Why Trade Unions

Many ask the question: “Why Unions?”

Trade unions are the means through which individual workers band together to have their voices heard and their interests defended. They provide workers with a position of strength from which they can negotiate with employers and their organizations. Without trade unions, working people are not able to protect their living standards and working conditions.

A series of strikes riots and labour disturbances between 1934 and 1939 gave birth to the trade union movement in the Caribbean, which predates the political movement. Organised Labour has made, and continues to make, significant contributions to the development of Caribbean society. Through collective bargaining, trade unions contribute to improving people’s living standards by ensuring they get a share of the profits wealth created through their labour. In this way trade unions contribute to combating poverty and advancing social and economic standards within society.

In Caribbean post slavery environment, Labour was the first formally organised mass movement. It was the foundation, and platform, used by Caribbean people to agitate for improved wages/salary, better living conditions, equal rights and justice, universal adult suffrage, independence and other social, economic and political advancements. This movement has much to be proud of.

Early Architects of the Caribbean Trade Union Movement


  • Clement Payne (1904-1941) Barbados
  • Antonio Soberani Gomez (1897-1975) Belize
  • Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, (1884-1958) Guyana
  • Alexander Bustamante (1884-1977) Jamaica
  • Robert L. Bradshaw (1916-1978) Saint Kitts
  • Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (1897-1977) Trinidad and Tobago

Trade Unions’ achievements

Some achievements of the early trade unions which are today taken for granted:

  • The 8-hour workday
  • The 40-hour work week
  • Universal adult suffrage
  • Right to a pension
  • Overtime Pay
  • Paid sick leave
  • Paid Annual Leave
  • Paid maternity leave
  • Workers compensation

Notwithstanding the stated achievements there is still much more to be done. These standards are not permanent; they have to be defended because these gains can always be pushed back. Already we see where many workers no longer enjoy an 8-hour work day or overtime pay for time worked over and above 8 hours; there are workers who have no pensions to look forward to or do not benefit from maternity leave. In other words, there are workers in the Caribbean that do not enjoy decent working conditions as prescribed by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Caribbean Congress of Labour is driven by core values as established by the International Labour Organization.While we continue the struggle to safeguard our gains, we also have to fight to ensure that more Governments, employers and workers understand and implement the principles and philosophy espoused by the ILO Decent Work Agenda. The United Nations have taken a step in this direction by recognizing that the realization of Decent Work is critical to achieving sustainable development.

CCL believes that decent employment, job security, quality education and training, increased levels of equality, safe workplaces, and an adequate social safety net make up the foundation for creating quality life. Our commitment to the well-being of workers is unwavering and in the process we will only form alliances with those whose interests intersect with us.

Accordingly, we continue demand a place at the table with Governments, Employers and other stakeholders at the national and regional level to ensure that the interests of workers are properly articulated and represented in social and economic policies and the legal framework. We are committed to ensuring Caribbean workers get their fair share in the global marketplace; that their rights are respected, their income and benefits are adequate, that their families are secure benefit, and they can work and retire in freedom and dignity.