Mixed race marriage Bban

Unbelievable -- and still happening today

I was going to blog today about Geert Wilders, but then my eye was caught by this astonishing story: "Anger at US mixed marriage 'ban". Keith Bardwell, a white Justice of the Peace in the US state of Louisiana, refuses to issue marriage licences for mixed race couples on the grounds that any children they may have may not be accepted by their parents' communities. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it," says Bardwell, who nevertheless insists that he has "piles of black friends". "They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom," he says. Fancy -- even letting "them" go to the loo in his own house.

Incredibly, no one ever seems to have called Bardwell to account for operating this policy, which, besides being repulsive, is of course illegal -- and he's been a JP for 34 years. It was only after a couple consulted a lawyer on being refused a licence by him that his case was raised, and is now being taken up by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Stories like this crop up from time to time and are often dismissed as being so awful and extreme that they don't have to be taken very seriously: people with such views are isolated crazies, tends to be the line. When Italy's Northern League proposed putting limits on the number of mixed marriages in January, one former colleague with impeccable left-wing credentials pretty much told me not to be silly when I raised the subject. ( I wrote about it at the time, here.) As the League is, and was then, an important partner in Silvio Berlusconi's government, I was astonished. Italy is not so far away, and the rising profile of the BNP leads one to suspect that there are probably quite a few people in the UK who would have some sympathy both for the League and for Bardwell -- who naturally insists that he's not a racist, he just doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way".

It is possible that Bardwell means well -- we probably all know otherwise kind and gentle souls of a certain age who don't see their "it isn't fair on the children" line as bigoted -- but even if we extend him that latitude, such an attitude only perpetuates the prejudice. Bardwell is also of the opinion that mixed-race marriages don't last long. I'm sure that all of us whose skin colour is of a different hue to our wife's or husband's would beg to differ . . . and happily prove him wrong as the anniverary milestones pass by.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.