14 Jan 2008

Lest We Forget

UNISON recently produced the following article about Black Members Conference which was held 11 - 13 January 2008 in Glasgow.

Until black history is taught in UK schools, there will be no appreciation of the contribution black people have made to making Britain ‘great’, UNISON declared at the weekend. Delegates at the union’s national black members’ conference in Glasgow called for black history – in particular, the history of the transatlantic slave trade and the part played by enslaved people in their own emancipation – to be included in the curriculum and taught at all levels, from primary school through to further education. No matter what our skin colour, it is vital to understand the past if we are to stamp out racism and forge a successful multicultural society based on mutual respect, conference agreed. The transatlantic slave trade and moves to combat its legacy of racism dominated the agenda, and also featured in a panel debate. “It is a legacy that none of us can be proud of,” UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said as he addressed delegates on the opening day of conference. “It is a legacy and a history that taints us today.” Mr Prentis hailed the government’s adoption of 23 August as a national day of remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition as a “great achievement for our union”.UNISON’s call for a national slavery memorial day was a key part of last year’s Breaking the Chains campaign.“We must never let people forget that the same racism that allowed slavery to exist is the same racism that people still face,” Mr Prentis said. He promised the union would not rest until the struggle for equality was won, and that in the run-up to this year’s local government elections, UNISON would once more lead the fight to “kick the BNP and other racists back in the gutter where they belong”. And he urged more black members to put themselves forward to lead and shape the union, “making sure that the union fits you, rather than you fitting the union”. Having more black representatives would help the union reach out to the next generation of black activists and stay relevant, truly giving black members a voice, Mr Prentis said, adding: “It is solidarity that binds us together and it is solidarity that will drive us forward. ”Conference also heard from the National Union of Students’ Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who explained how, with help from UNISON, the NUS black students’ campaign was tackling racism and injustice on UK campuses, making “a real and powerful difference to the lives of young black people”. Other guest speakers included former political prisoner Khiang Maung Maung from the Burma Campaign and UNISON president Norma Stephenson, who said UNISON was working to put equality at the heart of everything it does.Ms Stephenson said that as chair of the Labour Party’s women race and equality committee, she was able to ensure the union’s agenda featured highly in party policy talks, and she pledged UNISON would throw its weight behind strengthening current laws. “We must continue to campaign to get the provisions of the Race Relations Act extended to the private and voluntary sectors, to protect black workers from appalling rates of pay and unjust disciplinary action, and to get the legislation properly enforced to make the public sector fully compliant,” she said. Issues debated included tackling the causes of gang, gun and knife culture, discrimination against migrant workers, the need to stop scapegoating Muslims, and reform of police ‘stop and search’ procedures.

More on UNISON's Black Members

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