Paul Foot

Workers Against Racism


An International Socialists pamphlet, 1973, 22 pp.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Who are the racialists?

AN UNLIKELY selection of people have been combining over the past few years to pass on an important message to workers. The tones of the message differ from person to person, but the theme is always the same. It is that black people in Britain are the cause of most of our worries.

What’s more, we are told, there is a simple solution: stop any more black people coming, and send the ones who are here back ‘home’ again. The people who shout against the blacks are motivated, so they tell us, by a passionate concern for the plight of ‘ordinary’ British working-class people.

Take, for instance, Mr John Stokes, one of the leading campaigners against black people, who is Conservative MP for Oldbury and Halesowen. On 31 August 1972, Mr John Stokes had a letter printed in the ordinary people’s newspaper, The Times.

‘Sir,’ he wrote (in the way in which ordinary people properly address their betters), ‘Perhaps the most disquieting feature of today’s crisis over immigration is who in authority is considering the fears of the ordinary English man and woman on this subject which affects them so vitally.’

Mr Stokes is an ordinary businessman, who used to be the chief personnel officer for ICI, but has since branched out on his own. He now runs a profitable personnel selection outfit, which is valued at about a quarter of a million pounds. For a man so obsessed with the aspirations of ordinary people, however, Mr Stokes has some rather unorthodox views on other problems which affect working people. When the miners were on strike in 1972 for a decent wage, for instance, when even the Daily Express had to admit that the vast majority of ordinary people supported the miners, Mr Stokes was screaming in and out of parliament about the ‘monopoly power’ of the miners’ union.

Since the strike finished, he has raged against the pickets which won the miners’ victory. Mr Stokes supports the Industrial Relations Act, which has been boycotted by nine million ordinary trade unionists. His only objection to the Act is that it does not go far enough. Yet, when it comes to the blacks, Mr Stokes is overcome with concern for the plight of those same workers, whose organisations and trade unions he detests.

A large number of Tory MPs support Mr Stokes’ stand. There is Mr Harold Soref, the Tory MP for Ormskirk, who is constantly complaining about the number of black people in this country. Mr Soref and his family run a prosperous shipping company which deals in the main with South Africa. Then there is Mr Ronald Bell, who is always good for a quote about how ordinary people in his constituency (South Buckinghamshire) are sick and tired of the blacks. Mr Bell conducts a wealthy practice at the bar.

One of the most powerful campaigners on behalf of the ordinary white folk of Britain is Mr Duncan Sandys, who is a Companion of Honour, and is a former Tory Minister of almost everything. On 23 January 1970, for instance, speaking at a banquet of the British Jewellers Association, Mr Sandys said: ‘We should offer generous grants to any who would like to settle in their own countries.’

Mr Sandys’ knowledge about the blacks goes deeper even than his experience as Commonwealth Minister from 1960 to 1964. In 1969, he joined the board of Ashanti Goldfields, one of the richest mining companies in Africa, which has made countless millions for its shareholders by robbing the miners of the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Mr Sandys’ contact with the Ashanti Goldfields company brought him to the attention of Lonrho Ltd, perhaps the largest and most unscrupulous of the post-war financial companies whose main function is to plunder Africa. In 1971, five Lonrho directors were arrested on fraud charges in South Africa, and all Lonrho top management was barred from South Africa.

In the summer of 1972, Duncan Sandys went to South Africa on behalf of Lonrho and had a few ‘cosy chats’ with the savages who run the South African government. Hey Presto! The fraud charges were dropped, and Lonrho was free once more to mine platinum in South Africa. For this service, Duncan Sandys was given a ‘consultancy’ for Lonrho which brought him £50,000 a year, most of it paid tax-free in the Cayman Islands.

Finally there is the country’s most ordinary man, Mr Enoch Powell. In a speech in April 1968 Mr Powell hit all the headlines by suddenly identifying with the ordinary men and women of Britain on the immigration question. He told a story about a man who had approached him in a street in Wolverhampton and said: ‘In this country in fifteen or twenty years time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.’

Mr Powell was tremendously impressed by this remark. He told his Birmingham audience:

‘Here is a decent, ordinary fellow-Englishman who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that this country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think of something else.’

Again and again since, Mr Powell, who before 1968 was regarded as a bit of a crank, has made a name for himself by voicing what he thinks are the universal demands for ‘fewer blacks’. As in the case of Mr Stokes, his views on other matters do not show quite the same concern for the needs of ordinary people. The ‘proudest moment’ in his life, according to Powell, was when he rose in November 1956 to read the second reading of the Rent Bill which began the dismantling of the restrictions on private housing. What was the effect of the Rent Act, which Powell moved? It was to evict tens of thousands of working people, who had previously been ‘controlled’ tenants, so that their houses could be sold or split up by property speculators.

In London’s Notting Hill and similar areas it led to the rise of unscrupulous landlords whose job it was to evict ‘controlled’ tenants from their houses. It cut the number of rented houses and flats by more than a third. Not a single extra house was built to rent for working people as a result of the Act. It was (with the single exception of the Tories’ Housing Finance Act of 1971, also enthusiastically supported by Powell, Stokes and Co.) the most anti-working class housing law passed this century.

Powell is against all regulations on the capitalist system, which he believes has a ‘perfect symmetry’. ‘Often,’ he once said, ‘when I am kneeling down in church I think to myself how much we should thank God, the Holy Ghost, for the gift of capitalism.’

