Ken Neumann Statement on Asian Heritage Month 2019

May is Asian Heritage Month. It is a month to celebrate the contributions Asian Canadians have made to our union, our communities and our country. It is also a month to consider the struggle of Asian Canadians to achieve equality in this country. 

In December 2001, the Senate adopted a motion proposed by Senator Vivienne Poy to officially designate May as Asian Heritage Month in Canada. In May 2002, the Government of Canada signed an official declaration to designate May as Asian Heritage Month. 

Asian Canadians include people from the following countries: 

East Asia: China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan.
South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Central Asia: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Southeast Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 

As Steelworkers, we see a significant change in the national and cultural makeup of our membership. Our workplaces reflect the Statistics Canada report on Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada: Prospects for 2017. The report states that one out of five people in Canada will be a person of colour, and that most will be living in a major metropolitan area, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. In addition, South Asians and East Asians will be the largest Asian groups, accounting for half of all people of colour. 

As equality is a central mission of our union, we should also recognize the struggle of Asian Canadians, immigrants and other people of colour to achieve equality in Canada. 

In 1885, the last spike was driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), joining Eastern and Western Canada. While the CPR is seen as essential to Canadian nation building, it is also important to know the history of Chinese workers on the railways. Chinese workers were given the most dangerous work at half the pay. Two workers died for every 1.5 kilometers of competed track. Canadian labour unions at the time excluded Chinese workers from membership. And following the completion of the CPR, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed in 1885, with the implementation of the head tax to discourage Chinese people from settling in Canada. 

There is much more work to do to achieve equality for Asian Canadian people. In May and throughout the year, Steelworkers must speak out against racism and work to strengthen human rights for those of Asian heritage and for all equality seeking groups in Canada. 

I urge Steelworkers to: 

  • Join with the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance to lobby federal and provincial governments for greater equality for people of colour
  • Use your collective agreement to promote diversity and prevent discrimination and racism in the workplace
  • Create a Human Rights Committee in your union local
  • Send members to USW equality workshops, including the “Preventing and Dealing with Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Workplace” and “Human Rights are Workers’ Rights” workshops
  • Commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held in March of each year 

In solidarity,

Ken Neumann
National Director

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