Freedom's Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica

Freedom's Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica

Freedom's Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica

Freedom's Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica


Freedom's Children is the first comprehensive history of Jamaica's watershed 1938 labor rebellion and its aftermath. Colin Palmer argues that, a hundred years after the abolition of slavery, Jamaica's disgruntled workers challenged the oppressive status quo and forced a morally ossified British colonial society to recognize their grievances. The rebellion produced two rival leaders who dominated the political life of the colony through the achievement of independence in 1962. Alexander Bustamante, a moneylender, founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and its progeny, the Jamaica Labour Party. Norman Manley, an eminent barrister, led the struggle for self-government and with others established the People's National Party.

Palmer describes the ugly underside of British colonialism and details the persecution of Jamaican nationalists. He sheds new light on the nature of Bustamante's collaboration with the imperial regime, the rise of the trade-union movement, the struggle for constitutional change, and the emergence of party politics in a modernizing Jamaica.


This book is the third in a series that began with the publication in 2006 of Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean. That volume was primarily a study of the important role that the brilliant scholar and statesman from Trinidad and Tobago played in imagining and working to construct a politically and economically integrated Anglophone Caribbean. Williams was the most outstanding personage that his country produced in the twentieth century, serving as head of its government from 1956 to 1981. The book was, in a larger sense, also a study of Trinidad and Tobago’s quest for selfdetermination and Williams’s attempts to call a new and modern Caribbean into being.

Published in 2010, the second volume in the trilogy examined British Guiana’s tumultuous struggle to achieve nationhood. The Guyanese nation in formation was damaged by the corrosive politics of race, the selfserving and destructive machinations of the British and the Americans, and the mediocrity of its elected leaders. Entitled The Politics of Power: Cheddi Jagan and the Struggle for British Guiana’s Independence, the book was a case study of a colonial tragedy.

More positive in tone, this volume is concerned with the labor rebellion that occurred in Jamaica in 1938 and how it helped to create a new polity. Beginning in the mid-1930s, workers in many colonies of the Anglophone Caribbean rejected the appalling conditions that had imprisoned them, challenging an oppressive status quo. Predominantly of African descent, these descendants of enslaved peoples did not experience a fundamental change in their life chances since the abolition of slavery in 1838. The worldwide economic depression of the 1930s exacerbated their dire circumstances, and so would World War II. Jamaican workers were no strangers to abuse, exploitation, and economic deprivation. But some of them were starting to realize their collective power and their ability to force the barons of capital to change, or at least to alter, the texture of their relationship with labor.

This is the story of Jamaican workers who forged a class consciousness in contestation with capital. Workers began to draw psychological strength and energy from one another, despite their variegated jobs, skills, age . . .

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