Monday, November 26, 2007
Barbados' National Heroes - Clement Payne
"Educate, agitate, but do not violate!"
For most of his life Clement Osbourne Payne conveyed the powerful message of this slogan as he tirelessly advocated the economic wants and political needs of working people in the West Indies. Whether in Trinidad, the land of his birth, or Barbados, his parents' homeland, he sought to educate the masses about their lot in life and urged that they transform themselves into a militant community of workers.
He is best remembered for four momentous months in 1937 when he struggled to help the poor working population of Barbados to see the importance of coming together to resist the elite white planter class. He held several public meetings in the City and its environs, denouncing the deplorable conditions under which ordinary people were forced to live.
Payne is regarded by some as an apostle of Barbadian trade unionism.
He launched a campaign to educate and stimulate the masses, delivering powerful, fiery speeches to audiences who responded with great enthusiasm. The Constabulary in Bridgetown saw Payne as a possible threat and from that very first meeting in the City he was under police observation "each moment of the day and night".
But that close surveillance did not deter Payne. Instead, he ensured that themes brought into the public domain during those meetings were highlighted. When the labour disturbances started in Trinidad in June 1937, he held a meeting in Golden Square to inform the working class about developments there, even though the police did their best to prevent it.
By that time, the workers here were serious about organising themselves and a resolution was passed to form the Barbados Progressive Working Men's Association. This attempt ended in failure.
On Thursday, July 22, Payne was presented with a summons to appear before the City Magistrate to answer a charge of willfully making a false statement to the Harbour Authorities concerning his place of birth. On arrival in the island, he had declared that he was born in Barbados rather than Trinidad.
He pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned, but when it resumed he did not have legal representation and pleaded his own case. He was found guilty and ordered to pay 10 pounds forthwith or spend three months in prison. However, he appealed against this decision and received support, moral and financial, from the working class, much to the dismay of the planter-merchant oligarchy and the police.
He also held a meeting that night (July 22) which he described as "a historical one from many angles" in his book , "My Political Memoirs of Barbados". People from every stratum of society attended, and this, he said, "was a strange significance in Barbados".
He spoke of his conviction and Government's ulterior motive, and revealed his intention to go to Government House for an audience with the Governor.
Singing hymns and popular anthems, Payne and about 300 workers marched that morning to the Governor's residence. Shortly after arrival, he and 13 supporters were arrested and later charged for refusing to disperse as an assembled mob when told to do so by police. But although they all pleaded not guilty and the others were granted bail, Payne was remanded in custody.
While he was in custody, his "lieutenants" held meetings to sensitise workers to the situation. He won the appeal on July 26 against conviction for making a false declaration on his arrival in Barbados, but the expulsion order remained.
The charge was later withdrawn and the authorities attempted to serve him with an expulsion order. This prompted his supporters to hire a young lawyer, Grantley Adams, to represent him . Recognising the power of the authorities and the possible physical danger to his client, Adams advised Payne to accept service of the expulsion order.
Before his dream was realised Payne was expelled from Barbados, but he had sown the seeds of discontent which flourished and bore fruit on July 26, 1937, the night he was forced out of this country, never to be allowed entry again. It was the action of the local authorities to deport Payne, and Governor Mark Young's decision to uphold the expulsion.
He was deported that same night.
As news about the deportation spread, his supporters around the island forgot his slogan of non-violence and "exploded in violent, revolutionary upheaval" in some City streets. Armed with sticks and stones, they went along Chamberlain Bridge, Trafalgar Square to Broad Street and the commercial district damaging show windows of businesses, smashing cars on nearby streets and even pushing some into the sea.
The violence continued for four days in various parts of the island, leaving 14 people dead, 47 wounded, 500 arrested and millions of dollars in property damaged.
It is generally agreed by historians that Barbados was never the same gain. The disturbances forced the relevant authorities to recognise the need for social reform, the alternative being that the workers would do it in a way the oligarchy would never approve.
Such was the effectiveness of Payne's words and actions that the British Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry (The Moyne Commission), to investigate the situation in Barbados and other British West Indies colonies.
This signalled what was arguably Payne's most significant achievement, for the Moyne Commission determined that all of his charges against the island's rulers were accurate and in its report, insisted on reforms which he had proposed, the chief of which was introduction of trade unionism legislation.
Payne collapsed on April 7, 1941, while addressing a political meeting in Trinidad and died shortly afterwards.
The Clement Payne Cultural Centre was formed in Barbados in 1989 to perpetuate his memory and to continue his work of enlightening Barbadians about their history and struggle.
Photo & copy: www.barbados.gov.bb