LABOUR UNREST (1906-1910)

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On the 25 September 1906 workers employed at the Bookers and Sandbach Parker wharves in Georgetown went on strike to demand an increase ranging from 48 cents to 72 cents a day. Unlike 1905, the workers decided to stay at home instead of gathering on the streets. However, the strike did not have any significant effect because both Bookers and Sandbach Parker employed other persons, including a number of ex-convicts, to do the jobs of the striking workers. By the 28 September the strike had collapsed, but many of the workers, on returning to their work-places, learned that they had been dismissed.

One of the strikers was Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, then 22 years old, who was charged by the police for throwing bricks at one of the strike breakers. But when the case came before the magistrate, the injured man admitted that someone from a small crowd threw the bricks at him, but he could not positively identify Critchlow as the one who did so. The magistrate subsequently dismissed the case.

As in 1905, there were simultaneous protests on the sugar estates. Field workers - all East Indians - at Providence, East Bank Demerara, at the same time of the wharf strike, stopped work in protest against the low wages they were being paid. Armed with their forks and other agricultural tools, they marched to Georgetown to meet with the Immigration Agent to voice their grievances. The police, after a while, managed to get them to lay down their tools, and the Immigration Agent listened to them and promised to investigate the issue.

From time to time, other labour stoppages took place in various parts of the country, especially on the sugar plantations. In December 1908, workers at Plantation Friends, East Bank Berbice, took strike action against the low wages and, also armed with their tools, marched to New Amsterdam. They subsequently met with the Immigration Agent who promised to look into their complaint. After the Agent's investigation, the manager of the plantation agreed to a small increase in payment to the workers who expressed their satisfaction.

Similar strikes occurred at Plantation Wales, La Bonne Intention, Marionville (Leguan), Leonora and Peter's Hall between 1908 and 1910. These strikes also resulted after the workers expressed dissatisfaction over the low wages they were receiving. In most cases, the Immigration Agent, after investigating, sided with the management of the plantations, and pay increases were refused.

In almost every instance, some workers were arrested for assaulting their supervisors and were fined in the magistrate's court. During a strike at Plantation Friends in May 1910, police had to be called out because rumours had reached New Amsterdam that a riot had broken out on the plantation. What really happened was that field workers were always complaining that the overseer was cheating them of their wages by under-pricing their tasks. One day, the overseer, on visiting the cane fields was approached by a group of 40 workers who accused him of cheating them. An argument ensued, and the enraged workers gave him a sound beating with canes and sticks. He managed to escape on his mule to the area of the public road, and immediately after a report was sent to the police. The arrival of the police sparked a work stoppage, but after the Immigration Agent promised an investigation, the workers resumed their tasks. An inquiry by the Agent into the incident took place shortly after, and the findings were accepted by both the management and the workers.

Meanwhile, the police later arrested eight of the ringleaders in the assault incident and they were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment.