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CAMPAIGN Equalities GROUND B Unite’s equalities reps met as one body for the first time. Helen Hague investigates

Unite is one of the “most diverse organisation in 21st century Britain and Ireland,” general

the poor, marginalised and disadvantaged communities most.

secretary Len

McCluskey, told an historic gathering at the union’s London headquarters recently.

For the first time ever, Unite equality reps representing women, black Asian and ethnic minorities, disabled, lesbian, gay and trans, (LGBT), young and retired members came together for a ground- breaking conference. Regional conferences are also being held to pool knowledge, boost confidence and equip equality reps with the skills they need step up the fight against cutbacks and attacks on equality.

As the ConDem government tries hard to recast hard-won equality safeguards as costly ‘bureaucracy’,

the union is

stepping up its drive to combat inequality in the workplace – with Unite equality reps in the front line.

Reps, and the committees that support them, will attempt to promote equal opportunities, root out discrimination and support

individuals facing

harassment. Meanwhile, the government continues to slash spending – affecting

Hard-won employee rights are also in the firing line. Cuts include introducing fees for employment tribunals – and you’ll have to have been in work for two years before you can bring a case. Compensation is also being capped amid a range of measures designed to cut ‘red-tape’.

Len McCluskey told the conference the “activities of our equality reps are on a par with the most important industrial work we do,” top-down initiatives alone don’t work. It takes “dedicated equality reps working at shop-floor level with our members” to stamp out discrimination harassment workplaces.

and bullying from

It’s a huge task – which is why, says Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary, spearheading the equalities drive, the union is pressing for equalities reps to have statutory time off at work to support members. The union’s equalities strategy has two strands, she explained – moving forward on equality and No cutting back! “We are opposing divisive

Tea break – equalities reps consider the debate

discriminatory cuts, but we are not going to be forced onto the defensive,” she told the conference.

There are encouraging signs. Stagecoach Bus Company not only recognises but supports a network of Unite women keen to progress equality, according to Janie Peacock, bus driver and Unite branch chair at the company’s Cambridge Depot. Women have also made gains in the finance sector.

At British Aerospace in the North West, young members are getting increasingly involved in the union, says Mick Darlington, equalities rep for North West Branch in Preston. And not just in their own workplace. Younger members from BAE plants in the North West are key players in the newly formed Lancashire area activists youth forum – bringing together Unite activists aged under 30 from across the county. They enjoy political meetings and supporting fellow trade unionists fighting cuts.

James Mitchell, EC member for passenger transport said equalities reps could play a huge role in boosting

Mark Thomas

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