What were the main reasons for the collapse of the W.I. Federation?
The West Indies Federation was a short-lived political union that existed from 3 January 1958 to 31 May 1962 between ten British colonies territories: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla (as it was then) Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago. The negotiations on the establishment of the Federation started some years aback.
According to Parry and Sherlock (1968):
“The first conference on the British West Indies Federation was held at Montego Bay in 1947. By a majority vote it accepted the principle federation and set up a standing Closer Association Committee to study the possibility of federation and to draft a federation constitution” (pg 288)
In 1953 the committee submitted a report which was presented in the second conference held in London. The report was modified with some recommendation and it was send back to the individual government for acceptance. In 1956 the third conference held in London to finalize the federation negotiations,
“Lord Hailes was appointed Governor General Federation.. the first federal elections were held early 1958; the federalist party- supporting by Sir Grantley Adam, Mr. Norman Manley, and Dr Eric Williams, premiers of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad respectively- secured a small majority in the house of representatives, and Sir Grantley Adam’ became the first prime minister.” pg 289 (Parry & Sherlock, 1968)
One of The Federation intentions / aims was to get independent from the Britain as a single state through a political unit among the British colonies territories. However, The Federation only lasted for four years due to internal political conflicts and political squabbling among the provinces which lead to the Federation didn’t met it full potential or achieved full sovereignty.
There were several disagreements over measures proposed for the operation of the Federation.
The authors indicate:
“Enthusiasm for federation has always been strongest in the small islands. In the larger island opinion was divided. In Jamaica especially, many people feared that they were being asked to support the poorer territories and that their progress in local self government might be delay by association with less ‘advanced’ group. Jamaica, heavily depended on customs duties for its revenue, refused to consider a customs union; Trinidad as resolutely opposed free movement for population, which Barbados considered to be essential for a federation. To these differences were added traditional insular prejudices and the personal jealousies of political leaders. In consequence, the federal government set up in 1957 was extremely weak. It had no power to raise tax and its revenue derived from ‘unit’ contributions. Foreign affairs were to be conducted in London.” (pg 289)
Also according to (Wallace, 1996):
“Every territory, primarily concerned with its own pressing problems, distrusted the others. The insularity of each diminished the prospect of all. Trinidad and Jamaica were alarmed at the prospect of having to supported the small island, which in turn feared domination by those larger and wealthier.” (pg 472)
British government wanted to transfers liability of the smaller island to the larger islands. The larger islands felt that they had less to gain and that the smaller islands might delay their further development of its island. Due to difference level of economical, the fellow members of the West Indies Federation felt envy and jealousy among each other. The suspicions, fears and distrust by smaller states, on the other hand, declined to be controlled by either Jamaica or Trinidad or to accept the rule of one colonial power for that of another. There were also inefficient communication among the other islands in the Federation, and Jamaica due to it is fairly remote and lying several hundred miles to the west away fron the others. Citizens of the various territories were not well-informed of the purpose and function of the West Indies Federation despite the efforts of the W.I.F.L.B (West Indies Federation Labour Party). The Caribbean population were not also sufficiently informed regarding the issues.
Jamaica was displeased about Trinidad being appointed as the federal capital site instead of them. According to Dr. Eric Williams; in 1953 the West Indian Federation leaders selected Grenada as the capital. However, in 1956, they change their minds and cannot decide on an alternative location. They requested the British Government to make this selection for them. The British set up a commission of three persons to determine this. The commission recommended that the smaller islands weren’t appropriate for the selection, only between the larger territories with order of merit as Barbados being first, Jamaica then Trinidad. “Trinidad came last on the list because of the instability of that island’s politics and the low standards accepted in its public life. Provoked by this “insult”, the Standing Federation Committee promptly chose Trinidad as the capital site” (Nantambu, 2005).
Mainland colonies (British Guiana and British Honduras) did not join
According to (Parry & Sherlock, 1968): the two Mainland territories British Guiana and British Honduras had announced beforehand that they wouldn’t join. There is wide-spread distrust, fear, even dislike among the ‘East Indian’ in both territories about the prospect of joining a large community of immigrants with African descent from the over populated islands. Both territories robbed the federal project of some of its attraction.
Dr. Eric Williams (1962) states:
“The Jamaica Government had agreed to a referendum to decide the question Jamaica’s future in the relation to the Federation. The governing party fought the referendum on the basic that the weak Federation could not possible harm Jamaica’s development. The opposite party fought the referendum on the clear issue of secession and Jamaica having nothing to do with its Eastern Caribbean neighbour. The opposite won the referendum by a small margin with approximately one third of the population abstaining from the voting. The Jamaica Government decided to secede from the Federation and the Colonial Office agrees.” (pg 256)
Jamaican’s leaders believed that the Federation will grant them independence quickly. But this haven’t occurred yet after joining the West Indies Federation for nearly three years The Jamaicans were dissatisfied with the Federation and the colonial status. Meanwhile, smaller British colonies, like Cyprus and Sierra Leone, had gained independence. Many Jamaican believed that the island should seek independence in its own right. The Jamaica opposition leader Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante led Jamaica Labour Party stated that he would not contest a by-election to the federal parliament. He was successfully forced Manley to hold a referendum in September 1961 on political secession from the Federation. Majority of the popularity voted against it. Manley, the Jamaican Premier, had to concede defeat.
“However, Dr. Williams insisted that Trinidad and Tobago could not carry the burden if Jamaica were to withdraw from the Federation. His position was very clear: the withdrawal of Trinidad and Tobago from the Federation in January 1962 and the eventual dissolution of the Federation were inevitable consequences of Jamaica’s secession; the government of Trinidad and Tobago took the principled stand that secession of one territory meant the abandonment of the 1956 compact for the Federation of ten territories. This principle stand led to Dr. Eric Williams’ epitaph. “One from ten leaves naught” (Nantambu, 2005)
Devoid of programmes and consideration for the peopke, clr james , secretary of the west indies federal labour party , said of local politicians ‘ they saw federation and met among themselves only arrange what their government would get and what they would lost. That is always an important part of any political discussion . but if you are discussion nothing else then the result is always the violent guarrels , in fact the unseemly spuabble for that is what they were , by which these gentlemen broke up the federation and disgrace the west indians people pg 470 (Wallace, 1996)
Most west indies never really looked on the federation as their government pg 470 (Wallace, 1996)
Rivalry between Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica
Disagreements concerning taxation and customs under the new order were frequent. Major concerns arose in relation to the freedom of movement clause. Larger territories were disenchanted by the thought of having to bear additional financial burdens in order to subsidize for the lack of equal inputs from the smaller territories. Jamaica (bauxite), T&T (oil) not prepared to share burden of financing
Jamaica maintained that the establishment of a customs union for the federation would have a net negative effect on Jamaica’s revenues, while Trinidad and Tobago feared that freedom of movement would lead to a flooding of that territory’s labour market by Caribbean persons from other places. Barbados, on the other hand, anticipated that the federal union would naturally include free movement of labour across the various units. (VASCIANNIE, 2016)