Taking anti-racism into workplaces and communitiesUnion Matters November 8 2021
CWU Special General Conference opened with unanimously supported motions on stepping up anti-racism campaigning and taking it into workplaces and communities…
‘Time for action not words’ was the theme of yesterday morning’s opening session of conference, with two strong resolutions adopted and a diverse range of speakers from all sections of the union contributing to a robust discussion.
Moving the first motion on the agenda, our head of equality, education & development Kate Hudson said how proud she is of CWU at all levels for its “no-nonsense approach” and for “fighting for the things that matter.”
The recently published CWU Anti-racism Framework 2021 And Beyond Booklet sets out the basis of the new, pro-active strategy to transform this struggle from words into action, from the conference floor and committee room out to where our members work and live, she explained, saying: “This is the time to create real change.
“By working collectively, we will break down barriers together and build real positive change. And most of all, we need to educate. Education is the key to change.”
NEC member Amarjite Singh seconded the motion, emphasising the importance of active and public campaigning and the urgent need to “work with the grassroots, and make sure our members understand what racism does to people and make sure racism is challenged at every point.
“It’s important that every branch takes this seriously and it’s for all of us to take responsibility and create an atmosphere in which people are happy to work,” he added.
Delegates then took part in the discussion on the motion, all in support, but each from their own perspective and giving examples of personal experiences and activity taking place within their branches.
Ben Watts from Bristol & District Amal and West Yorkshire’s Trish Vollans both highlighted the need for improved education, with Bentley Knight form Western Counties citing, in particular, the impact of the A Class Divided session within the CWU’s Equalities Part One course.
Deji Olayinka, UTAW Branch, argued that the trade union movement should have become more involved in protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, while Nottingham & District delegate Des Gibbons made the point that the challenge for this strategy is about trying to bring people forward from being “not racist” into becoming “actively anti-racist” and Paul Chadwick, from Warrington Mail Centre Branch, stressed the importance of continuing to fight for trans people’s rights too.
Winston Richards, from GLC Branch, expressed his “wholehearted support” for the motion, which he described as “long overdue” and, talking about his own experiences of being racially abused and attacked in public, he urged the union’s ethnic minority members to “put your stories forward,” and Croydon & Sutton’s Lucy Reed highlighted the online upset and distress caused by “keyboard warriors” who “like ghosts, abuse people and then hide.”
And if racists tell her “there’s no black in the Union Jack,” Lucy says that her response is: “Well there is, because my dad and my grandad came from the Caribbean to fight for this country. So there’s plenty black in the Union Jack.”
Mark Hugall spoke about the work being done within Newcastle Amal Branch to take the union’s equality messaging into Tyneside Mail Centre and into the area delivery offices, and Zulf Ashraf, from Darwen Branch, reminded conference that equality officers do not necessarily have to be from that particular demographic themselves.
And Eastern No.4 Branch’s Sunil Ramachandran raised an important practical issue of members with family abroad needing to book leave during school holidays to visit far-away relatives.
A second motion, moved by Jason Richards of South East Wales Amal Branch, highlighted the ongoing struggle against organised racist groups, citing again the need for active protest and confronting the racists, while also winning the arguments for working-class unity, a motion which was strongly supported by NBirmingham Amal Branch’s Sajid Shaikh, who described himself as “an old veteran of anti-racist struggle” and suggested that “our anti-racist education needs to go into schools and colleges to engage with younger people.”
Janice Richardson, Eastern No.3 Branch set conference a challenge when she asked: “Are you actually going to walk the walk rather than talking the talk?” And Portsmouth & District delegate John Baker agreed with her, saying: “We don’t need ‘blah, blah blah, we need to do it straightaway.”
Anti-racism education within the CWU is extremely important, commented Capital Branch delegate Pagett Lewis, who said that a “there are still a lot of reps who don’t understand the meaning of racism and that’s something we need to address.”
He added that he and many other members did not like the term ‘BAME’ – an acronym formed by the words ‘Black And Minority Ethnic’.
Telling conference that he preferred the term ‘people of colour’, Paggett urged: “Don’t call us ‘BAME’ – we’re not all the same.”
In her reply to the debate, Kate Hudson thanked delegates for supporting the two motions and for their many and varied contributions. Specifically in response to the question raised about the use of the ‘BAME’ acronym, Kate said that organising discussion forums to talk about the use of this term and other terminology is one of the action points highlighted in the CWU Anti-racism Framework booklet which the CWU is committed to.
“A lot of people have said to me about the use of the word ‘BAME’,” she continued, adding: “We are going to have a discussion around this and about what replaces this.
“We’ve built a framework to now build this forward and step this up. How we build on what we’ve done in the past and how we take it forward in the future. It’s been an excellent session.”
And in his reflections on the debate, general secretary Dave Ward said that the discussion had shown the importance of “moving beyond the comfort zones of what the trade union movement has been in the past” and that he welcomed “the challenge that Janice threw down.
“Our job is to challenge racism. We have to bridge every divide and we do have to move on from just talking about things.
“It’s been an excellent debate and thank you to all the speakers.”
This Conference recognises that the CWU has a long and
proud history of opposing all forms of racism and is rightly seen throughout
the Labour and Trade Union movement as being a leading campaigner when it
comes to actively opposing racism in all its forms.
Conference agrees that as a strong anti-racist organisation our priority is to
unite working people by recognising that we share far more in common with
one another than we do with those who seek to exploit and divide us.
Conference endorses the recent CWU public Anti-Racism statement. This
statement sets out our values and is the foundation from which we will engage
our members, maximise outreach and raise awareness.
This Conference instructs the NEC to build on our anti-racism statement by
developing a well-researched and properly resourced project that utilises our
structures, engages members and includes practical steps that tackle racism
and all forms of injustice through the power of our collective strength.
The NEC is instructed accordingly.
This Conference acknowledges all the good work the CWU has done to tackle racism and other forms of discrimination.
Conference believes we should maintain those successes by continuing to:
- Campaign against far-right and racist groups like the NF, BNP, EDL and UKIP
- Work with anti-racist organisations like Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up To Racism
- Support, especially financially, Show Racism The Red Card and its education in schools
- Make sure CWU reps go through mandatory Equal & Fairness workshops
Against the backdrop of the Windrush scandal and the racist abuse of English
footballers in Euro 2020, highlighting the continuing institutional and public
racism in the UK, Conference recognises anti-racists must deepen their efforts.
In response, the CWU must concentrate on its grass-roots members,
constantly challenging the racist myths and distortions that have currency
amongst them. To help open up channels for such a dialogue, the present
BAME structures need to be built and activated over the next period, so as to
prompt and promote an anti-racist climate amongst all our members,
irrespective of colour or race and conference welcomes the Anti-Racism
Conference instructs the NEC to build on our anti-racism statement by
developing a well-researched and properly resourced project that utilises our
structures, particularly including the NEC BAME Leads, to engage with
members and to include steps that tackle racism through the power of our collective strength.