February is Black History Month, also known as African Heritage Month. Black History Month is a time to celebrate and highlight the best of Black History and culture, and to honour the ancestors and upcoming leaders of Black communities, their accomplishments and their continued fight for liberation. It is also a time for all Canadians to reflect and educate ourselves on the history of Black enslavement, discrimination, bigotry and criminalization of people of African descent, and to remember that racism still exists.

Canadian society has seen progress over the decades, but the realities of differential treatment towards African Canadians continue. Over the past year, the crises of over-policing and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Indigenous communities have thrown a spotlight on how much remains to be done.

At the global level, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is educating people on our world history of enslavement, discrimination, bigotry and criminalization. In 2016, this UN body visited Canada and wrote a detailed report on what they learned. They called for a number of actions, including one for the federal government to “issue an apology and consider providing reparations to African Canadians for enslavement and historical injustices.”

At our 2021 National Convention, delegates adopted CUPE’s Anti-Racism Strategy. The strategy identifies concrete actions to challenge systemic racism in our workplaces, the union and our communities. It acknowledges the need for our union and locals to work towards meaningful and attainable change for Black, Indigenous and racialized members, including those with intersecting identities.

CUPE is excited to move into the next stage of this six-year strategy that will include ongoing engagement with Black, Indigenous and racialized members. This work provides an opportunity to empower change by ensuring all Black, Indigenous and racialized members do not face barriers or any acts of racism, discrimination or bigotry.

Our union is committed to fighting racism and hatred in all its forms, and to empowering our members to speak out and act against discrimination. We encourage members not to be neutral when witnessing racism in any form. Instead, commit to not looking the other way and stand up for what is right. Celebrate Black History Month and keep fighting anti-Black racism in your union, workplaces, schools and communities.

Here are some ways to increase awareness, understand and change:

Learn:

  • Download and print or order free copies of CUPE’s 2022 Black History Month posters and bookmarks. This year’s materials feature Bromley Lloyd Armstrong, a Jamaican immigrant who became a Canadian civil rights leader, dedicated trade unionist and committed community organizer who was known for being passionate about radical social change in the fight against racial discrimination.
  • Are you a Black CUPE member? The National Rainbow Committee invites you to join them in celebration of Black History Month to express pride in being Black with CUPE’s “Unapologetically Black” button and sticker.
  • The National Rainbow Committee invites allies to show your support with our “I Value Black Lives” button and sticker.
  • Use CUPE’s Zoom background to celebrate Black history all year – not just in February.
  • Ask Black people in the union, workplace and community what they need in terms of support.
  • Educate yourself and others on race and racism, including systemic racism.
  • Invite a Black activist or representatives of community organizations to speak to your members.
  • Contact Union Education to request CUPE workshops on Challenging Racism, Intro to Human Rights and Anti-Oppression to be delivered to members in your region.
  • Check out CUPE’s landing page on Black History Month to view activities and learning resources.

Act

  • See, listen, believe, respect and value Black voices and lives.
  • Recommit yourself to the significant objective of racial justice in our union, workplaces and communities.
  • Listen to current and former CUPE National Executive Board DVPs speak on Black Lives Matter.
  • Take anti-Black racism complaints through the grievance process in its entirety.
  • Recognize racial trauma as a mental health issue.
  • Recognize workplace racial trauma as a health and safety issue from a psychosocial perspective.
  • Create space for Black members to network, communicate, share and heal.
  • Celebrate and promote Black History Month within your local.
  • Lobby your government for the implementation of legislation that addresses anti-Black racism in your region, including employment equity legislation.
  • Support community organizations and movements like Black Lives Matter and other community organizations that fight against systemic racism and violence.
  • Visit blacklivesmatter.ca and follow #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter.
  • Attend virtual Black History Month events across the county to celebrate, learn and network.
  • Update your bylaws to create an Equity Representative position on your executive.

Bargain

  • Bargain employment equity language into your collective agreement to help ensure that your workplace represents the diversity of your community.
  • Ensure there is a Black equity representative on your bargaining committee.
  • Bargain access to benefits and pension entitlements for precarious workers; bargain language that obligates the employer to convert part-time positions to full-time, permanent positions.

Learn more at cupe.ca/black-history-month