Saturday, 24 October 2009

Making History Real


Yesterday I was at the UNISON (West Midland Region) event for Black History Month at Birmingham town hall - a fantastic venue. Working with Gurdeep Singh, the region's leaning organiser, we delivered a workshop Black Workers & The Trade Union

The workshop rested on Gurdeep's original idea of caused and consequences in the way that black workers have self-organised as a way to build trade union organisation and we used the 1976-77 Grunwick dispute as the basis for the workshop.

Just prior to the workshops Roger McKenzie, the region's newly appointed regional secretary (read his blog at: delivered a barnstorming session on his own personal experiences as a young black man growing up in 70's Walsall and how that informed his trade union history. A key message that he delivered, and which wondefully helped the Grunwick workshop, was his insistence that we 'make history real' by identifying its relevance to what we do today and that we rekindle the 'fir and brimstone' that was part and parcel of what inspired disputes led by black workers.

I used the workshop to encourage support for an on-going dispute in Birmingham at the 2 sisters poultry processing plant where 54 workers have been sacked for engaging in industrial action linked to racism in the workplace.

Read more:

A key theme emerging from the workshop, both in a historical and contemporary sense, is how best black workers can gain the support of white workers in support of campaigns with a distinct element of race and/or racism within them.

Although we discussed classic examples of this I'm keen to get your views.




ToadBoy said...

Racism is as much an issue for white workers as it is for black.

Problem is that white workers won't understand that it is an issue until the BNP gets more power and starts to attack things they do understand like the elderly, people with disabilities.

By then it'll be too late. Like an old saying I can't remember in full but was basically about nobody speaking up for the jews, and by the time the NAzis came for them there was no one left to defend them.

Jas said...

I agree mostly with the last person particularly because I believe that a workplace that allows one form of discrimination to flourish will turn a blind eye also to others over time.

Essentially, the bullying and intimidation that is behind racism is easily applied in other contexts.

From my point of view it is this that needs to be a key driver in getting white co-workers to support their black colleagues on issues around racism.

This isn't to say though that we just say, at a selfish level, protect these workers today, beacuse it could be you tomorrow (like the last person posted) but it's more about getting workers who might not feel that racism goes on beacuse they don't experience it or don't see it to understand how it appears in the workplace and how it impacts on workers.

Hope you think that was useful Ian.


Ian Manborde said...


Some very good points raised which, as we discussed at the UNISON event in Birmingham, centre on the essential issue which is that racism of any form is an issue for all workers.

I look forward to other comments.



Muhammed said...


There are plenty of strategies we can use:

- Send all white trade unionists the clip of that Nazi Griffin on Question time and ask them some basic questions like - what will you do when they come for you?

- On basic reps courses run that old WEA game we have talked about before 'what if' where you get people to imagine themselves in war zones etc and they have to defend themselve from abuse when they try and get into another safe country.

- Lets massively increase the number of black reps, officers ad leaders in the movement. The more that we normalise our position the more likely that white colleagues will support our specific needs.

- Mainstream information about race-related disputes like the one in Birmingham and write them specifically in the context of trade union defence of workers against racism. Make the link between an attack on trade unionism and black workers clear

Just a few ideas for you Ian - even you need help sometimes.


Roger Mckenzie said...

Thanks for the kind words about my speech. Wish I could have stuck around for the rest of the day.