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The history of the Caribbean is a history of the exploitation of labor.

Discuss with reference to the following labor systems:


(i)
(ii)
(iii)

Encomienda
Slavery
Indentureship

(Q.5 2006)

The statement that the Caribbeans history is a history of labor exploitation is


very true of what happened in the Caribbean in its earlier years. When the
Europeans first came to the New World the potential for domination presented itself
as an opportunity not to be missed. The Spanish explorers, soon after discovery
embarked upon the domination of the Amerindian people through the use of
Christian policies to facilitate the pursuit of mineral wealth. The first policy that was
proposed between Spain and the Caribbean was the requirement of subservience to
Spanish and labor. Following this oppressive first policy the other systems of labor
exploitation were in the forms of the encomienda, slavery and indentureship later
by the British.
The Encomienda was thought to be too brutal. Under the encomienda, Spanish
nobles were given a portion of land and Indians in order to produce goods required
by Spain. The nobles were to ensure that the Indians were treated well and given
Christianity as the path to salvation. The Indians were forcibly taken from the bush
and brought to the Spanish estates. The Spanish crown ignored the atrocities to
collect a labor force regardless of the policy as it may have appeared that the
encomienda witnessed the near genocide of an entire race of people. The name of
Bartholomew de Las Casas, is a notable one as that friar is often regarded as the
savior of the Indians. It must be remarked that he only became the savior of the
Indians after he spent many years as an encomienda owner. The workforce went
through harsh and inhumane treatment meaning that the Spanish colonies were
failing in maximizing productivity. A labor system was created by the rapid decrease
in the number of Indians available to work thus the Spanish government sought a
new labor supply to carry on productivity. The encomienda system lasted a mere 20
years. The reason that the system lasted only so briefly suggests the death rates of
the Indians.
The slavery model was first done by the Portuguese in South America but it was
the British and the Dutch along with the profitability of sugar cane that slavery
became the method of choice for labor exploitation. This time period saw vast
wealth harvested and mined from the Caribbean leading to the growth of wealthy
empires in Europe. During this period millions of Africans were captured from their
homes in West Africa and brought to the New World. The conditions faced by the
African slaves were as inhumane as those that were faced by the Amerindians but
this time the Europeans were aware of policing and power enforcement as a criteria
to sustain the system of slavery. This meant that brutality was a hallmark of that
labor system. The end of the slave trade signaled the closure of the British slave
trade but not slavery as those powers which still had African slaves were still in

production. The end of slavery in 1838 again meant that another labor system was
created. At first the programme of apprenticeship allowed the plantations to
continue but this soon became a burden to the European plantation owners as
Africans aware of their power of freedom retaliated for wages and refrained from
labor. A new labor supply was required to maintain European wealth in the
Caribbean which was East Indian indentureship.
Indentureship had two major characteristics that differed from forced work and
these were a contract and a wage. A contract implies that the worker was given a
choice to bond himself to labor for a given period of time and a wage means that he
would be rewarded for the work performed. Important to note is that this system
meant that the plantation owner had to maximize the time of the indentured worker
and this often resulted in brutal conditions. Indentureship was by no means a new
system of labor organization, in fact this system was used even before the Africans
were introduced into the Caribbean. Before the importation of Africans there was a
brief experiment with European labor. This did not work well as the Europeans were
unaccustomed to heavy labor and the wage meant a reduction of profitability. Post
slavery in the mid-19th century, the labor void again necessitated an indentureship
programme, this time with labor from the east. East Indian indentureship carried
certain contractual obligations for the agreed time, but it also carried harsher
conditions and treatments than slavery. Indentureship brought many hundreds of
thousands of East Indians to the Caribbean.
In conclusion, the statement of labor exploitation is absolutely true of the
Caribbeans past. Labor exploitation directly resulted in the genocide of the
Amerindians, the diverse demographic diaspora of the Caribbean and the vast
reserves of wealth by European powers. The systems of labor organization, by
whatever names were characterized by severity and intensity of labor coupled with
inhumanity and brutality to the worker.