Last week hundreds of black workers from more than 28 trade unions stepped away from their various commitments to attend the 25th TUC Black Workers Conference. This was my first time attending the conference and was amazed at the scope of motions and issues raised.
Chaired by Betty Joseph (NUT), the theme for this year was Bargaining For Race Equality. Members of the media attended the event and several exhibitions were also held.
Prospect was represented by Mavis Amadi, Freddie Brown, Christine Danniell, Amin Hossain, Linda Ndebueze, Satnam Ner, Abdul Syed and Suresh Tewari.
Keynote speakers included:
Frances O’Grady (TUC General Secretary)
Liz Snape (TUC President)
Saira Grant (Chief Executive JCWI)
Marai Larasi (Director Imkaan)
Everybody found the motions and speeches of interest as they touched on current issues facing the BAME community. Below are a few highlights.
- Frances O’Grady
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary addressed conference on the first day and spoke passionately about the government’s controversial Trade Union Bill. The bill is seeking to restrict the unions’ ability to take industrial action. It also seeks to clamp down on facility time for those working in the public sector. It proposes to allow employers to break strikes by bringing in agency workers to cover for strikers. Frances encouraged delegates to lobby their local MPs, emphasising the need to defeat this “nasty bill”. Frances mentioned that more needed to be done by the government to encourage organisations to publish ethnic monitoring statistics. Frances touched on the fact that the UK was not doing enough regarding the current refugee crisis in comparison to other European countries.
- Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice
An emergency motion was put forward regarding the “Sarah Reed Campaign for Justice”, which highlights the story of a black woman who in November 2012 was subjected to police brutality. CCTV footage shows PC Kiddie pushing her into a chair, grabbing her by the hair and hitting her repeatedly on the head as she lay on the floor, before leaning on her neck. PC Kiddie was eventually dismissed and sentenced to community service.
In 2003 Sarah’s baby died. She had to transport her deceased baby from the hospice to the undertakers in a taxi. The loss and the events after affected Sarah’s mental health. In 2014 Sarah was detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act at Maudsley Hospital where she was subjected to sexual assault by one of their employees. Sarah fought off her attacker and was subsequently arrested for causing him injury when the staff called the police. Sarah was placed in remand jail with no access to medical help or her medicine, despite the authorities being aware of her mental health history. On 11 January 2016 her family received a call informing them that Sarah had allegedly strangled herself whilst lying on her bed.
This is an all too familiar tragedy that raises issues about the treatment of people with mental illness and how this intersects with institutionalised racism. A collection raised £155 to support the campaign.
- Zero Hours Contracts
There are currently more than one million workers on zero hour contracts in the UK, and the destruction caused by casualisation in the labour market was laid bare, as delegates told of the impact this was having on their lives. They told of how agencies were offering professional workers £60 per day and how workers had to live with no fixed hours or fixed pay cheque, which placed a huge burden on their families. The concentration of zero hour contracts in the service and care industries disproportionately affects the BAME community. Conference called for job security and said the current system was unsustainable.
- TUC & inclusivity
The most fervent debate was the motion raised by The Prisoners Officers Association who sought to change the name of the conference from “Black Workers Conference” to “BAME Workers Conference”. Their concern was that the current name was not inclusive as not all minority ethnic groups define themselves as black. Some senior delegates argued that the proposal was divisive, whilst others provided an historical perspective, and explained that the term black was used in a political context and was to encompass members who do not identify themselves as white. Conference felt energy was best directed in creating solidarity based on shared experiences. Conference opposed the name change.
- Prevent Duty
The Musicians Union raised a motion on Prevent Duty. On the 1st July 2015, the Counter Terrorism and Security Act came into effect. It includes a provision called the Prevent Duty which places a requirement on specified authorities to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” What this means in reality is that public officials are expected to monitor behaviour and report anything they suspect as being extreme or people they believe may be drawn to extremism.
Conference was concerned with the government’s strategy on this, as well as the vagueness of the duty and the quality of training available. Delegates who spoke believe that there should be space for political discussion whether we agree with those views or not. By stifling the debate we actually place those who are most vulnerable at risk.
Delegates were concerned that this could potentially lead to discriminatory behaviour and this Duty was fuelling tensions in multi-faith communities. Teachers at conference were concerned that this could lead to a breakdown of trust and children would be afraid of getting into trouble if they said the wrong thing at school.
Conference called on the TUC to provide additional guidance to trade unions and their members and ultimately sought to repeal the Prevent burden of duty currently being placed on teachers.
- Rhodes controversy
Students from the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign spoke about their movement which is determined to decolonise the university and decolonise institutional structures and physical space in Oxford. Cecil Rhodes was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Africans, a notorious land grabber and a generous benefactor to Oxford University, delegates were told. Their campaign called for the removal of his statue. The college so far has refused to remove the statue and claims that this is not due to the funds it receives that are worth more than £100m.
There was a debate on Black Workers and Europe, with a panel including Claude Moares, London MEP, Kunle Olulode, Director Voice for Change and Gloria Mills, President of ETUC Women's Committee. Claude and Gloria highlighted the importance of staying in Europe and how leaving would have significant implications for workers’ rights - in particular, the likely impact of Brexit on EU-derived rights in employment, including health and safety. Kunle was the lone voice on the panel arguing against staying in Europe, as he felt that this was an issue about sovereignty and democracy. He said there was too much scaremongering and felt that UK citizens should have the right to exercise their democratic rights.
- Prospect interventions
Prospect made key interventions into some of the motions debated, which served to highlight our presence, impact and influence in respect of trade union policy making for BAME workers.
Christine Danniell moved Prospect’s motion on supporting black workers: addressing under-representation. She highlighted the fact that black workers are represented at mid-management level but under represented at senior management level, and called for unions to lead by example. She emphasised the need to root out biased recruitment process and management practices and behaviours that kept BAME members stuck at mid-management, or in low-key posts.
Amin Hossain spoke on Motion 15: Equality monitoring in broadcasting. He focused on the issue of diversity and inclusivity as well as staff retention. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors recently launched an “Inclusive Employer Quality Mark”. This new initiative aims to make the land, property and construction sector more inclusive and diverse. Amin said the issue is not only being invited to the party but being asked to dance. He called for equality monitoring across industry.
Mavis Amadi spoke on the amendment to Motion 3 which called on the government to work with employers in science, technology, engineering and education to provide schools and students from the BAME community with greater access to STEM careers. Mavis spoke of the need to stimulate enthusiasm in BAME communities around STEM as well as the need to promote the value of science, engineering, technology and mathematics as this area offered great opportunities and jobs.
- Other unions
The RMT raised a motion on “No to ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic”. Their concern was over a ruling that retroactively stripped Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship. RMT called for a boycott of Dominican goods and holidays. Suresh Tewari informed conference that an ITF delegation had recently visited the country and had spoken to those who lived there. He did not believe in supporting the boycott as this would cause hardship to ordinary workers. The Race Committee said they would support the motions with reservations and seek to support local unions where possible.
Meanwhile, delegates voted overwhelmingly for the Unite motion on the Immigration Bill as their choice to go to the main Trades Union Congress 2016.
Congratulations to Freddie Brown, who was successfully elected to serve on the Race Relations Committee for another year.
- Social events
On the Saturday evening there was a fundraising dance, which raised approximately £1,500, for Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC). Other events included a film screening about The Great Grunwick Strike, and an evening of conversation with Ron Ramdin.