The Sam Bond Affair
In the saga of Liverpool no figure, apart from Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton, was to become as well known both inside and outside the city as Sam Bond.
His appointment as Principal Race Relations Officer in October 1984 triggered off a ferocious and sometimes violent campaign against the council and against Militant supporters in particular. The opponents of the city council gathered together like one big boil. With one voice, the self appointed ‘leaders’ of the black population of Liverpool 8 (the so-called Black Caucus), the Liberals, the Tories, the soft left of the Labour Party and the Church, denounced the appointment of Sam Bond.
In the next three years, hundreds of thousands of words, and 14 violent assaults by the Black Caucus and its supporters were carried out in an attempt to reverse Sam Bond’s appointment. Why such ferocity over one individual?
The issues raised by the Sam Bond affair were rooted in the long history of the black population of Liverpool. More than any other city in Britain, Liverpool was built on the slave trade. Before the slave trade, Liverpool was ‘an insignificant seaport, a small port of little consequence… a few streets some little distance from the creek – or pool – which served as a harbour’. The slave trade was ‘the pride of Liverpool’ which flooded the town with wealth:
which invigorated every industry, provided the capital for docks, enriched and employed the mills of Lancashire and afforded the means for opening out ever new lines of trade. Beyond a doubt it was the slave trade which raised Liverpool from a struggling port to be one of the richest and most prosperous trading centres in the world. (Peter Fryer: Staying Power – The History of Black People in Britain)
Liverpool’s population grew five times as fast as its nearest seaport rival, Bristol. Of the 19 British firms that transported the most slaves to Jamaica after 1791 all but three were located in Liverpool. By the 1790s one quarter of Liverpool’s total shipping was employed in the slave trade, accounting for 60 per cent of the British slave trade and 40 per cent of that of Europe as a whole.
Without the slave trade, as Marx pointed out, there would have been no world market, and without the world market capitalism would not have developed. The rise of capitalism was directly ‘and frankly regarded as resting on slavery’. As Peter Fryer has pointed out: ‘Rising British capitalism had a magic money machine, an endless chain with three links: sugar cultivation; manufacturing industry; and the slave trade. And the slave trade was the essential link.’
Liverpool merchants were infamous for their cruelty and for cutting expenses to the bone, maltreating both slaves and sailors. Peter Fryer also comments: ‘The clergy was scarcely less eager than the grocers, barbers and tailors.’ Indeed, the clergy of the day sanctified, and even glorified the slave trade with all its inhumanity and degradation. Such is the guilt of the present Church dignitaries that their atonement for the past crimes of the Church is achieved by adopting a supine, not to say cringing, attitude to the black middle-class gathered together in the ‘race relations industry’.
The slave trade in turn promoted the shipbuilding industry, which was to remain a dominant industry in Liverpool right up to the present time. Moreover, the slave merchants were to play a key role in the local government of the city. At least 26 of Liverpool’s Mayors, holding office between 1700 and 1820 were, or had been, slave merchants or close relatives. All the ‘grand old Liverpool families’ were more or less steeped in slavery, including that of the famous William Gladstone who became a Liberal Prime Minister.
In his first speech in the House of Commons he defended slavery on the family estates in British Guyana. When the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the Liverpool merchants had already begun to diversify their interests. They switched from transporting slaves to another profitable commodity – cotton – which just happened to be produced by slave labour. The symbolic heads of African elephants and African slaves engraved on the façade of the town hall, built 1749-54, symbolise the role of the slave trade in the building of the city.
Liverpool 8 is probably the most ghettoised area of Britain. Unlike most of the ‘black areas’ in other parts of Britain, the population of this area is in the main long-established with most families having lived there for generations. Yet it is the black community of Liverpool 8 which has faced racism in a more searing fashion and over a longer timespan than any other section of the black population of Britain. Apart from the 1981 uprising the most serious incidences of racial attack took place in 1919 and 1948.
The demobilisation of troops in 1918-19 had enormously increased the competition for jobs. The capitalists encouraged the fear that blacks were taking ‘white workers’ jobs’. The police then, as now, inflamed the situation by picking on and beating up blacks. An attack in 1919 on a black seamen’s boarding house resulted in a clash with the police in which one policeman was shot in the mouth, another in the neck, and a third was slashed on the face and neck.
At one of the houses raided in Upper Pitt Street lived Charles Wootton, a young ship’s firefighter, variously described as a Bermudan or a Trinidadian. Wootton had been discharged from the Navy in the previous March. He ran from the house when the police raided, but was pursued by two policemen and a large crowd of between 200 and 300 people hurling missiles. The police caught hold of him at the edge of the Queen’s Dock but the lynch mob tore him from the policemen’s hands and threw him into the water. He was pelted with stones as he swam around, and soon died. No arrests were made of those who led the mob.
In the next few days, an anti-black reign of terror raged in Liverpool. Gangs of between 2000 and 10,000 roamed the streets, ‘savagely attacking, beating and stabbing every negro they could find’. The local press poured oil on the fires. The Liverpool Courier, the predecessor of the Liverpool Echo, declared:
One of the chief reasons of popular anger behind the present disturbances lies in the fact that the average negro is nearer the animal than is the average white man, and that there are more women in Liverpool who have no self respect. The white man… regards [the black man] as part child, part animal and part savage. It is quite true that many of the blacks in Liverpool are of a low type, that they insult and threaten respectable women in the streets, and that they are invariably unpleasant and provocative. (Liverpool Courier, 11 June 1919.)
