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Britain and Imported Workers

In: Historical Events

Submitted By hoht801
Words 1903
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In the late 1940s to early 1950s, the British government deliberated whether or not to import foreign and colonial workers to fill manpower shortages that the country was experiencing in their vital industries such as coalmining, textiles, and metal work. There were elements of resentment from the British people as well as perceived issues both real and speculative from the government’s perspective. The collection of dialogues, memorandums, and reports illustrate how the government tried to address the issues of work shortage and imported workers through arguments, both for and against, through facts and figures. They also used implicit language and spirited dialogue to justify their respective positions. The debate of colonial workers begins with correspondences between various government officials in the months of 1948 and 1949. The first of correspondences that delve into the problem of work shortage in the colonies and a shortage of workers in England was between Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Macmullan in October of 1948 and February of 1949 . Mr. Macmullan explains that the Colonial office has concocted a mutually beneficial scheme that would both help their office to alleviate work shortages in the colonies as well as fill the needs of the domestic front of manpower shortage. Interestingly, Mr. Macmullan argues that such an arrangement may be beneficial from the Colonial Office’s perspective. But from his point of view, he finds that the colonial workers would indeed prove useful but they would cause more problems than they would solve. He buttresses his point by explaining in his memorandum to Mr. Goldberg that the colonials would voluntarily come without any obligation and may or may not work in the industries that the colonials would prove useful. Furthermore, he believes that the Trade Unions couldn’t care less about the unemployment in the Commonwealth and would cause difficulties if this scheme were to come to fruition. Mr. Macmullan assumes that the British people, especially the working class would be resistant to importing workers out of fear of those workers stealing jobs from them. However, Mr. Macmullan then points out that if their office (Macmillan and Goldbergs’) were to agree to any scheme presented it would be for the common good of the nation rather than for their own interests. In Mr. Goldberg’s response to the Mr. Macmullan , Mr. Goldberg explains that two schemes were devised so that it may sate the Colonial Office’s incessant prodding. The first was a test group in the textile industry and the other would be for hospital workers. Mr. Goldberg explains that the meetings have been making headway on the domestic hospital front but the textile industry seems to be quite resistant to the idea. One can infer from the correspondence that Mr. Goldberg was saying that bringing female coloured colonials to work the hospitals seems to be moving forward. On the other hand, bringing coloured colonial labor for the textile industry is being opposed by the industry itself for fear of resentment or worse reprisal from its current workers, which would ultimately lead to a diminishing level of production. Mr. Macmullan assures Mr. Goldberg in his reply that these are merely small experimental trials and that any realistic objections from the industry should be officially received from the Controllers themselves. Macmullan continues that because these are vital industries of Britain, it is worth the hassle to bring in these laborers or at least try and explain that the long-term benefits far out weight the immediate objections to the committee.
In another set of correspondence from Mr. Hardman to Mr. Goldberg , Mr. Hardman explains that during a previous meeting, there was a misunderstanding. The meeting was about establishing a solution to redistribute the existing colonial populations across England in small groups with the aim of integrating them into the population rather than restricting further entry of colonial workers into Britain. Interestingly, Mr. Hardman justifies this stance by explaining that “the colonial office had painted such a “doleful picture” that the natural question was how to stop colonial entry. This statement endears a self-fulfilling prophecy that because of all the difficulties faced by the colonials namely the coloured laborers, they should just go back. It is fair to assume that Mr. Hardman believes that the whole notion of colonial workers in Britain is something to the effect of a “ White Man’s Burden” on the government and country and bringing in more of them will exacerbate the problem.
According to an exchange of memorandums between Goldberg and Tarrant Goldberg explains that a report from the Colonial Office Working Party implied that the Trade Unions have been consulted regarding the subject of coloured colonial workers. But he continues saying that this is simply not the case as they‘ve met only on an extremely informal and indirect setting; he notes that this part of the report was “deliberately fudged”. Goldberg resumes with the notion that the Trade Unions being extremely reluctant to taking Belgians as a sign that the proposition of colonial workers would most likely be met with the same results. Because the report is a confidential document (even though it is “fudged”), Goldberg points out that no one outside of the government circles would see it. If the report somehow managed to make its way to the public, however he doesn’t expect anyone, especially the Trade Unions, to disagree with his assessment regarding the colonial workers. As such, he feels that the matter should be, as he puts it, “sleeping dogs might be allowed to lie”. In a responding memorandum from Tarrant he agrees with Goldberg’s assessment and goes as far as saying “there’s not a dog’s chance” that this colonial workers business will happen in the near future. It is interesting how Goldberg and Tarrant justify their arguments by using colorful colloquialism and personal assumptions. Beginning by explicitly pointing out that their office had “fudged” their report, Goldberg essentially argues that it is merely a cosmetic flaw because the Trade Unions had already rejected something similar beforehand and would mostly likely do the same thing. Furthermore, because he feels that the report is private, it won’t really matter but if the report somehow manages to make its way into the hands of Trade Unionists, they would merely agree with government’s assessment of their attitude. Tarrant agrees with this assessment and throws in a personal view that although they didn’t actually talk to the Trade Unions, They are more than confident that the Trade Unionsy would agree with our assessment one hundred percent.
