by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The first Monday in May marks May Day, or Labour Day, in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Labour Day is celebrated in remembrance of the committed, hard-working society following events that happened in America in 1844 when the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions demanded an eight-hour work day to come into effect as of May 1, 1886, according to the St. Christopher National Trust and Museum.
In our local history, hundreds of Sugar Factory workers (mainly cane cutters) on St. Kitts protested against low wages and racism by the colonial administration on January 29, 1935, with many of them making their way to the Buckley’s Sugar Plantation to join the strike in hopes of improved changes.
The manager of the plantation opened fire at the workers and injured many. Local police and military later arrived at the strike area and fired on the workers killing three labourers – Joseph Samuel, John Allen and James Archibald- and wounding eight other individuals. Yet the strike continued.
Thirty-nine people were arrested, and six were sentenced to prison terms of two to five years.
The 1935 strike in St. Kitts, like much of the labour uprisings in the British Caribbean colonies in the 1930s, led to the legalisation of trade unions legitimising the working class in the Caribbean colonies.
After the 2023 Labour Day march, meant to commemorate the working society, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Hon. Dr Terrance Drew, said the struggle for workers’ rights continues.
“As is the tradition, we march today to show solidarity of past and present workers at home, in our region and throughout the world. Let us always pause for a moment to remember our ancestors and elders. They have shed blood, sweat and tears yesterday, so we may be better off today. We will never forget them. The Labour movement pays homage to them year after year, and we who are grateful must keep the faith by standing up for workers’ rights every day and by marching on Labour Day as we are doing today. The struggle for justice for all workers and their families continues.”
The Prime Minister said the government is investing in workers’ rights through healthcare, education, infrastructure, housing, technology, energy, and more improvements.
Additionally, as announced by the Labour Minister, Hon. Marsha Henderson, in March, a recommendation for an increase in the minimum wage was put to the Cabinet for consideration, as there has not been an increase in the minimum wage since 2014.
“When it comes to salaries and wages, our people must be treated fairly. For the last ten years, there has not been an increase in the minimum wage; for the last ten years who are those who work for $360, they have not seen an increase in their quality of life. And that is why we have taken it so seriously that during our first [year], we have brought relevant stakeholders together. The tripartite committee we have reconvened, and their first order of business is to evaluate the minimum wage to make sure that our workers are getting what they deserve. And that is why you heard the representative from the union spoke today spoke to that minimum wage, and I can say to you with certainty that there will be an increase in the minimum wage during our first year in office.”
The Prime Minister said a fair, just and balanced minimum wage increase would involve the collaboration of the government, workers and employers.
“We have also commissioned, and we’ll recommend very strongly that the minimum wage be looked at every single year to make the necessary adjustments so that our people can live decently here in St. Kitts and Nevis. When I say, however, the government cannot do it alone. Workers, we are asking you to become better organised, and that is why the union was here today; join the union. So that your voice at the negotiating table can be stronger, but you must also know that your government represents your voice at the table as well. Also needed is the compassionate cooperation of employers who, over the years, have declared [profit] after [profit] even during COVID-19. Employers who look after their workers, they deserve your support. So we are not against each other. We must sit together at the table with one main objective in mind, and that is to establish fairness and justice for workers here in St. Kitts. And Nevis.”
The march, as is tradition, started from the Patsy Allers Playing Field in St. Johnson Village, unto central and Cayon Street, through Basseterre, ending at the Patsy Allers Playing Field.