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 Our Emancipation Holiday &The History Behind Cup Match

[Written by the late Larry Burchall] Bermuda’s Cup Match holiday is an historic occasion of global importance because it represents, in a sense, the world’s longest strike.That first labour withdrawal happened on 1st August 1835. Exactly one year after Emancipation Day 1834.

On 1st August 1835, as far as is known, thousands of Bermuda’s ex-slaves, now paid workers, decided that they would not go to work that day. They would take the day off and celebrate Emancipation Day. After that one day work stoppage, they returned to work.

As an isolated community with no reserves of unemployed labour holed up anywhere, Bermuda’s employers had to accept that, grit their teeth, and, the next day, take back their employees.

Employers probably grumbled and mumbled and accused workers of laziness, irresponsibility, and thoughtlessness, but employers had little choice. They simply had to accept the one day work stoppage.

This went on happening every 1st August for decades. The one day celebratory work stoppage expanded into a two day stoppage as the ex-slaves added games and other activities to their celebration and remembrance.

By the 1870’s the work stoppage period regularly included a cricket match with teams selected from various lodges [Friendly Societies]. Also, by this time families had developed the practice of travelling around and setting up camps at the site chosen as the focal point for the celebration.

In 1902, the St George’s and Somerset Cricket Clubs – black clubs both – bought a silver trophy and agreed that annually, they would contest for this Cup during the Emancipation Day celebration period. The cricket game would take place over two days.So in 1902, the informal ‘work stoppage’ evolved into a planned and wellorganized celebration period for black Bermudians. But all of this was being done when the two days off work was still not a public holiday, or an ‘authorized’ work stoppage. In fact, both days were supposed to be normal ‘working days’. By 1902, this informal ‘work stoppage’ had been going on for 67 years and had expanded from a one day to a two day event, with both days off unsanctioned by either Government or employers.

This voluntary withdrawal of labour without the boss’s permission continued for another

44 years, until 1946. A total of 111 years. Finally, in 1946, the Government and the ‘bosses’ – in Bermuda one and the same – gave up and passed legislation that declared a national two day holiday over the Emancipation Day period.The ‘strike’ had gone on for 111 years and ‘Cup Match’ won.Now all Bermudians and residents celebrate ‘Cup Match’

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