BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – St. Kitts and Nevis’ First National Hero, the Right Excellent Sir Robert L. Bradshaw was a political titan of Caribbean civilisation and an exceptional political leader and statesman who performed extraordinary deeds in St. Kitts and Nevis and in the wider Caribbean.
“Bradshaw dwells in our hearts. Only those with envy or bent on re-enacting old battles or still smarting from past jealousies and conflicts, will contest an uplifting and enduring, unwritten memorial of Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw in our grateful hearts,” said Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves at the launching of the Robert L. Bradshaw Institute of Governance, Politics and Industrial Relations.
Dr. Gonsalves said he knew of Bradshaw before he met him and from readings and conversations with persons personally connected to Bradshaw he had formed the settled view that Bradshaw “was a social democrat grounded in the working people’s movement, an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist, a nationalist and Caribbean regionalist and a monumental fighter for justice and equality.”
Gonsalves who was 22 years old and President of the Guild of Graduates at the UWI, Mona Campus in Jamaica, in 1969, Bradshaw who was attending a Special Meeting of the University Council had sought him out and engaged him during a coffee break in a discussion of the role and function of the university and of the concerns of young persons in the Caribbean.
“I found his interest in meas in me, young people and the university flattering and absorbing,” said Dr. Gonsalves, who traced Bradshaw’s upbringing and thirst for knowledge and academic upliftment and heralded Bradshaw’s election as President of the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union in 1944 at the age of 28 years “an historic moment.”
Prime Minister Gonsalves noted Bradshaw’s leading a 13-week strike on the sugar plantations and sugar factory “for increased wages, improved legislative protection for workers, better working conditions, social amenities and working people’s representation in economic enterprises and in government.”
Bradshaw who lost his job as a machinist at the sugar factory, established links with regional and international trade union organisations. Bradshaw entered politics and at 30 years was elected the Legislative Council.
Prime Minister Gonsalves told the large audience that when the West Indies Federation was established in 1958, Bradshaw left for the Federal capital in Trinidad while the principal leaders in the other territories like Vere Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, William Bramble of Montserrat, Edward Le Blanc of Dominica, George Charles and John Compton of St. Lucia; Eric Gairy of Grenada, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica and Eric Williams and Dr. Rudranath of Trinidad and Tobago stayed at home.
With Grantly Adams of Barbados, who became Prime Minister, Bradshaw at the age of 42 became the first and only Minister of Finance of the Federal Government and remained in the office until the Federation was dissolved in 1958.
“Without doubt, Bradshaw’s commitment to a political union of the West Indies prompted him to sacrifice meaningful political authority in his country for the greater good of the region. This selflessness adds to Bradshaw’s status. He was bitterly disappointed at the collapse of the Federation but never abandoned hope for a political union of the West Indies. Bradshaw pushed for deeper Windward Islands, Leeward Islands integration and was enthused at the formation of the Caribbean Free Trade Area in 1969 and later the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973,” said Prime Minister Gonsalves, who pointed out that Bradshaw had never relinquished his place as leader of the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union and the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.
Bradshaw was reelected to the Legislative Council and after the 1966 General Elections became Chief Minister and Premier on the attainment of statehood in 1967.
“No other political party in the Caribbean region’s history has ever shown political dominance as the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party. For 22 years (1946 – 1978) Bradshaw led the Labour Party to electoral triumphs. After universal adult suffrage in 1952 the Labour Party won elections in 1952, 1957, 1961, 1966, 1971 and 1975 – six consecutive victories following upon three pre-adult suffrage triumphs in 1940, 1943 and 1946. Between 1940 and 2015, a period of 75 years, the Labour Party has been victorious in 13 general elections; it lost only five. Between 1940 and 2015, a period of 75 years the Labour Party was victorious at the polls for 60 years. This is an absolutely amazing record and Robert Bradshaw has been the towering figure through it all, in life and death,” said Prime Minister Gonsalves.
He said Bradshaw displayed the highest hallmark of leadership in that he not only inspired people to mighty things but more than that he drew out for them their goodness, nobility and possibilities which oftimes they did not know what they themselves possessed.
“He lifted his people’s creative imagination and collective sense of enormous possibilities beyond the narrow boundaries of the landscape and seascape of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla,” said Prime Minister Gonsalves.
He is of the view that Robert Bradshaw’s socio-economic and political achievements have been extraordinary.
“These accomplishments have markedly lifted the quality of people’s lives; indeed his political praxis has been responsible for a veritable social democratic revolution in St. Kitts and Nevis.His legacy is huge and has been built upon by his party-union successors,” said Dr. Gonsalves, who itemised some of Bradshaw’s achievements.
“A modern legislative framework to protect and advance workers’ rights, working conditions, wahes, workplace safety, diversification of the monocrop agricultural-based economy into tourism, and light manufacturing, financial and allied services; establishment of social security, setting up of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank; the rights for women, introduction of free secondary and tertiary education, dramatic enhancement of education, health, social protection and social services; the building of a resilient and extensive physical infrastructure including a modern airport and sea port and cruise ship facility; a well developed network of roads; the provision of affordable housing for the working people and the poor, the acquisition of the sugar lands, the dismantling of colonialism as a prelude to independent nationhood and the strengthening of the judiciary, citizen security, enhancement of good governance generally including an aversion to official corruption and providing leadership for deepening regional integration,” said the Vincentian leader.
He noted that at Bradshaw’s funeral “there was a massive and near universal outpouring of sadness, grief and a profound sense of loss.”
Prime Minister Gonsalves in his 90 minute presentation by referred to a relevant query and insightful answer in Nevisian Whitman book on Bradshaw “From Commoner to King:”
‘Why did the fortunes of St. Kitts and Nevis rest so much on the outcome of Bradshaw’s struggle with death?Why did Americans, the English, Africans and people around the Caribbean mourn with Kittitians and Nevisians? The answer lay in the magnanimity of Robert Bradshaw as a leader, politician and human being. His confidence, self-assuredness, bravery and political astuteness were enviable. At all times, even when the chips were down, as was the case when he struggled to win back Anguilla, Bradshaw stood tall. Few people ever saw him afraid. He faced political, social and historical realities from a stance of optimism. Even when the verdict was ‘death’s inevitable in a short time’ Bradshaw searched for and expected life. He hoped to win – even against death. But as he died, he saw beyond the grave. Thus his parting words to his comrades ‘HOLD STRAIN …KEEP THE MASSES’ MOVEMENT STRONG”.
“That was Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw. a political titan of our Caribbean civilisation. We revere his memory.” Prime Minister Gonsalves concluded his 90 minute address at the Matlin Moving Conference Centre Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), forerunner to the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority (ECCA), brought to St. Kitts by Bradshaw in the early 1970’s.