Examining Pindling’s strained relationship with Sir Randol Fawkes, pt.2
The late Bahamas Federation of Labour (BFL) President Sir Randol Fawkes was patently inconsistent in his assessments of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in his memoir “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”. Fawkes’ relationship with the PLP and the late Sir Lynden Pindling was similar to your average Hollywood on-again, off-again relationship.
In chapter 8 of “The Faith That Moved the Mountain”, titled “The Arrest”, Fawkes stated the following concerning his suspicions about the Pindling -ed PLP and the white oligarchy: “But lurking in the wings of the stage were two strangely sinister and divisive forces: the United Bahamian Party (UBP) and the top brass of the PLP; the one, terribly afraid of the power I wielded as President of the Bahamas Federation of Labour; the other, envious of the free trade unions’ national and international acclaim as the spark plug of the quiet revolution.”
Fawkes was painstakingly careful in pointing out where the opposition towards him was coming from within the PLP. It was not the rank-and-file membership, many of whom were members of his BFL; it was the leadership. By not calling out Pindling, Milo B. Butler and Clarence Bain, Fawkes was demonstrating a degree of circumspection towards an organization that viewed him with a jaundiced eye.
Around the same time of Fawkes’ sedition trial, a group of BFL members severed ties with the organization and went on to form the Bahamas Trade Union Congress (BTUC) – viewed by Fawkes as a creature of the PLP. The very existence of the BTUC was a telltale sign to the father of labor that Pindling and Co. were hard at work in undermining him, which made his decision to rejoin the PLP in 1963 all the more puzzling.
This was the same party which had sidelined its founders, Sir Henry Taylor, William Cartwright and Cyril Stevenson. According to Pindling’s biographer Michael Craton, the PLP’s National Committee for Positive Action (NCPA), formed in 1960, was increasingly impatient with the three original PLPs, while regarding Pindling as indispensable to the future success of the party. The prevailing attitude among NCPA and PLP members was that Taylor, Stevenson and Cartwright were not prime minister material. None of the trio possessed the charisma and oratorical skills of Sir Lynden, who had the benefit of studying law in London between 1948-1953.
Perhaps stemming from a sense of guilt for the PLP’s shoddy treatment of Taylor, he served intermittently as acting governor general during the 1980s when Governor General Sir Gerald Cash was out of the country, at the pleasure of his former underling, Pindling, being appointed in 1991 to the substantive post, despite being near 90. I remember former Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Hubert Ingraham bemoaning Taylor’s physical and mental condition – stating that the PLP co-founder was simply not fit for office.
Nothing was done for either Cartwright or Stevenson, the latter being an editor of the defunct Nassau Herald. By appointing Taylor as editor of the Hansard in the late 1970s, Pindling may have intentionally snubbed Stevenson, who fell out of favor with the top brass of the organization by purportedly uttering disparaging comments about black Bahamians not being able to lead in the mid-1960s. Adding injury to insult was the launching of the PLP’s new official mouthpiece, Bahamian Times, in 1961 by NCPA members, which was, for all intents and purposes, a rival to Stevenson’s The Nassau Herald. The PLP simply had no more use for the triumvirate of Stevenson, Taylor and Cartwright, as it would have no more use for Fawkes after 1968.
In the same chapter documenting his well-publicized sedition trial before Chief Justice Sir Guy Henderson, Fawkes recounts the intriguing story of the PLP and the UBP working in tandem on the controversial Trade Union and Industrial Conciliation Bill to dismantle the BFL. This was in 1958.
Between 1958 and 1960, the PLP would gain an additional five seats, increasing its total to 10 in the House of Assembly, when Warren Levarity in Grand Bahama and Bimini; Henry Taylor and Arthur Hanna in the Eastern District and Spurgeon Bethel and Charles Dorsett in the Southern District all won their respective by-elections. Levarity’s by-election was due to the elevation of C.W. Bethel of the UBP to the Legislative House while the by-elections of Taylor, Bethel, Hanna and Dorsett were due to British Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox Boyd adding four additional seats to the House of Assembly, among other constitutional reforms that the PLP and the BFL were agitating for. All of the foregoing by-election contests were challenged by Labour candidates. Having defected from the PLP after the 1956 general election, Fawkes was content with locking horns with a party which used him as a token to achieve its goal of tackling the Bay Street Boys.
Clearly the period of 1959-1960 was one of gradual rise in popularity of both Pindling and the PLP, which coincided with the fortuitous decline of Fawkes, although he would go on to win three more elections in 1962, 1967 and 1968 as a Bahamas Labour Party standard-bearer – a party he formed in 1959, due to his deep dissatisfaction with Pindling and the PLP.
