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By Dr. Adrian Fraser

v. McIntosh and the Labour Movement

George Augustus McIntosh
George Augustus McIntosh

At a meeting of the Legislative Council on February 5, 1938 McIntosh raised the following questions and motions: Regarding the Workingmen’s Compensation Act, he asked that it be brought forward again “so as to give immediate effect to it as has been done in sister colonies.”

He asked if the Government was aware that on several estates throughout the country, labourers who lived and worked for a number of years were given seven days notice to quit and remove their houses or huts and leave and lose their food crops planted in the small plots allotted to them.

McIntosh moved that Government consider revision of the grade of salaries paid to Junior Civil Servants, including clerical assistants, dispensaries, sanitary inspectors and policemen.

As with the question of land, labour also preoccupied a lot of the attention of McIntosh and his Movement, both in and out of the Legislative Council they were making representations on behalf of the workers of the country. There was always awareness, even on the part of the Administration that it was the working people who had rioted on October 21 and 22, 1935. They could no longer be taken for granted since they had given themselves centre place on the country’s political agenda.

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McIntosh and J.S Bonadie, an executive member of the Association, were representatives to the inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) held in Barbados in 1945. At that meeting, he described the situation in St.Vincent where there was a strong labour movement but no registered union and asked whether it was proposed that they should concentrate on building one. (p. 16) That was probably the stimulus to the establishment of unions in 1945.

The purpose of the CLC was to: develop a strong regional labour movement through links between existing unions and the labour parties; to allow for a strong federal government to improve social and economic conditions for the working people. This issue of the link between unions and political parties was at variance with Colonial Administration and the British Trade Union Congress whose policy was to keep them separate. (Bolland, Politics of Labour, pgs 475-477)

vi. Representation to the West Indian Royal Commission on December 29, 1938.

In an appearance before the West Indian Royal Commission on December 29, 1938, McIntosh informed the Commission that before their formation workers in the country were unrepresented. The Association’s aim was to provide them with representation. The Workingmen’s Cooperative Association was registered as a limited liability company and not as a trade union because of the deficiencies with the Trade Union Act at that time. The Association had been making representation on behalf of workers both in and out of the Legislative Council.

An extract from the Grenada West Indian newspaper that was carried in the Times newspaper of January 22, 1938 that was entitled “Labour Conditions in St.Vincent” dealt with an address to the Legislative Council by Hon. A. Wright, Administrator; The Administrator said the following about the WMA:

“I have received and the Labour Commissioner has received much assistance and useful information from the leaders of the Workingmen’s Cooperative Association which is most zealous, possibly over- zealous in seeking out and reporting to the Government cases of hardship and alleged exploitation of labourers…” This is testimony to the intensity with which labour matters were pushed by the Association.

A labour Conference was convened on Wednesday, October 16, 1940. In attendance were 58 delegates from throughout the island. The guest speaker was the Grenadian Albert T Marryshow and the featured issue was land settlement.

In 1945 the St.Vincent General Workers Union and Peasant Cultivators’ Union were formed and registered under the umbrella of the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association. McIntosh was President of both unions. The Peasant Cultivators Union was short lived but the General Workers Union which incorporated smaller unions and associations continued until 1951 when many of the workers joined the new United Workers Peasants and Rate Payers Union that was registered on January 11, 1951.

In April 1949 while addressing a meeting at Woodford Square in Trinidad that was hosted by the Trinidad Labour Party he informed the gathering that the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association had reached a membership of 11,000. During that address he condemned the restrictions imposed on the movement of labour leaders throughout the region.

George McIntosh was thus the founder of the first trade unions in St.Vincent. After 1951 George Charles, Ebenezer Joshua and others who followed were to build on the work that he started. The period after 1935 was one of a growing militancy of workers, which was further stimulated by the political activities of the Workingmen’s Association. Most agricultural workers could not vote, but gave strong support to the Association, which was not registered as a trade union but took up industrial disputes. McIntosh pushed for and played a major role in the creation of the 1950 Trades Union and Trades Dispute Ordinance that allowed “for the regulation of trade unions and trade disputes.” (Gonsalves, “The role of Labour)

vii. McIntosh and the Shakers

George McIntosh’s struggle to have the ban on the Shaker religion removed was one of the more significant contributions he made to the working people of the country. He was functioning at a time when there were severe constitutional limitations. Although he was successful in piloting the removal of the Ordinance that had existed since 1912, elected members of the Legislature had limited powers and it was left to the Governor-in-Council to take whatever action was necessary. The fetters of colonialism were firmly in place and the colonial authorities were very much against the removal of the ban, frustrating the efforts of McIntosh and his team in the Legislative Council.

