Over two hundred leading black trade union activists attended the annual TUC Black Workers Conference this weekend from 11th to 14th April to debate and agree resolutions on tackling the multi layered attacks on black workers, service users and communities because of racism and injustice.
The conference also included a series of workshops and fringe meetings, a fundraising dance for the United Families and Friends campaign which is made up of families fighting for justice for loved ones killed at the hands of the State, a film night and the Roots, Culture, Identity art exhibition, I curated to showcase the talents of young black people.
Motions debated at the conference included deaths in custody, the government’s racist ad vans, the Immigration Bill, organising black workers, tackling discrimination in recruitment and promotion, tackling the lack of employment opportunities and discrimination in the labour market including the impact on young black people with a highlight on apprenticeships and opportunities in the creative industries, equal education, transport poverty and mental health provision.
Keynote speakers at the conference included the General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, Neville Lawrence, father of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence and Carole Duggan, aunt of Mark Duggan who was shot dead by police sparking the uprisings in Tottenham which then spread to other areas.
The theme of deaths in custody ran through the conference with two motions debated on the issue over concerns of a series of young black men killed at the hands of the State and the years of campaigning families are forced into in pursuance of justice.
There was also a workshop on deaths in custody which I co-chaired, addressed by Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, Chair of the United Families and Friends Campaign and Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg who died in police custody at Brixton Police Station in 2008. The Crown Prosecution Service is now considering whether to prosecute two police officers over his death.
Other workshops included the Race Relations Committee’s recently launched charter for racial justice in education, black women and the cuts and immigration and migration.
I chaired a fringe meeting facilitated by my organisation BARAC UK – Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and sponsored by the PCS Union on Challenging Institutional Racism and Injustice. This was addressed by Marcia Rigg, Carole Duggan and Lee Jasper, my Co-Chair of BARAC UK.
Carole told the meeting that the family wanted to pursue a judicial review because the jury in the inquest into Mark Duggan’s death concluded that even though Mark was not in possession of a weapon when he was shot dead by police it was lawful to kill him. Disgracefully the family have been refused legal aid.
Lee Jasper talked about the deepening institutional racism in the UK which was blighting the lives of black communities in the UK and the criminalisation of black people, including revelations of police spying and infiltration, stop and search and deaths in custody.
The meeting expressed outrage that whilst so many black people have died at the hands of the State, black people are still being put on trial for the murder of PC Blakelock some 30 years later with Nicky Jacobs found not guilty of murder of manslaughter the same week of the conference.
Support was given by the meeting for BARAC’s call for a boycott of all non-essential contact with the police, including recruitment until they admit they are institutionally racist. Click here to read a discussion paper.
Other fringe meetings included the Reparations campaign and Political Representation of Black People.
There was a well-attended reception for the exhibition and guests included the Cuban Ambassador to the UK Esther Armanteros, author and Guardian journalist Mary O’Hara, and Mohammed Taj, the first Muslim President of the TUC.
Each year the conference can vote on one motion to go to the annual TUC Congress held in September. This year the conference voted on the motion on the Immigration Bill and working with the Movement Against Xenophobia, MAX campaign. The motion was proposed by the PCS union and I moved it at the conference on behalf of the PCS.
The Immigration Bill is a racist and divisive piece of legislation which seeks to create an apartheid state in the UK in respect of access to provision of services such as housing, driving licences, marriage licences, health services and benefits reminiscent of the pass laws of South Africa and signalling a return of the No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs signs of the 1950s and 60s.
There is much work to do for black activists in the coming year to campaign against this onslaught of attacks but the way that we can successfully bring about change is to mobilise and organise as black workers and communities and insist that we have a strong voice in our workplaces and unions.
I encourage readers to join unions, join BARAC UK and join the anti-cuts campaigns groups organising both nationally and locally as all of us impacted by these attacks make up the majority. Strength, Unity and Determination is the way we overcome.
By Zita Holbourne,
The author is elected to the TUC Race Relations Committee, the PCS Union National Executive and the MAX Steering Group and is the Co-founder and National Co-Chair of BARAC UK.