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Video from Fran Heathcote asking for support for her re election as PCS President
On 22nd February 2020 I attended the Stand Up To Racism Scotland Conference in Adelaides in Glasgow. After attending the planning meetings on behalf of PCS, I was excited to see the finished outcome. I wasn’t disappointed.
The planning committee had decided on the name of the conference prior to the General Election, as we knew that whatever the result there would still be work to be done on tackling racism, however one result would mean a lot more work for us. Unfortunately that was the result we got.
The conference itself was well attended, despite being held on a cold, wet and windy Saturday. We started off with an opening plenary, titled “After Johnson’s election – how can we turn the tide against racism?” with a video of the first speaker from Aufstehen gegen Rassismus, which is an anti-racism and anti-fascism organisation in Germany. We also heard speakers from SUTR Scotland, RMT union, as well as a shopkeeper from Niddrie and Anas Sarwar as convener of the cross party group on tackling Islamophobia.
There were workshops – three before lunch and three after – which featured a number of speakers from various anti-racism organisations, trade unions and university students. The workshops ran at the same times, meaning we had to pick which we wanted to attend, some were in the venue, others were across the road in the Novotel. All looked interesting, however prior to lunch I attended one entitled “Leave or Remain – say no to the hostile environment”. We heard from a Glasgow University Student who had been granted indefinite leave to remain a number of years ago, however changes to this status by Theresa May has led to a long, ongoing legal battle.
We also heard from an International Officer from Edinburgh UCU, who talked about the points based immigration policy, which he said is already in place but would now include EU citizens. This would be pitting skilled workers against unskilled, however as one of the speakers had pointed out there is no such thing as an unskilled worker. There would also be a requirement of a minimum £25,000 annual salary, which is more than a large number of the government’s own staff earn. He talked about how low attendance can affect an immigrant student’s visa, how he needs to keep attendance for that reason. If UCU was to take strike action and an immigrant student’s class wasn’t cancelled due to the lecturer not being a union member, that student would be forced to cross a picket line or be marked as absent. One attendee talked about universities using GPS trackers in phones to record attendance, and that information could eventually be used by potential employers.
We heard from someone who had moved to Scotland from Nigeria to study. He was completely blind and had been promised a guide and specialist equipment. He paid 3 times that of a Scottish student, only to arrive to equipment that didn’t work and be told that he would be able to work out how to get around the university. After complaining he was thrown out, and only remains in the country thanks to UCU and Positive Action in Housing.
After lunch I attended a workshop entitled “Organising against racism in the workplace” which PCS NEC member and Left Unity West of Scotland convener John Jamieson was one of the speakers at, along with a women’s & equalities officer from Unite. John passed on solidarity wishes from Mark Serwotka, Fran Heathcote and the NEC. He spoke about how PCS tackles racism, the fight we have ahead due to the election result and how over the past few years personal cases involving racism have increased. The Unite speaker was fairly new to the role, however talked about educating members, as well as looking at the make up of workplaces and union committees and seeing how representative they are, particularly regarding BAME members. She said that she had recently got 3 BAME members more active just by approaching them and inviting them to meetings, which she found was easier than getting women involved.
We heard a story of how a Polish member of staff at a high school had sat at a table which had swastikas etched into it. The management tried to clean the desk but they were so deep into the woodwork that the table had to be thrown out. When a complaint was made, HR said it was low priority. It was pointed out that this is a hate crime that has essentially been covered up.
This workshop was particularly interesting as it was mainly trade unionists in attendance, however it could have been held over a whole day and we would still have been able to continue talking about these issues.
Other workshops covered islamophobia, antisemitism, climate justice, refugees welcome, institutional racism and cultural racism.
There was then the closing plenary, entitled “#WorldAgainstRacism – mobilising for UN Anti Racism Day demonstration”, during which we heard from speakers from Scottish Youth Climate Strike, Unison Scotland, All Under One Banner and Stand Up To Racism. This was mainly to inform attendees about the Stand Up To Racism march and demonstration in Glasgow on 21st March 2020 – 11am at George Square.
Following this conference I have joined up to SUTR Scotland, and fully intend to become more involved. Racism is unfortunately on the rise, and we must fight back against it. We must tackle it in our workplaces and in our communities.
See also Making PCS central to anti racism in our communities
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UCU union lecturers at Manchester University started 14 days of strikes last week picketing in heavy rain so I joined them with other trade unionists and students in solidarity. People who don’t work in universities tend to think that academics are well paid, work in lovely buildings and get paid to read books and think. But the reality for most of them is long hours, heavy workloads, poor pay and insecure contracts ─ familiar conditions to many public sector workers.
