Black Matters - Issue 2

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In a couple of weeks the TUC Congress will be taking place in Brighton and the motion that was selected by the TUC Black Workers' Conference will be debated on the floor of the conference. The motion titled 'Closing the ethnic minority employment gap' calls on congress to:

' recognise the vital and unique role that trade unions can play in challenging and eliminating discrimination in employment and urges all affiliates to review their bargaining work and priorities to reflect the urgent need to close the ethnic minority employment gap'.

The TUC Race Relations Committee has been particular concerned to encourage trade unions to do much more to equip and encourage trade union representatives to negotiate on race equality issues in the workplace.

In recent times both trade unions and black members have come to view problems of race discrimination as individual issues rather than as a collective issue. Labour market statistics relating to employment rates, access to promotion and training, disproportionate rates of temporary and agency work and problems relating to high levels of harassment and bullying at work expose that this is not just as issue about white people not liking a black peeople, rather that it is a systemic problem in the workplace.

The Race Relations Committee will also be hosting a fringe meeting on Tuesday lunchtime at the Congress. The meeting will be used to launch research carried out by the Labour Research Department that examines race equality policy and practise in the private sector. The final publication which will be published after congress will also include a collective bargaining checklist to help unions in the private sector to negotiate on a wide range of race equality issues in the workplace. The meeting will also be addressed by Arlene Holt-Baker Executive Vice President (AFLCIO) the most senior black women in the American trade union movement.

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UNITE - for an end to deaths in custody

tenth annual remembrance procession


On Saturday 25th October 2008 The United Friends and Families Campaign (UFFC) will be holding their Tenth Silent Procession along Whitehall followed by a protest at Downing Street as part of their campaign to get justice for families who have suffered the tragedy of having family members die in custody.

The UFFC was formed in 1997 to stop deaths in custody and to ensure that when deaths do occur, the whole truth as to how they were killed, by whom and why emerges. Since being established UFFC's consistent challenges to the Police Complaints Authority, its successor the independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Government have made an impact and changes have been promised. However the campaign believes that nothing less than the prosecution of the killers will do.

The TUC Race Relations Committee is supporting the 10th Anniversary Procession and organising a special campaign breakfast event at Congress House for the families involved in the campaign on the morning of the march. The Committee believes that making progress on this campaign is a vital issue for the black community given the disproportionate number of black people that have died in custody.

The Race Relations Committee also believes that this is not just as community issue but also a trade union issue as such a tragedy can strike anyone. This was graphically illustrated by the death in custody of Rogers Sylvester a popular UNISON members who died in custody in January 1999, after being restrained outside his home by eight police officers, from Tottenham Police Station.

Whilst promises have been made to improve the system, deaths in custody still continue and to date no police officer has ever been convicted even when unlawful killing verdicts have been returned at inquests. We can never forget those that have been lost and as trade unionists who believe in social justice cannot allow the government to do so.

Add your support to the campaign by:

  • Attending the procession on the 25tyh October 2008

Getting your Union to make a donation to the United Friends & Families Campaign, c/o INQUEST, 89 - 93 Fonthill Road, London N4 3JH

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Southall Black Sisters Victory, but the fight goes on.

house of commons protest


Southall Black Sisters (SBS), the pioneering and pre-eminent campaigning and advocacy group for black & minority ethnic women experiencing domestic violence, have been at risk of closure due to proposed funding cuts by Ealing's (Tory) Council who claim there is no need for this specialist service.

The local authority's decision was based on the view that there is no need for specialist services for black and minority women and those services to abused women in the borough need to be streamlined. In effect the council proposes to take away life saving services provided by SBS.

This view failed to take account of the unequal social, economic and cultural context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many of the most marginalised and voiceless women to access outside help.

On 18 July at the High Court, in a dramatic turn of events, Ealing Council withdrew their case after one and a half days of a hearing which saw their defence rapidly unravelling. From the outset, it became apparent to the presiding judge, Lord Justice Moses and to all those present in the courtroom including the packed public gallery, that Ealing Council was skating on really thin ice in attempting to justify its decision to cut funding to SBS and to commission instead one generic borough wide service on domestic violence on the grounds of 'equality' and 'cohesion'.

Ealing is not alone in cutting funding to groups in the black community on these grounds. Local Councils have interpreted the recommendations on Single Group Funding in the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion as a signal to withdraw funding. The Commission in its summary recommendation stated that single group funding 'should be the exception rather than the rule for both Government and external funders'. This was an extension of the position taken in the Cantle Report on Community Cohesion published after the riots in the North West in 2001 which stated that 'funding bodies should presume against separate funding of distinct communities, and require collaborative working, save for those circumstances where the need for funding is genuinely only evident in one section of the Community and can only be provided separately'.

