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Bahamas (Labour Riots)

Volume 380: debated on Wednesday 17 June 1942

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can give any information regarding the riots which occurred recently in the Bahamas?

Yes, Sir. On 29th May, as a result of discussions between a delegation of labourers and the Labour Officer as to increased wages for work being carried out in New Providence by American contractors at a little above current local rates of wages, the Acting Governor received a letter from the labourers requesting substantial increase of pay. The question was being investigated by the Acting Governor, who was preparing to appoint a Board, when a dispute broke out on the evening of Sunday, 31st May, amongst one section of labourers. They were told by the Labour Officer that their complaints were being investigated and were advised to return to work on the following Monday. A further conference between the Labour Officer, labour leaders and American contractors was held that evening. On the morning of Monday, 1st June, the labour leaders met the men and advised them to go on working, but all struck. By 9 a.m. a thousand men were rioting and looting shops in the city, and the labour leaders were unable to control them. The Volunteer Defence Force was mobilised and the Riot Act was read. A mixed party of police and military were attacked by 800 rioters, 15 shots were fired, which killed two and wounded seven of the rioters, one soldier being injured. A curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. was ordered. On the Tuesday morning rioting continued in certain parts and attempts by the mob to break into the city were dispersed by armed forces without further shooting. Since the night of Tuesday, 2nd June, rioting has ceased, except for a few small incidents. His Royal Highness returned to the Colony on the Tuesday, and after discussion with all sections of the community and the labour leaders, he made a broadcast on the Wednesday night that no negotiations could be begun until he was satisfied that peace and order had been restored, and he advised the men to return to work pending consideration of the wages question. By 6th June, 1,500 had returned to work representing about 60 per cent. of the workers previously employed. The situation is now quiet.

Can my right hon. Friend say if the troops used were all British troops?

In view of the continuous-, opposition of the Legislative Council to progressive labour legislation, can consideration be given at an early date to a revision of the Constitution of this territory?

That does not arise out of the Question, but I will call my Noble Friend's attention to what the hon. Member has said.

Are not these riots a sequel to the refusal of the Government to face up to the problem?

Were any of the registered trade unions in the Colony involved in the dispute, and had previous representations by trade union leaders been rejected by the local government?