Dead Men Left

Thursday, May 12, 2005

That "communalism" business

The Saint Oona Martyr's Brigade at Little Green Soccerballs have settled on "communalism" as the only possible explanation for Respect's win in Bethnal Green last Thursday. (Note, incidentally, how they cite the BNP in their support.) In a similar, though less offensive (and more sympathetic) vein, this chap thinks Galloway won because the oiks like a bit of theatre. What both share is belief that rational individuals could not possibly have voted for Respect. What both imply is that voters in Bethnal Green and Bow had every reason to be happy with their lot, were they not driven by their irrational urges. Both are slurs, in particular, on the Bangladeshi community in East London.

In front of me is an essay by Jonathan Wadsworth of the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, "The Labour Market Performance of Ethnic Minorities in the Recovery". It's contained in The Labour Market Under New Labour: the state of working Britain, edited by Wadsworth and others. This is a book I've plugged here frequently, as it is an invaluable guide to effects of New Labour on the British working class.

Looking at his figures, we find that in 2002, 5% of British-born whites were unemployed. Fourteen percent of British-born non-whites were unemployed. Breaking that figure down further reveals that 21% of first-generation Bangladeshis in Britain are unemployed. Fully 30% of British-born Bangladeshis are without work. (Table 8.2, p.123)

I can hear a murmuring at the back about "culture" or some similar nonsense. Far from it. Taking the rate of male Bangladeshi employment over time and comparing it to the rate of British-born white employment shows a marked improvement in the employment rates of first-generation Bangladeshis from the mid-1990s to 2000. Employment amongst second- and third-generation Bangladeshis improved slightly over the same years. This is a period of recovery in the labour market in Britain, with unemployment falling nationally. Clearly, if long-standing "cultural" factors prevented Bangladeshis in Britain from working, these would not suddenly disappear when the economy improved. (Fgiure 8.1a, p.120)

From 2000 onwards, the employment position of British-born Bangladeshi men, relative to white British men, starts to worsen. The wages of all Bangladeshi men decline relative to British-born white men from 1999 onwards. Throw in, also, the revealing statistic that "40% of all Bangladeshis have no formal qualifications, compared to 16 per cent of British-born whites" and the pattern is absolutely clear.

Anyone leaning towards "communalism" or some other presumed irrationality to explain Respect's victory should start from the actual experience of ethnic minorities in Britain. Given their recent experiences, is it any wonder so many Bangladeshis, amongst the most oppressed people in the British working class, would reject New Labour when given a credible alternative? Is it any wonder, after the last eight years, that sections of the white working class would join them? Taking account, also, of Respect's absolutely clear, class-based and unifying message - against the war, for public services - and the basis for shouting "communalism" disappears entirely.