By Dr. Adrian Fraser
1. Mcintosh and the Representative Government Association
George McIntosh was a founding member of the Representative
Government Association (RGA) that came into being on February 25, 1919. In an era of pure Crown Colony Government the people, in particular the articulate middle class set up associations in different colonies to push for the re-introduction of representative government. The St. Vincent Association worked closely with the others, particularly with Grenada whose Association was formed in 1917. T. Albert Marryshow who was one of the leading figures in the Grenadian Association did, on at least one occasion in 1921, speak to a packed audience at a meeting of the St. Vincent Association.
George McIntosh was one of the co-founders of the Association and held different positions on it, including that of Chairman and Treasurer, a position he held before moving away to form the Workingmen’s Association. This was his first involvement as an advocate for constitutional change. The Association held meetings in different parts of the country. In January, 1922 the RGA made a presentation to the Wood Commission under an umbrella Committee, the Citizens Committee. The Wood Commission which visited St. Vincent between January 11 and 12, 1922, was set up under the chairmanship of Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies, E.F.L Wood, to investigate and make representations following the call for elected representative government. The Report pointed to the fact that the question of representative government was raised by the RGA as early as May 1920 through a petition to the Acting Administrator.
A measure of success was achieved by the collective effort of the Caribbean Associations when elected representation was introduced in 1925 even though the franchise was limited and catered to a narrow group of people. The RGA continued after 1925 to push for a fuller measure of representative government.
I have dealt a bit on the Representative Government Association and its efforts to achieve elected representative government to make the point that McIntosh from 1919 was in the forefront of efforts to achieve a greater measure of representative government including Adult Suffrage which came later and which he supported insisting that there be no qualifying literacy test.
By the 1930s the Representative Government Association had seen an increase in membership by planters and their representatives and had grown very conservative. While it was anticipated that the Association would have fielded candidates for the 1937 election to be held under a revised constitution, McIntosh took the opportunity to branch away and created the St. Vincent Workingmen’s Association.
4.THE ST. VINCENT WORKINGMEN’S ASSOCIATION (WMA)
McIntosh’s role in the 1935 riots have for long been misunderstood, primarily because of his arrest and the charges laid against him as an alleged ring leader. He was, in fact, trying to act as a go- between with the working people and the Government after having been asked by them to make representation expressing their concerns about economic measures being introduced that were likely to impact negatively on them.
He was arrested on November 11 and spent the time in gaol before his trial which lasted from December 5 to 11. The magistrate brought the preliminary hearing to a close before it was completed, on the grounds that the evidence presented did not indicate that he had any charges for which to answer. The working people who had been following the hearings became totally elated when the charges against him were dismissed.
Earlier when C.L Hannays of Trinidad arrived to represent McIntosh at his preliminary hearings, in collaboration with Vincentian lawyer, O.W Forde, the reception on his arrival was testimony to the high regard with which they held him:
Hannays arrived from Port of Spain by Lady Hawkins on November 22.
He was retained on behalf of G. A McIntosh “who has been arrested by Government on the charge of felony in connection with the recent riots. A larger gathering than usual assembled on the Kingstown Jetty and in the streets in close proximity to the Jetty and gave Mr. Hannays a very cordial welcome.” (The Times newspaper, November 23, 1935)
The reaction of the people to the news of McIntosh’s release following the dismissal of charges against him was captured by the Times newspaper of December 12.
“Mr. George A McIntosh Discharged”
“Breathless the crowd awaited the decision and as soon as the court adjourned, Mr. McIntosh’s friends, and there were not a few, rushed to clasp his hands and those of his able counsels. A further surprise awaited Mr. McIntosh. On leaving the Court Yard, he was met by crowds of people some of whom lifted him on their shoulders and bore him many yards. Throughout the balance of the evening there was conspicuously in evidence among many people… a spirit of joy on Mr. McIntosh’s acquittal.”
