Tuesday, September 25, 2012


“I was born here, and here I stay, with the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who educated me free of charge for nine years at Queen's Royal College and for five years at Oxford, who have made me whatever I am, and who have been or might be at any time the victims of the very pressure which I have been fighting against for twelve years... I am going to let down my bucket where I am, right here with you in the British West Indies."
Quote by Dr. Eric Eustace Williams made during his Public Lecture at Woodford Square, 21 June 1955 excerpted from his autobiography “Inward Hunger: The Education of A Prime Minister” published 1969
Eric Eustace Williams (Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister) was born on September 25, 1911 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He was the first of 11 children born to Thomas and Eliza Williams. As an 11 year old Williams entered the prestigious Queen's Royal College which is recognized as Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest secondary school established in 1859. He gained an Island Scholarship in 1931 which meant that he had the highest score of all students in Trinidad and Tobago at the Senior Cambridge Certificate examination. An Island Scholarship was a coveted prize on any island in the British controlled Caribbean and even in Guyana (formerly British Guiana) where the prize was a Guiana Scholarship later a Guyana Scholarship. The ultimate reward of winning one of those scholarships was the opportunity for the winner to study at either Oxford or Cambridge University in London, England. It was the dream of many a colonial family for their child to become an Island Scholar or a Guyana (Guiana) Scholar. It certainly was the dream of Williams’ father (a junior civil servant) who desperately wanted his son to accomplish what he could not. In “Inward Hunger: The Education of A Prime Minister” Williams explains his father’s dilemma. “The lack of social qualifications was an impediment to the progress of thousands of Trinidadians, inside and outside the civil service. My father was one of them. The necessary social qualifications were colour, money and education, in that order of importance. My father lacked all three. In colour he was dark brown. His three great expectations of money failed him.” In gaining the Island Scholarship the younger Williams validated his father’s existence as he explained in his autobiography. “His twenty-year-old dream had come true. Underpaid, tired, demoralized by the sight of younger people promoted out of turn over his head, because he lacked the necessary pliancy to ingratiate himself with the powers who controlled his destiny, he looked upon my victory as decisive proof of his manhood. He often told me that whatever his rivals had they had not an Island scholar as their son.”
Williams gained his undergraduate and graduate degrees including Doctor of Philosophy (December 1938) from Oxford University. The title of his doctoral thesis was “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery.” In his autobiography he writes of the racism he experienced while he was a student at Oxford. In spite of all the wealth the British harvested from their colonies and their rhetoric encouraging the “colonials” to consider themselves British the reality was very different for those who ventured off to live or study in Britain. Like many before him Williams found that singing “God save the king or queen” and “Rule Britannia” did not make a racialized man from the Caribbean welcome even if he was well educated in the British tradition. The Dean of his college made that very plain when he said to Williams who was seeking employment after earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree: “Are you still here? You had better go back home. You West Indians are too keen on trying to get posts here which take away jobs from Englishmen.” Williams unsuccessfully tried to get his thesis published but found that even Britain’s most revolutionary publisher would not publish the book that eventually became “Capitalism and Slavery.” It was a revolutionary thesis that turned British historians’ version of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery on its head. The view among British historians at that time was “that a band of humanitarians – The Saints, they had been nicknamed had got together to abolish slavery, and had after many years succeeded in arousing the conscience of the British people of man’s inhumanity to man. Britain had repented and given an earnest of her contribution by voting twenty million pounds sterling to the slave-owners for the redemption of their slaves.”
Williams argued that Caribbean sugar plantations funded British industrialization which made slavery an outdated mode of production. In “Capitalism and Slavery” he wrote: "The commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery, and all its works. Without a grasp of these economic changes the history of the period is meaningless." Even Britain’s most revolutionary publisher refused to publish such a revolutionary book and according to Williams told him: “Mr. Williams, are you trying to tell me that the slave trade and slavery were abolished for economic and not humanitarian reasons? I would never publish such a book, for it would be contrary to the British tradition.” Eight months after receiving his doctorate and with no prospects of a job in Britain Williams left for Washington D.C and a position as lecturer at Howard University – one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA - which he dubbed the “Negro Oxford.” At Howard University Williams was promoted to assistant professor and then professor; meanwhile his book “Capitalism and Slavery” which was too revolutionary for British publishers was published in 1944 by the University of North Carolina Press.
