In May 1938 workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations. The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.
The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work. It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death.
My grandmother, Becky, wrote in her diary :
Poor Vivie. The knowledge that Ambrosine Williams had worked Obeah against her for Carlton’s death is having a bad effect on Vivie. She is ill and has become withdrawn and quiet., she doesn’t sleep at night and has been vomiting so violently no food stays in her stomach. Sydney says it’s all in her mind, after all, the doctor’s examined Vivie twice and can find nothing wrong with her, but, whether it’s real or imaginary there’s no mistaking that she is wasting away. She and her daughters are spending their last few days in Jamaica with us here at Mission House before they sail to America to live with Freddie H. Roy Mackenzie’s family now own the Den of Inequity.
Vivie hates Jamaica and talks as if she is never coming back. America sounds an exciting country with lots of opportunities to make money, but I’m not sure I would want to live there and I’m surprised Vivie does really. I’ve read that in the some parts of America they are very prejudice towards coloured and black people.
Thousands of blacks cannot find work so they have no money to buy food or clothes for their families. Smith’s Village is one of the worst areas in the city covered with shacks where conditions of squalor are beyond imagination and made worse by appalling overcrowding.
It makes me furious when I read the Gleaner newspaper and they say the reports are exaggerated. I have seen for myself, little children and old men, stark born naked, on the streets begging for money and food. Soup kitchens are springing up over the city to feed these poor people. Is this an exaggeration? Of course, the paper is controlled by the upper white ruling classes – these Jamaicans are a disgrace.
While the Catholic Church is doing what it can, the Protestant Church seems to be trying to conceal the gravity of the painful conditions under which thousands of people are living. Children are running around naked because they have no clothes to go to school and those that do have clothes, have no food at home, nothing in their little stomachs. When they come home from school it is to a hungry and crying mother, brothers and sisters and a father almost demented because he cannot feed his children. Thank goodness for Bustamante. His constant flow of letters to the Gleaner is making people aware of the problems but I fear for this island’s future.
Extract of letter written by Alexander Bustamante
to The Editor, Daily Gleaner, Kingston
…………….shame, and because some have refused to do their duty and they want to minimise that which does not need to be magnified – unemployment.
The mongoose and the rats in certain parts of the island are being disturbed at nights, because the cane-fields, their resting places, have now become the sleeping place of many workers. Many of them rush out at nights so nude they dare not come out in the days, just to buy little necessities to return to their shelter – the canefields.
I have been to St Ann, and the poverty there is something I hate to describe. Neither minister nor politician should try to prevent it being exposed. Visit Newton, Kinowl, Mullings Bush Districts in St Elizabeth; Marlie Hill and Plowden and see the poverty – the misery. But why go to such places when we have them next door to us; go to Trench Pen, Smith’s Village, Ackee Walk and Rose Town and the apostolic Lanes, etc.
Too late it is for anyone through any peculiar reasons to try and cover up the truth of the lamentable conditions. Things were bad a few years gone by; they were no better last year, this year they are getting worse, there must be better days ahead.
I am etc.
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