Wednesday, May 1, is a public and bank holiday which is called Labor Day in Belize. In some parts of the world, the day is called May Day. This is an international holiday to honor workers of the world.
Robots, which are increasingly sophisticated machines designed to perform factory work previously performed by human beings, are a major aspect of manufacturing in the developed nations of the world. In Third World countries like Belize, nevertheless, human beings still do almost all the work which emphasizes hands and muscles. So, we have fishermen and farmers, waterfront workers, warehouse workers, truckers, workers in the electricity, water/sewerage, and telecommunications industries, workers in the fields and factories of the sugar, citrus, banana, and shrimp industries, construction workers, garbage industry workers, policemen and soldiers, and so on and so forth.
Even though the teachers and public officers comprise two of Belize’s most powerful trade unions, they are not probably considered workers in the classic sense. This is because they work with their minds more than they do with their hands and their muscles.
Please understand, and forgive, we are not experts in this subject. But, it is absolutely important to give our younger readers a sense of the domestic and international history which is involved here. Remember, the ancestors of most of us Belizeans came to this land as slave, indentured, or refugee workers. The masters of Belize’s slave and colonial history represented what the scholars and analysts refer to as “capital”: our ancestors were the labor. Labor works in the service of capital, and there is a long history of capital exploiting labor, in order to maximize profits and in order to finance what is called “research and development.”
There was no need to have a Capital Day, as opposed to a Labor Day, because really, when you think about it, everyday is like a holiday for the big time capitalists of the region and the world. These are the rich and the famous, and they can afford to go wherever they wish whenever they wish, do whatever they want, and so on.
In the industrialized countries of Europe and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, the oppression of labor by capital reached the stage where a philosophy called communism was born. Communism called for workers to take over the means of production from the capitalists and, essentially, work to better their own living conditions instead of enriching the parasitical capitalist class. Communism being a godless philosophy, however, the Christian churches led attacks against it in the Western world.
The most important workers’ revolutionary in Belize’s history was probably Antonio Soberanis, who led uprisings of Belizean workers, beginning in 1934. A few years later similar workers’ revolts began in some Caribbean islands. Because Belize is not always categorized as a classic Caribbean country, the Caribbean scholars often fail to recognize that it was in Belize that Caribbean workers first began to rebel in the twentieth century. In the major Caribbean societies, as in Belize, the political leaders who would take them into independence came out of trade union backgrounds.
The movement which became the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) in 1950 was built on the foundation of a trade union called the General Workers Union, led by Clifford Betson and Henry Middleton.
There was a wealthy Belizean capitalist who supported the chief aim of the PUP – national independence, and his name was Bob Turton. But the PUP was definitely a workers’ party in its early years. This is a history which is not properly respected, because the Maximum PUP Leader, Rt. Hon. George Price, pushed out the GWU after 1957 and his followers later built a personality cult around Mr. Price.
In comparison with the political parties which opposed the PUP, however, the PUP was definitely the workers’ choice until Belize achieved independence in 1981. After the PUP lost power for the first time in 1984, a change took place within the party’s thinking, because the PUP which was returned to power in 1989 proved to be a neoliberal capitalist party, advised by the British billionaire, Lord Michael Ashcroft.
Belize has become a country which is using a lot of imported, undocumented workers in its agriculture, construction, and other industries. These workers generally work for lower wages than their Belizean counterparts. So capitalists have a field day in Belize, while the young Belizean workers displaced by the imported workers have turned to crime in Belize’s urban population centers.
Those workers who are unionized have a lot of strength in Belize in the sense that they can change governments if they so desire. The problem is that there is not too much difference between the third-millennium PUP and the UDP where development philosophy is concerned. Both the parties favor foreign investment capital more than they do the Belizean worker. There is quite a bit of ostentatious wealth in Belize, but there is also a lot of unemployment, crime, and broken infrastructure.
As the world came out of World War II in 1945, there was a phenomenon called the Cold War which featured the capitalist United States, supported by Great Britain and Western Europe, fighting with communist Russia and communist China, supported by Eastern Europe, for control of world resources.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 followed by the collapse of Russian communism, it was believed that capitalism and the United States had won the Cold War battle. It now appears, however, that communist China, which began to practice a unique form of communism which often looks like state capitalism, is about to become the most powerful economy in the world where growth and manufacturing are concerned.
On the domestic scene, private sector Belizean workers are often at the mercy of their employers because of the politico-economic realities. Belizean political leaders bend over backwards to please capitalist employers, because the capitalist employers tell them as follows: we can take our investment capital elsewhere. In real terms, workers of the region are competing against themselves, and the capitalists rule. Nothing much has changed.
Best wishes for Labor Day to all Belizean workers. Power to the people.