1st marks the 168 anniversary of African emancipation
from slavery in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean. As we
mark this important milestone, a critical measurement of how far
we have traveled is to review our progress in Grenada labor
movement. Emancipation from chattel slavery and worker’s
empowerment are the beginning and end points of the continuum of
complete civil rights.
Wizard's reminder that one of the constants of life is struggle
(as a guarantee of progress) is also, by extension, a
recognition of the central role played by working women and men
in these processes. However, traditional historians have paid
little attention to the struggles of the working people in
recounting and documenting Grenadian history - omitting or
underestimating the 'laborer's' role in forging our national
consciousness and improving our lot. In this paper I will
briefly outline our accomplishment as a people using the prism
of labor struggles.
struggles and organized labor have played decisive but
under-appreciated roles in the quality of life struggles in
Grenada and throughout the region. It is the trade union
movement that gave birth to the region's first generation of
political leaders, spanning the 1930s to the 1950s and later
taking us to formal political independence. It has been argued,
with sound bases, that that the entire history of the Caribbean
is a history of labor (Mintz, 1989). We take for granted that
much of the basic benefits we now enjoy as citizens emerged from
the crucible of labor struggles over several generations
throughout Grenada and the wider Caribbean region. This is so
whether or not one is currently or ever was a member of a
a superficial level, labor's critical historical role in the
Caribbean is evidences by the many parties bearing ‘Labor’ as
their political moniker (even if rhetorically), such as the
Grenada United Labor Party; it is a consequence of the legacy of
these generations of struggles that in almost every Caribbean
territory there is a ‘labor’ party.
in decades of trade union struggles for betterment that we can
discover the origins and growth of Grenada's middle, upper and
professional classes. Yet, much of these strata’s failure to
grasp the meaning and possibilities of this dialectics of
struggle render them vulnerable to continuing negative aspects
of external influence, such as the great tsunami of capitalist
globalization (more on this later).
fact that approximately 26% of Grenada’s workforce is unionized
is testimony that in present day Grenada labor is far from being
‘a thing of the past’. This number represents a certain measure
of stability from job losses due to Hurricane Ivan in 2004,
particularly in the agricultural sector. Post-Ivan unionization
drives have compensated for such losses. Organized workers are
mostly concentrated in agriculture, utilities, service, retail,
manufacturing, and finance. Approximately 43% of Grenada’s
organized workforce is working women, slightly mirroring the
overall working population sex ratio.
are presently eight recognized unions in the country, namely,
Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT); Technical and Allied Workers'
Union (TAWU); Public Workers Union; Bank and General Workers
Union (BGWU); Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU);
Taxi Owners and Drivers Association (TODA); Seamen and
Waterfront Workers Union (SWWU); and, Grenada Maritime Manual
and Intellectual Workers Union (GMMIWU).
Grenada’s unions are affiliated with a wide range of regional
and international trade unions and cooperate with these bodies
in various ways. These affiliations operate simultaneously at
vertical and horizontal levels.
The Grenada Trades' Union Council - the
umbrella Trade Union body - is affiliated to Caribbean Congress
of Labor (CCL) and the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU). Individual Trade Unions are affiliated to
different International Trade Secretariats. For example, TAWU
and CIWU are affiliated to Union Network International (UNI),
which represents over 16 million workers throughout the world.
Another example is TAWU’s and BGWU’s affiliation to the
International Union of Foods (IUF).
A major threat to unionism in Grenada and in the Caribbean at
present is capitalist globalization.
What is capitalist globalization? Although capitalist
globalization means different things to different people, there
is general consensus that capitalist globalization is the modern
expression of the most powerful evolution of the transnational
Globalization theorists identify four basic agents of capitalist
globalization: those who own and control the major corporations
and their local affiliates, globalizing bureaucrats and
politicians, globalizing professionals, and consumerist elites
in particular countries.
process of globalization facilitates a concerted united front
approach of corporations in penetrating markets, weakening
existing national structures. And, in many cases, eliminating
labor organizations and labor laws around the world. How does
globalization affect Grenadian labor?
According to TAWU’s General Secretary, Mr. André Lewis, many
foreign companies and multi-nationals are vigorously fighting to
eliminate the many benefits that Grenadian workers enjoy. Mr.
Lewis points out that these benefits are mainly legacies of the
Grenada Revolution, particularly the laws passed by the PRG
(1979 – 1983) allowing workers to enjoy Trade Union rights. “As
a result of capitalist globalization, companies find it much
easier to get governments to side with them in a bid to try to
weaken the labor movement,” Mr. Lewis told Big Drum Nation via
an email interview.
