Last month a number of Trade Unionists from Canada travelled to the second inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama. While there we attended the American History Museum where we saw exhibits about the Emancipation and the March on Washington. What struck us about the exhibits was the connection of the two events to the labour movement and that of exploited workers.
Prior to1863 Slave labour was being used in both Canada and the United States to build the countries that many people of African descent call home. In his inauguration address, President Obama bridged the gap between Emancipation and the March on Washington while looking at events of the day. Making it very apparent that while some things have changed, much has also remained the same.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a promise from the government of the Day to Black Folks. One hundred years later in 1963, the March on Washington, was a message to the American government about their failure to deliver on that promise. 2013, one hundred and fifty years later and we are still looking for the fulfilment of those promises.
Here in Canada, it has been a long struggle to win positive change for our community, but an important struggle and we have made some gains. However, as a community we are still grossly under-represented in the life and structures of mainstream Canada. An integral part of the work that the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist does is to address racism, particularly anti-Black racism faced by people of African descent in the workplace. On a daily basis right across Canada, members of our community deal with the impact of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and the historical exploitation of our labour.
We have a long history of building the Canadian labour movement and fighting for social change which goes back hundreds of years.
As trade union members, we understand that all workers and people with little economic clout, are exploited by those with financial and political power. We can not therefore, separate the work we do on behalf of working people everywhere from the struggles of African and African descendants.
We must therefore, remind the “powers that be” of promises not yet filled and take time to celebrate all of our achievements and successes and hold them high for all to see.
So today, we celebrate the work of Black Trade Unionists in Canada, who together with our community leaders fought for changes.
We celebrate the Sleeping Car Porters; celebrate the establishment of Human Rights Commissions across the country; celebrate the legislative changes brought about in the 1950’s and 60’s; celebrate the battles to expose environmental racism; the fight for Employment Equity; celebrate the rights of domestic and migrant workers, the rights for healthcare sector workers; we celebrate contributions of all the people of African descent who built the labour movement. This history must include the unpaid labour during slavery, work done by agricultural labourers and domestic workers, the work of staff and elected leadership in the labour movement.
Black History Month 2013, we celebrate our history, and hold fast to the promises of the future to fulfil the dream.
A dream where exploitation, marginalization and injustice is a thing of the past and one day our Sisters and Brothers of African Descent in the Canadian Labour Movement will be judged on their character, and be treated with the dignity and respect deserving of a people who helped to build this country and this movement.
So as we celebrate Black History Month, we look forward to the hope, promise and dream realized, right here in Canada and also for our southern neighbours.