The First Labour Day
Sir Randol F. Fawkes
the time of World War 11, Edward, Duke of
this article, Sir Randol F. Fawkes (1924-2000), better known as the Father of
Labour in The
Sir Randol Francis Fawkes was
knighted by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11 for the contribution he made to the
development of trade unionism in The
In August 1940, by a strange set of circumstances, the former Liege Lord, Edward the Eighth by the Grace of God, of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, etc., etc., etc., became the fifty-fifth Governor of The Bahama Islands.
This was the second exile for the embattled Duke of Windsor. On December 10th, 1936, this uncrowned Monarch, having abdicated the British throne for the woman he loved, adopted France as his new home rather than return to England and be pushed into the bottom drawer by the high society of Buckingham Palace.
The Bahamians welcome the Duke and Duchess of
after the Duke’s arrival news came to The Bahamas from the
24th, 1942, approximately two years after his arrival in
On June 1st,
1942 at about 8:30 a.m. a crowd of workers threw down their tools at Oakes
Field job site, then called the Burma Road Project, and marched toward the City
Do Nigger don't you lick nobody, don't you lick nobody"
was to stage a demonstration before the
All the deputations, letters, appeals and arguments for higher wages sent and made on the workers' behalf had gone unheeded. It was hoped that this forceful demonstration would cause the authorities to take the workingman's pleas seriously.
When that mob marched on that early June morning, they took upon their shoulders the common burdens of all Bahamians -those who protested, those who were silent, and those who did not even realize the indignity of their status. This teaming mass of workers marched for all of them, and, in doing so, they marched themselves straight into history.
The Labouring Masses
In other West
Indian islands such as
What then were the underlying causes of this social unrest, the echoes of which are still resounding? For answers we must look into the Bahamian past.
Islands are an archipelago of some seven hundred sprawling low-Iying islands
and over two thousand reefs and cays stretching in maize of sapphire sea from
the southeast coast of
Of legend and
of the population of the
At the top of the Bahamian masses in 1942 was a small but clever band of British officials. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries their ancestors sought only souls to save and bodies to enslave. In 1942 they held more than half the land in their hands, solely for speculative purposes. One Negro in a conversation with his spiritual adviser was heard to remark, "Father, I noticed that when you first came here to work among us you had the Bible and we had the land. Today, Father," he continued, "we have the Bible and you have the land."
For many years
through manoeuvres arbitrarily arranged in
The Duke of Windsor with members of the House of Assembly
people were in the majority but they had minority problems. They were poorly
educated, ill fed and ill housed. Few could afford an English education, yet by
custom this was the only type of training officialdom recognized in the
Since 1728, there was a House or Assembly to which persons sent representatives to speak on their behalf once in every seven years. The Old Order, however, retained virtual control by bribery and the manipulation of huge blocks of companies, which were entitled to vote under the Election Law. To add insult to injury, there were the plurality votes, which entitled a person to vote in respect to each lot of land he or she owned or rented in a particular district. Those who had no property consequently had no vote. There being no secret ballot in 1942, the sons and grandsons of former slaves who could qualify were compelled to declare their votes openly or face victimization later if their selection of candidates did not please their employers. Women’s suffrage did not exist.
The Emancipation Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, though designed to come into force on August 1, 1834, did not immediately give the slaves freedom. There was a compulsory "apprenticeship" similar in all but name to indentured labour. Therefore, even long after emancipation the salves were still not free.
Warrants of arrests were frequently issued for the most trivial of things. In this way the courts were made weapons to club the people into submission. Without a Court of Appeal in the Bahamian judicial system, the people rapidly lost faith in British justice. To them it meant simply “justice” for the British.
Faced with this sort of oppression, the Negro labourer feigned a kind of resignation. Up to 1942, he moved with caution and fawning obeisance. When he saw the white man in the distance he would bow down to the ground and then look up to the moon. When his boss issued the command “Jump!” his only reaction was "How high?” If he were accosted by the Manager of a theatre, church or restaurant for occupying a seat that was reserved for "Whites Only", he would retain his seat and reply, "Sorry boss-man, I can't read." Indeed, he became the walking embodiment of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tear’s and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise,
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise
We wear the mask!
