PDF link to an interesting “Historical perspective on anti-black racism in Canada”]

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw very public incidents of flaring racial tensions, leading to reports such as the Stephen Lewis Report on Race Relations in Ontario (1992) and the BLAC Report on Education in Nova Scotia (1994). Both reports spelled out the details of anti-Black racism in their respective province’s institutions and made recommendations for change. These recommendations have been implemented to varying degrees over the past 20 years (the last comprehensive evaluation of the BLAC report’s recommendations was done in 2009; that report is available here (PDF)).

As teachers, we need to recognize where our students are coming from. For our African Nova Scotian students, this means understanding that they live in a world where they are disproportionately suspended from school, put on special education plans, and incarcerated. We need to examine honestly the reasons for these inequities, listen to our students (as well as our colleagues and friends) when they tell us about incidents of racism, and do the hard work needed to address them.

And we need to encourage and support our students when they take the lead in the fight. Let’s start by showing up on Tuesday.


* This isn’t to say that other forms of racism are more or less important than anti-black racism;  it’s simply to note that different forms of racism are qualitatively different from one another.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 172014

Don’t miss this talk at the Peoples Social Forum by Solidarity Halifax and Ottawa-based Solidarity Against Austerity.

Despite the economic crisis of 2008 and the austerity turn by governments, the left in Canada has had plenty of difficulty building organizations capable of fighting back. How can the left rebuild local organizations capable of building a broad-based political movement to resist austerity and advance an anti-capitalist alternative?

Facebook event:

Friday, August 22
9:00am – 10:30am
University of Ottawa, DMS 1160



From Janitors to Baristas – organising service sector workers.
Featuring Solidarity Halifax member and Baristas Rise Up activist Sam Krawec
August 22 at 2:45pm – Room 323, Tabaret Building (Laurier E & Waller) University of Ottawa



Aug 162014

Ferguson at Kwacha 1


Facebook event:

Tuesday, August 19
Victoria Park (opposite Public Gardens)

Michael Brown was supposed to be starting college this week. On August 9th, the unarmed Black youth was shot dead, eight times by Ferguson police. Hundreds of irate Fergusons took to the streets yelling: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” The police responded with teargas, live ammunition and road blocks. This gathering in Halifax will focused on awakening a Pan-Africanist centred conscious and acknowledging Black life, which is devalued as a whole. We are in solidarity with Michael Brown, the people of Ferguson, Missouri and the African Diaspora as a whole.

Ferguson at Kwacha 2