The Voice of Coloured Labour. George Padmore (editor) 1945

7. Greetings from British Guiana

By Hubert Critchlow (President, British Guiana Labour Council)

Hubert Critchlow was unfortunately attending a session of the Post-war Reconstruction Committee when the Chairman of the Conference called upon him to speak, and the Conference closed before another opportunity occurred for him to address the delegates. For the benefit of this record, we give the text of the speech which Comrade Critchlow had intended to deliver. – Editor.

Comrade Chairman, comrades and fellow delegates: As the accredited representative of the British Guiana Trades Union Council, it is my pleasant duty to bring you fraternal greetings and expressions of international solidarity from the working class of British Guiana, which includes workers of all races: that is, people of African descent, East Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Portuguese, and others of mixed race.

I want to emphasise this point, because in British Guiana, one of the most cosmopolitan of British territories, the Labour Movement, whatever its limitations, has from its very beginning stressed the solidarity between workers of all races. The Unions affiliated to my Council have always welcomed into their ranks members of the working class, regardless of their race, their colour, or their creed. In this connection we feel that while we are still young and weak as compared with the great Trade Union Movements in many other countries, we have much to teach, especially at this historical period when humanity is torn not only by international wars and social conflicts but also by racial strife; It is this latter note that I want to stress at this Conference. For white workers will never be able to free themselves until they join hands with the coloured workers throughout the world for the common emancipation of all those workers who toil by hand and brain.

Let me first of all say how proud I am to be able to take part in the deliberations of this Conference, at which vital questions affecting the future of the International Working Class and all humanity are being discussed. I am no stranger to international gatherings, having participated in several international conferences of labour in Britain and Europe before the present war. But this is the first time that we have been able to gather under one roof such a large and representative body, and I am particularly happy to note the presence of so many coloured delegates from Asia, Africa, and the West Indies. If I may make a criticism in passing, I would like to suggest that in the past the International Labour Movement was too much a European Movement – a White Movement. And if the war has done nothing else it has taught us the lesson of the inter-dependence of our common struggle. The European workers will only be able to go forward by extending the hand of aid, support and friendly co-operation to the young working class and trade union movements in the Colonies, who, by the presence of their representatives at this Conference, have demonstrated their capacity and readiness to take part in the common struggle.

I have been mandated to bring before this Conference a number of questions on which the working class of my country feel very strongly. When we received your invitation, Comrade Chairman, our Trades Union Council convened a special meeting at which the agenda of this Conference was discussed, and resolutions were adopted on the four main points which have been the subjects of our deliberations at this Conference. As I am a great believer in democracy and the right of the common people to express their views on matters which vitally affect them, I want to take this opportunity of bringing before the Conference the decisions made by the British Guiana Trades Union Council.

I shall deal first with Point 1 – Furtherance of the Allied war effort. The workers of my country feel that “all soldiers and camp followers under the banners of the Allied nations should be given equal treatment in all respects.” We feel very strongly about this, for too often even among comrades-in-arms coloured men and women called upon to make the supreme sacrifice are discriminated against in the matter of pay, opportunities for promotion, and other respects.

So strongly do the workers of my country resent racial chauvinism and colour discrimination that they feel that Governments of all countries in which racial discrimination is legalised – I shall not name these countries, for you know them, and I don’t mean Nazi Germany-shall be debarred from taking part in the World Peace Conference, unless they take steps to annul such legislation before victory. Furthermore, my Council feels that the influence of the Trade Union Movement should be used in their respective countries to combat and discourage the practice as being inconsistent with the principles of Socialism and Democracy, which are predicated upon the philosophy of the brotherhood of man.

I now turn to the second point – the Peace Settlement. I have been instructed by my Council to say that we endorse the idea that official representation of the International Trade Union Movement be accorded at the Peace Conference. For Labour, which has borne the brunt of this struggle, has the right to be heard in the shaping of the new order. We therefore hope that those who speak for our great World Movement will not forget at that Conference the hopes and aspirations of the coloured workers of the world who have too long been forgotten.

On the question of Post-War Reconstruction, it is our feeling and our just claim that the Colonial and subject peoples should be included within the terms of the Atlantic Charter, which should apply to them as much as to the white-skinned nations of the world. We strongly resent any attempt to discriminate against us. For if we are good enough to fight for the freedom of others, we are good enough to enjoy it ourselves. In this connection, my Council has recorded, and it appeals to this Conference to endorse its stand, that all Imperial Powers with Colonies should be called upon to declare a time limit wherein self-government will be extended to their Colonies, and that during this interim period the necessary machinery should be set up to train the peoples of these territories in the administration of their own affairs. And in relation to this question of self-government, we feel that this Conference should urge upon the British Imperial Government to publish the full report of the West Indian Royal Commission, so that the workers of these Colonies may acquaint themselves with the difficulties under which they exist and the remedies which should be applied.

This question of Post-War Reconstruction is of vital importance to the workers of my country. The prevailing low standard of living of the inhabitants, not only of British Guiana but of the whole Caribbean area, calls for the immediate creation of a large-scale industrial programme to supplement our agriculture, which also cries oat for fundamental reorganisation. This applies particularly to the growing of food crops for local consumption. It will surprise and shock the delegates of this Conference to know that the bulk of the food consumed by the working class in these potentially rich tropical lands is imported from foreign countries. There is tremendous scope for large-scale development in British Guiana, with its abundant forests, water power and mineral resources. Such a programme of industrialisation should be carried out through a central planning body, on which the working class should have full representation. Hand in hand with such an economic programme must march the educational and cultural advancement of the masses, based on the principles formulated in the educational policy of the British Labour Party.

I feel confident that if the decisions of this Conference are carried out in the spirit of international brotherhood by which our deliberations should always be guided, our Movement can look forward to a great future.

Long live the international solidarity of the working class! Down with Fascism and Nazism, United we stand, Divided we suffer.