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Call the Election Now

Call the Election NowI saw a double-page ad in the Daily Observer in which, political hopeful, Samantha Marshall logically and plausibly made the case to ‘Call Elections NOW’.  Election fever is endemic in the air.

The election date is the major point of discussion. Analysts, pollsters, observers, hosts, pundits and reporters are weighing in on the issue. I too am joining the fray.

Up to 1965, since Adult Suffrage, Elections in Antigua had always been held in the latter months of the year. Like clockwork, it came in its festive, predictable season: 1951 – 20 December, 1956 – 1 November, 1960 - 29 November, 1965 – 29 November. This was soon to change. The change resulted from events in the most historic year in the modern history of Antigua – the year 1967.

The year 1967 was a year like no other in Antigua – none. The sun-baked island was struck by drought in 1964 then another dryer one in 1966. Sugar production plummeted from 27,234 tons in 1963 to a paltry 7,424 tons in 1966; declining further to 4,808 tons in 1967, then 1,134 tons in 1968. The economic lifeblood of the fledgling country was dying. The country was in despair.

The year 1967 also began with a new vibrancy of patriotism and renewed energy. The country was to have a new constitution. The Very Reverend Dean Baker conducted a national ceremony to commemorate the event at the St. John’s Anglican Cathedral on 26 February 1967. Then on Monday 27 February 1967, the present flag was raised for the first time and Wilfred Jacobs sworn in as Governor.  Vere C. Bird became Premier under the new constitution and Antigua gained Associated Statehood with Great Britain.  Great Britain was no longer responsible for local Antigua affairs.

In the year 1967, Alexander Moody-Stuart, the Sugar baron, also wanted to quit the dying business. But not before he pulled one last trick out of his sleeve. He agreed to the ATLU’s demands for increases then put up the business for sale. The government of Antigua bought the industry and syndicate lands. Bird was left with Moody-Stuart’s ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over his head.  From all appearances, the planter seemed to be plotting his revenge. It was common knowledge that John I. Martin, the land magnate and business tycoon of the time, would be willing to pay twice the amount for the lands and industry.

Things immediately began to go awry. On 14 April 1967, McChesney George, management member of the newly appointed sugar board instructed the accountant, Bernard E. Maynard to cut wages by thirty percent. The accountant asked for the instructions in writing, but George refused.

When the issue was discussed at the ATLU’s executive committee meeting tempers flared. George Walter and his supporters on the executive committee opposed the cuts whereas McChesney George and the government members supported the salary cuts. The government members eventually had their way.

The Sugar workers dispute had only exacerbated an old wound. Tensions had been brewing and incubating among the two factions of the ATLU for some time –the executive members that negotiated wages and the government members of the ATLU. The Hotel workers and BWIA negotiations had exposed these tensions in 1966. The ATLU’s third Vice President, Bradley Carrott, at the time, was also a member of the management of BWIA.

Under normal circumstances, it would be fairly easy for President Bird to dismiss, then intimidate, ridicule, blacklist and outcast union members who opposed him. But Walter and Halstead were different. They were reputed to be the enforcers of the union and closely connected to the ‘mob rule’ that the planters often complained about.  

Before joining the ATLU, Walter was head of the Fishermen’s Association, and brought its membership to the union with him. These were seafaring men who ensured whether ships were loaded or unloaded during a strike. Halstead was connected to the waterfront workers, a militant group which enforced strikes, harassed and stoned ATLU opponents. If Novell Richards is correct, (Struggle & Conquest) there were already plans afoot for the Section of waterfront workers to secede from the ATLU.  Any fight with this tag-team duo could have serious consequences. Bird bided his time, 1967 was drawing near.

With the ink hardly dry on the attainment of Statehood, V.C. Bird was now in command of the resources with which he could risk a confrontation. The Premier was now in control of the armed forces, that could be utilized at his disposal, to assist him in equalizing the threat by any fallout. Tensions were high, something had to give, Bird was now ready for the fight.

On the 5 May, 1967 an emergency executive committee meeting of the union was called. Possibly the shortest meeting in the history of the union.  Promptly, at 8:00 p.m. Deputy President of the Senate, William Buntin said prayers then the meeting began with V.C. Bird making his shortest, but very famous speech: “For some time now, I have been trying to get executive members to work together, and we may as well face up to it… I have come to the conclusion that we cannot work together and some parting must take place. I must therefore strongly recommend that the General Secretary and Donald Halstead be dismissed from office.  Those in favour say ‘Aye’…the Aye’s have it.

