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Trade Unions and Racism

TUC, LondonThe gaps between union policy and what happens in practice needed to be tackled urgently if black workers were not to be alienated from the mainstream trade union movement, according to a Trades Union Congress discussion document published in July 1985. The document, produced for a special conference on 'Trade Unions and Black Workers', outlined evidence of discrimination in employment, higher levels of unemployment for black workers, and the under-representation of black trade unionists in official union positions.

The paper, Trades Unions and Black Workers: a discussion document, concluded that progress towards translating the TUC's commitment to equal opportunities into a reality, in terms of structures, procedures and collective bargaining objectives, had been patchy. Recent research had shown that black workers saw unions as 'white organisations which are either indifferent or hostile to the concerns of black people'. Unions would have to do a great deal more to fight racial discrimination in the workplace and encourage black members to take office if they were to shed this image. It was not enough to assert that the union treats all its members equally when its structures and procedures might be preventing members of ethnic minorities from reaching office and decision-making bodies, the report concluded.

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