Here is a short history of the ABLP: 52 Years of Formal Existence—
November 24, 1968 to November 24, 2020, by Ambassador Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst.
- On November 24, 1968, 52 years ago, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) became a separate and distinct organization from the Antigua and Barbuda Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU). When Labour challenged the colonial authorities and those who were propertied, shortly after the AT&LU was birthed, the trade union became the vehicle upon which it relied.
Luther George, the first phenotypically black Antiguan to win a seat in the parliament, in 1943, saw himself as an AT&LU candidate and proposed the formation of the AT&LU Political Committee. Consequently, the Labour Party marked its 75th birthday on September 23, 2018.
The Party’s very first manifesto was published on May 18, 1946, as a supplement to the Workers’ Voice Newspaper, in anticipation of a July 1946 general election. The Party has straddled colonial, pre-independence, and post-sovereignty governance cumulatively for seven and one-half decades. Its formation as a separate institution, with different leadership, came about 52 years ago, however.
- On April 7, 1967, 39 days following statehood, Premier Vere Bird succeeded in purchasing the assets of the Antigua Sugar Factory and the Antigua Syndicates Estate for a paltry EC$5,621,386.80. Thirty-three thousand acres of privately-owned fertile land became the property of the Antigua and Barbuda Government, along with the markets, the machinery and other assets. The ailing sugar industry was no longer profitable because of the invention of saccharin, the production of beet sugar and corn sugar in Europe, and the glut of cane sugar on the market as other countries began to produce the sweetener in larger quantities and at a lower cost than West Indian sugar. When George Walter and Donald Halstead, General Secretary and Field Officer in the AT&LU, disobeyed the directive of the AT&LU Executive, just about one month following the purchase, on May 5, 1967, and sought an increase for the sugar workers, they were dismissed by the AT&LU 20-person Executive. Both then began to disavow the practice of having the Union and the Government closely aligned; the President of the Union and the Premier of the country ought not to be vested in the same person. Their new trade union, called the Antigua Workers Union, would never align with any government. Together, the two former members virtually forced the AT&LU to separate itself from its political arm and the governance of the country. The ALP was thus born.
- On Sunday, November 24, 1968, hundreds of delegates to the first Convention of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party gathered at the St. John’s Boys School to formally give life to the youngest but oldest political party—the ABLP. Rugby Lake wrote the Constitution which called for a Political Leader, a Chairman, three Vice Chairmen, a Treasurer, a General Secretary, and an Executive. Vere Bird was elected the Political Leader; he was at the same time the President of the AT&LU—a position he would resign on October 1, 1969. The party was focused upon the 1971 general election. It lost.
Except for three election losses it suffered in 1971, 2004 and 2009, the ABLP was successful in 1946, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1965, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2014 and 2018, or for 13 of sixteen election cycles. It is a heritage party whose governance is well-remembered and has won the faith of generations of voters.
- The ABLP lost two successive elections to an amalgam of opposition parties—re-christened the United Progressive Party (UPP) in 1992. In 2004, the ABLP won 37% of the vote and lost 13 of the 17 constituencies to the UPP. By 2009, the decline of the UPP’s popularity was palpable; the ABLP re-gained three previously lost constituencies, raising the ABLP’s percentage to more than 46% of the vote, and lowering the UPP’s to 50% of the 2009 vote. Five years later, the ABLP won the general election of 2014 by capturing 14 of the 17 constituencies, and winning 57% of the vote. On March 21st 2018, the ABLP won 15 of the 17 constituencies, garnering nearly 60% of the votes cast.
- Four days ago, on November 20, 2020, a lawyer in the High Court tried persuading a Judge that the ABLP is a monopolistic party because of its invincibility on the political battlefield. That appears to be the case of those who believe that the heritage party wins elections because it has been around for almost seven decades. The ABLP has lasted because its governance and competence are unmatched.