The Voice of Coloured Labour. George Padmore (editor) 1945
The last item of general discussion was the question of post-war reconstruction and immediate trade union demands. Several Colonial delegates took part in this discussion.
Mr. I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson (Sierra Leone T.U.C.): I stand here to register the good wishes and fraternal greetings of the workers and peasant population of West Africa and of Sierra Leone in particular, one of the most suppressed and repressed sections of the British Colonial Empire. I have observed that in this Conference the colonial peoples have been referred to as small nations. I do submit that we are far from being small, numerically speaking we are very great, and industrially speaking we are greater still. Sierra Leone, which I represent, and the Gold Coast, are the greatest iron-ore producing countries of the world. If, therefore, the Allied nations are looking to victory in this present European conflict, I maintain that the Colonial Empire and West Africa in particular has contributed a great deal to the impending victory. It is, therefore, necessary that this Conference should give special consideration to the position of the colonial peoples and especially the colonial workers. It is unnecessary for me to reiterate the difficulties which we experience in the colonies as regards the establishment of Trade Unions. Only a few weeks ago I myself was liberated after a period of five years in internment, imprisonment and exile, all because I have been a Trade Union leader. This Conference, therefore, has now to consider the subject of post-war reconstruction and the immediate demands of the working-class. I am submitting on behalf of myself and my own colony and the other colonial delegates who have been appointed to take part in this Conference, the following proposition. I am doing this because we realise that labour in the white skin cannot be emancipated while labour in the black skin is enslaved. We, the colonial delegates, appeal to this World Conference to assist you in the British Colonial Empire and in all the Colonial territories in the world in building up a strong and independent Trade Union Movement which will provide the only guarantee that the social and economic well-being of the colonial-workers will be safeguarded and advanced.
As an elementary gesture of solidarity with the oppressed and exploited millions of industrial and agricultural workers in the colonies in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, British Guiana, Mauritius, and Ceylon, we appeal to this Conference to endorse and support the following immediate demands: (1) the abolition of the colour bar and racial discrimination in public and private employment; (2) the abolition of forced labour, child labour peonage and all forms of slavery open and disguised; (3) the abolition of flogging and other forms of punishment for breach of labour contracts as well as penal sanctions for such breaches. We ask also that you should support and endorse the necessity for the abolition of laws directed against the right of free assembly, free speech, free press and free movement, and that those freedoms should be established. These are some of the difficulties which we colonial peoples have to face. We are demanding also equal pay for equal work, irrespective of race, creed, colour or sex. We ask for the abolition of restrictions against the admission of Africans and coloured workers into existing Trade Unions, such as those operating in South Africa. Wherever such restrictions continue, we ask that Africans and coloured workers should have the right accorded to them to join and support Trade Unions.
Last but not least, we ask that Trade Union and social legislation existing in colonial areas should be brought into line with that existing in metropolitan areas, or conversely that the same Trade Union and social legislation obtaining in metropolitan countries should be applied to the colonial territories. To guarantee the implementation of these demands we delegates from the colonies – I am speaking for every delegate here – ask that this Conference endorse the principle of self-determination for the colonial peoples as enunciated in Clause 3 of the Atlantic Charter, namely, that they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they will live and that they will see sovereign rights of self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. We further ask that this Conference shall call upon the signatories of the Atlantic Charter who are in possession of colonial territories to declare a time limit when the principle shall be translated into practice. Justice, like peace, is indivisible and the world today cannot remain half free and half slave. We urge this claim because we firmly believe that one of the main causes of modern war is the conflict over colonies – a conflict which can be resolved most judicially by applying the principle of self-determination to the inhabitants of such areas. In this way we feel that the future world peace will not only be maintained but permanently secured.