Lewis posits that the trade unions “are defending Grenadian
workers against globalization by reestablishing and
strengthening regional solidarity within the labor movement, and
by trying to ensure that workers rights and benefits are
standardized as much as possible throughout the region… Most
importantly, (the labor movement are) trying to influence the
decision making process, especially in relations to the
protection of labor.”
order to appreciate the challenges ahead, it is instructive to
briefly review the evolution of the labor movement in Grenada.
Seven distinct phases of the workers movement in Grenada can be
identified: African enslavement; emancipation from slavery; the
immediate post emancipation era; the Gairy era; the March 13
revolution; the immediate post-revolution era; and the era of
globalization and the emergence of the Caribbean Single Market
and Economy (CSME).
fact that African slavery was the beginning of a continuum of
exploitation of labor and manifested the grossest violation of
workers rights, on the one hand, and the accumulation of untold
wealth for Britain and France, on the other, is often not
recognized or given enough attention in Grenadian history.
Scores of European traders and 8 European national corporations
(monopolies) traded millions of Africans to toil for their
astronomical profits on Caribbean plantations in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Although the figures are sketchy,
historians agree that from the early 1700s to 1808 some 67,000
Africans toiled on Grenada working on about 125 estates. On the
eve of abolition there were some 23,638 African residents (Beckles
Africans throughout the region employed a variety of strategies
to accomplish liberation, individually and collectively. They
burnt fields, destroyed company tools, had go-slow actions,
marooned, assaulted and even poisoned their oppressors (James
1989). The most effective tool at their disposal was united
action. The system devised all kinds of means to prevent united
action. This is the spirit in which the workers movement was
eventually germinated. A combination of united action, a
growing emancipation movement in slave trading countries, and
the inefficiency of the system of slavery ultimately led to
emancipation in 1833.
had long demonstrated that they were quite capable of freeing
themselves. Thirty-eight years before abolition Africans
rallied under the leadership of a militant Jacobin, Julien Fedon,
who twisted the French Revolutionary slogan to the more urgent
"Liberty, Equality or Death!". The Fedon Rebellion (1795-6)
shook the foundation of the plantation system on Grenada and
captured much of the island for 15 months. The mass uprising
that was the Fedon Rebellion is often obscured by an
over-emphasis on key figures like Julien Fedon acting on the
advise of French revolutionaries such as Victor Hughes.
the role played by enslaved Africans in strategizing the course
of the rebellion needs to be given due attention. Brizan points
out that the first slaves to join the rebellion, apart from
Fedon’s own ex-slaves, were the domestics, drivers, tradesmen
and other principal slaves on the estates. Arguing that they
were the most active in the insurrection, he reminds us
“Normally, this class was most unlikely to join any
insurrection, and often (such workers) were informers of any
planned insurrection. In Grenada they had a close affinity with
the Free Coloreds, and were accepted as part of that class.”
Field slaves and newly arrived Africans were to join later but
it is clear that what started off as an incendiary strike on La
Baye led by Julien Fedon and about 100 followers, soon led to a
general slave rebellion on Grenada (Brizan,
1995, p. 63).
mass nature of the rebellion can be estimated in the reaction of
the oppressor: it is estimated that as many as seven thousand
Africans and ‘coloreds’ were murdered, and many others were
banished to Trinidad, Honduras and other surrounding countries.
The purged included many women. A virtual state of emergency
governed the island following the revolutionary upsurge.
Emancipation from slavery and the establishment of Indentureship
1833 Emancipation Act followed a series of such slave uprising
throughout the region of which the Haitian Revolution and the
Fedon Rebellion were the beginning. The ‘last straw’ was the
Samuel Sharpe rebellion in Jamaica, which had direct
consequences for the 1833 Abolition of Slavery throughout the
Caribbean. The Emancipation Act, following these revolts, freed
the mass of labors and simultaneously led to importation of
indentured workers. This period also marked the switch from
sugar plantation in Grenada to other plantation crops, such as
cocoa, nutmeg and bananas.
