February is recognized as Black History Month – its history was rooted in the aim of countering unfair condemnation by acknowledging the accomplishments and contributions made by Black people. In the labour movement we’ve seen a great deal of leadership around diversity, equality, and anti-racism, particularly led by Black people, like the historic labour leader A Phillip Randolph. Randolph became the leader of the first African-American labour union and in the 1940s he and 100,000 black job seekers ensured an executive order that ended race, colour, creed and national origin bias in the hiring of workers in the deferral government – in 1955, Randolph was elected AFL-CIO Vice President.
In Canada, Stanley Grizzle was elected President of his union local in the 1940s, and pushed the Canadian Pacific Railway to open management positions to Black people – he was also a leader in Canada’s civil rights movement in the 1950s – in 1960, Grizzle worked for the Ontario Labour Relations Board and in 1978, he was appointed a Citizenship Judge, a first for an African Canadian.
Today we have many black labour leaders, including our current Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Secretary Treasurer, Marie Clarke Walker. She is the first-ever racialized woman to serve in this position. She is very active in the social justice community and currently serves as an executive member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Black History Month also serves as a reminder and opportunity to act on the harmful impacts of racism both past and present, so that communities can progress with respect and justice.
SEIU-West stands against any form of racism, and we are proud of our union’s efforts in working with Black Lives Matters across borders, particularly SEIU Rise – a development program for young members in Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US – whose top priority is racial justice.
Together, we must use our knowledge, words, and actions to stand up against racism and hate. For more information on confronting racism, visit our post about confronting discrimination here.
SEIU-West encourages you to join in the Black History Month celebrations – you can see various activities throughout the province on the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan website here.