Living up to the legacy of Anquetil’s Labour Party

The country is in earnest need of a rejuvenated Labour Party which can once again reignite the ethos of Anquetil and the stalwarts of the Party for the benefit of the multitude

The Labour Party is an intrinsic and indelible part of our national psyche. In the collective memory of the people, the Labour Party is equated to freedom and the independence of the country. Its determinant role from its foundation in 1936 in inspiring and mobilizing the people and the downtrodden multitude to fight for their rights, for improved working conditions for their diligent hard work and to support the cause of freedom of the country is unique and unmatched in our political history. The challenges and the odds to take on the combined might of the sugar oligarchy and the colonial Establishment were formidable but the Labour Party was up to it.

For partisans and opponents alike, Labour Party’s uncompromising voice echoed the aspirations and dreams of the oppressed people for a better socio-economic and political order. Its cogent actions to fight against the abject exploitation of workers of, in particular, the sugar industry and improve their conditions of employment, to ensure their protection through the setting up of a Department of Labour, to extend suffrage to the common man and obtain representation of the people in the Legislative Council had perforce to be reckoned with by its rabid opponents and the colonial Establishment.

In 1936, at the time the Labour Party was founded, the people and in particular the workers of the sugar industry, the mainstay of the economy, lived under a regime of dire oppression and exploitation. Emmanuel Anquetil set up and organised the trade-union movement to bond workers together as comrades in arms and make them transcend differences of race, community or religion. He thus united the working classes who resolutely fought as one man for their rights and aspirations despite coercions of every kind, attempts to divide them and risks to their jobs.

It was again Jean Emmanuel Anquetil, especially when he took over as the President of the Labour Party in 1941, who helped build the Labour Party into a potent force organized to battle the sugar oligarchy and the colonial Establishment. He spoke of socialism, democracy and universal suffrage and worked hard on a programme for the welfare of the masses. Emmanuel Anquetil also had the strategic wisdom to reach out to the left leaning intelligentsia who were also active on different fronts in the country as columnists and socio-political activists on the field to uphold the rights of the people.

The aim was to ensure that the next elections are fought on a platform of the Labour Party joined by all the progressive forces on the basis of a well-defined programme which they all undertook, in a contract of trust with the people, to implement. After Anquetil died in December 1946, it was Guy Rozemont, the new President of the Labour Party who invited and ensured that the independent elected Members of the Legislative Council at the 1948 elections joined the Labour Party.

In the obituary which Jay Narain Roy, who had known and worked closely with Anquetil to fight for workers’ and the people’s rights, wrote in Advance on 7th January 1947, he said: “The Labour Party may not have been founded by him but it was Anquetil who gave life and vigour to it and worked it out into the first political organisation with a programme and a following. It was he again who brought it within the recognition of the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Labour Party of England and the Fabian Society.” He added that Anquetil was “fearless and outspoken and no power and temptation could curb his will to assert the rights of the multitude.”

It was finally Anquetil’s dual commitment to the Labour Party and the workers trade union that took its toll on his health.

* Published in print edition on 26 February 2016

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