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BSTU has my vote

Like all Barbadians I am anxious about the current industrial relations scene in our country. Like most Barbadians I would not like to see strikes either by the BWU nor the BSTU.

However, like the BWU and BSTU leadership and most of their members, I understand that these current impasses represent the hill on which they choose to die or live to see another day.

Barbados is a peculiar country that has survived the years better than its physical resource endowments would support. This has been due, one economist has suggested, to its “X Factor”, namely, its management capability. I do not think the economist meant “management” only in the sense of the owners and directors of business.

Surely what was also meant was the quality of the decision-making abilities brought to the table by workers and their representatives. It also means the capacities and actions of its unemployed over the years.

Barbadian people have worked our country and in the process, like now, we have been called “passive”, a term that is used to whip us whenever we do not act how other people think we should. It is even used by some Barbadians (Barbados Today editorial January 15, Adrian Clarke column in Barbados TODAY January 16, and others). But look at what our actions have brought us as a country.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am really quite proud to be Barbadian. Not only have Barbadians since Independence managed what resources we have, including our capacity to borrow judiciously (and otherwise), we have managed our social relations to date without chaos or too much human loss.

Those relations include a very small island, a history of slavery and colonialism and the heritage of that, the return of many Barbadians who no longer understand their country since it is neither the one they left nor the one they are coming from, and the influx of many persons from elsewhere who all want a piece of the rock and of the action (many legitimately so).

I do not digress from the current industrial relations scene with all this. What is at stake here and now is what all the above has bequeathed us. Our trade union leaders may sometimes make errors, but they know the value and vulnerability of the individual Barbadian worker. They are also Barbadians and want to see their country thrive.

Who would think not? Our employers and managers who also make mistakes are committed to their reasons for being in business, and they too, as Sir John Stanley once reminded me, are Barbadians and want to see their country thrive. He was only half right about the Barbadians among his group.

Barbados as we know is host to businesses, like LIME among others, whose interests lie far beyond these shores. In these times those interests cannot even be aligned with other countries. Owners of capital, financial and physical, now constitute a class unto themselves who do not recognise borders of nation states. Some among our own Barbadian owners now participate quite comfortably in that class as we work the earth and human capital of other countries in the region.

So the responsibilities and duties of trade unions in this scenario, including the BSTU, NUPW, BUT and CTUSAB must be directed more towards protection of the individual worker.

I have heard the argument made by far more people than made sense, that the BWU is wrong and the BSTU is wrong because their actions will harm the country and the country’s people — its children. And I ponder on the individual worker who in all cases have been totally harmed.

Where is the public sympathy for that worker? And I ask this of a public who will be the one to fill that space as most publics become, not leaders of either business or trade unions, but the individual worker.

I cannot offer any advice to the leadership of either the BWU or BSTU. I will be provocative and offer advice to the young leader of LIME’s negotiating team. Act more wisely than you have to date. You are not in an employer’s market as you assume. You are in a Barbadian employer’s market. We Bajans stupid.

To the local businessmen and few women and to the Minister of Education and his colleagues I say this. Your efforts to break BSTU to do what you determine is your job have probably succeeded. If public sentiment is anything to go by, BSTU cannot be getting new membership and is likely losing because of its clear inability to protect its individual worker in this scenario.

This is not a prophecy, it is what I think has already happened. And what a catastrophe that would be if I am right, because BSTU is right now the only union among public sector unions that I would join as an individual worker.

— Margaret D. Gill

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