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May - August,  2006

 1914- 2005 Brief History and Present Realities of Grenadian Labor

 August 1st marks the 168 anniversary of African emancipation from slavery in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean.  As we mark this important milestone, a critical measurement of how far we have traveled is to review our progress in Grenada labor movement. Emancipation from chattel slavery and worker’s empowerment are the beginning and end points of the continuum of complete civil rights.   

Black Wizard's reminder that one of the constants of life is struggle (as a guarantee of progress) is also, by extension, a recognition of the central role played by working women and men in these processes.  However, traditional historians have paid little attention to the struggles of the working people in recounting and documenting Grenadian history - omitting or underestimating the 'laborer's' role in forging our national consciousness and improving our lot.  In this paper I will briefly outline our accomplishment as a people using the prism of labor struggles.

 Labor struggles and organized labor have played decisive but under-appreciated roles in the quality of life struggles in Grenada and throughout the region.  It is the trade union movement that gave birth to the region's first generation of political leaders, spanning the 1930s to the 1950s and later taking us to formal political independence.  It has been argued, with sound bases, that that the entire history of the Caribbean is a history of labor (Mintz, 1989).  We take for granted that much of the basic benefits we now enjoy as citizens emerged from the crucible of labor struggles over several generations throughout Grenada and the wider Caribbean region.  This is so whether or not one is currently or ever was a member of a workers union. 

Even on a superficial level, labor's critical historical role in the Caribbean is evidences by the many parties bearing ‘Labor’ as their political moniker (even if rhetorically), such as the Grenada United Labor Party; it is a consequence of the legacy of these generations of struggles that in almost every Caribbean territory there is a ‘labor’ party. 

It is in decades of trade union struggles for betterment that we can discover the origins and growth of Grenada's middle, upper and professional classes.  Yet, much of these strata’s failure to grasp the meaning and possibilities of this dialectics of struggle render them vulnerable to continuing negative aspects of external influence, such as the great tsunami of capitalist globalization (more on this later). 

Labor Today 

The fact that approximately 26% of Grenada’s workforce is unionized is testimony that in present day Grenada labor is far from being ‘a thing of the past’. This number represents a certain measure of stability from job losses due to Hurricane Ivan in 2004, particularly in the agricultural sector.  Post-Ivan unionization drives have compensated for such losses.  Organized workers are mostly concentrated in agriculture, utilities, service, retail, manufacturing, and finance.  Approximately 43% of Grenada’s organized workforce is working women, slightly mirroring the overall working population sex ratio[1]

There are presently eight recognized unions in the country, namely, Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT); Technical and Allied Workers' Union (TAWU); Public Workers Union; Bank and General Workers Union (BGWU); Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU); Taxi Owners and Drivers Association (TODA); Seamen and Waterfront Workers Union (SWWU); and, Grenada Maritime Manual and Intellectual Workers Union (GMMIWU). 

Grenada’s unions are affiliated with a wide range of regional and international trade unions and cooperate with these bodies in various ways.  These affiliations operate simultaneously at vertical and horizontal levels. 

The Grenada Trades' Union Council - the umbrella Trade Union body - is affiliated to Caribbean Congress of Labor (CCL) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).  Individual Trade Unions are affiliated to different International Trade Secretariats.  For example, TAWU and CIWU are affiliated to Union Network International (UNI), which represents over 16 million workers throughout the world. Another example is TAWU’s and BGWU’s affiliation to the International Union of Foods (IUF).   

A major threat to unionism in Grenada and in the Caribbean at present is capitalist globalization[2].  What is capitalist globalization?  Although capitalist globalization means different things to different people, there is general consensus that capitalist globalization is the modern expression of the most powerful evolution of the transnational corporate culture.   

Globalization theorists identify four basic agents of capitalist globalization: those who own and control the major corporations and their local affiliates, globalizing bureaucrats and politicians, globalizing professionals, and consumerist elites in particular countries.   

The process of globalization facilitates a concerted united front approach of corporations in penetrating markets, weakening existing national structures.  And, in many cases, eliminating labor organizations and labor laws around the world.  How does globalization affect Grenadian labor? 

According to TAWU’s General Secretary, Mr. André Lewis, many foreign companies and multi-nationals are vigorously fighting to eliminate the many benefits that Grenadian workers enjoy.   Mr. Lewis points out that these benefits are mainly legacies of the Grenada Revolution, particularly the laws passed by the PRG (1979 – 1983) allowing workers to enjoy Trade Union rights.  “As a result of capitalist globalization, companies find it much easier to get governments to side with them in a bid to try to weaken the labor movement,” Mr. Lewis told Big Drum Nation via an email interview. 

