In light of the current international movement led by Black Lives Matter, we as a union committee have taken the time to reflect about racism within our UoB UCU branch and among our branch representatives. Following comments, discussions and criticisms concerning our branch’s engagement with race and racism we would like to openly acknowledge that more needs to be done to address these urgent concerns. Within the branch committee we are committed to anti-racist principles, but that does not mean we are free of racial prejudices, both conscious and unconscious, nor that our actions are free from racial bias.
We acknowledge that some may have had experiences with our branch that reflect racist attitudes and beliefs, whether conscious or otherwise. We condemn racism in all its forms, whilst also recognising our own failures on this issue. For instance, we acknowledge and understand that our response to the Black Lives Matter movement has been far too slow and that we have not always foregrounded issues of racism in our campaigning.
By working together, if possible, with those affected we hope to move forward and become a more inclusive and representative union branch which can effectively challenge racism within the University of Birmingham..
Our aim in releasing this statement is to accept these issues and to recognise what we can do to address these more fully.
While we try hard to conduct ourselves in an anti-racist way, we nevertheless live in a racist society. We are a predominantly white trade union representing predominantly white members in a predominantly white university. The racial bias and prejudice that comes with such organisations is difficult to avoid. We say this to acknowledge the situation we are in, but not to excuse ourselves. We hope this prompts us to improve the ways that we see and challenge racism and white privilege, and to improve our commitment to act according to anti-racist principles.
The reason that many of us conduct our trade union activities is an attempt to challenge inequalities, to build solidarity, including challenging the racism that pervades and divides our society, our university, and our trade union. Sometimes we are more successful in doing that; sometimes we are less. We aim to tackle low pay, discrimination, job insecurity, and to support the vulnerable. All of which, we hope, includes (sometimes indirect) support for ethnic minorities who are disproportionately affected by these problems; but again we recognise that we are not always successful in doing this.
We want to use this as an opportunity to learn and to find ways that we can conduct our trade union activity in a way that is more obviously anti-racist.
To be more concrete, we have identified some things that we as a branch can try to do differently – although we recognise that even these suggestions aren’t straightforward. We can’t speak directly for our Black members and we can’t be certain that these initiatives would be welcomed, but we consider that we could:
- engage more directly with our Black members and Black members of the University of Birmingham, and to try to raise the visibility of their concerns;
- make a conscious effort to ensure that Black voices are heard within our trade union;
- recognise the challenges that face Black members of the University and which make it more difficult for them to raise their voices and that the challenges that they face are greater than those of non-Black members of the University;
- adopt racial-bias training for our members and union representatives/officers;
- seek to improve our connections with groups representing staff and students across the University.
The message of Black Lives Matter is an opportunity to improve our anti-racism. We hope that we can use the experiences that have been shared with the branch in a way that can help us to improve our commitment, and contribution, to anti-racist activity within our trade union branch.
Signed for and on behalf of the BUCU Committee by:
David Bailey (Co-Chair)
Javier S Eskauriatza (Secretary)
Amy Burge (Equalities Officer)