Getting one’s retaliation in first to win?

The story of the British and Irish Lions’ 1974 rugby tour of South Africa is a fascinating one. It was one of the most controversial outings, as 32 amateurs made up of teachers, a doctor, a member of the Royal Air Force, a steelworker, a solicitor, a banker and farmers set out to challenge one of the most imposing teams ever.

The British populace opposed the tour, owing to South Africa’s apartheid system, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government had written to the team asking them not to tour.

But captain Willie John McBride, a farmer from Northern Ireland, and his team went anyway, aware of the challenge that awaited them.

The Springboks had a reputation for using foul play and physical aggression to dominate their opponents; so McBride instituted the simplest of strategies: he ordered his men to get their retaliation in first. Therefore, whenever a member of his team was in trouble and retaliated, all other Lions would clobber the nearest Springbok. The strategy worked, and the British and Irish Lions dominated
the series, winning it 3-0, with the fourth game a dubious draw.

The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW)’s demand of a 23 per cent pay rise for 2010 to 2015 smacks of getting the union’s retaliation in first. It is standard practice for unions to ask for more, and for employers to offer less, than they plan to settle for. But 23 per cent? In this economy?

The NUPW has said it has evidence to support its contention that Government can afford to meet its demand, and we will take the union at its word. However, it would serve the NUPW well to make public the information that it has.

In any event, the union made it clear its members were angry at the Freundel Stuart administration over Government’s decision to return parliamentarians’ salaries to the pre-2014 level, when the MPs took a ten per cent cut as part of the administration’s austerity programme.

“Most members felt very incensed about that. They have been holding strain from since 2010; that would have been the last increase that they would have received and they believe that the Government is very insensitive to determine at this stage they are going to restore the ten per cent cut.

“So workers are adamant that they must receive a salary increase, because if the Government can restore the ten per cent, it meant that things must be looking up,” acting general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Delcia Burke, said last week.

NUPW acting Deputy General Secretary Delcia Burke
NUPW acting Deputy General Secretary Delcia Burke

This suggests the union was getting its retaliation in first and early. We hope it does not intend to clobber the administration into submission; and whether or not it succeeds in getting what it wants is left to be seen. However, like McBride, whose policy on the South African tour was “one in, all in”, the NUPW will need the full support of its membership, if it is to be successful.

Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has already said a 23 per cent pay rise is out of the question; that it would cost the Treasury $150 million. Speaking on the state-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last Friday evening, Sinckler warned that such an increase would be unsustainable and Government would be forced to implement some uncomfortable measures in order to pay for it.

Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler

“I am not sure that the economy could afford to sustain such a substantial increase in salaries, because I don’t know what figures the unions, particularly the NUPW, have been looking at . . . but the figures that I have seen do not suggest that such would be sustainable . . . .

“And then you have to come back and take even further measures to do fiscal consolidation that may very well wipe out those gains or even cause further discomfiture to the Public Service,” he said.

Clearly, Mr Sinckler was making sure everyone was told the union was seeking to reverse the gains the economy was beginning to register.

But in seeking to get his retaliation in first, or early, the minister failed to address –– and was not asked by the CBC news presenter about –– the restoration of the ten per cent. The NUPW has argued that by giving themselves what the public sees as a pay rise, the people elected to serve are demonstrating they can afford to pay. Mr Sinckler has proven to be quite an abstemious minister, and
he will not want the public to believe he is attempting to reverse his own gains. He should abandon the proposed ten per cent.

After all, there comes the time when getting your retaliation in first will not win you the series.

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