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MOST BARBADIANS SHOULD be elated to hear that the Barbados Workers’ Union is at long last going to honour the memory and contribution of Frank Leslie Walcott, one of the truly outstanding figures of 20th century Barbados.
He was a labour leader who would have rubbed many people in the business community and Government the wrong way, and as a politician might have upset many members of the said union.
But there can be no denying his contribution to making life better for the working class.
Just take one thing – social security legislation which he championed. It is a benefit all Barbadians enjoy and see as an entitlement today.
I am no supporter of the establishment of national heroes. I do believe that men and women should be honoured for their outstanding contributions, but I am both skeptical and cynical about the national hero status as the process can be fraught with challenges and biases.
But I understand why Sir Frank Walcott was given this honour.
Thankfully the BWU is moving to correct its own terrible oversight by renaming the BWU’s Labour College in his honour. It should not stop there.
Here is my suggestion. The union should dedicate space at the facility to honour Sir Frank Walcott, Sir Hugh Springer, Sir Grantley Adams and Clement Payne, the national heroes directly connected with the labour movement.
Sir Hugh and Sir Frank were integral to the BWU, both being there in the two top positions in its foundation years, while Payne was the crusader who agitated in 1937 before the uprising which became the watershed for significant changes that included the birth of the labour movement.
National heroes are all honoured on Sir Grantley’s birthday, April 28, with a public holiday and some reflection on their contribution in the mass media. That is it.
The BWU has an opportunity, perhaps not at the time of the rededication of its facility in St Philip, but as an ongoing project, and by the time the next National Heroes Day is celebrated to start shaping a national heroes museum.
It should become a place where significant written and audio speeches as well as any video of these men ought to be on display, as should be letters and documents in their own handwriting, clothing, and a range of photographs. Admittedly, it may prove a challenge with Clement Payne to get some collectibles but ought not be so with the others.
The museum should be a place where students, visitors to the island, researchers and scholars, trade unionists and business leaders, and the average Barbadian should be able to visit to see first-hand what these men looked like and what they really accomplished.
Yes, it will call for money to bring this idea to fruition. The Government should make a contribution to which Parliament ought to give bipartisan support, as should the business community and the National Insurance Scheme. Unfortunately, the labour movement is most likely broke and unable to contribute, yet they should make an effort to make a donation. The Barbados Museum and the National Archives Department can give their expert guidance in helping to make this a reality by suggesting the layout and the best methods of preservation of the unique items which should be on display.
The BWU’s general secretary Toni Moore and her indispensable adviser Orlando “Gabby “Scott, who was himself for many years at Sir Frank’s right-hand man, should endeavour to make this dream become a reality.