I think we should have political debates leading up to the 2022 general election. Now I know that many of you would say that debates are not a part of our democracy, but that is not true. Across the world Parliamentary Democracies are holding debates, the United Kingdom which is considered the mother of Parliamentary Democracies, hold debates. Other Commonwealth countries like Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica are holding debates and I think it’s time the Bahamas does the same. I think it would strength our democracy, make politicians answer hard questions and force them to engage the Bahamian electorate in a way they have not done before.
political rallies where the focus seems to be on having a good time, debates
shift the attention to facts, and it gives the candidates an opportunity to
speak to the whole electorate, rather than solely to their primary supporters. Further, elections are a serious matter and
while there is nothing wrong with having fun, there comes a time when we must
stop and give serious discussion and considerations to burning issues like the
economy, immigration, education, health care, national development etc. The voters at the very least must be given
information and allowed to make an informed choice on Election Day. Unfortunately, these days the focus is not on
the issues, but on the personality and popularity of the political leaders
whose followers sometimes seem to have an almost cult like level of
worship. And many times these leaders seem
to partake in their own Kool-Aid because they seemingly believe that we should
follow them without question or objection. But contrary to popular belief,
voting is not only a right; it’s a sacred responsibility and one that is far
more valuable than money, free beer and a dam good time. This month we would
celebrate forty-seven years as an independent nation, but our Parliament
stretches back to 1729, that’s 291 years of parliamentary democracy, it is not perfect and there were many
challenges, but don’t you think it’s time for us to mature as a people or are
we content to continue on with the status quo.
In all honesty, many in
politics seem to think the people should serve them, not they serve the people,
and we are sitting back and watching the gradual decline of our democracy, but are
not willing to make any demands of our politicians least we lose our place at
the “benefits and beggars table” . If we
don’t toe the line we would lose our government contracts, our position on one
of the many boards and committee etc so we keep quiet, even if what is going on
is not in the best interest of the country.
We help to hide the secrets and help victimize those who speak up or
deer to express an independent opinion, in essence, we sell out, and like Esau,
we trade our future for a bowl of stew.
We need to start thinking nationally, and forcing those who are vying
for our votes to answer the tough questions, to at least let us see a little of
who you are away from the fun and frolic of the rally. It’s time for a change and the change begins
with making a more informed choice over
those we wish to lead us, and debates will help us to do that.
Bahamas Court News reports that the police arrested a homeless woman on the 25th April for failing to comply with the Corona Virus lockdown restrictions. Carine Ceremy was standing in front of the car in which she lives because she is homeless. At court she pled guilty and at her arraignment she explained that the car is small and she has to come outside to occasionally stretch her legs, when the police arrested her she was standing next to the car she lives in simply because she was stretching her legs. Carine reports that she has no relatives who could take her in and the shelter only allowed her to stay 14 days. The prosecution however, withdrew the case and the magistrate reportedly said he would make inquiries for a shelter that would accommodate her. In this case, the courts chose compassion over prosecution, but during this Corona Virus Lockdown, a number of homeless persons have been arrested for failing to comply with the lockdown.
In an interview with the Nassau Guardian, Bishop Walter Hanchell said he was in support of the curfew but he expressed concern for “those left walking around” during the lockdown. (Bishop Hanchell and the Great Commission Ministries helps many of the homeless and unfortunate in our community, he said he was looking for a facility to house such persons, so let us remember to support such organization because, but for the grace of God, you and I could be in those same circumstances.) In this case the plight of the homeless and the extremely poor was overlooked, and I don’t think it was simply careless, but a lack of awareness of the real struggle for those who are down on their luck. Case in point, on Tuesday, 19th May, 2020 two men Ambrose Petitbeau and Rony Atinore were arrested while at the pump on Hospital Lane. The fact that you must get water for household use from the public pump suggests that you are disadvantaged, so why increase their burden with hefty fines. Yes we are in the midst of a pandemic, but these men could have simply been cautioned and allowed to return home with their water. Further, they are saying the best way to avoid the spread of this virus is by practicing good hygiene, so if a family has no running water in their house, the public pump is their water supply and realistically, securing enough water for the lockdown can sometimes be a challenge.
