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Report on TUC Black Workers' Conference 2019

30 April 2019

The TUC Black Workers' Conference (TUC BWC) took place from the 12-14 April 2019 at the TUC headquarters in London. 226 registered delegates from 28 member unions attended in addition to visitors and observers. 23 motions were on the programme of business plus one emergency motion on the Christchurch terrorist attack. Motions ranged from non- disclosure agreements (UCU), pension arrangements and Windrush to tackling the far right, resisting the hostile environment, drill music and knife crime and the portrayal of Muslim women on TV. All of the motions were carried except motion 13 on unconscious bias.

The UCU delegation to this year's conference raised the issue of the recent uprisings in Sudan and Algeria. The delegation produced a statement on the ongoing situation which was submitted to the TUC Race Relations committee who read out an abridged version on the final day of conference. The full text of the UCU statement can be found on the 'black voices' blog on the UCU website.

There were six speakers:

  • Paul Nowak- Deputy General Secretary TUC
  • Claude Moreas - MEP
  • Sandra Kerr - Race Equality Director BIC
  • Kye Gbangbola - Truth about Zane Campaign
  • Nazek Ramadan- Migrant Voice
  • Josephe Browne - Chair of the Traveller Movement

A panel debate on lessons from the Windrush scandal, 4 workshops and two fringe meetings, one on the current situation in Sudan and a BARAC meeting organised by PCS.

Motions - highlights

Gargi Bhattacharyya (UCU) moved motion 4 about non- disclosure agreements. It was received well and was seconded by delegates. It was passed unanimously

Motion 5 on reciprocal pension arrangement highlighted the discrimination against workers not getting the yearly increase in the pension when drawing it in a non EEC country. This is affecting black workers disproportionately. Delegates spoke passionately about this injustice.

Motion 6 - Engagement with young BAME trade unionists was seconded by Juliana Ojinnaka. Two young delegates spoke about the need to get more young people involved.

Windrush dominated conference this year and two motions- 7 and 8 - were debated which outlined the devastating effects and indignity of forced deportations with no support network for people once back in their countries of origin. Many have been left homeless and hopeless after making contributions to the UK.

Dave Muritu, delegation leader spoke in a support of a motion calling for the coordination of anti -fascist work across the trade union movement.  He reported that 'dog whistle' racism being peddled by mainstream politicians, had bolstered the confidence of the far right and helped fuel an increase of racist incidents across college and university campuses.  Government policy has played a divisive role in the shape of the Prevent duty and its effect of othering the Muslim communities in our workplaces, and the deportations of our friends and neighbours as a result of changes to the status of migrants who have lived in Britain for decades outlined in the immigration act.  The TUC was urged help join up the work that is done by affiliated unions, Stand Up to Racism and all other anti-fascist groups to build a mass movement that can take to the streets to defend our unions, workplaces and communities from the hate-filled rhetoric of the far-right.

Speakers

Claude Moraes spoke about his experiences of being an MEP both pre and post Brexit vote. He highlighted the vitriol and appalling online abuse suffered by the only MEP of African descent C├ęcile Kashetu Kyenge who is now being sued for defamation after calling Italian League party racist. Moraes said that the EU was far from perfect and that reform needed to be from within. His belief was that Brexit was part of a bigger more sinister plan. His 'speech' promoted a lot of response from the floor. Martin Toddy - a black journalist living in Milan outlined that the levels of racism had increased in recent months.

Sandra Keer from Business in the Community- a business-led charity committed to shaping a new contract between business and society -spoke about the need for organisations to sign up to the Race at Work charter which means taking practical steps to ensure their workplaces are tackling barriers that BAME members continue to face in recruitment and progression.

Kye Gbangbola spoke movingly about the tragic death of his 7 year old son Zane after toxic fumes were detected after flood waters rose in 2014 in their Surrey home. Kye was left paralysed and wheel chair bound and is calling for an investigation into what happened as the family still do not have answers.

Nazak Ramadan from Migrant Voices highlighted the plight of students accused of cheating in the TOEIC English language test, whose lives were shattered after the Home Office revoked visas of tens of thousands of international students and often detained and removed them, based on evidence which was later described by a court as suffering from 'multiple frailties and shortcomings.' These testimonies were heart breaking.

Fringe meetings and workshops

A fringe meeting on Sudan was organised by the RMT union - To Be or not to be - Sudan at a Crossroad. South Sudan launched a war of liberation against the incursion of Arabism. Sudan has now been ruled as an Islamic state for over 30 years with Sharia law. There is discontent among the Daforians/Nubians and this has implications for the future of Sudan and Pan-Africanism.

The Black Solidarity Committee and the Globalised African Education - called on the world and all present to remember the Arab Slave trade in Africa. They call on all present to act in solidarity with the people of Sudan against what it calls an oppressive and exploitative regime ruling Sudan by brute force.

Workshop - Campaigning against the Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill - Farzana Jumma(GMB) and Rosa Crawford (TUC).

The aim of the workshop was to look at the aim of the Bill, people's experience of it and what the TUC can do to help members affected by these bills.

The 2014 Immigration Act - Hostile Environment approach to Immigration - this bill introduced document checks for NHS, Banking, employment etc.

The 2016 Immigration Act - introduced more restrictions and imposed jail sentence/term on those who failed to carry it out e.g. employers can be fined thousands of pounds if they employ an 'illegal' immigrant.

2019 - Immigration and Social Security Bill - post Brexit, new EU workers/citizens have no automatic right to benefits, no legal status.

This is more likely to affect Black workers.

There were numerous examples of members' rights being systematically eroded. Employers have made checks on staff to establish if they are eligible to work. Some people were asked to show their papers after working for the same organisation for many years in senior positions. Those with leave to remain were asked to show their documents. Some didn't seek union help for fear of causing trouble.

It was also noted that schools were now asking Black British School children for their documents.

The TUC education section has a website which members can access to find help and support.

Conclusion

It was very clear that racism, discrimination, prejudice and the effects of the rise of the far right continue to impact on the lives of BAME workers. In addition, members of the wider BAME community continue to struggle with many race related issues on a daily basis. It is clear that together, we have to continue to fight for justice.

Isabelle Rahman (UCU Black Members' Standing Committee)

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