True labour solidarity means addressing the economic exclusion of racialized and Aboriginal workers. This Saturday as part of our commemoration of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racism let us reflect on the words of Indigenous activist Lila Watson who said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
The International Day for the Elimination of Racism is an important opportunity to reflect on an understanding of racism as something that goes beyond individual acts of intolerance. It’s an opportunity to focus on what the labour movement can do to continue to fight institutional and systemic oppressions faced by workers of colour and Aboriginal workers. These systemic forms of racism can be found in Federal legislation like Bill C-51. Stephen Harper’s so-called Anti-Terrorism legislation is not only an attack on everyone’s democratic rights but also criminalizes Aboriginal activism and promotes Islamophobia, all in the name of security and freedom.
Within the labour movement we have a duty to be vigilant in our fight against racism as a barrier to equality and solidarity. In Alberta alone, visible minorities and Aboriginal Canadians make up 24.6 per cent of our population. There is a tendency for these groups to be disproportionately concentrated in low-wage and non-union jobs with poor or no protections and benefits.
What this tells us is that racism has a very real impact on people’s economic reality. As the Canadian Labour Congress points out, in 2011 the unemployment rate for visible minority workers in Canada was 9.9 per cent compared to 7.3 per cent for non-racialized workers. Aboriginal workers in Canada earn an average of $19,000 compared to $33,000 for other Canadians. These disparities make clear that while the labour movement has made strides in strengthening human rights and addressing discrimination in the workplace, our work must continue.
Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is taking the opportunity of the 38th United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racism, which is Sunday, March 21, to renew calls to the provincial government for more action on tackling racism and hate crimes in Alberta.
"Police are reporting an increase in hate group activity in Alberta, and B'nai B'rith reports a large increase in anti-Semitic acts last year," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Kerry Barrett. "We also continue to see discrimination against Muslims in the shadow of the Attack on Iraq. Clearly racism is alive and growing in Alberta."
"The provincial government puts very few resources into combating racism in its many forms," Barrett points out. "We are hoping that next week's budget contains new initiatives for both cracking down on hate crime and promoting education to end racism."
The AFL has long been committed to working to end racism. It regularly works with its union affiliates to reduce racial stereotypes and prejudice and to promote anti-racism work among workers. "The government should be embarking on similar strategies to bring people together."
Barrett also laments the rise in racist sentiment as fallout from the war on terror and the attack on Iraq a year ago. "It is more than a little ironic that the international day to eliminate racism coincides with the one year anniversary of the Iraq war - a war that can be seen as racist in its origins."
"To end racism, we also need to end the culture of violence and aggression against other peoples," Barrett concludes.
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For Further information contact:
Kerry Barrett, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/ 780-720-8945 (cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021 (wk)
The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking National Aboriginal Solidarity Day by strengthening its commitment to promoting aboriginal involvement in the labour movement.
"For years now, aboriginal people have faced discrimination in the workplace and in the broader community," says Barb Ames, one of two newly-elected aboriginal representatives on the AFL's Executive Council.
"Unfortunately, up until recently, the labour movement has also been guilty of not doing enough to open doors for aboriginal people. We've failed to give them a real seat at the table. The good news is that's all changing."
At the AFL's recent convention, delegates from dozens of different unions voted unanimously to create two new positions on the AFL's Executive Council to represent aboriginal workers. Aboriginal caucus meetings will also now be held at every major AFL event.
"This is the beginning of a new and on-going commitment on behalf of the Alberta labour movement," says Ames. "We will be reaching out to the aboriginal community in an effort to find out how unions and aboriginal people can work together to promote justice and provide opportunity for aboriginals in the workplace."
The work of building bridges between unions and the aboriginal community has already begun. In March, the AFL held a meeting with aboriginal leaders and workers on the Enoch reserve south of Edmonton. Similar meetings - aimed at identifying common concerns and possible areas for cooperation - will be held across the province over the next year.
As a concrete example of the labour movement's commitment to working with the aboriginal community, Ames says she and the AFL will help lobby provincial and federal governments to designate National Aboriginal Solidarity Day (June 21) as an official holiday.
"The goal of having an Aboriginal Solidarity Day was to celebrate the contributions of aboriginal people and promote a better understanding of aboriginal culture and concerns," says Ames. "But without designating it as an official holiday, the day won't get the attention it deserves. If the government is serious about encouraging non-Aboriginal people to think about aboriginal issues, then they should consider making June 21 a formal holiday - a day on which all Canadians can focus on the history, culture and problems faced by aboriginal people. "
For more information call:
Barb Ames, Aboriginal Vice President, AFL Executive Council (403) 246-7144
ENOCH - The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking March 21, the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racism, with a special workshop aimed at building bridges between unions and the aboriginal community.
The workshop will be held today, Friday March 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Enoch Cree Nation Arena on the Enoch Reserve south of Edmonton.
"The unfortunate reality in Canada today is that aboriginal people are marginalized and excluded from full participation in our society, our economy - and even our unions," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Kerry Barrett.
