Put down the fiddle, Mr Stuart!
It is said that Emperor Nero –– perhaps a man of few words –– played the fiddle with much verve as most of Rome burnt around him in the great fire of 64 AD.
Many centuries later in a 1944 operation to take three bridges in Holland as part of the war effort against the Germans, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery so botched the effort that it resulted in a significant number of British soldiers surrendering to the enemy.
Then there is the case of United States 19th century General George McClellan whose cautious nature often morphed into inertia. He was said to be so slow to take decisive action that during the American Civil War he lost a number of skirmishes against the smaller Confederate Army simply based on his preoccupation with minute details and a love affair with sloth.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, often referred to as “Silent Cal”, is said during his tenure to have dedicated at least 11 hours to sleep during the night and additional time to a few winks during the day. When the announcement of his death in 1933 was made, legend has it that a confidante remarked: “Dead, but how can you tell?”
And this brings us to our esteemed Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the ongoing and seemingly escalating impasse between the Barbados Investment Development Corporation and the National Union of Public Workers.
We are quite aware of his proficiency with the English Language, his general erudition and his clarity of mind and delivery during anticipated and planned public engagements.
We do not form part of his inner circle and so are unfamiliar with his prowess under impromptu, off-the-cuff speaking assignments. But we will assume –– correctly or incorrectly –– that our country’s leader is quite comfortable in circumstances where speech is the demand.
Last week Prime Minister Stuart noted the seriousness of a possible national strike and the likely impact it could have on the country’s struggling economy.
“I think that wisdom prescribes, and maturity demands that we try to exhaust all of the remedies at our disposal and aim to resolve our differences without a resort to any mechanism that could result in the reversal of the gains which we have been making on the national economic front,” Stuart said then.
He also expressed his confidence –– real or diplomatic –– in the country’s labour movement.
“It was my firmly held conviction that the trade unions in Barbados are responsible organizations, and that if the stage is reached where the national interest becomes the central issue, the trade unions of Barbados have always been able to, or could always be counted on, to put the national interest first.”
Irrespective of Mr Stuart’s faith or lack thereof in the labour movement, or his utterances of what wisdom prescribes or maturity demands, the spectre of a national strike should have roused him from any complacency. Instead, our leader has seemingly retreated into protocol and verbose.
“The matter has not been referred to me. My intervention has not been requested or invoked. When I spoke to the Minister of Labour on the matter her intervention was not invoked; the intervention of the Chief Labour Officer was not invoked, according to what the Minister of Labour told me.
“So I do not know, there’s no evidence available to me that all of our procedures, all of our accepted procedures have failed or have broken down, and that the only resort left for the union is to call a national strike,” Stuart said, while adding that he was ready to address the issue if it was referred to him.
This statement came from Mr Stuart fewer than 26 months after he had intervened one Sunday in the impasse between the National Conservation Commission and the union to avert industrial action. The labour movement came out the worse of the two in that situation with workers feeling betrayed by their union and dissatisfied with their representation. Then, the union had reposed their trust in Mr Stuart.
But now the leader of Barbados wants to be invited into a national dispute. As thousands march, garbage starts to fill the streets, disgruntled cries reverberate across the island, and Barbados –– metaphorically –– threatens to burn, Mr Stuart is of the opinion that “there’s no evidence” available to him that “all of our procedures, all of our accepted procedures have failed or have broken down”. Wake up and look out the window, Mr Stuart.
Mr Stuart is on record as saying he doesn’t read newspapers or follow local media but we are still confident that he knows that major industrial unrest is currently engaged in Barbados. We are also confident that he is aware that he has been Prime Minister for the past five years.
There is no need to await an invitation to act.