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No May Day activities in SVG – again!

No May Day activities in SVG – again!

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Another May Day will pass tomorrow without any activities organized to mark what is such an important occasion globally, the celebration of International Workers Day. This year, as in 1979, the eruption of the Soufriere volcano, complicated by the presence of the COVID-pandemic, and now flooding and landslides, has made any public activities virtually impossible. The local trade union movement can get a pass on this one.

The trade union leadership here though cannot be excused for its failure for many years now to put aside whatever differences exist or are imagined to exist, and instead use the occasion in a joint effort to identify with the fundamental bases of worker solidarity and try to rebuild unity and solidarity in the movement.

May Day is a very unique occasion indeed. There are other important holidays celebrated worldwide, but all have their limitations, either because of religion, nationality or cultural and social factors. There is Christmas in Christian societies, Eid in Muslim ones, Divali for the Hindus, and Emancipation Day for ex-slave societies, but all of these are limited to particular groups of people.

International Workers Day is different, very different, because there are workers in every society, the bedrock of production. So when one talks of May Day it ought to resonate whether one is in the USA or Russia, China or Taiwan, India or SVG; it is for all workers. It raises the fundamental issue of what unites workers, what is the common basis of their solidarity, and elevates the common bonds above the artificial differences.

It does not mean that in strategy and tactics there may not be differences between unions, but those common threads –  for decent work and remuneration, for work in safe and dignified conditions, for the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining in the interests of their members, constitute the basis for worker unity and solidarity.

These were the driving forces behind International Workers Day in the first instance. Many workers and leaders have suffered and even died before May Day could be recognized as an international holiday. Sadly it was more appreciated in SVG and many other Caribbean countries many years ago than it is today.

Most workers still do not understand or appreciate what May Day means to us all, and how it represents a major milestone along the journey to secure workers rights. That is why most countries have legislation not only designating May Day as an official holiday, but also stipulating extra payment, triple time in some cases, if one has to work on May Day.

It is no easy task to reinstate May Day to its place of reverence. Worker education and raising class consciousness are vital in this regard. Workers must get to understand that irrespective of the variance in salaries and working conditions, all workers are in the same position in relation to the employer class, they can be hired and fired.

We take this opportunity to appeal to our trade union leaders not to be distracted by political or social choices but to build common platforms of unity and solidarity among all workers, to lead a renewed drive for unionisation of non-unionised workers and to become a force for good, for improving the livelihoods of all workers.

May Day is not just a “nice time” holiday. Sure, it calls for celebration and enjoyment, but, we must never lose sight of its essential meaning.