Following the 1981 riots Kenneth Oxford, the local police chief, described the inhabitants of Liverpool 8 as ‘the product of liaisons between white prostitutes and African sailors’! The attitude of the summits of society has hardly changed since 1919!
Clashes took place, although on a smaller scale, in 1948. The causes were very similar to those in 1919. By 1948 about 8000 black people were based in Liverpool, most of whom had come to Britain to help the ‘war effort’. The competition for jobs prompted the National Union of Seamen (NUS), under firm right-wing domination, to organise a drive to keep black seamen off British ships.
About 30 per cent of black adults were seamen, and another 10 per cent had shore jobs. Sixty per cent of the black population were therefore unemployed as a result of this ‘colour bar’. The attacks of the NUS leadership added to the general discrimination and hostility to blacks in the city. When clashes took place the police invariably took the part of the whites.
In August 1948, a 300-strong mob gathered outside an Indian restaurant. They attacked a West African and this led in turn to clashed between whites and blacks throughout the South End of the city. The next day, 2000 whites attacked a hostel for black seamen. The blacks barricaded themselves in, but when the police came they arrested the defenders! On the third day, the black community received details of an attack on a club, Wilkies, in Upper Parliament Street. They prepared to defend the premises.
The police then attacked the club, inflicting serious damage on many of the defenders. A white woman, who saw police beating up black men ‘unmercifully’ protested to the police and was arrested for her pains. The police then went on the rampage beating up and attacking blacks throughout the area.
In 1972 a racial clash took place between whites and blacks over the allocation of new council housing to black or racially mixed families in the Fulton Estate in Liverpool 8. These clashes were a prelude to the far more widespread and serious upheavals in the 1980s.
The Boom – Racism Continues
The economic upswing of 1950-75 had resulted in an appreciable rise in the living standards of the working class in Britain, with minimal unemployment, a rise in home ownership, paid holidays, a shorter working week, etc.
However, throughout this whole period the population of Liverpool 8 was largely denied the benefits of the upswing. With endemic and mass unemployment well over 50 per cent, the black worker was denied opportunities to work in industry and in the council. Thus in 1975, there were only 75 black workers amongst the 10,000 employees in 19 Liverpool shops. Even as late as 1983, after millions of words and dozens of reports detailing the situation, a mere 12 black staff out of a sample of 3000 employees in the city centre were found.
A report on the Liverpool Area Health Authority in 1983 found three black training nurses out of a total of 306. None of the 136 staff nurses in Liverpool were blacks. Out of 16,000 staff, the Liverpool Area health Authority employed a mere 110 black people.
Black people in Liverpool, to a much greater extent than elsewhere, were pushed out of the mainstream of society. More than 50 per cent of the black population were born in Liverpool. Many have a white parent or grandparent, but their confinement to the ghetto served to reinforce the prejudices which existed, and still exist, amongst sections of the white working class.
Undoubtedly, racial hostility to black newcomers in the 1950s and 1960s was open in its initial phases in most parts of Britain. But living alongside of, and struggling and working together with blacks, undermined many of the prejudices of white workers and softened this racial animosity, although without completely burning it out of the consciousness of big sections of the working class. However, in Liverpool where the black population has been far more isolated, racial prejudices, even in a latent form, have continued for much longer than in the more racially mixed areas of Birmingham, Bradford and London.
This racial animosity, born out of a false sense of superiority, was and is particularly prevalent amongst the Liverpool police force. If the situation was bad for blacks during the boom, it became catastrophic by the early 1980s. Unemployment in Liverpool between 1974 and 1981 rose by 120 per cent, but in the same period black unemployment in Liverpool 8 increased by 350 per cent.
The clash over the appointment of Sam Bond was not at all accidental, nor did it involve merely the fate of one man. Two entirely different philosophies, reflecting diametrically opposed class forces, clashed on the issue of his appointment as Principal Race Relations Officer to the Liverpool City Council. On the one side stood the class-conscious approach of the labour movement. On the other side stood the race relations industry, feeling threatened to the very marrow of their being by the appointment of just one Marxist to such a potentially important position. Standing behind them were all the forces of ‘official society’ (i.e. capitalism) determined to purge discussion on racism and how to combat it, of any trace of a class analysis.
This opposition was orchestrated by the Black Caucus, a body which originated in 1980, when the Liberal-controlled city council invited the local Community Relations Council to appoint representatives to sit on a new race relations committee. These ‘representatives’ subsequently called themselves the Black Caucus. This body consisted of just 12 members who first came to prominence in 1983 when they organised a coup which resulted in the removal of some of the original liaison committee members.
Attempting to answer the charge of the Marxists in the labour movement that this clique was ‘unrepresentative’ of the black population of the area, the Black Caucus claimed to represent 70 black organisations throughout the city. They have never named these 70 organisations, and indeed have been repudiated many times by a number of black organisations as in no way being representative of the black community of Liverpool 8. The close-knit character of the black area was such that the role of these self-appointed leaders was to be exposed very quickly and clearly. Amongst the great majority of the black population of Liverpool 8 they were looked on with contempt.
