Racism and Farm Workers in Canada

Racism and Farm Workers in Canada


Alan Duton

The problem was to specifically explain why farm workers, who are predominantly of South-Asian descent during the post-war period in the province of British Columbia, receive unequal, and in fact, racist treatment. I argue against culturalist and mechanical marxist approaches to explain racism. I present for discussion only the first few chapters of the thesis. While the study focuses on South-Asian labor, the model could be used to explain the conditions of work for Mexican labour in southern Ontario or French-Canadian labour in the interior of British Columbia or for the more general problem of institutional racism both inside and outside the labour market.

Chinese, Japanese and East Indian ethnic groups are the subjects of a long history of prejudice and discrimination in British Columbia. While racism on the west coast has often been mitigated in recent years by human rights legislation and the admission of minorities in trade unions, minorities still receive unequal treatment. One case in point is that of farm workers.

Like Chicano, Mexican and Afro-American farm workers in the United States, minority ethnic groups involved in agricultural work in B.C. Are employed in a pre-industrial production process. Workers continue to be used as stoop labour, at below minimum wage for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days per week. Growers employ farm workers largely to hand-harvest fruits, berry crops and vegetables between July and September. An estimated 20,000 seasonal farm workers are employed along with unpaid family and owner-operator labour.

Farm workers are recruited by two methods: through provincial employment bureaus and the contract labour system. In the former case, the Federal government provides funds for farm labour pools where migrant workers are advised of grower requirements. In the latter, labour contractors directly exploit their connections with ethnic communities to recruit labour for farm owners. In either case, workers find themselves in a dangerous occupation, with the third highest accident rate in Canada. And farm workers find that they are not protected by health, safety and labour standards legislation. Union organizers, community action groups and a recent Human Rights Commission have labeled this de-regulation of the farm labour process 'institutionalized racism' (B.C. Human Rights Commission Report, 1983).

The roots of this type of racism run deep in the history of British Columbia. While Chinese immigrants were initially welcomed in the expanding gold rush economy of the late 1850's, they soon began to receive unequal treatment as recurring cycles of recession and unemployment forced workers to compete over diminishing gold claims. As a result, minorities received formal unequal treatment in the 1870's when Chinese immigrants were disenfranchised and exempted from registering their vital statistics. Later, during the development of industrial capitalism in the mid-1880's, minorities received worse treatment as capitalists in coal mining, railway construction, fishing and forestry industries attempted to use minorities as a cheap source of labour to undercut the relatively higher wages of white workers and to break strikes. In response to 'cheap' labour, working and, later, middle class whites petitioned the state for racially defined immigration and labour laws to exclude Asian workers from direct economic competition in the main industrial sectors of the provincial economy. At the same time, however, some union organizers attempted to bridge ethnic divisions in order to prevent wage-undercutting and/or the loss of jobs. Because these attempts to organize workers across ethnic boundaries against capital largely failed, white and middle class workers pressured for a broad range of racially defined labour and immigration legislation designed to limit the supply of cheaper sources of labour.

Theories of West coast ethnic antagonisms and prejudice, however, have failed to explain this complex history of ethnic relations involving; 1) contradictory class interests in Asian immigration, 2) the relationship of the union movement to minorities and, 3) the uneven treatment of minority labour from one stage in the development of capitalism to the other. Chapter Two of this study argues that mainstream theories fail to adequately address these issues because they reduce ethnic relations to 'irrational' psychological fears arising from cultural diversity, to the economic and utilitarian benefits of racism for dominant ethnic groups or to the prevalence of racist traditions derived from British Imperialism in Canadian society.

In contrast to mainstream theories, this study advances the argument that West coast minority ethnic relations are rooted in the socio-economic and political conditions of the development of capitalism in British Columbia. It is maintained that capitalists qua capitalists want access to cheap labour but that workers must resist in order to protect jobs and wage rates. Contradictory class interests over 'cheap' labour may result in class struggle over the use of minority labour and are the basis of ethnic antagonisms including racially defined immigration and labour legislation.

