The Voice of Coloured Labour. George Padmore (editor) 1945
The Conference opened at County Hall, London, at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 5th, 1945, and was presided over by Mr. George Isaacs, Chairman of the British Trade Union Congress, who welcomed the delegates in the name of the British Labour Movement. Greetings were also brought to the Conference by Mr. Somerville Hastings, Chairman of the London County Council, and Mr. C. R. Attlee, deputising for the Prime Minister. The first subject on the agenda was the Furtherance of the Allied War Effort, but it was not until the Declaration on the Attitude to the Peace Settlement came before the Conference that the voice of the Colonial delegates was heard.
After a number of delegates from the great States had spoken on this latter subject, Mr. A. Haywood of the American C.I.O. delegation brought forward the following motion:
“That the general discussion be considered closed and that Conference proceed immediately to the appointment of a Committee.’”
It was at this point that the Colonials, feeling that the delegates from the great countries – American, Britain, Russia and France – were attempting to close the discussion on the question of the Peace Settlement, which vitally affected the future of their countries, without their being heard, demanded an opportunity to address the Conference.
Mr. John Asfour (Arab Workers’ Society, Palestine): May I point out that you have heard speeches from several delegates dealing with different matters, especially with Nazi Germany, but you have not yet heard the opinion of subject nations? I feel that this Conference would be interested to hear from them how in their view world peace could be made and maintained. It was my desire to ask this Conference to hear me on this point, and I do pray that I may be given the opportunity. It is the first time you will have heard an Arab.
Mr. Ken Hill (Jamaica Trades Union Council): I wish to support the Arab delegation from Palestine. Much has been heard at this Conference from those who come from the major nations, but I have yet to learn that the major nations have a monopoly of wisdom with regard to the resettlement of the world. I strongly insist that an opportunity should be given to others, and particularly to representatives of the British Crown Colonies It is unthinkable that this Conference should go on record as setting out its views on the Peace Settlement without taking into consideration colonial questions, which, we submit, are the root cause of war.
Mr. A. Haywood (Congress of Industrial Organisations, America): We have no desire to sway anybody to our way of judgment. We felt only that the matter had been discussed in a way which would afford enlightenment to the Committee. But if there is objection I am prepared to withdraw the motion I have made. We do not claim to possess all the brains, even though we do come from the United States!
At this stage the Conference adjourned. When the next session took place, Mr. A Ziartides, delegate of the Pan-Cyprian Trade Union Committee, was called upon to address the Conference.
Mr. A. Ziartides: Mr. President and Comrades, I bring greetings to the Conference from the Cyprus Trade Unions and the Cypriot working class. The Cyprus delegation is in general agreement with what Sir Walter Citrine said on the punishment of aggressor nations and particularly Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. Fascism must be utterly destroyed from the face of the earth. The forces capable of accomplishing this task are the united formations of the millions of organised workers. The Conference is the Brains Trust and the General Staff of the International Trade Union Movement. As such we bear a heavy responsibility. Our deliberations must lay the foundations of the new world, but a world in which the working class, all over the globe, will have the right to work and live in freedom and social justice. To fulfil this task, international trade union unity is absolutely essential. It must be a unity built on solid foundations, on the recognition of the right of all workers, whatever their nationality, to enjoy the fruits of their labour in a world of real freedom. This new world must have no room for oppressors and colonial subjugation, for as long as there are oppressors and oppressed there can be no peace, no social justice, and no freedom. You, the representatives of the working people of independent nations, must feel it your sacred duty to see to it that we Colonial peoples break our chains and join you as free nations. We desire that the principles of the Atlantic and the Teheran Declarations be applied, and that Cyprus be nationally rehabilitated and united with our Motherland, Greece. This is the wish of the entire Greek population of Cyprus which means five-sixths of the people. We also demand that elementary civil liberties-freedom of speech, of the press, of organisation and of assembly-be restored to Cyprus immediately.
