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Raising a generation of BAME trade union leaders

PDA Organising and Engagement Assistant, Manuella Asso shares her experience of joining the trade union movement and how trade unions can become more inclusive for BAME workers.

Fri 27th October 2023 The PDA

Five years ago, I joined the trade union movement migrating to different roles such as Personal Assistant, Union Secretary, and currently PDA Organising and Engagement Assistant. I am currently undertaking the Trade Union Apprenticeship programme. Having not come from a union background, I felt like I was thrust into a new world that I barely knew existed until 5 years ago.

At some trade union events, I was introduced to new terminology such as ‘comrade’ or ‘brotherhood’ that I had never heard before in a work setting. However, despite the move to more inclusive language, at many events I still did not feel like I belonged because very few people looked like me. This is when I realised that the trade union movement needs to be even more diverse and create a more inclusive membership by building equality structures. These structures must allow for BAME members to feel they belong, they are represented at all levels including leadership positions, and must provide opportunities for growth and actively fight against racism and discrimination. The PDA is doing this with our PDA BAME Network, which I am proud to support.

All union leaders must create space for inclusion by proactively identifying future BAME leaders, removing the barriers that hinder them from becoming more active and developing and mentoring them to become leaders and role models for the next generation of workers. This activity builds solidarity amongst us and will strengthen trade unions and enhance their legitimacy for all workers.

Trade unions must do even better at identifying and tackling any institutional racism within their own structures and not take a passive approach. We should all encourage BAME workers to develop, become workplace representatives, and continue to build their skills and experience to take on other leadership roles. It starts with asking hard questions such as who are the leaders of Britain’s modern-day trade union movement, and do they reflect the diverse communities in which they organise?

We should celebrate success and progress towards inclusion and raise the profile of those who come forward so other union members and those new to the workforce can see themselves in the union and as potential future leaders. For instance, with the recent election of Daniel Kebede as the  General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU, Britain’s fifth largest union) and Dr Patrick Roach serving as General Secretary of NASUWT since 2020, the education unions are demonstrating that even the most senior levels of union leadership are open to all. These are milestones that should be celebrated and provide role models for upcoming BAME leaders to draw inspiration from to confidently step into spaces in their unions which were predominantly occupied and largely led by white members.

Lastly, the trade union movement needs to invest in inclusion, campaigns, training, programmes, events, and opportunities to engage and educate members on the importance of having more BAME activists, representatives, organisers, case workers, and senior officials. This will help to tackle racism together and to develop and retain the talent that we have so far failed to harness.

I am proud to be a catalyst and facilitator of our PDA BAME Network. If our BAME pharmacist members are prepared to take that first step forward we have opportunities for them to develop their skills and confidence and we have the resources they need to lead change and create a more inclusive pharmacy sector and trade union movement.

By PDA Organising and Engagement Assistant, Manuella Asso

Get involved

  • Follow the PDA BAME Network on social media using #PDAbame
  • For more information about the PDA BAME Network, click here.
  • If you would like to get involved with the network and its activities, email
  • Join the PDA BAME Network here.

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