Celebrate Black history and create equality today

The fight for equality runs through everything we do the whole year round, says Tim Roberts

Autumn has clearly arrived — the days are colder, the nights longer and my house has become a sanctuary for daddy longlegs. One of the other signs of the changing of the seasons is the start of Black History Month today.

Unlike some, UNISON doesn’t only talk about race equality and Black leadership in October — we act on it all year round. It runs through everything we do.

Social care is just one example. Problems in the sector didn’t start with Covid, it’s been rife with poverty pay, inadequate training and poor health and safety for years and three-quarters of social care workers don’t even earn a living wage.

This disproportionately affects Black workers: 21% of social care staff are Black, compared to 14% of the adult population, according to Skills for Care.

When we organise in social care — winning sick pay, the living wage, better training opportunities — we are tackling racial inequality.

When we secure recognition and mobilise social care members, we are seeing more Black workers get involved in their union and involved in improving their lives.

Black History Month does not just provide time and space for us all to celebrate the contributions of Black people in the UK but reflect on how British history is Black history.

We all know the value of public services – how they bind our communities together and tackle inequality. They could not function without the hard work and dedication of Black workers.

My partner’s grandmother travelled from the Caribbean island of Montserrat to London in 1954, cleaning trains at night for British Rail.

Of course, the Windrush generation were not the first Black workers in the UK – Black people have been living and working here since the Roman times.

A steam ship

The Empire Windrush

But her generation helped build the institutions of the public sector that we cherish. Just imagine the hundreds of thousands of Black workers — British born and migrants — who have worked in the NHS in the last 73 years.

And just as there would be no public services without Black workers, there would be no UNISON without our Black members and activists.

I’m immensely proud of the numbers of Black leaders in the region. Activists that work hard to make workplaces fairer: branch secretaries, health and safety officers, chairs, education officers, environmental officers, workplace stewards — every single one of them making a difference.

Black members use the skills they have acquired through their activism and our member learning programmes to develop their careers. In fact, two Black UNISON activists have been elected as MPs in recent years: Eleanor Smith in 2017 and Kim Johnson in 2019.

I’m delighted that Kim will be speaking at a regional webinar on class and race on 15 October.

Register here

I encourage you, Black or not, to log on and listen to Kim and the other speakers.

Whatever you do to mark Black History Month, I hope you find time to consider not just the history of Black Britons but how that history impacts on all our lives right now.