The World War Years and Immediately After 1939 to 1950

The World War Years and Immediately After 1939 to 1950

On the next day, the Colonial Government in Jamaica acted to prevent profiteering. The Competent Authorities, in two separate Orders dealing with food supplies and with other articles, banned the exportation from Jamaica of comprehensive lists of foodstuffs and other goods, whether of local production or imported with intention to re-export. Only by special permission, applied for and given in writing, would any export of any of the articles listed be allowed under special permit issued by the relevant Competent Authority. In addition, a Foodstuff Prices Board would meet within a few days to fix prices and until then no price, whether who lesale or retail, should be marked up beyond those prevailing up to the end of August. Again, special cases for consideration would have to be addressed, in writing, to the Competent Authority. Any infringement of these regulations and any offer of goods above the prices to be set at intervals by the Government should be immediately reported to the Competent Authority, and those found in breach of the regulations would suffer ‘severe penalties’.
Another regulation severely restricted the movement of ships and the showing of lights in any harbour, and banned any officially unauthorized agreement ‘for indemnity, insurance or re- insurance’ in respect of any vessel or any cargo leaving Jamaica.

Imports had also been regulated. Import licences had to be obtained, and importing firms, such as Grace, Kennedy, were allotted quotas based on their share of the market over the eighteen months prior to the outbreak of war. The trade in counter floor in which Grace, Kennedy had expanded now paid rich dividends. The Company was given a quota of about a quarter of the total import of that commodity. Quotas of other imports allotted to Grace, Kennedy also reflected the growth of their business since 1922. One other, worthy of particular mention because of its general consumption in town and country, was saltfish, for which Grace, Kennedy was given a 7% allocation of total import. There were also minor wartime windfalls. By the end of September 1939, there was a shortage of salt. The main source of supply had been Germany. That was now cut off. Domestic users, and the leather- making industry, which used large quantities in curing hides, found salt scarce and expensive. Merchants admitted to depleted stocks and rising prices. Grace, Kennedy had for some years been marketing small local and regional supplies including the solar salt from Pigeon Island, and so was already in a position to supply at least part of the island’s needs

On the export side, Grace, Kennedy, suffered less than those merchant firms by which Jamaican produce valued at over £5,000 – hides, coffee, pimento, divi-divi – had been exported to Germany shortly before the declaration of the war and had not yet been paid for, as was normally the case, with the exchange of goods from that country to be supplied in barter trade.

An idea of the prices of controlled items a few months after hostilities began is given in a list published at the beginning of April 1940. Maximum retail prices of selected goods were:

  • Pickled Beef – English per lb. – 8 1/2d
  • Pickled Beef – Australian per lb. – 9d
  • Pickled Beef – American per lb. – 10d
  • Red Peas per quart – 9d
  • Cornmeal per lb. – 2d
  • Codfish per lb. – 6d
  • Coconut Oil, unrefined, per quart – 1s 6d
  • Canadian Cheese per lb. – 1s 6d
  • Baking and Counter Flour per lb. – 2 1/2d
  • Mackerel per lb. – 4 1/2d
  • Condensed Milk (varied according to brand, about) per tin – 7d -7 1/2d
  • Pickled Pork per lb. – 9d
  • Rice (according to source & quality) per lb. – 1 1/2d – 2 1/4d
  • Soap, Imported per bar – 7 1/2d – 1s 1d
  • Soap, Local per bar – 6d – 1s

[£1 = 20 shillings; 1 shilling = 12 pence (d); 1 penny = 4 farthings]

