Each year, the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates the anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sharpeville in 1960. It marks the anniversary of the moment when police opened fire on peaceful protestors against South African apartheid laws.

In 1979, the UN General Assembly agreed that every member state should organize a week-long activity each year to focus on the fight against racism.

It is important to recall the origins of UN Day Against Racism. It was born out of the struggles of African Descent Worldwide for their rights.

Six years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder, William MacPherson led an inquiry into his death. The Metropolitan Police then reported the findings in 1999. This brought attention to the need to address institutional racism in public and private institutions.

The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in the United States last year gave rise to a new energy in the fight against racism.

We began to witness popular movements around the globe that claimed that Black Lives Matter – a cry that first emerged in response to the death of Michael Brown (an 18-year-old Black man) in Ferguson, Missouri, in the USA.

Trade unions were an integral part of the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign for justice for the Lawrence family. They were also early supporters and advocates of Black Lives Matter.

UNISON and its predecessor unions have always been more than just an ally in these campaigns. We have been active partners in racial justice.

UNISON has made it clear that apart from obvious social justice arguments, all workers cannot provide for their fellow members at work and in their communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the deaths of many Black Americans, even though the number of these people is much lower than the national average. Black workers are also reluctant to get the vaccine, despite knowing there have been many clinical trials against our people.

Employers have threatened to fire Black workers if they refuse the vaccine.

UNISON recommends that all members get the vaccine to ensure their safety as well as the safety of those they provide a service.

However, we are against employers using a heavy-handed approach to threaten workers with their dismissal. This is a problem for all workers but especially for Black workers – not only in the UK but also in North America and other European countries where similar issues have occurred.

UNISON doesn’t just campaign during the UN Day against Racism. We do this daily under the guidance of our Black self-organized structures throughout the union.

We urge everyone to support the UN Day against Racism – even if it is online this year. But more importantly, take part in the work of UNU throughout the year to fight racism.

Racism divides us. Unity is strength.