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The Burma Road Riot in Nassau

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a) Write a detailed account of the Burma Road Riot in Nassau, Bahamas.

The Burma Road Riot started because a labor dispute in the Bahamas. It was an attempt to end economic, political and social injustices in The Bahamas. According to Source A, “the 1942 riot in Nassau or the Burma Road Riot in Nassau was a short-lived spontaneous outburst by a group of disgruntled labourers, and occurred against a background of narrow socio-economic and political policies.” This occurred at a time when local black workers demonstrated in a violent manner against discrimination of wages paid to them. They were paid less than that of the highly paid American workers who were all engaged in the construction of huge airfields for the U.S. Army, at Oakes Field and Winsor Field, simply known as “The Project.” During this time, there was a lot of Political unrest in the colonial Bahamas related to political rights, labor rights, and race relations.
This all started during World War II (1939 – 1945), when Americans began to set up military bases in Nassau, which was advantageous because of the clear skies for training of airmen and the clear water for training in under water skills. Permission was sought from the British Government for military bases to be built in several Caribbean countries. In the Bahamas, with lend-lease arrangements, permission was given for the U.S firm, Pleasantville Incorporated, under supervision of the U.S Army Engineering Department, to construct two bases at New Providence. The first, known as Main Field, was adjacent to Grant’s Town where a small landing field was already developed by Sir Harry Oakes and the other, known as Satellite Field. Collectively, these were known as “The Project.” Work begun on 20th May, 1942.

Because of the demoralizing lack of employment that existed at the time, when the news about this employment opportunity was made public, many men from the outlying Bahamian islands flocked to New Providence joining the already large labor pool that looked forward to the high wages that such foreign projects historically brought. The construction project promised a relative bonanza for the local unemployed, a chance to sell their labor for something like the rates they knew were normal on the mainland.
Unfortunately, their hopes of high wages were shattered since they were paid the minimum wage of four (4) shillings a day which was established by the House of Assembly six years before in 1936. Not only were the wages offered lower than expected, there was an inequity of pay between the American and Bahamian labourers employed at the same jobs. In comparison, their Americans counterparts were paid twice as much, eight (8) shillings per day. This wage was agreed to without any kind of prior consultation with any of the representatives of labor. The Bahamas Labor Union and The Bahamas Federation of Labor were not consulted prior employment between the Company and the British Government. The two contracting powers fixed the wages for Bahamian workers at four shillings (one dollar) a day.
Among the persons who came to Nassau for employment were the Exumians. They reported that the American government had previously employed them in a similar job for eight shillings (two dollars) per day. Also, the Americans made it known that they thought the Bahamian wage ridiculously low and that they are certain the contractors would pay more if they were allowed to do so. This caused the other Bahamian in Nassau to conclude that the employers were discriminating against them and this caused them to become agitated.
The Bahamian labourers’ dissatisfaction were not addressed by either the management nor the government. The wage dispute was not reconciled and the labourers started to grumble at work over their dissatisfaction. The workers believed that the Bahamian Government was the only hindrance to better wages and a better way of life, although, the Governor made it clear that the decision was made in accordance with a high policy far beyond the power of the government to control.

When the construction company learnt of the workers’ grievances they decided to pay the requested eight (8) shillings per day, the Bay Street merchants and local contractors headed by Karl Claridge and other Bay Street Boys, were horrified at the decision and argued that such a wage would upset the economy and made niggers unmanageable. Thus, this local pressure forced the construction company to withdrew its offer and conformed to the wishes of the white minority government.
The only law relating to trade unions at the time was the Combination Acts of 1825 and 1859. Under the local statues it was illegal for workers to combine to force any employer to pay a higher wage.
Although under the labour law that existed then it was illegal for workers to combine or force any employer to pay a higher wage, the combined Bahamas Federation of labour Union represented the workers. At the time of the construction of the project there were two trade unions: the Bahamas Labour Union, headed by Percy Christie, Osborne Kemp, and Caleb Gibson; and the Bahamas Federation of Labour, governed by an Executive Committee consisting of Charles Roderiquez, Gerald Dean, Harold Fernander, Eustance Ford, Charles Fisher, Bert Cambridge, Dr. Claudius R. Walker and S.C. McPherson. After the announcement of the construction of the project at Oakes Field the Bahamas Labour Union merged with the Bahamas Federation of Labour to achieve greater solidarity. On May 28, 1942, the combined Union made representations to the Labour officer for increase in wages for the labourers. The government and the local contractors insisted that the four (4) shilling per day were non-negotiable. Take it or leave it.
Upon the workers decision to leave it, the Attorney General, Sir Eric Hamilton, threatened to import foreign labourers. This treat agitated the workers who regarded it as adding insult to injury.
On Monday morning, June 1, the workers grievances turned into a strike. Several hundred workers armed with machetes, sticks or clubs, marched into town and gathered in the vicinity of the public buildings. As the workers made their way from the Main Field through the black Over-theHill neighborhoods to the government buildings at Public Square on Bay Street, their numbers increased with women and children who joined them. They chose Bay Street because it has always been an important space in Nassau, where all the businesses were located. It the stage for most significant events in the Bahamas’ history and a social space that has continually been at the center of cultural, economic and political life in the country.
At this gathering they were addressed by officials who urged peaceful behavior. As this meeting was going on, there were other demonstrators who were coming up Bay Street from the west. One of those protestors took a bottle from a parked Coca Cola van and threw it through the glass window of a shop. This was the beginning of window smashing and looting. The riot has begun. What started as low grumbling among the men at work, exploded into two days of rioting that left six men dead, several people injured and Bay Street, the island’s principal commercial district, and parts of Grant’s Town, where many of the laborers resided, in shambles. Some walked swiftly blowing whistles. Others ran in zigzag fashion. Some carried sticks; others swung machetes as they shouted: Burma Road declare war on the Conchie Joe, Do nigger, don't you lick nobody don't lick nobody.

