In the 1930s, the British colonies in the Caribbean witnessed a series of strikes and riots that came to be known as the "Labour Rebellions". Starting from relatively minor labour unrest in 1934 in British Honduras, the Bahamas, Trinidad, Jamaica and British Guiana, the wave of disturbances erupted in earnest in 1935 with a sugar workers strike in St Kitts, followed by strikes and riots on St Vincent and St Lucia. There were further serious outbreaks of violence in Barbados and Trinidad in 1937, Jamaica in 1938 and British Guiana in 1938 and again in 19395. The pattern of events was similar throughout. A strike or other demonstration would be met with the full force of the colonial state, often with the arrival of a Royal Navy warship. Faced with a violent overreaction by the police, the military and pro-business "volunteers", the workers resisted as best they could but, faced with overwhelming repressive force, they eventually returned to work with little or no immediate material gains. Between 1934 and 1939, the forces of the state killed 46 workers, wounded 429 others and imprisoned thousands more. There is no evidence of co-ordinated region-wide organisation behind these events, so we must therefore look to political and economic conditions for an explanation.\ud The class structure of the British West Indies, distorted by the determination of the ruling elite and the colonial government to restrict the possibilities for the development of peasant farming and other small enterprise, meant that the main mass base for the independence movement was the proletariat. The workers, for their part, had seen that the British colonial regime would only introduce tiny reforms at a snail's pace and then only at the last minute because of militant action. They were also affronted by the Imperial double standard whereby white colonies such as Australia and Canada were granted self-governing Dominion status, while colonies with a black majority suffered from an undemocratic and repressive political order that was just another example of the systematic racism that underpinned the British Empire. In these circumstances, Marcus Garvey's campaign to highlight the plight of Abyssinia, abandoned to the occupation of Fascist Italy by the rest of Europe, only added fuel to the flames. Thus, hope for a reformed Empire that would give equal rights and a decent standard of living must have seemed an impossible dream and made the workers willing allies of the middle class nationalists. The authorities' response to the Labour Rebellions only confirmed this impression
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.