Column: Importance Of Human Solidarity

May 1, 2017

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

“As the years progress one increasingly realizes the importance of human solidarity. Please place human solidarity, the concern of the other, at the centre of the values by which you live.”

This quote from Nelson Mandela’s 2008 speech to a group of young people, offers a point of reflection, as we observe International Workers Day. While this observance is traditionally limited to ‘solidarity’ amongst workers, we might consider the suggestion of Madiba and explore an inclusive concern of all .

May 1st 1981, was a pivotal date in my own journey in appreciating an inclusive perspective of solidarity.

The term ‘solidarity’ is defined as the ‘ties in a society that bind people together’. Here in 2017 we can see that the ‘ties that bind us’ are being put to the test by many factors. We don’t have to look too far to witness this. President Trump has chosen stoking the antithesis of solidarity –‘polarization’ -; disparaging Muslims, Mexicans, Democrats and others; which leveraged his electoral victory. We are all on personal journeys which offer us the choice of acting from a perspective of ‘solidarity’ or ‘polarization’.

Mandela’s ‘journey’ of personal transformation saw that in the 40’s, his definition of ‘solidarity’ only included people of African descent, with a bias towards his Xosha clan – a perspective of ‘us and them’. Over time, his perspective widened to include the wellbeing of the whole of his diverse society.

Mandela informed the judge during his 1964 Court sentencing: ‘ I’ve fought against white domination and I’ve fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic society.. It’s an ideal which I hope to live for.. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I’m prepared to die.’

Madiba’s demonstration of courage showed how with an open heart and mind, one leverages personal power. With that mindset he was even able to encourage wardens to act in solidarity during his long imprisonment.

We all begin our journeys with a limited perspective. As a student activist and a Black Beret, my first option was confrontation with ‘them’. However, through the ‘70’s I began to understand the importance of an inclusive solidarity, especially when returning to school in London in 1977.

This was capped during organizing efforts at Westminster to try to stay the hangman of Burrows and Tacklyn, when we unexpectedly gained the support of a number of British MPs in December of 1977 – even though this came too late to make a difference.

It was from this perspective of promoting solidarity and avoiding polarization that I became involved in April 1981, when Government industrial workers engaged in protracted strike action –only a few years following the crisis of 1977. In order to promote a community spirit of solidarity, I organized a Family Support Committee with the support of Canon Nisbett and Rev Larry Lowe. We raised funds, collected groceries and organized lunchtime periods of reflection for the strikers and their families.

As the strike continued, a group of supporters began to picket the Airport, in order to leverage a settlement. This picketing effectively became a ‘blockade’ and some of us recognized the unintended consequences of this polarizing approach and sought to redirect that energy.

The President of the Bermuda Union of Teachers – Dale Butler – organized a meeting for teachers to consider taking a one-day sympathy strike on May 1st. That April 30th meeting turned down that motion.

Consequently I decided to take a one-man, one-day strike on that Friday, May 1st with the intent to work with other activists – notably Gladwin Simmons of KEMH – to initiate a march through Hamilton. The approach was to take action with an invitational mindset in our city centre, promoting inclusive solidarity in the face of rising polarization.

I was pleasantly surprised when reporting to my Principal – Dr Clifford Maxell – my plans, that he was quite supportive – unaware at the time of his key role in the Theatre Boycott, a successful example of the power of inclusivity.

On that morning – May 1st – the leveraging power of the spirit of inclusion was evident, notwithstanding the challenging circumstances for the few of us involved. Through serendipity we were able to get hundreds of strikers to support this march.

A key to the march’s success was how Police Superintendent Campbell Simons ‘responded to the inclusive call for solidarity’ and ‘led’ that procession – notwithstanding that we had failed to see permission for the procession. Given the legacy of 1977, this would have been considered extraordinary. It was clear that this was due to the climate that had been engendered.

When we reflect on the role of Police Superintendent Campbell Simons in the context of the circumstances of last December 2nd at the House of Parliament, there are many questions. While I’m not a lawyer, based on the happenings of 1981 and the fact that the current Director of Public Prosecutions is a former Attorney General of the Progressive Labour Party Government, this matter seemingly can be ‘resolved’ if the premise of inclusive solidarity is applied by all involved.

At the conclusion of the march, there was a palpable shift in the community spirit. On that Sunday, May 3rd we had several hundred people attend a gathering in solidarity at Warwick Workman. On that Monday, a BUT meeting was held to again consider a one-day solidarity strike and those attending approved it for Tuesday, May 5th.

When I contacted BIU President Bro. Ottiwell Simmons to report the BUT vote, I suggested that there be an invitation for solidarity for the next day. This was the first occasion that local unions had taken solidarity action beyond the boundaries of their organizations. The support of the ‘traditionally conservative’ teachers was critical. However, it was equally potent when the Electrical Supply Trade Union marched into Union Square led by ‘Chuck’ Renaud, since that spoke to a reconciliation regarding the Belco riot of ‘65.

Subsequent to the May 5th display of a measure of solidarity the protracted dispute was resolved. It arguably fostered some healing, promoting some restoration of a sense of community- especially regarding relations with our Police.

While 1981 provided a victory for the ‘battle’; history has shown that our community arguably lost the ‘war’ – when we consider the hospitality industry. I believe that this is due to the reality that we have not yet considered the suggestion of Mandela – …place human solidarity at the centre of the values by which [we] live..

- Glenn Fubler


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