When the Labour party began as the Workers’ League the expressed purpose of the movement was the upliftment of the poor people of St. Kitts. There were many poor people in St. Kitts.
They lacked every thing and every comfort. Thomas Manchester, Matthew Sebastan, James Nathan thought that the state at which the people lived was an outrage and dedicated their lives to the goal of empowerment of these people.
One of the things to which they were opposed was the sugar factory, which was owned by an overseas company and managed by their agents. Put quite simply, they were opposed to foreign investment in the sugar industry.
At the time the sugar factory was built there was a great change taking place in the sugar industry on the land, which was owned by absentees.
The abandoned lands fell into the hands of local owners. Though very few of these ambitious locals had sufficient money to buy whole estates, they were smart enough to form syndicates to raise the necessary capital.
This was a positive move since it empowered the middle classes by making them land owners.
Mr. Manchester and Mr. Sebastian, the Labour pioneers, wanted the same privilege for the under class. Neither men had much interest in the absentee-owned sugar factory. They were of course far ahead of their time in their thinking and even among many of their own supporters, it was hard to understand their position. After all, the new sugar factory was providing work for people at all levels.
What Manchester, Sebastian and Nathan wanted for their people was more than just work. What they really wanted was empowerment. They viewed the colonial social policy of providing the natives with work and profiting from their labour as an extension of the system of slavery, which was supposed to have ended in 1834.
As far as they could see a social policy in which the locals worked and the expatriates profited does not lend itself to the empowerment of the local people. In other words, it is still Massa’s Day.
The Buckley’s Riot was the predictable outcome of the policy of perpetuating slavery and it offered Thomas Manchester and Matthew Sebastian of the Workers’ League the opportunity to present before the Moyne Commission a recipe for the empowerment of the St. Kitts underclass by the process of land reform.
The Moyne Commission agreed and out of their recommendations emerged the land settlements at Fahie’s, Harris and Saddlers. Villagers were selected to manage three-acre plots of land to grow fruits and vegetables, for the local market.
This was the basic test as to the ability of ordinary people to employ themselves and raise the standard of living of their families.
At Harris and Saddlers, the land settlement programme was never able to achieve full bloom because the settlers were diverted from planting food to planting sugar cane to feed the greedy mills of the sugar factory.
The sugar industry always stood in the path of progress. While it postured as the bread-giver of the St. Kitts community, it fed upon the vulnerability of the poor who wanted an instant belly-full and could not see the point that Manchester and Sebastian were making that self employment was better than wage-earning.
The principles of these pioneers were not lost on Robert Bradshaw and Joseph France both of whom inherited the mantle from the true pioneers. Bradshaw, who was the more articulate, always made clear his strong commitment to the sugar factory being owned by local investors.
When he was just a trade union leader, his never-ending theme was that the sugar factory should be locally owned and he pursued this conviction relentlessly until just before he died. Although what he got was a mere shell of his noble dream, he had made his point.
Bradshaw represented the true Labour, and when it came to the ownership of land, it was with great reluctance that he allowed any of our land to pass into the hands of strangers. Before he had the personal power to prevent this, he used the Workers’ League Majority in the Legislative Council to protect the land from strangers. He helped to develop the Aliens’ Land Holding Act whereby if a foreign national or institution wanted land, they had to justify their application and wait to have their application investigated.
Bradshaw’s jealous guardian ship of the land made him many enemies at home and abroad but he was adamant because he felt that he was right.
As a True Labour Man, I also feel that Bradshaw’s land policy was right.
The other principle upon which True Labour movement was based was the co-operative. The pioneers of the movement observed the way in which poor black people co-operated with one another at certain very important times. During the planting season, farmers whose lands were adjacent, gave each other a hand with the preparation of the land for the season of planting. At reaping time, it was the same thing, farmers gave one another a hand.
The ordinary folk of town and village co-operated in financial matters, running partner hands for their mutual benefit. They did the same thing with the wooden tenements, which they built.
The cooperative was the way to go for a small developing island. It has had a proven track record all over the world. The Labour pioneers firmly believed that cooperative enterprises financed by ordinary people.
The early pioneers of True Labour dreamed of the day when Co-operatives would arise spontaneously throughout St. Kitts and if there are large endeavours, which require substantial capita, a co-operative would emerge to manage that endeavour.
As a True Labour Man, I also indulged myself in this fantastic dream, which would enable the local ownership of hotels, golf courses, transportation systems and the like.