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The CBTU: Canada Version
Transcript of The CBTU: Canada Version
The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
action and faith. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists proudly carries that tradition into the 21st century.
Since the earliest days when democracy was built on racial exploitation, black workers have risked their lives to protect and empower their communities through agitation, collective
is not a black separatist or civil rights organization. It is the fiercely independent voice of black workers within the trade union movement, challenging organized labour to be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of Black and poor workers. At the same time,
is recognized as a potent economic and political force within the black community.
In the U.S.A., 1 in 5 black workers belongs to a union, earning 40%
than non-unionized black workers.
In Canada, black workers earn over 30%
than non-racialized workers.
In the political arena,
has leveraged the vast resources of unions to mobilize black voters to influence elections and public policy at every level of government.
And long before globalization caught the attention of America's working families,
was challenging the gaping disparity of wealth, power and living standards throughout the world, especially in African and Caribbean countries.
also was the first American labor organization to actively oppose white minority rule in Southern Africa.
has been the catalyst for actions against other human rights violators as well.
"We Are One" Rally
Since its founding conference in 1972,
's stature among African American workers has grown. Currently, more than 50 different international and national unions are represented in
. With over 50 chapters across North America,
is maximizing the strength and influence of black workers in unions and empowering their communities.
"Free South Africa" Rally - 1985
In 1972, these five African American labour leaders organised a conference in Chicago to discuss black workers' concerns that unions were ignoring their interests. It was the largest gathering of African Americans in labour movement history with 1200 activists present. To provide black workers with a voice in organised labour, the group decided to form the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. These architects of history will never be forgotten.
Nelson "Jack" Edwards began his union career during the big surge to unions in the 1930s. After going north, from a farm near Montgomery, Alabama, to industrial Detroit, Edwards was elected UAW union steward to represent workers in Chrysler's Foundry plant.
Later, he became active in Local 900, where he was elected to the local's bargaining committee in 1944. The International UAW appointed him an International Representative based on Detroit's west side in 1947.
He held this post for 15 years, until May 1962, when delegates to the UAW's national convention elected him Member-at-large on the UAW's International Executive Board.
A year later, in May 1963, he was asked by UAW President Walter P. Reuther to go to Birmingham, Alabama to assist African Americans in their historic struggle for equality.
Sadly, shortly after Edwards was elected CBTU's first national treasurer, he was slain in Detroit in November, 1974.
In honor of his long and distinguished career and his unflagging commitment to empowering black workers, CBTU established the prestigious Nelson "Jack" Edwards Award.
Charlie Hayes was the first trade unionist ever elected to Congress. He served five terms, from 1983 to 1993. He represented one of the poorest districts in the nation, the south side of Chicago.
Often Congressman Hayes was the "voice of conscience." He passionately urged his colleagues in Congress to spare federal job training and anti-poverty programs, while warning CBTU members not to get complacent.
Charles A. Hayes
Congressman Hayes was a prolific union man for 45 years. In the 1950s, he raised funds that fuelled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s voter registration drive in the South. Later, he was one of major labour leaders arrested during the 1980s anti-apartheid protests that eventually won the freedom of Nelson Mandela. Congressman Hayes was CBTU's first executive vice president, serving until 1986. He died in April, 1997. The Charles A. Hayes Labor, Cultural and Community Center in Chicago, Illinois, is named in honour of this distinguished "statesman for the people."
Bill Lucy is one of the most revered and highest-
ranking black labour leaders in the world. Under his
leadership, CBTU has earned global and grassroots respect
as a catalyst for progressive change for the past 40 years.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Richmond, California, Lucy began his ascent in the ranks of organised labour in the 1960's. In 1965, he was elected president of AFSME local 1675. The following year he became associate director of the Legislation and Community Affairs departments of AFSME International in Washington, DC.
In 1968, Lucy worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the historic Memphis sanitation workers strike. In the tumultuous aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination, Lucy helped maintain the
labour-civil rights-community coalition that sealed the
workers' victory and became the model used throughout
William (Bill) Lucy
Bill Lucy later led the AFL-CIO delegation that monitored the first
democratic elections ever held in South Africa. As a result of the CBTU's
efforts and those of the AFL-CIO's highest group of decision makers, including
women and minorities, Lucy was appointed to the Executive Council in 1995.