Mr. T. A. Bankole: Mr. President and comrades: The approach of the end of this long-drawn: and hard-fought war has filled the hearts of all lovers of peace and freedom with bright hopes of a new world in which aggression, race persecution, and oppression of the weak are to have no place whatsoever. We all expect to be relieved; for none but the most heartless of human beings would relish the horrors of war and the humiliation of foreign domination and fugitive life. Post-war Europe in her earliest period will undoubtedly be completely absorbed in the great work of restoring her battered cities, readjusting her economy, re-distributing her conscripted labour force, reshaping the basis of her social and political life, re-educating her youths, and re-stating her cultural philosophy. She will be called upon to face the difficult problem of resettling her brave fighting men called up from their various pre-war jobs. Obviously, post-war Europe, overwhelmed with the difficulties of early post-war years, will call for immense physical and mental effort and a great pool of material resources in order to stabilise her national life. One cannot get away from the fact that the workers and the armed forces of European countries that have borne the brunt of Nazi militarism have every right to hope for a stable post-war Europe, capable of assuring them of a really happy life for which they have very diligently laboured and gravely suffered. Undoubtedly, these remarks respecting Europe apply equally to Asia, America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, whose peoples have made and are still making immense contributions towards the winning of the peace. All of these continents, excepting Africa, are in every way privileged, nationally and internationally, to solve their post-war problems as will best serve their social, economic and political interests, by virtue of their enjoying truly democratic Governments. – It is my unshirkable duty, equally as it is that of my fellow delegates from the colonies, to ensure that the peoples of the colonies are not neglected, nor have their interests abandoned into the hands of profit-intoxicated monopolies in the post-war years. The question most likely to be raised is, “What contributions have the Colonies made in prosecuting the war, and have these contributions been as tangible as to entitle them to the attention of the Great Powers.” I shall answer this question very briefly in the light of known facts.
The colonial Governments, loyally supporting the metropolitan countries, promptly, properly and spontaneously associated themselves with the declaration of war on Germany, Italy, Japan and all their satellite States, and pledged themselves to support the war effort to the utmost of their ability. Accordingly, they have been, and still are, contributing to the utmost of their strength in manpower, raw materials and foodstuffs, labour for war-work and armament factories, and money out of their poor financial resources. Colonial workers have been made to submit to some obnoxious regulations restricting certain of their Trade Union rights. Colonial youths, in their numerous thousands, have enlisted and are still enlisting in the armed forces, laying down their lives in the interest of approved democratic ideals. History is recording the great deeds of these men and stalwart youths. And what else can bear a more eloquent testimony to the tangible contributions being made by the colonial countries, and justify their claims to a place in the post-war scheme of things?
Those contributions present a powerful challenge to the moral conscience of the Great Powers, who should be requested by this Conference to revise, rather drastically, the very fundamentals of their colonial policy. The Conference will thus be answering the forceful call made by Comrade Reid Robinson (Vice-President of the C.I.O.) in these pregnant words: “We must fight for political and economic democracy throughout the world.” The post-war demands to be made by this Conference on the ruling nations in all parts of the world must be comprehensive and must stress certain of the main problems relating to the colonies, namely: (a) strict prohibition of the Colour Bar at present operating in various forms and in varying degrees against the indigenous populations, and removal of every vestige of forced and child labour and all other forms of objectionable labour conditions; (b) establishment of the principles of “Equal pay for equal work, without discrimination because of nationality, race or sex”; (c) encouragement of the establishment and growth of the Trade Union Movement as a defensive machinery against labour exploitation; (d) introduction of adult suffrage and removal of income qualification as a means of entitling all workers and taxpayers to participate in the administration of their countries, and recognition of their right to choose the Government under which they shall live democratically.
To hasten general progress in the colonies, comprehensive educational schemes should be requested from the colonial powers. It is incumbent on this gathering of the representatives of the world’s working-classes solidly to support these straightforward, simple demands, since they by no means violate recognised democratic principles in defence of which so much labour has been spent and so much innocent blood spilled. The cause of freedom in the colonies is as important as it is in liberated countries. Let it therefore never be recorded in history that this Conference, from sheer lack of moral stamina, has funked and failed to plead the righteous cause of the colonial peoples.
