by Julia Armstrong
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine September-October 2016, issue 17. Email UAF to ask for printed copies firstname.lastname@example.org
The response of British trade unionists to racism and attacks on asylum seekers and refugees shows the potential for setting up local Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up to Racism groups.
Both campaigns are already supported by several national unions and Facebook groups such as Trade Unionists 4 Calais have been taking aid on solidarity visits.
Here, two trade unionists in the North West share their experience of organising anti-racist work among members.
John Morgan, general secretary of the NUT’s Manchester Teachers’ Association, sends out information to 3,500 members about anti-racist and anti-fascist activities.
He said that they had a good response to a call to send aid to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais.
“A couple of members really went overboard to get involved in collecting books and clothes for Calais. They raised their game for the Convoy to Calais last June.
“We got teachers to send everything to our office and it was packed up by some members of Stand Up to Racism.”
He added: “We’ve been involved in Stand Up to Racism. We’ve done quite a bit in terms of speaking at their meetings and trying to get publicity for them. We put details up on Facebook and try to get support going.”
The union banner is taken on anti-racist demonstrations and photographs are posted on social media.
John said many teachers would like to get more involved but the huge demands put upon them make that difficult. The issue is close to their hearts, though. “When I’ve spoken to members, we’re on the frontline. These poor kids, the few that are allowed into our country, turn up in their schools. They try to integrate and help them and their families.
“We put out a lot of information about refugees and asylum seekers for members about ‘what you can do to help’.”
Because the union has a political fund, the Manchester branch could actively support Unite Against Fascism’s campaigning against former British National Party leader Nick Griffin when he stood for re-election to the European Parliament in the North West seat.
Liverpool junior doctor Megan Parsons, currently studying tropical medicine, has taken up anti-racist issues in her union, the British Medical Association (BMA).
She said: “We started with having an NHS block on the Stand Up to Racism demonstration on 19th March. Doctors, nurses and students organised that.
“Off the back of that, we got better contacts with the BMA and other doctors who are keen.
“We got motions passed at the junior doctors’ conference almost unanimously, calling to accept more refugees and doing more to help refugees in the UK and agreed to working with campaign groups.”
Four doctors joined the Convoy to Calais and BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter wrote condemning the action of the French authorities in refusing to let the aid through.
Megan is really pleased with the response that campaigning has had at all levels in the BMA, including the national leadership.
“We have a new junior doctors’ chair who wants us to be doing more asylum seeker and refugee action.“
Megan said that the junior doctors’ action has made it easier to take up concerns not directly linked to work issues in the union. “Because of the strikes, people are discussing broader politics more.”
It does have a direct link to the NHS, too. The way that migrants are scapegoated can affect their health, including people who are already under the care of British healthworkers.
“How the BMA is acting now, I’m proud to be in it,” said Megan. “There are some people who aren’t used to a union and what they do. If you post on the BMA groups that issues around refugees and asylum seekers are important, they don’t see how we should organise around that. They say ‘you should just deal with my specific job’.
“Then you can discuss with them and say it’s partly because they could become our patients and within a global scale we are looking at their health and well-being. You have to persuade some people a bit but we’re getting there.”