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08 December 1997

Black trade unionists under-represented at the top
Ethnic minority trade unionists are still under-represented in prominent union positions despite union success in establishing forums for black participation.

A major survey published by Labour Research magazine reveals that, in addition to there being only one black union general secretary - Bill Morris of the T&G transport and general union - most unions have no ethnic minority full-time officials. Of the 31 unions who supplied information on this, only nine employ any at all and, with the exception of the T&G public services union UNISON, this is generally in very small numbers.

One way in which the TUC has improved black representation at the top is through creating additional seats on its ruling body for members from ethnic minorities. However, this tactic has so far only been adopted by five of the 34 unions in the Labour Research survey. These are the actors' union Equity, lecturers' union NATFHE, the PTC civil service union, the NUJ journalists' union and science and finance union MSF, which has non-voting reserved seats.

On the positive side, however, some unions have appointed specialist officers to deal with race equality issues. While only two in the survey - the teachers (NUT) and UNISON - have an officer for whom that is their sole responsibility, another 12 have a national officer with a more general equal rights remit.

Another significant development has been the growth of lay ethnic minority organisation in unions. Of the 34 unions surveyed, 17 now have a national committee or group responsible for race equality issues and in five further unions such issues are dealt with by a general equality body.

And one in three of the unions have annual conferences for black and ethnic minority members. Some have been running since the 1980s, but unions to have established such conferences more recently include MSF and the Fire Brigades Union, who began holding them two years ago, and the EIS Scottish teachers' union, which held its first one this year.

Notes to editors

Further details of the survey are published in the December 1997 issue of Labour Research. The price of a single copy is ?2.75 including postage.
The Labour Research Department is an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 86 years ago. More than 2,000 trade union organisations, including 54 national unions, representing 99% of total TUC membership are affiliated.
For more details contact Clare Ruhemann on 0171 902 9825.

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