The ban on the Shaker religion was only removed in 1965 when constitutional changes allowed persons over 21years to vote and when a Ministerial system of government was introduced, reducing some of the power which the colonial administration had. The person then who guided the process to remove the ban was Ebenezer Joshua, the country’s Chief Minister. Joshua referred to the role of McIntosh, “…he tried his best but the age was not ripe when the iron heel of colonialism was still more rampant in these parts; he tried but when he thought this thing was removed, perhaps, he didn’t know, poor fellow…”

McIntosh however paved the way for that eventuality and helped to develop the consciousness of the people, making it easier for Joshua to complete it later on. McIntosh was not a Shaker but defended their right to practice their religion in the way they saw fit. He also recognised that the ban was imposed on people who were poor and powerless and therefore took up the struggle on their behalf. He used the Legislative Council, wrote letters to the newspapers and spoke about the issue on any platforms that were available.

He first moved to repeal the Ordinance in the Legislative Council on April 13, 1939. His motion read as follows; “That Government be requested to repeal the Shakerism Prohibition Ordinance Chapter 172 of 1st October 1912, page 1091 of the revised edition (1926) of the laws of St.Vincent.”

He argued that the Ordinance created a blot on the Statute books of the Colony and placed a hardship on a certain set of people because they were poor. He complained of the harassment imposed on the people where they were continually arrested and brought before the Magistrate. To make matters worse they had no right of appeal. He asked the Council to have the Ordinance repealed.

The Colonial Office through its Secretary of State Malcolm McDonald had already informed the Government that the bill should be rejected if it passed the Legislative Council by the use of the casting vote of the Administrator or the power of veto by the Governor, which were allowed under the existing constitution. According to a memo from Downing Street, “If the Bill is proceeded with, its rejection should be secured either by the use of the Administrator’s casting vote if the House is divided equally or by the use of the Governor’s power of veto.” McIntosh’s motion was successful by a majority of six to four but it was then left to the Governor to take it a step further or have it discarded, something already decided by the Executive Council and agreed to by the Colonial Office.

McIntosh wrote on the issue continuously in the newspapers but while the newspapers supported the repeal of the Act, the Clergy and the nominated members of Council were very much against it and marshalled everything they had at their command to fight it. McIntosh was prepared to go to any extent to press their case. Despite the ban on the practice of religion he allowed the holding of a Shaker Meeting in his yard at Paul’s Lot. In June 1940 when a number of Shakers were brought before the Magistrate’s Court in Barrouallie they started shaking before the Court forcing the embarrassed Magistrate to dismiss the case, not however before cautioning them. This was instigated by George McIntosh after a meeting he had with them.

This was not the end of McIntosh’s efforts. He had agreed with the Shakers on a change of name since the ban referred specifically to ‘Shakers’. The name was changed to Spiritual Baptists and they had been allowed to hold what they called their patronal festival in Georgetown in 1949. When they applied in the following year to have a similar festival in Kingstown they were denied permission. The Administrator acknowledged that permission was given to hold their festival in Georgetown but stated that they “were openly declared by all bystanders as ‘Shakers’ “. According to the Administrator the presence of Police Officers was not to offer protection but as “impartial guardians of law and order.”

McIntosh followed with a series of questions directed to the Administrator. The Superintendent of Police in advising the Administrator suggested to him that the questions posed by McIntosh were framed in an ‘ambiguous manner’ “…the simple answer to which will tend to accept the correctness of the premise.” So the Administrator was very cautious in answering the questions, not wanting to fall into the trap they felt McIntosh had prepared for them.

Prior to this McIntosh had put a question to the Government in 1944 asking “…whether the inhabitants of this Colony are allowed to enjoy freedom of religious worship.”

