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Birmingham City Council

Avtar Singh Jouhl and the Indian Workers Association continued ...

In 1958, Avtar Jouhl became instrumental in setting up the Birmingham branch of the IWA. The Association's initial role was to support local workers, helping them to write letters and supporting any claims of unfair dismissal. In many cases, Indian workers were only able to get employment by bribing their supervisors, 'and later on, it became evident that people had to pay money to do overtime. People had to give money to get promotion and we have evidence whereby the IWA worked together with the trade unionsone supervisor was charged of taking bribes [in the form of] a quilt, a quilt!' During the 1960s the IWA became increasingly allied to the Trade Union movement, and became involved in more widespread campaigns against the unfair treatment of immigrant workers.

The IWA also began to challenge the wider colour bar present in Birmingham at that time, something that Jouhl had noticed on first arriving in Birmingham, and which even affected where he could drink or get a haircut. One of their first challenges was to the public houses that refused to serve black people. In response, the Indian Workers Association organised pub crawls, with some white students from Birmingham University in the early 1960s. These received some press attention, and helped to highlight the issue.


One of the IWA's main campaigns during the 1960s was against immigration legislation, in particular the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Bill. This bill sought to restrict the entry into Britain of black migrants from Commonwealth countries. The IWA, in conjunction with other bodies such as the West Indian Standing Conference, and the Standing Conference of Pakistan, fought hard against this legislation, putting together a pamphlet entitled Victims Speak and posting it to each Member of Parliament. However, the campaign did not stop the Bill becoming law, and 1962 marked the beginning of the politicisation of race as an issue in British politics.

The IWA continues to operate today, representing its members both within the workplace and outside of it, as well as organising events related to international civil rights, and anti-war protests.





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