‘Whenever society is in travail liberty is born’: The mass strike of 1919 in colonial Trinidad

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    In colonial Trinidad in 1919 rising industrial turmoil culminated in a rolling mass strike that would shake this outpost of the British Empire to its foundations. Though often located as an important part of Trinidadian or at best Caribbean labour history – a precursor in many ways to the powerful wave of labour rebellions that swept the Anglophone colonial Caribbean in the 1930s – this essay will examine the strike through the prism of transnational and global labour history. It will explore how the strike not only had indigenous roots relating to the workers’ resentment that had steadily built up during the Great War but also international roots – such as the experience by black Trinidadians of popular racism in imperial Britain and institutional racism as colonial troops in the British West Indies Regiment. From November 1919, a mass dockworker’s strike rocked the Trinidadian capital of Port of Spain waterfront for three weeks, before workers accepted an offer of a 25 percent payrise from the shipping companies. However, the dockworkers’ inspiring victory, won through the most militant forms of action, now triggered what O. Nigel Bolland notes was “virtually a general strike” which lasted into early 1920, encompassing other groups of workers from Indian estate workers to oilfield workers in the South, and leading to the rise of the social-democratic nationalist Trinidad Workingmen’s Association as a political force. This essay will aim to situate the inspiring mass strike of 1919 within the wider international turmoil of that year – not least the rising challenge the militancy of organized labour posed in the imperial metropole of Britain itself. In the process it aims to explore the potentialities for - and limitations of - international working class solidarity in 1919, in a period when the British Empire was perhaps at the height of its power.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Internationalisation of the Labour Question
    Subtitle of host publicationIdeological Antagonism, Workers' Movements and the ILO since 1919
    EditorsStefano Bellucci , Holger Weiss
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    ISBN (Electronic)9783030282356
    ISBN (Print)9783030282349
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2019

    Publication series

    NamePalgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


    • Race
    • Colonialism
    • Labour
    • Trinidad and Tobago
    • First World War
    • Black history
    • pan-Africanism


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