McIntosh saw the opportunity to fill a political vacuum created by the exclusion of the working people from the formal political process and were therefore unrepresented in Parliament, a fact that the Governor admitted after the riots. McIntosh put his efforts into establishing an Association to represent those people. The St. Vincent Workingmen’s Association had its inaugural meeting on January 20, 1936 and was officially launched on February 20, 1936 as a limited liability company. The Investigator newspaper greeted the move, “This bringing together of the working classes has been the work of Mr. G.A McIntosh who is fired with the zeal to help lift them to higher levels in their economic and general well-being and if carefully managed the Association should prove beneficial not only to its membership but to the community at large. Work among the masses is difficult, but it is necessary for the advancement of a civilised community and we wish Mr. McIntosh and his band of workers every success in the new undertaking.”
In reporting on meetings of the Association to build membership the Investigator made reference to the enthusiasm that existed everywhere. The correspondent from Barrouallie wrote, “They reached us about 7:30 p.m. Crowds greeted them from every side as they drove through the streets.” The report said that the crowd was big despite the rain.” (Investigator, June 13, 1936)
Its report on the meeting in Georgetown indicated that crowds came also from surrounding areas, Grand Sable, Byrea and from the Carib Country. “…The first item on the night’s programme was the enrolling of new members and so great was the rush that had the chairman not brought this part of the meeting to a close the whole night might have been spent in enrolling new members.” (Investigator, May 13, 1936)
At its second meeting held in Kingstown on March 2, 1936 the Investigator newspaper reported on it. The room was filled very early and could not accommodate the crowds. Some persons who came to be enrolled as members had to leave. Still some 276 persons paid their entrance fee. At that same meeting McIntosh was elected as President.
The Representative Government Association had been an organisation that catered to the middle class, professionals and planters. The Workingmen’s Association was filling a gap in becoming the first mass organisation in the country. It took pride in being the first organisation to represent the mass of workers and from the beginning its possible political impact could not be ignored. This was the beginning of mass involvement in politics despite the fact that the majority of its members did not meet the franchise requirement for voting.
i. Rally of August 3, 1936
Its Rally of August 3, 1936 was something else! The Times reported on it:
“St. Vincent Worker’s Stage Monster Rally”
“Thousands follow Procession in and line the streets. Nothing Seen like it in St. Vincent Before.”
“…Within living memory- more within the annals of St. Vincent history there never was witnessed a giant demonstration as the rally of the St. Vincent Workingmen’s Association held on August 3, instant… From the midnight of the day before until the morning of the 3rd, buses roared into Kingstown and the tramping of workers feet brought thousands of workers either to take part in or witness what turned out to be an unparalleled demonstration of workers. Ninety seven towns, villages and other places of abode stretching through the length and breadth of St. Vincent were represented.” (The Times newspaper, Saturday, August 8, 1936)
The Working People were on the move and McIntosh’s goal was to highlight and represent their concerns. In addressing the Rally, he began by laying out the issues that were to form the plank of his and the Association’s agenda, in and out of parliament. He raised the matter of the lopsided distribution of land, conditions of the working people relating to housing and general working conditions, scholarships to secondary schools, compulsory primary education and a Minimum Wages Bill.
The Workingmen’s Association was on the way to correcting one of the major problems that surfaced during the riots, that is, the absence in the Legislative Council of representatives of the working people. The Investigator newspaper captured the occasion. It was of the view that it would now be possible through the Association “to have direct touch between the people lowest down and the Government through those people’s representatives selected by themselves in their own labour assembly.” It expected that McIntosh would be put forward as a candidate on a labour ticket. (April 1, 1936)
The Workingmen’s Association contested the 1937 elections held on a more liberal constitution. Their victory was decisive and they became the dominant political force in St. Vincent until 1951. McIntosh as leader was the most highly regarded politician. The newspapers carried the news of their victory.
