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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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Although most British Caribbean labour history sources have as their beginning the 1930s, labour’s power relations and dominance structures are rooted in the post-emancipation period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Antigua and Barbuda is of central importance in the history of free labour in the British West Indies because this island was the proving ground for post-slavery labour laws and later became the site of the first conf licts between large numbers of former slaves and former slave owners. Many of the other islands in the area, not all of them British colonies, modelled their labour codes and social controls after the ones instituted in Antigua in 1834. Antigua’s significance in this context has been long overlooked. Labour developments, in particular, the rise of an independent labouring population with class consciousness, progressed dif ferently in the smaller and larger islands. The small size of Antigua and its on-going dependence on sugar cane production as the primary agricultural activity greatly retarded the development of an independent labour force and a true peasantry. The yearly production figures rose and fell, never entering the continual decline that occurred in Jamaica, between 1838 and the end of the nineteenth century. In Jamaica, the decline of sugar provided opportunities for ex-slaves to become tenant farmers and landowners. This new, rising peasant class was able to introduce new products, in particular bananas, at the end of the nineteenth century, stimulating the lagging export economy. Gender and race are very intertwined with labour and have...

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