BASSETERRE – The grandson of a cane cutter, now serving his first term as a Member of Parliament in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly says the legacy of the Labour Movement has been one of struggle and progress.
The Hon. Konris Maynard, who was elected to represent St. Christopher 3 (West Basseterre) in this year’s Federal Elections was at the time delivering the keynote address during the annual Requiem Mass at the St. Paul’s Anglican Church attended by Leader of the Opposition and National Political Leader of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas.
Also in attendance were former Governor General Sir Edmund Lawrence, Chairperson of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party and Member of Parliament for St. Christopher 2 (Central Basseterre), the Hon. Marcella Liburd.
Mr. Maynard began his address by tracing the struggles of the majority from Emancipation to the First World War and the establishment of the St. Kitts Universal Benevolent Association.
“This, on the surface at least, had the appearance of a friendly society as opposed to one of militancy. The UBA pushed for the repeal of the Masters and Servants Act, they pushed for higher wages, they pushed to organize workers, and to negotiate on behave of workers with their employers. Their efforts however were often thwarted as they had no legal right to represent workers. As the Government continued to place obstacles in its way, the UBA would eventually lose its significance. With no real voice of the people, with the Great Depression spreading across the world from the late 1920s into the 1930s, working conditions for the MAJORITY worsened and series poverty became common place.
The struggle continues but here comes Labour!”
He continued: “The coloured middle class had traditionally supported the Government. However, they started becoming unhappy with how the Government was treating the working class resulting in the workers becoming unable to patronize their establishments. They decided that it was time for a more dynamic workers organization and in 1932 the coloured middle class formed the St. Kitts Workers League and adopted the motto “For the Good that We can Do”. This was a truly genuine effort to represent the working class, the Majority.”
“The Workers League had some clear objectives such as ending Crown Colony rule, introducing worker’s compensation and land reform legislation. However, it declared that it would achieve these goals by legal and constitutional means. The Worker’s league along with the UBA continued to strongly encourage the workers to take up their grievances with their respective organizations who could represent on their behalf. Despite this civil approach, due to the increasing economic, political, and industrial crisis brewing in St. Kitts, there was about to be an eruption. Something Big was about to happen. Something transformative was about to happen, because, if there is no struggle, there will be no progress,” Mr. Maynard said.
He pointed out: “In January of 1932, word had spread that the estate workers on the Wade Plantation were getting a wage increase. Consequently, the cane cutters of Buckleys Estate demanded from the estate manager a return to the cane cutting rates of pre-1932 of 1 shilling per ton, 1 small shilling per ton. This demand was denied and they were instructed to go back to work. Big mistake! The unhappy cane cutters met in an open field and decided that they would go on strike. They went to nearby estates to get support and eventually sort support from around the entire island. The Buckley’s Estate Manager attempted to hire strikebreakers. Word got around that reaping of the crop had been restarted by the strike breakers and so all marching protesters headed back to Buckley’s Estate wielding long sticks and pieces of iron piping. The Estate Manager, one Mr. Dorbridge confronted the protesters and opened gun fire injuring 4 protesters. A riot broke out. After the involvement of the Defence Force and Police, three (3) men lost their lives, Joseph Samuel, John Allen, and James Archibald, while nine (9) others were injured.”
“This struggle led to progress and progress for the masses, the Majority.
The uprising at Buckleys provided the necessary basis for unionism and for what would amount to the successful development of organized Labour in St. Kitts.
The Worker’s League was bent on representing the masses, the Majority. They pressured for constitutional reform. They pressured for an elective Legislative Council even though at the time the majority of the working class could not even qualify to vote. In 1937, the Worker’s League contested two seats in the General Election and Thomas Manchester and Edgar Challenger won their seats handily. There was no turning back. From hence onward, the Worker’s League, The St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union, and the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party were at the forefront of all progressive developments for the majority of the people in our beloved nation. This is why it is more than apt to say that Labour’s Legacy, finds solidarity with the Majority. It has always been and will continue to be about the masses, the majority of the people.
There was a struggle and there was progress.
When there was need for a strong union, the Labour Movement was there with the majority. When there was further need for strikes and demands for better wages and better working conditions, it was Labour who was there for the Majority. When there was need for the working class to unite so that strike actions could be more effective, it was the arms of Labour who stood for the Majority. As the Union leadership evolved ushering out the leadership by the colored middle class and ushering in the more militant leadership by the working class, the new joint leadership of Sir Robert Bradshaw and Sir Joseph Nathaniel France became more militant and confrontational toward both the employers and the administration with the main focus on reform of the workplace and as vanguard of the emerging Labour Movement. They understood that there must be a struggle to achieve progress and they represented what the Majority felt.
When there was need for nationalization of the Sugar factory, it was Labour who was there for the majority. When it became clear after the 1948 strike that confrontation may not be reaping the intended benefits, the Labour Movement turned its attention to Political Activity and Power to achieve the goal of an equal voice for workers in the workplace. Our great comrade and first National Hero, Sir Robert L Bradshaw, believed that it was only through political power that there would be a complete overhaul of the Sugar Industry and the country’s economy. He would need the support of the majority and he would get it.”
“When the majority of citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis wanted universal adult suffrage and wanted to have a say in how the Country was governed it was the Labour Movement that found solidarity with the Majority. When the Governor in the early 1950s agreed to an elected majority in the Legislative Council but did not approve the introduction of Ministerial government, it was the Labour movement that was able to get 20,000 people out on the streets in demonstration.
It was Labour who commanded the support of the majority as the Country achieved Associated Statehood in 1967.
It was Labour under Bradshaw who told the British to save the funds it had for the country and invest it until he was ready for it to build a new runway that can accommodate large aircrafts. In the meantime, he asked the majority to tighten their belts with him so that the goals of development could be achieved.
It was in the interest of the majority by the Labour Movement why the Social Security Act was passed in 1977. It was Labour, with the support of the Majority that directed our country on a path towards self-governance through independence in the 1970s. In fact, in 1975, independence was part of the Labour Party’s manifesto. The party went on to have another landslide victory.
The political, economic and social advancements on behalf of the Majority, by the Labour movement pre-independence are plentiful. In 1949 we saw the creation of the Central Housing Authority to improve the housing stock. In the sixties and seventies, the Government focused on revamping the Education system including building fourteen new primary and infant schools between 1968 and 1979. During that same time, six secondary schools were opened, expanded, or amalgamated. Evening institutes were established and in 1969, a teachers Training College was established. In 1971 the Technical College was launched and in 1978 nationals could attend the first year of UWI at the University Centre.”
“The Majority Labour Government saw then the need for ordinary citizens to have access to loans to start businesses. So, although private investors were unwilling to support the new local bank (now today known as the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank), the Government lent its support. Today it is the largest and most successful indigenous Bank in the Eastern Caribbean wholly owned by the Majority,” he concluded.