Over the last week or so the outpouring of anger at the sheer racist police brutality in the US reminds us again of the systemic racism here too, and the many lost lives. The murder of George Floyd hits us deeply, and our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered the personal loss of loved ones in these circumstances – in the US, in Britain and elsewhere.
Enough is enough.
We stand with the protestors who came out in Minneapolis and cities across the US, day after day. They are well aware that justice delayed is justice denied. That without their independent action, there would be every chance that Derick Chauvin and his fellow police officers get away with murder in broad daylight (literaly!) That is an unbearable tyranny for the Black community to live with. At this critical point the opportunity for change must not be lost to delay and empty words. The overwhelmingly young, integrated groups of protestors know they are fighting for a future of real equality, and we unequivocally stand with them.
Being at the same time confronted by the devastating impact of coronavirus on Black people, everyone can see more clearly the immediate, obvious cost of maintaining structural racism, and it is totally unacceptable.
Black people have been scapegoated and demonised to such a degree that typically police harassment of black boys is normalised; we are treated as trouble-makers when we call out racism; when we are sick we are typically disbelieved; at work we are overlooked; we are asked to prove ourselves constantly, including our right to be here at all. It is completely predictable that the economic crisis we are now in will widen inequality even further, and black people will continue to die in the largest numbers unless and until we make this stand.
Racial divisions hide the misery caused by government policies, and the longer we exist in separate bubbles the longer that misery will fester, until there is real change. All policies that divide us along racial lines, that hurt and blame immigrants, and that allow discrimination to flourish must be dismantled – in health, education, employment and the legal system.
The most important thing that the trade unions can do right now is to get behind our members and branches on the ground as we fight both the coronavirus pandemic and the hard-right government’s racist anti-worker anti-immigrant policies, both of which are killing us.
- We need greater democracy overall, and an impetus from Black Members, in the union to galvanise our movement – only our action can win the change we need. We call for special meetings of the key regional lay member structures, (at the very minimum Regional Black Members and Regional Council), open to all members to speak and contribute.
- We demand that UNISON sets alternative health and safety standards for the workers to stand on before they go back to the workplace. There must be coordination with branches and a collective approach, not just advice on individual action, because typically Black workers already face bullying, hardship and job loss as blockades to asserting basic rights individually.
- We demand that UNISON finds out from the Black workers to establish the causes of higher death rates based on race due to COVID-19 in the workplaces. There must be strategy developed to go on the offensive, examples gathered to bring collective actions to stop members being put at risk. Until the science changes we must resist the return to the workplace.
- We demand that UNISON works with organisations campaigning on race and fighting to dismantle systematic structural racism. This includes taking action to demand full settled status (the right to live, work, study, get healthcare, and the choice to become a citizen) be offered to all our communities – not only EU migrants – so we can bring to an end the cruel, racially divisive segregation of our communities based on immigration status.
Black Members’ Officer, SOAS UNISON / Equality & Diversity Officer, SOAS UNISON