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Sisters and Brothers,

February is Black History Month, and we encourage all members to take this opportunity to reflect on the contributions people of African heritage have made to our country, our society and our union.

CUPE Ontario’s Racial Justice Committee plays an important role in making those links. During our annual participation in the Carnival parade, the committee produced and distributed leaflets highlighting the festival’s historic ties with slavery and abolition. The committee is also a driving force behind CUPE Ontario’s campaign for Employment Equity, a campaign that promotes the inclusion of equity language within collective agreements.

We applaud that work, and this year we also encourage you to take some time to contemplate the historic links between the labour union and civil rights movements.

Right-wing groups have long regarded labour unions as a threat, in part because unions have a long tradition of fighting for civil rights. By promoting equality, we become a target for those who benefit from entrenching inequalities in our society, and that is as true today as it was in the 1960s.

Today, Ontario workers face new political attacks that will seriously impede our ability to advocate for civil rights. The provincial government introduced legislation that stripped workers of their rights to free collective bargaining. The federal government passed a bill that will restrict our ability to campaign for workers’ and civil rights. And we face Conservatives who want to make Ontario a “right-to-work” state.

Why is all of this relevant to Black History Month? Quite simply, it is because these right-wing policies will prevent us from creating an equal society. Also, they’re not new ideas. They are old ones that belong in the annals of history, not in the plans of a modern society.

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ This high-sounding label does not mean what it says. It is a dishonest twisting of words with the aim of making a vicious law sound like a good law. It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘work.’ It is a law to rob us of our Civil Rights and our job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our Civil Rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labour unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions for everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no Civil Rights.   

                                                —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)

With Conservatives in Ontario pushing for so-called “right-to-work” legislation, Dr. King’s statement is as apt today as it was in 1963, when he helped prevent right-to-work legislation from coming to Oklahoma. One of the great advantages of studying history is that it allows us to learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating them, and to learn from great triumphs as well. We must learn from the history of slavery, of abolition, of the movements that improve equality.

The attacks on the rights of all workers will disproportionately hurt communities that already are not equal within our society. As Dr. King pointed out, attacks on institutions such as unions that fight for rights are attacks on the rights of people seeking equality.

We must not let those attacks succeed, and we must not let the mistakes governments made south of the border become today’s mistakes in Ontario.

CUPE Ontario has been campaigning tirelessly against these attacks, and together we must keep up our fight in the year ahead. Visit for more information and for a calendar of Black History Month events across Ontario.

Together, by sharing history, we can build a brighter, fairer and more equal tomorrow.

In Solidarity,

Fred Hahn


Candace Rennick