The TUC/Stand Up to Racism Conference, held in London on 23 February, will hopefully be a well-aimed launchpad for a hectic period of activity as the trade union movement unites with anti-racist campaigns to drive back the ‘hostile environment’. Many speakers, including representatives of a wide array of unions, contributed to the discussion about how to deflate the fascist and other far right goons trying to latch onto the growing sense of chaos in the British establishment.
Over 200 trade unionists from a wide range of trade unions packed plenaries and workshops. The main focus was on building a big union turnout for #WorldAgainstRacism marches planned on 16 March (see below for details).
A set of Plenaries and focused Workshops gave delegates the opportunity to hear a wide range of contributions from trade unionists about their experience and responses to racism from across the country. There was a strong emphasis on the need for practical responses and on how to organise responses and activity in the workplace to deal with deep seated institutional racism compounded by the impact of austerity.
At a session on PREVENT there was a useful update on the reasons why government policy has demonstrably demonised people who are Muslim and also failed to deal with the issue of violent extremism. The vast majority of cases reported to the authorities have proved to be not actionable with only 5% taken forward for further intervention.
A major concern was expressed that PREVENT has caused major damage to the relationship between professionals such as teachers and social workers and Muslim people they are supposed to support, while also conflicting with safeguarding and other training that people have already received to deal with the concerns that may present to frontline staff about any person who is using a public service. It was also pointed out that the issues leading to ‘violent extremism’ are far wider and deeper than issues that can be resolved by a public service professional working in a workplace. Often a clumsy ‘intervention’ based on limited knowledge or paranoia can cause far more damage than good and only adds to the feelings of alienation that an individual can feel.
A second workshop on how trade unionists can get involved in building Love Music Hate Racism events was also very useful. The discussion gave some good pointers to building local networks between union branches and musicians. It was pointed out that music is a means for communication in a language we can all understand. Some of those in the room were involved in the music business and argued that more artists need to get on board. Love Music Hate Racism have organised a two-week campaign to promote a positive message between 8-22 March. 118 live music venues have agreed to promote the campaign with the logo ‘We are the beautiful resistance’ and the social media hashtag #beautifulresistance. Watch this space for activities in Coventry or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We rounded off the day with speakers from #NEU #FBU #RMT#CWU #TUC, an update from a US activist building a march in Washington DC for UN Anti Racism Day as part of the international coordination, and a speaker from the Youth Strike For Climate. A key message from the final plenary was that fighting racism cannot be left to individuals. Trade Union branches and other labour movement bodies need to get more directly involved. Trade unions have brought together their communications teams to have a major social media day of action on 11 March to build the demonstrations on 16 March using #Unions4Unity. People have been asked do something on this day in your workplace. For example we can get together colleagues and take selfies to show active support and share pictures and events on social media with the unions’ hashtag, along with the internationally agreed #WorldAgainstRacism and #NoRacismNoFascism
The problem of racism may be sourced to wider issues in society and the climate of hostility originates from central government and the establishment. This problem is reflected in every locality and within management structures in every workplace. We therefore need to talk about the issue in the workplace and counter racism in all its forms in effective ways. This needs us all to become more effective at listening from people and responding to support them and learning from their experience.
National Demonstration – United Against Racism & Fascism – Transport leaves Coventry Fairfax Street (Swimming Baths) @ 9am.