In 1950 he moved a motion asking the Council to “put forward the people’s Petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for the removal of the Superintendent of Police and His Honour the Administrator before these depressed people, finding no relief from these disadvantages resort to desperation for relief.” McIntosh after informing Council that the group he was representing was called Christian Pilgrims, not Shakers, amended his motion to read as follows; “Be it Resolved that Government give such recognition to this body as required by law and thus cause education along the lines to be given, and thereby help Government to stamp out Shakerism.” The new strategy in order to beat the ban was to give up the name Shakerism and apply for recognition under the new name, Spiritual Baptists.

In rounding up the debate on the motion McIntosh was clearly very angry at what was taking place. He said, “I will come here a million times if necessary and I am going to come until we get what we want, and I tell you this much, if we don’t get it in one way we will get it another.” He argued that the Shakerism Ordinance was not worth the paper on which it was written. In reference to the request for permission to have their patronal festival in Kingstown, he stated, “A peaceful people plan to march through the streets of Kingstown to celebrate their religious festival. I see no reason why a lunatic of a Superintendent of Police should stop them?”

When asked by the Administrator, as President of the Council, to withdraw his remark which was considered out of order, the Member for Kingstown replied as follows; “Well I have already said it. (and went on) I see no reason why he should stop them and I don’t see why you (His Honour) should have colluded with him. If you had not the knowledge or experience in the matter, there are people here who have that knowledge and experience and would have advised you. You are not here just to take sides. It is for you to see that justice is done to the people, and I can tell you that there are a number of people who are prepared to sign this petition and if they are denied the right of religious freedom I can only repeat the words of Claude McKay, (the famous Jamaican-American writer: “If we must die, Oh let us nobly die so that the very monsters we defy shall be constrained to honour us, though dead.”

It was agreed that the recognition of any religion rested on the granting of permission to have a Marriage Licence. The Administrator was at pains to point out that there was no collusion with the Superintendent of Police to deprive any group of their religious freedom. He suggested that if the Member for Kingstown was able to convince the Superintendent of Police and himself that the people for whom the application to have a Marriage Licence was being made were not Shakers, “I see no reason why consideration could not be given to their request.”

McIntosh’s party in the Legislative Council had been facing some internal problems and the motion was lost by 1 vote. Ministers of the renamed religion however applied for Marriage Licences. Before any action could be taken on this, the first elections under Adult Suffrage were held and McIntosh and his group suffered defeat. It was left to Joshua to continue the struggle.

McIntosh was fearless in his fight to have the 1912 ban removed. He was prepared to challenge the Colonial Government on behalf of a group of people whom he argued were poor and down trodden. McIntosh, throughout his time in the Legislative Council from 1937 to 1951 put his efforts into struggling for the working people. The fight to repeal the ban on the 1912 Shaker Ordinance was thus another of the areas in which he made an impact on the country. He was not able to finish the job but had set up things which made it easier when Joshua introduced his motion in 1965. The political climate was then different and the constitutional stumbling blocks that McIntosh faced no longer existed. Just as we did with Chatoyer we have to look at McIntosh within the context of his times and realise that his was a difficult struggle in the heyday of colonialism.

viii. McIntosh and Education

Even before entering the Legislative Council McIntosh and the Workingmen’s Cooperative Association had begun to show an interest in the area of Education. The Times newspaper of August 22, 1936 reported that the St.Vincent Workingmen’s Association was offering 3 scholarships to Secondary Schools. The Association had only been in existence for about 5 months but was beginning to move in that direction, putting emphasis on matters which were of concern to working people.

