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Scandal of the Windrush wait

27 March, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Michael Braithwaite lost his job as an assistant teacher at Gospel Oak primary school because of inadequate documentation

STREET protests or public meetings against racism conspicuously expose the absence of black Caribbean faces.

Obviously, this is not because black people feel such protests are a lot of nonsense. They are only too aware of racism in today’s society. But they do not feel part of society. By and large many feel they are on the sidelines.

To understand this, from a Eurocentric point of view, you have to start thinking about the effects of enslavement centuries ago when millions of African men, women and children were shipped to the Caribbean to work the land, and from that there emerged a “colonialist” strangle­hold on the slaves which further enslaved them.

So I was pleased to see a large hall at the Trades Union Congress in Bloomsbury packed with blacks, mainly Caribbeans – and they were protesting against the scandal of the Home Office “hostile environment” when they were unable to produce relevant “papers” and found themselves deprived of employment, evicted from their homes, and some forced to fly back to countries they had left as children and had had no contact with since.

The meeting at the TUC was seething with anger because it was held on the eve of the publication of the Windrush report a few days ago which, effectively, labelled the Home Office as a racist institution.

There were several local councillors, from Lambeth and other parts of London, who related their personal stories, all of which spelled out how the government had betrayed the Caribbeans who came here at the end of the Second World War to help run our transport system and hospitals.

Impressive speeches were made by such lawyers as Grace Brown who has been at the bar for 25 years and a call for political action in a thundering speech by Glenroy Watson of the RMT union.

The long overdue Home Office report has shown that despite the fact that the government was supposed to have set aside up to £200m as compensation little has been paid to individuals.

Here in Camden, Michael Braithwaite was sacked as an assistant teacher at Gospel Oak primary school because of inadequate documentation – and a few days ago he was still waiting for compensation.

It is not simply a matter of money. Until individuals and families from the Caribbean are properly compensated and protected from with “leave to remain” papers that are impregnable in the eyes of the law, they are vulnerable to prosecution by the courts.

The only way this can change is through protests from black Caribbeans themselves. In 1981 the biggest march ever of 20,000 black people wound their way through central London led by Darcus Howe and John La Rose. That spirit is still alive today, I could sense it at the TUC. Slowly but surely it is coming.


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