May 2, 2008
Focus on women workers


Yesterday (May 1st), the Labour Movement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines held activities in Barrouallie to commemorate the biggest event of the global trade union movement, INTERNATIONAL WORKERS DAY, or MAY DAY as it is more popularly called in the Caribbean. This year, the focus of the commemoration was a tribute to the contribution of women to the trade union movement, and, in fact, this evening a special activity has been organized in which some women will be honoured for their role in building the movement.{{more}}

This is a very thoughtful gesture which is long overdue. When we speak of the Labour Movement here, there is a tendency to overlook the contribution of women. We seem to all remember Ebenezer Joshua, but very few recall the hard, organizing work of Ivy Joshua, or for that matter, Alma Johnson, who performed the Herculean task as Secretary. In similar fashion, every other trade union has had its female pillars who, though not being the “faces” of the organization, were certainly vital cogs in the engine.

There have been, though, particularly in more recent times, female trade union leaders. The Teachers’ Union has been blessed in this regard, not surprisingly, given the strong female presence in the teaching profession, ranging from Yvonne Francis Gibson to Joye Browne, and now another Joy, this time of the Matthews fold. Alice Mandeville has long been a CTAWU stalwart, and another Matthews, Cynthia, made her own mark in that organization. We can go on and on.

Amidst all this celebration of women’s contribution, however, we must not forget the obstacles to even greater participation by them and the problems they still face. Organizing domestic workers must certainly be high on the agenda. The low pay and harsh working conditions of many women in the commercial and hospitality sectors need to be addressed. There is insensitivity in the hours of work, often leading to great inconvenience to women, their exposure to the risk of sexual assault and difficulty in obtaining public transportation at late hours or on holidays. Occupational safety, especially for pregnant women, is also a major issue.

The Labour Movement, in honour of its women pioneers, now needs to take up these issues, collectively, thereby demonstrating that not only is it serious about the contribution of women to the movement, but also that it shares the commitment of the pioneers to resolving these long-outstanding problems.