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They shall not prevail

Unite members fight back
Ryan Fletcher, Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015


This week we look at the work of Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) together with Unite in fighting racism. Today we continue with two Unite members’ experiences of racism at work

 

What do a black footballer and an Asian factory worker have in common? There’s a good chance they’ve both suffered discrimination at work.

 

While Show Racism the Red Card has been working to educate society out of the diseased reasoning of racism, Unite members have been at the forefront of tackling employment-based prejudice.

 

Staff rooms, offices, depots and factory floors across the country are often the front lines in the fight against ingrained and corrosive attitudes to black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAEM) people.

 

Unite Bradford branch secretary for transport and 2014’s TUC President, Mohammad Taj, has pushed for equality since the early 1970s.

 

Taj, as he is known, arrived in Bradford from Pakistan in 1966 with his family when he was 14. After finishing school he started work in the area’s textile mills and factories.

 

“In those days the situation in Bradford was very bad. Black and Asian people were fighting employers and unions to get a job. They were forced to work night shifts and were barred from joining some of the unions,” Taj explained.

 

In 1974 he became a bus conductor. It was the similar situation: Many BAEM employees were having to pay bribes to secure positions.

 

Even when they did get a foot on the ladder, it was de-facto policy they would never get past the bottom rungs. Some white employees even refused to work alongside BAEM colleagues.

 

Taj joined the Transport and General Workers Union and began to speak out against the system of bribes. After assisting with a Yorkshire Post investigation that exposed the practise, he went after company management for systematically denying BAEM employees promotion.

 

Fearlessness

By this time he was a bus driver and his activism resulted in malicious and false passenger complaints and fabricated ‘misdemeanours’. The smear campaign was to no avail however, as Taj’s fearlessness and integrity led him to become an elected trade union official.

 

Since then he has continually brought BAEM issues to the fore, not just within the workplace, but also within the trade union movement itself.

 

Along with other activists he obtained provisions for a permanent BAEM voice within the TUC and individual unions, and worked tirelessly to include people of every colour and creed under the trade union banner. Despite the victories, Mohammed made clear the fight is not yet won.

 

“People are still struggling. These days there is less open discrimination. Now it’s more subtle. They work on the basis that they can’t be caught, that they have to cover their tracks,” he added.

 

The problems faced by 40-year-old Unite member David illustrate the point. David (not his real name) began working for a major manufacturer with a long-serving and predominantly white workforce four years ago. Before starting his current position David says he never suffered racism.

 

“When I first arrived people asked me how I got in. They said usually it’s through a family member or a friend.

 

Brick wall

“Racism is indirect but it’s definitely there. I’m a hard worker. But it’s like you always have to prove yourself. It’s a brick wall.

 

“For example I asked my boss if I could rearrange a shift and he said it was fine. When I came in people started asking me: ‘what time do you call this?’ If it was a white person they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. There are things like that all the time.”

 

There are people who would question whether such insidious undertones are really racist. So just to be clear: someone also placed a Klu Klux Klan mask in the locker of one of David’s black colleagues.

 

Shocking though this is it’s not an isolated case. Racism at work is not unusual. A recent Unite survey found that nearly 31 per cent of the 4,471 BAEM members who responded had faced racist bullying and harassment in their jobs.

 

Nevertheless David is undeterred by his situation. He’s determined he’s not going to let the racists prevail.

 

“I’m resilient and thick skinned. I’m not going to show it’s getting to me. They can expect a long battle,” David said.

 

David’s fight is just one front in a war against racism that Unite is committed to winning.

 

 

 

Tomorrow we look at the findings of Unite’s BAEM members’ survey

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