Ascription and social relations of production : a study of cheap labour in the UK wool textile industry
In the last twenty-five years a substantial proportion of Asian immigrants to the United Kingdom found work in the wool textile industry. Examples from the history of the industry are used to establish a working definition of cheap labour and the results of fieldwork conducted in wool textile firms in Bradford, West Yorkshire, show that Asian workers satisfy this definition. In fact a racial division of labour was established in these companies with Asians working in a labour process which had been transformed by employers responding to a crisis of profitability. The labour of Asian workers - in common with other forms of cheap labour - was used as an adjunct to industrial change. That Asians have provided cheap labour can not be explained in terms of their migrant or peasant origins. Asians did not put up with jobs rejected by others because of their 'culture', their 'capabilities' or even because of what their employers believed their culture and capabilities to be. Instead, they suffered discrimination which resulted from ascription in the form of racism and which led to their exclusion from other jobs. They had no alternative to cheap labour. Wool textile employers also held racist beliefs but the racial division of labour arose when employers could not afford to discriminate. It was the outcome of the accommodation of racism to profit. By the late nineteen seventies, however, there were indications that profitability and discrimination were no longer mutually exclusive aims in some wool textile work to which Asians had gained access. This development might go some way towards explaining why the proportion of Bradford's wool textile workers who were Asian began to fall at the end of the decade.