The West Indies Federation was a short-lived political union that existed from 3 January 1958 to 31 May 1962 between ten British colonies territories: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla (as it was then) Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago. The negotiations on the establishment of the Federation started some years aback. According to Parry and Sherlock (1968):
“The first conference on the British West Indies Federation was held at Montego Bay in 1947. By a majority vote it accepted the principle federation and set up a standing Closer Association Committee to study the possibility of federation and to draft a federation constitution” (pg 288)
In 1953 the committee submitted a report which was presented in the second conference held in London. The report was modified with some recommendation and it was send back to the individual government for acceptance. In 1956 the third conference held in London to finalize the federation negotiations,
“Lord Hailes was appointed Governor General Federation.. the first federal elections were held early 1958; the federalist party- supporting by Sir Grantley Adam, Mr. Norman Manley, and Dr Eric Williams, premiers of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad respectively- secured a small majority in the house of representatives, and Sir Grantley Adam’ became the first prime minister.” pg 289 (Parry & Sherlock, 1968)
One of The Federation intentions / aims was to get independent from the Britain as a single state through a political unit among the British colonies territories.
However, The Federation only lasted for four years due to internal political conflicts and political squabbling among the provinces which lead to the Federation didn’t met its full potential or achieved full sovereignty.
There were several disagreements over measures proposed for the operation of the Federation. The authors indicate:
“Enthusiasm for federation has always been strongest in the small islands. In the larger island opinion was divided. In Jamaica especially, many people feared that they were being asked to support the poorer territories and that their progress in local self government might be delay by association with less ‘advanced’ group. Jamaica, heavily depended on customs duties for its revenue, refused to consider a customs union; Trinidad as resolutely opposed free movement for population, which Barbados considered to be essential for a federation. To these differences were added traditional insular prejudices and the personal jealousies of political leaders. In consequence, the federal government set up in 1957 was extremely weak. It had no power to raise tax and its revenue derived from ‘unit’ contributions. Foreign affairs were to be conducted in London.” (pg 289)
Also according to (Wallace, 1996):
“Every territory, primarily concerned with its own pressing problems, distrusted the others. The insularity of each diminished the prospect of all.
Each Federation members island were dealing with their own issues And distrusted each other. To gain independent Trinidad and Jamaica were cornered about supporting the smaller island. Trinidad and Jamaica were alarmed at the prospect of having to support the small island, which in turn feared domination by those larger and wealthier.” (pg 472)
British government wanted to transfers liability of the smaller island to the larger islands. The larger islands felt that they had less to gain and that the smaller islands might delay their further development of its island. Due to difference level of economical, the fellow members of the West Indies Federation felt envy and jealousy among each other. The suspicions, fears and distrust by smaller states, on the other hand, declined to be controlled by either Jamaica or Trinidad or to accept the rule of one colonial power for that of another. There were also inefficient communication among the other islands and Jamaica due to it is fairly remote and lying several hundred miles to the west away from the others. Citizens of the various territories were not properly informed of the purpose and function of the West Indies Federation and not also regarding the issues which developed.
Jamaica was displeased about Trinidad being appointed as the federal capital site instead of them. According to Dr. Eric Williams; in 1953 the West Indian Federation leaders selected Grenada as the capital. However, in 1956, they change their minds and cannot decide on an alternative location. They requested the British Government to make this selection for them. The British set up a commission of three persons to determine this. The commission recommended that the smaller islands weren’t appropriate for the selection, only between the larger territories with order of merit as Barbados being first, Jamaica then Trinidad. “Trinidad came last on the list because of the instability of that island’s politics and the low standards accepted in its public life. Provoked by this “insult”, the Standing Federation Committee promptly chose Trinidad as the capital site” (Nantambu, 2005).
Mainland colonies (British Guiana and British Honduras) did not join
According to (Parry & Sherlock, 1968): the two Mainland territories British Guiana and British Honduras had announced beforehand that they wouldn’t join. There is wide-spread distrust, fear, even dislike among the ‘East Indian’ in both territories about the prospect of joining a large community of immigrants with African descent from the over populated islands. Both territories robbed the federal project of some of its attraction.
Dr. Eric Williams (1962) states:
“The Jamaica Government had agreed to a referendum to decide the question Jamaica’s future in the relation to the Federation. The governing party fought the referendum on the basic that the weak Federation could not possible harm Jamaica’s development. The opposite party fought the referendum on the clear issue of secession and Jamaica having nothing to do with its Eastern Caribbean neighbour. The opposite won the referendum by a small margin with approximately one third of the population abstaining from the voting. The Jamaica Government decided to secede from the Federation and the Colonial Office agrees.” (pg 256)
Jamaican’s leaders believed that the Federation will grant them independence quickly. But this haven’t occurred yet after joining the West Indies Federation for nearly three years The Jamaicans were dissatisfied with the Federation and the colonial status. Meanwhile, smaller British colonies, like Cyprus and Sierra Leone, had gained independence. Many Jamaican believed that the island should seek independence in its own right. The Jamaica opposition leader Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante led Jamaica Labour Party stated that he would not contest a by-election to the federal parliament. He was successfully forced Manley to hold a referendum in September 1961 on political secession from the Federation. Majority of the popularity voted against it. Manley, the Jamaican Premier, had to concede defeat.
“However, Dr. Williams insisted that Trinidad and Tobago could not carry the burden if Jamaica were to withdraw from the Federation. His position was very clear: the withdrawal of Trinidad and Tobago from the Federation in January 1962 and the eventual dissolution of the Federation were inevitable consequences of Jamaica’s secession; the government of Trinidad and Tobago took the principled stand that secession of one territory meant the abandonment of the 1956 compact for the Federation of ten territories. This principle stand led to Dr. Eric Williams’ epitaph. “One from ten leaves naught” (Nantambu, 2005)
Rivalry between Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica
With the rivalry between two islands, Trinidad and Jamaica were one of the reasons why the Federation collapsed in 1962. Jamaica had a weak, central government and Trinidad also had a strong, central power. Both islands were often clash against with each other over sensuality discussion being held at the Federation Meeting. Taxation, Custom Union and Freedom of Movement were often disputed over. In 1961 Trinidad tries to reconcile the rivalry between Jamaica, however it was unsuccessful. “Williams suggested that these differences, and various attempts to reconcile them up to 1961 represented “not the beginning of the end of Federation”, but instead “the end of the beginning.” (VASCIANNIE, 2016) Jamaica’s revenues derived from custom duties on bauxite. Jamaica was opposed and also feared that the establishment of a Customs Union for the Federation would drained their revenues, Jamaica was unwilling to allow the underdeveloped smaller and poorer islands towards a higher standard of living and drag down Jamaica’s prosperity at the cost of it. Trinidad’s one of their main source of income was derived from royalties and income tax from oil companies. Trinidad would not allow free movement of people without movement of goods. According to (VASCIANNIE, 2016): “Trinidad and Tobago feared that freedom of movement would lead to a flooding of that territory’s labour market by Caribbean persons from other places”. On the other hand, Barbados, believed that the Federal Union and the free movement of labour would benefit across the various units”. The rivalries between both islands were so intense. Both leaders had too much pride and ego. They won’t compromise with each other, this lead the Federation Government to decide on a “veto” on each agenda discuss in the Federation Meeting. This means that Jamaica or any other member could prevent both customs union and central power over development. According to Wallace states: “Dr. Eric Williams bitterly resented the fact his country was given no similar power to block immigration his strong objection to allow free entry to other West Indies increased his existing hostility to the federation”.
The W. I. Federation has been described as “the blackest thing in British history” and “one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the West Indies”. (Nantambu, 2005)
The structuring of the West Indies Federation was very weak. During the negotiations on the establishment of the Federation, they didn’t implement the complete freedom of movement or Single Customs Union etc. The larger islands didn’t want the mass migration from the smaller island on the other hand the smaller territories didn’t want to depend on the larger island economics. Each island had their own economic to run as their own. With the withdrawal of Trinidad and Jamaica; Barbados and the seven members tries to savage the West Indies Federation. However the negotiations proved futile. Barbados could not support the financial burden by itself without the two larger islands support which led the Federation become bankrupt. Antigua and Grenada was thinking to join with Jamaica and Trinidad respectively. “The Federation of the West Indies was not the first attempt at a British Caribbean federation.’ (West Indies Federation)
According to Wallace; Everyone who was involved in the Federation, even the bystanders blamed someone of the downfall of the Federation. United Kingdom had gotten heavily criticized from its supporters for allowing Jamaica and Trinidad opted for withdrawal to cause the collapse and to encourage the West Indies Federation in the first place. C.L.R James, Secretary of the West Indies Federal Labour Party, stated that the local politicians saw the Federation as a means to benefit themselves by which their Government can gain back of what they had lost in the process. This was most important to them upon meeting to have discussion. This political discussion quite often leads to unseemly squabble among the leaders as a result to violent disagreement. “These gentlemen broke up the Federation and disgraced the West Indians people” (pg 470)
The Federation leaders had political ambitions which were still rooted in their own succession of their island development rather than regional achievements. It had been a personal power among the leaders that had threatens the Federation all along the way. Trinidad and Jamaica were concerned with their economic interest that the ideas of West Indies unity. The Federation members didn’t considerate it their own government. They wanted the own independence than over national loyalties. With Jamaica and Trinidad supporting the smaller island, the administration cost were diminished their revenue. Ultimately, the West Indies Federation failed because of inadequate finance, uneven economic, political development in the islands, the clashing personal of its leaders, imbalance among the islands in size, wealth population and consequently in power. The British government didn’t train the leaders in managing the West Indies Federation properly. ‘The history of the previous attempts at federations and unions, in part, explains the failure of the 1958 Federation.’ (West Indies Federation) Four years after its inception the “Great Experiment” ended in failure