BLM protests must leave 'long-lasting legacy'

Unite's Susan Matthews contributes to TUC debate on tackling racism - and calls for urgent action

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On the final day of TUC Congress 2020 on Tuesday (September 15), delegates held a wide-ranging debate on tackling racism.

Systemic racism has risen to the top of the agenda this year especially amid Black Lives Matter protests which started in the US and have since spread across the globe. The disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) workers has also again highlighted the need to tackle the racism that blights all our institutions.

“The UK trade union movement stands with our sisters and brothers in the USA as they speak out against the catalogue of racist murders of Black men and women including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police and Ahmaud Arbery by vigilantes,” the general council statement read.

“The Black Lives Matters protests have renewed a worldwide call for justice for Black people. They have highlighted the need for decolonisation of education and the public space, challenging the symbols, policies and practices which allow systemic racism to thrive.”

“The stark statistics in official reports of those who catch Covid-19 and the disproportionate death rates of Black workers and their families are shocking to read,” thestatement continued. “But each death has a name and a story that deserves to be told. They are our members, friends, family and workplace comrades. 

“Whilst we mourn each death, we resolve to re-double our efforts to fight for the living – and to renew the fight against systematic institutional and structural racism. Black lives matter. Not just the right to live, but to live a life free from inhuman and inhumane human right abuse, racism, discrimination and poverty.”

Unite BAEM executive council member rep Susan Matthews, who is also the union’s branch secretary at Lambeth council, contributed to the debate.

She said she was “proud to be supporting the statement” and noted that it highlights the day-to-day reality of systemic racism faced by black workers and black communities.

Matthews hailed the Black Lives Matter movement and the impact it has had in the UK.

“The deaths of George Floyd and Bre-onna Taylor at the hands of police led to people around the world showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the US,” she said.

“But it was also a spark for Black people here in Britain and our anger at the institutional, systemic and structural racism that continues  to be on display in various institutions, such as housing system, police structure, within communities and workplaces as well as, this government and its policies.

“Across British society today, Black people are not in a position of power; are not sitting at the table making decisions,” Matthews added. “Instead we see Black workers on the frontline as cleaners, nurses, doctors, drivers, care workers, shop workers, security guards and ticket officers and local government workers.

“So many of these roles we could not do without Black workers,” Matthews continued. “The pandemic has exposed the fatal impact of racism, not to mention the economic deprivation of Black workers dying in greater numbers. Black lives do matter. And if this is true for all of us as we say then action is urgently needed – not just words.”

Matthews went on to highlight the importance of BAEM workers filling leadership positions across our institutions and within the trade movement itself.

“We need a stronger Black equality structure, we need more black members and activists to rise up within the ranks of leadership roles, to be part of decision-making bodies and have a seat at the table as Black workers,” she said.

Urging delegates to support the general council statement, Matthews added that members must seize the moment to ensure this year’s protests have the momentum that carries the fight against racism beyond this year.

“We should not be able to just say in a few years ahead that the Black Lives Matter movement just protested in the summer of 2020 and it was just about that movement – but also one with a long-lasting legacy that will transform the lives and save the lives of young Black workers and other workers overall,” she concluded.

By Hajera Blagg

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