Work and Community among West African Migrant Workers since the Nineteenth Century

Work and Community among West African Migrant Workers since the Nineteenth Century

Work and Community among West African Migrant Workers since the Nineteenth Century

Work and Community among West African Migrant Workers since the Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

In the second half of the nineteenth century, innovations in the development and application of steam-power had widespread implications for the shipping industry and for the labour employed. On the one hand, fewer able seamen were needed on steam as distinct from sailing ships, although the transition involved little, if any, deskilling. On the other hand, men were needed in the stokehold to shift bunker coal and maintain the fires – the latter were semi-skilled. Increasingly, foreign labour – African, Asiatic and European, for example – came to occupy the newly created positions of firemen and trimmers, and seamen on deck. Foreign European and ‘foreign’ Asian, African and North American seamen had been used on British ships since the eighteenth century, but increasingly from the mid-nineteenth century they were used in greater numbers as British merchant shipping came to dominate the movement of the world's trade. Foreign seamen, especially African and West Indian, became a feature of many uk ports. the onset of unemployment in the inter-war years, partly the result of the change from war to peace-time production in 1918, and partly the world economic crisis and the decline of British shipping, inevitably had its social consequences, particularly on the employment of both foreign and British seamen. Unemployment and increased competition for jobs led to conflicts between black and white seafarers in Britain. This manifested itself in an increasingly violent social and political climate in and around British sea ports. It also led to an institutionalised racism, as seen in the legislative measures that were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. It is the aim of this section to consider generally the Kru's socioeconomic experience in Liverpool throughout the inter-war years and beyond. It will be argued that the experience of racism arose primarily out of prevailing socioeconomic conditions.

Kru seafarers spent a great deal of time in the ports around the uk, either because they were between ships or because they took up shore work and decided to settle. It is in the light of these considerations that the experiences of the Kru constitute an important part of their history both in itself and as part of the wider black community of Britain. the Liverpool experience contrasts sharply with that of the Kru experience in Freetown. Thus, whilst the Freetown Kru dominated seafaring to the exclusion of other groups, and consequently formed a relatively ‘better-off’ stratum of the African working class in Freetown, the Kru in Liverpool were firmly rooted at the bottom of the economic hierarchy whether this was in shipping or on shore. That the same group of workers could hold two diametrically opposed economic positions simultaneously is indicative of the class-race issue in Britain and the colonial relationship between Britain and its Empire.

The British government, and shipping generally, were active agents in (a) creating the dilemma they found themselves in after the First World War, namely the . . .

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