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John Burke King. OBE Committed to Upholding Workers’ rights

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John Burke King. OBE
Committed to Upholding Workers’ rights

TRADE UNIONISM

He was a trade unionist at heart and an accomplished musician.

John Burke King was born on Victoria Street, Dennery in Saint Lucia on March 27th, 1919. When he was still a baby his mother took him to Trinidad and it is there he attended school and developed a love for and learned to read music. After the tragic passing of his mother, Burke was placed in an orphanage and a few years later was taken back to Saint Lucia by an aunt.

His love for music endured the transition and he continued to study, practice and excel. During the 1940s and 1950s, Mr. King became popular on the music scene playing his favourite instrument, the saxaphone. He established a band called “The Merry Makers Orchestra” and performed with them for many years.

In the 1950s, however, as Saint Lucia welcomed the advent of universal adult suffrage and the party system of government, Mr King found himself an active member of the trade union movement and also found himself drawn to the political arena. He became a founding father of the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), serving as the Party’s Second Vice-President. He also started the St Lucia Transport Co-Operative Society, and served as the organization’s first President. Later, he remained a long-standing General Secretary of one of the island’s most influencial labour organizations, The St Lucia Workers’ Union (SLWU).

While serving in this capacity, Mr King played a vital role in ensuring worker compensation rights were observed and workforce absorption maximised when the Government of Saint Lucia, and the Castries Town Council handed over the Council’s electrical distribution operation to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, (CDC). He was also a main labour rights advocate when the Saint Lucia Telephone Service handed over the island’s telecommunications to international provider Cable & Wireless, and when water distribution was handed over to the Water & Sewerage Authority (WASA).

John Burke King played a major settlement role when workers employed with Wimpey and Seroc Construction - working on the Halcyon Days Hotel in Vieux Fort - staged an extended strike for better pay.

In 1978 John Burke King received an OBE for his contribution to the development of the trade union movement in Saint Lucia.

Holding two prominent national positions at the same time - that of Chairman of the Castries City Council and as General Secretary of the SLWU - Mr King was known to have had the occasion to write letters to himself. One such instance arose when the SLWU was the bargaining agent for the Town Council workers of Castries. As the records show, Mr King would write letters from his desk as General Secretary to the Chairman of the Castries City Council. He would then leave his Union office and go down to the Council to receive and read the same letter.

Regionally, John Burke King served in the Federal Senate when the West Indies Federation was formed in 1958. Following the Federation’s dismantling, he returned to active politics, contesting the Castries Central seat as an SLP candidate against George Mallet of the United Workers Party in 1964 - a battle which he lost. Around the same time he became one of the founding fathers of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) and served in various capacities on the executive until he became First Vice President in 1969.

Mr King was a passionate public servant and a conscientious supporter of the ordinary worker. As such, he served with distinction on many national boards in Saint Lucia including the Central Housing Authority, the National Provident Assistance Board, the National Development Corporation and the Workers Committee of the Ministry of Communications, Works and Labour. He was also associated with the Benevolence Lodge, the Saint Lucia Association of Taxi-men of which he was President and was the Founder of the Spartans Sports Club.

John Burke King suffered a major stroke in 1975. He passed away five years later on 2nd May 1980, the day following Labour Day which he considered one of the most important holidays on the national calendar.

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