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May - August,  2006

LABOUR DAY

January 11,1848: The "Foreday Morning" of working Class Consciousness in Grenada

"Like an individual, a society can only know itself and its future when it explores its antecedents. We can have little notion of where we are going if we do not consciously appropriate our  past and make it a part of our living present and our future"
-Selwyn R. Cudjoe


International Workers'Day is the perfect moment to call up Tuesday, January 11, 1848, the day when hundreds of drum-beating, shell-blowing,and tree branch-waving "labourers" took a protest demonstration to the Town of Sauteurs. Coming within ten years of the legal termination of Apprenticeship- the system of "modified slavery" which ran from 1833-1838- the march to Sauteurs was an infinitely courageous act of industrial politics which gave very militant voice to the birth of the Grenadian working class.

A wage reduction was the proximate cause of the labourers' angry march to Sauteurs but this was most certainly not the only "matter in the mortar". For in the years immediately following legal emancipation the former slave workers and their ex-masters were locked in a series of bitter struggles all aimed at defining and, indeed, designing "freedom" and "post slavery".

FREEDOM: THE EX-SLAVE WORKERS' VIEW

For their part, the ex-slave workers saw freedom as meaning the coming of a new contractural regime
between themselves and their former masters: the old "contract", slavery, was imposed, therefore the new one had to be negotiated and bargained into existence. Naturally, the ex-slave workers' notion of freedom presupposed an end to rule by the 'pessie" whip.

But the January 1848 pay cut reminded that Emancipation did not change the psychology of the estate tyrants, stone-hearted men who did as they pleased during slavery and seemed bent on continuing in their old ways, treating the abolition law as a London-imposed inconvenience.

The ex-slave workers, who were never reconciled to the slave regime, were not going to the accept the old ways in what they saw as a 'new time'.  Their view of freedom included first and foremost a right to purchase and own land. Here it is well worth saying that the value of land was both economic and psycho-cultural ; indeed, land ownership was a key means of securing some economic independence, and it was also "a place" to sow an autonomous individuality. And this still is the case.

Grenada's planter-merchant elite went to some lengths to frustrate the ex-slaves' hankering for their own piece of "grung": they feared that the birth of a black peasantry would spell the demise of the plantation economy, and against this backdrop the importation of poor whites- the so-called "Red Legs" from Barbados- might have
been much more than someone's attempt to ease population pressures in Bim.

Many of these poor whites would have been members of various "police forces" maintained by Bajan estate owners to keep slaves in line. In Grenada, they could be a called up in case of any "trouble". Besides, a white peasantry could be a social shock absorber between the masses of poor blacks and the "baykays" at the top of the social and economic pyramid. Colonialism is at the high point of minority rule. To stay on top the colonial minority must always find ways of dividing its subject population, exploiting existing disputes, or manufacturing such disputes where none existed.


FREEDOM WAS NOT ABOUT LOSING OLD PRIVILEGES

Finally, for the ex-slave workers (the majority of whom were compelled to remain in old massa's employ),
freedom meant adding to the customary rights won during the days of slavery. These included the right
to land to plant a kitchen garden ( rent free); the right to collect firewood, burn charcoal, fish and hunt wild game, and the right to "mind a beast"  (livestock) on estate land.

The PLANTER-MERCHANT VIEW OF FREEDOM

The planter-merchant elite had a completely different definition of the meaning of freedom.  Fundamentally, they thought freedom meant supplanting slave labour with wage labour on the basis of semi-servile relations of production.

The planters prosecuted their definition of freedom by improving their means of coercion: They created a Police Force in 1837; they wrote up a heap of vagrancy laws that criminalized "idling";  they introduced a Masters and Servants Act; and they denied citizenship and the right to vote to the newly emancipated.

The undemocratic denial of citizenship and the right to vote continued until 1951, when universal adult
franchise was introduced, wholly one hundred and 113 years following emancipation.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 1848

The January 11 protest was an occasion for hundreds of St Patrick's ex-slaves to articulate their many post slavery woes as well as state their views concerning what constituted a free society. The march protested a pay cut, saying that it was not right and saying also that in the 'new time' such impositions were unacceptable. The labourers broke into the Sauteurs courthouse and mashed up a meeting of Stipendiary
Magistrates; these magistrates were seen as being in the hip pockets f the planters.

