Review of “The Gairy Movement…” by George Griffith

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Reviewer: Gary E. (GEP) Protain (micestro1@comcast.net). GEP is a GBSS Grenada Island Scholar of many years ago. His email name is a very modest tribute to his piano-playing skills.

REVIEW
“The Gairy Movement in Grenada” is a first-class, first-hand account of Grenada’s premier leader from the island’s mid-20th century era to the revolution of the New Jewel Movement that ousted him in 1979. As a Gairy confidant, and diplomatic presence through many of Grenada’s pre-coup and post-coup years, the author’s intuitive grasp of the volatile period dominated by Sir Eric, helps to unfold the island’s complex story at the hands of a dynamic and ruthless Prime Minister.

Griffith’s research is deep and his understanding of his subject vast. His descriptive commentary of “Uncle Gairy’s” political and personal career will not please everyone, but his lifting of the veil on a Caribbean legend will open eyes and minds to illuminate more than a few dark corners of previously unexplained historical events and milestones. … Griffith’s gives a comprehensive, insightful look at the brilliance and flaws (both huge) of the Caribbean’s consummate politician of the second half of the 20th century.

The book ranges over Grenada’s political history from 1947-1997, primarily focusing on the fascinating life story of Sir Eric M. Gairy – his early years in Aruba’s oil industry where he was introduced to trade unionism; his rise to power and fall from power over fifty years as a charismatic and powerful labor leader, and as Grenada’s first post-Independence Prime Minister.

Gairy joined Manley, Bustamante, Barrow, Bradshaw, Burnham, Adams, Jagan and Williams in the pantheon of effective and divisive West Indies Prime Ministers. He also joined a vast Commonwealth team of eloquent UK-jailed labor leaders (including Nkrumah, Nehru, Kenyatta, Mandela et al) who conquered Westminster’s put-downs and contempt to revolutionize colonial party politics, and to change the balance of third-world power forever.

In this lengthy, well-researched biography, Griffith shines as someone who as there, ‘on the scene’, infusing his observations into the historical story. His chronicle style allows him to observe his subject continuously, and to be fair in assessing Gairy, the man and his foibles. Griffith’s scenario satisfyingly delves into the contradictions, misadventures, and personal strengths and failings of a man with a superiority complex, who changed his country much for the better, finally for the worse.

We relive Gairy’s modest origins, brilliant school-boy reputation, religious (RC) leanings, his thwarted education ambitions, his protestations against the landed interests and the colonial power. We also relive how Gairy boldly coped with obstructionism from the post-war landed gentry’s estate barons who always regarded him as an inferior, upstart power-grabber, even a communist. His political rivals always under-estimated his abilities and almost mystical hold on the ‘under-and-middle-classes’ that consistently re-elected him singing endlessly: “We’ll never let our leader fall !”. Indeed, his back-to-the-wall political battles – victories and defeats both – all liven up Griffith’s substantive volume.

Gairy exhibited fearlessness and drive in his perceived mission to elevate the common man from hopeless post-WW2 starvation wages in country and town. These same qualities he exhibited to elevate his own political status and personal career in Independent Grenada. He stirred wide-ranging feelings amongst his Grenadian electorate. Career victories and defeats brought highlights that juggled devotion and derision, loyalty and condemnation, fear and redemption, and finally doubt and revolution that brought him down in absentia when he thought he was unbeatable and unbreakable.

Gairy’s rule ended with a 1979 coup when the New Jewel Movement, whose base was mainly youth, took over the Government of Grenada while he was on a trip abroad. As Griffith suggests, this result may have been predicated by Gairy’s autocratic manner of dealing with opposition, and certain human rights abuses taking place, apparently with his connivance. It was a testimony to Gairy’s arrogance that the happenings of the times did not prudently suggest to him that this was possible. It is to Griffith’s credit that he did not spend much book space in condemning the New Jewel Movement, but true to his main subject, he indicated what he thought were Gairy’s weaknesses in the ‘game’.

British writer Graham Greene unknowingly described Sir Eric Gairy’s entry onto the Caribbean political scene as a young firebrand Grenada union leader in the late 1940’s when he prophetically wrote: “There always comes a moment in time when a symbolic door opens – and lets the Future in.” That door opened for Eric Mathew Gairy, and later for the New Jewel Movement, albeit short-lived for the latter.

This book is a portrait of a Leader that’s well worth reading.

From its contents flowed what was to become a Grenada Tragedy, which adds to its qualities as a valuable read.

