Racism is a trade union issue: ITUC statement on World Day Against Racism

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the need to urgently uproot and dismantle systemic inequalities and systems of oppression that have persisted for far too long within our societies and in the world of work.

From indigenous peoples and those of African descent in the Americas to Black and South Asians in Europe and minority racial and ethnic groups in Asia; marginalised communities have lost income and livelihoods and have seen disproportionate numbers claimed by the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, racialised people were less likely to have adequate access to social protection and quality public health and care services and were disproportionally represented in low-paying and precarious jobs, including in those sectors that were deemed ‘essential’, such as health and care, cleaning, transport, and food-retail with often no or inadequate labour protections.

While some have cynically exploited the pandemic to further racist and discriminatory rhetoric, they are not being left alone to dominate the public discourse. The revival of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others at the hands of authorities or far-right vigilantes ensures that racial justice must not fall off the agenda during the current crisis and beyond.

The outpouring of global solidarity for BLM in 2020, as well as other key defeats for the far right in Greece and Austria, demonstrate the effectiveness of the international anti-racist and social justice movement. Many of these campaigns have been spearheaded by the next generation of activists. This is essential for the ongoing vitality of the anti-racist movement and it is welcome that the UN is highlighting young voices for this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is observed on 21 March.

For trade unions, although the fight against racism and xenophobia in all its forms is not new, trade union action is now more urgent than ever. Trade unions have been organising and bargaining to fight racism at work as demonstrated by the ongoing disparities in health and safety, pay, and working conditions for racialised workers.

They have also been holding conversations, education, and awareness-raising among their members in their effort to dismantle systemic racism within their ranks and in the world of work. The dismantling of racist systems must be part of a New Social Contract for building an inclusive, socially just and resilient future for all.

This World Anti-Racism Day the ITUC stands alongside trade unions everywhere, World Against Racism, and all other anti-racist activists and movements to fight all forms of discrimination against racialised people, including Negrophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of Roma communities as well as anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiments.

This weekend, 20 and 21 March, add your voice online and/or at safe, physically-distanced solidarity events worldwide listed here.