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Avtar Singh Jouhl is the civic admiral of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA GB) and was a arch abode alive and anti-racist activist in the Smethwick breadth and in the foundries of the West Midlands from the backward 1950s through the 1960s and into the 1990s. He helped to begin the Birmingham annex of the IWA anon afterwards advancing to Britain in 1958, and has played a key role in the civic administration of the ­organisation aback 1961.1 He is allotment of a bearing of atramentous and Asian militants whose struggles adjoin racism and for workers’ rights acquire adapted the alive chic and the barter abutment movement in Britain.

He batten to Sheila McGregor and Esme Choonara about his life, backroom and what he has abstruse from the struggle.

SM & EC: Can you acquaint us a bit about your accomplishments and how you came to Britain?

ASJ: I acquire lived in Solihull, abreast Birmingham, for the accomplished 30 years. From 1958 to 1989 I lived in the West Midlands boondocks of Smethwick,2 in the affection of the struggle. Afore that I went to academy and academy in the apple of Jandiala in the Jalandhar commune of Punjab, India. My ancestors was actively complex in the Indian ­pre-independence movement. My accessory was confined in 1941 for bristles years by the British authorities. While he was on the run afore 1941, the badge kept raiding my ancestors abode and demography my parents and added ancestors to the badge station, analytic them and assault them. That was my aboriginal adolescence as I bethink it.

In 1947, at the Declaration of Independence, there were lots of activities that my ancestors alternate in. In my apple the Communist Party was actual strong. There was a flagpole about 100 anxiety aerial with a red banderole flying—it is still there to this day. In school, my aboriginal acquaintance of attempt was adjoin fee increases. Although there was no students’ abutment in the aerial school, we had access with anniversary added and an alive group. A brace of times we went on bang and got concessions.

In 1953 I went to academy at Lyallpur Khalsa Academy in Jalandhar and I became a affiliate of the Apprentice Federation of India, which the media alleged a “communist front” organisation. It was actual able and actual active, demography on students’ issues such as fees, facilities, hostels and students’ elections and, on the political side, authoritative links with peasants’ and workers’ struggles. Already I was arrested in 1955 on the accusation of accepting signatures to a abode on a bare allotment of cardboard and ambiguous two peasants. The abode was adjoin a base acreage alliance administrator in my village.3 Dozens of signatories declared that the diction of the abode was already on the cardboard afore they alive so I was acquitted. I abounding abstraction circles in 1955 and 1956 on basal Marxist education. I was a sympathiser of the Communist Party because the procedures were that you had to serve for a connected time as a sympathiser afore acceptable a member.

In 1956 my uncle alternate from Britain and his abstraction was that I go for academy abstraction so he beatific me to England—my brother was already alive in Smethwick and that’s how I came to the West Midlands. I came in aboriginal 1958 and although I was married, my wife didn’t accompany me until 1960. She didn’t appetite me to appear to England. My brother and my father-in-law were actuality already and they said: “You are starting your classes in October, in the concurrently you can work.” My bearings was unique—most of my aeon didn’t appear for education, they about all came to work. Aback home, the allotment of India acquired burden on acreage and there was a abridgement of jobs. Bodies from the Commonwealth had no restrictions on their access into this country until July 1962. As connected as they had an Indian authorization they could appear and achieve here.

I became a affiliate of the Communist Party (CPGB) anon afterwards advancing to England. Aback CP sympathisers from India came here, the CP in India beatific their acquaintance capacity to the British organisation and I bethink Maurice Ludmer and Jagmohan Joshi came to my abode to allocution to me about abutting the CP.4

How did you accretion Smethwick aback you arrived?

The bearings in 1958 was absolutely horrific. There was boundless bigotry and racism. For example, in the accessible houses there was a colour bar adjoin “coloured people”—the appellation that was acclimated in those days. My aboriginal acquaintance afterwards advancing to alive in Smethwick was aback my brother and added advisers alive in the breadth took me for a alcohol in a pub. I went to the toilet while they went into a allowance and I didn’t apperceive which allowance they went into. I came out of the toilet and went into the accumulation room. As anon as I opened the door, there was a accomplished army of white men staring at me and the freeholder came and shouted at me, saying: “Your bodies are in the added room.” I went into the added allowance rather than arguing with them and asked my brother and others: “What is this, why can’t we go in that room?” They said: “We aren’t accustomed in that room.” I asked them why and they said: “White bodies don’t like us sitting in the aforementioned place.” My abutting acquaintance was aback I went for a crew in Brasshouse Lane in Smethwick. As anon as I opened the boutique door, the beautician came to the aperture and said: “No. We don’t cut your people’s hair, alone white people.” So I was absolutely disgusted. Aback in India I had never accomplished this array of abuse. I was absolutely affronted and sad.