2007 will therefore mark a very important anniversary for
Grenadian workers – a century and a half since the arrival of
indentured workers in Grenada following the emancipation of
enslaved Africans. The “spice island of the west” had a
significant share of the more than half a million Asians
(primarily East Indians) who came to the Caribbean as indentured
first batch of East Indian indentured servants arrived in
Grenada on May 1, 1857. Three thousand arrived in Grenada
between 1857 and 1885. They were induced to sign contracts of
5-year terms on estates primarily in St Patricks and St
Andrews. These highly exploited voluntarily immigrants, drawn
from Britain’s most populous colony, were required to work nine
hours a day for six days a week and were given weekly food
rations which was deducted from their measly pay. East Indians
were restricted to the particular estates and were liable to
arrest and imprisonment if violated. Failure to report to work
was a criminal offense, punishable with imprisonment
(Brizan: p. 198-9).
important to note that as significant as these immigrants were
to the all areas of Grenadians life, it should East Indians were
not the only indentured peoples to have arrived in Grenada in
significant numbers. Batches of other immigrants were brought
in from Sierra Leone (source for various territories of West
Africa), Portuguese-Madeira, and Malta. There were also many
white indentured immigrants, including convicts, including petty
thieves, debt-prisoners, Gypsies, and, significantly, union
organizers were banished to the British colonies in large
numbers (Williams 1944).
Sometimes referred to as indentured slavery, the system was
often as harsh as chattel slavery. The majority of indentured
farmers brought to Grenada could not afford to pay their passage
for repatriation and remained becoming independent peasants. In
part due to this eventuality, about one-third of the adult male
population after emancipation were small holders.
Similarly, the former slave masters sought to keep ex-slaves
were compelled to work as domestics until August 1838 and
apprentices until 1840. But many slaves could not buy their
immediate freedom. Apprentices owed up to 45 hours of unpaid
labor per week in returned for food, clothing, lodging, and
medical attendance. In the immediate post-slavery period, many
ex-slaves and indentured workers were working on estates in
feudal and semi-feudal relationships.
introduction of indentured laborers in the Caribbean in such
great numbers at fixed labor rates and below the post-slavery
wage norms was a strategy of the colonial government and the
Caribbean plantocracy to depress wage levels and keep it at a
certain level. This was effective in maintaining the
profitability of the plantation system. Following abolition, the
planters tried to keep the ex-slaves in a system of unpaid
apprenticeship with brutal repression.
antagonism of circumstances that Africans and the newly arrived
Indians were placed in set the stage for the bad relations
between the East Indian and African communities, the legacy of
which exists even today. While significant numbers of East
Indians remained in Grenada (today in numbers of 3 – 5% of the
population), many immigrated to Trinidad and Guyana. One the
other hand the later arrival of free African (indentured)
presence has contributed to notably strong African retention in
Grenada. Fifty percent of all indentured laborers imported to
Grenada were East Indians.
Grenada East Indians fought for better pay and better living
conditions, and later helped create or joined workers
associations and trade unions with their African comrades. The
conditions were so deplorable on some of the estates, such as
Clarkes Court and Calivigny that this led to relocation or
migration to British-controlled Guyana (Brizan:
metayer organization of labor was one of many schemes explored
by the colonialist to manage production following emancipation.
Reeling from the steep decline in sugar production, this form of
sharecropping was an effort to maximize revenue on estates and
pay wages in cash. Introduced in 1848, matayer was at its peak
on the island between 1850 and 1854. Workers rented plots of
lands from landlords and were rented instruments of production
(machines, carts, and stock, etc) while the matayer (worker)
provided her/his labor. The system was grossly inefficient and
was problematic from the onset.
of the earliest expressions of proletarian consciousness in
Grenada, on Tuesday, January 11, 1848, laborers on various
estates in the St Patrick's marched to Sauteurs declaring
opposition to pay cuts proposed by their employers. Arguably
this marked the birth of Grenadian trade union consciousness as
workers utilized collective action as a means of effecting
social change one hundred years before the birth of the
organized trade union movement in Grenada.
abolition of chattel slavery, the introduction of indentured
laborers, and the subsequent waves of labor struggles throughout
the Caribbean, were different phases of the constant struggle of
Caribbean People's continuing quest for full emancipation.
unrelenting quest for improvement reflects the long history of
distressing economic conditions that prevailed in Grenada. All
too often the militancy of the movement for labor rights and
social emancipation were thwarted by violent repression (police
brutality and military intervention), and aided by repressive
legislation (such as the Riot Act).
it is generally understood that the struggle for workers rights
is fundamentally the struggle for civil rights, then the
struggle for local representation can also be seen in that
general context. One advances the other. In 1917 the Grenada
Representative Association was formed. Its membership included
both a radical wing, led by William Galway Donovan and a
conservative wing, led by D.S. DeFretas. The radical wing
advocated a completely elected legislature while the
conservative wing advocated a limited elected representation.
