Delegates to the 1999 national convention approved a constitutional change creating two diversity positions on the NEB.
The two people elected to fill the spots are Marie Clarke Walker, a worker of colour from CUPE 4400 and Fred Loft, an Aboriginal worker from CUPE 5.
Following the vote at convention, National President Judy Darcy said, “This is an historic day, one that all CUPE members can take pride in. Workers of colour, Aboriginal members, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians all need to know that they have a place in our great union.”
Fred Loft, who has been a long-time activist in Hamilton’s outside municipal local, says he’s been waiting for this day for 20 years.
Says Loft, “This is a giant step forward for our union. Now when CUPE members from the Aboriginal community look at their national leadership, they will see themselves. They will see that they belong in the union.”
One of the original members of CUPE’s Rainbow Committee, Loft says when the two new seats carried at convention he was elated.
He uses the example of the early days of CUPE, when the union was dominated by men. “People are afraid of change,” says Loft. “Look at CUPE now. More than half our membership is women, as are both our national officers.”
For Marie Clarke Walker, the two new seats represent an acknowledgement that CUPE is prepared to “take a good look within.” Says Walker, “We’re good at making change outside – that’s what makes us good trade unionists. But we’re not as good at changing our union on the inside.
“By creating these two positions, we are saying there are systemic barriers and CUPE as an organization is willing to confront those,” adds Clarke Walker.
An educational assistant for special needs children with the Toronto District School Board, Clarke Walker credits the breakthrough at convention to “an amazing effort by an entire group of people from different committees who worked together for a common goal.”
As co-chair of the National Pink Triangle Committee, Màire Kirwan of CUPE 3966 couldn’t be more thrilled about the diversity seats.
Says Kirwan, “this takes our union to the next level. Not only do we have a new level of representation, it says to lesbian and gay workers that our union really is committed to making sure all of our
voices are being heard.
“I understand those who have reservations about these changes, but I truly believe that in time people will come to value what these seats represent,” she adds.
Fighting workplace racism
Fighting racism in the workplace will be one of CUPE’s top priorities, following adoption of a policy statement at national convention.
“As long as we allow racism to exist in our workplaces, we will face our enemies divided and weakened,” says the statement.
“For centuries, racism has been used to generate incredible profits through the perpetuation of ‘job ghettos’ and differential wage levels and working conditions.”
The statement is rooted in the idea that racism is a working class issue. To challenge racism in the workplace, CUPE will:
- Identify and support locals that are on the front line fighting racism
- Take on systemic racism through legal and legislative action
- Make organizing workers of colour and Aboriginal workers a priority
- Put anti-racism on the bargaining agenda
- Develop anti-racism education for members, leaders and staff