How the GSLP was formed
This article coincides with the recent 45th anniversary of the sit-down demonstration and the laying of the poppy wreath, which triggered the formation of the GSLP.
By Joe Gingell
In September 1975 the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Roy Hattersley, visited Gibraltar and dropped a political bombshell when he stated that integration with the UK was ruled out and that any constitutional changes would have to involve a 'Spanish dimension.’
The Gibraltar Trades Council, which at the was actively involved in the claim of parity of wages with the UK, wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Mr Anthony Crosland, requesting discussions on the future of Gibraltar’s political status before the general election was due take place September 1976.
The FCO replied, that the British Government retained ultimate responsibility on issues of constitutional changes, although it remained ready to discuss proposals with Gibraltar’s elected representatives.
It added, that the political situation in Gibraltar required a period of calm during which the issues of interests and concerns could be discussed and fully debated in a quiet and reasonable way before the election.
During early 1976 a working committee of the then House of Assembly put forward proposals for constitutional changes that involved further integration with the UK. In June 1976 the British Government rejected, formally, the House of Assembly's proposals ruling out integration on the grounds to "avoid innovations which might result in prolongation of the frontier restrictions imposed by Spain."
Since the GTC was not constitutionally eligible to contest the general election a group of activists, who in the main were trade unionists, held a series of discussions to challenge the British Government’s statement which culminated with the formation of the Gibraltar Democratic Movement.
The GDM’s campaign centred on the views that constitutional changes were matters to be discussed solely between the British Government and Gibraltar and for the establishing of stronger links with Britain.
A very hasty election campaign was launched with candidates selected from very a broad background.
The GDM won four seats becoming the second largest group in the House of Assembly. Mr Joe Bossano, who had been leading the campaign, became the Leader of the Opposition.
Although GDM was principally formed to challenge the British Government’s policy on constitutional changes, there was, however, a consensus amongst the great majority of supporters who were in the main trade unionists and that once the constitutional objectives were achieved, there would be a need to concentrate on labour orientated policies that would necessarily lead to the formation of a party with a socialist agenda.
At that time, and for the first time in Gibraltar’s political history, there was a group of candidates who were advocating for Gibraltar’s to become an autonomy within the Spanish state.
In view the Hattersley Memorandum, most of the 1976 election campaign focussed on Gibraltar’s constitutional status and the British Government was anxiously awaiting the results of the 1976 election.
During the election campaign, the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA) Gibraltar Branch was also heavily involved in industrial action in pursuit of a claim for the restoration of relativities of wages with their counterparts in the Gibraltar Government.
The GGCA in pursue of its own claim also decided to take industrial action by blacking the election’s administrative arrangements.
The CPSA Gibraltar Branch members totalling about 330, were as a result of taking industrial action, locked out by the MOD on 22 October 1976.
On the 8 November the CPSA the membership protested for being locked out by holding a sit-down demonstration at the entrance of the Convent to obstruct the ‘changing of the guard ceremony’.
The majority of the CPSA members who took part in the sit-down were arrested, held in custody at the Police Station, charged, appeared in Court and fined a total of nearly £1,000 for obstructing the public highway.
In response to the heavy handling of the CPSA demonstration by the authorities concerned, the next day the TGWU held a demonstration attended by about 3,000 members culminating with another sit-down demonstration front of the Convent. No arrests were made!
These actions, which were taking place just a couple of months after the election, was to bring about the first ideological rift between three of the elected GDM representatives and the great majority of trade unionists who had supported them their election.
A few days later the ceremony at the Cross of Sacrifice was due to be held where Mr Bossano, as Leader of the Opposition, was to lay a wreath.
He refused to attend the ceremony as he considered that it was hypocritical to lay a wreath when many people had died in the war fighting for rights like those workers who had been locked out by the MOD.
GDM elected member Mr Gerald Restano, who obviously did not share the Leader of the Opposition’s views, laid the wreath.
As was expected, Mr Brian Perez, Mr Gerald Restano and Dr. Reggie Valarino were not supportive with the industrial actions and demonstrations being carried by the unions.
