Mon | Jul 26, 2021

Seaforth in the eye of the storm

Published:Monday | May 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMLouis Moyston


This letter is a response to 'Monumental error' published in The Gleaner, May 22, 2017. The article raises the importance of the celebration of history, the milestones, and the placing of monuments and symbols at important points where these events occurred.

I found the following line interesting and instructive: "As a country, we have been witnessing a paucity of information about our past and those persons who have struggled to give us our rich heritage".

Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson continued to speak about how these networks of monuments could constitute a vibrant economic activity by way of heritage tourism. That I find interesting. The statement is also instructive because the last fact of that history of 1938 has not been published as yet.

There is so much about that era and other milestones of significant historical importance that have not been written about. For example, much about 1938 was written by Marxist scholars. They focused on events that were led by organised trade union leaders. Well, many of the events of the era leading up to the time were led by cane cutters and loaders who were not marshalled by any trade union leaders. Among this group were also banana cutters and loaders. Those labourers led themselves in the struggles. This was the case of the workers at Serge Island in January 1938. I want to make it clear that a progressive few writers on that period mention that events. While it is not totally ignored, there is no monument to celebrate that struggle.

The cane cutters and loaders at Serge Island estate and factory, Seaforth, St Thomas, began their strike in December 26, 1937. They marched in and around the major communities within the proximity of Serge Island. they paraded in a militant and fearless mood as they hurled racial epithets. They raided plantations and plundered estate food storages before the eyes of the police.

At a meeting with the owner of Serge Island also and a member of the Legislative Council, Ehrenstein, accompanied by Alexander Bustamante, the workers shouted the claim for two shillings per ton for the cutting of cane as opposed to 10 1/2 pence, the existing wage. The owner, supported by Bustamante, offered them one shilling. The labourers got into a hostile mood. Both men had to be escorted to their cars by the police.




The events came to a climax on January 5, 1938, when the strikers rushed to make their assault on the sugar factory at Serge Island when they met with a brutal onslaught by hundreds of police who were hiding in the factory. The strike was covered by the newspaper for several days. the January 5 event was a page one headline in The Daily Gleaner. It made the BBC news. It was, indeed, the spark that set Jamaica ablaze in 1938.

The resistance, led by self-organised cane cutters and loaders from Serge Island and adjoining estates, lasted for 10 days and culminated on January 5, 1938, was not only a special welcome to the 100th anniversary of Emancipation. It was also the eye of the storm that swept the fires across the cane fields of Jamaica in that historic year.

This letter appeals to the Ministry of Culture for a monument to be erected at the site to identify the occurrence of the event and to immortalise a bit of history from the great parish of St Thomas. That parish is a special space in the history and cultural development in Jamaica.