Toggle high contrast

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers should join a union - and get actively involved

Published date
This #HeartUnions week, let's reflect on the stories that show the difference organised labour makes to BME workers, who too often find it much harder to get a job, are paid less and are more exposed to risk - as we’ve sadly seen in the pandemic.

We’ve all seen the media reports about how Coronavirus has hit some communities even harder than others. 

Some of those stories pick up on TUC research that has found, for example, that employment has fallen much faster for BME workers.  

A reason for getting depressed, for sure, but it’s vital that workers take matters into their own hands and unite to fight this racial injustice - and the best way of doing that is to join a union. 

Because we are stronger together - evidence shows that unionised workers are paid more in the public and private sectors.  

We don’t often get to hear positive stories about unions in the newspapers, but organised labour has a record of winning for workers on pay, terms and conditions and health and safety. 

When it comes to challenging racial disparities at work, trade union leaders are determined to clock up more wins here too - setting up an Anti Racism Taskforce to drive forward change.  

This drive will be doubly potent if we can boost the recruitment and self-organisation of BME workers. 

There is a proud - and sometimes chequered - history of anti-racism in the trade union movement.  

BME workers have made a real difference by organising in the workplace.  

Perhaps the most famous is the Grunwick dispute of 1976, where trade unionists travelled from across the country to stand in solidarity with the striking Asian workers of a film processing lab in north-west London.  

This wasn’t always the case. There were other disputes in the 70’s where Caribbean and Asian workers, frequently women, had to go it alone. 

Historically, many trade unionists supported the fight for independence in the now former British colonies in Africa, south Asia and the Caribbean. 

More recently, some unions campaigned against immigration detention centres long before it became a popular cause among progressives. 

The current generation of Black union activists stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, like Lord Bill Morris, the former general-secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, which is now Unite.  

Before him, Yunus Chowdry became the first Black man to reach the executive of the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers.  

And Claudia Jones who mobilised Black workers in trade unions. 

The labour movement has come a long way but, as Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr famously said, there is a long way to go.  

Unions are ready for that challenge. 

Britain’s only current Black general-secretary Dr Patrick Roach from the NASUWT - who chairs the TUC Taskforce - has been clear that the voices and experiences of BME members must be front and centre for forging the path ahead. 

Unions win for workers. That’s especially important in workplaces with the fewest rights - in the gig economy and agency work - where BME workers are twice as likely to be. 

We can believe in something better and join forces to take on the imbalance of power, pay and rights that exists in employment for workers in general but also for BME workers who are harder hit. 

BME workers no longer have to fight battles alone or accept disproportionate disadvantage at work. 

The time has arrived for a renaissance in BME recruitment, self-organisation and campaigning. 

So if you haven’t already, join a union today and get involved. 

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now