However Lord Justice Moses did not accept this as an argument for not funding SBS. In his judgement he made the important point that 'There is no dichotomy between funding specialist services and cohesion; equality is necessary for cohesion to be achieved'. While Local Authorities and Government may beconfused it is encouraging that a high court judge having heard the arguments understood that there can be no community cohesion without dealing with discrimination and inequality.

Whilst this victory is a big step forward black organisations still face a fight for survival. The threats from policy on community and cohesion and integration are not the only challenges that organisations face. Early this year the HM Treasury's Charity and Third Sector Finance Unit published the final report of the Government's Third Sector review.

This review has been ongoing since 2006 and has resulted in changes to funding for the voluntary sector with traditional grant making to voluntary organisations by local authorities being replaced by a commissioning system. The introduction of commissioning is part for the Governments drive to encourage the formation of social enterprises in the voluntary sector.

In the Third Sector Review the government state that 'our social enterprise activity is focused on working across government to create an environment in the UK for social enterprises to thrive. Our vision is of a dynamic and sustainable social enterprise sector contributing to a stronger economy and a fairer society'.

The Government's intention is clear, that is to replace the current voluntary sector that has its roots in community organisations campaigning for and responding to the needs of local communities into a social enterprise sector providing mainly social and community services commissioned and dictated by public authorities.

The consequences of this is that the commissioning system has favoured large voluntary sector providers with small organisations being encouraged to tender for contracts as part of consortiums with other organisations. The reality is that small specialist voluntary organisations in black communities are at risk of being squeezed out of this newly constructed market of social and community services. The attacks on specialist organisations for women in black communities may be the tip of an iceberg.

This has implications not only for jobs for black workers in voluntary sector but also for black workers in public authorities who may find the services they currently provide being provided by social enterprises in the future.

Many black organisations in the voluntary sector have come from a tradition of challenging the discriminatory provision and policies from the state sector. As Southall Black Sisters proudly proclaim 'Our tradition is Struggle Not Submission'. If this tradition is to survive then we have a responsibility as black trade unionists to work with and support black organisations that are under threat of closure.

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Migrant Workers Speak Out In Scotland

The Scottish TUC in conjunction with Unison Overseas Nurses Network (ONN) and the Migrant Rights Network (MRN) organised a meeting in the Scottish Parliament in June with the aim of giving MSPs the opportunity to hear the views and experiences of migrant workers who are living and working in Scotland.

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Scottish MSP's had an opportunity to hear directly from migrant workers' about their experiences in Scotland, reported through a series of short but powerful personal statements from those present. The majority of participants had been living and working in Scotland for at least 5 years, mainly employed in the public sector as nurses, or as senior care workers.

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The speakers initially focused on various problems they had encountered with the Home Office and the UK Border Agency. A nurse from Zimbabwe, who has been working in the UK since 2003, reported that obtaining a visa to work here is now much more difficult than it used to be. Other speakers also commented on their experiences of the complexity of the British immigration system, illustrating the difficulties for non EU nationals in getting a visa, the length of time to submit a case to the Home Office, and the high degree of bureaucracy.

Particular concerns were reported about the new Points-Based System (PBS) and its five Tiers for migrant workers. An Indian woman outlined the difficulties she had encountered in transferring from the Scottish 'Fresh Talent' Scheme to Tier 1 of the PBS, which had forced her to seek legal support. Other migrants reported the difficulties for those whose skills may now not be considered adequate to qualify for entry or extension of leave under the PBS.

For example, senior care workers may no longer qualify for renewal of leave to remain due to a reassessment of the skills content for this profession. A senior care worker from the Philippines spoke of her anxiety about the continuation of her indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

The issues faced by migrant workers were not restricted to difficulties with the Home Office. A number of participants reported that qualifications obtained in other countries are often not fully recognised in the UK by potential employers. As result many migrants find themselves unable to find work which fits their skills.

As part of the event UNISON launched a 'Minimum Standard Charter for Migrant Workers'. And an important outcome was that MSP Marilyn Glen lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to bring the issues facing migrant workers at the forefront of the political debate.

Debates about migrant workers are often framed in the context of migration from Poland and other Eastern European countries. This event exposed the reality that migrant workers come from many different countries and also exposed the problems of racism that those from African and Asian experienced. Much has been written by journalists and academics about the experiences of migrant workers but the importance of this event was that these workers were finally given the opportunity to voice their experiences directly to the politicians.

Let Them Work' - Campaign

The Joint TUC/Refugee Council campaign to get the Government to allow asylum seekers the right to work is continuing to build. Over the last few months the campaign has been concentrating on raising awareness among trade unionists and a number of meetings have taken place in different regions where the campaign has been discussed and campaign literature distributed.

The Campaign will be holding a reception at the 2008 TUC Congress and will also be calling on General Secretaries of unions to sign a pledge commit their union to support the campaign.

