What’s Emancipation Day to the Caribbean Working-class?

This article is taken from Telesur and was published 1 August 2016. While we don't agree with all the sentiments in the article, and note the incorrect reference to "Bay Fest" in The Bahamas, we feel it provides a comprehensive working class analysis of Emancipation Day and what it should mean for the oppressed.

While it is great to commemorate Emancipation Day, this day must also be used to reflect, critique, assess, deliberate and plan for the next year of struggle.

On 1 August 1838, enslaved Africans in the British Empire won their emancipation from slavery. Emancipation Day is now commemorated throughout the Anglophone Caribbean as a public holiday or national observance. Emancipation was not a gift from Britain or White abolitionists. It came from the accumulated covert and overt acts of resistance by enslaved Africans.

Under the leadership of Jamaica’s Sam Sharpe, he and his enslaved comrades made the decision to carry out a general strike if the capitalist enslavers did not pay for the former’s labour after Dec. 25, 1831. British colonialism engaged in a show of military force in response to the threat of a general strike.

The insurgents initiated the Emancipation Rebellion on Dec. 28, 1831. The 1831-32 Emancipation Rebellion involved about 60,000 of the island’s 300,000 enslaved Africans. They destroyed one hundred and forty-five plantations valued at two hundred thousand pounds (£200,000). Close to two hundred rebels and fourteen whites were killed in the rebellion.

However, this attempt at emancipation from below forced the British to abolish slavery from above by passing the Act for the Abolition of Slavery on Aug. 28, 1833. The legislation took effect on Aug. 1, 1834 with the introduction of the slavery-like Apprenticeship system. It was used to extract 40.5 hours per week of free labour from Africans under the guise of preparing them for full freedom in six years.

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