How Tony Blair Rewrote Our Past
Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)
Failing some major social crisis, Tony Blair has made his final statement on the issue of race before departing the national and international stage. Blair opened his statement with what appears to be a huge observation: "The ethos of this country [on the race issue] is completely different from 30 years ago."
True. But he avoids saying how this was achieved, when and by whom. He praises, instead, those saviours who applied the healing remedies to which we, black immigrant workers, were and continue to be prey. Thus it was Roy Jenkins, rather than the grass-roots Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (Card), that was, according to Blair, the main impetus in the passing of the Race Relations Act in 1976.
Card's founding conference was held in July 1965 with black, Asian and white delegates from all over the UK. It was the first mass organisation of blacks and Asians to raise issues of racial discrimination and demand that the British authorities do something to counter it.
The conference was informed by small Caribbean and Asian groups scattered over the UK. I remember a distinctly working-class audience, which had landed in this country only three or four years earlier, but was growing in confidence. Ten years later, I recorded the ideas of various people. Their thoughts may make this clearer.
Here is Mustaq Hussein, an Asian textile worker from Nottingham. He arrived here, aged 13, from Azad Kashmir, in Pakistan. "It wasn't until I was 18 that I realised we are discriminated against and not treated the same as white people. All the workers were Pakistani and at first we thought of the foreman not as an employee, but as someone big who could do a lot of things to people. He said he was doing us a favour letting us work there, but later on we realised he wasn't doing us any favour. He should have been paying us the same as white workers."
Another Pakistani, Akbar Khan, said: "Before 1969, there wasn't any trade-union organisation at Perivale Gutermann and people say life wasn't any good there. We used to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for [pounds sterling]30. In time, we were able to establish a branch of the TGWU."
The interviews recorded the most vulgar racial discrimination, and the accompanying revolt was intense. …