'Disturbances' of the 1970s
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Posted: June 13, 2004
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The period of the 1970's was a remarkable epoch in the history of Trinidad and Tobago and indeed the world over. This was a time when tensions peaked once more after earlier struggles to relieve Black people from the physical bondage of slavery and after two world wars, which had left an indelible impact on the world's people. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago was granted Independence just eight years before in 1962. However, this appeared to be Independence in name only as Trinidadians and Tobagonians were dependent on white capitalists and imperial powers such as the United States, Canada and Britain for their sustenance.
Those who had recognized such inequities sought to address them under the banner of 'Black Power'. This revolution was characterized mainly by large group protests, boycotts, a few shootings and the occasional throwing of 'Molotov cocktails.' Those who benefitted from capitalism, neo-imperialism and (particularly white) male domination determined that protest actions by the masses were "disturbances" to the order or rather the disorder and diseqilibrium of capitalist society. Thus, the term "disturbances" only derived negative connotations, and was used to describe the positive actions initiated by the revolutionaries. For the purpose of this discourse, "disturbances" indicated all activities and ideologies which interfered with the inadequate running of the country by the PNM or negatively impacted corrupt businesses and exploitative socio-economic regimes. It should be said that not all "disturbances" were products of the black power struggle. Others followed the precedent set by Black Power activism in order to manifest change within their own realms of discontent.
The Black Power leaders challenged the status quo by demanding reform that would have been beneficial to the masses of the country, but were unsuccessful to a significant degree as the social, economic and political orders remained largely unchanged. The Movement had some effect, notably in the schism that erupted in the PNM administration, and the nationalization of some industries in the twin island-state. Feminist activism was also an important part of the so-called disturbances of the 1970s. It will be discussed in relation to its follow-up status to the Black power rebellion. I will address the focal aims of the black power and feminist rebellions, the ways in which activists set out to achieve these aims and the extent of influence the movement had on the authorities.
During the 1970's as indeed in the present, capitalism reigned supreme. This racist economic institution was such that the whites were at the crest of the hierarchical pyramid and blacks were at the base. According to Da Breo, foreign capitalists dominated the Trinidad economy, "psychologically and financially" indicating the extent to which the institution affected the lives of Trinidadians and Tobagonians. Unemployment, a major feature of capitalism, was rampant. This underclass, as Marx referred to them, was necessary so that the employers could continue to exploit their workers. Thus, workforces throughout Trinidad and Tobago were paid much less than the actual value of their labour.
This situation of exploitation in Trinidad and Tobago is a legacy of slavery in that material wealth, or lack thereof, was inherently linked to one's race and the colour of one's skin. In fact, the OWTU reconfirmed this viewpoint that there is an intricate link between race and class in Trinidad and Tobago and that, "the call for Black power is the call for proletarian power." The NJAC pointed to a 1970 survey, which found that 86 percent of businesses were owned and run by whites. This Anglo-Saxonism, or rather, utilizing the term coined in the struggle, "Afro- Saxonism" displayed by the PNM regime would no longer be tolerated. The Black Power Movement set out to address these issues of unemployment, underemployment and worker exploitation. Some Black Power activists called for the absolute abolition of capitalism. Others wanted a simple reversal of the power dynamics of the system, rather than its total rejection. Black Power to them was a call for the masses to "control the heights of the economy...under the ideological slogan of black power." Despite these differing objectives, all wanted the end of Black oppression. This was a major challenge to the status quo evident not only in Trinidad and Tobago, but across the globe.
John Riddell commented that, "The Trinidadian movement displayed the potential to unseat the local bourgeoisie – but what about imperialism?" In reality, the Black power "disturbances" were unsuccessful in this regard. Whites still remained at the top and Blacks were still at the bottom. Capitalism still reigned supreme, and such a system needs pyramidal hierarchy in order to thrive. The PNM government instituted the seemingly irreversible Lewis model of 'Industrialization by Invitation.' This model promised foreign investment, capital and technology, and access to foreign markets from the host industrialists, and labour from the locals. In reality, little employment was created and relationships between the host and the "guest" became one of great dependency. Whatever its victories, the Black Power movement was unable to remove capitalism from its seat of dominance.
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