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The Early Years of the BWU
Thursday, 30 August 2018 10:43

The contribution of the Barbados Workers’ Union (B.W.U) to the development of modern Barbados is matchless and the convening of the B.W.U.’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, provides the opportunity for all workers in Barbados to reflect on the bold, inspired and sacrificial efforts of the men who built the Union and successfully charted its path over the past seven decades; and to pay tribute to their legacy.

Sadly, while much has been written on the B.W.U.’s first president general, (Rt. Excellent Sir) Grantley Herbert Adams and its first general secretary, (Rt. Excellent Sir) Hugh Worrell Springer on the weight of their national, regional and international roles, little has been recorded about the early members of the executive councils of the Union and or the foot soldiers. While we commend the “generals” for their imaginative and bold leadership, “armies” are also made up of those who are second in command as well as the foot soldiers; we therefore take this opportunity to salute all of the Labour pioneers for their sacrificial and meritorious work in building this great organisation, and by extension, Barbados.

While we acknowledge the efforts of the founding fathers in creating the B.W.U. as being far-sighted, it is difficult, almost eighty years after its genesis, to accurately state if the Union’s leaders were confident that their baby would have matured and have become a major influence in the life of this country, given the hardened and unyielding approach by the Oligarchs towards social, economic and political reform. And while the leaders of the B.W.U. may have been able, at that time, to rely on the support of the trade union movement and the progressive bodies in Britain, the Barbados of 1939 - when the Barbados Progressive League, itself, a nascent body, began to organise urban workers - was under the control of the merchants/planter class, who was stubbornly unwilling to cede political power to the sons and daughters of the working class. But grow the Union did, under the leadership of its determined founders, now National Heroes, Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, Rt. Excellent Sir Hugh Worrell Springer, who held the reins of president general and general secretary, respectively, and Treasurer, Hilton Augustus Coulston.

We must also bear in mind that joining a trade union in Barbados in the early 1940s at a time when the industrial relations system was in its embryonic stages and when the employers regarded trade unionists as heretics, was a risk-taking effort. Workers who dared to join trade unions often feared job loss or ostracism.

Adams, who like Springer, was educated at Harrison College, was a Barbados Scholar, Oxford Graduate and a barrister-at-law. Apart from his legal training, Springer was a member of The Fabian Society, a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principle of democratic socialism by way of gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow. Hilton Coulston, who had the temperament of a pugilist, was an erudite elementary school teacher, who was also President of the All Blacks Football Club. They all held leadership roles in the Barbados Progressive League, which, along with the Congress Party, led by Wynter Crawford, was, at the time, carrying the fight to the Oligarchs for social, political and economic reform in Barbados.

The Trustees of the Union were J. Barry Springer, J.T.C. Ramsay and Caleb A. Mose, all of whom were members of the Progressive League.

The first members of the Executive Council of the Union were – Cossie Greenidge, MacDonald Brathwaite, representing the Foundry Engineers; C. Gibson and A. Gibson (Printers), Reynold Grant and Bourne (Longshoremen), C. Medford (Baker), O. Butcher and Dalrymple (Coopers) and Simmons (a seaman). It is to be noted that the B.W.U. Executive Council in its foundation days was basically made of three professional men – who held posts of Officers; and a ten-member Executive Council made up of city urban workers.

And, unlike modern times when the work of the Union is performed by a highly trained professional staff, its daily operations in the early 1940s, including grievance handling and negotiations were carried out by the Executive Council, led by the Officers – Sir Grantley, Sir Hugh and Hilton Coulston. The demands of the issues that were being brought before the Council forced the body to meet weekly on evenings, at times, during the early years, to deal with the many industrial relations matters, including grievances, which were emerging at a time when employers and workers were untrained in the field of industrial relations and there was little legislation from which to take lead.  That approach was moderated somewhat with the appointment in 1945 of Frank Walcott (later Rt. Excellent Sir Frank) as assistant to the General Secretary and subsequently the hiring of K.N.R. Husbands (later Sir Kenmore).

