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The 80th Anniversary of the July 26, 1937 Disturbances

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 will mark the 80th anniversary of the July 26 1937 disturbances in Barbados, an event which sparked the movement for democracy in this country.

The 1937 Disturbances in Barbados were the direct response by the oppressed labouring classes against the tyranny of the Oligarchs – the merchant and the planter class – and the severe social conditions under which they were forced to exist. And as historians agree, even though the Trinidad-born trade union activist, Clement Osborne Payne was the catalyst to the change in Barbados, the fuel for the disturbances were the 300 years of pent up fury against the poverty, hunger and malnutrition, poor wages, long working hours, inhuman working conditions, sub-standard housing, poor sanitary conditions, woefully inadequate health care systems and the stark denial of opportunity for education and social and economic advancement.

During the mid-1930s, the entire English-speaking Caribbean territories were struck by a series of civil unrest, spurred by economic depression, the stagnant social conditions under which the labouring class was born, lived and died, together with political stirrings. These outbursts began in 1934 with a sugar workers’ strike in Trinidad and occurred over a six-year period, ending in 1939 at Leonora in British Guiana (now Guyana). During this period, there was in 1935 an oil workers’ strike and hungry march in Trinidad, a number of labourers’ strikes in Jamaica, and a sugar workers’ strike in St. Kitts, St. Vincent, and British Guiana. The year 1937 saw another oil workers’ strike and general disturbances in Trinidad, a sugar workers strike in St. Vincent and the July civil disturbances in Barbados. The following year, sugar workers and dockers struck in Jamaica and general disorder followed.

Some 14 people were killed during the 1937 Disturbances in Barbados. It has also been revealed that more than 2000 people throughout the Caribbean were injured in the disturbances and hundreds more were imprisoned on charges of sedition, destruction of public property, incitement to riot, illegal assembly, and attacks.

Among the significant changes that were ushered in Barbados following the sittings of the Deane Commission, the local body that investigated the 1937 Disturbances and the Royal Commission under Lord Moyne that was dispatched to Barbados in 1938 also to investigate the reasons behind the disturbances, were the establishment of the Labor Department, following the tabling of the Labour Officers Act of 1938 and the legalising of the trade unions with the founding of the Barbados Workers’ Union on October 4, 1941, following the passing of the Trade Union Act in 1939 and its coming into force in August, 1940.

Over the past eight decades, slow progress was made in relation to recognising the date July 26 as a significant landmark in the history of Barbados, and we in the Barbados Workers’ Union are calling on our members firstly to give cognizance of the importance of July 26, and to pay tribute to those brave souls who stood up against the might of the Oligarchs to bring lasting change, men like Clement Osborne and his lieutenants: Ulric Grant, Menzies Chase, Israel Lovell, Brains Alleyne and Mortimer Skeete who were either arrested or imprisoned and demonised by the system of that day.

This month, the month of July, eighty years later, apart from Clement Osborne Payne, who has been accorded the status of National Hero, his lieutenants, Israel Lovell, Ulric Grant, Brains Alleyne, Menzies Chase and Mortimer Skeete are yet to be recognised as heroes.

From the standpoint of the Barbados Workers’ Union, we take time out to honour its first three officers, Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley Herbert Adams (President General), Rt. Excellent Sir Hugh Worrell Springer (General Secretary), Hilton Augustus Coulston (Treasurer). We also pay tribute to the first members of the Barbados Workers’ Union’s Executive Council – Caleb Mose, J.B. Springer and J.T. C. Ramsay (Trustees), McDonald Brathwaite and Cossie Greenidge (Engineers), C. Gibson and A Gibson (Printers), Reynold Grant and Cleophas Bourne (Longshoremen), C. Medford (Baker), O. Butcher and Dalrymple (Cooper) and T. Symmonds (Seamen)