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TUC Black Workers’ Conference 2019

16 April 2019

The huge rise in racism, hate crime and far-right attacks because of Brexit and wider global trends were themes picked up by a succession of speakers at this year’s TUC Black Workers’ Conference.

Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, said: “Since that referendum in 2016, we’ve seen a huge rise in racism, hate crime and far right attacks and black and minority ethnic (BME) workers are suffering the consequences: on our transport network, in our NHS, in our shops, and at Premier League football grounds. As we saw so shockingly in New Zealand, this is part of a global phenomenon.”

He said that far-right ideas were seeping into the political mainstream and the so-called Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon of UKIP)   was posing as a blue-collar hero. "He’s not a blue-collar hero. He’s a bully, a bigot and a fraud,” he said. “This is a movement that happens to get huge funding from shadowy groups in the US and Russia for digital campaigning to spread racist lies. Street thugs are given a veneer of respectability by the likes of politcians Gerard Batten and Nigel Farage and our absolute, unbreakable determination that they shall not pass. Our movement has a special responsibility to lead. We need to give our reps more back-up to take on racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia in the workplace.”

tuc black workers' conference
                                  Martin Todd

Claude Moraes, MEP,  described the rise of far-right parties in Europe, the lack of diversity in the European Parliament (with only seven or eight MEPs of colour) and racist attacks on the Italian politician, Cécile Kyenge, the subject of vile abuse from by the hard-right Northern League party.

Brussels-based NUJ delegate Martin Todd said he saw racism in the European Union institutions increasing, not decreasing. “The situation has become worse since the accession of the eastern European counties, some which actively oppose the European Parliament’s anti-discrimination agenda,” he said. He predicted a further decline if the UK was to leave the EU, because it had traditionally pushed hard for the organisation to adopt stronger anti-racist measures for itself and in European society at large.

The NUJ contributed to motions which called on the TUC to coordinate anti-fascists work across all affiliated unions and to liaise with organisations such as Hope not Hate to tackle racism and Islamophobia in workplaces and oppose Tommy Robinson’s and other hate groups. The TUC has produced an eNote – a short, online learning module – for trade union reps who want to learn about ways to tackle the far right in their workplace and community.

An analysis of employment data by the TUC showed that BME employees were more than twice as likely to be on agency contracts than white workers or on zero hours and temporary contracts. It also revealed that BME working people were twice as likely to report not having enough hours’ work to make ends meet. The TUC called on employers to:

  • Collect and publish data on BME pay, recruitment, promotion and dismissal.
  • Set targets for improving race equality in their organisations.
  • Work with trade unions to establish targets and develop positive action measures to address racial inequalities in the workforce
  • Make it clear they have zero tolerance of racism and support all staff who raise concerns about racism.

Conference backed a GMB motion which demanded mandatory reporting of the race pay gap. It noted a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found black workers lost £3.2m a year in wages to their white counterparts at work.

tuc black workers' conference
                  Simon Hinds

A NUJ motion, unanimously passed by conference, said the “frequent negative representation of minority groups within some quarters of the media industry” were linked to the discrimination faced by BME people and that more needed to be done to increase diversity among journalists. It also called on the TUC to promote the NUJ’s race reporting guidelines and code of conduct. The motion said: “Conference understands discrimination in employment and negative media depictions are linked, that misrepresentation is perpetuated by the lack of genuine representation and to create change we must move beyond tokenism.”

Simon Hinds, proposing the NUJ’s motion, said the media’s portrayal of Muslims after terrorist events had led to attacks of mosques and in Surrey a 19-year-old man was stabbed in what police described as a far-right attack. He said: “Being a privileged black person doesn’t seem to protect you either, as Manchester City's Raheem Sterling has pointed out. Newspapers can cover white footballers’ lives differently from black footballers'.  When the young black footballer, Tosin Adarabioyo, bought his mother a home, the newspapers talked in terms of him splashing out millions of pounds. But when a young white footballer bought his mum a home, the newspapers said, 'Phil Foden bought his mum a home'.” He said the NUJ’s race reporting guidance gave advice to journalists about dealing with stories involving black people and its code of conduct was a long-standing a set of guidelines that encourage ethical journalism. He said: “Such guidelines should not merely stay on pieces of paper. We need reporters to know that we won’t stand by if they causally and cynically breach these guidelines. That’s why the NUJ delegation is asking you to support this motion.”

Equity’s motion deplored the “negative, stereotyped” portrayals of Muslim women on TV.  It called on the TUC to convene a group of TV representatives to agree a strategy to increase employment opportunities and a greater range of roles for Muslim and Asian artists.