Mr. S. K. Pramanik (All-India Trades Union Congress): Mr. President, fellow delegates and comrades: My hearty greetings to you. It is needless to emphasise that the immense destruction of men and materials in this war surely needs planned reconstruction on a scale hitherto unknown in our history. In the Soviet Union, where the entire social and economic life of the people is organised on the solid basis of socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and on the complete elimination of imperialism, the issue is simple and straight. All peoples can confidently rely on its support of any planned endeavours for post-war reconstruction on the basis of equal opportunity for all countries, big or small. The entire resources and surplus contribution of its labour power can be also utilised to speed up the process to its utmost in the best interests of the entire community and other peoples. But in the democratic countries where monopoly capitalism, cartels and trusts dominate very greatly the economic and social life of the community, and greed for private profit and not social good remains the only incentive to any productive and constructive drive, the issue becomes complicated indeed. We must realise that soldiers and workers who are making the greatest contributions and tremendous sacrifices can never willingly agree to return to the old order of things and carry on a hand-to-mouth existence on dole and relief on the brink of perpetual insecurity. It would be too much to expect that. Fundamental changes in the structure and policy of economy would be required to maintain even productive employment, not to speak of solving the problem of distribution and utilisation of labour power to its utmost. Workers surely need immediate fulfilment of their economic needs. But sooner or later they would realise in every country that it is impossible to satisfy even their minimum needs adequately without radically changing the present order of things and having their decisive say in the control of socio-political life and in the shaping of their present and future. But so long as it is not possible to do so, we will have necessarily to agree to press for the fullest possible short-time application of the principles agreed upon by the United Nations, and to work out any plan this Conference may adopt as an immediate measure.
If that be the position in the democratic and highly industrial countries, one can only imagine what can be the lot of the vast submerged, toiling multitude of the colonies and dependencies who are denied even the most elementary rights of human existence. The problems there are much more difficult and wider than elsewhere. Indian workers surely need rapid industrialisation and raising of their standard of living from their own point of view. But there can not be even more moderate capitalist-democratic planning, not to speak of Socialist planning, without immediate elimination of imperialism in any shape or form, and unqualified application of the right of self-determination to all oppressed and exploited peoples. On behalf of the Indian working-class, we must say so plainly and demand a democratic national Government of the people as the most indispensable condition precedent to any effective planning for social security and reconstruction.
You, comrades, can well understand what kind of social security Indian workers can possibly have in the existing conditions of slavery in a country where per capita annual national income, including millionaires and paupers, can hardly go above £4 17s. In the case of 83.2 millions of workers engaged in agriculture, it comes down to £2 18s. only. Thirty millions of landless agriculture workers have to live on still less income, on the verge of starvation. Textile workers get only 13s. per week, jute workers 7s. 6d., and miners 3s. 9d. per week. You can therefore well realise the miserable lot of industrial workers who have no insurance against unemployment, sickness and old age, no allowance for family and children, not even elementary security of service and living wage minimum, no right of collective bargaining and recognition of Unions. An overwhelming majority of workers suffer from malnutrition. No wonder famine took such a heavy toll and demonstrated, as if under a flash light, the rottenness of the imperialist system upheld by Whitehall, and the tragic mal-administration of an alien Government, not responsible to the people of India. The lack of foresight and planning to meet the needs of the people can still be read in every line of its past and present food policy and its attitude towards the outstanding labour problems, even in the sixth year of the war.
Due to the phenomenal rise in the cost of living by 150 percent to 200 percent, the workers have suffered heavily in terms of real wages in their already low standard of living. Destitutes are still dying in Calcutta and in the countryside. The cost of living is still too high and beyond the means of millions of agricultural workers and low-paid industrial workers and their like. Malnutrition and preventable diseases are still taking a heavy toll. Therefore there cannot conceivably be any social security worth the name in the near future without a drastic change in the outlook of the British Government.
This Conference will be failing in its one important task if it fails to take special note of the conditions in colonies and dependencies and to take appropriate measures to secure for these numerous exploited peoples of Asia and Africa and other parts the most elementary rights of civilised democratic existence, social justice and free government of their own. Any attempt to by-pass this all-important issue cannot but eventually defeat the very purpose of an abiding peace and social security for which the Conference has been convened at this most critical period of world history. Let us realise that “Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere,” in the words of the Philadelphia declaration. A free world cannot live side by side with a slave world without coming into clash, sooner or later. Let us be therefore fully alive to the great responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of responsible representatives of the world working-class movement at this juncture, and address ourselves seriously to the task of facing the clear issues staring at our face, and solve them courageously by all means at our disposal. Let us remember that if we fail to do that, we will undoubtedly be held responsible before history and the next generation for our failure to arrest timely the process of another war, for the third time in our life. I trust the world working-class will rise equal to the occasion the necessity so urgently demands and, under the leadership of the valiant Soviet Union and other progressive forces within the United Nations, defeat any attempt to inflict on the long-suffering peoples a pro-imperialist peace. We demand immediate National Government and release of political prisoners, the recognition of Trade Unions and right of collective bargaining, a minimum living wage, an eight-hour day and social security, and freedom of the press, speech and association. Workers of the world unite! Down with Fascism and imperialism! Onward to democracy, social justice and an abiding peace.
