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Black Railway Porters and Their Lasting Impact on Canadian Labour Policy

How Stanley Grizzle and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters advocated for fair labour practices in Canada.

After WWII, Stanley Grizzle’s mentor in the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, Asa Philip Randolph, had pushed the United States government to set up a commission on racial segregation. This led to efforts to implement “fair practices” in such areas as employment, housing, accommodation, banking and other forms of public life. Grizzle and others took up the same fight in Canada. Most of their efforts were at the provincial level with Grizzle and others in the trade union movement concentrating their efforts on pushing the Ontario government to introduce fair practices. In many cases they were successful, ahead of their counterparts in the United States. The porters used the same strategy with the federal government in an effort to push Ottawa to introduce “fair practices” on the railways, and in immigration, especially in how it treated white and Black British subjects. For example it became illegal not to rent apartments or to offer loans to buy homes solely based on race. Black people and other minority ethnic groups could apply for jobs traditionally not available to them and they could live and work without racial restrictions.

Black porters were actively involved in politics at the municipal, provincial and federal levels across Canada. They formed associations to collectively fight political battles. One of their main allies at the national level was the Montreal-based Canadian Jewish Congress. Some of the porters were politically involved as individuals whether it was appearing before school boards to protest against racist elements in education, running for office at the provincial level or helping to organize federal political alliances. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter (BSCP) was particularly active on behalf of the porters at the federal level. Working through the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the porters helped forge the links between labour and the labour-friendly Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which went on to become the current New Democratic Party. BSCP national organizer A. R. Blanchette became a leading spokesman on human rights for the CLC.

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