Stand Up To Racism’s trade union conference

Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and the TUC union federation hosted a conference last Sunday that discussed tackling racism at work and in trade unions. Up to 450 people participated across the day in total.

Paresh Patel, Unite union Midlands regional secretary said, “This Tory government is racist. It puts refugees on derelict ships, and stigmatises and criminalises young black people. Fighting racism is an industrial issue. This is also an international struggle—we have to connect with workers in the Global South.”

From the floor, Debbie from west London said, “Racism is something I’ve experienced. It’s been terrible. I’ve had people tampering with my work and leaving faeces and banana skins on my desk. My work did nothing. People try to tell us it’s not happening—but I won’t let people deny the racism I’ve experienced and the impact it’s had on me.”

The conference held workshops on Islamophobia, refugees and institutional racism. In the session on organising against institutional racism, TUC race equality officer Riz Hussain explained how black workers are impacted by low pay and harsher conditions.

The casualisation of work has seen the amount of “black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in insecure work more than double in a decade,” he said. “We need more black members round negotiating tables and at the core of our fights. Part of that is recruitment and retention— having more diversity in the workplace itself.”

Jennifer Christopher from the NEU union in Oldham said, “I know of reps at regional and local level who have questioned members when they’ve reported racism. “This is unacceptable. We need more black case workers, but racism is everyone’s responsibility.”

From the floor, participant Linda said, “There’s expectations that employees raise awareness. But they’re isolated when they do. My son paid the ultimate price in the workplace. He took his own life because he was bullied.

“If I hadn’t campaigned, there wouldn’t have been the culture review of the London Fire Brigade. The FBU union needs to step up and prevent other people going through what he did.”

Another participant said, “If we don’t make sure unions are supportive people will ask why they should bother to be members. We don’t just want to sit and talk about safe spaces and more black leaders—we want to advocate for more action. If there’s racism, doctors, nurses, bus drivers and whoever should pull out of work. That’s the way to get change.”

In the final plenary, PCS union general secretary Fran Heathcote said, “We’re not going to address all these ills with a new Labour government. We need to take a stand against this Tory government’s appalling treatment of refugees. Travel visas are the only way of stopping people taking perilous journeys and dying in boats.”

Brian from SUTR pointed to the rise of fascist and far right forces in Germany, Italy and the US—and the threat in Britain. “Rishi Sunak is prioritising the demonization of refugees for the front and centre of an upcoming election,” he said. “We have to go back to our workplaces and unions and continue to build the fight against racism.

“The best examples of what we can do are when we come together. We need to make SUTR’s demonstrations on 16 and 17 March in London, Glasgow and Cardiff the biggest possible mobilisations.”

For more information on SUTR’s marches go to standuptoracism.org.uk

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