Very advanced for its time, a compromise decision allowed for
both elected and non-elected representation.
Grenadian women were stalwarts in the struggle for
representation. Gertude Pertain (1912-2002) became the first
woman appointed to the Grenada legislature while Eva Sylvester
(19xx-xxxx) was the first Grenadian to the elected to the
Legislative Council. Both were feminists and important figures
in the regional and local suffrage movement (Shepherd 1999).
when trade unions were made legal in Britain in 1871, it took
several decades of struggle before the right to strike in the
Caribbean became legal. Legislation forbidding strikes in the
region were enacted in the mid-nineteenth century and bolstered
by the Protection of Property Act of 1905. These measures,
however repressive, did create to heightening of labor demands
leading up to WW1.
Grenada’s first worker organizations were benevolent societies,
providing members with sickness and death benefits. By not being
unions, per se, these organizations were able to evade the
hostile climate and avoid anti-trade union laws.
situation changed rapidly during WWI because of several related
factors - the escalating cost of living; wartime depravations;
reports of racial discrimination experienced by West Indian
soldiers overseas who served the empire. There were similar
waves of strikes and protest action throughout the region around
the demands for reduced working hours and better pay. These
movements were often led by ex-WWI soldiers.
such leader was Grenada-born Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler.
Returning to Grenada after WWI, Butler joined the Grenada
Representative Government Movement and founded the Grenada Union
of Returned Soldiers in 1919. He migrated to Trinidad to work in
the oil industry but became incapacitated because of an
on-the-job injury. Butler became a Baptist preacher during
retirement but it was his advocacy on the behalf of oil workers
that made him a household name. Fusing trade union activism with
a self-professed messianic calling, he became renowned when he
led a hunger march to Port of Spain on the behalf of dismissed
employees of the Apex Oilfields Ltd. Butler had a great appeal
to Grenadian and other eastern Caribbean migrants who were
proletarianized in the oil fields of Trinidad.
Confronting a colonial ruling class that was shudder at the
prospect of militant working class unity, Butler became a wanted
man by the colonial authorities for planning a major strike of
oilfield workers. The strike commenced at midnight on 18-19
June 1937 in Fyzabad. As he addressed a large meeting, an
attempt was made by soldiers and paramilitary to arrest him. The
crowd rescued Butler. Riot broke out and a hated police
corporal was drenched with oil and burned alive. Guerilla
warfare-style worker’s action flashed to various areas of
Trinidad. The riots ended with a combination of brutal
repression and some concession to the striking workers.
shared political and social space integrated the worker of
Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Eastern Caribbean. The
influence went from one shore to the next, as Trinidad
increasingly became an urban pull for many ‘small islanders’ as
the oil industry boomed in Trinidad. Butler-era activism and
protests heightened the class-consciousness of many workers in
the region. Many activists and observers went from one island
to the next sharing the experiences and becoming involved in
various movements. Clement Payne, a Butler activist gave birth
to the most significant workers protest in the history of
Barbados. However, a notable shortcoming of the Butler riots,
noted by historians, was the lack of a clear working-class
objective to challenge the status quo. The Butler riots would
continue to aspire generations of struggles in the region [Hart:
Historians are baffled that Grenada remained relatively quiet
while a wave of spectacular labor strikes and protests swept the
Caribbean during the 1930s (see Richard Hart: History of
Caribbean People). Some attribute this to the relatively
larger composition of independent peasant farmers that made up
the fabric of the working population. Hart speculates that
another contributing factor in the delayed effect of this
regional upsurge of rebellion in Grenada may have well been that
the Grenadian working masses had greater faith in the efficacy
of political representations in Grenada than elsewhere. He
attributes this to “the immense popularity and reputation of T
Albert Marryshow (1887-1958), Member of the Legislative Council
whose orientation was entirely political.”
