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Commentary :: Labor
What about the Racism That We Face? (Racism within and by union)
11 Apr 2005
This Article was written by a member of a Canadian union and Originally published at

Racism has an unquestionably destructive effect upon worker solidarity.
What strategies do unions have in place for combating racism within the union?
"The Crisis Facing Working People" and Proposed Plans for Changes
What about the Racism That We Face?

The Union structure as it currently exists needs desperate and immediate changes. The acknowledgment of this structural problem by a U.S. based union coalition being led by Brother Andy Stern of the SEIU is a brilliant and courageous move. Despite the importance of Sterns acknowledgement, however, a proposal to build a new structure that has no tangible plan to include workers in the rebuilding process is troubling.

Even more troubling is the fact that Sterns plan doesn't appear to recognize at all the struggles that blacks, aboriginals and people of colour face within their work places, their unions or in society as a whole.

Racism has an unquestionably destructive effect upon worker solidarity. Accordingly, a successful restructuring of the size and scope that Stern proposes will require the realization, recognition and acknowledgement of the racism faced by individuals at work and in their private lives and a plan to eliminate it. To date, no such acknowledgement nor plan appears in Sterns structure. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any plan whatsoever to combat racism or to even include marginalized workers in the restructuring process.

Make it a double.

Let's face it, there are not many people of colour involved in the labour movement. At least not in any meaningful way. And although many unions have some token material on their websites regarding racism, the general and "politically correct" manner with which they present and promote the material in reality achieves nothing.

While the unions pat themselves on the back for being "progressive", people of colour are still routinely silenced and dismissed simply for trying to insert real and current racism issues into the union agenda.

"Don't rock the boat", "Grow a thicker skin", "Look at things positively!" - all phrases you just may hear from your union leaders should the topic of racism at work be brought to the table.

So, what strategies do unions have in place for combating racism at the workplace?

What strategies do unions have in place for combating racism within the union?

Does anyone really believe that the further marginalization of individuals who speak out about racism actually "combats" racism?

One for the road.

Evidently, unions don't belong to workers any more. Unions have become a playground for power-seekers; an avenue through which personal and political ambitions are fulfilled. Racism doesn't affect them. The notion of empowering the membership terrifies them. And, should they have the courage to look, it is within this fear that todays unions will find their direct contribution to the perpetuation of racism in our society.

A conceptual restructuring of the labour movement that does not include the full and meaningful participation of the rank and file, including those already marginalized by the current system, begs the question: Whom are these ideas serving?


© Members for Democracy
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Re: What about the Racism That We Face? (Racism within and by union)
13 Apr 2005
You don't face racism. You are anonymous. No one is racist against anonymous people.