The third day of CUPE BC’s 2022 convention began with a challenge to our union to move out of its comfort zone in confronting racism and colonialism. In his keynote address, journalist, activist, and best-selling author Desmond Cole started a frank discussion about what CUPE members can do to support Black and Indigenous peoples, and people of colour in our union, communities and province.              

Recounting recent instances of racism covered in the news media, and some that have been ignored, Cole told delegates even the smallest steps are important.

“Be the person in your social circle that interrupts the racist’s joke…. The person that says the uncomfortable truth about the place you work when others just want to stay silent. That is so much a part of this struggle,” said Cole. “Pushing everyone to do more than what they are comfortable with.”

In his address, Cole shared real life experiences of racism in B.C., and the reactions in our community, and emphasized the necessity of confronting racism in public institutions such as police and the Canadian justice and immigration systems.

“We need to disrupt power. We need to disrupt it where we work, where we live, where we hang out,” said Cole. “Solidarity is about seeing the struggles of people you might not interact with every day, but you still want to support that group and struggle.”

Cole discussed the important work of Indigenous peoples in the Land Back movement and explained how decolonization is not just about justice for Indigenous peoples but rethinking our relationship with the Indigenous territories we occupy. 

“I want us, in the work we do, to think about the relationship we have with the land, beyond our land acknowledgements,” said Cole. “Beyond money, what is it we can all contribute to live in communities, and to the land that means so much to us?”

“We need to think about our relation to the land, and how it takes care of us.”

Cole also challenged CUPE and other unions to strengthen the commitment to defending Black members against workplace racism, and for unions to do better in fighting for them.

“It’s about intervening in the spaces, even the small spaces, we have influence in,” said Cole. “Think about a few ways in your own lives, and in your own work, of how you can be that person in the room. Be that person in the room who when you see someone being attacked, be the one that stands next to them. Be the person that, when they see others celebrating some advancement, demands we do better.”
In closing, Cole reaffirmed his call for solidarity, allyship, and everyday actions against racism and colonialism. “Disrupt. Make space for those of us that are doing this work every day. Pay that round.”