(Hart: 1998, p.124).
give equal weight to shrewd maneuvering on the part of the
Grenada ruling classes. The Grenada legislature made trade
unions legal in 1933, with limitations in regards to picketing
and other liability measures. However, efforts by lawmakers like
T.A Marryshow to have these repressive aspects removed were not
Brizan argues that: "The Grenadian estate owners, the employers
of agricultural labor, who were spared (the 1930’s) holocausts,
took heed of the saying "when your neighbors' house is on fire,
wet yours". It was solely for this reason that there were
voluntary agreements and co-operation with the authorities
whenever they recommended a wage increase."(Brizan
the conclusions of the Moyne Commission that visited Grenada in
1939 was the notable absence of trade unions in a territory with
such a large percentage of Agricultural workers. The commission
urged for provisions to be made for representation of rural
Grenada’s first registered union was the short-lived Grenada
Trades Union in 1937. Although the Grenada Union of Teachers
existed since 1913, it was registered almost half-century
later. Soon to follow was the St John’s Labor Party (later
changed to the Grenada Labor Party/General Workers Union) that
emerged in 1929 but was not registered until 1941. Between 1940
and 1949 the three primary unions representing Grenadians
workers were, the St John’s Labor Party/General Workers Union,
the Grenada Trade Union, and the St George’s Workers
Union/Grenada Workers Union.
low pay for the most laborious occupations created very dreadful
condition for workers throughout Grenada. Life expectancy was
very short for all groups of toilers but especially among East
Indians. Much of the ailments were a result of poor living
conditions and inadequate health care. The 1937 commission of
Enquiry into the economic conditions of Grenadian workers across
various classes of workers but primarily in the agricultural
industry portrayed how inadequate the agricultural laborer’s
wages were, particularly in regards to housing, clothing and
health-care. It was documented that tuberculosis, yaws,
hookworm, malaria, gastro-enteritis, and venereal disease were
widespread among the working people and their families. By
1940, the infant mortality rate soared as high as 115 per 1000.
The report further highlighted that laborers were ostracized
politically (Brizan: 1984, p.256). In spite of these conditions,
the unions of this era wrestled only minor, incremental gains
from the Grenadian property class. Such was the immaturity and
class collaborationist nature of the unions of these early
The situation changed
radically when Eric Gairy (1920 - 1997) and Gascoigne Blaize
returned to Grenada around 1950-51. The two were oil refinery
workers in Aruba and both got their training in labor organizing
as members of the Aruba Labor Union.
Upon returning to Grenada,
Eric Matthew Gairy registered the Grenada Manual and Mental
Workers Union (GMMWU) in 1950 and almost immediately spearheaded
Grenada's first general strike. The GMMWU had wrestled the
initiative from the existing establishment unions and within
three months was the main bargaining body of agricultural
workers due largely to Gairy’s populist rhetoric and charisma.
Gairy targeted the existing unions,
pointing out that these establishment unions no longer represent
the workers. He argued that his followers are in the
overwhelming majority, and that his power to call a strike is in
itself proof of his leadership.
strike continued, Gairy and his lieutenant, Gascoigne Blaize
were banished to Carriacou by the Governor. Mass protest and
attacks on estate property and personnel and violence in the
streets. The escalating crisis forced the Governor to return
the leaders to Grenada. In the process Gairy became a working
class hero and an established
presence in the Grenada labor movement. A Daily Telegraph
article of March 14, 1951 Entitled "Trouble Comes to Grenada:
Campaign to Foment Workers' Discontent", highlights some of the
conditions that made Gairy’s entry on the political landscape
timely and necessary:
troubles that have come to the peaceful island of Grenada, while
symptomatic of the changing social conditions of the world since
the end of the war, have been deliberately and artificially
stimulated. The workers, the descendants of African slaves who
for generations have been content to extract a bare subsistence
from daily labor on the cocoa, banana, nutmeg and sugar
plantations, have been awakened by agitation and propaganda to
the fact that perhaps they are entitled to better conditions.
their imaginations stimulated by this propaganda and by tales of
good living and high wages brought back by neighbors who have
worked in the oilfields of nearby Caribbean islands, they have
slowly come to believe that the time has arrived for them to
demand and receive basic amenities they have never enjoyed.”
quickly capitalized on the situation by creating the Grenada
People's Party (which later evolved into the Grenada United
Labor Party) in which he participated in the October 1951
elections winning a surprising 71% of the vote and getting six
of the eight seats in parliament as well as several spots in the
came in like a hurricane and overshadowed TA Marryshow,
considered the most respected figure among the working-class at
the time. Gairy’s winning of adult suffrage in 1950
(long-pursued goal of Marryshow) led directly to the replacement
of Marryshow as the dominant political figure. Whereas Marryshow
was middle class, Gairy was working-class and appealed to the
working-class and the peasantry. Gairy would dominate the
island's politics for almost half a century.
However, the longer Gairy remained in power the more distant he
drifted from the aspirations of the Grenadian working people.