It may surprise you to hear that Cyprus, a small island of 400,000 people, has 20,000 soldiers serving in the armies of world democracy; and yet in Cyprus today no more than five persons are allowed to congregate without permission from the Authorities. Such permission is refused when the Government knows that criticism may be levelled against it. The Cyprus press cannot publish news received from the Soviet, American, French, and other radios; we are limited to news from the B.B.C. and the Cairo Broadcasting System. Is this deserving of a people who have given of their best in this anti-Fascist war? To many of you Cyprus may seem unimportant, but when Rommel was knocking at the doors of Alexandria, Cyprus was turned into a fortress and a bastion, barring the Nazi drive to the Middle East. We are a small country, but our contribution to the anti-Nazi cause is proportionately as great as that of any of the United Nations. We fought well and deserve well.
Being Greek, I consider it my duty to say a few words on Greece. I would have preferred that the accredited representatives of the Greek Trade Union Movement had been here to speak to you. Time will tell who has been right in Greece. The ordinary men and women in Greece, the people who resisted the invaders for three and a half years, are right. E.L.A.S. – those four letters have been forged in the blood and sacrifice of the Greek people in their epic struggle for freedom. Under this slogan, “Liberty or Death,” they fought three invaders and finally conquered. I declare it is a crime against all we have been fighting for in this war when the first people to be tried and sentenced to death in Athens today are not the collaborationists and Quislings but the heroic anti-Nazi fighters of the E.L.AS., the National People’s Army. Ten minutes’ walk from this hall Greek seamen, trade unionists, that body of men who have braved the U-boat war all these years, are being tried by the Greek Maritime Court at this moment. For what? For organising Trade Union committees on their ships. Is that democracy and freedom?
In conclusion, let me say this. To build a sound and permanent peace, Fascism and reaction, under whatever guise, must be completely destroyed. The root causes of war, vested interests and imperialism, must be crushed by the united forces of the international working-class. The trade unions are the heavy artillery of the Labour Movement. Let them speak up.
The President: Comrades, I shall next call Mr. Asfour of the Palestine Arab Workers’ Society, and immediately after him Mr. Ken Hill of Jamaica.
Mr. John Asfour (Arab Workers’ Society, Palestine): Mr. President, Comrades and Trade Unionists: Before I address you on the subject now under discussion, let me bring to you the unanimous and heartfelt greetings of all the Arab workers and peasants in Palestine. Let me convey to you also their sincere and earnest wish for the success of this World Conference now assembled. I am sure you will ail be interested, to a small extent at least, to know how our Trade Union Movement has developed, and although we have been under dual major difficulties in Palestine we have, thanks to the efforts of the Arab Trade Unions – the Arab workers alone – succeeded. We began our Movement, like every other in its infancy, with twenty or thirty members only, but now we have on our registrations some 50,000 organised labourers. I spoke of our difficulties and said they were dual. One of them is that we have been for the last 27 years, as you know, governed as a mandated territory, and you know what that means. We have also the difficulty, the immense difficulty, created by the anti-labour movement of Zionism in Palestine. Notwithstanding that, we have, as I said, established ourselves and improved the condition of labour, and have come, not with little toil, to be represented at this World Conference for the first time.
We have always put it as our aim, in addition to the improvement of working conditions, that we will not be under the influence of any political leader in our country. We have it as our aim to organise and develop our Movement and to bring the workers up to that standard which they deserve and which they have earned rightly, honestly, and with the toil and the sweat of their brows. Now, comrades, the rival imperial interests have always been a cause of trouble to the whole world; they have been the cause of unrest and bloodshed all over the world and not least in the Arab countries in the Middle East. When the first war was imposed upon the freedom-loving peoples the Arabs took up the challenge. They fought, and fought to a successful conclusion, for their freedom, and they have in fact succeeded, but only for a short while – yes, for a very short while. Again those imperialist rival interests came in, and instead of the Arab country being liberated, being compensated for the blood it had shed and for the toil it had endured, it was-and this is no news to you, I am sure, but it is a matter of remarkable interest-the Arab state was mutilated; it was divided into five different areas, states, counties, call them what you like, and the two principal Allied Powers at that time had them.
