Black History Month is such a great month! We recognize the triumphs and achievements of Black Canadians. We also recognize the historical and continued struggles of Black Canadians.
Unfortunately, the labour movement has a tarnished history with Black workers.
One example is the black porters who worked on Canadian railways. The porters wanted to improve their working conditions, but unions, such as the Canadian Brotherhood of Railroad Employees (CBRE), would not allow Black people to become members. And so, in April 1917, the sleeping car porters began to organize their own union. This union, known as the Order of Sleeping Car Porters (OSCP), was the first Black labour union in North America. The OSCP was established in Winnipeg by porters John Arthur Robinson, J.W. Barber, B.F. Jones and P. White. Despite many challenges and constant racism, the OSCP negotiated 2 contracts by 1919. The contracts improved wages and job protections for all porters regardless of whether they were Black or white. The union also called out the hypocrisy of white unionists who talked about class solidarity while excluding Black workers.
OPSSU is a proud supporter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and sends OPSSU activists to their conventions. We also have Letter of Understanding #3 in our collective agreement, which promotes employment equity in our hiring practices. (See LOU3 on pages 110 and 111 here.)
As trade unionists, we still have a long way to go to fight racism in our own movement and union.
We all need to be committed to dismantling Anti-Black racism. We need to continue to celebrate the triumphs of black workers and publicize the hard work of black trade unionists, which are often overlooked in favour of white union activists.
We remain committed to the continued fight against Anti-Black racism, and the continued success of black trade unionists in OPSSU and across the world.