Chapter Three attempts to support this thesis by briefly examining the history of Asian-European relations in the province. It is argued that widespread ethnic antagonisms between Chinese, Japanese, East Indian and European ethnic groups developed as capitalists began to replace higher paid European workers with relatively 'cheap' Asian labour. Racially defined labour and immigration legislation are interpreted as a manifestation of class struggle over the capitalist labour process as the European section of the working class attempted to stop wage undercutting by limiting immigration and by restricting Asian workers to peripheral sectors of the economy.

Chapter Four argues that minority ethnic relations are subject to the same dynamics in modern state capitalism; capitalists want access to cheap labour. With respect to minorities historically discriminated against, e.g., Chinese, Japanese and East Indian, the effects of capitalism are particularly acute. One case in point is that of farm workers in British Columbia. Farm owners have resisted attempts to include farm work under the Employment Standards Act (1981), and other health and safety legislation, while trade unions, churches, community groups and activists have supported the farm workers' struggle for a union which would provide the necessary legislation to protect all agricultural workers. It is argued that State de-regulation of the farm labour process reflects the political power of well-organized farm owner organizations and, to date, the political powerlessness of ethnic minorities in the ethnically segmented labour market which services the agricultural industry in the province.

The concluding chapter summarizes the findings of this study, arguing for further studies of ethnic relations in terms of the international division of labour and class struggle in Canadian society over the control and regulation of the labour process.


Chapter 2. Theories of 'Race Relations'

The habit of treating named entities such as Iroquois, Greece, Persia, the United States ['Asians', 'Whites', etc.] as fixed entities opposed to one another by stable internal architecture and external boundaries interferes with our ability to understand their mutual encounter and confrontation. In fact, this tendency has made it difficult to understand all such encounters and confrontations. We seem to have taken a wrong turn in our understanding at some critical point in the past, a false choice that bedevils our thinking in the present. (Wolf, 1982:7)


There are three well defined theories of relations between Asian and European immigrants in B.C. The first holds that culturally diverse societies produce psychological tensions which result in ethnic antagonisms and prejudice. From this perspective Ward (1978;1980;1981) claims that Anglo-Canadians were afraid that Asian immigrants [1] would destroy their cultural institutions and practices and that these 'irrational' phobias resulted in racism.

In contrast to this social psychological perspective, Li (1978) argues that ethnic relations are determined by the assimilable, was grounded in the economic and utilitarian interests of dominant ethnic groups.

Finally, Chan (1983) argues that Canadian racism was simply the result of British Imperialism, the Judeo-Christian heritage, and the Social Darwinism of 19th Century Anglo-Canadian society. According to this perspective, racism is a universal feature of Canadian society from 'Cartier to the present'.

However, this Chapter argues that these three theories largely fail to explain; 1) contradictory class interests toward minorities, 2) attempts by unions to organize across ethnic boundaries and, finally 3) the uneven treatment afforded to minorities in B.C. It is maintained that the failure to explain these three inter-related phenomena results from the lack of an historical and materialist method of analysis of ethnic relations. Following Bonacich (1980) and Warburton (1981), this chapter argues that ethnic relations need to be examined historically and specifically in the context of the socio-economic conditions generated by the development of capitalism. The following is a critical examination of these theoretical issues.

Social Psychology and Ethnic Relations

In White Canada Forever, Ward attempts to explain relations between Chinese, Japanese, East Indians and Europeans on the Pacific North West coast from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. According to Ward, West Coast ethnic antagonisms were simply among the consequences of interracial and cultural contact. In this view:

The multiracial nature of the West coast society stirred a profound psychological impulse within the white community to strengthen its collective identity by striving for a homogeneous society. The unremitting hostility evidenced by the Chinese image was one manifestation of this drive... Social pluralism was unacceptable to nativists in British Columbia. John Chinaman seemed unassimilable and therefore he thwarted the drive toward the goal of homogeneity...At the bottom of West coast racialism lay a frustrated vision of a 'white' British Columbia...(Ward, 1978:22)

