At this weekend’s BIU Annual Labour Day Banquet, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer strongly criticized Bernews commenters saying that some were “disgusting, vile and racist,” praised the BIU and Bermuda for its contributions to society, and encouraged everyone both in Bermuda and across the Caribbean to work together.
“Until we truly snuff out racism, those of who are most victimized by it must stand strong together,” said Mr Spencer. “There are those who seek to divide us and confuse us. But, we must not be divided. And, we must educate our fellow brothers and sisters to make sure that they are too confused.”
He also quoted an additional comment from the same article by “Cedar Beams (Original)” saying: “I have been called ‘luck’ [sic] by quite a few people – to live where I live and to have to worry about rent… I say to them that, instead of big trips, BMWs, weed, fancy wheels for my car and all that – I paid my mortgage”. The 63-year-old politician said this “sort of filthy stereotype” reminded him of the “bad old days.”
He noted the article “simply announced” that a racial reconciliation group called CURB was hosting a seminar for white Bermudians who, wish to build a socially just and equitable society in Bermuda by more fully understanding the social construction of race, which he said didn’t “sound too controversial” to him.
The Prime Minister also told the attendees they “have a similar site in Antigua & Barbuda, a place where anonymous commenters can spew some of the most vile rhetoric under a cloak of anonymity that affords them the ability to say what they really think.”
Mr Baldwin also said he was “told that some here in Bermuda are trying to trick Bermudians into believing that the hard economic times you are experiencing is somehow unique to Bermuda.”
Calling that “ridiculous,” Mr Baldwin said he “can personally attest to the fact that this is, indeed, a global economic crisis and that your brothers and sisters in the Caribbean are also feeling the pain.”
He encouraged working people to stand together stronger than ever before in “these difficult economic times”.
Mr Spencer also lauded the BIU saying: “The Bermuda Industrial Union is one of those great and significant institutions in our region that has ensured that working people in Bermuda get a fair chance. Your institution shaped and molded the economic and social fabric of this society.
“Your leaders, Barbara Ball, Gordon, Talbot, Bascome, Wilson, Johnston, Simmons and Burgess are the architects of what I call the National Blue Print for the Construction of the Caribbean Nation”.
Mr Spencer encouraged everyone to work together saying that change does not happen overnight. “It is easy for us to criticize and become disenchanted with government, especially in these difficult times for the global economy,” he said.
“It’s in these difficult times that it seems easy to just give up and follow an easy path offered by some slick salesmen claiming an ability to solve all your problems overnight.
“The truth is, change doesn’t happen overnight. No one has a magic pill to solve all our problems. Instead, in these difficult times, Bermudians – and all people in the region – must come together, and work together to surely and steadily turn our collective situation around.
“We must work together within our respective countries, and, we must work together as a wider Caribbean Nation – increasing trade and economic cooperation, to help create new opportunities for all our people. We are all in this boat together and I know that we are stronger, together.”
Mr Spencer continued: “We need to stop spending so much time and energy talking about our problems and really begin to focus on how we can move the greater Caribbean forward as an integrated united group of countries proud of its legacy as an emancipated people ready to change the world.
“The building of a Caribbean Nation is our destiny and the legacy left by our forefathers and struggling mothers who fought hard and long for our liberation.”
Mr Spencer was the 1st Vice President of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union before leading the United Progressive Party to victory in the general election on March 24, 2004.
He first entered Parliament in 1989 representing the people in the St. Johns Rural West Constituency and was the Leader of the Opposition until his party’s victory in 2004.
Thanks to assistance from the BIU, Mr Spencer’s full speech is below:
I am truly humbled to be asked to address the 31st Annual Labour Day Banquet of the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) and grateful for the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the importance of the Trade Union Movement in helping to mold and build Caribbean Nations as a new paradigm and example for the rest of the World.
After many attempts to come and be part of this annual banquet, I have finally made it and it is a true pleasure to be here in the company of my fellow brothers and sisters. I see so many familiar faces and names and while you may be in the Atlantic, I can feel and see the Caribbean spirit in so many of you!