The rapid advances of the German armies through Europe soon dissipated early expectations of a short war. By the middle of 1941, only Russia and Britain stood in defiance of the German onslaughts. In the east, Russian armies fought desperately to hold off German advances; in the west, British naval and air forces waged unceasing battle against the growing menace of the German submarines. On the high seas, between mid-1940 and the end of 1941 the German U-boat fleets had inflicted increasingly severe losses on the British Merchant Marine. More than one-third of the total pre-war tonnage had been sunk. And, in the Far East, on December 6, 1941, a cablegram from Singapore informed the British High Command that Japanese warships and troop-transports were steaming westward. Next day, without declaration of war, Japanese land and naval forces attacked British Malaya and Hong Kong, and the Japanese air force blasted American warships in Pearl Harbour. By the start of 1942, the conflict was global. Here in Jamaica, the impact of wartime conditions seriously affected the merchant- firms. The submarine menace in the Atlantic severely diminished trade with Britain, and enemy control of continental ports put traditional European markets beyond reach. With the entry of Japan and the United States into the war, the situation worsened.

During the 1930s the banana trade accounted for over 50 per cent of the total value of visible exports. In 1937 a high mark of just under 27 million stems had been shipped; but the banana trade was a fragile base for the island’s economy. Bananas are a perishable commodity. Wartime scarcity of suitable cargo-space, the irregularity of the arrival and departure of ships, and the slow, weaving passage under convoy in the attempt to evade the German submarines – all militated against the trade. So too did the fact that it was essentially a luxury trade. In wartime, transport systems, curtailed by enemy action, are concentrated on the movement of basic necessities and of men and supplies for battle.

Wharves and Workers

Towards the end of the 1930s, the Colonial Government was concerned with congestion on the wharves on the Kingston waterfront, a situation which not only impeded the collection of custom duties, a matter of direct importance to the colonial revenues, but also facilitated pilferage, a matter f concern to the shipping companies as well. One of the most congested was the Grace Wharf, and the most notable of the buildings in which various shipping companies had their offices was 64 Harbour Street, the home of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., agents for the Aluminum Line and the Grace Line. There also were the offices of the Jamaica Banana Producers Steamship Company and the Jamaica Fruit and Shipping Company.

Within the offices of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., James Moss-Solomon, now a Managing Director, was more involved in the firm’s trading and merchandise activities. Luis Fred Kennedy dealt rather with shipping, wharfage, and port-services and this brought him into direct confrontation with Alexander Bustamante who on occasion pointedly held his mass meetings on the corner by 64 Harbour Street. It has a hard-fought duel between an established and tough-minded employer of labour and the newly arrived leader who was organizing workers into a powerful bargaining unit. ‘Busta’s sometimescaustic humour was displayed in one of those street-corner meetings. Luis Fred Kennedy had slipped and broken his ankle while on one of the wharves and, in one of Busta’s famous verbal assaults, was subsequently referred to as ‘bruk- foot Kennedy’ the lame exploiter of unorganized working- men. On January 23, 1939, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union was registered.

As each sought to counter the moves of the other, Alexander Bustamante and Luis Kennedy found a mutual respect, which developed into private friendship. One of Kennedy’s interests was farming, though an unfortunate venture into tobacco growing had persuaded him that agricultural enterprise was not for him or for Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. Nonetheless, he owned property on the road to Irish Town in Upper St. Andrew on which, though he did not live there, he farmed and raised a few pigs. That property, now ‘Bellencia’, was later sold to Alexander Bustamante who spent his last years there where his widow, Lady Gladys, as she is known, still resides.

Kennedy’s active response to the formation of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union was double-edged. He was the moving spirit in the establishment of the Shipping Association of Jamaica, and, through that body, in the organization of a rival group of ship and dockworkers. The Shipping Association, also formed in January 1939, was an employers’ union of steamship companies, their agents, and wharf-owners. Its given objectives were to regulate all questions affecting its members’ interests, to ‘support and protect the carrying on of [their] business according to fair and honest principles’, and to establish ‘fair and reasonable rates of earnings and any conditions of employment’ with a view to uniform practice among its members.

Kennedy also engineered the formation of Kingston Wharves Ltd., an association of some of the leading wharf-owning companies. When the protracted and sometimes bitter negotiations were completed, all the wharves (except those belonging to the United Fruit Company, J. Wray and Nephew, and R.S. Gamble) had been brought together in a company in which Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. held shares. Between the Shipping Association and Kingston Wharves, Luis Fred Kennedy had managed to range the employers of dock-labour and most of the places where such labour was employed against the youthful BITU.