Lewis posits that the trade unions “are defending Grenadian workers against globalization by reestablishing and strengthening regional solidarity within the labor movement, and by trying to ensure that workers rights and benefits are standardized as much as possible throughout the region…   Most importantly, (the labor movement are) trying to influence the decision making process, especially in relations to the protection of labor.” 

In order to appreciate the challenges ahead, it is instructive to briefly review the evolution of the labor movement in Grenada.  Seven distinct phases of the workers movement in Grenada can be identified: African enslavement; emancipation from slavery; the immediate post emancipation era; the Gairy era; the March 13 revolution; the immediate post-revolution era; and the era of globalization and the emergence of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

African enslavement

The fact that African slavery was the beginning of a continuum of exploitation of labor and manifested the grossest violation of workers rights, on the one hand, and the accumulation of untold wealth for Britain and France, on the other, is often not recognized or given enough attention in Grenadian history.  Scores of European traders and 8 European national corporations (monopolies) traded millions of Africans to toil for their astronomical profits on Caribbean plantations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Although the figures are sketchy, historians agree that from the early 1700s to 1808 some 67,000 Africans toiled on Grenada working on about 125 estates. On the eve of abolition there were some 23,638 African residents  (Beckles 1990). 

Africans throughout the region employed a variety of strategies to accomplish liberation, individually and collectively.  They burnt fields, destroyed company tools, had go-slow actions, marooned, assaulted and even poisoned their oppressors (James 1989).  The most effective tool at their disposal was united action.  The system devised all kinds of means to prevent united action.   This is the spirit in which the workers movement was eventually germinated.  A combination of united action, a growing emancipation movement in slave trading countries, and the inefficiency of the system of slavery ultimately led to emancipation in 1833. 

 Grenadians had long demonstrated that they were quite capable of freeing themselves.  Thirty-eight years before abolition Africans rallied under the leadership of a militant Jacobin, Julien Fedon, who twisted the French Revolutionary slogan to the more urgent "Liberty, Equality or Death!".  The Fedon Rebellion (1795-6) shook the foundation of the plantation system on Grenada and captured much of the island for 15 months.  The mass uprising that was the Fedon Rebellion is often obscured by an over-emphasis on key figures like Julien Fedon acting on the advise of French revolutionaries such as Victor Hughes.   

However the role played by enslaved Africans in strategizing the course of the rebellion needs to be given due attention.  Brizan points out that the first slaves to join the rebellion, apart from Fedon’s own ex-slaves, were the domestics, drivers, tradesmen and other principal slaves on the estates.   Arguing that they were the most active in the insurrection, he reminds us “Normally, this class was most unlikely to join any insurrection, and often (such workers) were informers of any planned insurrection.  In Grenada they had a close affinity with the Free Coloreds, and were accepted as part of that class.”  Field slaves and newly arrived Africans were to join later but it is clear that what started off as an incendiary strike on La Baye led by Julien Fedon and about 100 followers, soon led to a general slave rebellion on Grenada  (Brizan, 1995, p. 63).    

The mass nature of the rebellion can be estimated in the reaction of the oppressor: it is estimated that as many as seven thousand Africans and ‘coloreds’ were murdered, and many others were banished to Trinidad, Honduras and other surrounding countries.  The purged included many women.  A virtual state of emergency governed the island following the revolutionary upsurge.  

Emancipation from slavery and the establishment of Indentureship 

The 1833 Emancipation Act followed a series of such slave uprising throughout the region of which the Haitian Revolution and the Fedon Rebellion were the beginning.  The ‘last straw’ was the Samuel Sharpe rebellion in Jamaica, which had direct consequences for the 1833 Abolition of Slavery throughout the Caribbean. The Emancipation Act, following these revolts, freed the mass of labors and simultaneously led to importation of indentured workers.  This period also marked the switch from sugar plantation in Grenada to other plantation crops, such as cocoa, nutmeg and bananas. 

May 2007 will therefore mark a very important anniversary for Grenadian workers – a century and a half since the arrival of indentured workers in Grenada following the emancipation of enslaved Africans. The “spice island of the west” had a significant share of the more than half a million Asians (primarily East Indians) who came to the Caribbean as indentured servants.  

The first batch of East Indian indentured servants arrived in Grenada on May 1, 1857. Three thousand arrived in Grenada between 1857 and 1885.  They were induced to sign contracts of 5-year terms on estates primarily in St Patricks and St Andrews.  These highly exploited voluntarily immigrants, drawn from Britain’s most populous colony, were required to work nine hours a day for six days a week and were given weekly food rations which was deducted from their measly pay.  East Indians were restricted to the particular estates and were liable to arrest and imprisonment if violated.  Failure to report to work was a criminal offense, punishable with imprisonment (Brizan: p. 198-9).   

