Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/966/26275
Black History Month 2017
The fight against racial discrimination is tied to the fight to defeat capitalist austerity
Hugo Pierre, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party and Unison national executive committee (personal capacity)
On the morning of 10 October the Tory government announced it was launching a website to show the widespread racial inequality in Britain. To many this will seem like a sick Black History Month joke.
In preparation for the launch, communities minister Sajid Javid was invited onto the BBC's Today programme. Interviewer John Humphrys put to him that the government has known much of this information for a long time; 'shouldn't you have been doing something about it?'
Javid's reply was 'we've put together this website for wider debate because the government doesn't have all the answers'. In reality, the Tories have no answers. They didn't even commission any new research for the website launch but just brought together existing statistics from various departmental websites!
The reality is this Tory government and the previous Con-Dem coalition government have made matters a lot worse. Their austerity drive has widened the wealth gap and increased levels of poverty. This has had a massive impact on black workers.
Black workers make up 14% of the working age population but only 10% of the workforce. Employment for white workers stands at 75.6% while for black workers it is 62.8%.
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that black workers were disproportionately represented in lower paid jobs and twice as likely to be on temporary contracts as white workers.
The 'old' information on the new government website shows that black adults are twice as likely to be unemployed than white adults. Among young people that figure is even higher. And while right-wing Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan continues to claim that London is a welcoming, diverse city, the capital masks high levels of discrimination.
The unemployment rate for black Caribbean workers is around 20% in places like Hackney, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth and Islington when the national average for white workers is 4.8% - this is five times the rate according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Local councils that have refused to fight for more funding from the government are no longer equal opportunities employers as some Labour authorities 'fought' to be in the 1980s.
A survey by the local government trade union Unison through Freedom of Information requests showed a consistent pattern of underrepresentation of black workers in the workforce, overrepresentation in lower-paid jobs, and over-selection for redundancy in local government.
The union's 2017 national black members conference passed a motion that noted high levels of bullying and harassment of black staff and underrepresentation of black staff in senior positions or on NHS trust boards.
Levels of wage inequality are widely reported in many industries, most publicly in the BBC gender pay gap row over the summer. However, there is undoubtedly a wider race pay gap.
Black workers also suffer disproportionately when services are cut: they are often the first to lose their jobs as well as the services provided. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report suggests one of the part of the solution could be to provide better, more flexible childcare. This at a time when local authorities are cutting back nursery places because they refuse to stand up to funding changes imposed by the government.
However, the richest 1,000 people have seen their wealth increase by 100% since 2010 according to the Sunday Times 'rich list'. Their wealth increased by 14% in 2016-17 alone.
It is estimated that the bosses of the UK's biggest 100 companies 'earn' an average of £5.3 million a year - a staggering 386 times the pay of an employee on the government's misnamed 'national living wage'.
However, black workers are playing a significant role in fighting the austerity agenda that effectively has taken money from the poor to give huge handouts to the rich.
The strikes in many public organisations of low paid, privatised workers have been inspirational. Soas cleaners, LSE cleaners, Barts health workers and numerous others where there are high proportions of black workers, show that collective action can fundamentally undermine division and discrimination.
Many studies show that where there are collective bargaining arrangements in place, there is often no race pay gap.
Jeremy Corbyn's Labour election programme for a £10 an hour minimum wage, council house building, renationalisation of the NHS, railways and energy providers, ending student tuition fees, and a return to collective trade union bargaining for medium to large workplaces, was hugely popular.
The anti-austerity platform needs to be put into action and not just promised for the future. Corbyn is seen as a politician with strong principles among wide sections of the working class, including, many black workers.
There is still though, a fear that he will come under enormous pressure from the political establishment not to implement many of the modest demands in his programme if he was elected prime minister. This pressure will undoubtedly come from big business but would most likely be channelled through the right-wing Blairite wing of the party.
The movements that black workers have already started against low pay, no collective bargaining, privatisation, and other terms and conditions, could be given a massive boost if Corbyn urged all Labour councils to begin discussions on meeting these demands.
If this was mobilised into a movement to end the public sector cuts and privatisation, black and white workers would organise together to support such measures.
As those workers that have started in this direction are already doing, they would see that racism, exploitation and division are the beginning and the end of this rotten capitalist system. The only answer would be to end the grotesque inequalities and bring the whole economy under workers control to plan society in the interest of all not just 1% of the population.
Low pay and exploitation: black workers lead the fightback!
April Ashley, Unison national executive committee black members seat (personal capacity)
"We have raised our head up high. We have achieved something. We have a chance to put our case (in upcoming pay negotiations) and we have hope something will be achieved. If not, we are still strong and we will mobilise our people" - Ebrima Sonka, Royal London Unite rep.
