'We must all stand up and be counted'

Unite marks International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

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Today (August 23), Unite marks what has been designated by UNESCO as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Unite Equalities urges everyone to commemorate the day and fight the racist legacy of the transatlantic slave trade in their statement below:

In 1555, John Lok became the first recorded English person to bring enslaved people to England. However, it is John Hawkins who is acknowledged as the pioneer of the slave trade, since his voyages, starting in 1562, were the beginnings of the triangle slave trade between England, Africa, the Caribbean and Americas.

From 1562 when slavery began to 1865 when the transatlantic slave trade was abolished, between 10 and 28 million African men, women and children were enslaved, persecuted and their human rights denied. By the end of slavery, millions had lost their lives.

The transatlantic trafficking of enslaved African labour resulted in brutal economic exploitation and inhumanity towards humankind.

This abominable and shameful period was unprecedented and unique in the way that these terrible acts and crimes against humanity took place on an industrial scale and was enforced by European law, which involved and was supported by many major establishments and institutions.

We pay tribute to all those who campaigned – black and white – to abolish the trafficking of enslaved African labour, particularly the enslaved African men and women themselves, former African slaves such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, white working-class groups, parliamentarians such as William Wilberforce and many others.

The legacy of the slave trade continues to manifest itself in different forms, through colonialism, apartheid, racism, poverty, economic and social deprivation, environmental damage, unfair trade agreements and huge debts owed by developing countries to rich, developed nations. The ongoing disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation is a prime example of this shameful legacy.

Nations affected by the legacy of slavery such as countries in Africa and the Caribbean should be compensated through aid, cancellation of debt and other measures. We also urge the UK government to change trade agreements to benefit poorer nations and workers within these nations.

The slave trade is a part of our history that must be condemned and never forgotten. Unite recognises the legacy of people of African descent. We fully support the call for a National Day of Remembrance. We encourage initiatives from the regions to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Unite calls on the government to support the organisation of an annual remembrance day and commit resources for education and raising awareness to mark this high profile event.

We recoil at the leftovers of slavery still evident in our society today — from racist bile shouted by far right parties, to the continual discrimination faced by black and Asian workers and worse still, the shocking normalisation of racist language and attacks which continue to blight our society.

The legacy of domination still continues and raises its ugly head through violence, comments or policies made by those around us, including senior politicians. The recent Nationality and Borders Act 2022, Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Rwanda asylum scheme and the Dorset barge are perfect examples of the extension of the Conservative government’s hostile environment policies towards black and Asian ethnic minority people. Their language of ‘invasion’, ‘assimilation’ or ‘illegal immigrant’ with ‘migrant hunters’ visiting Home Office accommodation threaten the safety of all of us and not only refugees.

We must continue to raise awareness about this history to ensure the rights and dignity of black people as well as our collective challenge against all forms of racism and discrimination. Unite’s Unity over Division campaign is one of the many avenues we use to progress this.

Unite demands that the government stamps out the emergence and unrelenting occurrence of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, whether in their so called, subtle and contemporary forms and manifestations, or by other ideologies and practices based on racial discrimination and/or superiority. All forms of racial prejudice including hate crime in the world of work and in all aspects of our lives should be eliminated.

The disproportionate impact of the cost of living crisis has exposed the reality of BAEM people’s daily lives. We must all unite, black and white, in solidarity for the rights of workers from all countries, regardless of their race or immigration status. We must stop employers from dividing workers and driving down pay and conditions, and we must challenge the relentless injustices faced by BAEM people. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must all stand up and be counted — racism hurts everyone.

By Unite Equalities