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Labour is not doing enough for its black members

DEBORAH HOBSON, co-chair of Grassroots Black Left, says black party members have waited long enough to have their demands for self-organisation recognised — and must now move on with the task themselves

WHATEVER happened to the Labour that was once known as the party of equality, anti-racism and justice and could count among its most loyal supporters Africans, Caribbeans and Asians?

Today, they are the very people who are disproportionately represented among the most deprived sections of the population and face increasing racism in all its ugly manifestations, including Islamophobia — and are abandoning the party in droves.

You only need to see how thousands of Muslims voted for George Galloway in Batley and Spen rather than the official Labour candidate, who scraped in as the MP by a wafer-thin majority. As people of colour, we are fed up with being humiliated, ignored and exploited as mere door-knocking and voting fodder at election time.

Boris Johnson, the lying, cheating Conservative Prime Minister doing a huge hatchet job on the working class, has ensured his dog-whistle bigotry against black people, Muslims and migrants has become mainstream. Just imagine, after crying crocodile tears about poor Afghans, after the military abandonment of them, his Border Force are ruthlessly turning back refugees from the war-torn country in the English Channel.

It is the public outside Parliament, rather than MPs, who have mobilised against such injustices. Black activists working collaboratively with like-minded white people, as seen in the mass Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year and latterly the #KilltheBill and Extinction Rebellion protests, are leading the fightback — in much the way historically the suffragettes, civil rights, trade union and anti-poll tax movements did to achieve success.  

We, as socialists, should support the black struggle in our deeds as well as words. That means supporting black leadership of the fight against racism inside and outside the Labour Party. I take it as a given that socialists should support black self-organisation, black self-determination and greater black political representation — crucially, the right of black people to choose who represents us.

But, as black former Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie has pointed out in these pages, the labour movement — even the left — have not always supported us. The former Labour Party Black Sections leader rightly says: “Black people have continually heard that ‘black lives matter’ — which we personally know but see very little evidence of — and that we need to turn this ‘moment into a movement’ — which usually means a movement controlled by white folks and not an independent black-led one liable to speak truth to their power.”

He adds that some comrades seem to believe that a union card or membership of a so-called progressive or even allegedly socialist party awards them automatic anti-racism status.

Grassroots Black Left (GBL) agrees that we need to see a return to anti-racism strategies and the rebuilding of black self-organisation of the 1980s Black Sections across the labour and trade union movement. Without these twin pillars there will be little progress.

We have called out the divide-and-rule tactic of the vicious Tory government who used what GBL dubbed the “Sewage report” penned by Dr Tony Sewell CBE, that tried to claim institutional racism doesn’t exist. We’re pleased the labour movement and many others rejected this rubbish.

But the Labour Party leadership of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner must do more than go in for gestures like taking the knee in a big parliamentary office. They need to get Labour’s own house in order. There must be zero tolerance for anti-black racism and Islamophobia inside and outside the Labour Party — and something done about the fact that a disproportionate number of African, Caribbean, Asian and Muslim party members have been expelled or suspended by the party, including GBL’s Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Walker.

That’s why GBL sent a lawyer-drafted 4,000-word submission to the party’s Forde inquiry, into the head office staff actions, including racism, that happened when they were undermining then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn before and during the last general election. Yet, more than a year after the Forde report was supposed to have been published, it still hasn’t been.

Three years after party conference passed measures to replace moribund BAME Labour grouping, the party hasn’t even properly ethnically monitored its African, Caribbean and Asian members — and they have still not been allowed to set up new structures for them at constituency, regional or a national level. And Carol Sewell (no relation to Tony Sewell), who represents us on the party’s ruling NEC, and whom GBL has written to a few times, does nothing about it. Just like Young Labour, African, Caribbean and Asian party members have been denied a promised policy-making annual conference.

The resignation this week of Marsha De Cordova, whom as a union rep I helped at a bank where we both worked, from her role as shadow secretary of state for equalities, is a big setback, as she was Starmer’s most senior black MP. Friends of Cordova told the Voice newspaper she was gagged on the issue of fighting against anti-black racism in the party.

But, don’t despair. With the launch next month of The Liberation Movement, at least the call for a new, black-led anti-racist fightback is being heeded —liberationmovement.org.uk.

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