Last week, The Observer’s Editorial column shared with the reading public the sentiments of the Nyabinghi Movement regarding the Labour Party of St. Kitts and Nevis. According to the Nyabinghi the Labour Party is an elitist institution which has lost its commitment to the poor and underprivileged.
When I read that statement by Nyabinghi I felt a kindred emotion, for at last I had gotten somebody else to join me in voicing the same sentiment.
Over the past couple of years, I began to write about the Labour Party, suggesting that this organization is slowly suffering from the erosion of the first principles on which it was founded.
When the Labour Party was founded in 1932 by the late Thomas Manchester, Edgar Challenger and their associates, there could be no misunderstanding about its purpose and the clients which it was founded to represent.
Although Manchester and Challenger were coloured and fairly well off and Sebastian and Nathan were black men with Middle class exposure, there was absolutely no question about the fact that they represented the poor and downtrodden, the helpless and defenseless.
When the Labour Party began, its philosophy was the alleviation of poverty and its target audience was the poor. The major objective was to relieve the poor of hardships and to find ways to raise their standard of living.
Small farming was aggressively pursued and cooperative practices were promoted among the poor low income earners, street vending was encouraged and cottage industries flourished.
As the champion of the working class, the Labour Party has scored many significant successes, raising the sights of many our citizens to dizzy heights. Under the leadership of the Labour Party, many a product from the grassroots has risen to great heights in the field of politics education, banking, insurance, engineering, medicine, law and agriculture. They have become top policemen, soldiers leaders in business and commerce, and some serve with distinction in foreign countries in leadership capacities.
Ironically this dramatic success story which began with the Labour Party and continued in some measure by the other parties, has seemed to lead the present Labour Party to the wrong conclusions as to where its obligations lie.
Recently however there have been complaints that the Labour Party seems to be drifting into becoming party of the Middle Class and some of the poor people who have always identified with the Labour Party find it difficult to tell the difference between that and the other political party in St. Kitts.
Perhaps I should describe what I call “complaints” as “murmurings” because many of the people who voice their misgiving about the direction which their party is heading are not able to freely articulate how they feel.
They are able only on occasions to express the pain they feel and when some of them meet me they would drop a cautions word, wait till I reply and then enter into a litany of grievances which they have with the way their party is administered.
These are not supporters of the Peoples Action Movement, they are not activists hoping and praying that Labour will lose; these are supporters of the Labour Party, firm believers in the party’s basic philosophy. They have an emotional attachment to the Party, they want their party to survive, but they are apprehensive that the trend that the Party is taking will cause it to lose the next elections.
These people may have found someone to represent their fears and concerns. At the last Labour Party Conference held on Sunday 16 May, Dwyer Astaphan, Minister of National Security, representative of Constituency 2, voiced the fears and apprehensions of many of the rank and file of the Party.
In his presentation Mr. Astaphan, in a refreshing gesture of introspection, charged the Labour Party with leaving undone those things which ought to have been done and doing things which ought not to have been done.
I don’t know if Mr. Astaphan was aware that the line which follows in this penitential prayer is “There is no health in us”. If he was indeed aware perhaps it was the bad health of his party which prompted him to issue this Red Alert to the danger which is approaching the Labour Party.
The delegates at the Conference must have been acutely aware of the relevance and logic of Mr. Astaphan’s comments, because many of them applauded as he reinforced his remarks with examples.
Mr. Astaphan’s remarks may have been made at an opportune moment in the affairs of his party which has two more years in office before the next General Elections. Taken in the right spirit and acted upon positively, the Party can take the steps necessary to cleanse itself and redeem itself in the eyes of its supporters.
Alternatively, the Party leadership might ride its high horse, tell Astaphan and his applauders, tell me and my grumblers that everybody is talking s#@t, and that there is really nothing wrong with the Party.
It has happened before. The Labour Party once rode on its high horse. A new port was being constructed; the streets of Basseterre were being reconstructed. Employment was reasonably high. But the leaders were out of sync with their supporters.
The supporters felt abused, insulted and sidelined. The result was inevitable and the Labour Party went into the Wilderness for 15years.
The real victims of this fiasco were not the leaders whose arrogance had brought this impasse on their party. The real victims were the poor supporters who were left to groan under the Middle and Upper Class Rule of the Peoples Action Movement.