CUPE Ontario recognizes and honours March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD). The day was proclaimed by the United Nations to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa where, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration.

The theme this year is “A Decade of Recognition, Justice, and Development: Implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent.” As we move together toward the close of this historic decade, CUPE Ontario acknowledges both the huge amount of work still left undone in our communities, and the work we have undertaken to develop our own union’s anti-racism initiatives.

We also use this occasion to re-commit to the work needed to end the scourge of racism and racial discrimination and continue the process of building a more just and equitable world.

Eliminating racial discrimination means we must acknowledge and confront its roots in white supremacy. CUPE Ontario’s guide, Recognize and Resist White Supremacy, defines it as the “economic, political, cultural and social system that privileges and prefers whiteness and oppresses those who are not considered white.”

Racialized CUPE members experience the hateful effects of white supremacy in countless ways, every day – sometimes via overt acts of racism, but more commonly through the systemic forces that deny racialized workers wage equity, undervalue their work, and make them more likely targets of state violence.

Because of the humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Gaza over the past months, anti-Palestinian racism has been at the forefront of our union’s fight against racial discrimination. In part, this is because of CUPE Ontario’s long history of solidarity with the people of Palestine, and is also the result of our unwavering commitment to fighting racial discrimination at home and abroad.

Part of this fight in our own province is our work to tackle privatization, chronic underfunding of vital public sectors, and wage suppression laws like the unconstitutional Bill 124. These issues all have a disproportionate impact on the economic well being of Indigenous, Black and racialized workers and we will always challenge these external forces in our bargaining, education initiatives, and political organizing.

Thanks to the wisdom, courage and persistence of CUPE Ontario’s racialized members, our union is undergoing a profound shift in its culture. The members of our Racial Justice and Human Rights committees are leading the way on our union’s efforts to resist racism and confront white supremacy inside and outside our union.

The cornerstone of these efforts is CUPE Ontario’s Anti-Racism Organizational Action Plan (AROAP). CUPE Ontario committee members and supporting staff have made AROAP presentations to locals, district councils, sectors. CUPE Ontario has also integrated AROAP elements into all its schools and conferences, equipping locals and members with the tools and education needed to fight racism, oppression, and white supremacy in our workplaces and communities.

This spring, CUPE Ontario will welcome a second cohort to the Women in Leadership Development (WILD) program. This highly popular initiative ensures that Black, racialized and Indigenous women are equipped and ready to take on vital and prominent roles in our union.

Among the planned initiatives of CUPE Ontario’s Racial Justice and Human Rights committees are a bystander workshop, to be held in conjunction with Union Education, so that members may learn to identify and interrupt white supremacy and provide support to people who are affected; and virtual drop-in sessions for members and staff to discuss such topics as racial capitalism and equity co-option. The committees has also launched a survey of members to learn more about their experiences of unpacking racial discrimination in the union, and those results will inform the next stages of AROAP.

It is up to all of us to interrupt racism wherever we find it and to ensure that the work of our union reflects our efforts to resist white supremacy. Above all, we want to ensure that racialized workers have every opportunity to assert their claims to full equity. We know that means our work begins in our union, but must be carried into our communities, into our families, and into all our political work. No one is free until we are all free.