On Wednesday last week, Labour Day, I took Ziya to Yara River on the North Coast. I use every opportunity that I can to teach her that our islands’ true value is in their pristine rivers, primary forests and undeveloped coasts, and the diverse life that they support, and consider it invaluable work that I can’t usually do during the week.
One day when Ziya is older, I’ll take her to Fyzabad with me to appreciate that other aspect of the nation’s terrain: our history of continuous labour resistance from the day that empires defined indigenous women and men, and then later arrivants, in terms of profit and not as people.
On the one hand, Zi needs to learn that enslaved and indentured women, and later 20th century women like Elma Francois, Daisy Crick and Thelma ‘Sister T’ Williams, have always been on the front lines of workers’ organizing. They had children, they earned their own money and they led mass movements of women and men. On the other hand, I also want her to be aware of how the labour of family and community mothering is a politics of struggle against sexism and capitalism too.
As I looked at a Labour Day picture of today’s union leaders, I wondered about the negotiations of women workers like myself. Every leader was male. None had children with them. None of them was a young woman with a baby like me. No doubt women and mothers with babies were there that day as they have been throughout history. Still, that picture says something worth unpacking about the options and choices for combining labour, motherhood and leadership. Acknowledging this, unions, in their support to feminist movements of women and men, cannot get weary yet.
It will always be important for workers across every sphere, from farmers to domestic workers, shop clerks, housewives, teachers, nurses, sex workers and more, to publicly organize for their legal right to decent work, decent wages, equality and equity, and collective bargaining.
It will also always be important to recognize that the work associated with nurturing of our families is about labour as much as it is about love, and it includes inequalities as much as it does fulfillment.
As I stood in the OWTU Hall learning about the life of Thelma Williams, I was intrigued at how many there were women from her Spiritual Baptist community, rather than union men. Male leaders, including members of my own generation such as Ozzi Warwick and Akins Vidale were there, but the numbers spoke volumes about how the building of family and community, and the work it takes to sustain them, are also enduring achievements. Commemoration of this grandmother, also ‘grandmother’ to a movement, made me reflect on the way that collectivity, consciousness-raising and contributing to justice should both make room for and bring together all of our many identities. Just from those gathered in that hall, you could see that Thelma Williams was nurturer, prayer warrior and also labour fighter.
One Labour Day, you ‘home school’ your daughter about healthy ecosystems and river fish. One Labour Day, you take her to march in Fyzabad. Both are necessary for women to give the work that we do the recognition, status and value that it is still due.