BARAC - Black activists against rising cuts

Zita Holbourne explains how BARAC grew as a social movement following the 2010 General Election, in direct response to the politics of austerity and the likely disproportionate impact of cuts on black workers, service users, and deprived communities.

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Tell us about yourself and what causes you're working on.

We were founded in 2010 to respond to the disproportionate impact on black communities of austerity but our remit has widened to campaign also against discrimination towards migrants and refugees, solidarity and aid missions to refugees, campaigning against xenophobia and campaigning against wider racism and injustice faced by black and migrant communities.

What motivated you to get started with your cause ? What were your initial goals? And how'd you come up with the idea?

In 2010 we knew that more cuts would come which would have a devastating impact on black communities, workers and service users and for me as a trade union representative I saw the need to do more than I could do within my own union.

Under Labour there had been public sector cuts that impacted on black workers and I had run various campaigns and did legal challenges. At the same time as I had concerns Lee put out a call to monitor the impact of cuts. I responded saying we should do more than monitor and BARAC UK was born.

Initial goals were to identify the issues, challenge legally and politically, campaign in opposition, build regional structures, provide the tools to run a campaign and challenge to communities and workers. Give support and advice. Give a voice to the impact in the wider anti-austerity movement. To bring workers, communities, trade unions, service users together.

I came up with the acronym drawing on Barack Obama's past role as a community organiser on the South Side of Chicago and given the timing with his election it would be a name that was remembered.

What did it take to get your cause off the ground? How has it evolved over time?

It was founded by myself and Lee Jasper - we brought to the table our years of experience of trade union and community activists respectively and the networks we had from both.

We organised a round table event and formed a steering group inviting anti cuts groups, trade unions, anti-racist orgs, black community orgs and black race equality orgs. We organised meetings in different parts of the UK we felt were key and established regional structures.

We engaged lawyers and politicians to help us build a legal and parliamentary arm. We went to John McDonnell and he led our parliamentary work which was also supported by Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and later on - when he was elected - George Galloway.

We ran campaigns, organised marches and demos, round table events, workshops, formed alliances with other anti-cuts campaigns.

How have you attracted supporters and grown your cause?

By using our voices, being determined, building alliances, bringing people together, mobilising, organising, speaking out, standing up.

What's the story behind the business model and sustainability of your cause? Is there a revenue generating component to what you do, or is it mainly volunteer work?

It is focused on voluntary work and people power. We have very little money but we try to seek support for the printing of literature, banners etc. My union, PCS, has been key to helping us with resources.

However we do have a crowdfunder for our humanitarian aid work, which is focused on raising funds for aid. We also seek sponsorship from orgs and do fundraising activities to meet the costs of transporting the aid to refugees.

We have received support from affiliations from unions and other orgs and a grant plus we also do Workers Beer at Glasto and other festivals which raises funds but also provides the opportunity for young people, especially young black people to attend festivals.


What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

You can find our 2025 vision for race equality here. We launched this at The World Transformed event then had a parliamentary launch hosted by John McDonnell. We are seeking support and endorsement as we spend most of our time reacting to racism as it happens. Racism is deepening and we need a strategy to take us forward not just be reactive.

What are the biggest lessons you've learned so far? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

The importance of surrounding yourself with good people, with positive values who share your vision. The goodness and dedication of hard working people, of valuing friends and comrades and that this is hard work. It never stops, so it takes commitment and determination. What doesn't break you only makes you stronger.

I wouldn't do anything differently. Everything happens for a reason. We learn as we grow.

What's been most helpful to you on your journey? What do you think your biggest advantages have been?

Building bonds and friendships, bringing people together to work in solidarity, opportunities to meet and work with people I may never have come into contact with before, believing in my self, growing in confidence, feeling a part of something, standing my ground, connecting with others.

What's your inspirational advice for aspiring activists?

I regularly say 'be the inspiration you seek'. Why wait for someone else to do it when you can do it yourself, be empowered, don't feel afraid to be the only one or the first one, from each root grows a tree.

What books would you recommend aspiring activists should read?

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Things Fall Apart
  • Austerity Bites - Mary O Hara (BARAC is featured in it)
  • The Black Jacobins
  • Long Walk to Freedom
  • Angela Davis' biography
  • Here We Stand
  • Women Changing the World (I have a chapter in the book)
  • Anything by Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison

Striving for Equality Freedom and Justice - This is my book, a book charting struggle from the Haitian Revolution to Black Lives Matter through spoken word, quotes and illustrations (as well as an activist I am a poet, writer, spoken word artist, visual artist and curator).

History is important as if you don't know where you came from you can't know where you are going so historic books about struggle are important to read and understand the struggles that went before.

What other activists do you admire?

The sisters and brothers I work with every day - including all of our BARAC convenors / officers and those in our sister organisations, my trade union family , those who were not afraid to go first but brought others with them as well as the women in the book I am featured in . Too too many to mention.

Where can we go to learn more?


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