Of luxury cars and leaders of our unions
It is an age-old tactic used with telling effect sometimes to discredit and neutralize critics who are either causing discomfort for politicians, or have considerable clout to influence significant blocs of voters to act in ways detrimental to the interests of these politicians and the parties they represent.
The tactic involves taking a sensitive issue, which has emotional appeal, to the stakeholder group in question, and using it to rile the said persons up against the critic so he or she is no longer able to exercise the kind of influence over the stakeholder group as before.
We saw an attempt to use this tactic last week when Minister of Industry Donville Inniss decided to go after the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), following their harsh criticism of the Freundel Stuart administration for moving to reinstate the ten per cent that was cut from ministers’ and parliamentarians’ salaries to support Government’s deficit-reduction efforts.
In response, the NUPW subsequently placed on the table a proposal for a 23 per cent salary hike for public workers, contending they too had sacrificed to help fix the ailing economy and had not had a pay increase in seven years. The proposal is obviously discomforting for the administration because, as Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler puts it, the economy, going through a delicate recovery, cannot bear such an increase at this time.
The NUPW leadership have made it clear, however, that they will not be backing down. Attempting to drive a wedge between the NUPW leadership and rank and file members, Mr Inniss accused the leadership of buying a luxury class BMW “on the backs of public servants” for the general secretary to drive around, hiding it but seeking “to keep noise” over MPs getting back their ten per cent.
Come to think of it, is there anything really outrageous about a trade union leader driving around in a luxury vehicle in Barbados in 2016? While it may seem to be a bit of a contradiction because such cars are symbols of the luxurious lifestyle of the wealthy against whom trade unions have historically railed on behalf of the “downtrodden workers”, a union leader in a top-of-the-line ride is not a new development in Barbados.
It began with the “heavy roller” Sir Frank Walcott, when he was general secretary of Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU). Back in the 1970s, his fully loaded pearl white Jaguar, registration number M1766, was easily recognizable on the streets of Barbados. There were just a few on the island at the time. The late Sir Richie Haynes, who had not yet entered elective politics, had also owned one –– registration number G103.
In fact, luxury cars on the whole were few back then. Errol Barrow drove one of the few Mercedes around. His vehicle, registration number M1003, was also easily recognizable. Yet Sir Frank’s Jaguar was never a public issue even though, given living standards then, the BWU could easily have been accused of engaging in ostentatious living on the backs of the workers.
It has been standard practice, since then, for the BWU general secretary to have a luxury car. Sir Roy Trotman, Sir Frank’s successor, initially drove a Mercedes that was later changed to a BMW. Current general secretary Toni Moore drives a Mercedes. Given this precedent in the trade union movement, what is wrong about NUPW general secretary Roslyn Smith driving around in a BMW?
At any rate, in the current Barbadian context, such cars in a sense are not really a luxury any more. Lots of ordinary Barbadians are driving them. Mr Inniss’ objection, therefore, amounts to a red herring. The intention clearly was to take the heat off the Government over the restoration of the ten per cent which, as we said in a previous Editorial, is being done at the wrong time.
If Government is asking ordinary Barbadians to hold strain for a while longer in the interest of the recovering economy, its leaders must set the example.
We hold no brief for the NUPW leadership. If they choose to become aligned with partisan politics, that is their right, even if it is upsetting to the leadership of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). At any rate, wasn’t the BWU leadership associated for many years with the DLP?
Not just Sir Frank, but several of his lieutenants, including Sir Roy, Mr Evelyn Greaves and Mr Robert Morris. Still wearing their union caps, they ran for the DLP and were elected to the House of Assembly.
Our duty, as a serious newspaper, is to put these issues in their true perspective for the enlightenment of our readers in particular and also the general public.