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Looking Back, Moving Forward: MU Member Diljeet Bhachu’s Opening Speech to the STUC Black Workers’ Conference

This year’s STUC Black Workers’ Conference was chaired by MU Executive Committee member Diljeet Bhachu, who reflected on how challenging the previous 18-months have been for Black workers across Scotland, and the importance of solidarity across the Trade Union movement.

Published: 04 October 2021 | 4:34 PM
Photograph of MU Executive Committee Member Diljeet Bhachu, speaking into a microphone.
“How do we continue to respond to the needs of the Black Lives Matter movement, the needs of Black workers in Scotland and around the world?”

“Conference, it gives me great joy to welcome you to our 25th STUC Black Workers’ Conference as Chair.

On behalf of my union, the Musicians’ Union, without whom I wouldn’t be sitting here, I want to note that this is a particularly exciting and momentous occasion as we have two delegates to this conference for the first time, and this is also the first time for us to have a member chair conference, so it gives me great pride to be here.

You’ll note that our theme for this year is “Looking Back, Moving Forward” – a fitting ode to our silver anniversary, but also poignant as we emerge from a period in which the world has irreversibly changed.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on the major inequalities faced by Black workers

It’s been an extremely difficult 18 months for Black workers across Scotland. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on the major inequalities faced by Black workers and we will see this reflected in conference motions this year.

Black workers are more likely to be in insecure work and experience precarity than our white counterparts. We are also less likely to be in jobs that allow us to work from home. All of these factors combined have left many Black workers more vulnerable to COVID-19, and we must fight to end these inequalities so this never happens again.

Last year saw the Black Lives Matter movement inspire millions of people worldwide to come out to fight against racism, in ways we have never seen before. I’ve personally thought a lot about why this is, this sudden outpouring of support and anti-racism activism. We know that the murder of George Floyd – not a one off – triggered a global response greater than anything in my lifetime.

Perhaps in part because, for the first time, through the changes in our day-to-day lives from the COVID-19 pandemic, more people were stopping to take note and reflect. Perhaps in part because our lives are increasingly online, in real-time, creating our own news networks. Perhaps because for the first time, the world saw anti-Black murder by police brutality before their own eyes in such a way that it finally hit home.

So how, then, do we sustain this renewed activism as the pandemic eases and we are asked to slowly resume something resembling our past lives? How do we keep these lockdown activists energised and active? How do we continue to respond to the needs of the Black Lives Matter movement, the needs of Black workers in Scotland and around the world, and deal with the new fights that are arising around us, such as the fight for the rights of Afghan citizens, both for those who remain in Afghanistan, and those who made it out.

Channeling energy into making real change

Anti-racism work has never been more important. We need to channel this energy into making real change, by organising in our workplaces and communities, by continuing to encourage those around us to think about the impact of racism, and do something about it.

Last night at the annual Black History Month lecture, Sir Geoff Palmer made the following suggestion in response to a question from the audience on how to take the work forward. He said that when we are faced with racist actions or remarks, we must refuse to accept them. We must challenge our family, friends and foes. As we move forward, we must continue to stand united against systemic racism that plagues our society.

This year’s conference is an opportunity for us to gather, albeit virtually, and extend our solidarity to each other and across the trade union movement. While many of you will probably feel like you’re missing evening social, we have an exciting performance by rising star in spoken word, Courtney Stoddart, so do make sure you come back from lunch to tune in for that.

Finally, I want to thank my colleagues in the Black Workers’ Committee for their support in planning and delivering conference. This includes three outstanding activists who – due to being so brilliant in their professional lives – had to stand down from the committee. Usman Ali, Melina Valdelievre and Chigozie-Joe Adigwe have given so much energy, knowledge and time to this committee and the cause, and so I thank them for everything they have done.”

Find out more about this years STUC Black Workers’ Conference, and the two motions raised by MU delegates.

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