It is important to note that as significant as these immigrants were to the all areas of Grenadians life, it should East Indians were not the only indentured peoples to have arrived in Grenada in significant numbers.   Batches of other immigrants were brought in from Sierra Leone (source for various territories of West Africa), Portuguese-Madeira, and Malta. There were also many white indentured immigrants, including convicts, including petty thieves, debt-prisoners, Gypsies, and, significantly, union organizers were banished to the British colonies in large numbers (Williams 1944).   

Sometimes referred to as indentured slavery, the system was often as harsh as chattel slavery. The majority of indentured farmers brought to Grenada could not afford to pay their passage for repatriation and remained becoming independent peasants.  In part due to this eventuality, about one-third of the adult male population after emancipation were small holders.   

Similarly, the former slave masters sought to keep ex-slaves were compelled to work as domestics until August 1838 and apprentices until 1840.  But many slaves could not buy their immediate freedom.  Apprentices owed up to 45 hours of unpaid labor per week in returned for food, clothing, lodging, and medical attendance.  In the immediate post-slavery period, many ex-slaves and indentured workers were working on estates in feudal and semi-feudal relationships.  

The introduction of indentured laborers in the Caribbean in such great numbers at fixed labor rates and below the post-slavery wage norms was a strategy of the colonial government and the Caribbean plantocracy to depress wage levels and keep it at a certain level. This was effective in maintaining the profitability of the plantation system. Following abolition, the planters tried to keep the ex-slaves in a system of unpaid apprenticeship with brutal repression.  

The antagonism of circumstances that Africans and the newly arrived Indians were placed in set the stage for the bad relations between the East Indian and African communities, the legacy of which exists even today.  While significant numbers of East Indians remained in Grenada (today in numbers of 3 – 5% of the population), many immigrated to Trinidad and Guyana.  One the other hand the later arrival of free African (indentured) presence has contributed to notably strong African retention in Grenada.  Fifty percent of all indentured laborers imported to Grenada were East Indians.   

In Grenada East Indians fought for better pay and better living conditions, and later helped create or joined workers associations and trade unions with their African comrades.  The conditions were so deplorable on some of the estates, such as Clarkes Court and Calivigny that this led to relocation or migration to British-controlled Guyana (Brizan: p. 207). 


The metayer organization of labor was one of many schemes explored by the colonialist to manage production following emancipation.  Reeling from the steep decline in sugar production, this form of sharecropping was an effort to maximize revenue on estates and pay wages in cash.  Introduced in 1848, matayer was at its peak on the island between 1850 and 1854.  Workers rented plots of lands from landlords and were rented instruments of production (machines, carts, and stock, etc) while the matayer (worker) provided her/his labor.  The system was grossly inefficient and was problematic from the onset. 

In one of the earliest expressions of proletarian consciousness in Grenada, on Tuesday, January 11, 1848, laborers on various estates in the St Patrick's marched to Sauteurs declaring opposition to pay cuts proposed by their employers. Arguably this marked the birth of Grenadian trade union consciousness as workers utilized collective action as a means of effecting social change one hundred years before the birth of the organized trade union movement in Grenada. 

The abolition of chattel slavery, the introduction of indentured laborers, and the subsequent waves of labor struggles throughout the Caribbean, were different phases of the constant struggle of Caribbean People's continuing quest for full emancipation.  

The unrelenting quest for improvement reflects the long history of distressing economic conditions that prevailed in Grenada.  All too often the militancy of the movement for labor rights and social emancipation were thwarted by violent repression (police brutality and military intervention), and aided by repressive legislation (such as the Riot Act).  


Since it is generally understood that the struggle for workers rights is fundamentally the struggle for civil rights, then the struggle for local representation can also be seen in that general context.  One advances the other.  In 1917 the Grenada Representative Association was formed. Its membership included both a radical wing, led by William Galway Donovan and a conservative wing, led by D.S. DeFretas. The radical wing advocated a completely elected legislature while the conservative wing advocated a limited elected representation. Very advanced for its time, a compromise decision allowed for both elected and non-elected representation.   

Two Grenadian women were stalwarts in the struggle for representation. Gertude Pertain (1912-2002) became the first woman appointed to the Grenada legislature while Eva Sylvester (19xx-xxxx) was the first Grenadian to the elected to the Legislative Council.  Both were feminists and important figures in the regional and local suffrage movement (Shepherd 1999). 

World War eras 

Even when trade unions were made legal in Britain in 1871, it took several decades of struggle before the right to strike in the Caribbean became legal. Legislation forbidding strikes in the region were enacted in the mid-nineteenth century and bolstered by the Protection of Property Act of 1905. These measures, however repressive, did create to heightening of labor demands leading up to WW1.  

Grenada’s first worker organizations were benevolent societies, providing members with sickness and death benefits. By not being unions, per se, these organizations were able to evade the hostile climate and avoid anti-trade union laws.  

