The Road to May 29th
[Taken from a forthcoming book, Inside The Rebellion: Dominica 1979]
"Those Who Do Not Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It"
By William Para Riviere
[The ousting of the John regime was rooted substantially in the economic circumstances of the island. Internal self-government, labeled Associate Statehood, had been granted by the Colonial Power in 1967, leaving the island, except for grant-in-aid, to paddle its own canoe … A conspiracy of forces would plunge the island's economy into a crisis --- the 1974 Budget debate in Parliament called upon the already hard-pressed public to bear an additional burden of taxation --- neither the State sector, nor the co-operative or private sectors advanced --- Productive capacity slackened, if not stagnated --- unemployment and underemployment escalated.
The poor state of the island's economy generated dissatisfaction and discontent … organized labour --- on the 13th June 1973 and in September 1976 the Civil Service Association (C.S.A) took strike action --- the peasantry … the parliamentary Opposition Freedom Party … the progressive forces led by the Black Power Movement and M.N.D … the Student Movement … the Nation's Youth Council … the Dominica Christian Council … the business sector… the Dominica Committee for Human Rights …
Law and Repression
Rather than pay attention to the voices in opposition and provide remedies to problems articulated, the regime (first, of Oliver Leblanc and, then, of Patrick John) chose the routes of indifference, contempt and, ultimately, repression … attack on freedom of speech … a bill was tabled to substantially reduce the powers of the Roseau Town Council … the Administration without prior consultation with either the people directly or the Opposition in Parliament proceeded to endorse the island's participation in a (proposed) Caribbean unitary state … Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts-Nevis and Dominica … The Civil Service Act … sought three main outcomes: one, to curb strike action by the Association; two, to prevent direct involvement by civil servants in political activities against Government; and, three, to splinter the Association and, thus, reduce its strength … the Nationality and Racial Offences Act … the Firearms Act … the Riot (Amendment) Act … the "Dread" Act … took away citizens' right to life … (This) was the Administration's response to a belief propagated by Premier John that "Rasta" was an integral component of a terrorist plan to overthrow his regime by violent means … M.N.D. was said to be at the center of the planned communist overthrow … Industrial Relations Act … aimed at the existing right of workers to take strike action in pursuit of industrial objectives … legislation was also enacted to strengthen the island's security forces beyond need …
The 47-day Strike
The salary increases agreed in July 1974 were paid following the six-day industrial unrest by civil servants in September 1976. But the settlement of retroactive pay … remained in abeyance … on the 13th July 1977 the C.S.A. General Secretary, Charles Savarin, warned … "we cannot talk indefinitely … whether September 1977 will be a repeat of September 1976, we will have to wait and see" … (Government) proposed … to convert the Back Pay owed into 5 per cent debenture bonds redeemable in ten years time … the C.S.A "categorically rejected" the government's proposals … Minister (Parillon) issued a written statement declaring an intention to refer the matter to a Tribunal … C.S.A sought solidarity for its cause … the whole island … united in support … solidarity and support also came from outside … The Minister warned that any strike action would be illegal … Government turned to the Security Forces … the C.S.A and the masses of its supporters island-wide would not be cowed … the C.S.A embarked upon strike action … on the 16th October agreement was reached…
Bananas and Leafspot
As 1978 came to a close … Dominica's banana industry stood on the brink of collapse … Fingers were pointed at the Management Committee of the island's Banana Growers' Association … the Dominica Farmers' Union … offered assistance … the Association's Management Committee ignored the Union's offer … the Prime Minister listed WINBAN's activities as a major cause of the poor condition of the island's bananas …
South African Connection
The John Administration was engaging in clandestine dealings aimed at obtaining project funding from … the racist government of South Africa … architect of the connection … Barbados-born Sydney Burnette-Alleyne, a gun-runner in the service of the regime of Portuguese dictator, Salazar … Farmers were the first to take action in protest against the proposed establishment of the Freeport Zone … the Farmers' Union at the end of April 1979 issued an ultimatum to the regime to rescind the Agreement … on or before May 6th and no later … on May 4th John, fearing confrontation, cancelled the Freeport Agreement].
