As we observe Labour Day tomorrow...
Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) members engage in preparatory work at the Mandela Park, Half-Way Tree, the site selected for the National Labour Day project in 2022. (Photo: JIS)

It's not unusual for the genesis of events to get lost with the passage of time. Labour Day, which the nation will observe tomorrow, is a prime example.

We would not be surprised to learn that there are many Jamaicans who, today, have no idea of its origins. Additionally, there may very well be some who believe volunteerism was always a given on Labour Day.

Marked in Jamaica on May 23 and in many other countries on May 1, Labour Day universally commemorates the historic struggle of workers to organise and represent themselves in a context of ruthless employer exploitation and repression.

In Jamaica, the labour riots of 1938, which began in May that year, were the pivot for the modern labour movement here and for the celebration of Labour Day.

In 1961, May 23 was marked as Labour Day, a public holiday, for the first time, replacing Empire Day which was observed on May 24.

Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s Labour Day was celebrated with marches and rallies mainly organised by trade unions. Unfortunately, those events often became politicised as the major trade unions were allied to one or other of the two major political parties.

It was against that backdrop that Mr Michael Manley, whose People's National Party (PNP) was swept to power on a wave of popularity in 1972, introduced the concept of volunteerism as a central theme of Labour Day. "Let's put work into Labour Day" was the way he phrased it at the time.

Jamaicans liked the idea of sprucing up their communities and environs every May 23.

Even after Mr Manley and the PNP were swept from power in 1980, volunteerism on Labour Day continued as a matter of course, despite the bitter, politically tribalised rivalries of the time.

Over the years, volunteerism has ebbed more than it has flowed. Yet, even when officially designated, Labour Day projects have often been poorly supported, many Jamaicans found time on Labour Day to clean up their yards and communities, help their neighbours, upgrade playing fields, plant trees and flowers, clear drains, patch potholes, etc.

This year's Labour Day theme — 'Plant a tree for life — promoting climate change mitigation, food security and road safety' — is most appropriate, given current global and local developments.

Just last week the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that 2023 to 2027 will be the warmest five-year period ever recorded as greenhouse gases and El Niño combine to send temperatures soaring.

According to the WMO, there is a two-thirds chance that at least one of the next five years will see global temperatures exceed the more ambitious target set out in the Paris accords on limiting climate change.

Additionally, the WMO has reported that sea levels are rising globally at more than double the pace they did in the first decade of measurements in 1993-2002, and reached a new record high last year.

We have also been told that a close examination of nearly 2,000 of the world's largest lakes found they are losing about 5.7 trillion gallons a year.

Jamaica is not immune to the effects of climate change and, while our carbon footprints are minuscule compared to those of developed nations, we must continue to do what we can to limit the effects of global warming.

It can't be too much, therefore, for all well-thinking Jamaicans to heed the Labour Day charge and recognise the value of behavioural change.

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