Premier issues a labour rallying call
Bermudians are being urged to follow in the footsteps of the labour movement’s founding fathers by standing up together to fight with “blood, sweat and tears”.
Premier Paula Cox issued a rallying call for residents “to help navigate our way out of the storm” during yesterday’s celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of Labour Day.
But the boycott by Bermuda Trade Union Congress members meant there were only about 200 people gathered in Union Square and only about 80 of those took part in the annual Labour Day March. The day’s celebration, organised by the Bermuda Industrial Union, was all about ‘sustaining trade unionism’ and the overwhelming message was that Bermuda had to step up its game to move forward.
The crowd was told they should always remember the historic struggles that earned us “the benefits we take for granted today” such as an eight-hour day, sick leave and maternity and paternity pay.
BIU president Chris Furbert, Premier Paula Cox and Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess led the marchers through Hamilton at about 11.30am in what was called “a walk through the pages of history”.
The Premier said the general strike of 1981 had demonstrated “a massive show of strength” and “am awesome power of the trade union movement”.
She said it had forced the Government of the day to realise that “anything is possible” if unionised workers have the country behind them. Ms Cox said: “What I’m talking about is the next stage. It is the freedom to harness the power of the labour movement to support our economy and our people.
“When I look at where we are today, when the rules of engagement change, we have to be savvy enough to realise it, and realise when we have to change our game. We don’t have to be stuck in the same groove, to just fight for the sake of fighting.
“It’s not productive, it’s not efficient, it’s not smart. Let’s change the game and learn from the lessons of the past”.
Ms Cox went on to explain that labour unions continued to be relevant, but Bermuda was facing new challenges, such as unemployment.
She said: “My message to you today is simple. We’re all in this together. Finger-pointing and blaming is not going to change anything. Let’s combine our strength the strength that we demonstrated in 1981.
“The Bermuda spirit that I know is a spirit that doesn’t seek to prey on and to hurt the vulnerable. That’s not our Bermuda. Our Bermuda is prepared to have blood, sweat, tears … to burn the candle at both ends … to navigate our way out of the storm. That’s our Bermuda. So let us stand up, and help Bermuda through its difficult period.”
Community Development Minister Michael Weeks said Labour Day was “an ideal opportunity” to honour the achievements of the labour movement and reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for the benefit of Bermuda.
He said he hoped more young people helped to fill the ranks of Bermuda’s unions and “play a leading role in improving social and working conditions in our community”.
Mr Weeks said: “A vibrant trade union movement can only be sustained by incorporating more young adults into the workforce. If Bermuda is to continue to prosper, it is vital that we instil in our young people, the courage to believe in self, to believe in their country and in their responsibilities to it”.
He added: “I encourage all of us (myself included) to recognise that unless we maintain a spirit of harmony and goodwill among ourselves, we stand to lose those virtues that we have always admired. We must appreciate, respect and tolerate our differences and celebrate each other’s special qualities”.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Kim Wilson said she wanted to celebrate the contributions of all workers on one of the best-known and oldest celebrated holidays.
She said: “When I consider this year’s Labour Day Theme, Sustaining Trade Unionism I recall the principles that our forefathers held dear pride in self, pride in workmanship and equality among all men.
“You see I understand the struggle it was about equality, better working conditions, and fairness. Trade Unionism grew out of a group that banded together to achieve common goals. The leadership bargained on behalf of the rank and file to negotiate labour contracts.
“It sounds simple today but we know that the journey was long and hard. Battles were fought and won. We sit here today as beneficiaries of the struggle”.
OBA leader John Barritt urged the BIU to once again lead the way in order to secure the future of trade unions. He said: “We need to raise our game. We need to question, review and modify the old way of doing things. The time is here for change”.
Mr Furbert said the BIU had faced recent challenges but they aimed to “find the right balance”.
He said: “The BIU executive is not the BIU. The BIU is its members, they make the decisions”.
The march around Hamilton saw walkers waving green and white PLP flags as they walked behind a banner saying: ‘Solidarity. Labour is me’. They were joined by the PHC and Warwick United majorette troupes.
Walkers were urged to “remember the historic facts” as the route took in St Paul’s Church, the site of the first union meeting in 1919, and HSBC Bermuda Harbourview building on Front Street, the former Trimingham’s building where the Riot Act was read in 1959.
The Labour Day celebrations also included an afternoon of entertainment, presentation tents promoting trade unionism and free health screenings.