The Black Caucus is however representative of and has a base among the ‘race relations industry’, the sects on the fringes of the labour movement, the Churches and latterly all those bourgeois elements who have come into opposition to the council.
The Race Relations Industry
The ruling class were alarmed at the emergence of black militancy in the late 1960s and 1970s in the wake of the movement of the American blacks.
The generation of blacks born in this country, unlike their parents, became more and more alienated from capitalist society and naturally gravitated towards a philosophy which criticised the system. Elements of black nationalism fused with a searching for a class analysis. This fear of the ruling class was reinforced by the riots in Bristol, Brixton and Toxteth in 1981.
The spectre of an alienated and combative black youth linking up with an equally determined and increasingly radicalised white working-class youth terrified the ruling class. The elements of such an alliance were present in the riots of 1981, and again in the uprising on the Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham, in 1985. The ruling class were determined to create points of support within the black community as a means of staving off such a development.
This philosophy was given perhaps its most finished form in the statements of Employment Minister, Kenneth Clarke. A speech of his was greeted with the headline, ‘Jobs Programme to create black middle class’. The Daily Telegraph (23 June 1986) states:
The Employment Minister said the eventual aim of this programme for the inner cities was the formation of a black middle class which he believed could provide a role for young members of ethnic minorities.
The soil upon which such a class, in reality a privileged caste, could grow has been nourished by the £80 million per year being ploughed into the inner cities in grants and other aid by 1986. This sum is channelled through the vast array of race relations agencies and advisers which now litter the inner city ghettos. Lord Scarman, in an article in New Society in February 1986, reinforced the strategy of the more far-sighted representatives of the ruling class:
Our underlying social strategy should be to create ethnic minority opportunities in the universities, the professions, the civil service, the police, politics and public life, in business activities and in industrial management. In other words, we must create a black British middle class. If we can create a black middle class then we will also be creating a group that can exercise responsible and creative leadership in their own community and in the nation – to the benefit of all of us in Britain. (Our emphasis)
The establishment of the ‘race relations industry’ was an attempt on the part of the British bourgeois to replicate in Britain the measures of ‘affirmative’ or ‘positive’ action developed by the American ruling class in the wake of the civil rights movements and the riots of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In cities Detroit they poured in millions of dollars to refurbish those areas affected by the riots. A whole series of laws enforcing quotas for the employment of blacks were introduced.
The aim was to blunt the teeth of the movement of black militancy which had become evident in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the enormous resources of American capitalism and the continuation of the economic upswing the American possessing classes were partially successful in this exercise. Most of those militants who participated in the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s were skilfully drawn back into the ‘system’. Big openings were created for black policemen, civil servants, lawyers, mayors, members of Congress, etc.
The illusion was created that the average black could ‘make it to the top’. However, this did not substantially alter the desperate plight of the overwhelming majority of the blacks, who were working class. Moreover, the measures of ‘positive or affirmative action’ are now being deliberately undermined by the Reagan administration, and in a period of slump and mass unemployment will either be discarded or become the source of endless friction between black and white. The attempt to create a stable point of support amongst the black working class of America will, in the long run, prove to have failed. In Britain this failure will be even more apparent than in America.
In the mid-1960s the Wilson Labour government introduced a series of racist immigration laws. The Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission (later amalgamated into the Commission for Racial Equality) were set up, inn effect to check and defuse the rise of black militancy. From its inception, the race industry has come under fire from the most radicalised sections of the black movement.
In his book A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance, the veteran anti-racist campaigner, A Sivanandan, Comments:
It [the Community Relations Commission] has successfully taken politics out of the black struggle… It has, together with the Race Relations Board, created a black bourgeoisie to which the state can now hand over control of black dissidents in general and black youth in particular. (p 121)
His statements about a black bourgeoisie are not accurate, but he hits the nail on the head when he says: ‘They had to be allowed to move upwards within the existing system so that they would not threaten to transform it into a different system.’
Those who constitute the leadership of the Liverpool Black Caucus are drawn precisely from such a social milieu. Their philosophy is a peculiar mixture of crude black nationalism and right-wing reformism. They have a consensus approach to race which ingratiates them with all those forces and parties which rest on capitalism.
In Black Linx, the organ of the Merseyside Community Relations Council (December 1984), they attacked Sam Bond for stating:
I view racism not as a natural process, but as a phenomenon that specifically arises out of the prevailing economic and social framework and which has been developed and used as a tool to further the specific political and economic interests of a certain section of society.
Particularly disturbing here is the assertion that racism is ‘used as a tool’ by sectional interests within society. This view is no more than a crude conspiracy theory. It suggests that racism is propagated by the conscious will of those with a vested interest in maintaining inter-racial conflict. If this were true, the task of anti-racists would be very simple. However, reality is much more complex than a dogmatic, uninformed Militant position.
Thus a class analysis is airily dismissed as ‘a crude conspiracy theory’. This is music to the ears of the spokespersons of British capitalism. The guiding principle of the British ruling class in carving out its empire was the policy of divide and rule tested in Ireland, developed in India, and reinforced in its conquest of its African colonies. Black Linx goes on to argue:
It is clear that racism is embedded in the language, traditions, legal structures, education systems and communications media – and that such instances of racism have not always developed out of the conscious intent of any sectional interest group. Conspiracy theories of this sort invariably over-simplify the problem.
