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British Unionist Fights Fascism
‘I am a trade unionist. I oppose fascism’
Jason Hunter, a Unison officer in the North West, makes an impassioned defence of trade union anti-fascism
Trade unions are proud to challenge the extremism of the far right which threatens hatred and division in our communities. We have always had a social conscience and we’ve always fought for a better deal for those least able to fight for themselves. So it is wholly natural that our activists oppose racism, bigotry and the politics of hate with a passion. Whenever the politics of hate threaten, we get stuck in.
Racism has been described by a leading UNISON activist in this region, who experienced it at school, as “the cowardly politics of the school bully” – something that no one should have to endure. However, the far right would stereotype us as ignoring real “bread and butter issues” and concentrating only on protecting minorities to the disadvantage of most of our members.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not just that unions oppose racism because some of our members are directly affected. As racism is arbitrary unfair treatment, the very thing unions were founded to challenge for all workers, it is unthinkable that we would do other than oppose it. We stand up to those with power and influence to find real solutions to our members’ problems. We also reject the divisiveness of racists that would weaken the unity we need to defend and improve members’ terms and conditions.
Indeed, we oppose the politics of hate because it is in the interests of all our members.
Unions are particularly strong among public service workers, the very people who have to put back together societies broken by racist or sectarian division. The fire fighters, police support staff and the health workers are directly hit by violent explosions, such as those in the 2001 disturbances in Oldham and Burnley.
We further see blaming minorities for everything as a cowardly substitute for challenging those with real power to address the real problems with which we deal every day.
However, our commitment goes even deeper than that. This is a “bread and butter” matter for unions. We are only as strong as our members. Our influence to get the better terms and conditions our members deserve depends on our having a high and growing member-ship. We have to recruit all workers; we pick and choose at our peril. Yet where we do recruit all workers our bargaining power grows and we get treated seriously as we deserve.
To exclude people from membership, as the BNP (British National Party) would have us do, on the grounds of race, or other arbitrary reasons would give a green light to bad employers to squeeze unions out and just employ, and exploit, those whom the far right would have us abandon. This would be bad for all workers. Yet this is just what the BNP want.
When the BNP recently condemned the TUC for working with Polish unions to stop what Paul Routledge, in the Daily Mirror, calls “bastard employers” cruelly exploiting migrants, they condemned this as treacherous. They know that if we fail to get decent minimum conditions for all, unions would be weakened. But this is precisely what they want. Unionised workers out of work, migrants blamed and a rising tide of hatred from which only the BNP will benefit. The far right are not just enemies of those they hate, they are the enemies of all workers.
In the NHS and other key services that have depended on migrant labour from abroad due to chronic skills shortages, it would be suicidal for trade unions not to organise all workers. BNP policies would cause these services to collapse, if people they target are driven out.
If the far right become mainstream, extreme anti-union policies will result. The extremists hate unions with a vengeance as we stand up for workers of all backgrounds and deny them the chance to divide people. Their Führerprinzip and autocratic nature, which they share with all rightwing bigots, would bring them in to conflict with unions. It’s no accident that all dictators attack unions first as we have the means to organise people to resist them.
However, as much as anything, unions reject the BNP claims to be the only ones listening to the white working class. Union activists spend their lives knee deep in the problems of all workers. That we do not always succeed quickly against difficult and complex problems is twisted by the fascists to imply we are not fit for purpose. Yet a cursory glance at their record as councillors indicates the disaster that would befall workers if we had to rely on them.
Unions are getting on with it. For example UNISON is currently winning rises for low-paid contractors bringing them into line with NHS wages. All major national pay claims are bottom loaded to get more for the lower paid. Also unions have found that the lessons learned from challenging racism can be applied to benefit all workers. Challenging discrimination against women, disabled workers, and on the basis of age, challenging bullying or low pay, can benefit all workers at some stage of their lives, and pioneering work against racism helps us develop our strategies to fight all inequality.
Unions unreservedly campaign against unfair discrimination and stand for full equality and fairness for all.
© Searchlight Magazine 2008