The sad decline of May Day
April 28, 2023

The sad decline of May Day

Change is inevitable but not all change is positive, for many times change is not always for the better.

In the Caribbean generally, the struggles of our people over the last three centuries or so have brought about significant changes which have improved the lives of our people, in the standard of living, in health and education and in the institution of democratic and political rights.

We have moved from a people controlled and governed by European states to a region of largely independent states, members of an international community of nations, the United Nations.

As a region we still have further to go, including getting rid of colonies still remaining, but undoubtedly the people of this area are much better off than they were a century or so ago. That is not to say that all has been positive, for alongside the many advances there have been setbacks and even regressions and retreats, some due to external causes but others for which we must bear responsibility.

Take a once glorious occasion throughout our region, May Day or Labour Day, officially International Workers Day. Celebrated on May 1, this Day won international recognition as a public holiday, a unique one at that, on the basis of bitter struggles in capitalist countries for the rights of workers to form unions and bargain to protect and advance their interests. In the Caribbean, where colonialism and plantation slavery held sway, this demand was not only embraced but buttressed with the struggle for democratic and political rights, including the sacred right to vote.

May Day encapsulated all these demands and became the focal point of historic marches and demonstrations of working people with their leaders – George McIntosh, E.T. Joshua, Cheddi Jagan, Manley and Bustamante, Uriah Butler, Eric Gairy, Robert Bradshaw and V.C. Bird – at the helm. So big was the occasion that churches, social and community organizations also organized Fairs for the occasion.

But times were “a changing”, and as modifications occurred in the world economy, so too did changes occur in the trade union movement. More and more there seemed to be an unwillingness on the part of workers, and their leaders, to make any significant effort to commemorate May Day and inevitably it slipped down the ladder of important occasions.

In our country, it was only the social upheaval of 1981, the struggle against anti-democratic Bills and 2000 in the titanic struggle which eventually cut short the life of the NDP administration, which saw May Day regaining some of its status.

Yet every sign, whether in the global economy as a whole or on a more local level, indicates that advances won by working people are not irreversible. Workers and their leaders cannot afford to become complacent. Now more than ever there is need for a heightened class consciousness. Differences in outlook and approaches will always present themselves but the trade union movement must have unity as its bottom line and not allow political differences to weaken its ranks.

It is a pity that we allow the decline to fester, but all is not lost.

MAY DAY GREETINGS to the working people of SVG!