Labour Day’s focus should be year round
Employees of Holsum Bakery painting a pedestrian crossing in Mandeville. (Photos: Kasey Williams)

It is clear that the Labour Day Secretariat moved late this year in organising activities commemorating the nation’s salute to the hard-won gains of workers in organising themselves and securing representation at the workplace.

We suspect that a concern for the health and safety of Jamaicans in the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic may have played a role in that delay. For it was just over a week ago that the National Labour Day Project — the renovation of Mandela Park in Half-Way-Tree — was announced.

Also, unlike in previous years when community projects were clearly identified and announced well ahead of the start of Workers’ Week, this year we were told that, “Mayors, councillors, and Members of Parliament will decide on the various Labour Day parish projects across the country.”

Getting out of the blocks that late does not help the effort to reignite the sense of volunteerism and self-help at the community level that this country saw on Labour Day 50 years ago, which successive governments have tried to maintain.

Younger Jamaicans who are not students of history have no knowledge of the massive turnout when then Prime Minister Michael Manley called the nation to voluntary service on Labour Day in 1972.

Maybe the overwhelming response to Mr Manley’s appeal sprung from the wave of popularity that had swept him and his People’s National Party to State power in February that year. Or probably it was just that Jamaicans, having just elected a new Government, were imbued with a renewed sense of nationalism, rooted in hope for a better future.

Whatever the reason, Labour Day, over many years, saw hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans engaging in the type of voluntary community action that made the country proud.

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm has waned in recent years.

In fact, some Jamaicans hold the view that the zeal associated with volunteerism on Labour Day died with the passing of Mr Manley in March 1997.

That may be an overstatement, but the regrettable reality is that in many instances community and individual volunteerism has given way to recreational activities.

It is therefore heartening that, despite the Labour Day Secretariat’s lateness, corporate Jamaica, workers’ groups, and government entities have responded well. In fact, last Saturday, more than 100 volunteers organised by Jamaica National Group and its partners at Sirgany Beach in east Kingston removed more than 1,160 kilogrammes of waste from the shoreline in a pre-Labour Day activity.

The renovation of Mandela Park on Monday was long overdue because, as Culture Minister Ms Olivia “Babsy” Grange stated, the park — named in honour of late former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Mr Nelson Mandela — was in “a very shabby condition”.

That it was allowed to deteriorate speaks to the society’s poor attitude towards preserving monuments and our heritage. Our hope is that the work done on Mandela Park, other infrastructure, and in communities will be sustained beyond Labour Day, and even after the country marks its 60th anniversary of Independence.

The truth is, this focus on voluntarily cleaning up, preserving landmarks, and improving our communities should not be limited to one day in the year. It should be a continuous effort. The management of Emancipation Park in New Kingston demonstrates that it can be done.

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