I met some academics from the Spanish state who teach degrees in Spanish. They are paid just £20,000 a year and wouldn’t qualify to come to Britain under Boris Johnson’s racist immigration plans. It is obvious that the only people responsible for these low wages are senior management in Manchester University.
I met another young academic who would have been on strike but their teaching has been cut this semester, so they was there in solidarity.
From Monday 24 February there will be 74 colleges and universities on strike.
The strikers need solidarity from other unions and Manchester Trades Union Council has organised a UCU Strike Solidarity Day this Tuesday 25 February from 8.30am. They are asking trade unionists to join strikers and students and bring branch banners, TU flags and solidarity collections because nothing says we support you like cards full of signatures and money.
We should be building support for the UCU strikes across the trade union movement.
Meet at 8.30am, Tuesday 25 February, University Place, Oxford Road, Manchester.
Sarah Ensor, branch sec IOPC (pc)
Trade unionists have a specific angle to bring to the climate justice movement. BEIS not only lead on the Government’s woefully inadequate response to climate breakdown, but also are leading in attacking rights of workers to take collective action.
PCS activists in BEIS were especially keen to stand up and be counted in opposing even more Tory restrictions on our right to strike – activists called for BEIS to withdraw plans for new legislation to ban all-out strikes by transport workers saying; “We stand against all anti-union laws, both existing and proposed, and believe that free unions and a full right to strike, including over political issues, are essential for confronting the climate crisis.”
Over the last couple of years there have been a number of racist attacks around Edinburgh. SUtR has worked with other organisations, including trade unions, Unite Against Fascism and local politicians in order to build responses to these.
This has been in the context of a resurgence of overt racism, particularly by some populist politicians, and PCS recognises that the workplaces in which we represent members are not immune from scapegoating the most vulnerable in society.
In May 2018, a Syrian refugee sustained life threatening injuries in a racially aggravated attempted murder within our city, with the attacker reportedly having said “go back to your country”. As a PCS DWP GEC member and Left Unity member I took part in the SUtR campaign which was centrally involved in organising a protest of people to make it clear that racists were not welcome in Edinburgh.
A few months later, in August, a Sikh temple near where I work was fire bombed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but again as part of SUtR I worked with the local community, including the Muslim Women’s Association, to hold firstly a vigil and then a march and rally. As I told the media at the time, we wanted the Sikh community and other religious minorities to know that we stood in full solidarity with them. PCS members came on the march with a branch banner and PCS flags. I spoke on behalf of the PCS at the rally of Edinburgh SUtR and a number of others, including a Hibernian football club supporters’ group, who brought their own banner.
PCS members in my workplace were very pleased that other members of their union had attended the demonstration and were keen to know how it had gone, as they were alarmed when they learned about this attack within the vicinity of where they work.
This was less than three months after a Sikh temple, along with a mosque, had been attacked in Leeds. Those assaults had followed a march in support of the jailed fascist Tommy Robinson. And later that year Robinson threatened to come to Edinburgh, to attend a Hearts v Rangers football match. As part of SUtR PCS helped organise around 100 football supporters to leaflet outside the stadium on the day telling Robinson he wasn’t welcome. We succeeded – he didn’t turn up for the game, and posted on Facebook complaining about being prevented from attending. Many of the fans thanked us for what we had done, and emphasised that racists were not welcome at their club.
Most recently, we helped organise a vigil after two shopkeepers of Asian origin were violently attacked by a gang of 20 youths, threatened with being knived and hit with a crowbar while being called racist names, demanding to know why they had come to this country. The gang had been hanging around the shop calling people racist names and threatening them over a two month period, but nothing had been done about this. SUtR circulated a petition calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that it’s policy of zero tolerance to racism is properly enforced; a position that Left Unity and PCS fully endorse.
These few examples illustrate why it is so important for working class organisations to be involved in Stand Up to Racism, and why I am particularly proud to have moved the motion at PCS Conference for our union to affiliate to SUtR.
I attended the recent SUtR trade union Conference as part of the PCS delegation led by Fran Heathcote and Mohammed Shafiq, both of whom are Left Unity members and whose excellent speeches demonstrated the seriousness with which we takethe fight against racism.
Racism comes from those in power who would seek to turn us against one another rather than fighting back against austerity. we’re confident we can turn the tide against racism but we must keep working very hard towards that objective.
Steve West is standing for the DWP GEC as part of the Left Unity slate
Several mornings this week, I have been proud to support our PCS Interserve strikers on their picket line outside the Foreign and Commonwealth office. These low paid members are on strike from 3rd to 28th February for a set of very basic demands.
They are on strike to get basic conditions that most of us take for granted including proper sick pay and trade union recognition. The PCS NEC have pledged our full support and to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, every step of the way until they win a better deal in the workplace.
