Challenging Racism and Xenophobia

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2017 National Delegate Conference
20 February 2017
Carried as Amended

Conference is deeply alarmed at the rise in visible, expressed racism over the past year. Across the UK, racist attacks on Black communities and those perceived to be of migrant backgrounds rose dramatically in the aftermath of the EU referendum result. This legitimisation of public displays of prejudice has led to UNISON’s migrant worker members working in public services finding themselves on the sharp end of a toxic public debate, heightened by the election of US President Donald Trump. It has also highlighted the continued vulnerability of the UK’s settled and long-established Black communities to racist attacks.

Conference believes this has been decades in the making, with scaremongering and demonization of immigrants accompanied by legislative attacks on migrant communities, affecting their ability to access public services, private housing and banking accounts. A new crime of illegal working makes migrant workers more vulnerable than ever before. It will allow immigration officials wide ranging powers to seize property, to seize earnings, to close down businesses, to enter and search properties. This could lead to a twelve month prison sentence with an unlimited fine for anyone found working without the right papers – grossly disproportionate and likely to make undocumented migrant workers even more vulnerable to exploitative employers.

Conference welcomes the leadership and activism shown by our migrant worker networks for EU migrant workers, African migrant workers and Filipino migrant workers who ensure that UNISON’s work is led by their voices and experiences. Conference also welcomes national resources developed to support the work of branches and activists in challenging racism and xenophobia and believes this should be built upon and extended in the coming year.

Conference fears that the UK exit from the EU will be used as an excuse for yet more attacks on migrant workers as well as the removal of workplace rights regarded as ‘red-tape’. This will exacerbate the UK’s economic problems, leave public services still reeling from austerity, divide our communities and lead to a race to the bottom at work.

Conference welcomes the continuing work by branches, activists and self organised groups to challenge racism in the workplace but believes that this needs to be strengthened in the years ahead.

Trade unions have a unique capacity to bring together workers from all races and communities to tackle the fundamental causes of division and anxiety: better pay and job security, better public services, a fairer labour market and a country that serves all its people, not the few. Whether it is the Tory Party’s claim to be the ‘worker’s party’ or UKIP’s attempts to scaremonger and divide our community, we as trade unionists have a duty to challenge them. This is a challenge that UNISON has always met, and will do so again.

Conference asserts that the only real answer to low pay and exploitation for all workers is stronger employment rights protections, stronger collective bargaining and trade union solidarity against racism. Conference further asserts that the trade union movement must stand at the forefront of tackling racism in the workplace and in our communities.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)A renewed focus on collective bargaining and trade union activity to challenge racism in the workplace and beyond;

2)Resist attempts by the Government to strip away employment protections at work;

3)Work with UNISON’s self organised groups and migrant worker networks to counter discrimination and attacks on migrant workers at national and workplace level;

4)Continue to support the TUC’s march to mark UN anti-racism day;

5)Continue to develop, promote and implement training materials and resources in conjunction with self organised groups and branches to challenge discrimination and prejudice;

6)Work with a wide coalition of anti-racist groups at national and local level to support local community organising against all manifestations of racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia, including branches affiliating and working with HOPE not hate, Show Racism the Red Card, Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism;

7)Work with groups such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Migrant Rights Network, Refugee Action and the Refugee Council to advocate for a rights based approach to migrant workers and challenge discriminatory treatment of vulnerable people.