My Fellow Jamaicans:
I greet you in peace and love on this special Labour Day, in this the 50th year of our Independence.
It is no accident of history that we mark Labour Day on the 23rd of May each year. That was the day, in 1832, on which Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe, grand conceptualizer and leader of the final emancipation battle in Jamaica, was hanged at the age of 31. He was executed for daring to contemplate a better day for enslaved labourers who had insisted that liberty was a natural right.
The apprenticed labourers continued the fight for workers’ rights; a fight taken up much later by the protestors at Frome and other centres of activism around the island, as the struggle for workers’ rights intensified. This is a day of remembrance.
On the 23rd of May 1938, as on the same day in 1838, political Independence was just a dream, a light shining in the eyes of our visionaries; but a light envisioned!
Those of us who have the privilege of living today in Independent Jamaica, can look back at the way in which the weeks of militant action in May 1938 changed the course of history.
We can marvel at how the working people of Jamaica, ignored the possible consequences and confronted the colonial government. They demanded for themselves rights which they had been denied after a whole century of petitions and agitation.
Their actions were energized by the radical philosophy of our first National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. His philosophy served as a launching pad for the trade union and the political movements towards Independence, and created the foundations of modern Jamaica.
On this Labour Day 2012, in this the year of Jamaica’s Golden Jubilee, we pause to remember with gratitude and pride the diverse roles played by all of those persons involved in the 1930s Labour Movement. It is they who ensured that we now have the right to trade unions and collective bargaining.
We remember Aggie Bernard, Allan George St. Claver Coombs; the militant Garveyite St. William Grant; the 32 persons from Frome who were imprisoned, including 16 year old Moses Perrin.
We recall Basil McKenzie; Hubert Hewitt; Medora Williams; Elsie Powell, Ann Hutchinson and the pregnant Kathleen Martin, who was killed. We recall Sir Alexander Bustamante, who was imprisoned for the role he played, and Norman Manley, the brilliant lawyer, who defended the cause.
He had already begun charting the course for a politically free Jamaica.
In that struggle, women – young and old, stood beside the men to lobby for workers’ rights. Even 12 year old Joyce Gooden understood the significance of the struggle. Speaking from a public platform at North Parade on May 17 1938, she told the crowd: “my school brethren need a leader and I am determined as one of them to lead, to acquire that which is for their future benefit!”
Each time we are tempted to ask: where did women get the nerve to confront systems of domination, we should recall the words of Lucille Mathurin Mair: “it came from the moral force of the powerless confronting the powerful and from their ability to draw strength from that inheritance of ancestral spirits from that other side of the ocean”. We must recapture that spirit of determination and that unity of purpose on this Labour Day.
Today, because of those who cared and gave of themselves, we have had 50 years of political Independence. We have a vigorous trade union movement. We have a stable democracy. We have great achievements.
But the work is not over: We now have before us, the urgent work of achieving economic independence, to give full meaning to our political Independence and, indeed, to complete the cycle of political independence.
Within this framework there are many tasks for us to undertake, one small step at a time or a few hours at a time, that will make a big difference.
There will always be something we can do…
? as long as one child has to go to bed hungry at night;
? as long as the gift of life is not respected;
? as long as our surroundings are a source of shame and not of pride;
? as long as our children do not know their history – cannot identify the ancient landmarks nor speak of the price that was paid for them by those who went before us;
? as long as we are not working together and supporting each other as one national family.
As long as any of these conditions remain, we still have work to do.
On this special Labour Day, I invite every Jamaican to come out to advance the work of our generation and to bring about the change we want. We can choose to pause from talking about the problems and become part of the solution.
On this Labour Day, Jamaicans have signaled that they will be part of the action – part of the solution – by undertaking projects in keeping with the call to action: STEP FORWARD… MAKE JAMAICA BEAUTIFUL.
We will work together to do just that – from the centre-piece of our historical memories, the National Heroes Park, to Sam Sharpe Square and behind the Civic Centre at the Freedom Monument, and the scores of other projects accross the country.
On this Labour Day, may the blessings of the Almighty rest upon all of us, as we “Step Forward and Make Jamaica Beautiful”.