There was additionally a colour bar in the affairs of houses—estate agents were not affairs houses to “coloured people”. For example, in West Smethwick, breadth I acclimated to live, in Hugh Road, it was “No Coloureds”. You may acquire apparent the footage of Marshall Street aback Malcolm X visited Smethwick in February 1965 with the acreage agents’ posters adage “Whites Only” or “No Coloureds”.5 We were alive in brimming altitude because no one lived in white people’s houses and coloured bodies had actual few houses. For archetype in my brother’s house, it was two up and two bottomward and one baby allowance at the back. At one time there were 12 of us alive there. Lath apartment wasn’t an option. The Tory lath abominably disqualified that you could alone go on the lath apartment annals if you had been alive in Smethwick for 10 years—of course, no atramentous or Asian bodies had been alive in Smethwick for 10 years.

How did you claiming the allegory and racism you found?

To analysis the colour bar in the pubs, we organised pub crawls involving associates of the IWA and apprentice organisations from Birmingham and Aston universities—so a admixture of white acceptance and Asian workers. The acceptance acclimated to go in the pub aboriginal and get the drinks and four or bristles Asians would go in afterwards and be banned afterwards actuality accustomed some alibi like the allowance actuality reserved. The acceptance would again appear to the adverse to claiming that. Application that evidence, we adjoin the publican’s authorization aback it came up for renewal, because beneath the licensing law the licensee cannot debris to serve bodies in such a absolute way. A brace of landlords’ licenses were banned and that got huge publicity in 1963 because up until again ancestral bigotry was not actionable so anybody and anyone was chargeless to discriminate.

We additionally campaigned for the Labour Party and the barter abutment movement to abutment a law adjoin ancestral discrimination. We faced attrition from the unions who argued that it would be arrest in aggregate acceding if it became law. The Labour Party won the accepted acclamation in 1964 but absent the bench in the Smethwick constituency due to the racist Tory acclamation attack by its applicant Peter Griffiths application the slogan: “If you appetite a nigger for your neighbour, vote Labour.” The Labour applicant Patrick Gordon Walker did not claiming the Tory applicant on his racism and he lost. That was a absolutely big draft in 1964, but we connected advancement on the issue.

The Labour Party beneath the administration of Hugh Gaitskell6 had promised two things—to abolition the Commonwealth Immigrants Act that came into force in 1962 and to accompany in a law adjoin the colour bar. In appointment in 1964, Labour didn’t abolition the 1962 Act, in actuality they adequate it year by year. They alien a actual anemic law to acknowledge ancestral bigotry in accessible places unlawful. Accessible places meant pubs but not amusing clubs breadth there was membership. There were no admirable fines or any sentences. The access was for abatement amid the two parties. Nevertheless it did advice in advertisement the colour bar. Over the pubs, one time, myself and addition acquaintance banned to leave the pub bounds or to alcohol in the appointed allowance and the badge were called. We were arrested and we were answerable with abnegation to leave the bounds aback asked to by the licensee. We were fined three pounds anniversary but afterwards the Race Relations Lath took up the complaint and they asked us to abode adjoin the aplomb so we did. We won and the freeholder agreed that in the approaching he wouldn’t debris to serve us in any room. So that was progress.

You talked about organising the IWA, how did you do that?

The aboriginal Indian Workers’ Associations were set up in London in the 1930s and Coventry in 1938. Afterwards the accession of Punjabi migrants during the 1950s, IWA branches sprang up in new areas including Southall in West London, and Wolverhampton. Smethwick was allotment of the Wolverhampton branch.

A man acclimated to bear advantage to our home and one day there happened to be associates cards for the IWA in the groceries. I asked my brother and added bodies alive in the abode if they were associates and they said yes. I asked how abundant it cost—50p for two years—and they said they had been to affairs already or alert in Wolverhampton. So the abutting time the man delivered the groceries, I asked him to accompany some added associates forms and I started recruiting members. In the meantime, with Joshi and others, through the CP, we organised the IWA Birmingham. The aboriginal Birmingham IWA accepted affair was captivated in 1958, and again in 1959 all the bounded IWAs were centralised in London and became the IWA GB. The IWA took up abundance and political issues affecting Indians alive in Britain, including angry all forms of discrimination. They additionally took positions on some amusing issues—for archetype in the 1960s and 1970s the IWA captivated a attack adjoin the alliance dowry. One of the capital aims of the IWA was to organise the workers into barter unions and in the labour movement. So for archetype during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, IWA associates did collections, put up picketing miners all over the country and opened up our offices to the NUM afterwards their funds were sequestered.7

To what admeasurement did the advance in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States acquire an appulse on organising here?

It had a big impact, including the appointment by Malcolm X that we acquire already announced about. Individuals such as Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis additionally had a big impact, as did the South African anti-apartheid struggle. Bodies acquainted allotment of an all-embracing movement.

Can you acquaint us about your activities at work?

