A pivotal date in Bermuda history
The March 25, 1953 General Election was pivotal to the movement for social progress in Bermuda. Activists had quietly facilitated a deft move and outwitted the shenanigans of the oligarchy, enabling E.F. Gordon to secure re-election to represent St George’s Parish in Parliament.
Those activists emerged from that grassroots push sparked in 1944, with the formation of the Bermuda Workers Association, to address labour matters of construction workers at the US Naval Base in Southampton. Dr Gordon accepted the role as the president of the BWA.
Serendipity occurred when a parliamentarian representing St George’s died during the summer of 1946. BWA activists from the Olde Towne — notably Leonard Bascome — quietly manoeuvred through the parochial drama and Dr Gordon secured that seat, providing the movement with a parliamentary platform.
Dr Gordon understood moving outside of the box and appreciated the “Big Picture”.
Therefore, while the original focus of the BWA was labour rights, it became clear that an unjust system was blocking social progress. Thus, in September 1946, Dr Gordon launched a petition campaign that addressed not only workers’ issues, but also the restriction of voting to property owners, the implications of segregation, underfunded education and other regressive realities.
The campaign, in a society in which 90 per cent of adults had never voted, proved to be a community-wide education, broadening awareness of social rights, as well as civic responsibilities. The petition received support by more than 6,000 people and Dr Gordon delivered it to the Foreign Office in London, where support-in-principle was gained.
That said, the oligarchy which had controlled Bermuda for three centuries demonstrated its ability to block progress. It ignored the Foreign Office, successfully forestalling democracy. While the only obvious gain from the petition campaign was the provision of free primary school in 1949, it provided the foundation for the dominoes of justice that would fall over the ensuing decades.
One way the oligarchy resisted was to erect legislative roadblocks to undermine the BWA, which consequently rebooted as the Bermuda Industrial Union in 1947.
During the 1948 General Election, Dr Gordon was distracted with a dock-workers strike, which addressed paltry compensation and led to his election loss. This deflated the spirit of the movement.
However, efforts for social progress persevered. During the approach of the 1953 General Election, the oligarchs focused on keeping Dr Gordon out of Parliament. The oligarchy already “owned all the cards”, including a voting system restricted to “landowners”, providing multiple opportunities to vote wherever they owned property. Added to this corruption was a loophole for “multiple ownerships”. One such property was found to have 31 owners — all linked to the power elite.
A few of Dr Gordon’s closest confidantes, including Leonard Bascome and Wilfred “Mose” Allen collaborated with him quietly on a strategy to address the madness. Dr Gordon announced intention to run for a Devonshire parliamentary seat; however, at the last minute he was nominated for the St George’s seat again. Mr Bascome’s stealthy campaigning secured a surprise victory for both Dr Gordon and the movement generally.
It was an outcome that Dr Gordon described as “poetic justice”, since he displaced an oligarch whose name was among those “31 owners”.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda