On 18 June, Tubeworker held a successful meeting to discuss the Black Lives Matter struggle. The discussion was led by Glen Hart, chair of the RMT's Black and Ethnic Minority Members Advisory Committee. The article below is based on a summary of the discussion at the meeting.
Some comrades have also noted that some workmates and fellow union members have been making "All Lives Matter"-type arguments in response to the recent movement. Declaring that "Black Lives Matter" is not about suggesting other lives matter less, but merely affirming people of colour's rights to equality and justice in the face of ongoing racism and systemic oppression.
Tubeworker supports the global protests against police brutality and racism. The issues raised by the protests are not just problems in the USA. They affect us too.
Britain has its own history of police violence against people of colour, with campaigns like the United Families and Friends Campaign highlighting deaths in custody. And just as America must reckon with its history of slavery and segregation, so must Britain confront a history of slavery and colonialism.
Although we’re brought up to believe the police “protect us”, their history shows that, as an institution, their role is more about protecting property than people. We need adequate funding of mental health and community services to push back the role of the police.
Racial inequality is also something we experience directly in the workplace. 30.5% of the overall TfL workforce is BAME. In 2019, a white TfL employee earned on average 9.2% more than their BAME workmates (Source: TfL Ethnicity Pay Gap Report, 2019). This figure is based on directly-employed workers’ salaries only; if outsourced workers were included, it would be even higher.
Outsourcing itself can act as a form of discrimination; by outsourcing sections of the workforce with high concentrations of people of colour and migrants, such as cleaning, catering, and security, TfL/LU have created a situation where the majority-BAME/migrant sections of the workforce are those with the worst terms and conditions.
BAME workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. This is because BAME workers are more likely to be in higher-risk, frontline jobs, with inadequate PPE, as the tragic murder of Belly Mujinga shows. Some TfL bosses have spoken up in support of BLM; they should start by addressing racial inequality in their own company.
As workers and trade unionists, we need to organise.
Our unions must support BLM protests, and help develop a wider working-class anti-racist programme that demands equality in jobs, housing, services, and education. We also need to confront far-right counter-protests, and persuade white working-class people drawn to them that their interests lie in common struggle with workers of colour, rather than the toxic politics of nationalism.
There is work to do within our unions, too. RMT, the majority union on LU, has never had a black person, or a woman of any ethnicity, in any officer role (Regional Organiser, Assistant General Secretary, or General Secretary). In Aslef, TSSA, and Unite too, the higher up the union hierarchy you go, the fewer black and brown faces you see.
Our unions must be more reflective of the workforces they organise. A good starting point is for BAME committees within unions to have more power to organise campaigns, rather than merely being “advisory”.
We understand that some workmates have concerns about large demonstrations at a time when virus transmission is still a risk, and welcome creative thinking about ways to take action whilst maintaining social distancing. But we also defend the right to protest, and think it’s important to remember that it's failures of government policy that are to blame for the high death toll, not anti-racist protests.