A Trade Union Pioneer
Clement Osbourne Payne is most famously known for being a pioneer at the forefront of the Caribbean trade union movement. Born in 1904 in Trinidad to Barbadian parents, Payne’s dream was to improve the conditions of the working population of the island. He wanted to uplift workers to help them to break free from the oppression of the ‘plantocracy‘.
He moved back to Barbados when he was four years old, but returned to Trinidad in 1927 where he became an advocate of social justice and was heavily involved in the growth of militant trade unionism.
‘Educate, Agitate, but do not Violate!’
During 1937, Payne was back in Barbados campaigning to the masses to seek a better life, free from the oppression of the elite white ‘planter class’.
He held public meetings in Bridgetown, the nation’s capital, at which Payne emphasized the rights of the people, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and insist on better conditions.
Clement Osbourne Payne was viewed as a dangerous revolutionary that threatened the very nature of Barbadian society at that time, and was kept under close observation by the authorities.
Because he was kept on such a close watch,Clement Osbourne Payne was eventually accused of falsifying a statement to the Barbados Harbour Authorities when he entered Barbados in 1937 stating that his place of birth was Barbados, and not Trinidad.
When the case was brought to trial, Payne pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned. However when it resumed, he pleaded his own case as he did not have legal representation, and was found guilty. Ordered to pay 10 pounds sterling or spend three months in prison, he appealed this decision and was provided with moral and financial support from working class Barbadians.
The night after his court appearance, Payne held another meeting and announced his belief that the Government had ulterior motives. The following day, Payne and approximately 300 workers marched to the Governor’s residence at Government House. He and thirteen of his supporters were arrested and charged for refusing to disperse as an ‘assembled mob’.
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Interestingly, all were granted bail with the exception of Clement Osbourne Payne who was remanded into custody.
Nevertheless, on 26th July 1937 Payne won his appeal against the conviction however he was still ordered to leave the island.
Payne’s Legacy Lives On
Payne’s supporters hired a young attorney, Grantley Adams, to represent him. Adams, aware of the sensitivity of the situation, advised Payne not to dispute the deportation order. Hence, Clement Payne was deported and prohibited from entering Barbados again.
The action of the authorities and Governor Mark Young incited the general public into frenzy. Rioting continued for four days island-wide which saw the commercial district severely damaged – cars were pushed into the sea or smashed, shop windows were broken and there was chaos all over.
The rioting left fourteen people dead, forty seven wounded, five hundred arrested, and millions of dollars worth of damage to property.
As a result, the British Government ordered a Commission of Inquiry (the Moyne Commissio) to investigate the situation in Barbados and other British West Indies colonies. The Commission determined that all the claims and charges were to be sustained and decided that Payne’s social reforms should be implemented; first and foremost being the introduction of the trade unionism legislation.
On 7 April 1941, Clement Payne collapsed while speaking at a political meeting in Trinidad, and passed away shortly after, at the age of 37 years.
As testament to Clement Payne’s contribution to Barbadian society, the Clement Payne Cultural Center was created in 1989. Here, Payne’s works continues to be carried out by Barbadians who identify with the struggle of their ancestor’s history and strive to make a difference to society.
In 1998, by an act of Parliament, Payne was also publicly honoured, by being named as one of the ten official National Heroes of Barbados – a clear nod to Payne’s significant contribution to the island’s history and development.
By: Brett Callaghan