Channel 4 Learning


Migration

Background

 

Introduction

Britain is a nation of immigrants. Since 'prehistory', people have been moving and settling across Britain, Europe and the world. Some periods have had more movement than others due to a variety of causes, for example wars, famine, climate changes, economic changes, and so on. The Norman Conquest, for example, was a time of movement and settlement.

The programme 'Migration' focuses on a particular phase of movement and settlement, that of the African Caribbean (West Indian), Indian and Pakistani (Bangladeshi post-1971) migration into Britain after the Second World War as British citizens and holders of British passports.

'Black' People in Britain Before 1945

There have been Africans in Britain since before the English — the Roman army included soldiers from Africa. There was a black musician in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII who is shown in the Westminster Tournament Roll of 1511. He was paid 8d a day by the king. By the end of the 16th century, titled and wealthy families had one or two slaves, and by the time the slave trade ended in about 1780, there were about 10,000 Africans in Britain out of a total population of around 9 million.

(Source: Fryer, Peter, Staying Power: The history of black people in Britain, London, Pluto Press, 1984)

From around the mid-18th century, black people started to leave their own written records including journalism, autobiographical writing and political protest. Evidence of solidarity included black only music and dancing. Fryer cites a case of two black men who were imprisoned for begging in 1773. They received more than 300 visits and the black community supported them financially.

Individual writers include Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano. Their individual stories can be found in Peter Fryer's account of black people in Britain.

The majority of the black population at this time were of African origin but also included Asians, mainly Bengalis brought back by 'nabobs' as servants or slaves.

In the late nineteenth century, Dadabhai Naoroji became the first black person elected to the House of Commons. As an MP he worked for a better attitude towards India from the British, including trying to appeal to the 'democratic' ideal. Other notable black individuals of the nineteenth century include William Cuffay, Mary Seacole, Ira Aldridge, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Raja Rammohan Roy and Dwarkanath Tagore.

During the inter-war years in the twentieth century, the black community in Britain was a victim of the 'colour bar' — a reference to the total resistance by much of factory industry to the employment of black people. The 'colour bar' often meant no housing and no admittance to dance halls, restaurants and cafés.

Fryer (1984) recounts the experiences of a black British woman called Amelia King. She was the third generation of a family living in Stepney, in the East End of London. Her father was in the Merchant Navy and her brother was in the Royal Navy. In 1943, she volunteered for the Women's Land Army but was rejected because of her skin colour. The matter was raised in the House of Commons but with no positive result.

Post-war migration

In post-war Britain, there was an economic boom and a shortage of labour, particularly unskilled labour. As a result of imperialism, one quarter of the world's population had British citizenship and, therefore, the right to live and work in Britain.

On 22 June 1948, a ship called Windrush arrived in Britain carrying 492 Jamaicans who were also British citizens. The headline of the Evening Standard was 'Welcome Home', reflecting the view of Britain as the 'motherland' to all members of the British Commonwealth and Empire. All of them found jobs immediately.

Extract 3 (1.42)

Information about migration into Britain after the Second World War. A government survey is quoted, 'Foreign labour can make an useful contribution to our needs.'

Between 1948 and 1958, about 125,000 West Indians came over. This migration was often in direct response to recruitment campaigns by British industry. In 1956, London Transport recruited in Barbados for workers who were lent the fare needed for the journey to Britain. Between 1956 and 1968, 3,787 people from Barbados came over to work for London Transport. The demand for labour was so great that from 1966 recruitment by London Transport was extended to Trinidad and Jamaica. The British Hotels and Restaurants Association recruited in Barbados and Enoch Powell welcomed West Indian nurses to work in Britain in his role as Health Secretary in a Conservative Government. These labour recruitment campaigns took place at a time when unemployment was high in the West Indies.

In the early 1950s, Asians came from the Indian sub-continent to find work in Britain. Many had suffered economic hardship as a result of partition, famine and flooding. By 1958, there were about 55,000 Asians from the Indian sub-continent in Britain.

Extract 4 (1.56)

Look at Life: Out of the Sun (1962)

Cinema documentary which looks positively at West Indian job prospects in Britain in the 1950s. Shows images of West Indians working as bus conductors, drivers and nurses.

Although the above documentary was positive about the economic contribution of the West Indians, it did not tell the whole, more complex, story. Most of these 'black' settlers were young, in their twenties; 87% of the men and 95% of the women were skilled workers. Most of these skilled workers accepted lower status jobs in relation to their qualifications, for example cleaning and night shift work. Much of their experience of Britain was of disappointment and disillusionment. Their education and culture had looked up to Britain as the motherland, as the protector, but instead they suffered abuse, violence and discrimination. Not everyone in Britain welcomed the settlers at work. The TGWU in Wolverhampton insisted that no more than 52 out of 900 bus workers should be black.

The Asian community who spoke less English and whose culture was more distinct from English culture than that of the West Indians, may have suffered more.

Extract 5 (3.15)

Statistical information about number of West Indians (30,000) and Irish (60,000) arriving in Britain between 1945 and 1956.

