Jocelyn Cruywagen (pictured above left) is a worker at Lambeth council, a rep and activist in Lambeth Unison and an anti-racist campaigner. She spoke to Sacha Ismail.
Black Lives Matter is about more than just killing and violence. It’s also about black people being denied jobs, rights and equal opportunities.
We need radical, revolutionary change. Labour and the unions should be leading people onto the streets with our banners and flags, yes, with social distancing measures, but taking a lead. There is the pandemic, but there is also the much longer-term pandemic of racism. We have to tackle that.
The reality is very different. The quietness of the unions has been mind-boggling. We haven’t even had clear statements that the labour movement is against these killings, the killing of George Floyd but also all the other George Floyds in the US and Britain and all over the world.
Black activists in the unions need to take a lead but that also implies unions supporting activists to empower them and given them confidence. Not just when an issue like this flares up, but also consistently, at every opportunity.
My message to the young people on the streets is that you need unions. If you work, particularly if you’re black, you should not be without a union — in a union but also being active. The only way you can resist abuse from employers and managers is to know your rights and have the organisation of activists and reps to back that up.
The beautiful thing is how young and energetic the demonstrators are and how they want to fight — but that needs to be more than a one-day fight, it needs to be an everyday fight, including in the workplace.
But that means changing the unions — challenging the bureaucrats and gatekeepers — and getting them on the streets too.
In terms of the Labour Party, under Keir Starmer it seems like less and less of a hospitable environment for black activists. I don’t think he has socialist values or any interest in how people are experiencing their struggles on the ground — particularly black people. We keep hearing about constructive opposition. You can negotiate, but that should come on top of having clear demands. Nothing comes if you don’t have demands, and if you’re not talking to people on the ground you won’t.
A lot of people got very excited when Starmer challenged Johnson over care homes, but what did he actually call for? It’s the same on the right to strike and other issues. His line is a white liberal line, not a socialist one.
With Jeremy Corbyn, he was at least someone you could relate to as a socialist, someone who had an interest in what was going on around the world. Starmer is a Sir — he’s part of the empire.
He’s said nothing about Black Lives Matter and now we have the rubbish with the statue.
In South Africa [where Jocelyn is from] we’ve renamed schools, universities, airports. Why did we still have that statute in such a beautiful city as Bristol? I don’t know the details, but I’m sure people have petitioned and asked nicely and it fell on deaf ears. That is certainly something we are used to in challenging racism at Lambeth council. Things change when people take action.
I should say that black politicians at the top of Labour are not necessarily any better than Starmer. Holding a position in the Labour Party doesn’t necessarily mean listening to people on the ground and their demands.
We need to end stop and search. We need to reach out to and push black police officers to put pressure on their white colleagues, who are always the ones leading the way in harassing people.
Beyond that we need community policing in a real sense, not just rhetoric. You think of all the people in Brixton who are regularly harassed and searched by the police over something they did years ago, or nothing at all, and actually many of those people would have a better approach to the safety of the community if they were empowered to develop it.
• See bit.ly/lambethcouncilracism for more on the campaigning against racism at Lambeth council which Jocelyn is involved in. For a more recent Lambeth Unison motion on the campaign, see below.