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Caspar: A working class giant

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“Death is not real when one has done his life’s work well”

This unforgettable quote from the legendary Vietnamese National hero Ho Chi Minh was a favourite of the late Caspar London, one of the most remarkable working class fighters and socialists that this country has produced. Caspar passed away last week following illness and I can write volumes about his contribution to our political development and the advancement of the working class in SVG in particular.{{more}}

Permit me, though, to digress a little and reflect on the death of a colleague, one week before, who would not be known to most readers. He was a white American, by the name of Stephen Coates, and he belonged to a Chicago-based organisation called USLEAP (US Labour Education in the Americas Project). What does that have to do with us, or even be included in a tribute to Caspar?

Well, just as I began with Caspar’s commitment to the cause of the working class, USLEAP’s mission was to support justice for works in Latin America, initiating and giving support to specific campaigns to improve the lot of grossly exploited Latin American workers and for new, and fair, rules for a global economy and world trade.

Stephen, a living image of humility, was part of that vision and took on the task of assisting the bananeros (workers on the huge banana plantations in Latin America) in organizing trade unions to bargain for better working conditions. In so doing, he helped to strengthen the global alliance with banana farmers, as in the Windward Islands, and European consumer groups. We worked together with the European Banana Action Network (EUROBAN), and in the formation of the World Banana Forum. By helping the bananeros to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions, Stephen assisted in narrowing the gap between bananas from Latin America and the Caribbean on the European market. His actions and those of his colleagues, more privileged than the oppressed workers and farmers in the banana fields of Latin America and the Caribbean, are examples of what working class solidarity is really all about.

That solidarity epitomised the life of Caspar London. For more than forty years he had dedicated his life to the upliftment of the working people, not just in material terms, but also politically, intellectually and socially. He had an unstinting devotion to organizing the labour movement and his adult life was practically spent in that goal. A rich vein of struggles on behalf of the workers of this country is his legacy, running through the building of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU), the St Vincent Workers Union, and his heroic efforts to challenge the local plantocracy by organizing workers on the Rabacca estate in the National Progressive Workers’ Union. Not even the late Ebenezer Joshua, a candidate for national hero status, was able to make a breakthrough on that stronghold of the Barnard empire.

In addition to these, Caspar was ever-present and always supportive of workers struggles, even for democracy within those unions that he helped to build, such as the CTAWU and SWU. He was a key figure in helping the industrially-innocent Teachers’ Union during the famous strike of 1975 and providing valuable advice. This writer is among those who are of the view that the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union never expressed full gratitude to Caspar for virtually holding the hands of its leadership during that tumultuous battle. Little is said by the union in that regard. It is not too late to do it, albeit posthumously.

In fact, it would be a fitting tribute to Caspar, and the long line of still largely unrecognized trade union organizers, if the National Labour Congress would dedicate this year’s MAY DAY activities to their memory. The built-in bias in neo-colonial societies like ours engenders huge prejudices against those who toiled to build the trade union movement. Lots of them have made their sacrifice on the strength of which the gains of today’s workers were achieved.

Caspar was exceptional in view of his broader political involvement and socialist thought, with which I shall deal in a follow-up article, but we must be able to realize that the achievements of McIntosh, Joshua and Cato were underpinned by the contributions of the likes of Samuel “Sheriff” Lewis and Bertha Mutt (of the 1935 uprising), Ivy “Mammy” Joshua , Alma Johnson and Clifford “Fleetfoot” Alexander, alongside Joshua, the Rev. Duff Walker James, Cyril Roberts, Sonny Boyce and Randolph Smith of the sixties/eighties period. Caspar had his own lieutenants, two of whom, John “Damani” Williams and Glenroy “Santana” Gordon, have also passed away. Of course, there were many more, but I have limited this selection to those no longer with us, in the flesh.

Even in this pantheon of working class figures, Caspar stood tall. I will say why in my next piece. For now though, my condolences to his family and relatives. Rest assured that Cas will not be forgotten.

Renwick Rose is a

community activist

and social com- mentator.

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