When asked about the arrest of the homeless during curfew, Eyewitness News reports that Attorney General, Carl Bethel, QC said “even if the policy is “misguided”, it is limited by the capacity of the Department of Correctional Services and holding cells”. “If it is a knee jerk reaction to grab everybody said to be homeless and bring them before a court and then be [ordered] to pay a lot of money which they don’t have or go to jail; that’s bound to be frustrated by the lack of capacity of the prison system to deal with it and there has to be a better societal resolution. Now, that only me speaking as a lawyer.” But, while he stated that he is speaking as a lawyer, he remains the Attorney General and one of his roles is, “the Guardian of the Public Interest” (Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General). The Government seemingly did not make temporary arrangements for the homeless but in the future, perhaps they could network with agencies like Great Commission Ministries and the Salvation Army, who have an abundance of experience working with the homeless to bring help and relief.
Another recent case which case which got a lot of attention was the arrest of 18 year old Jason Williams who was fine $700.00 for “selling coconuts” (ie running a non-essential business and breaking curfew). As the Tribune reports, the young man did not have a valid licence, but the public was seemingly so outraged by his arrest, that the community made contributions to assist in paying the young man’s fine to avoid him having to go to prison. Young Mr. Williams said he was simply trying to earn some honest money. I understand that the law must be obeyed and these rules were put in place to protect the entire county by preventing the spread of the Corona Virus, nevertheless, I am concerned about arresting a young man, and giving him a possible criminal record. I concede that he broke the law but, the issue here is if society is served by locking up Jason, perhaps in cases like this community service is better. These officers perhaps could have directed him to the authorities so that he could be processed for his licence and health certificate, and follow up to ensure that he complied, that would have been more helpful and a better execution of Community Policing than spending nights in a cell.
The primary issue with all of these cases is, while we must enforce the law, we must also be mindful that justice should be tempered with mercy. If we were to examine Lady Justice, which hold a great deal of symbolism, I would note that she is blindfolded, which means she is impartial and treats all persons equally, she carries scales in her hands which means she weights each individual’s fate, the punishment must fit the crime, she carries a sword, which is to defend the law and ensure that it is enforced, but it is also to protect all who come before her. We are a country that is governed by the Rule of Law, but let us also be a society of mercy and tolerance.
There is a voice message floating around by a farmer whose animals were destroyed by pit-bull dogs. When I first heard this message, I felt badly for this farmer, I felt her pain and I am hopeful that the Ministry of Agriculture offers her the help she needs to recover. I think the farmers need more support not only from Government, but the entire community. Unfortunately, many did not empathise or sympathise with her, they just chucked her statement up to a rant, but she suffered a serious loss and a serious setback. She invested time and resources into the development of her farm, and when you spend effort into producing something and it’s lost, it hurts and she like many farmers need our support.
Farmers are very important to our national development because we live in a nation that spends 1 billion dollars on food imports accounting for 90 percent of the food we consume (Hands for Hunger). We are almost entirely reliant on food imports to feed our people, imports that become very expensive after transportation fees, taxes etc. are added. These expenses are passed on to the consumer who struggles with the high cost; needless to say many cannot afford nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meat. Consequently, nutrition suffers because consumers must focus on buying what they can afford rather than the nutritional value of what they eat. This is a contributing factor to the high rates of obesity, and diseases such as cancer, hypertension and diabetes. Another serious concern is that one in six Bahamians suffer from chronic hunger (Hands for Hunger), but think of all the food that can be readily available and at a cheaper cost if more food was grown and produced locally. Think of all the healthy food families can eat if they grew some food themselves, simultaneously reducing their grocery bill and freeing up some of the family’s income to go on other needs. I know that the government had a backyard farming project, which is a very good idea, but we need to strengthen this programme because we need to encourage people to grow and produce more food. It needs to be a national effort until it’s culturally inculcated; it is good for our health, it is good for families and good for the nation.
What is interesting is in a press release by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis dated the 17th March, 2020, he stated that, “there is no need to panic, we have at least 3 months of food supply on the island and shipping continues”. I agree, we do not need to panic, but we need to be keenly aware and shift our focus on preparing our nation to be more self-reliant and prepared to provide our most basic needs. We do not wish it, but let’s imagine a scenario in which we are unable to get shipments of food from America or elsewhere, we would be in a crisis. Look at what is going on, we are experiencing a global pandemic that is reaping havoc on the world’s economies. This caught the world off guard and it showed how fragile commerce is, how important it is to be able to withstand external shocks. Consequently, we need to increase the amount of food we are able to produce, we need to support our farmers, and we need to put real support behind this industry so that we can achieve appreciable returns. Critics to this philosophy may say that it is unattainable, but to continue our current food import bill is unsustainable and unwise. We need to grow and produce more food and the key to this is farmers like this lady. Farmers who are literally crying for help and have a genuine interest in the progress of this nation rather than profit, let’s support them because their success is our success.
