Baldwinpays tribute to Bermuda’s pioneers

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  • Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer renews acquaintances with Howard Saltus (left) as BIU president Chris Furbert looks on. Mr Saltus and and other union mechanics went to Antigua to help in the recovery from devastation caused there by a hurricane three years ago.

    Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer renews acquaintances with Howard Saltus (left) as BIU president Chris Furbert looks on. Mr Saltus and and other union mechanics went to Antigua to help in the recovery from devastation caused there by a hurricane three years ago.

It need hardly be said the Prime Minister of Antigue, Hon.W. Baldwin Spencer got the immediate attention of this writer when he paid tribute at the outset when he cited the Bermuda Industrial Union for its role developing the Trade Union Movement not only in Bermuda, but in helping to mold and build Caribbean Nations as a new paradigm and example for the rest of the World.

It was a true pleasure, he added, to be here in the company of his fellow brothers and sisters.

“I see so many familiar faces and names and while you may be in the Atlantic, I can feel and see the Caribbean spirit in so many of you,” he said.

The legacy of the many individuals who have contributed to the growth and development of this august body, the Bermuda Industrial Union, is well documented in your publication called “The History of the Bermuda Industrial Union”. Author of that book, of course is this columnist, Ira Philip.

Mr Spencer went on to say: “I had an opportunity to review that book prior to this speech. It is a seminal achievement that highlights the struggles of working people here in Bermuda to obtain the dignity and respect that all working people deserve.”

The stories of your early struggles remind me of the stories of my own people in Antigua & Barbuda and throughout our Caribbean civilisation. It is a story hundreds of years in the making. A story that began with our people placed in shackles and chains - bound, tied and stacked one on top of the other … taken from our homes and families and placed on ships bound for faraway lands like Antigua & Barbuda… Jamaica… Trinidad & Tobago, and yes, Bermuda.

It is a story that included in the early days … heroes here in Bermuda like Sally Bassett and Mary Prince who struggled against the evils of slavery and played a pivotal role in obtaining our people’s liberation and emancipation not only here in Bermuda …but, across the Caribbean and, indeed, the world.

We thank you for that contribution.

It is a story that continued through the days of institutionalized discrimination... the days when you had your Dock Strike, your BelCo strike and countless other meetings and industrial actions that helped set a people free… threes struggles were not in the days of our forefathers, but, indeed, these struggles occurred during my lifetime. And, they are struggles that we all share.

All across the region labour leaders like Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica, VC Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, Errol Barrow of Barbados, and your own Dr EF Gordon, worked tirelessly to organise people to resist institutionalized discrimination and colonialism. And, together after much struggle, they succeeded.

Thanks to their organising and agitation, the shackles of institutionalised discrimination were cast aside and a great cry of freedom was heard from the hills of the Blue Mountains to the side-streets of Bridgetown… from the old sugar fields of Antigua to the back of town right here in Hamilton.

My brothers and sisters, we have overcome many great obstacles in the past … but, we will have much work to do.

Some say that racism and discrimination are relics of the past. They claim that because legal discrimination is a thing of the past, that somehow silent discrimination has also gone away. I do not share this conclusion.

When I was doing my research prior to coming to Bermuda, I came across a news website called Bernews. We have a similar site in Antigua & Barbuda, a place where anonymous commenters can spew some of the most vile rhetoric under a cloak of anonymity that affords them the ability to say what they really think.

The most popular recent article on that site simply announced that a racial reconciliation group called CURB was hosting a seminar for white Bermudians who, “wish to build a socially just and equitable society in Bermuda by more fully understanding the social construction of race”.

That doesn’t sound too controversial to me! But, it generated 411 comments with some terrible racial stereotyping. One commenter wrote “I have been called ‘lucky’ by quite a few people - to live where I live and to have to worry about rent … I say to them that, instead of big trips, BMWs, weed, fancy wheels for my car and all that I paid my mortgage”.

This sort of filthy stereotype reminds me of the bad old days. But, my brothers and sisters, it gets worse. The following is an actual anonymous comment placed on that website:

“For those who blame white people for the situation they are in don’t … you should blame YOUR ancestors, they were offered a chance to go back to Liberia, they didn’t go. Stop complaining because you are a thousand times better off than Africans and people from the Caribbean. And there is nothing stopping you for attaining higher education, speaking proper English, getting a well paying job and being a pillar in the community, NOTHING!”

These disgusting, vile and racist comments were not from a history book, they were not describing some dark period in history they were made anonymously on August 16, 2012 right here in Bermuda! Do you still believe that racism is a thing of the past? Or do you believe that it’s alive and well here in Bermuda, across the region and, indeed, across the world?

Until we truly snuff out racism, those of who are most victimized by it must stand strong together. There are those who seek to divide us and confuse us. But, we must not be divided. And, we must educate our fellow brothers and sisters to make sure that they are too confused. These comments are a clarion call to all people - black and white - who believe in justice and equality.

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Published Sep 8, 2012 at 7:00 am (Updated Sep 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm)

Baldwinpays tribute to Bermuda’s pioneers

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