The current industrial unrest in the country involving the Keith Mitchell-led government and three public sector unions bring back into memory the role played in the movement over the years by two former prominent trade union leaders – Chester Humphrey and Claris Charles.
THE NEW TODAY is forced to look back at these two in light of recent pronouncements coming from them on the current impasse with the government on the 4% salary increase issue.
It was pathetic to hear both Charles and Humphrey in the public domain make what clearly amounts to anti-worker statements.
The once feared Humphrey as President General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) was often heard chanting the phrase: “Pay me and vex with me”.
Today the workers are literally chanting the same slogan but Humphrey is not siding with them. Why?
He was an effective user of those workers in key areas of the economy like Grenlec, Telephone, Airport and the Grenada Ports Authority in engaging in the popular “Solidarity Strikes” to press ahead with his demands on behalf of the working class.
This is the leader who almost left TAWU bankrupt as he was not afraid to take on the might of the financially rich Sabga family of Trinidad & Tobago in the prolonged strike at the Grenada Breweries.
This is the same Chester Humphrey who was behind strike action to derail the construction of the Chinese-built National Stadium for the staging of the Cricket World Cup.
The TAWU leader had engaged in a strike on the port and forced the same NNP government to build a port near to the Green Bridge to bring in critical equipment from Trinidad & Tobago to help complete the work on the stadium project.
Today, the same Humphrey is now branded as “a sell-out” for some of his anti-worker positions that have stunned many who once adored him as a trade union leader of substance in the country.
Humphrey is now in bed with the same NNP and its leader Dr. Mitchell that he once described as the most corrupt leader to sit in the corridors of power in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique.
Sadly, Humphrey and his so-called “Project Grenada” sold out the Working Class to sit on the table of passport sellers for a little something in his pocket as President of the Senate.
As President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) in the 1980’s, Charles was considered as a firebrand female trade union leader and one who gained respect not only in Grenada but also in the wider Caribbean.
In her early days, she led workers throughout the streets of St George’s including the famous march involving the current Speaker of the House of Representative, Michael Pierre onto Parliament building at York House.
Like several trade union leaders, Charles chose to enter into frontline politics with the New National Party (NNP) in the 1999 general election and won a seat to sit in Parliament as the Member for the Constituency of St John.
This female trade unionist is one of those who helped the NNP to victory to its clean sweep of the polls in 1999 as part of a strengthened “Coalition of Forces” that was put together by current Prime Minister Mitchell to start his real stranglehold on the political life of the country.
Today, the same Charles is a shadow of herself from the person who rose through the ranks of the teaching profession to become a national figure in the trade union movement.
THE NEW TODAY sees both Humphrey and Charles as adopting new anti-worker positions based purely on opportunism to advance their own selfish interests.
The current industrial climate has presented the opportune time for the new leadership of the Public Workers Union (PWU) to show its mettle especially the new incoming President, Brian Grimes.
The eyes of a wide cross section of Grenadians will be looking at Mr. Grimes in particular given the fears expressed in some quarters that he is a protégé of the same Humphrey and by extension possesses a soft side for the regime now in the Botanical Gardens.
The 4% issue will surely provide a test for the new PWU leader and Grenadians will judge him on the basis of the direction in which he takes the union in the coming weeks and months ahead.
THE NEW TODAY is fearful that the current lot of trade union leaders are all on trial since many persons in Grenada feel that they can easily become sell-outs of the movement for their own selfish accomplishments.
Let us be hopeful that the new leaders do not betray the workers and continue to walk along the path set by earlier trailblazers the likes of Eric Pierre, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, Stanley Roberts, Septimus Forsyth, Madonna Harford, Vincent Noel and Luret Clarkson.