SUGAR SYMPOSIUM: SUGAR AND CHANGE IN THE CARIBBEAN

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In December, 1967 New World issued a pamphlet entitled “The Sugar Industry-our Life or death” written by Havelock Brewster in response to a statement by the Jamaican Prime Minister. In mid¬January, 1968, Robert Kirkwood of the Sugar Manufacturers Association initiated a bitter attack on Brewster and New World in response to the pamphlet. This attack was sustained by the Jamaica “Daily Gleaner” in weeks to follow.

The New World (Jamaica) Group organized a Teach-In so that Brewster, Kirkwood and others could have what we hoped would be a meaningful dialogue before the bar of public opinion. The meeting was held on the night of February 22, 1968. Ministers of Government who had been invited to be on the panel refused to attend. But Kirkwood, and Arthur Brown (Governor of the Bank of Jamaica and Economic Adviser to Government) participated-along with Brewster and Clive Thomas of the U. W.I. Economics Department and Orlando Patterson of the U. W.I. Sociology Department. The panel was rounded off by representatives of cane farmers and the unions.

After the Teach-In the Sugar Manufacturers Association ran a number of full page advertisements in the newspapers attacking the “University Teachers”. And editorial and feature columns of the Gleaner supported the Industry and Ministers of Government in a sustained attack that continues to this day. (The Symposium that follows gives readers an opportunity to assess the merits of these attacks). In response, New World published a pamphlet “King Sugar and the New World” which summarized the debate and the issues emerging.

Sugar has hardly been out of the news since those eventful days.

The Mordecai Commission Report (confidentially released at the time of the Teach-In) was subsequently published. It revealed a singular absence of economic analysis and, as a result, recommended no diversification. The Industry, the unions, press and Government welcomed the Report. Then the struggle for a new International Sugar Agreement bore fruit late in 1968-more jubilation from Industry, the Unions, press and Government. But come 1969, the Industry began to intensify pressures for mechanization and the honeymoon was over.

By May 1969, Government capitulated to the Industry’s demands for mechanization after Tate and Lyle (Jamaica) threatened to close its Monymusk factory if Government did not give the go-ahead to mechanize. (Interestingly, almost simultaneously Tate and Lyle (Trinidad) announced expansion plans on to 10,000 acres of newly acquired land). Thus we have moved to a new chapter in the debate. Increased mechanization will reduce the strength of the argument that sugar is superior to alternative productive activities because it employs a large lab our force.

Devaluation clearly demonstrated the extent to which King Sugar holds the West Indies to ransom. With the prospect of Britain’s entry into the EEC serious thought needs to be given to the sugar issue again. Whether or not, it is full time we seriously consider coming to terms with this 300- year old infant industry which has so long dominated the lives of all West Indian peoples.

As a contribution to the required re-appraisal, we reproduce in the following pages the main contributions to the February 1968 Teach-In. We have tried to preserve the form of the presentations; consequently they have been subjected to a minor degree of editing. These contributions follow in the order in which the authors spoke.

Three contributions in the FORUM section of this issue provide additional discussion of the sugar question. The one by Wilmot Perkins was originally a Viewpoint broadcast over radio in Jamaica. Perkins was subjected to a degree of censorship as a result. Breuster’s statement on mechanization was originally submitted to the Jamaica “Daily Gleaner” which rejected it.

Editor