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ALL AH WE IS ONE: May Day musings

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: May Day musings

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IT HAS BEEN GRATIFYING to observe the efforts by a newly elected cadre of trade union leaders in Barbados at consciously articulating a new direction in trade unionism as part of their May Day public reflections. This charting of new paths is an unspoken admission that the outgoing group is not worthy of emulation.

Indeed, when the period 2008-2015 is studied, among the questions will be: Why was the trade union movement so pathetically ineffectual in responding to one of the most brutal assaults on the Barbadian working class since the 1990s? Why was the response in 2008-2015 consciously tailored to “assist the Government with its policies”? What was the intellectual rationale for the new softly-softly approach to the Government? Was the union leadership so drunk on the wine of neo-liberalism that they could not distinguish objectively what was in the interest of the workers?

Or were there other motives? Did opportunistic union leaders let down the workers’ movement? Was that group so enamoured with governmental office after nearly two decades in the wilderness that they were unable to muster the courage to defend the workers for fear of offending the Government or appearing to open a space for the Opposition?

Whatever the explanation, it is significant that the new cadre of union leadership has resolved to adopt a more active role as genuine workers’ representatives and to place this task above any other conflicting loyalties.

Laudable as this may be, it would be erroneous for these new leaders to assume that a heightened level of militancy by itself is sufficient to reverse the damage inflicted upon the trade union movement by a group which lacked the intellectual capacity and political will to reject the assumptions of neo-liberalism. Indeed, much of the failure of the former group of union leaders to respond effectively to the emasculation of the power of the working class might have been the result of their exposure to ideologies which caused them to see neo-liberalism as normal and to take its assumptions for granted. 

There is nothing to suggest the new crop of leaders is any more insulated from the hegemonic anti-worker neo-liberal ideologies than their predecessors.

While they have shown a willingness to reject the overt fawning at the feet of Government, an important task in their emergence as genuine representatives of workers will be to overcome the intellectual poverty of their former leaders, a weakness also shared by their compatriots in Government. A crucial task in this regard will be to study the basis for the assault against labour central to the dominant ideologies of our age, and to devise appropriate responses.

They cannot, like their outgoing comrades, simply concede defeat, and admit that there is no choice but to conform to neo-liberalism.

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]