There was more. The Shipping Association, with the assistance of stevedore contractors and wharfingers employed by its members, compiled a list of dockworkers who were not members of the BITU, gave them workers’ identity cards, and established a labour compound from which they would be called whenever the Association’s members required labour. This newly formed workers’ union was led by Seymour Warner, himself a dockworker, chosen by the Association for his recognized ability as a leader. As might be expected, rivalry followed between Warner’s men and the BITU, and further dissatisfaction was felt among other dockworkers belonging to neither group who now found themselves out in the cold. Ensuing strikes and unrest disrupted waterfront operations. In addition, between 1940 and 1945, warfare in the Atlantic and the Caribbean greatly reduced the numbers of vessels entering the Port of Kingston. In 1937, 1,284 steamships had entered the port. In 1941, only 652, and in 1943 the lowest number, 267, came in. In 1949 the number was still only 738. In that year, Alexander Bustamante proposed the establishment of a Port Authority to resolve the dockworkers’ dissatisfactions:

…. A favoured 25 per cent of the men are getting 50 per cent of the work while 75 percent of the workers have to be satisfied with the other 50 per cent.

The volume of imports had been much diminished, though unit values rose as a result of shortages and increased costs brought on by the war

Food Scarcity and Controls

In September 1942 the Acting Food Controller had issued an Order limiting bakers to half their normal supplies of flour and also a request to consumers of counter flour to limit purchases. The shortages due to shipping conditions, he said, would be temporary. Imports in the following year did, in fact, increase by some 48,000 bags and in the period 1943 to 1945 importations of flour and salted fish greatly increased while the total tonnage of all cargoes landed at Kingston declined. Grace, Kennedy and Co., Ltd. held a large share of the import quotas of flour and salted fish, basic items of consumption by the general public.
They were, also, items subject to strict price controls and price subsidies, in order to protect the consumers. From 1941 to 1942 only cornmeal, flour, rice and pickled meat had been subsidized. The British Government had met the cost, about £21,000. In 1943, the list of subsidized commodities was extended to include all pickled and dried meats, sausages, imported red kidney beans, codfish pickled fish and butter. It was expected that the cost of the subsidies would rise to over £200,000. The enormous increase, difficult to maintain, was the result not only of the extended list of items but also of the increasing cost of the imported goods, which necessitated higher subsidies to sustain the local fixed prices.

Luis Fred Kennedy moved to meet the crises as they occurred, In 1941, at the height of the war, shipping had been the basic problem. In May of that year the Gleaner carried a report that negotiations were under way for the purchase by Grace, Kennedy of the Jamaica Fruit and Shipping Co., Ltd. However, the deal did not go through. In 1942 Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to get the support of the Colonial Government for the purchase of ships for Grace, Kennedy. He argued that the large amount of capital that would be required for such a purchase in wartime conditions was justifiable because of the very high freight rates prevailing. From the Government’s point of view the viability of such financing would depend on a number of uncertain factors such as the continuation of high freight rates and current levels of taxation. On a much lower scale, Grace, Kennedy had in 1933 acquired the yacht Dauntless to replace the Admiral Beatty. Now Dauntless was put into use, bringing flour from Cuba after Kennedy had paid a long visit there to carry out negotiations.

When the war ended, adverse trade balances would lead to accusations being exchanged between the Government and the Chamber of Commerce; but there were occasional opportunities for festivity, such as the revival of the tourist trade. On June 9, 1947, the Daily Gleaner reported:

An enthusiastic reception was given to the S.S. New Northland of the Seaway Steamship Line, her passengers, and crew, as she arrived in Kingston on Saturday to start a new fortnightly cruise service between Jacksonville, Florida, and Jamaica.

Grace Wharf, where the vessel docked on arrival…. was decorated with flags
down its whole length while from a flagstaff at the head of the pier the Union Jack flew in the morning air, saluting the visiting cruise ship.

