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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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Part II Labour, Demography, and Gender

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Chapter 3 Women in a Modern Colony This chapter highlights the historical role of women in Antigua and Barbuda from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, using primarily colonial administration reports, interviews and oral history. These resources document the role of women in the island’s economy and society. It is clear from the evidence that free non-white women in Antigua and Barbuda have played crucial social roles, despite their marginalized social status. Coloured women formed and financed the self-help ef forts of the Female Orphan Society in the nineteenth century. They continued into the twen- tieth century to support and finance social and educational institutions to improve the lives of members of the black and coloured population. When locked out of wage labour, they became involved in small scale peasant production and service industries in the urban areas. The history of women in Antigua and Barbuda has been greatly inf luenced by the political economy of the islands. Through the mid- twentieth century the island remained a sugar plantation economy. In the sugar plantation economy of Antigua women, as the island’s majority population, were greatly inf luenced by and greatly inf luenced the society. In addition to the impact of their size in the population women were impacted also by the social and political structures of the island colony. The low mar- riage rates indicate the low social and economic status of the island’s female population. In a society where respectability meant everything, black and coloured women and their...

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