CREDIT UNIONS: SOME­THING TO CEL­E­BRATE

(Part One)

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - Peter Josie

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.

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