The Bahamian professional, however, had grown to accept the status quo and the white man as his lord and master. He expected freedom to be offered to him on a platter by the colonial administrators. It was not, therefore, surprising when the Duke or Windsor, the former King Edward the Eighth of England, came to govern the Bahama Islands in August 1940, that Dr. Claudius R. Walker, a representative in the House of Assembly for the Southern District and Editor of "The Voice", asked this Royal Emissary in all the sincerity of mere words, “Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?"
His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor, being sworn in by Sir Oscar Bedford Daly, K.C., L.L.D., when beginning his term of office as Governor of the Bahama Islands
And so in June, 1942, the authorities thought that the now gay, now dancing, now cringing Bahamian was content to remain in his servile station in life forever. In any case, they reasoned, "Those niggers would never have sense enough to unite to make an effective demand." But strange things were happening in the outside world that were to have profound effect on the hitherto subtle complacency of the average Bahamian.
other Caribbean islands were bringing tales to the
During World War II, the Bahama Islands were under two flags: The British Union Jack, because it was to that standard that the Black "British Subjects" pledged their allegiance and, the American stars and stripes to which the natives owed their economic existence through tourism, project farm labour, and the importation of food stuffs.
Early in 1942, the
contracting powers - the
firm, Pleasantville Construction Company, was granted the contract to build the
airport. The company was prepared to pay labourers eight shillings per day. The
Faced with these
pressures, the Pleasantville Construction Company had to give way to
At the time of the construction of the airport, there were two trade unions, the Bahama Labour Union headed by Percy Christie, Osborne Kemp, and Caleb Gibson, and the Bahamas Federation of Labour which was governed by an Executive Committee consisting of Charles Rodriguez, Gerald Dean, Harold Fernander, Eustace Ford, Charles Fisher, Bert Cambridge, Dr. Claudius R. Walker, and S. C. McPherson. The representatives of neither union were consulted prior to the fixing of the wage scale for labourers. After the announcement of the construction of the project at Oakes Field, strenuous efforts were made to amalgamate these two unions under the banner of the Bahamas Federation of Labour in order to achieve greater solidarity and recognition. Before these negotiations could be completed, however, the disturbances at Oakes Field erupted.
The only laws
relating to trade unions at this period were the Combinations of Workmen's Acts
1825 and 1859. Although the English legislature on which these acts were based
had long since been repealed in
Traditionally in the colony all combinations of workers were discouraged.
Despite this encumbrance, the Executive Committee of the Bahamas Federation of Labour on the 26th day of May, 1942 made representations to the Labour Officer for an increase in wages for labourers. On Sunday, the 31st May, a meeting was held at which all parties concerned were present, but no agreement was reached. Early the following morning, the Attorney General, Sir Eric Hallinan, threatened to import foreign labour unless the Bahamians accepted four shillings a day. The workers, who had not been party to any agreement, became increasingly discontented and on Monday, the 1st June a "wildcat" strike occurred.
about fifteen hundred workers marched from over the hill in every direction and
converged on the corner of George and Marlborough Streets in the city. At first
the march east along
Milo Butler, A.
F. Adderley, and Percy Christie all tried to bring the representatives of
labour and capital around a conference table to conciliate their differences
but without success. While the pillaging was at its height and missiles were
flying in many directions, a detachment of British forces accompanied by a
number of policemen with fixed bayonets moved down
confrontations still continued, however, as about eight hundred rioters
resisted the attempts of the armed forces to push them off
Many of the
When the frenzied mob reached Grant's Town, they looted again and pillaged some more. While Alfred Stuffs alias "Sweet Potato" burned the photographs of the King and the Royal Family, others damaged almost everything that represented the white man's wealth. In the wake of this rampage, grocery and liquor stores were broken into, the Southern Police Station and the Public Library were occupied, and the fire engine and ambulance were set ablaze. Cole Thompson Pharmacies on Market and East Shirley Streets were also burglarised and extensively damaged.
On Tuesday the
2nd June, the rioting continued. Attempts were made to break into
When the news of
the riot broke, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor, was in
return to Nassau was greeted with much anticipation by the labouring masses who
had not forgotten his Empire Day message which had been give a few days prior
to his departure. Furthermore, who had
not heard of the Duke’s sympathy for the poor and underprivileged of
Arrangements were immediately made to have leaders of the B.F. of L. meet with the Duke’s Committee. The workers selected their most articulate spokesman, Dr. Claudius R. Walker to state the case on their behalf.