In a Tribune article dated Monday, 28th October, 2019, written by Youri Kemp, Top Realtor Mario Carey founder of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate laments that there is not enough affordable Housing in the Bahamas. He stated that “the cost of owning the Bahamian Dream of having your own home is far outpacing the majority of Bahamians because in today’s economy affordable housing just does not exist.” “Incomes in the Bahamas can’t keep up with inflation, the cost of living, increases in VAT/taxes, lack of access to capital for the business community along with a high unemployment rate in addition to the lack of diversity in housing inventory, all speak to people’s inability to buy a house.” According to Carey, industry professionals report that the demand for affordable housing is higher than the supply. Housing especially in New Providence is a major issue as more and more families find themselves locked out of the market.
Many working class Bahamians have a difficult time securing decent housing consequently, some of these families live in sub-standard or squalid conditions. Others live in crowded homes with relatives or friends with limited privacy, increasing the probability of abuse for both women and children. This is of particular concerns to single mothers as 47 percent of poor households are headed by females and women also make up 52 percent of the poor (Department of Statistics). Therefore, one of the ways we can impact the poor, and improve the living situation for many working class families is to address the need for affordable housing.
The Ministry of Housing has a Low Cost Housing Programme, but, these homes are still out of the reach of many as they cannot afford the down payment. Therefore in order to meet the needs of the people, I think it’s time for the government to begin to explore alternative housing programmes. I would suggest that the government re-institute the Rebirth Housing Project, firstly, these homes were cheaper and the down payment was less. Perhaps there may also be a need to increase the amount of Government Rental Units or investigate the possibility of programs such as rent to own. This would help many families as the monthly rent they currently pay is equal to what many home owners pay in mortgages. We must also look at cheaper building materials to reduce the cost of home construction. This is a challenge because the country is in the hurricane belt but, we can have a strong building code without pricing average Bahamians out of the market, we just have to look for better, more affordable and sustainable solutions.
Affordable housing is not solely about building a structure that people can afford, it is also about ensuring that the vast majority of residents have a safe place to live. The primary goals should be about ensuring that ordinary people can enjoy a decent standard of living. Unfortunately, many children experience eviction numerous times and move from place to place because their parents cannot afford the rent. Some are no stranger to homelessness resorting to things like sleeping in cars or abandoned houses until they find decent accommodations. These children are often angry and frustrated because they don’t have a safe place to live on a consistent basis, they don’t have the security of having a home.
The issue of homelessness was also highlighted during the Covid 19 Crisis because while we were told to stay home, many had no home. So there is a need in this country not only for affordable housing, but emergency shelters for persons who have been evicted, or in need of temporary accommodations.
Just food for thought.
When I combed through my archives, the article that caught my attention, was an article that appeared in the Tribune Insight on Monday 19th August, 2019. It said, “forget power cuts, some of our neighbours suffer greater indignities”. In this article, Morgan Adderley is addressing the issue of outside toilets. Throughout the Bahamas, many persons still live in homes that lack indoor plumbing, so in this modern age, they must still go outside if they wish to use the restroom. What is most worrisome about this is that we are in the midst of a pandemic and good hygiene and social distancing seems to be the primary ways in which we fight the spread of Corona. Lets dig a little deeper into this article and show you the human element, Crystal Miller, is a young mother who rents a home with no indoor plumbing. She has two very young children and reports that she has to clean the toilet before her children uses it, Ms. Miller points out that, some tenants compound the situation because, they are not tidy. Thank God she is vigilant and goes with her children to the toilet but, what about those children who go and use that same facility unsupervised. They are exposed to very unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. Children who sometimes forget to wash their hands, put their hands in their mouth, this presents numerous health concerns. This is perhaps an issue so far from the minds of many because, going and turning on a tap to cook, bathe, flush the toilet etc. is so common that situations like this is far removed from our minds. Yet for many, it is an everyday thing, before they go to work or school, they must take the jugs or buckets to the pump to get water so they could bathe or relieve themselves. Think of the challenges this must create when there are young children in the home, elderly person with no help or a female when she has to deal with her cycle. Many of us can stand on our soap boxes and give numerous reasons why this is the fault of the individual, but life is messy, people have challenges and they make mistakes, and who’s to say how life would have turned out for us, were it not for fate blessing us with the family it did, consider our education, social status etc. before we point our fingers. Further, many people have lost their jobs and subsequently, their apartments so what this pandemic is showing us, is our lives can change in an instant so, we need to have more empathy and concern for our fellow man.
