Chapter Four: The GCFA Responds to the Crisis
Matthew Kopka University of Florida
Now we shall know who is serious about struggle,
By those who show they could rise from the rubble.
The Black Wizard
Elliot Bishop was a young [age?] trade unionist living in Moscow, sent byGrenada's Commercial and Industrial Workers Union to study trade unionism and political economics, when he learned that Maurice Bishop had been killed. He set out for home as soon as he could, traveling via London. As the invasion commenced his wife burned his PRA uniform. Once back in Grenada, Bishop lay low. He had a family to feed, and wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life.Much of Grenada, including many of its best-educated young leaders, was now out of work. Government's role in organizing economic life would all but cease. Mistrust arose as peoples' activities under the PRG were scrutinized and the nation accommodated the new realities. Depression engulfed the country, one that would last decades. There was also a good deal of anger, which Collins likens to asilent civil war (Collins 1 and passim, 2007; Scott v, 2007).
Bishop had a family to feed. His grandfather had been "the biggest cane farmer in my village, Marian." For weeks during harvest as a boy he had missed school, collecting cane tops to feed the animals, carrying rum to workers. The same was true of Bishop's friend Joseph Gill, who had been an agricultural extension officer for the NewJewel government. "We were cane farmers," Gill told me.
After some discussion, they decided to return to what they knew. "It seemed to me that it may have been better to go back to your roots," Bishop said. "Because the cane thing is where we came from.”
And how would they handle the labor demands?
"Maroons, the old thing. That made it easier.” Gill, who had been an extension agent andcoordinator for the Productive Farmers Union (PFU) in St. George's, had organized and taken part in many maroons during the New Jewel period. “We had learned,” he told me, “the importance of organization, especially of farmers harvesting in teams.”
Initial response was positive. “Ninety-five percent of farmers were of advanced age—40s and 50s,” said Bishop. But they responded with enthusiasm to theidea that they might once again “mobilize cane.” Young people did too. “It was surprising to see that a lot of young people took it up.” There was a certain romanticism in it: “You're going back to the land and producing food." Gill and Bishop began to ponder how they might “advocate for the industry, which was in a state of collapse."
Sugar's dropping price as commodity—the rise of Europeansugar as growers began extracting sugar from beets starting in the 1750s, as other world regions took up cane growing—helped bring an end to West Indian slavery (Carew 1985, 97). The Caribbean industry went into an attenuated decline. Even now, the question of “what to do about cane,” and “what to do about the cane workers” remains a burning one in a number of Caribbean countries, one reason—alongwith sugar's deep historical connection to slavery—that the experience of the GCFA is fascinating. What makes it more fascinating still is that, in many ways, the GCFA showed a way to solve “the cane problem,” and its solution still offers promise, in an FS context, for the country and region.
"While sugar lost place to cocoa in the mid nineteenth century in the wetter middle belt” of Grenada,Ferron Lowe, then a GCFA officer wrote in 1986, cane farming “continued on in the coastal areas and in particular the drier south and east coasts." Cane, which “had been for centuries the main crop” of those areas as plantation export staple, would become, according to Lowe, “the cash crop of the small subsistence farmers who emerged as the main cane producers with the breakdown of the plantation...