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Thu, 03.24.1910

Aggie Bernard, Labor Activist born

Aggie Bernard

*Aggie Bernard was born on this date in 1910. She was an Afro Caribbean laundress and labor activist. 

From Kingston, Jamaica, in May 1938, Aggie Bernard, only 28 years old and full of life summed up the situation and decided to act. Bustamante, who had decided to lead the workers, was arrested and jailed; soon the strikers would have to give in and go crawling back on the same terms. After three days of strike, Bernard, risking her livelihood and future, promised David McLaughlin, one of the dockworkers that she would help. With only five shillings and sixpence, she bought sugar, coffee, and bread, enough to stave off the hunger of the strikers.

Her courage and initiative caught the attention of the sympathizers who then gave more money for food. A reliable feeding program was underway and lasted to the end of the two-week strike when Bustamante was released, and the strikers' demand for higher wages was met. Norman Manley had secured Bustamante’s release. This was a benchmark in the workers’ struggle; from here on the stage was set for issues of labor and trade unionism, of rights and freedoms to advance the cause of workers. Aggie Bernard was the principal female activist in the struggle. She married David McLaughlin but preferred to use her maiden name.

She remained an activist all her life, joining the Bustamante Industrial Trades Union and later the Peoples National Party. She is reported to have led the singing on H.A. L. Simpson’s platform when he ran for political office against Ashenheim and was one of the main speakers on the platforms of St William Grant and others. As late as 1964 Ms. Aggie helped to feed striking workers of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She was a devout Catholic and a member of the Cathedral all her life. She had no children but adopted a boy and a girl and helped many others. In 1976, Bernard was awarded the Order of Distinction, by the Government of Jamaica for her contribution to nationhood.

Later, in 1979, on the recommendation of the Women’s Bureau, the Inter-American Commission on Women, an arm of the OAS, conferred on her a special Certificate of Merit. Aggie Bernard, O.D., died on October 7, 1980, in the Kingston Public Hospital. She was given an official funeral and buried in the National Heroes Park.


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