Delivering his first keynote address as Premier, David Burt vowed to implement a living wage, examine the “historical injustices of stolen lands” and to unveil the truth about what really happened during the airport protest when protesters were pepper sprayed by police.
Speaking at the sold out 36th Annual Labour Day Banquet hosted by the Bermuda Industrial Union on Friday night, Mr Burt charted the course of the new Progressive Labour Party government to “harness the forces of economic empowerment”, now that the PLP has “won the tools to make change”.
Reflecting on the PLP’s landslide victory at the polls, he was quick to note that “the People didn’t just vote for the PLP”.
“The People voted against the status quo, and for a new way,” said Mr Burt. “The People voted against the discrimination of Bermudians, and for Bermudians first; the People voted against two Bermudas, and for social equality; and the People voted against runaway capitalism and for LABOUR!
“I’ll be told off for this on Tuesday, but I still need to say it. During the campaign, it was clear that the PLP thought Bermudians should be working before…or even alongside non-Bermudians; the other guys thought non-Bermudians were the only priority. So, when I say ‘Labour’ won, it’s no small thing,” said the Premier.
“It’s very important that we appreciate exactly what happened at the last Election…the story is the Popular Vote.
“The Popular Vote is important because we were under severe attack. The OBA outspent us 10:1. The media was biased in ways you cannot imagine; and the more desperate the OBA got, the nastier they got. But in the face of their lies, tricks and bribes – remember $2,500 for every child born? We maintained our message.
“In the face of all that nonsense… 59% of the Bermudian public endorsed us and our message of equality. They want us to crush the idea of two Bermudas; and with the help of God and you in this room we will dismantle structures that makes Bermuda’s wealth work for one Bermuda while it flogs the other.
“In an election where young Dennis Lister III beats Jeff ‘it’ll take a miracle to beat me’ Sousa; and in an election where Christopher Famous puts Bob ‘airport for sale’ Richards out to pasture; 24-12 in seats sounds about right doesn’t it?
“I have been waiting for almost two months to be able to address a room of friends like this. I am grateful for the opportunity, because ever since the General Election, people have been asking our MPs, Ministers, and Members, ‘What now?’ or ‘What comes next?’ and ‘How do we use the mandate we just attained’,” he said.
“To answer that question, I would like to rewind a bit, to come at the question from a different angle. As we must remember how we got where we are.”
Highlighting issues that led to public protests under the former Government, Mr Burt recalled the protest by civil servants over furlough days, and the protest against the Pathways to Status Bill outside the House of Assembly.
“There are not many impressive sights than seeing 5,000 workers hold vigil, hold firm to their views, beliefs and rights, and holding firm to each other on Cabinet grounds! And there are not many more powerful sight than seeing 5,000 Bermudians stop the OBA from reneging on its platform promise not to give Bermudian status to thousands of non-Bermudians.
“And so, the men who came when the hour came, are Brother Chris Furbert, Brother Jason Hayward, and Reverend Brother Nicholas Tweed… brothers please stand up and allow us gathered here tonight, to give you a small measure of the massive amount of respect and credit that you deserve for inspiring, creating, and leading the People’s Campaign for Equality, Jobs and Justice,” said Mr Burt.
“That was just a small recognition, but brothers please accept all of our sincere appreciation, respect and congratulations for standing up! Standing tall; and being counted!”
He also recalled what he termed “one act of cruelty in 2014” that “set the stage for a Labour victory in 2017”. “It was the firing of a group of employees at Hamilton Princess.
“As the marchers went down Front Street, a woman on the balcony of a restaurant shouted at them. The Government and the employer had been surprised by the march, but they were solid in their decision… Actually, the woman shouting for the workers to ‘get back to work!’ and for them to ‘be grateful you have a job!’ was the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce. She was fired for her actions, but that act made Bermudians sit up and take note. It was a pivotal moment.”
All that, he said, was “before AECON was given our airport, and even before the ‘Pathways to Status’ protest. “You see over the past four years, we lived in a Bermuda where almost every union in the country had to march,” he added.
While noting the theme of Labour Day this year – ‘Celebrating Solidarity’, he said it is time “to celebrate the result of our solidarity”.
