By Drew McLachlan
A CONTENDER for the leadership of Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union has said racial discrimination and harassment have limited the union’s ability to organise.
Gerard Coyne, Unite’s regional secretary for the West Midlands, said many of the union’s black and Asian members face discrimination at their places of work.
Described the bias as both direct and indirect, he added that the proverbial “glass ceiling” prevented many ethnic minority members from accessing certain jobs.
Coyne spoke to Eastern Eye following his visit to the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Hounslow on February 9. He is challenging incumbent Len McCluskey for the post of general secretary at Unite.
“In some workplaces the bullying, harassment and intimidation can be so difficult that it creates disunity and it’s hard for Unite to organise,” he said.
“I’ve experienced that in my own patch in the West Midlands where the tension between the communities inside the workforce has made it harder to organise on trade union lines.”
He also noted the use of derogatory language in the workplace and a rise in “hate language” following the EU referendum.
While Coyne said he doesn’t believe this discrimination is making potential members reluctant to join Unite, it is limiting the union’s ability.
His solution includes establishing what he called “integrated equalities committees”, which would see a greater adherence to established equality standards and ethical training among smaller companies.
He also suggested that Unite produce an annual equalities audit in order to achieve greater transparency.
Coyne said: “We don’t currently do that, but it’s something that most public bodies do. As a membership-based organisation we should follow the same lead – be open and transparent and honest about some of our findings in relation to that.”
His visit to the Hounslow gurdwara was prompted by the union members who worship there as well as what he referred to as an “overlap” of values extolled by trade unionism and the Sikh faith.
He said: “I was struck by the belief in equity and ensuring there is a sense of protecting people. That is a key message in my campaign and one of the reasons I’m standing. I want to focus on making sure the union is protecting our members at work 100 per cent and supporting them.”