‘Let’s raise the bar,’ Christina McAnea tells Black members

Welcoming UNISON’s Year of Black Workers, the general secretary said: “Our union is stronger because of our Black members”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea delivered a passionate speech at the union’s annual national Black members’ conference in Edinburgh this afternoon.

The conference, which runs until 22 January, is the first in-person Black members’ conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 revealed the truth, didn’t it?” Ms McAnea said. “Of institutional racism, for all to see. Black workers are more likely to be on the frontline, more likely to be low-paid, over-exposed to risks, offered less protection and more likely to suffer.”

Ms McAnea announced the union’s mission to “establish a legacy to generate change” with the Year of Black. Workers. 

“Our aim is to win fair pay so that you and your families can live the decent lives you deserve, so that our public services can recruit and retain staff and provide the services we all rely on.”

Paying tribute to the many UNISON members who have been taking strike action in recent weeks, she told delegates: “UNISON has had wall to wall coverage. Newspapers and social media plastered with purple and green images from picket lines across the country.”

“I’ve probably met some of you on the picket line. Those I’ve spoken to have told me what a difficult decision it is to go on strike. I understand. We all understand. But I am incredibly proud of our members for staying strong.”

Ms McAnea condemned the anti-strike bill, which the government is rushing through Parliament at breakneck speed. “Instead of sitting down to negotiate us, this government decides to bring in new legislation to remove workers’ rights.

“But when this government tries to divide, and encourage discrimination, we in UNISON don’t just walk away. We face it and challenge it. When racist views and race hate grow and spread, we cut it off at the roots.”

Ms McAnea announced that she has today written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman for “cast iron reassurances” that the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned review will be implemented.

The review had included the input and involvement of UNISON members. Ms McAnea quoted one member who had lost his job after 15 years of dedicated service as saying “I’d done nothing wrong, I was doing a fantastic job. To be told, basically, you’re an illegal immigrant, you have no right to be in that job, and you have to leave the premises.

“On that day, you could have pulled my heart out and chucked it on the floor. They took everything out of me: my confidence, my self-esteem, who I am. It tore me apart.”

Ms McAnea continued: “Each one of us has a moral duty to stand against this hostility” and affirmed the union’s commitment to organise and fight for migrant workers.

“I want to live in a country with an immigration policy that treats migrant people with decency and dignity. Along with 19 other signatories, we are calling on employers to refuse to work with the Home Office on immigration raids in our workplaces and our communities.”

Ms McAnea also declared the union’s commitment to “keep our own house in order” through its own race protocol. She said: “If things aren’t working, if there are problems and issues, we cannot shy away from it.”

“We will review the way UNISON delivers for Black members, and we will not be afraid to change where we have to.”

Concluding her speech, Ms McAnea said: “I know that together we will make this year a great success. Let’s raise the bar – make a noise – be difficult. And make the voices of all our Black members heard loud and clear.

“Let’s use this year to get more Black activists right across our union. Let’s change our union.

The power to create that change comes from you – from all of us”.