Black Union Members Built an Organization to Fight for Change

During the 1980s, workers of colour involved in their unions and the broader Ontario Labour movement, began to meet at the Ontario Federation of Labour conventions. Their efforts gave birth to the “Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.”

One of their first efforts was to establish “affirmative action seats” for racial minorities on the national executives of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Ontario Federation OF Labour (OFL) executive boards. Brother Herman Stewart, of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, became the first person of colour elected to serve on the provincial labour organization at the 1987 OFL convention.

Following this success, the Coalition redoubled its efforts to force change at the national level. At the 1990 CLC Convention in Montréal, Brother Dory Smith challenged the slate and ended with over a thousand votes, but no seat. That show of support led the CLC to move forward with measures to become more inclusive at the following convention, in 1992.

At the 1992 convention, the CLC was considering one seat for a visible minority. The clear answer from Coalition members was that “ONE + ONE = 2” (seats); a message some members even used to lobby and campaign; they even produced and distributed a button with the slogan on it for delegates to wear. By the end of the convention, the CLC had a new president, Bob White, and two visible minorities seats on the CLC National Executive.

In 1995, the Ontario Coalition affiliated to the CBTU International.

According to their mission statement, the Coalition advocates within their unions and central labour bodies to raise issues of racism and discrimination in the workplace, within their unions, and within Canadian society more broadly.

UCTE celebrates Black History this month.

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