Hell broke loose in the small island. A new union, AWU, was formed and fought tooth and nail for recognition and survival. By Saturday 16 March 1968 all workers had walked of their jobs. The island was shut down tight. Employers’ Federation head, Stephen R. Mendes, requested an emergency meeting with the cabinet. Mendes was assured by cabinet that workers would soon slink back to their jobs, and that the military would offload ships on the Monday.

Early on Monday a barrage of Defence Force men attempted to offload a schooner at King’s Wharf.  The soldiers never knew what hit them. George Walters met them with an army of angry waterfront workers who forced the scabs into hiding. One soldier had to be hospitalized. An impromptu march was organized to secure the city from scabs, ending at the home of the Premier.

Bird had underestimated the capability of the armed forces against the courage and tenacity of the tested, battle-hardened waterfront workers. Fiercely, with bottles and stones, they forced the armed forces to retreat, defied martial law, maintained a national strike and forced Bird to the negotiation table.

After ten months of resistance, V. C. Bird was now at the edge of the political precipice. The political opposition members who had by now joined the AWU in a United Front wanted to push him off. They claimed Bird had lost his mandate to govern and should resign and CALL ELECTIONS NOW. The union on the other hand felt that such a situation would be chaotic - it would be better to await pending elections, due in November 1970. The dispute seemed likely to rent the opposition alliance apart.  Walter offered a carrot of appeasement: the United Front would ask for bye-elections in four constituencies and leave the resignation of the government as a last resort.

Sir Wilfred Jacobs presided over the negotiations at Government House on March 20 1968.  British representative Desmond Kerr also sat in. The United Front was represented by George Walter, Reuben Harris, Claude Earl Francis and Malcolm Daniel. At the meeting, Francis and Harris again attempted to force the ‘elections now’ issue. Walter and Daniel stuck to the agreement: - end the dispute, recognize the AWU, reinstate dismissed workers, pay for workers on strike, vote at disputed workplaces, and bye-elections in four constituencies.

The union got what it wanted. On 22 August, 1968 bye-elections were held and the PLM became the first opposition in Antigua winning the four seats: Donald Halstead – St. John’s City West, Reuben Harris – St. John’s City South (included Barbuda at the time), Robert Hall – St. Mary’s, and Sydney Prince – St. George’s.  But some members of the PLM felt that Bird got off too easy, elections should be called NOW. The political opposition did not get enough.

The opposition was then a massive, swarming and unwavering force that could flex its muscles. Many persons wanted to see the back of Bird and the ATLU. ‘Call the elections NOW’, could be the rallying cry of a new party. Reuben Harris took the challenge and soon split the PLM, with others to form the APP to force elections. But the masses rejected the call.

Bird continued to tell the nation all he had done for the people. Walters told of what he would do for the masses. From all indications, the public seemed more content to hear issues of substance, matters of nation-building, and topics of development rather than the date for the elections.

In June 1970, a mere five months before the election was due, the government accepted the report from the Boundaries Commission. On Monday 15 June the government tabled a bill, ‘The Constitutions & Elections (Amendment) Act 1970’, to increase the constituencies from ten to a whopping seventeen. The report of the boundaries commission was not considered to be tabled too late. There was no state of panic or unease. No problem – the ALP increased its slate by seven and the PLM increased its candidates by seven. The attitude of the PLM seemed to be ‘Jump high, jump low, we will defeat you’.

The media began to speculate. Premier Bird was to be the feature speaker at the massive ATLU convention on 4 October 1970. The Antigua Star newspaper of 3 October reported that ‘Star Pollsters’ felt Bird would announce the election date at the convention and further speculated that the date would be 17 December. Bird gave the feature address at the convention but did not announce the date as anticipated. Everyone went about their business as usual; there were no upheavals or anxiety.

Bird was in no hurry to call elections either. The due date for elections, 29 November 1970, came and went. The masses were in no hurry either. Another month went by, and another, but the date was never a matter of concern, it would come eventually.  Pundits did not complain that elections always occurred in the latter months of the year. Analysts never suggested that there should be a fixed date for elections. It didn’t seem to matter to observers that five years had gone. The media never conceived a crisis of constitutional proportions. Elections were eventually held on 11 February, 1971.  The PLM won the elections (9761 votes) and the APP (595 votes) were not even a factor.