The situation changed rapidly during WWI because of several related factors - the escalating cost of living; wartime depravations; reports of racial discrimination experienced by West Indian soldiers overseas who served the empire. There were similar waves of strikes and protest action throughout the region around the demands for reduced working hours and better pay.  These movements were often led by ex-WWI soldiers.

One such leader was Grenada-born Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. Returning to Grenada after WWI, Butler joined the Grenada Representative Government Movement and founded the Grenada Union of Returned Soldiers in 1919. He migrated to Trinidad to work in the oil industry but became incapacitated because of an on-the-job injury. Butler became a Baptist preacher during retirement but it was his advocacy on the behalf of oil workers that made him a household name. Fusing trade union activism with a self-professed messianic calling, he became renowned when he led a hunger march to Port of Spain on the behalf of dismissed employees of the Apex Oilfields Ltd. Butler had a great appeal to Grenadian and other eastern Caribbean migrants who were proletarianized in the oil fields of Trinidad.  

Confronting a colonial ruling class that was shudder at the prospect of militant working class unity, Butler became a wanted man by the colonial authorities for planning a major strike of oilfield workers.  The strike commenced at midnight on 18-19 June 1937 in Fyzabad.  As he addressed a large meeting, an attempt was made by soldiers and paramilitary to arrest him. The crowd rescued Butler.  Riot broke out and a hated police corporal was drenched with oil and burned alive. Guerilla warfare-style worker’s action flashed to various areas of Trinidad. The riots ended with a combination of brutal repression and some concession to the striking workers.  

A shared political and social space integrated the worker of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Eastern Caribbean.  The influence went from one shore to the next, as Trinidad increasingly became an urban pull for many ‘small islanders’ as the oil industry boomed in Trinidad. Butler-era activism and protests heightened the class-consciousness of many workers in the region.  Many activists and observers went from one island to the next sharing the experiences and becoming involved in various movements.  Clement Payne, a Butler activist gave birth to the most significant workers protest in the history of Barbados.  However, a notable shortcoming of the Butler riots, noted by historians, was the lack of a clear working-class objective to challenge the status quo. The Butler riots would continue to aspire generations of struggles in the region [Hart: 1998, p78]. 

Early Trade Unions 

Historians are baffled that Grenada remained relatively quiet while a wave of spectacular labor strikes and protests swept the Caribbean during the 1930s (see Richard Hart: History of Caribbean People).   Some attribute this to the relatively larger composition of independent peasant farmers that made up the fabric of the working population. Hart speculates that another contributing factor in the delayed effect of this regional upsurge of rebellion in Grenada may have well been that the Grenadian working masses had greater faith in the efficacy of political representations in Grenada than elsewhere. He attributes this to “the immense popularity and reputation of T Albert Marryshow (1887-1958), Member of the Legislative Council whose orientation was entirely political.” (Hart: 1998, p.124).  

Others give equal weight to shrewd maneuvering on the part of the Grenada ruling classes. The Grenada legislature made trade unions legal in 1933, with limitations in regards to picketing and other liability measures. However, efforts by lawmakers like T.A Marryshow to have these repressive aspects removed were not immediately successful. 

George Brizan argues that: "The Grenadian estate owners, the employers of agricultural labor, who were spared  (the 1930’s) holocausts, took heed of the saying "when your neighbors' house is on fire, wet yours". It was solely for this reason that there were voluntary agreements and co-operation with the authorities whenever they recommended a wage increase."(Brizan 1998) 

One of the conclusions of the Moyne Commission that visited Grenada in 1939 was the notable absence of trade unions in a territory with such a large percentage of Agricultural workers. The commission urged for provisions to be made for representation of rural workers.  

Grenada’s first registered union was the short-lived Grenada Trades Union in 1937. Although the Grenada Union of Teachers existed since 1913, it was registered almost half-century later.   Soon to follow was the St John’s Labor Party (later changed to the Grenada Labor Party/General Workers Union) that emerged in 1929 but was not registered until 1941. Between 1940 and 1949 the three primary unions representing Grenadians workers were, the St John’s Labor Party/General Workers Union, the Grenada Trade Union, and the St George’s Workers Union/Grenada Workers Union.  

Very low pay for the most laborious occupations created very dreadful condition for workers throughout Grenada.  Life expectancy was very short for all groups of toilers but especially among East Indians.   Much of the ailments were a result of poor living conditions and inadequate health care.   The 1937 commission of Enquiry into the economic conditions of Grenadian workers across various classes of workers but primarily in the agricultural industry portrayed how inadequate the agricultural laborer’s wages were, particularly in regards to housing, clothing and health-care. It was documented that tuberculosis, yaws, hookworm, malaria, gastro-enteritis, and venereal disease were widespread among the working people and their families.  By 1940, the infant mortality rate soared as high as 115 per 1000. The report further highlighted that laborers were ostracized politically (Brizan: 1984, p.256). In spite of these conditions, the unions of this era wrestled only minor, incremental gains from the Grenadian property class.  Such was the immaturity and class collaborationist nature of the unions of these early unions.   

