Ge­orge Charles: A Saint Lu­cian Trade Union Hero!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LABOUR DAY -

Sir Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Lawrence Charles (7 June 1916 – 26 June 2004) has been cited by many as one who cham­pi­oned the cause of the work­ing class in Saint Lu­cia and some­one who pushed for the estab­lish­ment of trade unions here. The for­mer trade union­ist and politi­cian was a for­mer Chief Min­is­ter and the founder of the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party. He is a re­cip­i­ent of Saint Lu­cia’s sec­ond-high­est hon­our, the St. Lu­cia Cross (1987), and was knighted in 1988 by Queen El­iz­a­beth II. Ge­orge F. L. Charles Air­port in Cas­tries, Saint Lu­cia is named in his hon­our.

Ge­orge Charles was ed­u­cated at St. Mary’s Col­lege. Like many young West In­di­ans of his time, he mi­grated to Aruba and worked there for a year with the Largo Oil and Trans­port Com­pany. In Aruba he was ex­posed to trade union ac­tiv­i­ties and, on his re­turn to Saint Lu­cia in 1945, he cham­pi­oned the cause of the work­ers at the Vigie Air­port (now named af­ter him - Ge­orge F. L. Charles Air­port) Ren­o­va­tion Project, where he was em­ployed as a time­keeper. His sol­i­dar­ity on that oc­ca­sion pro­pelled him to the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary­ship of the Saint Lu­cia Work­ers Co­op­er­a­tive Union.

Ge­orge Charles played an in­creas­ingly ac­tive role in trade union­ism and by 1948 was elected to the Cas­tries Town Board as trade union rep­re­sen­ta­tive. He stepped up the ef­forts to se­cure a more demo­cratic mode of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and, in 1950, he and his fa­ther, James Charles were among the key per­son­al­i­ties in­volved in the or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party (SLP). The SLP im­me­di­ately be­came the dom­i­nant force in Saint Lu­cia for over a decade. He and his party had a mod­er­ate so­cial­ist agenda, em­pha­siz­ing work­ers’ rights and more au­ton­omy, or in­de­pen­dence, for Saint Lu­cia - then an over­seas colony of the United King­dom.

In the 1951 gen­eral elec­tions, the first held un­der uni­ver­sal adult suf­frage, the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party, un­der his lead­er­ship, won five of the eight seats against the mid­dle class-ori­ented Peo­ples Pro­gres­sive Party. Charles’s first res­o­lu­tion as an elected mem­ber was for legal recog­ni­tion of the right to paid leave, which was re­jected by the Colo­nial Au­thor­i­ties. The Labour Party was again vic­to­ri­ous in the 1954 gen­eral elec­tions.

The strug­gle that Ge­orge Charles led re­sulted in a se­ries of con­sti­tu­tional re­forms, ob­tain­ing a re­spon­si­ble min­is­te­rial gov­ern­ment sys­tem. Sir Ge­orge was named as the first Chief Min­is­ter (1960 re­form), as well as first Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion and So­cial Af­fairs.

Charles was Chief Min­is­ter un­til April 1964 when the gov­ern­ment fell. The SLP sub­se­quently lost the elec­tions for the first time. From then on, Charles played a lesser role in pol­i­tics. Af­ter Charles’ ten­ure as Chief Min­is­ter, the SLP spent most of the next three decades in op­po­si­tion. The SLP re­turned to power from 1979 to 1982, from 1997 to 2006, and again from 2011.

Charles, knighted by Queen El­iz­a­beth II in 1988, had re­ceived his coun­try’s sec­ond­high­est hon­our, the St. Lu­cia Cross in 1987.

Sir Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Lawrence Charles died on 26 June 2004 at age 88, af­ter a short ill­ness.

Sir Ge­orge F.L. Charles.

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