A Rain of Stones: The May 29, 1979 Revolt and Aftermath

Thousands of people took to the streets of Roseau on that fateful day 39 years ago. Photo: Arlington James


On May 29, 1979 a riot took place in the environs of the Dominican government’s ministerial building, and site of the national parliament. The conflict which erupted on or about 9:00 a.m. that morning pitted the government led by Patrick John against enraged civil servants, students, farmers, Labourers, unemployed youth, and others, determined to prevent passage of two amendments; one to the Industrial relations Act, the other the Libel and Slander Act.

The sentiments expressed against passage of the foregoing amendments, were to come up against an equally determined Dominica Defence Force riot squad and a Dominica Labour Party (DLP) government led by Prime Minister  Patrick John, bent on executing what they considered their legal and constitutional  prerogatives. A clash would result.

In the ensuing conflict two lives would be lost and many would sustain personal injury and property damage. As a result the Patrick John government would fall, to be replaced by a hybrid interim government led by O. J. Seraphine, which comprised elements from the Labour Party, the conservative Dominica Freedom Party (DFU), and the left-wing Dominica Liberation Movement (DLM).

This analysis will seek to show that the confrontation of May 29th, 1979 derived from a tumultuous decade which bred a series of frustrations on the part of a populace; frustration which provided ample ammunition for an increasing daring opposition grouped around the DFP and DLM. It had been a decade in which the mainly urban Freedom Party sought to re-establish the political hegemony of Dominica’s old plantocracy and merchant class; a hegemony which had been lost with Labour’s ascent to power in the early 1960’s.

At the other end of the political spectrum was the Dominican left-wing, which throughout that decade had agitated against the injustices bred by the internal class and color prejudices of an ex-slave society, while seeking to extricate the island from the political and economic bind of British colonial rule.

By 1979, the ruling Labour Party which had ushered in unprecedented social reform in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, had seemingly lost its way. In addition, the Labour government (under John in particular) had become more authoritarian and was determined to squelch opposition from DFU and Left-wing entities such as the Popular Independence Committees, the Peoples Democratic Party (successor to the Movement for a New Dominica)  all of  which were considered co-conspirators in a plot to reverse almost twenty years of Labour Party domination of government. The decrease in popularity of the Labour Party was heralded in calypso songs, such as “Down in the hole they going” by Calypso King Zeye.

And even family members of some in the Labour Party leadership were becoming publicly critical of the party’s rule. In a small island society where close family ties count for much, such developments were bad omens for the Patrick John regime.

The security forces will be shown as having been unable to coordinate their ‘ resources in an adequate manner, sufficient to handle the riot and resultant social unrest. On one hand, the newly renamed Commonwealth (instead of Royal) of Dominica Police Force will be shown as being unable too muster the means to control events on the May 29th, 1979 and its immediate aftermath, either due to a lack of resources or the unwillingness to side with a government which had lost the overall loyalty of its civil service.

The Dominica Defence Force (DDF), of which Colonel Patrick John was Commander-in-Chief, was to prove more determined and hasty in its quest to crush the disturbance, without a repeat of past errors when its use of force had been equivocal and haphazard. The results were tragic and unforeseen, in a way which would sully the DDF’s already maligned reputation, and eventually provide ammunition for those who sought its disbandment.

Ultimately, after the application of steady (sometimes violent) pressure tactics from portions of the opposition-led population the government would fall. By 1980, the Freedom Party would rise to power after victory at the ballot boxes in the general election of that year, and the Left wing forces partly united under the DLM and Labour would share the opposition.

Overall, however, the political landscape of a newly independent Dominica would undergo dramatic change and its citizens become cognizant of a new sense of political self-determination in the aftermath of May 29, 1979.

Read more.

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  1. time has told
    May 30, 2019

    Dominicans today have sold themselves out. We have no courage. All we do is talk. Back then we had NO talk shows. Today we have many. Back then we used to work and get things done. Now all we do is talk and get pushed around in fear that we end up like Phillip Timothy. I myself am ready to be the first martyr of my time. Im ready to leave this earth for a noble cause, but my death cannot go unsupported for the rest of Dominica to sit idly by and say well is so it is, and is business as usual in that country.

  2. Paul Rossnof
    May 30, 2018

    There is a great opportunity at the next election which is not far away to dispose of the Skerrit regime once and for all. I appeal to all Dominicans to put their country and the future of their children first. Resist Skerrits election gifts!

    • time has told
      May 30, 2019

      No take the gifts, just resist the person giving it. Take allll their gifts. let them think you have been bought. Because they are not supposed to treat or bribe.

  3. john
    May 29, 2018

    Thats why hurricane David punished them that same year Later.

    • DA Passports
      May 31, 2018

      And maria and Erika punish laborats back to back with legendary flooding and they still doh learn nothing :roll: 8-O

    • Ms. Francis
      May 29, 2019

      I’m not sure how much of an idiot I should call you. So I’ll just say, that’s an idiotic statement.

