British importation of colonial labor?

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TheMarcksPlan
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British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 26 Jun 2021 16:01

Wondering whether the British (or dominions) ever considered a plan for the mass importation of colonial labor during the war.

I've done a bit of research and have found only a program to train Indians in Britain but for employment in India (10k/year), plus employment of foreign crewmen on British merchant ships.

I could see reasons why this wouldn't be considered, including:

1. Racism
2. Lack of training/literacy in candidate populations.
3. Lack of interest in candidate populations.
4. Logistics - limited global troopship capacity, therefore limited capacity to move migrants.
5. Increased import burden on Britain.
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Jun 2021 16:56

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jun 2021 16:01
Wondering whether the British (or dominions) ever considered a plan for the mass importation of colonial labor during the war.

I've done a bit of research and have found only a program to train Indians in Britain but for employment in India (10k/year), plus employment of foreign crewmen on British merchant ships.

I could see reasons why this wouldn't be considered, including:

1. Racism: (Sheldrake says: Not ouvertly, More an issue with the Colonial Services for whom contact between native and home country populations as potentially destabilizing.)
2. Lack of training/literacy in candidate populations. Sheldrake says: Yes. But there was also work in the empire itself. WW2 was a boom time for Egyptians and Palestinians
3. Lack of interest in candidate populations. (Sheldrake says: Nope - lots of people sought a better life - even as a stoker on a merchant ship.)
4. Logistics - limited global troopship capacity, therefore limited capacity to move migrants. Sheldrake says: Yes, this was the big one. There were enough problems solving local labour shortages within the west indies.
5. Increased import burden on Britain. (Sheldrake says: not a major issue for modest numbers.)
6.(sheldrake says The British wartime government was a coalition which included the labour movement. Ernest Bevan was the minister for Labour A mass influx of cheap foreign labor would destabilise labour relations
I have annotated your comments.

You could have dug a little deeper in your research.

Around 15,000 men and women from the West Indies travelled to the UK for war service. Over half seemed to have served in the RAF, as ground and air crew.
It isn't often that the Socialist Worker is used a reference, but this report of an Imperial War Museum in 2008-2009 mentions a
There were 520 workers from the West Indies working in munitions factories in Britain, and 800 forestry workers from British Honduras – now Belize – cutting timber in Scotland.....Around 15,000 black seamen served in the merchant navy
https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/14910 ... orld%20War

There was no need for massed labour in the UK. It was easier to increase production in the Dominions and colonies than build additional infrastructure in the UK. There were three additional sources of labour

1. An estimated 200,000 Irishmen from the Free State worked in the British economy, in particular in construction
2. Around 100,000 Italian and 70,000 Germans PW worked on the land by 1945
3. By 1945 6.5 million women were in civilian war work.

Image

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 26 Jun 2021 18:56

Sheldrake wrote:Sheldrake says
[TMP translation] In fact my dear TMP, my copious research has shown exactly as much evidence for the queried policy as yours: bupkiss. Aside from a smattering of West Indians and a gaggle of Irish (most definitely NOT colonials, we are reminded!) there appears never to have been plans for mass recruitment of colonial labor.

[TMP translation abridges a huff of musings and miscellanea not bearing on the thread question]

[Beautiful painting in the social/labor style]
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Jun 2021 22:14

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jun 2021 18:56
Sheldrake wrote:Sheldrake says
[TMP translation] In fact my dear TMP, my copious research has shown exactly as much evidence for the queried policy as yours: bupkiss. Aside from a smattering of West Indians and a gaggle of Irish (most definitely NOT colonials, we are reminded!) there appears never to have been plans for mass recruitment of colonial labor.

[TMP translation abridges a huff of musings and miscellanea not bearing on the thread question]

[Beautiful painting in the social/labor style]
So you constructed a straw man and posted a thread about it?
There was never any consideration of mass immigration from the colonies. While there were manpower shortages at certain times, and for particular skills, these were solved by conscription of women and by recruitment from a neighbour newly independent of a dominion status.

