Claudia Jones letter to Daily Worker, 1963

For the attention of the Race Relations Committee, SERTUC regarding CLAUDIA JONES COMMEMORATION, Friday, 6th March.

Dear Colleagues,

I’m writing to congratulate you on your initiative in celebrating the life of Claudia Jones.

The following information and letter from Claudia Jones to the Editor of the Daily Worker, written in 1963, about the Bristol Omnibus Company’s racist employment practices, will hopefully add to the pool of information you have collected for the commemoration.

By an accident of history I came into possession of the papers of Claudia Jones. My partner, Abhimanyu (Manu) Manchanda and Claudia had a personal and political relationship. When he died, he left a room full of documents from which Claudia’s papers had to be identified and extracted. This work took me several years to complete. Most of Claudia’s papers, including her passport, were deposited at the Schomburg Library in New York and now form a collection entitled “The Claudia Jones Memorial Collection”.

Carole Boyce Davies was key to the efficient transfer of the material, including making a catalogue of the documents. She produced two outstanding volumes as a result of her work on the papers: Left of Karl Marx published by Duke University Press, 2008, and Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment published by Ayebia in the UK in 2007. The latter is a comprehensive collection of Claudia’s own writings, edited by Carole.
Photographs and writings pertaining to the West Indian Gazette were entrusted to Claudia’s WIG colleague and friend, Donald Hinds, for safe keeping and archiving.

“Carole Boyce Davies’s brilliant book, Left of Karl Marx, did so much more than recover the left and legacy of Claudia Jones. She threw down the gauntlet, forcing us to rethink many of the fundamental assumptions and conceits of Marxism and to come to terms with Claudia Jones’s radical critiques of racism, women’s oppression and colonial rule. But Davies isn’t done. In this stunning collection of Jones’s essays, speeches, autobiological reflections and poems, Davies not only underscores why Jones stands among the world’s most important radical theorists and organizers of the 20th century, but she reveals the Trinidadian-born, transnational intellectual as artist and visionary.” – Robin D.G. Kelly, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California and author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

Before passing on the papers I transcribed some handwritten letters. A small amount of personal correspondence between Claudia and Manu remains in my hands although copies of them are included in the Schomburg Collection and the originals will end up there soon enough.

Claudia’s letter, copied below, to the editor of the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star) clearly demonstrates the difficulties she had to overcome within the Communist Party as a woman and as a Black woman. Manu, who was expelled from the CPGB for an article he wrote in the West Indian Gazette, criticizing the Soviet Union, told me they were both informed by senior party officials that the party did not want “Commonwealth” comrades in the leadership.

FROM CLAUDIA JONES TO EDITOR, DAILY WORKER:

May 7,
(year not added, but presumed written in 1963)

