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The Political Masses and the Political Economy of Manchester’

By Ron Phillips (The Black Liberator 1975: 291-299)

Few places demonstrate as clearly as Manchester, the crucial role of black labour power in the development of the productive forces and the political economy of Britain.  If Liverpool and Bristol are associated with the accumulation of profit from the slave trade then Manchester must be given pride of place in the application of that accumulation to the development of the industrial revolution.  Manchester’s consciousness of black people had therefore from the beginning of its development been connected with its economic life.

Up to and including the 1930s black settlement in Manchester was concentrated in Cheetham  Hill and some areas of Salford, because of their proximity to the docks…By the 1940s West Indian servicemen and a few war production workers had began to appear as well as larger numbers of West African merchant seamen.  The more successful of them became small businessmen who were able to contribute to the funding of the 1945 Pan-African Conference.  They were also able to move their families into the old working-class slum of Hulme, where Engels had earlier gathered much of his materials for his study of conditions of the Working Class in England.

At the end of the Second  World War,  the rise of West Indian immigration to the North  West was signalled by the arrival of ‘Empire Windrush’ at Liverpool.  In common with communities in other cities, Manchester’s blacks now formed a replacement population for white workers refusing to do unpalatable or low-wage jobs.  The No 53 bus was contemptuously christened the ‘African Queen’, which was in reference to the fact that thousands of  Manchester’s black workers, travelled to the massive industrial estate of Trafford Park to badly paid, dirty and dangerous jobs.  Male black workers were concentrated in low-wage occupations –public transport, cleansing, street production, rubber processing and regeneration of ‘health-hazardous jobs – asbestos processing.  At Trafford Park, many black women worked in food production and packaging. Apart from the manufacture of rubber goods, light engineering and plastic extrusion, a number of black women made their living in the clothing trade some parts of which was notorious for sweatshop conditions and low wages.


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