The events of July 26th, 1937, and succeeding days are important in the history of the Labour Movement in Barbados. The 1937 Disturbances in Barbados were part of a spontaneous expression of working class discontent in the region, which according to Dr. Francis Mark, in his “History of the Barbados Workers’ Union”, were a feature of almost every one of the British territories. Historian Robert Morris described them as a direct result of the appalling social and economic conditions under which the masses existed, as supported by the The Deane Commission in Barbados and The Royal West India Commission, known also as The Moyne Commission. The disturbances were also a result of a political system which gave its critics a voice to complain, but little avenue to ensue effective political action.

This period has been regarded as the beginning of the modern period of West Indian development. The commissions investigated the social unrest and recommended, among other things the establishment of trade unions. In the case of Barbados, the Trade Union Act was passed in 1939, it came into force in 1940 and the B.W.U. was registered on October 4, 1941. The B.W.U. was formed as the economic wing of the Barbados Progressive League which, from as early as 1939, had begun to organise workers in sectors such as the bakeries, the docks and the foundries.

Apart from the strong support provided by the British Trade Union Congress and the lobby by progressive groups in that country, such as the Fabian Society, the League of Coloured Peoples and the National Council for Civil Liberties, the voice of the workers was strengthened at home as three of the B.W.U. leaders – Adams, Springer and J.T.C. Ramsay – held seats in the House of Assembly in the early 1940s. Adams and Springer’s position in the House was later reinforced by Frank Leslie Walcott and K.N.R. Husbands, who represented the Parish of St. Peter.

It was a direct result of this disturbance that a new attitude to industrial relations in the Region became apparent. International horror at the disturbances aroused the British concern about the then British West Indies. The British authorities urged on by Labour advocates like Arthur Creech Jones in the House of Commons, sought to spur colonial assemblies, including that of Barbados, to awake from their torpor of neglect.

The B.W.U.’s Executive Council met for the first time on 25 February, 1942, at the headquarters of its parent body, the Barbados Progressive League, at the corner of Lucas and Swan Streets, the City. Attending that meeting were Grantley Adams, President, in the chair, Coulston, Treasurer, Hugh Springer, general secretary, Cossie Greenidge (engineer), MacDonald Brathwaite, the secretary of the Engineers’ Division, Gardiner Drakes, president of the Ships’ Carpenters’ Division, R. Oxley, Secretary of the Ships’ Carpenters’ Division.

Regrettably, by the time of the 2nd Annual Delegates’ Conference, held on 27 March, 1943, Caleb Mose, a founder member and Trustee had died. The Minutes reported that J.T. C. Ramsay, who was later to immigrate to the USA, “spoke with feeling” of Caleb A. Mose and Richard Evelyn (Engineers’ Division) whose death during the year had deprived the Union of loyal and steadfast workers.

The attendance at the 2nd Annual Delegates’ Conference showed an improvement over the 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference at which eighteen delegates attended. Some twenty-nine delegates attended the 2nd Annual Delegates’ Conference. What was strikingly important at the second conference was that three of the members of the Executive Council – Grantley Adams, Hugh Springer and J.T.C. Ramsay were members of the House of Assembly.

Additionally, at that time, the internationalisation of trade unionism was made very apparent by the passing of the B.W.U.’s resolution at the Conference on the death of Ronald Kidd, the founder and director of the National Council of Civil Liberties in England, one of the progressive groups which led a constant lobby in that country on the behalf of the emerging trade union and political bodies in the colonies.

Resolutions of sympathy were also passed to H.A. Coulston, B. W.U.  on the death of his wife; and Reynold Oxley, a member of the Council who was ill.

Fraternal Address To The BWU On The Occasion Of Its 77th Anniversary
Thursday, 30 August 2018 09:05

The General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers, Sister Roslyn Smith, in her “greetings” at the BWU’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, congratulated the B.W.U. for “its 77 years of relentless agitation for workers’ rights and the protection of those rights”.