On every subject you can think of – housing, pensions, trade unions, hospitals, factory conditions – Powell stands four square with the rich and mighty against the poor and humble. He is the capitalists’ chief theorist, and he lives in fashionable Eaton Square. As he himself once put it: ‘When I see a rich man I give thanks to God.’

Mr Powell is a rich man like all the others, but his campaigns are run by richer men than he, Stokes and Sandys put together. In April 1973, Mr David Lazarus, a Powellite in Brent, North London, who joined the National Front in 1968 but still manages to hold high office in the Conservative Party, announced that ‘three millionaires’ had agreed to finance a campaign to make Powell’s views more widely known.

The most generous of these is Mr Anthony Fisher, who made several million pounds for himself by building up (and selling) Buxted Chickens Ltd. In 1955, Mr Fisher founded the Institute for Economic Affairs, which hires professional economists and authors to give academic respectability to the case for more ‘free enterprise’, less ‘state intervention’, higher council rents, more fee-paying schools and all the rest of the devices whereby the rich keep hold of their wealth at the expense of the people who produce it. Mr Fisher, like Mr Sandys, is an expert in tax avoidance and has a number of ‘interests’ in the Cayman Islands.

The second, even more reactionary millionaire is Sir Ian MacTaggart, a former Tory candidate, whose father made his millions out of buying and selling flats in Glasgow. In 1964, Sir Ian put up £100,000 to finance the Property Council, a ginger group whose purpose was to glorify the activities of property speculators. One Property Council leaflet likened property speculators to ‘scientists, doctors and preachers who in the long run improve living and working conditions in all civilised countries.’

The third millionaire is Garfield Weston, the ‘biscuit king’, who controls Associated British Foods, one of Europe’s three biggest food chains. These are the ordinary men who are putting up substantial portions of their vast wealth to subsidise Powell’s campaigns. They support Powell when he fights for the ‘freedom’ of chicken kings and property speculators, and above all they support Powell in his campaign on behalf of the workers against the blacks.

This sudden friendship with the workers on one issue – immigration – has been the preoccupation of rich men for hundreds of years. When more than a million Irish men and women came to Britain during the last century, industrialists, shopkeepers and parsons joined together to warn the workers, whom they hated, about the dangers to their stock and religion from Irish immigration.

Eighty years ago, large numbers of Jews, fleeing from the tyranny of Tsarist Russia and equally savage regimes in Eastern Europe, started coming to Britain. At once, the warnings stated. Mr W.H. Wilkins wrote a book called The Alien Invasion. Mr Wilkins was a rich magistrate, who had just written a best-seller entitled: The Traffic in Italian Children.

‘One of the leading measures, of the labour legislation of the future,’ wrote Mr Wilkins, ‘will be to protect the English working men against this perpetual pouring in of destitute foreigners. Why, the working classes are asking, should we be robbed of our birthright by the refuse population of other countries?’

Mr Wilkins’ sombre warnings had a rosy introduction from His Right Reverence the Bishop of Bedford, a crusted Tory, and the book was dedicated to another Conservative barbarian, the Earl of Dunraven, who was described as ‘the leader of the movement for protecting our people against the invasion of the destitute and worthless of other lands.’

Thirty-six years later, another Tory, Lt Col A.H. Lane, wrote a book called The Alien Menace. The introduction this time was by a former Tory minister, Lord Sydenham of Coombe. ‘British working men and women,’ wrote Lord Sydenham, who hated both, ‘have no love for the aliens, who in many districts make life harder for them.’

And in 1965, yet another noble Lord, Lord Elton, wrote another book, called this time The Unarmed Invasion, about the terrible threat to British working men and women from black immigration.

Magistrates, bishops, army officers, Tory MPs, Earls and Viscounts, aided in the 1930s by Nazis in Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, today by ex-Nazis in the National Front, have been shouting all these years about the danger to the British workers from the immigration of Irishmen, Jews and blacks. Like Sandys, Stokes and Enoch Powell, they devoted the whole of their political life to attacking the working class movement. Yet when immigration is on the agenda, suddenly they become the workers’ friends.

Can all this be right? Is it really the case that Powell and his henchmen, so implacably opposed to the workers’ interests on so many fronts, are correct on this single issue? Are we to listen to people who tell us that although Powell is wrong on housing, trade unions, unemployment and the rest he is right about the blacks? Are workers to march, as London dockers did in 1968, shouting ‘Enoch is Right’? Let us find out.

Why did the blacks come?

IN THE TEN YEARS before the war, there were never less than one and a half million people unemployed. In the twenty five years after the war, there were never more than three quarters of a million unemployed. Those simple figures tell the story of a post-war boom in the economy such as had never happened in the whole history of capitalism.

In pre-war capitalism, when there was a boom and slump at least every ten years, there was always a huge ‘reserve army’ of workers who were unemployed. Each new cycle of investment and expansion could be staffed by workers from this pool.

In post-war capitalism, until very recently, this pool has not been available. If the economy was to be kept going, if factories were to be kept open and investment to be continued, workers had to be found from somewhere to fill the ever-increasing gaps in the labour force. This is why black workers came from the West Indies, India and Pakistan. They had been free to come for a hundred and fifty years. They had not come because there were no secure jobs to come to. Now, in the 1950s and 1960s, there were jobs to come to. No one in his right mind prefers a winter in Birmingham to the blue skies of Jamaica. But in Jamaica there was no work, and in Birmingham there was work. And so the workers left their homes and their families and moved to Birmingham.

