CUPE Ontario is pleased to join Canadians everywhere in marking the start of Black History Month, four weeks devoted to recognizing and reflecting on the tremendous achievements of Black Canadians and Black people living in Canada.
In a special tribute this year, Canada Post has issued a stamp commemorating Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman who was held in the Niagara region of Upper Canada, now known as Ontario. Cooley challenged her enslavement and, in 1793, fought back against a forced return to the United States. Although she was returned, reports of her resistance won the support of Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe, and led him to introduce the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada that same year.
At CUPE Ontario, the month of February is also time to celebrate and spotlight the legacy of Black Canadians and Black persons living in Canada, with a special focus in our union on the contributions this vital community has made to our labour movement.
Black workers helped build the Canadian labour movement and fought for change for all people of colour. When discrimination barred them from joining other unions, Black workers organized the first Black railway union in North America in 1917 and they continued the fight for their rights in other unions as well. As the great Stanley Grizzle, former porter and labour organizer, said: “We did not bow down to the racism and the segregation imposed on us. We stood up for our rights and founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.”
As trade unionists, we take inspiration from these words and from resilience and perseverance of Black workers, even as we recognize the barriers that Black people continue to face in our workplaces and in our union. CUPE Ontario, through its Anti-Racism Organizational Action Plan and the work of its Racial Justice Committee, is proud to be active in the fight against the systemic racism that persists in our workplaces and communities.
We know that this work will strengthen our union, by ensuring the meaningful engagement of racialized members and by fostering working-class solidarity through the pursuit of racial justice.
CUPE Ontario honours the spirit of resistance and unity embodied in Black History Month, because it is only together can we effectively fight back against the forces that divide us.
Download our Black History Month poster here.