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Speaker calls on Island to unite to tackle social issues

Bermudians were last night urged to "rekindle the willingness to lead" and be proactive in tackling the Island's social and economic challenges.

Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor of St Paul's A.M.E. Church began his keynote address at the Annual Labour Day banquet by reminding his audience of leaders of the past who had "fought and bled in the cause of labour."

"This record of struggle is forged in the faith and conviction that all labour has dignity, testifies to a great and tremendous legacy of men and women who had a willingness to lead," he said.

"A willingness to lead conspires with the winds of history, beckons us to continue in that great tradition of sacrifice, commitment and service.

"Each generation is confronted with its own circumstances and challenges and must decide for itself whether to rise and meet those challenges or simply be swept into irrelevance."

Rev Tweed railed against corporations who put "profits over people" even as many faced economic hardship, but also acknowledged that some corporations were good corporate citizens.

"In this period of austerity, we are told that everyone must share the sacrifice for the common good, yet labour sacrifices while corporations continue to gluttonously gouge" the economy.

"So it seems that the people who can least afford to make the sacrifices are coerced into making more and more sacrifices, while the people who can most afford to make the sacrifices make the least, if any."

He said: "While some struggle to make ends meet, others take long weekends on their luxury yachts as we share the sacrifice."

Unequal sacrifice amounted to a "flagrant violation of goodwill and public trust", Reverend Tweed said before calling on his audience to work with their "allies" in Government and the public sector who were "aware of the unmatched sacrifices of labour.

"These allies in Government are committed to extracting from some of the social shareholders equal sacrifices in proportion to their ability and capacity,' Rev Tweed said.

"Likewise we have good corporate citizens who exercise corporate responsibility in the market place. And while meaning to maintain profit margins in order to be viable they are not willing to sacrifice the dignity of their workers and so we applaud good corporate citizens which practice corporate responsibility.

"We understand that there has to be balance in order to make progress."

But Rev Tweed added: "If we are going to move forward with a willingness to lead it means we must develop a proactive agenda grounded in shared core values, a commitment to justice and equality, a commitment to restrain capital so that it will be guided by a moral compass that does not elevate profits over people. A commitment to the idea that all labour has dignity, therefore everyone who works ought to be able to earn a liveable wage.

"A commitment to make adequate provisions for persons who have given the best years of their lives in service to the public good, so that when they retire they are able to sustain a decent standard of living and have assets to healthcare and services and are not discriminated against by banks when they want to borrow against the equity of their assets."

But Rev Tweed added that today's challenges were not a result of "bad policy" but are "the fruits of a bad system".

"Therefore we must confront and challenge the structures that secrete the dehumanising poison of racism, inequality and classism."

And he urged his audience - which included Premier Craig Cannonier, several Government Ministers and former Progressive Labour Party Premiers Jennifer Smith and Paula Cox, past president of the Bermuda Industrial Union Ottiwell Simmons - to "fight for the hearts and minds of our people and our community, especially our youth and our young people and our children."

He said: "We've got to remind them that we are heirs of people that have always had visions that transcend our circumstances.

He continued: "Sometimes we've got to reach back and draw on the power of the spirit of those that struggled before us."

Rev Tweed then called on his audience to challenge religious and social institutions to "play a role in the life of the community beyond their narrow interests"

Churches should "become liberated zones, incubators for the empowerment and self determination of our community.

"They must become again prophetic voices speaking truth against power and we must hold them accountable and let them know that we expect more."

Political leaders must also be challenged to greater accountability, he continued.

"We must make sure that they understand who they are elected to serve. That when they violate the trust of the community we must exercise the right to remove them from office."

He said: "We have power in our hands if we just hold fast to the vision of what we can become,.

"Stop looking at where we've been. Stop looking at our deficit, and start celebrating what we have. We have the vision and the hope and the power to march on."

Photo by Glenn Tucker Bermuda Industrial Union Labour Day banquet guest speaker Rev Nicholas Tweed pastor of St Paul AME Church addresses the audience last night at the Fairmont Southampton. Rev Tweed is the son of Rev Kingsley Tweed, a union and rights activist in Bermuda in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was a galvanising speaker during the 1959 Theatre Boycott against segregation.

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Published August 31, 2013 at 12:35 am (Updated August 31, 2013 at 1:45 pm)

Speaker calls on Island to unite to tackle social issues

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