By Isabel Ringrose
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Call for action in streets and at work from anti-racist conference

Stand Up To Racism and the TUC are calling for big mobilisations on 19 and 20 March
Issue 2791
A crowd of people, around 20 in the shot, hold up a Stand Up To Racism canvas banner that reads refugees welcome here. Others hold placards

Protesting in solidarity with refugees in London last year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Anti-racists and trade unionists discussed how to confront racism in workplaces and build for mobilisations around UN anti-racism day next month at an online conference on Saturday.

Over 1,000 people registered for the conference hosted by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Speakers came from  the TUC and unions including  Unison, NEU, NASUWT CWU, Bfawu,, Unite, PCS, RMT and UCU. And there were trade unionists from the US, Greece, France and South Africa.

Discussion focused on fighting racism particularly when the Tories in crisis are set on dividing workers. Speakers also agreed that trade unions have to organise outside the workplace and build for the protests on Saturday 19 March in  London and Glasgow and on Sunday 20 March in Cardiff.

Other issues highlighted were the effect of the pandemic on black workers and the growing casualisation and outsourcing of black workers causing job insecurity and low pay.

Juliana Ojinnaka, chair of UCU’s black members’ standing committee, stressed that “black men and women workers are underrepresented in trade union structures”.

“Bosses have a long tradition of dividing workers. Unions need to speak loudly and take decisive action against workplace racism. Anti-racist workplaces are in the interest of all of us.”

NEU union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney stressed fighting racism in workplaces, in unions, on the streets and internationally. He said the NEU would be on the 19 March demonstration with a banner against vaccine apartheid that was hitting the Global South. 

“We’ve got to change our unions to make sure they are genuinely open for everyone who wants to be an activist,” he said. “And we have to mobilise our members to be on the streets to challenge racism here and across the world.”

Conference workshops covered fighting institutional racism, opposing the Nationality and Borders bill, challenging the legacy of slavery, fighting the policing bill, beating the far right globally and the importance of migrant workers.

In the institutional racism workshop, speaker Moyra Samuels spoke about institutional racism within housing. She also explained that racism was at the heart of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

“Fifty of the 72 who died were from a Muslim background,” she said. “Voices of the residents were ignored.”

An NHS worker in the GMB union from London said that institutional racism in the health service means bad treatment for patients and workers. She pointed to the Barts NHS trust and Great Ormond Street Hospital strikes, and a dispute brewing in Corydon hospitals over sick pay.

“Mainly black women migrant workers are striking a blow against institutional racism in the NHS.

“We have to get behind the people fighting back. Black workers aren’t just victims, we’re also part of the solution,” she said.

And in the nationality bill workshop speakers discussed why unions should defend refugees. Sally, an NEU member from Leeds, said her branch is organising convoys to Calais. She said Unite paid for a local hall so a distribution centre could be set up.

“We need to bring the trade union movement in, and meet with refugees so they know the hostile environment comes from the government, not the majority of people,” she said.

Jan from Staffordshire said Tommy Robinson’s demonstration last week was a warning of how the far right could grow. “This has to be a wake up call, and I urge everyone to rally around the March demonstrations.

“Let’s not think for one minute that Tommy Robinson and his ilk have gone away—they’re coming back if they can,” she said.

In the closing rally, Clare Moseley from Care4Calais slammed the Tories’ racist anti-refugee bill and their racist lies.

“They say refugees are illegal immigrants and not in genuine need of protection—but the people I work with do need and deserve our help,” she said.

“The bill won’t stop people coming. It will only make journeys longer or more dangerous, and see reliance on smugglers going up.”

There was an overwhelming feeling at the conference that Boris Johnson needs to go now, not just for his parties during lockdown but for his racism, sexism and bigotry.

Now trade unionists have to build for the demonstrations in March, but also action against state racism and fascism.

SUTR co-convenor Weyman Bennett told the conference, “We need to show a unified movement coming out on the streets. And we need to win important arguments by showing black and white unity in practice.

“Going out on the streets on 19 and 20 March will continue to show we can make a difference—giving us a sense of our class, how we won in the past and how we use that in the future.”

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