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PURELY POLITICAL: Social partnership +1

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Social partnership +1

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We dream together, workers and employers, that we would create a new community which would see us build together, resist together whatever force would appear on the horizon. – Sir Roy Trotman, general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, on the Social Partnership.
An ageless aphorism tells us that change is the only constant.
Yet some of us, perhaps understandably, have an almost visceral reaction to change, particularly of the gut-wrenching kind that takes us far out of our comfort zone, and the natural instinct of self-interest kicks in with little regard for rationality.
In his recently published book Eyewitness To Order And Disorder, THE NATION’s Editor Emeritus Harold Hoyte suggested that the single most valuable fabric woven into the Barbados success story “is the commitment of our leaders, political and otherwise, demonstrably to put national interest above sectoral advantage”.
“The orderly social and economic advancement that transformed Barbados from the pre-Independence ‘village’ we once knew to the ‘nation’ status we now enjoy as a pint-sized pre-developed island is largely [the] result of unselfish commitment to cooperation at the highest levels of decision-making,” Hoyte wrote.
“Leaders of industry and champions of the working people dedicated themselves first and foremost to the wholesome aspirations of the total society.
“The critical players in the social and economic life of the country, going back to the pre-Independence era, set the stage for the formulation of what is known today as the Social Partnership.”
Unfortunately, those visionary early labour leaders have today been succeeded by a new set of “office-holders” in both private and public sector unions, who have apparently chosen to ignore their example of personal sacrifice in pursuit of the common good in favour of personal advantage.
The nation has been abuzz with charge and counter-charge in an intramural fight within the labour movement over the selection of a delegate to represent unions at the 102nd International Labour Organization meeting upcoming in Geneva.
Since the formation of the umbrella body, the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), in 1993, it was fortuitous that the movement was represented at ILO conferences by Sir Roy, founding president of CTUSAB, and one of the key players in the formation of the Social Partnership.
But in the ineluctable process of change, Sir Roy, though he remains head of the largest and most powerful union, has relinquished the presidency of CTUSAB and with it what seemed the right to automatic selection – given that under protocols of the Social Partnership, CTUSAB is recognized as the representative body for workers, not the BWU.
So one has to look beyond the obvious for the reasons behind the decision by Sir Roy to withdraw the BWU from CTUSAB.
Clearly, there is more in this particular proverbial mortar than just the pestle of what appears to be the bruised ego of a long-in-the-tooth veteran unionist and the overweening personal ambitions and apparent strivings for self-aggrandizement of a group of alleged young turks who are operating in a favourable political environment conducive to their brash determination to overturn the old order.
The collision between BWU and the new leadership of CTUSAB – made up mostly of officers of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) – which has apparently been brewing since 2006 when Sir Roy stepped down, occurred last year when he unceremoniously ejected them from the BWU office at Solidarity House in which they had been “scotching”.
The BWU secession from CTUSAB portends immediate and long-term difficulties for the labour movement, and workers in particular, and viability of the Social Partnership itself.
It cannot augur well for its future, even though the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) can claim to be the grandfather of the Social Partnership, that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is not particularly fond of the arrangement, once describing it as a “philosophical monstrosity” and the greatest threat to Barbados’ hard-won democracy.
Though Stuart’s views may now have been mellowed by the weight and responsibilities of high office, he must now use that office to secure the viability of the compact – which he thought was never possible – to ensure it survives.
As in the words of his immediate predecessor: “Government is not, and cannot, be an equal partner.
“Government has an overarching obligation to the people, some of whom are employees, self-employed, small businessmen, big businessmen and the soldier, sailor and candlestick maker.”
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.