More than Laff-it-Off
I am giving thanks that I am so comfortable in my skin that I went to see Laff-it-Off on Saturday night in my work clothes. I knew that if I’d put it off any longer, I would probably miss the opportunity.
Laff-It-Off 2016 is again epically epic. I first got interested in Laugh-It-Off around age eight. It was the only date night I remember my parents going to on a regular yearly basis. I was so upset that I could not go because they would hype the event for weeks ahead of going and always seemed to have a good time.
When I became a woman, I went to the production and continue to see it yearly. Laff-It-Off is a Bajan tradition I hope never dies. Give them money and give them land. We really should give those responsible for it whatever they need to ensure that my great-grands can be a part of the wonderful tradition of that show.
Laff-It-Off was not the only source of belly laughs for me in recent days. I had quite a tickle a few days ago when a stranded FLOW representative described the strike by airport workers as an act of terrorism. Perhaps the FLOW representative was blinded by their own eye mote.
The air and seaport workers came out in solidarity with the workers at the Barbados Water Authority who had been on strike for six days pushing an agreement for over 30 million dollars worth of back pay. The workers of the BWA had not been very effective in getting the attention of Government and naturally the union availed itself of its next option. The resulting discomfort which was experienced in the island is not the fault of the union, but the fault of the negotiating parties who caused the union to have to activate their singular most effective tool – to show the might of a collective workforce.
It took about six hours of collective action for the Government of Barbados to place a solid proposal on the table which was then accepted by the union. I am heartened to know that at least that little bit of life is left in our democracy. Where the church, professional groups and “John Public” in Barbados seem to have abandoned their island at a time when she needs agitation to right her course, at least the unions have piped up at intervals and offered some effort.
Again, the level of public analysis on the strikes was disheartening to me. Comments such as ‘the strike will kill off tourism’ have no historical or even current validity. In 2014, who can forget the strike by London tube workers which saw thousands of rush hour commuters displaced? In 2011, American telecommunications giant Verizon was hit by a mammoth show of solidarity when 45 000 workers picketed it over contract concerns. Which tourist do we have visiting Barbados that does not understand the necessity and operationalization of strike action?
The Government of Barbados has earned a reputation for being unresponsive to the calls for dialogue from its various constituencies. However, I am not surprised that the Barbados Workers’ Union was able to broker such a timely resolution with the Government in this instance. The majority of workers in the general civil service and the statutory corporations of Barbados have not had a pay increase since 2009. Finding other divisions who would have joined the BWA strike in solidarity would not have been a difficult task.
Additionally, finding other unions to join the collective action would also not have been a challenge. The National Union of Public Workers continues to grapple with the National Conservation Commission and the Tribunal case as well as pay increase demands at the Grantley Adams International Airport. The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union fights against the Ministry of Education on the Combermere environmental issue without so much as a meeting of acknowledgement for the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Environment.
The Government was forced into action because they were reminded where the true power in a democracy rests. With highly unrealistic revenue targets freshly announced in the Estimates, the Administration has stifled itself of any wiggle room in the generation of revenue. The decision to close the two ports of entry was an absolutely boss move by the gatekeepers of labour.
The action shows my general hypothesis that our democracy is under threat more from the non-participation of people at all levels than the evil in which politicians engage, is sound and worth engagement. Even the most indifferent Government can be brought to heel if the people of the country are vigilant and willing to set the parameters of functioning. Where the people under an unenlightened Government cower and retreat, then they have given the Government the last ingredient to corrupt every bedrock of the social fabric.
Despite my high commendation, one swallow does not a belly full make. Unions in Barbados still have significant details of survival to reconcile. The organization over the last few years has been on the decline, both in terms of numbers and significance. The terms of engagement which many companies offer now make the union a seemingly unnecessary luxury to the average subcontractor or independent service provider.
Orchestrated and systematic adjustments will have to be made to keep the union as a relevant entity in Barbados. Notwithstanding, the BWU was right and squarely at its crease not to die a sooner than necessary death at the hands of a callous and out maneuvered Government.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies.)