Statement on the George Floyd protests

June 5, 2020 - USW Local 1944 stands in solidarity with the unprecedented groundswell of protest taking place internationally against the systemic racism faced by Black citizens, in particular from police. It’s shameful that well into the 21st Century, individuals and communities often remain judged by the colour of their skin and not by the content of their character, as Martin Luther King asked us to do 57 years ago.

It seems that every month reveals new video proof of individuals treating Black lives with total reckless indifference. Any person of conscience must ask themselves what goes on when no camera is watching if such egregious actions take place regularly in full public view. It’s simple for police officers to restrain a man without kneeling on his neck, as in the George Floyd death. It’s simple for someone to call the police if they suspect that a jogger is a searched-for criminal, rather than to drive up, pull a gun on them, and provoke a confrontation resulting in murder, as in the Ahmaud Arbery death. In the Arbery case, the vigilantes stated that Ahmaud matched the description of a suspected burglar, yet what description could they make out from a passing jogger except that he was a young black man? It appears that any young black man would have been dealt the same fate in that situation, on the basis of their “description”, their Blackness.

George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are only two names of many: Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Jamar Clark, Danny Ray Thomas, Stephon Clark, Terrance Crutcher, and very many others.

“As the smoke clears from the canisters of tear gas being shot at peaceful protestors, and people try to go back to their lives as they were before, whether in lockdown or otherwise, we must not forget these past days.” says Acting President Donna Hokiro. “However our fight is about more than the violence that occurred at the hands of these four police officers. It is also about the policies that keep the oppressors in power and the rest of us in service to those masters. It is about the lack of resources from education and health equality, to the ability to secure work and housing and in some cases even clean drinking water. Predominately these inequalities ring true for brown and black people and those in First Nation communities. Often we do not connect policy to real life but that is exactly where the injustices start. In order for us to make real and lasting change that will benefit all peoples, we must put into power people that represent our diversity and values, who speak for us because they speak like us. Obama said it best when he said, ‘Vote’.”

Canadians shouldn’t view this ongoing tragedy as a distant, American problem. Canada remains ethnically stratified in terms of the quantity of police interactions and police violence, of racial profiling, as well as employment, income and education. Our own project of historical reconciliation with marginalized ethnicities remains stalled after centuries of prejudice.

There is a difference between lip-service and real social progress. For instance, while it’s a positive step that Stockwell Day has resigned as a Telus Director due to his statements denying the existence of systemic racism in Canada, and equating racism to his being picked on as a child for wearing glasses, why was Stockwell Day a Telus Director in the first place? Is Telus really surprised that Stockwell Day turned out to be Stockwell Day? Are they surprised that a man who has stated “Homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured through counselling” (according to this article) and “Homosexuality is a choice, in my view” (link here) would deny systemic racism in Canada?

The United Steel Workers declared as its first founding objective, “To unite in one organization, regardless of creed, color or nationality, all workmen and working women eligible for membership” and did so in 1942. The USW has always fought discrimination, long before it was socially acceptable to do so, and always will, not just when the spotlight is on the issue.

Let’s all keep ourselves and each other accountable as we try to create a society without racism, in which the anger and upheaval we’ve all witnessed this past week is no longer necessary.

In Solidarity,

USW Local 1944