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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 III Politics and Exclusion

Extract

Chapter 6 Gender Exclusions This chapter examines male dominance and female exclusion in trade unions in Antigua and Barbuda. In addition, I have introduced the discussion of women and their roles in the economy of Antigua and in the union and the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) through the 1970s. In the late nineteenth century, from Great Britain to the United States, trade unions were male centred institutions, hostile to the inf lux of women workers in the labour market and in unions. Throughout much of the first half of the twenti- eth century, prior to World War II, the union movement showed little interest in working women and their concerns.1 British Trade Unions and the TUC, like their counterparts in other developed societies such as the United States and Canada, ref lected traditional attitudes toward women and the workplace. From the late nineteenth century when women’s presence in the workplace was increasing in industrialized nations to the start of World War I, when the numbers of working women dramatically increased, unions, as largely male organizations, were challenged in their organizational structure to deal with the demands of working women, for membership and for recognition of their particular needs as union mem- bers. While trade unions and the TUC fought for the interest of working families throughout the twentieth century, they were through the first half 1 Maureen Baker and Mary-Ann Robeson. ‘Trade Union Reactions to Women Workers and Their Concerns’, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 6:1 (1981):19–31. This...

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