When the ‘boom’ was on, the rich men who now prattle about the ‘dangers’ of immigration were silent. Mr Powell said nothing about immigration control all through the 1950s. In 1960, Mr Powell became Minister of Health and encouraged the recruitment of West Indian nurses to help staff the National Health Service. Mr Duncan Sandys was Minister for the Commonwealth from 1960 to 1964 and said not a word about the need to keep the blacks out. In 1963, Mr Sandys promised the Kenyan Asians, as a reward for their opposition to African independence, that they could if ever they liked come to Britain free from immigration control. The bosses in the factories wanted more workers, and the Tories in the House of Commons were determined to let the workers come.

Now what is happening? Now, there is no longer any certainty about economic growth. Now no-one talks about the post-war capitalist miracle. Now the economy stutters forward and back in fits and starts. The capitalist system has not found any way of spiriting away its age-old problems. It still cannot plan its growth or be certain about its prospects.

So now, immigrants are not needed any more. Now the racialists, like Powell and Sandys, are let out of their cages to make speeches against immigration and against the blacks. Powell talks of ‘rivers of blood’ flowing in the streets as a result of race conflict. Suddenly, the ‘dangers’ of the black presence are discovered and millionaires start to shriek: ‘Send them all home!’, or, if they are liberals: ‘Let no more come!’

One by one, the arguments pour out of the sewer. ‘Why house these blacks when we haven’t enough houses for our own people?’ ‘Why spend money on schooling for black children, when even our own children don’t get enough schooling?’ Tories who for generations have denied the existence of a shortage in housing or schools, suddenly discover that there are not enough houses or schools, and use the statistics of their own shameful record to blame the black workers. Yet their arguments touch a sensitive nerve among white workers who are only too aware of the shortages around them. Are they true?

Whose houses, whose jobs, whose social services?


‘Why house these people when we haven’t enough houses for ourselves?’ is a common argument among anti-immigration campaigners and the argument often strikes a chord in working-class audiences. It seems obvious that if there’s a housing shortage, it will be made worse if more people come into the country looking for a place to live.

In fact, the housing shortage has nothing to do with immigration. However much immigration there is, it will not make the slightest difference to the housing shortage. The worst-housed cities in the United Kingdom are Glasgow and Belfast. In Glasgow, 100,000 people live more than three to a room. In the two central wards of Belfast, more than 90 per cent of the people (Protestant and Catholic) do not have an inside lavatory. By every measure, overcrowding, lack of basic amenities, age of dwellings, the two cities are the worst.

Yet the rate of immigration into both cities is lower than any other city in the United Kingdom. Both cities have comparatively very few blacks living in them. Indeed both cities have lost substantial numbers of their young workers through emigration. Obviously, the reasons for the housing shortage in those two cities have nothing to do with immigration.

Not only in Glasgow and Belfast, but in all our cities, more houses are built in the years of heavy immigration than in the years of light immigration. Last year (1972), less blacks came into this country than in any other year in the past twenty. Fewer houses were built than in any other year in the past ten. The housing shortage got worse quicker last year than in any other year since 1962 – yet immigration was at its lowest. The housing shortage, moreover, existed long before black workers started coming to this country. It was much worse than it is now in the 1920s and 1930s when there was almost no immigration of anyone into this country. So we see that the existence of a housing shortage, and whether that shortage gets worse or better, has nothing to do with immigration.

Who causes a housing shortage, then? First, the landlords, who build houses only as long as they can make a healthy profit from them in rent. When the Rent Control Acts were passed as a result of workers’ pressure in 1919, landlords stopped building houses. Then the Labour councils started to build houses at relatively low rents which people could afford. But the rate at which council houses can be built is dictated by the moneylender – who lends money to the councils to pay for the building. The moneylender demands such a fantastic rate of interest that the councils cannot build enough houses. In 1971–72, for instance, in Camden, London, the borough collected £3.7 million in rents from their tenants – and had to pay out £4.5 million in interest charges on money borrowed for building houses. And that’s even before the cost of the actual building is covered.

The same sort of figures can be found for local authorities throughout the country. They’ve now got to the stage where they have to pay out so much in interest that they can’t afford to build enough houses. So more and more people become homeless.

The moneylender combines with the building industry to ensure that houses built for sale are only within the reach of better-off people. Heavy mortgage rates, which provide more loot for the moneylender, and vast building profits cut down the number and the availability of houses for sale. The landlords, the moneylenders and the way the building industry is run cause the housing shortage, no matter how many people come into this country or leave it.

Black workers when they come to this country pay their rates, rents and taxes just like any other worker. Just like any other worker they workmany of them in the building industry. So their contribution to housing is no less than any other worker’s. They are in no way the cause of the housing shortage. Like other workers, they are the victims of it, and in many cases they are the most cruelly-used victims.


Surely, argue the Powellites, if lots of immigrants come into this country they will create more unemployment. The years of heavy black immigration into this country-the 1950s and the early 1960s-were the years of the fullest employment this country has ever seen. In all the 1950s for instance, when there was no control of black immigration into this country and more than 600,000 black workers came in, unemployment throughout the country was less than two per cent.