Williams returned to Trinidad and Tobago after resigning his professorship at Howard. On January 24, 1956 he launched the political party – The People’s National Movement (PNM) - which he led until he transitioned in 1981. Now considered the “Father of the Nation” Williams’ PNM successfully won the election of September 1956. In his autobiography he writes of the moment of triumph: “On September 25, 1956, my forty-fifth birthday, the day after the triumphant election, the Governor sent for me and asked me to form a government.” On August 31, 1962 Williams led his country to independence from British rule (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPMTtiZEyTs). When Williams transitioned on March 29, 1981 he had been at the helm of his country for almost a quarter of a century. He served as Chief Minister, Premier and then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1956 to 1981. Williams is not here to witness and celebrate the 50th independence anniversary of his beloved Trinidad and Tobago but the citizens of the twin island nation certainly owe this brilliant and dedicated scholar and politician a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Poem If we must die by Claude McKay originally published in the July 1919 edition of the The Liberator
Festus Claudius McKay was born on September 15, 1889 in Nairne Castle, Clarendon, Jamaica. He was the last of 11 children born to Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards. McKay was educated by his older school teacher brother Uriah Theophilus McKay. Between the ages of 17 and 22 (when he immigrated to the US) McKay worked as a carriage and cabinet maker and as a member of the Jamaican Constabulary. In 1912 he published two volumes of poetry written in Jamaican patois: Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads considered the first poems written in the Jamaican language. That same year (1912) McKay immigrated to the US and entered Tuskegee University in Alabama. Tuskegee University was founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington to educate African Americans who were refused entry into White post-secondary institutions and today remains one of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA. The rabid racism he encountered in the southern United States including the segregated facilities and other Jim Crow laws (don’t look white people in the eyes and step off the sidewalk to let them pass) were too much for the proud Jamaican. McKay left and enrolled at Kansas State University, Kansas being a state where there supposedly were no signs or sight of Jim Crow. Kansas had entered the Union as a free state (no slavery) and after the American Civil War there was an exodus of African Americans from the southern US to Kansas; so many of them that they were called the “Exodusters.” McKay was definitely following in their footsteps. In 1914 he was on the move again, this time to New York where he spent most of his American sojourn.
McKay wrote “If We Must Die” amid the violence and bloodshed of 1919, encouraging his community to fight back against the oppression (76 African Americans were lynched in 1919) they suffered at the hands of white Americans. The so-called “race riots” of 1919 involved the brutalization and murder of African Americans by white Americans in several cities including Chicago, Omaha and Washington. African Americans had returned from fighting in Europe (1914-1918) to preserve “freedom” but nothing had changed for them or their communities, they were third class citizens in their country of birth, subject to lynching at the hands of their white compatriots. McKay left the USA in 1919 and until 1934 lived in Africa, Europe and Russia. In 1922 he published a book of poetry “Harlem Shadows” which included the poem “The Lynching”
His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven. His father, by the cruelest way of pain, Had bidden him to his bosom once again; The awful sin remained still unforgiven. All night a bright and solitary star (Perchance the one that ever guided him, Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim) Hung pitifully o'er the swinging char. Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view The ghastly body swaying in the sun The women thronged to look, but never a one Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue; And little lads, lynchers that were to be, Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.
In The Lynching McKay captures the emotions, the nuances of the lynching of African Americans by white Americans. America is supposedly a “Christian” nation where white Christians murder and terrorise African American Christians. The image at the beginning of the poem of the lynched African American in a Christlike manner being gathered up to heaven into the bosom of the “father” is a very powerful symbol of the crucifixion of African Americans. Another powerful image in the poem is that of the white women showing no sorrow in their “eyes of steely blue” as they thronged to look at “The ghastly body swaying in the sun.” This image is very reminiscent of the women who lined up every day to howl and shriek with rage, swear, threaten death and throw objects at six year old Ruby Nell Bridges as she bravely integrated the William Frantz Elementary School at 3811 North Galvez Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. A truly heartbreaking sight captured for posterity in the Norman Rockwell portrait The Problem We All Live With http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=48904 With mothers like those as role models no wonder there were: “little lads, lynchers that were to be” who “danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.”
