#NQ7: Black trade unionists in the UK

The valuable role black and minority ethnic people have played in the trade union movement often goes unheralded, but their dogged determination to break down barriers and push for equality – often in the face of brutal racism– has left a lasting legacy for all workers in the UK. Here are just a handful of BAME activists who have made an impact over the years.


William CuffayWilliam Cuffay
A disabled trade unionist, Cuffay (born in 1788) was a leading figure in the Chartist movement and campaigned for universal voting rights. Sacked for joining a trade union and striking, he was instrumental in persuading the authorities to amend the Master and Servant Law in the colonies.


Picture Credit Bruce Nobrega

Cécile Nobrega Born in Guyana, Nobrega was active in the NUT and campaigned against placing misunderstood children – often BAMEs – in ESN (educationally subnormal) schools. Her Bronze Woman Project saw a 10ft statue of a mother and child, sculpted by Aleix Barbat, representing women, particularly those from the developing world and the descendants of slaves, erected in Stockwell Gardens, south-west London.


frank-bailey-2-623x412Frank Bailey
Bailey arrived in the UK from Guyana in the 50s and became the first black firefighter after being told black men were not intelligent or strong enough to do the job. Before leaving to take up a social work post and becoming the first black legal advisor at Marylebone magistrates’ court, Bailey became a branch secretary in the FBU.


Ghadar Party 100th Anniversary,Avtar Jouhl
Jouhl came to the UK in the 50s and soon became an active trade unionist who campaigned against the unfair treatment of immigrant workers. Jouhl famously took Malcolm X on a pub crawl of establishments that operated the colour bar. Jouhl was awarded an OBE for services to community relations and trade unionism.


Picture Credit: Getty Images

Asquith Xavier
Xavier won a legal battle against British Railways in 1966 effectively ending the colour bar. Called a “Rail Pioneer” by the Daily Mirror, his victory led to the strengthening of the Race Relations Act and the creation of the Commission for Racial Equality.


Picture Credit: Graham Wood/ Getty Images

Jayaben Desai
Desai changed trade unions’ perception of Asian women by leading the infamous Grunwick dispute. Trade unionists from all sectors outraged at the sacking of strikers stood in solidarity with Desai and her campaigners.


BillMorrisBill Morris
Jamaican born Morris became the first black leader of a trade union when he was elected general secretary of the T&G in 1991. He was also a member of the TUC General Council and president of the TUC. In 2006, Morris became a working life peer in the House of Lords.


GloriaMillsGloria Mills
Mills made history when she became the first black woman to be elected to the TUC General Council and then the first black woman to become TUC president. She was awarded an MBE for services to trade unions and a CBE for services to equal opportunities.


Other trade unionists of note:

Henry Gunter
Jamaican born and banned from the USA for his trade union activities, Gunter came to the UK and became Birmingham Trades Council’s first black representative.

Dipak Ray
A leading member of the TUC’s Race Relations Advisory Committee and Equal Rights Committee, Ray was instrumental in campaigning for unions to negotiate equal opportunity polices as part of their collective agreements.

Martha Osamor
Nigerian born activist best remembered for her campaign against police abuse on the Broadwater Farm estate. Osamor also became a councillor and deputy leader of Haringey council.

Monica Taylor
A longtime campaigner, Taylor became the first black woman to be elected to both T&G and Unite executives. Taylor was awarded the TUC Women’s Gold Badge for her dedication to the trade union movement.

Dougie Rooney
In his speech as TUC president, Rooney set one his main priorities to be supporting the women, black workers, disabled workers and LGBT conferences.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah
A Stonewall trustee and instrumental in setting up UK Black Pride, Opoku-Gyimah is also head of campaigns at PCS.


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