1981 General Strike Anniversary Ceremony

May 4, 2021 | 3 Comments

In observance of the 40th anniversary of the General Strike of 1981, a ceremony will be held tomorrow [May 5].

Glenn Fubler said, “Bermuda experienced significant change over the last half of the 20th century. This transformation propelled by a long-held desire for progress. While each milestone of this journey has been meaningful, on this May 5th we will symbolically celebrate the largest peaceful protest in our history.

“That chapter began formally on April 11th, 1981 with a strike, including 1,100 hospital and Government members of the Bermuda Industrial Union, which eventually mushroomed. This iconic shared legacy included a number of firsts:

  • 1. “The spontaneous, peaceful march throughout Hamilton on May 1st, 1981 – May Day – was a first. It was done not in the spirit of confrontation, but one of invitation. Reported by a journalist at the time: The atmosphere was almost carnival-like with songs and drums filling the air.
  • 2. “That watershed procession, the first protest march throughout the centre of political and financial power of Bermuda, peacefully affirmed the humanity of our island’s people, regardless of race or class.
  • 3. “The May 1st peaceful march may have been the first time in global history that an on-duty police sergeant, arguably led an unlawful procession through the streets of a country’s major city.
  • 4. “In a membership meeting of the Bermuda Union of Teachers on the afternoon of May 4th, for the first time, members of a union in Bermuda voted to take action in solidarity with members of another – in that case, the BIU.
  • 5. “On the evening of May 4th, for the first time in the history of Bermuda, the President of the BIU – Ottiwell Simmons – made a public announcement calling for a General Strike, inviting the support of all sister unions and other employees on May 5th.
  • 6. “On May 5th, for the first time, three unions took actions in solidarity for another labour organization. Hundreds of members of both the BUT and the Electrical Supply Trade Union [ESTU] marched onto Union Square earlier on that date, joining thousands of their BIU colleagues. Members of the Bermuda Public Services Union joined the rally at Devonshire Recreation Club later that afternoon.

“The fact that during the two decades prior to 1981 – the 1960s and 1970s – our island’s story was replete with instances of violence and riots, while during the four decades since ’81, there has been no major violence speaks for itself.

“In observance of the 40th anniversary of General Strike of 1981, we have drafted the May 5th Declaration and circulated it across all sectors of the island. The goal is to promote a consensus that we can learn from lessons of that iconic milestone with the view of leveraging the potential of moving forward addressing new challenges together.”

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Comments (3)

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  1. Vigilante says:

    Forgive me if my recall is inaccurate, but isn’t this the strike that put the final nail in the coffin for Bermuda’s tourism industry? The hospital workers were on a legal strike, but then Ottiwell called out the rest of the workers illegally. Despite being full of tourists, the hotels had to close down, and 1,000′s of visitors had to leave the island, running the gauntlet of striking workers along the causeway. I was a teenager at the time and could not understand the attitude of the workers toward the tourists, many of whom carried their own bags to the airport and never come back. The author of this article speaks in glowing terms of the historic firsts brought about by the strike of 1981, but let’s not forget it was also the beginning the end of Bermuda’s tourism market. I agree that everyone deserves a fair day’s pay, but destroying the economy to get there still seems a decision to regret, not one to celebrate.

    • sandgrownan says:

      You’ll never get them to admit that.

    • Jevon Ray says:

      The final nail in the coffin was actually International Business in the late 80′s early 90′s.

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