Published in RMT News, July/August 2021
RMT members have helped to win justice for Osime Brown, a young, black, autistic, learning-disabled man. The union saw this as an issue that deserved our support and solidarity. Janine Booth, Secretary of RMT’s Disabled Members’ Advisory Committee, explains why.
Osime Brown moved to Britain from Jamaica with his family when he was just four years old. He has never visited since, and knows no-one there. The only home he has ever known is with his mum in Dudley, in the West Midlands.
Osime is autistic and has learning disabilities. But the authorities did not identify this and did not provide the support that he needed. When he did not engage with his schooling, he was written off as a ‘naughty black boy’ rather than having his needs addressed. He became distressed and unwell, and began to get in trouble.
In 2018, Osime, then aged eighteen, was with a group of teenagers who stole a mobile phone. Even though Osime had told them not to steal it, the court convicted him under the ‘joint enterprise’ law, which holds a person responsible for doing something even if they did not, just because they were there.
In prison, Osime became more unwell, both mentally and physically. He was subjected to racist abuse. And he was told that once he was released, he would be deported to Jamaica. Under British law, any foreign national who spends more than a year in prison is automatically served with a deportation order, no matter the circumstances.
Osime’s family knew that this would be catastrophic for him, so they asked for support in persuading the Home Office not to deport him. Autistic rights groups got involved, and then, via Neurodivergent Labour, trade unions got behind the campaign.
An RMT branch asked its Regional Council to support Osime, the Regional Council asked the National Executive, and the union backed the campaign. RMT’s Disabled Members Conference held a live link-up with young RMT member Joe Booth at a demonstration in support of Osime. Delegates returned to their branches and spread the word.
Union members took part in further protests, with black and ethnic minority activists in particular turning out to show support. The online petition for Osime circulated widely around the union, helping it to get nearly half a million signatures. Labour and other MPs raised Osime’s case in Parliament.
Finally, in June, the Home Office backed down and withdrew the deportation order. Although there is an ongoing campaign to have his conviction overturned, winning his right to remain in the UK has brought huge relief to his family.
Osime’s experience shows how unjust the justice and immigration systems can be – perhaps especially for young, black and/or disabled people. Osime is not a transport worker, but what happened to him could happen to RMT members’ friends and family members. That’s why we felt inspired to join this crusade for justice, and why we will continue to campaign against laws which, in practice, are unjust and discriminatory.