The Windrush scandal, the 25 year anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder and 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King made this year’s TUC Black Workers’ conference particularly poignant. As a first time visitor to the conference, and to any trade union conference, I was intrigued to see what would come up and what Prospect delegates would make of the experience.
As I walked into Congress House I was greeted by tables of name badges, stands of black literature and art. People were taking their seats and there was an air of anticipation.
Looking around it was clear that there were some highly experienced trade unionists and a sprinkling of first time delegates present. Prospect’s own delegation consisted of four first time delegates. Nearly all the major trade unions in the country, affiliated to the TUC, were also represented.
People had come prepared. As conference started bags of crisps and snacks emerged and were passed around the delegations, photos were taken and tweets started to trickle out. Even though the sun was shining outside, the clouds of serious work that needed to be done gathered in the room.
The tone was set with a moving speech from Stephen Lawrence’s father, Neville Lawrence. His experience was sobering and garnered a standing ovation.
Motions on the agenda covered everything from Prospect’s own motion on trade unions leading on BAME diversity, a Bectu supported motion on Project Diamond (the TV diversity employment data recording initiative), discussions on race pay equality, black workers and in-work poverty and automation and its impact on black workers.
For a newbie to a trade union conference it was a crash course in how they work. Each of the written motions are put forward by a single trade union, in writing ahead of the conference, and then a delegate from that union will verbally explain why it has been submitted. Other trade unions can also have one speaker to support the motion. Once all the speeches have been made, a vote is taken on whether the motion should pass. After all the motions had been considered there is a vote on which single motion should be taken to the annual Trade Union Congress in September. The motion on automation and its impact on black workers was selected.
Overall there were 20 motions and all of them passed. Unfortunately, many of the issues that were raised are things that BAME workers will be all-too familiar with. Some people in the room would have been sitting there thinking - why are we still talking about this? It’s a fair question. There should have been more progress for race equality in the UK.
The statistics are stark - relative to the UK population as a whole, people living in households headed by someone in the asian, black or other ethnic groups are disproportionately likely to be on a low income. And black workers with degrees earn 23.1 per cent less on average than white workers. These are just a few examples of the gaping disparities that exist because of race.
Ultimately, we need as many active BAME members as possible to help us make a difference in workplaces across the UK. I hope for some of the new delegates attending, the conference provided the inspiration to take an even more active role in their union.
If you’re a Prospect member from a BAME background and you’d like to take a more active union role in race relations or equality, please consider attending our two-day course for new and developing BAME activists. You can find out more here.