The Struggle for Freedom

CHAPTER 9
A SUPERIOR INSTITUTION

The superior quality of Barbadian unionism has been noted by outside professional observers. The quality is noteworthy in at least three respects. In the first place, the Union, as a national institution has been throughout, a school of industrial democracy, both by means of its branch meetings and its annual conferences. The real importance of that contribution would be missed if one neglected to note that, by comparison, the local Labour Party initially lacked such grassroots democracy. Indeed, the Party did not convene its first annual delegate conference until 1958, and for a considerable period was not even possessed of a written constitution or organized constituency groups. The Party, in fact, was a loose association centred around the dominant personality of its leader, Grantley Adams, reflecting the old colonial politics in which the party legislator was more important than the constituency unit. It was the chief merit of the Union that it counteracted the individualism of the colonial politician, the figure, for example, of Mr. Slime, the school teacher turned politician in the Lamming book, with a vigorous organisational life. For most of its period in power, the Labour Party continued to use the mass meeting, with all of its shortcomings, as its chief contact with the masses. The Union added the regular delegate conference and more latterly, its General Secretary’s weekly press conference. Secondly, the Union, in typically Barbadian fashion, placed a high premium on education. Most of its members, being working-class, would have been barred from the closed world of Barbadian secondary school education, training an elite minority group of scholarship boys, as that system did, on an outmoded eighteenth-century classical curriculum. The Union’s contribution, here, was twofold. One, it began to use the local intellectual in the adult education of its members, and only one instance of its progressive attitude was its scheme, drawn up in consultation with Dr. Rawle Farley, for the organisation of a trade union educational course. Two, it emphasized from the outset, the absolute necessity for an imaginative policy of technical-vocational education. The old education, increasingly anachronistic in a popular democracy based, since 1950, on adult suffrage, was seen as an inexcusable burden upon limited fiscal resources and illogical in a scientific age. The observation of the Petter Report was that it was only possible to teach chemistry, physics and biology beyond the very elementary stage in Harrison College and Lodge School. Further, it observed, that it was rare to find outside the first grade schools, a teacher of modern languages with any substantial qualifications for the task, showed how much the system was in thrall to an outmoded past. So, the working class majority who entered employment, if they could find it, at the age of 14, unskilled and eking out a low-wage existence in a high-cost domestic market was ruled by an educated elite. Comprising both white and “pass as white”, as the Barbadian saying has it, this elite new little of the new technological age it lived in. Merely to read the speeches in 1963 of the Union’s General Secretary, in his legislative capacity, on the need for industrial training, is to be made aware of how much the Union wanted, and still wants, to change that situation. The old snobbish contempt for the worker by hand, the general argument runs, must go. The unemployed youth whose only skill is that at games of chance must be taught to become a skilled labourer.The sad fact is that no girl has ever become trained in Barbados to become a maid, nor has a boy ever been trained to become a waiter. So, the economy is a half-baked one, with every kind of service basically inefficient and characterized, in a happy-go-lucky fashion, by market square attitudes. Nor is emigration necessarily the complete answer, for Barbados is not a settler economy and the island’s population pressure could in fact be seen, not as a liability, but as itself a stimulus for vigorous economic expansion. But it has to be a trained population, which means a new type of education, technical, popular and not least of all, compulsory. There must, finally, be a revolution in social attitudes, so that the average Barbadian can be persuaded to give up his idea that the best way to prove his manhood is to breed children like flies.