Every election since then has been during the first quarter of the year.  Over forty years on from 1970 there have been many changes. This is an age of internet, education, electronic communication and information. It is also an age of new, unchartered and unexpected paradigms, including global confrontations and challenges never before conceived. Yet with these challenges before us, no one seems to be concerned about the plans and programs, or Noah’s Ark if you will, to take us through these waters. The public is not being told either of development goals and plans.

The elections of 1971 were the most historic in Antigua. The similarities and differences between that time and now are obvious. Many of the situations are so similar, but the temperament, maturity and consciousness of the electorate have changed so much.  For better or worst – who knows? The politicians, nonetheless, are having a free ride to the polls uncontested, only matters on points of law are being discussed.

The contenders are courting the public and everyone wants a date. But what is a date without some sort of discussion, commitment or assurance? Everyone following elections have an idea when the date is. It is sometime on or before 27 July, 2014. With each passing day, the certainty of the month, week or day is more guaranteed.  It is a call that the Premier or Prime Minister has always had at his discretion.

Successive Prime Ministers have kept this card close to their breasts. Most would recall vividly, Chaku Symister hounding then Prime Minister Lester Bird, prior to elections in 2004: Call the Election NOW. It thrilled the UPP followers, but distressed the ALP faithful. Quite the opposite of ’69; when the discerning public would quickly recognize, a six from a nine. How is it that the date is now more important than concrete plans for future national development?  Is it that we have been preconditioned to accept only hamburger-sized fast-food packages of information?

The election date has now become the ‘Magician’s Box’ of election showbiz tricks. Abracadabra… now you see it, now you don’t – while the date slips from slim pockets to fat pockets, like pick pockets by slight of hand, mesmerizing the beleaguered public. Meanwhile, the public is awed by the distraction. The media is carried away. No more debates are held. Pertinent issues are not discussed. The reddest of red-herring wizardry is working; no one needs to give account.

It is the type of wizardry that fits snuggly into the dance-hall hype public rallies and frenzied media blitz; carefully packaged and prepared for such an occasion, for such voters, with such an appetite. I too am carried away.  With so many better things to do, I sit here wasting my time writing (that should be typing) about Calling Elections NOW.

Leonart Matthias   

 

 

 

 

 

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21 Comments In This Article   

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RE: Call the Election Now

#21 Antiguan Woman! » 2014-04-07 16:18

Thanks for the History class; but at least you could have kept your Professionalism to the end.To say the ABLP has not spoken about their plans but instead insisting upon an election date is quite an unfortunate statement. I do not know what you listen to or what materials you read,but there are many instances where the ABLP have stated their plans if elected. I think any political Party would be wise to listen to the people,the delaying tactics displayed by the PM in giving a date for elections does not speak well for Democracy; and speaking of 1968 etc does not justify the actions.His actions are indicative of someone who abuses his power and authority and shows desperation to hold unto power at any cost.Seemingly oblivious of the fact that 90 days will not change the minds of the Electorate.The burden is upon the incumbent Govt to tell the people why they should be Re-elected; the UPP has not done that,instead they resort to delaying tactics hoping that by some twist of fate some miracle will happen. We the people say we have had enough of there BS,the people have spoken,and we deserve to be listened to.
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@Gray Farm Man

#20 Student? » 2014-04-07 00:00

Which FDI has provided SUSTAINABLE jobs over the past 40 years. Couldn't think of 2, so I'm just asking so that I may be educated. Seems to me like the FDIs turn into **ed deals that eventually cost us the tax payers many millions of dollars more than we have profited from them.
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re: skyewell

#19 fnpsr » 2014-04-05 15:44

Skyewell, I would like to point out that, in the US, there is difference between Federal and State Income taxes. As the names suggest, the Federal Income Tax, which everyone pays, goes to the Federal Government and the State Income tax goes to the State. Yes, it is true that a few States, like Texas and Nevada, the residents do not pay “State Income Taxes”.

