United in Hope

On Saturday I had the pleasures of joining the annual general meeting of our Regional Black Members self-organised group.

Self-organised groups are an important part of UNISON’s internal structures. Members who identify with an under-represented group take the opportunity to come together, to lead their own agenda, and develop their own campaigns in a safe and supportive space.

The debate not unsurprisingly focused on the rise of racism and the discrimination faced by Black people in the UK and across the globe. And if there was ever the need to be reminded how real that is, we had the results of a UNISON survey conducted just last month in the East Midlands, where 29% of respondents said they had witnessed racism in the workplace, and almost 60% said they were unable to challenge it.

Trade Unions must always challenge racism, we have a very special responsibility to tackle racism, because racism is the antithesis of trade unionism. Unions exist to organise all workers regardless of race, and regardless of any other characteristic.  We unite workers because together we can improve the quality of life for our members and their families. When we stand united we are strong and when divided we are weak.

It was not by coincidence that our meeting was being held in Black History Month, such an important time for us all to celebrate black culture, black communities, and diversity in our society.

And for unions, there couldn’t be a more important time, as well as discussing the systemic injustices and discrimination faced by black people, we were also mindful of the here and now. The disproportionate impact that Coronavirus is having on Black people and the consequences of the economic crisis currently unfolding.

The mood was not sombre, far from it, despite the challenges it was upbeat and confident, because we know that trade unions were created for the bad times and that our time has come.

Our union is calling on the Government to ditch its language of division but instead to unite communities. To use the economic recovery plan to close not widen inequalities which are so damaging to our collective wellbeing.

That’s why we’re saying to Gov’t now is not the time to back away, don’t set your face against jobs and families, don’t write off young people, but invest in public service so we can keep our communities strong. Now is the time for big government.

And when we have to pay down the debt, we must do it fairly. Those with the broadest shoulders must this time pay the lions share. Never again will we accept balancing the books on the backs of the poor or our essential public services workers.

We were upbeat because we are all growing in confidence that in just over two weeks Trump will lose in the US. It will be a defining moment, not just for the people of America, but for people across the globe. The tide of right wing popularism that swept the globe is now on the turn. When the talisman falls the ideology of division, inequality and racism will be exposed. And we have to trust that working people will reject it.

We’ve seen that in evidence this weekend with the landslide election victory of Jacinda Ardern and the progressive Labour Party in New Zealand.

There can be no doubt the values of our movement are on their way back – unity, equality, social justice, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and the right not to cross a picket line. These are our values and the enduring values of humanity.