She stated: “The National Union of Public Workers stands in solidarity with you, our brothers and sisters, of the Barbados Workers’ Union on this auspicious occasion. It is with great pleasure that on behalf of the governing bodies, Secretariat and members of the National Union of Public Workers, I present this fraternal address in the name of solidarity.

“Congratulations on 77 years of relentless agitation for workers’ rights and the protection of those rights; your efforts have lent greatly to the enhancement of the Trade Union movement.

“77 years represent more than just time; on this occasion it also represents strength, fortitude, and adaptability – especially in the constantly changing world in which Trade Unions find themselves.

“ 77 years ago, many would agree that, even though there were challenges for workers and the Trade Unions which represented those workers, the challenges reflected the simplicity, in most respects, of that time.

“Fast-tracking to today’s society; in the face of Globalisation, merging business entities, structural adjustment programmes, trading blocs, and the side effects which affect workers, Trade Unions, such as yours, have been required to bend, twist, rise to the occasion, and deliver for their members.

“Through observance and with the length of time your Organisation has been in operation, coupled with your achievements, it is clear that the Barbados Workers’ Union can boast of self-actualization in its 77th year of existence.

“The National Union of Public Workers has stood with the Barbados Workers’ Union throughout the decades in celebration and perceived defeat. B.W.U.’s triumphs are NUPW’s triumphs; B.W.U.’s defeats, show room for improvement within the NUPW, since Trade Unionism requires solidarity, especially in an era where the school of thought is ‘unions are no longer relevant’.

“In the current economic climate, where members of Trade Unions are vulnerable to the economic pressures faced by governments worldwide; it is of paramount importance that trade union bodies continue to stand firm to the acts which signify and represent solidarity. Such is required in negotiation, and where necessary, strike action – they are all still important. We must maintain a united front.

“It is with pleasure that we congratulate you, encourage and buttress the continued efforts of the Barbados Workers’ Union, in the continued fight for workers’ rights”.

Barbados Can Do It Again, Says BWU President General
Tuesday, 28 August 2018 08:51

The President General of the Barbados Workers’ Union (B.W.U.), Comrade Linda Brooks, O.B.E., is convinced that, in spite of the of the gloomy economic outlook and the looming presence of the International Monetary Fund(IMF), Barbados can regain its economic fortunes if the Barbados Social Partners work in unison and call on God for divine guidance.

Delivering her welcome address at the opening ceremony of the B.W.U.’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, under the theme, “Delivering For All”, which was opened at “Solidarity House” on Saturday, August 25, Comrade Brooks said the conference had come at a very troubling period.

Speaking before an audience which included Prime Minister, Mia Amor Mottley, the Leader of the Opposition, Bishop Joseph Atherley, Members of the Cabinet, Diplomats and representatives of the business community, the President General said:

“This conference is being held at a time when we must strive to adopt a bold, determined and all-of-Barbados approach to wrest our country from the economic state in which we have found ourselves. And our theme, “Delivering for All” is a clear expression that the B.W.U., in spite of the gloomy outlook and the looming presence of the IMF, is convinced that if we, as a people, earnestly seek Divine guidance and work in unity, like the Prophet Nehemiah, we can rebuild the proverbial economic walls of Barbados and place ourselves in a position where we can deliver for all”.

The President General recalled that, during the early part of the 1990s, Barbados faced a similar challenge, but that the then Government, the Employers and the Trade Unions, in their quest to rebuild Barbados, put aside their individual and organisational differences, formed the Barbados Social Partnership, worked collectively and pulled our country from the pits of despair”. She stressed that “our unified efforts placed our country on a sound social and economic footing, and that with God’s help, we can - and must - do it again. She added: “We need to rebuild, but we can only rebuild if we sincerely call on The Almighty God for deliverance, and put aside our personal and organisational differences for the sake of our country’s assured future”.

