UNISON’s Black members’ conference opened in a sun-kissed Brighton this afternoon, even as delegates and speakers felt a chill from across the Atlantic.
Joint chair of the national Black members’ committee Margaret Greer set the tone with her opening remarks, noting that, as the inauguration of Donald Tump got underway in Washington, it was vital to remember the ‘Yes we can!’ spirit of the elections of Barack Obama.
General secretary Dave Prentis (pictured above, with delegates celebrating UNISON) stressed the importance of being together with friends on the day when a “bigoted, hate-fuelled man can call the White House his home”.
He compared the “courage, dignity and grace” of Mr Obama with the “vulgarity, ignorance and spite” of the man now taking the reins of presidential power in the United States.
“It might be dispiriting,” he noted, but members know that, “after every step forward there is a backlash”.
The election of Mr Trump and the result of the EU referendum have made bigots feel empowered to spout their “ugly words”.
But he stressed the need to continue to make UNISON strong in order to lead the fight – a fight to ensure, for instance, that Brexit could not be used to undermine employment rights.
“Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there will be place for you in our union,” Mr Prentis told conference.
And while it might seem difficult, fighting back is “not just the best option – it’s the only option. It’s the only way change has ever been won.”
Adding that there’ll always be someone who will say that you cannot achieve what you want, “Yes we can!” he told them.