Support for Black Members’ and Activists

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2007 National Black Members' Conference
24 September 2006
Carried as Amended

Conference reaffirms UNISON’s reliance on active stewards/officers in all workplaces, covering all groups of members, for organising and delivering for members. Therefore support given to stewards/officers to enable them to do their job must be a central priority at all levels within the union. It is noted that such volunteer representatives give considerable commitment, often offering informal support to members outside their working hours (unpaid) and studying papers (voluntarily) in order to be able to offer a professional approach to grievance and disciplinary matters. Stewards/officers also make a significant contribution to the effective delivery of public services. However, some employers fail to recognise this and resent the constructive criticism offered. This can result in various forms of subtle victimisation or retaliation against stewards. Whilst bad enough itself, Conference believes that this problem is exacerbated for Black stewards/officers who face additional racist prejudice. The demoralising impact of racist attitudes is not always fully appreciated by those who have not experienced racialism directly. Precisely at a time when we need to increase Black membership, it is known that we are losing Black stewards/officers as a result of such difficulties, something the union can ill afford.

UNISON therefore needs to incorporate into our strategies for assisting stewards/officers particular emphasis on ensuring Black stewards/officers are nurtured and supported. This is particularly important when they are involved in supporting members through cases of a disciplinary nature or where members’ complaints are involved. UNISON needs to recognise that those stewards/officers are vulnerable to be discriminated against because of this support and become isolated. At times their jobs also become threatened, and their progress within the organisation hampered. A particular aspect of this, in an increasingly changing workforce, is the emergence of the probationary periods and temporary contracts and the potential for terminating employment as a means of penalising union activists, or even other staff who support complaints.

We therefore call upon the National Black Members Committee to work with the National Executive Council and other relevant bodies within UNISON’s structure to:

1)promote within our branches, a proactive approach where rooting out discrimination is part of overall negotiating strategies and responses;

2)incorporate into our general support for stewards’ particular emphasis on the poblems faced by Black stewards/officers;

3)ensure that our anti-racism work streams should place particular emphasis to supporting stewards/officers in the work place and the twin track approach shouldseek to eliminate discrimination against representatives in all workplaces;

4)encourage our negotiating strategies to raise with employers the problems faced by stewards/officers, particularly in respect of racism, and the importance of tackling this racism, challenging employers where this approach is not taken on board.