However, the media can also play an important role in shining a light on discrimination. A motion by the probation officers’ union Napo noted the Guardian’s Bias in Britain series, published in December, “showed vividly the extent of the hidden impact on everyday racism” and how it affected decisions in almost every aspect of life.  The report revealed that 43 per cent of ethnic minorities said they had been unfairly overlooked for a promotion at work and 38 per cent said they had been treated as a potential shoplifter, when they had not done anything wrong.  Guardian podcast 

tuc black workers' conference
               Deborah Hobson

NUJ delegate Deborah Hobson seconded a Musicians’ Union motion which criticised attempts to censor drill music and knife crime saying:  “The majority of drill provides an insight into the needs of young people and does not incite incidents of violence.” Deborah said where she lives, Southwark in south London, had had the second highest number of knife crime incidents – 805, including murders – in the past year.

“That is why last November I organised a successful Youth on Youth Violence community event with young people, parents of victims, Labour Party activists, a senior Department of Justice representative and the police,” she said. “Children as young a nine are carrying knives and the day-after-day stabbings must stop. The issues underlying the behaviour of our young people are complex and require a multi-agency approach involving the police, community, local and national government.”

tuc black workers' conference
             Layla-Roxanne Hill

Layla-Roxanne Hill, a first-time delegate to the conference, who went straight on to the Scottish TUC’s conference (STUC). She said: “I was glad to learn that this year's NUJ delegation was the largest yet, following NUJ Scotland's largest delegation to STUC Black Worker's Conference in October. Lots of discussions during conference mentioned the media and perhaps emphasised the need for NUJ to be more pro-active about media literacy, education and harmful media, beyond speaking about our code of conduct and reporting guidelines. I enjoyed spending time with NUJ delegates, it was a real relationship builder.  It was good to meet other trade union reps from Scotland, speaking about the good work we are undertaking, and it was good to meet black trade unionists from across the movement.”

Layla spoke to a motion about resisting the hostile environment – including the Home Office’s strategy to ask public services such as schools and colleges to enforce immigration controls against black families – Whitehall's ineffectual approach to the Windrush scandal, plus the rise of the far-right which made many black people feel unsafe.  She said: “In Dundee, a blind PhD student from Nigeria, Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe, who sold his home to ensure he could complete his studies, has now found himself in a situation where he, his wife and four school-age children are at risk of deportation. He was due to be deported on 29 March, but campaigners have been able to delay this until June.

“When you find yourselves at the sharp intersections of race, class, ability, sexuality, gender identity and migration status you are prevented from utilising your voice and rights, because doing so comes at a great cost. The hostile environment exists in every facet of life. These policies are practised on those who are often most vulnerable and have the most to lose. As conditions make it more difficult for us to unite, find commonality and spaces to express kindness, we must organise and resist the temptation to look the other way.”

            Marc Wadsworth

Marc Wadsworth, NUJ delegate and chair of the NUJ’s Black Members' Committee, spoke to a motion which warned delegates about the fate of the Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s national heritage centre dedicated to collection and promotion of the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain. It faced closure because of lack of funding. The motion condemned the government’s failure to recognise the archives' contribution to "British heritage and the culture of the nation as a whole”.

Marc said the archives must be must be saved from financial ruin. “It is our national treasure and it must receive permanent government funding,” he said. Conference passed the motion which called on the TUC to lobby government to recognise the archives as a non-governmental public body, so it would eligible for government funding.

 The NUJ’s motion:  Media for all
This Conference is concerned by the frequent negative representation of minority groups within some quarters of the media industry, such portrayals detracting from the discrimination faced by these groups.
In 2016 The Independent Press Standards Organisation found that the Daily Star’s Sunday headline ‘UK Mosques Fundraising for Terror’ to be ‘significantly misleading’. ’The National Council for Training Journalists, Diversity in Journalism Report, released in November 2017, revealed that 95 per cent of journalists working in the UK were white. These figures show a decline in diversity in journalism. In 2016, the National Union of Journalists and City University jointly reported the equivalent figure was 94 per cent.   
Through its George Viner Memorial Fund the NUJ seeks to broaden diversity by providing bursaries to from ethnic minority backgrounds seeking opportunities within the British and Irish media.
Conference understands discrimination in employment and negative media depictions are linked, that misrepresentation is perpetuated by the lack of genuine representation and to create change we must move beyond tokenism.
Conference calls on the TUC to work with the NUJ to:

  •     Promote the NUJ’s race reporting guidelines
  •     Promote the NUJ’s code of conduct
  •     Organise a public education campaign, highlighting the benefits of having workplaces and media organisations which are truly reflective of society.

Tags: , tuc, black workers' council, equality, far right, tommy robinson, paul nowak, Claude Moraes, racism, discrimination, islamophobia, diversity, race pay gap, code of conduct, zero hours, brexit, eu