Canadian Farmworkers Union

The 1940s were an historic period for BC labour when huge increases in union membership and unprecedented improvements in working conditions took place. The International Woodworkers of America (IWA) led the way in organizing lumber workers, regardless of ethnicity or gender.  The creation of the Canadian Farmworkers Union in the 1980s was another watershed for South Asian Canadian labour.

Abysmal working conditions prevailed on many farms in the Fraser Valley in the 1960s and 70s. Thousands of farmworkers – mostly South Asian immigrants – toiled long hours in the summer heat, under the heel of labour contractors who skimmed their low wages and owners who relegated them to appalling living quarters.

Young immigrant Raj Chouhan was shocked by what he found when he sought work. “There was no running water, no toilets, absolutely no facilities,” Chouhan told a  reporter years later. Employees often lived in converted barns, six to a cubicle, their kids among them. “I was expecting, in a country like Canada, there would be something better than that,” said Chouhan. When he asked questions, he was fired, and the young immigrant had a cause.

Stretching into the 1980s, along with organizers Sarwan Boal, Judy Cavanagh, Charan Gill and the IWA’s Harinder Mahil, aided by scores of volunteers and supporters, Chouhan led a valiant effort to organize Fraser Valley farm workers, publicize their plight and secure decent working conditions. Employers were supported by the Social Credit government, excluded from regulations and labour standards covering other BC workers.

Despite coercion and violence, the Canadian Farmworkers Union persevered, winning union certifications and shining a spotlight on the dark corner where farmworkers had been shunted by government and an unaware public.


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Union Zindabad! Copyright © 2022 by BC Labour Heritage Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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