Letters & Opinion

Much ado about ‘Independent Labour’

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Independent candidates have participated in most Saint Lucia elections since the British allowed the majority of Saint Lucians to qualify — like the colonial and land-owning minority — to vote in 1951, through ‘Universal Adult Suffrage’.

But the ‘Right to Vote’ didn’t just come because Queen Elizabeth or Governors and colonial administrations woke-up one morning in 1951 and suddenly felt sorry for disenfranchised islanders.

Instead, it was a quick response to the 1938 Revolutions by the Black Majority working class people in the British West Indian colonies, who’d downed their tools and withdrawn their labour — from Jamaica in the north to Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago in the south — shutting-down the islands and territories in a massive regional protest that truly frightened the colonial overlords and caused nightmares for the British government.

Those were the regional protests against British colonialism that Saint Lucia’s W. Arthur Lewis interrupted his teachings as the youngest Black lecturer on the London university circuit (aged 24) to personally observe and catalogue, resulting in his seminal work Labor in the West Indies (1939) that has remained his first and foremost literary classic.

The Right to Vote in 1951 was also preceded by formation of political parties by the trade unions that organized the strikes, including the Saint Lucia Workers Union and the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Union, which formed the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) in 1950.

The parties would then combine to form the West Indies Labour Party, which coordinated the actions regionally.

The first Saint Lucia General Elections took place on October 12, 1951 for eight seats in the Legislative Council: Central Castries, North Castries, South Castries, Anse la Raye/Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul, Laborie/Vieux Fort and Dennery/Micoud.

Twenty-two candidates represented the two major parties — the SLP and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) each presented six candidates, but there were ten Independents.

The SLP won four of the eight seats (the Castries three and Dennery-Micoud) and the PPP only one (Laborie-Vieux Fort).

But the three successful independent candidates won the West Coast seats (Anse la Raye/Canaries, Soufriere and Choiseul)

Interestingly, Independent candidates scored high: the SLP won with 6,799 or 43.26% of the vote, while the PPP got 3,645 (23.19%), but the three independents together polled 5,345 votes or 33.55% of the total.

The SLP would go on to win the four following elections (1954, 1957 and 1961) — actually winning nine of the ten seats in 1961, virtually washing-out the PPP as a viable opposition party, having failed to win five consecutive general elections.

In 1964, the new United Workers Party (UWP) — formed through an alliance between the PPP and the NLM (‘New Labour’ at the time) under the leadership of John Compton — went on to win six of the ten seats.

The six would also be joined (after the election) by the two Bousquet brothers, Allan and J.M.D., who had contested as independents.

The Bousquet Brothers had both ran separately as independents between 1954 and 1964. Allan Bousquet held on to the Castries Northwest/Gros Islet seat (now Castries North), while JMD won in Choiseul.

Because the brothers (like Compton and the others who formed the UWP) had earlier SLP connections, they were described in 1964 by the new UWP as ‘Independent Labour’, claiming they deserted the SLP because of ‘problems with the party’ and/or its working-class leader, George Charles.

But at no time ever did the Electoral Office register the Bousquet Brothers (or any other independent) as ‘Independent Labour’.

After the SLP’s sound defeat in 1964, George Charles contested in 1969 as an independent – and also described himself as ‘Independent Labour…’

The 1969 General Elections — the first since St. Lucia became an Associated State in 1967 –were held on 25 April 1969 for the new 10-seat parliament, the Legislative Council replaced by a House of Assembly, the Administrator designated Governor and the Chief Minister became Premier.

Twenty-one candidates contested:  The SLP (under Kenneth Foster) presented nine, while the UWP (under Compton) presented ten – and there were two candidates presented by the breakaway SLP-United Front (SLP-UF) led by George Charles.

Voter turnout was 53.2% and the result was a victory for the UWP, which won six of the ten seats, cutting its majority by two.  The SLP won three the UF won one seat – George Charles in South Castries.

The Bousquet brothers contested – for the first time – on a UWP ticket and won both seats (Castries Northwest-Gros Islet and Choiseul).

But even though he described himself as ‘Independent Labour’, no independent candidates contested that election (as the UF candidates — Charles and Reynolds — contested as two members of a breakaway branch of the SLP).

The phrase ‘Independent Labour’ would therefore in 2021 have applied to Dr Alphonsus St. Rose before he suspended his campaigning for Choiseul-Saltibus — just like Marvin Charles in Micoud North and Stephenson King would qualify for description as ‘Independent UWPs’ or ‘Independent Flambeaus’.

Richard Frederick, who has won elections as an Independent and as a UWP candidate, describes himself as an ‘Independent Labour’, but that’s more for sending a colourful signal of where he’s leaning politically and less because he has any expressed problems with ‘Labour’.

However, Frederick, King and Charles, et al, were all registered yesterday as ‘Independent’ candidates, since no other sub-category exists in the Elections Act.

But it’s also Crystal-clear that Frederick wants to send a Fire-Engine-Red message to voters in Castries Central, while King will also need more than just Blue Umbrella votes in Castries North.

Interestingly, King and Frederick are both former UWP Cabinet Ministers (between 2006 and 2016), but both are this week plowing for Labour voters’ support for their respective public positions against UWP leader Allan Chastanet, whose removal from office is their common denominator.

Indeed, the two find themselves each fishing with hook, line and sinker, baiting both UWP and SLP voters to swim well-enough for victory on July 26, whether considered ‘Independent Labour’ or ‘Independent UWP’.

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