Labour Party Black Sections

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Labour Party Black Sections
Formation6 October 1983; 36 years ago (1983-10-06)
FounderDiane Abbott
Paul Boateng
Sharon Atkin
Extinction1993; 27 years ago (1993)
Legal statusDefunct
Region served
United Kingdom
Parent organization
Labour Party

Labour Party Black Sections (LPBS), commonly known as Black Sections, was a section made up of black Labour Party supporters from 1983 to 1993.


Since the 1960s, the Labour Party has relied upon Britain's large black communities in urban areas for votes, and over time, people from black communities stood in local council elections, and even as MPs, though during the 1970s these were often in seats where they stood no chance of winning.[1]

The Labour Party Black Sections debate emerged in the context of ethnic minority voting patterns gaining prominence from 1974.[2] The call for Black Sections among black Labour Party activists emanated from their realisation of the significance of black votes, particularly in areas of a high concentration of black and Asian residents. Black members active in the Labour Party argued for greater representation in return for the electoral support for their communities.[3][4]

The uprisings that occurred in the early 1980s in Brixton, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere acted as a warning to society being indifferent or hostile to the demands of disenfranchised and disadvantaged black people.[5] These urban disturbances provided black activists with greater political leverage in their arguments, while the rise of the Labour Left in local government, particularly in London, created the opportunity to place the issue of black representation on the political agenda.[3]

Parallel organisations within the trade unions such as the Black Trade Union Solidarity Movement and Black Media Workers' Association were set up prior to Labour Party Black Sections.[6] There were two main approaches to the formation of Labour Party Black Sections. For supporters of Black Sections, the rationale for its existence was the fact[3] that although black people had solidly voted Labour over the decades, this was not reflected in party policies, priorities, its hierarchy[7] or within its structures. It was thought that Black Sections would involve more black people in Labour politics and challenge the party's records of neglect of black community concerns, as well as providing the party with the increased electoral support it needed.[3] By organising as a section within the party, black Labour Party members hoped to increase the number of black people required to change the party so that it could take account of their needs,[7] demands of more representation and adoption of their agenda.[8]

Amid the growing weight of black demands and the creation of new opportunities to voice them, existing Labour Party members took the initiative to establish an unofficial national Labour Party Black Section.[9] The group was first mooted in 1981 to further minority representation within the Labour Party. Among its founding members were Diane Abbott, then a councillor in Westminster, Paul Boateng, then a left-wing lawyer, and Sharon Atkin, a Labour activist. Initially the party hierarchy welcomed the idea, and in 1983, a resolution setting out a framework for the National Executive Committee (NEC) met with approval.[10] After this, the NEC set up a working group to investigate the demand for Black Sections and recommended that they be made official, following a survey in constituencies throughout the country which favoured Black Sections by a four to one majority.[11] Within a few years Black Sections had 35 branches, including four in London. On the back of its success, over 200 candidates were elected across the country in the 86 council elections.[1]

Frustrated by the lack of a single ethnic minority MP in Parliament, supporters around the country established a Black Section in CLPs which sought to exert pressure on the Labour leadership to address poor ethnic representation in the party and to focus the party's attention on policies that were of concern to ethnic minority communities. Many Black Section members also called for quotas to ensure black and Asian MPs were elected to Parliament. They lobbied for the party's constitution to be amended to ensure Black Sections had representation in the party's decision-making bodies such at the National Executive Committee, as was already the case for women.[12][13]


"Black" is a political concept. It is used to include all racially oppressed minorities. Each geographical area, therefore, is likely to reflect its own "black" communities. In most areas this will inevitably mean people of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent. However, in Haringey, for example, Cypriots have chosen to be, and are, involved in local Black Sections.

