Posts Tagged ‘Morecambe Bay’

Tory Anti-Immigrant Cartoon from 1906

April 2, 2016

I was finally able to track down a history textbook containing a Tory anti-immigration cartoon aimed at the working class for the 1906 election. It’s reproduced in Martin Pugh, The Making of Modern British Politics 1867-1939 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1982) p. 84. Here it is:

Tory anti-Immigrant Cartoon

As you can see, it’s set in a factory, Schmidt & Co, Clothing & Boot Manufacturers, and shows a stout, upright British workman being shown the door by his fat foreign employer, while coming in the back way is a dishevelled foreigner, whose bags are marked ‘To England’, and ‘Steerage to England’.

The caption reads:

THE ALIEN EMPLOYER (to British workman): You can go now: Mine friend, who has just arrived, will do your work for half your wages.

The caption also notes that it came from the 1906 Tory protectionist pamphlet, Topical Tips for Typical Tykes.

I’ve discussed this cartoon before, when one of the commenters on this blog, Jess Owen, supplied a bit more information on it to me.

Apart from being generally anti-immigrant, there are also distinct anti-Semitic overtones. The term ‘alien’ on its own just means ‘foreigner’, but it was also used extensively in this period to mean specifically Jews. The exploitative employer is clearly meant to be one of the Ashkenazi Jews, speaking either Yiddish or German, who began to arrive in Britain en masse from the 1880s onwards fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire.

Unfortunately, the fears that manufacturers would sack British workers in favour of employing much cheaper immigrant labour weren’t always unjustified. The mass riots that broke out in 1909 across England against Chinese immigrant workers had their origins in the sacking by one of the northern businesses of its White workers in favour of Chinese. This episode cast a very long shadow over British politics. The deaths of the Chinese cocklers at Morecambe Bay and a group of 30 Chinese illegal immigrants, who were found dead in the back of a lorry at Dover, prompted the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Browne, to write a piece claiming that these two horrific incidents were part of a continuous British racist hatred of the Chinese dating back to the 1909 riots.

There have been similar strikes and protests about the introduction of cheap immigrant labour since, though the reality may often be very different from the simple racism attributed to them by the press. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs, discusses one such strike, which was presented in the press as racist British proles versus immigrant labourers. But the unions leading the strike were also very much concerned that the immigrants weren’t being paid the same wages that they should have been paid, if they were workers. They strike was also partly a struggle to give these workers equal treatment with the existing British staff.

Unfortunately, the Tories have been trying to stir up the same fears since they weren’t elected in 2010. Remember how they tried to compete with UKIP for the anti-immigrant vote by promising to strengthen anti-immigration legislation, and put up posters everywhere asking people to inform on illegal immigrants? And let’s not forget the posters they also pasted up, offering to repatriate illegal immigrants for free, if they wanted to hand themselves in.

So far, though, they haven’t tried to play on anti-immigrant sentiment in the Brexit debate. Or at least, not the same hysterical extent. They’re probably too worried about the fall-out they had from the last such attempts, as well as real fears that the beneficiaries of any attempt to work up xenophobia will be the hard Right, like the various goose-stepping Storm Troopers currently fouling the rest of Europe. The Far Right in this country has collapsed back to miniscule, squabbling grouplets and splinter organisations after looking like the might become a serious mass party. Nobody really wants that eventuality, so there seems to be a consensus at the moment not to hand them a weapon by starting a debate about the EU and immigration. But I do wonder how long it will last. And certainly, there is a lot of fear out there about mass immigration from Europe. So I’m left wondering how long it will be before the Tories feel secure enough to go back to using images and tactics like the above cartoon again.

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