200,000 is an army not a gaggle. Dismissing them with a contemptuous sneer is a bit of an insult to the memory of the Irishmen whose contribution to WW2 is often overlooked.
Who provided the labour for the largest airfield construction project of all time, building concrete runway airfields at the rate of one a week in 1942-44? It wasn't the USAAC
Who built the hard standings, hospitals and barracks that housed the US forces arriving in the UK? It wasn't the US Crps of Engineers
Who built the Mulberry Harbours? It wasn't the SeeBees

It was Macalpine's Fusiliers.

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jun 2021 00:47

Sheldrake wrote: an insult to the memory of the Irishmen whose contribution to WW2 is often overlooked
This thread contains only one insult to those men: bringing them into a discussion of colonial labor.

They were free sons of Eire by the constitution of 1937 and by the lives and struggles of Plunkett, Pearse, and Tone.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=4IJWb8hwirQ
Sheldrake wrote:So you constructed a straw man and posted a thread about it?
Asked a question mate. Thank you for your contribution.

____________________

I expect that my and Sheldrake's answer is the final one: no such plan. Open to being proved wrong; open to musings and miscellanea.
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sheldrake » 27 Jun 2021 09:40

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Jun 2021 00:47
Sheldrake wrote: an insult to the memory of the Irishmen whose contribution to WW2 is often overlooked
This thread contains only one insult to those men: bringing them into a discussion of colonial labor.

They were free sons of Eire by the constitution of 1937 and by the lives and struggles of Plunkett, Pearse, and Tone.
True. Ireland was never formally a colony. However, in the context of explaining why the British did not import millions of Africans as labour, the answer was why bother there was a big pool of post colonial labour next door.

This is one of the more remarkable aspects of the matter. The fact that so many of the "free sons of Eire" chose to work for the British or serve in our armed forces was a source of embarrassment to the Irish government who denied any recognition of their role for a long time post WW2. Nor is there recognition of the role of the Irish in the Imperial War Museum or the Museum of London.

One reason the British are very quiet about the debt we owe to the Irish labour force is the prejudice against the Irish - as deeply ingrained in the English psyche as racism in the US. In the post war decades boarding houses might display signs reading "No blacks no irish no dogs." Here is a song from my youth. Look out for the reference to the N word....

Who do you think this refers to?

But Anglo Irish relations are far more complicated than cartoon portrayals

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 27 Jun 2021 10:12

Hi TMP,

There were already thousands of no-white colonials domiciled in the UK, mostly sailors based in the major ports. These included Yemenis, Lascars, Chinese and West Indians. (There was a pre-war census of sailors which contains full details.)

More Dominion/Colonial subjects were brought in during the war, but only apparently skilled men from the Americas. For example, there were thousands of civilians in Canadian, Newfoundland and British Honduran (Belizean) forestry units, mostly in Scotland. (The Newfoundlanders formed their own Home Guard battalion).

However, for the most part, colonial labour was probably most useful at home. For example, the building of US bases around the Caribbean acquired under the destroyers-for-bases deal and in the Panama Canal Zone was largely done by tens of thousands of British West Indian labourers in 1941-42. Tens of thousands of them then went on to work in the USA, largely replacing mobilized US labour in rural occupations.

There were certain problems. Most Belizean foresters did not adapt well to the cold climate of Scotland. As a result the second volunteer drive was not fully subscribed and most from both intakes returned home at the end of 1943. It was also intended to man most of the initial Liberty ships with West Indian sailors, because they were already in the Americas, but they were used to single voyage contracts and became disgruntled when faced with the prospect of signing up for the duration in the UK and not having control of their own postings. As a result, this was quickly discontinued.

As has been pointed out above, some 7,000 West Indians (largely Jamaicans) were recruited for ground jobs with the RAF in 1944-45. It was mostly them who migrated to the UK on the troopship Windrush in the late 1940s.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jun 2021 19:05

Sid Guttridge" wrote:colonial labour was probably most useful at home
To make this argument you'd have to show that Britain imported more, per colonial laborer, than had it used that worker in a British factory/mine. That's a high bar. Total British imports were ~15% of GDP, most came from US. Given relative colonial/British populations, it's obvious Britain got at least an order of magnitude less per worker from colonials than from domestic factory workers.