Mr. J. S. Annan (Gold Coast Railway Civil Servants and Technical Workers’ Union): We come now to a pressing domestic problem, the immediate demands of the world’s organised Labour and the plans for post-war reconstruction. This Conference has gathered at a time when victory over Nazi tyranny is looking forth into the horizon, and it is only natural that the various organised bodies of the world should proclaim their needs and plans. The church, political parties, social organisations, etc., are all planning. Organised Labour must raise its voice in this matter. This Conference must give social security to the working-class of the world by progressive plans for raising the standard of living, expanding medical facilities to industry, increasing the social services so that men and women can live and educationally develop their personalities for the common good. One immediate demand will be the resurrection of those Trade Unions which have fallen under the yoke of the Axis. It should be our moral and social duty to give every help to the liberated countries to rebuild their Labour Movement once more, backed by their own traditions and customs, run on democratic principles and thus making their individual national contributions to the heritage of the Trade Union International.
The second and most obvious demand is the immediate establishment of preliminary machinery to set up World Trade Union international solidarity among the workers of the world. So far I have spoken in general terms, but now I must be more specific. I must present the point of view of the colonies. Among the pressing needs of the organisation which I represent I wish to make the following representations:
First, on the Gold Coast we immediately require the setting up of a Wages Board with powers to examine and fix adequate minimum wage standards to cope with the enormous rise in the standard of living. Every worker should earn enough to provide himself with at least the bare necessities of life. On the Gold Coast, and I believe in other parts of British West Africa, the average labourer (and labourers form a great part of the working-class organisations) earns 9d. to 1s. a day and thus is denied even the bare necessities of life. The argument that the standard of living of workers on the Coast is low, and, therefore, that they should be paid such inhuman wages is mischievous and pernicious. How can a person live with wife and children on a shilling a day even in the most interior part of Africa ? It is impossible and it is an argument manufactured by political propagandists. The principle of equal pay for equal work must be enforced. The existing enormous disparity between the salaries of the European and African, the African who in many respects is better qualified than the European as far as academic qualifications are concerned, should be discontinued at once if perfect harmony and goodwill is to exist between the two.
Secondly, we require at once a Labour representative on the Legislative Council of the Government; that is vitally important. The native members on the Legislative Council are too busy with other things to be bothered with labour problems. The Labour seat on the Council must be filled by a candidate elected by the workers themselves. A progressive plan for social insurance must be worked out by the Government for the workers.
Thirdly, we desire to stabilise our internal economy. For this we consider it necessary that a heavier form of taxation should be imposed on the incomes of the mines, the commercial houses and all others engaged in private enterprise on the Coast. This increased taxation must be used to expand the social services of the country. There must be genuine encouragement of such native enterprise as production of cocoa. This can be most effectively done by the setting-up of a marketing agency which will be under the control of the African producers.
We must also attempt to do away with all vested interests in the Colonies; exploitation has reached its climax and it is time that a serious war was waged against it.
When we come to consider our post-war reconstruction we have a lot of things in common with the previous speakers. Our first aim is an efficient organisation of Labour to work out unity among working-class people and to form a regional association of the four countries of West Africa. We must form a bloc in West Africa whereby we can raise one voice against whatever odds. This will necessitate the training of the necessary personnel in the Labour Movement and we shall require the assistance of the bigger national bodies. Technical schools must be expanded to train, individuals to take up higher positions in the higher grades of industry. Educational facilities should be expanded to provide free and compulsory education for all classes of people irrespective of creed, colour, or class. Medical facilities should be multiplied to combat disease and relieve suffering. A progressive scheme for the clearance of slums, squalor, and debt must be set up, as well as an extensive housing scheme to accommodate the various classes of workers.
These are the broad details of our plans, but the implementation of them will require the co-operation and goodwill of all organised Labour everywhere in the world. It is absolutely necessary for us to remember that in the great family of the World Trade Union Organisation we must all fully share in the needs and bounty of one another. There can be no greater responsibility for this Conference.