There was a discussion at our National Executive Committee of PCS about the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA. There was overwhelming support for the struggle against racism and police brutality. Some comrades did raise safety concerns about mass gatherings at a time when the threat from the virus is still high, and BAME people have been disproportionately affected. The issues will be discussed further within the union, as we want members to be able to protest safely.
Racial inequality is an industrial issue in the civil service. As well as the virus disproportionately impacting BAME people, there is also a racial pay gap. There are high concentrations of BAME people amongst outsourced workers, who are invariably the lowest-paid and often the worst treated. This is a form of racial discrimination it itself. The United Voices of the World union (UVW), who we’re working with, in the Ministry of Justice, are pursuing a legal case on this basis. Our demands for equality for outsourced workers, including full occupational sick pay from day one, are part of a fight for racial justice in the workplace.
There is also discrimination amongst directly-employed civil service workers. BAME workers are promoted far less frequently than their white workmates, which is something we’ve raised before. As the civil service’s HR processes are effectively paused due to the pandemic, we’re pushing the employer to look into this again, and arguing that this an opportunity to overhaul processes that have systematically disadvantaged BAME staff.
As we look at ways to mobilise the labour movement against police brutality, we need to ensure we retain international perspectives. I was honoured to chair , in a personal capacity, a recent online solidarity rally with trade unionists and democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, such as Carole Ng, the chair of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, who’ve been resisting the brutality of the Chinese state.
Although we can’t drawn mechanical equivalences between this movement and Black Lives Matter, there are commonalities in that both involve people taking action for basic rights in the face of severe repression from state forces. I hope our union will soon formally discuss the movement in Hong Kong and adopt a stance of solidarity, which will mean I’ll be able to chair future rallies in an official capacity.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS, writing in a personal capacity