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Anti-racism at crossroads

We musn't lose the gains made by black workers over the last decade in an austerity-led backlash, says GLORIA MILLS

This year's TUC black workers' conference comes at a critical time in the trade union calendar. It precedes the local and the European elections in May and the general election in just over a year.

It also comes against the backdrop of Stand up to Racism and Fascism, the successful Unite Against Fascism event in London last month where thousands of trade unionists and community groups turned out in force to speak up and speak out against the scaremongering and the scapegoating of migrants.

This toxic approach of blaming migrants and disadvantaged groups for the fallout from fiscal consolidation, bailouts and budget cuts must be challenged in the forthcoming elections.

This year's European election is like no other. It is important in stopping the far right from gaining a foothold in Europe and limiting their influence in EU institutions.

The recent gains by the Front Nationale in the French municipal elections and its control of several town halls makes clear that the key challenge in Britain is to roll back any possible gains and influence by the far right here.

A key factor influencing the French result was that over 40 per cent of the electorate did not vote.

We need to work hard to increase voter participation in Britain to stop the far right from grabbing seats on a low turnout.

More importantly, it demonstrates the need for mainstream political parties of the centre-left to offer alternative economic and social policies.

We need to deal with the widening gap between rich and poor across the European Union, the slide towards social regression following the Europe-wide imposition of austerity measures and to regulate the financial markets effectively.

We also need strong trade unions and collective bargaining rights, and better social protection for workers.

Moreover, there must be a political imperative to challenge the scourge of low pay, offer better employment security and to close the pay ratio between higher and lower income earners.

The black workers' conference is the largest gathering of black trade unionists in Europe and offers a fresh opportunity to renew our agenda to challenge the disproportionate and adverse impact of austerity on black workers and their communities.

That is why it is important to mobilise union members and local communities to register to vote and encourage maximum participation in the democratic process. It is also a key opportunity to continue the fightback against austerity.

 

Black workers in Britain have historically faced huge challenges in the labour market and the workplace. Black workers tend to be employed on precarious contracts offering minimal job security.

They are often employed on part-time, temporary and zero-hours contracts. They are also concentrated in the lowest-paid jobs, compounding the cycle of disadvantage, discrimination and deprivation.

Unison research shows there has been a disproportionate increase in precarious forms of working - a situation made worse by huge job losses in the public sector.

The conference will be calling for a better deal for black workers and better access to high-quality apprenticeships for young black workers.

Black workers proportionately endure higher rates of unemployment than the national average. For example, one in two young black men aged 16-25 is unemployed.

A key priority must be to eradicate the conditions that allow employers to exploit workers, undercut decent employers and pay poverty wages to migrants by closing the loophole in the Agency Workers Directive.

The agenda this weekend covers numerous industrial, workplace, equality and citizenship issues including deaths in custody, the Immigration Bill, black representation, the impact of austerity on vulnerable workers and the tactics of unscrupulous employers.

We are continuing to build on the 10 years of progress in the trade union movement since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry changed the agenda, structure and culture of unions and placed the TUC at the forefront of fighting discrimination and promoting equality.

We will make it a priority to campaign for a better deal for black workers of whom many in the NHS, local government, schools and colleges have had real-terms cuts to pay and conditions, made worse by the imposition of the public-sector pay freeze.

Black workers in the public and private sectors alike have been struggling to make ends meet.

We have seen the success of the Peoples' Assembly, the Women's Assembly Against Austerity, Stand up Against Racism and Fascism and the TUC's Fair Pay Fortnight, all demonstrating that working people and communities are fighting back against austerity and campaigning for jobs, investment and growth.

Black workers are joining forces in leading the fight for equality and fairness.

In moving forward we must end the public-sector pay freeze and build mass support for the TUC's Britain Needs a Pay Rise national demonstration on October 18.

 

Gloria Mills is chair of the TUC Race Relations Committee and national secretary for equalities, Unison.

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