Burma Road Riot in the Bahamas

Topics: Laborer Pages: 5 (1823 words) Published: February 25, 2013
The effects of the war were much more immediate and explosive than anyone in the government anticipated. Within a few weeks of Pearl Harbor, plans had been laid to make New Providence a major air base, for America, and upgrading the airport close to Nassau which Sir Harry Oakes had already donated to the government, and adding a even larger Satellite Field next to Lake Killarney at the western end of the island. The building contract was rewarded by the United States regime to the large Pleasantville Corporation. This brought in modern equipment and advertised for twenty-five hundred local laborers.

This construction development assured a relative bonanza for the local jobless, a chance to sell their labor for something like the rates they knew were normal on the mainland – twelve shillings a day. Little did they know, behind their backs, the Bahamian government agreed to peg local wages for unskilled labor at the rates established in 1936: four shillings for an eight hour working day, despite wartime price rises. These rates was applied to semi-skilled as well as unskilled work, and labor gangs were placed under the direction of American or local nonwhite foremen but two white Bahamians, on the mistaken principle that they would know best how to control the black Bahamian workforce. Organized blue-collared action certainly seemed doubtful. There was much to discuss since Charles Rhodriguez reactivated the unskilled workers’ labor union. They announced that the formation of the Federation of Labor would also represent skilled workers as well. A modestly attended public meeting was held on May, 22 1942, after which the union and federation executives drafted a petition with the help of their attorney, A.F. Adderly, calling for a minimum wage of eight shillings a day. The administration showed little concern, Governor Windsor left for an appointment in Washington May 28th. The following day, the petition was delivered to the labor officer and passed on to the acting governor, Leslie Heape, who made a vague statement that an advisory board would be appointed to consider the question of wages on what was already being called the Project.

This assurance seems to have satisfied Rhodriguez and his fellow executives but not the workers. On Sunday, May 31st, a group of laborers at the Satellite Field went on strike. Karl Cambridge, one of the white supervisors, persuaded most to return to work. A small group remained behind, the leader was a young vocal Androsian named Leonard Green, also known as Storr, who had just joined the Project. When Storr attempted to call the other employees back to the strike, he was taken by the American field manager to the Pleasantville Corporation headquarters at Oakes Field, where under interrogation he asserted the obvious fact that it was impossible to live on four shillings a day. While Storr was being questioned, an increasingly angry group of about four hundred workers gathered outside, some yelling, “We want more money!” None of the labor organizers was present, but when John Hughes appeared, the workers expressed two complaints: the inadequacy of the minimum daily wage and the unfairness of the system whereby they went unpaid when rain prevented them from working. Hughes convinced the upset workers that the problem will be dealt with as soon as possible and that everyone but the younger workers should go home. The situation got worse when a detachment of four police officers, under the command of a white Bahamian Captain Edward Sears, confronted Storr and his group, and tried to disperse them by force. When the other workers noticed that Storr had a cut above his eye, they presumed that it had been inflicted by Captain Edward Sears and the situation took a turn for the worst. A car was overturned and the crowd was broken up only when Sears drew his revolver and fired it in the air. Hughes was convinced that the workers could be calm downed. Having obtained agreement with the...
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