At one of the first meetings of the Council held on April 14, 1937 McIntosh raised the following motion, “That provision be made for granting annually or biennially an Agricultural Scholarship of a value not exceeding £150 per annum and tenable at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad, on conditions similar to those governing the Saint Vincent Island Scholarship.” (quoted by Rupert John in Pioneers in Nation Building)

At a meeting of the Legislative Council on February 5, 1938, McIntosh moved a motion for the establishment of an Agricultural School, This was accepted by the Administrator and efforts were made to push it through although later other matters put it on the sideline. In Education as with so many other things, McIntosh operating from a position with little power raised matters that were of benefit to the working people, hoping to push the Administrator to act on them. He was particularly critical of the attitude of those who looked at these matters from their privileged positions. Again he used the newspaper to articulate his position as is seen from an item in the Times newspaper of June 24, 1939;

“These visionaries…are not advocating a free secondary education for all Vincentian children; they are especially concerned with what happens to their own children. Before we talk about secondary education at all, thinking Vincentians should make it a concern of theirs to see that all children, especially the children of poor parents, receive an education. In fact, we should have compulsory (primary) education in St.Vincent.” (quoted by Kenneth John, “The Political Life and Times of George McIntosh, p.11)

For him Secondary education would have been meaningful for the people whom he fought for if it was free. But the priority for him was for compulsory primary education. He was looking at the realities of the day and pointing to what the priorities should be in order to better serve the interests of the working people. He wanted Secondary education but it should be free. This case was made at the inaugural Conference of the Caribbean Congress of Labour in Barbados in 1945. McIntosh because of his interest in Education was given the honour of chairing the session on Education. Because of his position as Chairman, his fellow delegate from St.Vincent, J. S Bonadie, a member of the Workingmen’s Association was given the opportunity of presenting the St.Vincent position as formulated by his Association. The Official report of the Conference noted; “J.S Bonadie (St.Vincent) advocated greater opportunities for secondary education for the vast masses of the people at the bottom of the social structure in order that their potential ability might not be lost to the state.” Again a theme that was a constant with McIntosh and the Workingmen’s Association advocating what they considered was in the best interest of the people at the bottom of the social ladder.

ix. . McIntosh and Regional Unity

McIntosh must be seen and placed among the pioneers of Federation, standing alongside people like T.A Marryshow, Cipriani and a host of others. At the Conference of the Caribbean Labour Congress in 1945, his contribution was noted; “G.McIntosh (St.Vincent) said that they were all agreed as to the need for federation; it was left for them to say what manner of federation they desired. They did not want a glorified Crown colony government by way of a federal constitution. The West Indies had sufficient resources and could develop them if they put their shoulders to the task. As things were they were merely primary producers. For example, St.Vincent grew but did not manufacture Sea Island cotton and shipped plaited grass to Australia instead of making articles with it. He was in favour of a federal government that allowed the greatest measure of autonomy in each colony, with Adult Suffrage and single chamber legislatures. Federation need not wait until all the colonies were ready for it. Canada started with two provinces the West Indies could begin in a similar way. Financial assistance would be necessary but this should not be in the form of charity. What was wanted was a loan with which to develop the resources of the area and so provide the means to repay it. There was no dearth of men capable of guiding their destiny.” (Caribbean Labour Congress Official Report, 1945)

He opposed the idea of amalgamating the Windward and Leeward Islands and having them join the Federation as one body. Sir Rupert John writes about this in his book Pioneers in Nation Building; “McIntosh, however, continued his agitation against the principle of the amalgamation of the Windward and Leeward Islands. He believed that, in becoming part of a Windward-Leeward Islands union with headquarters in Grenada, St.Vincent would lose whatever identity and status the Island might have possessed. It was too much for him to take. He did not regard such union as a stepping stone to federation. He was all for a federation of the British West Indian Islands with St.Vincent entering such a federation as an Independent unit.”

On his return from a meeting of the Standing Closer Association Committee (SCAC) one of the organs to guide the process to a federation, in Jamaica, he also expressed his feelings on Federation to the Trinidad Guardian which published it in its issue of October 27, 1949; “…I am, of course, mindful of the fact that certain vested interests are against Federation (a very short sighted policy) and that they will be supported by Bustamante of Jamaica and a few weathercock politicians whose future outlook and greatest interest lie in what (or how much) they can gain for themselves, but I do appeal to thinking West Indians, and all those who are interested in the masses and the general good of the West Indies, to make the start now and to tread purposefully every rung of the ladder of success until we achieve full responsible government with Dominion status for the West Indies.” (Rupert John, p. 17)

(In the next segment, Dr. Fraser concludes his case for McIntosh as a national hero)