The Gairy Era

The situation changed radically when Eric Gairy (1920 - 1997) and Gascoigne Blaize returned to Grenada around 1950-51. The two were oil refinery workers in Aruba and both got their training in labor organizing as members of the Aruba Labor Union. 

Upon returning to Grenada, Eric Matthew Gairy registered the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union (GMMWU) in 1950 and almost immediately spearheaded Grenada's first general strike. The GMMWU had wrestled the initiative from the existing establishment unions and within three months was the main bargaining body of agricultural workers due largely to Gairy’s populist rhetoric and charisma.  Gairy targeted the existing unions, pointing out that these establishment unions no longer represent the workers.  He argued that his followers are in the overwhelming majority, and that his power to call a strike is in itself proof of his leadership.

As the strike continued, Gairy and his lieutenant, Gascoigne Blaize were banished to Carriacou by the Governor. Mass protest and attacks on estate property and personnel and violence in the streets.  The escalating crisis forced the Governor to return the leaders to Grenada.  In the process Gairy became a working class hero and an established presence in the Grenada labor movement.  A Daily Telegraph article of March 14, 1951 Entitled "Trouble Comes to Grenada: Campaign to Foment Workers' Discontent", highlights some of the conditions that made Gairy’s entry on the political landscape timely and necessary:

The troubles that have come to the peaceful island of Grenada, while symptomatic of the changing social conditions of the world since the end of the war, have been deliberately and artificially stimulated. The workers, the descendants of African slaves who for generations have been content to extract a bare subsistence from daily labor on the cocoa, banana, nutmeg and sugar plantations, have been awakened by agitation and propaganda to the fact that perhaps they are entitled to better conditions.

With their imaginations stimulated by this propaganda and by tales of good living and high wages brought back by neighbors who have worked in the oilfields of nearby Caribbean islands, they have slowly come to believe that the time has arrived for them to demand and receive basic amenities they have never enjoyed.” (Baptiste 2002).

Gairy quickly capitalized on the situation by creating the Grenada People's Party (which later evolved into the Grenada United Labor Party) in which he participated in the October 1951 elections winning a surprising 71% of the vote and getting six of the eight seats in parliament as well as several spots in the cabinet.

 Gairy came in like a hurricane and overshadowed TA Marryshow, considered the most respected figure among the working-class at the time. Gairy’s winning of adult suffrage in 1950 (long-pursued goal of Marryshow) led directly to the replacement of Marryshow as the dominant political figure. Whereas Marryshow was middle class, Gairy was working-class and appealed to the working-class and the peasantry. Gairy would dominate the island's politics for almost half a century.   

However, the longer Gairy remained in power the more distant he drifted from the aspirations of the Grenadian working people.  He corrupted legitimate trade union activities and suppressed activities of unions he could not corrupt.  Poverty was wide spread during the Gairy-era.  Gairy did very little to improve the living conditions of the poorest Grenadians, the class that propelled him to power.  It is estimated that seventy-five percent of the workforce was unemployed or unemployment in 1970.  Rates among women were even higher.

It is ironic that workers strike brought Gairy in and another workers strike was the catalyst for the beginning of his demise: it was the nurses’ strike of 1970 that ushered in Maurice Bishop as a new champion of the Grenada working-class. Mass protest was also one of the sparks that led to fusing of a radical working-class Grenada opposition. A protest in rural St Davids against a colonialist’s exclusive claims to Lasagesse beach encouraged the fusion of two working-class tendencies from different regions of the country to form the New Jewel Movement (NJM) in 1972.  A general strike in with the trade union movement played an essential role overshadowed Gairy’s ushering of independence in 1974.   

The March 13 revolution

NJM’s almost bloodless overthrow of Gairy in 1979 was met by great enthusiasm by the Grenadian working people. And never before in Grenada’s history was working people and trade unionists as represented in a government in the Caribbean in general and Grenada in particular.  

The NJM rule saw another phase of the organization and status of labor in Grenada. There was a flowering of trade unionism and several laws were passed protecting workers from workplace abuse, such as the Maternity Leave Law of 1980, which protected women from the common practice of being fired by their employers due to pregnancy.  Radical trade unionism was encouraged and given government resources.   Workers organizations and trade unions interests were ensured in budget and national debates with the full involvement of trade unions in all aspects of decision making on economic matters. 

