Unity call from former UBP and PLP premiers
Former premiers from both sides of the political divide yesterday appealed to modern politicians to work together for the good of the island.
Sir John Swan, a United Bermuda Party premier, and Alex Scott, a Progressive Labour Party premier, said governments represented the country – not just a party.
Sir John, who was premier from 1982-95, added: “It is time for us to find the collective will as a country, as a people to work together and work together in collaboration in moving Bermuda forward.
“We can not operate in isolation and insulation – we have to move everybody in the right direction.”
He said: “As we consummate our deliberations, I say to the Bermuda public, stay involved, make your opinions heard.
“We must share ideas and ideals with people so that what is being done is the best that can be done for them. That is what we were elected for.
“The future of Bermuda will best be served when we truly serve the interest of people in all respects.”
The two were speaking at a virtual event to mark last week’s anniversary of the 1981 General Strike, organised by Glenn Fubler, a community activist.
Mr Scott said: “When I was sworn in as Premier and I raised my hand, they didn’t ask me if I was prepared to represent the Progressive Labour Party – I was mandated to represent all of Bermuda.
“I would say to my young colleagues who are now in government that for 30 years we served as opposition.
“Now we have the responsibility of government, so it is no longer an option for us in a PLP government to look across the divide and blame the Opposition for this or criticise business for that.
“It is our responsibility to bring everybody together with the object of solving problems.”
Mr Scott, the premier from 2003-06, added he had told his son Lawrence, the transport minister, that solutions to problems could always be found.
He said: “If collectively we now focus on finding those solutions to the challenges we have today, we are not going to do too badly.“
The two highlighted the significance of the anniversary and a declaration read on May 5 by Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, backed by Nishanthi Bailey, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers.
The declaration said: “Notwithstanding the victory for peace, there were unintended consequences, especially adversely impacting the hospitality sector.”
It added that lessons could be drawn from the past as the island faced the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on people’s wages and salaries.
The declaration said: “In that regard, we take this opportunity to encourage our entire society to recommit to the type of cross-community dialogue, fostering collaboration, in the spirit of the International Labour Organisation.”
The declaration was signed by people and organisations, including the island’s union leaders, Keith Jensen, the president of the Bermuda Employers’ Council, Lisa Reed, the executive officer of the Human Rights Commission, the two former premiers, Joan Dillas-Wright, the president of the Senate and Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton.
Sir John said: “After the 1981 civil disorder and the resolution of that disorder there hasn’t been a major civil unrest period … in our society because we have learnt that it hurts everyone – the merchant, employees, society …
”Here we are now in 2021, 40 years later. We as Bermudians should be very proud of the progress that we made.
“Housing, education, social services, a peace of mind and a fair democracy are the hallmarks of any society that will grow and mature.”
Sir John added: “Did we solve all the problems? No – but we made giant steps with the Human Rights Commission and other instruments that made us more relevant.”
Mr Scott said: “If you base your discussions and your deliberations on fact and truth you will drive democracy forward. Yes, there have been disagreements but they are the oxygen of the democracy we now enjoy.”
The General Strike remains the island’s biggest labour dispute.
A 1980 deadlock at a meeting between the BIU and the Government to negotiate wage increases for blue collar and hospital workers led to an escalation of tension.
Industrial action started in April 1981 and increased over about two weeks to include other workers.
The stand-off led to the brief General Strike, which ended peacefully on May 7 that year after a deal was struck.
Notwithstanding the victory for ‘peace’, there were unintended consequences especially adversely impacting the Hospitality Sector. As we look back, with the goal of drawing lessons, as current generations address new challenges such as Covid and its implications for our economy. In that regard, we take this opportunity to encourage our entire society to recommit to the type of cross-community Dialogue, fostering collaboration, in the spirit of the ILO.