Did you know the coaling industry presented another source of great wealth to the expatriate investors? Exploited women trudged up and down tall ladders and the colour of their skin blackened by coal dust which they transported to ships docked in the Castries Harbour.
Did you know in all the categories of workers on the island the agricultural and sugar industry workers were the most militant to the exploiting forces? They were usually in the front line of bitter uprisings and they were the target of many police bullets, with many dead heroes unidentified and unsung.
Did you know during their struggles, the agricultural workers had been bogged down by a minimum wage issue? This was instituted by a government drawn from the privileged friends of a colonial governor based in Grenada, and who was committed to enhancing the fortunes of his compatriots in the United States. An agricultural worker’s life was of no significance to the slave master and imperialist, so a demand for increased wages, whether individually or collectively, could be interpreted as an act of treason.
During these times there was poor working conditions, low wages, long hours of work, no rest on Sundays and public holidays, child labour, no vacation, no compensation for industrial injuries, and limited educational facilities (90% of the populace were illiterate and disenfranchised).
Did you know there is a limit to human endurance? All these conditions meshed together and formed a time bomb which exploded in 1937, involving nearly every island in the Caribbean with strikes, violence and riots.
Source: The History of the Labor Movement in St. Lucia 1945 – 1974: A Personal Memoir George F.L. Charles – 1994 (An FRC Publication)
Did you know strikes, riots and looting characterised the second quarter 1907 in St. Lucia? The trouble began with a strike of coal-carriers in Castries on April 19 when they went to see the governor at Government House. Three days later, the striking workers rushed the wharf and prevented a ship from being coaled by the carriers who were willing to work. Several persons got injured. The situation grew worse when 10 policemen were pressed into a dangerous position and fired three volleys upon the rioters. Four of the rioters were wounded and that same evening provision shops were destroyed. Rioters looted the Castries market the following day, the labourers at Cul-de-Sac went on strike and a crowd from there went to Castries. Representatives of the strikers went to state their grievances before the governor and the manager of the Cul-de-Sac Factory.
However, on April 24, 1907, a detachment of 22 police officers went to the Cul-de-Sac Factory and followed shortly after by the governor. The police were attacked by a crowd from Roseau, they then fired on the crowd and four people were killed and 23 were wounded. A crowd from Dennery went to Castries, but was stopped by the bridge by armed policemen.
The following day, back-up police arrived from Barbados and St. Vincent, but that day there was looting in Dennery. On April 29, 1907, H.M.S. ”Indefatigable” arrived at Port Castries and the crowd went on a stampede.
By May 2, 1907, work resumed at Cul-de-Sac and partially at Roseau. A satisfactory adjustment of differences was reached between the coal-carriers and the coal-merchants.
Source: Outline Of St. Lucia’s History by Rev. Fr. Charles Jesse – 1994
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is written by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]