Rebuilding Liverpool 8
Despite all the obstacles enormous progress was made in alleviating the conditions of the black population of Liverpool 8. Just as important, an avenue was opened up through the council committees and the trade unions for the advancement of black workers.
Between 1984 and the end of 1985, the council had taken the following measures in Liverpool 8:
- Spent £48 million on housing – more than any other local authority’s local housing budget.
- Rehoused 1730 families.
- Built 978 dwellings.
- Carried out large-scale improvements to 1782 dwellings.
- Demolished 2100 empty slums.
- Carried out major landscape work.
- Rebuilt 150 shops.
Facts, stubborn facts, speak louder than all the millions of words which the Black Caucus and its supporters have hurled against t he council.
After ten years of Liberal and Tory rule, Labour inherited the situation where less than one per cent of the council’s workforce were black. The council housing allocation system operated by the Liberals was blatantly racist, contributing to a process which condemned most black families to ghetto conditions.
Desperately seeking to exploit any issue, the Community Relations Council ‘branded the city housing chiefs as racists’ in early February 1985. Yet shortly before this, the Black Caucus had forcibly prevented Sam Bond from meeting with the Housing Director, Jim Burns, to discuss the issues of the housing conditions of the black population of Liverpool 8.
Of the 3000 meals-on-wheels provided daily by the previous Liberal-Tory council, only nine went to black families. While Labour was in power, the number of black people in receipt of home-helps and meals-on-wheels rose from 0.3 per cent to 13 per cent. Wherever the council was not obstructed by the NALGO boycott of Sam Bond, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of new workers taken on were black. The NALGO leadership loudly proclaimed their support for ‘positive action’ to secure a better deal on jobs. Yet this same NALGO leadership with more concern for their own career prospects, stubbornly and viciously opposed any attempt to ‘externally advertise’ jobs in the middle and higher grades, a policy which would have secured the opportunity to advance the position of black workers.
While criticising most private sector employers, the Black Caucus have extolled the virtues of the Littlewoods empire. Following the 1981 riots, the Littlewoods Chair John Moores began a ‘five per cent black’ policy. This was hailed by the Black Caucus as ‘an excellent example of a good employer’. This, of course, had nothing to do with the fact that the company employed a specialist ‘race adviser’ (a Caucus supporter) and moreover was prepared to dole out grants to favoured black groups, such as those in the Caucus. But the real record of Littlewoods goes no further than mere tokenism. Only 42 (or 0.5 per cent) of Littlewoods’ 8000 strong workforce in Liverpool are black!
As was mentioned above in relation to the threats of violence on Derek Hatton and other councillors besieged in the Town Hall, the Black Caucus were prepared to go a lot further than mere words of denunciation of the council.
On 8 February 1985, Sam Bond was physically attacked by two Black Caucus supporters who went to the municipal offices. When a friend of Sam’s went to his assistance, the attackers loudly protested that they were being assaulted. Ever eager to maintain an even hand, Peter Cresswell, NALGO leader said, ‘Obviously, the incident and the allegations of violence from both sides will be investigated. We always deplore violence in any form’!
When direct physical attacks failed to break Sam Bond, the Caucus threatened riots unless he was removed. Moving phantom armies in Liverpool 8, they declared on 12 February 1985: ‘Solve the dispute over Sam Bond or we bring the city to a halt.’ Shortly afterwards, a leading Caucus supporter, Liz Drysdale, was at the receiving end of threats at her workplace. According to the Echo (5 March 1985):
She decided discretion was the better part of valour, when she was confronted by chain-wielding Richard Agailowura, an industrial tribunal heard. Drysdale stated: I couldn’t get out of the room – there was only one way out. He [the potential assailant] backed off when she gave in and told staff to pay his wages – realising it was no good trying to discuss matters with him, she said. But then an emergency committee meeting voted to sack him after he refused to apologise about the incident.
In other words, faced with an actual physical assault Drysdale, like Derek Hatton in October, first of all agreed to the demands of the assailant, but quite correctly at a later stage withdrew from any ‘agreement’.
Yet the attacks on labour movement figures like Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn and Sam Bond, were considered by the Caucus as the ‘legitimate violence of the black community’. But when Black Caucus supporters were on the receiving end, then threats or threats of violence were condemned out of hand.