It is indeed ironic that the Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With is on display at the White House where the first African American President and his family live. When McKay wrote his poem The White House in 1919 when 76 African Americans were reported lynched by their white compatriots, (that number was most likely very conservative) such a scenario was unthinkable almost in the realm of science fiction.
The White House by Claude McKay published 1919 Your door is shut against my tightened face, And I am sharp as steel with discontent; But I possess the courage and the grace To bear my anger proudly and unbent. The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet, A chafing savage, down the decent street; And passion rends my vitals as I pass, Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass. Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour, Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw, And find in it the superhuman power To hold me to the letter of your law! Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate Against the potent poison of your hate.
McKay also published America in 1919
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, Giving me strength erect against her hate. Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood. Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state, I stand within her walls with not a shred Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer. Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there, Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand, Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem demonstrates his feelings of ambivalence living in this totally white supremacist culture yet with the optimism and vigor of youth intending to remain and fight the good fight for equality and equity. However even youthful vigor can become depleted in what was seemingly a never ending tide of attack on the personhood and humanity of African Americans. No wonder McKay fled the USA in 1922 and did not return until 12 years later.
McKay returned to the USA in 1934 and continued to write poetry and prose addressing the plight of Africans from the continent and in the Diaspora. In the 2000 published A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay’s Jamaica and his poetry of rebellion author Winston James writes: “Just as McKay hated to see misery and oppression, so did he hate cruelty. His extraordinary sensitivity and aversion to suffering and cruelty were important impulses that led to his deepening radicalization over time. Class, color, gender and racial oppression in Jamaica started him on his socialist journey while, more than anything else, while the gigantic horrors of racism in the United States – especially lynching – deepened his Black nationalism.” In his first autobiography A Long Way from Home published in 1937 McKay wrote about the inspiration for his composing If we must die. At the time he wrote the poem (1919) he was working as a railroad porter one of the few jobs available to African American men. “The World War had ended. But its end was a signal for the outbreak of little wars between labor and capital and, like a plague breaking out in sore places, between colored folk and white. Our Negro newspapers were morbid, full of details of clashes between colored and white, murderous shootings and hangings. Traveling from city to city and unable to gauge the attitude and temper of each one, we Negro railroad men were nervous. We were less light-hearted. We did not separate from one another gaily to spend ourselves in speakeasies and gambling joints. We stuck together, some of us armed, going from the railroad station to our quarters. We stayed in our quarters all through the dreary ominous nights, for we never knew what was going to happen. It was during those days that the sonnet, "If We Must Die," exploded out of me.” McKay also addressed the subject of “Belonging to a minority group” in “A Long Way from Home” as he contemplated the attitude of the White “liberals” he encountered: “It is hell to belong to a suppressed minority and outcast group. For to most members of a powerful majority, you are not a person; you are a problem. And every crusading crank imagines he knows how to solve your problem. I think I am a rebel mainly from psychological reasons, which have always been more important to me than economic. As a member of a weak minority, you are not supposed to criticize your friends of the strong majority. You will be damned mean and ungrateful. Therefore you and your group must be content with lower critical standards.”
McKay is acknowledged as one of the giants of the Harlem Renaissance and his work is considered to have been a great influence on Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor and Martiniquais poet Amiee Cesaire who pioneered the Negritude Literary Movement. The term Negritude was reportedly coined by Cesaire who defined it as: “the simple recognition of the fact that one is Black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as Blacks, of our history and culture.” McKay’s work also influenced African American poets including Langston Hughes who wrote the poem My People.