Ward's theory of West coast ethnic relations is derived from two sources. First, Following Hoetink's (1967/1974) studies of 'ethnically plural societies' in the Caribbean, Ward claims that:

all racial groups yearn for a racially homogeneous community. Most plural societies are therefore inherently unstable and tend toward racial and cultural homogeneity. (Ward, 1978:22)

In Ward's view, therefore, cultural diversity in itself produces strains which can only be resolved through the removal of cultural differences, e.g. assimilation or exclusion. For Ward:

Cultural pluralism was unacceptable to the white community [in B.C.]. Within it the plural condition generated profound irrational fears. Pluralism stirred a deep longing for the social cohesion which could only be achieved it seemed, by attaining racial homogeneity (Ward, 1978:93).

Second, drawing on Allport's (1954) social psychological theory of prejudice and discrimination, Ward attempts to explain the causes of 'profound irrational fears' arising from cultural contact, in terms of exaggerated beliefs associated with Asian minorities. Ward claims that members of dominant ethnic groups saw minorities largely in terms of negative stereotypes, i.e., as unassimilable and inferior. These perceptions aroused deep-seated fears for the cultural hegemony of Anglo-Canadians.

By emphasizing ethnic cultures and psychological fears, however, Ward is forced to downplay the relevance of socio-economic and political conditions in shaping ethnic relations. According to Ward:

racial beliefs [in B.C.] persisted largely independent of social and economic circumstances, a fact which ...suggests that this pattern of racial awareness was ultimately grounded much more in psychological tensions than socio-economic ones... The enduring nature of these beliefs also emphasized that, once these images took root in the culture of that province, they assumed a life of their own. (Ward, 1978:119)

This social psychological emphasis is also evident in Ward's article 'Race and Class in the Social Structure of B.C.:1870-1939'. According to Ward's analysis the major social boundaries in the province have been formed by 'race', i.e. by ethnic cultures independent of capitalism and social class. For Ward:

historically, the major divisions in the provincial society have been those of race. The boundaries separating one race from another have been more rigid and less porous than any historic divisions based upon the consciousness of social class. (Ward, 1980:35)

Ward's assumption, therefore, is that ethnic relations are ontologically discrete from soci-economic processes[2]. While Ward is forced to acknowledge the importance of economic competition between ethnic groups as a source of ethnic antagonisms and racial prejudice, he avoids any outright contradiction of his social psychological thesis by asserting that economic conditions merely 'activated' pre-existing and underlying social psychological tensions engendered by cultural diversity.

Ward's explanation of ethnic relations, however, leaves three basic issues unresolved[3]. First, Ward notes that: 1) initial Chinese immigration was welcomed during the Fraser River Gold Rush in 1857-58 and that important capitalists such as Andrew Onderdonk, labour contractor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Robert Dunsmuir, coal mine baron, subsequently encouraged Asian immigration, despite growing white unemployment and social unrest; and 2) that capitalists resisted legislation both to restrict Asian immigration and to protect white workers from competition with relatively 'cheap' Asian labour. Yet he fails to take these actions seriously, claiming that 'white' British Columbians had a 'collective' vision of a 'white community' which the Asian 'image' supposedly threatened. But the actions of capitalists in promoting Asian immigration in the province and using Asian labour in their homes and in industry to both replace white workers and to break strikes are evidence of not one white community with shared interests but two communities; one capitalist and the other working class, fundamentally divided over the question of Asian labour. Unfortunately, Ward is unable to grasp the theoretical significance of these contradictory class interests in the Asian labour because of his methodological idealism which leads him to artificially separate culture from socio-economic conditions. This idealism forces him to ignore the problem of explaining why capitalists consistently favoured Asian immigration, despite the supposed importance of cultural homogeneity to the West coast white 'community'.