They obscure the interaction of social institutions and structures in the historical context of British imperialism, colonial exploitation, slave trading etc. Racism is an intensely complex phenomenon. Entirely unconvincing ‘analyses’ such as those offered by Mr Bond merely confuse the subject, and render the task of genuine anti-racists much more difficult.
Thus only the ‘experts’ of the race relations industry can understand the ‘complex issues’ of race. The average ‘uneducated’ black worker must leave it to these experts to hand down their highly ‘complex’ analyses of racism in Britain. Militant and the broad labour movement have always approached the question from a diametrically opposite point of view.
Black workers are doubly oppressed. They are exploited as workers and also face persecution and discrimination because of the colour of their skin. Militant does not dodge the issue of racism amongst sections of the white population. But the ‘race relations industry’ approaches this question in a one sided and therefore erroneous fashion.
British imperialism as part of its domination of its colonies deliberately fostered superior racist attitudes which have left their imprint on the outlook of significant layers of the British working class. But as Leon Trotsky pointed out, within the breast of the British working class beats two souls. One betrays a political backwardness, ringed with prejudice against black workers. The other reveals a heroic tradition of combating the ruling class and making sacrifices in the interests of workers of other countries.
The Labour Movement Combating Racism
Karl Marx underlined the colossal sacrifices which the Lancashire cotton workers were prepared to make in opposition to the slave states in the American civil war.
By refusing to handle the cotton from the southern plantations, hundreds of thousands of cotton workers were either thrown out of work or reduced to short time and thereby to penury. Nor should be ever forget the internationalism of the London dockers who refused to load the Jolly George which was taking arms to suppress the Russian Revolution. The way to combat racism is not, as the Black Caucus and the race relations industry imagine, by lecturing workers on the evils of racist attitudes.
Militant has been to the forefront of the struggle to defend the interests of black workers, against police harassment, racial attacks, deportations and for equal rights in employment and housing. But it is only by uniting the struggles of all workers in combating their day to day problems and linking this to the establishment of a socialist society, that the antagonism of black and white workers will be dissolved.
In all the scribblings of the race relations industry, the backwardness, prejudice, and so-called ingrained racism of white workers is emphasised. There have been examples where right-wing leaders of unions have taken measures against the employment of black workers, attempted to introduce quotas etc, as was the case with the National Union of Seamen in 1948. However, the majority of the labour movement have always been implacably opposed to such a policy. Also, strikes of black and white workers have taken place where racist management or supervisors have attempted to victimise black or Asian workers. Trevor Carter, in his book Shattering Illusions, gives the example of the railway workers in Camden:
Shunting is a dangerous job and it is impossible to work in fog. One such foggy night we were in our guards’ and shunters’ cabin, waiting for a heavy mist to lift, when in burst a man we didn’t know. He ignored the white shunters and railed at the black ones, ‘Where do you think you are, in the jungle? Get out there and do your job.’
I represented the guards and shunters and asked, ‘Who are you?’ ‘An outside inspector’, he replied, ‘to report on some of the nonsense that goes on here’, ‘Is that so?’ he was told, ‘in that case, you can report that there will be no more work done here tonight, tomorrow and perhaps for quite a while, unless there is an apology for your behaviour which is acceptable to all of us.’
He stormed out. There was a great cheer from all of us and we prepared to brew a jug of tea for what might be a long stay. It wasn’t too long. Euston [headquarters of British Rail] called me to the telephone for our version. In a short while, back crawled the ‘outside inspector’ with an abject apology. We worked joyfully for the rest of the night shift. It’s a great feeling when workers together declare ‘No racism here’.
The Camden railwayworkers took the struggle outside the workplace. They smashed the colour bar in the pubs surrounding the station. They organised protests, challenged breweries and took on the licensing authorities. It was slow, hard work, but they drew on their strength as organised workers as well as individuals.
The basis for such united class action had been laid by a long, stubborn struggle of union activists in the Camden railway unions. To begin with, there had been a downing of tools and even threats of strikes when the first black workers appeared on the railways. Only a policy of educating black and white workers in the need for class solidarity was to lay the basis for the magnificent stand of the Camden railwayworkers. Moreover, the black workers themselves, by their solid support for strike action which followed these events and for the unions, shattered the overt racism that undoubtedly existed in the initial phase of black involvement.
Throughout the last three decades, there have been many similar examples of strikes in defence of black and Asian workers at Fords, British Leyland, Longbridge and Cowley for example. Of course, this does not mean that latent racial antagonisms and prejudices can by burned out of the consciousness of workers in a single industrial struggle or by a single action. Only through the constant example and efforts of the labour movement and through ideological and political education will racism be combated successfully.
On thing is certain, the methods of the race relations industry in the form of the Black Caucus, had they been allowed to flourish in Merseyside, would have had catastrophic consequences for the local labour movement. The appointment of one of their members as Principal Race Relations Officer, in preference to Sam Bond, would have enormously complicated the struggle against racism.