He also became vice president of AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department,
Maritime Trades Department, and Department of Professional Employees.
After nearly four decades of involvement in international affairs, Lucy is recognized as the consummate labour statesman. He became the first African American elected as president of Public Services International (PSI), the world's largest union federation, in 1994. He has served on numerous boards, including the NAACP, TransAfrica, Black Leadership Forum, the Africa America Institute, and the Council of Institutional Investors. In 2006, in recognition of Lucy's labour leadership and activism, Howard University awarded him an honorary doctorate of humanities. He has receive numerous other accolades, including an honorary doctorate of humane letters
from Bowie State College, and repeated recognition as one of the hundred
most influential black Americans in Ebony magazine.
Bill Lucy's work through the CBTU and other organisations has shaped
policies that protect the rights and represent the interests of
minority workers in the USA and around the world.
Cleveland Lowellyn Robinson was reverently spoken of as the historian of CBTU. His direct participation in all the major labour organisations, civil rights struggles and human rights campaigns during the last half of the 20th century made his voice the authority in any discussion.
He was a former advisor on labour to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., serving as the administrative chairman of the historic 1963 March on Washington where King made his "I Have A Dream" speech.
Cleveland "Clev" Robinson
Born in the rural parish of Manchester in Jamaica, Robinson immigrated to the USA in 1944. From 1950 until his retirement in 1992, Robinson led District 65 of the UAW. As the first black officer there, he led over 30000 members in small shops and department stores throughout New York City.
Robinson was a gifted speaker and organiser, who served as vice president and then president of the Negro American Labor Council, the forerunner of CBTU.
Through his work at the CBTU and NALC, Robinson took up the struggle to get minority representation in the leadership of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates. Robinson was the first elected 1st vice president of CBTU.
Throughout the years, Robinson was a relentless opponent of apartheid in South Africa. In 1990, he was co-chairman of the official visit of Nelson Mandela to New York.
In addition to union
organising, Robinson was appointed to the New York City Commission of Human Rights, was the chairman of the NY State MLK Jr. Commission, and was on the Board of Directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights.
Robinson passed away in August, 1995, but his indomitable
spirit is alive.
Bill Simons has the patience of a college professor, the courage of a decorated soldier and the organising genius of a wise labour leader. That such a triple threat renaissance man would be one of the key architects of
's policy and parliamentary framework is not surprising. Simons, who grew up in Washington, D.C., taught in D.C. public schools for 18 years and then served twice as president of Local 6 of the Washington Teachers Union for 25 years. During his tenure as WTU Local 6 president, Simons repeatedly defied the national leadership of his union and spoke out against racism in organised labour and the need for black workers to unite.
's first elected national secretary. This WWII bronze star veteran, college lecturer, writer and consultant has carved his niche in labour and politics: past vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); founding member of the AFT Black Caucus; past vice president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO; and past recording secretary of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO.
William H. Simons
Simons, now retired, was also heavily involved in politics. He was the past chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party, and National Committeeman on the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
In April, 1994, he reached one of the most emotional highlights of his career, serving as an AFL-CIO observer in the first democratic elections in South Africa.
In 1995, Simons was appointed treasurer of the prestigious Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which was founded by the legendary historian Carter G. Woodson.
Why do we need a Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
A free and progressive trade union movement in the 21st century
reflect greater participation of black trade unionists at every level of its decision-making process. This is no less true in today's globalised workplace than in yester years, when black workers were basically a source of cheap labour.
The trade union movement is probably the only broad-based organisation that spans the entire black community. Yet, as trade unionists, we are part of a broad community whose resources have never been fully or consistently organised.
Consequently, it remains our challenge, as black trade unionists, to make the labour movement more relevant to the needs and aspirations of black and poor workers.
There are over 2.6 million unionised black workers across North America - nearly half of them women. The CBTU promoted awareness to the black community of the value of union work; that the economic status of unionised black workers in terms of higher wages, improved working conditions and better benefits, like pensions and health insurance represents a significant force within the black community and in organized labour.
