Sir Joseph N. France
16th September,1907 - 21st May,1997
Joseph Nathaniel France, K.C.M.G.,C.B.E., J.P., former Minister of the National Assembly, was born in Mt. Lily, Nevis, on the 16th September, 1907.
Before the holidays ended, he was offered a job as Office Boy with the St.Kitts-Nevis Universal Benevolent Association Ltd., a friendly society then called “The Union,” at its office on Cayon Street, near West Square. His parents in Nevis consented for him to take the job only on the condition that he continued his schooling at some evening class in St.Kitts.
The office bearers of the St.Kitts-Nevis Universal Benevolent Association Ltd. Were:-President Fred Solomon, an undertaker, who was succeeded by J. Matthew Sebastian, a school teacher; Secretary J.A.Nathan, a retail merchant; and G.Wilkes, a barber. These men have passed on.
The founders of this friendly society had intented to form a Trade Union, but the Colonial Government of that time prohibited the formation of any Trade Union in St.Kitts. The ban was enacted in 1916 by the Legislative Council. The founders, therefore, had to change the intended organisation to a friendly society so as to avoid a clash with the laws of the day.
However, the St.Kitts-Nevis Universal Association (U.B.A) was still popularly called “The Union,” down to the end of its existence in the 1930’s.
France started his career as a printer at the Progressive Printery Ltd., which was connected with the U.B.A. and which in 1921 started publication of a newspaper, “The Union Messenger,” edited by J. Matthew Sebastian, the father of His Excellency the Governor-General, Sir Cuthbert Montraville Sebastian.
That paper strongly advocated social, industrial and political reform in the territory. To its pages France contributed as a reporter, columnist and a short story writer. In its role as champion of the underprivileged, the newspaper paved the way for the formation of the St.Kitts Workers’ League Ltd. In 1932, afterwards renamed the St.Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Labour Party.
As one of the early members of the Workers’ League, France took an active part in labour programmes to arouse the working population to consciousness of the need to organise for the advancement of their common interests. Public meetings, leaflets, the distribution of British socialist literature, petitions to the then British Colonial Office, interviews with visiting British Officials, etc., were all used to good advantage.
Within a few years of the inception of the Workers’ League, Mr France was elected to the Board of Directors. Among other things, this gave him an outlet for self-expression and for putting into practice some of the things he had learnt as a member of the literary society – St.Kitts Mutual Improvement Society – centre at Lower Market Street.
Its quarterly syllabus included public speaking and debating, essays, appreciation of poetry, musical evenings, etc. On such evenings, piano selections were his contribution to the programme. He also played the clarinet and other instruments in bands and orchestras.
As a Director of the Workers’ League, he was in the front line of Labour leaders filling the role of peacemaker on the scene of the Buckley’s Riots of 1935.
The Trade Union Act was one of the fruits of the Workers’ League agitation. Under this law the St.Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union was organised in 1940. It brought the industrial emancipation of the working class.
Mr. France was elected as the first General Secretary and re-elected every year until his death on 21st May,1997. He helped to re-shape the structure of the Trade and Labour Union into the nineteen sections now existing. He has experienced industrial conflicts of various kinds and has taken part in negotiations, conciliation of issues, etc., and has also represented the Union abroad on several occasions.