The 1930s Disturbances: Impact and Consequences

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The 1930s Disturbances: Impact and Consequences


The factors that contributed to the disturbances may be divided into political, economic and social.

  • A principal problem was a lack of political representation. In all colonies, suffrage was very restrictive and London continued to dominate territorial governance.

  • Past communication problems between the colonies and the colonial authorities in Britain was primarily due to the inaccessibility of the colonial service. The civil service was staffed by graduates of Oxbridge more concerned with promotion than responding to the needs of the populace.

  • The society was radically altered by emancipation but the political framework remained unchanged. The British Government had failed to abolish the old political system.


    • The economic system put in place by the ORS and maintained under the CCG made the societies increasingly vulnerable and entirely dependent on the world market

    • The real weakness was in the structure of the economy. As plantation economies, i.e. based primarily on monocrop agriculture, production for export was the main driver. The relationship between the colonies and the metropole was defined by four factors:

(a) division of labour – the colonies engaged in primary production and the manufacture and distribution of consumer goods was done by the metropole.

(b) carriage of trade – goods were almost entirely transported by

metropolitan carriers. Associated services were provided by metropolitan

intermediaries (Navigation laws).

(c) the monetary system – the banking system was dominated by metropolitan bank and non-bank financial


(d) imperial preferences – exports entered the metropole at lower tariffs

rival output and metropolitan consumer and capital goods were accorded

preferential entry into the colonies.

  • The failure to develop was partly a reflection of the rigidity in social, economic and political forms developed during slavery. The rigidity created fixed ideas which in emancipation would lead to a failure to innovate and a continued belief that the W.I. depended on export agriculture and that the survival of the plantation depended upon a supply of servile labour.

  • Agriculture, the most important economic sector remained depressed. This was due to the initiation of Britain’s free trade importation policy and competition from beet sugar. Economic depression caused a fall in the price of W.I. commodities, a fall in wages increased taxation and widespread unemployment.

  • The Great Depression created an even worst situation- rising cost of living, rising unemployment and further falling wages.

  • Emigration avenues closed as Brazil, Cuba, Panama and USA ceased to provide outlets for the excess populations of the colonies.


  • Social services were either very basic or non-existent.

  • Another grievance was lack of land reform since black wage earners could not get access to fertile lands.

  • The most obvious feature of the social structure which persisted from slavery was the stratification of society on the basis of race and colour. Additionally, there was a lack of mediating structures.

  • No attempt was made by the white middle class to enlarge the franchise as this would weaken their power and influence.

  • National returning from duties in WWII and who had experienced a higher standard of living began to agitate for fundamental social change. Of special note was the message of Marcus Garvey which called for black empowerment and a uniting of all African people.

The Disturbances
A series of riots began in 1935 and lasted until 1938. The territories affected were St. Kitts, Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Barbados and British Guiana. The riots affected the sugar industry, oil refining and port activities. As result of the widespread nature of the disturbances, the British Government dispatched a Royal Commission to investigate and report its findings.
The Moyne Commission
The Moyne Commission was given the remit to investigate the social and economic conditions and to make recommendations. The report addressed topics such as, agriculture, public health, education, labour problems, administration and constitutional issues. Some recommendations include:

- the establishment of a W.I. Welfare Fund of $1 million annually for 20 years to provide for improvement to education, health and housing.

- creation of a school of hygiene for research and teaching on preventative medicine.

- land reform

- laws to protect trade unions

- creation of Labour Departments.

- minor modification to the CCG, the introduction of a limited committee system to give selected legislative members an insight into administrative practices.

- intensification of agriculture through mixed farming.

N.B. no major push for industrial development


1. The ending of the disturbances saw the emergence of strong trade unions

2. The formation of political parties – Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts.
3. The granting of universal adult suffrage and the beginning of constitutional de-colonisation.
4. Middle class politicians made demands not only for self-government but higher wages and better social services for workers.


Augier, F. 1865 and After in Beckles & Shepherd (eds) Caribbean Freedom
Lewis, G. The Growth of he Modern West Indies.
Hamber & Greenwood. Emancipation to Decolonisation.

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