He corrupted legitimate trade union activities and suppressed
activities of unions he could not corrupt. Poverty was wide
spread during the Gairy-era. Gairy did very little to improve
the living conditions of the poorest Grenadians, the class that
propelled him to power. It is estimated that seventy-five
percent of the workforce was unemployed or unemployment in
1970. Rates among women were even higher.
ironic that workers strike brought Gairy in and another workers
strike was the catalyst for the beginning of his demise: it was
the nurses’ strike of 1970 that ushered in Maurice Bishop as a
new champion of the Grenada working-class. Mass protest was also
one of the sparks that led to fusing of a radical working-class
Grenada opposition. A protest in rural St Davids against a
colonialist’s exclusive claims to Lasagesse beach encouraged the
fusion of two working-class tendencies from different regions of
the country to form the New Jewel Movement (NJM) in 1972. A
general strike in with the trade union movement played an
essential role overshadowed Gairy’s ushering of independence in
March 13 revolution
almost bloodless overthrow of Gairy in 1979 was met by great
enthusiasm by the Grenadian working people. And never before in
Grenada’s history was working people and trade unionists as
represented in a government in the Caribbean in general and
Grenada in particular.
rule saw another phase of the organization and status of labor
in Grenada. There was a flowering of trade unionism and several
laws were passed protecting workers from workplace abuse, such
as the Maternity Leave Law of 1980, which protected women from
the common practice of being fired by their employers due to
pregnancy. Radical trade unionism was encouraged and given
government resources. Workers organizations and trade unions
interests were ensured in budget and national debates with the
full involvement of trade unions in all aspects of decision
making on economic matters.
was also a growth of trade union representation. During the
revolution, efforts towards creating a “popular democracy” of
grassroots decision-making flourished. Trade union membership
reached a high of at least 50 % under the new mandatory union
recognition law, a novelty in the Caribbean at the time. Trade
unions, the National Youth Organization, the National Women’s
Organization, and other such “organs” of democracy, elected
delegates from their membership to take part in the programs of
the revolution [EPICA: 1985, p.99].
New trade union publications such as Cutlass (the voice of the
Agricultural and General Workers Union) emerged.
for the first time in the history of the English-speaking
Caribbean, there was a conscious, institutionalized,
state-funded effort to educate workers in terms of their
intrinsic self-interest with the introduction of Worker
Education Classes in workplaces throughout Grenada. There was
also a tremendous growth in Grenada union association and
affiliations with global and progressive trade union.
leader of the People’s Revolutionary Government, Maurice Bishop
(1944-1983), gave an example in a 1982 speech of how grossly the
average Grenadian worker was exploited: “A nutmeg worker cracks
150 pounds of nutmeg a day, earning U.S. $2.60. The nutmeg from
this day’s work, after further processing and packaging in
London, is sold for U.S. $900” [Knutson, p.
made a conscious effort to building a working-class base. And
trade union activists and around the NJM sought to eclipse or
marginalize the AIFLD-trained class-collaborationist
bureaucrats. Knutson quotes, as an example of NJM-era
mobilization, a notice posted on a bulletin board in one of the
ministries to illustrate the NJM effort to revive lackluster
unions: “Come to a special general meeting of the PWU [Public
Workers Union] this Thursday, April 29th at 4:15 p.m.
The meeting has been called by the Nov. 12 Committee because our
union has not been functioning seriously. The present lack of
activity of the union will be discussed. Don’t let anybody kill
it with doing nothing” [Knutson, 1984, p 76]. There was broad
expansion of the trade union movement and Maurice Bishop and
other leaders of the revolution made frequent visit to
workplaces around the country.
time of the collapse of the revolution unemployment had dropped
to under 15% and many benefits with a bias to the workers were
accomplished. These ranged from stabilization of the prices of
foods and other essential commodities to formation of a
cooperative sector in agriculture; house repair program;
nationwide campaign to wipe out illiteracy; elimination of
school fees and expansion of education on all levels.
abstract debate on leadership that led to the collapse of the
revolution was seen my many analyst as evidence of a wide schism
that emerged in the latter stages between the NJM party and the
working people. (For a more elaborate treatment of this issue
see Lewis, Gordon K. Grenada: The Jewel Despoiled. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987). The general leadership void
that was left with the destruction of the revolution was
particularly felt in the Trade Union movement. The trade union
movement suffered great loses in the schism and the ensuing lost
of lives. For example the murdered included prominent trade
unionists, Fitzroy Bain (president of the Agricultural and
General Workers Union) and Vincent Noel (president of the Bank
and General Workers Union).
