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Emancipation And Its Effects On Industrial Relations History Essay


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After emancipation, labour opportunities and experiences changed for the better; before emancipation a slave was lucky if he lived nine years after being captured. Some died from diseases, but many of them died from simple overwork. Plantation owners found it cheaper to work slaves to death and buy new ones than to give them the food and rest they needed to survive and reproduce. Slave life on the plantation was an absolute nightmare. Some slaves worked up to twelve hours straight without a break, under a very hot tropical sun. The process of sugar making was not just hard work but it was also dangerous because of the long hours worked some slaves would fall asleep on the job. If that job was in the sugar mill they could end up severely injured. If a slave got his finger or arm caught in a mill they would use a hatchet "that was always ready to sever the whole limb, as the only means of saving the poor sufferer's life, such was the daily routine of life for a slave.

The Emancipation Proclamation was read on August 1, 1834. There was plenty of singing, dancing, and drumming to be seen and heard on that magical day. Many people celebrated and the children added shouts "that seemed to rend the air." The Act of Emancipation "mandated in the first instance large numbers of individuals were no longer slaves but neither were they free citizens." Now there was a new hurdle, apprenticeship. It was a turn from slave labour into a more acceptable, though still mandatory form of labour, which would last four years.

Apprenticeship created several problems for the plantation owners. Slave owners were used to working their slave long hours but the days when owners could force slaves to work an eighteen-hour day were no more. Apprentices could now only work forty hours a week if they wished. Another problem was that many slaves used to have to work the night shift; Emancipation put an end to that rule. Ex-slaves in Jamaica could now work four to five days a week and with the days they had off, they could attend to their own gardens; of course, all too often the owners chose to ignore the new laws. The planters made no effort to change conditions on the plantations. Getting new equipment and creating better working conditions were out of the question. The plantation owners were expected to supply medicine for the sick; that was not done. They were also expected to supply better clothing and better food. Owners chose to ignore those things as well. After emancipation the owners were given compensation for their losses in human "property," while ex-slaves received nothing.

Good news came in 1837 when the apprenticeship was abolished. The planters abused the system so much that it was terminated only after three years. More bad news came for the plantation owners. The compensation that they received would not save most of them. Sugar prices continued to decline, even as production went down because of the lack of workers. Instead of examining the situation and admitting what was really wrong the planters decided to blame their problems on the ex-slaves. The most often heard excuse was that blacks were lazy and did not want to work anymore. The truth was that the ex-slaves were finding new ways to make a living. They were tired of the working conditions on the old plantations. They were sick of being treated with cruelty; so many of them decided it was time to move on, but some actually did stay on the plantations and tried to make the best of it.

By 1860 half of the plantations in Jamaica had folded up. Many of the plantations were partly or wholly abandoned and the price of the property dropped. The plantation owners only had themselves to blame and with the opening of the formerly protected British sugar market to free trade, the few planters that survived were forced to sell their crops on the open market, often at a loss.

Former slaves found new ways to make a living; many of them became peasants and formed villages and communities of their own. They began to grow their own crops and sold them at the nearest markets. They grew ginger, bananas and sugar cane among many other crops of course the plantation owners hated the fact that villages were springing up. These new villages took away labour from them. The owners even found ways to get heavy taxes placed on some of the most liked imported foods of the black man and as for American and British goods the demand for linens, cottons, prints, beaver hats, shoes, stockings, bonnets and saddlery multiplied beyond belief but the heavy taxes placed on foreign goods did not make the ex-slaves want to go back to the plantations.

At first there were no schools or churches in the villages but that would eventually change; after emancipation independent Negroes made the most of their income from growing provision crops for sale in local markets until other opportunities began popping up as more and more villages were being built. The villagers were not just building houses for themselves; they were building for others too and these new structures were not little huts either. Some had several rooms so that everybody in the household could have their own room. As for dirt floors, that became a thing of the past for many households. Some had wooden floors made from the native trees on the island; with their houses built, black Jamaicans soon turned their attention to extending their villages by helping missionaries construct churches and schools; this would be the beginning of something special. Education was just around the corner for many.

Education played an enormous role in the upward movement of many free citizens; many young men and women attended the schools that sprang up around the island. Some went on to become teachers and educate the next generation; others became ministers and preached in the local churches. This was a step up from the labour their parents performed. Some were able to obtain jobs tending to business matters on the island but not everybody on the island was able to attend schools and obtain jobs such as teaching, and not everybody left the world of hard manual labour. Job opportunities off the island became enticing; many still had to work jobs where physical strength was needed.

Panama was one such place where workers were needed. A railway was needed there but for the Jamaicans that went, the great job opportunity turned into a nightmare. The Jamaicans were not the only ones who went to Panama to cut a canal across the Isthmus in 1879. Others such as the Chinese and Europeans also went. Disease was rampant and the deadly yellow fever was the worst of those illnesses. The Jamaicans and the West Indians stood up better to the fever, but a great many died, nevertheless, and within nine years, after a shocking waste of life and money, the canal scheme collapsed. Many of those who survived stayed in Panama. When the United States decided to build a canal in Panama in the early twentieth century many Jamaicans again lent a hand in the construction of the canal.

Ex-slaves and their children made many strides after emancipation. Life was not easy for most of them but with ambition and pride came, success for many. Going from plantation work to becoming teachers and ministers was not an easy or short journey. Freedom was something for which they had been longing, and when it came they made the most of it. All they needed was a chance and emancipation gave them that chance; many found that life could be something beautiful after all.


The early Trade Unions

Political experience emerged directly from the difficult growth of labour organizations throughout the Caribbean. Trade unionization derived from the plethora of mutual aid and benevolent societies that existed from the period of slavery among the Afro-Caribbean population. Not having the vote or a representative in power, the lower classes used these societies for their mutual social and economic assistance. To obtain political leverage, the working and employed classes had only two recourses: the general strike and the riot.

