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Labour’s New BAME structures must give voice to rank-and-file members – Mish Rahman, NEC member

“Labour more than ever must stand up for BAME communities & stand with our BAME members, many of whom are campaigning in their communities to support people through the pandemic & the hardship it brings.”

Mish Rahman

By Mish Rahman, Labour NEC member.

COVID-19 hasn’t created inequality in society – it has ruthlessly exposed it, especially the decades of health inequality that has disproportionately impacted Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities more than any others.

Research by experts at the University of Manchester has shown that BAME people are at more risk of contracting the virus and are in some cases 3 times at risk of death compared with people of white British ethnicity. It is in hard times like these when the Labour Party more than ever must stand up for BAME communities and stand with our BAME members, many of whom are campaigning in their communities to support people through the pandemic and the hardship it brings.

Yet our Party has its own problems. In 2017, despite the Labour membership blooming to over half a million, with an estimated 70,000 BAME members, membership of BAME Labour was just over 700 members, of which only 520 members voted in the BAME Labour elections. This simply wasn’t good enough then, and not much has changed now.

It is common knowledge that BAME Labour is a moribund body, propped up by trade union delegates and often used as a ‘pocket organisation’ for the benefit of individuals. It does not meaningfully support or provide opportunities for BAME members to self-organise. Because of this, BAME activists have for years been organising for something better. The Democracy Review didn’t deliver everything it promised, but thanks to organising by BAME socialists it did deliver a directly elected BAME NEC place (removing it from BAME labour) and more importantly a commitment to establish new BAME structures in the Labour Party.

Labour’s new and yet unnamed BAME structures will aim to strengthen the participation and representation of BAME members at every level of the Labour Party. This is fine in principle, but it is also important to learn from previous mistakes and give voice to rank-and-file members. It’s essential that the new structures cut ties with the defunct BAME Labour, which should not have a seat on the National Labour Party BAME Committee. The majority of these seats must belong to directly elected member positions, as well as trade union delegates.

It is also essential that BAME members are able to directly elect the Chair of this new Committee with an OMOV ballot, just like the Chair of Young Labour. BAME members should also be able to hold their own conference, not just for optics but with actual voting and decision-making power. They should be able to elect their own BAME representatives to regional and national committees as well as CLP’s and Local Government Committees. In short, the new BAME structures must fully implement the recommendations of the Democracy Review.

We must also make sure that the Labour Party represents the diversity of the UK and recognises the intersectionality between BAME people. BAME people are not a homogenous group. We have different heritages and backgrounds, even if we share many of the same problems.

In the Labour Party and in national politics there is a huge under representation of people from Black communities, Chinese communities, Indian and Bangladeshi communities at all levels of elected office. In the 2019 General Election, only 6 of the top 100 seat candidates for Labour were BAME. This does not represent the diversity of the UK.

Labour has to do better, especially when we consider the upcoming Forde Inquiry. 160 BAME activists – who call themselves Labour Black Socialists – have refused to campaign for the Labour Party unless the candidate is a committed anti-racist with a track record. The Party needs to oppose racism and act on it,  rather than avoiding the issue whilst chasing better polling numbers.

But we should not stop at representation. The Black Lives Matter movement has been a forceful reminder that racism is prevalent, systemic and works across borders. Labour needs to respond to this with a vision for anti-racist campaigning that works to tackle racism of every type in every community, and understands the way the class, race and inequality are intimately related.

To create an equal society Labour must hold onto and build on policies like creating an Emancipation Educational Trust, which Deputy Leader Angela Rayner promised in her election campaign, to ensure the historical injustices of colonialism and the role of the British Empire is properly integrated into the National Curriculum, as well as Black history, which is also British history.

All of this work will have to directly involve our communities. Reforms imposed from the top down, that dictate to members rather than empowering them, will not work. If we want to build a Labour party which has anti-racism at the core of its value system, and which tackles prejudice rather than pandering to it, then BAME members will need to be empowered to lead the process.

  • Mish Rahman was recently elected to Labour’s NEC with the support of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Labour Outlook is pleased to have a column from a left-wing #GrassrootsVoice member of Labour’s NEC each week.

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