Second, Ward also fails to explain why white unions attempted to organize with Indian and Japanese workers in key industrial sectors. Throughout the history of the fishing industry, for example, workers from different cultural backgrounds attempted to form alliances against capitalists in order to raise the price of fish. While many of these unions were short lived and replaced by attempts to exclude Asian minorities from the province, it is crucial that the theory of ethnic relations between Asians and Europeans explain why workers have attempted to bridge cultural, linguistic and religious boundaries at certain times in the province's history and the reasons why many of these alliances failed.

Finally, Ward's social psychological approach also fails to adequately explain the uneven treatment of ethnic minorities in B.C. From one time period to another. To give Ward credit, he does acknowledge definite 'stages' of minority relations. Ward admits that initial reactions to Chinese workers in the late 1850's did not result in widespread or serious ethnic antagonisms and he correctly notes that relations did not deteriorate, or in his words, the "dye of west coast racism" was not "fixed", until the mid-1880's - some thirty years after cultural contact had taken place.

However, Ward ignores the fact that this uneven treatment poses a serious challenge to his approach. Attempting to back out of this problem,

Ward claims that the failure of cultural contact to produce ethnic antagonisms was due to the 'structural features' of West Coast society; that is, the location of Chinese in ancillary occupations and the 'sojourning' mentality of Anglo-American miners who had little vested interest in maintaining cultural homogeneity. Yet Ward fails to integrate this claim, whatever its empirical value, into his overall theory of ethnic antagonisms. Nor does Ward apparently recognize that this claim concerning the views of Anglo-Americans contradicts his own evidence that Anglo-Americans were, in fact, the source of some of the most serious early incidents of ethnic antagonisms and of racial propaganda ( see Chapter Three). Furthermore, Ward fails to explain in any consistent way why it was that the 'dye' of West coast racism was 'fixed' only in the 1880's and not in some other time period. However it could be argued that this is to be expected given the logic of Ward's approach, since there is nothing in this type of social psychological perspective to explain why initial cultural contact did not produce the immediate and violent expulsion of the 'aliens'.

Similarly, Ward's explanation of the reduction, or 'low ebbs', of ethnic antagonisms in the 1930's is also lacking in force. He claims that prejudice and discrimination was reduced in this time period because:

Acculturation had greatly reduced the social distance between whites and Asians, particularly those of the second generation. In defiance of all that the nativists had long predicted, the Chinese, Japanese, and East Indians had in varying degrees absorbed the social and cultural norms of western Canadian society. Thus they had taken great strides toward eliminating the fundamental source of British Columbia racism. The unassimilable Oriental was becoming assimilated. (Ward, 1978:165)

Other reasons for the change in white opinions to Asians, according to Ward, were that; 1) the Japanese no longer seemed as 'menacing' after World War II, 2) 'post war revelations of German atrocities cast racist doctrines into disrepute', and finally 3) the champions of a 'liberal internationalist rhetoric' were so 'articulate' that they were able to silence Canadian nativists.

But this emphasis on 'ideas' independent of material conditions forces him to totally ignore more decisive changes in British Columbian society. In fact he largely ignores that by the 1930's the white working and middle classes had already been protected from economic competition by an extremely broad range of racially defined immigration and labour legislation. By the 1940's the threat of Japanese economic competition in farming, labouring, and fishing had also been completely eliminated by the internment of Japanese. In all, Asian minorities were largely confined to cheaper lower paying jobs and to ethnically separate communities. These conditions eliminated ethnic competition over jobs as caste-like divisions in Canadian society virtually isolated minorities, forcing Chinese, Japanese and East Indians to form ethnic communities and institutions as resources to which they could turn in face of hostility and discrimination. Yet Ward largely ignores the significance of these important social, economic and political developments because of the logic of his methodological idealism which forces him to ignore the broader historical context in which ethnic relations were determined. As a result, Ward's account of minority ethnic relations is seriously flawed and is unable to provide an adequate framework for the analysis of ethnic relations in British Columbia.