There was also a growth of trade union representation. During the revolution, efforts towards creating a “popular democracy” of grassroots decision-making flourished. Trade union membership reached a high of at least 50 % under the new mandatory union recognition law, a novelty in the Caribbean at the time. Trade unions, the National Youth Organization, the National Women’s Organization, and other such “organs” of democracy, elected delegates from their membership to take part in the programs of the revolution [EPICA: 1985, p.99]. New trade union publications such as Cutlass (the voice of the Agricultural and General Workers Union) emerged.    

Also, for the first time in the history of the English-speaking Caribbean, there was a conscious, institutionalized, state-funded effort to educate workers in terms of their intrinsic self-interest with the introduction of Worker Education Classes in workplaces throughout Grenada. There was also a tremendous growth in Grenada union association and affiliations with global and progressive trade union.  

The leader of the People’s Revolutionary Government, Maurice Bishop (1944-1983), gave an example in a 1982 speech of how grossly the average Grenadian worker was exploited: “A nutmeg worker cracks 150 pounds of nutmeg a day, earning U.S. $2.60.  The nutmeg from this day’s work, after further processing and packaging in London, is sold for U.S. $900” [Knutson, p. 69].   

The NJM made a conscious effort to building a working-class base. And trade union activists and around the NJM sought to eclipse or marginalize the AIFLD-trained class-collaborationist bureaucrats.  Knutson quotes, as an example of NJM-era mobilization, a notice posted on a bulletin board in one of the ministries to illustrate the NJM effort to revive lackluster unions:  “Come to a special general meeting of the PWU [Public Workers Union] this Thursday, April 29th at 4:15 p.m. The meeting has been called by the Nov. 12 Committee because our union has not been functioning seriously.  The present lack of activity of the union will be discussed.  Don’t let anybody kill it with doing nothing” [Knutson, 1984, p 76].  There was broad expansion of the trade union movement and Maurice Bishop and other leaders of the revolution made frequent visit to workplaces around the country. 

By the time of the collapse of the revolution unemployment had dropped to under 15% and many benefits with a bias to the workers were accomplished.  These ranged from stabilization of the prices of foods and other essential commodities to formation of a cooperative sector in agriculture; house repair program; nationwide campaign to wipe out illiteracy; elimination of school fees and expansion of education on all levels.  

The abstract debate on leadership that led to the collapse of the revolution was seen my many analyst as evidence of a wide schism that emerged in the latter stages between the NJM party and the working people.  (For a more elaborate treatment of this issue see Lewis, Gordon K. Grenada: The Jewel Despoiled.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987).   The general leadership void that was left with the destruction of the revolution was particularly felt in the Trade Union movement.  The trade union movement suffered great loses in the schism and the ensuing lost of lives.   For example the murdered included prominent trade unionists, Fitzroy Bain (president of the Agricultural and General Workers Union) and Vincent Noel (president of the Bank and General Workers Union).   

The Immediate post-revolution era 

The demise of the revolution saw another phase of unionism in Grenada.  The traditional May Day celebrations have assumed maturity and became institutionalized, taking advantage of the momentum provided by the revolution era. May Day in the post-revolution era reflects the polarity of the gap between the interest of workers and the subsequent administrations, assuming a healthy alternative democratic space.   

For the past decade, there has been discomfort with the Ministers representing labor being at the annual May Day events – this is manifested in either the labor unions not accepting the sincerity of the gesture of the labor minister being at the event (usually resulting in “booing’ such ministers), or the Minister not accepting the sincerity of labor’s invitation to attend the event (sometimes resulting in the minister not showing up at the May Day event as on May Day 2006). 

This period is also marked by the fact that for the first time in Grenada’s history, labor has a voice in Parliament with the Trade Union Council (TUC) being represented in parliament to defend labor's interest.  General Secretary of the TUC and TAWU, the Honorable Chester Humphrey has been representing Grenadian labor, under the auspices of the TUC, since 1988.  The period also is characterized by labor Ministers playing a very vocal role representing the government’s and corporate interest in labor disputes and arbitration. The Honorable Claris Charles currently holds the portfolios of Education and Labor. 

Probably more than anything else, the present polarization of labor and government is indicative by the introduction of the controversial Labor Relations Act of 1993 which many fear is a movement in the direction of suppression of at least some aspects of labor rights, such as the right to strike.  The law gives the government the right to establish tribunals empowered to make "binding and final" rulings when a labor dispute is considered of vital interest to the state. The Grenada Trade Union Council claims that the law is an infringement on the right to strike. 

However, the Right of Association remains constitutional but needs to be more strongly enforced as a means of advancing civil rights.  For example, while Workers are free to form and join independent labor unions, employers are not legally obliged to recognize a union formed by their employees.  

