His party had won the elections but a happy camper he was not. By his measure 9-8 hardly represented a useful House majority. Besides, it underscored egregious ingratitude.
At what had been widely advertised as a post-election thank-you rally, party leader and prime minister John Compton, decked out in a screaming calypso shirt that clashed with his doomsday demeanor, informed the attending hundreds from around the island that he would not be keeping a particular campaign promise.
“I said this would be my last term,” he acknowledged, “but I am not going to leave and be forced to live for the rest of my life under any other but the United Workers Party. When I know the government, the party and the country are in good hands, then will I leave. For only then can I rest in peace.”
As I read the quoted last couple lines from a STAR report immediately following the 1987 general elections, I found myself wondering whether, as many continue to believe, the 80-something and secretly ailing Sir John had come out of retirement in 2005 mainly because he was convinced he would be denied a state funeral if he died while Kenny Anthony headed the government of Saint Lucia—in the same way the retired prime minister had been denied special parking space outside his William Peter Boulevard law office.
On the recalled occasion in Micoud, a stern-faced Compton, having expressed amazement at the size of his audience on a hot Sunday afternoon, had said: “People talk about the 9-8 election result. But that matters only in the House of Assembly. The important question is: How many people support the United Workers Party? We have 27,000. Labour has 18,000. We had 9000 more and if we had put 500 of these voters in every constituency, we’d have won the whole election. All seventeen of us would’ve won our seats.”
He concurred with an earlier statement by newcomer MP Louis George: “In this area we have left things undone while we did things for the opposition. We have put electricity in areas and left the people of Micoud without. We left this area without roads, while we built up the opposition constituencies. What has been the result? At election time they went to Labour. This time around we’ll keep those we have happy. We are first going to care for our own.”
As revealing as was Compton’s gospel back in 1987, sadly the attitude remains. But that’s for another inquiry. Compton saved his toughest words on the remembered occasion for public servants, particularly such as had openly campaigned against his return to office.
“You can’t have a man attacking a minister in his presence,” he said, “then go back to work on Monday morning, business as usual. I promise you will hear the news. I will deal with those vipers. When you are in the civil service you must not take part openly in political campaigns. From now on you will have to choose: partisan politics or your job.”
To thunderous applause, he went on: “When I deal with them and they start keeping noise and I call for a demonstration of support for the government’s action, action that the government must take and will take, I want to see you in the streets. I want to see your support for your government’s action to clean out the vipers’ nest!”
He cited unidentified teachers with political affiliations who he said could decide not to spend time teaching the children whose parents had party connections such teachers frowned upon.
And then there was the nation’s sole security force: “When the police start playing politics they endanger the lives of every single one of us, regardless of political affiliation. I will not retire and leave you with this kind of trouble. Before I go, I will clean out the vipers’ nest.”
He named a particular politician whom he said had been seen “with some Vieux Fort criminals” near his banana plantation shortly before it went up in flames. “
As I said in Castries,” he added, “they can kill me but they can never kill the dream. I will leave behind a United Workers Party that will carry on and achieve my dream for our country.”
Nearly 30 years later, how much of Compton’s dream has materialized? By all accounts the day’s CSA executive, normally perceived as the guardians of Labour Party policy, is girding up for war against the Kenny Anthony government, reportedly bent on making public service pay cuts—having only a few months ago controversially handed public servants a four percent increase.
Compton never carried out his threat. Maybe because his vipers’ nest resided only in his imagination. But there had been the unforgettable occasion when he told thousands of striking public servants and their sympathizers, among them SLP politicians campaigning for office, that even if they held a gun to his head still could not meet their pay demands.
The prime minister never stopped warning the nation that its public payroll was too heavy a burden for taxpayers and that if not appropriately adjusted would sink the ship of state.
In 2009, severely pressured by the public service unions and the opposition, then prime minister Stephenson King handed public workers a whopping 14 percent pay increase. The recorded fiery speeches delivered at the time from the steps of the Castries market are in sharp contrast with the government’s current pleas—despite that our economic circumstances were as bad back then as now!
On Monday his press secretary quoted the prime minister as having told unionists at a specially convened meeting that the government could no longer continue to finance expenditure by borrowing, traditional lenders having grown “exceedingly reluctant to finance govern-ments across the region.”
By Jadia JnPierre Emmanuel’s account, the prime minister “pointed out that the economy was not generating sufficient revenue to meet its expenses and the government could no longer finance recurrent expenditure by borrowing . . . In order to reduce the deficit, government had to reduce capital expenditure.”
Moreover, the government “had not entered into public discussions on reducing recurrent expenditure by cutting wages and salaries . . .” He reassured the union representatives that it is “not the intention of the government to deal with the situation by retrenching workers . . . However, the government would need to act to prevent any further deterioration on the gains made in reducing the fiscal deficit.”
Also last week bristling CSA members island-wide returned to office with an overwhelming majority their president Mary Isaac. The union had not responded favorably to the prime minister’s invitation to talk.
It remains to be seen whether, as President Truman had advised, Isaac not only speaks softly but also carries a big stick. By the look of things, it won’t be long before she is required to demonstrate her ability to use her big stick in the interest both of her country and her CSA membership!