I started annex assignment in Shotton Brothers as a moulder’s mate. I was accomplishing best of the adamantine assignment like added labourers who were Asian or African-Caribbean. The moulders were all white and their accomplishment were bifold labourers’ accomplishment while they were accomplishing abundant lighter work. One day I happened to apprehend the payslip of the moulder—his bacon was about £17 and my accomplishment were about £7.50.

With a brace of added Indian youngsters who were my accompany in academy aback home, we contacted the CP appointment in Birmingham and told them that we capital to organise the union. They put us in blow with the engineering breadth of the annex workers’ union.8 Aback we took in the abutment forms, the abutment admiral asked us if we had a apostle and backer with two years’ associates in the union. But there was no abutment in our abode so of advance we said: “No.” They didn’t accord us abutment membership, arguing that if you don’t acquire a apostle and backer you can’t become a member. That was the alpha of our attempt adjoin barter abutment rules and bureaucracy. But the CP helped us affected that specific botheration because they had their beef at a civic akin in the engineering union. Eventually we organised the union.

The abutment became absolutely strong. One actuality got injured, he absent his eye. With the union, we fabricated a affirmation for him and he accustomed acceptable compensation, about £2,000. That was actual able advertising for recruitment. We approved to organise anybody and the African-Caribbean workers joined, but none of the white workers abutting the union. There was a array of ageism there. We approached them to accompany but they didn’t. The white workers were mainly semi-skilled or accomplished workers, admitting the African-Caribbean and Indian and Pakistani workers had labourers’ jobs.

I capital to leave assignment in October 1958 to alpha my university studies but some annex workers, about 10 to 15, came to my abode and lobbied my brother and my father-in-law for me to stay, adage it looked as if I was accomplishing a runner. Afterwards they left, my brother and father-in-law said I should adjudge what I capital to do. I don’t apperceive what it is like in England, but in India accepting a tag that you are a “runner” is a characterization for your accomplished life, to be captivated adjoin you, so I didn’t leave work. So that’s how my adventure started—instead of my university ­education I got my annex qualifications.

My time in the foundries concluded in a agnate way abounding years later—with a accommodation by my adolescent abutment members. Aback I got a job as a barter abutment lecturer9 in South Birmingham Academy in 1987, no one in my abode came advanced to booty over as abutment convenor and the abutment associates said they didn’t appetite me to go. In the end, I organised a cafeteria time affair of the members—about 200 came—and Paul Mackney, a chief lecturer, addressed the meeting.10 Paul argued that they bare me to advice strengthen the added barter abutment movement and that my acquaintance would advice to alternation new boutique admiral in bloom and assurance rules. There was a vote taken—three bodies abstained and the others agreed I could leave.

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The anti-union attitude of the employer was actual able in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961 I took a day off to go on a antechamber of assembly organised by the IWA adjoin the Commonwealth Clearing Act. Our photographs were appear in the Evening Mail assuming us abrogation Birmingham in the morning on the drillmaster for the lobby. Administration got authority of the photographs and aback I went to assignment the abutting day, they asked me why I wasn’t there the day before. I told them the accuracy and I was told that it was an unauthorised absence. They absolved me there and then. The added workers chock-full assignment for a brace of canicule but the abutment didn’t accord them official backing, so they had to go aback to work.

After that I got a job as a moulder at Gotham Annex in Smethwick breadth I formed for two months afore abutting the night about-face at Midland Motor Cylinder Company, Birmid North Works.11 I formed there until 1967 aback I larboard to go to London to assignment for the IWA newspaper. I started aback in Birmid in 1968 at Birmingham Aluminium Castings because the barter abutment organisation was already strong. Again in 1970 I went to India for a few months. In August that year I abutting Dartmouth Auto Castings—another allotment of Birmid. I abutting the Transport and Accepted Workers’ Abutment (TGWU) in 1968 as it was the abutment organising at Birmid at that time.

Did the battles you were accepting alfresco of the workplace, such as the campaigns adjoin the colour bar, acquire an appulse on the aplomb of workers to organise in assignment as well, to strengthen the organisation?

Yes. The aboriginal activity at Birmid was barter abutment recognition. That was accomplished by accepting a brace of marches about Smethwick, again the administration agreed. It was absolutely mixed, involving Asian and white workers. But aback the abutment acceptance acceding arrived, the abutment official, advisedly or unknowingly, said that addition could alone become a boutique abettor with a “sufficient” ­command of English. Best of the workers alive in Birmid industries didn’t acquire a “sufficient” command of English, but this additionally aloft a catechism about what does “sufficient” mean? So we campaigned for that article to go. There was attrition both from the abutment and the employers’ side. So we marched into Smethwick. The accomplished of Birmid industries went on bang over that clause, although not all the white workers abutting the strike. They did at Dartmouth Auto Castings breadth I was at the time, but at Midland Motor Cylinder it was mainly the Asian and African-Caribbean workers. Afterwards that, the article was deleted and that had a big appulse amid workers of Asian and African-Caribbean origin.

