Krishna Datt’s claim that the Fiji Teachers Union had ‘formed and launched’ the Fiji Labour Party as reported by Fiji Village (6/4)
is not only misinformation, it is a gross distortion of historical facts, says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
The claim was reportedly made at the launch of Mr Datt’s book on the history of the Fiji Teachers Union (FTU) at Rishikul
High School on Tuesday.
To put the record straight: Fiji Labour Party was formed by the Fiji Trades Union Congress in response to a resolution passed at its 31st biennial Delegates Conference in Suva in May 1985, Mr Chaudhry said.
It was directly prompted by the unilateral imposition of a wage freeze, effective 1 January 1985, by the Alliance government of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara in flagrant disregard of the spirit of the Tripartite Forum which had hitherto regulated industrial practices and procedures.
The FTUC resolution declared “… it is now opportune and appropriate for the FTUC to enter the arena of party politics to safeguard and advance the interests of the workers and the community as a whole to depolarize Fiji politics in order to foster the principles of genuine parliamentary democracy.”
FLP was launched by the FTUC on 6 July 1985 as a result.
“The wage freeze was imposed against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between government and the trade unions in the years immediately preceding it. Among these was an on-going rather rancorous teachers’ dispute with the Ministry of Education. FTUC and its affiliate unions fully supported the teachers in their stand-off against the Education Ministry which had culminated in a two-week strike by the teachers in February 1985.
“In fact, Pratap Chand, a former secretary general of the FTU, is on record stating that when government finally agreed to go to arbitration on the dispute, I represented the two teacher unions in the proceedings and won the case for them,” said Mr Chaudhry who was assistant national secretary of the FTUC at the time.
“ To the Congress the wage freeze was the final straw in a series of assaults on the unions and workers by the Mara government. It is thus wrong to claim that the FTU or any one union had formed the Fiji Labour Party,” said Mr Chaudhry.
“ If credit for it must go to any one person, it should be to Dr Timoci Bavadra who as president of the Fiji Public Service Association had been in the forefront of the advocacy for a labour party for several years prior to its formation.
“This was duly recognized when he was appointed Labour’s first President at its launch in July 1985 and later went on to become Labour’s first Prime Minister in April 1987,” Mr Chaudhry said.