CUPE has always been a union with a diverse membership.
Not only has it drawn in a wide range of occupational groups, but over the past 34 years it has also organized workers from many different ethnic and racial groups. This diversity has been a major source of CUPEs vitality.
Our Union has steadily improved our working conditions and defended our rights on the job. We have been able to use our CUPE resources to better our positions as workers and to battle against some of the systemic racism that we have faced on the job.
At the same time we are still battling for a larger voice within our union. In 1994, only one of approximately 90 CUPE staff representatives in Ontario was from a racial minority group. Two more were added in 1995 and since then three more have been hired as permanent staff and four as temporary staff. While change has slowly been happening, historically we have also been under-represented on decision-making bodies in the provincial divisions and nationally.
All these reasons suggest that racial minorities have had their own culture and history within CUPE. The stories and perspectives of these CUPE members are not well known. What were the conditions of racial minorities before joining CUPE? Who were the brave pioneers who got involved in organizing campaigns and later in collective bargaining? What resources did CUPE provide? Who were the activists who campaigned for change within CUPE itself? How well were they able to address the particular concerns of their racial minority members?
COLOURING THE UNION is intended to bring some of these fascinating stories to light. Initial funding, obtained through the Ontario Arts Councils Artists & the Community/Workplace program, started National Staff Rep Carmen Henry and artist Jim Miller on their collaboration to gather stories, perspectives and images. Their work has been bolstered with support from CUPE, and other organizations and individuals, but further resources will be needed to see this project realize its potential. These pages offer a preview of COLOURING THE UNION.
Jack White marked a number of firsts for racial minority members of the labour movement. He was the first black hired to work in the Car Department of the CNR (Halifax). He became the first black representative elected in the Iron Workers Union. After a period as interim Director of Social Services at the OFL, Jack was hired as a National Staff Rep by CUPE (one of the first minority members in that position). Over the next two decades he serviced many locals and made a significant contribution in the area of Workers Compensation.
Jacks committment extended into the community. In the early 60s he edited The Canadian Negro. In the 63 Ontario election he was the NDP candidate in Dovercourt. For a number of years Jack was the chair of the Toronto Association for Community Living.
Jacks family has been noted for achievement: sister Portia was an acclaimed singer; brother Bill received the Order of Canada. In recent years Jack has been honoured by the OFL and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Canada Chapter.