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May Day in decline


Yesterday, May 1, workers all over the world held activities to celebrate their special day, May Day or Workers Day. It is an occasion which took the blood, sweat and tears of many workers to be recognized, just as those sacrifices had to be made in order for workers to claim the rights to living wages, working conditions, decent living standards and the right to organize in trade unions.{{more}}

The working class has come a long way since Workers’ Day was first proclaimed in 1886. Persistent struggles and relentless organizing efforts have won many benefits for workers, not only in developed countries, but in what was once the colonial world. In the Caribbean, the pioneers of trade unionism fought not only for workers’ rights, but also to establish the bonds of solidarity indicated by the May Day holiday.

The older folk here still have fond memories of the early May Day activities, with two candidates for National Hero honours, George “Daddy Mac” McIntosh and Ebenezer Joshua, along with George Charles and Ivy “Mammy Josh” Joshua in the forefront. They remember the marches, the stirring speeches, the outpouring of working class solidarity.

With the decline in the influence of the Joshuas and the emergence of a new crop of leaders in the workers’ movement, May Day, while continuing to be celebrated, lost some momentum. It took the assaults on workers’ rights from the mid-seventies onwards to revive the May Day activities and working class militancy. Leaders of the calibre of Caspar London, Mike and Joye Browne,the CTAWU leadership of Cyril Roberts, Burns Bonadie, Sonny Boyce, Alice Mandeville, Randolph Smith and Franklyn “Baba Blues” Roach, Rev. Duff Walker- James, Leon Huggins, Clyde Job, Wilberforce Emanuel and Calder Williams put May Day and workers’ rights firmly back on the agenda.

But after all these years, with all the tangible evidence of the gains of workers and unions over the years, and in spite of the efforts of leaders like Noel Jackson, May Day is still a far cry from what it used to be. Worker solidarity leaves a lot to be desired. Workers turn out and march for the cause of the political party they support, not for the cause of their class. It seems that the more the benefits, the less the need to organize and show solidarity.

Is May Day and the workers’ movement in decline? Is that a SIGN OF THE TIMES?