Labour Day has lost its 'community' significance

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Labour Day is a political establishment that has been officially recognised in Jamaica since the 1960s. It was the fight and wanting of change by the working class in 1938 which led to the labour movement and the formation of trade unions. Every year on May 23 Labour Day is celebrated.

But Labour Day is just another holiday that has lost its significance.

I remember growing up in Seville Heights, in the garden parish of St Ann, and whenever it was Labour Day you could smell the wet paints from a distance and hear the machete blades meeting the stones in the grass. It was the sound of hard work; it was the sound of unity and community strength. It was a tradition that all work be done at the community level first before anyone touched their homes. The residents would come together and work, then at noon or anytime after, when it was felt the community had got its well-deserved facelift, they would make their way to their particular homes and that is when their 'house labourings' would begin.

Some potholes that were plaguing taxi men and commuters throughout the year would be patched and those trees that were hanging in the road or people's yard would be trimmed; anything that is out of place would be dealt with.

There is a guarantee that meals would be provided as there was a particular community chef, a man that had never been to culinary school, but once he prepares a meal you would “lick yuh 10 fingas”. Everyone would chip in and contribute whatever they had; who had bananas would give that, who had flour would give. The volunteers never had to go into their pockets. It was good times, and this encouraged unity and community cameraderie. Even the ones that smoked weed on the corner in the community would chip in and do their part. You could see them working with a 'spliff' at the side of their mouths, but nonetheless, they were doing their part by contributing to the development and beautification of the community, even if it was just once per year.

Now, after so many years, the true meaning of Labour Day seems to be gradually decaying. It seems it is every man for himself and the only labour they will labour is at their homes. I have heard people openly saying that they will not be doing anything for Labour Day but rest or do some home chores. Yes, the work still goes on, but not in a significant way like what used to happen years ago.

Why is this though? Are we becoming selfish or less concerned with things that do not directly affect us? Have we forgotten how the men and women fought for better working conditions, wages and respect from their employers? Have we forgotten how much blood had to be shed before our voices were heard and noticed? Because of our ancestors, all class of workers can be represented when they feel used, mistreated or abused.

Most big companies in Jamaica put on Labour Day projects as a way to get highlights and notice. It is a way to get their company out in the public space. I call it stunt advertising. But Labour Day should mean more than this; it should be a day used to promote dignity and, to a greater extent, community solidarity.

Labour Day should bring us closer together as a community, as a people, and as a country.

Nickoy Brown

nickoyb@yahoo.com

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