by David Comissiong
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
During the short three and a half years of Prime Minister Mottley’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) government, the Administration racked up such impressive achievements as the :-
• reinstatement of free University education;
• establishment of a National Minimum Wage;
• re-establishing of an effective partnership with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU);
• securing of a seat in the House of Assembly for the General Secretary of the BWU;
• provision of high quality mobile toilet and lunch room facilities for agricultural workers;
• transformation of Barbados into a Republic;
• increase in Non-Contributory Old Age pensions by some 40 per cent;
• establishment of Embassies in Africa – in Ghana and Kenya;
• preservation of the jobs of thousands of tourism workers through the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) plan; and
• development of Golden Square into a beautiful awe inspiring two acre Golden Square Freedom Park.
Not only are these achievements notable in their own right, but – collectively – they bear a tremendous historical significance in that they constitute a decisive rededication of the BLP to its original ethos of Labourism, black and working-class enfranchisement, social democracy, modernization and Pan-Africanism.
And I have absolutely no doubt that this decisive rededication of the BLP to its roots – to the various interlocking “ideological schools” that went into the making of this remarkable institution way back in the year 1938, did not happen by chance. Rather, it was – and is- the meticulously crafted handiwork of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
Note, for example, the great sense of pride and satisfaction that Prime Minister Mottley evinced when she reflected on the historical significance of Ms. Toni Moore – General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and MP for the constituency of St. George North – standing on the stage at BLP Headquarters as one of a team of BLP Parliamentarians.
Note also, the roar of approval that came from the mass of BLP supporters assembled at Bay Street on the night before the Elections, when Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson declared that there is a place of respect and honour for the legacy of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow in the “house that Sir Grantley Adams built”. No doubt, Ambassador Thompson is only too well aware that the Right Excellent Errol Barrow actually started his political career in 1950 as a member of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), and that he served as a BLP Member of Parliament from 1951 to 1955, before leaving the BLP and establishing the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
But if we are to properly understand this holistic and enduring link between such entities as the BWU, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, and Pan-Africanists like myself with the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), we have to go back and examine the founding of the BLP in 1938.
You see, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was a product of the labour rebellions that rocked the British colonies of the Caribbean in the 1930’s – Belize (1934), St. Kitts (1935), St. Vincent (1935), St. Lucia (1935), Trinidad (1937), Barbados (1937), Jamaica (1938) and Guyana (1939).
The events in the Caribbean were being closely monitored by a group of highly conscious political activists of Caribbean origin who were resident in New York City, and after the horrific assault on the black mass of the Barbadian population in 1937 – leaving 14 dead, 44 wounded and 453 arrested – Reginald Pierrepointe, a Barbados born crusading journalist who was employed with the leading African-American newspaper of the day, promptly organised the West Indies Defense Committee to solicit relief aid for the victims of the brutal colonial establishment crack-down.
Other leading members of the New York-based West Indies Defense Committee were Richard B. Moore, the outstanding Barbados born socialist, Pan-Africanist and black liberation activist, and Hope R. Stevens, a St. Kitts-born lawyer imbued with strong socialist, anti-colonialist and blackliberationist sensibilities.
It was these men – outstanding representatives of the interlinked progressive ideologies of Democratic Socialism, Pan-Africanism, Caribbean nationalism and Black liberation – who conceived of the need of a political party to be established in Barbados to take forward the liberation struggle of the masses in an organised and focused manner.
It is against this background therefore that the West Indies Defense Committee sent the young Hope Stevens to Barbados in March 1938 with instructions to make contact with Wynter Crawford, editor of the progressive socialist-oriented Barbados Observer newspaper.
Hope Stevens subsequently described his historic visit to Barbados as follows:- “On a bright and cloudless morning in the spring of 1938, I looked at Barbados for the first time from the deck of a Canadian National Steamship tourist liner … Reginald Pierrepoint had sent me to Wynter A. Crawford, editor of ı. . . Our day was spent in discussing the way in which the disturbances in the island had developed, their aftermath and the inquiry made by the Moyne Commission.
