When dogma would bow to dialogue
Civility is not saying negative or harsh things. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we are sharing this territorial freedom of political discussion. If our discourse is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, that’s uncivil. –– Richard Dreyfuss
You would think that after two and a quarter hours of meeting with Sir Roy Trotman on the pressing and touchy matter of retrenchment of Transport Board workers, and by obvious mediatory acumen averting planned Barbados Workers’ Union industrial action today –– on account of promises made and broken –– Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would have had something consoling, conciliatory, or at least sensitively philosophical to say to us all.
Declining comment on the nature and outcome of discussion specifically requested under his chairmanship by the BWU’s leadership is not kosher; and is even less so when in these times of anxiety our Head of Government refers members of the Press to a much less eloquent Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley, who with not much more information than we got from the Prime Minister, tersely uttered that “discussions were cordial”, and that he would “get back to the Press in the fullness of time”. When that will be is anybody’s guess.
So while we applauded the obvious civility, critical analysis and sharing of freedom of discussion that obtained at this most important meeting yesterday before the Prime Minister, we couldn’t help but glower at Mr Stuart’s reluctance to publicly engage us afterwards. We were reminded of Lord Acton’s dictum that everything secret degenerates . . . ; that nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.
We were left to hear from Sir Roy, who is not averse to communicating with the public on matters of import, and certainly on issues affecting the well-being of his labour constituency. The BWU’s general secretary took the trouble to give the media the essence of his called for discussion with the Prime Minister.
“We had a fairly lengthy meeting with the Prime Minister and the meeting centred around the question, not of whether the Transport Board needs to follow the position which the Government articulated late last year, but rather what are the processes that are being used; what are the kinds of enhancement arrangements that are being considered; what protections there are for the most vulnerable, and how, by and large, we bring a greater level of ease to people who are losing their employment at this time?
“That discussion of necessity took some considerable time. The Government is going to take some considerable time to study more fully the position that we have outlined and, for our part, we have made a very conscious decision that the industrial action which was planned for tomorrow, Tuesday, that is now on hold.”
And, we have learnt from Transport Board general manager Sandra Forde, who participated in the discussion yesterday at Government Headquarters, that “talks were inconclusive and both parties will continue discussions next week”. So industrial action may yet arise, as it is currently only “on hold”; and will be a factor if talks on Government’s retrenching programme remain in “inconclusive” mode in circumstances that are unstable and urgent.
Clearly, the issuance of dismissal letters by the Transport Board is of some concern to the BWU, since, as Sir Roy has implied, there were “many areas” down for further discussion between the board and the union, which had now been propelled before the Prime Minister for settlement. And as far as the union leader is concerned, on the issue of the layoffs dialogue is yet not through, “and it is understood that we have to continue discussions”.
Still, to the Prime Minister’s credit, a tone of rapprochement appears to have been set on this burning matter under his chairmanship. We take note of Sir Roy’s comments.
“We have discussed all of the areas that were up for discussion such as separation packages, and they have been recognized and respected by both sides. The Government understands what we are saying, I have no doubt. The Government hopes that we understand that Government is cash-strapped in a manner that is unprecedented.
“While we accept that, we are taking the position that what we know now, we knew in January, and that there should have been further discussions by the Ministry of Finance or other officials and ourselves after our meetings in January, and where those meetings were not held we had every reason to believe that the ministry was examining that body of proposals that had been put that Government said it was studying.”
Thankful we are that industrial action has been averted as it is. More grateful are we that the politics of anger and control is paling before exchange and dialogue; that thoughtful discussion from differing positions can yet spell some hope.