Was this motion, which was passed unanimously, the first motion on racism to come before a SIPTU Conference? A number of speakers followed the proposer (who had witnessed attacks himself) and all strongly opposed racism, and supported refugees and asylum-seekers. The Guinness speaker finished with a long poem on racism and refugees. Was this another first: poetry from the podium ...from Guinness and the No. 2 Region?
The text of the motion was: "That this Conference condemns the rising level of physical attacks on refugees. Many of these attacks are not reported by the refugee victims because of their fears and insecurity in their positions. This is an unacceptable situation, and, as trade unionists, we are very concerned at such developments."
The speech and motion together were, of course, a terrific cure for some recent manifestations of racism in SIPTU's ranks. We refer to comments some weeks earlier in the Liffey Bar from a long-standing, well-respected, militant steward and Branch Committee member (not the same Branch): the vilest racist shit. Though a delegate in October, he did not take the opportunity to repeat it from the platform.
The issue was also raised at the Dublin Region No. 2 Conference (14/15 November) which had several motions on the agenda and produced an equally high standard from the speakers. The motion from the Education Branch called on the NEC to spearhead a campaign against the increasing racism in Ireland, by using the union's media contacts to counter the misinformation which is daily spouting forth to scapegoat the refugees for every ill in Irish society; from the inequitable distribution of the country's wealth to the housing crisis and Ray Burke's fondness for brown paper packages.
The motion also called on the NEC to lobby their so-called 'partners' in government - who are the source for most of the hostile propaganda -to deal with the serious issues facing many workers in this country, such as inadequate public housing, health and social services, rather than using the plight of the refugees to hide their own refusal to act.
The Education Branch wanted the NEC to demand the right to work for asylum-seekers so they can play a productive role in the economic life of the country. In addition to calling for the implementation of an education and training programme for members, the Branch demanded active support from the NEC for union members, such as airline employees, who refuse to co-operate with the deportation of refugees. The motion was passed unanimously, following excellent supporting speeches, from the Dublin Bus Branch in particular.
A motion from the Health Services Professionals Branch concentrated on the need for education programmes to counter the increasing intolerance and prejudice evident in Irish society. The motion also wanted the NEC to press the government for action through the setting up by the Departments of Education, Enterprise & Employment, Health and Justice of a programme of awareness and education, including school curicula.
The NEC was also called on to develop their own action plan, including education and training throughout the Union, so that union members can provide leadership in the workplace "in the struggle to create a tolerant, just, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society in Ireland, free from prejudice". This Motion was also passed unanimously, as was the motion from the Dublin Health Services Branch, which proposed that the NEC should organise a billboard campaign within the next six months, stating that refugees are welcome in Ireland.
It was very encouraging to see such strong manifestations of worker solidarity with refugees and asylum-seekers, which was also evident in the large contingents of trade union members who attended recent demonstrations against racism, especially in the capital. The bigot in the Liffey Bar has his counterparts all over the country, but they weren't raising their ugly heads at the Dublin Regional Conferences. It is now up to the NEC to implement the proposals made in the Regional Conference motions, as a matter or urgency.
Many decent people are inactive on the issue because their only knowledge is based on the lies spewing out of the mass media, the owners of which are hand in glove with the politicians who will use anyone to cover up their own corruption. Last year they focussed on single mothers, the year before it was so-called "dole scroungers", this year it's refugees and asylum-seekers.
If the trade unions, especially those with the size and clout of SIPTU, don't stand up against injustice and lies, our silence could mean that next year, it could be too late and more of us will be left with our hard-won rights to a decent life.
Local anti-racism groups
Mid-West Against Racism,