Off The Rails supports the global protests against police brutality and racism.
The issues raised by the protests are not just problems in the USA. They affect us too. Britain has its own history of police violence against people of colour, with campaigns like the United Families and Friends Campaign highlighting deaths in custody. And just as America must reckon with its history of slavery and segregation, so must Britain confront a history of slavery and colonialism.
Although we’re brought up to believe the police “protect us”, their history shows that, as an institution, their role is more about protecting property than people. We need adequate funding of mental health and community services to push back the role of the police.
Racism at work
Racial inequality is also something we experience directly in the work-place. According to Network Rail, 8.6% of the workforce is BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and there is an 8.7% pay gap between white workers and their BAME co-workers. But, if outsourced workers were included, it would be much higher.
Outsourcing itself can act as a form of discrimination; by outsourcing sections of the workforce with high concentrations of people of colour and migrants, such as cleaning, catering, and security, the majority BAME/migrant sections of the workforce are those with the worst terms and conditions.
BAME workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. This is because BAME workers are more likely to be in higher-risk, frontline jobs, with inadequate PPE, as the tragic murder of Belly Mujinga shows.
Some Rail bosses have spoken up in support of BLM; they should start by addressing racial inequality in their own company.
We need to organise. Our unions must support BLM protests, and help develop a wider working-class anti-racist programme that demands equality in jobs, housing, services, and education. We also need to confront far-right counter-protests, and persuade white working-class people drawn to them that their interests lie in common struggle with workers of colour, rather than the toxic politics of nationalism.
Rail unions must change
RMT has never had a black person, or a woman of any ethnicity, in any officer role (Regional Organiser, Assistant General Secretary, or General Secretary). In Aslef, TSSA, and Unite too, the higher up the union hierarchy you go, the fewer black and brown faces you see. Our unions must be more reflective of the workforces they organise. A good starting point is for BAME committees within unions to have more power to organise campaigns, rather than merely being “advisory”.
Right to protest
We understand that some workmates have concerns about large demonstrations at a time when virus transmission is still a risk, and welcome creative thinking about ways to take action whilst maintaining social distancing. But we also defend the right to protest, and think it’s important to remember that it's failures of government policy that are to blame for the high death toll, not anti-racist protests.