Labour and Racial Discrimination

Fryer (1994) argues that a surplus of labour in the job market gives more rein to the practice of discrimination as employers have more freedom to pick and choose without having to threaten their profits and Fryer's claim is supported by comparative figures for unemployment rates according to ethnic groups. Except on rare occasion such as 1970-74 for example, black unemployment has always been higher than white unemployment levels.

However, it is relevant to mention that the Ousley et al (2002) study on the unemployment rates of ethnic minorities in Bradford, it was noted that although 2001 was a year when unemployment was very low, they found that black minority applicants for employment were treated worse than whites on 90% of occasions. The level of unemployment in 1974 when a similar study was conducted during a time when the unemployment rate was approximately 2. 5% found only a 30% level of discrimination, whereas 1985 level of unemployment was 11% the level of discrimination was still at 30%.

Ousley et al suggest that the level of discrimination remains the same regardless of the state of unemployment, although they do suggest that the discrimination rate might have declined from 30% to much less if unemployment had not drastically increased. The literature investigating the effects of labour surpluses on the discrimination of black workers is sparse. Little has been done to study the issue over several periods of both high and low unemployment in an effort to obtain reliable data for an argument to be based upon.

Levels of discrimination need to be studied over time, not just during periods of recession and economic prosperity, and a thorough and continuous study, over several decades, needs to be conducted if the true effects of labour surplus are to be understood. Equally, the geography of discrimination resulting from labour surpluses requires further investigation, as it is unclear from the current literature whether the concentration of labour surplus in an area can definitely effect the levels of discrimination there, or indeed in other parts of the UK. Argument 5: Black workers are disadvantaged by the 'last in, first out' rule.

The notion of 'last in, first out' was a policy advocated by trade unions as a fairer process of deciding who should be made redundant and therefore safeguarding their longest serving members. It was initially proposed as a redundancy process during the recession of the 1980's, but as Hudson (1995) points out, it should be recognised that by 1980-85 many black workers had put in 20-30 years service, similar to their white colleagues. Therefore the effect of the 'last in, first out' rule should, theoretically, have had the same impact upon on all ethnic groups.

However, there have been cases where this rule has only been enforced by trade unions when it has been in the interest of their fellow white workers. For example, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) uses the case of the Coneygre Foundry in the West Midlands during the recession of the 1970's as an example of the selective application of the rule. They state that the golden rule of 'last in, first out' was not applied, despite the long service of black workers. Twenty-one Indian members of the TGWU (and no whites) were made redundant, and they reacted by going on strike whilst the union argued that racial discrimination had occurred.

This example is one of very few available in the literature on black unemployment and the effect of the 'last in, first out' process. The subject has received very little attention in terms of an in-depth analysis of the application of the rule and how it has affected ethnic minority workers in the UK is certainly required if greater weight is to be added to this explanation. A thorough study of how recent applications of the rule during the decline of the various manufacturing sectors in the UK such as textiles, steel, coal etc.

will certainly help clarify the extent to which this rule effects the over-representation of ethnic minorities in unemployment data. Conclusion In brief, this literature review has been based on five arguments, all of which are interrelated and work in tandem in an attempt to explain the over-representation of ethnic minorities in unemployment statistics. It is clear from the criticisms, suggestions and conclusions that I have noted in my review, there is still great scope for further investigations into these explanations in an effort to quantify their applicability to the subject.

The majority of studies into the issue were conducted during and after the rapid decline of the manufacturing industries in the UK in the 98's. However, with the rise of the service sectors in the UK, and the changing patterns of employment due to this, there is clearly a need to discover whether these explanations for high ethnic minority unemployment are applicable in the current service sector dominated employment patterns ion the UK.

Furthermore, it is essential that research is conducted into the changing characteristics of the ethnic minority population in the UK in terms of narrowing age structures, increased levels of qualifications etc. and ensure that these changing characteristics are borne in mind when searching for explanations for ethnic minority unemployment employment in the UK today.


Barber, A. Ethnic Origin and The Labour Force. Employment Gazette, 1990. Bhat, A. Britain's Ethnic Population. Aldershot: Gower, 1991. Brown, C. Black and White. Policy Studies Institute. Heinemann Educational Books, 1984. Fevre, R. Cheap Labour and Racial Discrimination. Aldershot: Gower, 1984. Field, S. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: A Study of Trends in their Position Since 1961. London: HMSO, 1981. Hudson, R. Divided Britain. London: Belhaven, 1995. Ousley et al. Building Cohesive Communities. London: HMSO, 2002.