In March, April and May, the Black Caucus moved heaven and earth to have Sam Bond removed from his position. They denounced Militant for allegedly wishing to ‘brainwash’ Liverpool blacks. This was merely because Sam Bond began to group around him young blacks who responded to the socialist measures taken to combat racism in the city. Attempts to put a different position to that of the Black Caucus were construed by Steve French as ‘going out and causing friction in the black community’.
Moves to channel attempts to combat racism through the Principal Race Relations Officer, Sam Bond, were immediately met with the charge that the council was ‘attempting to financially strangle opposition to Sam Bond’. This lie was to be repeated many times in the next two years, and was regurgitated in the Black Caucus’s book.
The truth is that Liverpool 8 grant-aid projects and organisations received far more funding from the council than other organisations in any other area in Merseyside. The funds to these organisations were upgraded to £2 million per year, despite the feelings of many in the labour movement that the financial running of these organisations was never properly investigated and where there was considerable cause for concern, as with the Charles Wootton Centre. This investigation, regrettably, was never done by the Labour council or Labour group for fear that the Caucus would use any action to muddy the waters on the Sam Bond issue.
The myth that the black community were united behind the Black Caucus in their opposition to Sam Bond was shattered in early March 1985 when the Afro-Asian Caribbean Standing Committee declared that Sam Bond should be given a chance to show whether he could do the job as Principal Relations Officer. Subsequently 21 black organisations publicly dissociated themselves from the Black Caucus. To the chagrin of the Caucus, the Commission for Racial Equality also met Sam Bond in London in a follow-up meeting to a critical report of Liverpool council’s race policies. ‘We have been betrayed,’ declared the Caucus in a statement printed in the Post.
Any attempts by black or labour movement organisations to solve the dispute over Sam Bond and move forward to tackle the terrible social conditions facing the black population in Liverpool 8 was sabotaged by the Caucus. But Sam Bond’s message and that of the council was having an effect on the more discerning sections of the black population. In early May Sam Bond declared: ‘I am fed up at seeing the Black Caucus putting itself forward as the representative of the black community, because it is not.’ This brought the response from the Chair of the Black Caucus: ‘We don’t claim to represent the entire black community. We are a caucus group, unconnected with other organisations, truing to improve the life for black people in this city.’ This flew in the face of everything that they had said before and which they would say in the future.
Clinging to the coat-tails of the Caucus, the Liberals, in a hypocritical volte-face on their previous attitude towards the population of Liverpool 8, attacked the council: ‘Liberal Richard Pine accused Labour’s deputy leader, Derek Hatton, of ensuring “only tame blacks” got jobs.’ (Post 8 May). He was cheered on by Caucus members who shouted down Labour spokespersons at a meeting to organise a new Equal Opportunities Committee. The actions of the Caucus delayed the establishment of a Chinese Unit composed of three social workers and headed by a Chinese senior worker. This decision had an enormously deleterious effect on the position of the 7000 Chinese-speaking population of Liverpool, the second biggest Chinese community in the country, after London.
Thug Violence Against Labour
Even ‘non-political’ semi-social events organised by the city council were disrupted by the Caucus. Thus the tribute to Liverpool and Everton Football reams by Derek Hatton at an event organised by the council was greeted with jeers and catcalls from 30 supporters of the Caucus.
It was precisely at this moment that Neil Kinnock decided to intervene in Liverpool, not to support the stand of the council against the Tory government, but to give succour to its enemies in the Black Caucus. He agreed to visit the city to discuss with Caucus supporters. This enraged not only the labour movement, but also 17 black groups who signed a letter of protest. But it emboldened the Caucus supporters to engage on an even more disruptive campaign. This culminated with the Caucus hurling eggs at Labour spokesperson, Derek Hatton, and others during the council meeting on 22 May.
Predictably, the Echo sanctimoniously declared: ‘A plague on all your houses.’ Once again it reworked the theme of ‘Militant violence’ even though Militant was on the receiving end:
Protest, demo and yahoo tactics like shouting down your opponent, are the life-blood of the militant Tendency approach to politics. Yesterday the Militant leaders of the Liverpool City Council were given some of their own medicine. No one can condone the riot staged in the council chamber by leaders of the city’s Black Caucus… It is, however, understandable that there is bitter frustration among the black community. Mr Sam Bond was brought here from London and foisted upon them as chief race relations officer in what they see as a blatant political appointment. (Echo 22 May.)
