By Sonali Bhattacharyya
The last eighteen months have seen Johnson’s government engaging in an extravaganza of racist rhetoric and policy making, from extending the powers of a systemically racist police and criminalising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities for their way of life with the Policing, Courts and Sentencing Bill, removing the chance of justice and redress for victims of UK state violence and imperialism with the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill and right now trying to double down on the racist Hostile Environment and criminalising active solidarity migrants with the Nationality and Borders bill.
We’ve seen continued forced deportation flights throughout the pandemic, new lows in the treatment of migrants and refugees by the Home Office, Covid-19 Emergency Measures being disproportionately used to target and harass Black, Asian and ethnic minority people and the government’s catastrophic Covid response, exposing the systemic racism of our country with disproportionately high numbers of Black and Asian people dying from the virus.
Unfortunately, instead of loudly and unequivocally combating the racist and divisive narrative that underpins all of this, Starmer’s Labour Party has at best prevaricated and even worse capitulated.
We’ve seen the Labour Party reneging on its position of self-determination for Kashmiri people, abstaining on the vote for the Covert Human Intelligences Sources Bill, which will remove any chance for victims of British state violence and imperialism to seek justice, and demonising Muslim voters in Batley and Spen as bigots for daring to vote for a different party, or not vote at all. In this context, it’s hardly surprising the party has sat on the Forde Report looking into institutional racism within its own bureaucracy for close to 18 months now.
The mealy-mouthed rhetoric about ‘legitimate concerns’ and the importance of ‘law and order’ from successive Labour leaders, with Corbyn the only exception, has contributed to the situation we’re now in. The hostile environment against migrants is built on foundations laid by Blair’s government, where asylum seekers were demonised and deportation flights normalised. Blair’s government introduced the Prevent programme which has among other outrages seen Muslim schoolchildren harassed and criminalised for vocally supportive Palestinian rights.
We’re now faced with a hard right, populist government enacting policies the National Front could only dream of, safe in the knowledge that no compelling alternative narrative will be forthcoming from the formal Opposition.
We are keenly aware at Momentum of our responsibility to counter this. As the biggest socialist membership in Britain, established initially to defend and promote Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, we are working to empower and skill up the many activists who joined the movement because of Corbyn or were reignited by his leadership.
Momentum’s conference motion on Racial Justice and Migrant Rights reflects our aim to change the liberal narrative around race and racism which neuters the power of the anti-racist movement. We urgently need to promote a clear, socialist analysis, of racism’s inescapable link to imperialism and its legacy, and to the extractive, exploitative and divisive forces of capitalism, as well as of the inherent relationship between racial, economic, and climate justice. This is crucial to helping people understand where the real enemy lies. As the saying goes, he doesn’t arrive by dinghy, he arrives by limousine.
We must put forward that alternative narrative, now at Labour Party conference, and beyond. Momentum’s Racial Justice Programme launched in July, with an aim to place anti-racism at the heart of our work. Led by Black, Asian and ethnic minority activists, the programme will include sessions on migrant rights, climate justice, workplace organising, criminal justice and surveillance, war, occupation, empire and its legacy. The World Transformed will see the first in-person event for the programme, a much needed conversation on cross-community organising called Solidarity is Power: Racial Justice, featuring a formidable line-up of speakers in Bryan Knight, Asad Rehman, Annie Olaloku Teriba and Amrit Wilson.
We know the attacks on migrants and refugees and on racialised communities serve as a testing ground for the Tories to remove everyone’s rights – at work, in our access to housing, in our access to healthcare and other services. We know the criminal justice system punishes those experiencing poverty and fosters a regime of surveillance, harassment and criminalisation of working class communities, particularly Black, Asian and ethnic minority people. We know climate breakdown is hitting communities in the global south and working class Black, Asian and ethnic minority people now.
We need to consistently and loudly put forward the fact that racism is systemic and that we all benefit from the dismantling it. There is an urgent need for us to extend solidarity to everyone bearing the brunt of the onslaught from Johnson’s government. It’s only together that we can rise, and we must.
Solidarity is Power: Racial Justice is at 3pm on Saturday at Friends House, Brighton at The World Transformed: https://theworldtransformed.org/twt21/calendar/solidarity-power-racial-justice/
Sonali Bhattacharyya is a writer and activist and National Secretary and London Regional Rep for Momentum.
Image: Black Lives Matter (series, 2/2). Artist: Adrian Meadows, licensed under Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA). https://thegreats.co/artworks/black-lives-matter-series-22
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