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The call to “Stop the Work!” went out up-the-line from Bocas del Toro and spread like wild fire through Chiriqui and the plantation areas of Costa Rica, even reaching remote points in Central America.The action was so far reaching that it surprised even the bosses.The actions brought to remembrance the days of slave uprisings in Jamaica, as black men united and laid down their tools heading home to the shacks or barracks they called home. Later, they would quietly await further instructions of what they should do next. Much to their horror, the stories of plantations being burnt and the precious fruit destroyed by angry exploited workers reached the labor leaders.
Historians have found in official company documents that since the year of 1905, when the Chiriqui Land Company (CLC) had over 6,500 workers, with the majority being West Indians, conditions had not improved for the black man in any of the areas we have described above. The “Tower of Babel” the company hoped to build throughout the years had backfired, as native workers of different races of the region joined the Jamaicans. Latino, Black and Indian laborers all felt the hunger and oppression of the conditions they were forced to live and work under and they naturally felt eager to join in the rebellion uniting with the striking workers.
These labor stoppages in the different divisions of Chiriqui Land would be only the beginning or the first wave of disturbances caused by the separatist and avaricious behavior of the company bosses over a period of approximately 10 years between 1905 and 1915. The second wave of labor uprisings would begin shortly after the onset of World War I.
Apparently, the First World War had caused prices for basic services to rise sharply above what the wages paid to common employees on the banana plantations could afford. Wages had not changed in more that nine years of back breaking daily labor, so that, by 1919, the situation for the laborers had become critical.After a series of strikes broke out in several different Central American countries the army and the police were sent into the plantations zones to restore order and back up the company.The numbers are uncertain but the historians agree that a great number of workers were seriously hurt, and there were the inevitable deaths.
Once again, however, the black working men of Central America joined the black men of the Westindian Diaspora. They united in a movement which extended throughout the Caribbean Sea and included the British West Indies in a petition to the home government to intercede for them in preventing more labor disputes. The main demand that brought pressure on the British Colonial Offices was for better working conditions for the workers and their families and the pressure eventually forced the CLC to raise wages for all workers by 15%.
Generally, all races of workers in the region benefited by the West Indian movements caused by the last set of strikes in the years 1918 and 1919 where in the Sixaola River region of Bocas Del Toro alone the strikers were badly mauled by the army and the police arrested the workers en masse.
The company fired workers on a large scale and barred strikers from ever working with the company in the future. Furthermore, for the battered ex-workers and their families these incidences would not end their ordeal as many would be blackballed from ever working anywhere the Americans from the United States had projects in progress in countries of the region.
This story continues.