The PLP would fair poorly in the 1962 general election when Pindling, A.D. Hanna, Paul Adderley, Orville Turnquest, Milo Butler, Spurgeon Bethel and Clarence Bain were the only PLPs elected to the House. The party would charge the ruling UBP with gerrymandering. While the PLP polled 32,261 or 43.9 percent of the votes, the UBP gained 18 seats with just 26,500 or 36.1 percent of the votes. Obviously the figures from that election were not at all a true reflection of the votes which were cast.
Nevertheless, it was a devastating blow to the political aspirations of Pindling, compounded by the recent enfranchisement of Bahamian women due to the valiant efforts of the Bahamian Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Fawkes would rejoin the party twice more, in 1963 at a PLP mass rally at Southern Recreational Grounds, and finally in January 1967, at the invitation of Pindling in order to end the PLP’s stalemate with the UBP, despite his BFL being undermined by the BTUC. For this, Pindling awarded Fawkes with the Labour ministerial post in the first-ever majority rule government. This would be the only time in his illustrious career that the father of labor sat in the executive branch of government. Once again, however, the political marriage of Fawkes and Pindling was short-lived.
Based on my opinion, it would appear that Pindling distrusted the ambitious Labour Party leader, and was not comfortable with him being in his Cabinet, due to his inability to harness the nonconformist Fawkes. Conversely, Pindling enjoyed the unquestioned loyalty of Clement T. Maynard, Clifford Darling, Livingston Coakley, Clarence Bain, A.D. Hanna and the aging Milo Butler. With the well-documented rift between Pindling and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield and the remaining Dissident Eight members, the last thing the PLP leader needed was another renegade in his Cabinet. From Fawkes’ angle, however, it would appear that he was used to usher in majority rule. When that was accomplished, he was discarded without any regard for him or his family, some of whom may have harbored deep regrets of Fawkes not accepting the UBP’s monetary offer, which may have been in the millions. Such a move would’ve undoubtedly prevented the labor leader from fighting the FNM administration of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham for his parliamentary pension in the 1990s. Fawkes was dealt a bad hand by the PLP, despite him receiving a knighthood in 1978. This was the PLP’s way of throwing a bone at the labor leader.
The Fawkes-Pindling dynamic in 1967 further underscores their strained relationship. With the untimely death of PLP MP for Shirlea Uriah McPhee in February 1968, Pindling called for a general election to be held on April 10 that year, rather than a by-election. This was a move to bury the Bay Street Boys, politically speaking. Of the 38 seats, the PLP captured an astounding 29; the UBP seven. In what would prove to be Fawkes’ final election victory, he managed to stave off his independent challenger in St. Barnabas, one W.H. Heastie, reportedly a PLP supporter.
Once again Fawkes suspected that the PLP was attempting to undermine him, this time with the candidacy of Heastie, although he was not a PLP standard-bearer – at least officially. Fawkes’ move for a vote of no confidence in the Pindling administration amid allegations of mismanagement and corruption in 1970 may have led the PLP to field Sinclair Outten in St. Barnabas in the 1972 general election in a retaliatory move. It worked. With his influence all but diminished, Fawkes fell to Outten, polling a paltry 146 votes. Two years later in a by-election in that same constituency, Fawkes gained 46 more votes than he had in 1972, placing third behind the PLP’s Outten and the FNM’s Sir Arthur Foulkes. Two other by-elections were held in St. Barnabas in June 1986 and in February 1987, due to the May 1986 passing of Outten.
The PLP’s Dr. Matthew Rose won. None were contested by Fawkes, who had resurfaced in 1984 or thereabouts after the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, roasting the Pindling
administration over allegations of corruption. It was Fawkes’ way of getting back at a party he helped get elected 16 years prior. In his farewell address in Parliament in July 1997, the father of the nation paid homage to Fawkes, as one of the members of the Magnificent Six of 1956 – 41 years prior to his address. Fawkes may gave been sitting in the Strangers’ Gallery when Pindling have his final address.
Both men died in 2000, ending one of the most important eras in Bahamian history. In the quarter of a century of ruling The Bahamas, Pindling could’ve easily passed legislation to rename Labour Day in honor of Fawkes. But he chose not to. This unwillingness of Pindling reinforces my thesis that his relationship with Fawkes was both awkward and strained. Pindling probably surmised that to do such would’ve been a tacit acknowledgment that his political organization had an outstanding debt to pay Fawkes for his massive contributions to not only the PLP, but the entire country as well. With the massive appeal and popularity of Fawkes during the 1950s and 1960s, Pindling kept him at arm’s length, viewing him as an impediment to his ultimate goal of becoming prime minister.
This is an intriguing element in the lives of two nation builders that has not, for whatever reason, been explored by historians.
– Kevin Evans