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Divided loyalties

Within the trade union movement there is a level of political rivalry that plays itself out. Traditionally those who contest the leadership positions in trade unions are known to volunteer their service to the cause of representing the interest of the workers they serve.

Those who offer themselves to serve accept that they are subject, like the politicians in a national election, to win the majority vote of the electorate in order to gain election to office. These individuals are not oblivious to the fact that, like politicians they are called upon to mount a campaign and to canvass their constituents, all in the effort to garner needed support.

It is therefore a given that process of elective politics is engaged. It now matters to those contesting elections they must win the confidence of the members, but most importantly, get those members to cast their vote on polling day.

Associated with the electoral process is the thing known as competition. In this exercise, all candidates assume responsibility for promoting and marketing him or herself. This includes highlighting their competencies, attributes, skills, interests, programmes and other offerings; including changes and improvements they intend to effect once elected to office.

It is expected that each candidate will have their own supporters, who are expected to lobby the support of other members. Candidates should come to expect that they are sure to have detractors. Given that each candidate and his /her supporters will be striving to mobilizing maximum support, it means that the exercise will see all parties doing all in their power to state their claims.

In the process of trade union elections, it is accepted that best practices and standards of behaviour will be observed. It is not to be expected that the cut and thrust of partisan politics will be a prominent feature. Surely the stakes are not the same, but having said that, the power and prestige that seemingly comes with the position of leader, is enough to rouse the interest of most. Within the English speaking Caribbean, there are signs that there is a level of partisan behaviour that is beginning to creep into Trade Union politics and elections. There may not be over whelming evidence to support the claim that persons who are aligned with a political party are being pushed into the leadership of trade unions, but based on political appointments that some individuals have received during or immediately after their tenure of office, is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Is this a healthy thing for the Trade Union movement? Whereas there is nothing wrong with any individual expressing their entitlement to freedom of association, it begs the question whether political parties are attempting to influence the leadership of Trade Unions.

This act can easily divide the membership of trade unions along partisan political lines. Inasmuch that unity is strongly promoted and desired within the trade union movement, the potential for partisan political infiltration should not be ignored.

It is a fact that Caribbean trade unions were born out of political lobbying groups, which formed the basis of the mass based political parties we know today. However, there is no denying that trade unions have since established themselves as independent organisations that have and continue to make lasting contributions to national development.

The fact the there is a role for trade unions to play on the national front, where they can influence amongst other things social and economic policies, and labour and social legislation, means that they must be taken seriously. It is for this reason that there may be ongoing efforts by the leadership of individual political parties to manipulate the leadership of trade unions in order to win their support for intended actions, programmes or policies.

Whereas on face value it can be argued that there is no harm in this, on the other side of the coin, it can be contended that this provides the perfect foil for masking partisan political infiltration within the walls of trade unions.

What is the message that is to be conveyed, which current and prospective Trade Union leaders should take careful note of? Should it be that they ought to be weary of the decision they may make to publicly associate with a political party, as this can only serve to undermine the efforts of the trade union they represent, divide the members along partisan political lines, and call into question the personnel integrity and motivation of the individual.

* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.

Visit our Website: www.regionalmanagementservicesinc

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