Toronto – March 17, 2016 – The International Day for the Elimination of Racism was established as a result of a brutal event in the difficult history of South Africa. Undoubtedly, the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960, has been portrayed as a turning point in modern race relations. It was on this day that compassion took a blow and empathy was again leveled by a misguided belief in racial supremacy.
In the lead up to this important day, I often ponder the significance of the day and what lessons humanity has learned since the pain of Sharpeville. Given the disturbing statements too often heard in the media and professed on social media, I am of two hearts on the subject.
To me, it seems that while the manifestation of hatred has not lessened, race being the source of such hatred may have decreased. It is not clear to me whether we can take solace in this perception of racism. In its subtle and overt forms, it remains a pervasive part of the lives of far too many across the globe and in Canada.
Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, once wrote that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
At UFCW Canada, we have certainly taken these powerful words to heart. In 2011 and 2012, we conducted a national Diversity, Inclusion & Growth (DIG) Audit. This immense undertaking was an opportunity for our UFCW Canada family to self-identify on the basis of race, gender, ethnocultural heritage, sexual orientation, and ability. The DIG Audit involved our 250,000 members and hundreds of staff and local union leaders from across Canada. It was imperative for us to get a handle on the demography of the UFCW membership to ensure that they are being served in a way that meets their needs.
The results of the DIG Audit indicate that while our union has a proud history of fighting for working families, we can certainly do better for UFCW members. For instance, as of 2012, almost 30 percent of the UFCW Canada membership identified as racialized. By 2031, our projections indicate that almost half of the UFCW membership will identify as such. The DIG Audit provided the evidentiary basis for taking further steps to ensure that we are a more diverse union that provides increasingly inclusive services to UFCW members.
As such, last year, we undertook an important initiative that is allowing us to progress towards this goal. In 2015, UFCW Canada began a massive, nationwide education and training program that includes every staff person and leader of every local union from coast to coast. This type of national initiative is without precedent in the labour movement and most industries in Canada.
Over three years, hundreds of UFCW Canada staff and local union leadership are participating in the National Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Initiative (SDII). This multi-year, multi-facetted, and cutting edge training and cultural development initiative is based on the premise that a diverse and inclusive culture must involve everyone - not just leaders or front-line staff. As we are “Canada’s Private Sector Union,” we must reflect on the unique and incredibly powerful diversity of our great country and membership. Later this year we will be conducting another DIG Audit to assess our progress since 2012.
The goal of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism is clearly evident in its name. As Canada’s leading union, we are proud of the steps that UFCW members, staff, and leadership are collectively taking to attain this goal. Day in and day out, our union is working towards a Canada that is free from racial discrimination, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to take your own personal steps and empower others as we fight together to eliminate racism in our society.
Paul R. Meinema