Sun | May 26, 2019

Reparation struggle must focus on worker - Shepherd

Published:Monday | February 26, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Reparation activist and historian Professor Verene Shepherd shows a list of plantation owners who were compensated by the British after the abolition of slavery.

Following the revelation that Britain was repaying slavery compensation to former plantation owners up to 2015, and as a part of the celebration of Black History Month, the National Council on Reparations (NCR) and the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute will jointly host a public forum, dubbed 'Back Pay Dispute: Reparation and the outstanding labour struggle with Britain and Spain'.

The forum is set for tomorrow at The University of the West Indies (UWI) regional headquarters, Mona.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange will provide the overview for the forum, while Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson will bring greetings on behalf of her ministry.

History scholar and co-chair of the NCR Professor Verene Shepherd; President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Helene Davis-Whyte; president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Steven Golding; and senior lecturer, Institute of Caribbean Studies & Reggae Studies Unit, at the Mona campus of the UWI, Dr Dave Gosse, will the be panelists.

Shepherd said the role of labour in the struggle for reparation is particularly crucial as the "reparation struggle must focus on workers' rights in the context of a labour dispute over wages".

The history scholar mentioned that the legacy of enslavement has to be addressed in terms of the pain and suffering endured by our foreparents, and the compensation due for the labour provided.

"Slavery was wrong and there can be no justification for forcing people to work without compensation. We, therefore, have to examine the typical pay for workers in Britain to begin to quantify what is owing," she argued.

Shepherd added that studies have been done which propose a method for calculating the minimum monetary sum owed to the descendants of the slave trade.

In the meantime, head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, Danny Roberts, who also serves on the NCR, said that "Africans were forced into a contractual relationship on the plantation".

He argued that "the sugar planters needed a form of legal relationship to governing the large-scale employment on the estates, and that slaves needed to work for set hours per day and governed by strict discipline during, and even outside of, working hours."

According to Roberts, "What is missing from this contract was the monetary payment which was due to those who provided labour on the plantation."