C.S.A versus Government
Cancellation of the Freeport Agreement came too late. Industrial action threatened by the Civil Service Association (C.S.A) and fully supported by the Joint Trade Union Working Committee (J.T.U.W.C), loomed on the horizon. In the first week of February 1979 the C.S.A, quite oblivious to that a Freeport Zone was to be set up within days on some of the nation's most productive farming lands, had submitted a package of proposals to Government for a new three-year industrial agreement. Among the proposals were the following: for established workers at the lowest income level, salary increases of 136 per cent, based on the 1978 scale of salaries; for established workers at the highest income level, salary increases of 74 per cent, based on the 1974 scale of salaries; and for all categories of unskilled daily-paid employees, a basic wage of $12 per 8-hour day. This would have cost the treasury an additional $16 million (112).
In response, Government declared it was unable to meet the salary proposals. It then resorted to its usual delay procedures and, in the meantime, launched an open campaign of propaganda which charged that the Association's package was motivated by political considerations. The ensuing deadlock caused the Association to threaten to take strike action on June 1st, if its salary proposals were not met by May 31st.
From all quarters came manifestations of solidarity with the cause of the civil servants. During the third week of February the business sector lamented that over the past year, except on one occasion, it had become "impossible" to meet with Government to discuss critical matters affecting the sector; the exception was a meeting at which an intended price control measure was discussed. Further, the businessmen openly aired various proposals made to the island's political directorate to extricate the economy out of crisis, none of which was given serious consideration. On their part, workers at British multi-national, Cable & Wireless Ltd., had sought a 25 per cent salary increase, in reaction to which the Company's Management offered 5 per cent only. On March 1st and 2nd, following a breakdown in negotiations, the workers downed their tools. First, they embarked on a "work-to-rule". They then went on a "go-slow". And, finally, they staged a "sick-out" (113). On March 6th the entire workforce at Housing Development Corporation (H.D.C), a State entity for which C.S.A was the bargaining agent, went on a day's "sick-out" in protest against Government's refusal to allow a worker time off for the purpose of attending a trade Union. The seminar was sponsored by the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O), under the theme, "Developing Awareness through Education." Permission to attend was denied on the ground that the enterprise did not stand to benefit from the worker's attendance (114).
The Police Force also threatened industrial action. Its Welfare Association took the unprecedented step on March 14th of serving the John Administration with two unanimously approved demands. One called for immediate withdrawal of all charges earlier laid against three members of its Executive. The officers were charged with twenty counts of misconduct, ranging from desertion to discreditable conduct, arising from the abandonment of their posts at the Kalinago Police Station. The circumstances in which the posts were abandoned were, firstly, that the station was described as "not fit" for human habitation; and, secondly, that repair work on the station had been abruptly brought to a halt "without any explanation." The action at the Police Station took place five months after cessation of repair work (115).
The Police Welfare Association's second demand was for an immediate investigation of the administration of the Police Force on the whole. Inside sources revealed that as to the state of the Force, "much was desired." Senior officers reportedly performed very little and were rewarded with preferential treatment. Thus, when appeals for better conditions were made by rank-and file subordinates, senior officers would keep a "low profile" and, in that way, present a "contented outlook to their (political) bosses." In effect, they fed "somewhat parasitically" on "everything achieved" by the Welfare Association. Conditions for the rank-and-file were said to stand in marked contrast. Accommodation was sub-standard. Medical attention was inadequate. While an incentive called "good conduct pay" had been abandoned, deductions in pay for "bad conduct" persisted. Recreational facilities were at a bare minimum. Because of interference by the Powers-that-Be the "calibre" of youth recruited into the Force was "most questionable". And, worst of all, the "rest of the men" evidently did not have great respect for their senior officers. It was predicted that this "deliberate division" would be "the cause of the inevitable disorder which will ensue" (116).
The John administration adopted a two-pronged approach to the industrial relations climate. On one hand, it offered an olive branch to the disaffected police officers. It did so by commissioning an immediate inquiry into the prevailing state of affairs in the Police Force and, further, by allowing the charges laid against the Association's Executive Members to lapse into oblivion (117). On the other hand, it brandished an iron fist against other workers demonstrating discontentment. Those targeted included civil servants, workers in private employment, the business sector, and the Trade Union Movement. In fact, it even demonstrated hostility in various ways against those who dared print what it considered to be criticism of its handling of the nation's affairs.
Copyright ©, William Para Riviere, 2015