No choice but to strike
In light of yesterday’s protest action, which included over 3,500 union members, noted political scientist Tennyson Joseph says the Government should expect more protests from trade unions once austerity measures continue.
In his assessment of the yesterday’s strike by some public sector employees, which was led by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and supported by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), Joseph said it should serve as an indication that trade unions were prepared to show the Government that they had “had enough”.
In addition, he told Barbados TODAY he believed the trade union leaders were getting a sense that members were losing confidence in them and so they had to begin to use their “weapon”.
“The only weapon you have is to call a strike, and it is only in calling a strike that the people talking to you or listening to you would take you seriously. I am not sure what else I can do as a union leader if I can just go on talk and talk and talk and nothing happens. And they are operating within a context that they are sensing that the public is losing confidence in the trade union movement. So what else do you do,” said Joseph, adding that he expected “more of those incidents rather than less”.
“There should be that expectation. Don’t forget the context in which we are and it has been going on for a long time, is that the Government is basically introducing austerity measures, and we have had about six to seven years of austerity measures,” he explained.
Adding that the only “legitimate response” of a trade union movement during times of austerity measures was to resist it, Joseph said that kind of behaviour by the unions had been absent in the past.
“So the Government’s austerity was basically being allowed by a compliant trade union movement. What happened yesterday was an indication, and you could hear it form what the union leaders were saying, that they are no longer going to allow it to happen and they have had enough of it,” said Joseph, pointing out that as a result of yesterday’s action by the trade union movement one could see a “slowing down or trimming” of the kind of austerity measures by Government in the future.
Joseph said he saw yesterday’s action as the trade union movement’s way of demonstrating that they were able to mobilize their members and that they could strike.
“So the significance of that for the politics would indicate that going forward the Government would not expect what happened in the past, with the unions basically adjusting themselves to whatever policy measures the Government had been pursuing without necessarily responding in an aggressive way,” said Joseph.
Asked if he believed the strike action was too hasty and the stakeholders could have had more dialogue, Joseph insisted that the trade unions had made their position clear that they did not want any more promises.
“Too hasty in what sense? In other words how long have the layoffs been going on? When was the last time you had a strike? When was the last time you had a national shutdown? It is hardly in the memory of most of the people involved now . . . . And of course too hasty also implies that there’s no more room to go, but there is always more room to go. You can shutdown a country for two days and you can shutdown a country for six weeks,” explained Joseph.
“I think the union leader [Akanni McDowall] was very clear when he explained it. In other words, he said that he does not trust the Prime Minister [Freundel Stuart] because the last time when there was the [issue] with the NCC workers, the Prime Minister met with them and promised a speedy response to the plight of the NCC [workers]. The response was to take it to a tribunal and the tribunal has not met or sat on the issue. So I am not sure what other response [Stuart] would have unless he would repeat the things he said all over again,” said Joseph.