ABWU and UPP make Labour Day promise to fight ‘without fear’ for workers’ rights

A sea of blue descended on the Freedom Hall headquarters of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union to commemorate Labour Day (Photos by Orville Williams)
- Advertisement -

By Orville Williams

[email protected]

The brief showers of rain that fell yesterday did not dampen the spirits of the large crowd that gathered at the Freedom Hall headquarters of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) to commemorate Labour Day.

The ABWU joined its affiliate political body, the United Progressive Party (UPP), to celebrate the workers of Antigua and Barbuda with vigour for the first time in three years, and the message was unequivocal on this occasion – the rights and privileges of workers in the country will not be respected under the leadership of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP).

“I’m happy that workers today are seeing the benefits of unions. Without unions, the social protection in this country will not be continued under the Gaston Browne administration,” declared ABWU President Kem Riley, who opened the proceedings with a brief but rousing address.

That perceived lack of respect from the ABLP administration for workers and others in the country led the union and the main opposition party to brand their Labour Day march one of ‘no confidence’ in the ruling party, and they both urged their supporters to fight tooth and nail in demanding the respect owed.

Many of the speakers – who included UPP political candidates Franz deFreitas, Gladys Potter and Sean Bird, along with ABWU executive members Abraham Samuels and Fernando Samuel – touched on issues such as the ongoing plight of former Caribbean Airport Services (CAS), Jolly Beach Resort and LIAT workers, the monies owed to hundreds of public sector workers and the country’s much talked about water crisis.

“Another thing that plagues me is the high cost of living that we’re seeing in Antigua and Barbuda and this government doesn’t seem to care…food [prices] gone up, so people can’t afford to buy food. Even when you work, you can’t buy food in this country,” deFreitas lamented.

“Gas has gone up and me hear Gaston say he go carry up [the price of] gas again…arwe must not stand up and let that happen in this country,” he added.

Potter joined her colleague in bashing the Gaston Browne-led administration for ‘neglecting the people’, and she urged the crowd to remember the hardships they have faced and are still being made to face, suggesting that the Prime Minister is depending on their “amnesia” come election day.

Both Samuel and his union comrade, Samuels – who is a former LIAT employee – talked up the importance of the ABWU, especially in dealing with challenges like the pandemic and its various spinoffs.

The former called on the people gathered to “have faith in the ABWU” for a better future, while the latter encouraged the former aviation sector workers to “love themselves”, reminding that “your happiness and your livelihood take precedence over any party and politician”.

“If a government is treating you this way, then clearly, you know what you have to do when that special day comes,” he added.

As is customary in these types of gatherings, the closing stages featured the bigwigs of both organisations, with ABWU General Secretary David Massiah, Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle and UPP Leader Harold Lovell all spurring the crowd into a frenzy.

Massiah dismissed concerns that the union should not be involved in political matters and called out the Labour Minister for what he described as several failures.

“As workers we must send our position, whether some feel that we should not be part of any political situation, [because] the issues that we have to deal with are of a political nature.

“We have a gentleman as the Minister of Labour who does not care about us…does not care about the working class. And as a Labour Minister, the Labour Department – that has been administering the workers’ issues – has been and is at the lowest ebb ever in the history of Antigua and Barbuda.

“That is the reason that we have to march, to move them so that we can change that [situation],” Massiah said.

The Opposition Leader was very assertive in his address, referring to the UPP’s history as a party that increased wages and pensions, and – in collaboration with the ABWU – prompted the government to kickstart discussions on possibly increasing the national minimum wage.

“We have to show the [ABLP] that we have no confidence in them, because they have done nothing but to put the people of this country under extreme pressure.

“Under a [UPP government], you the workers will remain top priority. We did it already and we will do it again,” Pringle asserted.

And the UPP Leader reiterated many of the party’s accomplishments with respect to the stalled wages, promising to again increase those wages if elected.

“Workers in Antigua and Barbuda will be protected and respected in a UPP administration … better days are coming, relief is on the way,” Lovell said.

Former Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, also addressed the crowd who – while very much engaged with the speeches – was itching for the actual ‘no confidence’ march through St John’s to West Bus Station to begin.

While those speeches were underway, the ABLP and the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) were simultaneously addressing their supporters in a Labour Day rally at the VC Bird bust.

- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

fourteen + nineteen =