I am extremely grateful for the comments of Bishop Dr. Wilfred Wood with regard to the outrageous remarks of Minister of Education Ronald Jones suggesting that as was the case in 1937, heads would have to be cracked and people shot by the security forces.
The minister’s comments are quite alarming and distressing because they show his utter ignorance of, or disregard for, the contribution of the ordinary Barbadians whose lives were lost in1937, but also for the lives and struggles of ordinary Barbadians, some seventy-six years later.
One of the difficulties I have with the political culture in Barbados is that people are led to believe that modern Barbados started in 1966. In fact, it was the struggle that gave rise to the 1937 disturbances (rebellion) that brought about most of what we hold dear in terms of democracy and social and economic development.
Up to the early 1940s, Barbados was one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped islands in the Caribbean. Part of this had to do with legislation that made it close to impossible for the ex-slaves to leave the plantations, and so they were forced to give their labour for virtually nothing. Many people do not know that wages in agriculture actually declined in the 100 years between Emancipation in 1838 and 1938.
There was no vacation, no sick leave and no other employment benefits. When the labourers were too old or sick to work, they were turned out on to the streets like abandoned animals. The statistics for infant mortality, life expectancy, malnutrition and the like from that period are absolutely staggering.
It is into this cauldron/crucible that Clement Payne and others sought to educate and empower the masses to stand up for their dignity and rights as human beings and in the process, many people lost their lives, were injured or incarcerated. These people were true Barbadian heroes and their struggle was, is and forever shall be the struggle of ordinary people to achieve and maintain a just and democratic society.
None of the things that we take for granted today could ever have been achieved without the sacrifices made by our forebears, who gave their lives, their blood and their freedom to better their lives and the lives of future generations.
Holidays with pay, national insurance and social security, ministerial government, universal adult suffrage, independence, health care, education, economic progress, and wide spread land ownership are just a few of the benefits that can be directly traced to the efforts of those people who Minister Jones now thinks had to be shot or have their heads cracked to “restore law and order”.
He does not understand that the law was unjust, and that order could not persist in those unjust circumstances, as pointed out by the Moyne Commission that investigated the disturbances.
I can recall anecdotes from my mother, who was my greatest teacher, and from my father about the circumstances surrounding the riots. For example, my mother’s uncle, Clarence Babb, used to associate with Grantley Adams (later Sir Grantley, our first Premier and National Hero) around the time of the Clement Payne public lectures.
Grantley Adams was a marked man because the authorities believed (rightly) that he secretly supported Clement Payne.