Editor,
Daily Worker,
75 Farringdon Road,
London EC1

Dear George Matthews,

I thought it best to follow up our telephone discussion of this morning on the matter I raised with you re: the current news story entitled “Economic Ban-Not Colour-Sir Learie” in this morning’s issue of the Daily Worker.
I hope you’ll find it possible to print my letter in your columns, except of course, the first and last paragraphs.
[Letter for publication follows]
The news article captioned “Economic Ban-Not Colour-Sir Learie” appearing in the May 7 issue of the Daily Worker was most unfortunate. Coming as it did in the midst of a widespread protest by West Indians in Bristol and their Labour-Progressive and student allies, following the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus company to hire an 18 year-old West Indian, Guy Bailey, on the clear-cut ground that the company refused to hire ‘coloured’ workers, it can only have the effect of mitigating the struggle and confusing the issue. If this is not a clear-cut case of colour-bar, I don’t know what is.
Yet the Daily Worker story was captioned “Economic Ban-Not Colour says Sir Learie.”
The essence of Sir Learie’s remarks as quoted by you gave the impression that the issue of colour bar no longer exists, and in fact was not the issue at all in this case.
The lead paragraph of the story ran:
“The non-employment of West Indians on the Bristol buses is not a colour-bar issue at all, Sir Learie Constantine, High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, said in Bristol last night.”
But actually, in the context of your story, Sir Learie after being quoted as denying the existence of a colour-bar, went on to say: “It is something more fundamental. It is due to fear generated by the small wage paid to the people employed by the bus company, who augment it with overtime. The service is certainly not properly staffed, and everybody is afraid that if it is properly staffed overtime will be lost.”
If the burden of Sir Learie’s remarks on Bristol television was to emphasise that underlying colour bar practices and actions, there is an economic basis, that’s one thing, and is a useful point. Colour bar is profitable to capitalism, to the employers and serves as a divisive tactic to the unity of the workers.
But it is quite another thing to counterpose the existence of colour-bar to the economic fears of the workers, whether on buses or elsewhere in this country. The economic fears of all workers is what is always played on when the issue of colour-bar comes to the fore. The white worker is encouraged in his fears to fight not the bosses, but the coloured man who “threatens” his job. The coloured worker is told to “understand” that the economic recession means he can’t take away other men’s jobs etcetc. Hence, to counterpose the economic issue (or economic fears) to the fight against the colour-bar or to deny its existence as a factor, accelerates the disunity of the workers which only benefits the employers, the racialists and the Tories whose policies brought about the situation in the first place. To stress one without the other, in an instance where there is clear evidence of both factors, is to renege on our responsibility of exposing colour-bar practices and manifestations.
What other implication can be drawn when one reads in the text of the same story “it was easy to talk about a ‘colour-bar’ to hide the real issue which was an economic one”??? This, surely, was not Sir Learie’s quotation.
In the story’s context this should have been made clear, otherwise, it appears what we have is a counterposing of the economic issue to the fight against the colour-bar, which, of course, could provide a handy excuse to those who do not wish to fight it, or who use the real question of the workers’ economic fears as an excuse to justify their actions. But this would only result in making West Indians or other coloured workers additional “scapegoats” to be last hired, first fired in an economic recession, or as in this case not to be hired at all. ) How often have we heard similar excuses in the field of housing, from prejudiced landlords: We would of course take West Indians in our homes, but our neighbours would object, or from prejudiced employers, “The workers object to the hiring of coloured workers,” hence the maintenance of a colour bar in its employment policy, etc.
We should be mindful of the fact that often when colour-bar issues exist, the retort is that it is economic. But such an approach could well mean the delay, postponement (or failure to expose) the fight against the colour-bar, when clearly, in the context of British economic life (and political considerations of Commonwealth coloured workers among the British working class today) the question of discrimination of coloured workers must be squarely faced and fought as inimical to the unity of the workers.
The implications of the phrase “it is easy to talk about ‘colour bar’ ”
is to dangerously minimise this issue. Assuredly, it is far from “easy” to talk about colour bar – far more experience this indignity, and most coloured workers would prefer forthright struggle for its elimination rather than “talk” about it.
It is this element that was witnessed in Bristol when the community (or a section of it) took action to end it, which deserves the wholehearted support of all progressives.
Completely eliminated from the story is the earlier statement of discrimination in the refusal of the company to hire an 18 year-old Jamaican who applied for a job. Instead, your article quoted Mr. Ian Patey, general manager of the Bristol company, as saying, “There are no vacancies for bus crew anyway. We have a waiting list for jobs, so that when these are available, there are local men to fill them.”
“Local,” meaning native? Is this not another manifestation of a colour bar that they will hire no outsiders only those native to Bristol? And if this was the situation in the first place, how explain the earlier statement of the company that they will not hire coloured workers?
The statement of the Bristol Communist municipal candidates condemning the bus colour-bar and other political forces, the action of Bristol University students in their swift support and the original protest of West Indians themselves, should be highly commended. It is our job to expose these incidents, to fight and support all efforts that will bring to the fore instances of colour-bar not recognised yet by many British workers and even progressives, to speed its elimination from British life.
[End portion of letter submitted for publication].

All in all, I’m afraid I must agree with you as you indicated on the telephone, that I read this in a different context than you say did the Daily Worker staff. This does not as you imputed, however, mean that I expect you to fight “colour bar only”. I quite naturally expect that The Daily Worker as a communist journal would be foremost in fighting colour bar and I would hope that it will increasingly recognize the subtleties in the struggle against it must be fought lest we unwittingly fall into an opportunist position. It behooves us to be alert to these trends, even if the views obscuring them are mouthed by certain West Indian leaders. (You should also know that I am awaiting results from my call to the Trinidad Office and it is not yet clear whether he was quoted out of context or not. I will keep you posted.)

With all good wishes,
Yours fraternally,
Claudia Jones

In sollidarity,
Diane Langford

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