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70th Anniversary of Adult Suffrage

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A piece on Facebook by Lennox Honychurch about the anniversary of what he called “70 Years of Votes for all” reminded me that like Dominica, this year is also our 70th anniversary of Adult Suffrage. Dominica’s first election under Adult Suffrage was on October 31, 1951, while ours was on October 15. According to Honychurch the total number of electors was 23, 288 who voted for 31 candidates contesting 8 seats. Of interest was that there were no political parties; all candidates ran as independents and 79.9 percent of ballots were cast. St. Vincent had 27, 409 registered voters, 69.7 of whom voted, with 1,298 rejected ballots. With the exception of North Leeward, three candidates each contested in the other seven constituencies for the Workers Association, the Workers Union and one independent. Voters in North Leeward  had to decide between Samuel Slater of the Workers Union and Edmund Joachim of the Workers Association.

     There were obviously some interesting developments in Dominica that led to a contest only by independents.  Perhaps Lennox will provide relevant information. Dominica in 1940 became part of the Windward Islands constitutional establishment, being removed from the Leeward Islands. When Crown Colony Government ended in 1924,  like St. Vincent, Dominica attained elected representative government. They had too, an active Representative Government Association. The formation of McIntosh’s Workingmen’s Association in St. Vincent signalled the end of the Representative Government Association as many of the members joined his political group. Dominica was not one of the colonies that participated in the major uprisings in the 1930s.   

     The announcement about the introduction of Adult Suffrage was made in 1949 but it was widely anticipated given the impact of the uprisings of the ‘30s, the advocacy for a federation and extension of the franchise by bodies like the Caribbean Labour Congress.

McIntosh’s Workingmens Association despite internal conflicts, was widely expected to  command control of the new council, but a new group appeared on the scene that set the politics of the country ablaze. On May Day, May 5, 1951, the United Workers Peasants and Rate Payers Union was launched. Over 2,000 workers, wearing black crosses in tribute to those who had made sacrifices to give them the power they then claimed to have, marched from the King George V Playing Field at Arnos Vale to Victoria Park, accompanied by two musical bands with base drums playing the marching song, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. The President George Charles later addressed the crowd. He was described as a ‘bearded’ man who in three months was able to mobilise thousands of workers. As the Vincentian described it “In very dramatic style he took a bible and swore to be faithful to the Union promising never to let them down.”

     Having taken a decision to contest the election they began to frequent the Market Square. Joshua made his first appearance at one of the meetings toward the end of May and was described as a visiting member of the Butler party of Trinidad. This was one of the keys to their success. Joshua and Charles had been associated with Uriah Buttler in Trinidad and learnt skills that they used to mobilise the workers.  Charles rocked the crowd when he promised the gathering “a political fight in underpants.” Joshua in an hour long address, was reported to have given the crowd “ a sample of the good old rabble rousing oratory”  and claimed that “political spring is here”.

     Their message was getting a good response from the crowd at the Market Square. McIntosh was on the defence. He had spent some time in London representing the country at the Festival of Britain. On his return he was forced to defend his age. He argued, ‘One should be judged not by number of days, but by ability to serve, and with age comes experience.’ He was then only 65. The day came with a sense of anticipation; blind and sick people being taken to the polls! The headlines told it all. “Union Workers Create Political Landside-Captured Eight Seats!” A new day had dawned!

l Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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