Since all previous representations went unheeded, the workers thought that the government will take this demonstration seriously. With this march they took upon their shoulders the common burden of all Bahamian who were marginalized and discriminated against. The average wage was the only factor for disgruntlement. A person doesn’t usually grumble about his wages if they are reasonably fair. On the other hand one does appreciate being given a lower human valuation when he is doing the same work with a person of a different nationality or race. Black workers were frustrated and had resented the poor treatment they got from the white foreign foremen who they had to take orders form. The American workers were basically employed as foremen while Black Bahamians had to carry out the difficult tasks. Many complaints were made, but on one listened.
There are three reasons why the lower than expected wages offered during the Project lead to rioting, looting and vandalism. The first was that their expectations were not met; the second was they were placed in an unfair situation; and, the last was that their freedom to negotiate was taken away from them. They viewed the lower than expected wages and the reaction of the colonial government to their calls for redress as act of aggression against them. They rioted because of economic injustice.

The men were dissatisfied but neither management nor government made any real steps to reconcile the wage dispute. What started as low grumbling among the men at work, exploded into two days of rioting that left six men dead, several people injured and Bay Street, the island’s principal commercial district, and parts of Grant’s Town, where many of the laborers resided, in shambles. Their cries fell on deaf ears, and police officers were called in to disperse the group. But the police only succeeded in making the protestors angrier. During the demonstration, a command was given from Colonel Edward Sears to arrest the shepherd and the sheep will disperse. This being said, Leonard Green, the ring leader was arrested by Corporal Pinder. This enraged the people even more and with one daring thrust into the militia, the workers snatched Green out of their Grasp.
When the workers arrived on Bay Street, the Attorney General, Eric Hallinan who had been working to ease tensions in the days leading up to this protest, addressed the crowd from the steps of the Colonial Secretary’s office. During his address he promised that if the workers sent a representative to either the Colonial Secretary or the Acting Governor that they would receive immediate attention. In an attempt to satisfy them, he mentioned that originally the Americans had planned to bring in their own workers but because Bahamians were such good workers they had not. He encouraged them to return to the job site and ‚not spoil the good impression that they had made. There were mixed reactions to this. Some of the crowd threw their sticks down and went home while some workers interpreted his speech to mean that they were in danger of being replaced and became even more agitated. A few other government representatives including Mr. Christie and Police Captain Sears attempted to convince the crowd to disband, but to no avail. Captain Sears’ presence on Bay Street ‚made them angry because it looked as if he would do something.
At this time, a group of men broke off from the assembly, tired of listening to what they must have thought were merely efforts to placate them. They headed down Bay Street smashing as they went.
In a few hours bay Street was a shamble but before noon it was cleared of rioters by the police, with the assistance of the Cameron Highlanders. The rioters proceed over the hill and went to work in Grant’s Town. During this time, several barons were looted and this eventually resulted in a worsening of the situation.
The police and soldiers withdrew after relative peaceful conditions were restored. On the said afternoon of Monday June 1, the mob reformed and attacked the Grant’s Town Police Station. The four officers on duty were forced to flee. The rioting continued throughout the night and into the next day, as various bands of rioters (much smaller than the crowd on
Bay Street) went through the settlements nearer to their homes looting the white owned businesses that serviced these neighborhoods.