  4. May 29, 2018

    What did Phillip Timothy gave his life for?? the likes of Skerrit???

  5. May 29, 2018

    the people need to rise up .

  6. Jah Kal
    May 29, 2018

    Sad anniversary domininca 1979 can never forgotton.

  7. My bad
    May 29, 2018

    Dominica was much better in 1970 than now and therefore we should have saved May 29, 1979 for now

    • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
      May 29, 2018

      You could not have saved 1979 for 2018; you see the man who started the civil war in 1979, is none other than Charles Saverin the today sitting president of Dominica.

      The damage he caused in the country, to this day we have not yet recovered. The situation is not getting better, it is time for a revolution; history must repeat itself, unless there is an uprising which leads to the talking back of our
      country from Roosevelt Skerrit; our only hope for the country is doom and gloom!

      The country has been spiraling downwards for the past eighteen years.

      Dominicans needs to put the brake on, or the vehicle will plummet over the cleft!

      • ?????????????
        May 29, 2018

        Then you say you love country Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque? That is the best thing to say ” it is time for a revolution; history must repeat itself, unless there is an uprising which leads to the talking back of our
        country from Roosevelt Skerrit” Francisco may the good Father have mercy on you and the likes of you.

        Well you were not in Dominica on the 18th of September, 2017, so you want blood shed here whilst you are in your comfort zone somewhere in the US? Lord have mercy on us for the those who are not thankful and grateful of your mercy over us in Dominica who saw the devastation by Hurricane Maria. We are so thankful and grateful for life as you spared us and for the kind of destruction we saw around us on that day. I will forever be grateful for I prayed in my small concrete backroom whilst I saw flying missiles and you really answered the prayer to save our lives,

        Francisco, Francisco what can I say to you but God loves you. Look at some way to assist…

      • LangSal
        May 30, 2018

        I Agree, Its Time 4 Us 2 Stand Up & Fight This Blood SUCKING Vampire & His Cronies OUT DE COUNTRY

      • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
        May 30, 2018

        Indeed I do love Dominica; nevertheless, I would have to be an ignorant person to sit back, remain mute while our country, and nation people keep slipping backwards into darkness!

        I encourage you (question-marks) to take a look at all the islands in the Caribbean, even Guyana in South America, to Jamaica in the North, and make some comparisons to Dominica, after you done that, be honest and tell me the truth; is Dominica is not the most underdeveloped, the most backward place between North and South America; in the region know as “The West Indies” or more popularly known as the Caribbean!

        Take a look at the island of Montserrat, where half of the island was destroyed by an erupting volcano. The population of Montserrat is now less than ten thousand people, yet the country and people has bounced back. A new city was built and replace Plymouth.

        All Roosevelt is doing in Dominica, is running his mouth, doing nothing, while people you supports him! Where is the progress? 

  8. Badbaje
    May 29, 2018

    This scenario, except for the rioting, (The people used their votes instead of rioting) is a clear parallel to what took place in Barbados last week. The ruling party had frustrated the populace to no end, placing burden upon burden on the working class, with constant new taxes, no salary increases, no Personal Income Tax refunds, and the list goes on and on. This resulted in the then ruling party, the DLP losing all 30 contested seats to the then opposition, the BLP, who have now become the ruling party. Since that change in Barbados last week, the Dominica PM has made his first announcement of change, mirroring one of the promises of the BLP who won the Barbados elections, a promise which helped them to garner the votes of the young people. Let us see if the proposed change of the Dominica PM will help him gather young votes the same way it helped the BLP in Barbados.

  9. Laplaine Observer
    May 29, 2018

    The DLP has been the only party in Dominica to have caused a series of unrest where the people have constantly struggled to gain fair treatment under the constitution. But there is a missing link in this article who initiated this strike which is the current President of Dominica who seem to have defected and join the oppressors.

      May 29, 2018

      L O, At that time thye strike was important because you too participated so was like every other persons and institutions, churches, nurses, doctors, policemen, firemen, unions just name it. All benifited including you. That unrest was far from what the UWP and you are doingt now. You ALL are destroying the country because of jealousy and personal gain. You ALL are a bunch of TRAITORS.

  10. Bird eye view
    May 29, 2018

    Thirty-nine (39) years later no significant change on the streets, can still be identified easily. Wow what a country.

    • hmmmm
      May 29, 2018

      roads looked better back then too

  11. Billy Bob
    May 29, 2018

    What is the purpose of this post? Just a basic question, nice history lesson. I’m certain that there has to be better thing inspiring things to write about. Just saying.

    • moi moi
      May 29, 2018

      Are so limited in your understanding and vision? It is persons like you who enjoys keeping the masses in the dark. However – truth must come forth it is addicted to light

      Just responding!

    • Concerned
      May 29, 2018

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”– George Santayana

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