Today, more black leaders hold key positions in the political machinery of the labour movement, thus holding the critical balance of political power in this nation. As
activists, we adamantly believe that it is our responsibility to constructively harness and use the expertise and power of this untapped political resource.
To that end,
will continue to insist that black union officials become full partners in the leadership and decision-making of the labour movement.
With many unions having international reach, the
also recognised the importance of expanding beyond the US border, and in 1995, it granted its first international charter to a group from
The Ontario/Canada Chapter of the CBTU was founded in 1995 by Beverley Johnson, Jay Nair, Ann Newman, Dory Smith, and its founding president June Veecock; however, these activists and others had been on the scene for years prior to joining CBTU. The Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (OCBTU) was formed in the late 1980s, and its membership included black workers from both public and private sector unions who wanted a forum in which to voice their concerns about racism in the workplaces and in unions, the need for supports systems, and who wanted to develop strategies for change. The OCBTU wanted to ensure that designated equity seats were created on executive boards, and that the under-representation of blacks and other workers of colour on the staffs of unions was corrected.
The efforts of the OCBTU came to fruition. Delegates to the 1987 OFL convention elected Herman Stewart of the ILGWU to the Federation's executive committee, making him the first person of colour to achieve such a post. Fred Upshaw was also elected 1st VP and Treasurer of OPSEU, and eventually became president of that union.
The OCBTU then targeted change at the national level. At the 1990 CLC Convention in Montreal, Dory Smith secured over 1000 votes among the 2300 voting delegates for a position on the CLC Executive. The Coalition had not limited its efforts to seats on the Boards of the CLC and OFL, but was raising the issue of under representation of blacks and racial minorities on the staff of unions as well. To highlight the systemic exclusion, the Coalition began a report card on the hiring practices of unions. At the following CLC convention, the OCBTU issued their "report card" to various unions, and as part of their lobbying efforts to have 2 equity seats added to the CLC Executive Council, the group distributed buttons labelled "1+1=2".
Welcome to Canada!
This was a wake-up call to the CLC who saw that delegates were ready for change, and following the convention, the CLC established a task force on representation. After heightened pressure from black trade unionists, the CLC added 2 VP seats designated for visible minorities to its executive council, as well as other equity seats for Aboriginal peoples, women, those with disabilities, and GLBT members. Following the CLC's example, other unions across Canada began to add racialized and Aboriginal workers to their executive bodies.
The OCBTU represented workers from many unions with International ties headquartered in the USA, and the organisation eventually joined forces with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in 1995, becoming the first Chapter in Canada. The 2 new VPs presented a resolution to create an anti-racism task force, which passed. The task force issued a final report in 1997 with a series of recommendations for all affiliated unions, and a plan to continue to report on labour's follow-through on the report's recommendations regarding enhanced equity and diversity. In 2008, a follow-up survey was performed through Stratcom which showed improvement in certain areas but significant room for growth prior to the next 2013 survey.
For the past 15 years, the CBTU Ontario/Canada Chapter members have been advocating within their unions and central labour bodies to put issues of racism and discrimination in the workplace and unions higher on labour’s agenda. There may be a border dividing the two countries, but the members across CBTU all continue to strive for one goal: to make employers and unions recognize the value in working earnestly to organise racialized women, youth and people.
What does the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists do
voter education and voter mobilisation
campaigns through the following
Conducting voter registration drives
Educating voters through the distribution
of leaflets, phone banks, or PSA's
Recruiting volunteers for political campaigns
Training union and community activists to plan and coordinate get-out-the-vote operations
Building progressive coalitions with churches, civil
rights & social justice organisations, and community groups
Targeting key precincts, states or congressional
districts with minority populations for non-partisan voter education and mobilisation activity
Organizing town hall meetings or issue forums
Encouraging more minority union activists
to run for public office
Electing progressive candidates to
CBTU has always been on the cutting
edge of progressive politics in America. Our
approach is built on forming flexible alliances with
national and community-based allies to achieve common
The Political Empowerment Network (PEN) is CBTU's vehicle
for political participation. The process goes beyond motivating
voters to turnout on election day; it must also empower communities by tapping their strengths, responding to their local needs and allocating sufficient resources to maximise their participation. Through PEN, cadres of political activists in unions and communities across the nation can collaborate on creative,
winning strategies and hold elected officials accountable
to African American voters.
voluntary, and open to all trade
union members. We help organise workers by providing the opportunity for mutual learning and accessing of resources in the labour movement from a network of experienced trade unionists from the rank and file, staff, and
Voice at Work!