“In the course of the afternoon we were joined by Edwy Talma, a young solicitor. It was agreed that a discussion of suggestions for some kind of political action would be resumed when I came back on the return trip from British Guiana and Trinidad two weeks later.
“And so it was that on the evening of the return of my ship to Bridgetown a group of eight of us gathered around a large table in the dining room of a local soda water manufacturer named martineau, and I was introduced as the representative of the Caribbean Community in New York . . . Those present were Mr. Martineau, Wynter A. Crawford, Edwy Talma, Dr. Philip Payne, John Beckles, Christopher Brathwaite and Dr. Hugh Cummins, the last two then being members of the legislature.
“During the course of this meeting it was made clear that no permanent political organisation had been achieved following the recent upheavals.
However, it was patent that a political climate had developed in the island and everyone agreed that the time was ripe for action aimed at crystalising the widespread interest in the social and economic problems of the people.
“Having informed the group of the desire of the islanders in the United States to see leadership arise in the islands behind which the American residents could rally, I proposed that a political party be formed by the seven persons present. I was asked to chair the meeting. By 2:00 a.m., we had written the constitution of the Barbados Labour Party and elected its officers, the Hon. Christopher Brathwaite being made first President.
“The organisers wanted to have as the first Vice President a young lawyer . . . and Grantley Herbert Adams was elected in absentia to that office.”
It should be noted that by March 1938, Grantley Adams had emerged as the leader of the Progressive Movement in Barbados, and was committed to a democratic socialist solution to the predicament of the masses of the Barbadian people.
This had not always been the case. In the earliest phase of his public career, Grantley Adams had been an advocate of the political ideology of “Liberalism”, and had been a thorn in the side of such progressive leaders as Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal and Clennel Wickham. However, in the year 1934 Adams made a crucial decision to break ranks with the conservative politics of the coloured professional class of which he was a distinguished member, and to join up with the then fledgling Progressive Movement.
This caused Adams to be viewed and treated as a traitor to his class, but it earned him the praise and commendation of labour leaders like the Right Excellent Clement Payne, whom Adams represented as a lawyer. Indeed, during Payne’s speech to a massive crowd at Golden Square on 21st July 1937, he declared as follows:- “Mr. G. H. Adams and T. E. Brancker are helping you well. I hope to hear at election time that Mr. G. H. Adams gets an overwhelming majority of votes over his opponent.”
And so, it is not surprising that even though Adams was out of the island and was therefore not present at the meeting which conceived the Barbados Labour Party (also known as the Barbados Progressive League in its early days), that all of those present were keen to draft in Adams and to assign him the role of first Vice-President.
It is important to take note of the political origins and ideologies of the eight men who founded the Barbados Labour Party.
Chrissy Brathwaite, J A Martineau and Dr Hugh Cummins, for example, were all veteran “political men” who had been supporters of Dr Charles Duncan O’Neal and key leaders of O’Neal’s defunct Democratic League and Workingmen’s Association, while John Beckles was one of the major organizers of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Barbados.
All of the founder members of the BLP were therefore men whose political souls carried the imprints of Marcus Garvey and his black liberation ideology; of Duncan O’Neal and his Fabian-inspired Democratic Socialism; and of the deep-seated anti-colonialism and Caribbean nationalism that inspired Richard B. Moore and Reginald Pierrepointe.
And just to emphasise the point :- Brathwaite, Cummins and Martineau would have brought with them to the BLP such O’Neal policies as the abolition of child labour, compulsory education, minimum state guaranteed social welfare standards, universal adult suffrage, and working class organisation in pursuit of economic advancement.
And so, it was to be expected that in the aims and objectives that these men drafted for the BLP at that historic 31st March 1938 meeting would be included the intention “to provide expression for the law-abiding inhabitants of this island, enabling them to participate in the development of democratic institutions, promote the social and economic improvement of its people and … to stimulate on the part of the people an intelligent outlook on social, economic and political problems …”
Additionally, with Hope Stevens playing a leading role in forging the new organization, it is not surprising that the BLP’s original Constitution was imbued with a deep commitment to West Indian regionalism, as expressed in the party’s aim “to endeavour to promote and cooperate with the formation of similar organizations in all parts of the British West Indies.”
