CLEMENT OSBOURNE PAYNE*
"Educate, agitate, but do not
For most of his life Clement
Osbourne Payne conveyed the powerful message of this slogan as he tirelessly advocated the
economic wants and political needs of working people in the West Indies. Whether in
Trinidad, the land of his birth, or Barbados, his parents' homeland, he sought to educate
the masses about their lot in life and urged that they transform themselves into a
militant community of workers.
He is best remembered for four momentous months in 1937 when he
struggled to help the poor working population of Barbados to see the importance of coming
together to resist the elite white planter class. He held several public meetings in the
City and its environs, denouncing the deplorable conditions under which ordinary people
were forced to live.
Payne is regarded by some as an apostle of Barbadian trade unionism.
He launched a campaign to educate and stimulate the masses, delivering
powerful, fiery speeches to audiences who responded with great enthusiasm. The
Constabulary in Bridgetown saw Payne as a possible threat and from that very first meeting
in the City he was under police observation "each moment of the day and night".
But that close surveillance did not deter Payne. Instead, he ensured
that themes brought into the public domain during those meetings were highlighted. When
the labour disturbances started in Trinidad in June 1937, he held a meeting in Golden
Square to inform the working class about developments there, even though the police did
their best to prevent it.
By that time, the workers here were serious about organising themselves
and a resolution was passed to form the Barbados Progressive Working Men's Association.
This attempt ended in failure.
On Thursday, July 22, Payne was presented with a summons to appear
before the City Magistrate to answer a charge of willfully making a false statement to the
Harbour Authorities concerning his place of birth. On arrival in the island, he had
declared that he was born in Barbados rather than Trinidad.
He pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned, but when it resumed
he did not have legal representation and pleaded his own case. He was found guilty and
ordered to pay 10 pounds forthwith or spend three months in prison. However, he appealed
against this decision and received support, moral and financial, from the working class,
much to the dismay of the planter-merchant oligarchy and the police.
He also held a meeting that night (July 22) which he described as
"a historical one from many angles" in his book , "My Political Memoirs of
Barbados". People from every stratum of society attended, and this, he said,
"was a strange significance in Barbados".
He spoke of his conviction and Government's ulterior motive, and
revealed his intention to go to Government House for an audience with the Governor.
Singing hymns and popular anthems, Payne and about 300 workers marched
that morning to the Governor's residence. Shortly after arrival, he and 13 supporters were
arrested and later charged for refusing to disperse as an assembled mob when told to do so
by police. But although they all pleaded not guilty and the others were granted bail,
Payne was remanded in custody.
While he was in custody, his "lieutenants" held meetings to
sensitise workers to the situation. He won the appeal on July 26 against conviction for
making a false declaration on his arrival in Barbados, but the expulsion order remained.
The charge was later withdrawn and the authorities attempted to serve
him with an expulsion order. This prompted his supporters to hire a young lawyer, Grantley
Adams, to represent him . Recognising the power of the authorities and the possible
physical danger to his client, Adams advised Payne to accept service of the expulsion
Before his dream was realised Payne was expelled from Barbados, but he
had sown the seeds of discontent which flourished and bore fruit on July 26, 1937, the
night he was forced out of this country, never to be allowed entry again. It was the
action of the local authorities to deport Payne, and Governor Mark Young's decision to
uphold the expulsion.
He was deported that same night.
As news about the deportation spread, his supporters around the island
forgot his slogan of non-violence and "exploded in violent, revolutionary
upheaval" in some City streets. Armed with sticks and stones, they went along
Chamberlain Bridge, Trafalgar Square to Broad Street and the commercial district damaging
show windows of businesses, smashing cars on nearby streets and even pushing some into the
The violence continued for four days in various parts of the island,
leaving 14 people dead, 47 wounded, 500 arrested and millions of dollars in property
It is generally agreed by historians that Barbados was never the same
again. The disturbances forced the relevant authorities to recognise the need for social
reform, the alternative being that the workers would do it in a way the oligarchy would
Such was the effectiveness of Payne's words and actions that the
British Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry (The Moyne Commission), to
investigate the situation in Barbados and other British West Indies colonies.
This signalled what was arguably Payne's most
significant achievement, for the Moyne Commission determined that all of his charges
against the island's rulers were accurate and in its report, insisted on reforms which he
had proposed, the chief of which was introduction of trade unionism legislation.
Payne collapsed on April 7, 1941,
while addressing a political meeting in Trinidad and died shortly afterwards.
The Clement Payne Cultural
was formed in Barbados in 1989 to perpetuate his memory and to continue his work of
enlightening Barbadians about their history and struggle.
* Source: "National Heroes of Barbados", published by The Barbados
Service. Information provided by Government of Barbados.