Colleagues Claire (left) and Sara (centre) at Corbyn rally in Highbury Fields, North London, 14 August.
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike has been circulating an important statement:
Why people of colour should support the new Corbyn/McDonnell movement
We are a network of women of colour and, although our organisation is non-party political, we were overjoyed when Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election and when John McDonnell, his close colleague and friend of 30 years who had organised for Corbyn to run, became Shadow Chancellor.
Corbyn’s victory did not come out of the blue. It was the result of many campaigns and activistscoalescing around a candidate who finally expressed our total opposition to cuts, exploitation, poverty, low wages, rape and other violence, stop and search, deaths in custody, detention, war and environmental devastation, which have infuriated and depressed communities, especially people of colour.
It is in our interests as communities of colour to support Corbyn and McDonnell: this is our time to mobilise together with two principled politicians.
Some reasons to support Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell:
Both are anti-austerity, at a time when people of colour and women in particular are among the hardest hit by Dickensian levels of poverty and homelessness.
• Around 2 in 5 Black and immigrant families in London live in low-income households, twice as many as white people.
• A quarter of all children live in one-parent families: the biggest percentage of lone-parent households is among Black/ethnic groups. 48% of Black Caribbean and 36% of Black African households have one parent. Across the UK, 40% of those affected by the benefit cap are people of colour and immigrants, though we are only 14 % of the population. The last round of cuts hit 1.25m families of colour (over 4m people).
• Over 44% of employees of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin earn under the living wage, and 41% of employees of African origin are on low wages. People of colour will be particularly affected by cuts to working tax credit – a benefit for low-waged workers. Women of colour and immigrant women are among those most likely to be on zero hour contracts, and most affected by cuts to jobs in caring and local services.
Corbyn and McDonnell’s anti-racist, anti-sexist track records are second to none.
• From the time of his maiden speech in Parliament in 1983, Corbyn has protested cuts and poverty in his constituency, including unemployment and lack of opportunity for young Black people.
• Both have personally intervened on countless occasions to prevent deportations, for example, Corbyn’s Early Day Motion for Mr Liaquat Ali. McDonnell has persistently defended his constituents detained in Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Centre.
• They both fight for higher pensions, and defend local services, such as Whittington hospital’s A&E department.
• McDonnell has worked closely with Black Women’s Rape Action Project and others to defend women asylum seekers. His EDM 406 called for official recognition of rape as torture in asylum applications, and EDM 909 for an independent investigation into rape and racist abuse in Yarl’s’ Wood IRC. He has hosted meetings in Parliament where women asylum seekers in our network spoke about hunger strikes against sexual abuse and racist attacks by guards in detention.
• Both have attacked abusive and discriminatory policing such as stop and search powers; the disproportionate number of people from Black/minority ethnic communities in psychiatric institutions; and police spying and covert operations against families campaigning for justice.
• Corbyn attended the inquest into the death of Leon Patterson who died in police custody (1992). He took up the case of Roger Sylvester (1999) and got the solicitor general to reverse his decision to deny the family legal aid. Corbyn has tabled many questions on deaths in custody, including after Mark Duggan’s killing by police (2011). We have heard personal accounts from young people of colour in Corbyn’s constituency whom he defended against racism from the police and criminal justice system.
• Corbyn pressed for an inquiry into the joint enterprise law which imprisons in particular young people of colour for crimes they didn’t commit. This and other racist policies such as Stop and Search and Prevent allow police – who all agree are institutionally racist – to target people of colour: over 25% of the prison population is from a Black/ethnic background, and one in 7 prisoners are Muslim.
• Both Corbyn and McDonnell oppose privatisation, including of policing, prison and immigration services by unaccountable and often brutal corporations like G4S and Serco.
• Corbyn’s EDM 407 called for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate G4S, highlighting their killing of Jimmy Mubenga during his deportation, and the treatment of other vulnerable people in their care, including that of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
• They both support the valuing of women’s unwaged caring work and a living wage for all workers.
• McDonnell supported Asian women in his constituency striking at Gate Gourmet.
• Corbyn and McDonnell were among the handful of MPs who consistently opposed the war on Afghanistan and Iraq.
• Corbyn protested against apartheid, long before it became a popular cause, and was arrested at the non-stop picket outside the South African embassy (1984).
• Corbyn has spoken for Palestinian people’s rights since he entered Parliament. After Israel’s bombing of Gaza (2014), he challenged the UK selling arms to Israel and dissociated himself from anti-Semitism: “Does questioning the behaviour of the Israeli state towards Palestinians lead to anti-Semitism? No, it mustn’t and shouldn’t . . . Whether it’s a synagogue or a mosque under attack we must all come together to be as one in confronting it.”
• Both MPs have supported the Latin American movement. Chile under Allende’s popular government was a formative experience for Corbyn; he later participated in attempts to extradite dictator Pinochet to be tried for mass torture and murder. McDonnell was the first MP to support the Venezuelan revolution led by President Chavez. Latin American refugees in the UK organised to support Corbyn’s election.
• McDonnell spoke for the people of Haiti (the first to end slavery but often disregarded) and supported the international campaign to bring home from exile the beloved former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after the 2004 US backed coup. He raised Parliamentary questions about the disappearance of Haitian human rights activist, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine.
• After his landslide victory, Corbyn’s first public address was to tens of thousands gathered in Parliament Sq in support of refugees, reflecting his long-standing commitment to justice for immigrant people and people of colour everywhere.
• To disparage Corbyn and McDonnell for being white, middle-class, heterosexual men, as some men of colour have done, is to hide their track record of anti-racist, anti-fascist work, and for justice.
• No other MPs (including MPs of colour) have done such consistent work in our defence. We judge people by their political actions, not their race. Otherwise, any MP of colour should be our choice, even if they are Tories peddling murderous cuts. Equally, we won’t back women MPs who have supported austerity making life so much harder for women, especially women of colour, the primary carers in every community.
Many people don’t know Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s principled track records. We are spelling it out to rally communities of colour to defend them and work in the movement they have called forth, to fight for policies that reflect our needs against racist, sexist and imperialist brutality. This is our chance to make our voices heard.
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike