Government urged to pay attention
Contending that the dispute between the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) was more about serious underlying issues involving the Freundel Stuart administration, two leading political scientists are urging the Government to sit up and pay attention.
Dr Tennyson Joseph and Peter Wickham, who both view the now disputed eleventh-hour settlement as a victory for the island’s trade union movement, insist that the impasse was not merely about the dismissed workers of the statutory corporation.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Joseph who heads the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, said the workers’ struggle against austerity was at the heart of the matter and the NUPW, fully backed by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), sent a strong message that workers have had enough.
“What was happening in the past is that the Government was given a free hand to implement IMF [International Monetary Fund] decisions. What you were getting from the Barbados Government is austerity upon austerity,” said Joseph.
“When you listen to the last budget it is taxation and the removal of allowances and cutbacks. What the union did was practically demonstrate that you could resist the austerity package, you could break it,” he added, noting this was a significant departure from the previous position of the unions, which adhered to “false notions” of working with the Government.
Joseph argued this new response should force Prime Minister Stuart to rethink the current economic programme.
“The Government, I am assuming, will present its austerity programme differently to a point where it may be tempered or slowed down. And this may have implications for their relationship with the IMF and so on. But the fact is there is a limit to which you can impose austerity on the people. That is one of the lessons coming out of Greece
He went on: “So I think that the strike may force them to be a little more balanced. Nobody is denying there are economic challenges but you can’t go about doing it crudely when there are human lives involved. You have to do it in a balanced way and I think that this is one of the things that will come out in what I deem as a victory for the labour movement.”
Joseph further knocked the Prime Minister for taking what he called “a bold, loud and aggressive stand” against the unions when the actions of his Government should have been more conciliatory.
“It suggests a Prime Minister that is out of touch. If a Prime Minister is declaring the way he declared, one would have expected a protracted dispute. But in one day, the Prime Minister is making those bold declarations and the next day you are seeing the same union leaders that he was castigating, hugging and celebrating with his own Cabinet members.”
Wickham too argued that Prime Minister Stuart did not help the situation “by speaking so aggressively” but he lauded unions for not engaging the matter.
“To their credit, they have not responded to the Prime Minister’s rather provocative remarks but instead focused on the fact that in terms of the real issues that are at stake, that a battle has been won. Their constituents would be happy to see there is a seriousness of purpose on the part of this group and that they can actually win battles on their behalf.”
Wickham expressed the view that the larger issue at stake was the prevailing low confidence in the current administration and the outcome was in the Government’s best interest.
He said: “When we listen to the NUPW, especially when they spoke about the treatment they were receiving from the Government, it went back to the time the 3,000 public servants were laid off. It talked about that infamous list that was supposed to be prepared and scrutinized and the fact that it never materialized and they seemed to identify a catalog of incidents where trust has broken down.
“I think that is the broader issue. Right now, Government is suffering badly from a lack of trust. It is not trusted by the social partners and certainly that should not be the case. Now when you hear the union speaking, it makes more sense to have people focusing on the issue of BIDC which is easier to fix than the broader issues of trust and this is the reason why I am saying certainly that this type of outcome would have been the best thing for the Government because they had to compartmentalize the issue into one relating to the BIDC and thereafter Customs but it does not allow broader political issues, which is really at the root of all this, to come to the fore.”
Wickham further argued that it was useless to discuss who were the winners and the losers, suggesting that Barbados was the real victor in the circumstances. “I am happy that a resolution has been made and I think Barbados is the winner, especially in this very fragile economic environment and, moreover, on the eve of Crop Over when the last thing you want is to have wide-scale disruption as it relates to the tourism industry,” he said.