The Problem in the Caribbean.
October 18th, 1945. Second Session
Chairman: Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.).
Rapporteurs: George Padmore (Trinidad) and Ken Hill (Jamaica).
Mr. George Padmore (Trinidad) International African Service Bureau, said that the West Indies could briefly be described as the sugar section of British imperialism, for in the West Indies you have a Government of sugar for sugar by sugar. Sugar dominates every aspect of social existence. Tracing the history of the West Indies, he indicated the area which constituted the Caribbean territories, some of which are under French sovereignty, some under British and American rule, and others belong to the Dutch.
When Columbus came upon the West Indies in the fifteenth century he found them inhabited by Red Indians. They were exterminated, and in the search for labour to work the lands the Spanish turned to Africa. In this way the slave trade began. The Spanish were followed by the French and British, who, in their turn, also used Africa as a reservoir for the supply of labour to work the sugar plantations. And that is how the African population came to the West Indies. They were emancipated in 1851 after three centuries of slavery, and the question of labour came up again for the landowners, who this time went to Asia, from where they indentured Indian labour. So today in many parts of the West Indies there are large Indian communities living side by side with the descendants of African slaves. There are other races, too. The Chinese, who were brought as labourers, and also Portuguese, and various other European peoples, are component sections of the West Indian population. He did not know of any racial struggle between them. On the political side, the West Indies are administered by the Crown Colony system.
Mr. Ken Hill, Jamaica Trades Union Council: I bring you greetings from Jamaica. I want you to know that widely separated though we are from Africa, we in the West Indies who belong to the progressive political and trade union movements in the West Indies take a keen interest in African affairs. We always have. We have never forgotten our racial origins and look upon Mother Africa with pride. We pledge ourselves to work for her redemption and to support the fight of African peoples for full freedom and independence.
Now in dealing with the question of freedom for Colonial peoples, I venture to suggest that the first thing which people of the industrial powers want to be educated to recognise is that paternalism and benevolence are not adequate or just substitutes for national home rule or independence in Colonial territories. These people want to
recognise that native peoples who pay the economic piper are entitled to call the political tune. We who pay the piper, through manifold measures of indirect and direct taxes imposed upon us, are entitled in practice to direct representation in, and because of the tact of our majorities in our respective communities, are also entitled to control of, the administration of our respective territories. We want the people of these Imperial Powers to understand that the only good government is self-government.
For instance, the wealth of Jamaica is produced by Jamaicans. Yet a Government Committee on Nutrition found that 900,000 persons out of a population of 1.25 million earned less than 15/- per week. Meantime 100,000 Jamaicans walk the streets and roam the byways in search of work and are condemned to live lives of enforced unemployment. There is little or no native industrialisation – not even secondary industries are locally encouraged or protected. And non-industrialisation means an inevitable outward flow of the wealth of the country, in one form or another.
Mr. Hill put forward six demands, which are included in the Resolutions recorded elsewhere in this pamphlet.
Mr. E. D. L. Yearwood, Barbados Progressive League and Workers’ Union, reviewed the history of labour in Barbados, in the course of which lie paid tribute to Messrs. G. H. Adams, H. W. Springer, and other colleagues who pioneered the movement and laid the foundation of trade unionism in the island Barbados has a population of 200,000, of which 180,000 are of African descent.
Mr. Yearwood sketched the structure and programme of the League, which believes in the equitable distribution of the wealth of the island among its inhabitants. This cannot be achieved until the sources of that wealth are controlled by a people’s government on behalf of the community. The League is also a keen supporter of the federation of the West Indies, believing that the future of Barbados is inseparably bound up with the whole of the Caribbean area, and that the major economic and social problems of the region can only be solved by co-operative action. The League also believes in the essential need of a higher standard of living for the workers through higher wages, better health and housing conditions, and is agitating for free technical schools, more scholarships, compulsory education, and a graded system of appointment and increase in salaries for teachers in elementary and secondary schools.
Mr. Claude Lushington (Trinidad) West Indian National Party. A few years ago irked by the iniquities of Crown Colony rule, we got together and organised this party to deal with the evils of that government. We have declared that we want self-government for the West Indies for as long as we remain a subject people we shall be
exploited by absentee owners. We are prepared to say: “Let us govern ourselves, if even badly at first, rather than be well governed by others.”
Most of the land in the West Indies is owned or leased by large sugar companies whose head offices are in London, oil companies in Trinidad backed by South African and British capital, and the landed gentry. Very few peasants own any land. In the sugar industry before the war, wages were 35 cents a day for males and 14 cents a day for females. Since the war, though the cost of living has increased over 200%, wages are only 60 cents for males and 45 cents for females. Prices paid to the cane farmers are $400 a ton and more. Salaries paid to doctors and members of the medical services are far below the standard of many clerical workers.
