When the Peoples Action Movement (PAM) emerged in the mid-1960s the people of St Kitts shrugged it off as just another mushroom opposition party, rise today, fall tomorrow. That seemed to have been the pattern in those days about 50 years ago. A group of citizens would take offence at some statement or act of Robert Bradshaw, and rallying some fellow citizens around them, would prepare feverishly for the forthcoming general elections. They would campaign, lose and disappear into the darkness. That was how it seemed but that was not really how it was. The truth was that all these apparently sporadic mushrooms of political parties were orchestrated By one man, William Valentine Herbert Sr who was driven By a passion for democracy as well as By the conviction that it would never be realized in our situation where the political arena was the sole domain of a single popular and charismatic leader, Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw. Herbert and Bradshaw knew each other well. They were both villagers. Herbert was a Sandy Pointer while Bradshaw was a St Paulian. They had come to town early in their lives and had become involved with a group of young black men who had caught the vision black empowerment through education and social refinement. They were a new breed of Kittitian black men. At the beginning of the 19 hundreds Kittitian black men were mainly preoccupied with working on the sugar estates or at the docks. That situation changed radically after 1912 when the central sugar factory was installed in Basseterre. Many of the young men who had migrated to Basseterre found jobs at the sugar factory either as clerical workers or technicians in one of the many departments of the factory complex. Many of these uprising black men formed mutual bonds through church membership, cricket clubs, and lodges and membership of one of many fraternities which had sprung up in Basseterre in after the end of World War 1. Herbert joined the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Eagles Club of young graduates from the St Kitts Nevis Grammar School. Bradshaw joined the Workers League and became e young trade unionist. Both men worked at the sugar factory, Herbert in an office, Bradshaw in the machine shop. These two men might well have been rival siblings, both imbued By the same spirit of ambition but both in its pursuit By different and opposing paths While Herbert honed his social skills in the environment of the sugar factory office, Bradshaw paraded his gifts among the rough laboring class. In 1948 Robert Bradshaw led his trade union into a protracted 13-week strike in the sugar industry.The repercussions for the economy was enormous. The workers suffered immensely while their leader gained enormous fame. William Herbert, who had sided with the sugar industry and had emerged from the dispute as a hero of the planters, was appointed to the post of Labour Relations Officer. William Herbert was skillful in the discharge of his mandate as Labour Relations Officer He did his utmost to enhance the social outlook of the sugar workers throughout the island. He got the industry to invest in cricket gear and promoted cricket matches among the estates and the sugar factory. He also tried to improve their night life By acquiring a cinema projector and entertaining the villagers in the age before televisions and computers. His objective was of course to offer the villagers an alternative to Robert Bradshaw’s union. When he felt that he had in some measure succeeded he began in earnest the pursuit of his dream of democracy. He decided to form a political party. He invited one of his friends, Captain Jack Wigley, to lead it. Jack Wigley was a son of the white aristocracy of St Kitts. His family were land owners and his grand father was a Chief Justice of the Leeward Islands Supreme Court. What made him an acceptable prospect to his friend Herbert was that as a boy he and his two brothers Frank and Christopher (Kit)had grown up on the fringe of New Town where they developed lifelong friendships with many of the Black families of neighborhood of fishermen, farmers, rumshop keepers, stevedore workers and sugar workers. In addition, he was a popular cricketer, a captain who bowled well, thrilled the spectators with powerful sixes and led St Kitts to victory over Antigua. Herbert’s other choices for the election were James Claxton, Basil Samuels, Allan Sommersal the respectable joiner of Sandy Point and Icen Wharton, manager of the Spooner’s Sweet Oil Factory James Claxton was one of the black uprisers. He had worked as a Lawyers clerk and then branched into his own auctioneering and real estate business He married Jack Wigley’s sister and raised his large respectable family at the top of College Street. He was a successful and considered By many as a good role model of black success He crowned his many achievements By his total involvement in social and recreational activities such as boxing and cricket . It was an exciting campaign which the challengers of Robert Bradshaw predictably lost they did not return to the fight. Jack Wigley went on with his business at Delisle Walwyn, Claxton continued his auctioneering and all the rest of them quietly resumed what they were doing before they join in the challenge of Robert Bradshaw. Only Herbert remained standing Undaunted, he persisted with the newspaper,”The Democrat” and every week he inspired the people with the hope of democracy. He kept a steady eye open for the next chance to challenge Bradshaw at the polls. The chance came in 1960 when from behind the scenes he encouraged his friend Maurice Davis, a brilliant lawyer who had defected from Bradshaw to form a party of his own. Davis who had won election with Robert Bradshaw entered the fray with more confidence and greater optimism than the aristocratic Jack Wigley. His team was only slightly less high browed. It included John Vanier, Joseph Astaphan, Clear Tweed and Cardinal Christmas and ex-teacher Liburd. They also loss because the voters perceive them to be agents of big business and the sugar industry and even Mr. Davis who had once run under the Labour banner did not win a seat. William Herbert was learning his lessons, he was learning that to beat Robert Bradshaw and the Labour Party, any opposition must develop a rapport with grassroots people. It took a long time but he persisted until he could persuade his own son to continue his strategy of rapping at the grass roots level. When the People’s Action Movement started they tried that strategy in St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. It took them a while but the movement snowballed until in 1980 the Peoples Actions Movement in coalition with the victorious party in Nevis won an election in St. Kitts. They won three (3) other elections and became complacent, failed to continue in the strategy of their original motivator, relaxed their guard and lost the election of 1995 . The phenomenon of a party which once held power reduced to a 40% trailer in the polls is due to the fact that all through its existence its leaders refuse to campaigned in the are Newton Ground to Saddlers. This is what is known as a Labour stronghold and it is baffling that over these many years the People’s Action Movement has not found a way to cultivate this large area and groom it’s generations of young people in the philosophy of an alternative party. The repeated outcomes of this serious neglect is that the present holder of that seat, freed from any challenge to his survival, is able to distribute his surplus votes to other constituencies where the PAM might have had a marginal edge. This is the real crux of the continuous defeat of the People Action Movement which has consistently failed to rise to the promise of an alternative government. The gallant and painstaking ground work selflessly laid By William Valentine Herbert, Senior, has been left unfinished.
- 8 years ago
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