Acknowledging and appreciating our local union’s own Black History

As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s an important occasion to recognize our members’ contributions to Black History. Our local union is committed to standing with those members and amplifying their voices.

We celebrate the central role our Black members have occupied in historic battles for labour rights.

Black workers were at the forefront of a long struggle to bring safety standards, rights and respect to the floors of the JBS meat packing plant in Brooks. 

Rapid production had often taken priority over workers’ health. Many of the members who stood up and organized to demand justice were new Canadians from Africa. Their activism was crucial in winning a collective agreement that included increased wages and enhanced safety standards.

A parallel battle for justice unfolded at Cargill’s High River Plant in the wake of the pandemic and the largest workplace outbreak in North America. Once again, it was Black workers who provided critical leadership and activism in High River. 

We remember that our Black members played a major role in getting a new contract from Cargill, a notable victory that set new standards in the industry. 

We recognize that the struggle for justice at both plants, and many other workplaces, is ongoing today. These members remain at the forefront of that struggle.

President Thomas Hesse celebrates Black History Month in 2022 with a member in Books, AB.

As a major part of this history, we recognize that many of our most active members today were innovators in organizing with Temporary Foreign Workers to lay claim to rights as Canadians.

Of course, Black History Month is about more than just struggle, and Black History is not a singular story. As our guest speaker, Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu, put it when speaking to our membership at this year’s Black History Month town hall, a vital part of this historical experience is Black Joy. 

Black Joy is the source of the rich cultures and histories of members hailing from many different regions and backgrounds. Black Joy makes it possible for people to seek connections and solidarity in the face of fearsome odds.

However, recognizing the importance of Black Joy as a part of Black History does not mean that we turn our backs on injustice.

At UFCW Local 401, we recognize that systemic racism and discrimination are forces present across Canada. 

We recognize that Black people, and Black workers, have historically been compelled to strive much harder to achieve the living standards and realize the fundamental freedoms that other groups might take for granted. 

Those struggles are amplified under the affordability crisis as we work to Stop the Squeeze and make life more affordable for working families. 

We’re far stronger when we’re united in common cause, working together even as we recognize and honour the differences in our experiences. 

We’re far stronger when we recognize the importance of community and connection by building better workplaces and a better world.

Black History Month is above all else a reminder of why our union must work to eliminate these injustices from our communities and our workplaces. The month reminds us why advocacy around equity, diversity, and inclusiveness is crucial to our movement’s success. 

We hope you have had as reflective and powerful a Black History Month as we have. Let us carry the lessons we continue to learn into tomorrow and every day that we come together as one strong union. 

In solidarity, 
Thomas Hesse, President 
Richelle Stewart, Secretary Treasurer 
UFCW Local 401