The industrial unrest was further exacerbated when a few weeks later ACTSS members of the TGWU who had blacked the telegraphs for the MOD were also locked out.
As a result, the CPSA initiated a 24-hour protest vigil in front of the Convent whilst it also continued with many other actions including the extending of the campaign to UK to enlist the support from UK CPSA Branches and the UK news media. The campaign lasted for seven months.
In May 1977, a motion was passed unanimously at the CPSA Annual Conference calling for a one-day national strike of the whole CPSA membership totalling approximately 250,000 in support of the CPSA Gibraltar Branch.
By the end of May and agreement was reached with the MOD which vindicated 95% of the CPSA’s claim.
In August 1977, when the GDM reacted to the talks taking place on the question of the lifting of restrictions before Spain entered the then EEC, GDM Dr Reggie Valarino crossed the floor to join the AACR.
In September 1977, Dr David Owen, British Foreign Office Minister arrived in Madrid to initiate talks with Spanish Foreign Minister.
Mr Perez and Mr Restano resigned from the GDM because they disagreed with Mr Bossano’s involvement in the actions being taken by the TGWU. Mr Perez joined the AACR and Mr Restano went to the newly formed DPBG.
Mr George Mascarenhas, although not an elected member of the House of Assembly, left the GDM Chairmanship and joined the AACR.
During that intervening period the Integration with Britain Party (IWBP) broke up and was succeeded by the Democratic Party of British Gibraltar (DPBG), led by Mr Maurice Xiberras who had stood first as one of the three independent candidates with Major Bob Peliza and Mr Peter Isola.
The group who had been advocating for an autonomy within Spain formed the PAG - The Party for the Autonomy of Gibraltar.
A group of trade unionist within the TGWU also formed, at the time, the Partido Socialista de Gibraltar (PSG).
Mr Perez and Mr Restano requested the Governor to appoint Mr Xiberras as Leader of the Opposition.
At the end of September when Mr Bossano was the only GDM member in the House of Assembly, a press release was issued calling on preconditioning of any talks on the lifting of restrictions before Spain entered the EEC.
In October 1977 the GDM had obviously ceased to exist.
At one of the meetings of its activists it was decided to form a new party.
The names ‘Gibraltar Labour Party’ and ‘Gibraltar Socialist Party’ were considered to be the most obvious choices but one had already been taken by the AACR and the other by the PSG.
At one of the subsequent weekly meetings, held in November it was decided to name the new party the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party.
Another meeting was held soon after to agree the new party’s constitution and to elect the executive committee with Mr Bossano elected as leader of the party. The party’s logo was adopted much later in the summer of 1979.
There were at the time a series of local media reports that about the holding of talks in Strasbourg. The Gibraltar Chronicle dated 23 November 1977 carried on the front page the heading which read: “Strasbourg – A ray of Hope.”
Towards the end of 1977, after the change in the political composition in the House of Assembly, Mr Xiberras, as new Leader of the Opposition, accompanied the Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, to the Strasbourg talks as “part of the UK delegation.”
Meanwhile, Mr Bossano, as an independent opposition member in the House of Assembly representing the newly formed GSLP opposed any constitutional changes that took into account the “Spanish dimension.”
The newly formed GSLP supporters continued campaigning in the “streets” against the Strasbourg process and the attendance of Gibraltar members of the House of Assembly.
The GSLP reiterated in its campaign in opposing the Strasbourg talks, that any constitutional talks on the decolonization of Gibraltar’s status was a matter to be dealt solely between Britain and Gibraltar.
The GSLP in its inaugural New Year message praised the determination of the CPSA members in the fighting for a claim which had been vindicated by the employer agreeing to meet the claim in full and the solidarity shown by ACTSS and TWGU members.
The first GSLP New Year’s message was also critical of the Strasbourg talks.
Towards the end of January 1978, the GSLP held one of its first public meetings calling for the Strasbourg talks to stop in view of the fact that the agenda, which according to a leading Spanish official, included Gibraltar’s eventual integration with Spain.