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Racialized Obsolescence: Multinational Corporations, Labor Conflict, and the Closure of the Imperial Typewriter Company in Britain, 1974–1975

Myers, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-0860-8753 (2023). Racialized Obsolescence: Multinational Corporations, Labor Conflict, and the Closure of the Imperial Typewriter Company in Britain, 1974–1975. International Labor and Working-Class History, 102, pp. 23-50. doi: 10.1017/s0147547922000199


This article will explore one of the most significant strikes by migrant workers in Britain during the 1970s and the subsequent company closure the year after their victory. In May 1974, a predominantly South Asian workforce at the Imperial Typewriter Company in Leicester went on strike over unequal bonus payments and discrimination in promotion. The shop stewards committee and Transport & General Workers Union branch refused their support and the workforce split partly on racial lines. The strikers stayed on strike for almost 14 weeks until they emerged victorious. Though it appears as a central reference point in histories of migrant experience in Britain, the strike and closure has garnered little systematic, primary research. This article will fill this gap through the use of published sources and extensive unused archival deposits. During the strike part of the largely South Asian workforce sought to break with the racialized division of the workforce between different groups, skill levels, and work-types. Almost immediately after the strike ended in victory the company announced its intention to close down the vast majority of its British production. In Hull 1400 jobs were lost and in Leicester over 1600 were to go. This article shows that whilst the strike might have been the start of a politically, culturally, and intellectually significant period of significant protagonism by Britain's first-generation black and racialized working class, it also marked the beginning of the end of an industrial model dependent on the hyper-exploitation and racialized subordination of their labor. The closure was framed by contemporaries and subsequent historical accounts as a dispute marked more by the end of empire than worker obsolescence. As an article in the Guardian on the closure of the plants was put it in January 1975, it was ‘The day that Imperial&s empire fell'. Yet it might be more accurate to understand the strike as an early premonition of the globalisation of manufacturing production which was to emerge strongly in the 1980s and 1990s. The experience of Imperial Typewriters highlights the central importance of racialized labour hierarchies and immigrant counter-militancy in post-war Britain. The Imperial Typewriter Company provides a case study of how worker resistance to labour intensive modes of capital accumulation, in relatively low capital intensive industries, during a global crisis of capitalist profitability, was followed by the decision of a multinational corporation to immediately transfer its production overseas. The closure of Imperial Typewriters therefore offers a means to reconceptualize how we understand the 1970s as a period of interlocking crises, as well as the major shift of power from labour to multinational capital which emerged in its wake. The findings of this article indicate that British workers were significantly disempowered before the electoral victory of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Recentering labor conflict in the history of technological obsolescence can offer alternative perspectives on why the British left and trade unions were unable to resist the rise of neoliberalism.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc., 2023. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Labor; Racism; Capitalism; Trade Unions; Immigration
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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