The legacy of the many individuals who have contributed to the growth and development of this august body, the Bermuda Industrial Union, is well documented in your publication called “The History of the Bermuda Industrial Union”. I had an opportunity to review it prior to this speech. It is a seminal achievement that highlights the struggles of working people here in Bermuda to obtain the dignity and respect that all working people deserve.
The stories of your early struggles remind me of the stories of my own people in Antigua & Barbuda and throughout our Caribbean civilization. It is a story hundreds of years in the making. A story that began with our people placed in shackles and chains – bound, tied and stacked one on top of the other … taken from our homes and families and placed on ships bound for faraway lands like Antigua & Barbuda… Jamaica… Trinidad & Tobago, and yes, Bermuda.
It is a story that included in the early days … heroes here in Bermuda like Sally Bassett and Mary Prince who struggled against the evils of slavery and played a pivotal role in obtaining our people’s liberation and emancipation not only here in Bermuda… but, across the Caribbean and, indeed, the world.
We thank you for that contribution.
It is a story that cont9inued through the days of institutionalized discrimination… the days when you had your Dock Strike, your BelCo strike and countless other meetings and industrial actions that helped set a people free… threes struggles were not in the days of our forefathers, but, indeed, these struggles occurred during my lifetime. And, they are struggles that we all share.
All across the region labour leaders like Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica, V.C. Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, Errol barrow of Barbados, and your own Dr. E.F> Gordon, worked tirelessly to organize people to resist institutionalized discrimination and colonialism. And, together after much struggle, they succeeded.
Thanks to their organizing and agitation, the shackles of institutionalized discrimination were cast aside and a great cry of freedom was heard from the hills of the Blue Mounts to the side-streets of Bridgetown… from the old sugar fields of Antigua to the back of town right here in Hamilton.
My brothers and sisters, we have overcome many great obstacles in the past… but, we will have much work to do.
Some say that racism and discrimination are relics of the past. They claim that because legal discrimination is a thing of the past, that somehow silent discrimination has also gone away. I do not share this conclusion.
When I was doing my research prior to coming to Bermuda, I came across a news website called Bernews. We have a similar site in Antigua & Barbuda, a place where anonymous commenters can spew some of the most vile rhetoric under a cloak of anonymity that affords them the ability to say what they really think.
The most popular recent article on that site simply announced that a racial reconciliation group called CURB was hosting a seminar for white Bermudians who, “wish to build a socially just and equitable society in Bermuda by more fully understanding the social construction of race”.
That doesn’t sound too controversial to me! But, it generated 411 comments with some terrible racial stereotyi8ng. One commenter wrote “I have been called ‘luck’ by quite a few people – to live where I live and to have to worry about rent… I say to them that, instead of big trips, BMWs, weed, fancy wheels for my car and all that – I paid my mortgage”.
This sort of filthy stereotype reminds me of the bad old days. But, my brothers and sisters, it gets worse. The following is an actual anonymous comment placed on that website:
“For those who blame white people for the situation they are in don’t… you should blame YOUR ancestors, they were offered a chance to go back to Liberia, they didn’t go. Stop complaining because you are a thousand times better off than Africans and people from the Caribbean. And there is nothing stopping you for attaining higher education, speaking proper English, getting a well paying job and being a pillar in the community, NOTHING!”
These disgusting, vile and racist comments were not from a history book, they were no describing some dark period in history they were made anonymously on 16 August 2012 right here in Bermuda! Do you still believe that racism is a thing of the past? Or do you believe that it’s alive and well here in Bermuda, across the region and, indeed, across the world?
Until we truly snuff out racism, those of who are most victimized by it must stand strong together. There are those who seek to divide us and confuse us. But, we must not be divided. And, we must educate our fellow brothers and sisters to make sure that they are too confused. These comments are a clarion call to all people – black and white – who believe in justice and equality. Now is not the time to declare victory and rest on our laurels. Now is the time to get up, stand up, organize and educate. If we become complacent, those who seek to divide us will win. That must not happen. The fight must go on. The cause must endure.
My brothers and sisters, I know that people are struggling. People all across the Caribbean and, indeed the world continue to suffer at the hands of an unrelenting global economic crisis. Jobs are scarce and we’ll all in this boat together.
