Occupy Toronto and Excitement in Steel and George Brown College

800_occupy_toronto_james_park_rally_111017 It was a bumpy flight into Toronto with gray skies and rain everywhere, clearing occasionally so the changing leaves could plop down.  The weather was, well, Canadian!
Somehow we made it on time to our annual “check-in” meeting with the national staff of the Canadian district of the Steelworkers.  It was sad to learn that our buddy, Ken Delaney, was retiring, but good to meet the new crew, and especially good to hear them report on the progress of their support for creating alternative labor formations which they have done successfully with taxi drivers now in Hamilton and Toronto.  We were reaching out to share the news of support for our labor-community pilot for next year from the Atkinson Foundation, so it was an upbeat session.  Brother Delaney and I have spent hours over the years on the probing and debating the ways and means of creating new organizing models for workers that would break the legal logjams and turn back the erosion of membership strength for labor in North America.  I’ll miss him but his has been a great partnership so it felt good to build the bridge to the future and exciting to see the prospects for solid experiments gaining traction.

Hustling across the city in the rain to George Brown College, it turned out we were only a spit away from Occupy Tornoto, which was standing straight and strong – and colorful with scores of tents – in a park on Queen Street almost next door to the college.  John Anderson, our western Canada colleague, told us in no uncertain terms that Occupy Vancouver was without a doubt the largest in the country, but Occupy Toronto was no slouch.  Unfortunately, we could see a half-dozen burly bicycle cops at the edge of the tents holding a guy down in the rain.  It seemed random, but Judy Duncan and I could easily see that the police were more the downer than the rain this afternoon.

George Brown College and its community service placement program is simply the best in the world and their support for ACORN International has been unparalleled.  Professor Bill Fallis, Pramila Aggarwal, and other old friends came by and 20 students showed up on their own to hear Judy talk about her experience in Nairobi organizing in Korogocho with ACORN Kenya last spring and me talk about progress on our Remittance Justice Campaign which GBC interns helped research extensively on the first report.  As always, I learned as much as I offered from the diverse student body.  The hawala system was made categorically illegal after 9/11 in Afghanistan according to a student from there.  Prior to 9/11 remittances from his family to the country cost 3% using hawala.  Those days are over (see the hawala report on www.acorninternatinal.org).  A similar story was told by other students on charges to the Ukraine and Uganda.  In each case I couldn’t help enlisting the students to help us compile the best information on the rates between these countries and Canada to continue to help us document these predatory transfers in the remittance channels between so many countries.  The sun my not have been shining on a bleak fall day in Toronto, but I was seeing real interest in more GBC students joining the ACORN Intern Army, so we were radiating smiles on our face as we hit the streets in early evening.

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No One Regulating Remittances

 030402orozco1[1]Toronto            Preparing to meet with the ACORN International “intern army,” as I call them, at George Brown College today, I couldn’t help but laugh while using the Starbucks internet (thanks, fellas!) when I read that Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase was over at Davos complaining about “banker bashing” and France’s President Sarkozy was forced to gently remind him that more than 10,000,000 people were still looking for work because of their shenanigans.  Whose on first, what’s on second? 

            Which brings me to banks and money transfer organizations at the heart of ACORN International’s Remittance Justice Camapign, where it turns out that almost know one is on any base at all.  It seems no wonder that the charges banks and MTOs have larded onto immigrant families efforts to send money to relatives in the home country are so predatory, because from our early research it appears that there is virtually no effort to regulate the movement of these payments at all.  Of course there are some new post 9-11 efforts to hand slap some transactions to slow down terrorism, but nothing that would pay more than lip service to the predatory charges, fees, and exchange rates tacked on to remittances (see our report and sign the petition of support at www.remittancejustice.org). 

            National central banks are nominally in charge of regulating the kind of banks that Dimon thinks are being bashed, but have been silent or stumbling at best in even looking at the problems of consumers and costs.  The United States Federal Reserve Bank has proven this time and time in so many areas of banking endeavor that this should come as no surprise.  The Atlanta region is piloting an international automatic clearing house function so that businesses can move money more easily to Europe, but nothing for consumers.  In Canada and the United States there is a patchwork quilt of confusion, where money transfer organizations like Western Union, MoneyGram and the scores of other outfits that have sprung up are nominally under the authority of individual states or provinces, many of which do little other than collect operating fees, but certainly don’t pretend to regulate these outfits and their cost structure.  In some cases they worry that they may share authority for regulations, so the quandary is even more pronounced.  The situation is more than a mess, it’s a pathetic tragedy costing immigrant working families billions that simply end up in the pockets of the much maligned financial industry.

            The response to our inquires from BMO, the Bank of Montreal, has been indicative.  After first pretending that they had already met our demands for charges not to exceed 5% by deftly arguing that if someone remitted thousands of dollars the costs would be lowered, despite the fact that most remittances are in the $100 level, they then tried to claim that they were working on costs.  When we asked to meet and hear the progress, they then claimed it was “proprietary,” which might be a euphemism for “predatory” or could simply a fancy word for “buzz off.”

            We seem to have little choice but to open up another front to move for regulations wherever we can get a hearing, while continuing to press the MTOs and bankers to do the right thing, which as Chase’s Dimon seems to indicate has about the same chance as a snowball in hell of moving bankers and their buddies.

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