“In these tough time, it’s more important than ever to not let the fight against racism fall off the agenda.”
That was the message from general secretary Dave Prentis as he addressed UNISON’s Black members’ conference in Llandudno in late January.
“Fifty years since the Race Relations Act and we’re still fighting,” he told the packed hall in north Wales.
Noting that this “vindictive” government was attacking trade unions, he said that he continued to be inspired by a ‘great idea’.
“That great idea is that the humblest worker is a human being who matters just as much as the boss,” he said, highlighting the link between workers’ rights and rights for Black people.
Mr Prentis stressed the need to continue fighting to stop the Trade Union Bill… a “politically-motivated law designed to hold
us back by an opponent who knows what we can do”.
And he urged them to be part of this month’s Heart UNISON week to help the fight against the bill.
A busy conference dealt with a wide range of motions, with organising, fighting the Trade Union Bill, and the future of the Labour Party as recurring themes.
Denis Patel from the young members’ forum challenged delegates to consider how welcoming conference is to young people.
“This year, we have just seven young members attending conference,” he told them.
Kim Johnson for the national committee warned that, if delegates did nothing to welcome young members, there would be no future Black members’ conferences.
A speaker from Newcastle City declared it a “key priority” to continue to grow the union.
Doreen Davies from the Greater London Housing Association urged delegates to take advantage of the support, training and materials that the union offers in order to aid organising work.
Lydia Reed of Eastern region talked of starting a Black members’ group in Norfolk, and how developing a ‘cluster’ group raised the numbers attending meetings from three to 15.
Chuka Umunna MP addressed conference, saying that he wanted to talk “about our party”.
Listing achievements of the last Labour government, from Sure Start to the change of law on double jeopardy that allowed the convictions of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, he explained that the ethnic minority vote for Labour had fallen away, while it was growing for the Conservatives.
Mr Umunna announced an inquiry into this. “Ultimately,” he told them, “we only make big strides forward when there is a Labour government in office.”
Motion after motion saw delegates debate the attacks on working people by the government and how those attacks were particularly impacting on Black workers and their families, and call for a concerted fight back.
Elizabeth Cameron for the national committee said that the Runnymede Trust has made it clear “that 1.4m Black households are worse off” as a result of the government’s policies.
But “this is not a competition for who’s worse off – this is a call for action. We need women and men standing alongside each other in all our diversity. Our union has given us a place where we have a voice.”
UNISON president Wendy Nichols addressed conference on Sunday morning, saying that she was “not surprised to have heard so much about the attack on terms and conditions of Black workers.”
Describing the Trade Union Bill as a “straightforward attack on working people,” Ms Nichols said that there would be “no stone left unturned” in the fightback, citing a decision in the Lords to launch an inquiry into the government’s plans for trade union political funds as a success.
Other motions included immigration, Islamophobia, health concerns such as prostate cancer, international issues, such as the continued genocide against the Rohingya in Burma, the death of Sheku Bayoh after being taken into custody by Edinburgh police, LGBT asylum seekers, and Black organ donation.
On the opening day of conference, Mr Prentis also presented national Black members’ committee chair Margaret Greer with the union’s inaugural Nelson Mandela Award for her services to fighting racism and inequality (pictures above).
Over the coming two days, delegates were also addressed by Matilda MacAttram, the director of Black Mental Health UK and Councillor Frank Bradfield, the mayor of Llandudno.
A bucket collection raised over £300 for the Welsh Air Ambulance.