While Texas does not have a “state income tax”, they offset it by over 60 other taxes and fees, chief of which are property, sales tax and corporate taxes. Furthermore, the size and population ensures that that there are sufficient sources to collect these taxes and fees.

As I have opined before, the entire Antiguan taxing system has to be evaluated.

Much Respect!!

“Let’s fix the little things with RWE before we attempt to fix the big things.”
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fnpsr

consequences for mob rule

#18 tenman » 2014-04-05 07:49

Len when did the rule of law start applying, after independence? If so then why would you have a problem with the alleged politically motivated bombings? It was acceptable back then to attack our Defense force? , Aren't you suggesting it was wild wild west time? Seems to me we forgot the war was over. There are consequences to these kinds of actions.
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tenman

leonart matthias

#17 Skyewill » 2014-04-05 06:21

There are several places that have no income tax and they are among the most successful economies. They have tax but not income tax. Check Texas economy. In fact most professions, especially doctors flock to these areas for this very reason and the quality of life is also much better.
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Skyewill

RE: Call the Election Now

#16 Just Saying » 2014-04-04 22:29

But Antiguans will just elect other Antiguans, and the downward cycle will continue. Why not acknowledge that things were better when the British were in charge???""
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Just Saying

GRAY FARM MAN 2

#15 leonart matthias » 2014-04-04 22:02

I believe in income tax. So sorry to say that does not get me. there is no place where its abolition has worked. it is also the only fair tax system. there is no merit to letting a baby who is not working have to pay tax on diapers or a school child to pay taxes on a school bag. that is insane. Or a person who is not working pay tax on a shirt to go look a job. taxes should be on money earned not money don't have. total taxes on imports should never go over 9%. The poor person with 5 children should never have to pay more taxes than the rich with 2. That is unjust. I believe we should be reducing import taxes, and asking the friends of the government to pay their income taxes.

500 homes in 500 days, I believe it is possible. In the last 20 years of ALP the housing schemes were funded by social security. Will social security be funding these 500 houses? Social security is broke and had to get a bailout. Will the government make its contributions to the social security? If the government could not exist without holding on to social security contributions before, what will they be doing differently now for funding?

Same for MBS. Just paying for the unfinished hospital ran the MBS broke. have the obstacles to paying in deductions been removed? will it be revamped with or without govtcontributions?
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leonart matthias

GRAY FARM MAN 1

#14 leonart matthias » 2014-04-04 21:28

GRAY FARM MAN, even if it was a new party saying these things I would still be skeptical. The essence of my opinion is that no one, including the media is asking the hard questions. when the politicians go to the media they are asked about the date. the question is HOW? the devil is in the detail.

The first question is where will the money and sustainable jobs come from? You say FDIs. Will the ALP keep the CIP or do away with it? I am listening, but I have not heard. in the last 20 years of ALP 1984-2004 how much in FDIs have they generated and how much sustainable jobs are there today 30 years later as a result?

What will they do differently to attract FDIs and also to make the jobs sustainable?

also with respect to FDIs: Digicel and Carib Cable would not be in Antigua if the ALP never left office. Cable & w'less would still be a monopoly. Will the ALP return to its protectionist policies? are they aware that monopolies decrease FDI potential? Will other players be allowed to compete with WIOC to reduce energy costs, necessary for attracting FDIs?

with respect to upp social programs (not you, but you can please ask hot pants for me) how many jobs, factories and seamstresses has the uniform grant developed and produced? what was its impact on households and firms?

i may be reading the wrong news so, if you have heard a position on these issues please let me know. thx much
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leonart matthias

RULE OF LAW

#13 leonart matthias » 2014-04-04 21:13

friends, there is no right or wrong on this issue. you cannot understand it unless you have a historical knowledge of trade unionism at the time. I may write an opinion piece on it one day. but simply put, disputes were not settled without strikes. unions did not tolerate strike breakers or scabs. head-breakers were organized to enforce these strikes. tenman that was the law of the day and that was the ‘RULE OF LAW’.

