Colour Prejudice in Britain: A Study of West Indian Workers in Liverpool, 1941-1951

By Anthony H. Richmond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
EMPLOYMENT OF WEST INDIAN NEGROES

1. RESISTANCE TO EMPLOYMENT OF NEGROES

I T was pointed out in Chapter 1 that discrimination against coloured people in industry, before the second world war, was widespread but that the state of full employment which had come by 1940 created an enormous demand for labour. Employers could no longer afford to be too concerned about the colour of the hands doing the work. Nevertheless, there were one or two firms which expressed doubts about the employment of the West Indian workers, when first approached by the Ministry of Labour. One firm had unfortunate experiences with African labourers who had worked for them during the first world war, and had not employed coloured persons since that time. This firm was reluctant to repeat the experiment but was eventually persuaded to accept several of the West Indian technicians who had come over on the scheme. These appear to have proved fairly satisfactory with the result that the firm also took on several other coloured workers who had not been sent by the Ministry; the latter group do not appear to have sustained the reputation earned by the first arrivals and once more the firm expressed doubts about the employment of coloured workers in general.

Another firm reflected a typical stereotype of the unskilled coloured worker when they replied to the Ministry's offer by saying, 'We regret we cannot accept your offer of a number of West Indian natives. ' In fact, when it was made clear that the men in question were skilled technicians a number were accepted and settled well at the firm. Even though there was this initial resistance to the employment of the West Indians among several firms, the demand for labour at that time was so great that little difficulty was found in finding alternative placings. As labour became more and more scarce even those firms that had at first refused to employ coloured workers later relented.

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