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It is time for us to see justice for BAEM communities

The fight against racism is a class struggle – and the labour movement must step up, writes HOWARD BECKETT

WHAT a week it has been for global politics and activism.

The brutality of what was done to George Floyd will live in our consciousness forever. 

Rev Al Sharpton in his eulogy at George Floyd’s memorial said: “Get you knee off our neck” — a remarkably powerful call for fundamental change.

The subsequent outpouring of pain, fury and civil unrest in the US, and the solidarity marches in Britain, have given a glimpse of the potential further protests that are to come.

The shock and anger of communities, the demand to be heard, have proven to be a catalyst for further exposing the violence of the Trump administration, grotesquely characterised by his tweet: “When the looting starts the shooting starts.”

Hail, Mr President!

Trump undoubtedly revels in his standing as the icon of US white supremacists. 

But his actions are also dictated by a desire to avoid a November election. 

That election must go ahead and for the sake of world peace and the fight against racism, Trump must then be removed from office.

But we should not think of our society as free of racism, or that we can watch the struggle for justice abroad, as though disconnected from our struggle here. 

Far from it. As Unite the Union’s lead on Show Racism the Red Card it is clear through their work that the dangers and evils of racism exist in Britain also.

Indeed Britain is mired with its own history of black lives lost in police custody — Mark Duggan, Cynthia Jarrett, Jean Charles de Menezes and Sean Rigg, to name but a few.

And the coronavirus pandemic is now shining a light on what an unequal system we have, where your job, your ethnicity, the wealth that you have are the dominant determinants in the risk that you face and, ultimately, the rate of death from coronavirus.

The public health report into the disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19 shows that death rates from Covid-19 are highest among black and Asian people. 

It highlighted too the Office for National Statistics reporting that “men working as security guards, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, bus and coach drivers, chefs, sales and retail assistants, lower-skilled workers in construction and processing plants, and men and women working in social care had significantly high rates of death from Covid-19.” 

The report acknowledges that the relationship between health and ethnicity is complex, but makes it clear that “BAEM people are more likely to live in urban areas, in overcrowded households, in deprived areas, and have jobs that expose them to higher risk.”

What an indictment of society when we are told in such stark terms that the living conditions for black and ethnic minority communities increases their chances of death from Covid-19. 

Then shockingly, but sadly predictably, black, Asian, and ethnic-minority people in England are 54 per cent more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people.

The reality is that coronavirus is yet another class issue and, although we are still in the fierce heat of the health crisis, because of government incompetence, when we imagine what kind of society will come after, our strategy must have a class-based analysis with anti-racism at its core.

As a trade-union movement we have of course stepped up for our members and offered solidarity to those members taking action, protesting, fighting for change. 

But we must also plan an industrial, education and political response which constructs a different world of work.

We know that privatisation, outsourcing and the decimation of trade0union rights and freedoms impact disproportionately on BAEM workers. 

An employer intentionally relinquishing the duty of care to a distanced agency, promoting systems intended only for the employer to assess rates of pay for a job (and terms and conditions), and therefore the intrinsic value of the labour, without worker involvement, or representative of workers, allows for explicit bias and racism.

The entrenchment of poverty pay and insecurity not only provides a multiplicity of opportunities for employers to discriminate against workers but harms our communities, normalising injustice and discrimination.

Trade-union power, trade-union freedoms, access to workplaces, organising members, negotiating on behalf of members on matters of pay and conditions (as well as the basic principle of representing members) are fundamental cornerstone to collectivism but also in our anti-racism campaigning of the future.

But the movement also has a responsibility to connect the insidious nature of racism and its role in perpetuating existing power structures in which a tiny minority of people have the majority of the world’s wealth.

It is us that must expose the fact that the fight against racism is a class struggle, requiring societal demands: anti–racism education must be on all school curriculums, the history of workers’ struggles and victories and the trade-union movement must be on all school curriculums, and trade-union rights in the workplace must be centre place to Labour’s next manifesto.

As Martin Luther King referenced, the path of history is most certainly long. But it is time for us to now see justice for BAEM communities. 

To show our solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement, to those protesting against state violence, institutional racism and to those exposing the handling of coronavirus.

And most definitely and loudly, to show solidarity to those who seek to defeat Trump in November.

Perhaps his defeat will give us all belief that history is leaning towards justice.

Howard Beckett is Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal affairs.

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