This is the story of Louis Broady. An unskilled black worker on a Manpower Services Commission employment scheme with Nottingham City Council.
Because he was black he was abused. His union took up his fight and together, over a period of two years they stopped the abuse and won justice. It was a victory that showed what a determined trade union can do to combat the poison of racial discrimination.
Louis’s story is told here in full because he was the first black worker to challenge Nottingham City Council and his case became a milestone on the road of the City Council’s Equal Opportunities policy.
Louis was employed on a Community Enterprise Project for the long term unemployed, which was run by the City Council. He was employed as “skilled labourer” and this required him to undertake bricklaying on environmental improvement sites throughout the inner city area.
Louis was not a skilled or qualified bricklayer. The only training he had received was a six month government course for the unemployed.
He was an ordinary worker with modest ambitions. All he wanted was to develop his limited training, by gaining experience, to a level where could call himself a craftsman. He wanted a permanent job in the building industry and he wanted to earn a decent living wage for himself and his young family.
Throughout his employment with the city, Louis suffered from direct racial discrimination, both from his fellow workers and from the foreman and supervisor of the scheme.
When the foreman asked him to carry out work he would shout to him “Boy”! Some of the other workers frequently addressed him as “Nigger”.
Louis bit his lip and carried on working; he was desperate for the experience which the scheme should have been giving him.
Louis suffered other forms of racial discrimination. When the bus timetables changed, he was two minutes late for work. He was stopped a quarter of an hour’s pay, and when he complained that another , white foreman, who arrived over and hour late in a taxi was not stopped pay, he was told it was none of his business.
When Louis attended a hospital appointment he received no pay, despite the fact that when white workers went to the doctor or to the hospital, they were paid.
Discipline on the scheme was also applied in a discriminatory manner.
Louis Broady was sacked for laying a line of bricks incorrectly. He received absolutely no warnings, he was not allowed to have a trade union representative present when he was sacked, and the fact that he was working with non qualified supervision, was using reclaimed bricks of different shapes and sizes, and was receiving no guidance from anyone within the scheme with any qualifications of any kind, was not even considered.
That was brutal enough, but other workers, white workers, had received far more lenient treatment for much more serious misdemeanours. For example, a gang of white workers who stole lead from city council sites and were caught by the police, received only verbal warnings!
Another white worker was using the council’s vehicle to run a private furniture removal business – when he was caught all he received was a verbal warning! In both these incidents the white workers involved were subsequently promoted!
When Louis was sacked he went straight to the Commission for Racial Equality and complained of racial discrimination. The fact that he did not go to his union illustrates the fact that many black workers did not have confidence in their union’s determination to fight racial discrimination. However in Louis’s case his confidence in the union movement was about to be restored.
Through the Commission for Racial Equality the case was referred back to his union by their newly appointed Trade Union Liaison Officer. It landed with a thump on the desk of the local office of the National Union of Public Employees.
Immediately an Industrial Tribunal application was filed and the city council was contacted for discussion on the matter. Those discussions turned out to be completely abortive.
The city council officers, with the backing of their chief executive, denied that they had done anything wrong at all. They were absolutely confident that no racial discrimination had been practised and told the union of the council’s equal opportunities policy which made such things impossible anyway.
They refused to consider the right of Mr. Broady to have an internal appeal against his dismissal, or to complain about the racial discrimination through the internal procedures. The union insisted upon an internal appeal and asked the officers to take further advice. One week later the further advice came: if Mr. Broady dropped his allegations of racial discrimination and withdrew his application to an Industrial Tribunal, then the council would let him have an internal appeal.
That was considered by Louis, and his union, to be illegal, immoral and indefensible.
The union then wrote to the city politicians. As they were Labour party politicians the union thought a favourable response might follow. To the utter horror of Louis and his Union the Labour politicians on the City Council supported the officers completely and refused to consider any right of appeal or any complaint of racial discrimination on an internal basis.
Several more attempts were made to dissuade the politicians from their disastrous path. As these attempts collapsed a bitter public feud developed between the union and the council
The union arranged to have TUC support for the council to receive Manpower Services Commission money. In response to this the council had the bright idea of side stepping the local union office and writing to the Secretary of State for Employment complaining about the union’s action. They also wrote to the General Secretary of NUPE, then Alan Fisher complaining about the irresponsible actions of his local officials. It is not known what Alan Fisher told them…
Under intense union and public pressure, the council finally agreed to an internal Appeal. However they required the union to agree that Mr Broady appear before a council committee without any form of representation and without having any right to cross-examine management witnesses.
The Appeal offer was thrown out with the contempt that it deserved.
So Louis and the union ended up at the Industrial Tribunal pressing the case of racial discrimination and unfair dismissal against a Labour controlled council. The hearing took five days over a period of six months and resulted in a decision declaring the council guilty of racial discrimination. During the case council officials admitted under cross-examination by the local union officer, to falsifying evidence against Louis Broady.
However, unfair dismissal was not found, for the simple “legal technicality” that Mr. Broady had not been employed for long enough to qualify for an unfair dismissal decision. But the Tribunal chairman said in his summing up that this applicant had substantial evidence of unfair dismissal and expressed his disappointment at being unable, for technical legal reasons, to rule on this issue.
So after nearly two years of hard work by the union and two years of frustration for Louis Broady they had a historic decision. What was the award? Louis was awarded £112 for hurt feelings. He was disgusted and returned the cheque to the city council telling them that this was an insult and did not reflect the damage which had been done to his reputation and his feelings.
The union knocked on the council’s door again and asked once more for an internal appeal against the dismissal. The City Council Leader, Len Maynard, went on local radio stations and said that he would not use the ratepayers’ money to employ Louis Borady again. Just to remind you. He was Labour. He even put this to the vote inside the city council Labour Group and came out with an 11 to 1 decision in favour of not offering Louis Broady his job back or any proper compensation.
The union arranged to visit the Labour leader. They took with them the unanimous determination and support of the local city council membership. They also took the full time officers of the General and Municipal Workers Union, the Transport and General Workers Union, the Electricians Union and the Union of Construction and Allied Trades and Technicians, the Metal Mechanics Union, the Engineering Union – in short every manual and craft union which had membership with the city council.
The labour leader was told in the bluntest terms, by every single union, that if they did not reconsider their position, the unions would organise demonstrations against the council and refuse to co-operate with any form of Equal Opportunity Policy they had for it was not worth the paper it was written upon.
The leader was told that the issue of racial discrimination was too important and such demonstrations as were threatened would take place despite the forthcoming local authority elections.
The council recanted. An internal appeal was heard in which Louis Broady was properly represented by his union. He was re-instated to the date of his dismissal earning himself some £4000 in back pay however his re-instatement was only for the duration of his one year Community Enterprise Project and his employment terminated naturally at the end of that contractual period in April 1982.
Further pressure from the union led to Louis Broady subsequently being re-appointed to the council’s payroll as a permanent employee with effect from the end of October 1982.
Victory was complete.
The case showed how a determined union could confound those who thought them incapable of fighting racial discrimination. In fact the entire Nottingham trade union movement enthusiastically engaged in the fight and without them it would not have been possible to bring the case home.
For Louis Broady a terrible ordeal was over. He had achieved his modest ambition. He was now an ordinary full time worker on a regular full time wage. There was nothing special about Louis Broady. . Except that he was a member of the Union.
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