Canadian Unions Battling Racial Discrimination!


‘MARCH 21 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a day to reflect on racism in our communities and redouble our efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination,’ said the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) on Monday.

‘Although the Syrian refugee crisis had been building since 2011 due to the civil war that led millions to flee their homes, the haunting picture of a dead three-year-old boy lying on the beach in Turkey finally made the rest of the world aware of the tragic reality,’ CLC continued.

The Canadian Labour Congress was among the first calling on the federal government to respond and to offer the labour movement’s support. In October 2015, the CLC established a special fund, in partnership with the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) to help support the settlement of Syrian refugees in Canada. That fund has raised more than $200,000 so far.

In December, the CLC launched an unprecedented partnership with business, faith and community groups to welcome and support the resettlement of Syrian refugees. We welcomed the Canadian government’s commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and understand that we now have a responsibility to do our part and support that commitment in every way possible,’ said CLC President Hassan Yussuff, announcing the initiative along with the CCR and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The joint statement read, in part: ‘Canada is a compassionate, caring nation with a long tradition of embracing diversity and showing humanitarian leadership. We must continue this tradition and demonstrate these values and principles in our approach to this crisis.

‘Though the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive, incidents of racism and xenophobia have also occurred. Myths were spread that refugees were looking to “abuse the system and get rich,” even though only a handful of refugees receive government assistance, for a very limited time, and all are expected to pay back the travel costs associated with resettlement.

‘A few times the CLC heard from members who argued that support for refugees unfairly prioritises “them” over “us” and “our jobs,” even though the evidence shows that refugees actually create jobs in our communities. Most disturbingly, several communities saw incidents of Islamophobic vandalism and violence arising out of the same xenophobic backlash.

‘In supporting refugees and condemning the backlash, unions are building on a long history of standing up to unfairness and promoting equality, drawing on the fundamental labour principle, outlined by J.S. Woodsworth: “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”

‘As part of labour’s support, the CLC has released a resource kit for unions and labour councils to support their work with refugees on the community level. The “Welcome Home” guide provides information on how to get involved as an individual and/or engage other members to support refugees. It covers options such as becoming a refugee sponsor, making donations, volunteering, and taking political action. It also gives tips on responding to the anti-refugee backlash through education, advocacy and fellowship.’

‘Racism and Islamophobia are Barriers to an Equal Society,’ said the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) in its Statement on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – March 21, 2016. OFL, which represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario, stated: By every measure, Ontario has the fastest growing rates of poverty and inequality out of every province in Canada, but the effects of this epidemic are not evenly felt across society.

Racialised people in Canada – regardless of whether they are multi-generation Canadians, new immigrants, or Canada’s first peoples – earn substantially less, face higher rates of violence, are more likely to live in poverty, and are vastly over-represented in Canada’s growing precarious workforce.

‘Ontario’s economy and our society are still defined by Canada’s colonial past and a legacy of racism, prejudice and discrimination that continue to prevent the full and equal participation of all racialised people,’ said OFL President Chris Buckley.

‘While Canada is opening its borders to tens of thousands of new immigrants and refugees each year, we must start to confront a rising undercurrent of racism and Islamophobia that too often sabotages the success of new Canadians from the moment of their arrival.’

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21st. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid ‘pass laws’ in Sharpeville, South Africa.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day in 1966 and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

To mark March 21, 2016, the OFL is calling on Canadians to challenge individual, systemic and cultural racism in all its forms. While the OFL has applauded the Ontario government’s recent decision to create an Anti-Racism Directorate, it is also calling for immediate action to eliminate poverty, end employment insecurity and close the wage gap that disproportionately affect racialised communities and prevent the advancement of every worker.

‘Poverty and precariousness continue to plague Ontario’s racialised, immigrant and Indigenous peoples and they drive a wedge between communities,’ Ahmad Gaied, OFL Executive Vice-President said. Meaningful strides towards ending racism and inequality will not happen unless every Ontarian can fully participate in our society and our economy. To give racialised workers the economic tools to success, Ontario must invest in social programmes, increase the minimum wage, raise employment standards and make it easier for workers to join a union.’

Recent reports demonstrate an alarming trend in Ontario and across Canada: poverty, precariousness and inequality are on the rise and their impact is being most severely felt by workers of colour, their families and their communities. Racialised workers continue to earn only $0.81 for every dollar earned by their non-racialised counterparts and these wages drop dramatically to $0.46 for Aboriginal workers.

The unemployment rate for recent immigrants is more than double that of Canadian-born workers, and those who are fortunate enough to find work are twice as likely to be working for minimum wage. As a result, racialised families – whether new or established – are two to four times as likely to live below the low-income cut-off and over 18 per cent of Aboriginal Ontarians are living in poverty.

Yet, out of these desperate circumstances, inspiring courage and tenacity has led to an upsurge in grass roots activism within each of these communities that has demanded social and economic change.

Long-ignored land claims disputes, a history of cultural genocide and the grinding poverty on reservations have led to the growth of the ‘Idle No More’ movement for Indigenous justice; racially motivated ‘carding’ and police shootings have spurred a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement across North America; and recently, the racist backlash against Muslim people has inspired a ‘Stronger Together’ movement of Muslims and allies to challenge Islamophobia in Canada.

‘The Muslim population is the fastest growing religious community in Canada. It is an overwhelmingly racialised population that is driving growth in this country, but it is not sharing in the country’s prosperity,’ said Gaied, who is the Federation’s first officer from the Muslim community. ‘Muslim Canadians are seeing our struggles as fundamentally tied to those of the Black community, the Indigenous community and every racialised or marginalised group that is struggling for equality in Canada.

‘Challenging racism is about much more than speaking out against prejudice and discrimination when we witness it. It is about standing together across diverse communities to confront the systemic barriers to equal opportunity.’