Labour Party Black Sections, 1985[14]

In July 1984, the first National Black Sections Conference was held, where more than 300 delegates, mainly Afro-Caribbean attended.[15] At the 1984 Labour Party Conference, 23 resolutions supporting Black Sections was received.[11] At every autumn national party conference between 1984 and 1989, Black Sections activists sought and proposed resolutions to amend Labour's constitution and advocate formally recognising Black Sections but were defeated,[15][16][17] even despite the support of large trade unions with their block votes in 1985.[17] By 1986, trade unions admitted to Black Sections and their positive effect in building a black union membership.[11]

Many local parties had Black Sections despite Labour's refusal to make them official: the Black Sections Annual Conference reported that 30 constituencies had unofficial Black Sections by 1986.[11] The Labour Party refused to recognise Black Sections. Nevertheless, Black Sections members operated as if their group was legitimate, often with the support of their local Labour Party branches. Consequently, the relationship between Black Sections and the Labour Party leadership was marked by conflict and tension.[18]

Despite opposition, Black Sections won and achieved a 500-fold increase in African-Caribbean and Asian representation in town halls around the country, four black council leaders, four black MPs, and Bill Morris as the first black trade union general secretary. On top of that, black self-organised groups were formed in trade unions and even by police officers. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) created places on its general council and executive for black representatives.[5]

Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Russell Proffitt and Keith Vaz stopped acting as Black Sections activists when they were adopted for safe or winnable seats.[19] The 1987 general election bore the fruit of Black Sections' work in the form of four black Labour MPs being elected (Boateng, Abbott, Grant and Keith Vaz)[18] from 12 prospective Parliamentary candidates.[1]

Up to 1988, the dominant position within Black Sections was one of demanding no less than constitutional recognition as a section, to achieve parity with the existing Women and Youth Sections. This shifted after the 1987 general election to one of Black Sections being prepared to consider proposals from the Labour leadership if they met Black Sections' general criteria.[7] In 1988, Black Sections published the influential Black Agenda document after being urged by their communities to state their policies.[5]

Although Black Sections were established in local constituency Labour Parties around the country, they were not endorsed by the Labour leadership.[12] The legitimate calls for fair representation made by black communities - whose electoral support was given overwhelmingly to Labour - were resisted and opposed by the party leadership of Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley, who wanted to defeat a rising left-wing rank and file.[5] By 1987, Black Sections' founding 'principle' of autonomous organisation was in doubt. In the face of Labour's NEC backing Kinnock's resolution, which threatened disciplinary action against future separatist activity, Black Sections went on the defensive when six black prospective parliamentary candidates who belonged to Black Sections were told not to subscribe to statements of Black Sections policy which were different from the general party programme.[20]

The main reason we want to see Black Sections recognised is because we believe the only way that appropriate strategies for overcoming racism will be devised, is when we as Black people come together and decide on effective anti-racist policies which we can take to a wider political audience. As victims of racism, we have a right to be in the forefront of the anti-racist struggle.

Labour Party Black Sections, 1988[21]

Clare Short was one of the few white politicians to stand by Black Sections throughout.[22] Despite the support for Black Sections throughout the labour movement, Labour still officially refused to recognise them and give them an official place in developing Labour's race policy.[11] In October 1990,[15] at the Annual General Meeting, Bernie Grant pointed out that the general political mood was one of retreat and that the left was weak, and his view was the Black Sections' weakness meant that it was time to be 'pragmatic' and assess what would be achievable in such a climate. This endorsement indicated that Black Sections was lowering its horizons on its existence and the official recognition it would pursue. The official demand for Black Sections was replaced because it was no longer considered feasible. In 1990, the view which gained ascendancy was that Black Sections should continue to operate under its current constitution, actively develop a Black Socialist Society within the Labour Party and seek to win political leadership of it.[7] This meant that the Labour Party finally changed its constitution to embrace the Black Socialist Society.[5]

During the 1990 conference a compromise was reached. Composite 8, as it was called, stated that the National Executive Committee would (a) recognise formally and support Black members' right to organise together for effective participation and representation; b) make provisions for the representation of Black members at all levels of the party; and c) adopt the working party's proposal on Black members' organisation within the party that were presented to the National Executive Committee on 16 July 1989, namely, the setting up of a single affiliated organisation for members of African, Caribbean, and Asian descent, with local and regional groups and direct representation on the National Executive Committee. The outcome of this resolution was the creation of the Black Socialist Society.[15]

In 1991, at the Annual General Meeting, it was acknowledged by Labour Party Black Sections National Chair Mike Wongsam - summing up on behalf of the National Executive Committee - that enabling the development of the Black Socialist Society would mean developing an organisation that would replace Labour Party Black Sections' influence within the Labour Party.[7] Black Sections were disbanded and the Black Socialist Society was formed as a compromise between the party leadership and their supporters. This was considered a substantially weaker organisation, and the compromise led to a split among Black Section activists.[16]


