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Out with the old and in with the new

. . . You cannot overlook the woman by speaking about qualifications only. When they begin to speak about the candidate must have a Master’s degree in industrial relations, it is a big joke. When they speak of familiarity with information technology and social media, that is another piece of nonsense. I told them, you put [Rosalyn] Smith in place and then you can use that procedure to get a deputy; and having done that, you would have someone who you would “blood” as a deputy for four or five years to take over. 

–– National Union of Public Workers General Council member Danny Gill.

If the National Union of Public Workers’ Danny Gill is having trouble understanding exactly what is happening within his own NUPW with the choice of a successor for retiring general secretary Dennis Clarke, he just needs to call up Veronica Griffith at the Barbados Workers’ Union for a quick lesson.

By now Ms Griffith would have come to terms with many of the realities Mr Gill is still having trouble comprehending. Like how does a dying trade union movement seek to remain relevant? Is it about continuing with the same old, same old?

Or, now that the grand old dukes have finally decided to step aside from the helm, does the movement seek to renew and rebuild with fresh faces and a fresh approach?

Most surprising has been the degree of unpreparedness for Mr Clarke’s pending departure.

At least in the BWU’s case, the union had indicated from early that Sir Roy Trotman was stepping down, and immediately it became clear who his likely successor/s would be.

In fact, the BWU sought to “blood” two potential replacements until Julian Hunte left for “greener pastures”, leaving an initially disappointed Sir Roy, who never hid his emotions on the matter, to focus his efforts on Toni Moore.

The only surprise in the BWU process came when Ms Griffith decided to throw her hat in the ring, egged on, no doubt, by those who felt, on the basis of supercession, the veteran of 40 years’ experience should have been be an automatic choice, since she was active in the labour movement when Ms
Moore was still in Pampers; or that a “neophyte” could not handle the serious challenges of today’s movement. But neither, it would seem, could the old guard.

Not to take away anything from the worthy contributions of Mr Clarke and Sir Roy, the two labour titans of this past two to three decades are both demitting office with a huge plume of uncertainty swirling over the head of organized labour.

Indeed, these are not the best of times for the trade union movement. The present unsettled atmosphere is epitomized by  high unemployment, widespread retrenchment and a fragmented Social Partnership in which the spirit of cooperation is at an all time low. Must we therefore continue as we were on this never-ending journey to nowhere?

Not if NUPW president Walter Maloney has anything to do with it. He has already made it clear his union cannot continue to use the same strategies it employed back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

In fact, he has even hinted that the union may have to look outside to fill the post of general secretary, while strongly endorsing the election of 38-year-old Ms Moore as general secretary of the BWU.

As he puts it, “talent doesn’t have to be at 60 or 50”. This is not to say that persons of Rosalyn Smith’s calibre and competence don’t have a place. They do!

But we believe Mr Maloney is on the right track, since the NUPW needs to be thinking not only in terms of measuring up to the needs of the worker, but also to the BWU in terms of vibrance and freshness of approach –– which will of necessity require that it takes immediate steps to shed its cloak of old, and don a new and bright labour armour.


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