The union movement’s special responsibility to campaign against racism

Rosita Ellis, Chair of the regional Black members group, on why racism, discrimination and the marginalisation of minority groups will always be a trade union issue

This article was first published in June 2020

The weekend has been dominated by the mass protests and demonstrations across the globe, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The murder of a Black man at the hands of White police officers is the latest crime in a long list of outrages perpetrated against the Black community. The taking of George Floyd’s life, like all the many atrocities before this, must not be in vain, but serve as a catalyst for the outpouring of pent up anger at the discrimination Black people face in our society.

Seeing young people finding their collective voice is uplifting, once again seeing a relevance in protest and demonstrations. The tearing down the statue of Edward Coulson, the 17th Century slave trader, and its ceremonial dumping in the Bristol harbour from where his ships once set sail to the African coast, was a powerful symbol of equality and human rights above wealth, power and oppression.

The reaction to the murder of George Floyd coincided with the publication of the Public Health England (PHE) report into the increased risks and deaths experienced by Black people in the UK as a result of coronavirus.

Earlier reports from the Office for National Statistics and the Institute for Fiscal Studies had already highlighted the impact of social deprivation and inequalities as key factors with clear evidence that coronavirus seems to thrive on inequality and had disproportionately affected Black workers as a result.

We are all too aware that over 60% of NHS workers who have died from coronavirus are from Black communities, shockingly rising to over 90% of doctors.

But this report makes no recommendations – not one – to deal with racial and health inequalities or protect Black communities from the disproportionate impact of Covid-19.

The PHE report is a major disappointment. It is an absolute failure by this government to take action after weeks of inaction on this issue.

Racism, discrimination and the marginalisation of minority groups is and will always be a trade union issue. If you’re Black, you are more likely to be unemployed and for longer, less likely to be a manager, earn 23% less, live in overcrowded accommodation, suffer mental health challenges and die younger.

We in the trade union movement have a special responsibility to campaign against the division inherent in racism, and for equality and human rights, as every trade union negotiator knows when workers are divided it’s the bosses that win.

The road to equality is long and often difficult to navigate. It will never result in an outright win, nor will there be an absolute defeat. Each generation has their own responsibility to fight for equality and human rights. If the last few days teaches us anything, it is that we must all do more now.

Rosita Ellis
Chair Regional Black Members Committee