UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

UNISON Black Members Conference salutes courage of Lawrence family

This year’s National Black Members' Conference took place in Brighton, which was not so sunny, but more akin to the arctic! There were 315 delegates attending conference which is a slight decrease on numbers from 2011 and you could have counted the number of young black members who attended conference on one hand.

In terms of conference business, 21 motions were submitted and one Emergency Motion submitted by the National Black Members Committee relating to Stephen Lawrence.

Workshops included Challenging Racism in Local Government, NHS and the workplace, Developing Black Activists and Sickle Cell/Thalassaemia. Fringe meetings covered matters such as The DNA Database – Fight for justice, Black Members and Pensions, Young Black people and unemployment, Tackling Child Slavery and trafficking, Show Racism the Red Card Campaign and Organising in Social Care and Health.

Eleanor Smith, UNISON President ,and Dave Prentis, General Secretary, both addressed conference on Friday. Eleanor and Dave highlighted the important contribution of black members within UNISON and the vital role they have to play in light of the attacks we all face from the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition and the continued fight against the BNP and other racist and fascist organisations which threaten our workplaces, communities and society in general.

Friday also saw motions on Black Members and Pensions as well as Defending Our Public services debated - all of which were carried unanimously.

Saturday was soon upon us and debating motions as well as workshops and fringes were the order of the day.

One motion which saw a flood of speakers was that of Motion 8, Young, Gifted, Black and Unemployed, submitted by the NBMC and moved by NEC member Mark Clifford, who introduced himself as “Young, Gifted and Black” – well, 2 out of 3 is not bad!

Some 50 minutes were taken up with Motion 8, which suggests that conference believes that it is high time that we focussed more of our work in this area, with delegates highlighting the civil disturbances, rising unemployment, attacks on youth services and other government policy being driven through by the coalition government as examples of why our young, gifted black people needed us more than ever.

Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary, Organising and Recruitment once again addressed conference in what was a passionate speech highlighting the need to up our game around these crucial aspects of our work.

Saturday evening saw delegates, visitors and guests let their hair down at the social event kindly organised by the South East region and by the looks of attendees at conference on Sunday morning a good time was had by all!!

The highlight of conference had to be the guest appearance of Mr Neville Lawrence and the Emergency Motion – “Stephen Lawrence”, which followed Mr Lawrence’s address to conference.

As Mr Lawrence approached the podium he received a tremendous round of applause, before us stood a mountain of a man, almost 70 years old, who had struggled for almost two decades in seeking justice for the racist murder of his teenage son.

Conference fell silent, waiting for him to speak, chin resting on his hand, looking out at the sea of black faces, waiting in anticipation of his address and what followed was probably one of the most humble, yet poignant things I have seen and heard in my life time, Mr Lawrence began to cry and through the tears, stated he owed us so much and did not know how to thank UNISON!!!

Mr Lawrence gave a very moving personal insight into historical and recent events on his epic journey for justice. The end of his speech lead to a standing ovation (rightly so) and speaker after speaker during the Emergency Motion debate paid tribute to his courage, humility, dignity and strength as well as that of Stephen’s mother, Doreen.

A motion passed at conference in 2011, submitted by the NW Region, which called for the National Black Members Conference to elect a delegate to NDC and service group conference resulted in no nominations being received!!

Conference concluded its business on time, but only just.

Overall, there was a feel good factor during conference, despite the struggles many members face in the coming months and the overwhelming message which delegates and visitors must have left with was that we have to raise our game in terms of organising and recruitment after all it is times like this that we are at our best.