February is Black History Month, and CUPE Ontario encourages 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.
Upper Canada, now Ontario, was a pioneer in the abolition of slavery. In 1793 Governor John Graves Simcoe passed the Anti-slavery Act. This law freed slaves aged 25 and over and made it illegal to bring slaves into Upper Canada, which became a safe haven for runaway slaves. Then in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire.
Because of its anti-slavery laws, thousands of Blacks fled to Ontario. They established settlements in what are today Windsor, Chatham, Sudbury, Amhertsburg, Dresden, Wallaceburg, Guelph, London, Hamilton, Waterloo, Collingwood, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Fort Erie, Welland, Owen Sound and Toronto. Most worked as farmers, teachers, preachers, household servants, business owners and sawmill workers. Others were doctors, lawyers, politicians and inventors.
African-Canadian workers have a long history of building the Canadian labour movement and fighting for social change. Working together with community leaders, Black Trade Unionists have fought to improve conditions for all workers and people of colour including human rights, employment equity and legislative changes that banned discrimination in employment practices. Still, racism and discrimination exists in our communities and in our workplaces.
The shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri sparked protests and extensive media coverage about the existence of racial discrimination in today’s society. It is important to note, however, that this is not new. Instead, such incidents are indicators of systemic injustices that have resulted in long-standing tensions between police forces and Black communities.
In our workforce, Canada’s racialized workers face persistent income inequality. A recent labour market report cites that Black Canadians earn 75.6 cents for every dollar a non-racialized worker earns, with an annual earnings gap of $9,101.
Additionally, the Harper government continues to cut programs that promote equality and other groups that advocate for human rights and social justice.
The CUPE Ontario Racial Justice Committee plays an important role in fighting for fairness for racialized workers. During our annual participation in the Caribbean Carnival parade, the committee produces and distributes leaflets highlighting the festival’s historic ties with the abolition movement.
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.
CUPE Ontario is proud to celebrate Black History Month and is committed to leading the charge in the fight for equality in our communities and in our workplaces.