The areas of highest unemployment – Northern Ireland, Scotland, the North East – were the areas of lowest immigration, and the areas of fullest employment, like London and Birmingham, were the areas of highest immigration.

Unemployment has been with us as long as capitalism. In the 1930s whole communities in Scotland and Wales were laid waste by unemployment. There was no immigration into any of these communities. People streamed out of them, not into them.

Unemployment is caused by industrialists and financiers who cannot sell back their goods to workers in sufficient quantities to keep their factories open. It is the basic flaw of a system run for profit, a capitalist system. Mass immigration of groups of workers has nothing to do with causing unemployment. On the contrary, it is a sign that capitalism in the ‘host country’ is enjoying a spate of full employment. So, once again, immigrants do not cause unemployment. They are just the first victims of it.

The Social Services

What is true of housing and jobs is true of all the social services. A recent study by two economists at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that immigrants take less out of the social services-that’s education, child welfare, unemployment benefit and old age pensions-than the average for the British population. In 1966, they reported, £62 was spent per head of the population on all these services – while only £52 was spent per head of the immigrant population. Even by 1981, the gap will be roughly the same, £69.9 to £60.7. ‘Immigrants’ demands on the health and welfare services,’ concludes the article, ‘have been lower than the national average because the inflow has hitherto consisted largely of relatively young men and women of working age. It seems likely that this effect will be a fairly long-lasting one.’

The blacks have nothing to do with causing all the shortages in our society, but they suffer from them worse than anyone else. The Grieve Report on London Housing in 1969 gave some horrifying statistics about the housing conditions of black people in the city. 73 per cent of black families were living in one room or two. 46 per cent of black families (compared with 11 per cent for the whole population) had no kitchen. 53.2 per cent (compared with 15.1 per cent of the whole population) were sharing a lavatory. 50.9 per cent (compared with 11.8 per cent of the whole population) were sharing baths. Only 9.3 per cent of blacks (compared with more than a third of the whole population) had managed to get into a council house, and in most of those cases the council houses were the oldest and most dilapidated available.

Discrimination against black workers goes all through the social scale. Black children are herded into Educationally Subnormal (ESN) schools in far larger numbers than white children. Schools with large numbers of black children are invariably the most overcrowded. When redundancy takes place at a factory where there are large numbers of black workers, the boss invariably tries out a new redundancy rule: Blacks First Out.

Somehow or other, Enoch Powell and his crew manage to turn this horrible picture to their own advantage. The plight of the blacks, which is caused to some extent by the racialist pressure of politicians, is, claim the politicians, proof of the blacks’ own fecklessness! After insisting that the blacks have to live in damp, overcrowded houses, and work long hours of overtime in damp, overcrowded mills and factories, the racialists cry: ‘Look, they are weak and sick. They have a higher rate of TB! They are causing overcrowding in the hospitals!’

The people who blame the blacks for the shortages in our society are exactly the people who encourage those shortages. Messrs Powell, Stokes, and their friends are the most angry opponents of all the measures which have been taken or might be taken to alleviate those shortages; council house subsidies, low rents, government subsidies for industry in the ‘unemployed’ regions, better standards for state schools, more power for the Health Service against the drug companies – anything which could provide a few more houses, hospitals and schools are bitterly opposed by the same people who turn round and blame black workers for these shortages.

We are always being told that when rich men set up factories or lend money to councils or agree to give some of their spare time to serve as governors of hospitals, they are giving away wealth to the workers, and the workers should be grateful. So powerful is this propaganda, that too often the workers and their unions are grateful for the crumbs. They fight for more crumbs, and then they fight among each other about the distribution of the crumbs. Too often, workers and unions behave like the poor men in the bible underneath Dives’ table, shouting: ‘Here come the crumbs, brothers. Now let us all fight to see how much each section can get for themselves. We will fight each other in the great crumb share-out!’

So when a lot of other poor men appear underneath the table, they create nothing but resentment, and if these other poor men happen to have different coloured skins, then they create even more resentment. ‘If all these people grab some crumbs’, runs the argument, ‘there will be fewer crumbs for us’. The answer to this problem therefore is: KEEP THEM OUT! Keep them out of the country, keep them out of the unions, keep them out of promotion, keep them out of council house estates – and so on, and so on.

The rich men are happiest when the squabbling about the crumbs is fiercest. If the poor men under the table are arguing among each other, if one section is yelling Keep Them Out to another section, the rich man is happy because he knows that no questions will be asked.

No one will ask: ‘Who made the loaf?’ And no one goes on to ask: ‘Who is sharing it out?’

And no one, therefore, exposes the simple truth. THE POOR MEN HAVE MADE THE LOAF, AND THE RICH MAN HAS STOLEN IT.

That rich robber feels safe as long as people argue about crumbs and not about the loaf. That is the principal reason why he so enthusiastically supports immigration controls.

Against Immigration Controls

‘I’M NOT A RACIALIST, but I’m in favour of some kind of immigration control.’ How often we hear this from all kinds of people – Tories, Liberals, Labourites. They all pretend that they don’t discriminate between black and white once they’re in this country, but they do think there should be some control of the numbers coming into this country.

We in the International Socialists are against all immigration controls. We know that in capitalist society the numbers of people coming into any country will be regulated by the number of jobs available in that country, and we know that overcrowding in that country – bad housing, hospital conditions, inadequate transport and the like – are caused not by the numbers of workers in that country but by a system of society which plans its priorities and makes its decisions in the interests of profit and a minority who benefit from that profit. So we know that immigration controls cannot possibly assist the workers already in that country.

