UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition


On this day, 23rd August, way back in 1791, sugar plantation slaves on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (today’s Haiti and the Dominican Republic) had risen up in rebellion against their cruel owners.

The revolt, led by the remarkable Tousaint Louverture, defeated French and Spanish armies and led to the establishment of the independent state of Haiti. It also inspired the world-wide struggle against slavery, and played a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

It is against this background that the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is commemorated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) on 23 August each year.

The CWU fully supports this annual commemoration and our union’s newly-elected NEC representative for BAME members Amarjite Singh makes his own contribution to this event here:

Abolition of Slavery Day

Slavery permeated British society from aristocrat and industrialist to middle-class lawyer and large shopkeeper. Profits from the backs of toiling slaves and the slave trade flowed into the pockets of the British wealthy and well to do.

Indeed, the billions of pounds made from it fueled the industrial revolution and launched the British Empire on the world. Its abolition led to the biggest pay-out ever by a British government. But the millions of pounds in compensation went to the slave owners and their investors, however small, – not to the abused, mistreated, ‘freed’ slave.

‘Compensation’ for living off the misery of the slave passage – where slaves were thrown overboard to save food supplies – and of the brutal existence on plantations, ill-fed and ill-clothed, under the whip of the overseer.

Slavery’s legacy is still with us poisoning our societies today. Its excusing justification  that blacks were inferior – that “science said so” – was the father of racism, the scourge of our modern world. The Windrush generation’s appalling treatment has its roots in slavery and its racism. The notion that Black people’s lives were disposable and that no qualm or second thought was necessary.

The ghosts of slavery inhabit our cities. Every town has its Colston, the local generous worthy, up to his neck in slavery with its death ships and its forced-labour plantations. Each town has its Black Boy Hill, named after local slave auctions. Such hidden echoes of slavery cannot be ignored.

Abolition of slavery was realised 150 years ago, after its profitability sank and slave rebellions shook its foundations. Its legacies remain to be confronted and neutralised.

Only then will we have truly settled accounts with ‘The Abolition of Slavery’.