Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) founders Cyril Stevenson, who was also editor of the defunct weekly tabloid Nassau Herald and William Cartwright wooed majority rule hero and Bahamas Federation of Labour (BFL) President Sir Randol Fawkes into the fold of the party in the months leading up to the June 8, 1956 general election. For what it’s worth, Fawkes apparently considered the BFL/PLP amalgamation as a temporary political coalition.
Stevenson’s role within the PLP was secretary general; Cartwright was treasurer. Along with Sir Henry Taylor, who was chairman of the PLP between 1953-1963, the massive role of Stevenson and Cartwright in the formation of the PLP has either been downplayed or effectively erased from the minds of most uninformed black Bahamians. The PLP’s campaign platform for the historic election of 1956 was “A Challenge To Be Met”. Both Sir Lynden O. Pindling and Sir Randol ran for the southern district of New Providence. With the exception of Grand Bahama and Bimini; Rum Cay and San Salvador; Crooked Island, Long Cay and Acklins and Mayaguana and Inagua, all of the other districts had either two or three MPs, senior and junior.
Candidates Fawkes and Pindling promised the following in their printed campaign ad: a national bank; a square deal for the worker; a Court of Appeal for the colony; town planning for their constituency; fair distribution of the wealth of The Bahamas; democracy in the public service; association with the University of the West Indies; utilization of Out Island resources; better representation of the masses on public boards; new labor laws, old-age pensions, health insurance; women’s compensation and a written constitution based on universal suffrage and proportional representation.
The PLP would go on to win six seats with 7,152 or 32.6 percent of the votes, while the Bay Street Boys’ independent candidates won 22 seats with 13,372 or 60.9 percent of the votes. The Bahama Democratic Labour Party with Etienne Dupuch won Crooked Island, Long Cay and Acklins with 1,417 votes. It would be anachronistic to call the 22 Bay Street oligarchs the United Bahamian Party (UBP) during the 1956 election cycle; the formation of that party occurred in either August or September that same year after a Bay Street Boys delegation had returned from Westminster.
According to Sir Randol in his “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”, the UBP would be the conservative counterpart to the PLP. As a young attorney trained by the eminent barrister-at-law T. Augustus Toote, Fawkes was an ambitious unionist and fledgling political firebrand, whose aspirations included becoming premier of The Bahamas, and to subsequently lead it to independence from England. Other Bahamians took note of Fawkes’ leadership capabilities. One of those perceptive Bahamians was former MP L. Walton Young, whose letter of encouragement to Fawkes is published in “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”, after the latter was unceremoniously suspended two years from the Bar by Chief Justice Sir Oswald L. Bancroft in 1954. The Bancroft judgment came two years prior to the inaugural Labour Day parade in June 1, 1956.Starting from Windsor Park and ending at the Southern Recreational Grounds, the event was dubbed The Day of Freedom and attracted some 20,000 Bahamians at a time when the colony’s population was 150,000. The June 1 date was historically significant, in that the Burma Road Riot occurred 14 years before on the exact day. The keynote address was delivered by the Earl of Ranfurly, governor of The Bahamas. The massive success of the first Labour Day parade solidified Fawkes as the most powerful political black figure in The Bahamas. Recognizing Fawkes’ massive clout in the political and union landscape, Stevenson and Cartwright made the sales pitch in getting the powerful unionist to join their nascent political organization, in an obvious move to draw votes and to legitimize the PLP.
While Fawkes was elected the senior MP for the southern district, Pindling was elected the junior MP. Consequently, it can be argued that Pindling rode on the coattails of the BFL leader into the House. Like his senior elected colleague, Pindling also harbored ambitions of becoming premier. The move to elbow Stevenson, Taylor and Williams out of the way was in keeping with his overall agenda of ascending the political ladder, something which did not escape the notice of Fawkes, who gave a scathing assessment of Pindling on page 82 of the memorial edition of “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”. The writer knows of no Bahamian historian who has ever analyzed the strained, awkward relationship between Fawkes and Pindling, while the former’s rocky relationship with FNM co-founder Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitefield, Carlton Francis, Edmund Moxey, Hubert Ingraham, Perry Christie, Dr. Bernard Nottage, Norman Solomon and A.D. Hanna is often examined by political historians.
