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PURELY POLITICAL: End brinkmanship!


Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: End brinkmanship!

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Some people have suggested that the union call a strike, as we did in 1991, and that we should have a march up to the Garrison or somewhere else, put 40 000 people on the street. And I say that that sounds good and it would be something that I would be quite willing to support if somebody tells me, now that we know fully what the issues are, what would be the true agenda. – Sir Roy Trotman, general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, January 15.
By the time you read this, which was written early Friday, restive workers at the National Conservation Commission (NCC), who had been clamouring for strike action in support of their retrenched colleagues, would have had a clearer understanding of the way forward.
Their representative, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), now seems fully seized of “what the issues are” and the “true agenda” of those responsible for carrying through Government’s retrenchment process against the established policy set out in a January Cabinet directive of last-in, first-out.
And with NUPW general secretary Dennis Clarke appearing to have sensed an improvement in the solidarity he said was lacking in January, the NCC workers agitating for strike action were assured Thursday that with that “unquestioned solidarity” they could have started “rolling” either on Friday or tomorrow (Monday).
“We are going to have some action going,” Clarke assured the angry workers, “but as I said  . . . there is a process.”
He cautioned the workers, who like the actors in the TV commercial, wanted their strike and wanted their strike “right now”, that the union was not considering such industrial action immediately as the process had not been exhausted.
“We cannot be accusing anybody of breach of process and then go and commit a breach of the process,” he pointed out. “We have been following the process – we started with consultation with the management, it moved to consultation with the Chief Labour Officer, who has passed the matter on to the Minister.
“The Minister has said that she would speak to her Cabinet (Thursday) and respond. (Acting Minister of Labour Senator Maxine McClean told the Press Thursday she could not comment on the Government’s response until she had spoken with the unions).
“We are not saying that if we need to, that an escalation cannot take place, but our present position is that we are in process and we would be violating the same process if we are to move to industrial action before there is a breakdown in the process.”
As I’ve said before, and it remains my firm view, Government has lost control of its retrenchment process, and now the two unions that represent the 27 000-plus public workers – the NUPW along with the BWU – appear to be reading what they will from the script.
Sir Roy, despite his wariness about the “true agenda”, later demonstrated that he was not averse to using the strike weapon as he briefly halted the 2014 sugar crop at one of its most critical points – the stretch leading into the long Easter weekend.
Prior to that, however, he felt he had to rationalise the union’s position on strike action.
“If we go on strike,” he said then, “that would be good. It would be an occasion to demonstrate that we are unhappy with what has happened, but after the first few days, what are we going to do? And I know that while a strike will serve to give the opportunity to vent, that if we are being allowed that opportunity and we find that we can go beyond an expression through the strike, then it may be better for us not to do anything to upset the even balance in the economy at this stage.
“But it simply means that I don’t want to jump on a go-on-strike bandwagon because somebody is pulling my string or pulling the string of my executive council to satisfy their agenda.”
Whether Sir Roy will satisfy Clarke’s requirements for “unquestioned solidarity” in the NCC matter remains to be seen, but the workers they represent at that statutory body deserve to be serviced by a united front against a Government which seems to have its priorities bass-ackwards.
It was an irritant in the process that did not go unnoticed when the substantive Minister of Labour, Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, left the island reportedly to attend a conference in Antigua with the NCC workers clamouring for a strike and the NUPW seemingly on the brink of giving them their wish and possibly calling out the rest of its wider membership.
Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley was concerned enough to raise the matter in the House of Assembly on Tuesday.
“How can a Minister of Labour go overseas when the whole industrial relations of the country is on a knife’s edge?” Mottley asked. “There is nothing more important for the Minister of Labour to do than to preside over a resolution of the matter between the NCC and the NUPW and the Minister of Finance.”
Indeed, in the current circumstances, it would have to be an event of the proportions of preparing a welcome mat for the Second Coming that should drag a Minister of Labour away from that mediation table.
Still, it is symptomatic of the casual almost indifferent approach of this Administration to critical national issues that this dispute would be left to two unelected officials one of whom was rejected by the people at the last general election.
My main concern, however, is that in this process, it seems that only strikes, rumours of strikes and actual strikes can focus Government’s attention on the people it is hurting.
The time has come to put an end to the brinkmanship.
• Albert Brandford is an independent politcal correspondent.

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