February is Black History Month. CUPE Ontario urges its members to take this time to acknowledge and honour the many contributions people of African heritage have made to Canada and to the Canadian labour movement.

The history of Black Canadians can be traced back to the early 1600s. While some people of African descent were forced to come to Canada as slaves, others came voluntarily as explorers or to fight for the British. Once anti-slavery legislation was passed, thousands of Black people escaped slavery in the United States by travelling along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada. They settled throughout southwestern Ontario and worked in a variety of occupations, from agriculture to medicine.

After racial restrictions on Canadian immigration were lifted in 1962, several hundred thousand Afro-Caribbean people migrated to Canada. Today, about 70% of Black people in Canada are of Caribbean heritage.

Black trade unionists in Canada have long fought to end discrimination in our society and workplaces, and have played a central role in securing legislative changes to promote human rights for all.  But the struggle for equity and equality continues.

Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to draw attention to how racial disparities in our criminal justice systems, including racial profiling and police violence, disproportionately impact Black Canadian communities.  And campaigns like Black On Campus have worked to challenge anti-black racism in Canada’s colleges and universities.

Black Canadian workers continue to face differential labour market experiences. Currently, African Canadian workers earn 75.6 cents for every dollar a non-racialized worker earns. People of colour are also over-represented in precarious, temporary, and low-wage work.

CUPE Ontario’s Racial Justice Committee works to challenge racism and all forms of oppression on behalf of all CUPE members. In addition to participating in cultural events like Caribbean Carnival, the committee organizes community meetings, conferences, and other events throughout the year to fight for fairness and to integrate equality into the work of our union.

CUPE Ontario is deeply committed to equity work. At our 2015 annual convention, CUPE Ontario members voted in favour of a historic restructuring of the Provincial Executive of our union, expanding the number of equality representatives on our board from three to six.  We support the work of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), and are extremely proud that the Second Vice-President of CUPE Ontario, Sister Yolanda McClean, is also the President of the Canadian chapter of the CBTU.  CUPE Ontario is proud to celebrate Black History Month, and remains dedicated to fighting social and systemic discrimination in our communities, our workplaces, and in CUPE and the rest of the labour movement.