"That's why our human rights committee has decided to organize this workshop. We want to build bridges and foster understanding - so that unions can develop a deeper appreciation for aboriginal issues and concerns; and so that the aboriginal community can see unions as partners in the fight for economic and social justice."
The workshop will be divided into two main sections. First, union and aboriginal representatives will explain the history, priorities and concerns of their respective communities. Then the discussion will turn to strategies for cooperation between unions and aboriginal groups.
At the end of the day, the goal is to identify a number of concrete steps that can be taken to increase aboriginal involvement and representation within the labour movement.
"The labour movement wants to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the fight against racism and discrimination," says Barrett. "Ultimately, we would like to see a Canadian society that is completely free of discrimination - in which all people have equal opportunities and representation regardless of the colour of their skin. But the first step is to take action within our own organizations."
Barrett says efforts to build bridges between different communities are particularly important in light of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"The Americans are sending the message that aggression is the answer to conflict - and that harmonious relations can be enforced by an iron fist. We, on the other hand, think that the best way to reduce tensions between groups is to build bridges and foster understanding. That's what this workshop is all about."
For more information call:
Kerry Barrett, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780-720-8945 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - March 21st, the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, provides a good opportunity for government, employers and labour to conduct a serious assessment of how their actions have affected aboriginal people, people of colour and immigrants, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour. "As much as we'd like to believe we are a tolerant and enlightened province, we all know there are problems with racism in Alberta," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal people, people of colour and immigrants are living in poverty, occupying jobs characterized by low wages and no benefits. Many of these workers are trapped in job ghettos," says Cormack.
"The Klein government has continued to ignore the challenges faced by these people in their communities and in their workplaces. When the Alberta Human Rights Commission reports that last year 14% of their complaints cited race and/or colour as the basis of discrimination, and 10% cited ancestry and origin, it tells me that there is much more that can be done," says Cormack.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racism marks the anniversary of the "Sharpeville Massacre." On March 21, 1960, South African police fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville Township, killing sixty-nine people. The United Nations, in an unprecedented move, condemned the South African government for these actions. March 21st is a rallying point for people involved in the struggle against racism.
"The labour movement takes the elimination of racism seriously. Anything that divides workers, weakens us all," says Cormack.
The Federation has a Worker of Colour and Aboriginal Worker Working Group, as well as a seat on its Executive Council reserved for a person of colour. At its biennial convention in May, the Federation will release a research and policy paper examining the economic effects of discrimination in the Canadian labour market.
"We are doing what we can to fight racism, but we can't create tolerant workplaces and communities on our own. Government and businesses have to start taking a role in combating racism and discrimination, and bringing down the barriers faced by these often, marginalized workers," says Cormack.
For information, contact:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 780-483-3021(wk)/499-6530 (cell)/428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, the president of Alberta's largest labour organization is calling on leaders from government, business and labour to join forces in the battle against intolerance.
"Racism and discrimination continue to be serious problems in Alberta and across the country," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "Progress has been made - that's clear. But much more needs to be done in order to combat racism in the workplace and in the broader community."
The United Nations has chosen March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in memory of the infamous "Sharpeville Massacre." On this day in 1960, South African police fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville Township, killing sixty-nine people. Since then, March 21 has been set aside as a day to remember the suffering caused by racism and to celebrate successes in the battle for racial tolerance.
Cormack says that much has been accomplished since 1960. For example, the brutal system of Apartheid that caused the Sharpeville massacre has been overthrown. And many countries, including Canada, have introduced laws aimed at discouraging discrimination. But Cormack says the battle against racism is far from over.
"The brutal reality is that immigrants, first nations people and people of colour still face racism discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis. Systemic racism continues to exist in our schools, our courts, our communities, our workplaces and even in our unions. In fact a recent poll published in the Globe and Mail suggests that intolerance against immigrants is actually on the rise. This sends a clear message that more needs to be done in order to promote tolerance."
Cormack says that unions have a long, proud history of working to overturn racist and discriminatory policies in government and in the workplace. As part of the the AFL's on-going commitment to ending racism and discrimination, she says she and other Alberta labour leaders will continue to: 1) speak out against racism in Canada and throughout the world, and 2) support anti-racism programs and legislation aimed at breaking down systemic barriers in all institutions.
"We in the labour movement will continue to do all we can to make Canadian labour organizations more tolerant, more inclusive and more welcoming for people of colour. For example, we will be working with the Canadian Labour Congress to implement the recommendations of the CLC's recent Anti-Racism Task Force, which outlines an action plan for promoting tolerance in unions and the workplace," says Cormack.
"But we can't eradicate racism alone. That's why we are challenging other groups and individuals to play a part. We challenge individuals to actively join the fight against racism. We challenge businesses to adopt anti-discrimination policies and sponsor educational programs to combat racism in the workplace. And we challenge governments to make the fight against racism in Canada and around the world a much higher priority. By working together, I am convinced we can promote tolerance and stamp out the black cancer of racism that has been eating away at our community and our workplaces."
For more information call:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell) /483-3021 (wk) 428-9367 (hm)