Many of the Black Sections leadership remained Labour Party members. In 1991, they formed the grassroots Anti-Racist Alliance, which helped set up the groundbreaking Stephen Lawrence campaign for justice.[5]

In 1993, the Black Socialist Society was founded. Black Sections members joined to help set up local branches.[23] The Black Socialist Society was supported by trade unions and Walworth Road. Key members of the first Black Socialist Society national committee were Black Sections members: Kingsley Abrams, Palma Black, Marc Wadsworth and Jatin Haria.[24] An outcome of the Black Sections redefinition of autonomous organisation was to move black politics from the periphery and into the heart of municipal and parliamentary politics.[25]

After a long period in which the black socialist societies were defunct for over a decade, Black Socialist Society was reconstituted into BAME Labour in 2007.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The legacy of Black Sections". The Monitoring Group. Retrieved 1 December 2017. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  2. ^ Shukra, Kalbir (1998). The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain. Pluto Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0745314655.
  3. ^ a b c d Williams, Elizabeth M. (2014). The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa: Black British Solidarity and the Anti-apartheid Struggle. I.B. Tauris. p. 219. ISBN 978-1780764207.
  4. ^ Nelson, William E. (2000). Black Atlantic Politics: Dilemmas of Political Empowerment in Boston and Liverpool. State University of New York Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-0791446713.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wadsworth, Marc (6 October 2008). "Celebrating Black Sections". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  6. ^ Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. Verso. p. 124. ISBN 978-0860915140.
  7. ^ a b c d e Shukra, Kalbir (1998). The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain. Pluto Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0745314655.
  8. ^ Skutsch, Carl (2005). Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities. Routledge. ISBN 978-1579583927.
  9. ^ Saggar, Shamit (1998). Race And British Electoral Politics. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1857288308.
  10. ^ Ramesh, Randeep (10 June 1997). "Why can't Labour be positive about black people?". The Independent. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e Knowles, Caroline (1992). Race, Discourse and Labourism. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 978-0415050128.
  12. ^ a b Ali, Rushanara (2002). Our House?: Race and Representation in British Politics. Institute for Public Policy Research. p. 18. ISBN 978-1860301445.
  13. ^ Goulbourne, Harry (1990). Black politics in Britain. Avebury. p. 186. ISBN 0566071487.
  14. ^ Werbner, Pnina; Anwar, Muhammad (1991). Black and Ethnic Leaderships: The Cultural Dimensions of Political Action. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415041669.
  15. ^ a b c d Jennings, James (1997). Race and Politics: New Challenges and Responses for Black Activism. Verso. p. 123. ISBN 978-1859841983.
  16. ^ a b Ali, Rushanara (2002). Our House?: Race and Representation in British Politics. Institute for Public Policy Research. p. 19. ISBN 978-1860301445.
  17. ^ a b Anwar, Muhammad (2009). Race and Politics Routledge Library Editions: Political Science. 38. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415555791.
  18. ^ a b Saggar, Shamit (1998). Race And British Electoral Politics. Routledge. p. 122. ISBN 978-1857288308.
  19. ^ McSmith, Andy (1997). Faces of Labour: The Inside Story. Verso. p. 233. ISBN 978-1859840931.
  20. ^ Shukra, Kalbir (1998). The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain. Pluto Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0745314655.
  21. ^ Werbner, Pnina; Anwar, Muhammad (1991). Black and Ethnic Leaderships: The Cultural Dimensions of Political Action. Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 978-0415041669.
  22. ^ McSmith, Andy (1997). Faces of Labour: The Inside Story. Verso. p. 234. ISBN 978-1859840931.
  23. ^ Saggar, Shamit (1998). Race And British Electoral Politics. Routledge. p. 129. ISBN 978-1857288308.
  24. ^ Saggar, Shamit (1998). Race And British Electoral Politics. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 978-1857288308.
  25. ^ Shukra, Kalbir (1998). The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain. Pluto Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0745314655.
  26. ^ Katwala, Sunder (1 October 2010). "And Labour's top baron is…Keith Vaz". Labour Uncut. Retrieved 1 December 2017. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)