A week after the riot the workers returned to their jobs with one shilling per day raise in their pay and free meal during the luncheon break. What price freedom? In addition to all the blood, sweat and tears one hundred and twenty-eight persons were prosecuted in the Supreme and Magistrate's Courts for their involvement in the riot. One hundred and fourteen were convicted. Some were imprisoned; some fined. And was it worth it'? Time and history will tell.
Out of their agony a Commission or Inquiry was born consisting or Sir Alison Russell, Herbert McKinney, and Herbert Brown. The Commission, after interviewing some ninety-nine witnesses made "inter alia" the following recommendations:
· That labour legislation should be brought in line with modern standards.
· That the life of the House of Assembly should be reduced from seven to five or four years.
· That permanent officer in the Civil Service should not take part in politics. They should be above even the allegation that they have been influenced by purely political considerations.
· That the imposition of a fair system of income tax and death duties should be thoroughly considered by the legislature with a view to placing the burden of taxation on the shoulders of those better able to bear it.
· That land should be reserved for Bahamian cultivators and that no such land should be allowed to be sold to realtors without approval of Government and subject to conditions as may be laid down.
· That universal suffrage be introduced based on the principle of one man one vote.
Lofty as the recommendations of the Commission were, they did not please the professional and merchant class in the House of Assembly, some of whom had dominated the political scene since the nineteenth century.
my father, I sat in the visitor's gallery of the House for the first time on
the evening of the 10th of September, 1942. From this vantage point I was able
to observe the
Promptly at 8 o'clock the drama began unfolding with the Messenger striking the wooden floor three times with his staff and shouting: "House!" Everybody stood as the procession entered the main Chamber, headed by the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the Mace, the symbol of the Speaker's authority. Immediately behind him was the Speaker, resplendent in tails wearing black knickerbockers, long white wig, and a facial expression to match the mock solemnity of the hour.
The principal actor that night was a young Lawyer/ Politician/ Businessman of twenty-nine years, known as Stafford Sands. He moved with teutonic thoroughness to demolish the progressive points of the Report made by the Governor's Riot Commission. The terms of reference of his Motion on the Agenda paper called for "a consideration of all matters relating to, connected with, and arising out of the June 1st disturbance with a view of preventing a recurrence thereof with powers to send for persons and papers."
The majority or the members of the House did not trust the Duke of Windsor or his advisors and they said so in no uncertain terms through their official mouthpiece and minion, Stafford Lofthouse Sands. The broadening of a franchise, the reduction of the life of the House from seven to four years and reform in the system of taxation foretold an unwanted possibility to their selfish political and economic ambitions. As Mr. Sands rose to speak on that Monday evening, an aura of silence descended upon the House. Every head was turned in his direction so great were his histrionic powers. Sands had only one good eye, the other was made of glass, but among those pompous Cyclops this one-eyed giant was "King".
"House Members," Mr. Sands said, "You have no doubt heard of T. P. Barnum's famous phrase, 'A sucker is born every minute'.” There followed a ripple of laughter.
"Mr. Speaker," he continued, "I sincerely trust that the Honourable Members will not allow the Governor, the Duke of Windsor, to consider that this House falls within Barnum's category.
Barnum operated his first side show in
"We, Mr. Speaker, know the difference between 'progress' and 'egress.' Our way represents 'progress' the Governor's report points to the 'exit' the famous 'exit' of all our ancient rights and privileges."
With these words
Stafford Sands's colleagues proceeded to appoint their own Select Committee
which would be responsible to the
years later, on January 10, 1967, the sons of those who fought and fell on June
1, 1942, were to wrest the Government from the white oligarchy. Stafford
Lofthouse Sands was to flee the country and seek refuge in
As I spoke to thousands on Labour Day, 1962, I reflected on that first of June morning twenty years ago when Albert Stubbs, Joseph Rolle and Lawrence Green led that rag and bone army up Burma Road toward Bay Street and demanded better working conditions on the jobsite. Thanks to them, we, labour statesmen, have now learned how to substitute the Conference Table for The Riot Act.
I will say no more except to add: "The mills of God grind slowly. But they grind exceedingly fine..."
copy of the bill piloted through the House of Assembly of The
Majority Rule was ushered
into the country on the 10th day of January 1967. Pictured above is
the first black government of The