“We live in difficult times. We all know it. But let us say loud and clear, as we leave the European Union at 11pm tonight, all of us send out a message to commit our union to fight the rise in nationalism and hatred facing so many of our communities.”
That was at the heart of a rousing speech, as general secretary Dave Prentis addressed UNISON’s Black members’ conference in Bournemouth this afternoon.
“We won’t stand by as the government makes immigrants into second-class citizens. Migrant workers are part of the UNISON family. Their story is the story of UNISON too. We will lead by example.”
Speaking to a packed crowd, Mr Prentis vowed to defend immigrants’ rights to health care and to living and studying without fear. “You are not alone. You are not friendless – not while UNISON is here. We will be their friends and protectors.”
The general secretary also spoke of UNISON’s on-going fight in seeking justice for the Windrush generation.
“Windrush migrants and their families have received shabby and shameful treatment – with letters from the Home Office telling people who’ve lived in the UK all their adult lives to leave because they have no right to live here. Instead of gratitude, the Windrush generation has been met with destitution.
“And this is from a country that has taken the best years of their lives,” he continued. “Their blood, sweat and toil. A country that relies on the public services they helped build.”
Many migrants and their families have lost their homes and in some cases, even their lives, as a result of the scandal.
“I am speaking here of people like Dexter Bristol, who came to the UK to join his mother, an NHS nurse. But he lost his job and his access to benefits.
“He spent the last year of his life destitute, in an endless battle with the Home Office and his mother believes the stress he was under led to his death. And he is not the only one.”
Mr Prentis said that, while nothing can truly make up for the way the Windrush generation has been treated, the government has still failed to learn lessons.
The compensation scheme process is overly complex and bureaucratic, while the pay outs are “laughable”. And the internal review of what happened inside the Home Office still hasn’t been published.
“The Windrush generation received shabby, shameful treatment and the Tories are hoping that we’ve forgotten about it. Well, all I can say is – not on our watch.”
Mr Prentis also spoke of the challenges facing Black workers following the recent Conservative election victory.
“The Tories have disdain for public services and for our people who rely on them,” he said. “We meet at a time when our movement faces great challenges.
“Trade unions weren’t made for the good times. Our public services are under further threat and who suffers the most? Black workers and, most of all, Black women. Too many members feel isolated by the covert and open-faced racism they face and by the ‘concrete ceiling’ on Black workers’ aspirations and ambitions.
“Together, we must fight for our public services and for our principles, because politics isn’t only about leaders – it’s about all of us. Your work fighting for justice in the workplace and in our communities is showing people who we are. You are such an important part of growing our union.
“We will defend our people who face attacks and abuse because of the colour of their skin or their accents. And we will lead the way and show by example by our union being a beacon of hope – of unity of friendship.
“There is no better union to lead that fight and there are no better members to lead that cause.”