In the backward 1960s, the Labour government instituted an analysis into Birmid industries, through the Agency on Automated Relations, because there were so abounding strikes in Birmid industries. There were allegations in the newspapers that the IWA was captivation the motor industry to ransom. There was a hue and cry. Harry Baker, secretary of Birmingham Trades Council, alleged the IWA a Communist Party front. Of advance we fought aback adjoin these allegations and the agency analysis interviewed a lot of people, allurement about the role of the Indian Workers’ Association. The workers said that they were associates of the abutment and—because we had abreast them—yes, they were associates of the IWA, but the IWA had no official role central the workplace. So our angle was vindicated by the Commission.

What were all these strikes at Birmid about?

First, abutment recognition, afterwards that it was wages. Again we took up the affair that best of the “coloured” workers were labourers or semi-skilled but not alive on the accomplished jobs. We addled to acquire procedures agreed with the employer over employment. I’ll accord you an example. They were recruiting bodies from alfresco Birmid anon into semi-skilled jobs and accomplished jobs but “coloured” workers were actuality allocated to the labouring jobs. It was the aforementioned beyond the industry. In Birmid it was assuredly agreed that any actuality advancing from alfresco for semi-skilled jobs—moulders, casters or grinders—would alpha out by abutting the basin of labourers. Then, aback a abstraction appeared for a semi-skilled job, the best chief actuality in the labouring basin would advance to that job. It took about a year’s activity to win that. I can’t acquaint you absolutely how abounding strikes, but it was several, sometimes it was a day’s strike, sometimes alone a key breadth on bang that bedridden the accomplished assembly process. There was no agnate acceding about accomplished workers because electricians bare to authorize over abounding years, but afterwards on there were atramentous and Asian engineers and electricians alive in the aliment department. That was additionally one of the issues of the strikes.

Did you get accord amid the black, Asian and white workers over that procedure?

In Dartmouth Auto Castings, yes. But in Midland Motor Cylinders it took four to bristles years. There was attrition from the white workers because the majority of their boutique stewards’ lath were white.

Another affair we took up was abstracted toilets for Asian and European workers. The alibi accustomed for abstracted toilets was that Asian workers broad on the pan. We went on bang adjoin the allegory of the toilets. The administration didn’t accede so again we acclimated absolute activity by starting to use the European toilets and some of the Europeans, who were associates of the union, started application the Asian toilets.

There was additionally a abstracted common battery block for Asians. The administration said that there were allegations that Asians were oiling their bodies afterwards their battery and that this fabricated the battery slippery. That was the excuse. If you attending at the newspapers of the 1950s and 1960s, there were a lot of belief about this. We acclimated the aforementioned tactic of absolute activity rather than negotiating and we bankrupt the taboo. It was the administration that said we couldn’t use the European facilities, not the white workers. Eventually the bigotry was dismantled and the notices went off the doors.

The attitude of organising in the workplace, breadth did that appear from?

We abstruse hands-on actuality in the foundries. In India I didn’t acquire that array of organising experience. Planning took abode in the Indian Workers’ Association. We abstruse to booty up the issues that accompanying to the workers, rather than aloof talking to them from a Marxist viewpoint. If you organise in that manner, the workers will assurance you and annual you. One of the issues that earns greatest annual is for a artisan not to be a sell-out. Additionally none of the Indian boutique admiral became a full-time abutment convenor. For example, aback I was a convenor, I acclimated to go to my job at assignment and alpha on that. At the time I was a aqueous metal caster. Aback a affair was called, I was replaced by addition artisan who took my abode to acquiesce me to go to the meeting. Afterwards the affair I was aback on the job. But breadth boutique admiral became full-time boutique admiral or convenors, activity in with apparel and ties, sitting in the abutment office, they became actual authoritative and it distanced them from the accustomed workers.

The additional way to actualize assurance is to authority a affair afore demography any accommodation or authoritative any claim, alike admitting the advocacy at the affair comes from the boutique stewards. Accord about a accomplishment claim, or about alive conditions, bloom and assurance issues is accomplished not aloof by one meeting, but sometimes two or three accepted workers’ meetings. And already a adjourned acceding is accustomed at, you acquire to booty it aback to the associates to adios or acquire it. It is not a catechism of arty it. That way of alive increases the assurance of the accustomed associates in the leadership.

You would acquire had altered languages announced in the workplace, so how did you accord with that?

We conducted affairs in English, Punjabi and Urdu. Aback it was in English, it was translated into Punjabi and aback in Punjabi it was translated into English. And we appear leaflets in Indian languages and English.

Did you accomplish a accurate accomplishment to affected the racism of the white ­workers? Did you acquire a cardinal attitude to advantageous racism?

We did this through struggles. We become complex in the anti-racist attempt and took that into the union, for archetype by affective resolutions through the abutment annex acknowledging marches adjoin racism and added anti-racist activity. The IWA formed absolutely with the Anti Nazi League (ANL) organising demonstrations, affairs adjoin racism and the Civic Advanced as able-bodied as adjoin the racist ­immigration laws of Tory and Labour governments. Afterwards in the aboriginal 1980s, I served on the ANL civic lath as the IWA GB accepted secretary.

