Solidarity is Our Strength

May 4, 2010 at 11:13 AM 1 comment

Over the last few months race equality has appeared back on the political agenda with politicians arguing that it is social economic status i.e. class rather than race that most affects peoples life chances.  For trade unionists the fact that race and class are related is nothing new and counter posing them as if they are separate is misleading.  After all if you cannot get access to a job, get promotion or are confined to low paid jobs in the labour market because of the colour of your skin then your social economic status is bound to be poor.  This is why tackling institutional racism is so important and dealing with racism in the workplace so vital.

The TUC has recently published a new negotiators guide on tackling racism in the workplace which gives reps and activists some practical advice on how to take forward issues of racism on a collective basis.  However, negotiators’ guides in themselves are not enough and there is a need for trade unionists to rediscover why a collective approach to dealing with racism in the workplace is needed. 

All too often racism is seen as an individual and legal problem that is only to be dealt with when a member complains that they have been discriminated against.  As a result the issue of racism has been externalised from the workplace and the debate about how to deal with race discrimination has become centred on whether unions should apply a 50% plus success criteria when deciding whether to take cases to the employment tribunal.  That is not to say there is not a debate to be had and action to be taken to address the level and competence of individual representation when it comes to unions handling racism cases, however this cannot represent the be all and end all of a trade union strategy for dealing with racism at work.

The Employment Tribunals Annual Report for 2008/9 showed that of 3970 race discrimination cases submitted to the tribunal only 1074 reach employment tribunal stage,  of these 694 were struck out, 236 lost at hearing and only 129 were successful at hearing.  This amounts to a 3% success rate for race discrimination claims which is the success rate for all discrimination claims on an annual basis.  If our strategy for tackling race discrimination in the workplace rests solely on employment law then I believe that it is strategy that is not only bound to fail as the figures indicate, but shows a real lack of ambition as it only seeks to sort out the problems after they have happened, obtain justice after injustice has taken place and obtain compensation for the hurt that has already been inflicted.

There is a need to rediscover the ambition that led black workers to organise in trade unions and that was to stop race discrimination happening in the first place and to redress the historic imbalance and disadvantage that black workers suffer in the labour market.  This can only be done by developing an understanding that race discrimination in the workplace is a collective issue for everybody not just the individual that may have suffered.  It is about involving all members in the fight for fairness at work and a just working environment. This can only happen if there is open and collective discussion in the workplace and the union about the measures and actions that members need take collectively to fight racism, so that pressure can be put on management to address the issues and make systemic and institutional changes in the workplace.  Only then can we say we are tackling racism in the workplace rather than dealing with its casualties. Solidarity is our strength, now more than ever is the time to use it.


Entry filed under: Politics.

Words Words Words The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating

1 Comment Add your own

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