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The BWU's 77th Annual Delegates' Conference
Monday, 27 August 2018 12:44

The 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference of the Barbados Workers’ Union opened at Union headquarters, “Solidarity House” on Saturday, 25 August, 2018, with addresses by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley and B.W.U. General Secretary, Senator Toni Moore. The Conference which is being held under the theme, “Delivering for All”, will end on Saturday, 1st September.

During the Prime Minister’s address, delegates got the opportunity to quiz her on a wide range of issues confronting the workforce as well as matters affecting the island as a whole.

The conference is being held in a very testing time, against the backdrop of the persistent downturn in the Barbados economy, the anticipated IMF programme and the threat of layoffs in the Public Sector, as a consequence Government’s announcement of phases two and three of its economic recovery and transformational plan.

Thus far, two of the six resolutions, slated for debate have been passed by the Conference. They are the theme resolution, “Delivering for All” and “Commercial Banking Charges”. On Saturday, delegates will debating the following resolutions: “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”, “Labour Education”, “Violence and Harassment at Work”, and “Quality Public Service”.

Apart from the addresses and the debates on the Conference resolution, the conference awarded six outstanding shop stewards for their meritorious contributions to the Barbados Workers’ Union. They were: Comrades Glener Lamontagne and Ingrid Corbin of the Child Care Board; Milton Griffith of the National Housing Corporation; Mary Vaughan of the Court Process Office and Roger Weekes of Hanschell Inniss for their work in sports development in the B.W.U.; and Washbrook Bayne for his many years of efforts as President of the B.W.U. Division at the Central Bank of Barbados and latterly, as Treasurer of the B.W.U.

At Saturday’s session, the B.W.U.’s three Vice Presidents, Comrades Carol Boyce of the Barbados Water Authority, Shawn Knight of Cable and Wireless and Howard Griffith of the Barbados Light and Power Company Limited, were re-elected. The President General Comrade Linda Brooks and the Treasurer, Comrade Winston Roach, were proposed, unopposed. The latter fills the seat, vacated by Washbrook Bayne who has retired after serving in that position for two decades.

Since we intend in this article to focus on the initial years of the B.W.U, it would be prudent for us to reflect on the emergence of the modern trade union movement. In Great Britain, trade unionism can trace its birth to the exigencies arising out of the Industrial Revolution. In Barbados, the dramatic upheaval in 1937 was responsible for the coming into being of the trade movement here and, by the time the nations were at war in 1939 there was developing the machinery of collective bargaining, by the Barbados Progressive League. In accordance with the advice of Sir Walter Citrine, the General Secretary of the British Trade Union Congress, who was a member of the Royal Commission which investigated the disturbances which occurred in Barbados in 1937, the B.W.U, from its inception, was organised into a number of divisions with a central executive, elected by the annual delegates’ conference which is the ultimate governing body of the Union.

Before the passing of the Trade Union Act in Barbados in 1939, the Barbados Progressive League had already organised several groups of workers on the island, but mainly in the urban area, and was actively engaged on their behalf. When the Trade Union Act came into force in August of 1940, bakers, printers, coopers, longshoremen, engineers, and seamen were ready to make a formal start.

The B.W.U.’s historic 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference was held at the B.W.U.’s then headquarters, located on the corner of Fairchild and Nelson streets, on the evening of the 28th of March, 1942. That building now houses the office of the B.W.U. Cooperative Credit Union Ltd. Present were: Grantley Herbert Adams, President in the chair, Hilton Augustus Coulston, Treasurer, J.T.C. Ramsay, Trustee, Hugh Worrell Springer, General Secretary, Cossie Greenidge, McDonald Brathwaite, O. Millington, E. Sandiford, R. Evelyn (Foundry Engineers), Gardiner Drakes, R. Oxley, E. L. Alleyne, B. Clarke, J. Dawe, F. Als, E Hackett, G. Bushell (Ships Carpenters). Excuses were made for the absence of J.B. Springer and Caleb Mose (Trustees) 

We invite you to take a careful note of the following:

