Friday, 03 August 2012 02:29
By press release
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ALP) joins with the people of the Commonwealth Caribbean in their celebration of Emancipation Day 2012.
On August 1, 1834, one hundred and seventy-eight years ago, the forebears of today’s Antiguans and Barbudans successfully gained their freedom from forced labour. The ALP stands guard over that cherished freedom and will not allow our gains to be diminished.
Though slavery ended in 1834, it was nevertheless not until 1939, with the founding of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) and passage of the Trade Unions Act, that the freedom promised in 1834 began to be realized. For more than 100 years—from 1834 until 1939—it was unlawful for employees in Antigua and Barbuda to form a union and to engage in collective bargaining.
The AT&LU/ALP organized workers throughout Antigua and Barbuda into a fighting force which won, in 1951, a new constitution that guaranteed adult suffrage. Every man and woman twenty-one years and older, in that year, was able to cast a vote for one of eight representatives to the Parliament. The AT&LU/ALP also fought to promote self-expression and cultural innovations by the majority population.
The leaders of the AT&LU/ALP in 1947 protected the steelbands and the iron bands in Antigua from being banned and quieted. The country’s first trade union, with its strong support in the villages and in the islands’ towns, protected “the poor man’s piano” from being silenced, by those who saw cultural self-expression as injurious to morals. The Hells Gate (Point), Brute Force (South Street), Red Army (Grays Farm), Blue Skies (Jennings), Man Power (St. Johnston’s Village), Sun Valley (Barnes Hill), and Miami Jeeps (Old Road) were brought together as early as August 1949, at King George V Memorial Grounds, on the initiative of the AT&LU.
The AT&LU/ALP and Mr. Edward Margetson, an outstanding musician, fostered competition among the steelbands, and ensured that their members learned to read and understand music. In fact, it was The Workers’ Voice Newspaper, the organ of the AT&LU, which gave voice to an annual Carnival in its Saturday, May 5, 1953, edition. The first anniversary of the death of the King and the immediate ascendancy of Elizabeth, as our Queen, sparked the annual celebration which acted as the event to inspire the newspaper’s interest.
Under the new Minister of Social Services, Edmund Hawkins Lake, the first Carnival was organized in 1957—one year following the second adult-suffrage election in Antigua and Barbuda. In the year 1956, Ministerial government was introduced to Antigua and Barbuda.
The AT&LU/ALP leaders chose Emancipation Day, August 1, for the annual festival. They wanted the Carnival to coincide with the date of our freedom from slavery, as a mark of what had been and could be produced by the descendants of emancipated people. The cultural festival encouraged creativity and self-expression among artists. Competition among steelbands, floats, calypsonians, troupes and individuals was the norm in 1957. The festival was subsequently extended to two days’ holidays, and organized on the first Monday and Tuesday of August, annually.
The ALP recognizes that not many people today, 2012, make the connection between Emancipation and Carnival. But in 1957, or fifty-five years ago, long before internal self-government and sovereignty, the AT&LU/ALP sought to make the connection between the past and the future permanent. The ALP will continue to emphasize the importance of cultural expression by providing resources and other support to those groups and individuals who help to make Antigua and Barbuda the venue for the greatest Summer Festival.
During the leadership of Prime Minister Lester Bird, the bands and the troupes were able to have their equipment and their materials enter Antigua and Barbuda free of any duty and port charges. Many artistes even received direct subsidies from government to help them to make music and to encourage expression.
The ALP, upon its return to governance, will ensure that emancipation, 178 years ago this year, is not cast aside. Trinidad and Tobago is today hosting the President of Nigeria, H.E. Mr. Goodluck Johnathan, and an entourage who have come to celebrate their emancipation and sovereignty. Jamaica is holding a five-day celebration and has created an Emancipation Park to serve as highlights of its people’s emancipation and sovereignty. The ALP will continue to give great emphasis to Antigua and Barbuda’s history and our people’s achievements each year when it returns to governance, in 2014 or earlier.