Immediate post-revolution era
demise of the revolution saw another phase of unionism in
Grenada. The traditional May Day celebrations have assumed
maturity and became institutionalized, taking advantage of the
momentum provided by the revolution era. May Day in the
post-revolution era reflects the polarity of the gap between the
interest of workers and the subsequent administrations, assuming
a healthy alternative democratic space.
past decade, there has been discomfort with the Ministers
representing labor being at the annual May Day events – this is
manifested in either the labor unions not accepting the
sincerity of the gesture of the labor minister being at the
event (usually resulting in “booing’ such ministers), or the
Minister not accepting the sincerity of labor’s invitation to
attend the event (sometimes resulting in the minister not
showing up at the May Day event as on May Day 2006).
period is also marked by the fact that for the first time in
Grenada’s history, labor has a voice in Parliament with the
Trade Union Council (TUC) being represented in parliament to
defend labor's interest. General Secretary of the TUC and TAWU,
the Honorable Chester Humphrey has been representing Grenadian
labor, under the auspices of the TUC, since 1988. The period
also is characterized by labor Ministers playing a very vocal
role representing the government’s and corporate interest in
labor disputes and arbitration. The Honorable Claris Charles
currently holds the portfolios of Education and Labor.
Probably more than anything else, the present polarization of
labor and government is indicative by the introduction of the
controversial Labor Relations Act of 1993 which many fear is a
movement in the direction of suppression of at least some
aspects of labor rights, such as the right to strike. The law
gives the government the right to establish tribunals empowered
to make "binding and final" rulings when a labor dispute is
considered of vital interest to the state. The Grenada Trade
Union Council claims that the law is an infringement on the
right to strike.
However, the Right of Association remains constitutional but
needs to be more strongly enforced as a means of advancing civil
rights. For example, while Workers are free to form and join
independent labor unions, employers are not legally obliged to
recognize a union formed by their employees.
Grenadians as Welfare Checks to the Developed Countries
phase coincides with growing regional integration and the
globalization and the mass migration of Grenadians to the USA
and other developed countries. According to IMF data, Grenada
tops a list of countries with the highest labor force emigration
rates to the developed countries 55% between 1970 and 2000.
Apart from the extraordinarily high migration rates, one of the
characteristics of migration from Grenada is the loss of the
educated population. Grenada has one of the highest tertiary
emigration rates to the developing countries. Between 1965 and
2000, Grenada sent 75% of its Tertiary labor force to the USA,
61% of its secondary, and 7% of its primary labor force (IMF,
virtue of this huge Diaspora, Grenada is also one of the world’s
highest remittance countries. However, the data shows that the
losses outweigh the official recorded remittances. Nonetheless,
it is obvious that this enormous lost of high skill labor is
having a big impact on Grenada’s productive forces.
Globalization and the emerging era of CSME
the most talked about regional issue presently at the Caribbean
corporate and government levels is the Caribbean Single Market
and Economy (CSME). The CSME, which came in literally with the
toll of New Year 2006, with the major Caribbean economies
signing, takes a historic step towards implementation of a
CARICOM Single Market (CSM), and a move towards greater regional
unity. Though the CSM is fragile and of questionable clout at
the moment, this makes CARICOM
only the second regional grouping in the world, after the
European Union, to form a single market. The CSME presents
dangers and opportunity for expanding civil rights in the
region. One of the immediate dangers is the lack of discussion
on the levels of labor and grass roots about directions.
process which began with the CSM and its removal of barriers to
trade, goods, services and several categories of labor will
conclude with the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market
and Economy (CSME) by the end of 2008. CSM formally began with
the major Caricom economies on board. The six Organization of
Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
only recently signed the agreement (June 30), following their
letter of intent. Representing a sub-regional block, the delay
was due to their stipulation that assurances needed to be made
for their primary concern – their economic vulnerability and
disadvantage of these arrangements to its 500,000 people.
fully implemented, the CSME will involve a single currency and a
uniformed economic policy. The Caribbean Single Market and
Economy CSME involve the free flow of labor, goods and capital
among Caribbean Community CARICOM member states.
most debated issue is the implications for employment. The free
movement of labor is presently limited to qualified and skilled
persons. There is concern that the full implication CSM/CSME for
the Caribbean working people, workers rights and unionism are
not being adequately addressed.