To some of you reading, the solution is simple, rent another house somewhere else, but in most cases, these types of houses are perhaps the only place that many of the poor in the “Over-The-Hill” areas can afford. Rent in the Nassau is notoriously high and many cannot afford accommodations with all the modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity because the rent is so high, so they make do. This is echoed across the inner city communities such as Bain and Grant's Town, Centreville, Englerston, Kemp Rd. etc where the high cost of living, is pushing many persons deeper into poverty. Many low income workers pay to live in squalor or face homelessness. The concern however is lack of running water and proper sanitation could contribute to the spread of various types of illnesses. All of us have to be under curfew, so can you imagine the situation this creates for this young mother who cannot leave her home to get water. She may fill several containers, but what happens if it runs out. You may say that this is not an issue for you, but viruses do not live in a vacuum, we do not live in a vacuum. These persons do not live in isolation, but are a part of our community, so this problem does not exist in a vacuum, and has implication for all of us. The argument being made is not that the poor cause the spread of disease, but unhealthy situations create a greater opportunity for illnesses to spread and when faced with a major health crisis, the poor has more challenges because they have less resources.
The article further states that the current administration led by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, promised to eradicate outside toilets by 2025. Further, it is one of the goals of the Over the Hill Revitalization Project but, to residents in these neighbourhoods, it seems like just another campaign promised used to seduce voters. According to Rocky Nesbit, chairperson of the Project, the elimination of outside toilets is a part of the Revitalization Initiative and it is said that assessments would be done to determine if accommodating outside toilets in these homes are “feasible”. The feasibility however is a greater concern for renters rather than homeowners because improvements to the property may result in increase rent which some may be unable to afford, so the issue looming in the background is affordable housing. However, when we consider the health implication for everyone, we realize that we cannot leave anyone behind. It brings to the forefront the overall issue of poverty in the Bahamas, and far from the glamour of the hotels and casinos, there is the “other Bahamas” where ordinary Bahamians sometimes live in abject poverty, but we cannot fully address the issue of outside toilets, without addressing the overall issue of poverty in the Bahamas. Kudos to Morgan Adderley for drawing our attention to the vexing issue of outside toilets in the Bahamas.
Migration is a global issue. All over the world vulnerable people leave their homeland in search of a better life. The Bahamas is no stranger to this issue, but, most of our knowledge involves persons migrating to The Bahamas, but we usually don’t examine our history as migrants. Perhaps because, like most of our history, it is an untold story nevertheless, it is one we must examine to help us better appreciate our struggles as a people. To put things into context, life a century ago was very hard and there was very little opportunity for gainful employment for black Bahamians so, many persons went to other countries in search of work. Some of these opportunities came in the form of employment contracts with foreign countries or companies.
Pictures of Bhamian Migrants selling pineapples and working in Florida
Industries such as wrecking provided employment for many especially in the Southern Bahamas but, the placement of lighthouses and the creation of charts for sailors led to the demise of this industry. The agricultural sector also faced challenges as farmers also had difficulty getting crops to market due to the archipelagic nature of the country. This resulted in spoilage and poor quality of crops which negatively impacted the export products such as pineapples, citrus and sisal. A series of hurricanes also destroyed the sponge beds so in the 1930s this industry also suffered dramatically. Relief however came for many Bahamians from the United States’ Farm Labour Programme commonly known as “The Contract” in 1943. Under this programme, Bahamians signed seasonal contracts to provide farm labour across America; the remittances earned boosted the economy of many islands.