We also know that immigration controls create all kinds of hardship for workers and their families who want to come here. As immigration controls have tightened over the last decade, the indignities which black people have to suffer to ‘prove their right’ to enter Britain have multiplied. For instance, the children of black workers already here can only come into the country if they are under 16. So every day an army of immigration officers, the majority of whom are Powellites, use all their powers to ‘prove’ that children who have travelled to London airport to join their Indian or Pakistani parents are over 16. X-ray tests are carried out on these children’s wrist-bones. Trick questions are asked about their brothers and sisters, and so on.

Again and again frightened children have been put back on a plane to India or Pakistan. Large numbers of black workers and their wives are held for long periods in remand prisons while immigration officers ‘check out’ their details.

Other black workers who have been promised jobs on the black market have to get into this country by illegal means – in boats run across the Channel by spivs. Once they are here, these workers are constantly subject to the fear of being caught by the police and deported.

We stand for the free movement of workers from country to country. We say that immigration controls are against the interests of workers everywhere. We say that the people who shout for immigration controls are doing so either because they are racialists – that is, they think British people are superior to foreigners – or because they like to see workers arguing among themselves because of their different coloured skin.

These are the reasons why we opposed the Tory government’s Commonwealth Immigration Act, 1962; the Labour government’s stricter controls in 1965 and the Labour government’s Commonwealth Immigration (Ugandan Asians) Act, 1968.

But now there is a new Immigration Act and a new, even more urgent reason for opposing immigration control. It can be summed up in two words: contract labour.

Contract labour is labour without rights. It is provided by workers who have not even the slender advantages won for them by their class over the last 150 years. It is labour without trade unions, without votes, without proper insurance, without even the right to live as families. This labour has no check on the most brutal demands of the employers.

The European post-war boom has been stoked by contract labour. Millions of workers from surrounding countries have got jobs in Germany, France, Switzerland. There are hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Turks in Germany, Algerians and Spaniards in France, Italians and Egyptians in Switzerland. These workers have jobs without rights. They are not in trade unions. Most of them live in shanty towns. Their houses and factories are not subject to the ‘normal’ health and safety regulations. They are only partly-insured. If they annoy the boss or go on strike, they face the threat of instant deportation without the legal right even to complain. They are a cheap labour force, but above all they are a compliant labour force because of their immigration status.

The black workers who have got jobs in Britain over the last 25 years are doing the same sort of work as are the Greeks in Germany or the Spaniards in France. But they have had marginal advantages because of an accident of imperialism. They have been treated as British citizens. They have had the right to vote, the right to join trade unions (as many of them have) and, above all, freedom from the threat of deportation (unless they committed a crime).

The Tories and their class have watched the effect of contract labour in Europe with envy. As they linked arms with their fellow-robbers in Europe, so they brought their immigration laws ‘into line’: that is, they established contract labour in Britain. That is what the Immigration Act, 1971, is about. Under the Act, anyone who comes into this country to work is a contract labourer. When his job is finished, so does his right to stay in this country. At any time, he can be deported without right of appeal on the say-so of the Home Secretary.

In June 1973, the Tories who sit as Law Lords in the House of Lords added a new twist to this already barbaric Act.

They declared that any immigrant who entered illegally at any time since 1962 was also subject to deportation. The Act was made retrospective. Immediately the police forces in the immigrant areas – already hated and despised for their racist activity – started a witch-hunt. Black youths driving cars were asked to submit their passports. Black workers collecting insurance cards also had to show passports. One Asian girl who asked a policeman about the way home was ‘held for questioning’ for two hours. The purpose of the operation was to frighten the black population, and to discourage them from any activity of protest.

The dangers of contract labour for the organised labour movement know no bounds. If one section of the working population is under threat of deportation the effect is to weaken not only their own ability to fight for better wages and conditions but that of the entire working-class movement. The trade unions in France and Germany have been consistently weakened by their leaders’ refusal to tackle the problem of contract labour. Again and again, the strike power of workers has been diluted into arguments between ‘indigenous’ workers and immigrant workers. The only way out of the problem is organisation across the board of migrant workers into trade unions and the insistence on the same standards and working conditions for all workers in any one industry or place of work.

Such organisation is weakened at once by trade union acceptance of immigration control. It is the immigration controls, not the immigration, which creates the contract labour. Free movement of workers does not lead to contract labour, for there is then no restriction on immigrant workers organising in trade unions and in socialist organisations. But the controls and the conditions which they place on the immigrant worker inevitably shackle that worker, deter him from trade union and socialist activity, and widen the gulf between workers of different colours and nationalities. So as soon as the trade unionist says ‘Keep Them Out’ he has committed himself not only to discrimination between one set of workers and another, not only to support for police and immigration officials’ bullying of immigrant workers, but finally and inevitably to a system of contract labour which will paralyse his own organisation.

That is why International Socialists say in the same breath:



Why racism?

NOT SO LONG AGO, I was speaking to a meeting of steelworkers in Consett, Co Durham. After a long discussion in which I urged people to join the International Socialists, one steelworker who had been very enthusiastic, picked up the sheet of paper on which were written the four main principles for which the IS stands.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said after a while, ‘I agree with the first three – but this opposition to racialism and immigration controls. I’m sorry. I hate the blacks.’

