Union, Words and Letters

It’s not often that journalists get awarded or rewarded for their selfless labour. Most times they recognize each other’s strengths and occasionally organize events to dish out deserved awards. But it was a totally different story on Sunday when the National Workers Union (NWU) took time out at the opening session of its 2018 Annual Conference of Delegates to honour a dozen contributors to journalism and other aspects of Saint Lucia’s development.

In its 45th year, the NWU remains as active as ever. Established in August 1973, the union has been a solid contributor to the development of trade unionism on the island. Its presence has been felt in every major industrial action and its level of organization is a notch higher than most others.

Under the theme ‘Trade Unions Must Be Included in National Development’, delegates from branches island-wide converged on the Royal St. Lucian Resort and Spa at Reduit Beach to serenade their union’s milestone anniversary with an opening speech by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The veteran politician, currently CARICOM’s longest-serving Head of Government, in his usual inimical style, painted the new landscape in today’s new global dispensation and urged trade unions (and not only the NWU) to rise to the new challenges — and with more resolve.

He called on Caribbean small-island developing states to do more to collectively resist the new onslaught of post-colonial institutions hell-bent on defining how they rule themselves.

An avowed opponent of what he described as ‘sale of passports and citizenship’, the Vincentian PM nonetheless remains resolutely opposed to the way in which major European states are seeking to punish small states worldwide for exercising their sovereign rights to determine how to plan and execute their own development or economic models.

Dr Gonsalves also called on politicians and trade unionists to demonstrate more respect for the intelligence of ordinary people.

The Vincentian Prime Minister made repeated calls in his lengthy and lively address for trade unions across the Caribbean to do more to organize domestic workers. He noted too that in most territories, there are still significant numbers of workers who are not organized – including in the public service.

The prime minister also pleaded with the unions not to wait to be called upon to engage in national development, but to see their role in that regard as ongoing.

Considering that the feature address at the NWU’s 2017 annual congress was delivered by then Barbados Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, it was fitting that the Labour Minister in her five-month-old administration, Collin Jordan, would have represented the new Barbados Prime Minister this year, alongside Dr Gonsalves.

But back to the original point – awards to persons very deserving…

The twelve men and women of words and letters honoured by the NWU each, in their own way, on their own –and collectively – helped make a difference over the years to what the NWU is today, where it stands and how its leadership is seen.

It is impossible to divorce the NWU’s history from the press coverage it has received over the years and the ten journalists and reporters it honoured all played a part, one way or another, in telling the NWU’s story over the years.

It is also impossible to mention the NWU’s long history of success without mentioning its veteran President General Tyronne Maynard.

As was acknowledged at Sunday’s event, Mr Maynard, son of the legendary local trade union pioneer J. Burke King, has been through Heaven and Hell – even Purgatory — in the four-and-a-half decades his union has been around. Ably supported by dependable allies at home and abroad, he’s led the union through war and peace, present every step of the way – and always on the front line.

All in all, Sunday was a great day for the NWU. But it was also a great day for trade unionism here, bearing in mind that the matters discussed, the resolutions adopted and the overall messages that came out of the event have implications not openly for the NWU, but for the entire trade union movement here.

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