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Workers Day: understanding, protecting and developing

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Just try and think of it simply in this way – how come there is an internationally- recognised holiday for workers?

Why not for employers, or farmers, or lawyers or doctors? Should that not start us thinking about how this came about, and the potential strength of the workers movement?

We take much for granted, but if we choose to investigate, we would find out that when May Day was first celebrated, we in the Caribbean were only a half of a century away from slavery and the conditions that the workers faced then, were akin to plantation slavery.

It was not only in the Caribbean that workers faced terrible, sub-human conditions and many employers then, often with the support of governments, used all sorts of measures, legal and otherwise, including resort to violence, to keep them in those conditions. It took determination, courage and much sacrifice, to win the right to organise and then to use that collective strength to bargain for better conditions.

The things that we accept as normal today, the right to decent wages and salaries and conditions of work, pensions and social security schemes, the legal rights that workers have now, even the May Day holiday itself, did not just fall out of the sky, workers and their leaders had to fight hard to win them.

Much more is left to fight for and defend, for there are those who would not hesitate to roll back any progress that workers have made.

Governments are being constantly urged by unscrupulous employers to take measures to stifle trade unions and right here in the Caribbean, there are many examples of governments, as employers, not treating their workers and the unions which represent them, with the respect that they ought to display.

Even in the media, there is often the picture painted of trade unions as being not worthy of respect and trade union leaders are vilified. Not all of them are perfect, but not all of us either, so why are the organisations of workers singled out?

Here in SVG, workers have made progress over the years, and that is undeniable. But that does not mean that there is not much more to be done, nor does it mean that workers and unions must place themselves into a frame of mind where they must not demand more because progress has been made. The relations of government, as an employer, with its employees and their association of choice, need to be improved.

This is not only a government- union matter, it sends a signal to other employers about how much respect they should have for unions, and workers in general.

On the occasion of May Day, looking at how we have slipped badly since the great celebrations of the 50s, 60s and 70s, I salute our trade union leaders. It is not easy to take that responsibility today. I may disagree from time to time with positions adopted, but support for the workers movement is unflinching. I urge them to display the maturity to put the workers movement, as a whole, above petty differences and political or partisan affiliation of choice. They need to sit down and discuss their differences maturely placing the workers’ interests first.

However, it is not only union leaders who have a responsibility. Our workers too, play their own politics and just as they accuse union leaders, many of them too, place their political preferences first.

Many workers in particular, far better educated, who should be leading the workers struggle for upliftment, are more self-seeking than anything else. All this is why Workers’ Day has fallen off as an important commemorative date.

Could we not all resolve to change it?

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