One of the unfortunate realities of The Bahamas is that we don’t do a good job of educating ourselves on the history of our country.
So holidays roll by and to many they are little more than a long weekend to party or extra days off from work. Most of us only have a vague notion of the history behind these holidays and the significance of the day to the development of our country.
So it is with Labour Day, which was created to honor the Bahamian worker and to celebrate the contributions that working men and women have made to Bahamian life and prosperity. There are two very significant events that shaped the modern-day Bahamas.
The Burma Road Riots of June 1942
“The 1942 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.” Quoted from “The 1942 riot in Nassau: A demand for Change?” by Gail Saunders.
“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 … Unknown to them, however, the Bahamas government had agreed to peg local wages for unskilled labor at the rates established in 1936.” Quoted from Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People (From the Ending of Slavery to the Twenty-First Century) by Michael Craton and Gail Saunders.
Causes of the Riot
“The June 1st 1942 labor action that began outside the city centre but culminated in a riot on Bay Street was an important event in the country’s history. It spoke to the growing dissatisfaction of the Bahamas’ black majority with the (very real if relatively mild) system of apartheid that hemmed them in politically, economically and socially.
It demonstrated the willingness of the hitherto silent black majority to stand up to their colonial masters and the local ruling white oligarchy.
It signaled the beginning of the end of second class citizenship for blacks in the Bahamas. Therefore, this riot continues to occupy a unique place in the Bahamian imagination and has helped to cement Bay Street as the important center in the Bahamas.” Quoted from “Bay Street and the 1942 Riot: Social Space and Identity Work in the Bahamas” by Nona Patara Martin and Virgil Henry Storr.
The General Strike of 1958
The original workers’ dispute surfaced in November of 1957 when the Government granted to the white tour companies the exclusive right to operate a transportation service between the new Nassau International Airport and the city.
The white tour companies anticipated a huge increase in business and so they purchased a fleet of cars and buses and informed members of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union that their services were no longer required. The officers of the taxi cab union were distraught at the thought of losing their business. Their livelihood and the ability to provide for their families were definitely being threatened.
So it was on Nov 1, 1957 that the Taxi Cab Union, under the leadership of Sir Clifford Darling and others, blocked all traffic to and from Nassau International Airport and there was nothing that the Commissioner and his policeman could do about the situation.
After several weeks of negotiations and no hope of a settlement in sight, the Taxi Cab Union called on The Bahamas Federation of Labor led by Sir Randol Fawkes and asked for assistance.
Sir Randol responded with the urgency that the situation required and at a meeting of the Bahamas Federation of Labour, he presented a motion that stated that the B.F.of L. “should call a General Strike to aid the Taxi Union and to dramatize the fight of all Bahamians for greater dignity and self-respect on the job site through decent wages and better working conditions.” The motion was unanimously carried.
I decided to do some and came across the information above online. If you want to do more research yourself below are some links I found.