On the pier itself, the Jamaica Military band, colourful as usual, gave a musical
welcome to the vessel as she came alongside. Handclaps spattered along the
crowded shipside as the visitors thrilled to the martial music with which the band
greeted them.

Later, after tours ashore, the visitors arrived at the Myrtle Bank Hotel:

…. To enjoy the specially prepared Jamaican lunch of pepperpot soup, codfish and ackee, roast suckling pig and mango sundae offered for their delight.

And, as the band played on and the rum-punch and fruit-juices flowed, a special place was set where the President of the Seaway Line and the Captain of the New Northland were entertained by Mr. F. H. Robertson, Chairman of the Tourist
Board, and others, including Luis Fred Kennedy, of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd.,
local agents for the Seaway Steamship Line.

The Private vs. the Public Sector

Late in 1946, the British Government ended its financial support of local price
stabilization policies. By mid-1947, in both post-war Britain and Jamaica, Government faced critical shortages of foreign exchange, and food imports from the United States were imperiled. In Jamaica, the adverse dollar balance had been steadily worsening since 1944 and in August 1947 the Imports, Exports and Prices Board suspended the issue of import licences for all goods from all sources, excepting only absolutely urgent and necessary items. Early in November, Luis Fred Kennedy addressed a meeting of merchants engaged in the food trade. He dealt with the possibility of greater local food production and the marketing of it, and he put forward a number of proposals, which received the unanimous support of those, present. The Gleaner carried a full report.

Kennedy began by referring to disunity within the food trade as the main reason for the Government’s failure to consult with the Chamber of Commerce and those engaged in the trade in matters affecting their interests. Distributors, wholesalers and retailers had, sometimes with good reason, complained against each other and gone independently to the Food Controller to seek their own advantage. Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., he admitted, and other distributors, all saw themselves as ‘king-pin’ in the business. He said:

With all the respect in the world to the Laison Officer and to predecessor, that gentleman was not put there by the food trade. He was put there by a section of the food trade, by a few members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Government and the public had judged the food traders harshly because the trade, as a whole, had never indicated that it would like to see wrongdoings by its members stopped.
He then put forward four proposals:

  1. The establishment of a committee of the representatives of each branch of the
    trade, distribution, wholesaling, and retailing, to represent the food trade as a
    whole in all matters of general concern.
  2. That this committee should take the place of the Food Laison Officer, perform all his functions, and deal directly with the Food Controller.
  3. That the committee obtain from government full details as it may have
    regarding London’s instruction for the curtailment of imports….’ so that the
    committee might be able to submit for Government’s consideration ‘a definite
    policy covering food imports taking into account the substitution and distribution
    of locally grown food to replace imports.
  4. That the committee try to obtain at least the right to comment on every
    application to import food before any decision by the Food Controller and,
    further, an obligation on the part of the Controller to state in writing his reasons
    for any action taken against the advice of the committee, and the inclusion of one or more food traders on the Imports, Exports and Prices Board.

After giving unanimous support to the proposals, the meeting proceeded to elect the committee: J. C. Breakspeare and Luis Fred Kennedy to represent the distributors; Dudley Ho Sang and Bancroft Hylton to represent the wholesalers; and Edward Chung and T. D. Pinchong the retailers.

Following the meeting, Kennedy and Eric Abrahams, second and third vice-presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, tendered their resignations but the retracted and rejoined. Kennedy, as might be expected, was named Chairman of the Food Committee of the Chamber of Commerce and the Committee’s proposals were submitted to the Government in January and again in July 1948. The only result was an opportunity given in February to the Chamber’s Food Committee to meet with members of the Executive Council’s Food Committee. There followed a long public argument between the Government and the Chamber of Commerce.

The dispute began when the Governor, Sir John Huggins, addressing a gathering at the 1948 Agricultural Show at Frome, in Westmoreland, accused local traders of making unreasonable demands and profiteering. The Chamber of Commerce, at a specially summoned meeting, made an immediate response. Mr. G. M. DaCosta, after calling the meeting to order, called on Luis Fred Kennedy.

