CWU Black Workers Conference 2017 report


CWU re-design will “drive proportionality forward” pledged general secretary Dave Ward to yesterday’s CWU Black Workers Conference in Bristol.

Dave’s speech – and the question and answer session which followed it – rounded off a busy day for delegates, who had debated, discussed and adopted nine conference motions, plus one emergency motion, and heard several very interesting guest speakers.

Before proceedings started, delegates held up campaign posters of solidarity and support for the union’s postal and telecoms campaigns – for the Four Pillars of Security at Royal Mail and for full recognition in the EE company – in an impressive display of determination and unity.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees warmly welcomed the union to the city, thanking the CWU for its support for the Labour Party and for his candidature, while also pledging his 100 per cent backing for our union’s struggles.

Speaking about his local area, Marvin praised its multiculturalism and its many attributes and attractions, but he also talked of the city’s dark past as centre of the 18th-century Atlantic slave trade and the racism that had prevailed in Bristol.

Today, while we must recognise the huge advances against racism, our vigilance must not be relaxed, he pointed out, and insisted that we must actively fight discrimination on grounds of both race and class, criticising those who take what he described as a “kumbya” approach to this fight.

Our union’s South West Region secretary Kevin Beazer and local Labour councillor and CWU activist Kye Dudd also welcomed the conference to town, and the union’s national head of equality Linda Roy and race advisory committee chair Amarjite Singh gave their opening speeches.

“As black people. we have made changes in the CWU,” said Amarjite, but added that there was still work to be done towards the union’s aim of proportionality and told conference that the RAC had submitted a formal contribution to the internal re-design process currently under way.

In her address, Linda also stressed the need for the union to ensure that the re-design process advanced the cause of equality and she slammed the Conservative Government’s programme of austerity and cuts, which have been “very damaging to black people – particularly women.”

The recent reported rise in racist attacks and hate crimes was extremely worrying, she continued, but praised the CWU’s activists for participating in anti-racist protests.

“I’m very proud to be a member of a trade union totally committed to combatting racism wherever and whenever it appears,” she told conference.

The first resolution agreed by conference called on the union’s postal executive to establish a programme of industrial relations (IR) training for branch black and minority ethnic (BAME) reps – a resolution that was also selected for submission to the 2018 national postal conference.

And the next proposition on the agenda – which called for the ethnicity of members being put through performance management processes to be recorded in order to establish whether BAME workers are being discriminated against – will be heard at next year’s national conference of the national telecoms & financial services constituency.

Other industrial resolutions dealt with the issue of equality training for reps and the issue of equality in the union’s own publications.

International affairs discussed included a demand for urgent assistance to alleviate the plight of the Rohingya people of Burma/Myanmar and support for the Palestinians in their fight for justice, while conference also called for improved treatment of vulnerable refugees and for the CWU to join the protests against a potential visit from US President Donald Trump.

Show Racism the Red Card was another campaign that won full support from CWU black workers – with a particular emphasis on maximising participation in the forthcoming Wear Red Day, and there was a poignant apeall from veteran London Postal Engineering Branch activist Cyril Onyejekwe in support of a motion to raise awareness of the higher risk that groups of BAME men face from prostate cancer.

Guest speaker Judah Adunbi told delegates the horrific story of his treatment at the hands of local police – who tasered him while he was out walking his dog – and of his determined campaign to hold the officers accountable, and the final guest of the day was Madge Dresser, the associate professor of history at the University of the West of England, who gave conference a fascinating insight into Bristol’s historic involvement with the Atlantic slave trade.

Dave Ward’s speech highlighted evidence – from crime statistics and from a recent government report – indicating that racist attitudes are still prevalent in UK society today and he condemned the hi-jacking of the Brexit debate by racists and the atmosphere that had been generated over this period.

“We have a massive role to work with other organisations to counter racism.” he said, adding that the union would be increasing its involvement with the Show Racism the Red Card initiative, as well as continuing to work with the Stand up to Racism campaign.

The union needed to bring this anti-racism work into the workplaces, he continued, adding that there were plans to approach the CWU’s two major companies – Royal Mail and BT – with proposals to put this plan into action.

Turning to the re-design project, Dave said that its key aim was to “get much closer to our members” and that this would “drive proportionality forward.”

The project provided “a real opportunity to change this union and to improve this union,” he explained, pointing to the “vital role of the union in bringing people together in the workplace.”

All delegates were asked to put forward their questions, and a lively Q&A session followed, with a wide range of enquiries covering various aspects of the union’s equality agenda.

Amarjite Singh thanked Dave for his attendance – particularly for taking questions from the audience – and then brought conference to a close with a resounding call for unity.

“We’ve got to unite and win on both sides of this union,” he urged, warning that the future of the CWU depended on this, and then he raised his fist and concluded with the one word: “Solidarity.”