The fundamental point I am making is that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was established as the new “home” in Barbados of the inter-linked political philosophies of Democratic Socialism, anti-colonialism, labourism, Caribbean regionalism, Pan-Africanism and nationalist modernisation.
Furthermore, from the very outset, the Barbados Labour Party/ Barbados Progressive League developed the profoundly wise notion that the progressive struggle in Barbados had to be conducted on both the political front and the economic front simultaneously, with a political party and a trade union working together, hand in hand. Hence, the establishment in 1941 of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) as an affiliated “sister” organisation of the BLP.
Indeed, the top leadership of the two affiliated organisations was entrusted to the two early “giants” of the BLP, with Grantley Adams serving as President of both the BLP and the BWU simultaneously, and Hugh Springer also serving as General Secretary of both organisations simultaneously.
It was therefore the BLP/BWU juggernaut that – during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s – worked as a unit to dismantle the egregious racist and feudalist Barbadian society of the day, and to establish in its place a modern democratic welfare state in which the human, civil and social rights of the masses of the Barbadian people were respected and upheld.
Back then, it was taken for granted that the General Secretary of the BWU would be included in any team of BLP candidates contesting General Elections, and would occupy a seat in the House of Assembly. Hence, the presence in the House of Assembly of BWU General Secretaries, Hugh Springer and Frank Walcott, in the 1940s and 1950s.
It was also the norm back then for young or aspiring politicians who subscribed to the political philosophies of Democratic Socialism, anticolonialism, labourism, Caribbean regionalism, Pan-Africanism or nationalist modernisation to join either the BLP or Wynter Crawford’s Congress Party as their political party of choice. And with Crawford’s Congress Party on the wane, it was not surprising therefore that when Errol Walton Barrow – the nephew of Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal – returned to Barbados in 1950, he immediately joined the BLP; contested the 1951 General Elections on the BLP ticket; and won a seat in the House of Assembly as a BLP parliamentarian.
In the subsequent years, Mr. Barrow – a young and impatient nationalist moderniser and anti-colonialist – became impatient with the pace at which Grantley Adams was pursuing these aspects of the BLP agenda, and as a result, in 1955 Barrow felt constrained to leave the BLP and to establish his own political organisation.
And now, some 67 years after Mr Barrow’s departure from the BLP, the claim is being validly made that the imperishable legacy of Errol Walton Barrow has found a place of honour and respect in Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley’s BLP.
Of course, the foundation of this claim is that on Tuesday 13th August 2013, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) – under the leadership of then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart – callously dismantled Mr. Barrow’s great social achievement of free University education. And that Prime Minister Mottley – on the other hand – dutifully rescued Mr Barrow’s legacy and restored free University education on the red letter day of Tuesday 26th June 2018. So in a very real sense, Mr. Barrow – or at least Mr. Barrow’s legacy – has come home to the great man’s initial political home – the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Similarly, the post of General Secretary of the BWU has come back to its original position of strength and influence both in the BLP Parliamentary party and in the House of Assembly! And anyone who doubts the significance of that development need only go and re-read the opening paragraph of this article and its impressive list of historic labour achievements. It is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that, with Ms. Toni Moore MP strategically present in both the BLP Parliamentary party and in the House of Assembly, the original BLP/BWU partnership has been reconstituted and is already doing important work for and on behalf of the Barbadian working class.
And as far as we Pan-Africanists are concerned : well, that record too is absolutely clear and impressive – embassies in Africa; the first Africa/ CARICOM Summit; removal of the Nelson statue; removal of the Queen of England; the new Black History curriculum that is being piloted in our primary and secondary schools; the historic Black Lives Matter parliamentary resolution; the National Vending Act; Golden Square Freedom Park; the impending world class Slave Monument at Newton; and the list goes on.
Thanks, praises and congratulations to Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley for the invaluable work she has done in refurbishing the BLP and making it once again the natural home of the progressive forces of Barbados. Simply put, the BLP has returned to its roots.
David Comissiong is Barbados’ ambassador to Caricom.