Although he never returned to Jamaica McKay’s second autobiography which was published posthumously in 1979 was entitled “My Green Hills Of Jamaica” where he reminisces about his childhood and youth in Jamaica. He transitioned on May 1948 while he lived in Chicago. McKay is buried in Calvary Cemetery Woodside in Queens, New York. Inscribed on his headstone are the words “Peace O My rebel heart

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Basically the South African white community is a homogeneous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power. We are concerned with that curious bunch of non-conformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names – liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country’s “inhumanity to the black man.” The role of the white liberal in the black man’s history in South Africa is a curious one. True to their image, the white liberals always knew what was good for the blacks and told them so. The wonder of it all is that the black people have believed in them for so long.
From Steve Biko I write what I like A Selection of his writings edited by Aelred Stubbs C.R published 1979
On September 12, 1977 Stephen Bantu Biko was murdered by the White supremacist minority regime which occupied Azania (South Africa) at the time. Biko who is considered the father of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania was born on December 18, 1946 in King William's Town, in the Eastern Cape Province. He was the third of four children born to Mzimgayi and Nokusola Biko. On August 18, 1977 he was detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act of 1967 and taken to Port Elizabeth where he was kept naked and shackled, brutally beaten and tortured to death. He had been detained for 101 days the previous year (1976) from August to December under section 6 of the Terrorism Act and released without being charged. The Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 was a law of the white supremacist apartheid regime. Section 6 of the Act allowed the detention of anyone “suspected” of engaging in terrorist acts to be detained for a 60 day period (which could be renewed) without trial on the authority of a senior police officer. Terrorism was broadly defined as anything that might "endanger the maintenance of law and order." Since there was no requirement to release information on who was being held people detained under this Act tended to disappear. It is estimated that approximately 80 people died while being detained under the Act. In Biko’s case he was interrogated for twenty-two hours (including torture and beatings resulting in a coma) by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody and was chained to a window grille for a day. Biko was kept in leg irons and handcuffs, severely beaten and tortured from the day he was arrested (August 18, 1977) until the day he succumbed to the injuries (September 12, 1977.)
Biko defined Black Consciousness as: “An attitude of mind and a way of life. The call for Black Consciousness is the most positive call to come from any group in the black world for a long time. It is more than just a reactionary rejection of whites by blacks.‎ The philosophy of Black Consciousness therefore expresses group pride and the determination of the black to rise and attain the envisaged self. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.‎” Biko established the Black Consciousness Movement in December 1968 with the founding of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO.) In July 1969 Biko was elected president of SASO. During his presidential address to the 1st National Formation School of SASO (December 1-4, 1969) Biko explained some of the reasoning behind the opposition of “liberal” white students to the founding of SASO: “The idea of everything being done for the blacks is old one and all liberals take pride in it; but once the black students want to do things for themselves suddenly they are regarded as being ‘militant.’”
As a medical student at the University of Natal, Non-European section, Durban, Biko had been active in the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) which although it tolerated African students was under the leadership of White students. In the 1978 published biography “Biko” Donald Woods a white journalist wrote: “Apartheid, designed to suppress a unified Black response, had created precisely such a response. In denying validity to any claim by Blacks to even the slightest share in a common multiracial society, the racists had driven the most articulate young Blacks into claiming not merely a share but the dominant share in such a society – on their own terms. The young Steve Biko and his colleagues had seized the shoulder of the sleeping giant of Black awareness in South Africa to shake him from his slumber. And more than that: to raise him to his feet, to stretch him to his full height, and to place him for the first time into the attitudes of total challenge toward all those who had sought to keep him prone. Black Consciousness was born, a new totality of black response to white power, and with it a new era in the racial struggle in South Africa.”