POWER TO THE P.E.N.
Stregth in Unity!
The committee seeks to broaden
members’ understanding of the corporate-dominated global economy and to encourage common actions by unions and workers’ movements in other countries that will ensure global fairness for everyone. The committee also embodies
’s long-standing commitment to international justice for people of color plagued by racial oppression.
From our help to Brazilian trade unionists in developing model language for anti-discrimination clauses to be used in their contract negotiations, to our involvement in the AFL-CIO’s "Campaign for Global Fairness", the
is justifiably proud of its progressive history of solidarity with human rights fighters and freedom movements here and around the world, especially in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
While union membership
emphasises the benefits of a
pension plan and savings, knowing how
much is required for retirement and having a
focused strategy and plan remains a challenge.
Rosewood Retirement Advisory Services conducts
investment education workshops and seminars for CBTU
chapters, regions, and the international convention, advising individual CBTU members and individual unions on how
to make sound money decisions to achieve retirement security, what to do with extra money from pay increases, and how to set up financing for young children's college education.
J.S. Woodworth Award
prides itself in creating a safe space for members to talk about issues such as inequity, racism, and discrimination, and plan effective strategies to assist members in trouble. We create awareness of these and other issues relevant to the black community through educational seminars, and partnerships within the labour movement and the community.
has received numerous accolades for demonstrating significant contributions towards the
goal of eliminating racial discrimination
from our society.
With thousands of dollars in scholarships awarded across various chapters in North America, the CBTU
bright up-and-coming students to ease the financial burden of higher education.
Under 40 Committee
was formed to provide an opportunity for mentoring to the up-and-coming labour and community leaders of the
. At the 2009
International Convention the
's earned its first seat on the
Through the CBTU Youth Committee, the energy and talents of black youth are channelled into positive, meaningful and exciting endeavours. One of their major activities is sponsoring programs that educate children about conflict resolution and encourage them to reject violence.
Each Chapter hosts its own fundraising events which are heavily supported by the labour community; from award banquets, to Black History Month galas. Each is its own unique celebration to commemorate the achievements of labour activist who have touched the black community in a significant manner.
Every member of the CBTU has the right to register to attend the International Convention as a delegate, and have full voice and vote on the resolutions brought forward by the Chapters and Executive Council, as well as participate in any learning seminars.
Guests are also permitted to attend certain functions associated to the Convention, including luncheons, banquets, fairs, and Sunday service.
The agenda for the Convention is set by the Leadership of the CBTU.
The Executive Council of the
Coalition of Black Trade Unionists is
comprised of 39 members from 20 different international and national unions. The elected Executive Council is the policy-making body between CBTU's annual national convention. Seven officers of the Council, led by the President, form the Executive Committee.
Every effort is made to ensure adequate and broad union representation on all organizational levels of the Coalition. Regional representatives are
elected by chapter members to serve as
liaison between the Executive Council
and the chapters within their
Therefore, as black trade unionists, we have an important role to fulfill; helping all workers benefit from the goals achieved by the trade union movement.
Some of the current challenges to black labour activists remain the same as the challenges experienced when the organization was first formed, particularly as former governments have ignored equity issues from their political agenda. The CBTU is where these issues can be identified and addressed in the broader labour movement. We continue to network with like coalitions and organizations so that our voices are heard in a collective and effective way. Woman or man, younger or older, active or retired, we welcome your participation and support.
In addition to his pioneering
role in CBTU, Lucy was elected International
Secretary-Treasurer the 2nd highest ranking
officer of AFSCME in 1972. From CBTU's
inception, Lucy served as president and led the
coalition through historic moments. He was one of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement, which
spearheaded the decisive anti-apartheid campaign in the
U.S.A. in the mid-1980s. The CBTU was the 1st labour organisation in the USA to organise an economic boycott
to protest South African apartheid.
In the 1990's, the CBTU helped fund Nelson Mandela's
visit to the USA upon his release from prison.