Racialized workers urged to ‘close ranks’

By RON FANFAIR

Workers of colour are often affected the most in a recession. With this in mind, grassroots union organizer, Jojo Geronimo, is urging racialized workers to close ranks in the face of the global economic meltdown.

The anti-racist and social justice educator shared his reflections on the recession and the downturn in the economy in his feature address at the Toronto & York Region Labour Council’s annual Workers of Colour conference and awards ceremony last Saturday at the Ontario Federation of Labour centre in Don Mills.

“Every economic crisis puts a strain on our solidarity relationship and historically affect our collective results and the bond of our unity as workers,” said the Labour Education Centre’s executive director. “We must be constantly aware that racism intensifies as the recession deepens and already we see the scapegoats being temporary farm workers arrested in their workplaces and then deported.

“We need solidarity to challenge the racist character of the racist global agenda which first exploited us as workers in the Global South and now all of us in the industrialized world. We know that the economy is not a level playing field and that racialized workers have been in recession years before there was a formal and official acknowledgment that the recession has arrived.”

The conference helps racialized workers understand the issues surrounding economic and racial justice and it also broadens the network of community and union activists to build a broad-based movement for social change.

“I understand that this is not a strategy or policy conference but an education one where we as activists share our issues and struggles,” he said. “We need such a forum because education helps us come up with effective policy advocacy and strategic action.”

Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) executive vice-president and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Ontario chapter) member, Marie Clarke-Walker, was presented with the Bromley Armstrong award for outstanding contribution in the trade union movement. She is the youngest person and first woman of colour to hold a CLC leadership position.

“I am truly humbled by this award,” said Clarke-Walker, whose father, Bobby Clarke, is a Barbadian-based lawyer and Pan Caribbean Congress member. Her mother, Beverley Johnson, was the Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s first human rights officer.

“The work that we do as human rights activists doesn’t usually get noticed. Those of us who are active in our communities sometimes hit our heads against the wall and say we are not making progress. But when I look around the room today, I know we are.”

Conference organizers also recognized United Steelworkers’ Independent Workers Association founding president, Juana Tejada, who succumbed to cancer last March. She lobbied to change the two-step medical exam required for caregivers after she was diagnosed with colon cancer and successfully won an appeal to stay in Canada. Her application for permanent residence in 2006 was denied because she was deemed a health burden.

The two-step program requires a caregiver to pass a medical test to come to Canada and another one when applying for immigration.

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