What Liberty Day means for you
K. Leba Ola-Niyi
Pan-African Support Group
When we observe Liberty Day -and the United Nations has declared this the "Year of the Peoples of African Descent" - we should reflect on our victories, setbacks, and challenges as African workers and people in the Virgin Islands.
Our history of African labor gives an account of our ancestors who had waged a just war against racial oppression, economic exploitation, and political subjugation. The descendants of the emancipated Africans have the vocation of achieving the goals of African liberation, unity, and dignity.
Let us remind the Western world that African labor - the multitude of slaves, servants, and subjects - contributed to the economic development and high living standards in European capitalist societies and cities. Let us never forget that the enslaved and colonized Africans produced the wealth reaped by the ruling elites of Europe, the United States, and some countries in South America for over four centuries.
We can learn from the progressive legacy of David Hamilton Jackson, a great working-class and African leader. Jackson's qualities of leadership included humility, militancy, African consciousness, integrity, race first, courage, critical thinker, visionary, activism, and solidarity with other freedom struggles.
Our people demanded and secured the basic rights of freedom of the press and freedom of association. The St. Croix Labor Union was a large social movement that organized, informed, and empowered 6,000 African agricultural laborers. The Herald, the first African newspaper, was the voice of the poor and powerless African masses. The union owned a press, credit union, and several properties in the town and countryside. Land was purchased and distributed to small black farmers. Other labor rights included collective bargain and strike.
In addition, there were Garveyites who participated in the African labor movement that strived to assume power, improve working and living conditions and higher wages for its members and their families. Like Marcus Garvey, D. Hamilton Jackson used African/Black history to emancipate enslaved minds and empower the African masses to chart a new direction for freedom and justice.
Progressive labor leaders such D. Hamilton Jackson and Rothschild Francis led the struggle for home rule, democracy, political rights, and social justice.
In this colonial, capitalist, and class society, African people and workers are abused by free markets and neoconservative extremists. Right-wing economic and political elites are waging class warfare on poor people and workers. They change labor laws such as collective bargaining and union rights to destroy the labor unions and labor movements. The courts impose TROs on labor unrests such as strikes and job actions. Governments and corporate giants impose harsh and unfair austerity measures such as salary cuts, frozen wage increases, mass layoffs, and benefit reductions.
Governments slash public social service programs such as education, health, food, and housing. Governments bail out greedy economic behemoths at the social and economic expenses of the poor, powerless, unemployed, uninsured, hungry, and homeless. The richest citizens, CEOs, and corporate owners reaped the lion's share of tax cuts, giveaways, or exemptions without meeting their social obligations. Most workers are working harder and longer for part-time pay. High unemployment, poverty, and income inequity are the triplets of social misery for many workers and poor people in this so-called American Paradise.
In this colonial arrangement, African people produce what they do not consume and consume what they do not produce. Corporate giants control the commanding heights of the local economy. The commanding heights include tourism, commerce, retail, transportation, manufacturing, bank, insurance, and communications.
While most Africans are workers and consumers, the multinational corporations and non-African merchant class have the most market shares, reap the highest returns from the sales, and secure the biggest proportion of local, regional, and global production and services.
African people must organize and participate in the social and political movements to achieve qualitative changes in this unjust society. You should start or join labor unions and labor movements to level the paying and playing fields. You should form a nationalist movement to eradicate colonialism in all its manifestations.
We must construct and develop a new society and viable Virgin Islands nationality based on African principles. To build and share the wealth, workers should own and manage cooperatives and companies in the profitable sectors of this island economy. In our effort to define ourselves as an African, Caribbean, and Virgin Islands people, you must embrace, know, value, protect, and practice our African cultural heritage.
Finally, you must opt for an economic alternative to the unfettered free market economics that have failed to eliminate or reduce poverty and inequity in the midst of plenty. We must organize, centralize and act now to make a peaceful world possible.