Columns

Where has the spirit of Labour Day gone?

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, May 25, 2018

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QUESTION: How many were out in their communities on Wednesday in response to the call to observe annual Labour Day activities? How many, it seems, have forgotten what Labour Day means? It used to be a day when we were expected to come out and get involved in doing something, no matter how big or small, to uplift our communities.

In 1961, the Government of the day instituted Labour Day to be observed on May 23 — a replacement to Empire Day, which in days gone past celebrated the birthday of Queen Victoria of England. On the eve of Independence we were encouraged to stop parading with “Rule Britannia” and instead “put hand and hearts together” Jamaica-style, bringing together our neighbours and friends to make things better for each of us.

Over the years, the message of Labour Day to clean up and fix up the place went out and the people from town to country responded. Schools and community centres were spruced up. Play areas were improved. On the road, cross walks and curbs were painted for traffic control. Community organisations joined in with generous assistance. Anything else that needed some attention, got it, so that the residents could see examples of how to keep their area in good shape.

This year, Labour Day activities were to be conducted under the national theme of 'Ramp It Up… Fix It Up'. Full participation was expected. Areas such as schools and clinics were to be made more accessible to those with physical challenges. Labour Day was to be busy islandwide in fulfilling this necessary mission.

On Wednesday, I set out with high expectations that residents would be out in their numbers, with broom and brush and other tools ready to 'labour' in the interest of the community. In that spirit we set out to check “whatta gwaan” as Labour Day went into motion. The 'Better Half' and I took a route heading towards downtown Kingston looking for action. Surely there were good citizens ready to show us and others how to make their contribution in service of their community.

In the Papine area, we saw one or two projects with fast-running workers taking care of business, but the community response was unfortunately low. We were encouraged by a small group of teachers and students carrying out their work. Two young boys were showing that they were 'man enough' to be cutting and clearing to fix up their school. Bless them!

A special plea has to be extended to the authorities to repair the road which leads to Papine High and the Danny Williams School for the Deaf — all of which deserve proper care. The present situation is more a collection of immense potholes than a roadway. Such conditions make it very difficult for teachers, visitors and students to get good results.

From 'Uptown', we moved on to downtown and came upon the mayor of Kingston, his deputy, and a team of others. A roundabout was being nurtured and fixed to improve the area, saluting visitors coming into Kingston city from the east. A team of enthusiastic Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation personnel and members of the wider community were on hand working hard at the project.

My personal hesitancy is: If we're going to pose off with our city, we need to consider what will be done with the penitentiary, where the criminal element was housed within. Is that what we want to welcome guests? Undoubtedly it is time for a change.

From there, we continued along the waterfront checking to see where else there was evidence of involvement in this year's Labour Day. We came across a corner piled high with rubbish — this could break anyone's spirit. We passed another school which was doing its best to deal with the situation. The question remained: Where were the large groups of painters and friends of the schools, the Good Samaritans?

As we visited various corners, we were surprised that more people hadn't turned out to be of assistance for the benefit of their communities.

In another area, we found battered and bruised roadways. The National Water Commission has been doing some heavy work trying to improve infrastructure. The evidence of the digging and laying of pipes was there for all to see, but, strangely, not a citizen was in sight. It was the usual custom to see lots of activity, but it is evident that times have changed. We had to wonder what caused the low-key response in the various areas.

Where has the spirit of Labour Day gone? It is to be hoped that other areas of the city and rural areas showed more signs of sharing and caring than the communities which we visited. We have to get back to developing our shared spaces and recognising the value of care and attention which brings advancement of our people. Improvement in our surroundings brings the opportunity to make us all take pride in who we are. We need a little more of that in today's Jamaica.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@yahoo.com.

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