Last week the country celebrated the 75th anniversary of the riots in Barbados. Some have labelled them “disturbances”, “rebellion”, or “uprisings”. This depends on which side of the political fence you are sitting on. Whatever name you use, the riots had a considerable impact on the modern history of Barbados and thus helped shape the island as we know it today.
Barbados at the time was a sharply divided racial society and it was reinforced by a small white elite who controlled the economic and political power. The majority of blacks were largely employed in the agricultural sector and they suffered from poverty, lack of opportunities, and poor labour conditions. The Barbadian economy was dominated by sugar and land ownership policies made it impossible to address poverty.
Several people like Clement Payne, Clennel Wickham and Charles Duncan O’Neal began to speak out and agitate for change. In this article I shall focus my attention on Clement Osbourne Payne.
Payne was born in Trinidad to Barbadian parents in 1904 and was brought to Barbados when he was four years old. At age 20 he returned to Trinidad to “improve his knowledge of West Indian political affairs”. He was able to inspire his followers by advocating for land reform and the formation of trade unions. His influence was so great that the Barbadian authorities deported him to Trinidad on July 26, 1937.
On hearing the news of his deportation his supporters began to riot. The result of these riots which lasted four days left 14 dead, 47 wounded, 500 arrested and millions of dollars in damages.
The British government was alarmed and sent Lord Moyne to investigate the disturbances. Some of the developments that came about were:
The establishment of a Labour Department.
The employment of a labour officer.
The extension of the Social Welfare Office.
The Workingmen’s Compensation Act.
The Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children’s Act.
The Minimum Wage Act.
The activating of the Old Age Pension Act.
The increase of the police force.
The Barbados Labour Party.
The Trade Union Act.
All Barbadians should feel proud of all the tremendous sacrifices these freedom fighters made for us to enjoy and should take this Day of National Significance more seriously. Other countries are not ashamed of their history and we in Barbados should not feel ashamed of ours.
The Barbados Workers’ Union was created out of these riots on October 4, 1941.
— Ahmed Bhamjee
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