Conference discusses fighting back against the politics of hate

LGBT delegates hear of fears after EU referendum and pledge to fight rise of hate crime after the vote

How did the Nazis come to power in Germany in the 1930s? “It happens like this.”

Deirdre Costigan, for the national committee, was introducing a motion looking at how LGBT UNISON members could hold true to the values of that community in the present circumstances.

And she related how, as the EU referendum votes were counted, a Labour councillor she was standing near at a count in London, observed that, while he’d always wondered how the people of Germany had let Hitler in in the 1930s, “it happens like this.”

Ms Costigan told delegates: “We must not lose hope. We’ve had setbacks this year and there may be more to come, across Europe and beyond”.

But that is precisely why UNISON members need to reassert their rights and freedoms.

Suggesting that, in the future, school pupils will read about this year in their history books, she noted: “I hope my grandnieces will be able to say: the trade unionists – they never, ever gave up.”

Speakers, including members who have come to the UK from other EU countries, expressed concerns about what the future holds – not least as recorded hate crimes have risen massively in the wake of the referendum vote.

Further debates also specifically highlighted the need to fight hate crime, and to ensure that every incident is reported as fully as possible.

“The fear is that the current shenanigans around Brexit will cause further hate crime,” said one speaker.

Philip O’Shea from Wolverhampton observed that hate crime had always been with us, although matters had improved in recent decades.

“What can we do?” he asked. We can support people and we can help them report hate crimes – and don’t believe that “you can turn away and it won’t happen to you”.

Young member Alex Montgomerie told conference how, at a young members’ weekend earlier this year, socialising in the evening at a club, one of the group was targeted by a man who started ranting at them.

Mr Montgomerie said that the other young members got involved to defend the person being attacked and, eventually, the police came and removed the aggressor. In other words, he said, we can stand in solidarity and make a difference.

Delegates also emphasised the need to defend and promote LGBT equality under the law, as the Conservative government continues to put up more barriers to equality – not least in the continuing use of fees and any hurdles for anyone seeking redress at an employment tribunal.