Turning the tide against racism – Scotland Stand Up To Racism conference 2020

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.

Liz McGachey

See also Making PCS central to anti racism in our communities

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