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Opening of the Suez Canal

1869

Opening of the Suez Canal

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  • Intro

    In 1869, the Suez Canal was opened, greatly reducing the distance between Britain and India by some 4,500 miles as ships no longer needed to travel round southern Africa.

     

    The Suez Canal together with the reliable service of steam-powered liners led to an increase in merchant and passenger shipping. As a result, maritime companies employed Indian lascar sailors in far greater numbers, as they were considered able to withstand the heat of engine rooms. Employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, they were paid much less than their British counterparts, thus enabling ship owners to increase profits.

     

    Lascars were exploited as cheap labour to service Britain’s globalised trade networks. In the absence of trade unions for lascars, their campaign for better wages and working conditions became a long drawn-out struggle. Some jumped ship in Britain, setting up cafes and hotels in port cities or working as pedlars.

     

    Shelfmark: P.P.7611

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