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When sticking to your guns isn’t so cute

In Woodrow Wilson: The Essentials Of Political Writings, the author Ronald J. Pestritto quotes the 28th president of the United States extensively.

One of the many quotes which deals with leadership states: “Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise.”

But it cannot be lost on us that President Wilson was portrayed as a strong advocate for compromise throughout the very book with quotes such as “growth is not dishonest. Neither need compromise in politics be dishonest”, and “compromise is the true gospel of politics”.

It would seem that in the ongoing row between Minister of Education Ronald Jones and the island’s teachers, both sides have rid themselves of the harness of compromise and have ignored the true gospel that Mr Wilson preached.

By continuing to insist that the minister must meet with its membership, the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has backed itself into a corner from which it is difficult to wiggle its way out. However, in the world of industrial relations, nothing is impossible and forces in conflict have, in the past, found ways to save face in even more difficult circumstances.

However, there is another quote that those involved in the dispute should consider.
It comes from The Bible –– this one from the Gospel Of John.

When he [Jesus] had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

Mr Jones’ response, and that of some of his Cabinet colleagues and the Democratic Labour Party to the BUT demands suggest that they have taken the role of Teacher and Lord so seriously, they have no interest in the gospel of compromise.

The minister has every reason to be upset with the union for giving him such an ultimatum and for demanding his resignation, but he has made his point.
What Mr Jones needs to do right now is demonstrate that he is the mature one in this row, and take the high road instead of riding along on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s high horse.

He must meet with the teachers, listen to their concerns and act to resolve the issues once and for all.

This way, the minister will come out of this looking better in the eyes of the public and, importantly, he will demonstrate to both the teachers and the thousands of Barbadian students in his charge that sticking to your guns is seldom the way to resolve conflicts.

After all, how can he reconcile his condemnation of the Springer Memorial Secondary School student who stuck to her position when asked to pick up a wrapper with his current stance?

How can he ask the teachers to compromise when he is nailed to his stubbornness?

Instead of leading by example, Mr Jones’ disciples in the DLP and the Cabinet have all but said that no union should dictate to them, and the minister should stand his ground.

Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands all read from the same talking points last week when they lashed out at the union and spoke of the wonderful job Mr Jones and the ministry had done. Describing the protests by the educators as “craziness”, Senator Husbands even told the Senate that he was yet to find a dispute between the ministry and the teachers.

Herein lies the problem. Apparently neither Mr Jones nor the ruling DLP has seen any issues even while the teachers are complaining the education system is broken.

And if there were any doubts as to where the administration stood, Mr Stuart cleared the air last night when, in expressing confidence “the Ministry of Education knows how to do its work”, he described the impasse as “minor frictions”.

The Prime Minister also spoke about keeping the doors to dialogue open, something the DLP seemed unaware of when it issued its statement in support of Mr Jones.

As a former BUT president, Mr Jones would have fought many a battle on behalf of teachers. His transmogrification from leader of the teachers’ union to the intransigent war general cracking the whip –– note that the minister has strongly opposed corporal punishment –– is glaring; his action is a trope for his attitude towards self.

It is difficult to exaggerate the potential impact of this row on the students.
While the grown-ups fight, the children are caught in the middle of it, powerless to do anything. The irony of it all is that both sides claim to care about the students.

It is clear that the unions have lost confidence in the minister, and it is left to the Prime Minister to determine how to remedy the situation. In the meantime, we say enough is enough. It is time for both sides to read the gospel of politics as preached by President Wilson. And if the DLP and Mr Jones’ colleagues are truly concerned about his image, they should encourage him to get cracking and offer the proverbial olive branch to the teachers –– if only for the children.

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