Remembering Sharpeville: the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

On 21 March 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. The protest was held against the apartheid “pass laws”, which were an internal passport system designed by the South African government to prevent the free movement of black people, and controlled where people could work, live and travel inside the country.

Every year, on 21 March, we commemorate what happened at Sharpeville with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This day provides us with a chance to reflect on the history of the fight for racial equality and re-double our efforts to eradicate racism and discrimination in the workplace and beyond it. Racism and discrimination are a trade union issue. Our union movement has a duty to continue to educate, campaign and fight against racial discrimination and create a fairer society.

This is done by recognising and teaching that, no matter what our skin colour, accent, the language we speak or where we are from, we are all equal and deserve the same rights and treatment in any given situation.

It is key that unions and employers create a learning environment that is inclusive and safe space for employees. There are many ways this can be achieved, including:

  • empowering them to speak out when people make discriminatory comments or actions against an individual group, whether or not a black, Asian or minority ethnic person is present;
  • understanding the issues and challenges that relate to race, racism and racial equality; and
  • ensuring that the voices of black, Asian, and minority ethnic staff are heard;

We all have a role to play and a responsibility to stand up and speak up against racism. If you are in a space where decisions are being made which affect black or minority ethnic staff, look around the table, screen or room and assess whether they are sufficiently represented. If not, call it out and create an opportunity for their voices to be heard and their experiences shared:

  • lead by example, and be an advocate for racial equality within your workplace and wider society, using your networks to promote the role of allyship and encourage others to join you in that journey (you can find out more about becoming an Equalities Rep here);
  • take proactive steps to diversify your network, examine your professional network and consider takings steps to ensure underrepresented groups are included; and
  • examine your experiences, as these are often shaped by our individual characteristics.

The trade union movement has a proud history of standing up for racial justice in the workplace and beyond it, but we still have much to do. The responsibility is on all of us to fight for full equality and freedom for all.

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Are you looking to tackle inequality and make your workplace more inclusive? Visit our equalities hub today to access exclusive resources and advice.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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