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Daddy Mac and Elma Francois – Two socialism pioneers

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by Oscar Allen 20.MAR.09

Rhoda Reddock’s small and insightful book on Elma Francois has as its subtitle, A Portrait of A Woman and Her Struggle – Born at Overland, St. Vincent in 1897, Elma’s mother was a clothes washer, her father a laborer, and she attended primary school up to Standard 5. I have not come across any book on George Mc Intosh. A chapter of 18 pages in “Pioneers in Nation Building” by Rupert John gives us some detail about him. (It may be that Adrian Fraser’s forthcoming book on the 1935 revolt will add some more substance to Daddy Mac). His mother was a cook and his father a Scotsman of some trade. Not long after he finished school, George Mc Intosh began his training to become an Assistant pharmacist, and then, travelling to Grenada, a fully certified pharmacist.{{more}} In due time, he opened his own “drugstore” in Middle Street, opposite Davy’s business place. Daddy Mac became a plain speaking professional partisan of the cause of the working people and the poor. Elma Francois was a manual worker but just as fierce as Mc Intosh in her commitment to justice, to organization and to anti-colonial struggle. They both kept abreast of what was happening in the world and brought uninformed people up to date. Mc Intosh would give leadership from the legislative council and from the Kingstown Town Board; Elma Francois would give leadership from the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad. The colonial authorities would put both of them in prison, but could not hold them there. These two Vincentian democratic fighters made it crystal clear that they had socialist convictions.

As a young woman, working first at the Mt Bentick sugar factory, Elma Francois set about organizing the workers. She was fired. Moving into Kingstown to find work, Francois learned of the work of George Mc Intosh, who in her recollection, some people regarded as “good but godless”. It was in Trinidad that Elma Francois found fertile ground for her social and political commitment. This is how Rhoda Reddock summarizes her contribution.

The NWCSA (Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association) of which Elma Francois was a founding member was responsible for the formation of three major trade unions, two of which … continue to the present. It was largely responsible for fomenting the national response against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 led by Mussolini. In the early 1930s … their “Hunger Marches” of the unemployed presented a pattern later used by TUB Butler … and by sugar workers in Central Trinidad. This organization was also responsible for conscientising many middle class young men to their African roots as well as to the necessity for political struggle.

Reddock reports that in February 1938, Francois become the first woman in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to be tried for sedition. – Inflammatory speech at a meeting. Listen to comrade Elma as she speaks to the court.

“I am one of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association (members). The Association was formed about 4 years ago. I am one of the founders. My occupation is clothes-washing…

…I keep in touch with local affairs; I follow the local politics as best I can. We particularly pay attention to the underdog…

On the night of October 13, 1937, we held a meeting on the “Greens” on Piccadilly St.

“…The subject of my address (at the meeting) was World Imperialism and the Colonial Toilers … In dealing with my subject; I dealt with world conditions linking them up with local conditions. I dealt with land reservations in the Kenya colony … they (the Kenya working class) decided to organize in order to get their wrongs righted … They succeeded.

I dealt with Nigeria … I discussed Germany and Russia also … and the workers in England …

“I spoke about the Negro and East-Indian workers who deep under the Town Hall and in the square through poverty… I referred to the struggle my organization had carried out against the Trade Tax … The Tax has since been removed. I then dealt with the shop closing Ordinance… My organization sent a delegation to (Governor) Fletcher on the unemployed question. I led the delegation. I handed him a copy of our demands. I made an appeal to my audience to assist us financially in aid of the arrested workers. I also reminded them of the (sedition) charge against comrade Percival at the “Greens” on the night of the 13th. I dealt with jail sentences of the workers in Germany. I dealt with terror in Germany under the fascist government … I said that jail sentences and executions do not solve our problems. It is only by organized unity can we better conditions. I said that workers of the world were not prepared to fight in any war but for bread, peace and liberty.

On the third day of the sedition trial, the jury prounced her ‘Not guilty’. This Callinago Garifuna women from Overland, this clothes washer, like her mother, this socialist disciple of democracy and equity, this tender hearted, steel, firm woman is one of the national heroes of Trinidad and Tobago, and we gave birth to her. May God send us more like her.

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