George Padmore 1939

Police Swoop On Workers’ Leaders In Colonies

Source: New Leader, 20 October 1939;
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Strikers’ Union Forbidden

While the European scene is occupying our attention, the colonial “Fuehrers” are tightening their grip on the coloured workers in Africa and the West Indies.

No sooner was war declared than the authorities in Sierra Leone clamped down upon the working-class movement in that colony. Wallace-Johnson, Secretary of the West African Youth League and the local Trade Union Congress, was immediately arrested and imprisoned under the defence regulations. All strikes and trade union activities are forbidden.

Similar repression is operating in the West Indies, for nowhere in the Empire did the declaration of war deal a more cruel blow than to the coloured workers in the Caribbean colonies.

No Social Reforms

As a result of their heroic struggle and the investigation carried out by the Royal Commission, they had hoped to secure some amelioration of their shocking conditions. These hopes now have to be deferred, for already the sugar kings and oil barons are declaring that in the present emergency there can be no talk about social reforms, even if the Royal Commission presents its report this year.

The increased price of sugar in Britain has not assured any benefit to the sugar workers in the West Indies, whose wages have remained stationary, although foodstuffs, which are largely imported, will rise in price. And since oil and sugar are considered essential products for Great Britain during the present emergency, the authorities have let it be known that they will not tolerate any strikes on the part of the workers in these industries.

Consequently any militancy on the part of these workers will be met with stern action under the Defence of the Realm Act and the Emergency Powers Act, which are operative in the British colonies as well as in England itself.

Conscription Opposed

It is significant that the “Barbados Observer,” in commenting upon the wide-spread opposition among the native workers to the conscription laws and other repressive legislation, states:-

“In the West Indies the elementary principles of democracy are denied the native masses. Therefore we are opposed to conscription. For example, when such savage sentences as ten years’ imprisonment have been given to the negro worker, Ulric Grant, for championing the cause of his fellow workers, it is sheer impudence on the part of the British ruling class to appeal to colonial workers to help them defend their ill-gotten gains.

“We colonial workers have not forgotten the last World War, when all kinds of promises were made to us if only we would help get rid of Kaiser and Prussian militarism! Hundreds of thousands died in Europe, Palestine and Africa.

“But our masters have not fulfilled one of their promises. Instead, our reward has been more repressive laws, unemployment, and starvation.

“Just look at the condition of the African Peoples in South and East Africa, in Jamaica, in Trinidad, in Barbados and other parts of the West Indies. Even a hard-boiled imperialist like Lloyd George described them as the slums of Empire.

“Furthermore, we shall never forget the shameful betrayal of Abyssinia by the so-called League of Nations dominated by the great democracies – Britain and France.

“We have no faith in Imperialist governments, regardless of whether they call themselves democratic or fascist. They are all Imperialists, and as such the exploiters and oppressors of colonial peoples. Therefore we are determined never again to allow ourselves to be used as cannon fodder by either camp in the coming war.”

The British Government would be wise to take note of the feeling among the Negro workers in Africa and the West Indies. It cannot claim to be fighting for “freedom and democracy” in Europe without stimulating demands for “freedom and democracy” in its own Empire.