Only interested in quantitative answers/arguments.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sheldrake » 27 Jun 2021 19:39

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Jun 2021 19:05
Sid Guttridge" wrote:colonial labour was probably most useful at home
To make this argument you'd have to show that Britain imported more, per colonial laborer, than had it used that worker in a British factory/mine. That's a high bar. Total British imports were ~15% of GDP, most came from US. Given relative colonial/British populations, it's obvious Britain got at least an order of magnitude less per worker from colonials than from domestic factory workers.

Only interested in quantitative answers/arguments.
Your quantative arguments are meaningless without understanding the significance of the small print. Just like company accounts.

#1 The British government was a coaliiton of the right wing conservative party and the left wing labour party, based on the trade unions. Part of the deal done was to maintain wages in exchange for allowing unskilled labour to undertake work normally reserved to skilled union members. The Minister for Labour was Ernest Bevan who had been co-opted from his role as chairman of the TUC - the UK equivalent of the ACL-CIO. There was no interest in driving labour costs in the UK down. No one wanted to do what you are proposing because it would have been political suicide.

#2 The British economy was working pretty much flat out. Increasing output required additional capacity. It was easier to invest in where the labour was rather than move labour to somewhere inconvenient at a high cost of shipping and social disruption. Invest in the capacity of Nigerian mines and Gold Coast agriculture. Cocoa beans from west africa going into Hershy bars generated profitable dollar sales. Invest in aircraft and tank production in Canada and ship the finished products to Europe rather than raw materials and machine tools.

#3 There were few part s of the UK economy where african or Indian labour could easily fit in wthout substantial investment in education, training and cultural support. West Indians and North Americans spoke english and reasonably well educated. (Did I mention the American oil exploration teamsn that developed an oil well in Sherwood Forest? )

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jun 2021 19:54

@Sheldrake- your points are either irrelevant or stipulated in the OP.
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Ружичасти Слон » 27 Jun 2021 20:44

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jun 2021 16:01
Wondering whether the British (or dominions) ever considered a plan for the mass importation of colonial labor during the war.

I've done a bit of research and have found only a program to train Indians in Britain but for employment in India (10k/year), plus employment of foreign crewmen on British merchant ships.

I could see reasons why this wouldn't be considered, including:

1. Racism
2. Lack of training/literacy in candidate populations.
3. Lack of interest in candidate populations.
4. Logistics - limited global troopship capacity, therefore limited capacity to move migrants.
5. Increased import burden on Britain.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
27 Jun 2021 19:05
Only interested in quantitative answers/arguments.
Will tmp for to write quantitative and qualitative meaning on tmp words mass importation of colonial labor during the war.

How many must for to be mass?
How long period must to be importation?
What means colonial? Can be white person on country southern rhodesia colonial?

I can for to give quantitative datas on one empire country on afrika what was give 10% on population on labor to other empire country on industrys work plus was give 4% on military pioneer work. Can 14% on total population be mass exportation?

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 27 Jun 2021 22:53

Hi TMP,

You post, "Only interested in quantitative answers/arguments." That would be fine if only "quantitative answers/arguments" were in play, but they are not. If you really want to understand developments, you are going to have to go beyond the narrow quantitative parameters you are apparently setting yourself.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 28 Jun 2021 10:20

Sid Guttridge wrote:
27 Jun 2021 22:53
Hi TMP,

You post, "Only interested in quantitative answers/arguments." That would be fine if only "quantitative answers/arguments" were in play, but they are not. If you really want to understand developments, you are going to have to go beyond the narrow quantitative parameters you are apparently setting yourself.

Cheers,

Sid.
  • 1. British imports from colonies were <10% of British GDP.
  • 2. British population was smaller than colonial population.
  • 3. From 1&2, we know that average British inputs to war effort were smaller, per unit of population, in the colonies than in Britain.
    (btw- does anyone seriously dispute that?)
  • 4. Therefore, an argument that colonial labor was better-used in colonies than in Britain must argue that some geographically-specific factor made it more valuable than the immensely-higher value of labor output in the British Isles.
While my last post wasn't couched in the foregoing style, I trusted that readers could do the (implicit) math themselves.