“So, what next? Is solidarity only about marching and expressing frustrations? What do you do with a landslide victory and one of the most popular and consistent messages in the history of politics?
“Labour was founded as workers wanted to ensure they got their fair share from those who, in most instances, inherited the land and the money to become producers.
“With our election victory, we have won the tools to make the change, and that is the power to make laws and control the public purse, but that alone will not make the change to ensure that the children and grandchildren of today’s workers become the producers of tomorrow.”
Together, he said “the Labour Movement and the Labour Party” now “have the chance to write a new script for Bermuda”.
“Solidarity made four workers get their jobs back in 2014. Solidarity stopped furlough days in 2015. Solidarity ended Pathway to Status in 2016. And solidarity put the PLP Government in 2017. Not demonstrations…solidarity,’ said Mr Burt.
“Now that the People have chosen to trust and believe that our collective leadership can work together what can solidarity achieve? Solidarity… national level solidarity and unity.
“Make no mistake, the overwhelming majority of Bermudians chose hope, and chose to believe that since, when given the chance, Bermudians will excel at whatever we set our minds to, they will be given that chance.
“The PLP government will improve our education system; we will provide better training and invest in lifelong learning; we will provide more access to capital to boost entrepreneurs, but then what?
“As a community of workers, we will not accomplish our dream of economic empowerment until we understand that through solidarity we must empower each other; using our collective efforts, we begin to harness the forces of economics to produce true economic empowerment,” he said.
“We as Labour have an awesome responsibility to lead by example. Today, I walked to the Washington Mall for lunch and went to the food court… and I didn’t choose by what I felt like eating… No; instead I chose where to eat by which restaurants had Bermudians serving there.
“And so, what we must do is ensure that when the son of a worker comes back home to start a business and hires Bermudians’ we must support him. When the daughter of labour opens the store, we must support her. By spending our money in the places that reflect our values, we place more importance on the role our values play in how we spend our money.
“And when you are working for these businesses and they grow, resist the temptation to be envious of the profits that are being earned by the owner and start your own competing business. Ask the owner how you can be an investor or shareholder so that together both of you will be more prosperous,” he said.
“Family, this is not a revenge mission…Our fellow Bermudians are trusting us. They are trusting that the solidarity that produced marches, demonstrations; that demanded respect and change will produce a Bermuda that works for every one of us. The haves will keep theirs; but the have-nots will be helped to earn theirs too, just as people were helped in the past by the old establishment.
“We will provide opportunities, but opportunity alone will not get us where we want to go. We must practice community solidarity so that we can celebrate the benefits of collective solidarity. That is you mission over the next five years. We will lead the government, but you – the workers – must lead in changing our approach to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of Solidarity. Let’s spend our money with those who appreciate our values.
“We will demolish the elements in Bermuda that maintain Two Bermudas! Our Government is going to weed out the bias and the racism that has held this country in its grip for too long; that has cut-off potential and ruined access to opportunities by providing a mediocre education, unfulfilling jobs, and no ability to earn enough to own a piece of the rock.
“We must use this moment in history to push ahead with an agenda that betters lives for workers. We must implement a living wage. We must reduce the cost of living. We must ensure that all people no matter the colour of their skin, their gender, or their physical abilities, will get the same wage for the same work.
“We must ensure that employers give the same benefits to all of their staff so that Bermudians are hired, treated, and rewarded fairly. We must examine the historical injustices of stolen land and ensure that justice is done. We must ensure that we get to the bottom of the horrors of December 2nd, 2016 where workers and seniors were viciously assaulted, and fix the situation so that it never happens again.
“The OBA wanted foreign praise so badly they forgot about their own people’s suffering. They had so much vanity they forgot they are actually public servants. Well we are the people who we serve; so, we do not forget who we are. We will not forget. We cannot forget.”
In closing, the Premier urged the packed audience to “let tonight be the beginning of the rebirth of Labour in Bermuda”. “The union is active; the Government is Labour; our mandate is strong. We can be the best Labour Movement Bermuda has seen, and we will do it; Together…in Solidarity.
“United We Stand – Divided We Fall!”