In the autumn the campaign will launch a parliamentary strategy where unions and individuals can get involved in influencing Government to change the rules. Advice on how you can support the campaign can be found on www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/letthemwork

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TUC Black Women and Employment Seminar

In July the TUC held a seminar for black women trade unionists at the TUC. The seminar 'Black Women and Employment - A Way forward' will provide an opportunity for black women activists to discuss issues that black women face in the employment

narmhiSpeaking at the seminar, Narmada Thiranagama the TUC Women's Officers said

'Black women face a crucial problem both in the workplace and in the public discourse about race, gender and employment.

They continue to be seen through the distorting lens of prejudice - of race, gender and class.

They are often subject to crude generalisations to explain their position in the workplace and the labour market. Their aspirations, ambitions and experiences within the workplace may surprise many who simply see them as lacking ambition, requiring training and skills before they are "ready" or as powerless victims.

As individuals they are often are invisible when it comes to being recognised and acknowledged as human beings - for their actual experience and skills and aspirations - and all to visible when it comes to receiving criticism or blame or subjected to disciplinaries, grievances and so on.

The TUC organised this seminar to put the issues that are central to the working lives of black women on the agenda - and to have black women articulate what this would be and how it should be taken forward - to move public discourse back to anti-racism and equality rather than culture and diversity.

The TUC intends to produce a publication coming out from the results of the workshops that were held at the seminar, but also intends to hold similar events in the future to keep on taking this work forward.

However the work cannot be taken forward from the top - or by a few individuals. It has to involve every person in the room. I will be looking to everyone here to take part in this work - because any strategy that depends only on one person is bound to fail.

The issues raised in the seminar are issues of public policy and discourse but which make themselves felt in an intensely personal way in our every day experiences. This cannot go unacknowledged because these form some of the greatest barriers to organising within workplaces. It's common for many such seminars to focus on confidence building and increasing assertiveness. But women often do not put their heads above the parapet precisely because they know the consequences for them as individuals can be extremely harsh. Can we find more strength to do this? Doesn't it take so much just to carry on? But the one thing that I've learnt is that it only takes a little bit of extra courage for that one moment when you make yourself visible or make yourself heard. The truth is that being silent and invisible does not protect you and takes so much courage as it is - it is amazing how much extra strength you get when you organise with other black women to challenge some of the barriers felt by us as individuals and as a collective.

One thing that I've learnt from my own experiences is that whatever they say, we aren't stupid, we aren't weak, we are confident and strong, not angry. We touch the lives of other human beings and help them and support them because if we are strong and unbroken, we understand that compassion and generosity heals other people too. We understand the pain of rejection and we understand that we can still succeed. We know that sometimes our voices and our actions are so unanswerable, so strong and compelling and persuasive that the only response to us is being ignored. It's important to understand that opposition grows fiercer when success looms before you.

Finally, I want to thank those that came to the seminar and contributed to what was a great day. I think it has been important because it offers us a space to articulate our own agenda and our own demands, to organise and empower each other to work together, to shake off the distorting lens that other people place upon us - so that our visibility or invisibility is not determined by their gaze - and to not have our agenda or our demands defined by those who do not understand the lived reality of our lives'.

The TUC will be publishing a report in the autumn which draws on the issues that those attending the seminar highlighted. This will be used as a basis for future work on black Women and the labour market that will be undertaken by the TUC Race relations and Women's committees.

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UNION Publications

Communications Workers Union (CWU) Report

This year the CWU published its first publication about black members in the union. The report is based on research which asked the question 'Is the CWU representative of its Ethnic minorities?'

The report draws on statistics from the main employers where CWU organise and also looks at the CWU as an employer, training and development within CWU, CWU policy enactment and the wider labour market. The report contains recommendations for each area that was researched.

Billy Hayes (CWU General Secretary) said in the forward to the report ' its recommendations will be used at all levels of the union as a vehicle to widen the discussion on discrimination and to seek positive change at least within the structure of the CWU'.

USDAW - Racism at Work (A report into the experience of Usdaw members)

As part of its 'Freedom from Fear' campaign which is aimed changing the way that employers and police handle abuse of staff in the retail industry, USDAW looked at the experiences of its black and Asian members.

The report 'Racism at Work' identifies that

  • One in six USDAW members feel isolated at work because of the colour of their skin
  • Our half of USDAWs black and Asian members have experienced racist abuse at work
  • One in five of USDAWs black and Asian members had been racially abused by their manager.
  • More than had of USDAWs black and Asian members did not come to the Union for help about racism at Work.
  • The report concludes with an Action plan which identifies the need to encourage more black and Asian members to become active in USDAW and also encourages USDAW reps to run Zero Tolerance to Racism campaigns in their workplace.

John Hannet USDAW General Secretary stated 'Our challenge now is to translate words into action. This work is for all of us whether we are black, Asian or white. It is in all our interests to challenge racism - we cannot create zero tolerance workplaces unless we stop abuse in all its forms'.

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