BMC salutes the Windrush generation
22 June 2020
Marc Wadsworth Chair, NUJ Black Members' Council
My late Jamaican father was one of the almost 500 mainly ex-servicemen on board the iconic ship that docked at Tilbury in Essex on June 22, 1948. He served in the RAF in the UK during the war, like tens of thousands of other Caribbean volunteers, to keep the country free from Hitler’s vile Nazism.
Dad went back home to Kingston in 1946. But most people on the island were unemployed and faced grinding poverty in a country still ruled by the British. So, heeding the call from the British government to return to help rebuild the “Mother Country”, which had been devastated by the war, he paid his fare for a one-way ticket to come back.
Previously welcomed as wartime saviours, out of uniform the returnees were greeted with colour bar racism, including in housing where the windows of houses with rooms to let had the infamous sign: “No blacks, no dog, no Irish.” This blatant discrimination was legal at the time.
Along with the BMC’s current treasurer Deborah Hobson, I produced a film about the war veterans, which we remade with the BBC to create the documentary Fighting for King and Country, Britain’s Caribbean Heroes (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05v08b7).
Fast-forward to British home secretary Theresa May’s widely discredited “hostile environment” for migrants, including the Windrush, generations, of 2012. It saw Caribbean-born cancer patients denied treatment, men torn from their families in Britain and herded onto charter flights by security guards to return to a country they’d left as children and didn’t know. Some of them died there.
It’s heartening that a journalist, Amelia Gentleman, of the Guardian, exposed the scandal that cost May’s successor Amber Rudd her job, though May, by then prime minister, kept hers. The Conservative government has apologised to the victims and, in a trickle, paid some of them compensation for things like lost jobs and denied medical care. Shockingly, the inhumane government-chartered flights for deportees have continued. With other NUJ members, I have been on a number of demonstrations against them.
The government’s own Wendy Williams-led independent inquiry into the Windrush scandal documented a catalogue of appalling Home Office immigration policy failures. Its recommendations have yet to be implemented. Prime minister Boris Johnson has attempted to counter public support for the mass, youth-spearheaded Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism with the launch of yet another inquiry.
The Black Members Council and NUJ as a whole stand in solidarity with the Windrush Generation and their families in the ongoing fight for justice.