Labour anger boiled over at this, just the latest of the Echo’s lying attacks. The District Labour Party’s statement, for once, was printed in the Echo:
Liverpool Labour leaders were totally united today in the condemnation of the Editor of the Liverpool Echo, Mr Christopher Oakley, for what councillor Derek Hatton described as ‘the most disgraceful editorial that’s been published by the Echo – and given their consistent hate campaign against Liverpool council, that has taken some doing.
It is not, never has been, and never will be the policy of the Liverpool Labour Council or Militant supporters to shout down opponents or engage in blatant physical intimidation and violence as was alleged in Wednesday’s Echo editorial. (Echo 24 March).
The council leaders and District Labour Party also attached the Echo for: ‘giving tacit support for violence directed against the councillors by the Black Caucus, a group of 25 people which is totally unrepresentative of the black community as a whole. This is a new low in the Echo’s history of gutter journalism, and they are using the Black Caucus to discredit the council.’ Meanwhile, confidence in Sam Bond was growing, with over 240 people from the Toxteth area visiting him by the end of May.
It was the council and Sam Bond who were to the fore in highlighting and campaigning against racism. In July 1985 he warned about the increasing race attacks, including petrol bombings, which had been taking place in the city particularly against Liverpool’s Asian community. As explained previously, it was the Liverpool labour movement and the LPYS in particular who combated the fascist National Front’s attempt to organise demonstrations and conferences in Liverpool.
Meanwhile Caucus leader Steve French declared: ‘The consequences for the Labour Party are dire indeed, if, as the May 1986 local elections approach, this dispute [the Sam Bond affair] is not resolved.’ (Echo, 17 July 1985). Together with the Liberals, the Black Caucus wished (although not openly) for the defeat of Labour in the May 1986 elections. They were to be bitterly disappointed, along with all the other enemies of the council.
The hysteria and the attacks including physical attacks, on Labour spokespersons increased in inverse proportion to the narrowing of the base of the Black Caucus. Steve French gave succour to the government with the statement: ‘Liverpool Black Caucus members have warned the city’s Labour leadership not to look for their support in the rates fight with the government.’ (Post, 30 July).
This threat was backed up with a vicious attack at a Labour Party meeting on 30 July in Toxteth. Even the Daily Mail commented: ‘Reporters were threatened as they tried to enter the building, and left-wing leaflets and newspapers were ripped up by the activists and strewn across the street.’ The Black Caucus thugs shouted down Labour spokesperson Tony Byrne, while a black female LPYS member was assaulted and one of the speakers, Councillor Felicity Dowling, was spat at continuously by Black Caucus supporters.
Two days later, Labour organised a meeting in Shorefields Comprehensive School, Dingle Vale, close to the Toxteth area, to underline Labour’s right to organise democratic public meetings. Tony Byrne told the meeting of 150: ‘This is a show of solidarity from the people who were there last night. I would like to compliment our members of the Party for their bravery under the most outrageous threats of violence.’
When the council took on 100 school leavers in permanent jobs, Derek Hatton declared: ‘We have often been criticised for having only about one per cent of out 31,000 workforce from the ethnic minorities. The Black Caucus says we should have seven per cent. The fact that 20 of today’s 100 are black is a clear indication that our policies are working and the Black Caucus is out of touch.’ One of those taken on, a young working-class girl, declared to the Post: ‘If it was not for this, we would all have gone on to the dole.’
Undaunted by the outrage felt by the Liverpool labour movement, the Black Caucus continued their campaign of intimidation and violence. At a meeting organised in early August by the Community Relations Council, Derek Hatton was invited to speak. On his way into the building, he was viciously punched by a well-known Black Caucus supporter. He was knocked to the ground with a wound over an ear. Nevertheless, he still went into the meeting and despite repeated heckling attempted to speak to the people who had assembled there.
