“We immigrants who till the soil and harvest the crops of Canada came to this country because we believed it would be a land of opportunity, justice and equality. We came here with great dreams. We have seen the seeds of those dreams grow into a bitter, bitter harvest. A harvest of discrimination, a harvest of poverty, a harvest of sickness, a harvest of death.”
—Raj Chouhan, founding President of the Canadian Farmworkers Union, Human Rights Commission of British Columbia report “What this country did to us, it did to itself” February 1983.
The Canadian Farmworkers Union has been about more than labour unionization; it became the driving force behind a larger social movement for South Asian immigrant, Quebecois and Canadian workers’ rights that brought together a community coalition of faith, health, legal, multicultural and arts groups.
The CFU and its partners advocated for improved working conditions and housing for farmworkers, addressed health concerns such as pesticide exposure, and promoted cultural and educational rights and services, while fighting a historical discrimination enshrined in Canadian laws. The origins of the Canadian Farmworkers Union can be traced to an initial meeting of South Asian community activists in September 1978 at a school in Surrey, British Columbia. The CFU held its founding convention on April 6, 1980, and in July of that same year achieved a first union certification of farmworkers. By the end of the year, CFU Local 1 signed its historic first collective agreement for farmworkers in Canada.
During the 1980’s, the CFU became a prominent force in organizing all ethnic groups of farmworkers in B.C. and Ontario. In 1993, B.C.’s New Democratic government extended health and safety regulations to agricultural workers — a change driven by the CFU and the broad social movement that rallied workers and consumers for farmworkers’ justice. In 2003, a new B.C. Liberal government denied basic employment standard laws to farm workers and rolled back the hard-won rights of hourly paid farm workers to earn statutory holiday pay, a minimum crop rate or overtime pay.
About the Collection
The Canadian Farmworkers Union Project is based on a representative selection of more than 700 publications, documents, photos, and other significant items from the complete CFU archival collection held by the SFU Library’s Special Collections.
Access the Canadian Farmworkers Union collection.
The collection includes:
- a selection of photos and posters
- historical audio recordings of early public meetings and more than 20 oral history interviews with principal CFU activists
- the Farmworker newspaper from 1979-1992 (plus a selection of India Now and Wangar newspapers, and Ankur magazine)
- CFU briefs to various government ministries and agencies
- agenda packages for the 1st through 11th Annual Conventions
- labour collective agreements
- BC Labour Relations Board legal decisions and correspondence
- teaching resources, including a tutor’s manual, from the CFU’s ESL Crusade
- selected plays from Vancouver Sath cultural group
- internal organizing reports and staff meeting minutes
- plus significant ephemeral items, including master theses by CFU activists, government reports, leaflets and workers’ bulletins
The collection contains a number of exhibition quality photographs and photo montages from the 1980s taken by Craig Berggold, CFU artist-in-residence, that pictorially document both the unionization and larger social issues of the farmworkers at the time.
The target audience for this collection includes researchers, students, social and labour historians, and community members. The materials will be of interest to British Columbians as they document a topic where a traditional labour movement intersected with the local immigrant community and also addressed much larger social and educational issues in concert with other social agencies and community groups.
By making materials from the CFU Collection available online the SFU Library hopes to ensure the preservation and accessibility of an important part of BC’s cultural, social, and historical heritage.
Access the Canadian Farmworkers Union Chronology.
An extensive chronological guide to the history of the Canadian Farmworkers Union with links to key material included in this collection.
The SFU Library would like to thank the B.C. History Digitization Program of UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre for their financial assistance in making this collection available online. The following individuals donated documents to the collection: Sarwan Boal, Sadhu Binning, Raj Chouhan, Charan Gill, Sukhwant Hundal, Harinder Mahil, Calvin Sandborn, and Hari Sharma. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Craig Berggold, both for his photographs and the compilation of this CFU Chronology.