From time to time some of these strikes were widespread enough to bring the plight of the masses to the attention of the Colonial Office and forced significant changes in the constitutional order. Such was the case with the so-called Water Riots of Trinidad in 1903, which began as middle-class dissatisfaction over the colonial government's attempt to install water meters and reduce wastage. The municipal Ratepayers Association, a solidly middle-class organization, appealed to the working and unemployed classes of the city of Port of Spain. An excited mob assembled outside the legislative counsels' office, resulting in an altercation in which sixteen people were killed and forty-three injured by reckless police shooting, and the office of the legislature was burnt to the ground. After the usual official inquiry, the Colonial Office gradually agreed to the insistent demands of a number of middle and working-class organizations for the restoration of an elected city council which was put in place between 1914 and 1918.

Another such riot occurred in Demerara, British Guiana, in 1905. Starting as a localized dispute over wages by some stevedores in Georgetown, it quickly spread to sugar-field workers, factory workers, domestics, bakers, and porters, engulfing an ever-widening area beyond the city limits. The causes of the disturbance were essentially economic, and the workers (as opposed to their middleclass sympathizers) lacked any organizational structure. Nevertheless, the governor of the colony called out the military forces to put down the disturbances, causing seven deaths and a score of serious injuries. Although the riots failed to achieve their economic goals, for a few days they brought together a great number of the middle and lower classes. The middle-class leadership of some elements of the working classes which resulted gave some impetus to the development of a trade union movement. The coincidence of these riots throughout the British Caribbean created an impression in Britain that the political administration of the colonies required greater attention (an impression reinforced with each commission report issued thereafter).

Between 1880 and 1920, the Caribbean witnessed a proliferation of organizations, despite the authorities' marked coolness to them. A number of represented middleclass workers such as teachers, banana growers, coconut growers, cacao farmers, cane farmers, rice farmers, lime growers, and arrowroot growers had overtly middle-class political aspirations; a widening of the political franchise to allow more of their members' access to political office. However, more and more workers were forming unions and agitating for improvements in their wages and working conditions. One reason why the two sets of organizations; that is; middle class and working class, could work together was their common belief that political reform of the unjust and anachronistic colonial administrative system was the major element needed to achieve their divergent goals. They realized that historically the governors had worked with a small and unrepresentative segment of the old planter class serving their narrow economic ends. To the middle classes and the workers and to a certain extent the masses of urban unemployed; social and economic justice would be possible only if they secured control of the political machinery and there were only two ways to gain that control; through persuasion or by force.

To a great degree, this conviction still exists among the populations of the Caribbean. It was given further authenticity when the British Labour Party, especially the Fabian wing of the party, expressed sympathy with this view. But the Fabians did more; they actively sought to guide these fledgling political associations along a path of "responsible reform," thereby hoping to avert revolutionary changes. After World War I, the Fabians grew more influential, so did the British Labour Party; in British politics. The experience of both the Boer War and World War I strengthened the anti-majestic control within Britain and weakened Britain's faith in its ability to rule far-flung colonies of diverse peoples. There was even less enthusiasm for colonial domination when the administrative costs exceeded the economic returns. The result of this ambivalence about empire was a sincere attempt to rule constitutionally and openly. British critics of colonial rule expressed their opinions freely and even the government reports (Blue Books) produced annually on each colony detailed shortcomings of bureaucrats and policies. Nevertheless, talking about West Indian problems was not the same as doing something about them and by the 1930s, it was clear that British colonial policy was intellectually bankrupt.

Throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, British labour unions had sought to guide and encourage formation of West Indian affiliates. As a result, unionization was common throughout the region, with many of the unions formally or informally affiliated with the British Trade Union Congress (BTUC). However, Fabian tutelage and reformist policies appeared to have failed when workers broke out in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the region, beginning in St. Kitts in 1935 and culminating with Jamaica (and British Guiana) in 1938. A hastily dispatched Royal Commission, dominated by Fabians and chaired by Lord Moyne (hence called the Moyne Commission), toured the region and reported on the dismal conditions, making strong recommendations for significant political reform. The Moyne Commission noted as causes of the riots increased politicization of workers in the region, deriving from the war experiences of West Indian soldiers, the spread of elementary education, and the influence of industrial labour unrest in the United States. After the riots, the reforms sought by the union of the middle classes and the workers were formalized. In 1940 the British Parliament passed the Colonial Development Welfare Act, the first foreign assistance program legislated specifically for the islands. The British government also extended the franchise to all adults over the age of twenty-one and set about building the apparatus for modified self-government with greater local participation.

Jamaica held its first general election under universal adult suffrage in 1944 and the other territories followed soon thereafter. The alliance of professionals and labour leaders easily captured the state apparatus from the old combination of planters and bureaucrats. Thus, in most colonies a very close bond developed between the political parties and the workers' unions. In Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party drew its basic support from the Bustamante Industrial Trades Unions. Its rival, the People's National Party, was at first affiliated with the Trades Union Council and after the purge of the radicals in 1951; created the National Workers' Union (the popular base that catapulted Michael Manley to political eminence in 1972).

Beginning after World War II and lasting until the late 1960s, a sort of honeymoon existed between the political parties and the labour unions. Expanding domestic economies allowed substantial concessions of benefits to workers, whose real wages increased significantly as unionization flourished.


Labour upheavals of the 1930s

Populations and Class Structure

In Jamaica in the week ending 12 December 1942, 505,092 persons were classified as gainfully occupied. Of these 283,439 were wage earners of whom 88,981 were classified as unemployed. This did not include 50,528 between ages 15 and 24 who had never had a job. Classified as working on their own account were 153,274 persons. Included in this number were individual peasants or small farmers, but, because of the high level of unemployment, this category was abnormally large. This was because it included many enterprising persons seeking work but unable to get a job and had resorted to self-employment as a means of survival. Social structures in the other colonies were fairly similar.

