Why we celebrate Black History Month: A message from CLC Executive Vice-President Marie Clarke Walker

February 1, 2016

This is the 20th year that Black History Month has been officially celebrated in Canada. Across the country, events are planned to mark and remember the contributions and achievements of Black Canadians.

Canadian unions are celebrating that history too. Black trade union members and activists have played a key role in building and shaping the labour movement. When we stand up for fairness today, we are standing against racism and discrimination, and the unfair treatment and denial of equality that stems from it.

We’ve worked hard to win stronger collective agreement language that empowers workers to confront and end racism and promote workplace diversity and equality. The changes we win in the workplace help to foster broader positive change in society and our communities too.

Outside of the workplace, unions are collaborating with community organizations to achieve the same goals. In 2015, the CLC and Ontario unions worked with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC), and Toronto’s Black community to protest racial profiling and “carding” by police – a practice where police arbitrarily stop, question and document people – disproportionally people of colour – entering their information into a database.

That information has been shown to appear in background checks years later, seriously impacting job prospects.

In the lead up to the 2015 federal election, Canadian unions across the country helped organize the Black Votes Matter campaign, with events and door-to-door canvassing to encourage more Black Canadians to vote and it worked.

We spoke out against the over-reaching anti-terrorism law C-51 and the Conservatives’ proposal for a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line that, as the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner observed eroded human rights and promoted discrimination and prejudice.

This year I’m looking forward to the CLC’s Rise Up conference, which will bring together more than 1,000 trade union members to talk about how to better promote and protect human rights in Canada’s workplaces, and how to improve the work that unions do to promote those values among members.

Black trade union members, through our activism and leadership, have and continue to be key players in the work that unions do to promote diversity, equality and fairness at work, in the community and across the country.

And I say that’s worth celebrating.