Critchlow, Hubert Nathaniel

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Critchlow, Hubert Nathaniel

December 18, 1884
May 14, 1958

Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, OBE, was born to James Nathaniel and Julia Elizabeth Critchlow in Georgetown, British Guiana. Critchlow is renowned as the "Father of the Trade Union Movement" in Guyana for his pioneering role in organizing workers. After an early education at Bedford Wesleyan School, Georgetown, at age fourteen he became an engineer apprentice at the Demerara Foundry. However, his initial work experiences consisted of a series of low-paying jobs under abject conditions. He was an electric car motorman, cigar maker, bottle washer, office boy, gold miner, and a dockworker for Bookers Brothers Ltd., the sugar plantation colonial conglomerate. Critchlow, well known for his track-and-field prowess, was also a footballer and cricketer. Still, it was as a trade union activist that Critchlow made his greatest contributions to Guyana and the Caribbean.

Critchlow was the origin of trade union activism in the country. On November 28, 1905, he organized and led the dockworkers of Sandbach Parker & Co. Ltd., another colonial conglomerate, on a strike to protest deplorable working conditions. At a time of social unrest in the colony, Critchlow's actions served to unite urban working-class and rural estate workers against colonial officials and companies' management. Although the police on that occasion fired into the crowd of marching workers Critchlow led, the next year he organized a similar protest.

In 1917 and 1918 Critchlow was again at the helm of workers protesting for higher wages. For this action, he lost his job and was unable to secure further waterfront employment. On January 11, 1919, he formed the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), the first of its kind in British Guiana. Its membership was approximately 13,000 in the early years, at a time when the population of the country was estimated at 295,000. Critchlow served as general secretary of the union until his resignation in 1952. From 1924 to 1932 Critchlow attended several labor and workers conferences held in England, Germany, and Russia. Under his guidance the BGLU initiated the British Guiana and West Indian Labour Congress, a regional meeting of trade unionists.

Critchlow's most significant accomplishments include the 1922 introduction of a Rent Restriction Bill in the British Guiana Legislative Council. The bill's success led to the designation of July 3, 1922, as "Critchlow Day." In 1923 Critchlow supported petitions urging the colonial government to address increasing unemployment and rising consumer prices in the colony. He also advocated the introduction of national health insurance, old-age pensions, a girls' industrial training school, and a children's court. In addition to waterfront workers, Critchlow also demonstrated concern for domestics, nurses, carpenters, and shop assistants, who worked for long hours at low wages. He was instrumental in obtaining an eight-hour workday for dock and stevedore laborers and in the passage of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Moreover, under his leadership the BGLU demanded of the colonial administration the extension of the franchise to women, universal adult suffrage, labor representation in the legislative council, and self-government.

Critchlow served on the Discharged Prisoners Aid Committee, the Advisory Committee to the Rent Assessor, Georgetown, the Ex-Servicemen Committee, Poor Law and Local Government Boards, the Old Age Pensions Board, and the Public Works Advisory Committee. When the first British Guiana Trade Union Congress registered on April 8, 1941, Critchlow was the secretary. In 1943 he was appointed the first labor representative in the British Guiana Legislative Council. One year later, in 1944, he became the first labor leader appointed to the executive council of the British Guiana legislature. He was a government nominee to the Georgetown Town Council and also a member of the Arbitration Tribunal, under Sir Clement Malone, which inquired into a wage dispute concerning waterfront workers in Grenada, West Indies.

By December 1951 Critchlow was elected to the Legislative Council as a member of the British Guiana Labour Party. In 1951 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Critchlow influenced a new era in the country's historythe coming of the trade union movement. For example, by 1931 the British Guiana Workers League was formed and in 1937 the Man Power Citizens' Association was founded. Tributes to his contributions in improving labor conditions and the lives of workers include a statue of him on the lawns of the Public Buildings, the seat of the country's government, and the establishment of the Critchlow Labour College. Appropriately, the headquarters of the BGLU is named Critchlow House.

See also Labor and Labor Unions


Ashton, Chase. A History of Trade Unionism in Guyana, 19001961. Georgetown, Guyana: New Guyana Company, 1966.

Hyacinth, Thomas. "Hubert Critchlow, Trade Unionist." In African-Guyanese Achievement 1: 18. 155th Anniversary of African Slave Emancipation. Georgetown, Guyana: Free Press, 1993.

"Mr. Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow Is Dead: Unique Chapter in History of Colonial Trade Unionism Closed." Daily Argosy (Georgetown, British Guiana; May 15, 1958).

"Outstanding African-Guyanese, Hubert Critchlow, OBE."Emancipation, The African-Guyanese Magazine (20002001): 36.

Who Is Who in British Guiana, 19451948. Georgetown, British Guiana: Daily Chronicle, 1948.

Woolford, Hazel M. "The Origins of the Labour Movement." In Themes in African-Guyanese History. Georgetown, Guyana: Free Press, 1998.

"Workers to Mourn Critchlow with Reverence." Daily Chronicle (Georgetown, British Guiana; May 16, 1958).

barbara p. josiah (2005)