February is Black History Month. CUPE Ontario urges all its members to take this time to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions people of African heritage have made to Canada and our union 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. Many settled throughout southwestern Ontario, working 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.
Through their activism and leadership, Black trade unionists in Canada have organized to pass laws and win collective agreement language that fights racism and promotes equality in our workplaces and communities. While we have made significant strides forward, we have far to go in the fight against anti-Black racism.
Studies have shown that African Canadians still face disproportionate barriers in our society. Black Canadian workers remain over-represented in precarious, temporary and low-wage employment. The average Black Canadian worker currently earns 75.7 cents for every dollar a non-racialized worker earns, with racialized women facing an even higher wage gap of 36.8%. Black people in Canada also face differential experiences in the criminal justice system, and are disproportionately targeted by police violence.
At CUPE Ontario, we know that when we fight against anti-Black racism we are fighting for our members who experience anti-Black racism and for the communities we serve. At our 2016 Convention, our members pledged to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by mobilizing our members and other allies in the labour movement to oppose systemic anti-Black racism and anti-Black violence through policing, to demand the full elimination of the practice of carding, and to push for an immediate review of the Special Investigations Unit in close consultation with Black communities and families impacted by police violence. 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, has been re-elected as the President of the Canadian chapter of the CBTU.
Over the past year, the CUPE Ontario Racial Justice Committee has continued to fight for equity and to challenge racism by building relationships with community organizations and coalitions, including organizing a strong annual presence at Toronto’s Carnival. Around the world, Carnival celebrations began as part of the struggle for emancipation. They were a way for enslaved Africans to assert their dignity and humanity in a society where they were prohibited from other forms of expression. This year, as part of the 50th anniversary of Toronto’s Carnival, CUPE Ontario is asking each Local to encourage member participation in Carnival, and for larger Locals to sponsor members to attend this important cultural event.
CUPE Ontario is proud to celebrate Black History Month and the significant contributions Black Canadians have made to the fabric of our country. We remain dedicated to fighting social and systemic discrimination in our communities, our workplaces, and in CUPE and the rest of the labour movement.