In August 1970 one month after he was elected Chairman of SASO Publications Biko began writing a series of articles published under the pseudonym “Frank Talk” in the SASO newsletter under the heading “I Write What I Like.” In March 1973 Biko was “banned” which meant he could not travel, speak in public or have any written work published. Obviously Biko’s writings greatly troubled the white establishment. He wrote about integration which was illegal under an apartheid regime and even more troubling it was not the integration favoured by white liberals. Biko wrote: “The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction for the guilty-stricken whites.” He wrote of the hypocrisy of the “liberal” whites’ attempt to salve their consciences: “First the black-white circles are almost always a creation of white liberals. As a testimony to their claim of complete identification with the blacks, they call a few ‘intelligent and aticulate’ blacks to ‘come around for tea at home.’ The more such tea-parties one calls the more liberal he is and the freer he shall feel from the guilt that harnesses and binds his conscience. Hence when he moves around his white circles – whites-only hotels, beaches, restaurants and cinemas –with a lighter load, feeling that he is not like the rest.” He offers a scathing indictment of the White liberals’ idea of integration in these words: “Nothing could be more irrelevant and misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool’s paradise.” As a critical thinker and community worker Biko was a threat to the white supremacist regime that eventually murdered him.
The five white men (Harold Snyman, Daniel Siebert, Rubin Marx, Johan Beneke and Gideon Nieuwoudt) responsible for the brutal killing of Biko applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa. Biko’s family contested their application. On Thursday July 25, 1996 South Africa's most powerful court rejected the family’s attempt to prevent the killers being pardoned if they confess. A 1998 study by South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Khulumani Support Group which surveyed victims of abuse during the Apartheid era found that most felt that the TRC had failed to achieve reconciliation between the black and white communities. Most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.
Today Biko is an international hero whose words are quoted in books and elsewhere: “Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native's brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.‎” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZHDPTE4TXk) There are several musical tributes to his life and work including http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3U3OAtCCts “Biko” by Beenie Man.

Monday, September 3, 2012


The marshals had their hands full pulling together the three thousand workers who converged on Market Square in London, Ontario on 3 September 1894. It was the first nationally recognized Labour Day in Canada, and the local labour movement was out in full force. Eventually the first union contingents headed off down the city’s main streets under the blazing noonday sun. Leading the way was a group of seventy-five butchers on horseback, who set the tone of respectable craftsmanship with their crisply white shirts and hats and clean baskets on their arms. Several other groups presented themselves in identical outfits – the firemen from the railway car shops in their white shirts and black felt hats, the printers in their navy blue yachting caps (the apprentices wore brown), the barbers in their plug hats and white jackets. From “The Workers' Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada” authored by Craig Heron and Steven Penfold published in 2005
Although the official recognition of Labour Day with a Labour Day Parade in Canada began on September 3, 1894 it was not until the 1950s that African Canadian workers made an appearance in these parades. There were individual African Canadians who had been used as comic relief in these all-White Labour Day Parades before the 1950s. According to Heron and Penfold in “A History of Labour Day in Canada”: “There was rarely any space for African and native Canadians. On the few occasions when people of colour appeared in these marches, they were presented as curiosities, not fellow workers.” The authors cite a few occasions when racialized people were used during these Labour Day Parades of yesteryear. “Plumbers’ unions sometimes used black youngsters as comic accents to the gleaming white-enamel fixtures on their float. In one case in Toronto, the tableau was an older woman trying to scrub the “dirt” off a black boy. In a similar vein, a float in the 1911 Calgary parade depicted what a newsman called ‘a big black ni---r wench’ trying to do her laundry amid domestic turmoil, in contrast to the electrical appliances on display at the other end of the float. The few native people who appeared were incorporated as exotic athletes and as circus clowns.” Acknowledging the racial prejudice to which racialized workers were subjected even after African Canadian and other racialized men had made the ultimate sacrifice during the two European tribal conflicts (World Wars I and 11) Heron and Penfold write: “The struggles of minorities for acceptance within the house of labour were not over after the Second World War, but the appearance of representatives of minority groups on Labour Day signaled their determination to be admitted as full members. Two contingents of marchers in Toronto Labour Day parades of the 1950s symbolized their own triumph over racist indifference and hostility inside unions – the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the so-called Brandon Group of residential construction workers.”
