Pan Africanist warns that the 1937 Barbadian spirit is not dead
Don’t push us too far!
This was the stern warning today from the President of the Clement Payne Movement, David Comissiong, who stopped just short of predicting a repeat of the 1937 riots.
Comissiong, one of the island’s leading social activists, however cautioned that while Barbadians may be perceived as “conservative and docile people”, the records showed they were not afraid to stand up for their rights.
“I would not like to say that we are on the verge of that [the 1937 riots]. I think 2015 is not 1937 . . . but we are seeing signs that Barbadian people and the trade unions of Barbados have said to this country, ‘don’t push us too far, because . . . yes, we are committed to talking and negotiating and all of the protocols, but if you push us too far, we reserve the right to engage in mass protests action’,” Comissiong proclaimed today.
Speaking at a press conference where the Pan African Coalition of Organisations (PACO) revealed plans for the Season of Emancipation, he further cautioned “the powers that be”, namely the Government, the business class and all the institutional leaders of Barbados, that “they would do well to remember not to push the Barbadian people too far”.
He described the 1937 uprising in Barbados as the most impactful of all the slave rebellions, which occurred in the Caribbean.
In fact, he pointed out that total deaths from that uprising were more than all of the casualties of the other Caribbean territories combined.
“It is claimed that Barbadians are the most conservative people, but if you go back to the people’s uprisings of 1937, the uprising in Barbados was easily the most substantial and impactful uprising of all of the Caribbean countries. The very number of casualties will tell you so.
“So this idea that Barbadians are docile and conservative people, our history does not bare that out. There is something of a rebel spirit in the Barbadian people and we should all be conscious of that and be proud of that, because it means that while we may be longsuffering, don’t take us for granted, don’t trifle with us, don’t seek to oppress us,” he stressed.
While making it clear he saw nothing wrong with such behaviour, Comissiong insisted that Barbadians were willing to stand up and fight for their rights and such should be viewed as positive.
“This is healthy. If we still have that within our culture, within the institutional culture of our trade unions, if we still have that within the spirit of our people, that is not something for us to be afraid of. That is actually a very positive sign for the society because what it means is that the Barbadian people have it within themselves that if it becomes necessary, to once again to take to the streets, to protest, to raise their voices, to engage in mass action, that this society is capable of that kind of response.
“I would like to think that spirit that was so evident in 1937 has not died. That within the bosom of the masses of the Barbadian people, within the institutional culture of the trade unions that 1937 gave birth too, there is still that determination that this society must move forward, that the Barbadian people must not be oppressed, must not be held back, that there must always be a path forward,” Comissiong said.
Earlier this week, as Parliament debated a resolution in recognition of the 1937 riots, Opposition MP Santia Bradshaw had cautioned that a number of issues, which had sparked those riots, were again prevalent in society, such as poor social and working conditions of the labour class, inequality in society and concentrated wealth in the hands of a few.
The following day, as the Senate debated the same resolution, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer had raised concern about certain elements which she said seemed bent on “stirring up riots”, while calling for a lasting industrial peace.