Racism is the most poisonous element in a witches’ brew of reactionary and ruling-class ideas that block a clear-sighted understanding of British political reality. But for the non-white ethnic minorities – who now make up 7.1 percent of the population – racism is an inescapable fact of life.

Black unemployment, at 13 percent, is double the rate for white people. More than one in five people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are out of work.

Race multiplies the effect of class divisions. Forty percent of the population as a whole live in the areas of worst housing but these same working-class areas house seven out of ten of Black people.

Infant mortality is 100 percent higher for the children of African, Caribbean or Pakistani mothers. Diabetes rates for Pakistani and Bangladeshi people are five times greater and coronary heart disease double.

It is in their dealing with the criminal justice system that Black people’s encounter with racism is most pronounced and most sharply experienced.

Racial harassment is widespread and, because Black people have good reason to lack confidence in the police, only one in 20 incidents is reported. Black youth are five or six times more likely to be stopped and searched. Black people are two-and-a-half times more likely to go to jail. They get longer prison sentences and make up 12 percent of the male and 18 percent of the female prison population.

These bare facts show just how deeply rooted racist practices are in British life.

The killing of Stephen Lawrence set in train a series of events that both changed the way racism is seen and dealt with in British politics but also highlighted the remarkable flexibility of the British ruling class in meeting assaults on its entrenched power.

Several factors transformed his murder from a deep tragedy affecting his family, friends and community into a turning point.

Firstly, the remarkable courage, dignity and fortitude of his family. When the Communist Party in its forthcoming congress resolution “salutes the brave actions of the families of victims of racist violence and repression in fighting for justice; the thousands of anti-racist, community and trade union activists fighting against racist immigration and asylum laws and the mass organisations of Black and ethnic minority workers in Britain” it is emphasizing the importance of these forces in changing British society.

Secondly, the role played by the labor movement, in unity with the Black community, in campaigning. It was the individual unions, and remarkably the TUC, which pioneered the campaign and made justice for Stephen Lawrence the pivot for a major shift in consciousness. Official Britain took note only when compelled.

Independently of how working people think of themselves, always a contradictory feature of life in class society, the fact is that class and race are inextricably bound up. The big majority of people in Britain find paid work to live, or must survive on benefits. And the overwhelming majority of Black people are in the same situation. But all of us must deal with the burden that a colonial past and the new imperialism imposes.

We expect the monopoly media to fuel the government’s rush to reactionary immigration and asylum policies. These policies are the flipside of the new imperialism, which projects the U.S. and EU as global cops. Gordon Brown devises and defends global policies which lower producer prices for third world countries, deepen their indebtedness, and ties trade and aid to privatization and the sale of state assets.

New Labour’s enthusiastic leadership in European and U.S. military adventures displaces refugees by the millions and breeds a climate of chauvinism and racist suspicion.

This finds an echo in the disreputable “new Labour” policy speculation around faith schools and citizenship tests which give ground to Tory and ultra-right propaganda. When a Labour Home Secretary talks of “mono-cultural communities” he is blaming the victims of racism for the plight they find themselves in.

The Communist Party argues in its congress resolution that “the specific forms of racism in Britain are the inescapable product of our country’s pioneer role in the development of capitalism and the particular character of Britain’s colonial history. But contemporary racism is shaped by new factors including increasing integration into the coercive and repressive institutions of the EU, the increasing subordination of global markets to transnational monopoly and the institutions of imperialist domination, the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.”

The labor movement as a whole, particularly the trade unions, is beginning to tackle racism with some seriousness. The Communist Party, at its June Congress, will debate an important resolution which attempts to map out the next stages in the struggle to place the fight against racism at the centre of a working-class agenda. The Communist Party will mark 82 years of anti-imperialist activity with a new resolve to assault the system of exploitation and oppression on which racism feeds and which it serves.

It does this in the understanding that unless the working-class movement makes the fight against racism an integral part of its approach to both daily bargaining within the capitalist system and its strategy to win working-class power, it will never become the ruling class.

Nick Wright is a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s (www.communist-party.org.uk) executive committee. This is an abridged version of his article originally published in the Morning Star (www.poptel.org.uk/morning-star) as part of the discussion leading to the CPB’s 46th Congress.