I’ve told that some here in Bermuda are trying to trick Bermudians into believing that the hard economic times you are experiencing is somehow unique to Bermuda. That is ridiculous. I can personally attest to the fact that this is, indeed, a global economic crisis and that your brothers and sisters in the Caribbean are also feeling the pain.
In these difficult economic times, working people must stand together, stranger than ever before.
You see, my good people, there are those who wish to take advantage of this global recession to hurt the interests of working people and trade unions around the world. They want to tell us to cut our pay and benefits. They want to tell us to accept job cuts and downsizing. But, while they ask us to make sacrifices, they are not making sacrifices themselves. They are continuing to rake in massive amounts of money living their luxurious lifestyle.
While it’s true that government revenues are down and that unions and governments must cooperate to ensure that the hard working taxpayer gets the best deal possible – it’s not always the case that the private sector barons are suffering.
The Bermuda Industrial Union is one of those great and significant institutions in our region that has ensured that working people in Bermuda get a fair chance. Your institution shaped and molded the economic and social fabric of this society. Your leaders, Barbara Ball, Gordon, Talbot, Bascome, Wilson, Johnston, Simmons and Burgess are the architects of what I call the “National Blue Print for the Construction of the Caribbean Nation”.
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, fellow trade unionists, this presentation seeks to focus on the importance of building a Caribbean Nationhood based on legacies left by world renowned trail blazers such as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Noble Laureates like Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott, and find new and creative ways to stimulate a renewal among our societies.
According to the then President of the Union and the Deputy Leader of the Progressive labour Party, the Hon. Derrick Burgess, “The Bermuda Industrial Union with its dedicated rank and file membership and multi-million dollar resources is a giant, tried and girded to take its members to the next level of empowerment. Its history is rich and compelling”.
As states with a rich history of struggle and survival, we have a lot to learn from each other and a tremendous human capacity to solve our many challenges. Therefore at this stage in our development, we should not be asking spurious questions about the role and function of institutions such as the Trade Union in our societies or seeking to get help from outside to deal with our many challenges, but rather to look within and utilize what we have among our people.
We need to stop spending so much time and energy talking about our problems and really begin to focus on how we can move the greater Caribbean forward as an integrated united group of countries proud of its legacy as an emancipated people ready to change the world.
The building of a Caribbean Nation is our destiny and the legacy left by our forefathers and struggling mothers who fought hard and long for our liberation.
Therefore, I will seek to explore how the trade unions can enhance their role in nation building through social dialogue and partnership. I will also briefly explore the factors that give rise to the need for a more knowledge based society and new skill sets among our youths in order for them to embrace the new facets of work.
Highlighting the challenges faced by trade unions and the building of partnerships will further enhance our efforts in dealing with the many challenges confronting our collective societies.
The Legacy of our Forefathers:
The emergence of political leadership and eventual attainment of political power by the ordinary people of the Caribbean is due to a great extent to the Trade Union Movement and its capacity to mobilize people. An examination of the growth and development of political parties in the Caribbean would reveal, without a doubt, the cost connection and association of workers organizations and political parties.
The late Professor Rex Nettleford sees this ‘centrality of organized labour to political development as an important lesson that could help us in dealing with the challenges we face in this technological, ever changing globalized world that consumes our every fabric’.
Nettleford states further that we cannot let this “…eventful, even glorious, past crumble into insignificance if the present does not make the most of the gory for the conquest of the future”. For (the Caribbean) to continue to be built by labour, this fact of history dare not be forgotten by either the workers or their trade unions. They have all made important contributions to this ‘National Blue Print for the Construction of the Caribbean Nation’.
It is for this reason that I feel comfortable saying that Bermuda’s contribution to the construction of the Caribbean Nation is both laudable and well documented.
As a former Trade Union leader and now political leader and prime Minister of my beloved Antigua and Barbuda, I am cognizant more than ever of the power of people participation I the national decision making process and the importance of community mobilization.