The Contract is the best know migration story but, it is not the only one. Records show that Bahamians began migrating to Florida as early as 1890 for seasonal agricultural work and at one point; the exodus to Florida was so great that, from 1900 to 1920 one fifth of the Bahamian population went to Florida. They worked on farms and also got jobs at the resorts across the state. Bahamians also provided a heavy labour component for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway in the 1900s. In fact, Herbert Wells, the first black hired by Florida East Coast was a Bahamian and at the time of his death he was hailed as a pioneer of Florida.
1900 to 1912 Bahamians were recruited to cut cane in the Dominican Republic
but, there was no great exodus this time as there were laws designed to restrict
“coloured immigration”. Prior to that
between 1895 and 1908 Bahamians went to Panama as West Indians were commissioned
to work on the construction of the ambitious Panama Canal. Unfortunately, exposure to diseases like
malaria and typhoid fever were high, the West Indians were also assigned the
more dangerous job of dynamiting. Complaints
were made to the British colonial authorities, but intervention came too late
for many. In addition to Panama, Bahamians were also contracted to work in
Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala on the United Fruit Company and the Atlantic
Fruit Company plantations, as well as the Cárdenas/Monterrey Division of the
National Railways of Mexico and the Mexican port of Tampico. The conditions in Central America were so
harsh and unfavourable that many returned in worse conditions than they left
suffering from disease and disability. In addition to their harsh treatment, their
contracts were sometimes not honoured, further, monies were not sent home
instead, wages were taken and passages home were denied. Bahamians therefore left seeking employment
opportunities in the United States but, while conditions were better, they
still faced danger and discrimination. To
their credit, it was said that when contracts were not honoured and employers
did not live up to expectations, Bahamians would leave in mass numbers. One of the primary reasons were, in many
countries, they faced a level of prejudice and discrimination that they were unaccustomed
to in the Bahamas. Bahamians therefore
opted to return home, preferring to be free and poor than to suffer injustices.
"I am not afraid to go the limit if your rights are challenged. The time is coming when we will have to go the limit simply because men who we put into positions in the House of Assembly have forgotten who put them there and are being used by your enemies for our own destruction. It is simple democracy that when representatives fail to do the people's wish that we the people have to whip them back into line." Excerpt from speech given on Windsor Park on August 8th, 1958."
Faith That Moved The Mountain
August 9, 1958 Randal Fawkes was arrested for sedition and accused of making a seditious speech during a union meeting on Windsor Park. This entire incident stemmed from activities which occurred during a visit to the Bahamas Lumber Company, Mastic Point, Andros by Randal Fawkes and L. Garth Wright. These gentlemen were there at the invitation of labourers who were happy to see them and receive words of encouragement.
at the camp were terrible. Fawkes and Wright witnessed persons with broken or
sawed off bleeding limbs. They also worked long hours for very low wages.
Workers also suffered the indignity of the Truck and Tommy Shop System where
they received things like food, drink, rent and tools from the boss’ Commissary
Shop rather than actual wages. This was a little more than slavery, and just
another tool used to exploit workers and keep them under the bondage of their
oppressors. Further, the lumber camp was loud and filthy with mounds of sawdust
everywhere and toilets in the centre of the yard. There was no clean living
area for the families of the workers so they had to endure constant noise and
filth consequently, the children were often sick. A meeting was organized and the union activist
spoke out against the obvious exploitation which angered the boss, Mr. William
N. Russell. He then demanded that they leave, when they did not, he stormed out
of the meeting vowing to get them, and he was true to his word. Firstly, a few
days later, Richard Horton, a worker who befriended the activist, was fired and
asked to vacate the property by 6:00p.m. or face prosecution for trespassing,
he had no choice but to leave. This
however, was not the end, but the beginning of a showdown between Mr. Fawkes
and his adversaries.
returned to Nassau, Mr. Fawkes was charged with trespassing and disorderly behavior
in relation to his activities at the lumber camp. Magistrate Maxwell Thompson
gave him a suspended sentence and he was bound to keep the peace for 3 years
which meant that he could not hold any labour meetings, picket or involve
himself with labour organizing or activism. In response, Mr. Fawkes did the
unthinkable; he held a monster meeting at Windsor Park and spoke vehemently
against colonialism and the minority government, the following day he was
arrested for sedition. When asked to make a statement, Mr. Fawkes wrote, “The
Bahamas Government is the most corrupt system I have ever seen in my life”. The
paper was then snatched from his hand because this was obviously not the
statement they wanted. He was then formally charged but was granted bail on the
condition that he held no more mass meetings and or demonstrations. Brother
Fawkes was then released to the triumphant shout of the masses that walked to
the Bahamas Federation of Labour (BFofL) Office on Wulff Rd. where a mass
prayer meeting was planned.