In 1937 a strike broke out in Trinidad, for working conditions had become so intolerable that the people could no longer put up with them. In every Colony there were spontaneous outbreaks of strikes and riots. Many of the leaders were jailed.
Another irritation of British imperialistic rule in the West Indies is the lack of freedom. We want freedom of speech, of the press, and of action. We are not allowed to read all types of literature.
A regulation exists prohibiting Trinidadian seamen from accepting work on shore while waiting for a ship, and at the moment there are more than 500 unemployed seamen who cannot get a ship because of racial discrimination. These are the seamen who, when the submarine menace, was at its height, brought to the United Nations’ ports the articles from which were forged the weapons which made possible their victory over the enemy.
There is no legislation covering employers’ liability, no law providing trade union immunity, and no law in respect of national health and unemployment insurance.
Mr. J. F. F. Rojas, Trinidad Socialist Party and T.U.C., said that the Conference was important because it served as a master link in bringing together Afro-West Indians and Africans and other peoples of African descent, thus affording an opportunity more clearly to understand the problems of each other, which after all are fundamentally the same. He went on to say that resulting out of perpetual agitation from the people and more recently from the working class, a trade union movement was organised in Trinidad. A Franchise Committee was appointed by the Governor in May, 1941, to consumer and report upon, among other things, the desirability of extending the franchise and of reducing substantially the qualification to vote and for membership of the Legislative, Municipal and County Councils. After almost two and a half years the Committee submitted its report, recommending adult suffrage and the reduction of property qualifications in respect of membership to the Legislative Council which, however is still left high enough to debar workers. The recommendations constitute a marked advance on a broad basis, and that was achieved mainly as a result of the agitation and struggle by the trade unionists. There is now a struggle for federation of the West Indies and for self-government Since the wave of revolt which swept through the West Indies in 1937, the people have demonstrated in and out of season their resentment over Crown Colony rule, and they call upon the Labour Government to set up for Trinidad and Tobago a more balanced Constitution and purely elected Legislature and Executive.
Mr. D. M. Harper, British Guiana Trades Union Cornell: I bring you fraternal greetings from the British Guiana Trades Union Council. British Guiana is always included when mention is made of the West Indies. This is the only British possession in South America. It has an area of 89,000 square miles and a population of only 360,000. It is a cosmopolitan country: 42% are Indians, 35% Negroes, and 2 or 3% Europeans; the rest are mixed races. Prior to 1928, British Guiana enjoyed self-government. Then it was considered by the mother country that we were somewhat bankrupt and a mission was sent out, and we were dubbed politically precocious and educationally backward. From 1928 we have been under Crown Colony government, and I can safely say that we are worse off than we were before. The Government as it now stands consists of 14 elected members, 7 nominated, and 3 officials.
In our country we have various problems, all of them acute. When you consider the area of the country and the population, you can well imagine what unrest there is at the unemployment. Our general industries are diamonds, gold, mines, eucrium, sugar, rice, coffee, cocoa, citrus, etc. The sugar industry is organised, and the rice industry is now being organised, but whether the British Government releases its present control remains to be seen. The question of labour is acute, and is intensified by the fact that apart from the low wages paid, the coloured men have a sense of racial discrimination. But after listening to this conference and hearing of the low wages paid to our African brothers, I think I shall be reluctant to tell our people what rates are paid when I get back. I must confess I have done a little reading but I have never imagined that the conditions in those countries were as bad as I have heard here.
Self-government, I agree, is the only order for us to assert ourselves as a people, and we must try to establish a West Indies Federation. I observe that in British Guiana and the West Indies we are claiming self-government. In Nigeria the people are claiming complete independence, and in America the Africans are claiming equality and no discrimination of race. It all leads to the fact that all over the world, wherever there are oppressed people, there is a demand for equality.
Mr. E. McKenzie-Mavinga, representing Antigua Trades and Labour Union, read a statement of policy from the Union, whose aims are to advance the interests of the workers, economically, politically and socially. It put forward a programme for the revision of education providing for compulsory education, college-trained teachers, the amplification of the secondary school system, decently constructed school-buildings, the provision of free lunches to needy pupils, a West Indian bias in the teaching. It also set out a programme for improving the health of the population. On the question of food it endorsed the declaration of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture at Hot Springs in 1943 and called for improved methods of agriculture through better methods of drainage and manuring as well as for the increase of the people’s food resources and the improvement of their diet. It wants a contented peasantry, and made sweeping demands for reform on all sides in respect of the social services. It also asked for the stimulation of handicrafts and local industries to secure fresh sources of revenue.