Because of mounted tension and industrial unrest a state of emergency was declared. The Riot Act was read and a curfew was imposed that same day, prohibiting any person not a member of the armed forces or police from being out of doors between 8 pm and 6 am. The curfew banned all processions and required all people to be off the streets between the stated time. The Volunteer Defence Force was of great help in enforcing this.
In spite of the curfew. Confrontations continued throughout the day and night. In the struggle, 15 guns shot were fired. Four of the rioters were killed, seven seriously wounded and 40 suffered minor injuries caused mainly by stones, sticks and bottles. Only one soldier was hurt. On Tuesday, 2 June, an attempt was made to break into a grocery store in Grant’s Town, and some damage was done to a pharmacy on Shirley Street. Apart from the firing of some government vehicles, these two incidents were the last of the disturbance.
The militia was finally able to push the workers back over the hill and into their villages. There the wild mob looted all the more. Everything that represented the white man's wealth was assaulted. Grocery and liquor stores were burglarized; pharmacies and libraries extensively damaged. Fire engines and ambulances were overturned and set aflame. The big iron bell atop the Southern Police Station was wrenched from its position and placed in the belfry of the nearby St. Agnes Anglican Church thereafter to summon saints to worship instead of officers to arrest the poor.
Alfred Stubbs, alias Sweet Potato burned the Royal Family in effigy. Napoleon McPhee a short limping stone mason when asked why he destroyed the union jack replied I willing to fight under the flag. I willing even to die under the flag but I aint gwine starve under the flag.
Milo Butler , A.F. Adderley and Percy Christie tried to bring representatives of capital and labour together to conciliate their differences.
When all these efforts failed to restore law and order, the Acting Governor the Honorurable W.L. Heape cabled Washington. On the following day the Duke of Windsor was back at the helm of the affairs of state.
The Duke's return to Nassau was greeted with much anticipation by the labouring masses who had not forgotten his Empire Day message prior to his departure a few days ago. Arrangements were immediately made to have the leaders of the BF of L meet with the Duke's Committee. The workers selected their most articulate spokesman, Dr. Claudius R. Walker, to state the case on their behalf. On Wednesday June 3, Dr. Walker addressed the Duke and his Courts and represented the workers. At the end of his speech the Duke walked across the room shook Dr. Walker hand and said both in form and substance the case of the working man was well presented. We shall consider your recommendations and report back as quickly as possible. The Duke proceeded to leave the hall. On reaching the door he swung around and returned to Doc and said. I wish to explain that the decision to pay local rates of wages was made in accordance with high policy far higher than this Government to control. Dr. Walker’s response was “we have gone to great pains to explain the reason for the increase. You yourself have seen the mood of the workers. With due respect. I don't think we can get them to work without an assurance from you that something will be done to help them. Furthermore freedom from was one of the basic guarantees of the Atlantic Charter.
On June 4, the workers returned on the Job site and on June 8 the curfew was revoked. The Governor announced at the end of June that, with some difficulty, he had been able to get the daily wages of unskilled workers raised from four shillings to five shilling a day. In addition a free meal was given on site. This seems to pacify the labourers. Those who returned to work right after the disturbances, carried on with apparent contentment, until the project was finished.
At the end 128 persons were prosecuted in the Supreme Court for their involvement in the riot. One hundred and fourteen were convicted.

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500 Extraordinary Islands

...500 extraordinary islands G R E E N L A N D Beaufort Sea Baffin Bay vi Da i tra sS t a nm De it Stra rk Hudson Bay Gulf of Alaska Vancouver Portland C A N A D A Calgary Winnipeg Newfoundland Quebec Minneapolis UNITED STATES San Francisco Los Angeles San Diego Phoenix Dallas Ottawa Montreal ChicagoDetroitToronto Boston New York OF AMERICA Philadelphia Washington DC St. Louis Atlanta New Orleans Houston Monterrey NORTH AT L A N T I C OCEAN MEXICO Guadalajara Mexico City Gulf of Mexico Miami Havana CUBA GUATEMALA HONDURAS b e a n Sea EL SALVADOR NICARAGUA Managua BAHAMAS DOMINICAN REPUBLIC JAMAICA San Juan HAITI BELIZE C a r PUERTO RICO ib TRINIDAD & Caracas N TOBAGO A COSTA RICA IA M PANAMA VENEZUELA UYANRINA H GU C U G Medellín A PAC I F I C OCEAN Galapagos Islands COLOMBIA ECUADOR Bogotá Cali S FR EN Belém Recife Lima BR A Z I L PERU La Paz Brasélia Salvador Belo Horizonte Rio de Janeiro ~ Sao Paulo BOLIVIA PARAGUAY CHILE Cordoba Santiago Pôrto Alegre URUGUAY Montevideo Buenos Aires ARGENTINA FALKLAND/MALVINAS ISLANDS South Georgia extraordinary islands 1st Edition 500 By Julie Duchaine, Holly Hughes, Alexis Lipsitz Flippin, and Sylvie Murphy Contents Chapter 1 Beachcomber Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Aquatic Playgrounds 2 Island Hopping the Turks & Caicos: Barefoot Luxury 12 Life’s a Beach 14 Unvarnished & Unspoiled 21......

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