Friday, January 7, 2011

History of Trade Unions in The Bahamas

Prior to 1921, the Bahamas was experiencing economic difficulty. However, during 1921 the tourist and construction industries began to develop and thus brought greater economic success. It was during this time that the first Bahamian trade union was formed. It was called theWorking Man's Union. According to its President, Fred Tinker, it was formed not for forcing prices, but to help in the improvement of one's knowledge in a craft and to classify labor according to trades and skills. It lasted only for a few years.
In 1926, Citizen's Union was formed. The purpose of its formation was to foster economic independence among the masses. This was to be accomplished through education, and learning to think clearly, independently and constructively.
In 1935 the Associated Bahamas Car Owners and Taxi Cab Drivers Unionwas formed to protest against competition from foreigners. Another union called the Labor Association was also formed during this time, to protest the labor conditions in the Bahamas especially with regards to minimum wage. However, very little was done at the time.
During the 1930's the Bahamas Labor Union was formed. During 1942 a meeting was held to discuss .wages being paid to workers at Windsor Field (the old airport location). Since people of all trades attended the meeting, the Bahamas Federation of Labor was formed to accommodate all branches of trade. A riot called the Burma Road Riot later followed these proceedings, which resulted in the imprisonment of several laborers for destroying property. This riot also resulted in bills being put in place for the proper procedures for the organization of trade unions.
In 1958 there was a considerable mark made by a trade union in the Bahamas. This was the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union. This union went on strike because hotel operators had made an agreement with a limited group of tour companies (who operated limousines and tour buses). The agreement meant loss of jobs for the taxicab workers. As a result, on November 2nd, 1958, they blocked all routes in and out of the new Nassau International Airport for over twenty-four hours, thus causing air traffic to stop. The airport eventually closed when night fell. The next day it was decided that the union would settle the dispute through negotiation.
The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union and the owners of the tour companies were unable to come to an agreement. The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union was also unwilling to cooperate with the arbitrators appointed, feeling that they were not truly neutral.
Therefore, they ceased working and other unions did the same, in support of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union. This caused an economic strain in certain areas. This strike is known as the General Strike. Sir Randol Fawkes, often referred to as the "Father of Trade Unions" kept the people together to fight to the very end. He was a driving force in ensuring that employers meet the demands of workers and their unions. He was such a hard bargainer that a lot of employers were afraid to cross his path. Eventually, the strike ended after seventeen days, after the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union and the tour companies signed a temporary agreement. The workers came out victorious.
As a result of this, more legislation was passed to assist in the proper operation and procedure for trade unions, for instance, the establishment of a labor department and the development of procedures for collective bargaining.


  1. Great information for students to summarize and prepare a time-line on the history of trade unions in The Bahamas. -- Ms. G. Antoine-Bowe - GHS

  2. Excellent, helpful and insightful.