Never stop fighting BIU told
Union members have been urged to “never give up the fight for better rights” in an empowering speech to celebrate the 30th annual Labour Day Banquet.
Guest speaker Lawrence Hamm, president of the People’s Organization for Progress, received cheers and cries of support as he said there could be no progress without struggle.
In a rallying of the troops type speech, Mr Hamm told the 150 people at last night’s Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) event that “everyone should come together to transform the society we live in”.
Mr Hamm said sustaining trade unions was “an important key to social justice” and praised collective bargaining for better hours, wages and working conditions. He said: “We should never stop fighting as that’s why we are free people today. We make the most progress when we have unity. One of the problems today is that labour is fighting itself. The struggle to transform society is a struggle to transform ourselves”.
Mr Hamm said we had the labour movement to thank for eight hour days, abolishing child labour and introducing sick days. He said these things were “won through blood and sacrifice” and urged everyone to “get out on the picket line” rather than taking a back seat.
Mr Hamm said: “There is nothing that works in our benefit today that we didn’t have to pay for. We must never forget that. We must never take these things for granted as they could once again be taken from us.
“We cannot understand what goes on today if we don’t know what went on before”.
But Mr Hamm warned that the labour movement wouldn’t have a future unless young people were encouraged to get involved. He said: “I don’t know about you but I’m not going back, I’m fighting it all the way. There’s something for everyone to do. You just have to find your place and do it”.
Mr Hamm, who is from Newark, New Jersey, has been a relentless advocate for African-American people and the cause of human rights for more than 30 years.
A graduate of Princeton University, in 1986, he travelled throughout the Deep South to retrace the route of the 1960s Freedom Rides.
Mr Hamm, who described himself as “a son of working class”, said he had spoken at countless events but he said being at the BIU Banquet was “the greats honour I’ve ever had”.
He said he had “tremendous respect” for the BIU, calling it “one of the greatest labour organisations in this hemisphere”.
Mr Hamm admitted he “didn’t know anything” about the BIU three months ago, but union staff had express mailed him “a weighty tomb” about the union’s history and told him what pages to read.
He said he had no idea the “tourist playground” of Bermuda had endured marches, protests and strikes “just like scenes from the civil rights movement”.
Mr Hamm said: “This is a union that understands what it is doing. It understands that if there is no struggle, there is no progress. This is a union born out of struggle and continues to fight for the rights of people who are struggling. It has never given up on that struggle”.
Mr Hamm said the history of the BIU should be required reading in all Bermuda’s schools and added that he thought the BIU “had it all”. He joked: “I know the BIU has achieved a lot. God, you have a gas station, you’ve got everything”.
Mr Hamm’s speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, also touched on union leadership, with him urging leaders to listen to their members. He said: “If leaders can’t take criticism, they need to get out their seats”.
There were several noticeable empty places at the tables at the celebratory event at the Fairmont Southampton Resort.
Those in attendance included Premier Paula Cox, Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess, Economy Minister Kim Wilson, Attorney General Michael Scott and Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith.