On May 26th, 2012 Asian labour and community activists celebrated Asian Heritage Month. In recognition of the contributions undertaken by Asian workers, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (ACLA) in conjunction with OPSEU organized Celebrating Asian Activism and Unity. Over seventy community members came together to celebrate our victories, learn from our struggles and celebrate our long and vibrant history of resistance. Racialized workers have been at the forefront of the struggle for workplace dignity but many of these struggles have not been recognized. Six groups of workers were recognized for their contributions in advancing the rights of the working class including striking workers from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 112; Striking airport limousine drivers organized by the Canadian Auto Workers (Local 252). Taxi drivers organizing across the GTA and Hamilton; PMP workers who fought for the right to severance and termination pay, CEP workers at Sing Tao who are fighting contracting out and migrant live in caregivers (CAC and Migrante) who have fought successfully to ban recruitment and placement fees.
Participants were treated to a performance by Erhu artist John Chen and Frank Saptal’s provocative video ‘When we get together’. The documentary was filmed during the Workers of Colour Conference organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) in 2010. After the presentations, workers got together to strategize and to share their thoughts on the day’s impassioned presentations. Recurring themes heard from the presentations of what lessons were learnt from their struggle include the following:
*Community support was critical. Airport limo drivers for example received tremendous community support from other workers and from the community at large.
*Determination. While the employers have the power, workers have the strength. Presenters talked about why they fought back, these workers were motivated to provide a better future for their families, to put food on their table and to provide the basic necessities that everyone should be able to have.
*Labour solidarity. The labour movement mobilized and organized to support each of these struggles, irrespective of sector unions across the board showed their support for each of these actions with financial, legal and workers support.
*Collective power/build strength. The struggle was lead by workers who stood united and fought together, this was echoed in every presentation that workers were unified for the simple purpose of improving their standard of living.
*Expect the unexpected. Strikes and actions never go as planned, we need to be creative and respond to whatever may arise.
The presentations while inspiring also showed the impact that austerity has had on racialized workers. Workers provided first hand accounts of the deepening poverty,job insecurity, health and ailments and the deepening economic crisis that they have faced. Plant shutdowns, contracting out, inadequate social safety nets and the assault on organized labour has a human face often more than not racialized workers are facing the brunt of this crisis. The event by all accounts was a success. There was broad based consensus that we need more events like this so we can come together, share our stories and support one another. Our history is rich and vibrant, for over 100 years we have contributed to building this nation. Our country’s success has been built on our backs but despite the exploitation and oppression that we have faced, we have always fought back. We remember the past, we fight for our families today so that future generations will learn and recognize the important contributions that we have made to laying the foundations of our community.