"The unions and Labour should be on the streets"

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2020 - 3:43 Author: Interview with Jocelyn Cruywagen
Jocelyn Cruywagen

Jocelyn Cruywagen (pictured above left) is a worker at Lambeth council, a rep and activist in Lambeth Unison and an anti-racist campaigner. She spoke to Sacha Ismail.

Black Lives Matter is about more than just killing and violence. It’s also about black people being denied jobs, rights and equal opportunities.

We need radical, revolutionary change. Labour and the unions should be leading people onto the streets with our banners and flags, yes, with social distancing measures, but taking a lead. There is the pandemic, but there is also the much longer-term pandemic of racism. We have to tackle that.

The reality is very different. The quietness of the unions has been mind-boggling. We haven’t even had clear statements that the labour movement is against these killings, the killing of George Floyd but also all the other George Floyds in the US and Britain and all over the world.

Black activists in the unions need to take a lead but that also implies unions supporting activists to empower them and given them confidence. Not just when an issue like this flares up, but also consistently, at every opportunity.

My message to the young people on the streets is that you need unions. If you work, particularly if you’re black, you should not be without a union — in a union but also being active. The only way you can resist abuse from employers and managers is to know your rights and have the organisation of activists and reps to back that up.

The beautiful thing is how young and energetic the demonstrators are and how they want to fight — but that needs to be more than a one-day fight, it needs to be an everyday fight, including in the workplace.

But that means changing the unions — challenging the bureaucrats and gatekeepers — and getting them on the streets too.

In terms of the Labour Party, under Keir Starmer it seems like less and less of a hospitable environment for black activists. I don’t think he has socialist values or any interest in how people are experiencing their struggles on the ground — particularly black people. We keep hearing about constructive opposition. You can negotiate, but that should come on top of having clear demands. Nothing comes if you don’t have demands, and if you’re not talking to people on the ground you won’t.

A lot of people got very excited when Starmer challenged Johnson over care homes, but what did he actually call for? It’s the same on the right to strike and other issues. His line is a white liberal line, not a socialist one.

With Jeremy Corbyn, he was at least someone you could relate to as a socialist, someone who had an interest in what was going on around the world. Starmer is a Sir — he’s part of the empire.

He’s said nothing about Black Lives Matter and now we have the rubbish with the statue.

In South Africa [where Jocelyn is from] we’ve renamed schools, universities, airports. Why did we still have that statute in such a beautiful city as Bristol? I don’t know the details, but I’m sure people have petitioned and asked nicely and it fell on deaf ears. That is certainly something we are used to in challenging racism at Lambeth council. Things change when people take action.

I should say that black politicians at the top of Labour are not necessarily any better than Starmer. Holding a position in the Labour Party doesn’t necessarily mean listening to people on the ground and their demands.

We need to end stop and search. We need to reach out to and push black police officers to put pressure on their white colleagues, who are always the ones leading the way in harassing people.

Beyond that we need community policing in a real sense, not just rhetoric. You think of all the people in Brixton who are regularly harassed and searched by the police over something they did years ago, or nothing at all, and actually many of those people would have a better approach to the safety of the community if they were empowered to develop it.

• See bit.ly/lambethcouncilracism for more on the campaigning against racism at Lambeth council which Jocelyn is involved in. For a more recent Lambeth Unison motion on the campaign, see below.


Submitted by AWL on Wed, 10/06/2020 - 15:53

This Branch notes that Lambeth council admits that there is racism in the Council.
On 12 October 2018 the Chief Executive sent email to all staff, following an initial denial of racism in the Council. The Chief Executive stated in his email: I accept that there is racism within the Council.

This motion calls on the branch committee to support the recent report compiled by Lambeth UNISON Black workers. The report summarise the background of racism in Lambeth and outline 21 recommendation.

A survey undertaken by Lambeth UNISON 2017 notes the following:

More than two thirds (69.3%) agreed that “the lack of transparency in recruitment has led to BME staff being discouraged and not applying for jobs as they feel it is pointless”.

Race and perceptions of managerial attitudes in Lambeth. A large majority (69.9%) agreed that “managers have a propensity to look at white people as more capable and having potential, rather than others.”

The evidence of the extent of racism in the workplace has been reinforced by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) survey. Around 5,000 people between December 2016 and February 2017 were interviewed.

Key issues highlighted in this survey are: Racial harassment at work is widespread. Racist violence is still far too common, Around 11% of Black, Asian and Mixed heritage respondents said they had experience racist violence at work. Experiencing racism is bad for your health. Non-white people continue to be thought of as intellectually inferior. Non-white people are still thought of as belonging to ‘uncivilised’ places “People racialised as non-White were also framed as belonging to places characterised as ‘dirty’, ‘wild’, ‘uncivilised’ and ‘backwards’,” the report said. White respondents were keen to downplay racism

Lambeth Council appointed an external investigator, Patrick Vernon to advise on the ‘experiences of Lambeth staff’. Patrick Vernon has interviewed staff across the council, met with senior leaders and the trade unions.

The initial findings of this investigation leaves no surprise: 80 % of staff report that Lambeth is institutionally racist. 20% said no but more can be done for better equality and opportunity.

Reasons for institutional racism are: Failure to follow equal of opportunity, fairness and transparency of policies and processes, Lack of advertising and promotion of opportunities, Different treatment of white English staff compared BAME and other White staff e.g. European and Eastern European, Failure in Grievances process and Procedures.

This Branch resolves
To share the previous reports on Lambeth’s investigations on racism with Patrick Vernon, the staff, senior managers and councillors.
To set a date to share Patrick Vernon’s recommendations with UNISON members, the community and public.
To continue campaign against institutional racism in Lambeth council.
To work cross borough with other UNISON and trade union branches on the issue of racism in the work place.

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