40Th Anniversary Of 1981 Bills: The Power Of The People Unleashed
So outrageous were the “Dread Bills”, tabled by the government in Parliament in May 1981, that not only did they evoke massive local protest but caused a flood of condemnation from abroad, in the Caribbean as well as further afield. These in turn helped to strengthen local resolve to demand the withdrawal of the Bills.
However, in spite of these waves of opposition to the repressive Bills, the government would not back down. This resulted in an unprecedented level of mobilisation of broad sectors of the people against the Bills. Even persons long associated with support for the Labour government expressed disapproval of the Bills and urged the political directorate to heed the call of the Vincentian people. All to no avail, leaving the broad coalition of organisations opposed to the Bills, the National Committee in Defence of Democracy (NCDD), ably supported by the United People’s Movement (UPM), no choice but to step up the mobilisation.
On Wednesday June 3, 1981, history was made in SVG with the largest-ever demonstration witnessed in our country flooding the streets of capital city, Kingstown. Thousands of people from all walks of life marched with the NCDD to demand the withdrawal of the proposed legislation. This is how JUSTICE newspaper, the organ of the UPM described the march of the people:
“In one massive avalanche, the working people from every constituency converged on Kingstown on Wednesday afternoon………….The huge lake of people gathered at the Peace Memorial Hall and at the appointed hour rolled off in one mighty sea……”
The march went around Kingstown and proceeded up Back Street where, to quote JUSTICE again, “…….an exceptionally jubilant gathering of about one thousand spectators cheered the ten thousand strong marchers into the Market Square.”
Attesting to the size of the march, the paper quoted one elderly female spectator as commenting as follows:
“Joshua’s marches were big, but this one has no end, it undoubtedly is the biggest demonstration ever in St Vincent..”
The massive crowd at the Market Square rally was addressed by leaders of the NCDD, led by its Chairman, the late Cyril Roberts, leader of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union and including the then Leader of the Opposition Calder Williams, Leroy ‘Chico’ Ellis of the Public Service Association, local barrister PR Campbell, recently deceased, who explained the dangers of the proposed legislation to the huge gathering, and Renwick Rose of the UPM. Chairman of the meeting, Bro. Oscar Allen, invoked the approval of the thousands for pronouncing the Bills as “dead” and rejected by the people of this country.
It was an historic occasion in our country’s development. The People were speaking decisively. More was to come shortly as we shall see.