Equality and solidarity were key themes for trade unionists during this summer’s round of conferences and labour movement events. Cathy Pound from Trade Union Friends of Searchlight was there.
PCS 2016, Brighton
This year’s conference of the PCS civil service union took place at the end of May against a background of a huge onslaught of cuts throughout the civil service. In this context, PCS delegates still ensured that they passed motions calling for an end to the scapegoating of refugees.
One delegate spoke of his visit to the Calais “Jungle”, the refugee camp where he had seen police smashing up makeshift homes and “people being herded like cattle into shipping containers”.
Stand Up to Racism and Black Activists Rising Against Cuts held a fringe meeting entitled, “No to racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism: refugees welcome”. The meeting called for people to co-ordinate collections of material aid for the mass convoy to Calais in June.
Gypsy and Traveller Pride and Protest, London
Westminster’s Parliament Square saw Gypsies and Travellers from all over the UK come together on 21 May to protest against new housing and planning laws and to make a stand for Gypsy and Traveller pride and empowerment against racism and prejudice.
The rally, under the banner, “Dosta, Grinta, Enough!” began with a march that kept circling Parliament Square, headed by horse-drawn caravans, traps and marchers on foot with banners. Speeches were held later, on the Westminster lawns, concluding with the four organisations involved in the protest handing a petition with over 5,000 signatures in to Downing Street.The petition protested against new planning laws that would redefine “Gypsy status” to only classify those who “travel” for work purposes, removing any cultural or ethnic dimension. The new laws would also effectively end the slow but steady increase in private Traveller site development, one of the ways that people have tried to cope in the face of a dire national shortage of caravan pitches for Gypsies and Travellers.
132nd Durham Miners’ Gala
The historic Durham Miners’ Gala continues to grow from strength to strength, with the largest turnout for 60 years. The coming together and celebration of the mining community and the trade union movement resonates strongly today. Sadly, a week after presiding over his 31st gala, Davey Hopper, the Durham Miners’ Gala secretary, died unexpectedly. Tributes to Davey have flooded in, many citing his role as general secretary of the Durham Area of the National Union of Mineworkers during the difficult period after the 1984-85 miners’ strike.
Unite policy conference 2016, Brighton
Delegates at the policy conference of trade union Unite highlighted the rise in hate crimes and racist incidents in public spaces in the aftermath of the EU referendum result.
A Unite equalities fringe meeting focused on the effects of the 2016 Trade Union Act, warning that an “attack on trade unions is an attack on equalities”. All that has been gained through the development of trade union equality reps could be lost if the legislation is successful in reducing union recognition and reps’ facility time.
Unite delegates visited the Searchlight stall and had their photographs taken holding messages of solidarity, saying, “Refugees Welcome”, “Say no to hate crime” and “Black lives matter”. Look out for these on our website searchlightmagazine.com soon.
Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival 2016, Dorset
The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in mid-July, another important fixture in the trade union calendar, also had record numbers attending this year, and not only because the summer weather had finally arrived. People would have been there, I am sure, come rain or high water.
The festival commemorates the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the workers in the Dorset village who were arrested and deported for organising together, and laid the foundations for modern trade unionism in Britain.
The 2016 Trade Union Act has been passed into law since TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady addressed the festival last year, outlining the legislation’s Draconian nature.
Participants this year celebrated notable gains in amending the legislation. These included changes to some of the very specific attempts to ban the “check off” of union subs from the wages of public sector workers, and measures to restrict protests, picketing and social media campaigns, which had included plans to make everyone on a picket show personal data to the police, employers or anyone who asked for it.
Festival goers signed up in larger numbers than usual to the Trade Union Friends of Searchlight monthly e-newsletter, which highlights forthcoming anti-fascist events. And they too had photographs taken with solidarity messages.