Bermudian strike brings economy to a grinding halt

"Bermuda. Get away to ti all!" urge colorful advertisements in the Sunday travel sections. But travelers arriving in Bermuda these days will be hard put to enjoy the mid-Atlantic island's pleasant climate. A three-week-old labor dispute has virtually shut down the important tourist industry and brought the British colony's economy to a standstill.

The dispute's root causes lie in a mix of racial conflict and economic distress. Nearly two-thirds of Bermuda's 60,000 people are black -- and for the most part of the lower end of the economic scale. Using a variety of political, economic, and social pressure tactics, the blacks have gained some redress to the situation. But still they regard their position in Bermudian society as "inferior," to quote a recent communication issued by the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU).

At immediate issue in the labor strife is the size of a wage boost for 1,500 of the BIU's lower-paid workers. The BIU is demanding a 22 percent increase, the government is holding out for 16 percent. There now appears to be some movement toward a compromise.

BIU president Bottiwell Simmons indicated over the weekend that he would give serious consideration to any new government offer but he made it clear it would have to be "very close" to the 22 percent.

Whether this small concession on the part of BIU allows room for maneuver in the labor negotiations remains to be seen. But even if the strike, which has now led many of the island's hotels to close their doors, does materialize, the root causes of the long-simmering dispute remain to be solved.

Many Bermudian blacks argue that there is one justice for whites and another for blacks. This feeling has sparked some of the racial turbulence that on occasion has spilled into the streets of Hamilton, the island's capital.

It's a side of Bermuda which very few tourists see -- and which white Bermudians ignore, island blacks often argue.

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