TUC calls for annual day to remember the victims of slavery

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date: 19 April 2007

embargo: 00.01hrs Friday 20 April 2007

Opening the annual TUC black workers conference in Bristol later today (Friday), TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will call on the Government to introduce an annual day to remember the victims of the UK slave trade.

Addressing the several hundred black and Asian delegates attending the conference - which, in the year commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, takes place in one of the UK cities most synonymous with the slave trade - Brendan Barber will say:

'Today, the TUC is launching a campaign for an annual national slavery memorial day. Nobody in this country should be allowed to forget the UK's role in the slave trade. Here in Bristol alone, more than 2,000 slave ships were built that were responsible for carrying well over half a million human beings from Africa to America.

'As many as a quarter died en route - and for those who survived, a life of unimaginable exploitation, brutality and hardship awaited. And although Britain may have played an important part in the abolition of slavery, it was also instrumental in the creation, expansion and perpetuation of one of the greatest evils in history.

'That's why the UK needs an occasion for remembrance, reflection and education. A chance to raise awareness not just of how slavery began, but also of how it ended. Amidst all the Hollywood hype about William Wilberforce, let us never forget that freedom from slavery was not a gift handed down from the great and the good. It was led and won by the struggles and rebellions of the slaves themselves.

'An annual memorial day would offer a valuable opportunity to reflect on the appalling legacy of slavery. A legacy of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. Today, the countries most blighted by slavery - Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and many others - continue to suffer the consequences.

'A new trade in human misery has emerged from Africa's west coast, with countless thousands of Africans risking their lives each year trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. And today, the legacy of slavery also lives on here in Britain.

'The ugly scar of racism has yet to be removed from the fabric of our society. From the hateful housemates on Big Brother to the bigotry of the parties of the far right, from the casual prejudice of sections of the media to the rise of Islamophobia, the evidence is all around us.

'Discrimination remains a massive problem for the black and ethnic minority population. Nowhere more so than in our labour market. Black and Asian workers are more likely to be without work, with an employment rate of just 60 per cent - compared to a national average of 75 per cent.

'And, if they do have a job, black and Asian workers are more likely to be in low-paid, low-skilled work, with recent research suggesting the race pay gap has increased in recent years. That's why trade unions must redouble their efforts to get a better deal for all black workers - pressing the Government for action, bargaining with good employers and taking on the bad ones. And above all, reaching out to and encouraging more black and Asian workers to become members of trade unions.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- The annual three day TUC black workers conference starts at 2pm on Friday 20 April and closes on Sunday lunchtime. It takes place in explore@bristol on the city's Harbourside.

- Speakers at the conference include TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, Professor Gus John, who was the UK's first black director of education, and Bristol resident Paul Stephenson, who was behind the successful boycott of the city's bus company in the 1960s because it refused to employ black and Asian drivers and conductors.

- Before the conference begins, Brendan Barber, along with TUC President Alison Shepherd and Chair of the TUC's Race Committee, Gloria Mills, will lay a wreath at noon on the grave of an unknown slave. The grave titled Scipio Africanus - of a young man who died aged 18 in 1720 - is in St Mary's churchyard in Henbury.

- Over the three days, delegates will debate a series of topical issues such as how to tackle higher levels of unemployment amongst black and Asian workers, countering the threat posed by parties of the far right, and combating racist bullying in the workplace.

- Conference participants will also be able to attend a number of workshops including ones on preventing the exploitation of migrant workers, working with local communities and encouraging black and Asian people to vote in local and national elections.

Contacts:

Media enquiries: Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07778 158175; E: media@tuc.org.uk

or Tim Lezard, South West TUC M: 08710 641459

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