(L-R): Ruth Pryce (Unifor), Yolanda McClean, Janice Gairey (CBTU Ontario chapter president emeritus), and Chris Campbell (Carpenters Union Local 27) with members of the Canadian caucus at the CBTU convention.

In late May, CUPE representatives joined more than 520 delegates from the United States and Canada working for change at the annual convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Delegates adopted resolutions for policies and actions that will have a major impact on the lives of Black, Indigenous, and racialized workers and their communities. They also celebrated the acclamation of Yolanda McClean, CUPE Regional Vice-President for Ontario, as CBTU Third Vice-President.

McClean, who is CUPE Ontario’s first Black Secretary-Treasurer, has a long history with CBTU. The convention hall was alive with joy as McClean accepted the role and pledged to link and advance the concerns of Black, Indigenous and racialized workers in both countries. Throughout the week, she urged all delegates to build the solidarity and support it takes to do this work.

The week was filled with learning, pushing policy, networking, and making connections. Aubrey Gonsalves, CUPE National Diversity Vice President representing Black and racialized workers, spoke on a resolution about the need to support Black and racialized refugees fleeing Ukraine. He called on CBTU to work in solidarity with organizations that help Black and racialized refugees facing injustice.

CUPE Toronto District Council President, CUPE 4400 members and CBTU member Lisa Skeete spoke to a resolution about Truth and Reconciliation. Skeete spoke about the genocidal acts that Indigenous communities experience and the importance of the resolution’s call for CBTU to join in solidarity with Indigenous land defenders to protect treaty lands in Ontario, and Indigenous territories across North America.

The convention theme, Power of the Past: Force of the Future was woven through convention business, with other key resolutions adopted:

  • Develop a workshop series on Canadian Critical Race Theory. CRT provides a theoretical framework to study and expose the harmful impacts of racist legislation and public policies on Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.
  • Focus CBTU work on reproductive rights, including how race, gender and class shape reproductive justice.
  • Call for reparations to meaningfully acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and Canada between 1619 and 1865.
  • Tackle the housing crisis, including the need to lobby Canadian and U.S. governments for more accessible and affordable housing.

Convention guests including Maxine Waters, United States Representative for California’s 43rd congressional district, and Dr. Jon Goodwin of the University of California, were passionate about issues that affect Black communities at a much higher rate, such as the housing crisis and homelessness, and the need to build awareness about mental health.

The convention took place May 24-29 in Los Angeles. CBTU was founded in 1972. It has 50 chapters in the United States and one in Ontario. The coalition describes itself as the “the fiercely independent voice of Black workers within the trade union movement, challenging organized labor to be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of Black and poor workers.”

CUPE is a proud supporter of CBTU’s work.  Are you a Black CUPE member looking for more information about CBTU? Contact CUPE’s Human Rights Branch at humanrights@cupe.ca

Lisa Skeete (second from right) speaking to the CBTU convention resolution on truth and reconciliation, supported by Aubrey Gonsalves (right) as well as Canadian delegates from CUPE and the Carpenters Union.