In the colonies where the labour rebellions occurred, workers and unemployed workers who participated were to be found both in the urban centers and the other areas where the principal industries were located. In Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Trinidad the largest employer of labour was the sugar industry. In Trinidad the oil industry, in Jamaica banana plantations and in Guyana bauxite production also employed many workers. In Belize the industry employing the largest number of workers was logging and lumber production.

In the 1930s, apart from the regional organizations established by the sugar manufacturers and the governing bodies of the sport of cricket, there was little or no inter-colony contact. There had been migration to Trinidad of workers from the smaller eastern Caribbean islands, particularly Grenada, for employment in the oil industry. There had also been migration from these islands and Barbados to Guyana; but apart from these migrations, the workers in each colony had remained isolated from their counterparts in the other colonies.

Franchise, Political Control and Labour Representation

In the 1930s, although legislatures existed in these colonies, few if any workers enjoyed the right to vote in elections. The franchise was available only to persons who possessed property owning or income qualifications which limited the size of the electorate to approximately ten percent of the adult populations. The colonial constitutions provided that effective political control remained in the hands of Governors appointed by the British Government.

Prior to 1932 the only colonies in the region in which it had been lawful to form a trade union had been Jamaica and Guyana, but the legislation did not permit peaceful picketing of employers' premises and the Jamaican legislation did not protect trade unionists from actions for breach of contract in the event of strikes. Although illegal, the Trinidad Working men Association (TWA) had since its formation in 1897, in addition to its other functions, engaged in trade union activities. In 1932, on the advice of Secretary of State Lord Passfield (formerly Sidney Webb), legislation similar to the Jamaican statute was enacted in Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and St Lucia but trade unions continued to be illegal in the remaining British colonies in the region.

The first attempt to establish extra-territorial contacts between workers' organizations had been made in 1926 when the British Guiana Labour Union convened a labour conference in Georgetown. This had been attended by representatives of the TWA and a trade union in the neighbouring Dutch colony of Suriname. There had been no organizational follow-up and no regional trade union organization had been established. A similar conference was convened in Trinidad in 1938, with a similarly limited attendance and no follow-up arrangements.

On 13 May 1935 a strike of workers loading bananas at Oracabessa in St. Mary, Jamaica, developed into what the newspaper Plain Talk, a new voice of protest edited by former Garveyite Alfred Mends, described as a riot. The workers blocked the roads to prevent strike breakers from being brought in and cut power lines. Armed police were sent to the town from Kingston. On 21 May there was a strike of port workers in the town of Falmouth in Trelawny. This also developed into a riot when the use of strike breakers was threatened and one worker was killed by police gunshot. In Kingston, in that same month, banana loaders in the port went on strike and organized a march. On the second day of the strike the police opened fire on the crowd, wounding a woman.

In June 1935 the Jamaica Permanent Development Convention, a Garveyite organization, held a public meeting at which it announced plans for the formation of a labour union. Nothing came of this proposal but, in May 1936, the Jamaica Workers and Tradesmen's Union was launched with A.G.S Coombs as President and Hugh Clifford Buchanan as Secretary. Coombs, an ex-soldier and policeman, described himself as "a peasant of low birth, very limited education and a very poor man." Buchanan was a master mason and Jamaica's first active Marxist.

The Labour Rebellion in Jamaica

In the first quarter of 1937 the growing unrest among peasants, many of whom, both farmed their own or rented plots of land and also worked part time on larger properties, and landless agricultural workers, found organizational expression in upper Clarendon in central Jamaica. Robert E Rumble, a small farmer who had returned from Cuba where he had acquired the trade of a coach builder and wheelwright, had formed an organization which he called the Poor Man's Improvement and Land Settlement Association. By March 1938 he claimed a membership of 800 for his organization.

On 23 April 1938 this organization addressed a Petition to the Governor: "We are the Sons of Slaves who have been paying rent to the Landlords for fully many decades we want better wages, we have been exploited for years and we are looking to you to help us. We want a Minimum Wage Law. We want freedom in this the hundredth year of our Emancipation. We are still economic slaves, burdened in paying rent to Landlords who are sucking out our vitalities." Agitation was conducted by Rumble and his organization for land for the peasants and proto-peasants and for better wages for agricultural workers. A movement to refuse to pay any more rent to landlords began to spread and, in some areas, land hungry people seized estate lands. This was fuelled by the revival of a widely held belief that Queen Victoria had promised that, 100 years after their emancipation, the slaves who had got nothing at the time of the abolition of slavery would inherit the land. Tenants and others who seized lands began to erect fences and offered to pay taxes on the lands the ownership of which they claimed to have acquired.

At the end of December 1937 workers on Serge Island Estate in St Thomas, at the eastern end of the island, refused to start reaping the crop at the rates of pay offered. Police were rushed to the area and, on 4 January, 1938, they reported that some 400 to 500 strikers had forced others to cease work. Sixty-three of the strikers were arrested and, over a period of three days from 13 January, were tried before the Resident Magistrate. Three "ring-leaders" were sentenced to one month's imprisonment with hard labour, 7 were fined £2 and 11 were fined 21shilling each with the alternative in default of payment of 30 shilling and 21 days imprisonment respectively. 45 others were admonished and discharged. These were relatively lenient sentences.

On 29 March, warned that dissatisfaction among the lowest paid manual workers was assuming island-wide proportions, the Government announced the appointment of a Commission to enquire into rates of wages and conditions of employment of labourers in receipt of not more than thirty shillings per week, its first session to be held on 11 April. During the first quarter of 1938, large numbers of workers had been converging on Westmoreland at the western end of the island, attracted by the possibility of employment. On 2 May the Daily Gleaner published this report: "One thousand labourers, a large proportion of them engaged on the erection of a giant Central Sugar Factory at Frome Estate ...went on strike Friday. They are still out and state that they will only return to work when their demand - one dollar (4 shilling) per day - is met by the West Indies Sugar Company."

