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No Women Jump Out!

Gender Exclusion, Labour Organization and Political Leadership in Antigua 1917-1970

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Christolyn Williams

This book aims to provide a history of twentieth-century labour in the British colony of Antigua and Barbuda. It documents the labour and class struggles between landowners and peasants both before and after the legalization and formation of trades and labour unions in 1940. It exposes the political and racial dynamics of British colonialism in the eastern Caribbean as never before. The racial dynamics are evident between white colonial administrators, landowners and mill and factory owners, as they struggled to maintain control over a black and coloured population in a changing world.
The long overlooked history of the role of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) in facilitating the end of British colonialism is one of the surprising stories of this book, as is the astonishing role of women. Despite their exclusion from labour and trade union history, oral sources show women played a key role as labour organizers who defied employers by planning meetings and actively recruiting union members. They were always there, as domestic workers in urban areas, in the fields and in the factories. They served as recruiters and organizers, carried the lights for outdoor meetings and encouraged and stood behind the union leaders. Despite their central role, they did not «jump out», and their stories became forgotten, overlooked even, in the history of Caribbean labour.

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Introduction Gender Exclusion, Labour Organization and Political Leadership in Antigua

Extract

1917–1970 This book explores the twentieth century history of the British Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, focusing on labour organization, politi- cal leadership and gender exclusion from 1917–1970. At the heart of this book is the critical role of gender – the social construction of identity based on sex – in the development of trade unionism and in local level leadership. Trade unions developed during the transition from colony to nation in the eastern Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, formerly members of the British administrative unit called the Leeward Islands. In the 1990s as a graduate student conducting research on trade unions and politics in Antigua and Barbuda, I encountered a collective amnesia about women’s role in both of these institutions. This book addresses this neglect and exclusion from the memory and from the literature of Antigua and Barbuda scholars. Both Patrick Lewis and Novelle Richards, scholars of Antigua labour and political history, have focused their work exclusively on the role of Antiguan men both in trade unions and in politics. These works have further contributed to the belief of many men and women, professions and working class alike that women didn’t do ‘those sorts of things.’ However, when I interrogated both primary and secondary sources, the evidence of women’s central role is clear.1 Women were the islands’ majority population throughout the colonial period, and still are. As a result of their demographic position and their labour occupation they had a significant impact in the region’s economy and...

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