The need for having a clearly defined, productive, professional and cordial relationship between regional Governments, trade unions and other social partners is the only solution that will guarantee the successful construction of the new Bermuda society and the Caribbean Nation as a whole.
As Political, Labour, Civic and Social leaders, we are all challenged to find new strategies that can help our people to minimize the economic and social challenges affecting our societies and maximize the opportunities for them to prosper.
It is for this reason the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) focuses on the free movement of goods, services and people. Within the framework of the CSME, a more in-depth level of regionalism through production integration will be achieved; this is a primary route toward maximizing the opportunities with the CSME to generate higher levels of productivity, thereby increasing competitiveness in the global economy.
In this regard, labour organizations will have to place more emphasis on:
- Creating a work force that is more capable of functioning in a knowledge-based environment;
- Increasing the number of persons trained at the tertiary level;
- Enhancing and standardizing technical and vocational education and commitment to lifelong learning processes;
- Establishing a skills register and the Labour Management Information System;
- Dealing with the issue of managed migration and the retention of skilled labour;
- Making provisions for social protection and in this regard, pay attention to regional social and health insurance schemes to facilitate the retention of worker benefits in the CSME;
- Ensuring that the accreditation and standardization mechanisms are in place to guarantee that the practice of good governance in decisions about the allocation of jobs;
- Involving labour in the decision-making arrangements of the community, beyond the social dialogue;
- Identifying the Trade Union Movement as the focal point for shaping the perceptions of the workers and their understanding of the benefits of the CSME;
- Applying the international commitment to the creation of an environment that is simultaneously conducive to growth, full and productive employment and decent work.
The extent to which these employment objectives can be realized is dependent on the successful collaboration between government, the labour sector and civil society.
The need for this collaborative approach at the national and regional levels is even more evident when we begin to examine the demands for new skills and knowledge among our workers.
In this globalised world, some of the factors that are giving rise to the need for new skills among our young potential workers are:
Automation: Since computers are good at following rules and recognizing simple patterns, they are increasingly being used to substitute for human labour in “routine” jobs. However, at the same time, there is increasing demand for skills that computers cannot mimic, such as the ability to solve unpredictable problems and the ability to engage in “complex communications” with other humans, along with foundational skills in math, reading and writing.
Globalization: Advances in digital technology and telecommunications now enable companies to carve up work and send tasks to be done wherever they can be completed best and cheapest. At the same time, political and economic changes in places like Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and India have freed up many more workers who can potentially perform such jobs.
Corporate change is another factor. As a result of technology, globalization, and other competitive forces, companies have radically restructured how work gets done. Many companies are now “flatter” organizations with less hierarchy and much lighter supervision where workers experience greater autonomy and personal responsibility for the work they do.
Demographics: The Caribbean population is rapidly becoming both older and more diverse. The 65 and older population is on the increase while people generally are living longer. Therefore the concept of job security has changed and is still changing. Most companies still value and reward loyalty, but with increasing reliance on human capital that has changed. The vast majority of major companies now make continued employment contingent on performance, while only a small minority reward seniority or loyalty.
Ladies and Gentlemen, brothers and sisters, the tasks ahead of us is great, but our forefathers, our esteemed and dedicated leaders of the past have laid the foundation from which we can build on to make the construction of the Caribbean Nation, a reality.
We are therefore challenged to find creative ways here in Bermuda, as well as Antigua and Barbuda to continue the process of reshaping and refining the national blue print through social dialogue and functional cooperation.
It is easy for us to criticize and become disenchanted with government, especially in these difficult times for the global economy. It’s in these difficult times that it seems easy to just give up and follow an easy path offered by some slick salesmen claiming an ability to solve all your problems overnight.
The truth is, change doesn’t happen overnight. No one has a magic pill to solve all our problems. Instead, in these difficult times, Bermudians – and all people in the region – must come together, and work together to surely and steadily turn our collective situation around.
We must work together within our respective countries, and, we must work together as a wider Caribbean Nation – increasing trade and economic cooperation, to help create new opportunities for all our people. We are all in this boat together and I know that we are stronger, together.
Happy 31st BIU, may God continue to bless you and your country.
Thank you very much.
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