A busy afternoon at UNISON’s Black members’ conference began with Tania Ebosi McKee, for the national Black members’ committee, introducing a motion on #BlackLivesMatter – solidarity to oppose police brutality and murder.
Noting that, there have been nine unlawful killing findings by coroners since 1999m, yet not one has resulted in criminal proceedings, she also highlighted the misreporting of such incidents – such as exaggerating the height of a victim and suggesting that he was therefore more of a threatening figure.
“We are not against the police,” stressed another speaker, “but we are against police brutality,” adding that key to policing the police was a system of proper enquiries into deaths in police custody.
A further speaker from Tottenham said that it was vital that, if anyone saw a young person being “bullied” by the police, they did not walk away but stopped to watch – to witness what was happening and to support young people in the community.
Introducing an impassioned discussion on domestic violence in the Black community, Jackie Burton for the national committee said that it was “not a new issue”.
While domestic violence occurs in all communities, in Black communities it can also include female genital mutilation or forced marriage.
She recommended that delegates made sure that they got hold of copies of UNISON’s guide to tackling domestic violence, and urged them to raise the issue in branches to explore what thiose branches could do.
Another speaker observed that children are affected by domestic violence and abuse too – from the stress of seeing what is happening in their own home, to the social conditioning that can see children then repeating the same behaviours when grown up.
A delegate from Yorkshire said that she had experienced abuse herself, and emphasised that many victims might choose not to report the problem – or flee it – because of the fear of immigration status of themselves or other family members, or the opprobrium of their own wider community.
A man from London spoke movingly about his own daughter, who got married, had a daughter – and then stopped seeing her family. It has taken time for her father to discover that his son-in-law only married his daughter for “immigration status” and the family continues to struggle to reach their daughter, with fears for what is happening to her.
The next speaker reiterated how victims can hide what is happening, and she urged people to “ask” someone if they had a gut feeling something was wrong – that person could just be “waiting for someone to ask: be vigilant.”
A delegate from the Midlands talked of the appalling violence she suffered after an arranged marriage, and how, when she sought an injunction, the judge gave her the necessary encouragement to leave properly.
Yet even as she was dissolving that abusive marriage, her own family were contemplating a second arranged marriage.
She thanked her second husband of 19 years and her UNISON branch for the support that had helped turn hers into “a good news story”.
The issue of young people beating their parents was also raised, with condemnation for any occurrence and a call for zero tolerance.
Conference also discussed the issue of discrimination in the NHS – a debate that heard about a student nurse who was faced with a senior nurse pushing a pork sandwich in her face and demanding to know why a Muslim would not eat pork.
“We are there to welcome new life and there to hold hands as people pass away,” said the speaker, stressing the vital importance of Black workers to the continued running of our health service, yet still the discrimination and disrespect continues.
Other speakers also raised the issue of how Black workers had to be better than white workers in order to progress – and how research shows that, while the health service collects data on discrimination, little has changed in a generation.
Earlier in the day, conference saw a video from London mayor Sadiq Khan, who, after his momentous election win last May, has been awarded UNISON’s Nelson Mandela Award.
A UNISON member, he thanked the union and declared himself “a proud trade unionist,” adding that he is determined to make London a city that works for all those who live and work in it.
Conference decided to send this year’s bucket collection to Mind Blue Light, the charity that had been chosen by union president Eric Roberts, who died late last year. Over £280 was raised.