I tried to reason with him. How many blacks were there in Consett? He could only think of one – an Indian who had been there for many years. Had he ever met a black man? No, he hadn’t. But he hated them. He knew it was wrong and absurd to say so, and he didn’t know why.

Very few workers go as far as that, but many often admit to a feeling of hostility to blacks which they can’t explain. Others will agree that blacks don’t cause the housing or hospital or schools shortage but still admit to uneasiness about them being in this country. When people try to give reasons for this unease they often reply in ridiculous terms, such as: ‘They have noisy parties,’ or ‘their cooking smells’, or ‘they are lazy’. There are plenty of white people who are lazy, whose cooking smells and who have noisy parties. No doubt they cause distress and make themselves, as individuals, unpopular. Why is it, though that individual failings make a whole group of people unpopular? Why is it that people are all too ready to make racialist judgments about individual failings?

The answer lies in the history of this country and of its rich rulers. For four centuries these rulers have been plundering people in other countries, most of which happened to be inhabited by people with different coloured skins. First there was plunder by simple conquest and the slave trade, then plunder by economic imperialism. The ruthlessness and brutality of this plunder knew no bounds. Whole civilisations were uprooted and transported. In India, millions of miles of fertile country were turned into a dust-bowl. The population of Dacca fell from 150,000 to 20,000 between 1818–1836. All this was done in order to fatten the planters and shareholders of white Christian civilisation.

Christ had taught: Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt do no murder. So every Sunday the representatives of British Christendom had to get up in the pulpits and justify robbery and murder on a mass scale to their congregations. This acrobatic feat was carried out by means of a simple slogan. Christ had taught: ‘He has made of one blood all the nations of the earth’, but the Christian scholars who had shares in the East India Company were quick to point out that Christ had said nothing about skin colour. And so it was that the Christian imperialists developed the theory of the inferiority of the black man. The black man, they claimed, had no history. He had no civilisation. He was a savage. Give him an inch, and he would take a mile. He was obsessed with sex, and his one aim was to rape a white woman. So therefore he had to be treated with ‘firmness and ‘discipline’. That treatment was for his own good. So the mass murder, robbery and rape which was carried out in Africa, Asia and the West Indies were written up in the newspapers and history books as ‘civilising missions’.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, the standard work of reference among people of learning, stated in its 1884 edition:

‘No full-blooded Negro has ever been distinguished as a man of science, a poet or an artist, and the fundamental equality claimed for him by ignorant philanthropists is belied by the whole history of the race throughout this historic period.’

Newspaper editors whipped themselves into fury at the occasional outbursts of revolt by the black, inferior people who were being civilised by British imperialism. In the autumn of 1865, for instance, a Negro revolt broke out in Morant Bay, Jamaica. For a few days the Negroes ran riot over a couple of plantations. The rebellion was quickly and brutally crushed. Five hundred Negroes were indiscriminately slaughtered. The leader of the revolt, William Gordon, was executed by order of Governor Eyre, whose recourse to barbarism was defended by liberal men of letters in England such as Ruskin, Tennyson, Kingsley, Dickens, and Carlyle. On 4 November, The Times voiced the outrage of its class:

‘He who has come in as favoured heir of a civilisation in which he had no previous share; he, petted by philanthropists and statesmen and preachers into precocious enjoyment of rights and immunities which other races have been too glad to acquire by centuries of struggles ... he, dandled into legislative and official grandeur by the commiseration of England; that he should have chosen to revolt – this is a thing so incredible that we will not venture to believe it.’

The Times was writing about the agricultural labourer in Jamaica, who worked for half the year for fifteen hours a day for a wage which could not feed or clothe his children, and spent the other half in unemployment and total starvation, whose infant mortality rate was more than 60 per cent and whose condition represented the extremity of poverty and exploitation in all the wretched history of imperialism.

British workers and their organisations were encouraged, often with some success, to identify with the exploits of British conquerors abroad. However bad conditions were in the factory or the mill, it was argued, British workers owed their standard of living to the enterprise of their countrymen overseas.

From time to time it was true that British workers gained marginal wage advantages from the opening up of ‘markets’ by British imperialists. But the advantage was always short-lived. As each cycle of investment in overseas countries came to an end, so mass unemployment followed in British factories. The ten-year slump during the 1930s came at a time when the bastions of the British Empire in Africa, India and the West Indies were still intact. To put it crudely, the problems created by robbing British workers in Britain could not be solved for capitalism by the robbery of workers in Asia or Africa.

Yet the teaching and preaching of a hundred years dies hard. As I found in my meeting at Consett (and as others find all the time in the working-class movement) the lies peddled by Powell do strike a chord in large numbers of workers. They seem to provide an easy way out of the frustrations and insecurities which so many workers feel. Especially where trade union organisation is weak and all other means of solving problems are cut off, the blacks can be made into convenient scapegoats.

The propaganda of imperialism, the lies about racial inferiority, are intensely dangerous to the working-class movement. It is not simply that they teach men and women to behave like monsters to their fellow workers. It is also that they threaten the strength of trade-union organisation inside the factory, and so tip the balance of class power still further towards the employers.

