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Unions have the power to combat racism in the workplace 

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Hate crime and far-right activity is on the rise, but trade unions play a pivotal role in challenging it.

It’s no secret that the far-right has become more active again across London, the East and South East of England (LESE). On the streets, we’ve seen an increase in hate crime in recent years. Far-right activists have been seeking to capitalise on issues like the continuing impact of austerity, Brexit, and terrorist attacks and are making far greater use of social media to spread their anti-migrant, Islamophobic, antisemitic rhetoric. Individuals like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) and fringe groups like Britain First and For Britain have been specifically seeking to mobilise and recruit in communities which have suffered years of neglect driven by the government’s austerity measures.

How bad is the problem?

Statistics from the Home Office show that the number of hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was 103,379 in 2018/19, an increase of 10 percent compared with 2017/18, where 94,121 offences were recorded. The majority of hate crimes were race hate crimes. This has been compounded by the right-wing media and politicians, who have been guilty of exploiting genuine grievances in a bid to pit working people against each other, by perpetuating xenophobic rhetoric and stoking far-right populism.

What has the TUC done to raise its concerns?

Workplaces are not exempt from this upward trend of racism and far-right populism. In fact, they reflect the wider society as a whole. Trade unions have been working to challenge the toxic environment being created by hate and far-right ideology in workplaces across the country. In December 2016, the TUC launched a major project to gather evidence and raise awareness of racial harassment and discrimination at work.

The report showed that racial harassment still occurs in many workplaces. BME workers reported that they faced many forms of racial harassment including bullying, racist abuse and violence, hearing racist remarks or opinions, seeing racist material online and on posters, graffiti or leaflets. The project served as a compelling reminder of the need to tackle racism at work and to call for policy changes to eliminate racism and discrimination.

What are trades unions doing to tackle the issue?

Trade Unions play a crucial role in uniting people in the workplace. Our core values promoting solidarity, equality and fair treatment are more important than ever in defending our multicultural communities and workplaces. In the LESE region we’ve begun a series of training programmes to equip trade union officers and workplace reps with the tools to take on far-right propaganda and to create an environment that promotes unity and offers genuine solutions to improve the lives of working people. We’ve produced informative education resources around tackling the far-right. This interactive guide explains who the far-right are, practical tips on how to campaign against them, and how to hold difficult conversations with people who may have been influenced by far-right propaganda. And our subgroups and networks have been bringing together activists to focus on these issues as well.

The trade union movement has a proud history of resisting racism and fascism. Now more than ever, we need to continue to use our values of equality, fairness and justice to challenge the far-right and fight for dignity and respect for all working people.

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