The Economics of Racism

Li (1978) suggests an alternative theoretical approach to West coast ethnic antagonisms and racism. In contrast to Ward's social psychological approach in which ethnic relations are assumed to be largely independent of material conditions, Li attempts to conceptualize ethnic relations in terms of the 'structural conditions' of an 'expanding industrial economy'. Li argues that what needs to be studied is:

the economic and social conditions under which an ethnic group enters the host society ...Ethnicity in this sense is defined and redefined by structural conditions...not by ...a transplanted [cultural] heritage. (Li, 1978: 4)

This theory is based on the rejection of the notion that ethnic relations are solely the result of cultural differences and that 'transplanted ethnic cultures' explain the 'behavioural adaptations' of ethnic minorities. Citing Reich's (1975) study of the economics of racism in the U.S.A., Li states that:

The development of institutional racism...may have little to do with the cultural distinctiveness of the group being discriminated against, and therefore, cannot be dismissed simply as racial prejudice due to cultural differences. Rather racism should be understood as an integral feature of capitalist society, the perpetuation of which bears definite economic gain and other gains to the capitalist class. (Li, 1978: 4)

From this perspective, Li correctly recognizes that:

The initial arrival of Chinese in British Columbia was received with welcome, and not hostility. Agitation against the Chinese began to grow as British Columbia experienced economic hardship. By 1866, good claims in the placer gold mining were difficult to find, and the Chinese were frequently perceived as competitors. (Li, 1978: 5)

However, Li does not see the obvious relationship between class and racism as white and Chinese workers were forced to compete to survive. While Li notes that capitalists wanted continued access to relatively cheap Asian labour throughout the development of capitalism in B.C., he fails to recognize class struggle as the key to explaining British Columbia racism. In fact Li misses the point entirely. This can be seen by the following assertion. According to Li:

From a larger historical perspective, it is obvious that institutional racism against the Chinese served the interests of many groups... There are reasons to believe that ordinary white workers benefited, along with employers, from the cheaper Chinese labour... (Li, 1978:7)

To support this view, Li cites the statements made by important industrialists in coal and railway construction industries and the report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration to the effect that 'cheap' labour benefited the entire white population. For example, Li quotes early capitalists as saying:

If Chinese labour was prohibited, white men instead of finding work at high wages would find very little work at all, because the theory of high wages for all precludes the possibility of high wages for any. (Li, 1978:11)

Li takes these statements at face value, however, and fails to recognize that capitalist ideology concealed contradictory class interests in cheap Asian labour. As a result Li claims that 'many' groups benefited from racism including capitalists, politicians, union leaders, white workers [a 'labour aristocracy'], etc., and both the Federal and Provincial governments. In short, Li implicates the entire 'white community' in the racial exploitation of Asian workers[4].

However, the assumption that all whites benefited from cheap Asian labour does not explain the attempts by white working and later, the middle classes, to exclude Asians from the province. Certainly, if all whites benefited from cheap Chinese labour as Li maintains, they should have favoured Asian immigration. Yet this was not the case. By the mid 1880's white workers wanted Asians repatriated and undertook the violent expulsion of minorities, but were restrained by government action. Only racially defined immigration and labour laws to protect 'white' jobs ended the hostilities.

Like Ward, Li also fails to explain why white trade unionists attempted to organize along with minority labour against capital in a number of important industries. Li also fails to recognize that by the 1920's the One Big Union, the CLC and local trades and union councils began to argue in earnest for the end of racial exclusion and a fair wage for all labour regardless of ethnic origin. In fact some white unionists, at least, realized that cheap labour exerted a downward pressure on wages and that only by bridging ethnic boundaries could capitalists be forced to raise the price of labour (Jamieson, 1968; Knight & Koizumi, 1978; also see; Warburton, 1981; Creese, 1983).

Finally, along with inability to recognize the importance of contradictory class interests in cheap labour, and the failure to explain the actions of unions in B.C., like Ward, Li does not adequately explain the uneven treatment of minorities. Surely, cheap labour should have been just as beneficial to whites in the early and later stages of the development of capitalism.

