1960s >> 1968 >> no-764-april-1968

Labour’s New Race Law

Attacks on wages and the trade unions, defence of profits and unemployment, bringing back health charges and now, again, a colour bar law. Thus, one by one, Labour abandons its old principles, partly under pressure from capitalism, but partly also from a desire to stay in office. While economics has been responsible for the failure of Labour’s futile attempts to make capitalism work in the interests of all, politics is behind this, their second, capitulation to colour prejudice. For, as they themselves pointed out in 1962, if anything economics demands free immigration: there is a relative labour shortage in Britain which could delay expansion.
This shortage has existed since the beginning of the last world war. First the demand for workers was met by the immigration of persons displaced by the war in Europe and then by people from the old empire and the colonies, from the West Indies, from India and Pakistan, from Cyprus and from West Africa. Figures show that this migration was mainly a matter of supply and demand: when the economy was expanding more came; when the economy was stagnating the rate of entry slowed up and many returned home (and many British-born workers left for Canada and Australia). In the meantime demagogues, such as former Fascist leader Mosley, exploited the frictions that arose between workers thrown together in the terrible housing conditions capitalism created in parts of the expanding Midlands and South East. Mosley stood in the 1959 election as a “send-them-back” candidate in North Kensington, where the previous year there had been the Notting Hill race riot.
In 1961 the Tory government decided to act. They introduced a Bill whose purpose was to keep out “coloured’’ immigrants. The Labour Party, then led by Hugh Gaitskell. opposed this measure in and out of Parliament. One of their leaflets headed Immigration, the Facts began:

  By restraining the right of Commonwealth citizens to come to Britain, the Conservative Government has given way to the pressure of colour prejudice.
   The Labour Party is determined to oppose any form of colour prejudice.

The leaflet went on to point out:

     The fear of some people that millions of immigrants will come to these shores is quite unfounded, for as the number of unfilled jobs falls, so the number of immigrants falls. And we need more workers if our economy is ever to expand.

Gaitskell died, six months after the Commonwealth Immigrants Act came into force, in January 1963. Gradually, with the prospect of power after thirteen long years in the wilderness, Labour’s enthusiasm for fighting racial prejudice weakened. The results of the 1964 election, in which Labour scraped home by a mere four seats, confirmed their fears that opposition to immigration control was a vote-loser. Racialist Peter Griffiths, despite a national swing against the Tories, had defeated Patrick Gordon Walker in Smethwick, a traditional Labour seat in the outskirts of Birmingham. Deprived of power for so long Labour was determined not to lose it by sticking to a mere principle. The policy of “fight racial prejudice”, they decided, should be replaced by one of “pander to racial prejudice”. Accordingly, in August 1965 Labour announced that it would strengthen the colour bar Commonwealth Immigrants Act. Their Home Secretary Soskice, himself the son of a Russian immigrant, went about talking vaguely of “illegal” immigrants thereby encouraging prejudice.
Compared with the present Labour leaders Gaitskell almost seems a man of principle. Indeed, Roy Hattersley, now a junior Minister, has criticised Gaitskell’s stand against the Tory immigration Act. In a series of essays called The Left published in 1966, Hattersley made this cynical statement referring to Labour’s about turn on this issue:

    In some fields rationalism has taken over where even under Gaitskell emotion reigned.

So even Gaitskell was not pragmatic — or opportunist — enough!
It is true that in 1965 Labour did bring in an Act outlawing racial discrimination in certain public places. But any effect this might have had was nullified by the government’s capitulation over the immigration colour bar. If the government can discriminate, many argued, why can’t pubs and hotels too? The Act also contained a dangerous innovation: section six made the mere expression of racialist views a crime, and thus represented an attack on freedom of speech and the press in Britain. The Socialist Party, although opposed to racialist views, stands for full and free discussion of all social problems and is quite opposed to any and all restrictions on such discussion. The Labour government, however, in an effort to get the best of both worlds, has pursued the stupid and dangerous policy of trying to suppress the very views it has encouraged by pandering to — besides of course maintaining capitalism, the system that gives rise to working class problems and to racialism as a mistaken reaction to them.
When the Tory Conference met in Brighton last year Sir Cyril Osborne, wrote to the Daily Telegraph (18 October):

    Some African States are driving out their Asian immigrants. They number over half a million. They are entitled to settle in Britain. Today they are clamouring to come, and the British Overseas Airways Corporation is offering cheap air fares.

He went on to allege that the surplus population of India also wanted to come here and commented:

  We cannot assimilate them. They have their own language, religion, literature and culture, which they mean to preserve. They remain an alien race in our midst.

This is the kind of prejudice the Labour government has given into and, who knows, perhaps shares. Osborne of course is no great intellect. He is only popular amongst certain Tory activists since, as a narrow-minded provincial company director, he typifies them and their prejudices. But at least it has always been clear where he stood. Long ago he declared himself against a “coffee-coloured, multiracial society” in Britain. Osborne, however, was not alone in stoking up racial prejudice among the Tories. The same day in a speech in Deal shadow defence spokesman Enoch Powell called for stricter immigration controls to keep out “coloured” people and particularly for new legislation to stop any Asians coming in from Kenya. Over the years Powell has been building up his image as a man of principle, as a frank and fearless defender of capitalism without controls. He has risked unpopularity by insisting that the law of supply and demand be allowed to work unhindered. Now he stands exposed as a hypocrite. He is all for controls to stop the free movement from country to country of workers seeking jobs. For Powell, as an MP for colour conscious Wolverhampton, himself runs the risk of becoming a victim of the law of supply and demand: if he came out in favour of the free movement of labour he might not be re-elected! Another former Tory minister, Duncan Sandys, has also been running his own one-man racialist campaign. Despite the fact that he was a member of the Tory government which, in granting Kenya independence, gave the Kenya Asians the right to come here. Sandys joined with Powell in demanding action to “keep-them-out”.
This campaign put the Labour government, already unpopular enough for its attacks on living standards, in an awkward position. Should it run the risk of again being blamed for “letting-them-in”, or should it try to outmanoeuvre the Tories? By now, after more than three years of governing capitalism, Labour was used to breaking promises and abandoning principles so the choice was easy. On February 22 Home Secretary Callaghan announced Labour’s Bill to stop the Kenya Asians. These unfortunate people were holders of British passports so the Bill had to provide for the extension of the immigration colour bar from Commonwealth to British citizens. Sandys was delighted:

   The Government have now themselves introduced a Bill similar to mine and I am giving them my full support . . . (Spectator, 1 March 1968)

Extending the colour bar to British citizens abroad needed careful drafting to avoid keeping out “white” as well as “coloured” people. In the end Labour found a solution that only those whose father or father’s father were born in Britain would from now on have free entry into Britain. One lawyer, writing in New Society (29 February) commented:

     Each lawyer will recognise the finger print of the formula that has been evolved: it is designed to draw a racial distinction by finding a dividing line which approximates to the racial division yet is capable of expression in words which make no specific reference to race.

The Socialist Party, basing its principles on the fact that workers the world over have a common interest, is opposed to all racialism and to all nationalism. We are opposed to all legislation to prevent the free movement of workers, whether in search of jobs or fleeing from oppression. We denounce the Labour Party’s new race law as a shameful sell-out to colour prejudice. Let them never dare speak of the brotherhood of man again!
Adam Buick

Leave a Reply