Unions under attack, says Comissiong
Social activist David Comissiong is accusing two of the three sectors of the Social Partnership – Government and the private sector – of engaging in “an open conspiracy” against the trade union movement.
And, Comissiong charged, the plot also involved other “collaborators” who use coded language such as “privatization”, “down-sizing of the public sector”, “retrenchment of public workers” and “pain” in their attacks on the labour movement and workers.
“At this very moment, the social and economic elite of Barbados – the big private sector business interests – along with their collaborators and fellow travellers in the Freundel Stuart administration, and to some extent in both major parties, are gearing up for a fearsome assault on the public sector workers of our nation and on the jobs that they depend upon for their livelihood,” Comissiong said in a press release.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the attorney-at-law and political activist to issue the release.
However, the island’s largest public sector union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has come in recently for criticism by senior Government operatives for the “militancy” of its leaders.
For example, it was on March 26 that Minister of Education Ronald Jones and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport Irene Sandiford-Garner had gone on the offensive against the NUPW top officials, suggesting they were in bed with the Mia Mottley-led Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Without calling the NUPW by name, Jones told a branch meeting of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at the Alleyne School in Belleplaine, St Andrew that trade union leaders were “holding the hands of the political leader and marching up and down”, a clear reference to participation of members of the NUPW’s top brass in the recent Opposition-sponsored march against the Stuart administration’s handling of the economy.
In reference to the upcoming NUPW election scheduled for Wednesday, in which President Akanni McDowall is being challenged by Deputy General-Treasurer Roy Greenidge, Jones said: “We know that they meet. Every one of those persons on a particular side is [a] member of the BLP — strong and diabolical supporters of the BLP. . . so they are running as a team. They could as well call themselves Team BLP.”
His position was strongly supported by Sandiford-Garner, who called on the NUPW to “leave politics out of trade unionism.
“Your union leaders must not come to you as politicians. Leave the politics out of trade unionism, leave it out!” Sandiford-Garner advised.
In addition, last Friday, former union president Walter Maloney, who has been linked in the past to the DLP, suggested the NUPW had lost its way under McDowall’s leadership, and had destroyed in one fell swoop the mutual respect between the trade union and Government.
“I am really not happy. I have heard some commentators say that the union has become more militant but it seems as though they do not know the definition of militancy. If militancy is everyday you walk around Broad Street chanting and at the end of that there is nothing tangible to show for it, then I think that is misplaced militancy,” Maloney told the DLP lunchtime lecture.
However, Comissiong believes the leaders of all the trade unions are under attack and in for a “monumental battle and will need all the support and solidarity they can get”.
He acknowledged that the economy is in crisis, but felt Government should not treat the unions as enemies.
The NUPW has demanded a 23 per cent pay rise of public workers – a figure which has been roundly criticized by many in the administration, while the Barbados Workers Union is demanding a 15 per cent increase.
Also last week, the private sector warned it could no longer afford to maintain jobs out of sheer patriotism.
Though not explicitly stating that layoffs were on the horizon, President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Eddy Abed told a BCCI business luncheon at the Hilton Barbados Resort that as a result of the “restraint and maturity exhibited by the private sector” the country had been able to maintain employment at well over 100,000 people.
He also said the sector had chosen to put social considerations above the bottom line for a protracted period, to its own detriment, but that it could not be business as usual.