Bristol Bus Boycott pioneers honoured

Unite unveils plaque to commemorate Bristol Bus Boycott

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Unite unveiled a plaque to commemorate the Bristol Bus Boycott at an event in its South West offices at Tony Benn House last night (April 30).

The Bristol Bus Boycott began in 1963, when a group of young West Indian activists led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company for refusing to recruit black and Asian workers to bus crews. Disgracefully the TGWU, a predecessor union of Unite, actively supported the racist policy.

Following a huge amount of publicity, the racist policy was removed and black and Asian workers began to be recruited. The Bristol Bus Boycott was a key factor in the passing of the Race Relations Acts in 1965 and 1968, which outlawed racial discrimination in public places, employment and housing.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham attended the packed event alongside the surviving members of the bus boycott, MPs and regional and national BAEM & equality representatives. Unite members from across Bristol also joined in commemorating the brave actions of the Bristol Bus Boycott Pioneers.

Taranjit Shukra and Torkwase Holmes of the Unite South West BAEM (Black and Asian Ethnic Minority) committee opened the event, welcoming everyone before Sharon unveiled the plaque.

Sharon said, “It is important that we remember the bravery of the Bristol Bus Boycott workers. Make no mistake these workers paved the way for the Race Relations Act, yet again showing that actions by everyday people can and does make long lasting significant change.

“Under my leadership, I wanted to right the wrongs of the past and ensure these workers have a place in Unite history. Unite under my leadership will ensure we fight for all workers and ensure they get their rightful piece of the pie. We saw during Covid who was essential – everyday workers. We must protect them and we will.”

Unite South West BAEM committee chair Taranjit Shukra said, “The South West BAEM committee are delighted to be honouring the incredible activists of the Bristol Bus Boycott movement who found the courage and conviction to fight against the colour bar of the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1963.”

“These pioneers stood up to the often-violent racism of the time, against a backdrop of prejudice from much of society and disappointingly even our predecessor unions.

“In doing so these pioneers made a change for us all by paving the way for the Race Relations Acts 1965, 1968. For this, we salute them and are honoured to once again give them a platform to share their story with the next generation and to unveil a plaque to commemorate their activities.”

Other speakers included former TUC President and Bradford bus driver Mohammad Taj and Doug Claringbold from First Buses.

As well as the unveiling of the plaque, those attending were treated to food provided by the local community and had the opportunity to be the first to see a new film about the campaign.

Before the event, Unite regional digital assistant Jake Roberts had interviewed three women involved in the movement. These were campaigners whose stories have not been told by the media.

Stéf Kasprowski, a Unite South West regional committee member said, “These are stories that haven’t really been told. Women were very involved with the campaign, and the film gives them a chance to talk about their experiences at the time.”

“Unite has interviewed Joyce Morris-Wisdom, Tina Johnson and Cherry Hartley, who was the first black female bus conductor in Bristol.  Cherry turned 90 last year and we heard their stories, the racism they faced and how they stayed strong.”

Unite South West regional secretary Steve Preddy added, “Last year marked the 60th Anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott. This week Unite the Union hosted the surviving pioneers from this historic campaign.”

“In welcoming these activists, Unite also continues to right the wrongs of the past. In 2013, the union publicly apologised on behalf of predecessor union, TGWU, for its part in supporting the colour bar.

“The South West region of Unite is delighted to honour the amazing work of the Bristol Bus Boycott pioneers. Their courage and conviction not only secured the ending of the colour bar but laid the foundation for the Race Relations Act of 1965 and 1968.”

By Keith Hatch

Pic by Mark Thomas