On March 21st we observe the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It marks the anniversary of the 1960 massacre of 69 peaceful Black demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa by the apartheid regime.
Its contemporary importance in Canada is underscored by the struggle of the Wet’sutwet’en to defend their traditional territories from state violence. Their fight reminds us that racial discrimination and xenophobia are not relics of bygone eras. The genocide and erasure of Indigenous peoples and the enslavement and imprisonment of Black people are pillars that still form the basis of Canada as a colonial state, pillars that must be acknowledged before they can be toppled.
And as we face the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers and racialized workers broadly are disproportionately affected by the inadequate responses of our governments. Although the Federal Government has adjusted the rules for Employment Insurance benefits, improvements will not be experienced by migrant workers who are excluded from these benefits despite paying into EI.
In Ontario, many believe that the fight against racism has been won. Yet a 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people are “grossly overrepresented” in incidents where police used force resulting in injury or death. Justice remains out of reach of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the long-awaited national inquiry into their disappearances has been mismanagement. According to Statistics Canada, racially motivated hate crimes reached an all-time high in 2017.
The Ford Conservatives are ruthlessly implementing an austerity agenda and refuse to tax the rich—policies that disproportionately impact racialized people. They cut funding to the Anti-Racism Directorate and said he feels that “certain carding is required.” They’ve cut millions in funding for programs that help at-risk youth. They backtracked on key labour reforms under Bill 148, including the cancellation of the $15/hr minimum wage, which disproportionately affects racialized workers.
Racialized workers remain over-represented in precarious, temporary, and low-wage employment. They are less likely to have benefits, workplace pensions, or paid sick days. Racialized workers make 26% less that non-racialized people and racialized women face an income gap of 47% compared to non-racialized men. The income gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is 33%, while a 45% income gap persists between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous men. Racialized communities continue to face high levels of poverty, incarceration, and a lack of upward social mobility.
These sobering facts underscore the need for an intersectional understanding of barriers to racial equality, concerted and self-reflective action by the labour movement, and ambitious measures to fulfil Canada’s promise as a multicultural society.
We are proud that many of our members are racialized, and that our members are enriched and guided by the deep understanding that labour and anti-racist struggles are one in the same.
CUPE Ontario is fighting for strong employment equity standards to redress work-related inequalities faced by racialized people, such as increases to the minimum wage, equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal workers doing the same job as full-time workers, and equal pay for temporary help agency workers doing the same job as permanent workers. We call for the immediate reinstatement of the Anti-Racism Directorate and a blanket ban on all forms of carding at every level of government. And CUPE members will continue to challenge racist, anti-immigrant politicians in our communities.
CUPE members are also mindful of our own union’s shortcomings. Racialized CUPE members have often been discriminated against in our movement—whether facing hate, employment discrimination, a lack of leadership positions and CUPE staff positions, or disregard for their issues and concerns.
The CUPE Ontario Racial Justice Committee is committed to racial justice, inclusion and equality in the workplace and in our communities. Its mandate consists of fighting for fairness, including challenging racism and all forms of oppression, on behalf of racialized CUPE members. The Committee also builds relationships with community organizations and coalitions, including organizing a presence in cultural events like Caribbean Carnival.
Our 2018 Convention mandated the creation of an Anti-Racism Organizational Action Plan (AROAP) as well as a comprehensive campaign to counter rising hate and white supremacy in Ontario. These campaigns form twin prongs in our effort to tackle racism in our workplaces, communities, and union.
On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must remember that the fight against racism is not over. CUPE members stand ready to challenge barriers to racial equality around and within us.