It’s no accident that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a national reckoning about the depth of the crisis of systemic racism in Canada and around the world. The pandemic hit Black, Indigenous and racialized communities hardest – but as they fight back, more and more people are pledging to stand with them.
“People across this country are waking up to the reality of systemic racism and joining social movements to fight it,” says Don Monroe, Co-Chair of the CUPE National Indigenous Council. “People are outraged and they want change. They know what we have been talking about is true.”
CUPE has a long and proud history of fighting racism.
Recognizing the work to combat racism in all its forms is never complete, CUPE is moving ahead with a new Anti-Racism Strategy that builds off the Workplace Racism Policy we adopted at our 1999 National Convention. Delegates will have an opportunity to discuss and adopt the Strategy at our upcoming National Convention.
The Anti-Racism Strategy is borne from a recognition that we cannot achieve economic and social justice without achieving racial justice. These struggles are one and the same.
Most importantly, the Strategy is rooted in the knowledge and experience of CUPE members. Over the past year, consultations have taken place around the country, seeking input specifically from Black, Indigenous and racialized members across Canada. The National Indigenous Council and National Rainbow Committee held consultations too.
Those consultations provided opportunities for CUPE members to share stories about their lived experiences of racism inside and outside the union, including anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Members also talked about how the rise of white supremacist movements in Canada and around the world is making an unjust and unacceptable situation even worse.
They also highlighted opportunities for change and showed a path forward that honours the experiences of members and empowers them to become the leaders of change in our union and our communities. “Honouring and valuing the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous and racialized members will empower our members and encourage them to use their voices. We need their vital perspectives in our movement,” says CUPE National Diversity Vice-President Debra Merrier. “Let’s walk the talk!”
The Anti-Racism Strategy outlines ten goals for CUPE to pursue in the fight to dismantle systemic racism and achieve a more just and more equal society. The goals range from changing CUPE’s internal policies and structures, to advancing anti-racism approaches in our bargaining and organizing, to taking political action and partnering with anti-racism movements in Canada and across the globe.
Together, the goals provide a six-year road map for challenging racism and implementing anti-racist practices in workplaces, our union, and our communities.
One of the biggest challenges the Strategy looks to address is the question of representation in leadership. “The fight to end systemic racism has to be led and organized by grassroot members,” notes CUPE National Diversity Vice-President Yolanda McClean. “Although we have the skills and the ability to do the work, we are passed over for many opportunities. We don’t see ourselves reflected enough in leadership, and it’s unacceptable.”
Representation matters, and it is vital for members to see themselves reflected in their leadership. The Strategy lays out several initiatives for CUPE and our locals to elevate and support more Black, Indigenous and racialized members into positions of leadership.
The Strategy also calls on CUPE to recognize the power we have at the bargaining table to address workplace inequities and precarious work, which disproportionately affects racialized workers.
Our Strategy calls on CUPE to bring an anti-racist approach to administering and enforcing our collective agreements, to empower members to come forward with experiences of workplace racism. We know racism isn’t always overt – it often lurks under the surface. Our leaders need to know how to use every option in our collective agreements to support our members as racism hurts and can have severe implications of racial trauma.
“Many of our collective agreements already provide not just protection but also education and training for everyone to help combat racism and other ism’s in the workplace,” says Leo Cheverie, a member of the Indigenous Council. “Let’s make sure we enforce these provisions.”
To learn more about the Strategy and to read all ten of the goals, visit the Anti-Racism Strategy at cupe.ca.