In summer 2017 black and minority ethnic workers were key among those leading a shining, inspiring, example of a fightback against austerity.
Cleaners, porters and catering staff, big numbers of black and migrant women workers among them have taken 24 days of strike action over the summer against low pay at four hospitals in Barts Health Trust in London.
In their union, Unite, they took strike action against billion-dollar company Serco which runs ancillary services at Barts Health NHS Trust.
Workers face super-exploitation from Serco which is engaged in a 'race to the bottom' as the company intensifies harsh working conditions without increasing wages, often leaving black workers at the bottom of the heap.
Enough is enough
Tired and ill from overworking these workers said enough is enough, refused to take this lying down and launched a struggle for decent pay. With big bold and noisy picket lines and a thousand-strong march and rally in east London they joined the battle.
Demands were modest, for an increase of 30p an hour, as they were a newly organised workforce. But the strike garnered widespread interest. National newspapers and Channel 4 News covered the strike as an example of workers suffering under the brutal reality of austerity and consequently why so many workers flocked to Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity message.
But more importantly trade unionists and activists throughout Britain and internationally rallied to support the Barts strikers as they understood we are all in it together - 'an injury to one is an injury to all'!
Other workers taking action in the summer linked up with the Barts strikers, British Airways cabin crew who were on strike and low-paid workers at the Bank of England.
I made a solidarity visit from my Unison branch and met an angry but determined picket line. Strikers were bitter over Barts Unison health workers branch not supporting the strike but felt they had no other choice but to strike on their own.
The strikers have now agreed a deal with Serco which didn't win everything but did get a 1% increase for workers on the original Serco contract and an increase to the London Living Wage for workers on the new contract, as well as non-consolidated lump sum payment.
As Ebrima Sonka said: "We just have to make our mark. We know they're (Serco) not going to give up easily; they're a big multinational company. Nothing is going to be given to us on a platter; we have to fight for it. It is our right to fight for what we need. In 20 years' time there will be people who say those are the people who fought for what we are enjoying."
Oppression of black and minority ethnic people has not gone away
Marvin Hay, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Black history month (BHM) 2017 marks 30 years of the event in the UK. It originally started in the USA to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas and was coined 'Negro history week'.
It wasn't until 1987, in the aftermath of the inner city riots that erupted across England involving mainly young black people against police oppression, that the first UK BHM begun. But what has changed in the last 30 years?
Theresa May's recently released report shows continuing disparity in opportunities and prospects between ethnic minority groups and white people, with unemployment rates at 8% and 5% respectively and employment rates at 64% and 76%.
The Guardian's 'Colour of Power Project' showed that in the police, military, Supreme Court, security services as well as the top consultancies and law firms, there are no black leaders at all.
But representatives of a particular race alone can't solve the structural racism that disadvantages black people over their white counterparts. The austerity of the 1980s, like now, still sees black people at the sharp end.
More disturbingly, the leadership of some organisations said to represent the interests of black people do little more than rubber stamp the capitalists' neoliberal agenda. This immobilises movements which could affect real change, not only for black people but the working class as a whole.
1987 saw six deaths of black people in police custody (Clinton McCurbin, Nenneh Jalloh, Mohammed Parkit, Tunay Hassan, Mark Ventour and Joseph Palombella) - the same number as in 2015. In 2017 we have already seen the number reach four dead.
Alarmingly, the police continue to close ranks around deaths in custody. They have yet to interview the officer who carried out the fatal arrest of Rashan Charles, nor will they give any proper explanation for his death.
Worse still, the Metropolitan Police has not heeded the Independent Police Complaints Commission recommendations that the officer involved be suspended pending investigation. Instead they have chosen to unilaterally apply for an ex parte application for reporting restrictions on their investigations.
A socialist programme of ensuring free education for all, job creation with wage protection, and mass house building and rent control, would be the first steps in levelling out the playing field - an attempt to truly redress some of the inequalities and fears that plague black communities and pit people against each other.
The police has been proven time and time again to only represent the interests of the capitalist political class - Orgreave, Hillsborough, New Cross Fire, Habbib Ullah, to name a few. Not even the mis-named Independent Police Complaints Commission is able to give at least the illusion of accountability.
We must continue to demand democratic control of the police led by trade unions, local people and community groups. Only through solidarity and the mutual understanding of the issues affecting the wider working class and the fight for a socialist alternative can we begin to make demands that can truly eliminate racism.
In The Socialist 11 October 2017:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Black History Month 2017
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Comment and reviews