Next day the newspaper's reporter on the spot reported: "The old factory on the estate, which up to Friday had been grinding canes, is entirely in the hands of the strikers ... I hear rifle firing, followed by shrieks and cries ... I can see men on the ground. Some are motionless; others are staggering to and fro or crawling away on their hands and knees. The strike has culminated in stark tragedy. A few minutes later I hear that three are dead, eleven wounded and that the police are making many arrests."

Four people were killed that day, three by police gunshot and one by a police bayonet. On 4 May the Gleaner reported that "the known cases of persons suffering from wounds have not exceeded twenty-five, the arrests up to yesterday afternoon reached 96." The wounded may have been more numerous as there was a widespread belief that anyone who sought medical treatment would be thereby identifying himself as a participant and inviting arrest. On 13 May the first batch of 27 of the 109 strikers arrested was rushed to trial before the Resident Magistrate at Savanna la Mar, charged with "riotous assembly". The sentences ranged from 30 days to 1 year's imprisonment. At the same time the Governor appointed a Commission to enquire into the disorders.

The events at Frome had an electrifying effect. There were demonstrations of unemployed workers in Kingston, the capital. Waterfront workers in Kingston put forward demands for wage increases and, at the end of the second week of May, came out on strike. On 23 May many other workers in the city struck work and work in the city came to a halt, all the major stores were forced to put up their shutters by marching workers.

On 24 May, the Governor ordered the arrest of William Alexander Bustamante, a popular figure who during recent months had been addressing public protest meetings and writing letters to British Members of Parliament revealing the distressing economic conditions prevailing in the island. The arrest of Bustamante and his principal assistant St William Grant, and the initial refusal to grant them bail, was a provocation which, despite the appointment of an officially sponsored Conciliation Board on 26 May, unleashed a wave of further strikes and riots.

A week later, realizing that the only way to ease the situation was to release Bustamante and Grant, the Government agreed to bail being granted; by that time however the spirit of revolt had spread throughout the island and strikes and demonstrations were occurring in every parish. This situation continued for many weeks, despite the use of the battalion of British troops stationed on the island to supplement the police. Workers were killed and injured and many arrests took place.

By the end of June calm had been restored. A number of factors had contributed to this. Perhaps the most important had been the launching by Bustamante of a trade union and assurances from him and the much respected barrister Norman Washington Manley that the workers would receive proper representation. The announcement on 14 June that a Royal Commission would be arriving shortly to investigate conditions had undoubtedly created expectations that improvements would be forthcoming. On 28 June Acting Governor Woolley had announced in the Legislative Council that two loans would be raised to finance land settlements and other infrastructural developments.

The West India Royal Commission

The decision of the British Government to appoint the West India Royal Commission was a response to the cumulative effect of the labour rebellions in the region. The idea, which may have originated in the Colonial Office, was proposed soon after it became known in London that the wave of social explosions had reached Jamaica. It was discussed at a Cabinet meeting on 25 May, after which the Secretary of State for the Colonies gave a somewhat cynical explanation of the purpose it would serve: "An early announcement that a Royal Commission was to visit the Islands would have a good psychological effect in these Colonies. It would tend to reassure their people that we here are keenly interested in their affairs, and anxious to do what we can to help, and it would therefore tend to calm excited feelings there."

The proposal having been cleared with the Prime Minister and by him with the King, West Indian Governors were informed of it on 13 June and it was announced next day in the House of Commons. The Commissioners took written and oral evidence in London and in the colonies after their arrival there in November 1938 and made their report on 21 December 1939; by that time however Britain was at war with Germany and the conditions of poverty in the colonies which the report disclosed were so appalling that, to avoid the possibility of its being used in enemy propaganda, its publication was suppressed. At the time, only the recommendations of the Commissioners were published.

The labour rebellions of the 1930s increased the self-confidence of the workers in these colonies and convinced them of the influence they could exert by united action. The principal immediate benefit that the workers derived from the rebellions was that they forced upon the Royal Commission and through its recommendations the British Government, a realization of the need to bring trade union legislation in all the colonies into line with legislation in Britain.

Trade Unions were made lawful in those colonies where they had previously been unlawful. In all the colonies legislation was amended or introduced making peaceful picketing of employers' premises lawful and giving trade unionists immunity from actions for breach of contract as a result of strikes. The organization of trade unions followed in all the colonies and the foundations were laid for the modern trade union movements, which continue to contribute to the struggle for an improved standard of living.

What occurred in the 1930s was a series of spontaneous uncoordinated uprisings. There had been no advance planning. Neither the leaders who emerged nor the participants had had any premeditated conscious objectives. Nor, during the course of the rebellions, did the workers or their leaders develop any revolutionary demands, such as the expropriation of property, the seizure of political power by the working class or the achievement of political independence; but this does not in any way detract from the historical significance of what had taken place.


Political Unionism and Union rivalry

Trade unions, otherwise known as labour unions, provide workplace representation of workers to their companies' management. Trade unions enjoy state protection for their existence. This is because employers tried to violently push them out of existence in their early years. Today, unions are well known as both representatives of rank-and-file workers and as political contributors to politicians who support their interests. In this respect, trade unions play a dual role of being a worker advocate to management as well as taking a special interest in government politics, both at the local and national levels.

The National Movement and Decolonization, 1938-1962 The roots of the national movement for independence reach back into the struggles for land in the 19th century. More immediately, it was inspired by the political ideas and agitation of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, one of Jamaica's national heroes and precipitated by the reaction of the sugar and dock workers to the economic crisis spawned by the Great Depression. It emerged as a political force in the context of the rebellion in 1938. Its most enduring political institutions are the two major political parties, and the labour unions affiliated to them; both the founder of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and the Bustamante Industrial Trades Union (BITU), Alexander Bustamante, and the founder of the People's National Party (PNP) and the National Workers Union (NWU), Norman Manley; have been declared national heroes for their individual and combined efforts in securing political independence from England. The constitutional change that facilitated the emergence of these parties was the granting of adult suffrage and a measure of self-government in 1944.

