There was intense debate at the black students’ conference of the National Union of Students (NUS) last month about how we identify which culture we belong to and how we fight oppression.
At first glance the motion that provoked the debate may seem trivial but it has a serious political message at its core. It proposed to only elect a black students’ officer who is “ethnically black”, or to change the name of the campaign.
The motion was voted down but it’s an important argument.
This year the NUS Black Students campaign celebrates its 20th anniversary. It was built out of tireless anti-racist campaigning to unify non white students who suffered from racism to fight back.
Black is a political expression of a common experience uniting students in a common struggle.
The argument against using the word black in this way argues that black is a specific identity, which tells us how we should act.
Socialists reject this. Regardless of race people have different experiences. An “ethnically black” person in Ghana has a different experience to someone from London.
It is not our ethnicity which decides how we act.
This argument comes at a time when Muslims, predominantly Asian and Arab, are at the sharp end of racism. These students play leading roles in the campaign.
To carve out the activism of Asian and Arab students to prioritise the action of “ethnically black” students is divisive.
We need to stay united —especially when the new NUS president Malia Bouattia faces huge pressure and establishment racism.
Splitting into small groups based on where we’re from undermines the fight against oppression. Dividing the largest, organised progressive force inside the NUS will only serve to further boost the racists and the right wing.
Our focus must be to stop Prevent, solidarity with refugees and to kick fascists off the streets.
Antony Hamilton, West London
We had EU debate—and voted on it
Jim Nichol calls for Socialist Worker to change its position on the European Union (EU) referendum as a Leave vote will cheer the right in Britain and Europe.
Let’s look at Britain. It is David Cameron whipping up racism against refugees and migrants and who was central to the most foul campaign of Islamophobia during the London mayoral election.
Many leading right wing Tory ministers are for Remain and use racism.
Why does Jim think the majority of big corporations fighting to remain in the EU are doing so?
The left has to put forward an independent position.
It can’t wait until the stars are perfectly aligned before it drops its opposition to the EU.
The pressure for Jeremy Corbyn to shift his position to Remain clearly came from the Labour right.
Lastly, Jim calling for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) to change its position on the EU referendum is interesting.
He will be aware of the debate that began at our annual Marxism festival and to which he contributed.
That continued in meetings and through Socialist Worker, Socialist Review and International Socialism Journal.
After open debate, SWP conference overwhelmingly voted for the position put forward by Socialist Worker.
Huw Williams, Bristol
Ali’s demand for respect resonated
Reading Brian Richardson’s obituary of Muhammad Ali on Socialist Worker’s website reminded me of a time when I saw Ali’s impact on working class men in prison.
I showed the documentary film about the Rumble in the Jungle, When We Were Kings, to an evening class of black, Asian and white men in Pentonville Prison.
Men who often couldn’t sit still for 15 minutes, with all kinds of literacy and behavioural problems followed Ali’s every word.
They smiled at each other, laughing at his jokes.
And they didn’t take their eyes off him when Ali pointed out that Zaire was poor but its airline was staffed by black people, while rich America wouldn’t let black people fly. As the film was so long, I had to show it in two halves and I thought that the men might not come back a week later.
But word had got round and twice as many came to see the second half.
Muhammad Ali moved these men deeply because it was the first time they had seen a famous black man with razor sharp wit demanding respect and freedom for himself and people like him—and them.
Sarah Ensor, Manchester
We can tip the balance in favour of refugees
One of the most important political tasks we can do right now is challenging lies about refugees and racism.
After a local Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) rally my union branch put a motion to our regional RMT union council arguing for solidarity with refugees. It came up as news broke of yet more drownings at sea.
It wasn’t a difficult issue to raise. As another member argued, it’s the trade union movement’s responsibility to act on this issue. At work you might come up against arguments that immigrants put pressure on services, jobs or housing.
But taking the arguments on is crucial—and you find that things are not quite as brutal as they seem, despite the racism of politicians. What we do can help tip the balance and counter them.
We voted to donate £250 of practical support for refugees. I’m going back to my branch to get people to come and see off the convoy to Calais with me.
Jane Gwyn, South London
Take a lead on fracking
I was surprised she didn’t mention the danger of fracking liquid polluting water supplies.
It is possibly the issue that gets people most involved in opposing fracking and would affect many people, not just those living near a fracking pad.
The decision by North Yorkshire County Council to allow fracking takes the issue to a new level.
The frackers will be rubbing their hands with glee and planning many more applications.
I hope Socialist Worker will take a lead in trying to coordinate the opposition that there is to fracking.
Gilbert Morrey, Scarborough
Battering elite for 40 years
As a long term reader of Socialist Worker (it was first sold to me outside a job centre in Hull in 1977) I do much to praise your newspaper.
You’ve been battering the capitalist elite for over 40 years.
Elijah Traven, Hull
Well done for the Whatsapp
Love reading articles sent direct through the new Socialist Worker Whatsapp service.
I like being pointed to the key articles and reading them on my phone.
Jess Edwards, South London
Strikes better than voting
I am very happy that French workers are finally standing together with the same political goal, especially if they kick out the ruling oligarchy for it.
I prefer them striking rather than voting for bloody Le Pen.
Axel Kiebooms, on Facebook