OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination March 21

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Racism marks the Sharpeville massacre that took place on March 21, 1960 in South Africa. On that day, police shot and killed 69 peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting that country's system of racial segregation, known as apartheid.

In recognition of the 2018 theme to promote tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of racial discrimination http://www.un.org/en/events/racialdiscriminationday/ and of the United Nations International decade for people of African descent, the Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) calls for racial justice in a time of crisis, a time when we are all subject to unprecedented acts of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

On this day, we remember the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in which racist demonstrators—using neo-Nazi slogans, chants and salutes–attacked civil rights protesters and left three people dead and dozens injured. We remember, Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman who was hit by a trailer hitch thrown out of a passing car in Thunder Bay, while someone in the passing vehicle yelled, “I got one.” Barbara Kentner eventually died of injuries related to the attack. We recall that earlier this year, at a school board meeting in Mississauga, far right protesters shouted Islamophobic slurs, ripped up a Qu’ran and walked over its torn pages. The protesters demanded that Muslim students be banned from praying at school. These incidents give evidence of the rise of far-right groups in Canada and to the prevalence of anti-immigrant, anti-black and anti-Indigenous acts and sentiments. The WOCC stands with labour and with community groups that oppose the politics of hatred.

The WOCC especially acknowledges on this day, the more pernicious forms of racism that affect our daily lives and the forms of discrimination that are taken for granted. These are forms of racism that truly disadvantage racialized and Indigenous communities.

“We participate in these often unconscious acts of racism when we think of racism as an individual problem—that police brutality is just the problem of a few 'bad apples’, or when we believe in the myth of a 'colour-blind' society,” says Peter Thompson, Chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus.

Another important misconception is that we all benefit from a merit-based system—the belief that anyone is free to reap rewards and climb the ladder of success. We know that such arguments are a smokescreen for exactly the opposite—they justify inequality and discrimination. Think here of tax-havens for the ultra-rich, privatization of welfare systems, or former prime minister Stephen Harper’s push for tighter immigration controls based on “merit” that really function to target racialized communities.

When we demand that racism be viewed as a systemic problem, we demand not only an end to police brutality and systems of carding, but to view the problem as a kind of complicity with racism – the false idea that we as individuals or as a society have escaped racism (or the belief that racism exists only in more extreme or virulent forms of hate and xenophobia). Racism is based in a long history in Canada that has disadvantaged whole communities including the cultural genocide of Indigenous people and the exploitation and enslavement of black people in Canada. Contemporary racism is a continuation of that history.

The Workers of Colour Caucus advocates the use of an anti-racism lens to confront systems of racism and intolerance. This means using a proactive process that acknowledges that racism creates advantages for some and inequality for others, that targets structures that sustain unequal power relationships, and that explicitly names and confronts racism. To name racism isn’t to create it.

“Racism, both implicit and explicit has continued to exist in Canada for centuries, and includes colonialism and historical exploitation,” says Smokey Thomas, President of OPSEU. “It is our duty as labour activists to take action to confront the root causes of racism and discrimination, and to be mindful of how our everyday practices contribute to racism.”

In Canada, systemic racism means that racialized and Indigenous communities are at least two to six times more likely to live in poverty. Communities of African descent and Indigenous people in particular are over-represented in virtually every category that signifies disadvantage—including higher rates of unemployment and underemployment. These categories of disadvantage exist despite the fact that racialized Ontarians often have higher levels of educational achievement and labour market participation than non-racialized Canadians. This is the reason that employment equity programs that level the playing field are required.

In collaboration with community partners like the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change, the Workers of Colour Caucus calls on all OPSEU members to reflect and take action to ensure a tolerant, inclusive and anti-racist society:

Collection of Data

  • Challenge governments to collect data by “race” in order to map who is disadvantaged in Ontario and to help develop targeted measures to address disparities in areas such as employment and health and well being
  • The Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate created in February 2016 is planning to collect data and create a proactive assessment tool in three areas of concern – child welfare, justice, and education, it is specifically exempting health and mental health.

Poverty Reduction

  • The National Poverty Reduction Strategy in development identifies certain vulnerable communities at higher risk of poverty, but at present, excludes racialized people among them. This is the case even though Indigenous Peoples and racialized people are subject to higher levels of poverty, homelessness and poor health outcomes.

Employment Equity and Fair Employment Practices

  • Call on governments to introduce and enforce provincial employment equity legislation (and all other provinces, territories)
  • Remove barriers to the recognition of international training and education by institutions, regulatory bodies and employers
  • Support the proposed changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of police records of convictions or non-conviction, and facilitate pardons or record suspensions
  • Ensure effective enforcement of all relevant employment standards and labour relations provisions

Changes to Immigration Systems

  • Challenge governments to impose a fair and equitable time limit on immigration detention and make detention truly a last resort
  • Develop meaningful community-based non-custodial alternatives to detention; and cease holding immigration detainees in provincial jails
  • Provide permanent residence for all migrant workers upon arrival and equal access to social entitlement programs and other commonly or mutually shared benefits
  • Grant the right of collective bargaining to workers in all such vulnerable and precarious work; 
  • Strengthen enforcement mechanisms for employment standards violations, including granting workers the right to remain in Canada in the event of an injury to obtain medical treatment, and full access to eligible Workers’ Compensation benefits

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