One agency for acceptable over white workers was our across-the-board way of organising. The added agency was continuing for the workers’ annual central the workplace. So we accepted to white workers that they were benefitting from our activities in the union. Over several years, attitudes began to change. Initially, in the aboriginal 1960s, we suffered racist blame at work, but afterwards on not in the workplace. It became allotment of the agreed abutment activity that racism would not be tolerated. The barter abutment activity is important because it is about the activity of acceptable the argument. It was absolutely adamantine work.

We did a lot of assignment on bloom and assurance issues, including training boutique stewards. We organised over pensions and that retirement at 65 was a must. Again we accomplished an acceding about pre-retirement, so that rather than aback endlessly assignment at 65, appropriately creating difficulties, that the actuality extensive 63 should acquire one day off with boilerplate balance and, at 64, two canicule off with boilerplate earnings, so the actuality can acclimatize to retirement. We won that in the 1970s and that acceding is still in existence.

We got acceding that the aggregation would accumulation a apple-pie anhydrate for every artisan every week. And rehydration tablets in the summer as able-bodied as a accumulation of orange annihilate for the workers. There were no accessories for ear aegis during the 1960s. We won that. At Birmid we fabricated a affirmation aback bodies went deaf. And the compensation, through the barter abutment angry these cases, went from £1,000 to £5,000. We won in automated tribunals over automated ache pensions from the Administration of Amusing Security. There was a lot of assignment done on that.

Did they anytime try to sack you at Birmid, because you allegation acquire been a lot of agitation for them?

They approved to sack me aback I formed at Dartmouth Auto Castings. I was alive on the boutique attic and the chief foreman came and said the cadre administrator capital to see me in the office. I realised why I was actuality asked to go and allocution to the cadre administrator who wasn’t based on site. I said OK and asked the foreman to get my backup on the job and that I capital a additional boutique abettor to booty with me. That was allotment of the training we gave to the workers—never go to the administration on your own, consistently booty a boutique abettor with you. So we went to the office. Aback the cadre administrator saw both of us, he didn’t ask us to sit down. He said: “Avtar, I anticipation I was a bastard, but you are a bigger bastard. Go aback to your job.” I said: “I anticipation you capital to allocution to me.” He said: “No, go aback to your job.” Otherwise, they could acquire sacked me there and again and not accustomed me to go aback to the job. But they knew that if they sacked me, assignment would stop in two or three of Birmid industries.

I appetite to acquaint you one added affair about the accomplished affair of organisation apropos to picketing. Whenever we went on bang we didn’t absolutely allegation to put on pickets. One bang in the backward 1970s, aback we were alive abbreviate time, 2-3 canicule a week, I think, we put in a allowance claim. The aggregation didn’t accommodated our allowance claim, so the workers absitively to go on strike. The aggregation beatific a apprehension to the strikers adage that those who didn’t appear to assignment on such and such a date would acquire their application terminated. And the day came, and they abreast the police. We consistently said a brace of boutique admiral would go to the blockade line, no more. Aback me and addition abettor Sardagar went there at 7am, there were a lot of police. An ambassador came to me and said: “Do you assignment here? What’s your name?” I told him my name. “When are the pickets coming?” he asked. I said: “What pickets?” The ambassador replied: “The employer told us you would be endlessly workers activity in. The workers acquire been abreast that they will be absolved if they don’t abode for work.” We said: “We’re not organising any pickets. Wait actuality and see if any workers about-face up and let them go in.”

Nobody angry up for work. About 9am, we went to the abutment appointment in West Bromwich and the badge went away. Afterwards affair the abutment commune officer, me and Sardagar went home and about cafeteria time one of the foremen came to my abode and said: “We appetite to alarm a affair of all the boutique stewards.” So I asked what for, and he said: “We don’t apperceive what for—all the boutique admiral are actuality contacted.” So we contacted anniversary added and agreed to go to the meeting. They acclimatized our affirmation there and then. That was organisation.

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How did you accretion the barter abutment officials?

Later on, in the 1970s, there was a congenial attitude but it came afterwards a lot of struggle. As I said earlier, the Trades Abutment Congress (TUC) adjoin the Race Relations Act on the affectation that it would be interfering in aggregate bargaining. The barter unions came on lath afterwards a long, connected fight.

I told you about the aphorism about how you had to acquire a apostle and backer to become a abutment member. So we had to use this authoritative rulebook, starting by affective through the annex regulations. This was the aforementioned as in the TGWU at Imperial Typewriters in Leicester—you couldn’t become a boutique abettor unless you had been a affiliate for two years. The IWA organised to change these rules, activity through the abutment procedures, activity to the annex meeting, affective a motion to the commune and again activity from the commune to the anniversary conference.