Comrade Brooks regretted that most of the discussion on the economy that we have been hearing around Barbados seemed focussed on what the politicians, the economists and the workers’ and employers’ representatives can, or cannot do, to revive our economy. But, according to the President General: “We, the creation, seemingly have put The Creator on the back-burner, even though The Creator has made the solemn promise that, if His people who are called by His name would HUMBLE themselves, and PRAY and SEEK His face and TURN from their wicked ways, He would HEAR from heaven, FORGIVE their sin and HEAL their land. If you wish us to make our point much clearer, we are simply suggesting that we need, first, to humble ourselves and then pray for our country as we have been commanded by the Master.

“Remember! Unless the Lord builds the House they labour in vain who build it”, she said.

Speaking directly to the delegates, the President General informed them that the B.W.U.’s annual conferences are occasions for our union family to do serious soul-searching and that, over the two days on which the conference will be held, the delegates must ponder on how we, as a union, could have done better so that we may productively plan for the future for the good of our membership and country as a whole.

She emphasised that the history of the Union has shown that “unity” has been the backbone of its strength. She stressed that the B.W.U.’s founding fathers built the union upon the doctrine of the Biblical proverb, “Unity Is Strength, Where There is no Vision the People Perish”. That principle, she added, has anchored the way of life of the Union over the past seven decades. She stated that, during that period, our forerunners in each generation, from 1941 when the Union was registered until the present, have struggled courageously against many odds to improve the lives of all Barbadians. She appealed to the delegates, young and old, to use this conference as an altar call to renew their vows of fellowship and unity.

The President General pledged that the Union will do its utmost to train and retrain its leaders at the shop floor level, but she implored them to listen, to study and to meditate upon the foundation principles upon which the B.W.U. was founded.

She stressed: “The B.W.U. has never been about “I” or “Me”; it’s about “We” and “Us.” Hence, the conference theme, “Delivering For All”. She therefore made a special appeal to the members of the Union to live out the ideals of unity – the principles on which the B.W.U. has been built.
Comrade Brooks reflected on what she described as a thought-provoking statement made by Bishop William J. Hughes, which was published in the Fifth Anniversary publication of the B.W.U., in 1946. He stated:

“Pre-war methods are no longer tenable: we have passed into a new age. This fact imposes a heavy responsibility on all men. Thought must precede action, not only for the solution of immediate and local problems, but for the well-being of mankind as a whole. Your Union is young. If the members give it their fullest support, if they bring into their planning wise thought and clear vision, it will not only win the full confidence of the community as a whole, but it will become a valuable instrument in the re-shaping of the conditions of the colony which a world situation demands, and will be a means of producing reasonable leaders, which is one of the greatest needs of our age”.

Comrade Brooks stated that that sage advice, which came five years after the formation of the Union and a year after the end of World War 11, was as important in 1946, as it is in 2018, a time when we are facing the challenges brought about by the poor state of our economy, crime and the emergence of radical social thought.

Comrade Brooks then called on the delegates to salute the ground-breaking efforts of the Union’s Founding Fathers: President General Sir Grantley Adams, General Secretary Sir Hugh Springer, and Treasurer Hilton Coulston in forming this great organisation; as well as those who built upon the foundations laid by them; we speak of Sir Frank Walcott, Sir Macdonald Blunt, and Sir Roy Trotman, and the countless others.

She concluded: “We are proud of the fact that the B.W.U. has been at the centre of this country’s transformation, and we, who now lead, must continue to work for the furtherance of that transformation which has given a voice to the once voiceless”.

Comrade Brooks also took time out congratulate her Comrades in the B.W.U. Division at the Barbados Light and Power Company Limited who are marking their 75th anniversary in the B.W.U. and also publicly to express our sincere appreciation to the outgoing Executive Council and the Staff, as well as the various Government departments and Private Sector groups, for their able support over the past year”.

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