Militant has been asked many times whether the decision to support Sam Bond, particularly in the face of such relentless and ruthless opposition, was not a tactical mistake. Peter Taaffe, editor of Militant, in a statement at the time answered this question:
There is not a shadow of regret among Militant supporters for the continual support that was given to Sam Bond. Firstly, an exceptional and honourable record in beginning to cement relations between black and white workers in Liverpool was undertaken by Sam Bond and the Liverpool City Council. Secondly, any supporter of the Black Caucus [in the position of Principal Race Relations Officer] would have divided and set workers against one another.
We only have to look towards the example of some of the trendy left councils in London on the issue of racism. They create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion amongst white workers. Yet the aim should be to bring black and white together, to overcome differences and prejudices.
This is the traditional method of the labour movement and is central to the approach of Militant. It is not a question of pandering to the backwardness or prejudice of whites, but of seeking to overcome such prejudices in the course of struggle, political discussion and education. Militant supports several of the concrete measures which were taken by left councils such as the introduction of equal opportunity advisers, who encourage sensitivity to the diversity of cultures within schools. Militant and the general labour movement wholeheartedly support measures.
Not only is it a question of what is done, but of who does it, why they do it and how it is done. The black petit-bourgeois who dominate the race relations industry jealously guard what they consider is their constituency. They wish to maintain the illusion of a non-class black community and any independent movement of black workers threatens to undermine their position. In the Labour Party they wish to separate out and divide black workers from the rest of the labour movement. Thus, when Linda Bellos (leader of the Lambeth Council) in 1987 outlined a cuts package, she berated her critics on the left, saying that they opposed her only because they were a ‘white-left split’.
In contrast, the whole history of the labour movement internationally has been to overcome race, religious and ethnic differences by fusing workers together into one organisation. Militant advocates special commissions within the Labour Party and trade unions composed primarily of black and Asian workers to highlight and campaign, to involve and solve the problems of black and Asian workers. But this is entirely different from building separate organisations which is what the Black Sections movement attempts to do. Moreover the logic of the position of the Black Caucus, and the race relations industry, is that only these ‘experts’ will be able to teach black and Asian children – a thoroughly reactionary position.
In Hackney an attempt was made to demand that only black workers should be employed in certain departments of the council. Both black and white workers should strenuously oppose such a development. Black workers, as opposed to the so-called race relations experts, instinctively understand that such measures in the long run would undermine the position of the black population in Britain. It would fuel the policies of the fascists and racists by further dividing black from white.
The actual size of Liverpool’s black population is uncertain. The 1981 Census reported the section of the ethnic minority population of Merseyside failing under the ‘New Commonwealth and Pakistan’ (NCWP) heading to be 15,000. This clearly under-estimated the real figures for the black population. According to the 1981 Labour Force Survey (LFS), a big proportion (about 40 per cent) of those of NCWP ethnic origin lived in households headed by someone born in the UK, a much higher proportion than in other cities.
These Liverpool-born blacks did not show up in figures for minority groups given in the Census, which classifies the population according to the national origin of the heads of households. As a result, the city council was for years denied additional government funding freely given to other cities to provide resources for their black communities. There were not even resources for thorough research to determine the real figures, a prerequisite for an assessment of the needs of minorities.
The Merseyside Community Relations Council (MCRC), which is dominated by the Black Caucus, correctly argues that the Census, the Labour Force Survey, and other surveys, for various reasons, under-estimate the black population. In 1983 the MCRC put forward their own estimate for Liverpool’s non-white population: between 20-30,000, with about 37 per cent of them being black British. This figure was widely accepted, including by the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), which was carrying out research into unemployment among blacks in the area. Alex Bennett, a prominent member of the Black Caucus, was a member of the Ethnic Sub Group of the MSC’s Area Board, which positively endorsed the MSC report.
In 1985, however, the MCRC put forward a new estimate of between 40-50,000, though without producing new data or explaining the reasons for this revision. According to the MCRC the non-white population of 40,000 is made up of 20,000 Liverpool-born blacks, 8000 Chinese, 4000 from India and Pakistan, 3000 Africans, 3000 from the Caribbean, and 2000 Somali and Arab people. There is no dispute that over half the black population live in the five inner-city wards of Liverpool 8, in the case of Granby ward making up over 20 per cent of the residents.
The Black Caucus in Control
The hysteris with which the appointment of Sam Bond was greeted by the Black Caucus indicated a well-founded fear that once the labour movement in Merseyside seriously took up the issues confronting black people, the virtual monopoly exercised by this petit-bourgeois clique would be broken.
An elaborate smokescreen, denouncing as a ‘racist’ anybody who challenged them was established to prevent a close examination of how they disposed of the considerable funds that had flooded into the area from government and other agencies. There is much evidence to show that funds were continually mismanaged. A year before Sam Bond’s appointment Mr Zach Williams resigned as Chair of the Management Committee:
Another area of serious disagreement with you (and may I also add, the Administrator) pertains to your attitude towards public funds. It seems clear to me that you and the Administrator believe that the Centre could accept public funds and projects without any adequate accounting system.