Grenadians as Welfare Checks to the Developed Countries 

This phase coincides with growing regional integration and the globalization and the mass migration of Grenadians to the USA and other developed countries.  According to IMF data, Grenada tops a list of countries with the highest labor force emigration rates to the developed countries 55% between 1970 and 2000.  Apart from the extraordinarily high migration rates, one of the characteristics of migration from Grenada is the loss of the educated population. Grenada has one of the highest tertiary emigration rates to the developing countries.  Between 1965 and 2000, Grenada sent 75% of its Tertiary labor force to the USA, 61% of its secondary, and 7% of its primary labor force (IMF, 2006). By virtue of this huge Diaspora, Grenada is also one of the world’s highest remittance countries.  However, the data shows that the losses outweigh the official recorded remittances.  Nonetheless, it is obvious that this enormous lost of high skill labor is having a big impact on Grenada’s productive forces. 

Globalization and the emerging era of CSME 

One of the most talked about regional issue presently at the Caribbean corporate and government levels is the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).  The CSME, which came in literally with the toll of New Year 2006, with the major Caribbean economies signing, takes a historic step towards implementation of a CARICOM Single Market (CSM), and a move towards greater regional unity. Though the CSM is fragile and of questionable clout at the moment, this makes CARICOM[3] only the second regional grouping in the world, after the European Union, to form a single market.  The CSME presents dangers and opportunity for expanding civil rights in the region.  One of the immediate dangers is the lack of discussion on the levels of labor and grass roots about directions.   

The process which began with the CSM and its removal of barriers to trade, goods, services and several categories of labor will conclude with the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) by the end of 2008.  CSM formally began with the major Caricom economies on board. The six Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)[4] only recently signed the agreement (June 30), following their letter of intent.  Representing a sub-regional block, the delay was due to their stipulation that assurances needed to be made for their primary concern – their economic vulnerability and disadvantage of these arrangements to its 500,000 people.

 When fully implemented, the CSME will involve a single currency and a uniformed economic policy. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy CSME involve the free flow of labor, goods and capital among Caribbean Community CARICOM member states.  

The most debated issue is the implications for employment. The free movement of labor is presently limited to qualified and skilled persons. There is concern that the full implication CSM/CSME for the Caribbean working people, workers rights and unionism are not being adequately addressed.   

The CSME will have profound impact on the labor movement in the Caribbean.  An aspect of these discussions that would have a direct impact on the labor movement in the region and on Grenada in particular is the Free Movement of Skilled Labor that is integral to the implementation of the Caricom Single Market (CSM). According to the provisions, skilled labor will become more mobile with no restrictions across Caricom territories.  Nationals will move freely to work or to look for work.  

Free movement will then include tertiary-trained teachers and nurses free labor movement across the Caribbean is already accepted by many nations.  Pending an agreement of a skill certificate, the pool then expands to include higglers, artisans, domestic workers and hospitality workers.  Currently, only university graduates, media workers, sports persons, artists and musicians are eligible for a regional skills certificate.  

At this point, the CSME is a business-led initiative that is actually being touted by its prominent architects as a response to capitalist globalization. For example, according to Prime Minister, the Honorable Dr Keith Mitchell: “The CSME is about people who have something to trade. It is about people who have something to sell. It is especially about small and medium sized businesses…” 

The interest of the Labor movement in Grenada and the wider region is lacking in these discussions.  There are several questions that are yet unanswered, regarding the role of workers: Where does labor fit into these equations?  Will the Caribbean labor movement be re-organized to take up these trans-territorial issues? Will we now see May Day celebrations and initiatives take on regional manifestations?  Will this usher in trans-territorial labor unions and trans-territorial trade union activism? Will labor unions take up the plight of inra-Caribbean migrant workers? The answers to these questions will determine how well the Caribbean labor movement responds to the demands on Caribbean labor in this era of capitalist-led globalization.   

In order to understand the dangers of capitalist-led globalization on the economy of Grenada and the wider region, it is important to understand what globalization is, its promises, its strengths, and shortcomings.  It is taking Lawrence Nurse’s admonition on the present task of labor in the Caribbean to its logical conclusion that in order for the union movement in the region improve its competence for dealing with national issue…” it must readjust.  According to Nurse, “this requires establishing and strengthening its local competence for serious analysis of the major issues facing the region". (http://www.bigdrumnation.org/notes/labourday.htm) 

In “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Thomas Friedman reminds us "[Globalization] is not just some passing trend. Today it is an overarching international system shaping the domestic politics and foreign relations of virtually every country, and we need to understand it as such." (MFP’s emphasis) 

Critics of globalization argue that capitalist global economic integration favors the already wealthy (internationally as well as within countries) while hurting the world’s poor and poor nations in general.  

Proponents of globalization on the other hand, advance that capitalist economic integration is good for the world and that it is perceived as such by the poor.  The World Bank, for example, points to a 2002 poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitude Survey showing that in Sub-Saharan Africa 75% of households thought that multinational corporations had a positive influence on their countries...  The study concluded that people in poor countries generally blame their local governments, not globalization, for their country’s ills (David Dollar, YaleGlobal, June 23, 2003).   