In addition to this, there was imposed on Palestine the establishment of a Jewish National Home. The repercussions following this were naturally enormous and continuous, and the Arabs remained in the forefront, fighting for their freedom. Notwithstanding the great difference which existed between Great Britain and the Arabs in Palestine, however, the Arabs sank all those differences because they realised that freedom, not only their freedom but the freedom of the whole world, was threatened by Nazism and Fascism and by all the aims they had in the world. So they rallied to the call for freedom again. The sovereign States of the Arabs declared war on Germany, and we in Palestine placed all our resources and all our land at the disposal of the Allies for furthering the war effort. Are the Arabs, now that this war against tyranny and despotism is coming to an end, going to be treated in the same way as after the last war, and is the Arab working-class going to be deserted by their comrades, and the fight that they themselves abandoned, in the interests of the whole world, reimposed upon them? Are the Arabs in Palestine going to be left under the serious threat of being ousted from their land, merely to satisfy the Zionist reactionary movement, based on fantastic ideas and false claims? Now, comrades, leaders of the liberation movements and liberators of the oppressed nations, let us think as free people, as people of goodwill, as people who have set themselves the task of relieving all the nations of the world from oppression and despotism, as people struggling to remove all class, racial and colour discrimination – let us think and examine whether or not this movement threatening us in not only reactionary but also destructive of the fundamental ideas and principles for which we are struggling and which we are hoping to realise and secure for all mankind. The persecution of Jews in Europe the Arabs have always deplored. The working classes of the Arabs have always condemned any discrimination between the different races. Indeed, even Arab politicians in their Alexandria Manifesto, which was proclaimed to the whole world only a few months ago, expressed deep sympathy with the families who have suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Mr. Ken Hill (Jamaica, Trades Union Council): Mr. President, comrades and fellow Trade Unionists: I bring you fraternal greetings from Jamaica in the British West Indies, and wish our Conference every possible success. Jamaica is a small island tucked away in the Caribbean Sea. We are not numerous – there are only 1,500,000 of us – but we colonial peoples know the value of freedom and democracy, and we are in the working-class movement to such an extent and have been fighting, working, hoping and praying so hard for the extension of the Atlantic Charter to all colonial peoples, that I believe I am entitled to make some suggestion on colonial questions for the consideration of this Conference.
I would propose that any peace settlement ought to take into account the question of self-determination for all colonial and subject peoples. Not one but all imperial powers ought to give a definite pledge, an acceptance as a matter of policy, that the peoples in the territories they administer are as rapidly advanced to self-government as it is possible. It would be useful, too, to consider whether time limits ought not to be fixed, by agreement of course, in order that this purpose might be achieved within a reasonable time and not be unduly delayed.
There should be no transfer of colonial peoples without their consent, consultation or a plebiscite, and through the proposed world organisation for the maintenance of peace there ought to be the right of investigation and intervention and some form of control by all the powers who are concerned in the maintenance of the peace of the world.
The colonial requirements in social legislation ought to be met, in my view, in this way. All social legislation in the ruling powers ought to be introduced in the colonies within a specified time, and this movement should go on simultaneously. All existing social legislation in various colonies ought, immediately hostilities cease, to be brought up to date and made uniform throughout all the colonies. Lastly, Trade Unions in the colonies ought to have the same rights and to be given the same privileges, in practice as well as in theory, as Unions enjoy in the ruling countries.
Now, comrade delegates, I am not concerned at this stage to enter into a detailed discussion of these suggestions, but I do wish to suggest and to emphasise most strongly that it would be unthinkable if this Conference, through its committees, did not put forward some declaration expressing progressive views on the colonial question. To do less would be to leave the world to be betrayed into another war within the next or the present generation. To crush Fascism everywhere it may raise its ugly, evil head, is the indomitable purpose of the free democratic Trade Union Movements of the world. But we must go further than that. We must take care that, in our preoccupation with this historic task, we do not fail to take steps and to use the influence of the international working-class movement to put an end to and see discontinued the system of imperialist domination, whatever shape or form it may take, so that in our generation, perhaps, all the countries of all sizes and races that are represented at international conferences like this, may sit as equals in truth and in fact, and that we may all be judged, not only by the size or the measure of our contributions to arms and supplies for a war, but by the moral values which our unity and association can engender for lasting peace and prosperity in the best interests of the working men and women of the world.