On Friday November 14, 2014 the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union staged its annual solidarity march and rally. From all reports, the gathering of teachers appeared to be bigger than it was in a few years. In fact, several of the teachers who showed up were doing so for the very first time.
Some persons have openly expressed surprise at the growing number of teachers who chose to actively participate in the events this year. Then, there was the big question: Why are teachers still marching? Some have asserted that the teachers of this country never had it so good. That may be so. But, does it also mean that conditions can not or must not be improved?
Traditionally, teachers have worked under generally difficult conditions. Low salaries; meagre benefits; and deplorable working environments have generally marked the lot of teachers in this country. To be sure, there have been improvements over the years. However, the gains made did not come without struggle. Indeed, the protracted teachers’ strike of 1975 that led to the brutal reprisals from the authorities in the form of the arrests, trials, and dismissals of a number of teachers is still commemorated as a significant point in this never ending struggle.
After nearly forty years, there are still issues to be resolved. Even if we agree that “teachers never had it so good”, we must also accept that there is nothing for which we must continue to struggle?
Consider the following:
- the current unilaterally imposed salary freeze
- the failure to engage the SVGTU in discussion and consultation on issues touching on terms and conditions of service
- the violation of the collective agreement with regard to the Article 16, Election Leave
- the failure to honour the said article leading to the forced resignation of three teachers who ran for office;
- the plight of brother Otto Sam and what his situation may mean for other teachers who may wish to add their voices to contentious national issues;
- the failure to appoint and promote some teachers in accordance with the rules of the civil service and traditional practices; and
- the general malaise afflicting trade unions stemming from efforts to smother them.
The teachers of this country must continue to march. As conditions continue to improve we should march in celebration. To the extent that policies and practices persist that adversely affect the teaching profession we should march in protest!
Long live the SVGTU!
This year’s Teachers’ Solidarity March and Rally was not without controversy; neither was it without drama.
When Burns Bonadie mounted the platform, presumably to bring a solidarity message behalf of his union, the crowd erupted in jeers, hisses and boos. A clearly agitated Bonadie still attempted to speak but he could not be heard among the raucous roars of the crowd.
This behaviour went on for a few minutes as the veteran trade unionist attempted to address scores of belligerent teachers and their well wishers in attendance. Then, Ronald Clarke, the acting president of the SVGTU, intervened. He appealed to the angry teachers to allow Bonadie to speak. Clarke’s intervention did little to help the situation. Teachers were in no moood to listen to Burns Bonadie. Nevertheless, he persisted.
Amidst the jeers from the crowd, Bonadie gave his message. He expressed solidarity with the Teachers’ Union and reminded the gathering of his own contribution to the struggle of teachers over the years. Bonadie also took the opportunity to outline his credentials as an advocate for workers’ rights across the region. As he concluded his brief address, the jeers and boos went up again.
Burns Bonadie is widely recognized as an outstanding labour leader in the region. He served for many years as the general secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL). Bonadie is now the principal adviser to the government on labour issues and heads the recently created Workers Institute of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some observers expressed the view that the treament meted out to the veteran trade unionist was unnecessary and embarrassing, especially for one who has done so much for the labour movement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and across the Caribbean.