Consider a few contemporary examples. In 1965, at Courtaulds Red Scar mill near Preston, a quarter of the factory (the worst-paid, hardest-working quarter) was worked by about 900 Pakistanis. The other three-quarters were worked by white workers. One morning, the factory manager walked into the Pakistani quarter and ordered a speed-up. Machines previously worked by four men, he said, would now be worked by three. This meant a huge increase in the amount of work that had to be done, and the Pakistani workers promptly walked out on strike. The local Transport and General Workers Union official advised the white workers not to follow suit, and the factory stayed at work. The strike went on unofficially for nine bitter weeks, and was broken. The Pakistani workers went back to work on the management’s terms.

Three weeks later, the same speed-up was introduced in the three white quarters. Since the union officials and white stewards had accepted the principle of the speed-up in the black section, they could not fight it in their own. All the workers suffered because they had been led by people who accepted that there was something inferior about black workers.

The same goes for two recent strikes in the East Midlands. In October 1972, several hundred workers at the Mansfield Hosiery mill, Loughborough, came out on strike for wage increases which they had been promised long before. Their union – the National Union of Hosiery and Knitwear Workers – was surprised and shocked that these members who had been paying their dues for so long should take any action at all. The white knitters in the factory refused to support the strike for fear that more ‘skilled jobs’ would go to black men. The strike ended in partial victory for the strikers, but the racial attitudes of union and white workers did nothing to help the cause, the conditions or the job security of anyone.

In June 1973 Indian and Pakistani workers came out on strike because their shop steward was sacked for responding to the TUC call for a strike on May Day against the freeze. Here was a clear cut case of victimisation of a man who took seriously his role in the trade union movement and responded to an appeal from the TUC. The local TGWU official refused to declare the strike official or to offer support. He, again, is victim to racist attitudes, and every worker in his area will suffer from it. By not supporting Mohammed Sawar at Jaffes, Nottingham, the union will make it more difficult to fight against any victimisation in future, whether the militant victimised is black or white.

On 13 June, the National Union of Hosiery and Knitwear Workers started its annual conference at Eastbourne. Mr Peter Pendergast, the NUHKW general president, attacked the Mansfield Hosiery strikers for bringing in an ‘outsider’. They should, he said, have relied on the union. He went on: ‘We helped the Asians far more than we have helped our own people.’

Our own people! It is the phrase used again and again by the backward and reactionary sections of the labour movement as an excuse for racial discrimination or immigration control.

Our own people! Who are they? Are they people who have been born in Britain, white people who speak English? If so, this group includes Duncan Sandys, John Stokes, Harold Soref and countless other wealthy union-busters and imperialists all over the world. For workers and trade unionists these are not ‘our people’; they are the opposite. They are the sworn enemies of the working class movement whose most crucial political aim is the preservation of wealth, privilege and leisure for their class.

Our people, therefore, cannot be defined by their place of birth, the place where they live, the language they talk or the colour of their skin. Our people are the plundered and the dispossessed all over the world who speak a multitude of languages and have many different coloured skins. The common factor of their exploitation binds them together far closer than the trivial differences of skin colour or language. The Asian workers pay dues into the NUHKW every bit as much as white workers. When their union president talks of them as though they were not ‘our people’, he talks like a Tory backwoodsman, not a trade unionist. He is victim to the racialist poison which is eating at the very heart of the British labour movement. We must find the antidote.

The fight back

FOR THE LAST fifteen years or so, people have tried to fight racialism by leaving the problem to someone else. Worried or confused by the strength of racialist feeling in the working class movement, MPs, councillors and the like have put all their hope in anti-racist activity from the Trades Union Congress or from a Labour government.

The Trades Union Congress and the trade union leaders of left and right are all one hundred per cent opposed to racialism. There are a hundred, if not a thousand conference resolutions to prove it. One of the remarkable aspects of such conferences is their almost total whiteness. When Frank Cousins retired as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (which has the largest number of black workers) he became chairman of the Community Relations Commission, whose job was to ‘further and improve race relations’.

But at the Transport and General Workers’ Union conference seven years later – in 1973 – there were only two black delegates out of a thousand. The trade union leaders have passed their motions, but done nothing whatever to combat racial discrimination or immigration controls or the racist ideas which exist in the minds of many of their members. They have done nothing to involve black workers and their problems in the trade unions. They have taken their dues, and passed them by.

The same is true of the Labour Party. In 1958, when racist Tories first demanded immigration control, the Labour Party declared itself against all Commonwealth immigration control. Labour leaders like Gaitskell and Brown fought the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 line by line. Yet the first act of the Labour government when it came to power in 1964 was to cut off all labour vouchers for unskilled black workers. In August 1965, still tighter immigration controls were introduced. In 1966, however, the dream of all the multi-racialists came true. Mr Roy Jenkins who has very strong anti-racialist views, was appointed Home Secretary by the Labour government. At once, he started work on a Race Relations Act which would make racial discrimination illegal. After a long fight, the Act was passed in 1968. But in the month it became law, in one demagogic speech about ‘rivers of blood’, Enoch Powell swept away all the good intentions of the Race Relations Act. Powell spoke to the fears and frustrations of the masses, while Jenkins had been staking everything on the decencies of liberal drawing rooms.