Fawkes then began executing the plan for his defense appealing to Premier
Norman Manley of Jamaica because he was not on good terms with the Bar
Association. Mr. L. Garth Wright was also dispatched to New York to ask the
comrades overseas to apply pressure by keeping the sedition case before the
world press. Unfortunately, on the eve of the trail some of the members of the
BFofL broke ranks and formed the Bahamas Trade Union Congress and L. O.
Pindling, Milo Butler and Clarence Bain went abroad until the trail was over.
Fawkes was also tortured by the press, called profane names by the UBP and the
PLP labeled him a nut. The ordinary
workers remained steadfast contributing to the Fawkes Freedom Defense Fund.
was indeed, the trail of the century, with His Lordship, the Chief Justice Sir
Guy Henderson, Edward P. St. George Acting Solicitor General and Vivian O. S.
Blake, the youngest Queen’s Counsel in the British Empire as representative for
the defense. The entire jury, with the exception of one black juror was white;
the odds were clearly stacked against Mr. Fawkes. Mr. St. George was sure of
his victory but, young Mr. Blake was up to the challenge and this resulted in a
shocking turn of events.
Before the crown could prosecute Mr. Fawkes for Sedition, Mr. Blake challenged whether his actions on the night in question met the definition of sedition, placing the Crown’s case in a precarious position. Mr. St. George began his case confidently, but the strong and logical argument of Mr. Blake created a huge stumbling block, and he (Mr. St. George ) not only stumbled to argue his case, but to maintain his composure. Mr. Fawkes however, had no fear, when the case was adjourned for his Lordship to consider Mr. Blake’s argument, the BFoL poured concrete for the House of Labour.
When the case resumed, the court was packed with many refusing to work until the verdict was read and they were not to be disappointed, the Chief Justice verdict was that Mr. Fawkes had no case to answer. It was not the verdict the oppressors had expected but, one met with jubilation at the meeting at Windsor Park that night. Mr. Blake was received with a thunderous applause and urged the brothers and sisters not to harbour malice or hatred as it would impede the march to freedom. When Brother Fawkes spoke he was grateful and appreciative of the support he received from the common working man throughout his case. He then turned his sights towards a new battle, one for the security of employment for all, he promised to build Jerusalem. This was a generation ago, and today as I look out I tragically see no Jerusalem. New enemies have arisen from those who were once comrades, our people seem unsure of themselves and activism and unionism have become dirty words. Unions who were once strong and powerful, standing steadfast against our oppressors, have lost their thunder. The common working man who stood shoulder to shoulder with their labour leaders shutting down the country for 19 days during the General Strike are unable to demand the rights their forefathers fought for. The fire that ignited the Burma Road Riots is no more; we Bahamians have seemingly become prisoners of our own collective apathy and complacency, a shadow of the courageous people that existed a generation ago. The question I have is, if Randal Fawkes was our Moses, who will be our Joshua?
If you wish to learn more about Sir Randol Fawkes, The Father of Labour, please visit www.sirrandolfawkes.com, I also encourage you to read The Faith That Moved The Mountain by Sir Randol Fawkes.
Labour Day Has
Changed. In the past, Labour Day held
greater significance, you would see men, women and children smartly attired
their pride on full display. It was a
day of Freedom, when unions took their issues to the street . Despite the fun they surely had, the issues of the day, were foremost in
their minds. They were principled and
conscientious, today many of us are not as concerned with issues that are not
directly impacting us, but back them, they were unified and despite the risk,
they were prepared to speak out. Case in
point, in 1962, the workers of this nation stood in solidarity with those who
were unemployed in an unemployment march, today, the unemployment rate is 14.8%
(Department of Statistics 2015 Labour Force Survey), but
many of us who are employed, have little concern for the suffering of our
unemployed brothers and sisters.
Taxation without representation.
The plight of delinquent girls being taken to lightly.
The need for "Housing Schemes" and "Slum Clearance ".
Read and Share.
Commentary on the Ship of State, page 327 of "The Faith That Moved The Mountain, A Memorial Edition" by Sir Randol Fawkes.