Nor does Li explain why there were, to use Ward's expression, "low ebbs" of racism in the 1920's and after the Second World War. Instead, he simply reduces ethnic relations to the economic and utilitarian benefits of dominant ethnic groups. However, this reduction to psychological and cultural factors, distorts history and ultimately fails to explain crucial aspects of minority ethnic relations.

Imperialism and Racism

Chan (1983) presents a third theory of ethnic antagonisms and racial prejudice in British Columbia. Chan argues that West coast racism was the product of British Imperialism and Social Darwinism coupled with Judeo-Christian traditions. In Chan's view, Imperialism - the subjugation of Asian and African peoples - supported the British notion of the superiority of the 'white race'. The 'scientific' doctrine of social evolution and racial inheritance and the Hamelite religious doctrine that the children of Ham would be "servants of the world" combined with ideas surrounding British Imperialism to produce Canadian racial prejudice. According to Chan:

Racism in Canada did not spring up overnight with the arrival of Chinese immigrants. From Cartier to the present, oppression based on race is woven into Canada's evolution. When Chinese workers immigrated in large numbers to open the western frontier, they were greeted by an attitude of superiority among the white population ....Central to the idea of racial superiority were two notions, 'manifest destiny' and the Hamelite rationalization, which became distinctive features of the British Empire. (Chan, 1983: 15)

However, because Chan does not root British racist ideologies in material conditions in Canada, he fails to see how racism has varied with specific historical circumstances. To be fair, Chan recognizes that:

Popular antagonism toward the Chinese contrasted with the attitudes of entrepreneurs such as Andrew Onderdonk and Robert Dunsmuir. They welcomed the Chinese, to build their railroads and to work their mines. But they paid their Chinese workers less than they paid whites. These payroll savings brought additional benefits. Hostilities arose between Chinese and white workers, generated by the differences in wages. The conflict was deepened by the use of Chinese workers - chosen solely because of their race - as strikebreakers. A working class thus divided presented little threat to its economic masters. Racism and capitalist economic institutions proved to have a symbiotic relationship. (Chan, 1983: 14)

Yet Chan ultimately does not see the theoretical importance of contradictory class interests in 'cheap' minority labour, claiming that racism was simply a universal feature of Canadian society transcending both different stages in the development of capitalism and class. However history shows that the Chinese were initially welcomed to B.C. In fact the first racist reactions to Chinese labour were demonstrated not by Canadians but American miners who immigrated to the North West coast in the 1850's along with Chinese workers (see Chapter Three). The Americans had already experienced economic competition with cheaper Chinese labour after the collapse of the California gold rush in the early 1850's and they brought their fears of the loss of jobs and income with them. But Anglo-American attitudes towards Chinese workers did not prevail in 'British' Columbia as British colonial authorities discouraged ethnic antagonisms towards Chinese workers because of the clear advantage of cheap minority labour in the expanding colonial economy. In fact, Chan fails to recognize the fact that ethnic antagonisms on the West coast became wide-spread only with the development of industrial capitalism when Asians were used by capitalists in key industries, e.g., coal mining, railway construction, fishing, etc., to break strikes and to undercut white wages.

Finally, like Ward and Li, Chan does not mention the fact that there were consistent attempts by 'white' unions to organize with minority labour in order to improve working and living conditions. As a result, Chan's theory of British imperialism also fails to explain crucial aspects of ethnic relations in British Columbia.

Class and Minority Ethnic Relations

Warburton (1981) overcomes the problems evident in the preceding theories of ethnic antagonisms by recognizing the centrality of the social division of labour and the mode(s) of production in shaping relations between different groups. For Warburton, the uneven treatment of ethnic minorities from one period to another requires a dialectical approach in which ethnic relations are conceptualized in terms of the development of capitalism.

