Elizabeth Morgan | US-CARICOM Relations: Temporary Migrant Workers – A Story Longer Than You Think | Remark
There was talk of expanding the Caribbean Basin Initiative to include trade in services, so that more CARICOM nationals work in the United States on a temporary basis. In fact, CARICOM nationals have worked in the United States as temporary migrant workers for decades, but, although this is a form of trade in services, these programs are outside the purview of the Organization. World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade agreements, but rather of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). These are temporary seasonal worker programs in agriculture (farm workers) and, more recently, in other sectors, such as hospitality and construction.
This week, I’m indulging in a bit of history that comes from family traditions.
The movement of people from almost all walks of life between the American colonies and the British West Indies (BWI) began as soon as the British entered the hemisphere and began to colonize territories in the 17th century. Among others, there was an American Vice President, George M. Dallas (1792-1864), with ancestral ties to Jamaica. There are also stories of former Jamaican slaves who settled in Philadelphia in the 1790s. People with ties to Haiti settled in Louisiana as early as the early 19th century, and Bahamians settled in Florida.
I know that from the 1860s – in tough economic times – the people at BWI were looking for work all over the hemisphere, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States, despite the difficult race relations in this country. The white population of BWI, a former plantation family, had no difficulty in settling in general in the USA. BWI’s black and colored immigrants would travel to more liberal cities in northern states, such as Boston and New York. From this continued migration, remittances have become important. My mother had parents who were part of this migration.
Beginning in 1838, people of African descent from the BWI were emancipated. It will take another 25 years and a fratricidal civil war for the proclamation to end slavery in the United States; and it would be two years later, in 1865, that slavery and civil war would end. It took another 100 years for black Americans to gain their civil rights. It was a period in which the BWI territories were moving towards universal suffrage, autonomy and independence.
RECRUITMENT OF BWI WORKERS
By the end of the Civil War, there was a labor shortage in America’s agricultural sector as former slaves moved away from the plantations and southern states. The industry also competed for workers. American farmers began to privately recruit BWI farm workers, mainly near the coasts, Bahamas and Jamaica. As they were seasonal workers, it is reported that they became known as “migrant swallowers”. Between 1881 and 1914, large numbers of BWI men and women went to work on American farms, harvesting fruits and vegetables and chopping sugar cane. It seems that wages and working conditions have always been problems and a cause for protest. For the BWI, coming from a different socialization, the rabid racism, especially in the southern United States, was somewhat of a culture shock. It appears that the UK government had reservations about the deployment of BWI in the southern states, where race relations were extremely difficult.
Recruitment may have declined in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1935, however, it appears that the United States Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act) gave the green light to the recruitment of BWI farm workers and from Mexico.
THE US GOVERNMENT SPONSORED PROGRAM
With the entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941, the shortage of agricultural labor was accentuated, as men entered the military services and other workers entered the industry. war. The United States government introduced the British West Indian Temporary Work Program in 1943. It applied first to Jamaicans and Bahamians, then to Barbadians. My uncle, Luther Morgan of St Elizabeth, was among the Jamaicans recruited in 1943. He was deployed to Louisiana. From family stories, it emerged that my uncle found the treatment of blacks obnoxious. It is reported that in 1945, 33,000 Jamaicans were deployed to 38 of the 48 states at the time. My Uncle Luther was with them again. This time he went to Florida.
This US government program ended in 1947. Recruitment of BWI farm workers reverted to contractual agreements between employers and workers. It appears, thanks to this program, that the US state with one of the oldest and largest numbers of BWI migrants is Connecticut.
In 1952, in its new Immigration and Nationality Act, the US Immigration and Naturalization Services recognized the BWI’s agricultural work program by introducing a visa category, H-2A, to cover recruiting .
Thus, the United States’ agricultural work program with the Anglo-Caribbean Countries (BWI), and in particular with Jamaica and the Bahamas, is nearly 155 years old.
Will CARICOM countries be able to expand these types of “trade in services” programs with the United States? It depends on where there is a labor shortage in the United States, private sector demand, and political will. It appears from reports that there is currently a need for medical staff and long-distance truck drivers. Of course, these problems are actually more complicated than they appear.
There also appears to be a need for further research on Anglo-Caribbean migration to the United States and its impact on both sides.