The origin of the Labour Day parade in Guyana

By Hazel Woolford
Guyana Chronicle
May 28, 2000

THE Labour Day parade has been observed annually on May 1, in Guyana since 1922. The British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU), had been the sole organiser of the workers parade in Georgetown and New Amsterdam up to 1949. In fact, the majority of participants in the parade during this period were blue collar workers.

As early as 1948, resolutions were passed seeking legislation to provide for May 1 to be declared a public holiday. In 1951, the Trades Union Council (TUC) passed the following resolution:

Be it resolved that this meeting of workers here assembled at the Parade Ground, Georgetown, pledges itself through the several unions, federations, councils and political organisations to take all necessary steps by approach through government, the local legislature and His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies to ensure - the declaration of the first of May as a statutory holiday.

In 1953, general elections were held in British Guiana. It was predicted in labour circles that if the voting was heavy, labour would form the new government. The PPP, which was closely associated with the labour movement, won 18 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly. The May Day parade of 1953, was the largest ever held. Twenty thousand persons assembled at Bourda Green.

The Labour Day parade was organised by the British Guiana Labour Union (BGLU) and the Federation of Union of Government Employees (FUGE). What was significant about this parade was the fact that the people had attended voluntarily. The men wore rosettes and ties, and for the first time in several years, the parade was accompanied by two bands. The President of the BGLU, L. F. S. Burnham, had promised the crowd that the government would work towards improving conditions for the working class. He pledged:

It is the solemn duty of the government that goes into power later this month to take all the necessary steps to do away with the scourge of our country, namely unemployment by June 1, but this we do say: that by hard work, sincerity and carefully planned economy, all unemployment will be eventually banished from this lovely Guyana of ours.

On May 20, 1956, the TUC requested to meet with Governor Renison, to discuss the proposal that May 1 should be declared a public holiday. The deputation met the Officer administering the government on May 29, 1956. However, in August, 1956, the TUC was informed that the government had rejected their request.

On February 12, 1958, Mr Rupert Tello tabled a motion in the Legislative Council, that May 1 of each year, be designated `Labour Day', and should be declared a public holiday. He argued:

A capitalist country like the U.S.A. has found it necessary to give its labourers a holiday known as Labour Day. I feel that the time is opportune for British Guiana to place a similar one on its Statute Book. That will be a great fillip to the trade unions and will give a greater impression on the integral part of our community labour. We should have a holiday placed on our Statute Book and make it known internationally that we have a great regard for labour and the labour movement in British Guiana.

Mr Anthony Tasker did not object to the motion, but suggested that it should be amended by the addition of the words, "in substitution of an existing public holiday". But Mr Burnham opposed the amendment, insisting that it was not a question of giving with one hand, and taking with another.

Finally Mrs Janet Jagan, indicated that the Christian Social Council would give up Whit Monday for Labour Day. The Council voted and the motion was affirmed.

By this action May 1, 1958, was declared a public holiday. Since that date May 1, which is also called Labour Day, has been a public holiday and it is celebrated by all unions.

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