Celebrate 40 years of the Grenadian Revolution

Given the small size of Grenada – 133 sq. miles – population of 100,000 – and the lopsided and dependent economy that the British Empire had left on decolonisation, improving the economic performance of the country was always going to be an uphill struggle, with the only bonus being that the elimination of the previous government’s corruption gave an immediate boost to the exchequer.

The Gairy regime had left no database of statistics, indeed there was no mechanism for collecting any statistics. The only possibility for planning was the heavy involvement of the mass organisations, while opening the books to public scrutiny. The process of preparing the 1982 budget involved 25 meetings of Workers Parish and Zonal Councils, the National Women’s Organisations, the National Youth Organisation, trade union branches, the Militia, the Productive Farmers Union etc. Each meeting was attended by a government minister. The input was incredibly detailed and when the original draft and the final proposals are compared, there are major differences that reflect the consultation process. Let us be clear, this was not democratic control of the economy, but it was a real consultation process that was listened to – a far cry from the sham “consultation” process we are used to in Britain where we can say what we like, then the the authorities do what they intended to do in the first place.

The principal behind the budget was that recurrent expenditure should come from revenues and taxation while loans and overseas aid were reserved for capital projects, the main one of which was the international airport. Accountancy was remarkably tight, a positive reaction to the loose accounting and resultant corruption of the previous regime. In part helped by the welcome given to the Revo’ by the Grenadian civil servants, despite the fact that many of them were Gairyites, This was aided by the recruitment of a number of very sharp economists from the rest of the Caribbean.

The decision that if tourism was to flourish and benefit the general population, an international airport was an absolute necessity was both a sensible economic priority and widely popular. It was financed by loans and aid from 16 countries and internally a 2% extra tax on all imports. It was designed by the Grenadians, based on a British plan of the 1950s but never constructed, largely built by Grenadian workers, including voluntary community organised labour, with dredging carried out by a US company based in Houston, Texas. It was far from the Cuban project so decried by the Reagan regime in the USA, although valuable assistance was provided by skilled workers from Cuba. The airport was linked to a efforts by the Ministry of Tourism to attract more tourists, while the government purchased the Holiday Inn.

The PRG decided early on to link agriculture to industry with agro-industry development. The former Gairy True Blue military base was converted to an agro-industry complex for the processing and preserving of agricultural and fishery production and this operated in conjunction with a new spice grinding plant, the Mount Hartman livestock farm and a Cocoa propagation scheme. The object was to create added value to Grenada’s agricultural production and thereby to expand exports, preserve excess production from the harvest and to produce local foodstuffs as an import substitution measure, with the aim of making the island self-sufficient. A Marketing and National Importing Board was set up to market the products of the islands agriculture and agro-industry, locally and for export, as well as importing essential materials such as fertilizer which were sold to farmers at below cost.

This is just skimming the surface of the Grenadian economy during the Revo’. A more complete account would also have to consider the increased wages and enhanced “social wage” including health and education, the land-reform programme, the new bus service, the nationalisation of GRENELEC, the other infrastructure projects such as the 63 miles of extra road built and the enhanced dock facilities, the house repair scheme, the reduction of unemployment, the creation of a state owned bank, the agricultural co-operatives and the whole question of tackling efficiency and productivity through planning.

Perhaps most interesting, given the hostility of the US government, is the continued support of the IMF whose 1982 report on the island’s economy is most encouraging.

Education

Under Gairy, education was unchanged from the days of Empire, based on a Eurocentric model calculated to demean the history of the both the African-descendent majority and the East Indian minority, thereby undercutting their self-confidence. Most primary schools were in a dilapidated condition. There was little secondary school provision, with fees that placed it outside the grasp of the overwhelming majority. There was one teacher training college that only catered for 50 students.