In another correspondence from Mr. Stewart to both Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Hardman , Stewart says that nothing explicit was said about limiting the colonial scheme from happening. However, he continues by saying that colonial coloured women laborers would pose little to no problems since they would be able to control their living conditions. But as for the men, they have and would likely cause more problems as they have a tendency to quarrel, which often leads to fights over white women. In a memorandum from Bliss to Cruchley of the Colonial Office , Bliss talks about the importation of fifteen coloured colonial women to be hospital nurses but finds it agreeable for fifty nurses if only there is housing available. The context and spirit of this memorandum is rather interesting because the idea of bringing in a miniscule number of coloured female colonial laborers and putting them under a microscope for an experiment in stark contrast to thousands of foreign workers coming in is ludicrous. In the Notes on Separate Industries Appendix, it gives the number of vacancies in the various industries that are in need of more workers. But the main discernible element in the Appendix is that most of the industries that are looking for more workers want mainly female workers. For example, the Hosiery industry is looking for approximately thirty six hundred female workers whereas only a hundred male workers are needed . Essentially, women workers seem to be more in demand than their male counterparts in various industries such as cotton, wool, and etc. ; as noted earlier, the government can control the living conditions of the women workers hence they would likely be a less disruptive force than the male laborers. In fact, another look at the justification of Stewart and his like-minded colleagues’ argument regarding the colored men labors could be observed in several other reports that buttress their arguments. For example, in the Employment Opportunities in the United Kingdom Report; third page , the report says that the Jamaican laborers from the Empire Windrush ship, tended to be quarrelsome and acted violently to both real and imaginary affronts. In the same report last paragraph, an employer states that he could use the extra help from anywhere but these laborers seem to cause more disturbances than they are worth. But the most apparent recurring element against further labor importation is where to house these colonial laborers.
In Employment Opportunities in the United Kingdom, page one, “ industries such as coalmining and textiles… vacancies in areas where no hostel or lodging accommodation is available”. This excerpt suggests that although these critical industries are in need of workers to keep their production lines continuing, they seem to have a housing problem. Furthermore, the report also explains that even if the lodging situation were solved, there was still the problem of overcrowding due to colonial workers suffering from loneliness. As a result, the colonial workers would likely drift to the seaport communities where the highest concentration of coloured colonial workers were located . This would only serve to aggravate the overcrowding problem that is already growing in these communities. The spirit of these arguments in the report against further colonial importation canvases a bleak and troublesome endeavor. It seems to encase an exhaustive situation that creates more questions and problems than the number of solutions that it presents.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Winston Churchill from a director of Collieries named J.B. Paget, Mr. Paget explains that the English miners resent the idea of having non-speaking Italians working alongside them. This could easily result in serious injuries due to a language barrier. As a result, Paget then explains that he finds that most of the miners in the U.S. come from the South. So bringing in Jamaican workers, who are British subjects would be a great solution to their shortage woes. Jamaicans have proven themselves during the war. They also speak English and would likely help the wives around the house; if there were a shortage of jobs to go around, they would be the first to leave. Mr. Paget implies, that rather than have foreigner workers such as Italians and Germans come work, that Jamaican laborers would be better suited to the working environments because they are already from the Caribbean which is quite warm. Furthermore, they could be trusted as they are already British subjects who speak English and would perform homely duties while paying good rent, which serves as a great incentive for miner families to take them in.
The British government’s deliberation to import colonial workers to fill shortages in vital industries such as coalmining, textiles, and metal work in the 1940s and 1950s explained both the real and imaginative position the government takes. It disclosed the pros and cons through the collection of dialogues, memorandums, and reports that illustrated how the government tried to address the issues of work shortage and imported workers.

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