Despite the gains, teachers should never forget
Last week, teachers in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) celebrated the 43rd anniversary of the 1975 historic teachers’ strike with a series of events including a march and rally last Friday.
Traditionally known as ‘Teachers Solidarity Week’, the commemoration this year was held under the theme “The Right to an Education means the Right to a Qualified Teacher.”
This was an interesting theme, with most commentators making the point that a teacher is not qualified by academic certification only. Both president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Wendy Bynoe and a former headmistress of the St Vincent Girls’ High School Andrea Bowman made the point that to be truly qualified, a teacher must also demonstrate passion for the profession, honesty, empathy and a nurturing spirit. Bowman, who was the feature speaker at the C W Prescod Memorial lecture last week Monday, took it a step further and suggested that teachers who do not like their job should leave the profession.
The annual teachers’ march and rally is traditionally held on the Friday of Teachers’ Solidarity Week to re-enact a signal event in the history of their union. Friday, November 14, 1975 will forever be etched in the memory of the SVGTU as it marks the single biggest assault on their bid to exercise their right to collective bargaining. That day is remembered as ‘Tear Gas Friday’, recalling the reaction of the then state administration to a peaceful demonstration by teachers in furtherance of their claim for collective bargaining status.
Sad as the event was, a lot of positives emerged out of that situation. The repressive action taken against the teachers, both during their historic strike leading up to the march, and immediately afterwards, had the effect of steeling the determination of teachers to pursue their long-sought goal. The union solidified as a result, transforming itself in the process into a bona fide trade union, capable of advancing the claims of its members and defending their interests.
It is therefore very disappointing that year after year, so few teachers turn out for the march and rally. Although this year’s rally had a much better showing than previous years, still too few teachers use the half holiday they are given by the State for the purpose for which it is given.
The sacrifices of teachers of yesteryear gave the SVGTU a solid basis on which to move forward. Out of the struggles over the years, the union was able to endure, to mature in its relations with successive governments, and, finally, not only to win formal recognition, but eventually achieve the goal of a formal collective agreement with government. Today the SVGTU is one of the most vibrant working people’s organizations, if not the most vibrant in the country.
As the SVGTU commemorates the anniversary of the 1975 events, it has much of which to be proud. But the teachers of today must never take the gains for granted or be allowed to forget the union’s history and the pioneering role of the leaders of the 1975 generation.
SEARCHLIGHT salutes the SVGTU on this occasion.