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6 Responses to Review of “The Gairy Movement…” by George Griffith

  1. Anthony g fraser says:

    does anybody knows where can i purchase this book please

  2. IAN GITTENS says:

    MANY HAPPY YEARS AGO, I ATTENDED GARY PROTAINS WEDDING , IN GRENADA, EARLY 70’S WITH MY WIFE, THE EVER PRESENT MRS GITTENS, HAD LOADS OF HOSPITALITY, GARY AND BRIDE WERE IN GOOD FORM, AND INDEED THE GREAT MAN MR ERIC GAIRY WAS AT OUR TABLE, WHAT A MAN !! I HAD THE PLEASURE, AS A YOUNG EXECUTIVE WITH BOAC, NOW BA, TO HAVE THE PLEASURE OF LOOKING AFTER HIM ON ALL OF HIS TRANSITS IN BARBADOS, I STILL CANNOT FORGET GRENADA, ERIC GAIRY, EVEN MET THE LATE AND BEAUTIFUL AUDREY PALMER ! BLESSINGS TO ALL, MABYE I WILL VISIT THIS YEAR !! IAN GITTENS.

  3. Winston Phillips says:

    Collis: “Uncle failed or maybe was much too arrogant to stop and listen to what they were saying and expecting.” There is truth in your statement, but I do not think that Gairy as we know him accustomed to power and obedience, would have even sat to listen to youngsters he considered upstarts and communists. I speculate that Gairy may even have thought that they were ungrateful given his efforts in ‘unshackling’ their grandparents and parents. There was at least one oldster politician in Grenada, no friend of Gairy, who declared to all who would hear, that he knew how to deal with “these young people”, invoking the dictum that ‘children should be seen and not heard, far less march in the streets, protesting. What Gairy and his cohorts failed to put into their calculus was the generational shift in education and in thinking taking place inside Grenada and in the outer world. That failure, I think, was Gairy’s demise.
    Just a question: Did either the GULP or GNP at any time have a youth arm in their parties?

    • Collis "Tony" DeCoteau says:

      It’s not easy to maintain the same fascination, or hold if you will, from your fans without knowing the appropriate time to quit. Very, very few personalities are able to do it. The Mighty Sparrow, Pele and Michael Jordan readily come to mind as among the few who were able to maintain the god-like adoration of their fans while they continued to provide excellence throughout their much later years.
      Even Mohammed Ali in his later boxing years was a pitiful reminder of his former magnificence that earned him the epithet of the “Greatest.” Which fan could forget the sorrows they endured while watching their hero being mercilessly and shamefully beaten by the likes of Trevor Berbick and Larry Holmes!
      On the other hand fans of the sporting world continue to this day to be intrigued by football greats Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, who chose to quit while at the very top of their game. The public’s fascination was in the “what if?”
      The sporting world is no different than the political world. Hanging on to power regardless of their fading relevance to the new generations was the bane of Caribbean leaders like Gairy, Eric Williams, Bradshaw and others. Abu Baka in Trinidad and Maurice Bishop in Grenada represented the challengers that sooner or later had to rise up to wrest power from those old leaders who could not see themselves existing outside the power arena.
      So those who should have been revered for the major contributions they once made to their people became loathsome and irrelevant to the new breed of youngsters who took their parents place.
      Among Kenny Rogers most famous songs was “You got to know when to hold and know when to fold.” Gairy’s sad mistake was nothing more than not knowing when to fold in order to bask in the glow of the evening shadows of a country who should be grateful to him.

  4. Collis "Tony" DeCoteau says:

    Eric Gairy’s rise to fame came from his identifying and fighting for the rights and dignity of the Grenadian underclass of his time. For that he should still be revered and loved as Uncle Gairy.
    But his ultimate demise came from failing to understand that the world as they saw it of the majority of the children (now adult men and women) of that same underclass, was completely different from their parents. Uncle failed or maybe was much too arrogant to stop and listen to what they were saying and expecting.
    That the New Jewel Movement was made up largely by those “adult children” was no accident as evidenced by a point alluded to in his book “We Move Tonight.”
    There Joseph Ewart Layne talked about the gulf that developed between his own dad the Gairyite, and himself a member of the New Jewel Movement, and the difficulty of reconciling their political differences.
    In short their parents’ gratefulness to Uncle did not seep down to them. In their ambitions and understanding of politics as they saw it, there was nothing for which they should be grateful to Gairy as he was the very one standing in their way.

  5. Herman Hall says:

    Excellent review by Gary E. (GEP) Protain. I heard about the book and I am hoping to purchase it; Protain’s review encourages me to make it a priority to find and read George Griffith’s The Gairy Movement in Grenada.
    At the launching of his book in NY last week based on a selection of his speeches, Prime Minister Keith Mithchell of Grenada lamented that many West Indian pre-independence political and pioneer trade union leaders never bothered to write their autobiographies including Eric Gairy. I venture one step further; they failed to work with a biographer.
    I discussed the idea with Sir Eric about two or three times; the last time was at his home in Saint George’s, Grenada on US Thanksgiving Night of 1986 when I spent about six hours with him. He said many writers approached him but they were not willing to pay him the large sum he thought he was entitled to.
    Therefore, George Griffith’s biography is essential and welcomed. I assume that Griffith who was close to him shared the inner thoughts of Gairy with readers.

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