I am from a Bangladeshi family with deep roots in Walsall in the West Midlands. My grandfather, a foundry worker and miner, moved to the town in 1960. He was followed by my parents in the 1970s, when I was born. Workers in the Bangladeshi community in the ’70s and ’80s were largely employed in the Indian restaurant industry, working unsociable hours in the evenings and often having very little time to spend with family.
While many Bangladeshi people in this period were heavily involved in anti-racist organising and in workplace struggles, many others simply did not have the time to engage in politics because of the demands of work and other social pressures. Politics and community organising were seen as a privilege, often reserved for the educated within the community – students and graduates, and workers in specific sectors.
This typifies the experience of so many of our BAME communities, and is exactly why it is vitally important we deliver a radical change in the involvement of BAME people in the labour movement today. The Bangladeshi community of Walsall has never held representation at any elected level, and I was the first Labour candidate of Bangladeshi heritage to stand in the borough’s council elections. But until I was encouraged to stand through the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, which brought together some of the most talented BAME activists from across the country, I didn’t fully understand my potential.
Now, as a Forward Momentum candidate for Momentum’s national coordinating group (NCG), I want to take the principles of the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme to the wider BAME activist base. Ensuring much better inclusion and representation for our BAME communities in Momentum and Labour is my number one priority in the NCG campaign.
Momentum is the vehicle through which I have met like-minded comrades who share the same struggles as myself. In my home town, it has provided a strong voice for our communities – a vehicle for us to organise against cuts, austerity and racism. But it needs to do much better, and much more, at the national level.
Too often, Labour candidacies have been secured by clinging on to the coattails of influential people in the movement, leading to many instances where those who seek to represent us end up compromising on everything they stood for in the first place. Forward Momentum promises something different.
The first of its kind, Forward Momentum has built an open and transparent process without the backroom deals that have plagued our selection processes for too long in our party and on its left. The outcome of this process is a diverse group of candidates, united around a bold vision for a democratic left.
If we truly want to build a better movement, we must end the stitch-ups and backroom deals of recent years. Those who represent it must be democratically chosen and accountable to the people they represent, rather than acting as gatekeepers. That’s what our socialist ideals should point towards, and that is what our core principles as honest people of the left should revolve around.
Many BAME comrades from different backgrounds have experienced similar obstacles to the ones I’ve experienced at different levels – be it local, regional or national. Their experiences, commitment and track records have been dismissed in favour of hand-picked, established names. These comrades need support to organise and stand, and building that support is a major priority of mine for Momentum.
We need to learn more fully what obstacles exist and resolve to remove them so that we can grow a more inclusive, democratic and participative movement. We must welcome people of different heritages and communities and facilitate their development – not hinder their progress by leaving up barriers to inclusion. The working class is not just white. It is black, it is Chinese, it is Bangladeshi. It is lesbian, it is gay and it is trans. It is every part of our society, and we must endeavour to lift up the whole of the working class in all of its diversity.
But we should not just pause at representation. As we have seen with the murder of George Floyd in the US and #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter, we have again been reminded that racism still is prevalent and systemic, and works across borders. We need to respond to this with a vision for anti-racist campaigning that works to tackle racism of every type in every community.
Momentum has a pivotal role to play here. I am proud that Forward Momentum has committed to developing a democratically-run Momentum BAME members’ network to support BAME self-organisation, build BAME power, and promote BAME leadership. Momentum needs to be at the forefront of anti-racist community organising across the country, organising in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrations and other campaigns. We cannot be silent, we cannot stand still, we must not be bystanders.
We must organise against racism and oppression in our party too. What we learned of in the recently leaked report cannot be repeated, and those involved must be held to account. Empty platitudes don’t heal wounds. We need action. And that includes instances where high-level party staff have denigrated black MPs. If we are to end ‘one rule for some, another rule for others’ in our society, we must first end it in our party and in our movement.
These issues form the basis of my priorities for Momentum. You cannot ‘renew’ the left by standing still, or by tinkering with how we do things – we have to transform it by radically reaching out, especially to underrepresented groups, and by acting collectively to radically boost inclusion and reach justice. If we can achieve that better left, we stand a greatly improved chance of transforming Labour and transforming the lives millions of working-class people across the country. If you’re with me, join me.
You have until June 11th to join Momentum if you want the opportunity to vote in the NCG elections. If you’re a member in the Midlands and East region, I hope you’ll consider voting for me and my comrades on the Forward Momentum slate – Abbie, Solma and Andrew – for a truly member-led Momentum.