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Labour movement reclaiming owernship



The National Labour Congress of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has at last undertaken the responsibility of reclaiming ownership of activities to mark International Workers’ Day, May Day as we know it. A week of activities has been organized, beginning last Sunday with a Church service and radio programme. Interestingly, one novel feature on the labour movement’s agenda during the week is an outreach to the future workers of SVG, as in secondary school students.{{more}} The week will culminate in a rally at Heritage Square on May Day, Friday, May 1, 2009.

May Day, as a Day of significance to Vincentian workers, has been on the backburner for all too long now. It has been more than a decade since workers have stamped their presence on the one day, internationally observed in their honour. Some effort has been made since 2001 to revive Labour Day activities, but these have turned out to be largely by “Labour”, as in Labour Party rather than by “Labour” as in Labour Movement. To its credit, it was the Ministry of Labour, under the leadership of the indefatigable Rene Baptiste, which spearheaded the attempts at revival. But there is a local saying that “one hand can’t clap”, and that was by and large the experience, with most workers, and even union leadership, paying scant regard.

The decline in the prominence of May Day reflects the changing fortunes of the trade union movement, not just at the local level but internationally as well. To be fair, there are still some countries in the Caribbean which show respect for Workers’ Day, Grenada and Barbados among them, but generally May Day is little more than another public holiday, a “nice time” occasion throughout most of the region. There have been concerted efforts to weaken the labour movement, especially ideologically, to the extent that class consciousness is at a relatively low ebb today. Yet events of the day, particularly the world-wide economic crisis, demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that workers need their own organizations and institutions for their protection.

As the crisis of international capitalism deepens, attempts are being made to find solutions at the expense of the workers. They are the ones being laid off or rotated, their pensions, savings and credit union funds are at risk from the machinations of gambling and crooked bankers and a financial system which does not have their interests at heart. It is now more than ever that workers need to organize, to rediscover their cultural and social values and to band together to defend their hard-won gains.

These are the objective conditions which favour worker solidarity and class actions, but there are also negative subjective factors which must be addressed. Leadership is one such sore point. Workers, for a variety of reasons, have lost confidence in much of the leadership of their organizations. This needs to be recognized, the reasons analysed, and patient and persistent efforts made to rectify it. Too many trade union leaders are perceived as pursuing their own personal and sometimes political interests, rather than those of the workers as a whole. Too few workers, especially those with the capacity to lead, duck out and shirk responsibilities, hiding behind criticisms of those they readily brand “opportunists”. When are they to step forward? When they are sent home? Or when they discover that their pension funds have disappeared?

These are some of the critical issues facing our workers on May Day. It calls for workers to ensure that while enjoying the holiday, at least a couple hours are devoted for solidarity in the cause of all workers, for it is this cause which has given rise to the holiday.