As recently as 1966, at some British Railways stations, black people were not allowed to work in jobs where they came into contact with passengers. The first Race Relations Act had been passed in 1965 but did not cover employment.

Asquith Xavier, who came to the UK from Dominica, started work at Marylebone as a porter in 1956, and was subsequently promoted to become a guard there. In May 1966 he applied for a transfer to Euston, where guards earned £10 per week more than Marylebone. He was informed about his rejection and the reason for it in a remarkable letter from Euston's local staff committee whose members belonged to the National Union of Railwaymen (since merged with other unions to become the RMT).

At that time the staff committees exerted significant influence over the decisions of British Railways managers. There was an agreement at Euston between local British Railways officials and staff that black people would not be allowed jobs where they met the public. It was later revealed that ‘coloured people could have jobs as cleaners and labourers, but not as guards or ticket collectors’.

Xavier’s rejection was made public, triggering a media and political campaign which culminated in a news conference on 15 July 1966, when BR divisional manager Leslie Leppington announced that, after final negotiations with local leaders of the National Union of Railwaymen, the colour bar at Euston Station had now been ended and Mr Xavier would be given a job. He suggested that it had not been a real bar, but had been instigated by the workers out of a desire to protect their jobs. The bar was subsequently lifted at other British Railways stations. Two years later, in 1968, a new Race Relations Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Change, whether social, economic or technological, is inevitable, affecting jobs and working practices. Resisting change is futile, it just makes us all poorer – we must adapt to change to survive.

Other examples of responses to change:
Driver Controlled Operation

Contemporary news coverage:
BBC News

40th anniversary:
Daily Mirror

Community view:
No Colour Bar blog