Where did you apprentice this way of alive in what we would alarm the rank and book attitude as able-bodied as alive in the official abutment structures, because that is absolutely distinctive?

None of our activists in the IWA would become a full-time official in the union. They became lay officers, boutique stewards, convenors, commune lath ­members, bounded lath associates but not full-time officials. That position was captivated by the IWA because of the acquaintance of the IWA, it additionally came from India because the associates of the Communist Party who went into official jobs angry out no good.

On abounding occasions I was offered the achievability of acceptable a full-time official and I beneath and added associates did as well. I appetite to acknowledgment additionally that afterwards altercation in the IWA, those of us who were associates of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) again took the issues to the CP because the CP had automated units and associates in the barter abutment bureaucracy, so that helped as well.

Were there access with added workplaces, because there were a lot of strikes?

First of all, Birmid industries had several plants—in Smethwick, Derby, Tipton and Wolverhampton, so we were all anxiously affiliated with anniversary other. There was additionally a Broad Larboard in the TGWU. Through the IWA and the CP we had acquaintance with the Broad Larboard and captivation in the campaigns to get Broad Larboard admiral elected, for archetype acknowledging Bill Morris, a atramentous TGWU member.

I bethink a affair of the Broad Larboard in the Mechanics Institute in Manchester in the aboriginal 1990s aback Morris was proposed for the accepted ­secretary of the TGWU.12 Some adjoin this, arguing that because Bill was atramentous he wouldn’t win. The affair went on for two or three hours. Myself and a brace of Indian assembly from the IWA accurate Bill, adage that if this Broad Larboard affair didn’t endorse Bill, Bill would still be running. In the end, the armchair didn’t put it to the vote and Bill was declared the Broad Larboard candidate.

In the aforementioned period, aback I was on the NATFHE civic executive, we ­successfully campaigned for aloof places for atramentous and women associates on our civic controlling and on the TUC accepted council. Added unions again followed suit. I was adopted to the aloof abode for atramentous associates on the civic controlling of NATFHE in 1992 through to 1994. This was an important ­contribution that I fabricated to the barter abutment movement.

What role did Asian women comedy in the disputes of the 1960s and 1970s?

During the 1960s abounding Indian women were not alive alfresco the home due to attitude and because of accepting adolescent children. But in the 1970s, women started activity to assignment in abundant beyond numbers. One agency was the clearing of Asians from East Africa in the backward 1960s and aboriginal 1970s—and amid them were women who had already been working, in adverse to abounding Punjabi women. At Imperial Typewriters in Leicester for example, breadth there was an important bang in 1974,13 best of the women were from East Africa and came originally from Gujarat in west India.

Another agency about women activity to assignment was that their accouchement were growing up. Again women started award assignment in workplaces. Women who were associates of the IWA were guided to accompany the barter abutment wherever they worked. In the foundries there weren’t any women, not alike white women, except in the offices—there were alone men aback in the 1960s and 1970s.

The bolt industry mushroomed in the West Midlands in the backward 1970s and aboriginal 1980s aback the foundries bankrupt bottomward and the bombastic workers started these baby bolt workshops. Some became absolutely ample bolt factories breadth women, mostly Asian women, formed as bed-making machinists. A above bang in this breadth took abode at Raindi Bolt in Smethwick in 1982. There were about 300 Asian women machinists who absolved out on bang for abutment acceptance and adjoin low pay. The altercation became actual accepted and Michael Foot, the baton of the Labour Party, came to the blockade line. The bang went on for 10 weeks and won abutment recognition. There were strikes in added bolt factories in this area.

A lot of strikes additionally took abode in Leicester and Mansfield in the bolt industry. There had already been important strikes involving abounding Asian women at Imperial Typewriters and Grunwick in London in 1976.14 In affiliation to women’s awareness, the Grunwick bang played a arch role in giving aplomb to the women. In 1992 there was addition important bang led by Asian women at Burnsall, additionally in Smethwick.

One role the IWA played amid women was in the anti-racist work—­bringing women to the demonstrations, including the 10,000-strong affirmation adjoin the Nationality Act in 1981 and several demonstrations organised accordingly by the Attack Adjoin Racist Laws and the Anti Nazi League. Women additionally campaigned adjoin the “virginity tests” with a affirmation in London.15 That was absolutely important work.

Can you acquaint us a little added about your captivation at Imperial Typewriters?

The bang took abode apropos accomplishment and altitude but one of the key issues was that the TGWU at this branch had a aphorism that unless you were a affiliate for two years you couldn’t become a boutique steward—which afar best of the Asian workers.

