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Black History Month

‘Dig Deeper, Look Closer, Think Bigger’ - Black History Month

This year we have devoted the Black History Month webpage to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and its impact on Black communities.

You will have seen that in towns and cities across the UK and around the world thousands of people joined in protests following the recent killing by police of a Black American man called George Floyd. Many protestors made the link between the death of George Floyd and the fact that Black people are much more likely to die of Coronavirus.

Much of the press reporting about the crisis has created the impression that Black people are more likely to be severely affected by the virus simply because they are Black, as if being Black and not racism was the problem. The fact that Black workers are far more likely to be in low paid, high risk jobs with less access to sick pay and other employment rights has been completely overlooked.

Usdaw’s own research based on a survey of over 7,000 members shows that our Black members are much more likely to work in jobs and sectors where the Union is less well organised. This means having less access to Company sick pay and to the right PPE. It also means working in roles where social distancing is harder to do such as store security guards and working on food production lines.

The Union is working with the TUC and the Labour Party to push for real and practical action to tackle racism at work and in society; we have shared our evidence with them and are supporting the TUC’s call for evidence on Black workers and Coronavirus. At national level there is work being done with several national employers to explore ways to tackle racism.

And a new TUC report called Dying on the Job, based on a survey of over 1,000 union members, reveals more about the experiences of Black workers during the crisis.

Why do we use the term Black? 

The Union uses the word to describe anyone who is subject to racism or discrimination on the basis of their skin colour. This term therefore includes a wide range of people including Caribbean, African, Chinese and Asian people or anyone whose ethnic origins originate in countries outside of Europe.

Some say that by using the term black we are ignoring the differences that exist between people who have very different cultures, ethnic origins and beliefs.

The word is an 'umbrella' term or shorthand however, and has been adopted by black trade unionists as an acceptable way of describing people who share the common experience of racism.

It is not an accurate description just like the term white is not. When speaking to and of individuals of course you would be more specific.

It is used by the trade union movement and others in much the same way as the term 'worker' is used. Not everyone who works for a wage likes to think of themselves as a worker – they might prefer to be called by their job title for example. But to get a sense of 'collective solidarity' which is the basis of trade unionism, we need to recognise what brings us together. What brings Black people together is their shared experience of racism and discrimination.

Language changes over time. The Union regularly consults Black and Asian activists over the language we adopt.

Online event for Black Members – Thursday 15 October 2020 – Save the date and join us.

These have been and continue to be very worrying and uncertain times. Work and family life have been under pressure like never before.

One of the ways in which the Union supports its members is by giving them the chance to come together and you may know that every year we traditionally organise a national Black Members' Weekend Workshop.

We can't do this at the present time due to Coronavirus but we still want to find a way to enable Usdaw Black members to get together. That's why we have decided to organise an online event for Black members.

The event is open to anyone who is at risk of discrimination or racism on the basis of their skin colour.

At this online event, there will be speakers and discussions and plenty of time for members to ask questions and share experiences if you want to.

The date is Thursday, 15 October 2020 and the event will start at 10.30am

The morning sessions will last around one and a half hours followed by a break. We will then have an afternoon session and this should finish no later than 3pm. If you can't be there for the whole thing that's fine, you can choose which sessions you want to join. We will send out a timetable nearer the time so you can see what's going on.

If you are interested in taking part all you need to do is to email [email protected] and we will then send you an invitation. We will be using Zoom so you will need access to a smart phone, laptop, tablet or PC.

Why is it only open to Black members?

Usdaw recognises that certain groups of members are under-involved in lay roles and at Union events and conferences. Black and Asian members are one of the groups of members who are under-involved. Black and Asian Members' Weekend Workshop is a practical and effective way of reaching out to Black and Asian members and encouraging their greater involvement in the Union. It is a part of the Union's broader efforts to recruit and organise members and ensure that the Union's membership and structures reflect the diversity of the workforce in the sectors in which we organise.

Furthermore, in order to make sure we are taking up the right issues we need ways of bringing members together to hear about what matters to them. Whilst all Usdaw members share similar concerns such as pay and working hours, different groups of members have distinct and specific concerns. For example:

  • Under-age sales is a concern for members in retail.
  • Youth pay rates are a concern for young members.
  • Pick rates are a concern for members in warehouses and dot com stores.

Just as the Union takes action to address these particular issues and organises conferences for each of these specific groups of members (Retail Trades Conference/Young Workers Conference/Warehouse & Distribution Conference), the Union does the same for its Black and Asian.

Usdaw recognises that different groups of members have different issues and it is only right that we give space to groups of members who share similar experiences to come together to discuss them. It helps us to hear from a section of our membership who sometimes struggle to make their voice heard in the Union and it helps us make sure that we are taking up and campaigning on the right issues.

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