Leicester: The Imperial Typewriter Strike

A crowd of Asian men marching outside a factory carrying protest banners with the slogans “Black and white unite and fight”, “We are human beings not dogs”, and “Equality in promotion”. A white policeman walks alongside the crowd.
  Striking workers protest outside the Imperial Typewriters Factory. © Leicester Mercury Archive.





A mix-up at the Imperial Typewriters factory in Leicester saw an Asian woman mistakenly given the pay packet of a white colleague. Shocked to be getting paid less than white workers of the same grade, a group of 39 workers, mostly women, led a walk out.

Over two-thirds of workers at Imperial Typewriters were South Asian. The discrepancy in pay was part of wider discrimination against non-white workers at the factory that ‘you could feel but not overtly see.’ White workers did not support the strike and the local Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) branch refused to make the strike official.

The strike at Imperial Typewriters trailer. B3 Media.
A newspaper clipping with the headline “Fear of ‘racial backlash’ over Imperial strike”, followed by text saying “A lot of intimidation is going on in the strike involving Asians at the Imperial Typewriter factories in Leicester, and many strikers, not understanding the situation, are being fed on lies, a local trade union official said today.”
Newspaper article covering the strike, 10 May 1974. Photo credit: Leicester Mercury, from the University of Leicester Special Collections.

Strikers also received critical coverage in the press, referred to as ‘troublemakers’. Pickets were attacked and the National Front marched in opposition. The strike held firm and picket lines were loud and boisterous with young people determined to play a role. Workers gained some concessions from management, but without union support they eventually returned to the factory.

A newspaper photograph of a crowd of Asian people seated in rows at a lobby with the headline “Give us a stay of execution.”
Leicester Mercury, January, 1975. Imperial workers lobby the government to prevent the closure of the factory. Credit: Leicester Mercury, from the University of Leicester Special Collections.

Five months after the strike ended, the owners closed the factory and moved production abroad. Disappointed but proud, the mainly female Asian workers had shown that they were not a pushover and they deserved respect and equality. They demonstrated that they knew their rights and were prepared to fight for them, challenging racist discrimination and sexist expectations and attitudes.

Content by Divya Ghelani, Marc Boothe, B3 Media, Iris Lightfoote, and Bradley Phipps.

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