George Padmore 1938

An Outrageous Report

Source: Controversy, Vol. 2, No. 18, March 1938.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for July 2007.

The Trinidad Report is one of the most disgraceful documents ever issued by a Royal Commission. It is an outrage; an insult to the workers of the West Indies; a calumny against their leader, Uriah Butler.

It is disgusting, too, that Sir Arthur Pugh should put his signature to such a document without dissociating himself from the cheap and vulgar abuse levied at colonial trade unionists. “The fanatic Negro Butler” – would to God that the British workers had some fanatical leaders! We might then be spared the spectacle of trade union leaders lining up with imperialists. Such conduct only serves to make more difficult the task of colonial socialists in convincing colonial workers that they can expect help from official British Labour in their struggle for better economic and social conditions.

The Report is not only mischievous in its implications – advocating the mass murder of defenceless citizens – but is false in its contents. It presents a distorted picture of what really occurred, by taking events out of their chronological context. In reference to the speeches of the Governor and the deputy Colonial Secretary, Nankivell, we are told that they were “unfortunate in their substance and untimely in that they tended to prejudge the matters which the commission were subsequently to investigate.” This is untrue. What happened was that on July 9th, three weeks after the strike began, the Governor convened a special meeting of the Legislative Council to review the situation. In the course of his speech he attributed the unrest to the following causes: –

(1) Racial feeling engendered by sensational reports of the Italo-Ethiopian War.

(2) Reports of the successes of stay-in strikes in the United States, France and other foreign countries.

(3) Surplus of unskilled labour and the disparity between the proportion of wages drawn by skilled and unskilled labour which he stated was 150 percent as compared with 33.5 percent in England.

(4) The increased cost of living.

(5) The lack of contact between the oil workers and longshoreman employers and their employees.

(6) The depressed state of agriculture is the colony.

He then proposed that a commission should be appointed for the purpose of investigating into the strike and the general economic and social conditions of labour in the island. In seconding this proposal, his Deputy said that “the sugar industry had no right to pay dividends at all until they paid a fair wage to labour. The sugar industry was subsidised because it was the largest employer of labour in the colony...the industry is a very important part of the economic life of Trinidad. Not only must people be kept employed, but must be employed under decent conditions, and not under conditions of economic slavery.”

The Duke of Montrose (chairman of Trinidad Leaseholds, Ltd., one of the biggest oil companies in the island) took up the challenge for the vested interests. In a speech in the House of Lords, he openly denounced Fletcher as an agitator and called upon the National Government to establish a naval base in Trinidad. The Secretary of State for the Colonies informed Parliament that the

Imperialist Defence Council has the question under review.

With these facts before us, it is absurd for the Commission to state that the “untimely and unfortunate” speeches of the Governor and his assistant “tended to prejudge the matters which the Commission were to investigate.” The Commission came into being only as a result of the outspoken indictment of the vested interests by Fletcher and Nankivell on July 9th.

The rest of the Report would do credit to Mussolini. It is a most bloodthirsty document. It even contains a criticism of police officers for not shooting at unarmed women and children! Perhaps they wanted a West Indian Amritsar! Is not the hand of British Imperialism sufficiently stained with the blood of coloured workers?

But what positive recommendations has the Commission to make? It echoes demands put forward by the Governor and his Deputy on July 9th that there should be an improvement in the conditions of housing and medical service. But the Report shows its truly Fascist character in recommending Government controlled unions, which would be even more reactionary than yellow unions organised by companies in certain advanced countries. We can rest assured, however, that the Trinidad workers will not stand for this for one moment. Already they leave started to organise militant unions and will carry on the struggle under the banner of “class against class.’’