Remove the gatekeepers!

Mish Rahman reports on the new BAME Structures for the Labour Party

History was made at the recent Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) Organisation Committee meeting on 11th March, when finally, after years of struggle by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members of the party, the Labour Party agreed how the first ever Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic National Committee structures would be organised and elected. 

Since the 1980s, the Black Sections were met with suspicion and routinely side-lined by the Party. Almost 40 years later the Labour Party has finally accepted Black Asian and Minority Ethnic members’ demand to be able to self-organise. Unfortunately, even now, the Party continues to stymie progress. 

The 2018 Democracy Review recommended that “that any member of the BAME structure” be given a vote in internal elections, but Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority members will still be disenfranchised. Yes, we now have our own structure within the Party, but the (white majority) NEC rejected a One Member One Vote (OMOV) ballot of all Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members to elect the Chair and constituency representatives for the new committee. Instead the NEC voted to only enfranchise CLP delegates to a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic conference where the ballot will be held instead, with a 50/50 split between CLP delegates and trade unions for the vote on the Chair. 

I and other NEC colleagues on the left of the Party managed to increase the number of CLP reps to gain parity with trade union reps on the new committee, despite a lack of consensus within the working group, with some arguing that Constituency Labour Parties should have only nine representatives while trade unions should have eleven. We also argued and voted for both the Chair of the Committee and the CLP places to be voted by OMOV but unfortunately we lost the vote.

We argued this because it is important that every Black Asian Minority Ethnic Labour member gets a vote and not just the few who are able to go to a conference. Being able to go to conference is a privilege afforded to very few and for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities this is an additional barrier. The whole purpose of these structures is to make the Party more inclusive and accessible for ordinary members, instead those already accustomed to the machinery will continue to speak and vote for others.

One of the most powerful submissions to the Democracy Review, from Cllr Majid Mahmood of Birmingham Hodge Hill CLP, stated, “OMOV elections are essential so that every BAME member is able to participate.” Yet this basic democratic principle has been rejected by the Labour Party. 

The new committee structure will comprise eleven Constituency Labour Party representatives, who will be representing the majority of the Labour party membership. Trade unions will also have eleven representatives, while Scotland and Wales get an additional one representative each, the Parliamentary Labour Party will have one, the National Executive Committee will have one and the Association of Labour Councillors will have one. 

It’s of great concern that BAME Labour, a completely separate organisation to the new Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic structures, and a moribund, defunct organisation which has been inactive for several years with an approximate membership of just a few hundred, has been granted two voting representatives on the committee.

All of these representatives will have voting rights with the final vote going to the new Chair of the National Committee, that is, a total of 29 voting seats.

It is my opinion that BAME Labour should now do the honourable thing and withdraw from having voting rights within these new structures as they are now an unaccountable, opaque organisation who do not represent Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Labour Party members. Meanwhile BAME Labour’s twitter account recently reminded members in Waltham Forest when their brown bin collections were!  

My most serious concerns are that nobody in the NEC meeting could confirm if BAME Labour is an official affiliate to the Party or socialist society, whether they pay affiliation fees, or how many members BAME Labour have affiliated to the Party. These are all basic criteria for an organisation to fulfil to affiliate to the Party. Nobody could answer these questions.

To be an anti-racist party, we need to recognise the structures of inequality in housing, education, policing and the criminal justice system, health and employment. The main reason this system continues is a lack of understanding about racism. The liberal management of the current system is not the solution. Out with the gatekeepers and the gatekeeping: the door needs to be kicked wide open so that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities can finally liberate themselves and this has to happen within the Labour Party if Labour is to be an anti-racist party of equality and social justice.

Angela Davis said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” We need to dismantle the systemic, structural, institutional oppression that minorities face and create a fairer system. The current system keeps oppression running like a cog in a machine. 

The creation of Black, Asian Minority Ethnic structures in Labour are a start, but it is now up to Black, Asian Minority Ethnic Labour members to organise, unpick, remove the gatekeepers, the gatekeeping and kick those doors down which remain barriers to our self-organisation. Until then, the gatekeepers will gatekeep and blockers will block our liberation.

Mish Rahman Is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Image: Labour Conference 2019. Author: Socialist Appeal, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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