Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 8, March 6, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Settling Scores with History

Bristol Demands Atonement and Reparations for Crime against Humanity

It has recently been announced that Bristol City Council has overwhelmingly passed a motion demanding "atonement and reparations" for Bristol's centuries-long role in the trafficking of enslaved African people across the Atlantic.

The motion points out that Bristol played a major role, along with other cities in Britain in human trafficking that led to over 15 million Africans being forcibly removed from their homeland and taken to the American continent and many others losing their lives as a consequence. The motion explains, "A significant amount of the institutional and corporate wealth of our city was founded through this atrocious episode in our collective history." The motion passed by 47 councillors and opposed by only 12 concludes:

"Our city and our country need a 'process of repair' to re-examine the reality and impact of Afrikan enslavement and its ongoing impact on communities today. As outlined by the UN, reparations should be holistic and can include many initiatives including public apologies, social justice initiatives, education, cultural projects, commemorative ceremonies and affirmative action. Nobody has the answers as to exactly what reparations should look like - that's why what we are calling for is a process of repair which hears from many of the voices in our communities that have been impacted and are often not heard."

Ahead of the meeting, Green Party councillor Cleo Lake, who brought the motion, said the city had "played a leading role in trafficking and enslaving people, so as a city we now need to play a leading role in being honest about that and calling for systemic change". In addition, the motion highlights the fact that the legacy of this great crime manifests itself in various forms of inequality and racism today. Bristol City Council therefore also resolved to:

"Write to the Speakers of both Houses of the UK Parliament, Chair of the Commons' Women and Equalities Committee, and Chair of the Commons' Home Affairs Committee to express Bristol City Council's view that they should consider establishing, and seeking UK Government support for, an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. The purpose of this unprecedented commission would be to work on the scope of how reparations may be delivered and may also include for example raising concerns about how tax payers were until 2015 paying back compensation paid to enslavers." Here reference is made to the fact that such "compensation" was added to the cost of the National Debt.

Statue of notorious human trafficker and Tory MP Edward Colston was in a mass protest removed from its plinth and cast into the ocean, where the lives of many of his victims in late 17th and early 18th centuries had been forcibly ended.

Bristol City Council and the people of the city have already taken steps to address such issues in the wake of the toppling of the infamous stature of the human trafficker Edward Colston last year. Amongst other initiatives it has established a History Commission to assess the legacy of human trafficking in Bristol, and will "identify institutions that benefited from it with a view to help foster a broader understanding of their they can work towards atonement and reparations".

Such actions are clearly in opposition to those of the government which, while claiming to be opposed to racism and inequality has done everything in its power to demonise the mass movement against racism and Eurocentrism that swept through the country last year following the brutal killing of African American George Floyd. The government has also taken other measures to attempt to prevent further anti-racist actions, even writing to some local authorities as well as the Corporation of London to demand that all adhere to what is referred to as a "retain and explain policy", in short that statues and place names of infamous slave traders and other should not be removed even when there is overwhelming local support for such measures. It is to be noted that the Chair of the History Commission in Bristol announced that local people not the government would decide such matters. It is also clear that local people and organisations have played the key role in creating the conditions for Bristol City council's recent historic motion. It is vital that local people and organisations continue to keep the initiative in their own hands on these important questions and not have any illusions about the role of government nor the cartel parties in parliament. What is also vital is that such struggles are pursued on the basis of defending the rights of all.


Link to Full Issue of Workers' Weekly

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Weekly Online Archive