British Shipping (Assistance) Act (1935)

01 Jan 1935
Precise date unknown: 

The British Shipping (Assistance) Act of 1935 aimed to subsidize the British shipping industry in the context of the economic depression of the 1930s. While one of its purposes was to safeguard seamen’s jobs, it did so only for white British seamen, thus discriminating on the grounds of race. One of the requirements for payment of the subsidy was that the ship employed only ‘British seamen’. Thus, in the wake of the Act, many ship-owners sacked all but their white employees, and numerous Indian lascars found themselves suddenly without employment.

This discriminatory Act was met with considerable resistance. The Colonial Seamen’s Association, which brought South Asian seamen together with their black, Arab and Chinese counterparts, was formed in reaction to the Act, in order to better mobilize against it. They held numerous meetings in which the Act was denounced. In May 1935, Shapurji Saklatvala gave a speech decrying the Act at the Coloured National Mutual Social Club in South Shields. Opposition to the Act was also voiced in India where there were even threats of retaliation against white workers there. With protest against the Act coming from the India Office and Colonial Office as well as the CSA and other organizations, the discrimination was removed in March 1936.

People involved: 

Surat Alley (secretary of the Colonial Seamen’s Association), Aftab Ali Chris Jones (Braithewaite) (led the Colonial Seamen’s Association), George PadmoreShapurji Saklatvala (spoke out against Act),  Rowland Sawyer.

Secondary works: 

Tabili, Laura, ‘We Ask for British Justice’: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Archive source: 

MT 9/2737, National Archives, Kew

L/E/9/955, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras