Orville Taylor | Morant Bay Revolution
A commission sent to investigate the Morant Bay uprising found that it was essentially a loosely organised movement aggravated by poverty and a lack of institutions for social justice, in particular access to labour tribunals.
Flash-forward 154 years and the Government has broken ground for the Morant Bay Urban Centre, a multiindustry one-stop complex where government entities, service, manufacturing, finance, and fast-food businesses will be located.
It is a massive endeavour and more overdue than a payment for reparations. Add to that the 365,000-square foot plant is to be located on the grounds of the old Goodyear factory just out of Morant Bay and ominously placed just before the roundabout to turn towards Seaforth and Serge Island.
St Thomas has been neglected like a child fathered by an itinerant pastor since Tom was a boy. Indeed, this parish, the last to get a high school, with Morant Bay High in 1961, is up to the present, the only parish where there is no HEART Trust/NTA Academy. Indeed, my temptation is to think that the policymakers really had no space in their hearts for this historic population.
Of all the coastal parishes, only St Thomas has roads that seem to tell travellers that they are unwelcome. Whether one drives from Bull Bay or from the border with Hector’s River, the roadway presents more challenges than the Comrade leader is facing now.
Political Parties equally negligent
Beyond any kind of politics, it is perhaps fortuitous that the parish has two long-standing members of parliament each from opposite sides of the aisle. Whoever is to blame for the bad roads, what is clear is that the deplorable conditions have spanned both administrations, while the sitting MPs were both there. Importantly, Labourites and Comrades drive seamlessly along the potholes that have lots of road.
With major aquifers, St Thomas has water to rub salt in their wounds. Water from that parish has been piped to ungrateful consumers and legislators in the metropolis.
The ‘theft’ of the parish’s water is sort of like the colonial and Windrush claims because much was taken and not enough given back after the exploitation.
Indeed, St Thomas is even being robbed of the image of its great son, Paul Bogle of Stony Gut, whose picture is being credited to American Thomas Jennings. My view is that it is from Thomas, but St Thomas and the Americans need to do deeper research. After all, we loaned them Marcus Garvey until they convicted and deported him.
As we speak, the one place dedicated to the greatest of our national heroes, George William Gordon, is going to be abandoned for greener pastures.
Of all the national heroes, it is he who is incontrovertibly the most heroic. Gordon had nothing to gain for standing up for the poor blacks. A privileged ‘brung man’, he raised the ire of his fellow legislators on several occasions, leading to his forcible physical removal from the House of Assembly.
He was hanged as a conspirator for the Bogle-led uprising, although he was definitely not involved in any way. That makes him a martyr because he had nothing to gain and everything to lose. For me, the standard he has set as a national hero puts him above all, including current persons being debated for such elevation.
For the record, Governor Edward ‘Erred’ in murdering a brown man, a deputy white man. On an island where brownness was a premium, this sin resulted in banishment even for a white English governor. The untouchable status of Jamaican coloureds was played to a T by both Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley some 70 years later.
With Goodyear closing in the late 1990s, the hosiery company being shelved into bottom drawers, sugar estates winding down, and now even milk production disappearing, even the fishermen are allegedly going to Haiti, abandoning the traditional guzum.
All of St Thomas’ misfortune is more than bad luck, which is worse than you know it!
Yet, there is now tremendous hope. Promises are being made, and both members of parliament have indicated that roadwork is beginning or is on the horizon. When the urban centre is up and running, some 3,000 jobs or more will be provided. This is good news for Jamaica, not just St Thomas.
Yet, let us not forget that although a little work is better than no work, the jobs that will be created must be ‘decent work’.
The prime minister himself spoke of the need for work to be humane, democratic, and fulfilling of human potential in his speech to the International Labour Organization (ILO) recently.
Research shows that indecent work, even when it reduces unemployment, is likely to lead to reduced productivity and increased social tensions and violence.
As the economic boom returns to the parish, the Government must remember that it is the working class that created the support for both parties in Parliament. Ironically, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lost elections after periods of heavy industrialisation in the 1960s and 1980s when employment and social marginalisation of workers increased.
History is a great teacher and the Morant Bay events of 1865 are a compulsory course for the degree in prosperity.
In this endeavour, no one can afford for this to fail. Our future depends on this.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.