Socialist Worker

Black history month: They want us to forget the history we fought to make

Brian Richardson argues that the history of black workers’ struggles from the past can arm militants fighting today

Issue No. 2425

Jayaben Desai surrounded by police during the Grunwick strike

Jayaben Desai surrounded by police during the Grunwick strike (Pic: Phil McCowen)


Socialist Worker takes black history seriously throughout the year, not only in October’s Black History Month.

We relish stories from the past that highlight resistance to racism.

They can motivate people who are struggling against oppression today.

All too often black people find the record of their battles and achievements—and their effect on the wider working class movement—are lost.

This is not an accident. Our ruling class tries to present British history where rich white males achieved all the glories, with the occasional rich white woman dropped in for good measure.

That’s why the Tories want to rewrite the history curriculum to be little more than a list of monarchs, wars they won and the “great minds” that supposedly made Britain great.

The monarchs and masterminds that they love are invariably white.

The purpose of this trick is to make the lower orders of all ethnicities believe that our unequal society is somehow natural.

The powerful are powerful supposedly because only they have the skills to lead and that the rich are rich because only they have true genius.

Black history helps us to expose this for the nonsense that it is.

Black British rebels have led multi-racial armies that transformed Britain.

Olaudah Equiano, the former slave whose writing and speaking helped build a successful mass movement against slavery, is one of them. 

William Cuffay, the tailor who led the working class Chartists rallies in the middle of the 19th century, is another.

Trade union militant Jayaben Desai smashed the stereotype of docile Asian women workers with the Grunwick strike that she led in the 1970s. 

After the strike, no one could repeat the myth that black workers held the unions back.

Socialist Worker has written articles on these people and many more besides. 

Unlike the mainstream Black History Month events put on by many local councils, we concentrate on those figures that speak most directly to working class people.

There are two reasons for this. 

First, the majority of black people in Britain are working class and face a double burden of discrimination. 

Our rulers keep them out of their history books both because of their ethnicity and because of their class.

Second, stories of black people who became working class leaders do more than raise awareness of race. 

They raise the prospect of struggles that can actually end racism.

When workers fight they are forced to address the issues that divide them. 

Struggle shines a light on the prejudiced ideas that some people hold by contrasting them to the unity that is needed to win the battle at hand.

That’s why when people take action they are often forced to confront backward ideas they may have held for years. 

This is not automatic. Ideas, like the struggle, can go backwards as well as forwards.

However, the presence of well-informed socialists in every confrontation makes the job of challenging racism much easier.

Socialist Worker aims to arm those militants with facts about the positive impact that migrants have made so that they can argue and win.

And, we want everyone to know that the history of black British workers is a shining part of the history of us all.


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