The 1963 bus boycott against the Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) was the first black-led campaign against racial discrimination in post-WW2 Britain. In the early 1960s,the black citizens of Bristol were experiencing racial discrimination in housing, employment, education, and welfare organisations. The one area of discrimination that particularly rankled was the ‘colour bar’ on the buses.
A small group of local black activists decided to campaign for equal rights to employment on the city’s buses. Their chosen spokesman, Paul Stephenson, set up a test case to expose the bus company’s racist policy of banning the employment of ‘coloured labour’ in its bus crews. Inspired by the USA’s Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, Paul Stephenson announced in April 1963 a boycott of the company’s buses.
Significantly, the BOC’s response was to blame the local branch of the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) for the ‘colour bar’ while simultaneously, the union branch blamed the bus company for this policy. Whilst it was usual in industrial disputes to find management and unions on opposite sides, in this case the campaigners found themselves challenging the institutional racism of both organisations. The talk will focus on the role of trade unions, especially the TGWU, in the bus boycott which was a watershed moment in the Black British Civil Rights Movement.