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The Quiet Revolution and the man who made it possible

Dear Editor,

 

It has been said that the Father of Labour Sir Randol F. Fawkes was a man who had changed the course of Bahamian history, by his selfless decision to back the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the historic 1967 general elections.  To be sure, Sir Randol was not affiliated with the PLP during the run-up to the general election in 1967.  He was the leader of his own political party, the Labour Party.  Sir Randol had joined the PLP in 1955, or thereabouts at the request of the secretary-general of the party, Cyril Stevenson.  Stevenson asked him to contest a seat in the southern district of New Providence, according to Sir Randol in his memoir, ‘The Faith That Moved the Mountain’.  Sir Randol, along with Cyril Stevenson, Sir Milo Butler, Clarence Bain, Samuel Isaacs and Sir Lynden O. Pindling, were the first members of the PLP to be elected to Parliament. However, the popular Labour Leader eventually left the party a few years later. Sir Randol wanted to change the name of the opposition to the Progressive Labour Party.  He also wanted to become the party’s leader.  None of his ambitions for the PLP were realized, however.

Sir Randol was the founder of the Bahamas Federation of Labour.  According to Sir Randol, all the little craft unions merged for greater solidarity into one big industrial union, the Bahamas Federation of Labour.  Sir Randol’s union along with the PLP and the Taxi-Cab Union all played a pivotal role in the January 1958 General Strike. The general strike was to last for 16 days.  Bay Street-owned tour companies were given the exclusive right to transport tourists to and from the hotels.  Obviously, this move, if allowed to go unchallenged, would have destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of black Bahamian independent taxi drivers. The strike had its intended outcome. The white minority government passed the Trade Union and Industrial Conciliation Act in July of 1958, almost five months after the strike. The Department of Labour was also established.  Sir Randol obviously desired to improve the economic and social conditions of Bahamians.  It has been said that Labour Day was established as a national holiday in order to commemorate the 1942 Burma Road Riot.  Whereas the riots of 1942 were marked by violence, the 1958 General Strike was a peaceful, non-violent revolution of the labor laws of this country.

During the 60s leading up to January 1967, the standard of living throughout the colony of The Bahamas was atrocious. In fact, poverty in the Out Islands was more acute than in New Providence.  The plight of poor black Bahamians was not the main concern of the white oligarchy, however.  In December of 1966, a sudden unofficial strike erupted in New Providence, according to Sir Randol.  Bahamian workers demanded more money.  Hundreds of workers joined in the strike.  It is obvious to all objective historians that most Bahamian workers were being paid chicken feed wages.  The United Bahamian Party (UBP) was clearly a tarnished regime.  This was the hue and cry of Sir Randol Fawkes and the Official Opposition, the PLP.  The then Governor of The Bahamas Sir Ralph Grey was summoned to England to give an account of his stewardship and to report firsthand on charges of corruption, according to ‘The Faith That Moved the Mountain’.  This was in December 1966.

The UBP government then called for a snap general election to be held on January 10, 1967.  The UBP did this in order to prove to England that the charges of corruption were baseless.  Members of the UBP also feared standing before a commission of inquiry.  The UBP, according to historians Michael Craton and Dr. Gail Saunders, clearly hoped that by calling the election so suddenly it would catch the opposition unprepared.  The UBP obviously had a slight edge heading into the 1967 electoral contest.  They had the financial power and most importantly the experience of running a government.  At that time no black Bahamian had ever led The Bahamas.  This undoubtedly caused many to feel apprehensive about the PLP gaining political power, especially white Bahamians.  For over 200 years white Europeans were at the helm.  Now all of a sudden it appeared as if a black political party was on the verge of wresting political power away from the white minority who had ruled this country for centuries.

Sir Randol wrote in his memoir that 94 candidates ran for the 38 seats in Parliament.  The UBP fielded 36 candidates; the PLP, 29; Paul L. Adderly’s National Democratic Party (NDP), 13; and the Labour Party ran four candidates.  There were 12 independent candidates. Both the PLP and the UBP each won 18 seats. Of the 17 seats in New Providence, the PLP took 12.  Fawkes defeated his black UBP opponent by a huge margin in St. Barnabas.  Former UBP member Alvin R. Braynen won Harbour Island as an independent candidate.  Braynen would go on to become Speaker of the House.  It is interesting to note that of the 36 candidates nominated by the UBP, 14 were black, according to Sir Etienne Dupuch.  On the other hand,  none of the candidates for the PLP were white.  The outcome of the election created a deadlock. Both major political parties courted Sir Randol for his support.

In fact, according to Sir Randol, Premier Sir Roland Symonette propositioned him by offering him whatever he wanted if he would join the UBP.  He was even offered a ministerial post within a UBP administration.  Had Sir Randol joined the UBP, he would have been rewarded handsomely by the wealthy Bay Street clique.  But the labor leader decided to throw his support behind the PLP.  This move by Sir Randol gave the PLP a one-seat majority in the House of Assembly, 19 seats to 18.  For the first time in its modern history, The Bahamas would be ruled by the black majority, thanks to Sir Randol Fawkes.  Had Sir Randol joined the UBP, Bahamian history would have been radically different.  Majority Rule Day laid down the foundation for independence in 1973.  Majority rule was the catalyst of social and economic transformation for not only black Bahamians, but white Bahamians also. In an interview with The Nassau Guardian that was held on January 11,1967, Sir Lynden stressed that the ”Progressive Liberal Party is for everyone. I hope the white population has realized this and have no fears” (The Vision of Sir Lynden Pindling, page 23).  Yet despite this reassurance from the newly-minted premier, two former cabinet ministers of the UBP government left the country after the devastating loss to the PLP: Sir Stafford Sands and Donald E. d’Albenas. Both couldn’t bear the thought of living in a country that was governed by negroes.

That historic day (Majority Rule Day) brought to an end the reign of the Bay Street Boys.  Majority rule made it possible for all Bahamians to have a share in the economic pie of the country, instead of just the Bay Street Boys and their special interest groups.  Perhaps it can be argued that January 10,1967 was the most important day in the history of the modern Bahamas.  Majority rule was a quiet, bloodless revolution.  It was a civil rights victory for all Bahamians, including white Bahamians.  January 10 should be celebrated by all Bahamians, not just the PLP.  The name Sir Randol Fawkes will forever be etched in the annals of Bahamian history as one of the great national heroes of this country.  Because of his important political move in 1967, history has been forever changed.

 

– Kevin Evans

 

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