The CSME will have profound impact on the labor movement in the
Caribbean. An aspect of these discussions that would have a
direct impact on the labor movement in the region and on Grenada
in particular is the Free Movement of Skilled Labor that is
integral to the implementation of the Caricom Single Market (CSM).
According to the provisions, skilled labor will become more
mobile with no restrictions across Caricom territories.
Nationals will move freely to work or to look for work.
movement will then include tertiary-trained teachers and nurses
free labor movement across the Caribbean is already accepted by
many nations. Pending an agreement of a skill certificate, the
pool then expands to include higglers, artisans, domestic
workers and hospitality workers. Currently, only university
graduates, media workers, sports persons, artists and musicians
are eligible for a regional skills certificate.
point, the CSME is a business-led initiative that is actually
being touted by its prominent architects as a response to
capitalist globalization. For example, according to Prime
Minister, the Honorable Dr Keith Mitchell: “The CSME is about
people who have something to trade. It is about people who have
something to sell. It is especially about small and medium sized
The interest of the Labor movement in
Grenada and the wider region is lacking in these discussions.
There are several questions that are yet unanswered, regarding
the role of workers: Where does labor fit into these equations?
Will the Caribbean labor movement be re-organized to take up
these trans-territorial issues? Will we now see May Day
celebrations and initiatives take on regional manifestations?
Will this usher in trans-territorial labor unions and
trans-territorial trade union activism? Will labor unions take
up the plight of inra-Caribbean migrant workers? The answers to
these questions will determine how well the Caribbean labor
movement responds to the demands on Caribbean labor in this era
of capitalist-led globalization.
order to understand the dangers of capitalist-led globalization
on the economy of Grenada and the wider region, it is important
to understand what globalization is, its promises, its
strengths, and shortcomings. It is taking Lawrence Nurse’s
admonition on the present task of labor in the Caribbean to its
logical conclusion that in order for the union movement in the
region improve its competence for dealing with national issue…”
it must readjust. According to Nurse, “this requires
establishing and strengthening its local competence for serious
analysis of the major issues facing the region". (http://www.bigdrumnation.org/notes/labourday.htm)
In “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Thomas Friedman reminds us
"[Globalization] is not just some passing trend. Today it is an
overarching international system shaping the domestic politics
and foreign relations of virtually every country, and
need to understand it as such."
of globalization argue that capitalist global economic
integration favors the already wealthy (internationally as well
as within countries) while hurting the world’s poor and poor
nations in general.
Proponents of globalization on the other hand, advance that
capitalist economic integration is good for the world and that
it is perceived as such by the poor. The World Bank, for
example, points to a 2002 poll conducted by the Pew Global
Attitude Survey showing that in Sub-Saharan Africa 75% of
households thought that multinational corporations had a
positive influence on their countries... The study concluded
that people in poor countries generally blame their local
governments, not globalization, for their country’s ills (David
Dollar, YaleGlobal, June 23, 2003).
the strongest arguments of the globalization skeptics is that
while globalization continues apace, there is very little
discussion on its implications to the people who would likely be
argument is bolstered by the above indicated Pew Poll and the
reality of the many studies from auspicious institutions, such
as the UN, showing that most poor countries became poorer with
the emergence of capitalist globalization as well as the many
studies showing how little the implications of globalization is
discussed and understood (Friedman 2003).
According to the United Nation’s International Labor
Organization (ILO), “Opportunities for men and women to obtain
productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and
dignity are essential to ensuring the eradication of hunger and
poverty, the improvement of the economic and social well-being
for all, the achievement of sustained economic growth and
sustainable development of all nations, and a fully inclusive
and equitable globalization”
(ILO June, 2006 www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inf/event/ecosoc/index.htm)
Whatever side Grenadians, business people, or labor unions stand
on the globalization debate, it is without doubt that
globalization is an overriding feature of the world economy
today that all interest must contend with. There is need for
globalization education throughout the country. One of the most
organic ways this can be accomplished is in the context of CSME.
With over 1/4 of our workforce unionized and the trade union's
proven ability to mobilize more Grenadians than any other single
civil institution in the country, Grenada's unions maybe
well-positioned to be this vehicle.
imperative that while we strengthen our ties with the wider
region, the best assurance that the interest of our small,
vulnerable people will be protected in this era is by protecting
our institutions - building and strengthen our labor unions,
implementing robust anti-trust laws, and protecting our
indigenous interests, fundamentally, expanding our civil
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Martin P. Felix - July 31, 2006.