On March 31, 1938, the founding fathers of the Barbados Labour Party met at the home of Mr. James Martineau in Bay Street to form a political movement. At that first meeting, Chrissie Brathwaite was elected Chairman and Grantley Adams, who was out of the island on legal business, Vice-Chairman. Those present were C.A. Brathwaite, J. A. Martineau, Dr. H. G. Cummins, Dr. Philip Payne, W. A. Crawford, C. Edwy Talma and Hope Stevens, a Kittitian living in New York City.
This historic movement, begun on March 31, 1938, emerged from the disturbances of 1937 and brought about a powerful and peaceful revolution in Barbados. At its inaugural meeting the Party set itself the objective of providing political expression for Barbadians, enabling them to participate in the democratic process.
In addition, the founding fathers pledged to improve industrial relations, provide leadership for the working class and co-operate with similar organisations in the Caribbean. It was a period of appalling conditions. Wages were low, there were very few economic opportunities and there was no legislation to safeguard the rights of workers. Moreover, only a very small percentage of the population had the right to vote and there was an income qualification before a person could exercise that right.
It was from these circumstances that the Barbados Labour Party in 1938, and in 1941, the Barbados Workers’ Union evolved. The Barbados Labour Party, then known as the Barbados Progressive League, was formally launched in October 1938 and Grantley Herbert Adams who had become its Leader, inspired and led the Party for more than three decades. In Edwy Talma’s words, the ‘real leader became the titular leader’. Sir Grantley, the centenary of whose birthday fell on April 28, 1998, along with his early colleagues fought for better social and economic conditions for the working class and enacted important pieces of legislation. These included the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the Wages Board Act and the Labour Department Act. But the most significant piece of legislation was the Representation of the People Act in 1950 which gave all adult Barbadians the right to vote. Among many improvements was the development of roads and housing.
The Barbados Labour Party also reformed the island’s education system, established Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, provided greater educational opportunities and started the process of free secondary education with the building of modern secondary schools. Other early founders were Mencea Cox, (Sir Mencea), Graham Gittens, Ronald Mapp (Sir Ronald), Orlando “Orrie Bryan”, Hugh Springer (Sir Hugh), Frederick Miller, D. D. Garner, Edna Ermyntrude Bourne (Dame Edna), Victor Vaughan, J. T. C. Ramsay, Frank Walcott (Sir Frank) and Hugh Blackman. The objectives of these early architects were social justice, adult suffrage, free education, better housing and health. In 1940 the BLP faced its first elections. Its first MPs were Sir Grantley, Dr. Cummins, Mr. A. Graham Gittens and Mr. Victor Vaughan. In 1948 it won a majority of two in The House of Assembly.
The Bushe experiment in 1946 by which four members of the House would be elected to the Executive was the forerunner of modern constitutional procedure in Barbados. Grantley Adams and Hugh Springer from the BLP and Hugh Blackman and Wynter Crawford from the Congress Party were appointed members of the Executive Committee. In the 1951 elections, adult suffrage having been introduced the previous year, The Barbados Labour Party won fifteen of the seventeen seats which it contested, at the same time making history by returning Edna Bourne (now Dame Edna) as the first female candidate to enter the House of Assembly, and Grantley Adams, Dr. Hugh Cummins, Mencea Cox and Frank Walcott were appointed members of the Executive Committee.
In 1954, Grantley Adams, the father of democracy in Barbados became the first Premier of Barbados. In 1958 The Barbados Labour Party won four of the five seats in the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament. The candidates were Sir Grantley, Deighton Ward (Sir Deighton), Victor Vaughan and Gilmore Rocheford. In addition, Sir Archibald Cuke and Dr. A. S. Cato (Sir Arnott) were appointed to represent Barbados in the Senate. On Sir Grantley’s becoming Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation, Dr. Hugh Gordon Cummins succeeded him as the second Premier of Barbados. The West Indies Federation was dissolved on May 31, 1962 and Sir Grantley returned to Barbados on June 3. In 1976 the Rt. Hon. J. M. G. M. “Tom” Adams became Prime Minister holding office for nine years. On his death in 1985, he was succeeded by Bernard St. John (later Sir Harold).
In 1994 the Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur became Prime Minister and demonstrated superb leadership and excellent economic management. The Barbados Labour Party has good reason to be proud of its leaders and their records through the passing of significant social legislation, brilliant economic management, fine infra-structure, improvement of the status of women and its current plans for the alleviation of poverty.
Our current leader is Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, Q.C. who will continue to improve on the legacy of good governance, the empowerment of people and prudent financial management which have been the hallmarks of BLP Governments since its inception. The Barbados Labour Party also owes a great debt to all its supporters who throughout the years have staunchly adhered to its philosophy and upheld its ideals.