Powell’s speech followed close on another Immigration Control Act which left tens of thousands of East African Asians stateless. Faced with Powell’s demagogy, the liberals in parliamentary office were impotent. There was nothing left for Wilson and Co but to surrender to Powellite demands. This surrender has been continued out of office. When, in the summer of 1972, Wilson was asked why he had made no comment about the racist hysteria surrounding the entry of a few thousand Ugandan Asians, he replied that no one had asked him to do so!

The struggle against racism cannot be left to trade union or Labour leaders. Community Relations Commissions, Race Relations Boards, community liaison officers, welfare associations and the like will not be able to counter the cancerous effects of racialism.

I have argued in this pamphlet that racialism is part and parcel of a capitalist system which divides people up into classes in the interests of the minority in charge of industry and finance, the ruling class. It follows that the fight against racism is necessarily part of the fight against capitalism. For seven decades large numbers of people have been content to leave the fight against capitalism and its excesses to Labour MPs and trade union leaders. Politics has meant a vote every five years – and nothing else. The chief beneficiary has been capitalism.

The real power with which we can shake and remove capitalism is the mass action of the workers: the power of the miners who defeated the Tory government’s wage policies in 1972; the power of the dockers who, that same year, beat the Tory Industrial Relations Act by a strike in solidarity with their five jailed brothers. That action was ten times more effective in opposition to the Act than all the votes in parliament and all the trade union leaders’ speeches.

The same is true about racialism. When the workers take mass action, when they go on strike, racialist illusions which were quite strong while they were working almost always disappear. In 1968, some dockers hit the headlines by marching to Westminster in support of Enoch Powell. The London dockers at the time had made all kinds of concessions. They had just accepted massive redundancies outlined in the Devlin Report. They were weak, disorientated, isolated. Four years later, the National Front were hoping for similar support from the London docks for their demonstrations against the immigration of Ugandan Asians. The dockers, fresh from their victory at Pentonville, were in an entirely different mood. The dockers’ stewards moved unanimously against any dockers’ participation in anti-immigration demonstrations, and the National Front was forced back on its hard core of middle class perverts.

The same pattern has been followed in a large number of recent strikes. In the ‘dirty jobs’ strike of 1970, in the Ford strike of 1971, the hospital workers’ dispute of 1973, there were countless examples of racial solidarity by workers who were previously susceptible to racist propaganda.

The reason is that when workers are engaged in strikes, they see right away that solidarity is more important than skin colour. Confidence in their strength replaces the divisions and isolation of ‘normal times’. But militant, trade union action is not enough. Strikes come to an end, and militancy and solidarity can disappear as quickly as they emerged. A determined wage fight in a factory does not ensure that racialism never appears again in that factory. There is still plenty of racialism in the London docks, or in the Post Office or among local government workers.

If racialism is to be fought in the working class it has to be tackled at root in the factories, mines, mills, offices. And it has to be tackled politically by workers organised politically.

The main objective of the International Socialists is to build IS factory branches which meet regularly to raise political questions inside the factory: that is, to link the trade union battle in their place of work with trade union battles in other places of work, and to link those battles with all the political issues which so closely bear upon them: rents, prices, unemployment, the ‘money crisis’, equal pay, Ireland, Vietnam ... and, of course, racialism.

How can such a factory branch fight racialism? It can mount a campaign inside the factory for support for trade union organisation in the countless sweatshops throughout the country which have exploited black labour. The organisation of the small women’s rag trade factories in Southall is one recent example.

Secondly, it can insist that any discrimination in its factory or group of factories against black workers should be ended.

Thirdly, it can produce constant propaganda in the form of leaflets and verbal arguments against the arguments of Powell and Co.

Fourthly, it can link with the town or city branch of the International Socialists to demonstrate and agitate on the broader political questions, such as police harassment of blacks or the barbaric administration of immigration laws.

After the recent House of Lords decision making the Immigration Act retrospective, for example, the International Socialists factory branch organisation throughout the country organised a petition against the Act which was signed by many influential rank and file trade unionists. At the same time, the International Socialists trade union fractions organised resolutions and agitation inside the trade unions against the House of Lords decision. This sort of activity has more effect than a student picket outside a police station (although that may well be necessary). Organised trade union and shop stewards’ opposition to racist activity really means something.

This sort of activity will only be carried out by political organisation. The man or woman who relies solely on the trade union will protest that such organisation is ‘unconstitutional’ according to union rule, or will excuse himself on grounds of ‘too much time on union business’. In the end, if not at the beginning, that man or woman will become contaminated by racialist ideas. The socialist militant in the factory, when the immigrant worker first comes into the factory, cannot possibly be affected by racialist ideas. He knows that the black worker has behind him a rich tradition of struggle – certainly as rich a tradition as the white worker. The socialist militant sees the black worker as another fighter against the system, whose presence in the factory enriches and strengthens the struggle.

For far too long, British workers have listened to professional politicians who have said to them: ‘Vote for me, and you will be all right.’ These Labour politicians have gone out of their way to reassure black workers and anti-racist white workers, that once elected, racism would be fought through parliamentary channels. We have had a good dose of this parliamentary medicine over the past twenty-five years, and it has done nothing to stop the racialist pains.

We believe that the answer lies in socialist organisation and propaganda at the roots of the working class. We are building factory branches fast. But nothing like fast enough. Hundreds of such branches could decisively affect the course of racialism in this country over the next few years. That is why white workers who see the dangers of racism to their organisation and black workers who are persecuted and bullied by racialism must join us and help organise.

Last updated on 23.11.2013