The labourers' protest combined maroonage - in the form of a withdrawal of labour- with a "taking of the road"
to declare "war". Such war declarations were conveyed in songs (banter songs), whose primary aim was to "publish" an injury and to excoriate, tease, taunt and shame the injurer into submission.

The banter song, also called "cariso", was the antecedent to the protest calypso, a moralising editorial in song. Banter songs were often composed and sung by women. Indeed, one hundred years after the
Sauteurs protest, banter songs could still be heard in Grenada: Miss Elvie and Miss Rawlings were singing
them at the junction where the Paradise Cocoa Road meets the "Government" Road. The Carnival day songs
of the Short Knee and the Jab Jab are still very much in the banter (careso) tradition.

The composers of banter songs were crucial to the success of protest action and ,indeed, were incorporated
into the leadership of such actions. Banter singers were often a part of the community's ritual leadership.
These facts helped to lay down the the rhythm track of political behaviour in Grenada, which tends to be
excessively personalist and loudly adversarial.

These same facts have also cut the leader template: the leader is supposed to be "good talker" and master of
terms of abuse and insults. Unfortunately, our leaders, including labour leaders-have elevated these "survival
tactics" of our unlettered ancestors into a permanent  law of political conduct .

RESPONSE TO JANUARY 11

The planters' response to the Sauteurs protest was predictable: they called in the military to beat up on the ringleaders and one day later the Governor headed up to Sauteurs to tell the workers that the needed
to accept the pay cut. The Governor was accompanied by a Roman Catholic priest, whose job was doubtless that of reminding the workers of what St Paul said in Colossians
3:22 "
Slaves, obey your earthy masters in everything"; and do it not only when their eye is on you to win their
favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord

In the name of the Lord, the host was asked to cooperate with the parasite. Some labourers heeded the Governor and  the priest , others stubbornly refused to go back to work.

MORE PLANTER RESPONSES

And there were other planter reactions to the Sauteurs protest. In the wake of the Sauteurs march there emerged from among the planters more strident appeals for fresh and reliable (tractable) labourers. Eventually, the colonial state yielded to the planters and Indentured Indians were brought in, the first batch came on May 1,1857 with the arrival of a "jahaj" called the Maidstone. More Indians would come in the ensuing years.

Today is Labour Day and ,too, it is Indian Arrival Day. More than three thousand indentured Indians were brought to Grenada; names like Bhola, Beharry, Japal, Ramdhanny,  Ramdin,Baldeo, Nyack, Laljee, Lawlite and Gidharrie bear witness.

The story of Indian indentureship in the Caribbean has two Grenadian in prominent role. Grenadian HKM Sisnett was the man who was used by the British to whitewash the murders of Indian protesters on the
Rose Hall estate in Guyana in 1913.


Grenadian Joseph "Lall"* Mc Laren ( mostly likely Kayak) was an overseer on an Indian estate in South Trinidad in the 1880s, when he created a new church by combining elements of Hinduism and Christianity. Maclaren took his church to British Guiana (Guyana) when he moved there in the early of the twentieth century. In Guyana, the Church will become the Jordanite Church, named after Lall McLaren's ablest disciple, Nathaniel Jordan. *Lall, Hindi for red (red man)

CONCLUSION

The January 11,1848 protest remains a significant landmark in Grenadian history : it marks the birth of Grenadian working class and the coming of "industrial politics" as a means of effecting social change. In other words, trade  unionism one hundred years before the birth of the trade union movement in Grenada. Talking about which, the trade union has long ceased to be a credible agent of social change.

Today, the workers and their leaders may wish to act on three eminently sensible challenges thrown out by
Lawrence Nurse in a seminal paper entitled "Organised Labour in the Commonwealth Caribbean".

The challenges are the following. First, that the union movement end it old style adversarial relationship with employers and capital. What Nurse is saying amountsto this: heckling the labour minister on Labour day is passe

Nures's second challenge calls on the trade union to "rethink its philosophy about its role in society based
on a careful examination of current realities and an appraisal of how best it can contribute to changing them".

Finally, Nurse says the union movement must improve its competence for dealing with national issue". He continues:
"This requires establishing and strengthening its local
competence for serious analysis of the major issues facing
the region"

It is time for renewal. It is time to go forward by taking organised labour back to a place where it will be a part
of our living present and future.

May 1, 2006. C. Taylor

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