LAST Saturday, I got a call from a good friend of mine during which he asked the question – “Who is a political hack?” I offered an alternative phrase and suggested to him that my preference was political ethnicity, as I observed that there are individuals who would defend their ‘party’ even in the midst of abundant evidence contradicting their position.
He retorted that he believes that a political hack is one who stays, defends and supports a party due to financial reasons. His postulation was that the love of money was the route to political hackism. This, I agreed, was a large subset of the political hacks, but I advised that I have also seen evidence of those not driven by greed with a genetic flaw which created political ethnicity.
The conversation shifted to an examination of the political parties and I said to him that in my view there is little philosophical difference between the two major political parties. Despite the moniker of ‘Labour’ and ‘Workers’, none have any formal ties with the Labour Movement. In fact, it is even more intriguing that at one point it was the opinion of many that the epicentre of power of the St. Lucia Labour Party resided in Rodney Bay and not the banana fields of the valleys.
I am a strong believer in drawing from history and thus the conversation sparked my interest to take another look at the birth of the political parties in Saint Lucia, which indeed has a most interesting interface with the history of the Labour Movement. There can be no richer resource than the book, “The History of the Labour Movement in St Lucia 1945–1974”, which was written by George F. L. Charles.
In the preface, the following is found:
“In 1950, he played a central role in the formation of the first political party – The St. Lucia Labour Party. This development was seen as being an important and historic step in furthering the struggle and organizational capacity of the St. Lucian working class. The Labour Party was, from its inception, the political arm of the Labour Movement.”
There is no doubt in the mind of any citizen of Saint Lucia that the St. Lucia Labour Party is now not the political arm of the Labour Movement. Even the trade unions would agree that they view government through the lens of the employer and not with any affinity that existed in the 1950/60s. George F.L. Charles made some startling comments which seem to suggest that he viewed that the divorce happened in 1974.
In the chapter entitled “The Final Chapter”, he begins by recalling the events of 1969. The UWP had swept into power in 1964 and the Labour Party was regrouping to fight the 1969 election. He describes that election as an important turning-point. Kenneth Foster was the Political Leader, having won a controversial election in the Conference in Ti Rocher over George Charles in 1967. In an effort to consolidate Foster’s power base, George Charles was not selected to run the Castries South seat and Foster mysteriously supported John Goddard to run the North Castries seat against Allan Bousquet. The Labour Party lost that 1969 election. During the 1969–1974 term in opposition, Martin Jn. Baptiste, another stalwart of the Labour Movement and the Labour Party, crossed the floor. By 1974, all the ‘old brigade’ of the St. Lucia Labour Party had departed the political scene.
The final words in “The Final Chapter” can only be interpreted as George F. L. Charles telegraphing that the St. Lucia Labour Party’s ties with the Labour Movement ended by 1974. These are the final words:
“There is no doubt that some Governments seek to curb Trade Union activities, especially a Government with no traditional ties with Trade Unionism or those who have merely used Trade Unions for political ends. The continued strength of the working class is a force to be reckoned with when united.
The challenge is whether Trade Union Officials and Leaders are big enough to assess political values and to deal with each separately, to establish as in the Fifties and Sixties, a strong industrial and political arm capable of inspiring Unity in the Trade Union Movement and solidarity among the working class.’’
The decoupling of political parties and trade unions is a given in our political landscape. What George F. L. Charles lamented is now a political reality. In conclusion, the United Workers Party has no traditional ties with Trade Unionism and the traditional ties with Trade Unionism died within the St. Lucia Labour Party in 1974. The deep philosophical differences between the two parties are, in my view, a myth. Political choice is now based on which party is viewed as having the higher probability of good governance, indeed a challenge at times.