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FRANKLY SPEAKING: Reasons to say sorry to the PM

Caswell Franklyn

FRANKLY SPEAKING: Reasons  to say sorry  to the PM

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Before doing anything else, I think that it would be appropriate to apologise to the Right Honourable Freundel Stuart, Prime Minister.
He was the featured speaker at the opening of the annual conference of the National Union of Public Workers. And at that forum, he insisted that he did not mislead the public on the true state and soundness of the economy during the last election campaign.
Additionally, he denied making the promise that there would have been no lay-offs in the Public Service.
I must confess that I was one of those who had been saying, every chance I got, that the Democratic Labour Party’s spokespersons, including the PM, said during the campaign that the economy was on a sound footing, and that there would have been no lay-offs. In light of the public denials made by the Right Hon. gentleman, I am left to conclude that I misinterpreted his words and intentions; and for that I apologise. I feel so much better now that I have gotten that apology off of my chest.
However, I have no intention of being the only one to apologise. I heard some of the PM’s speeches during the campaign and can put down my misunderstanding to a lack of proficiency in the use of the Queen’s English. On the other hand, I came to the conclusion that the PM was promising no lay-offs after his election victory from reading THE NATION.
On October 15, 2013, under the headline, PM: Savings Within Sight, the NATION quoted the PM as saying, at a branch meeting two days earlier, that the financial savings ministries and departments needed to make to save jobs were “within sight”. Again, in light of the denial of the Rt Hon. gentleman, I have concluded that the reporter was mistaken and should join me in the apology. But I am more than a little troubled that there have been no calls for a retraction after more than five months.
In any event, there are no right honourable reporters, so the NATION should have to apologise for quoting the PM, if he is now publicly saying that he made no such promises. Both can’t be right.
With the apology out of the way, I would like to turn my attention to other aspects of the PM’s speech to the NUPW’s conference that I find confusing and contradictory. The Barbados Today reported him as saying: “The conduct of the union, as well as that of the other unions, who have all acted reasonably throughout this very difficult process, has accentuated the need for trade union activity in Barbados to be protected and encouraged; and for the social partnership between labour, capital and the state to be further consolidated.”
I understand that to mean that the Prime Minister is pleased with the way how all unions reacted while Government was cutting the Public Service and statutory boards.
Now consider the following excerpts, taken from the Barbados Advocate, of an address Mr Stuart gave to the Young Democrats after he had lost his St Philip South seat:
“He described the idea of a social partnership between capital and labour as a “philosophical absurdity”. Stuart said: “The object of capital and the object of labour are completely contradictory. Owners of capital see labour as a cost and will try to keep the cost down as best they can. If owners of capital are trying to keep cost down, they will either pay very low wages or employ very few people. Persons in that insecure situation cannot work in partnership with the owners of capital. It does not have the sanction of history behind it.”
I completely agreed with his sentiments and, for that reason, I held on to the article in the event that an opportunity would have arisen where I could quote those profound words. Never in my wildest imagination, would I have thought that I would be reminding Mr Stuart of that principled position. But he did not stop there, he went on to say:
“The First Prices and Incomes Protocol was not designed to protect workers. It was really designed to solve a problem in which capital had the upper hand in the economy at the time and could have done grave damage if it was not appeased. You only have to look at the attitude of capital since that first protocol was signed to the whole idea of social partnership to come to the conclusion that capital likes social partnership very much.
“If there had been anything that was interfering with the interests of capital, howls of protest would have been raised in the country. The fact that owners of capital have kept quiet and have been compliant and cooperative on this issue of social partnership and the signing of protocols is all the proof you need that it is operating to their benefit.”
It is amazing that the Prime Minister would now be promoting a system that he clearly repudiated.
Finally, the PM sought to raise the hopes of his audience by informing them that Government was considering paying early pensions to people who had been laid off.  
He then dampened their expectations by stating that it was not a simple matter because of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ruling in the Winton Campbell case.
I beg to differ. By now, the collective conscience of the ruling party should have clicked in, and they should have concluded that it was unconscionable to retrench workers, who have given ten or more years’ service, without a single five cent piece.
(I am rounding up).
The PM claims to be a student of history, and I am sure that I do not have to remind him of the immortal words of the Earl of Pembroke, who in 1648, said: “A parliament can do anything but make a man a woman, and a woman a man.”
The laid-off public workers are not asking the Government to change the sex of anyone. They are just asking them to be human.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.