Labour Pains

Labour Day: a special day for those Saint Lucians fortunate enough to be employed to celebrate the integral role they play in our nation’s development, not to say their invaluable contribution to our economic climate.

At least, I am guessing that’s what Labour Day is supposed to be about. To be perfectly truthful, I can’t really say for certain. When I heard the official launching of the Jazz and Creative Arts Festival would be held on a Tuesday evening, my immediate thought was: “Just so, big weeknight!” And even when I was reminded that the next day was a holiday, it still took me a while to figure it all out.

I considered just asking someone who was actually employed but seeing as a major strike had just ended, prices were rising and salaries not so much, I decided not to invite the unsavory comments I suspected would greet my question.

I would think that since we are dealing with matters pertaining to the workforce the first place I should commence my quest, naturally, is the Labour Department. I figured not only would they know, but surely there were some activities planned.

I was directed to a gentleman who told me the following: “Well, this, is about workers and any activity has to be related to the workers and their unions. We can assist them and encourage them, but their union has to be the one to initiate any activity.”

To be fair, and he did point it out, the Labour Department is simply a regulatory body—which does not necessarily obligate them to throw a parade for the workforce. Still, I left without any real understanding of what Labour Day is all about.

Well, he did say the union might be my best bet. So off I went to the headquarters of the St Lucia Civil Service Association. I was a little taken aback when one of their representatives jokingly referred me to the Internet (well, I assume she was kidding), but then what followed was an actual lesson.

In 1886, a Labour demonstration took place at Chicago’s Haymarket Square.  It was a peaceful rally in support of workers who had gone on strike to agitate for an eight-hour workday. An unidentified individual threw a bomb at police as they tried to disband the gathering. In the fracas, seven officers were killed, and four civilians and several others wounded, leading to what is today known as “the Haymarket Massacre.” This incident is considered one of the most significant in the on-going fight for better labour relations. To mark the historic event, workers show their solidarity and respect by dedicating May 1 to the memory of their fallen comrades. May 1 is also celebrated as International Workers Day in over 80 countries.

So there you have it. True purpose. It’s not about beach parties, boat rides, with or without hookers and strippers, and blockos. It’s about a nod of respect to those who fought to the death for some of the worker rights we now take for granted.

If you are one of the many overworked, underpaid, and overlooked workers in this country, at least you have one day of reprieve before you have to fight another day. Meanwhile, think about your unemployed comrades who are fighting just to land a job!

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