April 25, 2024

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Black leaders in construction industry paved the way: Campbell

As part of Black History Month, a celebration of the contributions of Black Canadians in the legislature, construction and other sectors was held at Queen’s Park in Toronto Feb. 21.

Sponsored by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in collaboration with the International Union of Painters and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, the evening featured exhibits, art, live performances and traditional food.

Chris Campbell, director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the Carpenters’ Regional Council, said the first Black officials in the Ontario legislature paved the way for Black leaders in other industries such as construction.

“These men and women, we are walking in their footsteps,” said Campbell.

“I want to tie this back to my industry, my representatives — representatives that have also paved the way for construction workers to be elected officials of their executive boards. Construction workers who they have influenced to volunteer in their community. Construction officials who encourage us to stand up for equity, diversity and inclusion, stand up for what’s right.

“Officials like Ucal Powell, Lester Tennant, Dory Smith and Phillis Gallimore…they paved the way for individuals like me and Ivan Dawns and Roodney Clarke. This is a moment that we should respect and give these men and women the admiration that they deserve.”

Ivan Dawns, the first Black union representative with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in Ontario, spoke about the history of unions in the province. 

“As a member of the labour union, I think it’s very important for us to talk and say that Blacks weren’t always welcome,” he told the crowd.

He spoke about the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars, which signed its first collective agreement with Canadian Pacific (CP) Rail in 1945. The majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to them in Canada.

In 1990 at a Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention in Montreal, Dory Smith challenged the slate and got over a 1,000 votes.

Premier Doug Ford recently attended a celebration of the contributions of Black Canadians in the legislature. He is pictured with Chris Campbell, director of equity, diversity and inclusion for the Carpenters’ Regional Council.
ANGELA GISMONDI – Premier Doug Ford recently attended a celebration of the contributions of Black Canadians in the legislature. He is pictured with Chris Campbell, director of equity, diversity and inclusion for the Carpenters’ Regional Council.

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists decided to double their efforts for the next convention and they started a campaign called ONE + ONE = TWO because they wanted two seats on the CLC executive.

“They walked away from that convention with two seats on the executive,” said Dawns.

“But they weren’t only about getting Blacks elected to the provincial and national labour executive. They also challenged their unions and kept reports cards and their union hiring practice.” 

He also had some advice for those in attendance.

“As a friend of mine always said to me, ‘Everyone should plant a shade tree that they will never sit under,’” he said. “Because our ancestors planted a shade tree years ago, I was able to become the first Black representative in Canada. We’ve come a long way, but the work is not done as yet. Now it’s our turn to plant that shade tree so that next generation can benefit from it.”

Clarke, president of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters, is the first Black leader of the plumber’s union

“I have made it my duty and my responsibility to document our diverse history in our union,” he said, adding the first member of colour joined the union in 1964. “We had an influx of members while they were building the Pickering Nuclear Plant…Since then we have been growing slowly and steadily.”

Rokhaya Gueye, community partnership co-ordinator with the Carpenter’s Regional Council and the chair of the Sisters in the Brotherhood in Ontario, read comments from Jason Rowe, vice-president, UBC Canadian District.

“This month and every month the Carpenter’s Union recognizes the important contributions Black Canadians have made in our province for generations,” said Rowe. “We’re proud to participate in tonight’s celebration to acknowledge their achievements.”

Quoting Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a federal minister of the crown and member of parliament, Gueye said Black history is Canadian history.

“I am really deeply and profoundly honoured to see every single one of you be present here to celebrate Black excellence,” Gueye stated.

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela

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