Labour unites against racism

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Image: Alexis Fawn

While handing out #UniteAgainstRacism stickers for Fight for $15 and Fairness at the Labour Day parade, I was encouraged that most people gladly adorned the message. 

Disappointingly, there were some exceptions too. Some people walked by stone faced, or vigorously shook their head as if the message was an affront to their self-interests. 

In my personal experience, these represented a minority of the marchers but it goes to show that the labour movement still has work to do in ridding itself of national chauvinism. 

In any case, I spoke to a few people who wore the sticker to get their thoughts on what #UniteAgainstRacism meant to them. 

Luke Mulenga, United Steelworkers

"I believe in uniting against racism because I'm definitely the minority," said Luke Mulenga, a marketing professional represented by United Steelworkers.

"In these times we're living right now, it's more important than ever. You know, it's just people needing to wake up and just coming to that realization that racism is there, it is real," he said.

Mulenga, who immigrated from Zambia seven years ago, said Toronto's diversity was refreshing to see even as he expressed concerns about the ongoing political climate.

Brian Chang, NDP federal candidate and PSAC member

"It's really important that we stand up as in our workplaces as well as demonstrate to others that labour union stands for equality and fighting for our communities," said Brian Chang, federal NDP candidate for Toronto Centre, who is also part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Chang pointed out the harassment against NDP MPP Gurratan Singh by a white supremacist the day before at the MuslimFest as indicative of the current political challenge. 

Singh was accosted by a man who asked him if he believed in Shariah law and "political Islam," even though the politician is Sikh and not Muslim. 

Chang noted that Singh acted in solidarity with Muslims and refused to pander to the white supremacist. 

"That's what we need - people who are leaders like Gurratan (Singh), who are willing to stand up and fight back against racism and take a principled stand and be like, this is not okay, this is not the Canada we want."

Karen, SEIU and Unite Here 75

She was so shocked to hear anti-Black racial epithets when it happened the first time at work, that she walked away from the room to calm herself down, said Karen.

The nursing home and hospitality sector worker didn't feel comfortable giving out her last name, or posing for a photo, which speaks to the real concerns workers have when speaking out, even when protected by unions. 

Nursing home workers often face sexual violence and racial abuse at work, as was documented in CUPE's Breaking Point report earlier this year. 

Karen said the racism typically comes from residents and their family members, but also sometimes her colleagues.

The problem isn't absent in the hospitality sector either.

"There are occasions when the police has to escort [hotel customers] out," she said.

Rob Gill, Foodora courier

Rob Gill, who has been working as a Foodora courier for the past year and a half, was unequivocal in condemning the growing echo of racist right-wing fear mongering. 

Gill said that the tenor of politics in Canada had changed.

"As far as I'm concerned, [white supremacy] needs to be the number one issue, that and the climate," he said. 

"These are the places I just automatically go when any kind of conversation comes up about our political system. So just inevitable and becoming increasingly urgent by the moment."

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Alexis Fawn​

 

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