March 21 - International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

CUPE newsletter: Every year on March 21, the world commemorates the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. On this day, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". Proclaiming the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Download HEU’s poster

For CUPE members across the country - including HEU members as CUPE National's B.C. health care division - March 21 is a reminder of the struggles and challenges that racialized workers and Aboriginal peoples have endured in this country and across the world. It is also a time to recognize the important work of these two communities in ensuring that labour has an anti-racist agenda. Their active participation has indeed strengthened our movement by bringing new ideas, perspective and energy into the struggles of working people.

On March 21, CUPE is reaffirming our commitment to fight against racism of all forms. In recognizing the ongoing work needed to address racism, CUPE has been providing members and staff with tools to raise awareness and stop racism in our workplaces and communities. This year, we are releasing our brand new brochure “Diversity, our strength – We can defeat discrimination”.

Over the next 20 years, the labour force will be made up of more and more diverse groups of workers who currently experience significant discrimination and inequality in employment. Racialized workers earn 81 per cent of what the rest of Canadians earn; Aboriginal workers earn only 71 per cent. These workers tend to be concentrated in lower paying and often precarious jobs.

Despite this, the Harper government seems determined to increase inequality and nurture an environment that predisposes workers to racist forms of discrimination and maltreatment. This is clearly the case under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Temporary foreign workers are paid less than other workers, and are denied basic human rights and rights of citizenship. They are frequently subjected to harassment, abuse, unsafe working conditions, and extreme exploitation, but tend to suffer in silence for fear of deportation.

At the same time, the government has increased resources for Conservative priorities which perpetuate racial profiling and criminalization of racialized and Aboriginal communities. Following on the footsteps of the U.S. security measures implemented after the 09/11 incident, the Canadian government created its own version of a no-fly list called the “Passenger Protection Program”.

Research by the Canadian Labour Congress reveals that this Canadian version has many flaws that violate basic human rights and civil liberties. It threatens the privacy rights of Canadian residents and obstructs people’s right to freely move across this country. Airline workers are obligated to comply with this system that unfairly singles out some travelers without reasonable grounds. Once a name appears on the Canadian list, the individual will be denied access to boarding an aircraft departing from any Canadian airport.

A 10-year old boy and a 15-year old boy with similar last names were denied access to board their flights with their family, because their names were on the no-fly list. Maher Arar a Syrian born Canadian citizen and his entire family still can’t travel to the United States because they are on the U.S. No Fly list, despite his name being cleared of any terrorism allegations.

March 21 provides an opportunity for all of us to commit to fighting the racism inherent in such policies, and insist that the basic rights of all workers be upheld. As social justice activists, we must make a conscious effort each day to confront oppression and racial discrimination in all forms.