The Golden Years of Labour, but not as described at their conference yesterday

Published: February 7, 2011 at 4:12pm

Karmenu Vella and Dom Mintoff, out yachting with a couple of life-boys.

Comment of the Day –

Red Nose

I was there in the thick of it at The Times when it was burning.

Fusellu was in charge. When a fire engine arrived, the driver, smiling, shouted to one of the policemen that he had no water. The policeman responded: “Go and fill up!”

Fusellu oversaw that the burning-down went as planned. Joe Grima, then a minister, said in parliament that he regretted The Times was not obliterated.

A few of us were saved by a ladder brought in to St Ursula Street and put up to reach us leaning out of the windows, through the efforts of Mgr (God Bless Him) Calleja from the Emigrants’ Commission a few doors away.


For my younger readers:

The building which housed The Times stood then where its replacement stands now, just across the road from the Prime Minister’s Office. In October 1979, it was broken into by a mob of Labour supporters who had been incited to violence by prime minister Mintoff.

Employees tried to close the main door, but it was battered down. The police officers on guard outside the Prime Minister’s Office a few feet away stood by and watched. When more police officers arrived, some of them joined in.

The ringleaders of the mob grabbed Wilfred Asciak, who headed the printing operation, and threatening him with cudgels asked him to take them to “the machines where they print the newspapers”. He led them instead to some old machines, and they proceeded to wreck them.

Then they threw fuel into the room and set it alight.

Meanwhile, the interior of the building was in chaos. As the mob pounded furniture to bits, shredded files and threw documents and typewriters out of the windows, terrified members of staff who couldn’t leave by the main door, because that was the epicentre of the violence, moved further up into the building and began to barricade themselves in offices.

While they were there, trapped at the top of the building, the mob splashed more fuel around and the flames spread. When the fire engine arrived, it did so – as this man describes above – with the firemen laughing and an empty tank.

When Monsignor Calleja of the Emigrants’ Commission heard, from his office, the screams of The Times’ employees who were still trapped upstairs, he had a ladder brought to the rear of the building and his people helped them escape.

No attempt was made to put out the fire and the building which housed The Times was completely gutted, only its stone shell left standing, its valuable archive lost.

In defiance of the attempt to silence it, The Times went to print as usual that same night: at the Nationalist Party printing press. It carried pictorial coverage of that night’s horrors. It was printed every day thereafter at the PN press while staff worked out of cramped temporary offices further along St Paul Street. Meanwhile, suppliers and contractors pulled out all the stops to have the new building and press up and running.

Mintoff wrote to Mabel Strickland, owner of The Times, to say he should not be blamed for what happened. To her credit, she did not do what many of us would have done with the letter, because it survives intact to this day.

In parliament a few days later, Labour minister Joe Grima said that it was a shame The Times wasn’t obliterated. Now he rolls out of bed in the afternoon to sit at his computer and post comments on The Times’ internet site. His colleagues from those days write columns for the newspaper, and Il-Colonna tal-Partit, Reno Calleja, writes letters to the editor to hector us about the meaning of democracy and free speech.

As Karmenu Vella would no doubt put it if he knew what it meant, sic transit gloria mundi.

26 Comments Comment

  1. Antoine Vella says:

    Isn’t it ironic that Joe Grima’s own radio station was later burnt down as well, probably by Labourites angry that he was attacking Alfred Sant?

  2. maryanne says:

    The golden years of Labour – ‘J’Alla jergghu jigu s-sebghinijet’. Hekk qal il-Kolonna il-bierah meta kien fuq il-palk.

  3. ciccio2011 says:

    Joseph Grima also used to say quite regularly – incidentally on his Radio One Live, which was also burnt down – that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

    Mr. Karmenu Vella can follow this advice if he is already feeling the heat from his new post.

  4. gel says:

    A few days after the burning of The Times, Joe Grima said in parliament that it was a shame the building was not obliterated.

    Little did he know at the time that a few years later, when he switched over to the PN because Alfred Sant got rid of some of Mintoff’s ministers, that his own radio station would suffer the same fate. Now he switched over again and is saying that those were the golden years. Miskin.