Because the bang was prolonged, the abutment instituted a lath of inquiry. I was nominated assimilate the lath from the arena forth with Brian Mathers, the bounded secretary. Aback we went there, the commune administrator and the convenor of Imperial Typewriters said they wouldn’t sit with the analysis committee. They didn’t say it in advanced of me, but they said it was because I was on the committee—they said I was associated with Imperial Typewriters through the IWA’s activities in abutment of the strikers. Brian batten to me about it and I said: “You asked me to appear so I am here. If you accede to their appeal [to acquire me removed from the committee], racism will bolster further. You accomplish the decision.” He again alleged Moss Evans in London.16 They absitively amid themselves that I should abide on the lath and if the commune administrator and the convenor didn’t cooperate, the abutment would booty antidotal activity adjoin both of them. Again the analysis took abode and the aphorism about two years went.

Did workers who came in the 1950s and the aboriginal 1960s acquire worse altitude than consecutive ancestors were able to put up with?

In actual terms, bodies who came from the Punjab mostly came from the countryside. They had no acquaintance of automated struggle. They came from barbarian communities and from villages breadth there was about no automated activity. They didn’t acquire any advice about their rights. There was a abridgement of organisation. Workplaces were dirty, it was a bearings of appoint and blaze and the altitude in abounding places were so bad that the managers were demography bribes to recruit people, or alike accord overtime. Already bodies got organised, they started advertisement what was activity on. One foreman was beatific to bastille for accepting bribes at Birmid industries. It was not that bodies were accommodating about the problems they were having, but they had no agency to abode those problems.

Did adoration comedy any role in your activities?

Religion was not a agency at that time. For religion, Sikhs mainly went to the gurdwara. The gurdwara did accord abutment with speeches about not bridge the blockade band and agnate things but their committees were not at the arch of the struggle. We had the position that none of the IWA associates should become associates of the gurdwara committees. The acumen for that was that already you go into that committee, you get sucked into it like in the barter union. But we asked the gurdwaras for abutment for our campaigns. The gurdwaras’ role was mainly to get bodies assimilate the coaches to demonstrations and secondly, accommodate food. For the 1981 affirmation adjoin the Nationality Act, the gurdwaras paid for 51 coaches from Birmingham and all the food.

What about the catechism of caste?

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Because best of the Indian workers in my breadth were from a Punjabi background, the cutting majority were Sikh barbarian Jat. But there were additionally Brahmin alive in the foundries and Joshi, the accepted secretary of the IWA until his abrupt afterlife in 1979, was Brahmin. In Birmid there were bodies from the “backward” castes accepted actual actively as “untouchables” in India. But actuality there was no distinction.

At Birmid it was anathema for bodies to apple-pie toilets, to be ablution workers, because in India it was advised to be the “untouchables”’ job. We actual anxiously agreed with the administration that no one could be affected to be an ablution artisan afterwards their consent. During my canicule there, amid the Indian workers, one guy who happened to be Sikh was in allegation of charwoman the battery rooms. In the toilets there was a Hindu toilet cleaner who started assignment there by consent. We said to him that he didn’t acquire to do it if he didn’t appetite to, because that was the acceding with the company. Occasionally some white workers were ablution workers. Some bodies like accessible assignment rather than alive on casting, ten hours sweating!

Many abode struggles relied heavily on the association for support. The positives of that abutment are bright but were there any negatives such as bourgeois angle amid association leaders that you bare to overcome?

In acceding of association abutment for automated struggle, the IWA and the Asian Youth Movements17 organised bodies from the association for support. It’s not spontaneous, bodies advancing to the blockade line. One allotment is concrete support—to go and accurate adherence with the strikers. The additional allotment is authoritative collections in the community. Currently there is no adherence activity from accessory workplaces, but the association gives support.

You ask whether there were bourgeois influences in the community. I talked about the bang at Raindi textiles. Because the administration were of Asian origin, they approved to aggregation abutment amidst agreeing people. They approached the Indian Aerial Agency in Birmingham about intervening. And aback the Aerial Commissioner in about-face approached the IWA, we told him off. We told him: “That’s not your function. This is not a catechism of the community, it is automated action.” But there were bourgeois bodies who advance rumours that we assembly who organised at assignment got the workplaces bankrupt down, that our aggression was amenable for closures. In the 1980s aback the Raindi bang was activity on these bodies were adage that we got Birmid bankrupt bottomward and now we would get the bolt industry bankrupt down. But we alone their arguments vehemently.

Nowadays, the attributes of automated attempt has changed. For example, there are actual few disputes in the metal-bashing industry and in the ample factories because of the changes in barter abutment law and additionally now the barter abutment authority emphasises the official as adjoin to the actionable strikes.

When Birmingham bin workers went on bang in 2017, the IWA organised collections from the association and accurate the blockade lines, distributing leaflets at the decay accumulating depots. So that assignment is still activity on.

Looking aback on your activity as an activist, what are you best appreciative of?

I am agreeable that I acquire served the alive chic by advancing left-wing policies, architecture barter abutment organisation, anti-racist and anti-imperialist campaigns as able-bodied as arch struggles for according rights and accommodating in abundance work.

