February is Black History Month in Canada and every year the IAM, and the labour movement throughout Canada honour the contribution of our Black members. It is also a time to reflect on the history of enslavement of Black Canadians and the discrimination still rife in our country. We must also reflect on how anti-Black racism is still deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions. Read this article in the Canadian Encyclopedia.
In light of what happens regularly in the US, with highly-publicised cases like that of Tyre Nichols, George Floyd and Sandra Bland, Canadians may feel we are superior to our American counterparts.
But we should be careful to not feel too superior. The history of African Canadians is a chequered one. We can easily point out many cases of bias, prejudice and extreme racism. Amnesty International’s article on racism and carding makes it clear that Canadians are not immune to anti-Black racism.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report on anti-Black racism in policing states that Black people in Toronto are up to 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white people.
While we should reflect on our anti-Black attitudes and behaviours all year round, but February gives us a dedicated time to reflect on ourselves, our workplaces and society in general.
February is also a good time to celebrate our Black members, present and past. We take this opportunity to celebrate a ground-breaking individual who was far ahead of his time.
Charlie Philipps was President of IAM Local 712 in Montreal and presided over some turbulent times and strong labour activism. As far as we know, he was the first non-White person to lead any local in Canada – and Local Lodge 712 was one of the largest in the country.
Everyone at Canadair knew Charles Phillipps as “Charlie”. His presidency was an important milestone in Canadair Local Lodge 712 history and in the general social context.
Charles Phillipps was a university-educated, fluently bilingual African-Canadian. At a time where most workers at Canadair had never attended university he stood out as a remarkable man and most workers saw him as a natural born leader.
Charlie Phillipps was able to transcend the color barrier at a time when it was not easy to do and he made his mark on Local Lodge 712 by being an agent of change and the initiator of a new type of Union action.
Below are some photos of Charlie during his time as President in the 1960s.
(With files from LL712 and GVP David Chartrand)