Williams pointed out that the Charles Wootton Centre should constitute ‘the collective frame of reference for all Liverpool 8 black people, and not just a small clique of self-interested individuals’. In a four-page letter dated 2 November 1984 the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) indicated an astonishing series of financial irregularities in the running of the Charles Wootton Centre, an institution dominated by the Black Caucus. The letter was written to Liz Drysdale, who was running the Charles Wootton Centre and was a prominent member of the Black Caucus. The MSC complained:
The standard of entries remains poor. There is still quite a lot of over-writing and many figures are difficult to read… National Insurance. The paying-in book shows the latest payments to be on 21 August 1984. The cash book shows a payment of £865.14 on 18 October. Why is this so?… August pay sheets for w/e 16 August and 3 August are still missing. Why is this? We need access to these to complete out checks… M. Julienne was paid £86.70 w/e 16 August 1984 and £86.70 w/e 23 August 1984. This is the full-time participant rate; but there is no provision within the agreement for a full-time post in the Video Workshop. Please explain what happened here. We note that he was promoted to supervisor beginning 27 August 1984.
The attempt of the Liberals when they were in power to question the financial arrangements and administration of Charles Wooton House had produced a clash between them and the Black Caucus. But now not a whisper of criticism appeared about the past or current methods of the Black Caucus, who they saw as potential allies against the council.
Sam Bond’s Appointment
The opposition to Sam Bond had nothing to do with the fact that Sam Bond was not a ‘Liverpool-born black’ and it was not primarily of an ideological character.
It had everything to do, however, with the fact that the material interests of this petit-bourgeois clique were threatened by the appointment of someone who would forcefully represent the city council’s socialist policies to fight racism. Up to his appointment, every single race relations job in the city was held by a supporter of the Black Caucus.
From 1984 right up to Sam Bond’s dismissal by the Liberal-Tory coalition in April 1987, the Black Caucus fostered the legend that Sam Bond was a Militant ‘plant’. They have spilt not a little ink attempting to prove that the interviewing panel that chose Sam Bond was rigged. Yet even the Caucus were to admit subsequently that the majority of those on the interviewing panel were not Militant supporters. Moreover, the council had agreed to three Caucus supporters being on the interview panel.
The candidates recommended for shortlisting by the Caucus were largely their own members. One of the leading members of the Black Caucus, Alex Bennett, was himself one of the candidates for the job. Moreover, some Caucus members on the panel were also referees for those they were interviewing, a highly irregular procedure.
There was no objection to Sam Bond being on the shortlist at that stage. The Caucus were absolutely confident that one of their candidates would walk the interview and get the job. But on the day, Sam Bond proved to be by far and away the most outstanding candidate. This was a view unanimously endorsed by all the Labour councillors. It was only then that the Caucus cried foul, criticising the interviewing procedure and even claiming that Sam Bond did not have the support of his union, NALGO. In fact, the whole interviewing process had been ratified by NALGO’s National Emergency Committee.
What then were the objections to Sam Bond’s appointment by the main representatives of the Black Caucus? Steve French arrogantly declared:
For us, Sampson Bond wasn’t a candidate. Mr Bond possesses the same qualities and background in race relations as most of the black people out on the street. He hasn’t any great expertise in management or in all the other areas such as education, housing and employment.
What academic qualifications did Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Hughie Newton, Bobby Seal and George Jackson possess in the 1960s and 1970s for fighting the racism which was endemic in the USA? The ‘race experts’ in the Urban League and other such ‘coloured’ organisations had the same haughty contempt for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X that the professionals in the race relations industry have today to the ordinary black worker who understands and is prepared to combat racism.
Sam Bond’s credentials were far superior to those of his critics. He had been involved in the battle against racism at street level in Lewisham and in the formation of the biggest black youth organisation which Britain has seen, the PNP Youth in the early 1980s, and first-hand experience of combating the effect of racism within the trade-union movement. Moreover, because of his work in Liverpool, the Newham 7 Campaign, a group fighting against police harassment and victimisation of Asian youth in East London, subsequently appointed him as their spokesperson in Liverpool.
No amount of professional qualifications, without a serious grounding in the socialist policies of the labour movement, is capable of mobilising the black working class, together with the labour movement, to combat racism. Moreover, the objection that Sam Bond was not a Liverpool-born black was answered many times by pointing to the many Liverpool-born blacks holding similar positions in Manchester and various boroughs in London.
But the Caucus were not to restrict their opposition to the appointment to words alone. On 10 October, when Sam Bond was about to take up his job, a group of Black Caucus members, leavened by a number of people well-known for their criminal record, occupied and imprisoned Derek Hatton in his office. Some press reports attempted to give the impression that this was just a friendly occupation and that as a result of negotiations and ‘dialogue’ Derek Hatton and other councillors agreed to reconsider Sam Bond’s appointment and re-advertise the post. The reality is that Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn and other councillors were taken hostage, threatened with physical violence and had no option but to sign the ‘agreement’ which was put in front of them by the Black Caucus.
The leadership of Liverpool NALGO, under the control of members and supporters of the Communist Party and the petit bourgeois Labour ex-‘lefts’, dismissed any suggestion that violence was employed against councillors in the siege of the municipal buildings. Yet members of their own union in the City Solicitor’s Department issued a statement in which they commented:
People associated with our members of the Black Caucus who took part in the outrageous activity, are a group of self-appointed leaders elected by nobody and whose views are unrepresentative of the black community. They stormed into an office occupied by two NALGO members and then held hostage, under threat of physical violence, several city councillors and Sampson Bond, a black NALGO member from Brent.
They were told in no uncertain terms that if they attempted to leave the office they would be subjected to physical violence. Extremely obscene and offensive language was used. A black member working in the Campaign Unit was told, amongst other things, ‘You’re a traitor; go away and paint your face white.’