  5. Angus Black says:

    “The Times went to print as usual that same night: at the Nationalist Party printing press. It carried pictorial coverage of that night’s horrors. It was printed every day thereafter at the PN press while staff worked out of cramped temporary offices further along St Paul Street”

    Are the present editors and staff aware (or care) of how the PN came to the rescue when it really mattered?

    Ah, that was too long ago and perhaps should be forgotten, so the PN is now fair game to inane comments permitted to be published in The Times in the name of free speech.

    Giving prominence to the filth which constantly comes out of mouths like Karmenu Vella’s and Joe Grima’s, et al, is a direct insult to the brave staff of The Times who weathered such violence and life-threatening actions by the vile MLP at that time and which appears to be on the road back to the 70s and 80s.

    I often wonder how it is possible for half of Malta’s population to continue to support a party which while in government brought so much strife and shamed our country. I wonder who is living in a cocoon exactly.

  6. Cannot-Resist-Anymore says:

    For Maltese people of good will, of my generation, the 70s and 80s were detestable years of shame.

    Those years are irrevocably inscribed in our collective memories, and I cannot for a minute imagine how anyone who lived through them and was not a “privileged” one could ever bring himself/herself to trust these pigs and vote for them in any election.

    They can change their emblems and colours all they like and call themselves progressive and moderate and then dig up people like Karmenu Vella to plan our and our children’s futures.

    But we shall never forget.

    I for one, am very thankful to you, Daphne, and to others in this blog, who are reminding us and others lest they forget.

    They are, as you call them, ghouls from the past and their leader, Joseph Muscat, is Charon, the ferryman from the Gates of Hell. We will place another coin in their mouth so that he will return them to where they belong. In their political hell.

  7. Jo Camille says:

    Tajjeb li nfakkruhom dawn l-affarijiet halli hadd ma jinsa. U lil dawk li ma jiftakruhomx intuhom id-dettalji kollha li jridu.

  8. el bandido guapo says:

    Funny how apparently Joe Grima’s villa in Marsascala burnt down a decade or so ago, too. Is this a trend?

  9. Lomax says:

    Daphne, do you have an idea what the average age of your readers is?

    [Daphne – No. There seem to be people here of all ages, from 18 to 88.]

  10. Riya says:

    Tal-Labour anke fis-60s hekk kienu jaghmlu.

    Anke l-ghases tal-pulizija kienu harqu fis-60s.

    Jien ma nafx kif hadd minnhom ma jindenja ruhu jsemmi xi vjolenza ikkagunata minn Nazzjonalisti?

    Dawn kienu fil-gvern u kissru u harqu. Tilfu l-elezzjoni tan-1987 u ftit wara kissru ll-Qorti, sparaw fuq il-prim ministru u l-pulizija bla hniena ta’ xejn minhabba tieg.

    Imma fejn tista tasal aktar? U kemm kienu jiehdu pjacir ikissru u jisirqu mill-hwienet tal-Belt? Imbaghad jghidulna li is- 70s u 80s kienu Golden Days.

    Fi zmien in-Nazzjonalisti Alfred Sant qal li rebah ir-referendum meta il-verita’ kienet tghid li kien tilef big time u n-Nazzjonalisti qadu kwieti u hadd ma mar ikisser imkien.

    Anzi kienu tal-Labour li hargu jitfghu il-fliexken u jiccelebraw bhas-slavagg. Mela dik mhux storja ohra jew? Jien nahseb li n-Nutar Mangion kien qal sew li ghandna DNA differenti.

    • red nose says:

      Imma ghalmenu Sant ipprova inaddaf il partit. Dan Joseph, Miskin, rega dahhal il-marmalja kolla biex forsi idabbar daqsxejn voti ohra ghax jahseb li issa ghandu partit maghqud.

      [Daphne – I don’t think Sant cleaned the party at all. He got rid of the thugs and those former ministers with whom he had a personal problem, like AST and Joe Grima. But he kept all the other ghouls like Karmenu Vella.]

  11. Grezz says:

    For the benefit of your younger readers, and for the benefit of all those Laburisti hodor who think that any such incidents are nothing but figments of the imagination of the many who remember the detail, I am posting a link here:

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