Over 1,000 workers, trade unionists and campaigners discussed fighting racism and inequality in workplaces at a conference on Saturday.
The online conference, organised by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and the TUC union federation, stressed the importance of building links between unions and the anti-racist movement.
The opening plenary looked at how the coronavirus crisis has exacerbated institutional racism and inequalities.
TUC race relations committee chair Gloria Mills told the conference, “Black people are dying disproportionately. But the government suppressed Public Health England’s report that showed socio-economic disparities and systemic racism are the key contributing factor.
“The post Covid-19 recovery can’t go back to what it was before. We don’t want to go back to normal.
“We must tackle disproportionate levels of unemployment, inequality, and social injustices in society.”
Unemployment for black and minority ethnic (BAME) people rose from 5.8 percent to 9.5 percent between the end of 2019 to the end of 2020, according to a TUC report. For white workers it rose from 3.4 percent to 4.5 percent.
NEU education union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney stressed the importance of building against the threat of the far right. “You can’t be a decent trade unionist unless you an anti-racist,” he said. “'Unite and fight’ has to be our slogan.
“The far right is against white workers as well as black workers. The trade unions are central to pushing them back.
“This is why the 20 March demonstration matters—we must get more workers involved.”
Workshops were held to discuss institutional racism, the fight against fascism, decolonising education, opposing the hostile environment and justice for refugees.
Ethan, who was forced into Napier, warned, “Anyone can be next. Depending on the passport you hold, the language you speak, religion you practice or colour of your skin you could be the next victim.”
Amit Malde, the FBU firefighters union BAME members’ chair, stressed the importance of solidarity to resist racist scapegoating. “When there is a coordinated effort from the left we promote our interests against those pushed from the elite at the top,” he said.
The final plenary discussed how to build and organise for SUTR day of action on 20 March.
British state racism—from killer cops to Islamophobia and Tory home secretary Priti Patel calling Black Lives Matter a “disgrace”—was central to the discussion.
NEU president Daniel Kebede pointed to the case of Shamima Begum, who was banned from returning to Britain by a Supreme Court ruling on Friday. She was one of three secondary school pupils from Tower Hamlets, east London, who left to join the Isis group in 2015.
“We must recognise at the time she left Britain she was a child,” he said. “She should be dealt with here, not left in a refugee camp in Syria.
“It’s a disgrace the way the British state reacted.”
CWU union vice president Jane Loftus pointed to capitalism as the root of inequality and racism. “We have to come together in workplace places because it’s during disputes that we deal with racism,” she said. “When we’re united, we are facing the real enemy.
“We want to create a society fairer for all. The working class will not pay the price for the pandemic.”
This was echoed by US anti-racist Elise Bryant. “Workers have to be at the front and centre of building a worldwide anti-racist movement,” she said.
“Race is a political construct that the ruling class created to divide the workers across the world.
“But we are the power of the many—there are more of us than them.”
Anti-racists and workers must now build for the SUTR actions on 20 March, both physical and online, to fight to uproot racism.