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Let’s talk about racism: TUC Black Workers’ Conference

7 April 2017

Racism at work has a huge impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BME) workers’ wellbeing.

A TUC survey of more than 5,000 BME workers showed that the experience of racism at work had led to stress and mental health problems.

Those surveyed said they had been subject to bullying, racist abuse and violence. They had heard racist remarks and opinions and witnessed racist material online and on posters, graffiti or leaflets.

They reported that the perpetrator was most likely to be a work colleague, with a significant number saying that the offender  was their manager.

TUC Black Workers' Conference 2017
RMT delegate

The TUC’s interim report, Let’s Talk About Racism,  published by Opinium Research, showed that the majority of ethnic minority people in the UK (52%) thought  the UK had become less tolerant since the Brexit vote.

 This echoed similar findings from a TUC/ICM poll released last month which showed that over a third (34%) of black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) witnessed or experienced racial abuse in the months after the Brexit vote.

The TUC/ICM poll showed that:

  • 1 in 5 BAME people (19%) have suffered or witnessed racial assault
  • 2 in 5 (41%) have heard racist remarks or opinions
  • 2 in 5 people (38%) have seen racist material online
  • 1 in 4 (27%) have seen racist graffiti, posters or leaflets

These issues were all to the fore as the TUC Black Workers’ conference convened in London on Friday 7 April. 

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, introduced the conference and was the first of many to pay tribute to Darcus Howe, the black activist and journalist who died that week, saying: “Darcus Howe’s activism on behalf of the UK’s black community set the standard for all those who fought for and demanded a better British society.

TUC Black Workers' Conference 2017
Delegates at conference

“As a journalist and broadcaster, his wit and intelligence gave no quarter to those in society who sought to divide or discriminate. Darcus will be sorely missed and he leaves behind many friends who will strive to continue his legacy of challenge and change.”

She said the TUC’s report highlighting the discrimination that BME people experienced at work should be a call to arms: “Nearly half of the workers surveyed had experienced some form of racism at work, with women hit hardest. A third had been bullied because of their race and a third had been passed over for promotion.

“BME workers find it harder to get a steady job, or any job. They are more likely to be on a zero hours contract and more likely to take home low pay. Delegates, this institutionalised discrimination isn't just a terrible injustice, it's bad for our economy. The McGregor-Smith Review concluded that race discrimination costs Britain a whopping £24 billion.

“That's one hell of a bill for wasted skills, talent and potential.”

She said the Brexit vote had caused racial tension in the UK, such as the horrific attack on the Kurdish refugee Reker Ahmed, while in the White House a new president was spouting anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant poison. The TUC, she said, would be leading the protests when Donald Trump arrived for his state visit.

Mary Bousted, TUC president and soon to be the joint leader of the newly-formed National Education Union of 450,000 members,  said the Tory government’s austerity policies were hitting the poorest  hardest and its plans to reintroduce grammar schools would create further division by favouring those who could afford to pay for tutors so that their children could pass the 11- plus.

TUC Black Workers' Conference 2017
  Faiza Shaheen

Faiza Shaheen put this in stark terms: the economy was sexist and racist, she said. The director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies and TV pundit  said: “The statistics show that the government’s policies on cuts, taxes and benefits are hitting the poorest hard, but they are hitting BME people even harder and BME women the hardest.”

The conference heard that trades unions needed to show strength to oppose such forces and Frances O’Grady said it was important for unions to step up and actively support the TUC's Young Workers’ Project.

The NUJ’s motion to the Black Workers’ Conference called on unions to support their black members and to encourage new generations of black activists to come forward and strengthen self-organisation across the movement. It said: “At a time when the forces of racism are being so virulently felt, this conference asks the TUC to prioritise a collective strategy for battling racism and fighting for equality in the year ahead.”

TUC Black Workers' Conference 2017
Aslef delegates

The conference voted for motions to support strategies to improve the representation of BME groups in all sectors of the UK economy and to urge the TUC’s Race Relations Committee to produce an action plan to campaign for a better deal for black workers in the labour market.

The TUC was called on to work with other organisations to fight hate crimes and the abuse of migrant workers exacerbated by Brexit.

The weekend’s motions also explored discrimination in the education system, the need for inclusive casting in the entertainment industry, bullying and harassment in the NHS and the need for greater prostate cancer awareness.

There was some light relief. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign was offering free rums and coke at its fringe event.

Let’s talk about racism - TUC report and recommendations

Tags: , tuc, tuc black workers' conference, fances o'grady, equality, racism, brexit, migration