Now in the 21st century unions and their members (the working class) are under attack internationally. Although some modest gains were made by workingmen (and women) in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, conditions remained exploitative. Child labour was targeted by the passage of the 1884 Ontario Factory Act that mandated a 60 hour week for children; no boys under 13 or girls under 14 could work, and a 1 hour lunch break was compulsory. However it was sporadically enforced and violated by employers with impunity. On March 25, 1886, the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC) in 1886 got the Ontario government to pass a Workman's Compensation Act. It was the first of its kind in Canada. People forget that every right that working people enjoy today was fought for by the labour movement. Management never gave up anything without a fight. Even those working in non-union jobs owe their standard of living to the men and women who fought to be treated fairly. When you take a sick day, submit an expense form for drugs or glasses, go on vacation, enjoy that well deserved pension, all these things and many more have become normal not because of the generosity of management or even due to how hard you may work but because they were fought for by the men and women of the labour movement. Many of the rights workers enjoy today came about because of the labour movement. The eight hour work day, public holidays and the right to strike were not given to workers by the bosses and capitalist captains of industry. Those were attained after decades of struggle. An example of the struggle against the “capitalist captains of industry” occurred in Toronto when the Printer's Union joined the Nine Hour Movement advocating for shorter work hours - 58 hours per week. The owners of the printing shops including George Brown owner and editor of “The Globe” thought the demand ridiculous. The Printers Union went on strike against the print shops in Toronto on March 25, 1872. The bosses brought in replacement "scab workers. Brown sued the Printer's Union, and under the “Combination Act” of 1799 which prohibited trade unions and collective bargaining the picketing workers were arrested and jailed. Many printers lost their jobs. Brown’s political enemy John A. Macdonald who was the Canadian Prime Minister at the time seized the opportunity to embarrass Brown and gain some political advantage by championing workers’ rights. On June 14, 1872 Macdonald passed the “Trade Union Act” which legalized and protected trade unions making it legal for workers to band together to improve their working conditions. Workers were able to negotiate and win a 54 hour work week.
Here is the conundrum, George Brown, strike breaker and erstwhile enemy of the White working class in Toronto was seen as a friend and supporter of enslaved Africans in the USA. He is listed as a founder of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and there are several plaques scattered around our fair city of Toronto where the man is honoured http://torontoplaques.com/Pages_GHI/George_Brown.html. One of the plaques even states that he mentored William Peyton Hubbard who became the only African Canadian in Toronto’s history to achieve the status of Deputy Mayor. In their 1990 published “The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!” authors Afua Cooper, Adrienne Shadd and Karolyn Smardz Frost write “William Hubbard a baker by trade was elected to the City Council in 1894 and served as Deputy Mayor of the city from 1904 to 1907.”
A more recent conundrum was presented with the slaughter of striking African mineworkers from the Marikana Platinum Mine in South Africa. These mineworkers were slaughtered by police in a South Africa governed by an African National Congress (ANC) government, the organization/political party famous for its struggle against a White supremacist apartheid government. The slaughter of Africans occurred frequently during the illegal rule of the former regime but it is a shock to see this happening under an ANC led government. It leaves us wondering if apartheid has been replaced by something equally sinister where striking workers can be slaughtered with impunity and the mine owners are allowed to order the survivors to immediately get back to work or lose their jobs. It leaves us wondering if in this 21st century and 18 years after Mandela was elected President of a “post-apartheid” South Africa the changes for working-class Africans (the vast majority) was just window dressing. This is the conundrum; with Africans in the leadership of the country, a mining company owned by White people in Britain (Lonmin Platinum Mine) seems to be calling the shots. However this happens, the responsibility to uphold the laws of the land including the labour laws belong to the government of the land. The responsibility to protect its citizens from exploitation by foreigners ultimately rests with this government. One labour activist at Saturday’s Toronto demonstration in support of the mineworkers (both slaughtered and survivors) named this atrocity “state sponsored terrorism.”
Concerned people internationally have expressed their dismay and disgust at the slaughter of striking mineworkers (44 at last count) at the Marikana site in South Africa. On Monday, September 3, 2012 when we march in the Labour Day parade the mineworkers of Marikana will be remembered as the latest martyrs in the labour struggle.