On March 21, 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people and wounded 180 others who were peacefully demonstrating against apartheid “pass laws” in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa. The General Assembly of the United Nations subsequently declared March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, calling on the international community to commemorate that tragedy and work together to confront racism and discrimination wherever they exist.
For CUPE, March 21 is a day to remember the struggles and challenges that racialized and Indigenous peoples have long endured. It is also a time to recognize and applaud the fact that members of these communities have made anti-racism work a significant part of their unions’ agenda. Their active participation has strengthened our movement by bringing new ideas, perspective and energy into the struggles of working people.
We need that energy to counteract the rise of exclusionary politics, heightened by leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and his divisive policies of walls and deportations. And we need to foster even more solidarity, especially now in the aftermath of the terrorist attack at the Quebec mosque in January where six Muslim men lost their lives.
Given all this, CUPE repeats its call to the Canadian federal government to suspend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement which requires refugee claimants to seek refuge in the first safe country where they arrive. The U.S. can no longer be considered a “safe third country.” We further call on the federal government to fulfill its treaty obligations and to uphold its commitment to pursue true nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples. And we call on the federal government to seriously address racism in all its forms, including anti-Black racism and Islamophobia.
And we encourage all CUPE members to recommit to equity and freedom for all.
March 21 is a special day of commemoration, but at CUPE, we believe the ideal time to renew our commitment to eliminating racism and discrimination is every day. You can be part of that movement for change.
• Bargain employment equity language into your collective agreement to help ensure that your workplace represents the diversity of your community. Stay tuned for CUPE’s new ‘bargaining employment equity’ guide, which will be part of our bargaining equality resource collection.
• Participate in a union workshop on anti-racism practices, or dealing with harassment, discrimination or bullying. Invite someone to speak about anti-racism at your next union meeting.
• Intervene – educate yourself on the best ways to intervene to challenge racist actions and how best to support the person or group affected. Speak out against racist acts like jokes, slurs, graffiti or name-calling.
• Challenge racist and discriminatory policies and practices in your workplace.
• Challenge yourself – consider how some of your own assumptions might be influenced by discrimination.
• Become an ally – an ally is someone who actively supports racialized groups facing challenges. Being in alliance helps strengthen relationships in the workplace.
• Read the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and explore how you can support the calls to action for reconciliation.
• Review the preliminary report by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent which addresses systemic racism faced by people of African descent across Canada.