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Ken Neumann Statement for the International Day for the Elimination of Racism

On March 21st, 1960, in a town called Sharpeville in South Africa, sixty nine people were killed by police while peacefully demonstrating against the repression of apartheid. As a result of these deaths, the UN began a long term initiative to end racial discrimination in all forms, including establishing March 21st of each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Steelworkers enthusiastically celebrate this anniversary with other organizations and social justice allies. Along with this international celebration, we must also understand our role in combating racism in Canada.

Racial and ethnic diversity has significantly changed Canada as we approach this country’s 150th birthday next year. Since 2001, most people arriving to make Canada their home have three things in common. First, their mother tongue is neither English nor French. Second, new arrivals are mostly people of colour. Finally, Christianity is not the dominant religion. Furthermore, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are where most new Canadians have, and will, settle. By Canada’s 150th birthday, it is possible that in Vancouver and Toronto half the respective cities’ population could be people of colour. While it is affirming that we as a country are so welcoming of diversity from non-European nations and cultures, we also have to look at discrimination and its effects within Canada.

In education, schools with the highest drop-out rates are those with the highest number of racialized students. In health, immigrants from non-European countries are more likely to report declining health. In employment and income levels, many of women of colour earn less than the poverty line. In safety and crime, black Canadians are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. In housing, racialized groups are more likely to live in areas of high poverty. Almost one in ten immigrant or refugee parents are unable to provide their children with healthy meals.

Simply put, in many walks of life, equality in Canada does not extend to racialized people with non-European origins and traditions.

We as a union must fight to end this inequality. I urge all Steelworkers to:

  • Ensure that Canada enthusiastically supports ratification of the UN International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  • Continue to lobby for equality legislation at the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.
  • Be allies in supporting political candidates who represent people of colour in Canada, and, align with social justice principles.
  • Negotiate strong equality provisions in our collective bargaining agreements.
  • Continue our strong presence in the larger labour movement in Canada, including area councils, and provincial and federal labour associations and federations.
  • Extend our support for associations and social justice partners such as the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Asian Canadian Labour Alliance.

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