The period 1944-1962 not only saw major political changes, but also major transformations of the structure of the economy; from a one-off export economy, the economy became diversified around the export of sugar, bananas and other agricultural commodities, the export of bauxite and alumina and the tourist industry. These in turn, stimulated a vibrant construction industry, and an import substituting manufacturing sector. The USA displaced the UK as Jamaica's principal trading partner. There was also a tremendous migration of labour to the UK and the USA which needed labour for the post-war reconstruction and expansion of their economies.

The First Decade of Political Independence, 1962-1972 Political Independence was granted in 1962; following Jamaica's rejection, by referendum, of membership in the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica was given a Westminster style constitution, with a Governor-general as the representative of the British Crown and a bicameral Parliament. There is a House of Representatives consisting of elected representatives and a Senate appointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The government is headed by a Prime Minister, who is required to consult with the Governor General and the Leader of the Opposition on certain matters. The first two governments were formed headed by the JLP, which had opposed membership in the Federation.

The post-war boom in the economy continued through the 1960's, though it gradually slowed down, with the completion of the investment cycle of the bauxite/alumina industry. By the end of the decade, there were well established mining, tourism, manufacturing and construction sectors, alongside the traditional agricultural and distribution sectors.

The Second Decade of Political Independence; between 1972 and 1980, the PNP, the other major political party, held political office and initiated a shift in major economic policies. Most notable was the imposition of the Bauxite Levy in 1974, in order to increase Jamaica's share of the income in that industry. The government positioned the state in the leadership role within the process of economic development, with a view to weakening and rectifying the inherited economic inequalities.

Related to this was an ideology of social reform to protect the weakest sections of the population and to promote the welfare of the poor through subsidized food, housing, education, health and other important social services. In international affairs, Jamaica opened up relations with many non-capitalist countries, and promoted the solidarity of the Third World in international negotiations with the advanced countries. The international economy was quite unfavorable for a number of reasons. The main ones were the weakness of the aluminum market; hence, the bauxite industry, the inflation of oil and food prices and the decline and reversal of capital inflows for private investment.

All of this contributed to the decline in the economy, with the attendant problems of unemployment, inflation and growing external indebtedness. By the end of the decade, the government sought assistance from the IMF and the World Bank and since then these two institutions, along with the USAID, have determined the policy framework of the government.

The Third Decade of Political Independence, from 1980 to 1989, the JLP held political office. They were committed to the same free market development policies as the IMF, the World Bank and the USAID; because of a special political relationship with the Reagan administration, Jamaica benefited from generous USA assistance in the first half of the decade. The economy was substantially deregulated, the currency was devalued, and many public enterprises were divested in the process of adjustment, which has now been on-going for some 14 years.

The eighties saw the development of Free Zone manufacturing especially of garments for export to the USA, the gradual recovery of bauxite/alumina production, and the rapid growth of tourism from North America. In the process, the traditional international economic relations, particularly with the USA, were strengthened at the expense of regional relations, such as CARICOM trade. The eighties also saw large volumes of emigrants, primarily to the USA, swelling the ranks of established overseas Jamaican communities, and creating new ones. Jamaicans are contributing in every sphere of human activity, and distinguishing themselves in cultural activities, such as music and sports. In addition, Jamaicans have been accumulating significant quantities of wealth in assets in the USA and other countries.

Changing Values and Culture of Trade Unions

Trade Unions value above all their ability to improve the lot of their members and to lift the social standings of its people. These values of the union should never change. Standing for a people newly emerged from slavery, the union of the late 19th century and the early 20th century was an aggressive, warlike and impressive foe. It stood against the colonial authority in the form of the governor and his laws. It took on the planters and the manufacturers who with years of tradition behind them felt themselves to be all powerful in the industrial relation.

However, globalization has brought sweeping changes to the unions. Societal changes and social values have changes and where before the worker placed value on loyalty, faithfulness and hard work, the modern worker is more concerned with individual improvement and change. In some cases, changing beliefs on how a worker is to be treated have lessened the value of the trade union, since he no longer has to fight for this, in other cases, worsening behaviour of the workers has negatively impacted the union, who is then seen as the supporter of slackness and the purveyor of bad behavior.

What values have the union espouses?

Moonilal in his article in Governance and HR… reminds us that unions have changed and are far less aggressive and adversarial than in the past and that they are becoming more moderate in their approach. The use of the strike as a weapon in the Union's arsenal is not used so indiscriminately as before and the impact of industrial unrest on the economy and international reputation of the territory is taken into account. This, which some see as progress, is seen by others as "loosing teeth" or evidence of the lack of power of the union. This may be so, but were the unions to focus on attracting persons with education and intelligence as well as experience and muscle, the role of the trade union would be enhanced, and its basic value of seeking to improve the lot of the worker would not change.

Morris also tells us of the need for unions to conduct reforms in their organizations to match the business reforms being carried out by management in many places and to put a greater emphasis on professionalism and education. Greater emphasis he says must be placed by unions on the matter of financing, so that they do not rely on union dues alone. The need for the de-politicizing of unions is stressed by Morris, who feels that the modern worker will have less patience with a union that discriminates against workers on the basis of politics. It is not easy to see that unions have taken on board this new value, as throughout the Caribbean they are still engaged in their petty struggles the one against the other… as mentioned by Lewis, Deputy President of CCL.

Charles, also in his text, looked at the future of the Trade Unions and their role in the information sector and suggests that in order to be relevant trade unions must consider strategies for attracting persons in this sector. He speaks of the need for unions to place greater value on creativity and the introduction of new ways to attract member. He speaks of the need for unions and civil society together with employers and government to develop partnerships for development, so that workers in the region can experience real growth, not only as a result of union wage negotiations, but also resulting from union's advocacy and interventions in social dialogue and social programmes that will lead to worker improvement. For example, the unions should be at the forefront of policies regarding free or subsidized education and training for adults who may suffer as the age of manufacture and manual labour is drawing to a close.

