Today, we remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and honour his teachings by weaving the struggle for racial and economic justice into all our work as a union. Our annual commemoration of King’s legacy comes at an important crossroads in history. As it stands the world is gripped by twin pandemics—not only COVID-19, but a virus of the heart and mind: anti-Black racism.
In the recent failed attack on US democracy and the impeachment of the disgraced outgoing President, we nurture the hope we are finally witness to the death rattle of white supremacy. Yet we forearm ourselves with the knowledge that the stains of racism and fascism often reappear in the pages of history. We look back now as we often have to the wisdom of the Reverend Dr. King for guidance in these uncertain times and with fresh eyes to his radical vision which is so often sanitized, minimalized, and trivialized.
Few now recall that Martin Luther King walked a lonely road challenging poverty in his later years. White northerners were comfortable with the civil rights movement so long as it held the segregationist south in its cross hairs. But in railing against the ancient triple scourge of racism, materialism, and militarism, King maintained that northerners must confront their own racial hypocrisy. For this, he faced the same racist violence in the north to which he was accustomed in the south. In a rally in Chicago, he was pelted with bricks and stabbed, later stating he had never been so afraid in his life.
As King highlighted the record of the north, so too must our record be highlighted. We have taken false comfort in the delusion that Canada is an example of integration it has not been. The political empowerment of Black people has been resisted here as there. And while the economic and social marginalization of Black people has always been deadly, its deadliness has taken on a new dimension in the COVID-19 pandemic, where racialized people are suffering and dying well out of proportion to the rest of our country.
The unrelenting violence of white supremacy culminated in King’s assassination in Memphis, where he spent his final days in solidarity with striking sanitation workers not unlike CUPE members. They proclaimed “I am a man” in defiance of laws that killed two of their comrades—crushed to death taking shelter from the rain in their garbage truck. They were prohibited from seeking refuge in the streets of white neighborhoods where they were treated like the waste they collected.
We cannot claim that restitution has been made for the heartbreaking racism of King’s times. Today’s Capitol insurrectionists are cut from the same cloth as the segregationists of the 60s and the secessionists of the Civil War. They are all heads of the same beast that has proven impossible to slay.
Therefore, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, CUPE Ontario pledges itself to renewed mobilization and action. We promise to breathe new life into the principles upon which Dr. King and others organized. We will mount our generation’s best challenge to the viruses of racism, inequality, and war. And while we are not naïve about the chronic nature of these evils, neither are we discouraged in our faith that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.