Conditions Leading up to the 1937 Riots
There were many different factors which influenced the conditions in not only Barbados but across the British Caribbean which eventually led to uprisings in the various territories but namely Barbados. These factors can be broken down into 3 categories of Economic, Social and Political. Economic Factors
Leading up to the riots Barbados’ economy was in a dreadful state due to many different factors, both internal and external. One of the more substantial external factors was The Great Depression of the 1930’s which originated in the United States of America but affected all the countries of the world. On October 29, 1929 the American stock market crashed and officially started The Great Depression. This had a kind of domino effect across the world. Firstly, the collapse of the stock market caused a significant drop in the value of stock which caused many businesses to go bankrupt since no one would buy the stock. Since banks had invested most of their clients’ money in the stock market, when it crashed many banks were forced to close. This threw the masses into a frenzy in which those lucky enough to reach their bank before it closed withdrew all their money. This massive cash withdrawal from the banks caused the banks to close. Those who didn’t make it in time went bankrupt. The next place affected by the economic turmoil was the working sector. In an attempt to make up for the lost capital as a result of the stock market crash businesses started to cut wages, which were already low to begin with. Even with these new wage cuts some businesses still ended up having to close and layoff their workers. Unemployment saw a surge due to this and also made existing conditions such as malnutrition. Overall The Great Depression set the scene for the black populous of Barbados who was ready to do whatever it took to improve their situation. World War I was another significant external factor which impacted the state of Barbados’ economy during this period. Since there was a shortage of sugar on the world market Caribbean sugar was now in greater demand and of a higher price. Sugar production in England saw a decline after the war which resulted in less imports from England. For a country like Barbados who was heavily dependent on imported goods, the working class found it hard to afford food, which would be scarce and overpriced. This situation combined with the low wages people received made the people more dissatisfied and restless. From even before The Great Depression the wages of most of the black population in Barbados were very low and generally unsatisfactory. According to the Deane Commission the unreasonably low wages was one of the major factors contributing to the rebellion. The conclusion reached by the Commissioners was that the wages of unskilled manual workers, clerks, shop assistants and agricultural workers were not enough to provide for an average family. Between 1838 and 1937 would have been a very rough period financially for the average family because this was when wages were much lower in comparison to after the riots. See Appendix 2 for an idea of how bad the situation was across the Caribbean. According to Beckles and Shepherd the wages for most workers in Barbados during this time remained at less than a shilling a day. Low wages were due partly to The Great Depression since during the depression consumer spending was reduced, businesses were not making enough money to keep them going so they had to cut wages and in some cases lay off workers. In attempt to cope with these low wages some black landowners tried to establish themselves as peasant farmers growing sugar cane on a smaller scale to the larger sugar estates in order to supplement their income. They later realised that they were growing these canes for nought seeing as how the cost of production outweighed the money earned from selling their canes. In this case peasant farmers were being paid less money for...
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