Natalie Persadie and Rajendra Ramlogan in chapter 19, asses attitudinal changes in industrial relations that have taken place in Trinidad and points to the work of PROMALCO in bringing about this change. Here the authors focus on unions needs to be more cooperative with employers and civil society. PROMALCO (Promotion of Management-Labour Cooperation) is a project developed by the ILO and funded by US DOL. The primary aim of the project was to increase respect for fundamental rights at work and to improve labour relations for the establishment of a collaborative work culture. It is believed that disputes can be quickly resolved through effective communication and transparent mechanisms designed to involve all stakeholders at all levels. Clearly this is the objective of all collective bargaining exercises, but the relationship between the different parties in Trinidad was rather adversarial and it was felt that progress and economic growth would be well served by the intervention of such a programme.

Transparency is another value supported by Persadie and Ramlogan. Traditionally, neither employers nor unions were too keen on transparency; however, although this will always remain somewhat of an elusive dream, PROMALCO encourages it as on objective to be achieved. Part of the PROMALCO's programme involved the declaration of agreement to the principles of collaboration and transparency and the need for policies reflecting a basic "people-centered" philosophy. It was hailed as a major milestone in the history of industrial relations in Trinidad and Tobago as a means of dealing with industrial relations issues in a "more effective and mature" manner. They also speak of the need for greater flexibility, and sensitivity in the handling of workers.

Additionally, a decreased focus on union power in favour of a greater interest in union collaboration in organizations such as the Joint Trade Union Congress would seem to be the focal point of calls for value changes in the unions. The infighting among trade unions and the struggle for power that has been so evident over the years does not augur well for the strength and continuation of the unions. This so often mirrors the individuality and inability to cooperate seen among the small territories of the Caribbean, and in both cases hampers progress and development. Each wishing to be a big fish and a small pool, never gives himself the opportunity to shine on a bigger screen. Guyana has been the scene of numerous trade unions all vying for supremacy. Trinidad also has a large number of unions, each responsible for a different sector of the economy and where they overlap, both struggling for the hearts and minds of the same workers. The concept of the Joint Trade Union Congress exists in all the territories but again at the drop of a hat, a union will withdraw in protest, thereby weakening the effectiveness of the Congress on putting pressure on government.

IR and modern trends in compensation

The union of the 21st century must be more flexible in its approach to new methods of compensation. The old focus on seniority pay and negotiating one increase across the board is falling out of favour with businesses that are struggling with competition from globalization, and need to get value for their money. Modern businesses do not consider themselves as charitable organizations, but rather seek to maximize profit in a highly competitive world.

Robert Morris in his chapter in our text on "From Trade Union Politics to Industrial Diplomacy" notes that with structural adjustment and its impact on the work place, with the falling numbers of union members and more democracy in the work place through of the use of the HR department, unions are being called upon to change their modus operandi. Emphasis on social dialogue has led to the use of mechanisms such as Memoranda of Understanding; focus on productivity and the need for greater efficiencies has led to the unions accepting several agreements on job evaluation, performance -related pay systems, and profit-sharing arrangements, and the existence of productivity committees in the workplace are evidence of this new feature of industrial relations which is likely to intensify in the future. You course in Compensation Management next semester will give you a better understanding of how these incentives can be used by unions and management to improve the work place.

Morris tells us that there is a clear need to tie wages and salaries to workplace performance, financial results and economic policy. There is a clear difficulty, however, where there are several workplaces outside of the responsible influence of trade unions. In many cases this can be baneful to the work of trade unions, either through paying salaries/wages higher than those negotiated by the union to prevent unionization or through using exploitative approaches which impact negatively on the concept of decent wages. The role of labour departments must be associated with productivity councils to monitor salaries/wages and other standards across our economies.

In conclusion, this chapter has drawn your attention to some of the issues that face Trade Unions, not just in Jamaica but at a regional level; as they seek to organize and to come together on a regional basis. Other challenges will become evident when we consider the effect of CARICOM's CSME, the Caribbean Court of Justice and labour in the Caribbean, but for the moment we have mentioned a number of issues facing the union. We have not touched the issue of sexual harassment and gender in the workplace, but those too are areas in which unions need to take the lead. The aim of this chapter is not to give you the student an inexhaustible list of issues, but merely to whet your appetite and stir up your though processes, so that you yourself can add issues that are clearer to you. Remember, that as Bachelor students, only part of your course relates to the absorption of facts, the other half relates to the development of independent learners who can think and analyze for themselves, and who are intellectually curious to find information for themselves. So please do not take these notes as gospel; go out, read, and seek to challenge them for yourself.


Trade Union Cooperation in Jamaica

The Jamaica labour movement for all practical purposes dates back to the year 1938 following a series of strikes. There were, however, attempts at combination for many years prior to that date, but prior to 1919 when the Trade Union Act was passed, unions operated without the protection of the law.

Richard Hart in his book; Origin and Development, of the People of Jamaica (1952) states that towards the end of 1863 and the beginning of 1864 strikes broke out on many sugar estates. The Falmouth Post a planters' paper wrote on January 19, 1864, that, 'There has been among the peasantry a strike for wages in several districts of the County of Cornwall,' There appeared, however, to have been no trade union organization at that time, although the Teachers' Union was soon to appear.

Dr. George Eaton is his paper, Trade Union Development in Jamaica, (1973) states that the signs were there as there was no doubt that wages were poor, employment irregular and there were crop failures. He goes on to say that workers in St Ann decided about 1865 to appeal to the Queen but no satisfactory reply was received. About that time too, Dr Underhill, a Baptist Minister, wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies pointing out the severe hardships being experienced but Governor Eyre to whom the letter was referred for comment, did not support the parson's contention. No wonder then that another Baptist preacher Paul Bogle led a march in Morant Bay which has been referred to as the Morant Bay Rebellion. A royal commission was appointed and it is reported by Major Order Brown in 'Labour Conditions in the West Indies' (1939) that the evidence taken by the commission tended to show that the movement was aggravated by the want of a good labour law and tribunals suited for the easy settlement of labour disputes.