This attack was the last straw for the Liverpool labour movement. Breaking off all further contact with the Black Caucus, the city council declared: ‘The city council is determined that any group of people in Liverpool has a right to listen and debate the council’s case without undemocratic interference from a group of thugs who are prepared to break meetings up.’ When Labour organised proper stewarding and defence of meetings, this was denounced by the Echo as ‘heavy-weight guards’.
One Year Contract Retreat
As a means of countering the inevitable propaganda barrage of the Black Caucus and its supporters, the city council outlined in a special letter, the background to the dispute. It detailed the discussions and negotiations which had taken place behind the scenes and indicated that the council leadership were prepared to make substantial concessions in order to meet the objections of the Black Caucus:
The issue of Mr Sam Bond’s qualifications was subsequently the subject of further discussions with Black Caucus representatives, in the presence of the Liverpool bishops. In an attempt to make a positive response, the council took the unprecedented step of agreeing to put Mr Bond on a temporary, one-year contract and monitor his work, on the understanding that the contract would not be renewed if wither the council, the trade unions or the black groups were not satisfied with his performance.
At this time it was overwhelmingly accepted that Mr Bond must at least be given a chance to prove whether the council’s policy could successfully begin to tackle racism. It was recognised that it would have been totally unjust to terminate Mr Bond’s contract before his commitment and experience could be tried and tested.
The Black Caucus remained unsatisfied and refused to accept this arrangement. Many others, including Militant supporters, were totally opposed to it because it was seen as unjust to Sam Bond. However, although Sam Bond could have established in a year’s work his suitability for the post, the philosophy of the Caucus remained ‘rule or ruin’. They were determined to have their own nominee in the job at all costs.
What is more, despite the council’s concession, the Black Caucus now moved into increasing opposition to the socialist policies of the council. They became open supporters of the right wing within the Labour Party, declaring that Militant was ‘the enemy within the labour movement’. They were using the language of Thatcher’s diatribes against the miners. However, in their book The Racial Politics of Militant, they were forced to concede the overwhelming support for the city council within the labour movement: ‘Militant’s formal demise has largely come about through external pressure and intervention from the labour Party leadership and from the court case brought by the District Auditor.’ They also had a strange ally in Kenneth Oxford, unelected Chief Constable of Merseyside, who slandered Militant supporters by suggesting that street clashes in September 1985 were a direct product of ‘outside political influences’. He said that a Militant leaflet distributed in the area may have created the situation! This leaflet was outlining the programme of the city council to combating racism.
The increasing stridency of the Black Caucus and their supporters was shown in September when Caucus supporters completely disrupted a rally against unemployment at the Pier Head, shouting down Eric Heffer when he attempted to speak on the problems confronting the population of the city.
‘We Want Sam Bond!’
Early in September, the Black Caucus called a meeting which was attended by over 600 members of the Liverpool 8 black community. The intention of the Caucus was to denounce Sam Bond and berate the city council, but this plan failed dismally during the course of the meeting.
Several people in the audience insisted that the Caucus had no right to put themselves forward as community representatives. By the time Sam Bond arrived at the meeting, the majority of the audience were chanting ‘We want Sam Bond.’ At this point the organisers dismantled the microphones and told people to leave. Following the meeting the Merseyside Action Group was formed. This comprised a group of black organisations who opposed the Black Caucus and supported the stand of the city council on the issue of Sam Bond.
It was against this background that Neil Kinnock launched his vicious attack on Liverpool City Council at the 1985 Labour Party Conference on 1 October. On the morning of his speech an open letter from the Liverpool bishops in The Times specifically attacked the appointment of Sam Bond. The bishops were, in turn, answered by the Merseyside Action Group who denounced the attempts by the Church hierarchy to link Militant supporters to the clashes which had occurred in Toxteth. In the wake of his Labour Party conference speck, Kinnock refused to speak to the Merseyside Action Group, preferring to maintain links with the Black Caucus.
Nevertheless, on 1 November, Sam Bond and the Liverpool labour movement were able to mark the first anniversary of his appointment as race relations officer. The vile abuse and intimidation had not succeeded in breaking the will of either Sam Bond or the city council.