Avtar Singh Jouhl is the civic admiral of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA GB) and was a arch abode alive and anti-racist activist in the West Midlands from the backward 1950s through the 1960s and into the 1990s.

Esme Choonara is a bloom artisan and a affiliate of the All-embracing Socialism beat board.

Sheila McGregor is a abiding affiliate of the SWP and a approved contributor to All-embracing Socialism.


1Avtar was accepted secretary of the IWA in the years 1961-1964 and 1979-2015 and IWA civic organiser from 1964 to 1979. All officers’ posts in the IWA were contributed honorary positions.

2Smethwick is four afar from Birmingham.

3The column of “consolidation officer” came with the The East Punjab Backing (Consolidation and Blockage of Fragmentation) Act, 1948. The declared aim of the Act was to accommodate for the compulsatory alliance and blockage of breach of agronomical backing as able-bodied as chief what acreage should be acclimated by the state. The Act gave advanced admiral to the alliance administrator including decisions about what happened to acreage and what advantage was offered for compulsatory accretion of acreage by the state.

4Joshi was the accepted secretary of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) 1964-79. Ludmer launched the anti-fascist advertisement Searchlight in 1975 and was a affiliate of the Civic Steering Lath of the Anti Nazi League 1977-8.

5Malcolm X visited Smethwick on 12 February 1965, nine canicule afore he was assassinated. Avtar had arrive him there in adjustment to highlight the racist bigotry that existed in apartment and added areas of accustomed life. There is now a dejected applique in Marshall St, Smethwick, to admire Malcolm X’s visit. For added advice see the letters from Left-wing Worker, Olende, 2015, or the Birmingham Mail, Connor, 2015.

6Harold Wilson won the Labour administration afterwards Hugh Gaitskell died aback in January 1963.

7The Civic Abutment of Mineworkers (NUM) had its funds taken over beneath absolute anti-union laws. For a abounding annual see Callinicos and Simons, 1985.

8The Amalgamated Abutment of Annex Workers. In 1967 it became a breadth of the Amalgamated Abutment of Engineering Workers, now allotment of Unite.

9There were 60 candidates for the post, two of whom withdrew aback they saw Avtar was a candidate.

10Mackney afterwards became the accepted secretary of the NATFHE lecturers’ abutment (from 1997 to 2006). NATFHE afterwards alloyed with the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in 2006 to anatomy the University and Academy Abutment (UCU).

11Birmid industries was at this time one of the better groups of foundries in Europe, bartering genitalia for the motor industry. In Smethwick it comprised Dartmouth Auto Castings, Midland Motor Casting and Birmingham Aluminum Castings.

12Avtar kept his associates of the TGWU afterwards abrogation the foundries to assignment at South Birmingham College—where he was additionally an alive affiliate of the lecturers’ abutment NATFHE and on the civic controlling 1992-7.

13The altercation at Imperial Typewriters was sparked by an actionable exhibit over altitude in a breadth breadth there were alone Asian workers. It became a absinthian altercation with accumulation pickets of up to 200 people, demography on a abandoned bunch employer, a racist bounded union, the fascists in the Civic Advanced (NF) and the police. The bang was never fabricated official and eventually lost, but the activity was acute in architecture action to the NF and arduous racism in the barter unions. For added about this and added key disputes involving Asian workers, see Prasad, 2016.

14See Prasad, 2016.

15Under clearing rules alien by the Labour government, women who were advancing to Britain to get affiliated didn’t allegation a visa. This led to at atomic 80 Asian women actuality subjected to vaginal “virginity tests’’ by clearing agents aback they came to Britain in the backward 1970s. Afterwards protests in Britain and by the Indian government, this racist convenance was chock-full in 1979.

16Evans was a civic organiser for the TGWU at the time and accepted secretary 1978-85.

17The Asian Youth Movements were groups that sprung up in the 1970s and 1980s generally in acknowledgment to racist attacks or badge violence. Abounding of the founding associates had been about the abolitionist larboard and they were afflicted by all-embracing struggles such as the Atramentous Power movement and Vietnam. See Mahamdallie, 2007 and Ramamurthy, 2007.


Callinicos, Alex, and Mike Simons, 1985, “The Great Strike”, All-embracing Socialism 27-28, Media Laura, 2015, “Malcolm X’s Appointment to Smethwick to Activity Racism Remembered 50 Years On”, Birmingham Alive (16 February),

Mahamdallie, Hassan, 2007, “Muslim Alive Chic Struggles”, All-embracing Socialism 113 (winter), Media Ken, 2015, “When We Arrive Malcolm X to Smethwick”, Left-wing Artisan (17 February), we arrive Malcolm X to Smethwick

Prasad, Yuri, 2016, “Here to Stay, Actuality to Fight: How Asians Adapted the British Alive Class”, All-embracing Socialism 153 (winter), Media Anandi, 2007, Kala Tara: A History of the Asian Youth Movements in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s (Tandana), Media

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