Beginning with early Indian-European relations, Warburton notes that initial contact was beneficial because Indians and Europeans were dependent on each other in the mercantile fur extraction economy. Also promoting symbiotic relations between the Indian and European ethnic groups was the numerical superiority of Native peoples and the growing threat of American expansionism to British colonial interests on the Pacific coast. In short, the socio-economic and political conditions of early contact were instrumental in creating a situation in which different ethnic groups, despite cultural, linguistic and religious differences, were able to prosper.

Following Fisher (1977), Warburton argues that Native-European relations began to deteriorate in the mid-1860's when the economic and social conditions in the British Colony changed with the depletion of furs and as placer gold mining and European settlement replaced the former mercantile fur trade economy. In this new socio-economic context, Indians were no longer as essential to the colonial labour process as they were before and, in fact, claims to aboriginal rights and Native title appeared inimical to European ideas of modernization, development and settlement. As a result, the decades after the 1860's marked the beginning of the destruction of Native Indian social, political and economic institutions.

Examining Chinese-European relations, Warburton notes that reactions to initial Chinese immigrants during the labour shortages of the gold rush era from the late 1850's until the mid-1860's were not antagonistic. Widespread conflicts resulted only in the mid-1880's, when Chinese and European workers were forced into direct economic competition over scarce jobs. As Warburton notes, ethnic antagonisms between Chinese and European workers resulted when:

the contradiction between the demands of higher wages on the part of the workers in resource industries and the demands for cheap labour on the part of employers led to outbreaks of racial hostility, particularly during periods of economic recession. (Warburton, 1981: 84)

Similarly, Warburton explains the development of strong ethnic communities and ethnic identity in B.C. In terms of the contradictions of industrial capitalism. According to Warburton:

The Chinese responded to the demands and contradictions of industrial capitalism by developing a strong sense of ethnic identity. Far from the sojourning Chinese immigrants themselves having created the market for their labour, the market was created by decisions on the part of capitalists and politicians to build the CPR and to extend British colonial capitalism. It was also due to [Chinese] entrepreneurs in China and Hong Kong [and San Francisco and Victoria] who "sold" them to [labour] contractors. (Warburton, 1981: 82-83)

This approach to explaining ethnic relations bears a strong affinity with Bonacich's (1972, 1975; 1976; 1980) studies of ethnic relations. In her analysis of colonial and post-colonial societies, Bonacich argues that capitalists want access to cheap labour in order to maximize profit but that higher paid workers must resist in order to protect their standard of living which is dependent on wage labour. According to Bonacich, this struggle between capital and labour causes ethnic antagonisms. In her words:

All segments of capital would prefer to utilize "cheap labour" and to undermine efforts on the part of the working class to improve wages and work conditions. But the working class resists being displaced by cheap labour and erects barriers, often with the assistance of the state, to protect itself from such displacement of the erosion of hard-won labour standards. These protections, however, are not evenly distributed across the economy, and there are many loopholes in them. The loopholes represent points at which capital can still employ cheap labour....

The struggle over this issue (cheap labour) has produced a scarcity of intuitional arrangements. Labour makes an effort to raise its standards, capital counters, labour responds, and so on, producing different historical configurations. (Emphasis added, Bonacich, 1980: 3)

According to Bonacich's analysis of ethnic relations in South Africa, Australia and the USA, resistance by dominant ethnic groups to the threat of cheaper labour may take three forms, singly or in combination, depending on the strength of the working class, levels of immigration and rates of unemployment (cf. Howell, 1982). First, workers may attempt to exclude minority labour from the labour process, especially in situations where large numbers of immigrant workers can be brought in. Bonacich pints to the case of Australia as a nation where white workers were able to erect racially defined immigration legislation to exclude virtually all Asian workers. Second, efforts to protect higher paying jobs for certain ethnic groups may take the form of racially defined labour legislation. Bonacich pints to the case of South Africa where higher paid white minorities have been able to create one of the most restrictive ethnically segmented labour markets in the world through very rigid racist labour laws. Finally, workers have attempted to organize minorities against capital in order to overcome wage differentials. In Bonacich's analysis of ethnic relations in California what is revealed is a succession of these three approaches. When workers were unsuccessful in trying to organize all groups, exclusion of minorities in terms of both immigration and labour laws was the result. In short, Bonacich's analysis reveals the articulation between ethnic relations and class when the labour market was segmented on the basis of wage differentials.