In January 1981, the Bahamas Union of Teachers headed by Ellison K. Minnis (President) and Leonard Archer (Secretary General) lead a three-week strike for improved pay and better working conditions. It is estimated that about 2,000 teachers took part in the strike, before a settlement could be reached, there would be clashes with police and the arrest of several teachers.
Mr. Archer announced the strike on 5th January, 1981 and public schools across the country were brought to a standstill. This strike was by no means passive, but confrontational, the Nassau Guardian reported that the teachers, joined by students and members of the public “took Bay Street by storm”. The crowd paraded around the House of Assembly stating that “We Want Moses” at other times calling for “Judas”. It must have been a very tense environment with several Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Pindling himself, on one occasion not leaving during the lunch break at the usual time or taking an opportunity to face the crowd (Nassau Guardian 8th January, 1981).
This situation being made more heated by the knowledge that several teachers were arrested, namely Patricia Collins, Charles Wildgoose and Joan Carey (R. M. Bailey Senior High) and Leonard ‘Boston Blackie’ Miller, Elkanah Major, Philip Dorsette and Wade Taylor (Government High School) and later brought before the court. The Minister of Education and the Prime Minister both claimed that the Government simply did not have the funds to meet the teachers’ demands. Norman Solomon, leader of the Official Opposition however stated that the government “crowed about its projected 25-million-dollar surplus for 1981” “now that same government is saying we broke and cannot meet the teachers’ demands.”
The teacher’s returned to the classroom 26th January, 1981 but only to performed essential duties until a settlement could be reached. The union returned to the bargaining table 2nd February, 1981 and the strike ended 3rd February, 1981. The final settlement was $1,200.00 per annum salary increase for all teachers which amounted to the largest increase in the union’s history. The Union was also able to achieve Hardship Allowance for Family Island teachers, and Government commitment for a renovation scheme. Mr. Minnis stated that “never before in the history of the Union, has there been so much solidarity on the part of the Union,”. Mr. Minnis also said “It is the first time that any government department has taken strike action against the government.” Today, the Bahamas Union of Teachers remain one of the strongest unions in the country, but the financial security and benefits which teachers enjoy today, was achieve through the sacrifice, commitment and determination of teachers a generation ago.
When we look through the pages of Bahamian history, it’s hard to ignore the contributions of the trade union movement. From the Burma Road Riots, to Majority Rule, Independence, National Insurance etc. unions made a contribution to the development of this nation. The unions were not simply seeking to secure things such as better working conditions, they had an even more noble cause, the crafting of a better Bahamas. Many ordinary Bahamians stood in solidarity with men like Randolph Fawkes and Clifford Darling, and put their shoulders to the wheel and pushed this nation forward so that this generation would have a brighter day. The leaders had the support, trust and confidence of the membership, and members of the wider community. Their commitment toward national development transcended the trade union movement and made its leaders, national heroes.
Today’s trade union leaders no longer enjoy that level of support and strength, many say the fire has gone out and unions are now struggling to remain relevant. In some segments once legendary trade unions are fighting for their very existence. Those that are seemingly healthy are embroiled in court battles and internal disputes, they are shadows of their former selves, seemingly unable to mount a creditable defence without the support of government. Yet while we celebrate our once glorious history, we must also look to ourselves to see where we went wrong. This problem requires introspection and honesty and the leadership must be willing to humble itself and look within. Yet the level of humility that is necessary, is absent with many dismissing the crisis that stands before us but, many are overwhelmed and too prideful to ask for help. Others are also too small and lack the necessary resources to maintain the organisation so the membership suffers. If unions are to survive in the Bahamas, they must retool and reinvent themselves. Members must become more involved as the unions are not the sole responsibility of the leadership, everyone must use their skills and talents to advance the organization. Those that lead must allow others to be involved, listen to all members, and make everyone feel included, because people could easily become frustrated and leave. There must also be transparency, adherence to proper procedures and a willingness to serve, if we do not, unions in The Bahamas will continue to decline until, they are no more.
Lillian Wier-Coakley Library
Many times historic information cannot be found online, I encourage you to visit your local public library. I researched this topic at the Lillian Wier-Coakley Public Library on Baillou Hill Road at the foot of C. R. Walker Senior High School. I also wish to thank the staff, namely Shonley L. Cartwright, Flora Fernander and Genesta Stuart for their assistance.