  • The B.W.U. had a humble start: The First Annual Delegates’ Conference, unlike today’s annual delegates’ conferences, which are convened on two days, commenced at five o’clock in the evening.
  • The Conference was attended by eighteen delegates;
  • Only two divisions - the Foundry Engineers and the Ships’ Carpenters were in attendance;
  • The Minutes of the Conference were typed on one page.
  • In contrast to modern times when officers of the Union are employees, two of the three officers of the B.W.U. who attended that conference – Grantley Herbert Adams, now Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley, and Hugh Worrell Springer, now Rt. Excellent Sir Hugh, were attorneys-at-law and also president and secretary, respectively of the Barbados Progressive League, out of which the B.W.U. was born; Hilton Augustus Coulston, who was the Treasurer, and an elementary  school teacher was also a member of the Progressive League.
  • Three of the delegates to the conference, Grantley Adams, Hugh Springer and J.T.C. Ramsay were also elected to the House of Assembly. Adams went on to become the first Premier of Barbados and the Prime Minister of the ill-fated West Indies Federation; and Springer, in 1948, became the first Registrar of the University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

In order to demonstrate the phenomenal growth of the Barbados Workers’ Union over the past seven decades, you may take note of the fact that only eighteen delegates attended the 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference. In 2018, Forty six years later, 435 delegates and 180 observers have registered to participate in the B.W.U.’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, representing 90 divisions, and the Union’s officers and other members of the Executive Council are elected from among the workforce. Also of note is the fact that the two areas from which the delegates of the first conference were drawn, the Central and Barbados Foundries and the Ships’ Carpenters, are now defunct.

The fact that Grantley Adams, Hugh Springer, Hilton Coulston, J.T.C. Ramsay and J.Barry Springer held high positions in the nascent B.W.U. resulted from the fact they were among the ranking figures in the Barbados Progressive League at the time, which along with the Congress Party, led by Wynter Algernon Crawford, was championing the cause of the working class.

Prior to the passing of the Trade Union Act in 1939, the League had organised various groups of workers into divisions with officers and committees. Upon the coming into force of the Trade Union Act in August of 1940, a subcommittee was formed to draft rules for the Union. The preliminary draft was revised and approved by a committee composed of representatives of the following divisions: Bakers, Coopers, Printers, Longshoremen, Engineers, and Seamen. These divisions were at the time active. The rules were then printed, amended in accordance with the requirements of the Registrar, and finally approved by him, and the Union registered on October 4, 1941.

The first officers were Grantley Adams, president, Hilton Coulston, treasurer, Hugh Springer, general secretary. The trustees were J.B. Springer, J.T.C. Ramsay, and Caleb Mose. The first members of the Executive Council were Cossie Greenidge, MacDonald Brathwaite, engineers), C. Gibson and A. Gibson (printers, Reynold Grant and Bourne (Longshoremen), C. Medford (Baker), O. Butcher, Dalrymple (Coopers), and Simmons (Seaman).

The 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference, as would be expected, dealt in a major way with matters which were germane to the two divisions – the Ships’ Carpenters and Foundry Engineers – which were the only divisions represented at the meeting. An indication of the early pains of the Union was reflected in the fact that only two divisions attended the conference. The delegates heaped much praise on the General Secretary, Hugh Worrell Springer. The Treasurer, Hilton Coulston thanked the General Secretary for the work he had performed on behalf of the Union and congratulated the Ships Carpenters and the Foundry Engineers, the two divisions who had shown great zeal and keenness. He deplored the lack of support of the other early divisions of the organisation. 

Cossie Greenidge, one of the foundry engineers, raised the theme which seems to characterise the behaviour of people of every generation. He was very critical of those workers who failed to cooperate and who only appeared to come together when there was prospect of immediate benefit.

R. Oxley, also of the Engineers division, while praising the General Secretary, Hugh Springer, for his work on behalf of the Union, appealed to the Union to build encouragement among the workers, some of whom he described as being disloyal, easy to be bought over, and who sought to discourage others who were willing.

The General Secretary was able to report a number of successes. He stated that the first activity of the B.W.U. was a negotiation between representatives of the Engineers and representatives of the management of the Barbados, Central and Bridgetown foundries under the chairmanship if the Labour Officer, as a result of which an appreciable improvement in wages and conditions of work were agreed upon. The Engineers were graded and a minimum wage fixed for each grade. The term of apprenticeship was regulated and regular examinations appointed to be held at stated intervals. Permanent machinery of conciliation was being prepared under the guidance of the Labour Officer.

The Union had also secured, by negotiations, substantial increases in pay, improvement in hours and sanitary conditions for the engineers at Vaucluse Sugar Factory. Negotiations were commenced on behalf of the Engineers at Porters Factory, but the lateness of the season and the lack of strength of the Union membership made it unwise to press for a settlement.

We are therefore able to note that from its nascent days the B.W.U. was able, through much sacrifice and hard work, committed leadership and the spirit of unity of its members, in a period when the masses were regarded as chattel, to start the process of social and economic transformation and bring about impressive and long-lasting change in Barbados.


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