One cannot help but congratulate the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) for their dogged determination not to let the memory of its historic struggles of 1975 fade from memory or appreciation. Each year the SVGTU organizes a week of activities to mark the strike of 1975 which provoked the wrath and drew the ire of the then St Vincent Labour party government.
It is no easy feat for the union of today to capture the interest and participation of its members in an event which took place 47 years ago, long before the majority of its members were even born. No member of the union’s leadership was a participant in the 1975 battles, for obvious reasons; they were not old enough.
While it is true that most teachers of today have a basic awareness, and perhaps are intellectually supportive, of the 1975 strike, it is a challenge to maintain a commitment to the annual commemorative activities.
The SVGTU will have to expend some thought on being more creative in its commemorative activities while not departing from its commitment. Soul-searching and dialogue with its members to find out what this generation of teachers thinks of the event and how it should be commemorated would seem to be a sensible course of action.
Empty commemoration of an event that took place nearly half a century ago is not likely to command present day attention and one can observe signs of lacklustre and routine participation.
That being said though, the continuing commitment of the union to the memory of 1975 is a most worthwhile quality. Few local trade unions organize important activities to commemorate significant milestones in their history. Indeed, the local trade union movement as a whole does precious little to educate today’s workers about significant events in their history. Much sacrifice was involved and if we want today’s workers to appreciate trade unions they will have to understand the sacrifices and struggles which won workers that right.
The SVGTU has announced its intention to hold a series of commemorative activities for the 1975 battles, including the publication of a magazine, beginning January 2023.
Documenting one’s history is of paramount importance but it is important to tap sources of many of those integrally involved back then. There is a difference in arriving at history as distinct from “His story”.
This should include non-teaching folk who gave yeoman support to the union and helped to advise on tactical approaches, using their trade union and political experience. It is a pity that Caspar London is no longer alive, his recollections and perspectives would have been invaluable. But others are still around including teachers who have migrated, get them involved too.
As for the present, it is clear that the relationship between the union and government is far from harmonious, both seem to harbour grouses. The union leadership has to insist on respect for the union and the honouring of agreements. In turn it has to be, even when in disagreement, respectful of the employers and prepared to engage at all times on behalf of the union’s teachers. Those who want to push the union leadership into unnecessary confrontation must be resisted stoutly.
Finally, the SVGTU is too important not to play a positive role in fostering trade union unity and cooperation within the National Labour Congress. It will only redound to the benefit of workers. Place it high on the agenda for 2023.