Black History Month – A Trade Union Necessity

October 3, 2011 at 11:51 AM Leave a comment

Black History Month (BHM) in the UK originated in 1987 from an initiative Akyaaba Addai Sebbo a special adviser at the Greater London Council (GLC).  Addai  organised the first event know to have taken black that years and subsequently drew up a plan to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in London. Over the years other  school, libraries local Councils and other institution began to recognise October as Black History Month in the UK and started to organise BHM events.

From the early 1990’s TUC regions and trade unions started to organise Black History Month events and within ten years they had become an important part of the calendar for black members groups within the  trade union movement.  However, for much of the trade union movement participation in these events is mainly by black workers and all too often the events are seen by the wider movement as a cultural celebration and an affirmation of the black workers groups within unions.

Black History Month is not without its critics who are uncomfortable with the increasing commercialisation of the event epitomised by this year’s Black History month Live at Wembley in London and because it is seen as ghettoising black history into one month of the year.  After much debate the South East Region of the TUC (SERTUC) who used to do an annual black history month event decided  that they would hold events that had relevance to black history throughout the years.  This led to the development of the SERTUC film which is popular both with trade unionists and working people who are not particularly involved in the movement.  The club mainly show’s films that are about history and lives the black working clash communities in the UK.

Whatever the controversy surrounding black history month it still has an important role to play in the trade union movement.  Many initiatives have been developed within the last 30 years in employment practice and by trade unions to address discriminatory attitudes, structures and practices. Understanding black history is an important part of this process and helps to counter the tendency to view black people as victims rather than as conscious agents for social change. The contribution of black workers to the labour movement, although significant, is largely undocumented. Yet black workers have led struggles for equality, for trade union recognition, for equal pay, dignity and respect at work. It is important that trade unions not only commemorate these struggle and the sacrifices of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic workers but make sure that the whole of the movement is educated about them. Only through doing this can we make hope to maintain and develop the solidarity that is necessary for both black and white working people to fight the oppression and exploitation that we face today.

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Entry filed under: Politics.

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