ALL AH WE IS ONE: Union opportunists
There is a body of people in Barbados today who have come from the same working class that those of you who marched today have come from. Indeed they have come from the sugar cane fields . . . . Today God has blessed them . . . and because they have material advantages they want to tell you that you should not struggle. I tell you to tell these people that they are hypocrites and that they will be judged for the hypocrites that they are. – Roy Trotman (Labour Day Address, 2013)
There is a gaping split in the trade union movement in Barbados. In its crudest expression, the fault-line rests between those, on one hand, who have succumbed to the attraction of serving the interests of the political directorate and who use the trade union movement for careerist self-advancement and those, on the other, represented by Leroy Trotman, who understand that despite the perks of union leadership, the principal role of a trade unionist is to represent the interest of the working class.
At a deeper level, this split represents yet further evidence of the political triumph of the ideas hostile to the empowerment of exploited groups, and signals the march of neo-liberal ideology into the very heart of the organization which was expected to be the final bastion of worker resistance.
The opportunistic neo-liberals have taken over the trade union movement and Sir Roy Trotman is consciously aware of himself as being among the last of the Mohicans resisting their backward political agenda. It is a heavy political responsibility and he deserves the support of all progressive forces.
It was disheartening therefore to see public commentary on the issue reduced to the myopic discussion of “personality”. Such is the pitfall of small island cheek-by-jowl existence, where large global issues are always reduced to personality discussion, and is indicative of intellectual laziness which discusses people rather than issues. Our recent election campaigns provide ample proof of this tendency.
The evidence of the progressive co-option of the Barbadian trade union movement by a cadre of opportunistic neo-liberals however, has been long evident to those whose eyes have been trained to see these things.
It is seen in opportunistic refusal by some unions to support workers’ causes for fear of offending the government; in the easy cross fertilization of the roles of union leader and political operative, serving both God and Mammon; and it is seen in the new ideology which Sir Roy was seeking to expose, which preaches that there is no longer anything to struggle for, since paradise is won. The culprits know themselves, and we hear it in the same tired speech after speech.
It is simply opportunism, (not hypocrisy, Sir Roy) – opportunism being the absence of principle.
Meanwhile, employers rejoice, and the casualties remain the working people.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.