Most white people had been raised within a culture strongly affected by its imperial past and present. As a result much of the racism experienced by these groups was (and is) rooted in imperialist attitudes towards the 'uncivilised' colonised, who were often portrayed as head-hunters, cannibals, polygamists and black magic practitioners. Although the numbers of 'black' immigrants were relatively small, the nature of the racism they suffered was different to that of white ethnic minority groups.

The following two extracts show racism and discrimination against 'black' people in housing and in employment. Much of the racist comments made by the white people in the extracts is rooted in stereotypical attitudes towards 'black' people.

Extract 6 (3.29)

'Colour Bar' (1956)

This extract from the current affairs television programme Panorama uncovered discrimination against 'black' people within British Railways.

Extract 7 (6.01)

'West Indians' (1963)

This extract from the series BBC Tonight shows a West Indian unable to find somewhere to live because of racial discrimination.

'Race Riots': Notting Hill and Nottingham 1958

During the month of August 1958, so called 'race riots' took place in Nottingham and Notting Hill and, at times, in other cities.

The media portrayed the troubles as 'race riots'; for example the headline shown in:

Extract 8 (8.04)

called the racist attacks 'black v white'. The majority of the violence, however, was perpetrated by white people against a 'black' minority who had to protect themselves.

Attacks by whites, particularly 'teddy boys', were very common at this time and were often provoked and encouraged by fascist propaganda. Violence against black people became particularly bad in Notting Hill. Tension over housing was high amongst the poor in the area. Landlords such as Peter Rachman ran overcrowded slums and used 'heavies' to terrorise their tenants. Both black and white suffered but fascist propaganda blamed the black people not the landlords for the overcrowding.

On 17 August, whites attacked a 'black' home and some started to 'hunt' black people in groups.

Extract 9 (8.21)

Notting Hill: Shameful Episode (1958)

Shows a young African student who was chased by a crowd shouting 'lynch him' and took refuge in a green grocer's shop.

By the end of August there were disturbances each night including petrol bombs and shootings. Some black people took direct action in response, including the bombing of the local fascist headquarters. By autumn the 'riots' were over but the racist violence continued.

'Race' and the Law

'Step by step racism was institutionalized, legitimized and nationalized. That which had been unthinkable in 1958 was by 1968 the law of the land.' (Quote from Fryer, Peter, ibid., 1984, p.381)

The common response to racism was to see it as a problem caused by the presence of black people and other ethnic minorities rather than seeing it as a problem caused by the attitudes of the majority population. For example, when the 'race riots' happened in Nottingham, two local MPs (Conservative and Labour) called for an end to black immigration as a solution rather than seeing the need to challenge racist attitudes. This attitude, itself a racist one, underlay the legislation introduced after 1948 relating to immigration and nationality.

In this way racism became institutionalised in that racism became legal and formal in the institutions and policies (law, education, police, judiciary, housing) of British society.

As Fryer also states:

'Enshrined in a series of 'overtly racist' immigration laws, it (racism) had become official.'

(Fryer, ibid. 1984, p.381)

The identification of 'black' people as the 'problem' and the failure to take responsibility for their needs is revealed in the following extract.

Extract 13 (12.36)

'Visnews' (1964)

This extract focuses on racial discrimination in Birmingham in 1964. The local Conservative councillor is interviewed about housing policy.

1962 Immigration Act

This act is an important turning point in the history of 'race' and racism in Britain. It restricted admission to Britain to those who had employment vouchers. This act only applied to 'black' people — it did not apply to the Irish immigrants who entered Britain each year in larger numbers than the black immigrants. Therefore, the act made 'black people' a second class group called 'immigrants' who did not have the same civil rights as the rest of the British population.

Extract 10 (9.20)

Information about the numbers who migrated to Britain in 1959 (20,000) and 1961 (115,000) and the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act which introduced a quota system with labour vouchers. Three criteria needed to be met to obtain the vouchers.

In 1965 'black' immigration was further restricted; no more than 8,500 vouchers were to be issued per year.

In the mid-1960s, the National Front was formed, a fascist organization which aims at the repatriation of 'black' British people. At the same time Enoch Powell began a similar campaign. For example, see Extracts 14 and 15.

It against this background of racism that the following law was passed.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968

This was a panic measure passed by a Labour Government in three days. It was also overtly racist. It stopped the entry into Britain of Kenyan Asians with British passports. A clause in the Act allowed entry to Britain to white Kenyans.

The act was passed just after Enoch Powell MP made his racist 'Rivers of Blood' speech.

Extract 15 (14.01)

Sequence of shots of Enoch Powell. Includes quote from his speech:

'As I look ahead I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman I seem to see the River Tiber, foaming with much blood.' (20 April 1968)

However, some MPs did oppose the Act on the grounds that it was racist. For example, Ben Whitaker MP said:

'That a Socialist Government should be responsible fills me with shame and despair.' (quoted in Fryer, Peter, ibid., p.384)

As a result of the 1968 law, over 100,000 Kenyan Asians were made stateless. For example, see the following extract.

Extract 17 (15.17)

Information about arrival of Kenyan Asians in Britain in response to Kenya's 'Africanisation' policy and the controls introduced by the British Government on the entry of UK passport holders in response in 1968.

