It is said that history is a great teacher. Nothing could be further from the truth because its pages have clearly shown us that a series of strikes, riots and labour disturbances between 1934 and 1939 gave birth to the Trade Union Movement in the Caribbean, which predates the Political Movement.
The pages of history have also shown us that organized labour has made and continue to make significant contributions to the development of Caribbean society.
It is through Collective Bargaining that Trade Unions contribute to improving people’s living standards by ensuring they get a fair share of the profits from wealth created through their labour.
Moreover, in this way Trade Unions contribute to combating poverty and to the advancing of social and economic standards within society.
Here again, the pages of history have clearly shown us that in Caribbean post slavery environment labour was the very first formally organized mass movement. In fact, anyone can truly say with confidence that it was the Labour Movement who formed the foundation and platform, used by the Caribbean people to agitate for improved wages/salaries, better living condition, equal rights and justice, universal adult suffrage, independence and other social, economic and political advancements. The plain truth is “The entire Labour Movement has much to be proud of.
We shall now take a brief look at the early architects of the Caribbean Trade Union Movement. Please find below the names, the year and the country of the early architects of the Caribbean Trade Union Movement.
* Clement Payne (1904 – 1941) Barbados.
* Antonio Soberam Gomez (1897 – 1975) Belize.
* Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow (1884 – 1958) Guyana.
* Alexander Bustamante (1884 – 1977) Jamaica>
* Robert Llewlyn “PAPA” Bradshaw (1916 – 1978) Saint Kitts.
* Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butter (1897 – 1977 Trinidad and Tobago.
All of the above listed Comrades carried very deeply to not only their own people, the Caribbean as a whole but all workers worldwide as well.
Let us now turn our attention to a few Trade Unions achievements.
Please also find below a few achievements of the early Trade Unions’ which are today taken for granted by most of today’s young workers.
1. The 8-hour work day.
2. The 40-hour work week.
3. Universal adult suffrage.
4. Right to pension.
5. Overtime pay.
6. Paid sick leave.
7. Paid Annual leave.
8. Paid Maternity leave.
9. Workers Compensation.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. However, notwithstanding a few of the stated achievements, we all in the Labour Movement fully accept that there is still much more work to be done on behalf of all workers whether it’s at home, or regionally or internationally.
In addition, we also fully understand that these standards are not permanent; they have to be defended because these and other gains can always be pushed back by the enemies’ of the Labour Movement.
We in the Trade Union Movement have already seen evidencesome of the pushed back efforts whereby many workers no longer enjoy an 8-hour work day or overtime pay for time worked over and above 8-hours. Actually, in this day and age, there are workers who have no pensions to look forward to or do not benefit from maternity leave.