Column: Labour Day: A Reminder of Solidarity

August 29, 2019

[Written by Glenn Fubler]

On Labour Day 2018, while pushing a friend – Alvin Williams – in a wheelchair into a KEMH elevator, an acquaintance called out to me that he thought that I would be at Union Square at that time. His comment sparked the thought that assisting someone with their regular Dialysis treatment captured the essence of the spirit of solidarity, the purpose of Labour Day.

The observance of this holiday in Bermuda was a direct byproduct of the watershed of solidarity in the island in 1981. During that protracted strike of BIU Government workers, Canon Thomas Nisbett, Rev. Larry Lowe and myself formed the Strikers’ Family Support Committee, promoting a feeling of community connection in that crisis. The campaign yielded a reasonable supply of groceries and $7,000 cash from diverse sources within a fortnight.

The resulting collaborative climate promoted a spirit of solidarity throughout the island, notwithstanding the tension engendered by the crisis. It climaxed on May 5, 1981 with an historic one-day General Strike, including teachers [BUT] and BELCO workers [ESTU] joining the entire BIU for a paradigm shift in Bermuda. That grassroots effort had moved perspectives beyond groups or boxes.

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A group of over 100 people in Bermuda require sustained dialysis treatment, many with transportation challenges. Alvin Williams happens to be a dialysis patient who co-authored a book commissioned by the Labour Day Committee because of his history demonstrating that the ‘pen was mightier than the sword.’

My voluntary role only addressed Alvin’s needs for one of three days per week this treatment requires. The importance of solidarity in this regard is put into sharp relief, considering Bermuda’s high incidence of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

This week, the U.S. Open will offer a global perspective of solidarity. It involves the unveiling of a statue of Althea Gibson, the first African-American allowed to play in the Open in 1950. This barrier-breaking event came as a result of U.S. tennis champion Alice Marble’s transformative editorial in the American Lawn Tennis Magazine speaking truth to power. As a result of this act of solidarity, the U.S. Open ended decades of discrimination by accepting Gibson’s participation in August 1950.

In subsequent years, Gibson went on to win the U.S. Open’s Women’s Singles and Doubles Championships, eventually doing the same at Wimbledon.

Alice Marble’s act involved reaching outside of the box of racial privilege to affirm solidarity.

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In Bermuda, a few years prior to that sea-change in the U.S., Edwin Skinner transcended a box by responding to the requests of numerous parents, facing the fact that there were only two secondary schools available for black children on the island at that time. The former principal of a segregated school – Cavendish – acted in solidarity by first opening his home and subsequently used the original Elliott School to provide a secondary education for a number to black students for some three years until his untimely death. The alumni benefiting from Skinner’s solidarity included those such as Ottiwell Simmons, John Swan and Roosevelt Brown – three icons of 20th century Bermuda.

Eddie DeJean continued that spirit of solidarity following Skinner’s death. He answered the parents’ call as a 28 year-old father of two very young children to take on the responsibility, with doubtful financial security. He led Howard Academy for over a decade and in spite of sizable challenges, numerous students benefited and went on to make various contributions to Bermuda.

During that period, the British principal as well as the math teacher of the Bermuda Technical Institute, Mr. Dearnley and Clifford Maxwell, demonstrated solidarity with their neighbours by voluntarily tutoring Howard Academy students in chemistry and maths, bolstering Cambridge’s success.

On July 18, 2019, iconic basketballer Steph Curry and his wife Ayesha launched a foundation called ‘Eat, Learn, Play’ to address needs of many American children facing challenges. Curry is following the example of the likes of Alice Marble, Harry Belafonte and other U.S. figures who used their celebrity, demonstrating solidarity by promoting grassroots progress.

That said, it is indeed actions of solidarity by those at the grassroots of society that can make a difference. Those volunteering in the many programs by NGOs such as Red Cross, the Family Centre, Meals on Wheels, the neighbour helping an elder and those many others acting out of solidarity capture the spirit of this important holiday.

So, no matter where you find yourself over Labour Day weekend, please reflect on the various ways to play some part in promoting solidarity across our island and across our planet.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Joe Bloggs says:

    “So, no matter where you find yourself over Labour Day weekend, please reflect on the various ways to play some part in promoting solidarity across our island and across our planet.”

    I hope that sentiment is taken on board by all people for the whole weekend.

    • Onion Juice says:

      Labour Day in Bermuda is spacifically centered around the Bermudaian workforce who sacrificed ( a group marched from St.George’s to Hamilton for 10 years on May 1st) until de ruling party gave in to give a day to honour our workers,and like Cup Match it was African Descendants who sacrificed to force the ruling party to give in to the masses.
      So dont get it TWISTED,this Labour Day Weekend is SPACIFICALLY set aside for those whose sacrifised and are still fighting for Rights in de workforce.
      Now if any other entity wants to ride on the coattail of this occasion, I sugest that they specify their cause