Bonacich's approach, however, is limited in that the role of the state is poorly conceptualized [5]. In fact, Bonacich refers to the state as 'assisting' the working class in erecting barriers to cheap labour. However, the notion of the capitalist state 'assisting' the working class flies in the face of the main thrust of Bonacich's argument. Clearly, to be consistent she should argue that state policies are determined by the dynamics of the capitalist mode of production which forces the working and capitalist classes to struggle over the control and regulation of the labour process[6]. While Bonacich does come close to giving a dynamic and class based theory of the state, she unfortunately portrays the state merely as an instrument of the working class!

In contrast to this view, it is argued that concessions in terms of labour standards legislation, the recognition of the right of workers to bargain with employers over wages and working conditions and health and safety laws, have not been given spontaneously but have been the subject of class struggle since the beginning of industrial capitalism. And just as concessions have been gained, they can be lost. As a result, the capitalist state is best thought of as the site and arena of class struggle over legislation (Skocpol, 1980). But more than that, the 'capitalist' state is not just a set of institutions in and over which there is continual struggle, the capitalist state is also a coherent organization for the perpetuation of capital accumulation, i.e. Profit (Panitch, 1977; Burawoy 1981).

This conceptualization of the capitalist state in conjunction with Bonacich's and Warburton's analyses of the labour process offers a non reductionistic explanation of the complex history of ethnic relations in British Columbia which permits an analysis of ethnic relations in terms of specific historical conditions. The following chapters apply this perspective to ethnic relations in the province in order to shed some light on a very complex and uneven history of ethnic relations. Chapter Three focuses on Asian-European relations in the transition to industrial capitalism and Chapter Four analyses the contemporary situation of East Indian farm workers in modern state capitalism.

Chapter Notes

[1] Ward (1978; 1980) maintains that Asian workers were not properly 'immigrants', but were 'sojourners'. However Wolf (1982) has shown that Chinese immigration was a well established phenomenon. Chan (1981) also argues that some Chinese, at least, intended to make B.C. Their home and that the idea of 'sojourning' Chinese is just a form of 'Orientalism', i.e., the mystification of foreign cultures. Warburton (1981) is also critical of the voluntaristic assumptions underlying Ward's account of Asian immigration. In summary, the evidence appears to support the view that Asians should be viewed as immigrants rather than as merely sojourners (cf. Willmott, 1982).

[2] For a critical assessment of this assumption see; Robbins (1975); Moreman (1975); Cassin (1977); Bonacich (1980); Cassin and Griffith (1981); and Watson (1981).

[3] Roy (1979) and Warburton (1981) make similar criticisms of Ward's social psychological perspective.

[4] For a similar view with respect to racism in the USA see Blauner's (1972) theory of 'internal colonialism'. Also see Prager (1972) for a sympathetic discussion of this theory.

[5] Bonacich's early work also suffers from the reification of labour markets and a neoclassical economic theory of racism in that she attributes racism to a 'labour aristocracy' rather than to the dynamics of capitalism. In Willhelm's words:

The split labour market is itself a configuration of capitalist economics and not, as Bonacich proclaims, the creation of a higher-paid white labour group; racial antagonism flowing out of economic competition is rooted not in the dynamics of labour but of the economic system of capitalism. (Willhelm, 1980)

Bonacich's tendency to reify labour markets and to blame the white working class for racism is not, however, as evident in her later work (cf. Bonacich, 1980). Nor does it affect Howell's (1982) excellent study of the farm labour process in the south western U.S.A. Using a model derived from Bonacich's theory of ethnic relations.

[6] For a discussion of this view of the state in comparison with structuralism and instrumentalist perspectives see Burawoy (1982) and Skocpol (1980).


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