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Britain’s first migrant strike: labour militancy and racial politics at Courtaulds, Preston, 1965

Lookup NU author(s): Jack Hepworth

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Abstract

After opening in 1939, Courtaulds became one of Preston’s largest textile mills. Based at Red Scar in Ribbleton, north-east Preston, Courtaulds was the first company in the world to create commercial viscose in 1905. The firm imported Scandinavian wood pulp to Preston, before transporting it to the Ribbleton works, where the pulp was converted to liquid viscose and, subsequently, artificial silk. By 1965, Courtaulds employed 3,000 workers at Preston. Asian and Caribbean workers were concentrated in one stage of the labour process. That summer, management reorganised work departments and resources, triggering an industrial dispute involving more than 1,000 workers born in Pakistan, India, and the West Indies. Initially, strikers appealed to the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) for assistance. Relationships between workers, union officials, and the broader Preston public were complicated and often turbulent, revealing multi-layered tensions and subjectivities in the crisis. For workers, union officials, and employers alike, the strike’s escalation provoked far-reaching questions about social experiences of race and class. When strategists from the Racial Adjustment Action Society (RAAS) arrived in Preston to advise the ad hoc strike committee, they framed the dispute racially and urged the strikers to disregard an apathetic union. Conversely, many local workers, union representatives, and commentators dismissed any suggestion of racial dynamics, instead representing the strike as a familiar stand-off between management and the shop-floor. Fault lines in the power struggle emerging among workers extended to high-profile politicians and wider publics. Drawing upon contemporary press reports, this paper will explore the complex interactions of class, race, and place during the Courtaulds dispute.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Hepworth J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: North West Labour History

Year: 2020

Issue: 45

Pages: 15-20

Print publication date: 01/12/2020

Acceptance date: 26/05/2020

ISSN (print): 1362-6302

Publisher: North West Labour History Society

URL: http://www.nwlh.org.uk/?q=node/210


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