CAW Fights Racism

By MacLennan, John | Canadian Dimension, October 1992 | Go to article overview

CAW Fights Racism


MacLennan, John, Canadian Dimension


Policies passed at conventions don't necessarily work their way down to the shop floor.

In 1988, one of Canada's progressive unions took steps to come to grips with growing problems of racism within the union. At the second Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Auto workers (CAW), delegates put in place a far-sighted policy to deal with the problem of sexual harassment and racism.

The policy meant that any CAW member who suffered from sexual or racial harassment would be able to get results from their complaints within 10 days. It dealt with the difficult question of co-worker harassment and came down fully on the side of the victim.

Since this policy came into effect, the CAW human rights committee has developed an excellent program of education for all levels of the union to deal with the question of racism.

Secondary leadership

At the last CAW constitutional convention, held in Halifax in September 1991, human rights activists organized and called for mandatory human rights education for all the secondary leadership, to no avail.

The delegates did agree after a lengthy and positive discussion to make the human rights educational sessions voluntary. Since then, human rights activists complain, even when the secondary leadership has been to the voluntary human rights conferences, most of them just keep quiet.

Two cases of racism have come to light in the CAW recently. They have caused the national leadership to review its anti-racism program at every level of the union. The cases of Billie Mortimer and Leroy Bell have shaken the union into action.

Two cases

Billie Mortimer, an Air-Canada ticket agent, blew the whistle on Japan Airlines' (JAL) racist policy of the Japan Airlines (JAL) of seating East Indian passengers in the back of the plane.

Billie suffered harassment, including racist and insulting remarks from co-workers who were partly motivated by a concern that JAL would move their jobs from Air Canada to another airline. Mortimer received little or no support from her executive at Local 1990 CAW.

Leroy Bell, an executive member of local 199 CAW in St. Catharines, Ontario, was subjected to a racial slur by Ron Davis, his local union President. This problem is now in the hands of the Ontario Human Rights commission.

In writing this article I went back to the video that was part of the CAW's campaign against racism and sexism in 1988. …

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