Abstract: Business Practices and the 1937 Revolt in Barbados

Henderson Carter


Historians have argued that the workers' revolt in Barbados in 1937 was primarily a result of external factors such as the Great Depression and the closure of migration outlets. While these factors placed pressure on the black majority, it is necessary to examine closely the local factors which also irritated the workers. Using the evidence of the commissions that investigated this revolt, I argue in this paper that business practices represent a significant causal factor, because they led to considerable hardship and generated resentment among the population. Such practices, existing long before the depression, were characterized by a strong business/political nexus, the persistence of a low-wage regime, the formation merchant combines, price-fixing, and the undercutting of small rural shopkeepers by provision dealers. Moreover, the pattern of attack during the revolt, manifesting itself in the assault on Broad Street businesses, plantations, and rural shops, suggests that unfair business practices constituted a major grievance of the workers in 1937.