Archived Winnipeg Labour Council Stories

February is Black History Month

 

Every February, Winnipeg celebrates Black History Month, also known as African Heritage Month. It's a month to acknowledge the history, legacy and global contributions of those with ancestral roots in Africa. During the month, numerous special events are held - dates and locations of which are usually listed on the Winnipeg Labour Council web site during the month.

The mass relocation of black Africans can largely be attributed to the colour coded power of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which forcibly removed upwards of 10 million Africans over three centuries from their continental home to work as slaves in European colonies. One of the children of these slaves was Dr. Carter Woodsworth, who fought to establish an annual recognition of this legacy and to honour the achievements of the black community. What began as an annual week of recognition in 1926, has become a month to recognize the past and present contributions made by those with African or Caribbean ancestry.

The Canadian labour movement has benefited enormously from the contributions of black workers who advocate for social and political changes that benefit all Canadians. Be it the voices of workers demanding recognition of Canada's role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; to pursuing a reparations agenda; or participating in the United Nations World Conference on Racism, or tirelessly challenging systemic discrimination in our workplaces, and within Canada's education, justice, social service or immigration systems - this community has always been a significant source of inspiration, strength and power.

This past year a black man, with ancestral roots in Kenya, sparked a nation to say "Yes, we can!" and the door to the U.S. presidency opened to what many hope will be social change we can believe in.

Yet change is a slow process, but it is possible. Workers understand making such change happen requires solidarity, courage and tenacity.

In Canada during the 1940s, despite a growing manufacturing sector, black workers were few in numbers and when they did receive manufacturing jobs they were concentrated in the dirtiest, dangerous and most gruelling parts of the industrial process. The situation only changed with the work of black labour activists like Bromley Armstrong. Bromley and other labour and human rights activists used creativity and tenacity in the struggle to end a colour coded system that exploited and excluded blacks from good jobs, accommodation and access to services such as being served in restaurants.

This was a long struggle to change the colour of power, but it led to the introduction of legislation like the Federal Fair Employment Practices Act. This legislation forced employers to end a long legacy of discriminatory hiring practices and finally in 1953, for the first time in its history, manufacturing giants of the time like Chrysler Canada finally hired black men to work on its assembly lines.

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