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Eric Matthew Gairy and the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union

Twenty years before Grenada was granted its independence from the British Empire, a fiery young union organizer Eric Matthew Gairy founded the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Union in 1950. It was the GMMWU who organized the nation’s first general strike, which lead to Gairy’s deportation from the island on the 22nd of February 1951. After nation-wide demonstrations called for Gairy’s return, the royal governor allowed for Gairy to return; however, Gairy returned to Grenada as a hero of the people. In the national elections of 1951, Gairy and the newly formed Grenada People’s Party took seventy-one (71) percent of the vote and six of eight in Grenada’s quasi-parliament and several seats on the Grenadian Cabinet. In the national election of 1954 the Grenada United Labor Party, a retooled version of the GPP, took seven of eight seats on of parliament; Gairy, however, did not hold a position in the government until 1961 when he became Chief Minister. His reign as Chief Minister, however, came to an end when the British Parliament dissolved the Grenadian Parliament and Cabinet. However, in 1967, Gairy returned to office and began solidifying his power into a dictatorship.

At the same time Gairy was consolidating his power, a young lawyer named Maurice Bishop just starting to practice law. In his first big case, Bishop was asked to defend thirty (30) nurses who were arrested by the Gairy government while protesting conditions at their hospital. Bishop’s successful defense of the nurses brought him widespread national acclaim and brought Bishop’s Movement for Assemblies of the People into the national spotlight. On March 11th, 1973 Bishop’s MAP merged with the Joint Endeavor for Welfare Education and Liberation to form the New Jewel Movement which became the main opposition to the Gairy regime.

After three main events, the arrest of the thirty (30) nurses protesting conditions at their hospital in December 1970, the rigging of the 1972 national election, and the harsh hand in dealing with the demonstrations following the 1972 election, caused the NJM to act against the Gairy regime. Their actions came in the form of a coup d’etat on March 13th 1979. That day, Bishop seized control of the Prime Ministry and promised the people of Grenada “economic development and democracy.”

The new government, however, had trouble gaining support from the international community who feared the Bishop government to be sympathetic to communism. In order to gain the support of the international community, particularly the rest of the Caribbean and the United States, the NJM promised that protect American lives and property and, most importantly, to hold free elections for a legally constituted government. However, twelve (12) days after the coup, on March 25th the NJM government suspended the constitution and in its place instituted a set of “People’s Laws.” Relations with the west, the United States in particular, were further strained when a few weeks after the coup arms from Cuba started arriving in Grenada.

Approaching the 1983 national election, the NJM was destined for failure. Though for three and half years the transitional government of the NJM had been in power, many promises had been left unfulfilled and the party was still unorganized. Bishop was, however, arrested on October 12th by fellow revolutionaries from the NJM and charged with planning to assassinate Coard. Though a huge crowd rallied a week later and forced Bishop’s release, he was recapture later that same day and, along with the members of his cabinet, was executed by members of a militaristic faction of the NJM. Lacking the charismatic Bishop, the NJM lost all steam and crumbled in the face of mounting internal and external pressures.

Seizing the moment, the United States mounted Operation Urgent Furry: the invasion of Grenada. After a short campaign, American forces were in control of the island nation; the troops, however, did not leave the island until they had supervised free democratic election and the drafting of a new constitution.

By Daniel L. Gordon
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum


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