“Smashing Victory for the Workingmen’s Association”
“During the earlier part of the week, the hum of buses and other automobiles spoke of the intensest political activities ever witnessed in St. Vincent.” Smashing Victory for the Workingmen’s Association
ii. Victory for McIntosh
McIntosh “was lifted and put into his car, the crowd cheering as he drove to his home.”
“General rejoicing among the majority of the people went on into the early hours of Good Friday morning on the signal victory of the working class people in placing four out of five elected men (of-sic) on the Legislative Council.” (Times, March 27, 1937)
iii. The WMA’s Decisive Victory at the Polls
“McIntosh may be considered in certain official quarters and elsewhere as an enemy of government he is not considered an enemy of the public by the public.” He also was re-elected to the Kingstown Board.
“At the Kingstown Board elections he rode on to the Board upon a crest of the wave of public opinion, today he has ridden into the Legislative Council on the crest of another wave of greater amplitude.”
“No one who heard that ‘midnight shout’ of the populace on the announcement of McIntosh’s victory can ignore it.”
iv. The Land Question
The acquisition of land by workers and peasants was seen as a possible solution to the economic difficulties faced by the country. Even the Governor took this line when he was confronted by crowds in the yard of the Court House and Legislative Council. The newspaper of the day, the Times and Investigator had been taken up the call for provision of land for peasants and workers. It was highlighted by McIntosh at his first election campaign meeting and once he got into the Legislative Council he and his fellow representatives began to exert pressure on the Administrator to begin the process of acquiring land for the working people. In 1936 Mr. C.C Skeete of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture was invited to St. Vincent to examine the possibility of land settlement on the Leeward part of the island. Small bits of land were being acquired in particular areas of the country. It was anticipated that the 1939 West Indian Royal Commission was going to make recommendations for Land Settlement but the Governor (ag) on July 3, 1939 indicated to the Secretary of State that they could not await the report of the Commission before taking action. He stated, “I am, however, anxious that wherever possible land should be made available for the use of the working classes especially in districts where the supply of labour is permanently in excess of the requirements of the estates and where there is an appreciable number of labourers who are not in possession of any land, either as peasant owners or as tenants of an estate.”
All of this was a result of the pressure exerted by McIntosh and other representatives of his party in the Legislative Council and in meetings since the formation of the Association and this became continuous. On May 1, 1937 the Administrator visited Greiggs at the invitation of the St. Vincent Workingmen’s Association (WMA). There he was addressed by residents calling for land settlement, among other things. The written presentation was the initiative of McIntosh and his men who helped in its preparation.
In a letter to the Times on March 26, 1938, McIntosh in an article on “Land Settlement suggested that “In view of the recent recommendations for land settlement Schemes by the Trinidad Commission of Enquiry, it is quite in order for us in St. Vincent to press strongly our claims for a better distribution of land in this Colony.”
At a meeting of the Legislative Council in August 1940 the Association presented 4 motions pushing for providing lands for the further establishment of a peasantry. Land continued to be a pressing issue until a major victory was achieved in 1945. The Times of June 30, 1945 captured the event. The piece of legislation passed by the Legislative Council was described as “A Great Piece of Legislation.” It stated, “When the members of the legislative Council left the Council Chamber on Thursday evening amidst gathering darkness, after an all day session, they did so with ‘the feeling that unborn generations of Vincentians would look upon that day as perhaps the most historic in the life of the Legislature for the present century.”
A Bill for an Ordinance to create a body corporate with the powers to regulate and control land settlement and development in the colony was passed. The paper said that it believed that St. Vincent was the first West Indian Colony to create a Land Settlement Board with statutory powers because it is believed that “no other colony is so affected with land monopoly as this.”
That piece of legislation affected land on the leeward side of the Island. A Land Settlement Board was set up with effect from July 25, 1948. When the legislation was passed McIntosh had pledged to ensure that persons appointed to the Board had the “sympathy and consideration of the people at heart.” He was among three members of his Association cum Labour Party that were appointed to the Board.
(In the next segment, Dr. Fraser discusses “McIntosh and the Labour Movement” and other issues)