Mr Dwight Nelson will be remembered by the hewers of wood and drawers of water

Thursday, December 27, 2018

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One could argue with some degree of credibility that Mr Dwight Nelson was understated, much against his intrinsic value as a nation-builder.

His star on the walk of life should most certainly not be overshadowed by that brief moment in time when he could not recall, as was his insistence, too many of the facts of the events leading up to the Dudus/Manatt enquiry in 2011, in his then capacity as national security minister.

If nothing else, Mr Nelson was a hero to the working classes, a man who found his being in the service of the hewers of wood and drawers of water, as one of his trade union idols, the late Mr Michael Manley was wont to call them.

Mr Nelson was drawn to the trade union movement at a pivotal time when union leadership was transitioning from the brawn of the shop floor delegate to a more cerebral type of leadership. He was drawn to the magnetism of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in the era of stalwarts like Messrs Clifton Stone, Errol Anderson and Pearnel Charles, among others.

When he got the call from BITU leader and eventual Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer Mr Nelson had found his place and knew it, despite not long before exiting his alma mater St George's College in 1965. He learned the business quickly at the feet of people like Mr Rex Nettleford, then director of the Trade Union Education Institute (TUEI) at The UWI.

Shortly after he was dispatched on scholarship to do labour and international relations at the Labour College of Canada in Montreal and returned home to be an apprentice to the veteran Mr Joseph McPherson to learn the cut and thrust of organisation and contract negotiation.

Mr Nelson joined the trade union movement just at the point where the relationship between unions/workers and management/employers was moving away from the era of hostility and even violence. Trade union practice was, indeed, an exercise in raw power.

At the time, the 'essential services law' did not apply to things like factories, and the Labour Relations and Industrial Relations Act did not come until much later.

He participated and led in many of the developments that changed the union landscape as part of a more professional leadership with many university-trained officers among the ranks, putting greater focus on education and training and on expanding relations with regional and international organisations.

Mr Nelson benefited greatly from the warm relations between Messrs Shearer and Manley, then prime minister, that helped spur government-to-government talks between Jamaica and Norway leading to the setting up of the Joint Trades Union Research and Development Centre (JTURDC). Mr Nelson would later chair the centre for five years during the 1980s.

The JTURDC later evolved into the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), embracing 13 unions, with Mr Nelson eventually becoming president in 2004.

While he also gave public service as senator and national security minister, member of the National Planning Committee; the National Labour Advisory Council; and the National Productivity Committee, Mr Nelson's crowning moment was to come, yet again, in trade unionism.

It was from the vantage point of the JCTU that he would assume leadership of the effort to craft Jamaica's first government-union MOU which is often attributed to stabilising the Jamaican economy.

The MOU would save thousands of public sector jobs and assist the Administration with the fiscal situation. It is workers like those who will most miss Mr Dwight Augustus Nelson, who died on Monday, December 24, aged 72.

May he rest in peace.


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