Published 7th March, 2013
The Labour Party or PL was founded in 1920 as a trade union party. It describes itself as Centre-left and believes in Social democracy, Democratic socialism and Euroscepticism.
The party played an important role in the 1921 to 1930 period of internal self-government and in the first election to a Legislative Assembly in 1947 the PL, or Malta Labour Party (MLP) as it was then, won 24 of the 40 seats under the leadership of Paul Boffa.
The Boffa government lasted until 1949 when the MLP split and in the 1950 elections Boffa’s faction, the Independent Labour Party, won 11 seats. In 1951 as the Malta Workers’ Party it won seven seats and entered into a coalition with the Nationalist Party. In 1953 the Malta Workers’ Party were down to three seats and the MLP were the largest party with 19 of the 40 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Nationalists did a deal with the Malta Workers’ Party once more, but they were by now a spent force and didn’t fight another election.
In 1955 the MLP regained a majority of seats, taking 23 of the 40 seats and remained in office until 1958 under the leadership of Dom Mintoff. In the 1962 election the MLP dropped to 16 of the 42 parliamentary seats after a falling out with the Roman Catholic Church which saw their support drop away.
The Malta Labour Party won narrowly in 1971 under Mintoff’s leadership taking 28 of the 55 seats and they won again in 1976 with 34 of 65 seats and again, controversially, in 1981**. The MLP continued to decline and in 1992 they won 31 of the 65 seats with 45.6% of the vote.
A new leader, Alfred Sant, initiated a modernisation programme and in 1996 the party won 35 of 69 seats in parliament. The new Labour government withdrew from NATO’s Partnership for Peace and suspended European Union (EU) membership talks which had started under the Nationalist Party government. Spending cuts and austerity measures led to widespread anti-government opposition by trade unions and in 1998 former prime minister Dom Mintoff voted against the government leading to another election.
The MLP lost the 1998 election, taking 30 of the 65 seats and again in 2003. In 2008 the party lost for a third time to the nationalists but with a much narrower vote; the difference between the two parties was just 1,580 votes and 0.55%. In November 2008 the party held an Extraordinary General Conference and changed their name to Partit Laburista.
The Labour Party is an observer member of the Socialist International and a member of the Party of European Socialists. In the European Parliament where it holds four of the six national seats it is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats grouping.
** In the 1981 general election the Labour Party won more seats than the Nationalist Party but with fewer votes. This created a constitutional crisis with the Nationalist Party boycotting parliament for 15 months. The constitution was amended so that a party winning a majority of votes would be given additional seats to allow it to govern. This has happened twice since 1981; in the 1987 election the Nationalist Party won 50.9% to the Labour Party’s 48.9% but had fewer seats, so they were allocated an additional four seats giving them 35 seats to 34 seats. In the 1996 election it was the Labour Party which had the largest vote at 50.7% to the national party’s 47.8% and then Labour were awarded the extra seats.