We have decided that Mr. Kennedy, the Chairman of the Food Committee, who is the central target of the Governor’s notorious speech, will tell you in his excellent way why we are here and what steps we should take to protect ourselves.

Kennedy took the Governor’s accusations one by one. He began by repeating and countering the charge that he and the Chamber’s Food Committee had misrepresented to the public information given to them in good faith by the Executive Council. Then to other matters. The Food Controller had, in July 1947, blamed wharf owners for spoilage of flour on the wharf. As a wharf owner, Kennedy had protested.

I pointed out that I was in a position to give to the press arrival dates on which each order for delivery was lodged at the wharves by the Controller.

The Controller had then publicly withdrawn his charge; but now the Governor was repeating it:

…. I refer the Governor and the public to the Gleaner of July 31, 1947. Therefore,
at least with respect to the flour landed at our piers – which by the way handles
most of the flour coming to the Island, the Governor’s statement is as inaccurate
as the Food Controller’s is.

The reason for the spoilage was the fact that the Competent Authority and his
Department forgot shipments on the wharves for many months, allowing the flour to remain in storage until it had deteriorated. That, we who are traders call
mismanagement – Government, however, may have another name for it.

If it were true that congestion on the piers had caused the spoilage, the Government had taken no steps to recover the losses to which the Governor had referred.

In business, culpable failure to recover losses resulting from the negligence of others is called mismanagement. I do not know, however, how Government circles describe it.

The Governor had not stated the amount of the loss sustained. The Hon. Colonial Secretary had informed the Legislative Council that it was £46,409.

When losses reach such proportions in short periods and under such circumstances, we in business add the prefix ‘gross’ mismanagement.

Government’s inefficiencies and its questionable means of concealing them constituted the burden of Luis Fred Kennedy’s reply. He produced evidence to substantiate his charges of incompetence against the Trade and Food Controllers, and the mishandling of the trade by the Government.

Let me make it clear that neither my Committee nor myself is opposed to
subsidies for the purpose of keeping down the cost of living. On the contrary, it is a matter for regret that more cannot be done in this direction.

What we do vehemently oppose is the present system whereby a Governor, an
Executive Council, and a Trade Controller can:

  1. Spend the Public’s money without the approval of the Legislature.
  2. Mismanage the public’s business without the knowledge of the Legislature, and
  3. Recover enormous losses at the expense of the public in an arbitrary fashion
    and without authority from the Legislature.

Following discussion of the points raised by Kennedy in his long speech, the Chamber of Commerce resolved to ask the Government once again ‘to reorganize and reconstitute the Trade Controller’s Department’ in ways suggested by the Chamber in January, and again in July 1948; to lay its case before the House of Representatives; to ask the Government to make public the reports of its committees appointed ‘to enquire into bulk-buying and margins of profit to the food trade’; and to ask also that the report of another Government
committee ‘to investigate the Trade Controller’s Department’ be made public. A fifth resolution, to take their case to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was held in abeyance.

Through 1949 the discussions continued on the island’s economic plight, and June 17 of that year the Gleaner reported that:

Sparked by Mr. Luis Fred Kennedy, the Chamber [of Commerce] discussed at length the precarious position of the island economically, the rising cost of living and the increasing unemployment. Present at the meeting to answer questions relating to Government’s economic policy was Mr. Clegg, Government Economic Advisor.

In the next year relief would come, not as a consequence of the then prolonged debate between the Chamber of Commerce and the Government, but because there would be an inflow of American dollars provided by Reynolds Companies and the American ‘Marshall Aid’ programme to finance the mining of bauxite.

Luis Fred Kennedy’s leading role in all of this reflected both his own vigorous style of business and the changes which had occurred during the 1940s in the top managerial personnel of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. By the late 1930s, Dr. John Grace had come to take less and less active a part in the management of the Company. Luis Fred Kennedy, with James Moss-Solomon, shouldered more and more of the work of running the business. When Dr. Grace retired from the firm in the later 1940s and left Jamaica, he sold his preference shares in equal amounts to Luis Fred Kennedy and James Moss-Solomon. This would not be a satisfactory arrangement if serious disagreement should arise between them. James Moss-Solomon, therefore, exchanged one of his preference shares for one of Luis Fred Kennedy’s ordinary shares and so gave to the latter a
Governing Director’s control of the business.

It was a transaction, which demonstrated the understanding on each side, derived from along association as joint mana gers, of the claims and talents of the other. Luis Fred Kennedy, son of a founding Director of the Company and majority shareholder, was the younger man and had already displayed considerable business acumen and a willingness to range himself aggressively against inefficiency, rivalry, and opposition. James Moss-Solomon’s quieter skills were in no degree less valuable to the firm. He was a better support commander than front- line captain.

Soon there would be a period of rapid expansion. As a present-day Director and employee of long standing, Mr. Bruce Rickards recalled:

Now conditions have changed a great deal in Jamaica since the 1939-1945 World War. Before the war, Grace, Kennedy & Co. dealt almost exclusively with wholesale outlets and since the war, and particularly when I joined the Company in 1951, the change was rapid. Many retailers came in direct to us for purchases and thereby skirted around the wholesaler. So the wholesaler became a dying breed and today (1970), nearly all wholesalers in the Kingston City limits are declining. Ones out in the rural areas are still holding over because of the delivery to the mountaintops.

In 1950 Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. were still primarily engaged as importers and distributors with their own wharves and with interests in shipping and insurance as well as the beginnings of an interest in agricultural and medicinal supplies. Soon there would be strong winds of change heralded by Hurricane Charlie in 1951. But the changes would by no means be confined to 64 Harbour Street.

The disturbances of the later 1930s had been general throughout the British Caribbean. There had been protests, the emergence of local leaders, and movements towards the establishment of strongly organized Trade Unions. The metropolitan government, in 1938, dispatched a Royal Commission, headed by Lord Moyne, to investigate and report on social and economic conditions. In their report, the Commission had, among other important recommendations, stressed the urgency of strengthening the trade union movements, the training of trade union officers and members to ensure ‘responsible trade unionism’, and the granting of constitutional reform. The war had come. The British Government, in the stress of war, moved nonetheless to implement the recommendations of the Commission. At the same time, in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, economic conditions were eased by the new employment available in American military and naval bases established in some of the British colonies. In 1943 the first batch of Jamaicans went to farm- labour in the cornfields of Iowa. After the war, large migrations from Jamaica and other West Indian territories, mainly to Britain also relieved economic pressure.

A Colonial Office publication in 1952 would record that whereas in 1939 there had been only 28 trade unions in the British Caribbean there were then 114 with a total membership of about 180,000. Those figures, however, were as much indicative of weakness as of strength. The trade union movement was affected by the seasonal nature of much employment in the sugar and tourist industries, by the fact that large numbers of workers were engaged in household and domestic service, by the continuing existence of high levels of unemployment and underemployment, and by sometimes violent competition between unions seeking recognition by an employer. In Jamaica, even after 1950 when that sort of dispute began to calm, there remained the struggle between the two union-based political parties: Alexander Bustamante’s BITU/Jamaica Labour Party and Norman Manley’s NWU/People’s National Party.

In November 1944, a new political constitution had come into effect in Jamaica. The old Legislative Council had been abolished, Universal adult suffrage introduced, and an ineffectual form of ‘ministerial’ go vernment instituted. There was now an elected House of Representatives of thirty-two members; an upper chamber, the Legislative Council, made up of ex-officio and nominated persons; and an Executive Council, chaired by the Governor, with three official and two nominated members, and five ‘Ministers’ elected by the House of Representatives. This Council was the source of Government policies. The five Ministers were answerable to the House o Representatives, but at the same time they held no executive authority in the various government departments for which they were individually responsible.