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Railway Porters Take On Ontario

How did railway porters organize and advocate for greater labour rights to the province? Learn about the lasting impact of their movement.

The sleeping car porters were active members in the formation of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and in other areas of organized labour and political activism. The porters had to fight against white unions that would deny them membership in the new organization. Opposition to participation by the porters came from unions that wanted only unions representing white Canadians to be members of the new organization. The opponents to the Black porters were generally supportive of Canada’s racist policies that favoured white people, and they were against the porters’ opposition to these government policies. 

But the porters eventually won the support of some of the leading trade unions in Toronto and wider Canada. This was part of the efforts by the unionized porters to find allies to support them in their political and civic battles for citizenship rights for all non-white peoples. Eventually, the organizers relented and allowed representatives of a Black union to participate. At the CLC founding convention in 1956, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) moved a number of resolutions asking organized labour to join in the fight against Canada’s racist immigration policies.

“Better F.E.P. Enforcement Urged By Ontario CCL Unions” in Canadian Labour Reports (1955). Library and Archives Canada/Canadian Labour Congress. Image Courtesy of Cecil Foster.

Photos of Brief submitted by The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) & Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to Ontario Premier Robert Frost in the matter of The Anti Discrimination Commission Act, 1958. Library and Archives Canada/OFL/CLC. Images Courtesy of Cecil Foster.

The porters were also involved in other delegations meeting with provincial and federal politicians. The BSCP and Moore were in a delegation that met with Ontario Premier Robert Frost that argued for anti-discriminatory practices in such areas as employment, housing and accommodation and for the establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Ontario government adopted many of these recommendations, including the establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

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