“Our fight is political, yes – but it is more. It is just and is fair. Do not be afraid. Many have faced times more trying than this. What are we if we cannot stand up for what is right and work for what is fair? There must be the basic standards of good we set ourselves – and if we follow them we cannot falter. In the end, we will prevail”. -Dr. Timoci Bavadra
Dr. Timoci Bavadra, the man who led the Fiji Labour Party to its phenomenal victory in the 1987 elections to become Fiji’s second Prime Minister, died on 3 November 1989. Such is the measure of the man, that years after his death, his memory still inspires one to strive for what he stood for in life – the principles of democracy and social justice: individual freedoms, fairness and equality for all in a multiracial Fiji.
It is with some nostalgia that we recall Dr. Bavadra’s inaugural address at the launching of the Fiji Labour Party on that historic day of 6th July, 1985. Here are extracts from the speech reproduced under subheads for ease of reference. They identify the broader principles on the formation of the Party.
Why the Fiji Labour Party was launched?
“… the idea of launching labour party in Fiji has been around for a long time, it has taken the current economic crises and the present government’s failure to cope with it, to make the party a reality.
As the economic crises worsened through the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, the unions tried best to work with the government in seeking equitable solutions. The unilateral imposition of the wage freeze late last year indicated that the government was no longer willing to discuss matters with the representatives of the workers.
As responsible trade unionists, we felt compelled to react strongly to government policies that threatened the well being of our members and, indeed, of all Fiji citizens. We recognised that it was time for workers to form their own political party.”
The Party with a deep commitment to the People
At the heart of this is a commitment to democratic socialism. In seeking ways to overcome the many problems that face our nation, we are determined to ensure that development policies serve the interest of the people.
We must work hard to ensure that our party is not just a party of unionists or of members of only one segment of the society. It must be a party for all our people, no matter where they live, what their own race, or how they earn a living. To make this a reality is no easy task.
The Youth and the Poor
The government has done relatively little to support the efforts of church organisations to help the underprivileged. This reflects the government’s lack of commitment to providing services for the poor. Relying on kinship obligations is no solution to the growing poverty in our country. Tangible benefits must be provided for the poor. Increasingly, the largest segment of those who are poor is the unemployed youth. A great deal more must be done to encourage projects in villages and towns, which will help the youth. Moreover, the youth and the poor in general must have a greater voice at all levels of society to ensure that their aspirations and talents are adequately catered for. At the national level, this initiative should include the lowering of the voting age to 18.
The Land Problem
It is a topic that most politicians have been afraid to confront. Yet, clearly we must come to terms with the many problems in the way our land is used or not used, in how benefits are distributed, and in how decisions are made about its use. It is one of the key institutions that must be democratised so that it serves the interests of all Fijians and not just the privileged few and their business associates… more effort must be made to see that those whose land is being leased, enjoy a greater proportion of rental revenue from NLTB.
The few services provided by NLTB did not justify the high levies and the board could do more for the people it served, provide better infrastructure and ensure increased productivity of land. A review of the rent distribution system is also warranted.
In promoting industrial growth, we must strive to avoid the horrors that have accompanied urban industrial growth in so many parts of the world: slums and sweatshops. The rise of sweatshop labour in our urban centres must be dealt with, and promptly, before the standards we have achieved over the years are completely eroded. We must not be fooled into thinking that acceptance of low wages is necessary if we are to develop our industries.
Protection of unorganised workers in particular the domestic female workers is also a priority for the party.
Women garment workers
“The lack of a minimum wage in the manufacturing sector has meant that a large number of women are working long hours, performing repetitive menial jobs, with very low wages”.
The necessity to earn a living compels many of these women to tolerate such appalling conditions.
The disadvantaged society
…Both the urban and rural poor, the destitute, the returned soldiers and old age pensioners, women and youth … have been neglected for far too long, and have suffered the worst effects of the wage freeze and the rising costs of essential goods and services like food and bus fares.
To curb corrupt practises, the introduction of a code of conduct for the nation’s leaders. The Companies Act to be tightened to allow for the detection of corrupt practises and the prosecution of those responsible. Dr. Bavadra called for an independent judiciary:
One that is free from political patronage. Our internal security system must not serve the interests of those in power, but the welfare of all our people.
Since the Labour Party was committed to the principles of democratic socialism, the Nationalisation of key industries such as the bus industry and the gold mining industry was important. Two of Fiji’s most important and successful enterprises, the sugar industry and the airport were either state controlled or run by workers with state assistance. Dr. Bavadra has been quoted as:
“I would not call for the nationalisation of all our industries, but there are areas where public ownership may well be warranted in the national interest. One of these areas is the bus industry. Public transport is simply too important a service in our poor country to be left entirely to private hands. Another industry is the gold mine in Vatukoula. The existence of an almost sovereign entity in our nation is an embarrassment to us all. It is imperative that the worst abuses at the mine be eliminated and that we acquire control over such an important industry”.
We believe that the ideal of free education must become a reality through government subsidisation of books, bus fares, and other necessary items.
Fiji Labour Party argued for a policy of non-alignment;
“We have become the client state of certain foreign powers; and this is definitely not in our interest. A policy of non-alignment should guide our approach to trade and diplomatic relations, and requires our support for the struggles of ordinary people around the world against oppression”.
Fiji must guard against becoming pawns of foreign powers and must make a principled stand on a nuclear-free Pacific and the de-colonisation of Pacific islands.
Fiji Military Forces
We must see to it that our military serves our own needs, and not the interests of others. There was a great danger in allowing the FMF to become just “a band of mercenaries”.