(For whatever it is worth, I dedicate this column to the memory of the late Farouk, a worker at the old slaughterhouse immediately east of Edward Park/Rogers Stadium.)
When things began becoming dangerous around me in 1969 and 1970, I didn’t turn to my own class of people, who may be described as the petit bourgeoisie. I turned to the lumpenproletariat of Belize. In thinking about it so long after the fact, I suppose it may really have been that, as opposed to my turning to the lumpenproletariat, that they in fact chose to come to my rescue. Whichever it was, the distinction is now merely a matter of academic exercise. In brute, street terms, what is relevant is that there was a working relationship between a university graduate and relatively uneducated, substantially unemployed core of Belizeans.
Between 1965 and 1968 in New Hampshire, I had listened carefully to the experiences of the man Guy Mhone, who had been a student activist in Malawi. Malawi had been a British colony in the southern part of Africa called Nyasaland. The same British stamp on Nyasaland had been used to stamp British Honduras. The British used the same stamp on all their colonies. All over the world, wherever the British had held colonies, these colonies were becoming independent in the 1960s, and the nationalist leaders who emerged to lead the parliamentary democracies of the former colonies were pretty similar. Almost all of them had been labor union leaders before and during the anti-colonial struggle, so that the bulk of their support was comprised of native workers. So in Malawi, thus in Belize.
In the early part of the 1960s, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) had replaced the General Workers Union as the powerhouse labor union, at least in Belize City, and it appeared to me that the strength of the CWU came from waterfront workers. Nick Pollard, Jr., is much more conversant than I with the union sagas of the 1960s, and so I would stand to be corrected if he chooses to disagree with me. I can only say what I believed to be true, and in 1969 I believed the CWU and its waterfront workers to be very much ruling People’s United Party (PUP) supporters. In 1969, Belize City, the capital and population center, was still very prominent, probably dominant, in the public affairs of British Honduras. Belmopan, the new capital, was not opened until August of 1970.
Events connected with the Thirteen Proposals in 1966 and the Seventeen Proposals in 1968 confirmed that the trade union support of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) came from a clerical union – the Public Service Union (PSU). (These workers called “public officers” today, were called “civil servants” back then.) The civil servants had been hostile to the PUP from the early 1950s, when it was the National Party (NP) which was opposing the PUP. (The PUP was organized in 1950 and the NP in 1951.)
In the colonial days of the 1950s, to be a civil servant in British Honduras was to be an employee of the British government. Since the PUP was seeking to oust our colonial masters from British Honduras, it is understandable that the civil servant class would support their British bosses. Remember, jobs were very scarce in colonial Belize. Civil servants were worried about their future.
In 1958, the National Party merged with a political party called the Honduran Independence Party (HIP), which Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson had formed in 1957 after they were defeated in a PUP power struggle in late 1956 by George Price and his faction of followers. Up until 1956, Leigh Richardson had been the duly elected Leader of the PUP. I believe he had replaced the first PUP Leader, one Johnny Smith, who had decided that he did not have the stomach for the fight against the British. Leigh Richardson did have the stomach for the anti-colonial struggle, proving it by going to jail in 1951 (along with Philip Goldson) on trumped-up sedition charges. What Leigh Richardson apparently did not have the stomach for, was a fight against his own PUP people, and he soon left for Trinidad to work at a newspaper there. There is almost no record of any Richardson activity in the new National Independence Party (NIP).
Mr. Goldson, who had always been more bookish and less physical than Mr. Richardson, proved to be the one who was prepared to stand up to the PUP. It is not clear to me how Mr. Goldson ended up in control of The Belize Billboard, which had been founded by one Nacho Valdes in the 1940s and became the newspaper organ of the PUP during the early 1950s. Mr. Goldson lost his power in the PUP in late 1956, to repeat, but, importantly, he had gotten control of The Billboard, which he quickly turned into a cash cow. The Billboard was a daily newspaper back then, with massive popular support. The financial strength of the newspaper enabled Mr. Goldson, it has appeared to me, to sit back in his early NIP days and observe the incumbent NIP leadership of the one Herbert Fuller. Yes, The Billboard under Mr. Goldson was carrying the anti-Guatemalan fight to the PUP, but it is noteworthy that Mr. Goldson did not even run in the 1961 general elections for the NIP.
Anyway, when Mr. Goldson became NIP Leader after Mr. Fuller died in late 1961, his union support continued to be a clerical one – the PSU. The fact that he did not have support from a manual workers union meant, in the case of Belize City, that Mr. Goldson was giving up the streets to the PUP.
After he lost an NIP leadership convention to Mr. Goldson in mid-1969, the attorney Dean Lindo organized his own party, the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and he almost immediately formed a working relationship with the Democratic Independent Union (DIU), led by Cyril Davis. Perhaps that working relationship had existed before Mr. Lindo’s NIP leadership challenge. In fact, it being the case that Mr. Lindo’s law office and political headquarters were at no. 7 Church Street, and Mr. Davis’ DIU office was at the corner of the said Church Street and West Canal, just a few houses away, I always wondered if Mr. Lindo in fact had a hand in the foundation of the DIU. It is for sure that the PDM and the DIU, Mr. Lindo and Mr. Davis, were very, very close.
There was a critical strike in 1969 led by the DIU, I do believe, which involved the hundreds of Belizeans, many from Belize City, who were working at what was then called the New Capital Site. These were the workers who were constructing the buildings and infrastructure which became Belmopan in August of 1970. I think that strike took place during the early, formative months of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in 1969, and I had almost no idea of what was taking place at the New Capital Site. If I had had any idea at all of what local politics was about at the time, I would have paid very close attention to that New Capital Strike, how it may have factored into the Lindo challenge to Goldson, and how it may have affected the PUP decision to call general elections early, in December of 1969 instead of March of 1970.
In retrospect, when UBAD was established in February of 1969 I was such a public affairs rookie. February of 1969 was just thirteen months before general elections were due in Belize. In UBAD, we were truly in another world, while the electoral politicians were jockeying for position. Lindo made a bid to unseat Goldson as NIP Leader, formed the PDM, and then just six months later the two were forced to join in a shaky “NIPDM” coalition when Mr. Price dissolved the House of Representatives in November of 1969.
I didn’t know diddly about public affairs, I will say it again. But I had a sense of how to protect myself from the thugs of the PUP and the NIP. I had learned some lessons from Guy Mhone, and I figured out other things for myself. I knew the thugs would come after me, and I could not expect the petit bourgeoisie to stand for me. They were basically brown people, and they did not believe that they were black.
But, the petit bourgeoisie are my people, and so over the decades since 1969/70 there have been occasions when I have become sentimental and reached out to them. Waste of time. Where they are, is where they want to be, and they don’t like my lumpen crowd. I understand. Nevertheless, where I am, is where I man have to be. When the going got rough, the lumpen stood for me. So let it be written. That’s the way it was done.
Power to the people.