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Do we ever learn?

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Today, I want to follow on from where Bassy left off last week. We are now into the month of September, and I suspect plans are already being prepared for next month’s Independence anniversary celebrations.

Strange enough, or perhaps not strange at all, is that we pay very little attention to the riots of October 21 and 22 that marked a turning point in the country’s political history. In fact, those riots were the second of a number that occurred in the Caribbean in the 1930s. I always hoped that October 21 would have been the day on which we got our independence from Britain, but that is probably a horse of a different colour. The arrest of Kenson King and Adrianna King and their having to spend a weekend locked up reminds me of the issue of George McIntosh. You see, when faced with any kind of disturbance or reaction to policies or the state of affairs, the reaction during the colonial era was to look for organisers or in their frame of thinking, instigators. The issues leading to protest seem not to matter. Without instigators everyone was happy.

     There was always a racial component and in the colonial way of thinking a dismissal of the ability of the common people. In the case of the 1935 riots, they argued that the common people were incapable of organising what happened on those two days. There had to be a ‘big man’ behind things. McIntosh fitted their bill. The riots were sparked by efforts to introduce new taxation measures. They involved, among other things, higher duties on what they called a limited number of luxury items. But among these items were  tobacco, cigarettes, ale and matches. On Saturday October 18 after the measures had already been introduced in the House, word spread, and a number of market vendors and others approached George McIntosh. He had a good rapport especially with market people who used to patronise his drug store for supplies. He kept a black board in front of his store, and on that day the writings were to the effect that the island was going to the rocks.

     On Monday when debate continued in parliament McIntosh was asked to approach the governor on their behalf. He delivered a letter to the governor during the sitting of the House. It indicated his willingness to represent the views of a number of people. He listed some of their concerns; the minimum wage bill, workmen’s compensation and customs amendment bill. The governor indicated that he would meet a delegation at 5 pm. The people when told of this rejected it. The bill would have been passed and moreover they expected the governor then to be on his way to Grenada where he was based. Crowds had overtaken the Courtyard and things got out of hand leading to rioting.

     McIntosh was arrested and charged for Treason- Felony. He was defended in Court by L C Hannays of Trinidad. On the 5th day of the Preliminary hearing, Hannays addressed the magistrate and told him it was time to stop the farce. “I do not think this could happen anywhere else . . .” The Magistrate dismissed the case. Crowds of people lifted McIntosh on their shoulders and the rest is history. He started the Workingmen’s Association in 1936. That body contested the 1937 elections and its members from then dominated the Assembly until 1951.

     McIntosh had nothing to do with the riots except attempting to intervene with the governor on peoples’ behalf. When people protest it means that there are issues which concern them. Why not dialogue with the people and address their concerns instead of looking for alleged instigators? People turn out because they have concerns, not because some individual out of thin air tells them to go on the streets. Why do we not learn from history? Why do we continue the practices of the Colonials whose mindset was on continuing colonial control. What was the Public Order Act about, anyhow?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian