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Wednesday 14 November 2018
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Labour, education, and society


A YOUNG professional, having benefitted from years of primary, secondary and tertiary education, recently confused Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad with Point Fortin Borough Day. She imagined that both celebrations were fetes.

As we observe Labour Day, we in TTUTA will be comrades at Charlie King Junction, Fyzabad. Most other days, our responsibility is to help mould young minds. It should make any of us, teachers and citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, recoil in horror that one of our citizens cannot distinguish between Labour Day and Borough Day. It is perhaps an indictment against our society, and maybe on our education system, that the significance of Labour Day is lost to society.

Two lines in Ultimate Rejects’ catchy soca rendition Full Extreme reflect our attitude aptly: “De city could bun down, we jamming still ...;” “we doh business.” It is our business, though, to see the writing on the wall. It is our business as a society to ask what went wrong. What happened to our education system? What has happened to our society that we have forgotten, or like that young professional, a whole generation of our citizens simply do not know our history?

The current labour leaders and workers who assemble in Fyzabad today have much on their agenda but may be well advised to devote some thought to thousands of young people who will not be present in Fyzabad and who are clueless about the blood that was shed there.

After 45 years of celebrating Labour Day, a whole generation of our citizens seem to have no understanding of, nor appreciation for, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Capt Arthur Andrew Cipriani, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Elma Francois, Albert Gomes, nor George Weekes. They do not know what a trade union is, far less appreciate the thought of fighting for workers’ rights and a willingness to be imprisoned for it. They are oblivious to the symbolism of bread, peace and justice.

Our citizens feel entitled to everything from free education to subsidised housing without sparing a thought for anything that would have occurred beyond the latest sensational post on social media. Voyeurism is the order of the day. Our lives, both private and public, are reduced to a few screen shots or live videos. The more gruesome and heinous the act, the more focused we are on real-time broadcast on our screens.

In this the murder capital of the Caribbean, people are jailed not in defence of rights in stark contrast to 1937, the time of social unrest when workers braved arrest in defence of better working conditions. Our society is desensitised to the extent that very few principles or institutions are held sacrosanct. Neither human life, integrity in public life, education, kindness, gratitude nor respect is upheld by reckless and aimless youth.

The labour movement needs this generation of millennials to continue the struggle. The struggle ought not to be re-enacted in the waters between Trinidad and Tobago, but right in the book bags and classrooms inhabited by our charges.

Fifty-six years ago, Dr Eric Williams addressed the young people of Trinidad and Tobago explaining that the future of our country lies in their school bags. That observation is even more relevant today. What is in the schoolbags of our nation’s youth? The history books have been removed. Our children do not know where they came from and certainly not where they are going.

Ataklan, in his song Naked Walk, laments: “They fill mih head with lead and pump mih mind with ink. They teach me foreign history till I doh know nothing ’bout me.”

On Labour Day this year, we reflect that while Trinidad and Tobago emerged as a leader in the Caribbean labour movement, a generation hence, we don’t appreciate the relevance of the struggle for personal, political and national development.

Ataklan says further: “The more I learn is the less I fear. The more I feel is the more I care.” Herein lies an answer to the disconnect in our society. A generation ago, values taught at home were reinforced at school. Today, what is taught in both institutions of family and school are not often in tandem. There is little time left in classroom instruction after cramming and regurgitation. It’s imperative that we somehow find the time.

“There’s a reason for a river and the places that it flows, a reason for the rain, a reason for the pain, knowing deep inside my soul that I would rise again” (Ataklan). Keep the struggle alive.

Guest article by Hazel Johnson, history teacher, Palo Seco Government Secondary School

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