Mr. Rupert Gittens, Trinidad Seamen’s Union, in his review of conditions in the West Indies said that the bulk of labour there is casually employed. So ingrained is this condition that men working for the Trinidad Government regularly for as long as 17 years are yet regarded as temporary employees. European workers are imported to nil technical jobs and the positions of foremen. Workpeople are not opposed to the importation of technical and skilled workmen where this is done to improve local skill, but in the majority of cases there are local workmen available who could fill such positions. Negroes are not hired by the oil companies in Trinidad as drillers or on refining operations. In the service of the Trinidad Government there are European foremen. The workmen claim that they know nothing or little of the trade they are put to supervise. Further, no opportunities for promotion and advancement to important jobs are available to local craftsmen and technicians, and there is a colour bar to some extent in this sphere. Local men in instances act in important positions and technical jobs for years without confirmation.
The wages policy of all industries and occupations in the West Indies is influenced by plantation economy. Not only wages, but employment, public works, improvement, education. This was so to a marked decree before 1937. There has been a weakening of this policy with the growth and activity of trade unionism, but it is not yet entirely removed. In Trinidad, the attitude of employers in oil and in other industries, and the Local Government as well in their wages policy, is still one of accommodation to the plantations. The trade unions are at the moment concerning themselves with claims for wage increases and it appears clearly that in the colony especially a new economic and social policy will have to be applied in sugar cultivation.
To accommodate the plantations, instances are known where public works improvement are delayed or postponed for some period. In the Colonies where it has been introduced, compulsory education has not been extended to dominantly plantation areas, and it is felt that here plantation economy is influencing Government educational policy.
For the future development and for employment possibilities in the West Indies, no serious effort has been made to survey material resources, to promote local industries, and to establish new ones with the protection they deserve. Before the war 80% of the food of the West Indians was imported. During the war the situation allowed for the food industry in each island to develop, and immediate protection is to be urged for its continuance and growth. In 1935, when the cost of living stood at 100, the average daily wage for labourers was 66 cents (2/9). At the moment the cost of living index stands at 195, with the average daily wage of labourers in the Government services at $1.18 (5/-), or 10% below the figure required to retain the 1935 standard of living.
Mr. Samuel I. O. Andrews (Grenada): I am from Grenada, one of the once proud but now derelict islands of the British West Indies – islands bled white by British Imperialism. Grenada, with its population of about 80,000 people, is situated north of Trinidad and about the distance of 96 miles by sea. It is primarily agricultural, its chief products being cocoa, nutmeg and sugar cane. The average pre-war wage per day was male 1/2d., and female 1/-. With an average of three working days per week, the worker finds it impossible to live and maintain a family of usually six to eight children. Consequently he has to augment his earnings by obtaining a plot of land costing about 5/- or 10/- an acre, on which he plants such vegetables as will be saleable.
Sanitation, although improved during the past years, is still deplorable in certain parishes, and the health of the people is affected by malaria, fever, dysentery, hookworm, etc. As for education there is a secondary school for boys and another for girls in the capital, St. Georges, and because of their boarding and school fees they are only attended by the children of the middle and upper classes. In the other parishes, children often have to walk two and three miles to and from school, with nothing but a cup of cocoa and possibly some cooked vegetable for breakfast, and a penny loaf of bread and a little salted butter, begged of the shopkeeper, for lunch. The schools are over-crowded, with classes of between 30 and 40 children to one teacher, whose pay starts at between 12/- and 16/- per month.
The West Indies as a whole have been robbed and plundered, and although King Sugar grows and lives all over the islands the benefits are not enjoyed by the workers, but by such firms as Tate & Lyle, who, with a capital of £10,000,000, made £11,000,000 profits in five years. I warn this Government and the Colonial Office that the time has come when our eyes are wide open, and we will no longer tolerate the injustices which have been imposed on us for so long. This Government will do well to take heed of what Lord Halifax said in 1921: “The whole history of the African population of the West Indies inevitably drives them towards representative institutions, fashioned after the British model. We shall be wise if we avoid the mistake of endeavouring to withhold a concession ultimately inevitable until it has been robbed by delay of most of its usefulness and of all its grace.”
The Africans and African people are on the march and they will not halt until they reach their goal.
October 19th, 1945. First Session.
Chairman: Dr. Peter Milliard (British Guiana).
Rapporteur: W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.)
Mrs. Amy Ashwood Garvey (Jamaica): Very much has been written and spoken of the Negro, but for some reason very little has been said about the black woman. She has been shunted into the social background to be a child-bearer. This has been principally her lot.
In the island of Jamaica, we have two classes of women: the rich and the poor. The rich can be divided into two grades: the idle and the section which goes into the civil service, the stores, business, etc., and become teachers. Among the poor people we have the domestic class and the labouring class of women. The women in the civil service, who belong to the intellectual section, take no active part whatever in the political development of the country. The very class from which we should derive inspiration remains indifferent. It is among the women teachers that we find a progressive movement. There are ten thousand black women in the schools of Jamaica.
