Blog: This Black History Month, we won’t go back to the old normal

Our Black members deserve so much better

October is Black History Month – a time to celebrate how Black people and communities have shaped our history.

This year’s Black History Month is bittersweet. There is a new visibility to Black lives, but for the worst of reasons. So many Black lives have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the reasons for this are complex, the main one is the ‘everyday’ racism deeply embedded across society.

Black workers have faced the highest levels of risk because they are over-represented in frontline, low-paid jobs. Jobs that have been traditionally undervalued or even invisible.

Our Black members tell us it’s harder for them to raise safety concerns with their managers. Too often, they are just told to get on with it.

Add into the mix that they are more likely to be agency workers and on zero-hours contracts, making it so much harder for them to say no. And migrant workers are even more vulnerable.

Although they are paying this terrible price for years of inequality, Black workers are not victims. Now as ever, our Black members are leading the demand for change. I stand with them every step of the way.

UNISON’s work to challenge racism has gained a new urgency and branches and activists are responding. We have called for individual risk assessments for all Black workers. These are not an end in themselves. They must result in action. It might be supplying proper PPE, redeployment to a lower risk area, working from home, or a mix of strategies.

Workers must be paid when they are ill or self-isolating. Black members shouldn’t have to choose between their health and paying the bills.

We are dealing with immediate risk but we don’t stop there. I have called for a comprehensive race equality strategy and a full public inquiry into disproportionate deaths from COVID.

We will not go back the old normal, where Black workers and their contribution to society were invisible. Where Black people routinely faced greater obstacles and worse outcomes. We are working for a new normal of fairer workplaces and a fairer society. But it won’t happen unless we make it happen. Join us in the campaign.

UNISON Black members have always been part of our history. We celebrate their contribution this October. Let us all pledge to work together to end racism and inequality.