Labour movements in Caribbean history

  • Kusha Haraksingh


The circumstances of the peopling of the Caribbean naturally enough lead us to expect that studies of the labouring population would figure prominently in Caribbean scholarship; after all, people were brought here to work. As it turns out, that hope is not misplaced, though it would appear that it is forms of organization of labour, in particular slave, contract and peasant endeavour, which have been the major focus of attention. Similarly, it would not be unreasonable to expect that investigations into the rise and development of local labour movements would be imbued with an appreciation of the peculiar realities of the Caribbean, but here hopes are less easily sustainable. For the general impression to be derived from the literature is that, notwithstanding the fairly obligatory references to the Caribbean past, the approach to this topic has been heavily inspired by the Anglo-American tradition. In that vein, which in a formative period of Caribbean writing was shaped especially in the British West Indies by Fabian thinking, the labour movement was seen as more or less co-terminous with the rise of trade unions; indeed, those bodies were regarded as an inevitable crystallization of labour activity along a linear path of progress. If nowadays historians and other scholars are increasingly disinclined to see matters in this light, their reluctance apparently has less to do with the Caribbean background than with developments in labour studies elsewhere which have sought to follow the worker beyond workplace, union hall and political campaign in an attempt to see him in the round. Thus, an appraisal of labour movements in uniquely Caribbean terms is yet to be written.1


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2003

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  • Kusha Haraksingh

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