A large group of women are employed in the postal services, and they are doing good work, joining the trade union movement and quietly supporting the cause of development of the country.
The labouring class of women who work in the fields take goods to the market, and so on, receive much less pay for the same work than the men do. I feel that the Negro men of Jamaica are largely responsible for this, as they do little to help the women to get improved wages. Because of the low standard of living, our people find it necessary to emigrate to various places, and our women have gone along with our men to Cuba, Panama and America.
Miss Alma La Badie (Jamaica) stressed the great need for water in Jamaica, an agricultural country with no proper system of harnessing the water supply or storing it against a drought. Water had to be carried by children, often great distances. Another worry is the poor wages received for work, so that while officially there is no child labour, poverty frequently makes it necessary for children to work alongside their parents. For example, 1/6d. per ton is paid for cane-cutting, so the man takes along his children in order that more money can be earned.
The reason for the high, illegitimate birth rate in Jamaica is that the women have little means of livelihood and. therefore, get into difficulties. There are no juvenile courts and reform schools are needed. As employment increases, crime decreases. She challenged the Church and State in England for making no attempt to put things right. The people of Britain are not unkind, but are entirely ignorant of conditions under which people are living in the territories where their flag is flying. There should be a free press throughout the world to make known the needs of humanity.
Mr. J. A. Linton read a Memorandum from the Joint Advisory Committee of Labour, representing the Directorate of the St. Kitts Workers’ League and the Executive Committee of the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union, which opened with greetings to the Conference, and stated that high significance was attached to its deliberations and conclusions. There was a natural striving towards the materialisation of the principles laid down in the Atlantic Charter, of which one of the prominent features is the right of self-determination. The pursuit of this objective has stimulated the inhabitants of their region with a desire for greater unity, which can be attained only by a federation of the islands. The end of the war encourages the hope of a quick realisation of the legitimate aims and aspirations of West Indians, in common with other dependent people. The ascent of Labour to power in Parliament gives an additional measure of hope for achievement of our great purpose.
The Memorandum asked for Constitutional changes giving an entirely elected Legislative Council, and at least half of the Executive Council. It also asked for manhood suffrage to supersede the present property qualifications. On the question of civil service appointments, it viewed with alarm the continued policy of appointing men from abroad, considering it inimical to the best interests of St. Kitts-Nevis. The time for West Indian Federation is overripe.
On the industrial side, the Memorandum looked to the nationalisation of factories and natural resources, and regarded the development of subsidiary industries to be of paramount importance, It considered the mono-crop economy as unstable and proposed a planned economy with the fullest development of natural resources as an effective remedy of unemployment.
Housing, nutrition standards, public health, medical services and education, were all considered by the Memorandum, which called for radical changes which would vastly improve all these services.
Mr. I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson (Sierra Leone): Though I am not a West Indian, I feel that I can speak with some authority, as part of my family are West Indian, and in Sierra Leone there are a number of children of West Indians. In 1885 the protectorate of Sierra Leone rose up against the infiltration of British Imperialism, and West Indians were brought into the Colony to suppress the natives. After a while the West Indians and Africans began to see that really they were of the same race, and this resulted in many marriages between them.
We are at this conference not to demand certain concessions for Africa and the West Indies, but to demand complete independence for the African peoples and peoples of African descent all over the world.
Dr. Peter Milliard (British Guiana), said that during Mr. Chamberlain’s period of office it was suggested that 50,000 Austrian Jews should be settled on some of the best land in British Guiana, and millions of pounds were to be made available for this. Why was it not possible to find £300,000 to help 50,000 people from the over-populated West Indies to migrate to British Guiana, and thus give our own people a chance of employment. Some delegates had emphasised the fact that the West Indies must have self-government, others demanded Dominion status, but the delegate for Nigeria said that we should ask for independence. It is all the same. The British Government thought we were incapable of looking after ourselves and we must make them understand that we can and will.
Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.) said: It is very necessary when you consider great questions of this sort not to let yourselves be tied up with years. It is perfectly clear from hearing all the gentlemen have said as to what the African peoples want. They want the right to govern themselves. As to just how this is coming about and how it is going to be done we shall have to see. We must impress upon the world that it must be Self Government.
A great many of us want to say that we can govern ourselves now and govern ourselves well; that may not be true. Government is a matter of experience and long experience. Any people who have been deprived of self-government for a long time and then have it returned to them are liable to make mistakes. That is only human, and we are saying we have a right to make mistakes as that is how people learn, so we are asserting that we must have self-government even if we make mistakes.
Text from Marxists.org