This week (Tuesday), we held a strike rally at the picket line to coincide with Heart Unions week, supported by many Labour MPs, where speakers included Mark Serwotka, Frances O Grady, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and PCS Parliamentary group chair, Chris Stephens from the SNP. Having such high profile support really gave the strikers a boost, for many, this is the first time that they have been on strike and it really helped their morale.
On Wednesday, they held a successful and well-supported parliamentary drop-in to further raise awareness of their campaign. We really need the FCO and the Foreign Secretary to engage with us now – this dispute would be so simple to settle if the willingness was there.
The strikers are picketing every morning and it is very cold. Many of the strikers don’t have English as a first language, and the banner which reads “We speak many languages but through our union we have one voice” really has a resonance.
Spirits remain high as they leaflet people who pass by and there are core team who picket every single morning. Solidarity is always appreciated and just spending an hour on their picket line if you happen to be in London really helps.
Left Unity members are encouraged to support the picket lines if you are in London, donate to the strike fund or send a simple message of support. Solidarity is not just an empty slogan for us. We will do all that we can to support these low paid workers, recognising that if we can win disputes like these, not only do we give these workers a better deal at work but the whole union and its members are stronger for it.
Fran is standing on the Democracy Alliance slate for President
Well thank you so much for that warm welcome, and friends what a great honour it is to be here representing my Union PCS Union at the Stand up to Racism Conference. The work that you do has been essential to defeat racism and expose fascism in our workplaces and communities.
Whether it is defeating anti-Semitism, calling out Islamophobia or standing with the Windrush generation, you have always been on that front line and I and members of minority communities take huge inspiration and appreciate the work every single of you being here today and stand up to racism do, so thank you for all that you do.
So we don’t often get the chance to celebrate our success, what an extraordinary year it has been since the last time we were here. In January I had a meeting with the Vice President of Facebook and we had a talk about Islamophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hatred. She said she wanted to make Facebook the platform of equality and tackling discrimination, harassment – I said to her, she goes how can I do it and I said firstly you have to ban Tommy Robinson and other far right leaders.
Now what I didn’t expect – I had such an impact on here that less than three weeks later she banned Tommy Robinson from Facebook and I said YES!
That’s when the problems started for me in my personal life. I got around 3000 hateful messages on Facebook, Twitter and Social Media. I had threats of life against me. I had threats that the far right was going to rape my wife and children. I was followed on the street, my address was published on far right websites and fake news were printed about me. I was literally told that to watch my back – we are coming for you.
At that time, it was quite a dangerous time for me but I did not give up and the reason I didn’t give up was the struggle against racism and fascism, whatever the risks to ourselves and our families requires us to show true leadership and requires us to be on the frontline.
So I never let them defeat me; I got up, continued and I am still standing today.
So I know the general election wasn’t the result we expected. But I think it always an opportunity to pause; reflect and celebrate the successes we achieved. We defeated Tommy Robinson from becoming a member of the European Parliament. I see Nahella Ashraf here; I see Paul Jenkins who single handily exposed Tommy Robinson in the North West. So yes we might be a bit disillusioned and we might be struggling with the political outlook for the future; but one thing I do know is that we’re never going to give in to racists and xenophobes and we are always going to stand together.
As Trade Unionists because that’s the important thing – all the people in this room and all of our colleagues in the Trade union movement are working very strongly to defeat racism and xenophobia. And just to go back to my Union PCS, when I joined many many years ago there was little diversity in our top team. We know have three strong black women on the NEC, including our very first black Vice president and hopefully in months and years to come we will see a future black leader of our Union.
PCS have been at the heart of the campaign against racism, we have never stopped supporting Stand up to Racism, Unite against Fascism; whenever there has been a struggle we’ve been on the frontline and our Union is committed to continue that support.
Tackling racism in the workplace is the title of the session, I have supported some members dealing with racism following the Brexit referendum. In a Jobcentre a Civil Servant said the day after the referendum said we have taken back control and its time to get rid of the EU Scum to a migrant worker from the EU. It took huge support and hard work to get justice for our members.
It’s about tackling racism in the workplace, it’s what one of my colleague has said; that the language of the far right has been mainstreamed into our politics and our workplaces and we must confront it. I am proud of the fact my Union PCS recognises educating our members and activists is so important – that’s why we are starting to roll out our anti-racism training and awareness sessions on the far right for all our members so they are equipped with the knowledge and experience to take on the battle.
So if we can defeat fascism and racism as we have done over the last twelve months. If we have the same commitment and same passion to do wat we have did in the last twelve months. I am very confident not only will we see the finishing of UKIP, the EDL and Football Lads Alliance, we will defeat the Tories at the next election.
Mohammed Shafiq is standing in the DWP GEC elections on the Left Unity slate