September 16, 1916
May 23, 1978
Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw was born on the island of St. Kitts, which at the time was dominated by sugar plantations. He was dismissed from his job as a machinist in a sugar factory because of his participation in a 1940 strike. This precipitated his involvement with the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union—first as a member of the Executive Committee, and then as president from 1944 until his death. Bradshaw's prominence in ensuing strikes, as well as his charismatic self-presentation and forceful oratory, propelled him to the leadership (and unquestioned dominance) of the union's political branch, the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, thus setting the stage for his aggressive crusade for self-government and social reform in the British colonies of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla.
In 1946 Bradshaw was elected to the Legislative Council. From this arena he launched the thirteen-week strike of 1948, which almost brought the exploitative sugar industry on St. Kitts to a standstill. He then served on the Soulbury Economic Commission that inquired into the strike, but he refused to sign the joint commission report, submitting instead his own minority version. He also unleashed protests against European appointments to the island's government, including the 1947 candlelight procession demanding the removal of the St. Kitts administrator, Leslie Stuart Greening (with the crowd chanting "Greening Must Go") and the massive 1950 demonstration against the governor of the Leeward Islands, Kenneth Blackburne.
Bradshaw was re-elected in 1952 when universal adult suffrage was introduced, and he successfully contested subsequent elections. In the wake of further concessions by the Colonial Office, he was appointed minister of trade and production in 1956.
Bradshaw used his dual position as union leader and political leader to advance the welfare of workers, primarily on St. Kitts. He presided over the enactment of legislation providing for a social security system, free secondary education and health care, improved housing, road rebuilding programs, and other infrastructure development. The wage increases and yearly bonuses he gained endeared him to the people of St. Kitts, who referred to him affectionately as "Papa." However, the predominantly peasant societies of Nevis and Anguilla nursed perceptions of neglect by Bradshaw's government.
Bradshaw also took up the cause of Caribbean integration. He participated in the establishment of the federation-minded Caribbean Congress of Labour 1945, and also served as its first assistant secretary. In 1958 he turned over the reins of Kittitian government to his lieutenant, Paul Southwell, in order to enter federal politics. In his role as minister of finance in the West Indies Federation, he worked tirelessly—though with negligible funds at his disposal—towards the federation's success. When it collapsed, in 1962, he took part in attempts to salvage a federation of the smaller islands of the eastern Caribbean.
Bradshaw returned home to resume his role in the local legislature, and he was sworn in as chief minister of the three-island colony of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla following the 1966 elections. By 1967, he had become the first premier of the Associated States of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, with full responsibility for internal affairs. But his belief in a united Caribbean was further challenged by Anguilla's secession from the three-island state in 1967. He also faced continuous threats of secession from Nevisians, who had long asserted a right to self-determination.
One of Bradshaw's major triumphs was in reversing the stranglehold the sugar plantations had over the St. Kitts economy and the subordination of workers to estate proprietors. In 1975 Bradshaw's government acquired all the plantation land on the island, which was to be retained in public ownership. The nationalization of the assets of the St. Kitts Sugar Factory followed in 1976. Although there was no significant land reform, light industries were introduced and other crops cultivated in a diversification effort.
Bradshaw had hoped to have independence listed as his crowning political achievement, and he participated in the 1976–1977 independence talks with the British government. His death on May 23, 1978, following a long battle with cancer, deprived him of witnessing this final victory, which was achieved on September 19, 1983. Since 1995, the life-long advocate of economic and political autonomy has been hailed as the "architect of modern St. Kitts-Nevis" and officially recognized as a National Hero.
Browne, Whitman. From Commoner to King: Robert L. Bradshaw, Crusader for Dignity and Justice in the Caribbean. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992.
Payne, Carleen. "The Heroic Construction of St. Kitts' 'Papa' Bradshaw." In Beyond Walls: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives, vol. 1, St. Kitts and Nevis, edited by S. Augier and O. Edgecombe-Howell. St. Augustine, Trinidad: University of the West Indies, 2002.
Richards, Glen. "Masters and Servants: The Growth of the Labour Movement in St. Christopher-Nevis, 1896–1956." Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1989.
carleen payne-jackson (2005)