The role of trade unions in fighting racism and the far right

Trade unionists call on the movement to put fight against racism and fascism at 'heart of our work'

Trade unions against hate, PCS union

Trade unionists have stressed the role the movement can and should play in tackling the resurgence of the far right across Europe.

Trade unions must “put the fight against racism and fascism at the heart of our work” Paul Nowak, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said at a TUC event earlier this month. 

With the rise of populist rhetoric growing in mainstream politics at home and abroad, the far right have sought to scapegoat migrants and the Muslim community as a means of exploiting working people’s grievances. 

Unions are among the few institutions with the resources, campaigning know-how and organisational reach to counter the far-right in the workplace and through cooperation with wider community and social movements, the TUC has said. 

Trade unions can play an important role in providing an alternative narrative that challenges far-right ideology and redirects focus towards those with the power, for example Unite the union’s campaign exposing greedflation and ‘rampant’ corporate profiteering in the UK.

Speaking at the event, Fran Heathcote general secretary of PCS union stressed how the movement “must fight the far right” which she said had been “emboldened” of late by the Prime Minister and politicians such as Suella Braverman with “hateful and incendiary language”. 

“When refugees and asylum seekers are likened to a “swarm” and a “hurricane”, the inevitable consequence is the total dehumanisation of some of the most desperate people on the planet,” Heathcote said.

“Throw in a catastrophic cost of living crisis, the effects of which have been felt by so many, then you have a deadly mix that means there is fertile ground for the far right to grow.”

The PCS union, which represents civil servants, launched an anti-racism and fascism strategy three years ago with a focus on education and information for members and union reps to root out racism in the workplace and wider society. 

A policy by refugee charity Care4Calais laying out a safe passage for refugees and setting out an alternative ‘kinder’ way to stop small boats is supported by 26 trade unions and other organisations.

Heathcote said the union could not ‘rest on its laurels’ when it comes to offering alternative visions, such as the Safe Passage for Refugees, that can challenge racist narratives, often perpetuated in Westminster.

European Trade Union industriAll, representing Europe’s manufacturing, mining and energy sectors, posted on X today about stepping up action to tackle far right parties in Germany. 

The organisation wrote: “Far right ideologies and objectives go against trade union values. Far right parties in Germany are against the right to strike, are against demonstrations and want to impose rules to bring down workers.

“At their last Congress IGMetall (metalworkers’ union in Germany) decided to step up their actions against the far right with a strong position against any form of discrimination through campaigns and political education for their members to speak to workers and regain voters.

“We must act against these parties and ensure voters know what they are voting for.”

In Germany the neo-Nazi party AFD have polled high for the upcoming elections, recently it was revealed two senior members of the party joined a conference where the possibility of the mass expulsion of non-ethnic Germans from Germany were discussed. 

Speaking at the TUC event, Stevie Nolan from the political education organisation Belfast Trademark warned populist appeals would seek to exploit the votes of the working class. 

“The question for us is to what extent the main establishment parties in Europe will ally themselves with far-right forces and fascist parties to maintain their power and their assault on workers,” Nolan said.

“What kind of populist appeals will they make like ‘Stop the Boats’ to recruit members of our class – the working-class – to their twisted vision of the world.”

It comes as farmers’ protests in Europe have been seized by the far right, threatening to fuel support for right-wing populist parties in Europe, with the threat of similar unrest spreading to the UK.

Paul Nowak stressed that the trade union movement must focus on tackling the root causes of their rise, as well as using a collaborative outlook to work together with community organisations, faith-groups and anti-fascist groups. 

“Falling living standards, stagnant wages, insecure jobs, and rising inequality have all fed the politics of hate,” Nowak said. 

“And that’s before you think about the impact of cuts to our schools, our hospitals and other public services.” 

The importance of international coordination between trade unions was expressed by Jose Antonio Moreno, representing Spain’s largest trade union federation Comisiones Obreras. 

 “Trade unions have to be the first and traditional enemy of fascism,” he said.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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