Voices of Dissent

Relatives trying to delay the final separation

Relatives trying to delay the final separation

The Opposition tried to dampen the Government's enthusiasm for mass emigration. The leader of the Nationalist Party (PN), Dr Mizzi, claimed that the aim of the Labour Administration was to depopulate the Island under the pressure of the British Government when expatriates from the UK were being sent to Malta to fill the vacancies left by Maltese emigrants. (24) Dr Mizzi also claimed that it was not true that emigration was for the unemployed. In fact, he said, the majority of those who left had given up their jobs creating a serious lack of skilled workers particularly at the dockyard. The Maltese. had no need to emigrate because they were not poor. In 1948 the Government Savings Bank had more than 5,000,000 in deposits while cash floating around was believed to be in the region of 70,000,000. The Nationalist spokesman also claimed that many prospective emigrants were property owners and through emigration Malta was losing healthy men and women who were also taking plenty of money with them. (25)

Dr Mizzi added another sombre note: "Mass emigration is national suicide. Many fear that another war is to break out and are therefore leaving in haste. However, I fear for those going to Canada and to Australia or some other country because their fate there would be worse". (26)

The Leader of the Opposition also referred to prejudices against the Maltese in the two countries he had mentioned. He accused the authorities in Malta of hiding such prejudices so as not to discourage Maltese from going to those countries. He continued: "I am not saying that Australia and Canada hold no promise for the Maltese, but I say that there are countries where Maltese would feel more at home, such as the USA and Argentina. If I had to choose between Australia and Canada I would prefer Canada, or rather I would go to French Canada where the population has much more in common with us Maltese. In British Canada there are Orangemen, fanatical Protestants, who would never agree with us for obvious reasons based on race, custom and religion. We know that as soon as some Maltese arrive in English-speaking Canada they are given leaflets with Protestant propaganda".

The speaker was not finished yet. He thought it was a mistake to send the Maltese to English speaking countries, because they would be considered as inferior by the rest of the community. He did admire the English but he condemned their Imperialism. It was more advisable to settle in a country with traditions similar to those prevalent in Malta. He ended with a stark note of warning: "We all know the English as a people who have built an empire. This makes them feel superior. This is a fact." (27)

The Deputy Leader of the PN, himself destined to become Prime Minister, Dr George Borg Olivier, claimed that the Boffa Government was not interested in the welfare of the Maltese but rather had the interest of the British Empire at heart. He accused the Labour Government of collusion with the British when they were pushing thousands of Maltese out of their homes so that foreigners would replace them. (28)

The entry of foreigners from Great Britain was a hotly disputed topic. Immigration was not controlled by the Maltese Government because decisions as to who should be allowed to take jobs in Malta rested with the Imperial side of the diarchy.

Another member of the PN party, Dr J. Frendo Azzopardi, claimed that men and women from the UK were taking jobs which had been vacated by Maltese emigrants. Dr Boffa answered somewhat lamely that the admission of foreigners was a reserved matter, even if the Department of Labour was usually consulted before an entry permit was given. The Maltese Prime Minister did not know to what extent the Governor followed the advice given by his Department. (29)

On the other hand the Deputy Leader of the MLP, Mr D. Mintoff, dismissed the objections raised by the members of the Opposition. He told Dr G. Borg Olivier that only someone very foolish would believe that his Government was towing the Imperialist line. According to Mr Mintoff it was urgent to control the present population and the only means to achieve that control was mass emigration.(30)

In May 1948 the Labour Administration presented its first budget. This was a month after the Marshall Plan had been launched to help revitalise Europe's economies. The Marshall Plan was meant to pump millions of dollars to European countries, including those who until 1945 had been at war with the USA. Washington was very worried by the advance of Communism which by 1948 had advanced right into Central Europe thus threatening the existence of the Western Democracies.

Malta, the island that had stood alone for more than three years in order to thwart further German advance in the Mediterranean region, was excluded from the benefits of Marshall Aid because it was not a sovereign state. When Mr Mintoff had enquired about Malta's exclusion from Marshall Aid he was told by Mr Robertson of the Economic Intelligence Department of the Colonial Office that it was not practical to include Malta in the Marshall Plan as that would create a precedent for the rest of the colonies. Mr Robertson suggested that the Maltese Government should ask London for financial aid which could be given in terms of loans.(31) In fact Mr Mintoff did accompany Dr Boffa on a visit to London where the Maltese delegation requested the continuation of subsidies on foodstuffs. The British agreed to a grant of 300,000. Another sum of 63,000 was voted as assistance to migrants to pay their fares. This help was to be channelled through the Assisted Passage Scheme for those travelling to Australia and was to become operational from January 1, 1949.(32)

Few in Malta were satisfied with this arrangement because many rightly expected a more generous share from Marshall Aid. To make matters worse the Admiralty announced on August 8, 1949, that 1,200 workers were to get the sack. Such sackings were denounced by the Maltese Government as a stab in the back. Not only Marshall Aid was not forthcoming but more workers were to be made idle. Dr Boffa and Mr Mintoff hurried to London to discuss the situation brought about by the Admiralty's decision and also to claim more financial aid. Mr Mintoff was of the opinion that the Maltese had every right to expect their just share of Marshall Aid. He also disapproved of the way his Prime Minister was handling his discussions with the British and he returned to Malta on August 17, leaving behind Dr Boffa to continue his discussions in London.

Relations between Mr Mintoff and Dr Boffa were now at a breaking point. As soon as he arrived in Malta Mr Mintoff launched a very active campaign against his former leader and against the British authorities. Huge meetings were held in many parts of Malta attended by thousands, especially by those who felt their livelihood threatened by further sackings. Mintoff's aim was two-fold: to replace Dr Boffa as leader of the MLP and to force the British Government to provide more funds or else leave the island. An extraordinary meeting of the MLP was called on October 3, 1949, to decide on the question of leadership. Seven days later a vote was taken on the issue which gave a telling result: 244 voted against Dr Boffa while 141 voted for him. Dr Boffa relinquished his leadership which had lasted for thirty years. The star of Mr Mintoff was not on the ascendant. He would remain a robust political figure in the Maltese arena for more than forty years.

The decisive vote for Mr Mintoff meant that the workers' movement was now split in two sections at war with each other. Dr Boffa created his own party and the split gave the somewhat moribund Nationalist Party the chance to revitalise itself. Elections were held between September 2 - 4, 1950, and the result showed how evenly divided the Labour supporters were. The Boffa and Mintoff groups gained eleven seats each while the PN improved their standing by having twelve of their candidates elected. Six other members belonged to minor parties. Dr Enrico Mizzi, who during the war was exiled to Alexandria and ultimately to Uganda, was now accepted by the Governor as Prime Minister. His tenure of office was very short because he died suddenly on December 20, 1950.

A period of political instability followed with no party enjoying overall majority. Elections became a frequent occurrence until 1955 when the MLP with Mr Mintoff at its helm obtained a decisive electoral victory. For the next three years the issue of integration with the United Kingdom was the dominant theme in Maltese politics. Feeling ran high until 1958 when Mr Mintoff's government resigned leaving the Maltese very divided. Riots ensued and the Governor of the time, Sir Robert Laycock, suspended the constitution and Malta was again relegated to the status of a Crown colony. (33)

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7

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