By RON FANFAIR
Unions, in their best interest, should pay heed to the fast-changing demographics of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and other parts of Canada and enhance their legitimacy by building meaningful partnerships with African-Canadian and other racialized communities, says activist and union administrator, Christopher Wilson.
Aboriginal workers are the fastest growing population in the Prairies and Quebec and it’s predicted that workers of colour will represent over 50 per cent of the labour force in the GTA in the next decade.
“It’s not enough for a union to say it has hired a certain number of racialized workers if the distribution of power and decision-making remains unaltered,” said Wilson, in his keynote address at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Ontario chapter’s 13th annual awards dinner last Saturday night.
“The fact remains that the corridors of power within the labour movement have not yet been fully opened to racialized workers. There has been real challenges to existing power structures within the labour movement…We have had successes and setbacks but, at its core, we know as trade unionists that we have a right to expect the Canadian labour movement to build a truly inclusive movement.”
Wilson is the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) first Black regional co-ordinator.
Called to the Bar in 1997 after graduating from Osgoode Law School, Wilson said the CBTU – even though it’s small and has a miniscule budget – is relevant because of its active advocacy on behalf of the Black and other minority communities in ways that would make larger and established unions envious.
He made it clear that the CBTU will survive because it is a major voice in promoting the influence and power of Blacks and other racialized workers in the trade union movement and their communities.
For nearly three decades, a group of local trade unionists advocated within their unions and central labour bodies to position workplace and union racism and discrimination higher on labour’s agendas. During that time, the CBTU Ontario chapter emerged and was instrumental in pushing for affirmative action seats for racialized minorities on the boards of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Ontario Federation of Labour.
“We will win because 400 years of unswerving struggle in Canada has strengthened us for this fight and we will win because we know that struggle is the only antidote to the sting of racism,” said Wilson who articled at the Ontario Labour Relations Board. “We will win because White privilege will buckle under Black activism and we will win because our journey has taught us the difference between our ally who stands steadfast with us when times are easy and one that stands steadfast when the battle appears bleak.
“This victory will be ours because we have always known that the shout as a community for what is just is stronger than the lone cry of an individual claiming justice. Finally, I know we will win because there are fierce angels on our side and the long arch of the universe points towards justice.
“To those here among us who may surrender to apathy, know this. Our elders will find us if we choose silence. To those who oppose us, know that the party is over and here we come.”
The CBTU Ontario chapter, officially launched in November 1996, presented several awards and a scholarship.
Guelph-Humber first-year Criminal Justice program student Nathalia McCormack was the recipient of the $1,000 Ann Newman scholarship. (She’s a retired Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada local president and a founding member of CBTU).
McCormack, who graduated from Ascension of Our Lord Secondary School in Mississauga and volunteered at several CBTU regional conferences, aspires to be a police officer.
Long-time United Steelworkers member and administrator, Veronica Morgan, was presented with the Bromley Armstrong Service award; PSAC Retirees Association (Ontario region) vice-president, Aileen Duncan, received the Jack White Humanitarian award and the Canadian Humanitarian Appeal for Relief of Tamils was the recipient of the June Veecock Leadership award.
Veecock, the CBTU founding president who served for 19 years as the OFL’s Director of Human Rights, and Beverley Johnson who succeeded Veecock as the CBTU president, attended the awards dinner and were recognized for their significant contributions in building and sustaining the organization.
The CBTU has 50 chapters across the United States and one in Canada. The parent body granted a charter to Ontario at its 25th convention in Florida in 1995.