Devon Dick| Respecting Sam Sharpe's heritage on labour
On Labour Day, May 23, respect was shown to National Hero Sam Sharpe in a special memorial tribute organised by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) at the National Heroes Park. This delightful ceremony included a prayer, preamble on Sharpe's life, singing of the National Anthem, observance of a moment of silence, vote of thanks, laying of four floral tributes and the playing of Last Post and Reveille by the Jamaica Defence Force.
The ceremony started punctually and was over within half an hour. Congratulations to Minister Olivia Grange for not requiring that she had to be a guest speaker. The function was inspiring and motivating. The young master of ceremonies, Dwayne Brown, did an excellent job without any self-centredness. Another employee of JCDC, Andrew Brodber, gave a good historical record of Sharpe and helped the audience to understand the solemn symbolic gesture to Sharpe as we commemorate his death that gave birth to Labour Day activities.
Apparently, this memorial was because Sam Sharpe was executed on May 23. It was a commendable idea to mark the 185th anniversary of the murder of Sharpe. The nation must observe other important dates apart from celebrating national heroes once a year in October.
Coincidentally, Sharpe was Jamaica's first successful labour leader. He mobilised about 60,000 enslaved persons, 20 per cent of the population, to believe in a cause. They, who had no political, civil or economic rights, and seen as non-humans by the Europeans, declared to the world that they could organise a strike for better working conditions, respecting holidays and, ultimately, freedom from British colonial enslavement. This shattered the myth that persons of African origin cannot think and manage their affairs. It destroyed the argument that people of African origin are violent and can only understand violence. This was a welcomed celebration, well executed by another long-standing JCDC employee, Michael Nicholson.
Perhaps, the tribute could include other national heroes such as Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and Alexander Bustamante, who fought on behalf of the workers. Paul Bogle, along with six others, walked 40 miles from Stony Gut to Spanish Town to present resolutions formulated on August 12 at an Underhill meeting chaired by Gordon. The resolutions spoke to the unemployment, poverty and low wages. They desired a resolution of the impasse based on dialogue. This was a blueprint for future labour leaders for agitation on behalf of oppressed workers. It is not necessary to gild the lily concerning Bustamante's contribution to the labour movement. This observance could be widened if it is not specific to the date of the death of Sharpe.
Observances like these are important to build confidence in our abilities to manage our affairs, build a spirit of loyalty to the development of the country, and develop pride in the achievements of our forefathers. Unfortunately, not all our elected representatives have visited the National Heroes Park. This should be mandatory for all politicians in order to understand where we are coming from.
Perhaps it is our national pride that is at base of the problem regarding the Chinese being the designers and builders of the Parliament at National Heroes Park. But if it were, national pride would prevent us accepting the financing. The major problem was that there was no competitive bidding on the design. Let there be a competition for the design and let the best one be used, whether it is designed by Jamaicans, Chinese, Britons or Africans. In memory of our national heroes, who believed in us, let there be a competition for the best design.
Hopefully, the conscious minister, 'Babsy' Grange, can get the Cabinet to change course.
Sam Sharpe, by coordinating the mobilisation of enslaved people in 1831, caused a change in the course of labour relations and has left us a legacy of boldness. Respect due!
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.