Socialist Worker

Trade unionists vow to take the anti racist struggle into the workplace

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2591

Rakhia Ismail, a councillor from Islington

Rakhia Ismail, a councillor from Islington (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Around 350 trade unionists from across Britain rallied against racism in central London on Saturday. 

The Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Trade Union Conference debated how to take the fight into workplaces, with workshops ranging from defending freedom of movement to resisting NHS charges for migrants and hijab bans. 

Tara, a Unison union member in Salford, had come as part of a 12-strong delegation from Greater Manchester. "Racism is on the rise in that country and that comes out in workplaces," she told Socialist Worker. 

"You hear suggestions like that migrants are taking people's jobs.

"You have to challenge it when it comes up."

People at the conference discussed how they could take up practical issues in their workplaces. At a workshop on the NHS Esme, a GMB union member, said, "There's a disparity of BME workers in the lowest grades in the NHS.

"But BME workers are overrepresented in disciplinary procedures."

Washburn, a Unison member from the North West, told Socialist Worker he had experienced discrimination around shift patterns. "I was on a full time contract and moved with the company to the North West," he said. 

"They gave me a 40 hour contract, but they don't always give me work for the full week. 

"They said I'd still get full pay, but I looked at my paycheque and it wasn't." 

He added, "Trade unions are organised and can go the further mile for people fighting unfair treatment."

Challenging

Activists need to set up workplace SUTR groups off the back of the conference. They can build campaigns in workplaces around issues such as institutional racism, challenging the myths around immigration and defending migrant workers.

The conference came on the same day that Tory education minister Lord Agnew said he backed schools banning the hijab for Muslim girls. It followed Ofsted head Amanda Spielman speaking out in favour of a failed attempt at a ban at St Stephen's School in east London last week.

Rakhia Ismail, Labour councillor and Muslim parent from Islington in north London, spoke at the main plenary. "They are oppressing me as a Muslim by saying that I can't wear the hijab," she said. 

"We have to stand up to thus government and get rid of them once and for all." 

Another key debate at the conference was defending freedom of movement for European Union (EU) workers and migrant workers' rights. 

TUC policy officer Rosa Crawford said that the TUC stood for "all workers, wherever they come from, whatever their origin, whether they have a passport or not." 

She added that workers are bombarded with the idea that migrants are a problem and that the TUC recognised the importance of comparing "divide and rule".

Trade unionists and students are planning to go to Calais tomorrow to build solidarity with refugees.

Speakers at the final rally called for people to join the SUTR national demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on17 March. They included Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie and Weyman Bennett from SUTR. 

Wilf Sullivan from the TUC union federation said, "We need to be out on 17 March, we're not just marching against racism but for justice. 

"It's about power to the people." 


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