• Josie Channer

The contribution of Windrush to Barking & Dagenham

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

Josie Channer:

The Ford car plant holds a special place in the hearts of so many in Barking & Dagenham. It’s part of our history, our families and our identity.

It should be no surprise that the plant means so much to so many when it employed over 40’000 workers in its heyday during the 1950’s. The Ford factory was artery running through east London and when Caribbean citizens came over in the 1950’s and 60’s Fords provided many jobs to these new Londoners.

My late mother worked at the plant in the canteen and recalled her years there in 1960’s and 70’s fondly.

When she came to Britain from Jamaica in 1962 there were signs displayed stating “no dog, no Irish and no Blacks” in shop windows and letting rooms. Even though there were more jobs than people, black people often struggled to find work. It was a hostile time. My mum would tell me how she would often feel scared and alone, but then she found work at Fords in Dagenham where she made lifelong friends with other Caribbean women working in the canteen.

In Barking and Dagenham we have previously developed a reputation for racism due to the election of 12 BNP councillors in 2006. But that is only part of our Borough's proud history. By the late 1970’s 37% of the staff at Fords were non -white. The Windrush generation and those pioneers from across the Commonwealth not only found work but fund in Barking & Dagenham a community, a place to call home and friendship.

However, Fords was far from immune to racism in the workplace, In the 1990’s a new generation of black workers took on Fords and won a court case for discrimination.

The children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Windrush have learnt so much from those who have gone before us - how to withstand injustice and find courage against the odds.

Like the Welsh coal mines and the steel factories of Sheffield, when the industry declined Barking & Dagenham did for a time struggle fill the void left by such a dominant employer.

As the borough, an outgoing and diverse place, now moves forward takes advantage of the new opportunities throughout London we will not be forgetting our past.

In 1996 Fords was forced to apologise and pay compensation for literally 'whitewashing' the faces of black workers in a publicity photograph. One of the workers in the photo that they replaced with a white face had worked there since the 60’s and was erased with a mere click of the mouse.

Just image how you would feel after giving over 30 years of service to your place of work, your community, your country to find that you had been airbrush out – your invisible and your contribution never existed.

Barking & Dagenham Council will hold a special event on Thursday 26th July to commemorating the 70th anniversary when the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury with citizens from the Caribbean.

No one is will be airbrushed out on that day. On Thursday 26th July residents will come together honour and celebrate the contribution made by the Windrush generation to Barking & Dagenham.

To read my interview with the Barking & Dagenham Post click here