While proceeding with the practical measures of improving and ameliorating the conditions of the working people of Liverpool 8, the city council organised a propaganda counter-offensive against the Black Caucus. This, in turn, drove the Black Caucus to more out-and-out abuse and lies. In December 1985 they accused ‘the Militant dominated city council’ of ‘racism, bribery, intimidation, misappropriation of funds and appointment for political reasons of unqualified race relations staff’. These lies were carried in every journal which opposed Militant:
The Merseyside Anti-Apartheid group, dominated by sympathisers of the Caucus, organised a demonstration in February 1986 and issued threats against Militant:
We regret to have to inform you that owing to the strong feelings expressed by the Liverpool 8 community, we feel that we will not be able to offer any protection to individuals who attend the demonstration… selling Militant papers or other material associated with Militant, or who display the Militant banner.
Needless to say, Militant supporters refused to accept this intimidation and marched and sold their material on the demonstration.
Throughout 1986 and 1987, a series of reports was produced, attempting to create the impression that Liverpool City Council and the District Labour Party were ‘racist’. Thus the Caucus found new bedfellows in Murdoch’s Sunday Times which declared in June 1986: ‘Liverpool Council to face race enquiry.’
In November, the Daily Telegraph declared: ‘Black leaders accuse Mersey left of racism.’ Later that month, the Observer declared: ‘Blacks accuse Militant city hall of racism.’ The Caribbean Times in the same month declared, ‘Militant Tendency is racist’. Not to be outdone, the Echo declared in February 1987: ‘City’s appalling racism record’.
It went on: ‘Racist… that is the accusation made against Liverpool City Council by a Commons Select Committee of MPs. The council’s record in employing members of black and other racial groups is described as abysmal.’ All of these reports stemmed from a House of Commons Committee Report on racial discrimination and from the Black Caucus’s own book.
Not one paper, apart from Militant, mentioned that one of the six members of the House of Commons Committee which condemned Liverpool City Council was Tory MP John Gorst, who made his mark by leading the attacks on the Asian women strikers at Grunwick’s in 1977! At no stage did the Caucus seem to wonder why papers out of Murdich’s stable which also prints the blatantly racist Sun, or the likes of John Gorst, were echoing their arguments.
One would think that after such an avalanche of criticism against the city council that the Black Caucus supporters would find some echo within the black community of Liverpool 8. Yet when they stood against Labour in the Granby ward (home to most of Liverpool’s black community) in the May 1986 council elections, they were decisively beaten. Their candidate, along with the Liberals, made the Sam Bond issue a central feature of the campaign, but Labour secured its biggest ever vote in the ward. The Black Caucus candidate received 477 votes to Labour’s 2287.
Despite the torrent of filth and criticism, the record of Liverpool City Council, with Sam Bond playing a key role, stands as a monument to what the labour movement can do in the beginning to combat racism. Apart from the measures in Liverpool 8 mentioned above, the council introduced throughout the city radical reforming measure in a whole number of fields. Thus it appointed race advisers to all the community schools.
It introduced the first ever anti-racist code of practice for schools in Liverpool and co-ordinated parent support groups for primary schools in Liverpool 8. It introduced further childcare facilities for Liverpool 8 families, and also mother-tongue facilities in nurseries. It build a fully equipped modern sports centre in Liverpool 8 and upgraded youth facilities so that now the majority of such facilities in the city are situated in Liverpool 8.
It massively improved the funding of the youth projects within the area and it funded at least 32 voluntary organisations in Liverpool 8. It also campaigned for further government funding in an attempt to set up an ethnic library service, a Chinese social work unit, a multi-cultural support centre and a language centre.
The Liverpool City Council spent more per head on the black population of Liverpool 8 than any other council in the country. This is the real epitaph of the three years of the Liverpool City Council and of Sam Bond in combating the long, historical legacy of racism which has scarred Liverpool.
The opponents of Labour were not able to defeat them in open, honest and democratic debate. They had to wait for the dismissal by the courts of the heroic 47 councillors in March 1987, after which the Liberals, who had never been elected into office, dismissed Sam Bond from his position. But this is merely the end of one chapter in the continuing struggle to raise up the black population of Liverpool 8. That task cannot be undertaken by self-appointed petit-bourgeois black ‘leaders’.
Only the labour movement can mobilise behind its banner the black workers of Liverpool 8, particularly the youth, and weld them together with the white working class in one movement to benefit the working people of the city as a whole.