School fees were halved in 1980 and abolished in ‘81, while the debts of the previous government to the University of the West Indies were paid so that Grenadians could benefit from the possibility of higher education. To quickly address the need for teacher training , the National In-Service Teacher Education Program (NISTEP) was devised, with the help of Chris Searle and Paulo Freire. Teachers were expected to attend in-service training every Friday, while skilled workers and community leaders provided work-related education in their absence. Countering the previous pro-imperialist education was, of course, political, and this was condemned by enemies of the revolution as “propaganda”.

Many teachers threw themselves into developing the new curriculum with vigour and, while not a universal, standards improved greatly, new schools were built, a new set of primary school readers were produced and lessons were learned about teacher training that pointed a way forward. If we compare the school leaving exam pass rate, it went from 3% in 1978 to 32% in 1982. While not all teachers participated in NISTEP with great enthusiasm, it may be argued that those who did gained greatly in professional abilities and their student’s education prospered.

d as a literacy programme in august 1980, but soon became much more, incorporating songs, poetry and dance. It was an important source of intergenerational solidarity as the young taught the elderly to read, while at the same time learning much from the traditional wisdom of their elders. Illiteracy was reduced from about 20% to less than 3% of the population. From 1982, phase two branched out into Maths, English History, Politics and the Natural Sciences as a form of post-literacy programme.

Women

Women were very important for the overthrow of the previous dictator Eric Gairy. The St Georges Progressive Women’s Association (PWA), set up in 1977, was very active prior to 1979 campaigning for better wages, employment for women, better housing, medical facilities and democratic rights. And of course, opposition to the “jobs for sex” that was a part of the endemic corruption under Gairy.

The PWA had its first post-revolution meeting in June 1979 but it was realised that a different form organisation is needed during the overthrow a dictatorship from that required to construct the new society

The PWA gave way to the National Women’s Organisation (NWO) which held its founding general meeting in December 1980 although it already had 1,500 members in 47 groups. By the December 1982 NWO congress, it had 6,500 members, 22% of the female adult population of 30,000. The NWO was at pains to stress that it was open to all women.It saw its role as a mixture of encouraging popular participation, promoting government programmes and holding government departments to account.

The NWO was heavily involved with social welfare, monitoring government programmes for primary health care, free milk, free school meals, books and uniforms. The NWO also led the other mass organisations in establishing, servicing and running the day care centres in order to enable more women to enter the workforce. This was part of women’s involvement in “voluntary community work” such as road repair, in which many women moved out of their traditional roles into heavier manual labour.

In the field of education, the 1982 NWO congress made women’s education a priority, in particular encouraging full participation in the Centre for Popular Education. There was considerable effort to encourage girls to go into what had previously been seen as “male “occupations” with laws stipulating equal pay for men and women in the same job. There was however, little effort made to persuade boys to enter traditional “female” occupations. The NWO collaborated with the ministry of education in developing the curriculum for mass education for women: Grenada’s history from the Caribs to 1979; the economy; overcoming underdevelopment; World history and international affairs; women’s involvement in People’s Power; maternity law and first aid.

On the question of the Maternity Leave Law, pressure from the NYO considerably improved the provisions and they were instrumental in pushing for the first prosecution of an employer who refused to comply.

But women were also in the forefront of political activism – the fact that, in the June 1980 terrorist bomb attack on a political rally, the three persons killed and the majority of the injured were women, is evidence that women were present in large numbers.

After this outrage, the majority of new recruits to the militia were young women and if anything women’s organisation and determination were strengthened..

[But let us finish on a happier note, to quote 60 year-old Agatha Francis, who was interviewed by Chris Searle:

… and for the women, they are proud and boast up of Maternity Leave. The kind of bad treatment the men give the women before, they done with that. The revolution bring we love, and is that love that teach the men different, bring them work and cause them to respect we.

or 72 year-old Scotilda Noel

When we hear the news of the revolution that morning, it was joy come out in the morning! Joy come out in the morning! As if lifted up that morning!

CLS pamphlet: “By Our Own Hands – A People’s History of the Grenadian Revolution” can be downloaded from here…