The priorities of the Caucus were shown in the siege. A GMBATU member, who appealed for the release of the councillors in order that they could go to the council meeting to vote on important issues affecting all the workers of Liverpool, including the jailing of Cammell Laird workers, was told: ‘Go away, or you’ll get it.’
NALGO was joined in its opposition to the appointment of Sam Bond by NUPE and the NUT, both unions which had opposed the strike action on 29 March organised in support of the council’s stand. Moreover, at the Joint Shop Stewards Committee the previous week, they had opposed a call for a 24-hour strike in protest against the jailing of Cammell Laird’s workers.
The NALGO leaders refused to put this or their opposition to a vote of their members. A bloc of NALGO, NUPE and the NUT pushed through a resolution on the Executive Committee of the Joint Shop Stewards Committee, deploring the decision of the District Labour Party to uphold Bond’s appointment and calling for a boycott of the post.
The District Labour Party met the evening following the siege of the municipal buildings. They completely rejected the statement which had been signed under duress and reaffirmed the appointment of Sam Bond. After a full debate, the DLP, attended by about 150 delegates, voted overwhelmingly for this decision. When the issues were explained clearly to the unions, there was overwhelming support for Sam Bond. GMBATU Branch 5 took the lead, together with other unions in supporting the decision of the District Labour Party.
The Caucus claimed the right to disseminate their lies and distortions throughout the labour movement. But the council’s attempt to counter this by letters to the workforce explaining the background to the appointment of Sam Bond was denounced as ‘MacGregor style’ tactics. Thus the action of a socialist city council was put on the same plane as those actions of the vicious anti-union chief of the National Coal Board who had just defeated the miners. It is a question not just of what is done, but who does it, why they do it, and how.
The aim of the Liverpool City Council was to defend and to raise up the conditions of life of the working people of Liverpool. It was on the opposite side of the barricades to MacGregor and all those capitalist managements who have attempted to use anti-union propaganda in the form of letters to their workforce. The Marxists completely rejected the idea that the city council did not have the right to inform the council workforce of its position, particularly as on the Sam Bond issue the leaders of NALGO were systematically lying to their own members.
The attempt to equate the Liverpool City Council with MacGregor was to forget one little detail, that they proceeded from opposite class standpoints. They very fact that NALGO and the Black Caucus could squeal about ‘MacGregor-type tactics’ was an indication of their fear of the likely reaction of ordinary workers once they were informed about the facts.
The Liberals, incapable of attacking Labour on the issues of jobs, homes and education quickly moved to join with NALGO and the Black Caucus in exploiting the Sam Bond issue. Adept at political amnesia, the Liberals dropped all opposition to the Black Caucus. Trevor Jones came out as a champion of the black population of Liverpool 8 – yet he had called on the national government to use troops in the 1981 riots! The National Steering Committee of the Labour Party Black Sections weighed in: ‘Militant’s vision for tackling inner city poverty ignores black people by reducing everything merely to class.’ This reflected the increasingly non-class position of the trendy left within the Labour Party and the ‘Euro-communist’ leadership of the Communist Party .
Militant had never presented the issue of race or the struggle against racism in the crude fashion portrayed by its opponents. Militant argues there is a special oppression of black people, as with women, in capitalist society. But in the final analysis these problems are rooted in the class nature of society – a conclusion which the Black Caucus, Communist Party ‘theoretician’ Eric Hobsbawm, and the trendy lefts within the Labour Party criticised as ‘class reductionism’. They were, in reality, criticising the analysis of society which is the basis of Marxism and the labour movement.
By simply posing as a solution to the problems of black people the redistribution of the existing number of jobs from white to black, the trendy left and their allies were advancing a formula for fratricidal strife within the working class. Liverpool City Council, on the other hand, pursued a policy of increasing jobs, of expanding services and, in the process, of creating the basis for increased opportunities in employment, housing, social services, etc., for the black people of Liverpool 8. Moreover, in the teeth of every conceivable obstacle the council’s record was remarkably successful between 1983-7.
In their campaign of vilification, the Black Caucus found some unusual bedfellows.
They denounced Derek Hatton as a racist. The British National Party, on the other hand, wrote in their journal British Nationalist in December 1984: ‘Hatton is one of the biggest negrophiles on Merseyside, having spent his political career championing black causes.’ This did not prevent the BNP and the National Front, in their subsequent feeble attempts to penetrate Merseyside, from chanting support for the Black Caucus on their demonstrations. They worked on the principle that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and at the same time recognised that the Black Caucus were never a threat to them.
The fascist thugs themselves gave recognition of who was combating their poisonous attempts to gain a toehold in Liverpool. In an act of undisguised intimidation, they sent letters to the home addresses of a hundred Militant supporters and sympathisers.
The job of clearing the fascists out of Liverpool was undertaken by the labour movement under the leadership of Militant supporters and the Labour Party Young Socialists. The LPYS had been canvassing and leafleting the area around the Liverpool football ground where the National Front had a tenuous foothold. Clashed developed and the fascists began counter-leafleting throwing racist muck against the Liverpool City Council.
The LPYS replied by organising a public meeting in opposition to the activities of the National Front. Black youth from the LPYS and Derek Hatton spoke at the meeting. He explained the differences between the District Labour Party and members of the Black Caucus on how to fight racism.
