Isai Marijerla, Socialist Party Black and Asian group
‘Time for Change: Action not words’ is one of the themes of this year’s Black History Month. Throughout October, Black activists, anti-racist campaigners and socialists highlight the rich history of Black struggle against racism, poverty and inequality.
Socialists have an additional task of explaining the historic role Black and Asian workers have played in fighting against discrimination.
The Socialist Party agrees that what we need now is action – but what actions are needed to end racism?
Historically, there have been waves of anti-racist movements, including the tremendous civil rights movement of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s in the United States, that have changed the lives of Black and Asian people for the better. For example, it is no longer legally acceptable to discriminate against Black people.
Historic workers’ struggles
In different periods of history, Black and Asian workers in the UK have been at the forefront of struggle against oppression.
The workers involved in the 1963 Bristol bus boycott didn’t expect it, but their struggle became a big turning point that galvanised the whole of the trade union movement to push back the bus company and overturn the ‘colour bar’, which excluded Black people from employment. It showed how Black and Asian workers’ struggle can unite all workers together to bring down racist policies.
The Grunwick dispute from 1976-8, involving some of the most inspiring trade unionists, overwhelmingly Asian women, still resonates to this day. The workers, who faced with triple oppression because of their class, race and gender, took strike action and won mass support in the trade union movement.
These and other many examples show the power of a united struggle. We workers of all backgrounds, when we come together on a common programme, can force change and push back bosses and the oppressors.
Racism at work
However, wage inequality and other racist discrimination still exists. In a recent study commissioned by the Trade Union Congress, it says that 40% of those who report a racist incident are being ignored. The State of Black Britain report published last month by the Black Equity Organisation, gives more examples of racism experienced in the workplace. For example, over 60% said of respondents they had been passed over for promotion or employment due to their ethnicity.
Racism is one of the tools used by right-wing governments and capitalists to divide the working class. It is deeply inherent in capitalism. Socialists agree with key leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Huey P Newton, that you can’t have capitalism without racism. In the words of Huey P Newton – we must destroy both racism and capitalism.
2020 was the most recent turning point in the movement against racism. We saw a mass movement of mainly working-class young people on the streets in the major cities, under the banner of Black Lives Matter, coming out in hundreds of thousands against racial inequality.
There was an understanding amongst a layer that fighting racism means challenging the very system that we are in. Many of the protesters agreed with us when we said that means getting rid of capitalism. And that this is an international struggle. George Floyd was killed by the police in the US, and then two years later we saw the killing of Chris Kaba in south London. Since then, another police officer has been suspended for racism.
Although racism affects all Black and Asian people, it disproportionately affects working-class people. Why? Black and Asian working-class people are affected by racism, but are also impacted by the class inequality that exists in capitalism.
There is an increasing number of Black people in the long queues for food banks. A recent report shows that people of colour are more likely to live in very high air-pollution areas. The added pollution is affecting mental wellbeing and physical health. They are also experiencing high rents and low pay. This is on top of the cost-of-living crisis that is pushing working-class families to a breakdown.
Black and Asian capitalists and millionaires do not have to worry about feeding their loved ones, making ends meet, or their health and wellbeing. On these issues, the capitalist system is looking after them.
Mass anti-racist movement
We need a system that looks after us. So when fighting to build a mass movement against racism, we also need to campaign for economic demands that affect Black and Asian workers.
The Socialist Party has produced a Black worker’s charter that puts forward a programme and a set of demands that can be fought for to improve the conditions of Black and Asian people in the UK. To combat racism in the workplace, we call for a fair reporting system, free from judgement, so that any type of racial abuse, verbal or physical, can be immediately reported and acted on. This process should be overseen by elected shop stewards and trade unions. We also call for the trade unions to oversee the recruitment and promotion process. We demand job security and an end to the race pay gap.
Amongst other demands, we also campaign for the right to protest, to end stop and search, for more mental health services and refugee centres, and free school meals for all our children.
The capitalists are already gearing up for us to pay for their new economic crisis. As has been shown throughout the years of austerity and Covid, as the rich have got much richer while we have lost jobs, pay and services, the capitalist system is incapable of providing stable decent living standards for working-class people.
That’s why as well as campaigning for all the reforms we can get, the Socialist Party also puts forward a programme for the socialist transformation of society.
We fight for policies like renationalising the energy companies, rail, mail and privatised utilities. To take the wealth off the 1% by nationalising the big companies that dominate the economy, and for them be run democratically under workers’ control and management.
In this cost-of-living crisis, a huge number of workers, of all backgrounds, are taking part in a strike wave on a scale not seen for years, and more workers are balloting and preparing to join in.
When workers strike they have the potential power stop the economy from functioning, and so to challenge the capitalists. We are seeing a new layer of Black and Asian workers joining struggle and winning. It is this collective coordinated struggle that can win a programme for socialist change and challenge all the backward ideas that breed under capitalism.
This is the third in a series of articles for Black History Month. Others can be read at