If you have an argument that colonial output, per-man, can credibly be portrayed as equally valuable to British output per-man, I'm all ears. I don't think there's such an argument so I don't expect you to make one. But surprise me...

You could do as others in this thread have done, and argue about why Britain didn't recruit colonials for industrial labor. But then you'd be arguing against a premise conceded in the OP, something Sheldrake seems compelled to do for reasons I don't understand (maybe Freud would understand).

Now, if you want to say my quantitative parameters are too narrow, you need an argument for that as well. All ears.
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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 28 Jun 2021 11:55

Hi TMP,

The British Empire was politically complex and far from monolithic. All manpower wasn't equally disposable.

For example, the Old Dominions, whose populations were the best fit by vitue of education, training and background to work in the UK, were self governing. Indeed, the UK invested heavily in their war industries which served to keep skilled labour at home. Britain also deliberately built its major avgas plant in Trinidad to keep it beyond bombing range.

Only tiny, bankrupt, subsidy-dependent, Newfoundland was susceptible to direct orders from London and, as we have seen, sent a couple of thousand loggers (about 1% of its male population). These were skilled men who fitted in well. However, the supply dried up when the US started to build bases in Newfoundland using local labour at high wages.

The nearest non-white colonial population with some of the necessary education was in the West Indies. However, most major colonies there had suffered labour unrest in the 1930s serious enough to require a Royal Navy presence and, as we have seen, they did not prove very adaptable to the civil jobs allocated to them in the UK during the war.

Had British West Indians not, for the most part, been available in the Caribbean, some other Allied labour would presumably have had to be found to build the US bases there and in the Panama Canal Zone in 1941-42. This arguably made them more valuable in situ than in the UK. In 1943-45 some 40,000 of them worked in the southern USA, thereby releasing a similar number of Americans for the forces.

Any problems suffered by the West Indians, who already spoke English and had reasonable educational levels, were likely to be far worse for Africans, who were overwhemingly subsistence farmers from a hot climate who rarely spoke English and almost completely lacked educational and technical skills.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: British importation of colonial labor?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 28 Jun 2021 17:28

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
28 Jun 2021 10:20
1. British imports from colonies were <10% of British GDP.
2. British population was smaller than colonial population.
3. From 1&2, we know that average British inputs to war effort were smaller, per unit of population, in the colonies than in Britain.
(btw- does anyone seriously dispute that?)
Hi TMP,

Not wanting to intrude on an amusing discussion, but just wanted to offer a remark about your logic here…

Not all Britain’s war effort demanded an import from a Colony, so not sure about the relevance of point 1 to the discussion. For example, if the rubber needed to make a seal for an engine on a Wellington bomber was imported into the UK from Sri Lanka then that would absolutely be included in Britain’s war effort in terms of a necessary colonial import. However, if a similar raw material was used to service the engines of a Wellington bomber deployed and operated from say Egypt or India then that would still form part of Britain’s war effort but not be reflected in British import figures.

There might also be a similar impact if one considers industrial effort such as airfield and port construction/development. I’m thinking of somewhere like Port T in Attu Atoll in the Indian Ocean. Some of manpower used was British, some local, some imported from other British colonies - I don’t even have the first idea of where all the concrete came from though. Relatively local in the Indian Ocean area or exported from the UK?

But, to try and answer your original question, I’ve read a lot about the British war effort and can honestly say that I have never seen any consideration being given by the British War Cabinet to the mass importation of colonial labour into the UK during WW2. Obviously, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t talk about it and that I missed it or that it wasn’t discussed in a smoky meeting room over the odd brandy or whisky or two and not recorded in the minutes, just that I haven’t seen it mentioned.

It’s an interesting question though of course as just a few years later the UK government did put in place a plan for the importation of labour from British colonies. What changed? Good subject for a PhD thesis! :D

Regards

Tom

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