Chair, Political Leader Brother Philip Pierre, former Prime Minister Brother Kenny Anthony, Members of Parliament and members of the Executive of the St. Lucia Labour Party, sisters and brothers all, members of the media, good evening, It is indeed an honour to have been invited by your Political Leader, and my distinct pleasure to deliver the George F.L. Charles Memorial Lecture organized by your Party, the St. Lucia Labour Party, this evening in honour of your Founder Sir George F.L. Charles. Before I go any further, let me extend greetings of solidarity to the St. Lucia Labour Party, from my own Party – the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), our Executive Committee and Activist Council, which met just a few days ago and instructed me to communicate our best wishes to you. Although the MSJ is a relatively new Party, I myself – through earlier political movements and my work in the Oilfields Workers‟ Trade Union – have had a long and positive association with both the trade union movement here in St. Lucia and with the SLP. Over the years, whenever the OWTU organized a regional or international conference or seminar we would make sure that St. Lucia is invited. Given that I am of a certain age reminiscences become more and more frequent – this is actually the second occasion on which I have addressed your Party.
It was in October 1987 when Julian Hunte was your Leader, and if my memory serves me right, Brother Pierre was the Party Treasurer, that I was invited to deliver the Feature Address at the Party‟s Annual Conference. That year it was held in Laborie because Neville Cenac – now your Governor General - had just been elected the MP for that constituency, crossed the floor immediately after the elections from the 2 SLP to the UWP and was given a Ministerial position. That shifted the balance in the Parliament from 9-8 to 10-7 in the UWP‟s favour. The SLP of course wanted to show that even though Cenac had left the Party, the members and supporters in Laborie had not. So I was asked to speak. I don‟t know if I hit the right notes that day, but what I do know is that I don‟t speak Creole and that those who got the most applause were the Creole speakers! The person assigned to take care of me during my brief stay was one Philip Pierre and this was a reciprocal responsibility because some time before that he stayed at my home in Trinidad while attending a conference at the OWTU. It was therefore great to see Philip rise through the ranks of the SLP to be Leader of the Party and Leader of the Opposition – it is well deserved! Congratulations my Brother! Brother Kenny Anthony I knew a bit from many years earlier still. It was in the days just after the Grenadian Revolution. Around that time Kenny was at Cave Hill lecturing and my girlfriend at the time – now my wife – was a student and I came over from time to time on vacation. During one of those visits Kenny came over to the apartment and we had a long discussion about politics and the state of the Caribbean. Brother Ernest Hillaire was a member of the Regional Executive Committee of the Assembly of Caribbean People representing the Caribbean Federation of Youth in 92-94 when I was secretary of the ACP and we were organizing the First Assembly in Trinidad in August 1994. Ernest not only organized meetings for me here in St. Lucia to popularise the Assembly but also came to Trinidad regularly for Executive meetings. I however was not active in WIPA when he was CEO of the WICB and therefore I did not meet him across the negotiating table!
Chair, permit me one last memory. It was in May 1997. A group of the usual suspects of left and progressive activists were gathered for a weekend meeting at Bobby Clarke‟s home in Barbados. Among those present were Tim Hector and Rosie Douglas. Rosie had flown into Barbados for the meeting from London. He had ended up campaigning for the British Labour Party and came back loaded up with thousands of flyers and posters. Coincidentally, there was an election campaign taking place in St. Lucia so as soon as our meeting finished Rosie left Barbados and headed for St. Lucia with all the flyers and posters. He was adamant that the UK posters and flyers would be very useful in St. Lucia since they were in red and had the slogan – Vote Labour! I think that Rosie, who was just supposed to drop off the material actually stayed and campaigned for you and brought in a newly elected UK Labour MP as well! Suffice it to say that Rosie campaigned for 3 three winning parties – Blair‟s Labour Party won in the UK; Kenny‟s Labour Party won in St. Lucia and a couple of years after Rosie‟s Labour Party won in Dominica.
Only in the Caribbean! Now Chair, I turn to the matter at hand. You have indeed given me a challenging theme – “The role and relevance of trade unions in the age of technology”. I trust that I can do it justice. To say that we are in “the age of technology” is an understatement. We are today living what was science fiction and comic book stuff when I was a child. Remember Dick Tracy and the two way radio/tv wrist watch? Well watches that are phones and can record and send real time audio and video are reality today. Driverless cars – that too is a reality and we will soon see flying cars. Information technology is indeed moving at an unbelievable rate of change. Apart from the obvious ones that we know and use every day, there are robots that can talk and do things that we thought only humans were capable of – Artificial Intelligence has achieved that. George Orwell‟s 1984 and his “Big Brother” that knew every move you made – on the street or in the “privacy of your home” – has been with us for some time as GPS positioning from our phone, our tweets and FB posts saying where we are where we are going and what we are doing give us away; and the cameras and satellites of country‟s security systems can track our every move and record all of our conversations, read all of our emails and text messages and even if our phone is off it can be remotely activated as a microphone. In fact as we are learning now, scientists can develop a very accurate psycho-socio profile of us from analyzing the data obtained from what we „like” or “comment” on when we‟re on Facebook – to the point of micro-targeting messages to people to win elections. Rosie‟s flyers and posters saying “Vote Labour” don‟t stand a chance in this technological era! But how did we get here? And what of the role and relevance of trade unions in this era? I will address the theme in four parts. Firstly, I will identify the key elements of the revolutions in technology that have been taking place in the last 30 plus years. Secondly, I will situate these revolutions in the context of the underlying economic paradigm of this era – that of neo-liberal capitalism and of globalization. Thirdly, I will look at the results of the revolutions in technology and of neo-liberal capitalism on societies in general and on working people in particular. This will, I hope, establish my fourth part which is to make the case for the relevance and importance of trade unions. And lastly, and briefly, I will set out some ideas of the roles of trade unions today and my own 4 concerns about whether or not these are being met by our movement in the Caribbean. So, let us begin!