National Workers Union Celebrates 45th Anniversary
Among the first friends I made upon assuming the position of Voice editor (my introduction to journalism in Saint Lucia) was Tyrone Maynard. He, too, was at the time setting out on a new adventure: taking over the leadership of the National Workers Union. We’ve remained friends and shared many adventures over the years, sometimes landing in trouble with sections of the society determined to stay in their comfortable cobwebs— politicians mostly. We had our ups and downs, in relation to our work, but always our friendship remained solid.
Even after I noted that my invitation to the NWU’s 45th anniversary celebration required me to be in my seat at 9 a.m. I knew I’d be there, despite that I seldom get out of bed before 11 on a Sunday.
I finally had no reason to regret the Herculean effort. It had been a long time since Tyrone Maynard and I met face to face; like me it seems he has become quite reclusive. Ditto his Castro-bearded special comrade, and my friend for all seasons, Lawrence Poyotte—a grossly underrated talent, and not only for journalism and photography! I had the great pleasure of sitting with Guy Ellis, formerly editor of the Voice, now semi-retired. Guy it was who first suggested, when I still lived in the UK, I should take up writing as a profession. I’ve never regretted following up on that.
And then there was the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Mr. Ralph Gonsalves, always a close friend of Tyrone Maynard and his National Workers Union. My own relationship with Ralph, to put it, er, diplomatically, had always been an up and down affair, mainly downs, dependent on what he had written or said somewhere; or whose politics he had chosen to support.
Of course, I’ve known Ralph even before he held his current job. Over the last several years I’ve discovered myself supporting more and more of his controversial decisions, especially on the issues of citizenship vending and American involvement in regional matters. Most importantly, I’ve learned to respect him for his willingness to confront the possible negative fall-out from standing by his convictions. My kinda man!
Ralph was the NWU’s keynote speaker. Suffice it to say he was absolutely at ease at the podium, cool in casual wear, up to date on matters regional and elsewhere, with a demonstrated fine appreciation of metaphor. He is probably the region’s most well-read politician, as familiar with St. Paul as with Naipaul and Churchill. Again, my kinda guy. He also shares with fellow Vincie the late John Compton a salt’s sense of humor. The difference was in their deliveries. Ralph tends to serve his adult rib ticklers with a devilish smile; Compton remained straight-faced.
On the subject of trade unionism, however, Ralph was dead serious. Certainly Tyrone could not have chosen a more appropriate keynote speaker. It turned out Ralph had contributed much to Tyrone’s development as a trade unionist. Maybe it was from Ralph Gonsalves that the NWU president first learned to stand by his beliefs, regardless of the risks to himself. Most appropriate was his telling observation that too many of our leaders know what must be done in the best interests of our region but lack the gonads to act, largely because they fear the right action at the right time might be tantamount to “political suicide.”
Ralph had his audience laughing our heads off when he recalled undertaking controversial public campaigns all by himself. Those who had promised faithfully to be at his side had chosen instead to chicken out, often leaving him to address on his own “some old man and his dog, with the dog paying far more attention than its owner.” Oh, but the lone ranger was self-convinced “the people in their bedrooms were hearing me.”
Also addressing the Royal St Lucian’s packed conference room last Sunday was Colin Jordon, Minister of Labour & Social Partnership Relations in the Mia Mottley government of Barbados. Guy Ellis and I racked our brains wondering who in our own parliament might’ve delivered as inspiring an address. Had we not known in advance Jordon was a politician, we might well have taken him for a young businessman who cared very much
about the Caribbean’s immediate future: no pointless exaggerations issued from him, no demeaning comments, no accusatory finger pointing. His demeanor and tone were easy on the eyes and ears, while his address offered a feast for thought. What a relief that not once did he sound like a politician!
The open session concluded with the presentation of awards by the visiting prime minister, Saint Lucia’s governor general Sir Neville Cenac and the NWU’s leader. I am pleased to say Tyrone personally handed me one of the more beautifully crafted trophies I’ve ever received, engraved “champion of journalism.” I should add that the presumed tough as nails Tyrone turned out not to be so tough after all. He sobbed openly while Lawrence Poyotte delivered the vote of thanks, along the way pausing at stations of the cross endured by the leader of the National Workers Union. Poyotte neglected to add he was all the time at Tyrone’s side!
Awards were also handed to Earl Bousquet, Dave Samuels, Sam ‘Juk Bois’ Flood, Ernie Seon, Lissa Joseph, Lawrence Adonis, Timothy Poleon, Micah George and Guy Ellis for their contributions to journalism in Saint Lucia.
Mr. George Theophilus and Ms Mary Francis were also honored. The first for contributions to Saint Lucia’s economic, social and financial development and Ms Francis for unflinchingly standing up for human rights.
Was it something he said? Former Voice editor Guy Ellis (left) can hardly contain himsellf as STAR publisher Rick Wayne typically holds forth from his seat at the NWU’s 45th anniversary celebration last Sunday.
A section of the audience: Dame Pearlette is flanked by history maker Mikey Pilgrim (he served for three months as prime minister in 1982) and culture minister Fortuna Belrose.