Extract 18 (15.45)

'No Entry' (1968)

This extract from the current affairs series 'World in Action' focuses on the reaction of the Asians in Kenya to the 'No Entry' ban introduced by Britain.

Immigration Act 1971

This act ended almost all 'primary immigration'; instead 'black' immigration could only happen in response to a particular job and for a limited period of time. This Act gave both the police and the immigration authorities huge powers, for example, they could deport individuals if it was 'conducive to the public good'.

Racial harassment in the form of detention without trial, separation of families and police harassment was now legitimised by the law.

Race Relations Act 1966

There were also attempts to outlaw racism. In 1966 the Race Relations Act made 'incitement to racial hatred' illegal, but failed to tackle discrimination in employment and housing. This measure was limited severely by the context in which it was introduced — a context of institutionalised racism in the form of the immigration laws.

Over time, there has been a shift in the relationship between the majority culture and ethnic minority groups. In the post-war period, the aim was broadly to 'assimilate' the 'black' community. This meant that the 'black' and other minorities should 'take on' the majority culture — should become the same. Behind this lies the implicitly racist idea that the majority culture is superior and the minority culture has nothing to offer. Aspects of this attitude can be seen in

Extract 11 (9.48)

'Minorities in Britain' (1966)

This extract from a television documentary looks at the process of integration for British Pakistanis living in Bradford.

'Integration', the idea that the culture of the minority group should be recognised and tolerated, replaced 'assimilation' in many areas of policy making. In the above extract, the fact that the young British Pakistani girl is able to wear clothes from her own culture at school is part of a policy of integration. Integration has itself been challenged by 'inclusion', the idea that rather than being merely 'tolerated', the diversity of British society should be positively celebrated and welcomed.

Black resistance

Black people defended themselves through solidarity, resistance and struggle. Their resistance took different forms. At work they fought back at both employers who discriminated against them through low pay and poor conditions and at trade unions who failed to support their cause. Strikes took place at Rockware Glass, Southall, 1965; at Courtauld's Red Scar Mill, Preston. 1965; at Woolf Rubber Company, 1965; at Coneygre Foundry, Tipton, 1967; at Midland Motor Cylinder Company, 1968; at Newby Foundry, West Bromwich, 1968.

The Black People's Alliance was formed in response to Enoch Powell's racist agitation. This national body provided a forum for developing black consciousness and fighting racism. The Institute of Race Relations and the Commission for Racial Equality play a similar role.

Despite their efforts, the racism suffered by the settlers of the 1950s and 1960s continued to be a part of the second and third generations of 'black' British. According to the 1991 Census, the ethnic minority population of Britain was recorded as 5.5% of the total population and 47% of this population were born in Britain. Of the total ethnic minority population, 45% live in London. In 1991, people from ethnic minorities, overall, were twice as likely to be unemployed as white people. Among those with higher educational qualifications, 7% of people from ethnic minorities were unemployed, compared with 3% of the white population. (Source: Commission for Racial Equality. Fact Sheet No. 1, 1995)

The movement and settlement of different peoples continues to be a key feature of all our lives and for a variety of causes. In 1993, 76,700 people left the UK for work-related reasons, while 40,700 people arrived to work here. 43,900 entered the UK to study and 14,000 left to study overseas. Other recent arrivals include refugees and asylum seekers from Vietnam, Somalia, Turkey, the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. (Source: Commission for Racial Equality, Fact Sheets: Migration and Citizenship, 1997)

In 1996, the Asylum and Immigration Act took away benefit and housing entitlements for asylum seekers, and made it an offence to employ someone whose immigration status does not entitle them to work in this country.

Organisations like the Campaign against Racism and Fascism (see Links) see this as a racist piece of legislation and continue to campaign against it.

The contributions of Britain's 'black' population

Most of the black people who came over in the post-war period worked in particular industries such as manufacturing, transport, health, hotels and restaurants. Since then the range of occupations has widened a great deal, although discrimination and racism has limited areas of work. For example 'black' people are significantly under represented in the police, judiciary and armed forces.

The following are just a few examples of the contributions made by 'black' British people:

  • Textile industry in Manchester, e.g. Joe Bloggs jeans
  • Knitwear industry in Leicester
  • Clothing in East End, London
  • 12% of employees in food production in London is 'ethnic' food, making it the third largest after brewing and baking
  • Retail and business services including local shops, travel agents, commerce and banking
  • Transport, for example, in 1995, more than 10% of British Airways employees were black' British
  • Nurses, doctors and scientists include key individuals like Nageena Malik, Vijay Vir Kakkar, Muhammad Akhtar, Jamshed Rustom Tata
  • Sport includes some of the most public contributions for example, boxing, football, cricket, rugby, athletics (see Activity section)
  • Black musicians, particularly jazz musicians such as Julian Joseph, Andy Hamilton, Courtney Pine and pop musicians such as Shirley Bassey, Seal, Freddie Mercury, Goldie, Skin, Funki Dred (see 'Activity' section)

(Source: Roots of the Future: Ethnic diversity in the making of Britain, Council for Racial Eqality, 1996)


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