It could be a first for trade unions in Grenada.
The leader of the most powerful and militant union on the island, Chester Humphrey was repeatedly booed by workers on Labour Day (May 1) while the Minister of Labour, Deputy Prime Minister, Elvin Nimrod received a more cordial welcome by hundreds of workers assembled at the national sporting stadium at Queen’s Park.
Over the years, the workers often vented their feelings and frustration on the Minister of Labour but this year it was different.
Humphrey who has been one of the most influential trade union leader on the island in the past 30 years received a most hostile reception for the first time at Labour Day.
In recent months, the President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) has angered many by his public pronouncements against the National Democratic Congress (NDC) during its 2008-13 period in government and in the aftermath of its 15-0 loss at the polls in February 2013.
The TAWU boss, a former member of Congress, was expelled by the party amidst infighting between a Rebel Group that was attempting to take control of the party and government from then Political Leader and Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas.
The so-called rebels including some government ministers – Peter David, Joseph Gilbert, and Michael Church threw their support behind the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) against Congress in the last general elections.
Humphrey, an avowed communist, has vowed to destroy the political career of new Congress leader, former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke who was fingered as the person responsible for the split in the NDC rank.
Aides have told this newspaper that the TAWU boss has vowed to contest the St. George North-east seat where Burke is expected to contest in the next general elections in order to try and keep him out from ever being re-elected to serve in Parliament.
The anti-Humphrey sentiments on Labour Day became obvious from the start of the parade of the unions from Burns Point to the stadium.
It intensified as workers expressed their displeasure at the TAWU President-General taking to the podium to deliver the address.
Minutes earlier, behind the scene negotiations were taking place among some senior TAWU leaders and other leading trade unions on the island to save the embarassment and humiliation of Humphrey by getting another executive member of the union to read the prepared text.
However, the union leader was adamant that he would be the one to stand on the podium and deliver the message on behalf of TAWU.
This is the message that Humphrey read to the workers who constantly booed, heckled and jeered him:
The Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (TAWU) sends warmest enthusiastic, profound and comradely greetings to all Trade Unions and all Workers in the state of Grenada. We convey those sentiments on behalf of our management committee, general council and rank and file.
This year, International Labour Day is marked by continuation of the economic and fiscal crisis triggered by the crisis of international monopoly capital which commenced in the latter part of 2008.
Today Grenadian workers are facing increased difficulties as jobs continue to be lost in the private sector and the limited capital investment by the state has not done much in respect of job creation.
Adding to the ranks of the unemployed are job losses at Cable and Wireless, RBTT Bank, CIBC-First Caribbean International Bank and the ongoing closures of small business. In the context of these losses, wage adjustments have been restrained and, in several instances, our union has had to take a wage freeze in some enterprises whose financial fortunes are precarious. These difficulties combined are seriously challenging the labour movement in Grenada and the region.
Meanwhile, some employers are exploiting the situation by imposing measures upon workers and are attempting to take back hard won gains. Championing the survival of workers in this period is no easy feat. Unions are required to be more creative and to work and co-operate closer.
Workers are called upon to increase their labour discipline and to increase their opportunities for income enhancement by taking every opportunity to increase their technical skills and knowledge.
The period also calls for improving the working relationship between trade unions and employers. This can only be done on a platform of labour justice.
The Technical and Allied Workers’ Union recognises the positive measures which have been taken so far in respect of the removal of income tax on severance pay but calls for steps to be taken to restore the amendment to 66 (1) of the Labour Relations Act and calls for the enactment of anti-sexual harassment legislation at the workplace.
TAWU calls for greater efficiency at the Ministry of Labour and more resources for dispute resolution; calls for the enactment of modern and comprehensive health and safety legislation; calls for legislative enactment of a Consumer Protection Agency; calls for fast tracking the creation of jobs, the beefing up of price control, the removal of VAT on all medication and medical instruments and implements.
TAWU also calls for the removal of personal income tax for retired persons earning less than $5000.00 a month in pensionable income.
On the regional and international level, TAWU calls for an end to the blockade on the Government and people of CUBA and calls on this rally for a loud round of applause of appreciation to the brigade of Cuban internationalist workers here in Grenada.
TAWU calls for the unconditional release of those Cubans jailed in the United States for protecting their country against terrorism.
TAWU offers its solidarity to the progressive people of Venezuela in the fight to preserve their national resources. TAWU calls for solidarity with the people of Haitian descent who are facing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic.
Finally, the Technical and Allied Workers’ Union takes this opportunity to salute Grenadian workers and to extend solidarity to all workers regionally and internationally.
FORWARD EVER! BACKWARD NEVER!
LONG LIVE THE GRENADIAN WORKING CLASS!