In the laws of Antigua & Barbuda there is an act called the ‘James Drew et al Pension Benefits Act’. these are twelve enforcers of the ATLU that got a pension of 7200.00 dollars a year for time in jail for head-breaking. In James Drew case, he and Ally Thomas attempted to blow up a truck with 26 strike-breakers on the way to millreef to get Clarence Johnson to recognize the union.
Kelso Frederick also got two months for beating Samuel Simon, a management stooge, who was going to work during a strike. I listened to Ralph Potter on radio one day saying that we should recognize these people. Samuel Simon’s daughter called in response to say how much her father suffers from the beatings and should be compensated instead of making the aggressor a hero.

today it has two sides but then it was the rule of law. why is there such a law on our books if it was not the rule of law? it cannot be equated to a coup or what Reagan did. a new union was formed and the government did not recognise them. they played by the rules of the day.
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leonart matthias

BC

#12 tenman » 2014-04-04 18:51

Mr Mathias did Sir George Walters not serve on the said 1970 BC? Do you recall the name of the members?

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tenman

rule of law

#11 tenman » 2014-04-04 18:38

Quote:
The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Mr Mathias as usual kudos. Professor Pat Henry, in his book Shouldering Antigua and Barbuda provided some more details on how Bird was betrayed on this issue. The question that should be asked, are we simply about being wage earners or do we want equity? Do we understand equity has costs? Staying with the point of the article, Henry also points out that Walters did not push for control because he did not think the time was right. I am reminded of a situation in the US where air port traffic controllers went on strike and Reagan sent in the military to man their post. What would have happened if these controllers managed to stage a coup in the US, as happened here? No matter the country, if the rule of law cannot be maintained, there is really no country.

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tenman

RE: Call the Election Now

#10 Cool Ruler » 2014-04-04 12:47

What an insightful article which reiterate some of things I have know about the so-called father of the nation. I don't know why they did not embalm him like Lenin in the old USSR with all the propaganda surrounding his legacy
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Cool Ruler

RE: Call the Election Now

#9 fnpsr » 2014-04-04 12:28

This is a great historical article. Well done sir!

"let's fix the little things with RWE before we attempt to fix the big things."
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fnpsr

RE: Call the Election Now

#8 Just Saying » 2014-04-04 11:09

Until someone runs on a platform to Bring Back the British, what difference will another election make?
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Just Saying

Sir you really took me back to political history

#7 Parishman » 2014-04-04 09:32

Kudos to your article.
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Parishman

JUST WHAT YOU SAY BE TRUE

#6 GRAY FARM MAN » 2014-04-04 09:30

Tell me, don't you think that saying that you will abolish personal income tax, build 500 houses in 500 days, creating sustainable jobs through the attraction of FDI,that revamping and upgrade MBS by insuring the system to guarantee all contributors to the scheme access to better health care services are policies articulated by the Opposition. Weston was always taking about upgrading MBS. You may not have listened to him, but they have and the UPP have touted the social program achievements. Let your words be true!
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GRAY FARM MAN

@ Hot Pants

#5 skyewill » 2014-04-04 09:06

So, Columbus discoverd the West indies Huh?

Thank you Mr. Matthias Again, your name is familiar to me also
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skyewill

@ Leonart Matthias

#4 skyewill » 2014-04-04 09:03

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. A great lesson in history. I remembered some of the names from my childhood. Please write a book and sign it for me and my children and John French Picky head Picknee dem to read in school so they don't just learn Chinese.
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skyewill

PEOPLE KEEP CALM

#3 GRAY FARM MAN » 2014-04-04 08:54

Baldwin is testing the people of this country to rise up so he can declare a state of emergency and delay the elections indefinitely. Mr. Gaston Browne, I use to campaign with Spencer in Gray Farm. I know the man. Keep your cool. You and your Party are poised to win the elections. He say he is waiting on Court's decision, he is tempting our people to loose their cool and do things that are illegal. That is why he and Chacku were in Five Islands last Sunday to tempt your people. April 26th is around the corner, just keep your head down and we will take out this pond drinking water Dictator.
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GRAY FARM MAN

Interesting!

#2 Hot Pants » 2014-04-04 08:26

Not exactly true...ABLP has talked about their plans to fix the economy and provide more private sector jobs...the UPP has touted their accomplishments in terms of social programs...

So both sides have made some arguments to get elected...maybe not enough, but both have...

Also, remember that all pieces of history are subject to "subjective analysis"...

All in all, an interesting piece...
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Hot Pants

re Call the Election Now

#1 Woods » 2014-04-04 04:35

It's time for you put the wealth of historical fact's that you possess into a book Leonart.
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Woods

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