EYEWITNESS: Freedom… in the air

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Well, the countdown has begun; the countdown to Emancipation Day, in case you’ve been on Mars over the last month, and missed all the events signalling the blessed event that occurred on August 1, 1838. A lot of folks are still confused about the year we should start counting from as to when it all started. First, there was the “Slavery Abolition Act (1833), which Britain passed to abolish slavery in its colonies. This received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833 – but to take effect on August 1, 1834!

So, you’d think it’s a no-brainer to say slavery was abolished on Aug 1, 1834, no?? NO!! Damon over in Essequibo thought so, and for acting upon that assumption, he was hanged. What happened?? Well, the British Parliament only announced that “the owning, buying, and selling of humans as property” was outlawed throughout British colonies as of that date!! They paid the owners of the more-than- 800,000 slaves big time, but decided they needed time to adjust to the new situation. The fact that the slaves had provided labour for hundreds of years without payment is the basis for the present reparations’ claims.

Fearing the slaves would just walk away from being legal property and being treated like cattle – chattel – the Brits decided that the freed slaves had to serve a period of “Apprenticeship”, to wean them into their new circumstances. In Guyana, this “Apprenticeship” lasted from Aug 1st 1834 to Aug 1 1838. So, for us, Emancipation Day starts from Aug 1st 1838. In some countries – like Antigua – where the Brits figured the freed slaves had no option but to remain on the plantations – slavery WAS actually ended in 1834.

So, what happened here? Did the British fears of mass walk out happen?? No really, while some did so when they bought the villages that are now Victoria, Buxton, Friendship, etc, they were more strategic on plantation work. They saw the planters bringing in replacements for them from Barbados and the other WI Islands – and also Portuguese from the impoverished island of Maderia. They formed themselves into gangs, and went from plantation to plantation bargaining for better wages!! None of these imported workers could match their production!! Finally, in 1842, they decided to go on strike. And won!!

The planters were humiliated, and they intensified importing indentured labourers. So, when they lowered wages and the ex-slaves struck again in 1847, they were able to break the strike. But this didn’t mean their spirits were broken – more than half of them now walked off the plantations to make a life on their own.

This insistence on determining how they’d live was as important as “Emancipation”: it gave the latter announcement meaning!!

…to work?

Becoming “free”, we saw, meant that the planters were now free to look for the cheapest form of labour to perform the work the slaves used to do. So, from then on, the so-called “free workers” have been agitating and striking to improve their wages and conditions of work. We all know the indentured labourers who replaced the slaves – in a “new form of slavery”, according to some – protested, and were killed throughout the 79 years of indentureship.

Against that background, it was rather shocking to your Eyewitness to discover that between Aug 2020 and May 2022, 4847 – ALMOST 5000!! – work permits were issued to foreigners to take up employment here!! That there were 9270 applications is even more worrisome!! Did anyone realise there were so many furriners working in jobs that demanded work permits – meaning they weren’t your minimum-wage gigs – in our fair land??

There’s gotta be more than twice that number of jobs at the lower end filled by Venezuelans and Haitians etc.

Quo vadis??

…to tank

The US just announced their economy shrank this quarter, as it had done in the last. Now, the definition of a recession is that the economy must shrink in two consecutive quarters.

So, aren’t the US in a recession??