Last week, a notice was sent to Caribupdate Weekly and other media, inviting journalists to attend a news conference at the headquarters of the Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (GTAWU) on Green Street, St George’s. Press conferences in Grenada have been so abused and misused by most who call them, that these events have become too commonplace and routine, and many reporters certainly would have shrugged their shoulders at attending another snooze fest, AKA a press conference.
Against this background, it would have been easy to miss the underlying significance of the GTAWU press conference, especially where history is confined to what happened yesterday and last year; where knowledge is often the accumulation of second and third-hand information from uninformed sources; and where — regrettably and all too frequently — we gauge, assess and ascribe merit, based on purely superficial factors such as our likes and dislikes; and whether the other person shares our political views or philosophy; or shares membership of the same political party as we do.
At that GTAWU House news conference, Chester Humphrey announced that he was stepping down as President-General of the Technical and Allied Workers’ Union. In the upcoming elections to the union’s management committee, he will not be contesting for re-election to the President-General’s position.
Humphrey’s announcement, in the view of this newspaper, marked the closing of a chapter — not the book itself — on a man whose contribution to the betterment of life in Grenada has not been valued and recognized, at least to this point, as highly and as publicly as it ought to be.
What has made Humphrey’s contribution more noteworthy than many others, is that he has been openly courageous, to the point of facing death on more than one occasion — he never has been shy about his ideological leaning, which informed both his politics and his trade unionism. Trade unionism, he says, has given him many wonderful years in fulfilling his life’s dream as a “committed and dedicated socialist as a fighter for the working class of Grenada and the world.”
Humphrey helped usher in the 1979 Grenada Revolution. But where warranted, he displayed no hesitation in leading GTAWU strikes against state-owned entities during the Revo.
He has been unabashed, too, in speaking truth to power; and, in the process, gained some friends and lost some others. That was made unmistakably clear when, after campaigning for the National Democratic Congress in their successful election run in 2008, he went public a couple years later, in warning the NDC party and government that their behaviour would lead to certain electoral defeat.
After his expulsion from the NDC in 2012, Humphrey decided that the cause of Grenadian workers would be better served by backing the New National Party. His decision to support the NNP invoked the ire of former friends in the NDC, which lost the February 2013 general elections 15-0. Many joined in jeering Humphrey at the May Day rally in 2013. In an exclusive interview with Caribupdate Weekly following the rally, Humphrey charged that the jeering and booing were politically instigated. “It was not a spontaneous matter,” he said, adding that there is sufficient evidence that satisfies him that some of the instigation came from within the labour movement at the leadership level.
As someone who has spent the greater part of a half-century in political and trade union activism, it is not surprising that Humphrey is not exiting the stage altogether. He remains the President of the Senate and also the General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour. He promises that he will be involved in trying to resolve outstanding labour relations issues of GTAWU, and his given his unwavering support for André Lewis, the incoming President-General of the Technical and Allied Workers’ Union.
Humphrey’s decades of work have enabled him to establish contacts, and to gain access, to regional and international trade union and political leaders.
His work also has placed him on the path to be recognized with local trade union giants such as deceased Eric Pierre, Curtis Stewart, Wilfred Hayes and Derek Knight.