Date of Degree
Herman L. Bennett
Ethnic Studies | History | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies
1930s; Africans; British Guiana; Diaspora; Indians; Labor Rebellions
Beginning in 1935, African and Indian youth, women and men who comprised the sugar plantation labor force in British Guiana, launched a series of strikes that sent shock waves across the British Empire. Joining the spirit of rebellion that engulfed the Caribbean throughout the 1930s, their actions caused massive political, social and economic unrest. British officials worked to understand what triggered the unrest and to preserve their political interests. Administrators in India wrote to the Colonial Office with concern about their compatriots across the Atlantic. At the local level, workers likened their cause to that of Ethiopia as it sought to rally the world in its defense against Mussolini's invasion. My dissertation is the first full-length study of these labor rebellions by Indian and African plantation workers and, more broadly, of the 1930s, a period which remains understudied in British Guiana's historiography. This is a story about the development of modern politics, overlapping diasporas, the seeds of solidarity and historical possibility.
Based on extensive archival research in the United Kingdom, Guyana and the United States, 'The 1935 Labor Rebellions' positions plantation workers as central actors in the evolution of modern politics in British Guiana decades before independence. Although predominantly linked to the history of enslavement, indenture and economic underdevelopment, the plantation was also the site of modern political action, coalition building and resistance. I challenge the dominant focus on racial conflict in the historiography of British Guiana by asking how cross-racial solidarity was enacted, and by interpreting its legacy for Guyanese realities today. Divided by colonial racism and subject to the needs of capital, plantation workers experienced a shared sense of suffering and subordination, although their circumstances and positionality differed. Their alliance neither implied nor provoked an eradication of racialized identities. Rather, I argue that workers employed these identities as a basis for concerted action, as well as a means of envisioning expanded anti-colonial international connections. Far from a triumphalist narrative, my project attempts to historicize frames of reference, identities and aspirations that emerged during the struggle of the 1930s that both constrain current thinking and highlight the unfulfilled visions of working people in Guyana.
Burrowes, Nicole, "The 1935 Labor Rebellions and the Politics of African-Indian Solidarity in British Guiana" (2015). CUNY Academic Works.