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The Georgetown dream that died

The Georgetown dream that died

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As St Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates 27 years of independence a former sugar factory worker’s desire is to see his beloved Georgetown shed its “ghost town” image and return to its former days of glory as a hive of activity and as an entertainment and commercial centre.

In the early 1950s James “Tantie” Millington was one of many Georgetown men who excitedly planned their futures, believing that they had a long, fruitful career in the St Vincent Sugar Industry Limited.

“Life was good, Georgetown was the place to be,” said Millington as he reminisced on the times when it was the “sweet sugar city”, when all roads led there.{{more}} Anything you wanted could be found there.

If someone had told Millington and his colleagues that by the time the nation became independent in 1979 the factory would have long been closed and they would be forced to find a new way to fuel their dreams, they would have said “hell no!” but alas it happened.

“I felt badly when the factory closed the first time. I wondered where I was going to get my daily bread from. And when the years rolled on and I saw how Georgetown became dead I couldn’t bear it,” said Millington.

Even though decades have passed and he is an elderly man of 78 years, he was visibly saddened as he recalled the days of glory.

Former senior public servant Owen Cuffy, brother of deceased human rights activist Victor Cuffy, could understand Millington sentiments, as he too reminisced recently with SEARCHLIGHT.

Cuffy remembered the high standard of living that existed in the town that doesn’t remotely resemble what obtains today.

If the streets could only speak, they’d paint a picture of wealth and affluence.

“Everything prospered, the trucking industry, shops, bars, cinema, everything in Georgetown did well,” said Cuffy.

The factory, the focal point of life, had always been teeming with industrial action. Almost yearly there was some stoppage or the other. But it all climaxed in 1962 when the owners of the factory decided to close its doors rather than cave in to the demands of the Federated Industrial and Agricultural Workers Union (FIAWU) led by Former Chief Minister, the late Ebenezer Theodore Joshua.

“I remember the protests, the violence, the confrontation that accompanied the strike,” said Millington as though it happened yesterday.

He was one of the men who did not follow the union, who went to work each time he was required.

“Some of the guys would interfere with those of us who decided to work, but nobody never really bugged me too much,” he recalled.

“I didn’t feel there was anything to strike for, the factory didn’t owe me any thing” he said, adding “I just wanted to feed my girlfriend and our seven children, I couldn’t afford to strike,” Millington added.

But he was in the minority and the strike broke the back of the factory. It closed. People were out of work. Business declined. The shops, bars, cinemas closed, one by one.

The “sweet sugar city” collapsed into a shell of its former self becoming and remaining the ghost town it is today, except for a brief revival in the early ’80s.



Exodus



With no work and mouths to feed, a mass exodus started. Men streamed to the capital Kingstown, 25 miles away, in search of work. Others migrated to England to seek a better life.

“I didn’t have any money to go to England so I started a career in painting, and did what I had to do, it was hard but I made it,” said Millington.

Across the Atlantic was a Vincentian, Clifford Antrobus. Years before the sugar factory collapsed, he was one of the members of the Vincentian Diaspora who was approached to invest in the sugar factory at Georgetown. He used to live there but migrated first to the United States and then to England many years before the factory collapsed. Remembering the lucrative operation, he quickly agreed.

“I wasn’t able to be there with the guys but when I spent that one hundred pounds I felt like I was part of the factory still,” Antrobus told SEARCHLIGHT.

While working with General Motors in England he followed the news closely as beet sugar started to make its mark and the gold mine of sugar started collapsing. He remembered how saddened he was when he heard of the sugar factory’s closure and is even more so now when he sees how Georgetown has become.

“It broke my heart when I heard and now when you see Georgetown and remember what use to be it is tough,” Antrobus said, shaking his head.

While many moved on with life after the sugar factor “Tantie” could not resist the urge to work there again in 1980 when the Government resumed operations but his heart was to be broken again five years later.

Now, as he spoke to SEARCHLIGHT at his Bay Road, Mt Benntick home, as the 27th anniversary of national independence approached, Millington was looking forward to an independence of a different kind – the birth of a new Georgetown, the rescue of the “ghost town” maybe never to become another sweet sugar city but something, something he could be proud of.

Would it happen in his life time?

“Anything is possible, but not this,” he said with a sigh of resignation.

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