Stand behind the unions!
I am making a call for all patriotic and right-thinking citizens of Barbados to stand in solidarity with the leaders of the public sector trade unions of our country and to give them principled support in the monumental battle that they will soon be engaged in.
At this very moment, the social and economic elite of Barbados — the big private sector business interests — along with their collaborators in the Freundel Stuart administration (and to some extent in both major political 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.
Thus, such critical national trade union leaders as Akanni McDowall, Roslyn Smith and Asokore Beckles of the NUPW; Toni Moore, Gabby Scott and Linda Brooks of the BWU; Mary Ann Redman of the BSTU; Pedro Shepherd of the BUT; and Caswell Franklyn of the Unity trade union are in for a monumental battle and will need all the support and solidarity they can get.
If you listen very carefully to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, Finance Minister Chris Sinckler, Minister of Industry Donville Inniss, and the leaders of both the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and the Barbados Private Sector Agency, you will note that they are all talking the same language of “privatization”, “down-sizing of the public sector”, “retrenchment of public servants” and “pain”. Amazingly, they claim to be devising this recipe of bitter pain and destruction in the interest of saving Barbados from economic crisis.
If an economic crisis does exist, who and what is responsible for it? Let us start with the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration. After the DLP came to power in 2008, the international economic recession caused the opening up of a $400 million deficit in Government’s finances. To their everlasting shame, the DLP administration sat idly by for nine long years and did nothing of substance to correct the fiscal imbalance. Indeed, rather than correct the imbalance, they actually indulged in reckless spending that exacerbated it.
Furthermore, not only did they permit the fiscal rot to gradually worsen year after year, but they also failed to devise any new ideas or measures for promoting growth in our economy. The sad truth is that Messrs. Stuart and company exhibited little or no energy or initiative in tackling the festering fiscal and economic cancer, and thereby became the chief authors and manufacturers of the current debt and economic crisis.
Yet, in spite of the fact that they are the ones who bear fundamental responsibility for the sad state that Barbados is in, their shameful attitude is not only to greedily reinstate their ten per cent increase in salary, but to also callously settle upon the scapegoating and savaging of public servants and statutory corporation employees as “their” solution to the crisis.
As far as they are concerned, they need their ten per cent salary restoration in order to live, but it is okay to throw thousands of low level public servants on the dump-heap of unemployment without a concern as to how they and their dependents are to survive.
The critical point I would like all Barbadians to appreciate is that when a political directorate tells you that the way forward is to divest and privatize state enterprises, abandon social welfare programmes, and retrench public sector workers, it is in effect informing you that it is abandoning any aspiration that the future of our country will be based upon the educated and trained masses of our people owning and controlling the major institutions of our nation.
If the future of the nation and its economy is not to be based upon the empowerment of the masses of the people, then the plan must be to base it upon a continued and enhanced empowerment of the traditional white Barbadian economic elite and the predominantly North American, European and French Creole (Trinidadian) “foreign investor” entities that they are wont to align themselves with.
None of this should come as a surprise to any of us. We already possess painful evidence of the shameful way in which the current administration has prostrated itself before certain businessmen and has conferred a series of outrageously privileged governmental contracts on these and other members of the traditional business class.
There is no doubt that Barbados is in a state of economic crisis, but the way to solve that crisis is not to treat trade unions as “the enemy” or to savage public sector workers and their jobs. Nor is it to dismantle the critical educational, health and social welfare mechanisms that are required to produce a mass of trained and empowered citizens who are capable of appropriating and undertaking responsibility for the development of their nation.
The way forward for Barbados cannot be to go backward to an era when ownership and control of our nation’s economy were firmly and squarely in the hands of a traditional white oligarchy. On the contrary, we must continue to hold on to the notion that the economic and social development of Barbados has to be based on the foundation of a highly educated, cultured, healthy, employed and empowered mass population.
The economic situation that faces Barbados is severe but it is not insoluble. The first order of business is to re-establish the soundness of the finances and credit of our Government. This can be achieved, but only if the public sector trade unions are treated with respect by the Government and are permitted to use their extensive and intimate knowledge of the Public Service to craft appropriate strategies. Nobody knows better than the public servants and their trade unions where the waste, duplication and inefficiency reside in the system. They are therefore much better equipped to craft sensible and humane strategies of change and improvement than clueless Government ministers.
We all need to remember that when the “movement” for the upliftment of the Barbadian masses started in earnest in the 1940’s, it was a “Labour Movement”, with the political party and trade union working together. The spirit of this movement needs to be revived, but this can only happen if the trade unions are given the respect that they are entitled to.
The other major item on the national agenda has to be the devising of strategies to grow and develop the economy. Here again, this is not beyond us. first of all we, need to jettison the self-negating idea that either the traditional white Barbadian businessman or the so-called foreign investor is required to be our saviour. (There is a place and a role for the traditional elite Barbadian businessman and the foreign investor but it cannot be a place and a role of primacy.)
Secondly, we must commit ourselves to the notion that we –– the tens of thousands of Bajans –– will assume the primary responsibility for establishing and developing productive enterprises in our own country, and that we will do so on the basis of elevated standards of education and training for our people in general and our youth in particular. In other words, our nation’s economic development must arise from our people’s human development, and vice versa.
These two spheres of development must therefore be symbiotic and must mutually propel each other. None of this will be possible if we demolish the “human development” of tens of thousands of our citizens by throwing thousands of public sector workers into unemployment, or if we dismantle or disable the critical human development programmes and structures that public servants man.
The Clement Payne Movement and its sister organization, the Peoples Empowerment Party, long ago outlined the parameters of such a developmental strategy: the development of the Education sector as a foreign exchange earning industry; the construction of a manufacturing industry comprised of a cooperative, centralized domestic sector and a high technology export sector; Cultural, heritage, health and sports tourism; cultural or Arts-based industries; the development of a cooperative or people’s sector of the economy; and a public/private sector partnership in the development and commercialization of unique, indigenous national assets.
The list goes on. The ideas are numerous and powerful, but their validity and potency will only become clear if one is philosophically committed to the construction of a truly democratic and egalitarian Barbados that is owned by the masses of the Barbadian people. This was the original vision and mission of the Labour Movement. And this must be the vision and mission that we fight for when we line up behind our trade unions and their leaders in the weeks and months ahead.
(David Comissiong is president of the Clement Payne Movement)