Indentured Indians did not affect wages of ex-slaves

Indentured Indians did not affect wages of ex-slaves

Indians, because of numerical size, were not competing with the ex-slaves for work on plantations. Thus, the argument that the presence of Indian indentures was the cause for low wages of ex slaves is not supported by facts. It is a myth debunked below.

African nationalists contend that the arrival of Indian indentured labourers undermined the wages of the freed slaves (1838) -- the presence of the indentures affected the power of the ex-slaves to negotiate fair wages. But the fact shows that only a small number of Indians came in 1838 after which the Indian indentured scheme was suspended. The presence of a few hundred Indian labourers could not have any serious adverse effect on the wage negotiation of almost 100,000 ex slaves. The demand for wage workers was in the tens of thousands. Anyone who studies labour economics or negotiating power of workers or unions would tell you there was no way a few hundreds (1838) or a few thousands of contracted servants (1845 when indenture resumed, to 1850) would impact on the power of tens of thousands to negotiate wages with labour in demand.

The Indian indentured program was suspended (twice) because of the abuses meted out to the labourers. Many died on board and many more died on the fields of the plantations. With the program suspended and Indians not arriving in Guiana as contracted labourers, there was no way that Indians could affect wages (1838-45) for ex- slaves. It is also noted that during the 1840s and into the 1950s, there were far more Portuguese (and later with Chinese) than Indians in Guiana. There were also African indentured labourers from the West Indian islands. Historical documents also make reference to African labourers from Brazil. There were far more African labourers from outside of Guiana (1840s-50s) combined with Portuguese than indentured Indians. Thus, it could not be factual that Indian labourers impacted on the power of ex-slaves to negotiate fair wages.

The documented history also reveals that Indians were not coming to take jobs from ex slaves. The ex-slaves abandoned the sugar fields. They did not want to work on cultivating crops on estates. Indians simply filled the void left by the Africans.

By 1860, there were significant numbers of Indian labourers – over 10K but still far more Africans, Portuguese and Chinese combined. At one time, there were more Portuguese and Chinese indentures than Indians. But Portuguese, Chinese, and indentured Africans were not accused by Africanists of depressing the wages of the ex-slaves.

The documented history shows that by 1860, almost all the ex-slaves had completely left estate work. Thus, it was not possible that the indentured labourers would affect the Africans in obtaining jobs on the fields or their wages.

Those ex-slaves around the estates laboured as security hired by planters to keep Indians in line. Ex-slaves were also employed on the factories and not cultivating cane or other crops in competition with Indians. Indians and Africans were in different line of work; thus, wages of ex-slaves were not affected. If anything, African security and overseers hurt the Indian labourers who attempted to withhold their labour. The African security and overseers protected the planters’ interests overseeing that the Indians carried out their tasks diligently. The African security and overseers reported on the indentured laborers if they failed to complete their task or if they skylarked. Indian labourers were fined and some even whipped just like the slaves when they failed to carry out tasks timely.

Labour economists would know that different types of labour would be paid different amounts of wages. The Indians were at the bottom of the pay scale in their contracts for cultivating cane. The ex-slaves worked on the estates on mostly non-cultivating aspects of plantation activities. So there was no way the contracted cane workers would affect wages for factory workers or overseers or security agents since Indians did not compete with ex-slaves for these jobs. And at any rate, Africans had left the estates by 1860s. So the Indian presence could not affect wage negotiating power of the Africans.

The history documents show that sugar estates were in a decrepit condition at the end of slavery (1838). They were losing money. The planters were bankrupt. Indians had brought them (estates and planters) back to economic life. And as such, Indians should have been compensated with incentives for their productivity.

Documents show that labourers were constantly needed on the estates because most of the ex-slaves did not want to return to the fields. Thus, the planters had to keep bringing workers from India, Portugal or China. Many Indians (almost a fifth) died on the plantation. A third went back to India; so there was always a shortage of labourers (to meet need) except when indentureship was abolished in 1917 resulting in several estates being abandoned. So there was always a need for labourers. Thus, Indians could not have hurt Africans in any negotiation for wages.