One of the strongest arguments of the globalization skeptics is that while globalization continues apace, there is very little discussion on its implications to the people who would likely be most affected.   

This argument is bolstered by the above indicated Pew Poll and the reality of the many studies from auspicious institutions, such as the UN, showing that most poor countries became poorer with the emergence of capitalist globalization as well as the many studies showing how little the implications of globalization is discussed and understood (Friedman 2003).   

According to the United Nation’s International Labor Organization (ILO), “Opportunities for men and women to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity are essential to ensuring the eradication of hunger and poverty, the improvement of the economic and social well-being for all, the achievement of sustained economic growth and sustainable development of all nations, and a fully inclusive and equitable globalization” (ILO June, 2006 www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inf/event/ecosoc/index.htm) 

Whatever side Grenadians, business people, or labor unions stand on the globalization debate, it is without doubt that globalization is an overriding feature of the world economy today that all interest must contend with.  There is need for globalization education throughout the country.  One of the most organic ways this can be accomplished is in the context of CSME.  With over 1/4 of our workforce unionized and the trade union's proven ability to mobilize more Grenadians than any other single civil institution in the country, Grenada's unions maybe well-positioned to be this vehicle.   

It is imperative that while we strengthen our ties with the wider region, the best assurance that the interest of our small, vulnerable people will be protected in this era is by protecting our institutions - building and strengthen our labor unions, implementing robust anti-trust laws, and protecting our indigenous interests, fundamentally, expanding our civil rights. 


1.          Abdulah, David. “CARIBBEAN MOVEMENTS THEN AND NOW: A LABOR VIEW,” (Vol. 39, No. 6) May/June 2006, NACLA Report on the Americas

2.          Beckles, Hilary, A History of Barbados Cambridge: University Press, 1990.

3.          Brizan, George, Grenada: Island of Conflict (London: Macmillian, 1998).

4.          CLR James, The Black Jacobins, Preface to the First Edition (New York: Vintage, 1963).

5.          Dollar, David. “The Poor Like Globalization.” Yale Global On-Line, (June 23, 2003),  http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=1934 (accessed June 25, 2006).

6.          EPICA Task Force. Grenada. The Peaceful Revolution (Washington: 1982).

7.          Hart, Richard, From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the English-speaking Caribbean region (Kingston: Canoe Press, 1998).

8.          Higman, B.W., Writing West Indian Histories (London: Macmillian, 1999).

9.          Knutson, April Ane (Editor), Ideology and Independence in the Americas (Minneapolis: MEP Publications, 1989).

10.      Lewis, Arthur, Labor in the West Indies: The Birth of a Workers Movement (London: Beacon Books, 1977).

11.      Mintz, Sidney, Caribbean Transformation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).

12.      Rogozinski, Jan, A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present (New York: Plume, 2000).

13. Shepherd, Verene A (editor), Women in Caribbean History (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1999).

 © Martin P. Felix - July 31, 2006.  

[1] From an interview with Andre Lewis, General-Secretary, Technical and Allied Workers Union, June 5, 2006

[2] My preference of the term “capitalist globalization” as opposed to “globalization” proper is to avoid confusion with the global economic and social integration (globalization) that has been ongoing for centuries but which is propelled by the scientific and technological revolution.  This process of globalization (proper) started forcibly with the triangular slave trade and the African slave trade.  Later, the abolitionist movement introduced another kind of globalization, civil rights globalization.  Trade unions were very early to embrace civil rights globalization.  And there were several attempts by workers movements to form internationals throughout history.   

On the other hand, “capitalist globalization” is commonly used to describe the restructuring of capitalism in such a manner that give it unprecedented mobility, reorganizing production worldwide in accordance with an array of political factors and cost considerations.  It is hoped that this distinction will help the reader gain a better grasp on the prospects for emancipatory social action. - MFP

[3] Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) was founded by the Treaty of Chaguaramas (Trinidad; 1973, revised 2001) and includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Non-independent regional territories - Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands are associate members. CARICOM’s purpose is to promote economic integration and development. Besides the common market, CARICOM formulates policies regarding health, education, labor, science and technology, tourism, foreign policy, and the environment. CARICOM's headquarters are in Georgetown, Guyana. In 2005 the organization established the Caribbean Court of Justice, which functions for participating nations as a final court of appeals and as a court of original jurisdiction for settling disputes among CARICOM nations. Affiliated institutions include the Caribbean Development Bank, the Univ. of Guyana, and the Univ. of the West Indies.

[4] The nine OECS Member States are Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Anguilla and British Virgin Islands are Associate Members of OECS. 
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