Who Should Emigrate?

Maltese society was a class-conscious one. The First World War had caused social havoc. Women clamoured for their liberation with equal rights. They had helped to fight the war, they had worked in factories and they had shown that while their men were on the fronts they performed their jobs with equal efficiency. The workers in general were not prepared to integrate themselves into a system where the labouring classes were expected to toil and feel thankful for the little money they were given. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia showed that the clock of history could not be put back.

The ruling classes in Europe dreaded the curse of "Bolshevitis" and kept asking why the victorious Allies did not take effective steps to stamp out that cancerous creed. The unemployed men and women of Europe were suspected of being tinged with the red colour of Communism. The Labour Party in Australia was accused of being under the influence of Marxists who had dared to raise the red flag on the Trades Hall in Brisbane. The revolution in Russia had been hailed by workers throughout Europe.

The case of Lafarre and Galina Rudenko was given great publicity in 1919. These two Bolshevik propagandists had been issued with false Swiss passports in the names of George and Elise Trochet. Their supposed aim was to create a Bolshevist base in Spain. They were also prepared to blow up the Eiffel Tower while the Peace Conference was going on in Versailles.

The upper classes of Malta felt uneasy about the, amount of men in the streets doing nothing. They feared that the unemployed would create disturbances and join the Bolshevist movements. Emigration would not only dispose of unwanted mouths but would also rid the Island of potential trouble makers. In the report of the Emigration Committee published on March 1, 1921, Henry Casolani and joseph Howard were quite explicit as to the types of Maltese they wished to see leaving Malta. Casolani and Howard suggested that Malta would be a better place to live in if people belonging to the following categories would decide to emigrate:

  1. Unskilled and illiterate labourers. These formed the bulk of the Maltese work force. Unemployment was severe among these people. However, in spite of their handicaps, they were reliable workers if only the Emigration Committee could convince some country to take them in. Most of these men had gained useful experience during the war. Some had joined the Salonika Labour Battalions. If only these men could be taught how to read and write, they could be sent as migrants.
  2. The second category of people who could be persuaded to emigrate were those already referred to: the incompetents. Although educated, they were incapable of productive and useful work. They could not be gainfully employed and therefore needed re-education. Unless they went to a technical college, these men would join the others who loiter in the main streets of their towns and villages.
  3. Skilled men who simply could not be used had better seek their fortune abroad. After the Armistice of 1918, the Dockyard, Army and Navy had discharged thousands of these workers. Many of these had already emigrated to Detroit where they worked in car factories and where they made a good name for themselves and for their country. Men who had skills and were able to speak English were wasting their time hoping for a job in Malta which would never materialise.
  4. Port workers were either unemployed or depended for their living on casual work. Shipping had been greatly reduced and Great Britain was planning to reduce the fleet. Facilities for merchant shipping were primitive and rival ports in the Mediterranean had taken for themselves much of the trade that used to be handled in Maltese harbours. Coal bunkering was on the way out as oil was replacing coal and ships were capable of longer voyages without having to make a call at local ports. Hence stevedores, coal heavers and navvies were not in great demand.
  5. Sea-faring men such as stokers and stewards were to be found lying about the quays looking at an empty harbour.
  6. Finally Casolani and Howard mentioned farm hands and agriculturists who had a much better future on the vast spaces in Canada, Australia and the USA than they had on their small and meagre holdings in Malta and Gozo. These had to be trained in modern methods of a mechanised agriculture. Such potential emigrants needed capital and at least a rudimentary education.

These were the six categories of potential migrants as described by the members of the Emigration Committee in March 1921. According to the report of the Committee these people had no future on the Island. They were a burden on the fragile economy of Malta and they also presented an embarrassment to the rest of the community. Unless they emigrated, some of them might become a political hazard and the security of the Island might be put in jeopardy.

Casolani and Howard were of the opinion that the Governor had to take the situation seriously and let the British Government know that Malta was unable to carry the load of unemployment and overpopulation. The Governor was urged to contact leaders of the Dominions to find work for the Maltese. Most of these potential emigrants were capable of hard work. They were able to work on the construction of new roads and on the laying down of new railway lines.

The educated unemployed were considered as possible clients for such jobs as those of linguists and clerks with commercial enterprises within the Empire. Some of them could be employed as teachers in the USA where their knowledge of Maltese, English and Italian could prove useful in a multicultural and multilingual society such as America. Those who knew French and Italian were advised to seek jobs in the Levant.

Skilled Dockyard workers were told that "the whole world is open to this fine body of workers who are the pride of the Island".

Farmers were in demand in all the British Dominions. Maltese farmers were to be taught the skills needed in such regions where conditions of work and climate were very different. Farm workers from Malta had emigrated to Louisiana, California and Texas. There were farmers from Malta and Gozo who were doing very well in Australia, particularly in the State of Queensland. In the north of that State men and women from Malta had settled in appreciable numbers. Some had even bought sugar-cane farms and made a financial success of them. No one can say that the Maltese were not adaptable. After all these emigrants had never cultivated sugar-cane before.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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