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I would like to congratulate all the volunteers at the national, parish and local levels for the thought and time you have already invested in planning Labour Day 2006.
On behalf of the government and people of Jamaica, I say a big thank you to those private sector entities with a keen sense of corporate social responsibility.
You know we could not do this without you, and we are quite heartened by the pledges of support we have received to date.
Your commitment will be duly recognized at another place and time, but I just want to place on record at this time how much this partnership means to the entire country.
‘All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty’ [Prov. 14:23, New International Version]
Every year since 1939, Jamaica has paused on May 23 to recognize the value of work, and the immeasurable contribution of the workers to the development of our great country.
Jamaica has indeed profited much from the diligence and hard work of our people – from the forced labour of our forebears to the legacy of our national heroes and heroine.
It was hard, unselfish work that led to the abolition of the slave trade, and ultimately slavery. It was sustained effort and inspired leadership that spawned the birth of our modern labour movement in 1938.
My own personal experiences with our labour leaders have deepened my respect and admiration for their role in nation building.
How well I remember those marathon meetings at North Street, when as Minister of Labour, I had the honour of brokering mutual understanding between employer and worker. The remarkable thing is that each side was not just set on getting their way, but determined to preserve industrial harmony. This has led to a very active and vocal, but very mature movement, yielding a relatively stable environment.
While there is still more work to be done, the working dialogue between government, employer and workers has led to a suite of labour laws, which is among the most progressive in the world.
Certainly, this gives us cause to celebrate.Leadership is not limited to the formal structure of governance or the mainstream of our economy, however. Community leaders also make a difference every single day:
‘the village lawyer’ who keeps on top of local and international affairs and can provide good counsel in the neighbourhood.
‘the Nanna’ whose chosen role is to deliver future leaders to our country.
The shopkeeper who holds court on the piazza, helping to keep the community together with spirited discussion at the local hub of commerce.
The school teacher, the farmer, the pastor, the seamstress.every community in every nook and cranny of Jamaica is held together by inspired local leadership which works.
All hard work brings a profit – nothing is lost once there is effort, and collective effort is even more productive. On the other hand, without this sense of community, there is much at stake.
Jamaica’s social fabric was built on volunteerism. Time was, when community and church groups were all fully engaged in nation building, safe in the knowledge that we all have a stake in this country.
That principle still holds true, but in recent times, it seems that we have lost much of that community spirit.
While I am the first to acknowledge that we, your elected representatives must lead the charge towards national development, we cannot do it without you. There are some things that must emerge from the people, such as the ordering of community priorities, and the civic pride which safeguards the environment.
One thing that all prosperous nations have in common is voluntary citizen activism. Jamaica is no exception, and I am convinced that our return to true greatness and prosperity lies in rekindling that spirit.
Perhaps a reflection on our journey to the observance of Labour Day will help us to be more grateful for the gains we have made as a people, and serve to inspire us once again.
The International Labour Day movement was born out of the struggle to free workers from extreme conditions of repression, exploitation and racism that generally existed in the late nineteenth century.
In 1888 the American Federation of Labour voted to fix May 1st as the day of commemoration for those who had lost their lives in Chicago for this cause.
A year later leaders of organized labour movements in various countries met in Paris and accepted May 1st, 1890 as the commemoration day for the international struggle to establish the eight-hour working day.
In 1961 the Jamaican Parliament decide to abolish Empire Day, May 24th, and declared that the anniversary of the working class movement, which began in 1938 in Jamaica, be celebrated instead on May 23rd. Celebrations then evolved into a day of expression of rivalry rather than a joint celebration of victory. The greater percentage of the population was never really involved in these celebrations.
In 1972 then Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Michael Manley gave this National Holiday a new dimension by issuing an appeal to all Jamaicans to put some meaning into Labour Day by making it a day of voluntary labour.
Prime Minister Manley himself spearheaded this movement by announcing that he would be working on the Palisadoes Road, clearing land and planting and generally beautifying the hitherto barren strips of land.
Since then clubs, groups, organizations, individuals as well as entire communities all over Jamaica have given free labour to beautify public areas, repair, paint or build old people’s homes, basic schools, community centres and churches.
The main objectives of Labour Day were, and still are, to ‘enhance the dignity of labour’ by improving the environment, inspiring the spirit of community development, and by encouraging the principle of working together and sharing.
That rich history should inspire us, and challenge us all to take it higher. Yet, we know that this will take much more than acknowledgement, it begins with a shift in our mindset, getting back to basics.
Colossians 3:23 offers a good directive on work. It says: “Whatever you work at, do it with all your heart because you’re working for the Lord, not for men,”
In ten short months, our island home will roll out the welcome mat for more than one hundred thousand guests in our role as co-hosts for the Cricket World Cup.
For at least two months, we will be on show – not just to the contingent of cricketers, cricket fans and their families, but to the entire world through the lens of the international media.
As you know by now, the ICC Cricket World Cup is the third largest sporting spectacle on earth, and we must be ready in every way possible. This is make or break time.
Make no mistake – we are not doing this for the rest of the world – we are doing this for ourselves. Those who visit will simply benefit when we do what we know is right for us.
However, the truth is that I have every faith in us as Jamaicans to ‘rise up’, as Marcus Garvey entreated, and to ‘accomplish what we will’. Whatever the goal, once there is the collective will, I am confident that together, we can make it.
As Jamaicans, we have a long history of great hospitality, and our pride in our country is legendary. Let us harness this sprit for Labour Day 2006 and band hands and hearts together to spruce up Jamaica.
Jamaica has been blessed with such amazing natural beauty. However, over time, the thoughtless actions of a few have undermined our environment, and desecrated many of our common spaces.
Even those of us who do not directly contribute to the litter and pollution have to bear some responsibility. We are often so busy, we do not even notice the degradation until the situation is out of hand. Sometimes we witness our misguided brothers and sisters littering the street or chopping down trees, and fail to report this activity to the authorities for action.
Every single Jamaican has a responsibility to preserve our God-given natural heritage. Surely, Jamaica’s beauty is our duty. I am therefore pleased to announce that the theme for this year’s observance of National Labour Day is: Jamaica’s beauty – Our Duty.
In support of preparations for our hosting of the ICC Cricket World Cup, and in keeping with this theme, the National Labour Day Project 2006 will be the beautification of Water Square in the historic town of Falmouth, Trelawny.
On Tuesday, May 23, Jamaican workers and employers of all ages will descend on Water Square, joining hands and hearts in landscaping, painting, signage and such the like.
I have been assured that discussions are well advanced with Mayors, Custodes and their teams islandwide, and that parish committees are now active and rearing to go.
I therefore fully expect the efforts in Trelawny to be replicated in town centres islandwide as we rediscover our civic pride. In deep rural Jamaica, citizens will decide on the most pressing need in lifting the standard of shared/ community spaces and/or facilities.
I know that there is always much to be done, so I suggest that whatever your chosen project, please make sure that it is a manageable one. Agree on clearly defined parameters of work put your all into it, like only Jamaicans can, and make Labour Day 2006 count.
Aim high, but be realistic. Remember why we are doing this. It is a celebration of the value and honour of work, and a demonstration of how much we can achieve when we work as a team..
Jamaica’s beauty IS our duty – there is much work to be done, but together we WILL make it.