Both Pindling and Fawkes apparently viewed each other as a rival. Both were nicknamed Moses by their respective adoring fandom. In the 1950s Fawkes had the upper hand. In all things considered, the rivalry between him and Pindling was probably one of the reasons his tenure with the PLP was sporadic. In late November 1958 – days after Jamaican QC Vivian Blake had been successful in getting him acquitted of sedition in the Supreme Court before Chief Justice Sir Guy Henderson, Fawkes played host to American civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, in which the three leaders exchanged ideas on nonviolence in their struggle against white supremacy. In the United States, it was the Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan; in The Bahamas it was the Bay Street Boys. Again, this visit by King and Abernathy underscores the prominence of Fawkes at the time, not only in The Bahamas, but throughout the entire region. Fawkes also rubbed shoulders with Norman Manley, founder of the People’s National Party in Jamaica.
Interestingly, Pindling, Sir Milo B. Butler, Clarence Bain and Cyril Stevenson all abandoned Fawkes during his sedition trial in November 1958. It was the rank and file membership of the BFL that raised the funds to defray his legal costs; not the PLP. It was only two years prior that the BFL leader had joined the party, yet already their relationship had drastically deteriorated to the degree PLP officials were hoping for Fawkes to be incarcerated by the UBP.
What’s more, the PLP collaborated with the UBP in the enactment of the Trade Union and Industrial Conciliation Bill, aimed at dissolving all labor unions in The Bahamas, which was really counterproductive to the PLP’s message of Bahamian workers being free to engage in collective bargaining and to the principles of the International Labour Organization. According to Fawkes, the PLP and UBP had joined common cause to stab the BFL in the chest. He was right. The violent metaphor he used underscored how betrayed he must’ve felt in the dog eat dog world of Bahamian politics.
Pindling apparently wanted Fawkes and his powerful BFL out of the way. And if that meant collaborating with the Bay Street Boys, then so be it. To the PLP, the enemy of its enemy was its friend. The BFL was viewed as a greater threat than the UBP.
The foregoing new piece of controversial legislation came shortly after the 1958 Labour Day parade, in which thousands of Bahamians were in attendance. Also in attendance were Governor Sir Raynor Arthur and Nicholas Zonarich of the United States Steel Workers of America, who brought greetings on behalf of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions – a conglomerate with 55 million members.
This no doubt sparked jealousy within the PLP. Even Fawkes himself acknowledged that certain elements within the PLP were envious of the massive influence of his BFL. This can explain why Fawkes was mostly ignored by Pindling while the latter reigned as prime minister for 25 years. Pindling obviously viewed Fawkes as a threat to his position. In “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”, Fawkes said the following: “The BFL and the PLP often shared a common membership and a common goal and each stood to benefit from the cross-pollination of the other.” Hence the problem: Pindling wanted the PLP to be the sole rival to the UBP. With the presence of the BFL, that was impossible.
That is why efforts were made to undermine Fawkes and his union by Pindling and the PLP, despite the fact that Fawkes played a pivotal role in the historic January 1958 General Strike, which catapulted then Taxi Cab Union leader Sir Clifford Darling on to the national and political stage and which laid the groundwork for majority rule by awakening the political consciousness of most black Bahamians.
In closing, it is also worth mentioning that Labour Day became a public paid holiday, not under the Pindling administration, but under the UBP administration of Sir Stafford Sands and Sir Roland Symonette in 1961. In 2013 – 13 years after the demise of Pindling and 52 years after it became a holiday – the Christie administration renamed it Randol Fawkes Labour Day. In 25 years of leading The Bahamas, Pindling could’ve done what his protege Perry Christie did in his second non-consecutive term as prime minister. But he chose not to rename Labour Day in honor of the father of labor. The reasons, I believe, are quite obvious.
Due to space constraints, however, I will have continue this examination of the complex relationship of Pindling and Fawkes in another write-up.
– Kevin Evans