He explained the council’s policies: trade-union representation on all interview panels for jobs; monitoring of all jobs to ensure no discrimination; a council award of £150,000 to the Liverpool 8 Law Centre; black trainee housing manager schemes to ensure that black housing problems were dealt with; racial awareness courses for all council employees; and a Chinese Unit was proposed for the Social Services Department. The fascists dared not show their heads at this meeting and for a period open National Front activity was stamped out.
The Black Caucus and their supporters were at pains to paint Sam Bond as some kind of tame Uncle Tom. There were perhaps even some in the Liverpool Labour Group who supported his nomination as a ‘soft option’ thinking he might excuse the labour movement for its lack of commitment in combating racism in the city in its past. In a speck to the Labour group on 17 December, Sam Bond crushingly answered his critics. He declared:
Some of you, I know, have had to face a tirade of insults and abuse over my appointment, and I thank you for holding to your principles and standing firm. I was attracted to apply for my present post by the principled stand taken by the city council in its defence of jobs and services. Since my appointment, I have had to face a barrage of personal attacks. Both my family and I have received threatening phone calls. I have been pushed around, my car has been followed, I have been spat at, and subjected to a torrent of abuse.
Even though I have never broken a single rule of NALGO, it appears that even officials of my union are prepared to condone the threats of violence against me. Nonetheless, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no intention of bowing to threats of intimidation of any kind. I have been appointed to do a job, and I have every intention of carrying it out… This city was built on the backs of black people. The basis of its wealth was derived from black slavery. The historians may attempt to cover up the true history of Liverpool, but it is up to you to face it squarely, because racism continues to scar this city as much now as it did in the past.
Black people continue to be treated with contempt. They are still condemned to the greatest misery and deprivation. And let us be frank, the labour movement must accept its share of responsibility in allowing the cancer of racism to spread and develop in this society. The record of Labour governments on the issue of race has been appalling. The labour movement in Liverpool has failed in the past to seriously address itself to the plight of blacks and other minorities. But now you must seize the opportunity to seriously take up the issue. You must declare war on racism.
Much has been said about adopting a strategy of positive action and ethnic monitoring. I do not with to dwell on these issues tonight, but for the record I want to make it clear that I’ve never been opposed to these measures. But it would be a mistake to think that such action alone can solve the problems of racism. Many Labour councillors in London, and even some Conservative councils, already make extensive use of positive action and monitoring. While these policies may have benefited a handful of blacks, they have made very little impact in improving the conditions of the majority of unemployed blacks. Positive action has been in operation for nearly ten years, yet in that time unemployment amongst black people has risen by over 400 per cent.
Therefore, while I am not opposed to positive action and monitoring, it is clear in Liverpool that we need to go much further. Finally, may I say that it seems to me that I am being used as a scapegoat for what is, in reality, a more general attack on the stand taken by the city council. There are many who would like to see this council go down. But I am sure that you will continue to stand firm. You have declared a commitment to fighting against racism, and you must see that fight through to the very end.
This bold statement, which was repeated at many management committees of the Labour Party in the city, did much to cement the support and affection for Sam Bond in the labour movement. Pushed back, the Black Caucus sought allies outside of Liverpool in its attempt to break the will of the council.
In early December Russell Profitt was drafted in to boost their campaign. He gave perhaps the most finished expression to the haughty contempt of the race relations industry for ordinary blacks when he declared that, as race relations adviser for Brent Council in West London, ‘he would not have short-listed Mr Bond for a race relations job in Liverpool, Lewisham or Brent because of his lack of experience’. (Morning Star, 15 December 1984)
The real motives of those opposing the appointment of Bond was indicated in a statement by Peter Cresswell, NALGO Branch Secretary: ‘I think that the council will have to back down. It’s the first time for years that Militant have come across strong opposition in the labour movement locally. Everyone’s been in awe of them, but we’re not.’
The Morning Star (12 December) declared: ‘The Liberals in Liverpool are now looking forward to more support from the Tory government in their campaign to eventually win back control of the council from Labour.’ In other words, once having gained a victory on the Bond issue, all the opponents of Liverpool council in the Labour movement would seek to reverse the fighting stand of the District Labour Party and the council.
Over the next period, a series of escalating attacks, both on the cit council and on Sam Bond was organised by the Black Caucus and their new-found friends in the Liberal Party. The Black Caucus produced a book, The Racial Politics of Militant in Liverpool, in which the central theme was that the labour movement on Merseyside and in particular Militant are ‘colour blind’. Mild criticism is made of the Liberals when they were in power, but the book consists in the main of a diatribe against Labour’s record.
At the council meeting in early February 1985 Sam Bond was confirmed as Principal Race Relations Officer. The Liberals promised in the debate that if they won control of the council, they would sack anyone from any post they considered ‘political’. Steve French, principal spokesperson for the Black Caucus, did not turn up to speak for the council meeting although he had been invited to speak.
In his absence, the Chair allowed a resident of Liverpool 8 from the public gallery to address the council. A young, unemployed single parent, she fully supported the council in its struggle to combat racism, welcomed the establishment of a Race Relations Unit, and wished Sam Bond every success: ‘Sam Bond has been given a job, and let us get on and fight the Tories.’