Trade unions now began to appear on the scene and one of the earliest was the Teachers' Union (forerunner of the present Jamaica Teachers Association JTA) established approximately 1865. Another early trade union was the Carpenters, Bricklayers and Painters Union commonly referred to as the Artisans Union, which began operations in 1898. Dr Eaton states that the Artisan Union drew up a schedule of rates for the trades and requested the governor to declare them as rates to be paid throughout the island - a sort of minimum or standing rate akin to the present Joint Industrial Council (JIC) rates for the building and construction industry. In addition, the union opened a workshop and appointed small committees to do its work, and established a library.

One of the Artisan Union's major efforts was the establishment of a technical school in Jamaica. According to Dr Eaton one member reportedly stated that, "They must now take measures to push the government to organize a technical school even on a very small scale. The necessity for such a school is made clear from the absence of a current schedule of cost of labour in the island, the unskilled manipulation of tools, of certain class of tradesmen, the absence of a proper certificate of competency from a reliable source for first class men and further a reckless and unprincipled system of supply and demand." The union instituted a creditable list of benefits which even our present-day unions do not offer. Unfortunately, it fell on hard times and appeared to have died about 1901.

It should be pointed out that many of the early organizations died a natural death from lethargy (the lack of energy and vitality) following periods of great activity and from loss of paying membership as soon as the issues were settled. That is why the present day unions have successfully fought for the check-off system of payment of dues. One of the next excursions into trade unionism appeared to have been the formation of the Printers' Union whose strike was led by Marcus Garvey then employed to P. A. Benjamin Company. The strike was broken by the acquisition of linotype machines with other workers to operate them. There was also some organization by workers in the tobacco trade, led by A. Bain Alves. Alves later led the Longshoremen's Union No. l of the Jamaica Federation of Labour. About 1918 there was considerable unrest among workers and the governor appointed what appeared to be the first attempt at conciliation to deal with the issues.

Eventually, after much pressure and with a sympathetic response from the governor, Sir Leslie Probyn, a bill was piloted through the legislature by J.A.G. Smith, Snr. for the enactment of a trade union act. This bill was passed in 1919 and the Trade Union Act became law. Following the strikes by dockers, tramway workers and postmen, another Conciliation Board was appointed and recommended certain wage increases. There was little agitation until 1938, although, two new unions were formed -The Jamaica Workers and Tradesmen Union in 1936 by A. G. S. Coombs, later referred to as 'Father' Coombs, a minister of government, and the Clerical Union by Barrister Campbell and F. A. Glasspole, later Sir Florizel Glasspole, former governor-general of Jamaica.

The year 1938 opened with a big strike at Serge Island, followed by other strikes in Kingston of chauffeurs and power and pumping station workers as well as waterfront workers. There were likewise bloody strikes on certain sugar estates, notably Frome. At this time Alexander Bustamante, later Right Honourable Sir Alexander and prime minister of Jamaica, and St William Grant appeared on the scene, supported by Norman Manley, later Right Excellent and prime minister, mostly on the legal side.

On January 23, 1939, Bustamante formed the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and a year later the Jamaica Trade Union Congress (JTUC) was established embracing all the unions. The BITU shortly afterwards broke away from the JTUC and following a split between Bustamante and Manley, the Trade Union Congress was registered as a trade union in July 1949. After the purge of the Peoples National Party, that party formed and registered the National Workers' Union (NWU) in October, 1952. There are over 125 unions registered at some time or other in Jamaica including the University and Allied Workers' Union (UAWIJ) which is today among the top three most powerful unions in the country, the others being the BITU and the NWU. Later on four trade unions, the BITU, NWU, JTUC, the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO), formed the Joint Trade Unions Research Development Centre (JTURDC), which a number of other trade unions joined thereafter.

In January 1994, those unions forming part of the JTURDC came together and established the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU). Among the objectives of the JCTU is the promotion of the national interest by reaffirming the dignity of labour, by securing and preserving social justice and by promoting the well being and development of the working people of Jamaica. The UAWU is not a member of either the JTURDC or the JCTU and it is left to be seen what will be the effect of the non-inclusion of one of the most powerful trades union in Jamaica in the alliance. Below you can see a list of registered trade unions in Jamaica, some of which are currently dormant.

Employers' Organization

Not to be outdone and in order to cope with the growing strength and expertise of the trade unions, employers felt it was time to establish a body to which they could look to for guidance and assistance in dealing with the trade unions and with matters of concern to employers in the field of labour relations. As will be seen from the Trade Union Act, employers' organizations could also register as trade unions under the Act. Thus was born the Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) registered as a trade union in 1958. Among the objects of its constitution is the following:

To make available to members from time to time information... with a view to assist members to maintain a knowledgeable, progressive and constructive outlook

To promote and maintain stable, peaceful, harmonious and progressive relations between employers and their employees.

Other employers' associations, e.g., the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ), were registered as trade unions but the umbrella employer body is the JEF which is internationally recognized as the representative of employers in Jamaica. It is a member of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) based in Geneva and the Caribbean Employers Confederation (CEC).


