By 1958, Randol Fawkes had already found his life’s calling and had begun a long, arduous walk into the history books, of the labour movement, in the Bahamas. When Randol Fawkes, the lawyer and labour leader, needed help for his own legal defence in 1958, the people rallied in support. His supporters held A Sport Dance at the famous Cat and Fiddle on Wednesday, September 24th, 1958. Fawkes had applied to the Immigration Committee for permission to allow the well known Jamaican Barrister, Mr. Vivian Blake to defend him at his trial on the charge of sedition. The application was referred to the Bahamas Bar Association and the Governor. It was eventually accepted.
Now, all Fawkes needed, was money to help in his defence.
In the long forgotten history of the Bahamas, few remember that there was time when only one judge sat on the Supreme Court of the Bahamas and there was no Court of Appeal. Randol Fawkes, then a young lawyer in the early 1950s tried to change the inequities that existed in the legal system Bahamas. At that time, he and others of his ilk, spoke out against the inequities in the law and the treatment of negroes given lengthy and harsh jail sentences, even for minor infractions.
After having been the driving force behind the General Strike of January 1958, which crippled the winter tourist season of that year, by August 1958, Randol Fawkes found himself in serious problems with the law. He was charged with sedition against the government and colony of the Bahamas. It would be the words Randol Fawkes spoke, as well as him organising a rally, at Windsor Park on 8th August, 1958, that the law of the day said amount to a most serious infraction against government, law and authority. Fawkes was arrested the following day.
The problem began after Randol Fawkes and Garth Wright went to visit workers at the Bahamas Lumber Company in Mastic Point, Andros. Fawkes and Wright had been invited by the negro labourers to see the state of conditions that they were being forced to work under. There had been reports that breaches of the Employment of Children Prohibition Act and the infamous Truck Act were rampant. They heard from the labourers themselves and saw first hand the deplorable working conditions. Fawkes heard that they were not actually being paid. The labourers were forced to work under a system whereby they didn’t receive wages but were paid in a tuck shop style system, called Truck. They were given room and board in filthy conditions, and were able to trust things in the local shop owned by the company, in lieu of being paid actually money. In the end, their rent, food and drink and other things they would get from the local shop amounted to more than they were supposed to be earning. The workers were in debt to their employers without the employers ever actually having to pay out a single shilling.
Fawkes and Wright were there to talk about unionisation and collective bargaining. This quite naturally did not sit well with the bosses at the Bahamas Lumber Company. When Randol Fawkes returned to Nassau, he was charged with trespassing disorderly conduct for his behaviour at the Bahamas Lumber Company camp. Magistrate Maxwell Thompson gave Fawkes a suspended sentence and bound him over to keep the peace for three years. One of the conditions of him being bound over, meant that that under no circumstances was Fawkes to hold any more labour meetings, hold any demonstrations or connect himself with any labour organizing or activism.
Magistrate Maxwell Thompson would have had better luck talking to the wind. Fawkes wasn’t hearing him at all.
On August 8th, the man who would be remembered for his devotion to the rights of the labour of the common man, Randol Fawkes followed his conscience and held a rally/meeting/call to organise at Windsor Park.
” I am not afraid to go to the limit if your rights are challenged. The time is coming when we will have to go the limit simply because men who we put into positions in the House of Assembly have forgotten who put them there and are being used by your enemies for our own destruction. It is simple democracy the when the representatives fail to do the people’s wish that we the people have to whip them back into line.”
The following day Fawkes was arrested for sedition.
Read more about the life and work of Sir Randol Fawkes: