Friendly Anger: A unique opportunity to know the labour history & people of St. Maarten by Oswald Francis
It is not the norm for one to read a history book from cover to cover in one sitting. However, with Friendly Anger, one is compelled to read Joseph Lake, Jr.’s account of “The rise of the labor movement in St. Martin” from its inception to the present.
Lake’s style of writing is very simple, yet effective. He writes with such simplicity that the grassroots can understand and yet he is able to provoke the thoughts of the intellectuals.
A political scientist and veteran newsman, Lake combines narrative and analysis so well, that consequently one is never bored by the balanced information presented; hence one is motivated to read on.
Friendly Anger, published by House of Nehesi (HNP), is a compilation of socio-economic and political events spanning over 35 years. It deals with the labor situation on the island from the late sixties, the groundbreaking events of the seventies such as the burning of the government administration building and the Lt. Governor’s residence, the “roundabout” effects of the nineties, and concludes with the challenges at the onset of the new century—giving clear reasons for the birth of trade unionism and its impact on society.
As a cogent examiner of the industrial events in St. Martin, Lake, has categorized key periods, such as the birth of trade unionism, the glory days of the trade union movement, and the 1990s, which he describes as the period of “remote control leadership” as a number of trade unions in St. Martin were run from Curacao in the South and from Guadeloupe in the North.
The analysis of the “remote control” period will surely evoke animated discussions among trade unions on the island as it gives the perception that these unions had lost their “sting” in the 1990s and were not as effective as they ought to be.
The introduction to Friendly Anger by Trinidad’s economist David Abdulah also reminds us succinctly of the book’s role in giving an “excellent … social history” account of the St. Martin people.
As an educator, I exhort our educational planners to ensure that Friendly Anger finds a place in our school’s curriculum. At a time when there is hardly anything written about ourselves, by ourselves, it is crucial that this analytical book finds a treasured place in every household in St. Martin, and ultimately serves as a catalyst to inspire national pride and independence. This can be achieved if we adhere to the words of wisdom of the legendary calypsonian, King Obstinate:
“A people are known by their culture,
A people are known by their past.
The past determines the future
From the present we can forecast.”
Finally, as we move into the new millennium, it is important for us to know where we came from and where we are going. The island did not evolve by itself but the “movers” and “shakers” in our society brought about these changes. Hence it is of paramount importance that we know who they are and what they have contributed to society. Friendly Anger, which also includes 26 pages of union-related photos and an appendix of labor contracts, union constitutions, and other documents, gives us that unique opportunity to know our history.
Friendly Anger is available at, LAMA’s office, and Van Dorp and Arnia’s bookstores.
Ed. Note: Oswald Francis is a teacher, former trade union activist and former director of the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce & Industry.