CREDIT UNIONS: SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE
When did you last hear the phrase “controlling the commanding heights of the economy?” I bet it was a long time ago, if at all. The saying returned to me when I read that the St. Lucia Workers' Credit Union had acquired brand new offices in Castries, where it hopes to better serve its members. It's an achievement the nation ought to celebrate. The event took me back to the teachings of the St. Lucia Forum of the early 1970s. I therefore consider it a duty, as a founding member of that group, to encourage citizens to join a credit union of their choice as the St. Lucia Workers' Credit Union marks an auspicious occasion.
The event that marked a new chapter in the life of the credit union is one which politicians should be falling over each other to praise and encourage. I encourage them and their constituents to join a credit union. This would help raise the profile of politics on the island and confirm that they are finally returning to that which matters most in a country and its people—the economy! It cannot be denied that George F.L. Charles, Martin ‘Oleo' Jn. Baptiste and Burke King (father of the NWU's Tyrone Maynard) laid the foundation on which the island's credit unions were built. Neither can it be denied that it was George Odlum, Peter Josie, and Hilford Deterville of the St. Lucia Forum who first made the connection between collective wealth accumulation (savings) amongst citizens (local banks and credit unions), using political education to emphasize self-respect and self-worth. The Forum's message was at the heart of the formation of the Commercial Bank of Saint Lucia. It aided in the establishment of the Saint Lucia Development Bank.
Having recently suffered the neglect of Emancipation Day, I consider it my duty to point out some issues for discussion at the 40th anniversary of Independence in 2019. In so doing, I return to three of the several principles laid down by the St. Lucia Forum: To control the island's scare resources, including the land and the accumulation and control of savings; to build self-confidence and resilience in workers and producers on the island through continuous training and political education and to use the media to promote these ideas in a way that does not conflict with good manners, etiquette and logical debate that cut across narrow partisan politics.
In the process of development we must learn to give jack his jacket. We may dislike a man and his politics, but before we begin to expatiate on what in him we dislike, we must make certain to introduce our analysis with the good that individual has accomplished. For example, in criticizing past politicians for the things we disliked about them (including George F. L. Charles, founder of the SLP and John Compton, founder of the UWP), we first must ascertain that we recall the struggles these two had selflessly engaged in on behalf of sugarcane cutters of the 50s and 60s and later on behalf
of banana farmers. We ought also to recall that it was Odlum, Josie, Deterville and the St. Lucia Forum that first educated the masses to build self-worth and pride and in the process taught them to appreciate their history and their heritage. Adult suffrage did not elevate the thinking of the common man; the Forum's ideas and political education of the 70s did.
Under George Charles and John Compton, the electorate achieved adult suffrage—one man (age 21 and over), one vote. Despite adult suffrage the masses—the malaway and the barely literate—were never exposed to a study of themselves, their history and their economic circumstances within the global situation. Only when George Odlum, Peter Josie and the St. Lucia Forum arrived on the public scene did that change. Later, it was these two who energized the St. Lucia Labour Party and instilled in the masses their value as human beings, and the need “to take up their beds and walk.”
It was therefore no coincidence that this writer, on being appointed Minister of Agriculture in 1979, organised a group of local small farmers to visit Trinidad to observe advanced methods in vegetable and food production there, and at the UWI faculty of agriculture. Again, it was no fluke or act of cheap politics that during my too-short period as minister, banana farmers visited Martinique to observe updated methods of husbandry in banana cultivation. And to crown it all, it was under my watch as Minister of Agriculture that banana farmers accompanied me to England to observe the rigid selection process their bananas underwent before final distribution and sale at various supermarkets. Importantly, farmers and fishermen on the island were encouraged to form credit unions in which to place their savings, and to act as agents for the procurement of needed inputs and materials. Of course, we were heavily criticized by some for opening the eyes of workers and people, politically. The establishment, including some religious authorities, felt threatened. They feared losing control of the peoples' minds. It came to a head during the passage of the Education Bill that was introduced in parliament by Hunter Francois, Minister of Education, in 1973. The Bill was strongly supported by the St. Lucia Forum. Without it, there would not be as many secondary schools on the island today; neither would there be a Sir. Arthur Lewis Community College.
It's now sixty years or so since the first credit union was started in Saint Lucia. Perhaps the time has come for the country to begin to choose its parliamentarians based on membership and support for the credit union movement, community service and membership in sporting organisations.
Still, we need to guard against wolves in sheep's clothing as some will attempt to use the foundation built by Odlum and Josie and others, to enrich themselves and family. It should be an unwritten rule in politics that we encourage citizens to save in banks, and invest in credit unions, and continue to jealously guard these as they pursue control of the commanding heights of the economy.
Whatever else may be said about their politics, there can be no doubt John Compton, George F.L. Charles, George Odlum and the author Peter Josie (left to right) made valuable contributions to the union movement in Saint Lucia.