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Today begins “Critchlow Week” which is a period dedicated to give recognition to the struggles of workers, through the leadership and foundation laid by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Father of Trade Unionism in the British Empire and Guyana’s National Hero.
The trade union community has a responsibility to ensure the legacy of this great son of the soil is truthfully recorded and accurately contextualised. It is a legacy workers must zealously guard and not allowed to be tarnished or coveted.
The trade union in Guyana predates the mass based political parties -PPP, PNC- that started in the 1950s. The fight for one man one vote (universal franchise) for the colonised started with Critchlow and other Caribbean leaders in 1926 at the first Regional Labour Leaders Conference (RLLC), held at Parliament Buildings, Georgetown, Guyana.
This fact is not only known to the trade union community but also by historian Professor James Rose and Attorney-at-law Ashton Chase.
In October 2006, the Caribbean Congress of Labour marked the RLLC’s 80th Anniversary in Georgetown, Guyana.
Professor James Rose in his presentation titled, “The Impact of the Labour Movement on the Cultural Life of the Caribbean” had this to say, under the subhead ‘Demands of the Labour Movement ’- “Socio-economic: Immunity for trade unions from claims for damages resulting from strikes; Immunity from charges of conspiracy; The right to picket peacefully; Minimum wage legislation; The forty-four-hour week; Old age pension; National health insurance and sickness benefits. [And] Political demands: Federation; Universal adult suffrage; Limited powers of the colonial governors; Free compulsory primary education; Limitation on the size of a plantation; Nationalisation; State ownership of public utilities; Cooperative marketing of agriculture produce.”
Ashton Chase in his presentation titled, “The Vision, Struggles and Victories of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow” had this to say: “To recall some of the matters dealt with at that Conference will give a pointer to the vision of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. They included 1) The passage of a resolution of the formation of a Labour Federation between Guianese and West Indians to be called “The Guianese and West Indian Federation of Trade Unions and Labour Parties; 2) A Federation of our respective Territories; 3)Compulsory education throughout the West Indies; 4) An urging on the respective Governments to introduce Workmen’s Compensation; a standard 8 hour working day, the abolition of child labour, minimum wages, non-contributory old age pensions and National Health Insurance; 5) Prison reform, peremptory challenge to jury and the abolition of the Special Jury; and 6) Universal adult suffrage.”
Critchlow remains a hero to all workers, across race, political and other diversity because he championed the cause for all. He provided representation for Indian indentured workers, which resulted in him being nicknamed the “Black Crosby” after a famous Immigration Agent General who was considered to be efficient in dealing with the business of this indentured group.
Critchlow’s legacy spreads far and wide and continues to impact the life of every citizen.