List of Registered Trade Unions in Jamaica

Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU)

The Shipping Association of Jamaica

Machado Employees Union

Master Printers and Allied Trade Association of Jamaica

Independent Portworkers Union

Trade Unions Congress of Jamaica (TUC)

National Workers Union (NWU)

The Gasoline Retailers Association

The Jamaica Association of Professional Builders and Draughtsmen

The Water Commission and Allied Workers Union

Hardware Merchants Association

The Jamaica Federation of Musicians Union (JFM)

The Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF)

The Jamaica Dry Cleaning and Laundry Employers Association

The Importers and Distributors Association of Jamaica

United Portworkers Seamen's Union

Western Seamen's Union

St Mary Farmers Union

Jamaica Independent Workers Union

Port Supervisors Union

Motor Owners Contractors Union

Domestic Workers Union

Rural Bus and State Carriage Truck Operators Association

Jamaica Congress of Labour (JCL)

The Jamaica Phonograph Record Retailers Association

Northern Taxi-cab Association

The Jamaica Car Transport Organization

Jamaica Maritime Union

Printers and Allied Workers Association of Jamaica

Jamaica Omnibus Services Workers Association

Municipal and Parish Councils Workers Union

Service Station Attendants Union

Sheraton Contract Carriers Association

The Jamaica Workers Union

The Electrical and Construction Workers Union

Independent Trade Union Action Council

The Sugar Producers Federation of Jamaica

University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU)

Jamaica Union of Public Officers and Public Employees (JUPOPE)

Jamaica Banana Growers

Jamaica Farmers Union

Association of Supervisors, Surveyors, Engineers and Technicians

Voluntary Organization of Women (VOW)

The West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT)

Refrigeration and Appliance Workers Association

Dockers and Marine Workers Union (DMWU)

The Justice Liberal Union of Jamaica

The Jamaica Union of Bank Employees

Union of Journalists and Allied Employees

Jamaica Forklift and Equipment Association

Carpenters and Allied Workers Union

Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE)

Frome WIS Co. Staff Association

Newspaper Delivery Contractors Association

Southern Clarendon Truckers Association

College of Arts, Science and Technology Academic Staff Union

Barclays Bank of Jamaica Limited Staff Association

United Taxi Drivers Association

The British American Insurance Co Ltd. Salesmen's Association

The Jamaica Elevator Technical and Allied Workers Association

The Jamaica Auto Parts Dealers Association

The National Union of Democratic Teachers (NUDT)

Jamaica Telephone Company Executive and Allied Staff Association

Jamaica Public Service Managers Association

Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP)

Association of Jamaica Airline Pilots

The Jamaica Kerosene Distributors Association

National Housing Trust Staff Association

Jamintel Management and Allied Staff Association

The Desnoes and Geddes Monthly Paid Staff Association

Carreras Staff Association

Union of Schools Agricultural and Allied Workers

Jamal Staff Association Union

United Union of Jamaica

Stage Carriage Mini-Bus Operators Association

The Jamaica Red Cap Porters Association

The Insurance Companies of Jamaica and Allied Workers Union

The Maxi Taxi Association

Telco Managers Association


Trade Union and the Ministry of Labour


The main responsibilities of the Labour Division of the Ministry are administered through the following sections: Industrial Relations, Manpower Services and Occupational Safety and Health.

The Industrial Relations section is responsible for the promotion and maintenance of industrial harmony in the nation. It is divided into five sections:

Conciliation: This is performed in respect of industrial disputes relating for the most part to wage and fringe benefit negotiations, disciplinary matters and union claims for representational rights. The Pre-Conciliation Unit which is an arm of the Conciliation Section provides advice and other assistance with the aim of fostering improved relations between management and labour, thereby facilitating a more cooperative industrial relations environment.

Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT): Industrial disputes which are not settled by conciliation are referred to the IDT for settlement by arbitration.

Pay and Conditions of Employment: This branch ensures the maintenance of minimum standards set out in the various labour laws relating to notice pay, redundancy pay, holidays with pay, maternity leave, national minimum wage and the minimum wages in certain trades, which are announced from time to time.

Minimum Wage Advisory Commission:

Advises the Minister on all matters relating to national minimum wages and other minimum wages which may be fixed under the Minimum Wage Act.

Obtains and records information in relation to wages and other remuneration, terms and conditions of work and other factors affecting the circumstances of employment, and keeps them under continuous review.

Makes recommendations to the Minister from time to time regarding the category of workers in relation to which a minimum wage should be fixed, the wage to be fixed and other related matters.

International Labour Agency/Information: Performs duties in respect of Jamaica's obligations as a signatory to the International Labour Organizations (ILO). This unit also liaises with International Agencies such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP) and CARICOM, among others, concerning labour matters, on behalf of the Government of Jamaica.

International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC): IPEC seeks to:

Provide a comprehensive information system that incorporates quantitative and qualitative information on child labour that is being used for policy and programme development.

Strengthen the institutional capacity of the relevant institutions of the GOJ and civil society to enforce child labour laws and to develop and implement policies and programmes towards the prevention of child labour.

Withdraw and rehabilitate children from hazardous work and prevent them from engaging in child labour.

Enhance public awareness on the complex problems associated with child labour.

Employees Share Ownership Investigative Unit: This Unit was established to investigate complaints received from a participant, his personal representative or the trustee of an Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) regarding the operation of the Plan.

The Jamaica Productivity Centre

The Jamaica Productivity Centre (JPC) is a tripartite organization comprising representation from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF), and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU). The Centre's mandate is to stimulate a high level of national awareness of the concept of productivity and inculcate a productivity-sensitive culture in Jamaica through advocacy, knowledge generation and dissemination, and provision of technical assistance services.

The Manpower Services Section

The Manpower Services Section is responsible for the Overseas Employment Programmes, local employment and the granting of work permits. The overseas Programmes are divided into:

The United States Farm Work Programme;

The United States Hospitality Programmers;

The Canadian Farm and Factory Programme; and

The Guantanamo Bay Programme.

The Labour Exchange Department

This department provides at no cost to the public, effective employment facilities including an electronic job matching system and labour market information to satisfy the needs of job seekers and employers. The department provides a cost-effective means for the employers to source suitable candidates and a conference room facility is also provided where employers may conduct interviews. All jobseekers are required to be registered, interviewed, classified and screened before being referred to employers for possible placement. The facility is also provided for job-seekers who do not have access to computers, to attend any parish office and receive assistance. Job-seekers within Kingston and its environs are able to use computers in the Labour Exchange Centre to conduct job search, post resum

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